I was contacted a sort while ago by Aranea/Drema of If... Journal
with the prospect of illustrating the cover image for the July 2007 issue on the potent topic of Spiritual Transformation. She presented me with three visually evocative ideas:
the face of a person, the face appearing worn, slightly off-color or
sickly, peeling away (like an apple peeling, reminiscent of the
Escher sketch?) to reveal the same face beneath, but clean, shining,
healthy and glowing
a face peeling away to reveal the same face beneath, but the face
that is peeling away is all black and white, while the face being
revealed is all full color
a person's face with their hand reaching up to pull away the outer
face as if it were a mask (same with coloration and imagery above,
but pulling away a "mask" instead of peeling it away)."
She also suggested perhaps a background of butterflies. The imagery in all of the options was definitely appealing and I intended to stick to those ideas fairly closely. I was a bit strapped for time, so I had decided to take a straight forward approach and depict exactly what was suggested in my own style. Actually, I chose to accept the commission in the first place due to the tight deadline. It had been too long since I had the luxury to make a piece like this, and I knew the time constraints would prove a great impetus to complete such a work.
Somehow along the way though the image became much more personal. The idea of the removal of a mask or the shedding of a worn skin morphed into the semblance of dry and crackling leaves being torn away by the wind. The leaves necessitated a tree, and that tree became one with thorns (representing the fact that spiritual transformation rarely comes without pain and/or sacrifice). "It should be a hawthorn tree," I thought to myself.
I was determined from the beginning that the figure would be male. Again it was another challenge I presented for myself on top of the short time period I had to complete the piece. As the face progressed layer by layer it appropriately went through a similar transformation. The golden yellow of the paper made him initially sallow and wan, and early in the process he had very deep crevices along his nose and mouth which made him appear almost sinister. Along the way the background illuminating the transformed face glowed a vibrant green.
Although at first unbeknownst to me, it later became clear that this was my vision of Thomas the Rhymer
. True Thomas (another of his well-known epithets) has featured very strongly in my own personal spirituality over the past year or so, corresponding with my immersion in traditional faerylore. I have been in the process of writing a very pivotal essay (pivotal to me, anyways; that essay is actually in hiding until completion in this very journal) revolving around both the themes of the Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer and the Romance of Thomas the Rhymer
since last October. In brief, Thomas Rhymer was a medieval bard who was taken by the Faery Queen to Elphame where he remained for seven years. There his eyes were opened and he was given the gift of a tongue that cannot lie - in other words, he was transformed. At the end of his seven year service, he returned from the realm of Faerie with the abilities to prophecy and write inspired poetry and songs.
When Thomas first meets the Faery Queen she is wearing a "shirt o' the grass-green silk." Upon his return to the mortal world, he was given "a coat of even cloth / and a pair of shoes of velvet green" which were a tokens of his transformation. Clearly in the ballad and the romance, green represents Faery and its gifts, therefore it only makes sense that the verdant glow in my image is associated with the transformed portion of the face.
The title of this piece is a verse taken directly from the ballad. Thomas meets the Faery Queen after awakening from a nap which he has taken beneath the boughs of the Eildon tree
, a particular hawthorn which once grew in the Eildon Hills of Scotland.Media:
Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic, sumi-e ink, pen & inkSize:
approximately 8.5" x 11"
copyright Desirée Isphording 2007 - all rights reserved -