I’m supposed to wait with posting this until after the exams have been graded, but I’m simply going to assume that two weeks before grades are distributed and two and a half months after taking the exam that I’ve got my art grade and, well, posting it won’t make too much of a difference, hopefully!
My sketchbooks will be out soon (also, hopefully — I need to get back home first!) and you can follow the convoluted thought process behind this piece there… I’ll focus more on the actual construction of it here.
We had ten hours to complete the piece, and I personally had a lightbox, a piece of paper, and a lot of pens (most of which I went through). I started off with a pencil sketch that I had prepared earlier, which I laid underneath the piece of clean paper (which an older student had left over gave to me after finishing off his own project, part of his IB… absolutely beautiful work) in order that I might start drawing.
The composition of it is based around three constellations, each of which is represented in one of the black circles: Perseus, Ursa Minor, and Ursa Major. In order to match them, I drew scenes from each myth (thankfully, there are only really two myths, since Ursa Major and Minor relate to one another) into the background, with an emphasis on the story of Perseus and Andromeda.
Ursa Major only really features as the bear holding the star-like object in the upper left corner. The other figures are Perseus (the warrior, holding a the shield Athena gave him in order to defeat Medusa; carrying on the Medusa theme, there are snakes behind him), Andromeda (tied to the rock while the sea-monster behind her gapes its jaws… not sure how much sustenance a skull could derive from eating her, but hey, artistic license, right?), and Cassiopeia, vain and beautiful in her spite as she surveys the scene from the upper centre. Most of the other devices used are merely placeholders, though the grieving figures beside Cassiopeia could be interpreted as mourning Andromeda’s anticipated death, or the transformation of Callisto into the bear which became Ursa Major (and who was ultimately hunted, unsuccessfully, by her son, who was transformed into Ursa Minor by Zeus before he fired the killing arrow). The wolf between the horns of Andromeda’s beast… was cute. He was meant to be a bear (Ursa Minor) but… yeah the wolf was cute. So he remained.
The illustration itself took a little more than eight hours (we were given ten in total): These pictures were taken in about 2.5 hour intervals.
You could potentially argue that this is where the fun started. Or rather, for my fellow test-takers, the Great Cacophony. In order to attach the strings (I’ll explain why in a second) to my piece, I needed to adhere my illustration to a piece of wood, which would then need to have nails hammered into it to represent the three constellations I had planned. As you’ll notice above, the main stars of the constellations are, in fact, nails. The others I had prepared before by splattering the black circles with white paint.
A number of nails, and grumpy classmates (it was actually great because under test conditions we were forbidden to talk, even the teacher… nonetheless I was glared at and a move into the stairwell was requested. This only aggravated the issue. Whoops). Thankfully I’d already prepared the row of nails I needed on the back of the plank of wood before the exam started… heh!
With about half an hour to go, and everything ready, I began to work on the final step: spanning a net of strings over the illustration. This web, for lack of a better word, has a number of symbolic reasons for being there. First, I spent most of my sketchbook working with string so I had better find a way to incorporate it into my final. Second, it represents a sort of tapestry, the idea that the myths and legends of the past are just that — in the past, inaccessible and shadowy to us now.
Stars and textiles, string, and tapestry, have always seemed oddly intertwined to me. The night sky used to look to me like a delicate embroidery of pearls… (not anymore, really, since a greater knowledge of astronomy might make looking into the sky cooler and more existential-crisis inducing, but does take some of the poetic charm out of it). In Tolkien’s mythology, the stars are woven by Varda, “Queen” of the Valar (gods? Or rather, angels). Anyway.
Hence, I completed my piece on time, with seconds to spare as I tied the final knot. It’s not very large, only about the size of an A3 piece of paper.
Since completing it, I have adopted the style into many of my illustrations (most of the recent pen illustrations were done after the art exam). I think, now, in hindsight, that I would have done a couple of things differently as pertained to the line weights and distributions of dark/light patches… but am on the whole quite happy with it, and proud to have finished off my GCSE with this piece.