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Autism: Understanding Our Behaviours

From an illustrative point of view, stiming seems to be the obvious answer to “how do I draw autism?” as it is a behaviour that presents it self visually. This has been a really difficult decision for me to go through as personally I used to stim a lot as a child when I was excited or found it comforting but I hardly do it anymore unless I’m on my own; I’ve learnt to mask that behaviour which is quite an upsetting thought for me as stiming made me feel calm and safe. On the other hand as a teenager and adult I have stimed in an unhealthy way and have needed support to deal with my behaviour. On the one hand I think it is an important topic and obviously I want raise awareness and help as much as I can but I really want to talk to other people about their experiences as well so I can give a more accurate representation overall not just my story. Anyway, in this post I’ll be going over stiming and hopefully helping you to understand why we stim.

What is Stiming?

Stiming is described as self-stimulating or regulating behaviour. It is used to sooth and express oneself. This behaviour manifests in a number of ways (generally speaking) throughout this range:

  • ‘flapping’ hands
  • finger flicking
  • repetition of words or sounds
  • heavy blinking
  • rocking of the whole body
  • spinning
  • repeatedly feeling textures

These types of stiming are done when someone is happy, out of excitement or to comfort and sooth themselves like I used to. Some autistic people are Sensory Seekers and mainly stim from sensory input whilst others like myself are Sensory Avoiders. My best friend is a sensory seeker and she needs to have a range of sensory input throughout the day (visual/audio/vestibular/properceptive) because she enjoys it and stims. However if she she has too much input from one she feels overwhelmed and stims or if she experiences too much input at once it feels like her body shuts down. I am a sensory avoider, the opposite of my best friend, which means I don’t need that much input, I have a lower sensory threshold, so personally I stim to comfort myself.

Other ways of stiming are:

  • Hitting ourselves with our hands, including our heads sometimes with objects or against hard surfaces)
  • Bitting/Scratching ourselves
  • Tearing or pulling our hair
  • Picking our skin
  • Self-harm behaviors such as cutting, burning, stabbing, etc.
  • Biting or scratching ourselves at a continuous, low-intensity

These are examples of when the stimulus has to be removed and the behaviour redirected, this is a well known strategy that works when you have identified triggers and warning signs that cause destructive behaviour so you can avoid it. Harmful stiming behaviour is usually caused because of the following:

  • Using pain as a distraction (Coping Mechanism)
  • Seeking sensory stimulation
  • Trying to communicate

I can not stress how important finding a safe alternative is, wether you are a carer or an autistic person you should think about what is achieved by the behaviour, what is stimulated? For example hitting gives the sensation of deep pressure, the safe alternative to this can be a weighted blanket. It is also good to make a log or tracking diary of how you feel, what is around you and any changes in routine to help you identify triggers.

As I have mentioned I am sensory avoider and in my personal case much of my distress is caused emotionally by the social and communication and executive functioning aspects of autism and so replacing my destructive stiming habits with safe ones does work, removing the stimulus does not always solve the problem so I would recommend CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) self help books are available but you can also be referred to professionals by your GP.

Phase 2: Character Development -Personalities

Hey Everyone! Now I have decided on what my characters are I need to start building on their personalities and giving them individuality. I’ve made a list of the basic ideas of Okko and Eartha which I will be adding to as time goes on.

Eartha

Likes/Loves/Needs:

  • Music (Rock/Pop/Ballads/)
  • Food & Cooking (Banana/Pasta- especially lasagne/Curry)
  • Exploring (Swimming/paddling in puddles/Walking in gardens/climbing tree roots, blowing bubbles/flowers)
  • Laughing (playing and going on adventures with Okko)
  • Art (painting/clay/weaving)
  • Games (Harvest Moon/Professor Layton/Animal Crossing)
  • Stories (Comedy Series/Fairy Tales)
  • Loves (Okko/Acoustic music/making chocolate drops/discovering new stories)
  • Needs (Routine/calm environments/gentle sounds/time to process information/clear finishing times and transition strategies/prompting and support to engage in conversation)

Okko

Likes/Loves/Needs:

  • Music (Playing Guitar/Saxophone)
  • Traveling (Sailing)
  • Hobbies (Astronomy/Woodwork/History)
  • Exercise (Running)
  • Going to the beach
  • Games (Mario Kart/Zelda)
  • Relaxing and Reading
  • Loves (Eartha/Making Eartha smile/Cottage Pie/being tidy)
  • Needs (To be organised and have an organised environment/clear communication and trust)
  • Job/Study (Ecology and Environmentalism)
Can’t get the eyes right!

I have began to create some sketches of Okko in different angles, I’m finding it difficult to get the eyes the correct shape when the head is at an angle. Okko looks really bored on the left but I’m not focusing on expressions in this piece so am not going to worry about it. I am going to try and create a few poses that include different angles to make sure I get as much expressive facial and body language into my work as possible. At the moment I am working on a sitting at a desk pose for Okko. I want him to be writing a list of all the things he has learnt about Eartha so far including some of her autistic traits. In my next post I will therefore be covering stiming and going into some aspects of autism that I find people don’t know how to respond to or understand.

Graphic Novel Development: Page 1

Hi everyone! At the moment I have been thinking about my first page of my graphic novel; I’ve been deciding how Eartha and Okko meet and what I want that to look like. I think that having Okko find Eartha and taking her home to look after her would make a good beginning, something common enough to be relatable. I have six panels and will save two for text and have the rest showing Okko walking down the road, noticing Eartha, picking her up and Eartha looking up at him as the last picture panel.

I’ve been making a lot of hand and facial expression observations for creating this page, I am going to fill in my expression reference charts as I need the expressions (as I go). As the chart is ongoing I’ll post updates every three expressions. One of the things I am struggling with is texture and depth in clothes. Everything is looking very smooth so to try to correct this I have crosshatched Okko’s jeans. I think making a record of different types of marks and techniques would be helpful, I feel like a lot of experimentation is coming my way in regards to texture. Overall, I feel my first draft is going well but it is not as polished as I want it to be but with time and practice I’m sure I will achieve the standard and quality I am aiming for.

I am looking at my ides for what happens next in Okko and Eartha’s world, trying to imagine ways to illustrate autism. I was looking for inspiration online and found The Art of Autism that has a comic strip explanation about understanding the Autism Spectrum which I found interesting. The illustrator who created it is called Rebecca Burgess (who is also autistic) and she represents challenges by shoving her character, Archie, into huge words:

(Burgess, 2019)

I like this because it is a clear way of showing exactly what Archie struggles with and what expectations are being forced on him. As I have mentioned before, being a such a diverse and hidden disability it is extremely challenging to illustrate in an educational way, I am trying to make my work as inclusive and helpful as possible so I’m taking my time to do it right. I am going to set myself the goal of 1 page per month to start off with so by the time I finish my masters degree I should have at least one book completed. By doing one per month I am hoping to have an accurate record of my progression and development as an artist. The first page will be pre-study and I will post that soon so you can have an idea what skills I am working with entering my course.

Inspiration 2: Types of Art

Hi everyone! This week I have been looking at different types of art that I like and what it is that I like about them. I want to explore different ways that I could illustrate Eartha and Okko. For Eartha I want very fluid, organic lines, so my one of my first starting points is Art Nouveau.

The Dance in Cupid’s Alley 1904 Arthur Rackham 1867-1939 Bequeathed by Major-General Sir Mathew Gossett KCB 1909 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02479 (Arthur Rackham 1867–1939 | Tate, 2020)

“O Love’s but a dance 
Where time plays the fiddle!

Strange dance! ‘Tis free to Rank and Rags 
Here no distinction flatters,

Here Riches shakes its money-bags 
And Poverty its tatters:

Church, Army, Navy, Physic, Law: 
Maid, Mistress, Master, Valet:

Long locks, grey hairs, bald heads and a’— 
They bob in ‘Cupid’s Alley’.”

(‘The Dance in Cupid’s Alley’, Arthur Rackham, 1904 | Tate, 2020)

(You can read the whole poem on Poetrynook.com) Arthur Rackham has illustrated lots of literature such as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and the Brother’s Grimm fairytales. This piece above is Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau is a style most famous for its elongated curving lines, plant and other natural elements and intense colours. I think this style would suit Earth nicely as her name meaning “of the earth” fits well with the idea drawing inspiration from “evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms resembling the stems and blossoms of plants” (Nouveau, 2020). I want Eartha to embody nature uniqueness, it is along this thought that Wabi Sabi came to mind.

Wabi Sabi

“wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.” – (2020)

Wabi-Sabi is an idea that my mentor introduced to me when I was frustrated with some of my work not coming out on paper exactly how I was seeing it in my mind. I was trying to go for the “effortlessly perfect” look and was trying way to hard, I needed to loosen up my drawings. Anyway my mentor told me wabi-sabi is “imperfect, inpermenant and incomplete, modest, and humble it is the beauty of things unconventional“  I think that this a wonderful way to see the world. I find it easy to apply it to my everyday life outwardly but when it comes to viewing myself and my work it is a whole lot harder. I have been set an exercise to draw one thing every day only giving myself 15 minuets to work the piece and i’m not allowed to tweak or redo any part of it- wabi-sabi. I’ll aim to post Okko & Eatha drawings or drawings of things to use in their story Wabi-Sabi style on my twitter account.

Blue Willow Pattern

Seeing how much inspiration I took from Eartha’s name I thought about looking at what Okko’s name means and what connections I can make from that. As I have mentioned in a previous post Okko means Blue; which is quite a vague starting point. Thinking from a design point of view it would make sense to include the colour blue in his appearance or as his favourite colour, so for my first few drafts Okko has blue hair and purple eyes (I am still fond of this design so I may stick with it later). One of my favourite mediums is ink and stick and I usually begin my creative process by drawing with these when I know movement will be involved. I made the connection between blue and ink to Chinese paintings and then to Blue Willow china. When I was researching this I found a love story behind the origin of the pattern:

“Long ago in China, there lived a very wealthy mandarin. He had a beautiful daughter named Koong Shee. The beautiful, young girl was the promised bride of Ta-Jin, a very old but wealthy merchant. The young girl however, fell in love with her father’s secretary, a young man named Chang. Koong Shee and Chang would meet in secret beneath a large Willow tree and dream of their future together. Koong Shee was of noble descent and Chang was a mere commoner. So the young couple , no matter how great their love, would never be allowed to wed.

When the girl’s father found out about their secret meetings, he was furious. He banished Chang and forbade his daughter from ever seeing Chang again. Koong Shee would sit beneath the Willow tree that had once been a place of joy and would quietly weep. Her heart was filled with pain. Not only had she lost Chang but Ta-Jin was a wicked man and a very difficult person to please. Koong Shee longed to see her handsome, young Chang and her thoughts would fill with the happiness they shared while sitting in this very same spot together.

As the day of the wedding drew near, Chang returned. He sent a message with Koong Shee’s maid to meet him by the Willow tree. As Chang approached, he saw his beautiful Koong Shee sitting beneath the tree. Chang rushed to her side and once more held Koong Shee in his arms. They were so very much in love and did not want to be separated ever again. Chang and Koong Shee finally decided to elope and get married without her fathers permission. As they were starting to leave together, Koong Shee’s father saw them and chased after the pair. The young couple raced across the bridge to a waiting boat and sailed away.

A storm developed and the boat sank at sea. Suddenly from out of the storm flew two snow white doves. Seeing the young couple’s love for one another, the gods transformed Koong Shee and Chang into two beautiful white doves. These two doves have lived on forever and can still be seen today flying high above the Willow Tree where Koong Shee and Chang first pledged their love.” (The Legend of Blue Willow, 2020)

(You can read an alternative ending at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willow_pattern)

I find this very interesting and in relation to Okko & Eartha has given me some new ideas, I could look into some digital ink tools to use on Clip Paint and I could draw Okko in that style if I research it a bit more. Also the idea of transformation at the end is interesting, at the end of the novel I could have Okko transform into a pocket centaur like Eartha which is a fun idea to play with if I went down a romantic route, it’s not what I have had in mind and is not my main focus but it’s a possibility to look into in the future.

Minimalist Illustrations

(‘Minimalist Megara’ iPhone Case by isabelast | Disney wallpaper, Disney paintings, Disney aesthetic, 2020)
(Flamenco (con imágenes) | Arte abstracto geometrico, Pintura minimalista, Dibujo de gitana, 2020)

I believe these are incredibly beautiful pieces, minimalist art like this is my absolute favourite. I love the energy, expression and fluidity that is achievable in this style and in the case of iconic characters the simplicity is very appealing to me on a sensory level. As much as I love this I don’t think I could make it work for Okko & Eartha. However on side projects (such as posters/postcards/t-shirts/tote bags/coasters etc.) it would be a lovely idea to use.

So these are the type of styles I like, I am going to take what I like about them and incorporate them into my own style 🙂

Autism: The first things you should know…

Autism is a hidden disability, this means that just by looking at a person or having a conversation with them you would not nessisarily know that the person is autistic. I am classed as ‘high functioning’ and have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome so in my case you may not realise I am autistic until you see me on a regular basis. This is because High Functioning Autism means I can ‘pass as normal’ or ‘blend in’ with social norms for the most part in short social situations, this is also known as ‘masking’. I think masking is one of the first barriers of communication between autistic and nuerotypical (NT) people so that is what I’m going to work on addressing with this post, but first off I will try to give a general overview to answer the question “What is Autism?”

  • You Can’t Catch Autism: Autism is a life long disability, you are born that way, it is not a disease or illness and does not need treatments or a cure.
  • What Type of Disability Is It?: Autism comes under ‘Developmental’ disabilities. Autism does not cause mental health or learning disabilities but they can be experienced by an autistic person.
  • What Challenges Do Autistic People Face?: The main categories are Communication, Executive Functioning, Sensory Sensitivity and difficulties with Transition & Change. Autistic people experience challenges in these areas through out everyday life. Obviously everyone is different so the level of difficulty varies from person to person but all autistic people are affected severely enough to impact every day tasks/skills average people can complete intuitively.

I think it is also important to aknowledge this quote from the NHS:

“It means your brain works in a different way from other people…Being autistic does not mean you can never make friends, have relationships or get a job. But you might need extra help with these things…Some autistic people need little or no support. Others may need help from a parent or carer every day.” (What is autism?, 2020)

I just wanted to add this in as it breaks through some stereotypes of Autism quite nicely. The quote below resonates with me quite strongly from a high functioning point of view:

“…people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, yet can also struggle to build rapport with people with Asperger syndrome. People with Asperger syndrome may wonder why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean people don’t understand them…” (Asperger syndrome – National Autistic Society, 2020)

(To learn more about autism you can visit the National Autistic Society  Too Much Information campaign.)

It is instances like this miscommunication and others that causes an autistic person to ‘Mask’. Masking is when we hide our autistic traits/ social deficits, it’s not something we are necessarily conscious of doing but have taught ourselves to do over time to ‘fit in’, a strategy we use to get by in everyday life which goes against our natural instincts. It is a behaviour or a persona that we use to get through social situations where our autistic behaviour is likely to be rejected. Masking is more common in women and girls, it is the ability to mimic “social norms’ When this happens people get a false idea of who we are and that can lead to expectations of us that we can’t keep up which causes great anxiety, stress, low mood and takes away from our personal identity. Which is why I believe it is such an important barrier to overcome. I just want to clarify that I am not trying to blame or make nuerotypical people feel guilty, communication is a two-way system and both sides have to put effort in to make it work but because of the lack of awareness and education about autism I feel people in general don’t know how. I know that the following helps me personally:

  • Don’t ‘drop hints’ that you want to talk me about something or assume I know that you want me to ask, tell me directly
  • Give me time to process what is being said and form a response
  • When I tell you something tell me what you understand I have said and double check that’s what I mean

We are not rude or selfish or uncaring we just don’t pick up the same signals as NT’s, please bare with us! ^^

Phase One – Drawing Begins!

At the moment I have been trying to figure out how I am going to draw my character now that I have decided on a concept and design. I feel one of the best ways to do this would be through anime as the expressions created in this art style are amazing, my specific interest is in Chibi drawing. Chibi expressions are super exaggerated and are drawn as three heads tall with a head that is larger than correct proportions, this creates a cute and humourous character design. Anime characters usually ‘break-out’ in chibi expressions when they are feeling very strong emotions. I don’t particularly like much of the most popular anime but I have found some nice ones which I prefer such as Bananya, Ouran Host club ( I think Haruhi is amazing ^^) and Cells At Work.

(Chibi Expressions | Drawings, Sketches, Anime drawings, 2020)

So I have decided to draw a 180 head-turn and body turn-around of my character as well as an expression chart. I have also been thinking about how I am going to tell my stories. I want a human to find my character and access my hidden world through observing and interacting with my character. My character is going to be called Eartha and the human that finds her is called Okko. Eartha means of the earth and Okko means Blue, there are lots of other meanings but these are my favourite.

I am going to begin by creating a 180 turn-around of Okko and Eartha’s heads, then an expression chart for them both and finally a 180 body turn-around. I think these are some good goals to set my self because the outcome will effectively be my own Okko & Eartha reference guide which I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of in future works. I am going to be using Clip Paint Pro (イラスト マンガ制作ソフト・アプリ CLIP STUDIO PAINT(クリップスタジオペイント), 2020) to create my work and I’m still quite new to the software but hopefully I’ll get hang of it soon 🙂 I have experimented a lot and decided to use these outcomes:

Elements of Eartha’s Face #1
Eartha Final Product
Okko – Blue

I was finding it hard to keep consistency in my drawing and the way my hand moves was creating an alien like shape for the head, disaster! I tried turning my paper around in my next draft to see if that would make a difference and it created a much more natural line and flow. I have also found hair REALLY difficult to draw and create depth in. After looking over some of my drawings and evaluating them I think I was struggling with light and shade as my characters are not in a setting I didn’t know where the light was coming from and this was affecting my ability to create depth. For example Eartha’s hair is still very ‘flat’ and block coloured which is not a result I am aiming for whereas Okko’s hair is much more layered and soft. I am going to keep on working on Eartha’s hair and if I nail it soon I might include an update on her progression in my next post.

Speaking of different posts, I have also been writing drafts of an introduction to autism, this is taking me quite some time as autism is such a complex and diverse topic. All autistic people are different and many will have different thoughts and feelings about being autistic, so there is a lot to think about and decide how I am going to present my experiences whilst being mindful and respectful of others with autism. For example some people don’t see being autistic as a disability, they see it as being enabled to see the world in a unique and positive way, which is how believe everyone should regard autism. However my personal experience is very different from this and I do not yet have the confidence and self-esteem to see myself as enabled with autism. Through out my graphic novel Eartha represents Autism and Okko represents how I wanted the rest of the world to respond to me, what I wish would have happened and will happen for others. I hope this offers insight and brings people together ^^

Inspiration: Our cultures!

The first thing I then thought of was totem poles and being spiritually connected to nature. This concept is found throughout many cultures it turns out, the ones that interest me most are Native Americans, Inuiet, Sami and Polynesian cultures.  Then I looked into Ancient Egypt and was reminded of the fact lots of Egyptian gods have human and animal characteristics, gods tend to have the heads of animals and one is even a mixture of different animals entirely. I wanted to look more closely at deities and found that transformation is also a common theme, taking the form of animals to guide humans, punish and  even human form to trick. 

The Inuit’s believe in entity called Amarok who is a wolf. Amarok was a lone wolf  and known to “stalk and devour any person foolish enough to hunt alone at night” protecting the natural order of life and giving strength to those in need. Wolves are also important to Native American tribes. They are admired for their strength and powers of endurance, also their commitment to family and community within the pack. (ARJung, 2020) “Many tribes held the wolf in such high esteem, movements were patterned after them, family dynamics were adopted, respect was given with many rituals, as well as clans were named after these animals.” (Wolves in Native American Culture, 2020)

(Cape Dorset Prints – Kinngait Prints, 2020)
“Coyote the prairie wolf.” Illustration by John Rae, published in American Indian Fairy Tales by W.T. Larned (1921), P.F. Volland Company.

The Hawaiian believe in a guardian spirit, known as an Amakua called Kauila who can shapeshift between the form of a girl and a Honu (Sea Turtle) Kauila would do this to “play with and watch over the children she loved” (The Hawaiian Honu – Symbol of Wisdom and Good Luck, 2020). I also looked at different Polynesian patterns and designs, I found a great blog explaining how the traditional practice of tattooing is influencing the modern world (A Story of Ink: How a Polynesian Tradition Shaped the Modern Tattoo Industry, 2018). I find this blog interesting because I know that tattoos in Polynesian culture represent the story or history of an individual and is an incredibly personal and meaningful way of expressing their heritage. I learnt this from watching Diseny’s Moana with my family, in the bonus features it shows the research that went into making the film and created the Oceanic Story Trust to make sure the film was respectful and true to the Polynesian cultures (Sciretta, 2020)

(Stewart, 2020)
(Park, 2020)

I found in Asian culture there is a god called Inari who is related to white  foxes and is the god of rice, it is said that these foxes are called kitsune and can protect and cause havoc for humans. 

“There are two common classifications of kitsune:

• The zenko (善狐, literally ‘good foxes’) are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes in English. Inari’s kitsune are white, a color of a good omen. Quotations from site They possess the power to ward off evil, and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. In addition to protecting Inari shrines, they are petitioned to intervene on behalf of the locals and particularly to aid against troublesome nogitsune, those spirit foxes who do not serve Inari. Black foxes and nine-tailed foxes are likewise considered good omens.

• On the other hand, the yako (野狐, literally ‘field foxes’, also called nogitsune) tend to be mischievous or even malicious.” (Kitsune, 2020)

Illusion: “To a kitsune, their illusions are reality. What they make, for them, and for others, is as real as anything found or crafted in nature. Anything that a kitsune builds or transforms, becomes what the kitsune desired. A kitsune can make people, animals, and objects, which can’t be distinguished from the real thing. The more kitsune team up to make things, the more can be made. A handful of kitsune can build a city if they desired.”(Kitsune powers, 2020) To make a crossover of cultures I could make a connection with this power of illusion to dreams and the Greek god Morpheus, I read a description of Morpheus realm “Ovid (metamorposes II.592-649) envisages the Dreams living with their father in a dark and misty cavern in the land of Cimmerians. Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, flows with a gentle murmuring through the cave, inviting slumber, and at it’s entrance poppies bloom, and countless herbs, all shedding drowsiness. All around is stillness….When a dream is needed, he wakes and flies on his swift wings in seconds to anywhere on earth.” (March, 2010) so I thought I could draw some Kitsune in this setting. I have also read about mintiture kitsune called Kuda-gitsune or Kanko (Japanese Yokai: Kitsune, Pocket foxes, and more — Sarah Price, 2020), this would definitely fit into my miniature world theme however their purpose is to answer questions about the past, present and future; the impression that I get about them is that they are all knowing and I don’t really want this for my character as I am certainly far from it!

(Fox statue at the Fushimi Inari Shrine … | Stock image | Colourbox, 2020)
(牧場物語 3つの里の大切な友だち への投稿 | Harvest moon game, 2020)
(Creative, 2020)

Sami folklore and beliefs show that “all significant natural objects (such as animals, plants, rocks, etc.) possess a soul, Traditional Sámi beliefs include a multitude of spirits. Sámi traditional beliefs and practices commonly emphasises veneration of the dead and of animal spirits.” (Sámi shamanism, 2020). I know that Sami people have a great connection with reindeer so I looked into why that was and I found this tale: “Some of the Sami epics trace Sami ancestry to the sun. In the mid-nineteenth century, a Sami minister, Anders Fjellner, recorded epic mythical poems in which the Daughter of the Sun favored the Sami and brought the reindeer to them. In a related myth, the Son of the Sun had three sons who became the ancestors of the Sami. At their deaths they became stars in the heavens, and can be seen today in the belt of the constellation Orion.”(Sami – Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Major holidays, Rites of passage, 2020). This sort of respect for spirits and nature reminded me of one of my favourite book series Chronicall’s of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver. I like this series because of the concept, includes one of my favourite animals (the wolf) as a main character and is written beautifully. Michelle has a video on YouTube about how she made the world for her characters, so I watched that for inspiration. (Click on this link to watch Michelle’ video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9S9EhFeOIo) I had lots of great ideas for world building but it was distracting me from creating my character so I went to basics and went over what I found so far.

Revisiting Anceint Greece with the thought of transformation in mind, it seems I have missed looking at the Phoenix which is of course a classic symbol of transformation and rebirth. Whilst I do love this idea I don’t want to overcomplicate my character why would over complicate  so I have put I to side for now. I might look into the concept of an angle/Phoenix hybrid. Reference from mindmap

I was thinking about the Sami and their connection to reindeer (Sami, 2020) and also about the greek god Pan and Centaurs; who all have in common half human and half hoofed beings. Which brought me to the conclusion of a Deer type Centaur, luckily others have thought of this idea as well and there are lots of drawing references and anatomy diagrams of Centaurs available online reference so I have chosen a few to practice sketching so can have a  better understanding of how my character would move. I would also like to incorporate some of the other wonderful beliefs into my character so I thought I could do this by patterns and clothing instead of physical traits of my character. 

So at this point in my designing  process I’ve decided:

  • My character will be a type of Centaur or Phoenix/human hybrid
  • I will incorporate other points of interest into my character design by patterns, colours and clothing/accessories that reference the interest.

Inspiration: Fairy Foals by Suzanna

In my last post I looked at inspiration from Ancient Greece, one of the ideas I liked in particular was Centauresses and Pegasus. Following on from that train of thought another connection is the book Fairy Foals by Suzanna. This book is illustrated in a hyper realistic style and is a great example of the juxtaposition I am aiming for.

Foals Silhouette:pg 54

In the book the story of a group of fairy foals is told by Suzanna who writes her observations  of  their life through art, poetry and journaling. In particular I love how she gets so much expression from the foals even though they cant speak and are still lovable characters with a well rounded personality.  When I think about how Suzanna achieves this the first thing that comes to mind is that she has made each character instantly identifiable.   

For example, in this picture the reader can tell which foal is which because of their wing shapes shape and how they hold themselves, their body language expressing each individuals character. 

The individuality is highlighted further in poems and character profiles that describe the foals brilliantly and present them in situations unique to their character traits. 

Fuzz:pg74
Dancer:pg44

For example, Dancer and Fuzz are  complete opposites visually and in terms of personality.  Dancer is a very elegant foal, this is shown by the use of long and flowing lines included in most depictions of her. Whereas Fuzz is drawn with shorter and freer lines which creates a messy and care-free impression for his personality. In the pictures above you can see Dancer balancing on flower petals portraying her in a delicate and nimble light. On the other hand Fuzz is shown sticking his tongue out and with a scruffy mane which suggests to me a more cheeky and boisterous character. 

Dancer’s House:pg85
Fuz’s House:pg88

Above are the foals houses, the main character gets inspired by birds weaving their nest, this piques the curiosity of his fellow foals and they all under go a home building project. As you can see Dancer’s house is neat and decorated with flowers and leaves, this supports the idea of Dancer being very vain as well as elegant and also hardworking . In comparison Fuzz has found a hole in the wall reinforcing the image of him as a laid-back character who enjoys the easy life.

In regards to Suzanna’s style, this is my favourite page. The drawings tell a short story of how Fly got a strawberry, the strawberry being his focus is in colour and when he achieves his goal he is in colour as well. 

Fly’s Profile:pg34

Pages like this are visually appealing to me because of the simplicity of the layout, I’m not overwhelmed with information so I can focus on and appreciate the detail in Suzanna’s work.  (Sorry about the quality, I’m still getting used to using my scanner!)

I guess this connection and understanding between animals an humans is similar to the relationship experienced by people who have pets. I have always wanted a dog, my grandma had three dogs when I was growing up.  My friend has a cat who has a strong character, very regal and demanding. One of my favourite places to visit with my friend is the cat cafe in Bristol. From this thought I began to wonder about the history of cats and dogs, I know there are a lot of legends around wolves and spirit animals and cat’s in Egypt I think. I’ll be looking into this next, I’ll look at legends from all over the world but I’ll only mention the one’s that I find most relevant to my creative process in my post.

Character Design: How will I draw my character?

My inspiration comes from escapism, I want to juxtapose fantasy with reality. My character should be an impossible creature dealing with real life situations; no magical spells or potions to make everything become or turn out exactly as you wish it to be. 

Some of the best storytellers ever known are from ancient Greece, so I thought I would start there. I love history and have quite a good knowledge of  Greek Myths, particularly the gods and heroes, but I never paid much attention to the monsters; I guess this is because they were always being slain for some reason or other, which is an odd thought because the gods weren’t exactly ‘good’ either. 

So I made a list of all the creatures I could remember, to see which ones had stuck with me the most. 

This Is my list:

Hercules wrestling the Nemean lion Mississippi 1977.3.62, Attic black figure neck amphora, ca. 510-500 B.C. Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University Museums, University of Mississippi (Hercules’ First Labor: the Nemean Lion, 2020) 
  • Nemean Lion – The lion had impenetrable skin and therefore could not be killed by humans or their tools and was eventually killed by Hercules through strangulation. I’m not sure why this came to mind as not a tale I am particularly interested in but there you go.
(Constellations and Mythology, 2020)
  • Pegasus –  I know Pegasus as horses who can fly with large strong wings they can run on the wind and are born from the line in the horizon where the clouds meet the sea. I researched into them and found this quite interesting “Pegasus is one of the 48 constellations which were named by the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy. In Greek mythology is represents the winged horse Pegasus – probably best known from the 1997 Disney film “Hercules”. In one myth Pegasus used his hooves to dig out a spring called Hippocrene. This spring blessed all those who drank it’s water with the ability to write poetry. According to Greek mythology Pegasus was  placed into the sky by the god Zeus.” https://star-name-registry.com/blog/item/constellations-and-mythology
Heracles, Iolaus and the Hydra, Paestan black-figure hydra C6th B.C., The J. Paul Getty Museum
(LERNAEAN HYDRA – Nine-Headed Serpent of Greek Mythology, 2020)
  • Hydra – I know the hydra as a 12 headed monster with long snake like necks. When one head is decapitated two will grow back in its place. I have read that the hydra is known as a water serpent on https://www.theoi.com/Ther/DrakonHydra.html.
(The Eco-Friendly Dryads of Slavic Fantasy Literature, 2020)
  • Dryad/Nymph- Dryads and Nymphs seem quite similar, I think they may fall into sub categories of one another. When I think about them I see women who transform into aspects of nature, trees and water come to mind first. I looked further into this for clarification and Dryads are specifically tree spirts; where as Nymphs refer to nature spirits in general. I have found there is quite some debate as to why and to what extent Dryads and Nymphs differ but it seems to be accepted by the majority that Dryads are a form of tree nymph. “The Oreiades (Oreads) were nymphs of the mountain conifers…..The Maliades, Meliades or Epimelides were nymphs of apple and other fruit trees and the protectors of sheep. The Greek word melas–from which their name derives–means both apple and sheep…The Daphnaie were nymphs of the laurel trees, one of a class of rarer tree-specific Dryad. Others included the Nymphai Aigeiroi (of black poplars), Ampeloi (of grape vines), Balanis (of the ilex), Karyai (of the hazel-nut), Kraneiai (of cherry-trees), Moreai (of the mulberry), Pteleai (of elm trees), and Sykei (of fig trees).”
(2020)
  • Harpy- The word Harpy means ”snatcher.” Early Greek poets like Hesiod described the Harpies as winged, with maiden heads and youthful ”long hair.” They were creatures ”who on their swift wings keep pace with the blasts of the winds and the birds; for quick as time they dart along.” Later writers, however, described the Harpies as hideous monsters with claws and beaks. For example, the Roman poet Virgil said they possessed  ”faces haggard with hunger insatiable” and talons as hands.
(Medusa :: The Real Story of the Snake-Haired Gorgon, 2020)
  • Medusa – A beautiful mortal, Medusa was the exception in the family, until she incurred the wrath of Athena.
(TITANS (Titanes) – Elder Gods of Greek Mythology, 2020)
  • Titans -“THE TITANES (Titans) were six elder gods….who ruled the cosmos before the Olympians came to power.” The titan I know best is Atlas who has to hold up the heavens for the rest of time.
(Cartwright and Cartwright, 2020)

The Cyclopes, Polyphemus, by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, 1802

  • Cyclops- “Hesiod (c. 700 BCE), writing in his Theogony, tells us that the Cyclopes were….the generation before the Olympian gods. The Cyclopes were thought to dwell in a faraway land of unknown location or name where there were no laws. There these giant creatures lived a simple pastoral existence herding sheep and goats and living in caves.”
(Hecatoncheires, 2020)
  • Hundred Handed Monster- “The Hecatoncheires were giant creatures in Greek mythology. Their name means “hundred – handed ones”, and apart from a hundred hands of unfathomable strength, they also had fifty heads….The natural forces that were represented by the Hecatoncheires were the earthquakes and the huge sea waves.”
(Team, 2020)
  • Minotaur- The minotaur originates from Crete, it is described as a being with the head and tail of a bull but the body of a man. In greek mythology it was kept within a labyrinth waiting to be slain by a hero. ” the Minotaur resided at the center of the Labyrinth, designed specifically to hide him from view at the request of Pasiphae’s husband, Minos.” (Minotaur, 2020)
(Cerberus – Three-Headed Hound of Hades | Mythology.net, 2020)
  • Cerberus – most strongly associated with Hades as his guard dog, guardian of the underworld, more specifically the gates. Cerberus’s job is to stop living souls from entering and dead souls from leaving Hades. ”He has the body of a dog with shaggy bronze or black fur…Cerberus has multiple heads—usually three, although some writers have given him as many as one hundred—with “eyes that flash fire,” “jagged teeth “and three tongues per mouth. Most writers claim that all of these heads are dog-like, but a few writers have described half of the heads as dog-like and the other half are “heads of beasts of all sorts””I feel this description also fits with the theme of natural elements eyes like fire, jagged teeth  reminds me of rocks near the mouth of caves and bottoms of mountains which are both recognisable places of transportation between worlds. The cave idea would also fit within the description of Orpheoses Tale when entering and leaving the underworld. “….Cerberus’s tail slowly morphs into a serpent, with a venomous head at the end, and more serpents sprout from his body. Some writers claim that these serpents form a mane around his head, while others describe the serpents growing up from his spine or hanging down like tangled fur all over his body.” I like this idea because I feel the tangled fur would add to the wild and unruly character of Cerberus.
(Fish or Fowl: How did Sirens become Mermaids?, 2020)
  • Siren –  I have had a lot of confusion over what exactly is a siren. I have seen lots of variations but have never understood the reason behind them. After researching it I have found out that as tales were passed down over time the siren has changed. “The siren is a deadly creature, half human, half bird or fish. Early sources say the siren is human (always female) from the head to the navel, and bird from the waist down. Later sources say that the siren is fish from the waist down, like a mermaid. They usually have wings.” Or: “sirens changed from monstrous birds with human heads to instrument-playing women who happened to have wings and bird feet. Or: “a universally popular source for creators of medieval bestiaries. People later in this list, like Bartholomaeus and Geoffrey Chaucer, mentioned it by name when describing their siren-mermaids.” 
(Chimera | Description & Story, 2020) (BABY MYTHICAL CREATURES (CHIMERA, GRIFFIN & HIPPOGRYPH) | Волшебные существа, Мифические существа, Эскизы животных, 2020)
  • Chimera: “Chimera, in Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster resembling a lion in the forepart, a goat in the middle, and a dragon behind. She devastated Caria and Lycia until she was slain by Bellerophon. In art the Chimera is usually represented as a lion with a goat’s head in the middle of its back and with a tail that ends in a snake’s head. This matches the description found in Hesiod’s Theogony (7th century BC). The word is now used generally to denote a fantastic idea or figment of the imagination. Chimera, or chimère, in architecture, is a term loosely used for any grotesque, fantastic, or imaginary beast used in decoration.”
(Selkies – Clan Rollo Online – Scotland’s Culture, 2020)
  • Selkie – I know this isn’t a greek myth but  Selkies came up as a simmilar creature when I was researching sirens along with mermaids.  Selkies are “”seal folk”… mythological beings capable of therianthropy, changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin. They are found in folktales and mythology originating from the Northern Isles of Scotland.”. This reminded me of the Ingo series by Helene Dunmore which I also loved when I was younger.  I remembered watching an animated movie about selkies so I looked into that and its called Song of the Sea. Selkies are also described as: “Amorous, affectionate and affable, Selkies are the hidden gems of sea mythology….Their myths are romantic tragedies, a common theme for land/sea romances, however it is the Selkies who suffer rather than their human lovers and spouses…Selkies can be either men or women, but are seals while in the water.” Getting

Back to Ancient Greece….

I remember a lot of these from the Disney movie Hurcules which is how I first became interested in  Greek myths.  Pegasus was my favourite character. I think this is because I could use the character as a gateway into the world; his character has enough substance to be likeable but is not strong enough that I can say “Well I wouldn’t do that”. This is where my very literal thinking comes in and context rigidity. 

I also liked Megara as she was different from most heroines I was used to seeing. First of all she was physically different, she has brown hair and doesn’t have massive round eyes. Secondly, she didn’t want to fall in love, she wasn’t going to run off with the first guy she meets and actually sees Hercules multiple times before even considering having feelings for him. I find this very refreshing in a Disney princess and  more relatable. 

Anyway, if I put these two characters together then I would get a winged Centauress. Whilst I do love this idea I want to look at one step at a time, I will begin with a centauress and then I may add wings later. On the other hand I might look into the concept of an angle/Phoenix hybrid. It will be exciting to see where this project takes me either way!

Character Creation, where to begin?

I knew I wanted a character and I knew I wanted to be part of a hidden world. This is because I am autistic and often find myself dreaming of a place where I can be myself and be with other people like me, who understand me. Autism is not something that people are aware of or how complex it can be.  It is especially hard to reach people who are neuro-typical without any training in how to communicate with us; at least that is my experience. This lack of education is something that I feel very strongly about and want to change. 

As I see it there are two steps that need to be taken to bridge or overcome this issue, these steps are as follows:

Step One: 

Empower people who find communicating and expressing difficult. Due to the lack of awareness, when I received my diagnosis I thought there was no one else like me out there. I have always been presented with stereotypes of autistic behaviour that is nothing like me and I was experiencing a flood of new information, about how vast the autistic spectrum is. Everything I thought I knew was turned upside down and I was struggling  to make sense of it all.  I had so many questions…Where do I fit on the spectrum?, Why has this only been noticed when I’ve been like this all my life?,  My life could have been so different if I had known earlier…how do I go forward now? I tried asking the professionals who were supporting me through the post-diagnostic process, they were able to answer many of my questions but I still felt extraordinarily isolated from society, like I was watching the world go by rather than being part of it. I wanted someone to relate to, connect with, which brought me to my next big question ‘If the spectrum is so big and there are hundreds of people like me, where are they?’

Autism: A Hidden World

Ever since I was little I have loved the idea of secret worlds, worlds of faeries, spirits and magical creatures.  The part I love most about reading is that I can enter a whole new world that only I can see, only I can control, a wonderful safe place. I think this concept is more dear to me now than ever as in a sense I am part of that world, you may not notice me or know how to reach me but I am here. As important as that safe space is to me I also want to share it with people who matter to me, I just didn’t know how. I still don’t, but I’m trying every day. I couldn’t explain verbally how I was feeling, I couldn’t process my thoughts in a way that made sense to those around me, so I came to the conclusion ‘If I can’t tell you I’ll show you’.  I started drawing. I want to express myself through my character, a creature from a hidden world. I want others to be able to look at my narrative drawings and see they are not alone in the world, raise awareness and help others, give them another safe space, one that is connecting them to the world around them, a world to share.   

Step Two:

Encouraging others to listen and persevere. At this point I have been able to find a way to express myself that I enjoy and works for me, but I can’t use that method in circumstances that require instant responses.  Getting people to be willing to listen to me and spend time and effort trying to understand me has proven to be very difficult. I was wondering if anyone else like me had this problem and found a way around it, so I Googled it and after some searching and rephrasing I found  The Curley Hair Project. 

An amazing woman Alis Rowe, who is autistic, has made a whole website and social enterprise dedicated to helping people like me and people to understand me.  Alis has created a character for herself “The Girl with the Curley Hair’,  her character is a line drawing  stick figure who is drawn in various situations that show how the situation is experienced by the autistic person and how others should support that person and respond in a way that creates a positive outcome for both people. 

As amazing as this discovery is to me I don’t want to copy Alis’s work, I want to make something unique to me even though it’s for the same cause. Social Media, Advertising, posters, leaflets, (Alis even makes music!); these are all ways I can promote awareness through my character.