Using Indigenous Art to Illustrate Fairies
It’s always difficult to visually design and develop fairy realms without having the characters come across as a little corny. Thus it’s difficult to escape the idea that fairy tales themselves are simply whimsical when very few of them actually are. Part of the challenge we as artists face in this is that much of what we think we know about such magical worlds comes out of the Victorian Era when many of the people of Europe stopped believing in fairies, or assigned weird moral functions to them. Fairy tales during the Victorian Era were often illustrated with the intention of teaching Victorian Reality, not with remaining true to the understanding of the fairy tale.
In order to overcome the deficit in our understanding of fairies and fairy tales which was created by the Victorian Era I have used traditional arts as an inspiration for my illustrations. Indigenous Art offers the advantage having existed and been refined for thousands of years towards the purpose of depicting the magical world. What’s more the people who created such art did so out of a sense of belief, and a show of respect for this world. The results of this refinement and belief are striking. Such art forms can help any artist to break away from the basic Victorian design, though there is always something to be said for including elements of this in any work.
Learning to understand the art of any indigenous people can be difficult. Their art after all often portrays very complex ideas in extremely graphical ways. I had an advantage of this, the Yupik people with whom I grew up had believed that masks were an important part of praying (as was song and dance). This not only allowed me to hear stories of the creatures in their ‘fairy tales’ but to see visual depictions of how one of these figures was meant to look and move.
Even without such experiences as a child, I believe that it’s possible for anybody to come to a general understanding of the functionality of the art of a people. Of course once an understanding is obtained an understanding of folk religion and fairy tales should also be gained. After all these beliefs and stories can be about people’s relationship with the fairy realms, and in many ways fantasy art is about understanding characters, not just understanding visuals.
Visit a website of folklore including Japanese and Russian Fairy Tales translated into English for the web and for the first time.