Yay! It's Friday, Illustration Friday, and I am basking in the weather as it gets cooler. It always gets me excited to break out my jackets, pullovers, scarves and colorful knitted winter caps in preparation to brace for the cooler weather. As this week's topic is ICE, I find it rather appropriately timed. However, before we get into any of that, FIRST, as promised: a story...
Ugalik Beats the Great Whale
~Lewis W. Porter~
Far far north in the world, on cold winter nights, as people gather around the campfires, there is told a tale, among the descendants of the northern Yupik tribe; a tale of a young boy who once lived long long ago; a boy who could run faster than anyone has ever ran. He ran faster than the fastest man living today has ever ran. He ran faster than any living creature that has ever lived on this earth... and even faster than a giant whale could swim fast; a giant whale that almost ate the entire world long long ago. They call this young boy Ugalik, the Arctic Rabbit; the young boy who saved the world by beating the Great Whale.
This is his story...
It was said that Ugalik was born on one of the harshest winters the world has ever known.
The great ancestors of the Yupik tribe wandered long across the harsh frozen lands of the north that winter until they found solace and shelter in a small valley among two tall mountains at the tip of the world where the shore meets the icy waters of the northern oceans.
Uglalik was known among his tribe as the boy that was born running from the womb; the boy who learned to run before he learned to walk. He ran everywhere he was allowed. He would run to gather wood for the fires. He would run to gather water. He would run to help carry the fish daily back from the shores. He was fast. He was so fast sometimes he would be back before his mother or anyone else in the tribe knew he had left. Ugalik would run everywhere. He even ran as he sleep...
...and he was fast, very fast... He had to be. Otherwise, "The Great Whale would get me." He'd say to his mother when she asked why he ran at night. "The Great Whale would get me and eat me. So I have to run fast, you see. I have to beat the Great Whale."
His mother would caution him when he'd tell her of his dreams. "The Great Whale will not eat you, Ugalik. Sedna, the goddess of the deep, is our protector and provider. She gives us all fish to eat and bartered safe passage across the waters each day so we can fish. She protects us from the great storm waters of the ocean." She told him to be silent, so as not to anger Sedna.
Ugalik would be silent, though, deep in his heart of hearts and down far below in the icy oceans of his dreams, he knew that the Great Whale was just waiting... biding her time; waiting for her vengeance upon the world that trapped her deep below in her icy prison.
...and he was right. One winter, that day came. The day that Sedna came to eat the world and gobble it up and up and up. All winter long, the snows had fallen colder, the winds had howled louder and the waters rose. All winter the fish had been fewer and fewer, the fires seemed less warmer and less warmer and the waters rose and they rose and rose...
...until they came. The ocean waters rose in a great wave like a tall wall of moving ice almost as high as the two mountains and it began to head right for the village. Ugalik awoke to the sounds of the tribe's screams. The shouts lifted him from his small bed and when his feet touched the ground, they were running and running and running so fast. He pulled the tribe one by one from the valley to the safety of the mountain side. It all happened so fast. The icy wall-wave crashed down into the valley as Ugalik pulled the the last villager to safety upon the mountain rocks... and that is when he saw her.
A giant bulge almost the width of the size of the whole valley emerged form the running waters. The bulge grew out of the waters, higher and higher and higher and then it opened its large mouth and swallowed the village whole in one humongous gulp. It was the Great Whale, herself. It was Sedna, the goddess of the deep, come to avenge herself upon the world and cover it whole in icy waters.
The villages stood in silence that Great Whale turned toward the mountain and roared the most terrible roar. It chilled them all the their very bones and that is when Sedna began to come for them. She would eat them all up. Ugalik knew what he must do. He finally knew what all his terrible dreams at night meant. He understood his destiny as the monsters roar fell upon the wet rock of the mountainside.
Ugalik ran out to where the rocks met the water and he stood still facing down the enormous monster headed his way. He drew up all the strength within him, all his silent prayers, all his narrow dreamscapes and channeled them out through his mouth in the mightiest war cry that the gods and the goddesses of hid tribe could muster. He called out into the flooded valley. He voice filled the vast space until it shook the mountain tops from where he stood. Then the avalanche came.
The snow and the icy rocks began to tumble forth and crash into the frozen and flowing waters that filled the valley. they rained down upon the mighty dragon-fish and Sedna began to sink beneath it. Each roar she gave echoed in the valley only to speed the ice and rock that rained upon her, slowing her charge until she finally sank silent to the retreat of the deep. when the tribe began to rejoice in this victory, Ugalik turned to silence them fr he knew this was not the end of the battle. It was only the beginning.
There, in the frozen silence, there came a rumble. The ground beneath their feet began to shake and all of a sudden the Great Whale burst from the confines of her icy burial with a ferocious roar more terrible than the first.
...and then Ugalik ran. He leaped from the rocky side of the mountain and onto the broken icy rocks that floated in the wake of the Great Monsters return from the deep. He ran fast, then faster, then faster. He leaped so fast from rock to rock as he ran towards the Great Whale to fight. To finish what he started... and she was ready. She had him in her sights and she began to swim fast, then faster then faster toward him. They moved like quick storms preparing to crash in a grand cataclysm of war and weather; weather-war.
Sedna, the Great Whale, began to open her mouth. She roared with such Divine pleasure, ready to swallow this insignificant little man-boy. She would swallow him whole, then his family, then the world. It would all be hers, hers, hers!!!! Just when she thought the victory would inevitably be hers, Ugalik leaped into the air faster than wind and threw his spear. The spear soared through the icy air and struck her, hurt her, pierced her through her eye. She cried in agony as her mouth crashed down closed. The water burst red from her lips.
...and Ugalik ran. He ran fast, then faster, then faster, leaping from icy island to icy island. Sedna gave chase to him even more veraciously than before. She swam fast, then faster, then faster, chasing him.
The tribe members watched, mouths open, frozen still and tense as Ugalik's and Sedna's colored flashes of speed swept through the valley and towards the sliver between the two twin mountains; the narrow mouth that once was the valley and led out to the northern ocean.
Ugalik ran and ran and ran so fast until he leaped out of the waters and onto the rocky edge of one of the twin-mountains. He then ran again, faster and faster, his breath beginning to shallow, the great shadow of Sedna right behind him. He knew he was beginning to weaken, but he prayed again for more strength, more courage and it came, the dreams came flooding through him as they did before... and he ran and ran until he was at the very top of the twin mountain. Then he stopped and turned and stood to face the Great Monster Goddess of the Deep.
It was this moment, that the Great Enormous Whale burst forth from her icy water prison and flew into the air. She roared a monstrous roar more fierce than ever before as she soared into the frozen air toward the boy on the mountain top. It began to blend with another roar more fierce than her own; a roar, a cry, a war cry so load that it seemed impossible to come from something so small. Ugalik called once more into the vast and open space between him and the monster. He called upon the strength of all the gods and goddesses of his tribe...
...and that is when the mountains began to move. the mountains that were once two were becoming one and as they moved together, the Great Whale began to fall between them. He speed became slower, and slower and slower. She than began to cry out in pain louder and louder and louder. Ugalik cried louder and louder and louder and the mountains moved closer and closer and closer together.
....and then, there was silence. The once Great and Mighty Whale was now quiet and still, wedged stuck between the tips of the twin mountains. As Ugalik stood with face to face with the titanic monster of his dreams, he heard only one sound; the sound of the winds and the iced themselves across the Great Whale. The deep regal blue of the skin turned a frosty white as the wind and the ice began to enclose around her. The last thing that Ugalik saw before the ice and snow took Sedna forever was a massive dark blue orb that blinked. Sedna shed exactly one last tear from her only remaining eye. It froze upon her cheek and the ice took her. The waters began to recede.
The snow calmed and the wind softened. The valley returned and so did the fish. The tribe was saved and Sedna was trapped forever; never to harm Ugalik, never to harm the tribe, never to eat the world.
Now it has been said by many of the Yupik today, that sometimes out on the icy waters, fishing from their kayaks, they can hear a strange sound, like a war-cry faint in the distance, being carried from the winds of the north. Winds that are softly whispering the name of their great young hero; whispering into their ears the name of Ugalik, The Arctic Rabbit of the North.
Now, we talk some art...
As this week's topic was ICE, I thought it would be a grand opportunity to continue my mini-challenge of illustrating children from all over the globe. I decided it would be fun to illustrate an young Inuit boy. Now as a fan of cool/cold weather, I have a fascination with the tribes of people that live in the frozen wilderness of the North. I'm captivated by who they are and how they survive and how they came to adapt to such cold areas of the Earth.
I decided not to adapt their culture's visual art aesthetic as I did not want to become too abstract with creating a character from their culture. I decided to really let that imprint show in the story itself, but I'll get to the writing in just a bit.
One of the things I find remarkable beautiful about the Inuit culture, is their wardrobe. I love the intricacies and tailored designs that they create with animal fur. Now don't get me wrong, as a vegetarian, I would never buy a fur coat for myself, but, then again, I don't live in the one of the harshest and coldest environments of this planet and would , therefore, not need a fur coat. The Inuit, however, find a balance with their environment and the animals they hunt, they use 100% of those animals; for food and for protection against the cold temperatures. They aren't poachers by any means. Anyway, the designs that they are able to create with such difficult material to work with, are amazing and works of art in their own right. I wanted to include this element in the creation of Ugalik.
I found an image, while I was researching through photographic reference, that really worked well with the concept of the story I wrote. I loved the diagonal and flowing lines that were created in this woman's coat and thought that they represented the fast movement of Ugalik's running quite well, so I adapted the coat pattern to his own. It's always challenging to translate some textures into two dimensions and fur is a texture that is difficult to create at times. I was able to accomplish this through use of the way I inked the contours of the fur in his coat and boots and also by a variety of colored layers and digitally "painted" brushstrokes when I collaged that part of the illustration.
The other part I really enjoyed creating was the tones of his skin. I used several layers to make it the right hue and, personally, I feel like it's an attractive color. I even added part of Ugalik's conceptual meaning of his name to how I drew him. I worked to combine the facial structure of a rabbit into his face. The process for the rest of this illustration, was the same as the others I create in this style: Sketch, Ink, Scan the drawing and the create a digital collage for the final color. I honestly have more to discuss about the story, than the illustration itself. The varied tribes of the Inuit culture in the State of Alaska and the Territories of northern Canada have a very very rich history of oral tradition. I love traditional oral story telling and am captivated by the mythology and legends of all the different cultures around this planet. I knew that once I made the decision that the subject of my ICE illustration would be of an Inuit child, I wanted the short story that accompanied him to be a legend of my own design inspired by the stories of that culture that I was researching.
As you only have a week to complete a project for IF Friday, the research and conceptual development for both the story and illustration are, understandably, quite brief. However, I was able to "run" through alot of material and read several stories that were recorded down for posterity from that area of the world. I allowed what I was reading to shape what I eventually came up with for this week.
Out of all the research I did, there were three key elements that shaped Ugalik's Legend. The first was, obviously, his name. I knew that I wanted a name that was accurate to that culture and I wanted the meaning of the name to obviously play a part in the story. I went through an entire alphabet of Inuit names and came across one that I couldn't get out of my mind once I read it, I just kept coming back to it it because the name's meaning kept speaking to me. Ugalik, Male name meaning Arctic Rabbit or Hare. I just fell in love with the idea of an Arctic Rabbit. And almost immediately I began to summon ideas of what sort of story would be about or revolve around an Arctic Rabbit... What exactly would an Arctic Rabbit be? What sort of role would that character play in the story?
The second element that came into to play was the selection of Ugalik's tribe. As many already know, Inuit is just a general term used to describe a group of tribes of Native American (North American) peoples that live in the frozen lands far North on this continent. (The Eskimo being the other term to describe the other family of tribes.) There are many many tribes, but there was one in particular that I was "drawn" to: the Yupik tribe. The Yupik are actually more related to the Eskimo group than the Inuit, but I selected them as I liked what I has read about them. They originally came from Russia and the lands far East. I liked the nomadic quality about them and liked the concept of a traveling village. The name Yupik also means "Real Person" and I liked that about the name. So it was then decided that Ugalik would be of the ancestors of the Yupik as they traveled across the frozen lands before the tribe finally settled where they live today in most of the areas of Alaska and some areas of the nearby Canadian Territories. (You can read more about the Yupik by clicking on the image above.)
The final key element that shaped this story was when I read about the Inuit goddess, Sedna (Pronounced Sanna.) She is the goddess of the oceans deep and controls the animals that live there. In some tribes she is refereed to as the goddess of the Underworld, a role very similar to that of the Greek god, Hades. She is a very temperamental goddess and the Inuit peoples have a very odd symbiotic yet antagonistic relationship with her. She is mostly known as a very vengeful goddess. She is usually never kind as her origins are quite traumatic and tragic. Though she brings death to the fishermen of the tribes, by either destroying them with the harsh waves or storms of the ocean or by having them eaten by the titans of the deep, The tribes also pray to her for food. Their survival is also dependent upon her generosity as she also controls the population of animals that can be hunted. It is quite an odd relationship, but the Inuit tribes seem to make it work.
A quick, but relevant aside, I had been listening to Stephen King's IT on audio book. I was thinking in my head the similarities between Sedna and IT. IT was also a god of sorts that was the eater of worlds and children. In one version of Sedna's origin, she is a giant born to the main god and goddess (similar to Zeus and Hera) but her hunger is insatiable. She must eat and eat and eat. So she attempts to eat her parents before she is banished to the depths of the ocean, trapped forever. I liked the idea of a massive Titan with insatiable hunger. I wanted to make this a key part of the story I was writing. In another version of her story, Sedna is a beautiful daughter of a great hunter. She is betrothed to a god, but when she goes back on her end of the deal, the god becomes angry and punishes the tribe. To appease the angry god, her father takes her out into the ocean and throws her into the water to sacrifice her. When she grabs hold of the side of her father's kayak, he grabs his ax and chops off her fingers. She sinks to the deep where she is trapped awaiting the day for her vengeance upon the world. (You can read more about her by clicking on the link above.
Another part of IT that inspired me was a section of the story where the main character "Beats the Devil" and escapes from the IT Creature on his very fast bicycle that he calls "Silver." This gave me a concept with which I structured the story around. I would create an epic battle between the Arctic Hare and The Vengeful Goddess of the deep. I wanted Ugalik to "Outrun" the goddess and "Beat" her in order to save his tribe and the world. Since Sedna's physical form varies from myth to myth and from tribe to tribe, I decided to make her form a Great Whale. This is a nod to two works of classical literature. The first being the most obvious, Moby Dick, and the second maybe more personal than obvious, Monstro from Pinocchio.
This pretty much sums up what I wanted to share about this week's Illustration and short story, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed creating it. Might I suggest taking a sliver of your weekend and reading an Inuit legend on your own. They are very fascinating.
Until next time, friends,Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all,
keep making art.