Bard of a Different Feather
Interview with Bernice Gordon
News for October
Break Out the Colored Pencils
Bardic Instrumentsby Jenny Heidewald
They are known by many names; bard, troubadour, minstrel, poet, and balladeer. They are entertainers and, at times, wanderers. Chances are great that you've read about a bard in one story or another, as they make for good characters, and interesting personalities. In fantasy stories bards can use their song to make or assist with making magic, or spells.
In real history, if a bard had a patron, they composed songs and ballads extolling the virtues of said patron. If the patron did not pay the bard enough, or made them angry, the bard would make a satire, which they would possibly play while visiting a rival's estate. At one point harpers were treated like royalty, second below chieftains and kings, and often carried news along with stories from town to town while picking up information. In times of war, bards were safe from harm by rival clans.
In general, if you have a wandering bard character, you will want to give them a portable instrument. Favorites include harps, lyres, guitars, lutes, and of course, the lightest instrument of all, the bard's voice. Pipes and flutes can be used, but the bard's greatest asset is their voice, though if you have two or more traveling together, one can play the pipes while the other sings.
In this article I will be covering lutes, lyres, and small harps, and how to portray them.
This is the oldest known stringed instrument in the world. It is speculated that the harp has its origins from bows, as Egyptian illustrations show harps without their third side; this is called an arched harp, or bow harp. Ancient Pictish rock carvings also feature the instrument with its familiar triangular shape, consisting of a sound box, neck, and pillar. When built with the triangular design the harp is much stronger, and the strings can be strung tighter without warping the frame.
The harp has survived through the ages by adapting to each time period's needs. Triple harps and pedal harps are evidence of this, as major composers, from the sixteenth to eighteenth century, started demanded all the chromatic notes a piano could play. In Wales, a larger harp with three rows of strings, called the Welsh Triple Harp (Welsh: Telyn deires), was developed during the 17th century and became common in folk music there to this day. Not all harps are large though, the medieval harp is small and portable, weighing approximately ten pounds. In Ireland and Scotland the small harp is known as the clairseach or clarsach, and is strung with bronze or brass strings, which gives the clarsach a brighter sound than traditional gut-strung harps. Harps range from eight strings--a tiny harp that doesn't give much musical range, but is certainly portable--to the forty-seven strings of a pedal harp. Twenty-six strings is a decent size for a wandering bard.
Traditionally the strings are strung to the left side of the harmonic curve, that is the side to bard's left when they are playing the harp. Earlier style harps have strings that the harpist would tune by turning the peg; modern harps are outfitted with levers that make switching keys fast and sure.
To play, the hands are held as if holding a cup, the thumb and first three fingers of each are placed on the strings, while the pinkie finger is not used. The right hand plays the higher pitched strings, closer to the body, and the left plays the lower.
Drawing the Harp:
I could probably use perspective and boxes to figure out this harp, but boxes and trying to find the perspective point is intimidating to me, not to mention having to go and get larger sheets of paper to attach to my original paper just to find the vanishing point. I like to wing it, looking at different references, in this case, many photos of the Ardival Rose harp and the Queen Mary harp, which are both about the same design. I am figuring out placement and size comparisons, the harp is triangular, so it might help to sketch out a triangle shape first keeping in mind the angle from which you are drawing the harp.
A see-through ruler comes in handy, so that you can get different widths easily. I try to do some perspective so the harp doesn't look quite as sad, but the horizon point is way off the paper, so I am going to play more with that in Photoshop, where I can add on to my image space. I content myself with getting the lines looking straight. I figure I am going to add ornamentation, and that will help the poor thing out. The Ardival rose harp has twenty-six strings; using my see-through ruler, I mark where the strings will join the sound board.
I need to fix the pillar and neck of the harp, before I can add the pegs for the strings. I work more on the bard's outfit, and start penciling in a background. I draw a line on the neck where I want the pegs to line up along, I use my clear ruler and pencil in the strings, they actually all fit, though the pegs to hold them are a bit cramped. A rolling ruler would work well here to keep the lines about the same angle. I start adding the sketchy beginnings of decorative touches to the harp, in this case, leaves and scroll work, with a few gems thrown in for good measure. For the bard's tunic I scribble lines to give the impression of embroidery, or lace. Bards are often drawn wearing hats with feathers; I didn't want to put a hat over his nice hair, but felt he could use some feathers.
Time to dive into inking, I have decided to use my colored micron pens instead of just black. First I do the outlines, then the shading. For the trees in the background I get my Faber-Castell brush pen markers. For the pine trees in the distance I decide to use vertical lines to give them some solidity. The harp can have sound holes in the front, or the back, I have decided against having them in the front, so they don't clash with my decorations.
My trees in the back of the bard are rowdy and take too much attention away from the bard himself, so I go back in and thicken the lines around him, adding weight and presence. I also add cross hatching to give him more of a solid presence. I decided to try out a technique new to me for the sky, adding horizontal lines in areas of what would be between clouds. After scanning I adjust the brightness contrast to brighten the illustration. I also check the perspective in Photoshop, and I didn't do too badly.
This is an instrument that is similar to the harp. Some speculate that the lyre was a variation of the harp, created in order to make a lighter and more portable instrument, but there are large lyres, like the famed Egyptian Lyre of Ud. The main difference in construction is that the lyre connects to the sound box over a bridge, and lacks the triangle shape of the harp. The sound box of a lyre can be made of wood, leather, or even things like turtle shells.
The lyre can be plucked or strummed using fingers or a plectrum, the latter similar to a guitar pick in function. The instrument can have four to ten strings or more; the ones with seven strings or less were played using the left hand to damp the strings to get different notes, while the right strummed; this is also called the "block and strum." On lyres with eight or more strings the strings were plucked individually, like a harp.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo is a lyre player. While he didn't invent the instrument, as he did the flute, he was given it by Hermes, who had stolen/slaughtered one of Apollo's sacred cows and a tortoise to make the first lyre. Apollo, a god of music, fell in love with the instrument and offered to allow exchange of the cattle for the lyre. Hence, Apollo became a master of the lyre, and Hermes was forgiven for his theft when he gave the lyre to Apollo.
In Greek mythology, Orpheus, a well-known lyrist, lost his beloved wife Eurydice to a snake bite. Bereaved, he went down to the Underworld and so charmed Hades and Persephone with his beautiful sad songs and lyre playing that Hades, the god of the underworld, agreed to let Orpheus have his wife back, with the strict instructions to not look back at her until they were both out of the Underworld. They made their way up to the light of day and as soon as Orpheus entered the sunlight, he was so happy that he turned to look for his wife, to tragically find that she was still in the dark mouth of the cave. She faded back to the Underworld, now lost to him for the rest of his living years. After Orpheus' death, his lyre was thrown into the river; Zeus sent an eagle to retrieve the lyre, and ordered both of them to be placed in the sky.
The lyre is also represented in the ancient mythology of astronomy, with the constellation Lyra supposedly representing the lyre. In the past, Lyra was often represented on star maps as a vulture or an eagle carrying a lyre, either enclosed in its wings, or in its beak. It was sometimes referred to as Aquila Cadens or Vultur Cadens (falling eagle or falling vulture). Lyra was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union today.
There are a couple different styles of lyre, one of the popular ones today is the Anglo Saxon lyre. This lyre is quite thin, the sound box is carved out of the baseboard.
Drawing the Lyre
You can tell which part of the picture I am more interested in developing here! I first draw a circle for the base of the lyre, then start sketching in the arms and the scoop in the sound box. Okay, that lyre is in some serious need of dentures!
Since my paper is too small, I trace the image and transfer it to a larger sheet of paper before continuing. This gives me reverse of what I had before, but it works better for the directional flow. The first thing I do is add a straight line where the bottom of the lyre is, and then I use my see-through ruler to make a straight edged box of the area that will contain the lyre. This will make it easier to duplicate each side. The girl will be holding the lyre with her other hand in order to secure the lyre for playing while standing, technically this should be the left hand, but I had flipped the picture. I sketch other elements of the picture, since I am on a bird kick, I add what will try to be a lyre bird.
Now comes the fun part, designing the lyre. I know that I want a rounded design, so I star adding the curves to the base, and on the top of the sound box. I put in the pillars on the sides, and work a bit more on her costume. I am inspired by Greek and Roman styles.
I add in the bridge and the tie block, I put fifteen strings on there, which makes it look a bit more like a harp than an older style lyre. I draw the strings starting from the middle string after I place the corresponding marks on the tie block. While adding more detail to other areas of the picture, I decide the lyre bird will be more of a fantasy style bird rather than the real one.
Now that I have the lyre figured out, I fill in the rest of the details, with micron pen and Faber-Castell marker. I also change her hair to reflect more of an ancient Greek style.
The lute is the predecessor of the guitar and in turn is the descendant of the Arabic oud, dating from the 7th century A.D. The word lute is derived from the Arabic "al ude", which means "the wood", and was very popular during the Renaissance and late Baroque era. In the 18th Century the lute was starting to disappear in favor of the guitar and piano. The player of a lute is called a lutenist, a luthier is someone who makes or repairs these instruments.
The lute has a half a pear shaped body, the soundboard can be all on piece or two pieces, depending on the style it can have a veneer for the fingerboard on top of the wooden base. With older lutes frets made of string or gut were tied around the neck, though some lutes didn't have any frets at all. The back is made of several different sections of wood, the luthier bends the boards over a frame to get the pear look of the lute.
Perhaps the most striking part of a lute is the bent back peg-box. The peg box is at a forty five to ninety degree angle from the neck. This is to increase the tension on the strings, to hold the nut in place (the nut is the ivory or bone piece at the join of the peg-box and neck, it has notches cut into it to help keep the strings in place), prevent the pegs from slipping, and to make it easier to reach for tuning.
Courses are the number of double strings a lute has. The strings in a course are tuned to the same note, the highest pitched course is usually a single string, and is called chanterelle. For example, a six-course lute has eleven strings, five in pairs and one single. The courses range from four, ancient lutes, to thirteen or more, the many stringed versions from later centuries. The sound hole of the lute is covered with a carved bit of wood called a rose or rosette. These range from simple to complex designs, and were used as the signature mark of the luthier.
When played with the fingers, the lute has a nice mellow sound. With the lute held like a guitar, the thumb plays the lower notes, the index finger the higher, the others playing notes between, from the bottom up. The little finger is kept on the soundboard to give a reference point for where one is at on the strings.
Drawing the Lute
I start by sketching my figure, and then a line for the angle I want the lute to go, and then I lightly sketch in an egg shape for the sound box of the lute.
Taking my see-thru ruler I make two parallel lines for the neck, I extend these lines through the body to use as a guide for the lutes strings. I adjust the size of the lute body, making it fit the lutist better. In real life the lute would probably be tilted more to the bard's left, and tilted back so the face is up more, so that he can play easier. I'm going to add a strap so that he won't have to worry about dropping his instrument.
I continue to expand on his costume, drawing inspiration from the outfits of the Middle Gothic 1420's period, the hat is a turban roundlet. I figure out his hand pose. Good places to find finger poses are in guitar books or online. I use my circle template to straighten out the sound hole. The peg box is at a ninety-degree angle on the neck of the lute, we would only see a few pegs sticking out from the sides.
I break out my microns, and start figuring out where the courses will run; this is going to be a six-course lute, which means eleven strings, as the highest is single. Try to group the each course together, leaving a larger space between them. It works better on larger drawings, the see-through ruler also comes in handy for keeping the lines parallel. To make things easier on me, I decide that this lute has no frets. I add in the bridge, and design the rose. Think of the rose as a snowflake, the rose can be from four-section symmetry to eight, the more sections the greater the detail. Most of the real life roses are geometrical, but I wanted to go with a more organic design. I designed one section then mimicked it on the other side. It helps to divide the circle into a grid to assist in placement of features, you can see my guidelines in this picture. I fixed the pegs on the peg box.
Next, bringing out my Faber-Castell brush pens in addition to my microns, I add some wood graining to the lute soundboard, as well as shading and a background. I fix any incidentals in Photoshop, such as using the levels to clear up any off white areas, and adjusting the saturation so that his hair isn't overly bright.
So that you have a better idea of the form of a lute, I have also drawn a side view and three quarter view:
I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the different bardic instruments. There are many more instruments that bards play, the wonderful world of human invention created some quite interesting instruments that are worth a second look.
Sylvia Woods Harps
Queen Mary Harp
Michael J. King
History of the Lute
Arts and Music Now: More Lute History
The lute being played by Ronn McFarlane-"Indigo Road"
The lute being played by Valery Sauvage
Paintings with lutes in them
to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.
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