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March 2011

March 2011 -- Gryphons

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  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Pascal Cambion
  • EMG News:
    News for March
  • Behind the Art:
    Griffin in Watercolor

    Features

  • The Gryphon
  • Basic Animal Anatomy


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  • The Gryphon
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Gryphon, griffon, or griffin -- however it is spelled, this majestic monster has its roots in ancient history. The legend of this creature is thought to have originated around 3,000 B.C in the Middle East. It infiltrates many mythologies and arts: ancient Egyptians (as companion to the Egyptian pharaoh), Sumerians, Babylonians, Mycenaeans, Assyrians, Persians, Syrians, Scythians, Indians and Greeks (the latter believe to have discovered the gryphon and the Cyclops through tales from Scythian tribes).

    Traditionally the gryphon is comprised of two animals: the majestic eagle and the stately lion. What more regal combination could there be than pairing two animals representing power and strength, the king of beasts and the monarch of the skies? The head, wings and forefeet are that of the eagle, the hindquarters are of the lion. There are variations on this theme, which have names in their own right: the opinicus and the hippogryph, which I will discuss more later. An interesting addition to the eagle head are feathered ears. These are usually depicted to be around the length of a donkey's, and are attributed to be the work of the ancient Syrians and Babylonians, who were fond of chimerical monsters. The long donkey ears are meant as a compliment, as these ancient people admired the swiftness of the wild donkey. Long ears were also given to other chimerical combinations. These ears help distinguish the gryphon from the eagle when only the head is shown in heraldry.

    As one of the most popular symbols in heraldry, the gryphon represents strength, courage, and wisdom. In this art form, the male gryphon is shown without wings and with red spikes, representing the rays of the sun, coming from various parts of its body. Gryphons are associated with the sun, thus the rays. The different body parts of the gryphon had magical properties attributed to them. For example, a gryphon's feather could restore a blind person's sight; a cup made from a gryphon's claw was said to nullify poison, or have medicinal qualities.

    With a ferocious attitude and a passionate love for gold, these monsters were said by the Greeks to dwell in the mythical Rhipaean Mountains, guarding the gold of the north. There are also mentions of them guarding the gold of India. In addition to guarding gold, the gryphon mines and lines its nests with it; you could think of them as rather dragon-like in this manner. The beast is considered untamable unless raised from the egg. (Some sources say that the gryphon lays an agate rather than an egg.) The strength of a gryphon is such that it can carry a full-grown horse to its nest.

    Of interest is the way horses and gryphons are touted to be bitter enemies. According to The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, the hostility between gryphons and horses comes from when the one-eyed Arismaspians (near whom the gryphons lived), mounted on horseback, attempted to steal the gryphons' gold. These same tales of one-eyed Arismaspians are probably the basis for the Greek Cyclops.

    A hippogryph, or hippogriff, is the cross between a gryphon and a mare, with the eagle's wings, forefeet and head, and the horse's hindquarters. This was a very rare combination, as the gryphon disliked horses immensely, and considered them prey. There is a medieval saying, Jungentur jam grypes equis, "to cross gryphons with horses," which is equivalent to, "when pigs fly." Thus, the hippogryph represented an impossibility. I personally think that the hippogryph could be the cross between an eagle and a horse, as the gryphon is the cross of an eagle and a lion, but there isn't any drama to that. The hippogryph was said to be easier to tame and faster moving than the gryphon, and is featured in the Legends of Charlemagne, by Thomas Bulfinch, as the steeds for the knights.

    Another monster that looks like the gryphon, and I mentioned earlier, is called the opinicus. Used mainly in heraldry, this animal has the head and wings of an eagle, with the body of a lion and a short, thin tail. This type of gryphon is growing in popularity in the art circles.

    Drawing the Gryphon

    First, figure out the pose, I am going to do a simple side view, and mark out the guidelines. I have never really thought that much about the logistics of the gryphon bone/muscle structure in the wing and front leg area. Three pairs of limbs offers special problems, as anyone who has tried to depict a dragon, angel, pegasus, or gryphon knows. I am trying hitching eagle to lion by making the lion an extension of the tail/spine of the bird. This design begs the question of, "How is the gryphon going to not fall flat on its face from being front heavy?" This leads me to look for reference online, and the wings as the second pair of limbs does seem to make more sense than them being the first.



    Being wishy-washy, the other thing I thought about my first design was, "Would it make more sense for a gryphon to have two pairs of hips rather than two pairs of shoulders?" Just to see what that would look like, I expand on the idea, adding in the distinctive bird breastbone. Probably the detractor of having two hips is that the gryphon won't be very flexible in the back, at least in my first design



    I didn't like how short and bulky the gryphon was looking, and I also didn't like the wing and front leg area. I scouted on the internet for more reference, thinking that I would have to change my battle plan completely ,and go with the wing behind the front legs with two shoulder girdles instead of two hips. Then I found that Rachel Briggs on Deviant Art had the same idea as I, two hips rather than two shoulder blades (a link to her concept art is in the resources list). Now, back on track, I whip out my trusty tracing paper to trace the lines I liked on my first sketch, and then I draw in the new bone structure. I am much happier with the turn out! I improved the neck, and the front legs look like they can actually support the torso. I feel the head might be a touch big, so I will adjust that.



    I flip the tracing paper so that the pencil lines are against my new sheet of paper, and transfer the lines I want. I start putting in the form of the gryphon on top of the rough skeleton. Feathers add a lot of bulk to a bird, and I try to balance the resulting bigger front half out by enlarging the lion half, as well as sketching a few tail feathers. Though I had made it smaller when filling in the details, the head still looks large to me.



    Now comes the addition of details, I place the ears, and adjust the body a little more. The feathers around the neck are rather pointed and shaggy. Feathers conceal most of the front legs. Since I am relatively new to drawing wings, I refer to my favorite wing tutorials on Deviant Art (the links are under "Resources" at the end of this article). At this point things are messy, I usually don't worry about refining my pencils lines because I go over them with Micron pen.



    Now, on to the inking! There are many feathers to deal with, and I don't worry about making them all defined, too much detail can overwhelm the eye. I make sure to have some heavier lines, such as where the shadowed bits of the gryphon are, and at the bottoms of forms. This adds interest, and you can use this technique to shape the flow of the eye through the picture. I add in cross-hatching in the shady areas, finish the feathers by adding in sketchy lines to depict featheriness. I then add a simple background, and there you have it, a gryphon.



    In Closing

    Don't feel like you need to conform to the eagle and lion combination; there are myriad bird cat combinations you can do. For example, a cheetah and black heron, a lynx and snowy owl, snow leopard and snowy owl, ocelot and goura victoria, a bobcat and a great horned owl, a turaco (bird) and a eyra (cat), a snow lynx and raven. I have even seen a hummingbird/mouse mix, which I am not sure should be called a gryphon, being that the one half is mouse and not cat.

    RESOURCES:
    The Gryphon Pages, the most comprehensive site I have found, by James Spaid

    Gryphon ears, by Michael D. Winkle

    Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, edited by William Smith (1870)

    Gryphon mythology

    Heraldry, Pt 4: Charges Myths and Symbols by Marina Bonomi
    Paradise Griffin Behind the Art by Melissa Acker

    Griffin In Flight Behind the Art by Melissa Acker

    "Songgryphon Wildlife Series" by Esther S. Brendel

    But wait, there is more: Esther Brendel's adorable Songgryphons in a coloring book!

    Anatomy Reference
    Dragon Anatomy, Skeletal, by ObloquyCondemed
    European Dragon Anatomy, by Pythosblaze
    A take on the gryphon skeleton, by Mishu Warner
    Gryphon Skeleton, by Rachel Briggs
    Skeleton of an Eagle
    Realistic Bird Wings, by Jennifer Miller
    Simple Realistic Wing Tutorial, by Katie Croonenbergh
    Folded Wing Tutorial, by Katie Croonenbergh
    Feathered Wing Tutorial, by Kittee Dwaggin

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    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.
    Would you like to support our contributors? As a subscriber, you could use your subscription fee to pay this author for their work, as well as receive lots of extra subscriber perks!



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