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March 2012

March 2012 -- Centaurs



  • Ask an Artist:
    Cons, Illustrations, Audience-building, and More
  • Behind the Art:
    Playing with Line and Shape
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Lisa Cree
  • EMG News:
    EMG News for February


  • Appreciating Speculative Art Part 4: Composition and Shopping
  • The Centaur


  • Poem: the centaur's stance

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  • The Centaur
    by Jenny Heidewald

    What makes a centaur? The centaur is a mythical creature with the head, arms, and torso of a male human attached to the body and four legs of a horse. In general, when one thinks of a centaur, what comes to mind is a strong, stubborn and active creature, with an amazing ability with a bow. The best-known centaur is perhaps the one from astrology, Sagittarius.

    Mythological Beginnings

    As with many ancient myths, the centaur has a few different stories describing its origins. The centaur is thought to have had its inspiration from when a non-horse culture encountered riders for the first time; one source says it was when the Greeks first saw the Scythians. The Greeks went further to explain the creation of this particular blend of human and animal. A centaur that is featured in the Greek mythos is Chiron, who, unlike the other centaurs, was immortal. He was also an exception to the general demeanor of centaurs, who were accredited with being brutal, eaters of raw meat, and wild, which was often fueled by intoxication. His father was the god Cronus (also the father of Zeus): his mother Philyra, a nymph. Even in the Greek tales, there are a couple versions of the tale of his conception. One was that Cronus' wife, the goddess Reah, surprised the trysting couple, whereupon Cronus leapt up, transformed himself into a stallion and galloped away. The other, more violent, is that Cronos happened on the nymph who shape-changed herself into a mare in an attempt to flee the god, who pursued her in the form of a stallion. In any case, after this encounter, Philyra gave birth to Chiron. She was so disturbed by the form of the child that she turned into a linden tree, either by her own power or by Cronos. Now abandoned by both parents, Chiron was adopted by the god Apollo, who taught him what he knew. In the myth, he was attributed to have invented medicine and surgery, among other things.

    Chiron was the mentor of many different heroes, including Hercules, who accidentally brought about Chiron's death. While he and Chiron were guests of the centaur Pholos (another exception to the common centaur personality), the hero was in a skirmish over wine with other centaurs and loosed an arrow that hit his mentor. The arrow tip was coated with hydra blood, which causes wounds that do not heal. Thus, Chiron was in severe pain until he gave up his immortality in order to die. After he passed away, he was placed into the sky to become a constellation. In addition to leading to the death of Chiron, the arrow was also the cause of death for Pholos. While examining the arrow that had struck Chiron, the mortal centaur dropped it on his foot, thus killing himself.

    Sources differ on if Chiron is represented by the constellation Centaurus or Sagittarius; one represents the wild side of centaurs, the other the mentor. The constellation Sagittarius was defined in an earlier age by the Babylonians, and was originally a different mix of parts, a human torso connected to a bison. This version is depicted with two faces, one facing backwards, with wings to boot.

    Female centaurs were not featured in the ancient myths. Zeuxis, a Greek painter from the 5th century B.C., is purported to have painted the then-novel concept of the female of this species. These days female centaurs are probably more common than male depiction, with some of the most famous probably being Walt Disney's "centaurettes" from his film "Fantasia".

    Drawing the Centaur

    The centaur is not quite as complex as a dragon with regard to figuring out their six limbs. The widely accepted connection for the human and horse parts is at the hip, or waist, for the human torso, and the base of the horse's neck. Books on drawing horses are handy, as their anatomy can be tricky in places. There is a recent work called "The Centaur of Tymfi" by Bill Willers that depicts what a centaur skeleton would look like if the creature were real. This work is displayed at Tucson's (Arizona, USA) International Wildlife Museum (see "Resources" for a link).

    Step one:

    While I tend to just jump right in, it can be helpful to sketch a sort of skeleton first, with a series of lines to denote the length and placement of limbs. Then you can use various ovals and circles to give the figure mass. I adjust the lines as necessary to produce a balanced horse to human ratio. For a more delicate, cute look, you can follow in the Disney's "Fantasia" footsteps and make the horse part smaller. The way I tend to deal with front leg poses is to think of them as regular human legs; this is a thing I picked up from watching the "centaurettes" in the aforementioned "Fantasia". Obviously, they are a little different, but the same general principles can apply when posing them.

    Step two:

    Next, I flesh out the form; again, it is handy to use reference for the horse part. I add in any accessories, I also like to make my centaurs have a few horse features in their human half, such as the ears. If you feel uncomfortable with the area where the horse and human parts join, you can drape a scarf or some jeweled belt around the waist. Another easy way to depict the transition from smooth skin to hair is to add a few hairs here and there under the waist. The viewer will add in the fur coat without you having to depict each line.

    Once I get my sketch cleaned up and satisfactory, I start in on the inking. These days I am favoring a looser inking, which I feels fits the rather rough and tumble wildness of this centaur, one expects to find hay or grass in her hair!

    In Closing

    While the horse and human cross is the most common, think outside the box for combinations, and even equine genus, think deer, or cat, or if you want to be really crazy, rhino or giraffe!


    The Mythology Chiron - The Wounded Healer

    "Centaur of Tymfi"

    Anatomy of a Centaur


    How to Draw Animals", by Jack Hamm

    Morgan Horse Handbook by Jeanne Mellin

    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.

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