Saturday, 25 February 2017

Major Project: Character Design - Black Agnes

After a chat with Phil, I decided to rethink my major project and instead of developing my minor project any further will just start over with a fresh new one.

The idea is to come up with concepts and a final 3d model of a character based on english folklore. I researched myths and legends and narrowed down the character to the myth of Black Agnes (also known as Black Anna or Black Annis, personally I prefer Agnes):

"There will be but a few readers who have not heard of the infamous Black Annis. For virtually every book that refers to Anu or Danu there is a mention of Annis and about half of these refer to Gentle Annis or Cailleach Bheur (or Bear e). Black Annis crops up not only in books on folklore, mythology or witchcraft, but also historical tomes - especially ones on Leicester.

The Tales

Annis has borne many names over the years - Black Anna, Black Anny, Black Agnes as well as Cat Anna. Her dwelling was a cave (called Black Anna's, or Black Annis's Bower) in the low-lying Dane Hills on the outskirts of Leicester. Annis is supposed to have clawed the cave out of the sandstone rock using naught but her long, and very sharp, nails. At its mouth grew a pollarded oak in which Black Annis crouched in order to pounce on unsuspecting children. These she carried off into her cave, sucked them dry of blood and ate their flesh before draping the flayed skins of her victims out to dry on the oak's branches. She wore a skirt sewn from the skins of her human prey. As she also preyed on animals, local shepherds blamed any lost sheep on her hunger. Many a generation of Leicester's young, if either naughty or out after dark, were told, 'watch out or Annis'll get you'. 

By the late 19th century her cave was filling-up with earth. A housing estate, built just after the first world war, now covers the area. A 19th century eye-witness said the cave was 4-5 feet wide and 7-8 feet long and 'having a ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side'. A tunnel was said to connect Black Annis's Bower with Leicester Castle and she had the free-run of its length (1).
An account of Annis was related by an evacuee to Ruth Tongue in 1941(2): Three children were sent out by their wicked step-mother to collect fire-wood. As night descended they feared to see Black Annis who only came out after dark for, it was said, 'daylight would turn her to stone'. They heard a snuffling and, through a hole in their witch-stone, saw Black Annis. Unable to escape her whilst carrying the faggots, they dropped them and ran. Annis bloodied her legs on the bundles and, mumbling and cursing to herself, went to her bower to rub her legs with salve. Then she came back for the children and caught-up with them at their cottage door. Their dad came out with an axe and hit Annis full in the face. She began to run for her cave shouting 'Blood! Blood!' but just then the Christmas bells began to peal and she fell down dead.(***) 

The evacuee claimed Annis's howling could be heard as far as five miles away and, when Annis ground her teeth the sound was so loud that all the people had time to lock and bar their doors. The evacuee also said, because the people didn't have window-glass in those days, witch-herbs were tied above the apertures to stop Annis reaching inside with her very long arms and grabbing their babies. This was why Leicester cottages only had one small window. Annis was said to be very tall with a blue face and long white teeth(2). Other descriptions say Annis's teeth were yellow rather than white and that she only had one eye. All agree her face was hideous and blue(3).
A Leicestershire poet, John Heyrick Jnr.,(18th century) wrote of her:
'Vast talons, foul with human flesh, there grew In place of hands, and features livid blue Glar'd in her visage; while the obscene waist Warm skins of human victims close embraced.'(1)(1A excerpt)"(, 2017)*

* (2017). Black Annis - leicester legend or Widespread Myths. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].

I did some quick thumbnails, exploring possible shapes for the character and after a recent trip to the Tate Britain in London, I got particularly inspired, specifically by Salvator Rosa and his "Witches at their Incantations" 

The overall design and the composition of the painting was so perfect. My next step was to thumbnail some quick shapes and after that exploring my favourite ones further.