Black Annis: Making a Monster (part 1)

Black Annis

I’ve been reading Austin Kleon’s excellent Show Your Work and I’m reminded that I used to blog a lot about the things I was making. I don’t blog as much as I used to, so I figured it was time to start changing that. Besides, I’ve got a lot to talk about when it comes to Black Annis and the Celtic Gods Project, and this seems like as good a place to do it as any.

There are going to be a few entries in this series, because there’s a lot to tell. I’ll also be sharing some BTS photos and screencasts of the editing process. Hope you enjoy.

The genesis of an idea

Sometimes you have a mad idea. You let it sit with you, you stew on it. You run it past your friends or your significant other, and despite their encouragement, you find yourself letting it drift again, because it’s easier to have the idea than to commit to actually making it happen. If you try, you might fail. And you’re scared that if you fail, you’ll never be able to try again.

This is what happened to me. I’ve had the idea for the Celtic Gods project kicking around in my head for about four years now (I just looked it up in my old notebooks and found the first entry about it dated 2010-04-19; four years turned out to be a staggeringly accurate guess).

The basic premise behind the project is simple: there are lots of images in art religious iconography – primarily Christian iconography (and even moreso Catholic iconography) because the Church was a huge patron of the arts for many hundreds of years. There are comparatively few* depictions of figures Celtic and ancient British folklore and legend.

So, I thought, why not make some?

I’ve been an enormous fan of the work of Alexia Sinclair for a long time, and her portraits of historical figures gave me the framework into which to fit my mythological portraits: take the figure and a bit of their legend, and use the image (or images) to tell a story.

After thrashing through a number of books on the subject, I was able to start a list of the figures I wanted to tackle. Top of the list was Black Annis, because she was a particularly unpleasant character, and I could see the images of her in my mind’s eye as soon as I read about her.

According to Rankine and D’Este:

She would carry humans off into her cave, suck them dry of blood   and eat their flesh before draping their flayed skins out to dry on the on the oak’s branches. She then made the skins into a skirt to wear.

In mid 2013 I’d done some beauty work with makeup artist Lynn Docherty, and I ran the idea of creating Annis (and other characters) past her. Lynn has a background in SFX makeup for TV and Film, so the character of Annis was right up her alley.

We’d originally planned the shoot for December 2013, but rain and biting cold temperatures in the Yorkshire Dales put paid to that idea. We eventually postponed until late March when, we hoped, the weather would be more clement. We were, in many ways, quite wrong about that.

Black Annis

*Though not, by any stretch, zero.