Arthurian Legends Art Reveal: Liz Danforth and the Seelie Court

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Erik's Curiosa

Liz Danforth is well known for her iconic Sorcery works, such as the unique site, “Mirror Realm.” This tradition continues with Sorcery: Contested Realm’s next set, Arthurian Legends.

We took a moment to catch up with Liz Danforth at IX, where she had several of her Sorcery pieces on display to find out more about her Arthurian piece: The Seelie Court.

Q: Have Arthurian Legends been an interest of yours in the past?

A: They absolutely have. Myth and legends of all times and places interest me, and how people think and talk about themselves and their heroes is how their tales reflect their lives. My bachelor's is Anthropology, after all, and that includes the study of people in prehistory through modern eras. The Arthurian cycle is central to the late Roman and medieval tales of northern Europe -- intrinsic to the cultural heritage of the British Isles, and thereby influencing the modern nations England founded around the globe.

Admittedly, my first exposure to it (that I remember) was Disney's 1963 Sword in the Stone, but that led me to TH White's The Once and Future King, and to Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave. As I continued to read -- and I have always been a voracious reader -- I followed every thread of the bigger tapestry, not just Arthur, but Shakespeare (like Midsummer Night's Dream), Mabinogion, the Elder Eddas, Beowulf, anything I could find on the early Celtic, Viking, Germanic, and related cultures across all of Europe and Britain.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of portraying the Seelie Court?

A: Foremost: the sheer number of people I wanted to include. I have never attempted a "crowd" like this before. Just as I am interested in people and their personal history, personalities, their culture, the emotions you can read in their faces -- I often draw and paint with that intent. And usually, that means just one person or a few at most.

How in the world could I do that exploration of personality with sooo many people? (And yes, I use "people" advisedly.) Human-ish or not, I wanted to give a sense of individuality to each and every one of them. One of my first steps to making the painting was to dig through existing historical paintings of crowd scenes, and try to see how earlier artists handled a multiplicity of characters, how they made the central figures stand out, how I might apply what I was seeing to the composition I was building up in my head.

Second, the desire to get it as "right" as I possibly could. No single individual of the Fair Folk can represent all of them, after all. But I didn't want to make it a hodgepodge either. I kept a sheet with notes about what I absolutely HAD to be sure to include, all the elements I wanted to be present. Some were more firmly "traditional" for the tales of the Fairie Folk, and some began to drift to unusual expressions of "the lands beyond the fields we know" and their inhabitants. Some I made up out of whole cloth, but (I hope) still keeping in the circle of "this is believable for Fairie."

Q: How long did this piece take you to complete?

A: Forty-five years. I could not have done this painting without all the decades that made me the artist I am today.Art isn't something that truly fits the "pay per hour" model our industrialized society defaults to.

About three weeks of of drawing, sketching, finding (and discarding) references, and building the composition, followed by two solid months of painting. I did pretty much nothing but eat, sleep, and paint for all of July and August (as my backlog of unanswered emails will attest). Then I collapsed for several weeks, despite having much I needed to do that had been postponed. I was entirely worn out.

Q: What are you most proud of with this piece?

A: As I began, I was worried whether I even had the skills to achieve what I wanted. (Hazards of being self-taught. I learn with every piece I do, and some experiments turn out better than others.) Also, this is hands-down the most ambitious piece I have ever done -- I was shooting for the moon. If it isn't perfect, it's a damn sight closer than I feared it might be. I am incredibly proud to have accomplished anything I can feel this proud of.

I have to say that my cataract surgery in both eyes gave me the ability to see better -- as I had when younger. I had noticed that, in recent years, my colors were getting muddier, images fuzzier -- the Evil Presence card made deliberate use of that, but other pieces I struggled with. I did not even realize my vision had deteriorated, but after one eye was done -- I could tell what a difference there was! The Arthurian paintings have mostly been done with two good eyes, and I think the Seelie Court could not have been possible without the surgeries.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of this piece?

A: It has been incredibly difficult to do "Arthurian" as if that were one place and time and cohesive vision. Certainly there's a throughline of characters and events, but there is at least 1000 years of the Arthurian cycle, from a Roman-trained warlord Artos to Monty Python's Holy Grail, from Bronze Age chariot-riders to characters in full plate parade armor styled from the Italian Renaissance to Howard Pyle's paintings of Young King Arthur in keeping with the other 1800s romanticization of the myth. In my first painting for the Arthurian set, I was trying desperately to keep to the post-Roman Arthurian elements and eventually threw in the towel for all my paintings in the set. Everyone makes the myth personal -- that's part of what makes it live on today, revisited by artists, musicians, filmmakers, and game designers alike. I made peace with that, and in the end, I feel proud to make a small contribution to that vast living epic.

You can find more about Liz Danforth’s work on her Patreon blog, as well as in an upcoming Painting the Realm spotlight on the Sorcery YouTube channel.

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