Annwn was the name given to the otherworld in ancient Welsh mythology. It was believed to be a world of earthly delights and eternal youth where disease is absent and food is ever abundant. Unlike most other other worlds in mythologies, Annwn could be entered by those still living. The gate to Annwn has sometimes been held to be near Lundy Island and Glastonbury Tor, which in itself has been held by some to be the mythical island of Avalon, and as such links have been made between Annwn and Avalon.
“Llyfr Taliesin” or The Book of Taliesin is one of the most famous Welsh manuscripts.
A page from the manuscript
Llfr Taliesin, held at the
National Library of Wales.
It dates from the early 14th century although some of the poems are believed to be much older. Many of the poems are accredited to Taliesin a 6th century poet.
Included in the Book of Taliesin is a poem called Preiddeu Annwn, or the Spoils of Annwn. It tells the tale of King Arthur and three boatloads of his knights traveling to Annwn searching for a mystical cauldron possessed by nine women. The cauldron is described as being studded with pearls and that it will not boil a cowards food. Whatever misfortunes the knights encounter are not clearly explained in the poem but only seven survive the journey.
The poet describes Annwn in a number of terms including mound, four-peaked and glass fortresses however it is generally accepted these are all metaphors for the same fortress and not separate places.
This poem describing Arthur and his knights on a quest for a mystical or holy vessel has been held by some scholars to be a precursor to the traditional story of the Quest for the Holy Grail.
The picture was inspired by the poem and roughly sketched out to include many elements of the poem, however a few changes occurred during the design process to enhance the effect of the overall picture and better reflect House Annwn.
- The number of the women was reduced from nine to show only three as House Annwn currently has three members.
- The cauldron was a difficult point to decide upon as to it’s size and whether or not it should be more grail-like in appearance, however a more traditional shape was the eventual outcome.
- I also decided to show only Arthur and not his boatloads of men as I thought trying to fit them in the limited canvas would detract from the overall scene.
- I also decided to include in the design the household banner of a white cornucopia on a purple background to further tie the work to the household.
Once I was happy with the rough sketch, I drew a more detailed drawing on the scene, using the corrected proportions to fit the 2m x 1m wall dimensions. This was then divided into a grid system to better facilitate transferring the design to a larger scale.
I have drawn from many eras and styles for the design, the ship is viking inspired, from a book I was reading at the time, the fortress is almost Norman in style, (a real princess castle according to my 4 year old ) and the dresses on the women are almost 14th century Burgundian in style. This mixture reflects the fantasy nature of the storyline of the poem.
Right from the start I intended this piece to made using a mixed media style. Acrylic painting, material appliqué and beading are all used. The paints used are all from the Jo Sonja’s Artists Colours range. The fabrics were swatches from my off cuts bag. The wall itself is simple unbleached calico with a base coat of Jo Sonja’s Background Colour in Soft White.
The base coat was applied to seal the fabric and therefore conserve the paints which would have otherwise been drawn into the fabric and much more paint would have been necessary.
The border of fabric trim was added to frame and finish the edge of the picture and a second layer of calico used to back the wall and give it strength.
The painting of the base coat also served to partially adhere the fabric to the plywood table top making the work surface flat and firm like a normal artists canvas.
Once the base coat had completely dried I ruled the grid lines onto the work surface and copied the sketch using lead pencil.
The background was then painted in over a number of days beginning with the sky, the sea, mountains, and trees and finally the shoreline. The mountains were softened with the addition of mist created by lightly sponging on diluted white paint. This method was also used along the shoreline to add sea spray.
Once the background was completed by adding in the fortress, the areas to be appliquéd were traced onto interfacing.
The hull of the ship appliqué was created by cutting the narrow fabric swatch into strips which were then sewn onto the interfacing using a satin stitch. They were left over hanging the edge until they were all applied, then trimmed and the edge finished off in the same stitch. The sail was first machine embroidered with a Celtic cross, the pieces of red and blue then attached to the interfacing and a decorative scallop stitch added. The household banner was also made using a machine embroidery cornucopia.
The hull, banner and sail were then hand sewn to the background using a transparent thread. I found it helpful at this stage to use double sided tape to help hold the fabric in place while hand sewing.
The sword and shields were painted in Celtic inspired designs, the faces and arms were also painted. and the appliqués made for the tunic, dresses and cloak using the same method as described above and also applied to the background by hand stitching.
The crown was created by cutting a piece of cotton lace slightly bigger and required and turning the ends under using glue. This was then painted gold. Once dry it was hand sewn on and the gems added. Gems and pearls were also added to the cauldron.
The necklaces were created by first threading the beads and then couching into place. Simple gold trim was added as circlets. The household banner is finished off by adding a simple tassel to the bottom.
The fabric trim was then attached along the edges of the picture to give a frame. A pockets to facilitate posts were then sewn into the backing fabric which was then attached to the artwork.
I have also added rings to back and ends of the piece to allow ropes to be used when the wall is erected or to pas a dowel through when hanging the piece as a wall tapestry.
From beginning to finish the piece took approximately 3 weeks to complete.