Whatever happened to the sea monsters? Illustrator Dan Bright has brought them back from the brink in his beautiful limited edition prints...
For our inaugural print issue and iPad issue 2, writer Duncan Haskell and illustrator Dan Bright take us back to a time when leviathans ruled the northern seas.
One of our Kickstarter rewards (update: this has now ended!) was a bundle of three limited edition prints of Dan's Monsters of the Northern Seas and a printed edition of Ernest Journal, all for £40. These sea monsters are in need of a good home, plenty of water, and the odd human to bone-crunch from time to time.
Meet Biast Na Srognig, the beast with a single horn. It hunted off the west of coast of Scotland, patrolling our waters throughout the Middle Ages, eagerly awaiting every encounter. Its spiral horn extended to a sharpened point and was powerful enough to penetrate and sink a ship. The creature’s horse-like head would rise out of the sea and the malicious glint from its flame red eyes would be the last thing the poor mariners would see before they drowned. From the neck down it was hard to tell where the sea ended and the monster began, its legs and body appearing to be made from the water itself.
And this gargantuan leviathan is what Icelanders called Lyngbakr, his type were known across the globe as the island whale, great fish that sailors mistook for land. The lump of a whale, with its dull grey scales, resembled the cliff faces of home, so sailors would swim ashore. At first, not even the pitching of tents could stir the monster its slumber. Fire was a different story. As the sailors began to cook their saithe, the creature’s burning skin caused him to stir then dive deep into the ocean’s stomach, drowning every last one of its unsuspecting occupants.
And last but not least, Iku-Turso. When it set eyes upon man, it would climb out of the water and up the nearest cliff face to catch them by surprise. Its two colossal tusks were so strong that ascending rock was no obstacle and the beast could scale cliffs as if climbing a ladder. With four muscular legs it would grab unsuspecting humans and kill them with ease, using its sharp teeth. So proud was this beast of ridding the shoreline of our kin that he sported an enormous tangle of a beard in which he left remnants of his victims’ bones as a reminder of his malice.
We caught up with Dan Bright to find out more about the inspiration behind his illustrations...
What inspired your Sea Monsters?
Duncan (the writer) and I met met for coffee a few times, bounced a lot of ideas back and forth, spent hours online looking for more and more obscure monsters, sadly dismissing all the great lake monsters for being a bit off brief. Then we finally decided on our cast of beasts. I’m fairly obsessed with myths and legends and dinosaurs and natural history so the elements all came together pretty easily.
What was your design process?
Research – a lot of looking at art, folklore, medieval maps and particularly, Viking artefacts. Also attempting to identify the real-life inspirations for the legendary creatures.
Sketching – doodling and more doodling and yet more doodling for a month or so, idly playing with shapes and ideas.
A big dose of panic – it’s been a month and all I have is doodles.
Calming down – found the three doodles I liked. Expand them further.
Final composition – drawing in Adobe illustrator, keeping it simple. All my drawings are composed from as few shapes as possible.
Texturing and finishing in Photoshop, where most of the ‘magic' happens – shading, texture and mood.
How did you get to become an illustrator for a living?
I studied painting at university. I accidentally became a graphic designer and spent the next 12 years creating all kinds of things from wine lists to football programmes to corporate magazines. Quit and travelled around South America for six months. Came back and decided to follow my heart and attempt to make money drawing pictures of dinosaurs and monsters and designing independent magazines – it seems to be going OK.
Sing a song, any song (one that gets you in the creative mood!)
Going with my all time favourite: Devil Got my Woman Blues, by Skip James.
What's on your bedside table?
A lamp shaped like a triceratops and two books – Wind, Stars and Sand by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and slightly more pulpy – The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft.
Finish the following sentence: I have never…?
...really doubted that you could get somewhere in life by drawing pictures of monsters.
What do you really eat for lunch when you work from home? Be honest, now.
Well sometimes I do make an interesting salad or something, but honestly most days it’s cheese on toast!