Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fair stood the wind for France*

This is what Annabel Lavers sought:
"The trio of the Amazon, Unicorn and Lion! Mixed with ocean waves! For instance, I loved the imagery in the Guinness advert with the horses within the waves. Don't want much do I??? I like strong, bold, clean lines. Projecting the power of all of those things??? Does that make sense??"
And she sent me the advert (commercial) she mentioned, of surfers taking the waves, their white froth become charging wild horses.

Could I do something like that?

I've never met Annabel but feel I have, through the magic of facebook®© and and almost global community of swimmers who communicate daily through it. Over the years — yes, years — I have gotten to know Bel (as some call her) as a serious swimmer with a fun, infectious spirit.

Serious, as in, this summer she's going to swim the English Channel, the great iconic snaking 21-plus mile endeavor that fewer have conquered than have climbed Mount Everest. She has amassed a team of stalwart Amazon swimmers to support her, and would I create an image to commemorate it?

This is the result.
I saw Annabel from the start as a fierce mermaid, giving the water as good as it gave her.

I have met many mermaids through facebook®©, who own the rivers and seas and bays and cold mountain lakes. Bel is a mermaid.

The image had to be compact and comprehensive, capturing at once this epic journey.

For some reason, I thought immediately of horse brass medallions, several of which my mom collected while she and dad were stationed in England.

At first, I wanted to convey something incised and raw and rough. Clearly the idea got away from me a bit, but I wanted to keep the close arrangement a medallion might require.

Early drawings suggested a swimmer overreaching the start (near the Cliffs of Dover in England) and finish (Cap Gris-Nez, if a swimmer is lucky, in France), the shortest distance between the countries.

Except, swimmers don't swim the shortest distance in that channel, but in a reverse-S route, swept this way and that by the changing tides.

The figure would be in the swirling vortex of wave and water — would be the vortex itself. Swimmer and water would form that S shape to which swimmers must resign their efforts.

But who is this swimmer, a thing of the waves?

The mermaid idea took shape. She was playing with the landmarks, as if amused, queen of the water surveying her sea:

Forcing the mermaid into the reverse-S prevented her from attacking the swim. So I stopped being so literal, and this figure emerged:
Except she looked like she was shopping for cake, a decidedly un-Channel like thing to do — before the swim, anyway. Finally she became this:
A fighter. The goal literally in her hands.

From here I scanned the image and worked digitally until the finish, solving spatial and elemental problems on the computer, trying to keep the lines simple but loose. The letterforms were part gothic blackletter, part rough incision into soft metal, part sass.

The first finished piece was more organic:

I simplified the undercurve of her tail in the final work, then added color in many variations, including the look at the top.

In the end, it became, subconsciously, horse-brass-meets-Alfons-Mucha.

The battle is joined, Annabel: Godspeed, and have a blast.

* The poetic way I know the English Channel swimming season has begun — especially when a British swimmer is in the water — is when swimmer Paul Smith, a French history professor at the University of Nottingham, posts simply "Fair stood the wind for France." It is the first line of "Agincourt," a 16th Century poem chronicling Henry V's victory over France.

'Tis the season for epic swims, several English Channel crossings having already been completed for the summer, as well as the Strait of Gibraltar; North Channel crossings are soon to come, as are Lake Tahoe crossings (go, fast Karl!) and a planned attempt by Simon Dominguez to the Farallon Islands from the Golden Gate.

Godspeed, all.

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