“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”
— H.P. Lovecraft
So, I have the good fortune of being friends with some truly awesome people. One such awesome friend is Collen Kennedy who, among other creative musical endeavors, teaches a Children’s Choir in Canoga Park. Each year she puts together a “retreat” day for the kids, getting together a group of people to lead the kids through a wide range of activities. This year’s retreat day (which ran last Saturday) included a Super Hero themed live game (run by Andy Ashcraft), a drum circle (run by Richard Becker) and, lastly, a drawing/painting visual arts project that I ran.
This was the second time that I have worked with these kids and led them through some kind of painting/drawing project. The group consists of about 16 kids ranging from 8-18 years of age and a wide range of experience and comfort with expression and some of the various mediums of visual arts. Last time, not knowing the kids or their abilities I tried something kinda weird – I played a range of songs (jazz, r&B, metal…) and had the kids interpret the sounds and lyrics into pictures. I laid out a bunch of different art supplies (acrylic paint, watercolor pencils, crayons, pastel, charcoal) and some different types and colors of paper and just let them use whatever they wanted. It ended up working out very well and the kids and I had a lot of fun.
This time I wanted to try something more structured so I pitched the idea to them that since it was getting on to Halloween how ’bout drawing some monsters? And not just any monsters but creatures from the writing of H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos. Now, only two of the kids (the older ones) had any knowledge of who Lovecraft was or had read some of his stories. So, I was able to introduce the kids to these creatures pretty much fresh with no previous imagining of what these monsters look like.
I put on some creepy Lovecraft inspired music and over the course of about and hour I told them synopsis versions of three of Lovecraft’s tales (The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu) getting quickly through the set up and on to the descriptions of the monsters.
I hoped, and was glad to see, it work out that with general descriptions of the shapes of these monsters the kids could come up with some really wonderful interpretations adding their own imaginings to the descriptions and creating a fantastic body of eldritch artwork.
The Great Race of Yith from The Shadow Out of Time – In the bodies they inhabited on the Earth, they were tall and cone-shaped, rising to a point with four strange appendages – two terminating in claws, a third in a “trumpet” shaped organ, and the fourth, a yellow globe, ringed with eyes, which functioned as a sensory organ.
The Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness – Monstrous barrel-shaped creatures with eyes on the end of each of the five points of their star-shaped heads. With five bulging ridges running vertically along torso. In furrows between ridges are wings that fold up and spread out like fans almost seven feet in length. At the base of their bodies there is a ring of tentacles.
Shoggoth from At the Mountains of Madness – A terrible, indescribable thing – a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming.
Great Cthulhu from The Call of Cthulhu – A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings… It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence…
Here are some pics of the kids at work, thanks Colleen!
As I told the stories the kids would continue to draw and paint their monsters often incorporating more details from the stories (like the little man dreaming of the Great Race of Yith, or the Mountains of Madness and the “cube shaped things” or the Shoggoths) and frequently telling each other to “shut up and let him finish the story!”. They really got in to the fun of the horror and I certainly had a blast trying to scare them!
Now, at some point, I promise to post about non-Lovecraft related projects