Koboku-no-kai Sketch

Koboku-no-kai Japanese Yokai Pencil Illustration

The yokai Koboku-no-kai (こぼくのかい) are the spirits of old trees which have transformed to resemble humans, complete with arms, legs, and faces. They are usually described as quarrelsome troublemakers who wander about at night causing fights. Despite their bulk, they are surprisingly swift.

Posting a different sketchbook entry each day in November, all preliminary drawings for my Beck’s Bestiary series. Have no idea what I’ll do for tomorrow. Check back and join in the surprise!

- Adam Everett Beck

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Tankororin Sketch

Tankororin Japanese Yokai Pencils Illustration

Tankororin is a yokai formed from the abandoned fruit of an unkempt persimmon tree. It has large glaring eyes and a thick protective skin. While still attached to a branch, the Tankororin is relatively small (10cm), but gains considerable size when it falls from the tree.

I will be posting a new preliminary sketch from my Beck’s Bestiary series every day in November. So stick around, it should be a fun month.

- Adam Everett Beck

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Blemmyes Sketch

Blemmyes Medieval Beasts Pencil Illustration

Here is the Blemmyes, member of a headless African race with eyes and mouths in their chests. They were reported as a nomadic tribe moving throughout Ethiopia and Nubia. Though they were a peaceful people, they were said to be possessed of great military prowess.

This is a preliminary sketch for the Medieval Beasts volume of my bestiary, which will include many creatures and peoples described in the Medieval bestiaries of old, such as the unicorn and the manticore. All that fun fantasy stuff that I love to draw!

- Adam Everett Beck

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Goblin Sketch

Goblin Fairies Pencil Illustration

The mischievous and ornery green-skinned goblin, thorn in the side of many an adventuring hero or fairy tale princess. Another preliminary sketch for Beck’s Bestiary: Fairies.

- Adam Everett Beck

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Leprechaun Sketch

Leprechaun Irish Fairies Pencil Illustration

Another entry for the book of Fairies – the wizened, wish-granting li’l leprechaun of Ireland. I’m sure you’re all well-acquainted with the leprechaun, but did you know that in his earliest depictions he was bedecked in red rather than green? This was an important distinction that separated a solitary fairy (red) from the so-called “trooping fairies” (green). You learn something new every day.

- Adam Everett Beck

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Red Cap Sketch

Red Cap Goblin Fairies Illustration

Also Known As: Redcap, Powrie, Dunter

A murderous goblin resembling an elderly man wielding a pikestaff. He wears iron boots and a cap that has been dyed red in the blood of his victims. Redcaps are encountered in the borderlands of Scotland and England, where they dwell in ruined castles and attack any who venture into their homes.

I’ve been working on a project tentatively titled Beck’s Bestiary – a series of illustrations and descriptions of various beings from folklore and mythology – and have decided to share some of that material here on this site. This then is a sketch for the volume involving Fairies. It’s in pretty rough state, but will eventually be refined and completed with colored pencils. Colored pencil work is a very time-consuming process, so I probably won’t have anything to show for a while, but it all starts here with a sketch to get the ball rolling.

- Adam Everett Beck

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Namahage Sketch

Namahage Japanese Yokai Pencils Illustration

Here is a sketch of the knife-wielding, blister-peeling Namahage of Oga, Japan. On New Year’s eve these oni (demons) descend from their mountain homes in search of lazy children.

This preliminary drawing, later to be completed in colored pencil, is part of a series of illustrations of Japanese yokai.

-Adam Everett Beck

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3 Videos of Early Japanese Animation featuring Yokai

Kobu-Tori (1929)

Directed by Yasuji Murata, this short animation is based on a bit of Japanese folklore involving an old man and the supernatural beings known as Tengu. Considered both yokai and Shinto gods, Tengu are winged harbingers of war known for their dangerous and destructive behavior. In the story, an old man encounters a tribe of these feathered spirits and amuses them with his dancing. In reward for his entertainment, the Tengu remove an unsightly boil from the old man’s face. The old man’s jealous neighbor, also afflicted by a facial blemish, pays the Tengu a visit of his own, in hopes that the Tengu will remove his boil in similar fashion.

The short is a fun example of early anime and should be of particular interest to yokai enthusiasts as it gives a good look at the two most common forms of Tengu. It features both Karasu Tengu (Raven Tengu) and Hanadaka Tengu (Long-nosed Tengu), including Sojobo, the Tengu leader easily-identified by his long beard and seven-feathered fan.

Ugokie Kori no Tatehiki (1933)

Here is an interesting short directed by Ikuo Oishi, in which two bakemono (shape-shifters) try to get the best of one another. A wiley kitsune (fox) transforms into a samurai and works against a tanuki (raccoon dog). The tanuki recruits his father to join him in retaliation against the kitsune. Lots of transformations ensue. Keep your eyes peeled for other yokai, such as the tanuki’s impersonation of a nobiagari (shadow-spectre).

The Routing of the Tengu (1934)

Directed by Noburo Ofuji (under the alias “Furo Koyamano”), this 1934 short presents a more comical take on the Tengu, bearing similarities to Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop cartoons. Interesting to see what the Japanese were developing in comparison to our Disney and Warner Bros. shorts of the same time.

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Twelve Japanese Animal Prints by Ohara Koson

Japanese print-maker and painter Ohara Koson (1877–1945) primarily specialized in bird and flower prints, or kacho-e. His early woodblock prints are distinguished by the long narrow format he favored, as well as his employment of small margins and muted colors. Though interest in these kinds of nature prints in his native Japan was low during his lifetime, a Western audience was growing and Koson’s work became well-known here in the United States and Europe. (Interestingly, in the 1970s, Japanese scholars wishing to study his work were forced to import his prints from overseas.)
 
Many of Koson’s most beloved prints feature animals – and not just of the feathered variety – either realistically portrayed or depicted in a humorous light. Here then are ten such examples of his work, the best of which, I think you will agree, are haunting and sublime.
 


Ohara Koson Crow On A Snowy Branch Print
Crow on a Snowy Branch

 
Ohara Koson Ducks Mallards In Snow Woodblock Print
Mallards in Snow

 
Ohara Koson Two White Geese Woodblock Print
Two White Geese

 
Ohara Koson Scops Owl Under Crescent Moon Woodblock Print
Scops Owl under Crescent Moon

 
Ohara Koson Redstart On Cherry Branch Woodblock Print
Redstart on Cherry Branch

 
Ohara Koson Stag And Recumbent Doe Woodblock Print
Stag and Recumbent Doe

 
Ohara Koson Two Barn Swallows On Blossoming Cherry Woodblock Print
Two Barn Swallows on Blossoming Cherry

 
Ohara Koson Two Sparrows In Flight Nature Print
Two Sparrows in Flight

 
Ohara Koson Monkey Swinging From A Bamboo Branch Print
Monkey Swinging from a Bamboo Branch Observing a Fly

 
Ohara Koson Monkey On The Tree Japanese Nature Print
Monkey on the Tree

 
Ohara Koson Two Cranes Japanese Woodblock Print
Two Cranes

 
Ohara Koson Goose in Winter Japanese Woodblock Print
Goose in Winter

 

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Eight Yokai by Katsushika Hokusai

I came across a quote by the artist Katsushika Hokusai the other day, and was reminded how much I enjoyed his work. Best known for his series of woodblock prints Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, particularly the immortal The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai also created many depictions of Japanese yokai (supernatural monsters) and other mythological beasts. Here are a few examples of master print-maker Hokusai’s portrayals of various denizens of the Japanese spirit-world:


Tengu

The tengu were a mountain-dwelling race of warrior bird-demons, known as harbingers of war and unrest, who delighted in tormenting Buddhist monks. They were known to encourage chaos and upheaval, often training humans in the arts of swordsmanship and gun-fighting.

Tengu are capable of flight, sometimes swooping down upon victims to carry them away and drop them into the trees from great heights. Other times, a tengu abductee would be found in the woods, suffering from a type of dementia known as tengu kakushi, meaning “hidden by a tengu.” Additionally, tengu were able to teleport at will, communicate through telepathy, and even fully possess a human’s mind to take over their body. They have also been reported as being able to correctly predict what men are thinking and, in one story, able to magically remove a tumor from an old man’s face.

Along with their supernatural abilities, Tengu have been associated with magical objects. Stories tell of the tengu’s magic fan, which can shrink or grow noses; a magic straw cloak, capable of turning its wearer invisible; and a magic gourd, which never runs out of sake. They are often depicted with magical staffs or enchanted mallets, as well.

Over the years, two forms of tengu have emerged. The Karasu-Tengu (Crow Tengu) has a raptor-like appearance with wings and beak, while the Hanataka-Tengu (Long-Nosed Tengu) resembles a red-faced feathered human with a long, phallic nose.


Baku

Originating in Chinese folklore, the Baku was a supernatural dream-devourer, eater of nightmares. This being was usually portrayed as a chimera-like creature with elephant trunk and tusks, rhinoceros eyes, tiger paws, and an ox tail. Unlike many yokai, the baku was a helpful spirit, able to ward off nightmares if called upon to do so. A distressed sleeper, upon waking (or even while still asleep) was advised to cry out, “Baku, devour this dream!” The baku would not only remove unpleasant dreams and assure a restful sleep, but could also convert said nightmares into luck. 


Kappa

The kappa is a child-sized amphibious water sprite with webbed hands and feet, a turtle shell, three anuses, and a water-filled cavity atop its head. This water must not be spilled, for it is the source of a kappa’s power when away from water. However, as kappa are polite to a fault, bowing before one will surely cause him to return the courtesy, thus causing the water to spill and thereby paralyzing him. A human refilling the water will turn the kappa into his indentured servant for life.

Though kappas are generally regarded as trifling mischief-makers, they have been known to indulge in serious offenses such as raping women and drowning children. Small children are warned against going near bodies of water unaccompanied, for aside from cucumbers, human youngsters are a kappa’s favorite meal. When bathing in kappa-infested rivers or ponds it is good practice to toss cucumbers (inscribed with the names of the bathers) into the water, in order to temporarily pacify these troublesome creatures.


Rokurokubi

Appearing as normal humans by day, but long-necked yokai by night, the Rokurokubi have the ability to transform their faces to resemble scary Oni. Oftentimes they live amongst ordinary mortals, some even taking spouses, and occasionally they are said to be unaware of their true natures. Though seldom portrayed as truly sinister, they delight in frightening people and enjoy revealing their demonic identities to the unsuspecting. Drunkards, fools, and people falling asleep are common targets.


Oni

Oni are wild-haired, horned demon-ogres of ancient Japanese legend, commonly depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and brandishing iron clubs (kanabou). Though humanoid in appearance, their skin is red, blue, or black, and they sometimes have three eyes. Oni usually represent undesirable human traits, embodying the worst tendencies of mankind. They are dim-witted, cruel, easily distracted, and fond of crude humor. Rarely do they reveal themselves to man, but prefer to wreak havoc by evil acts such as causing avalanches and spreading plagues.


Yama-Uba (Mountain Crone)

Traditionally depicted with unkempt hair and tattered robes, Yama-Uba is a predatory old witch skilled in potions and poisons. Living deep in the mountains of Japan, she feigns helplessness to trick unwary travelers into coming to her aid, whereupon she kills and eats them. Other times she leads lost strangers through dangerous passages, allowing them to fall to their deaths, then feasts upon their corpses. She is sometimes said to be able to stretch her mouth the length of her face, and can use her hair as a living thing, trapping victims and eating them with a second mouth atop her head. However, despite her reputation for devouring adults as well as children, she has a maternal side too, and raised the orphan hero Kintarō.

It has been suggested that Yama-Uba is of the Oni class, but unlike those infallible beings, she has weaknesses. In some depictions she is a nocturnal creature, unable to travel in sunlight. In other stories, her soul is trapped inside a flower, which, if destroyed, would cause her death.

The actual origin of Yama-Uba tales may stem from times in Japan’s history when famine forced villagers to cast their elderly out into the woods, because they were unable to feed them.


Yurei (Ghost)

Like the Western ghost, the yurei are spirits unable to pass on to the afterlife. Typically they are bound to the Earth by a strong emotion, and remain in their spectral form until some purpose has been fulfilled or justice met. This may entail their remains being discovered and given proper burial with necessary rites, a love relationship consummated, or a killer brought to justice. Unlike some other spirits, yurei tend not to wander, but haunt single individuals, such as their murderers or intended lovers.


Tanuki

Though the tanuki is a real animal, a Japanese raccoon dog, it has been a part of folklore since ancient times. The tanuki of legend is a mischievous shape-shifter, known to disguise himself as a tea kettle or pot. He is frequently depicted with a sake bottle in one hand and a promissory note in the other, as he has a tendency to drink on credit, accruing large bar tabs. He is also fond of paying his bills with leaves magically disguised to resemble paper money. 


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