Design Focus: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld Poster
26 October 2023
Design Focus is a series of posts about designs that maybe don't belong in the Portfolio but I still want to share and focus on for the sake of a retrospective and learning purposes.
To start, I'm looking at this student assignment completed in November 2022 to create a typographic poster based on an inspirational quote.
There was a bit of flexibility since inspirational quotes are anything that can be meaningful to you and be personal, so I chose a quote from the book The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip [Wikipedia].
The giant Grof was hit in one eye by a stone, and that eye turned inward so that it looked into his mind, and he died of what he saw there. -Cyrin
This is the poster design which I will be discussing in this post. The quote is in rune-like letters surrounded by the eponymous Beasts of Eld.
About The Source Material
The fantasy novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was published in 1974 and the quote is from the boar Cyrin who speaks in riddles. The quote is about self-insight with a literal pun looking inside, indicating that someone (in this case, the giant Grof) could have such poor self insight that they die (allegorical spiritual death).
I came aware of this book through Michael Moorcock's non-fiction book Wizardry and Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy [Wikipedia] where this cryptic quote was used to intrigue readers. Well, it worked on me.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is difficult to describe without ruining the story. It won the 1975 World Fantasy Award [Wikipedia] and is one of my favorite fantasy novels. Do not let the blurb fool you, the story is much more than it seems.
The book centers on a druid named Sybel who at the start of the story is a hermit with only mythical creatures that used to belong to her father to give her company. One night, Coren of Sirle appears and hands Sybel a baby to take care. The baby is from Sybel's niece Rianna, the deceased Queen of Eld. Sybel agrees to care for the child, and eventually, twelve years later is drawn into the world of humans for better and worse.
The point of creating the poster was to emphasise typography while keeping imagery subtle. However, I ended up making mine much more illustrative focused. It needed to be in the CMYK colour space (for print), have bleed, and be able to be printed on a large dimension.
Poster dots per inch (DPI) is usually 75 for a viewing distance greater than 1 meter.
The Beasts of Eld
In the book, the Beasts of Eld are:
- the Black Swan, described as having a golden eye
- Blammor (black mist with five eyes), represented by an eye
- Cyrin, the boar with red eyes and white tusks
- Gules Lyon, the lion, used to live in the Southern Deserts
- Gyld, a dragon with green wings, and a love for treasure
- Moriah, a huge black cat, green eyed
- Ter, a falcon
The world of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is inspired by celtic or irish mythology which influenced the visual design of the poster.
The Visual Design
Due to the celtic influence, the design focused on runes used in the ancient Germanic tribes of Europe. Runes were a cryptic writing system used to tell fortunes, cast spells, and provide protection. I altered Futhorc (Anglo-Saxon) runes [Wikipedia] to become more like english letters so they could potentially be read.
A major inspiration in terms of shapes and colour scheme was this runestone from the church of Resmo on Öland at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquitiesin Stockholm.
The final design used an eye in place of the word eye in the quote, and additional eyes were added around Cyrin's name to represent the Blammor, a mysterious creature Sybel encounters.
In celtic design (see The Designer's Craft Library: Celtic by Chris Down [Internet Archive] for more celtic designs and ornaments), ropes and knots have spiritual significance to represent the bonds that bind people and spirits together.
More generally, ropes also represent bondage or imprisonment (of animals or humans).
Both symbolic representations of rope have significance in the story so are used in the visual design.
The elements are positioned on a gravestone both due to the original use of runestones as headstones but to link back to the quote about the giant Grof dying. Some texture overlays of stone were used to reinforce the idea.
An early concept that I didn't execute due to the complexity and time constraints of the project was having the animals tied up in ropes.
In retrospect the design does not work very well because it lacks cohesion between the different elements.
While I am very proud of the animal graphics I made (the 3d relief effect is thanks to an Adobe Illustrator effect) they don't interact harmoniously with the runes or the rope.
The gravestone (for the giant who died from lack of insight) also is very flat, lacks contrast, and it takes a few seconds to realise it is a gravestone.
I think the eye shape takes up too much prominence in the center of the composition, although it does help provide a central focus.
Although I spent a lot of time creating custom vector graphics for the runes they ended up being difficult to read and the shape of the letters in an arc is a little unusual and not realistic to actual runestones. If I were to recreate this design, I would save time using rune graphics somebody else had made (or a different celtic inspired font) to place the text more realistically. In addition, with this saved time I could focus on entwining the animals in rope to make the overall design more cohesive.
The book cover title and author name are a bit squashed and could use additional white space, however the overall placement is like a book cover and is a call back to the source material in book format.
In addition to all these visual factors, I was told by many people the quote did not make sense (until explained, and even then was still very cryptic). As one of my instructors said "Look, I don't get it, but it's your design." Nonetheless, I stuck with my idea because I wanted to pay homage to this great story as I had learned the author, Patricia A. McKillip had sadly died the same year I made this.
While this was not the most successful design, I did learn a lot from this project and it was fun to do. 😊 That's what student projects are for, after all. For experimenting, trying new techniques, and ultimately, learning.
I would also recommend everyone read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. If you are local there is a free copy to read in the Brisbane City Council Library Catalogue.
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