The Source – Natalie

I’ve finally begun the process of revising and piecing together my portfolio, and as I do this, I’ve found myself reflecting on all of the things that got me here. So, for this post, I thought I’d give you all a little bit of insight into the source of it all: the art that has shaped my art from the very beginning. Somehow, this seems an appropriate thing to do as I approach the moment in my life when it will all culminate into a portfolio which may very well determine the course of my future.

So lets go back.

As a child, I clearly remember my five favorite stories being Harry Potter, Where the Sidewalk Ends, the Lord of the Rings, Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, and Avatar the Last Airbender. 

The influence of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings (by J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, respectively) is perhaps the most self-explanatory. They both feature fantastical creatures and magical worlds, full of great beauty and grotesqueness. The Lord of the Rings is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern fantasy, because it was the first story to take all of the creatures and magic from fairy tales and put them together into one comprehensive tapestry of a story, shaping a whole world with its own languages, history, ethnography, and geography. It is easy to see the influence of Lord of the Rings in Harry Potter, and perhaps even easier to see their influence on me. One example I can give is that of Ungoliant, Shelob, and Aragog: the giant spiders. In the Silmarillon, Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth that sets the stage for Lord of the Rings, Ungoliant is the mother of darkness, a massive spider who lives to consume all within her reach. Later, in the Lord of the Rings, we are introduced to one of her distant offspring, Shelob, who, like her mother, is a large (though not nearly as big as her mother) spider who dwells in the darkness and has an insatiable appetite. In Harry Potter, Rowling takes another angle on Tolkien’s giant spiders, instead fashioning the character of Aragog into a wise and benevolent soul who lives peacefully in the forest. To see the influence of these creatures in my art one need look no further than my recently invented giant spider-slugs. In fact, when painting my first spider-slug painting, I used shots from the scene in the Lord of the Rings movie in which Sam and Frodo escape Shelob’s lair.

In addition to giant spiders, Harry Potter is known for a host of other bizarre creatures, including Hypogriffs, Thestrals, and House Elves, to name just a few. These too have added to my love of strange and unusual beasts. Here is a collection of all of Rowling’s creatures.

Moving on from Harry Potter, I come to Avatar the Last Airbender. This may seem silly, but hear me out. Avatar was my favorite TV show as a kid, and one of the quirky hallmarks of the world it took place in was that there were no ordinary animals. Armadillo Lions? Check. Badger Moles? Of course. But something normal? A bear, perhaps? No way. This splicing of known animals to form some oddly charming hybrid is something I have adopted, with my spider-slugs and snake-turtles.

A list of Avatar’s creatures can be found here.

To look, however, even further back, we come to Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Both of these books were books my parents used to read to me as bedtime stories when I was very very young. Cyrus is perhaps the least creature-filled of all the stories I present here, but its impact remains undiminished. Along with Smaug (from Lord of the Rings), Cyrus was the first dragon (or dragon-like creature, because technically he’s a sea serpent) I ever encountered, and he certainly helped lay the foundations for my life-long dragon obsession. In that way, he will forever be with me.

Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, has no dragons, and not even many creatures, but certainly has its own flavor of the strange and unusual. From a two-faced man, to The Worst, to a dentist who finds pleasure in pulling out the teeth of a poor crocodile, to a man writing a poem from inside a lion, it has it all. As wonderful as the poetry itself is, the illustrations have always been my favorite part. And so this too from a young age shaped my affinity for macabre oddities.


There are certainly other stories and artists which have influenced me, the world itself is a constant influence, but none I think that have done quite as much as these four. I do hope I can do their legacies justice.


Image sources:

“Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” Elvenesse.

Pete, Bill. “Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent” Pinterest. 

“Dragon Moose.” Avatar Wiki.

“Goat Gorilla.” Avatar Wiki.

“Giant Rhinoceros Beetle.” Avatar Wiki.

Silverstein, Shel. “The Worst.” Pinterest.

Silverstein, Shel. “It’s Dark in Here.” Pinterest.

3 thoughts on “The Source – Natalie

  1. Summer Cai

    Thank you for this post! I think it is extremely interesting and rewarding to reflect on the literary traditions that influence a piece of art (especially if it’s your own)! I believe over the centuries, people had similar questions and fancies about life. While the themes stay similar, each artist brings into art a personal perspective. That’s what makes art unique! Good luck with your pro folio! Looking forward to hearing more about your project!

  2. cleokell

    I really relate to that notion of reflecting on where it all came from. I think a lot about how I became so artistically driven when, had you asked me a few years ago, I would have never considered myself an artist. I particularly love to hear how your childhood has inspired your work today. Keep it up! It looks amazing.

  3. trayhammond

    This was such a cool experience to be able to navigate the mind of the artist, the influences. I personally LOVE Where the Sidewalk Ends. I can’t tell you how many times I read about being eaten by boa constrictors or trading a dollar bill for five pennies (not sure if I’m confusing that with another Shel Silverstein book haha). This post was very insightful and retrospective, and I’ll be sure to keep these influences in mind for your future posts!


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