Tales of Revilement Part 2: Nidhogg

Right before 2012 ended, I was contacted by Revilement  for another commission –a t-shirt design for their Finland tour.

The band’s specifics included a creature in a frozen wasteland. Obsessed with coherence, everything had to fall under order and relevance, so impetus compelled me to expand on the Jormungandr concept. Besides, ‘Revilement’ has always sounded like a venomous beast.

(The term wasteland becomes metaphysical at this point, though I’ve always perceived hell to be a cold, dark, horrific place. )

Excavating lore once more, I chose Níðhöggr/Nidhogg, the wyrm. IT is controlled by Hel, one of Loki’s three children and Goddess of the Underworld (So now we know where the saying ‘go to hell’ comes from). It resides with her in one of the nine levels of Niflheim/Helheim or Kingdom of the Dead, as it constantly gnaws on the roots of the world tree Yggdrasill.

As Jormungandr letting go of his tail began the end of the corporeal world, Nidhogg’s severing the roots of Yggdrasill from his subterranean realm represented the end of the universe. Things just couldn’t get any better.

Deep within the earth, in the misty nætherworld of Nifelheim, lies the great dragon Nidhogg. It lies, coiled around the well of Hvergelmir, from which all the waters in the world flow, and chews on the roots of the World Tree, so that it constantly dies and is reborn. The dragons attention wavers only when it stops to gorge itself upon the corporeal remains of the dead (for its name means corpse swallower, or the lower one), and to hear the pronouncements of Wyrd when the volva speaks.

Nidhogg is the chthonic counterpart of the aquatic serpent Iormungand, but unlike her * , and all preceding Rökkr beings, the origins of Nidhogg are totally obscure. The dragon, like the World Tree on which it chews, appears to have arisen out of Wyrd itself, having no creation, no creator. Suggesting at least that they both began their existence so remotely in the subconscious that they have gone beyond the need for any explanation. Certainly, Nidhogg has gone beyond the need for definition. It is beyond gender, it is neither feminine, nor masculine, but not like the undivided lunar nature of Hela, or the androgynous solar nature of Loki. Instead, its nature is so incomprehensible, so chaotic, that it is simply beyond any such definition.”

From: http://shadowlight.gydja.com/nidhogg.html.

*Holy shit! Jormungandr is a she?!?!

APPROVED SKETCHES – please click to enlarge

Proposal for Front Pencil on paper, digitally manipulated
Proposal for Front – Pencil on paper, digitally manipulated

Proposal for BackPencil on Paper, digitally Manipulated
Proposal for Back – Pencil on Paper, digitally Manipulated

*         *         *


“Talent and all that for the most part is nothing but hogwash. Any schoolboy with a little aptitude might very well draw better than I perhaps; but what he most often lacks is the tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy and saying: even though I know I’m not capable of it, I’m still going to do it.”

–M.C. Escher

Above is one memorable quotation that has stuck with me throughout my painting career. If I had to deem one thing as ‘divine’ it would be Escher’s body of work because it is none of this emotional diarrhea people boorishly deem as art. Escher embodies my definition of order and relevance. Though I don’t emulate his style, the process of having a grand, master plan before beginning anything is one I apply for everything that goes on paper, canvas, or pixel.

So as with my S.O.P., I began with this ‘grand, master plan’ assuming that  once the momentum got started, the work would finish itself – which is usually the case.

Everything was digitally ‘painted’ on Sketchbook Pro, a program I had never used before. In this first ‘grand’ idea, I didn’t realize that the computer actually gave one too much freedom in that everything could be scaled, rotated and manipulated. Being able to zoom in and out made me nitpick on the minutest details, only to realize later that they wouldn’t even be visible when printed on a t-shirt. From something that was around A4, the artwork blew up to the size of a poster because it kept on growing to accommodate all the changes along the way.

The greatest challenge was to differentiate the foreground, mid-ground and background given certain considerations e.g.  implying  a sense of depth within a ‘finite border’ (no part of the subject gets cropped off), or that a snake’s body gradually tapers towards the end.

Making such ‘tapering’ believable while Nidhogg coils sporadically from background to foreground was rather prickly. I still want to kick myself in the butt for not having the foresight of making a top view schematic before beginning the work. Nevertheless,  addressing issues became instinctive – an approach that I generally avoid. The harder I clung on to this ‘grand master plan’, the more it defied.

Meanwhile, precise foreshortening would have made the tail area of the snake too large – de-emphasizing the main content. So many of these creative decisions were spontaneously erupting, contradicting all that initial planning.

All these issues were addressed with great care and tact, to the best of my ability as they painfully unraveled along the way. All that initial structure I thought I had, had ‘gone feral’. At least one thing had remained consistent –it was that ‘cold, dark, uncomfortable place’, except I wasn’t supposed to be the one in it. The procedure in itself had turned into a venomous beast.

This artwork is saved in 41 different states – please click to enlarge.

Nidhogg - Funny Stages

Here’s one more….

Plane Roots

The back of the shirt didn’t pose as many problems. But since the front changed, modifications were also required. The front’s  ‘finite border’ made Nidhogg + Yggdrasil’s roots look like they were in a jar. Changing their orientation to create something visually appealing would create irrational inconsistency. Neither did I have enough space to create a more imposing looking tree. In short, the back’s Plan A was entirely scrapped.

Plan A

I ended up creating a root that broke off the Yggdrasill instead. Since the front’s scale limited the amount of detail I could draw on the people without them looking like random pixels, the back became an opportunity to portray them more thoroughly.

To sum things up,  the front and back also subtly bear resemblance to our entrails –suggesting that the need to rationalize the unknown through myth, even religion is intrinsic to human nature.

Here are the final designs for the BACK and FRONT with corresponding text and logos: