Fantasy – From the Latin Phantasia

1. Imagination. The process, the faculty, or the result of forming representations of things not actually present. 1553.


“A myth is not a fiction but a structure to express elusive experiences or share philosophical ideas” Alan Fletcher

The psychologist Carl Jung described archetypes such as the Hero, Magician, Wanderer and so on as having come from the ‘collective unconscious’ of the whole human race. Since the earliest times human societies all over the world have had comparable attitudes to sex, birth, the supernatural,  and life and death in general and mankind has used strikingly similar images to represent those attitudes in stories throughout history and in to modern times. For example, part of the remarkable success of Star Wars is due to George Lucas’s respect and understanding of these themes and ideas.

Archetypal fantasy stories and images have been evolving for thousands of years and it is said that these stories tell us something about how to live our lives and function within society. At any given time or place in history, myths and legends reflect the hopes and fears of the people in that society at that time. The modern fantasy artist has the pleasure of being able to explore the many versions of the great epics and quests that have been recorded before them and it is their task to shed new light on these ancient themes and re-tell the old stories in such a way that makes sense to modern audiences.

We live in a society where fact rules, everything we do is measured by how many facts we have learned, what exams we have passed, how much money something has made. Everything we do is reduced to statistics and these facts are considered to be truth.

Fantasy, myth and stories as a whole, offer us a different way of looking at things. These stories invite us to use our imagination and deal with the unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unknown – all the things that can’t be measured with statistics. These stories allow us to walk the line between what exists and what we think might exist and it is this that has allowed these stories to survive beyond the cultures where they originated.

Consequently art and its function as storytelling operates at the extremes of possibilities; it is the job of the artist to amaze and surprise and to offer the unexpected as well as redefine the classic imagery and formulas of myth.


Whether you are the caveman at the campfire or the director at the helm of a multi million dollar blockbuster you are doing the same job. The only difference is; the director needs to have practical experience of a multitude of skills to do his job, the caveman needs only his charisma and the ability to grunt and wave in an engaging manner. Nevertheless the classic art of storytelling has retained it’s central place in all human cultures down through fifty centuries or more and, as a fantasy artist, you will join the procession and pass on your stories and visions as others passed them on to you.

For this reason, the artists journey mimics the classic idea of the ‘heroes journey ‘.  The same basic adventure we see played out in books and films since the beginning of time. Jospeh Campbell described the ‘heroes journey’ as  ‘ the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than themselves”

And as you go along, in search of something, you run into obstacles, and there are times when the world world seems to be against you. There are other times when it seems pointless continuing, or when doubt creeps in and you may feel that it’s all been a huge mistake. These are all experiences that our favourite heroes and heroines go through so it’s hardly surprising that, once we have begun, we have to continue, come what may.

You love to draw, you love to paint. You probably love to dream.

And why not ? Tolkien and CS Lewis were people just like you or I.

If you believe it, it’s possible. Even if you don’t succeed you will at least learn some remarkable things along the way.

We all have dreams and sometimes dreams can come true. The film and computer games industries rely on dreams to survive so its not necessarily a bad thing to be a dreamer… just  make sure that dreaming is not all you do. Being a fantasy artist is about turning your dreams into realities… every day,

 “The cleverer we get, the more civilised we become, the more we seem to hunger for that old sense of mystery that must have brimmed up in us when we looked across our extraordinary world and understood none of it” Waldemar Janusczak in The Guardian newspaper 3.12.98

(Excerpt from ‘Drawing and Painting Fantasy Worlds’ by Finlay Cowan)