Myths and legends - the secret inspiration for digital artists

For hundreds of years artists and writers have been looking back to the ancient world They have depicted scenes from Ancient Egyptian, Aztec, Greek and many other mythologies, explored dark folk tales in gory detail, and even created their own set of characters

Jan 30, 2022
4 min read

Every culture has myths and legends dating back hundreds or thousands of years. They are telling stories and explaining why the world is the way it is. Throughout history, artists were inspired by these legends and they have given them a visual form. Sometimes these artworks are also the only surviving record of what was in the particular culture believed in and valued.

These stories are telling us about different things, people, places, and events. While some tell stories about real people, some tell stories about fictional characters that possess supernatural powers.

Theyyam is a ritual form in Kerala, India. This particular Theyyam is one variation of ‘Pottan Theyyam’, a vivid, lively and colourful ritualistic performance which comes in the traditional art form of Theyyam. It is believed Pottan Theyyam is a manifestation of Shiva. ‘Pottan Theyyam’ is traditionally performed with a large fire, the embers of which ‘Pottan Theyyam’ will rest upon (with the people insisting/requesting him to get up). After the performance and customs, the locals may approach and speak with ‘Pottan Theyyam’ and receive his response and blessing.
Photo by Manyu Varma / Unsplash

The difference between legend and myth

A myth is a traditional, ancient story that is fictional. The word myth is coming from Greek word "mythos". Myths were usually written to explain natural phenomena and quite often involved gods and fantasy creatures. They are linked more with religion and should give a moral lesson to those who read it. Myths are considered sacred and true by those who affirmed them, such as religious leaders and rulers.

On the other hand, a legend is a story which takes place within human history. Legends are widely believed to be rooted in the truth, but have evolved over time and taken on fictional elements as well. Although legends can be sometimes unverified, they are accepted and very popular among later generations. Legends are used to teach the younger generations about loyalty and other skills needed in the times of war and hardships.‌

Photo by Marko Horvat / Unsplash

The storytelling

Gathering around campfires, picnic tables or even a fondue pot, that's what we are missing nowadays. The physical interaction without cell phones and other distractions is the best chance of storytelling. The storytelling of the old ones. Certainly you have someone in your family who likes to tell legends of myths. Or if you don't, well, there are always books or other resources.

Telling stories about things that mattered have an extraordinary effect on people. Stories are as old as people and more important than ever for our spirits, minds, and human progress.

Digital art storytelling

Maybe you don't enjoy to telling a story by yourself with a spoken word. But as a digital artist, you can learn so much and expand your skills. Imagination, fantasy, history and deeper understanding of other cultures could make you a better artist. Plus, you have the chance to teach others about your own culture.

Look at Disney & Pixar and their animated movies. They are not just for children. And all the time when they are creating a movie from a certain culture, they are trying to be as close to the local culture as they could be. For sure, that are fantasies but based on actual part of the world or it's past.

Raya and the last dragon

Even though its a fantasy story, they tried to honor Southeast Asia roots. To ensure this cultural authenticity, the filmmakers formed a story trust of Southeast Asian cultural experts, including choreographers, musicians, linguists, architects, cultural experts, martial artists, and anthropologists. In the early days of making the film, a group of filmmakers and artists traveled to Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore to gain inspiration.

Credit: Disney


"Unlike most Disney movies, Encanto takes place in a real area, and the film serves as a love letter to Colombia, which is often misrepresented. Viewers who notice the plants surrounding the Casita will see wax palms, which are Colombia’s national tree, and coffee plantations. Antonio is also surrounded by tapirs, capybaras, coatis, toucans, and a jaguar, all of which are characteristic of South America and the Amazon – which extends through Colombia. Audiences are also treated to a scene about Caño Cristales, the river of the seven colors, located in Sierra de la Macarena in Colombia." –

Credit: Disney

We could name many movies reflecting different cultures. And that's where this inspiration is coming from. From us people, our history, places and stories.

There are many legends and myths out there which everyone knows. King Arthur, ancient minotaurs, Loch Ness, Thor, Trojan war, Odyssey, etc. But there are also many of them not known to the world so much and that's your chance to tell a story.

Myths & legends and fantasy

So we as artist have two options here. Create a visual fantasy story based on a chosen culture as we could see in the example of Disney and Pixar or we could just follow some local legend and try to project it onto our favorite medium.

As a child you probably heard of a part of your city or forest surrounding it, some scary stories about mysterious creatures, ghosts or maybe even some legends or myths that led to foundation of the city. And it's not broadly known. And here is the chance for you to take a pencil or stylus and draw this story.

Take as an example the game Witcher, it's whole built on the local folklore, stories, myths and legends. In the beginning, there was a book from a very talented Polish writer, Andrzej Sapkowski. And now we have all creatures, unnamed continent and entire cultures presented to us in an amazing visual way. And they are also based on existing cultures, like the islands of Skellige are for sure inspired by Ireland/Scotland.

So you don't have to go far away to create something new, something who no one ever saw. Just tell the story from your childhood or a local myth.

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