Archetypes enhance the power of story: using the hero’s journey in our art

Hey everybody! TC here again with a tutorial I hope will inspire you to think about the recurring themes in your life, and put those to use in your art.

First, we’re going to first think about what archetypes even are. Next, I’ll introduce you to an archetypal story pattern, and then we’ll try to incorporate that theme into our art journals. You ready?

What’s an Archetype?

To put it plainly, an archetype is a universal theme, something that is referred to in literature, music, storytelling and art that conveys an almost universally understood meaning within a certain culture. It can be super obvious (ie. going underground can symbolize death) or more subtle (fire meaning not destruction but renewal), and these might vary across cultures but there are some that probably resonate from everyone whether they come from the Arctic or Australia.

It can be hard to untangle archetypes from symbols, and in fact they are closely tied. Archetypes were probably best known initially because of the work of C.G. Jung, a psychoanalyst of the early 20th century who was super into the collective unconscious, dream analysis, and different personality types, and was an early champion of the concept.

There are more current writings on the topic as well, such as Caroline Myss and her book, Archetypes: Who are You?, in which she defines archetypes as:

“…psychic power patterns in the unconscious mind. …Although archetypes are collective symbols that everyone in the culture shares, they can also speak to us individually…” (pg. 3).

A student of Jung’s, Joseph Campbell, ties archetype into myth, legend and story, and finds connections between these and religious imagery. He has his own definition of archetype:

 “The archetypes to be discovered and assimilated are precisely those that have inspired, throughout the annals of human culture, the basic images of ritual, mythology, and vision.” ~Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

A few examples of archetypes will help explain what they are. You’ll probably recognize these right away. See if you can come up with an example of a story or movie where these are featured.

Individual Figures or Personalities

  • Crone
  • Blind Man as Prophet
  • An Innocent/A child
  • Goddess
  • Hero
  • Healer
  • Teacher/Mentor
  • Wild Woman
  • Every-person
  • Monster

Thematic or Setting Archetypes

  • Storms
  • Wind or breeze
  • Snake
  • Winter
  • Summer
  • Dark woods
  • Ocean
  • River
  • Sunset/sunrise
  • A bird

Did you come up with any examples from movies or books? What about Indiana Jones, Neo from The Matrix, or Harry Potter? Along those lines, what about Dumbledore or Haymitch from Hunger Games? What about Little Red Riding Hood going into the deep dark woods? Or how about Elasta Girl from The Incredibles? Or (much less family friendly) June from The Handmaiden’s Tale?

Once you get started identifying archetypes, they begin to make more sense.

Classic Story Arc: The Hero’s Journey

Today we’re going to focus on both a literary figure and a story arc: The Hero and the Hero’s Journey.

There’s a classic cycle to the Hero’s Journey.

  1. The Hero starts at home, in familiar surroundings. Some catalyst sets the hero on her path, which will always involve separation.
  2. Next, the hero faces an initiation or trial, something that challenges her and pushes her to her limit. She put overcome this obstacle, even at great personal cost.
  3. Finally there’s the triumphant return when the hero returns home and is now equipped to educate, lead or inspire in her hometown, sometimes with the ability to bestow gifts on her people.

Here’s a quick illustration from Campbell’s book. I had to refer to this a bunch of times.

For this tutorial I chose to use the same figure for each portion of the spread. I created an archetype prototype (doesn’t that just feel right?). Mine looks like this:

There. Now I think we’re ready to gather some supplies and get going.

Supplies

For this spread you’ll want things to represent: home, journey, conflict, and of course, a hero.

I’m not a minimalist, so here’s a list of what I used to create this spread (you could definitely make this using far fewer materials so please don’t feel you need all these):

  • Patterned papers
  • Book pages
  • Sheet music
  • Sewing patterns
  • Sparkley stick-on gems
  • Acrylic paints
  • Matte medium
  • Paper doll cutouts (I totally cheated and used store-bought paper dolls. You could use vintage photos or magazine images, or draw your own people.)
  • Spray inks
  • Embroidery floss (and kind of string or thread will work)

Hero’s Journey: Part one and Part Two

 

Hero’s Journey: Part three

Here’s the final part of our journey. Now that we’ve left home, faced and overcome trials of many kinds, we can return home. We’re a little battered and bruised, but we’ve triumphed. We’ve gained new experiences and new knowledge and we return with wisdom (and maybe gifts) to share with the people we left behind. I’ve tried to use colors that are variants of the colors used on the first page that represent home — after all, when we leave home and have new experiences that broaden our perspective, doesn’t home look a little different upon our return?

I hope this has given you some inspiration for how you can incorporate archetypes into your art journal during this season of Story. Whether that’s the Hero and the Hero’s Journey or other classics, archetypes can convey a lot of meaning in a short burst, both in images and symbols, and in story patterns.

 

 

Thanks so much for letting me share this with you! I looooove seeing the pages you make, so please tag me on Instagram (@tclmn) if you create something even remotely based on or inspired by this tutorial. Until next time, happy painting!

Action Steps

  • Go back up to the top of this post and pick two archetypes to explore in your next art journal spread.
  • Try using thread or string on your next page.
  • Do some journaling. Try to consider yourself as the hero of your story. What trials or initiations have you come through? What wisdom have you gained?
  • Create your own prototype figure and feature that figure as a returning hero. What kind of celebration would they want and what would that look like?

Resources

Downloads

GM-TC-Story-Hero Journey Archetype Prototypes

GM-TC-Story-HeroJourney Classic Cycle 

Books that informed this tutorial:

  • The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell
  • Carl Gustav Jung: a Biography, by Frank McLynn
  • The Origins of Creativity, by Edward O. Wilson
  • Archetypes: Who are You?, by Caroline Myss
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell
  • Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

TC

TC lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her favorite part of art journaling is following a feeling or idea and seeing where it leads on a page.

5 Comments

  1. Patricia Shimozo-Allen

    Cant wait to try this.
    Thank You!

    • TC Larson

      I hope this gives you ideas and techniques to explore. I look forward to seeing what you create!

  2. Divyam Bernstein

    TC, this is so fascinating and inspiring! Thank you for bringing such a wealth of information together in such an accessible and easy to understand way! Your pages are absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to try this out!!! Xxx

    • TC Larson

      You’re so kind! It’s an interesting (to me, ha!) concept and when I started paying attention I had fun noticing how frequently it’s used. I look forward to seeing your twist on this!

  3. CIndy Jacobs

    Oh TC!! I really loved this tutorial!! I can’t wait to try it – I’m going to use it in my Season of Seasons!!