Spooky Scotland Sketches: Halloween Costumes

Last month's sketchbook prompt was "autumnal changes", which invited participants to draw inspiration from the natural environment. Here are some brilliant examples which were shared with us on social media via the hashtag #ScotlandSketches.

This is a study of sheep in the autumnal leaves on the Isle of Eigg, by Deirdre Nicholls.
Colin Powell shared think ink sketch from a recent walk at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Edinburgh.

For your next sketchbook challenge, we want you to sketch your own spooky costume designs for Halloween 2021. We have a plethora of macabre drawings in the national collection to influence your creations. This month we’re focusing on the sketches of the Runciman brothers, John (1744 – 1768) and Alexander (1736 - 1785). The Scottish artists shared a fascination with the supernatural and the dramatic. They looked to poetry, literature and theatre for inspiration for their supernatural subjects, including ancient ballads and the work of John Milton. Both brothers drew on Macbeth, or “The Scottish Play”, by William Shakespeare, which was extremely popular tragedy in the eighteenth century.

John Runciman Three Heads: The Witches of Macbeth About 1767 - 1768

Three Heads: The Witches of Macbeth by John Runciman is a rapidly executed sketch. The brown wash on the paper is highlighted with light gouache, giving the figures a supernatural appearance. It was previously catalogued as ‘Three Satyrs’, but is now believed to depict the Shakespearean subjects. The grouping of the bald heads and pointed ears speaks to the exaggerated ways in which witches have been depicted, contributing to dangerously negative attitudes towards women. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the persecution of witches was widespread, accounting for thousands of deaths of women and children.

Alexander Runciman The Witches Showing Macbeth the Apparitions About 1772

In The Witches Showing Macbeth the Apparitions by Alexander Runciman, the witches play a more secondary role. It illustrates Macbeth's second encounter with the witches in Act 4, Scene 1. Their leader Hecate addresses Macbeth, and he experiences a vision of an armed head which tells him to beware of his rival Macduff, Thane of Fife. Some of the details derive from Salvator Rosa’s famous painting of Saul and the Witch of Endor (Louvre, Paris), which Alexander would have known as a print. The growing use of printing during this period gave artists the means to share myths and fears about witches from country to country. Look closely at the lurking bats, owls, skeletons, and ghoulish faces for further inspiration for your own costume designs.

John and Alexander Runciman’s drawings are part of a rich and very diverse visual tradition; the witch has been reinvented over the centuries, ranging from hideous crones to beautiful seductresses. If you’re looking for more information about the dark and cruel origins of representations of the witch, we recommend reading Witches & Wicked Bodies. This extensively illustrated paperback was produced to accompany the exhibition shown at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2013.

Don’t forget to tag us in your posts, and use the hashtag #ScotlandSketches. We're looking forward to seeing your costume designs!

28 October 2021