Gamayun, a ballad of Character Development

Everyone thrives on tales, a tapestry of images, which we remember from our childhood. Some characters are familiar to everyone and can be brought to memory with a snip of a finger, clear as a spring. The others, however, are still undiscovered, blank-spaces at the map of well-known tales. And as every proper tale, this one started with a challenge.
Starting a new character concept, I was resolved to dare myself. Rather than to design a creature from a zero, using a total freedom, I decided to base it on the existing skeleton of a concept. The concept of choice should have been vague enough to allow a possibility to practise my storytelling skills.

The creature of choice was Gamayun, a Sibyl bird of Heavens. She made her first appearance in Russian medieval legends and was often depicted in alphabet-books and parchment posters, up to the very 17th century. In contrast to her more famous sisters – Alkanost and Sirin, Gamayun was the most mysterious and undefined. The references were short, confused and vague enough to offer a challenge I desired. Her character brief could have looked like the following:

Age (of appearance): 25-30.
Species: a combination of a human and a bird. Gender: Female.

Background information:
a Sibyl bird of Heavens, the messenger of the ever-wise god Veles, Gamayun sings the songs of divine and predicts the future to those, who are allowed to secrets. Gamayun knows everything there is to know. When she flies from the East a deadly storm/war is about to descend on the earth.

Common Habitat and Time:
the 10th century, land of Rusi, heavily influenced by Byzantium style). Gamayun abides at Makarian island, washed by the sea-ocean by all sides. At the island there is a garden, where the apples of wisdom grow, that are being fed on her tears.

From the visual point of view, she turned out to be a ‘stained glass’, reflecting cues-pieces of her sisters.

As references, a peacock, a turkey, a Chinese phoenix and a black grouse were used. Decorative motives and good shape was paid close attention to. Number 7 was chosen as more interesting from the side and not too distracting from the jewellery.
Some studies on a wings shape, a feather palette and a wings span. The smaller wing span was chosen, due to the fact that Gamayun should not had been represented as predator-like or overpowering, but rather being amiable and alluring…
Jewellery express Gamayun’s personality as well as the sense of the time she lives in. That is why such attention was paid to them. A small visual research was made, which provided me with Medieval Byzantinium Frescos, modern Dolce&Gabbana Byzantine collection, Russian traditional hairpieces, such as diverse forms of kokoshnik, ancient Slavic jewellery such as colts, (a form of earrings, but they attached to a headpiece, rather than to ears), as references. For further inspiration and more stylized sense of costume, I studies Russian ‘folk-tale’ films such as The Stone Flower (1946) and Sadko (1952). Number 9 has been chosen as the most shape-appealing.


After the shape had been set, it was time to choose colour scheme. Prior to that I studied the colour theory and was especially interested in relation between them. Concerning the reference and influence – it is well-known that the best inspiration is nature. Thence, for the feather palette I examined diverse variety of birds drawings from Natural History: General and Particular the Count de Buffon.

Number 3 of colour palette has been chosen as the most appealing, due to a clear colour contrast, and reworked into the final concept art. Green also stands for youth, immortality and hope that is inline with the character.

The next step was to depict Gamayun as a part of a story. I settled on trying a speed painting technique for the piece, which I had never done before. The task was to complete the whole painting in 3 hours, which was done accordingly. The piece was done in black and white and then coloured.

Based on the research, when Gamayun flies from the sunrise a deadly war descends on the earth. However, the feeling of the catastrophe should have been subtle, with more stress on Gamayun herself. I decided to depict her returning from the battlefield, a sybil and a witness to the horrors of an enviable fate. The light played crucial role in it, for lightning from the back signifies an accomplished action. The palette was set as desaturated and misty because of the sunrise.