I picked up Jaakuna Ubume from a Wargamers Buy Sell Swap group on Facebook. At first I bought the model due to its interesting game play (and cheap price), I didn’t really care about the sculpt. Until I got my brush on it, I realized, I should’ve really bought the plastic model instead… I never thought would have put deep thoughts into this model, and there’s intriguing things that I love to share.
Drowned Man Tells No Tales
Let’s dive into the lore: background research can help perpetuate artistic concepts. The real life Japanese mythos of the Ubume, was about spirit of a mother who tragically died giving childbirth. The spirit, looking like a normal person, would beg passersby to hold her baby and disappears in a flash. The baby, becomes heavier every steps until the victim realizes that they are carrying nothing but a boulder or pile of leaves. I drew a hypothetical metaphor in which the victim carrying the baby represents the heavy burden of a mother carrying a child in her womb. The transformation of the baby into a boulder or pile of leaves parallels the futility of the mother conceiving a child for 9 months only to die during childbirth, denying her physical presence to care for her child.
The Malifaux version is far more sinister, hence the ‘Jaakuna’ adjective at the front of her name which translates to ‘malign’ or ‘malevolent’. Of the dialogue that represents her backstory, it was hinted that she heartlessly drowned her own baby:
“Yes, he has always been so heavy. Heavier with each passing step. Such a burden. It’s why the waters needed to claim him. He just wouldn’t. Stop. Screaming.”
The Jaakuna Ubume lures her victims into saving her supposedly drowned baby, only to drag them under as the baby gets heavier and claim their souls. It begs the question though: why does her sculpt have a daughter instead of a son? Furthermore, the daughter seems to be of a juvenile age not infant. I’m not trying to criticize Wyrd’s art direction, on the contrary, it’s interesting that this indicates there’s more to the Jaakuna Ubume’s story. Was the baby son her second child? Did she drown her daughter too? I think these mysteries are best left unanswered.
During my research, I found out that the story of Jaakuna Ubume is a dark version of the ‘Tale of the Bravery of Urabe Suetake’ (curious? here’s the sauce https://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/12/29/two-tales-of-ubume/), in which there is an ubume asking passersby to ford a river while carrying her burdensome child. Comically, the ubume in the tale became frantic and begging for her baby back as Suetake- with perseverance- managed to cross the river instead of drowning.
The Psychopomp and The Reaper
When I was searching for inspiration I stumbled upon an magnificent, awe-aspiring art piece: ‘Souls on the Banks of the Acheron’ by Adolf Hiremy-Hirchl.
Looking at this grandiose work, my eyes were instantly transfixed into Hermes the psychopomp, the prime figure in the picture. His godliness: the cap of Hades, the caduceus, the halo and the warm skintone; radiates so conspicuously among the dead, that it generates a huge contrast that single him out from the crowd.
Based upon this concept, I made an attempt to draw a contrast between Jaakuna Ubume (with her daughter) and her surroundings. The initial idea was to impose the ubume’s facade- ordinary and harmless, but in a manner that makes her (and her daughter) stands out. The decision for cold white was because the colour white reflects more light than most colours, giving the ubume a more striking presence. I went to challenge myself in creating sakura patterns for her kimono not only to give out soft, dolce pink colours but also to train my freehand skills in undulating surfaces. There wasn’t too much thoughts on the daughter as children are commonly painted wearing bright and cheery apparels to reflect their innocence.
At first, I wanted to create a monochromatic environment to contrast with the Jaakuna and her daughter’s rich, flowery apparels. But then I thought it wouldn’t give much character to the ubume. I went for a hellish, bloody scene which I thought would best represent the ubume’s grim, murderous intent. I tried to keep the environmental hues desaturated to amplify the constrast with the ubume. The skin tones of the drowned victims were inspired by Hirschl’s painted souls, in which I went experimental in blending VMC Flat Brown, Cork Brown, Medium Grey and Ivory. It turned out satisfying, with few glazes of VMC Cavalry Brown to add reflection of the red waters.
An Asphyxiating End
Though the result was satisfactory, it left an unfillable maw: that it is a metal model. It was choking to realize that I should’ve bought the better version of the model, a better canvas to paint upon and I had only realized this halfway through the project. One can argue that I could just simply buy myself the model, but it is an act of repetition that I really loathe. I never had a fond of painting the same model twice (except when it comes to comission and batch painting), it felt redundant and I’m better off exploring the aesthetic other models.
At the end of the day, the project was an inspirational journey that challenged my conceptual presentation of a model. It gave me challenges in free-handing as well as palette choices for the model. An educational lesson that (hopefully) bolster my artistic insight.