Reference 2 – For the Love of Odin

Odin's Secrets © Sam Flegal 2013

Odin’s Secrets © Sam Flegal 2013

Using my most recent painting, Odin’s Secrets, as an example, I want to talk about another aspect of using good reference. You need to love the things you paint. Really, this goes beyond art. You need to love the things you do if you want to do them well, but for the sake of this blog we’re going to focus on painting.

Most artists, myself included, begin their careers wanting to get paid to do anything art related so bad, that they lose sight of why they make art. Young artists generalize their portfolios trying to show that they can do everything. I remember at one point I came up with the formula that you needed the following things to have a good portfolio:

• Hot woman doing something cool, preferably with a gun or wings.
• Big fight scene.
• Modern scene showing something everyday, like eating at a restaurant.
• Wildlife animals.
• Something involving fantasy characters fighting a monster.
• A painting that involved zombies.

Let me be the first to say how WRONG this was. The worst thing you can do is try to do everything. The best thing you can do is specialize. Pick one medium and be great at it. Pick a narrow subject range and make it your own.

Over the summer I encountered a situation where I had no commissions. For the first time in over a year I had the opportunity to paint whatever I wanted. Of course this led to artist block. I’d become so obsessed with painting technique that I couldn’t remember exactly what it was I wanted to say with my art (if I ever really knew).

Eventually this led me to Norse Mythology. I picked up a copy of the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, and started to read. Suddenly these amazing Gods and Goddesses came to life in my mind. I had so many pictures I needed to paint. And so I started with Odin…

Because I loved my subject matter, it caused me to research things in detail. Odin is described as wearing a dark blue cloak. This led me to imagine that he would probably have a cloak pin to hold it together. I did a little research on Viking cloak pins, and then designed my own. I wanted to include the Valknut, and the pin was an excellent opportunity to do so. For those who don’t know, the Valknut is three interlocking triangles that are found carved into ancient Odinic burial sights. It is one of his symbols and to this day, people passionate about Odin tattoo this symbol on their bodies. (A practice not without its own superstition.)

Valknut Cloak Pin

Valknut Cloak Pin

I knew that Odin would need his own drinking horn, as any good traveler brings his own horn. So I researched drinking horns and found some great images of different ways to wear them on a belt.

Odin's Drinking Horn

Odin’s Drinking Horn

As the bearer of the runes to mankind, it made sense to me that Odin would carry a bag of runes on his belt. This was as simple as taking an old dice bag and photographing it along with my model.

Odin's Bag of Runes

Odin’s Bag of Runes

Reference Photo of Belt and Rune Bag

Reference Photo of Belt and Rune Bag

When I was painting the belt I realized it needed and inscription or design. I did a little research and came across the Gotland Stone. Which shows some Vikings riding in a ship. After some research on that I found a travelers charm that contained a runic inscription for a travelers blessing. I did a variant of the Gotland Stone as a carving in the leather belt, and I placed the runes for the first line of the travelers blessing on the end of Odin’s belt. I imagined that Frigga, Odin’s Wife, made him the belt and blessed it with traveler’s luck before letting him loose on Middle Earth.

Gotland Stone

Gotland Stone

Odin's Belt

Odin’s Belt

Another detail is the runic inscription on Mimir’s head. I wanted to include a rune for life, death, and knowledge. I’m still not great with the runes, but my research led me to something that worked. Beyond the inscription on Mimir’s head I also did a LOT of research on mummies, specifically corpses preserved in bogs. I wanted Mimir’s dead head to look like something preserved.

Mimir's Preserved Head

Mimir’s Preserved Head

As you can see, my own love of the Northern Religion has led me to take that extra step in crafting the painting, Odin’s Secrets. Take the time to love what you paint, and really put that extra effort into the final results!

For the love of Odin, do the work!


If you love this painting as much as I do, and/or if you appreciate the knowledge I discussed here, please take the time to look over my Kickstarter project “Odin’s Secrets”. If you help fund it you’ll get a print of this painting. And please share the link with other folks who love Odin!


To see more of my work or to contact me for availability to help with your project please visit:



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