FMP Research – Foxes (Kitsune)

With the theme of my new project being the illustrations of mythical animals, I see it only fitting to use my favourite mythical animal, the fox spirits of Japanese folklore known commonly as “Kitsune”. Due to the nature of this project however, I will have to do some reminder research into their definition as it has been some time since the last time I used them within my artwork. This research will include the explanation of what a kitsune is, and later on, what stories can I find to use for the illustrations.

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The kitsune is the name given to a fox which has lived for over 100 years, at which point it obtains magical powers and other spiritual properties. Kitsune are not actually ghosts, as spirits within Japanese folklore simply refer to a being that has obtained an enlightend state of mind and knowledge, and are thus no physically different than a normal fox. There are two typical types

Once a fox has reached the age of 100 years they will begin to grow a second tail, and will continue to grow more tails (up to 9 in total) as it grows older, wiser and more powerful. It is often said that a fox will only grow a new tail after another 100 years have passed. The most common amount of tails seen in stories about them are 1, 5, 7 and 9. When a kitsune obtains it’s 9th and final tail, it’s fur turns gold or white and may ascend into the heavens. Another feature often associated with fox spirits is a small round/onion shaped balls called a “hoshi no tama”, which are commonly depicted as either being gemstones carried in the fox’s mouth or tails, or as small ghostly flames that follow it around (similarly to will-o-wisps).

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A kitsune has a large and interesting array of abilities and magical powers which it uses to either benefit or torment humans depending on the fox’s personality and the individual it meets. The powers of a kitsune include the ability to fly, invisibility, long life (which it can share with humans in return for favours), manifestation of dreams, mouths and tails which generate fire and/or lightning (kitsunebi), and the ability to create illusions so great that one could mistake it for reality. Some tales tell of kitsune with even greater powers, like the ability to bend time and space, drive people mad, or become incredible shapes (such as cloud reaching tree or a second moon in the sky).

However, the most commonly known powers of a kitsune would be its ability to shape-shift into anyone or thing, and their habits of possessing human beings (typically females). A great many (if not almost all) stories about kitsune revolve around the theme of the fox taking the form of beautiful women with the purpose of meeting human men and marrying them, often resulting in their true forms being revealed to them many years later.

Because of this vast amount of abilities and characteristics (notably shapeshifting), there seems to be an almost limitless amount of possibilities for designs that I could use for my illustrations. I will likely have to do a lot of sketching and practicing with the overall design style of the Kitsune as I need to find a style which is both fitting to the culture it originated from, while also being aphetically pleasing to myself (also because of my skill at drawing animals becoming a little rusty over the years).


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