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History

The Fool

Created: 12 Mar 2011 / Categories: Drawing, Family Man, History

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Here’s a higher-res image of Luther as the Fool.

Adding the book, the watch, and swapping the little dog for the wolf were all fun notions to carry out, as was swapping the mountains for the treeline.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people who are mostly familiar with the Rider Waite tarot assume that the little white dog is this handsome young troubadour’s loyal pet. In the history of tarot depictions of this card, however, the dog is an angry local mutt actively trying to bite the Fool. The Fool isn’t always a happy young Bohemian, either.

Here’s the original, by Pamela Coleman Smith, under the art direction of Rider and Waite:

fool-riderwaite

And here’s the Fool from the version of the older Tarot de Marseille deck, by Jean Dodal:

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_Fool

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Created: 21 Feb 2011 / Categories: Drawing, History, Pictures

Happy Presidents Day!

In my defense: sometimes these things just happen when you’re an illustrator. With an eccentric brain.

This little abomination is up for sale on Etsy if you’re looking to decorate!

Tricorner Hack.

Created: 18 Aug 2010 / Categories: Drawing, History, Pictures

Those of you familiar with my graphic novel Family Man will know that I have spent many, many hours drawing  people wearing tricorn hats.  It was a style of headgear that stuck around for quite some time, and it seems to be the first shaped hat designed expressly for the purpose of driving artists crazy.  (Later fashion provided us with the fedora and the cowboy hat, in which crucibles many a cartoonist has died screaming.)

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I know that you don’t want to be that person who gives up and just draws a vague lump on your character’s head.  I can’t help you with the fedora or cowboy hat – but I’m here to lend you a hand with our friend the Tricorn.

There’s one very obvious solution for how to go about properly drawing a tricorn at any angle: buy an expensive reproduction hat online and pose or photograph it as necessary.  However, that will net you many hours of digging through endless Halloween store shopping results for shapeless faux-leather “Jack Sparrow” pirate hats and weird little woolen cereal bowls with a weak brim claiming to be “Colonial hats”. When finally you get to plonk down $400 on an accurate drawing prop, you’ll probably want to do violence to your fellow human beings.

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The next most obvious solution, if you’re broke or slightly insane, is to hunt down vast numbers of screen captures from appropriate period films.  I will cop to having, on hand, roughly a gigabyte of stills from 1776: The Musical: The Movie.  I will not claim that these have been unhelpful, but perhaps you aren’t interested in paging through 53 blurry images of Blythe Danner in a corset in hopes of locating that one angle of a guy in a hat.

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It’s also wise to keep in mind that any period film is ALSO filtered through the period when it was filmed – hence, in 1776 we learn that Thomas Jefferson really liked 70’s style brushed-up temples.

So if you are looking for the simplest, cheapest, most rudimentary tricorner hat hack: get ready.  This will provide you with the basic folded planes of the tricorn hat so that you can sketch out the essential shape; you’re on your own for deciding the style of the crown and providing the subtler details of material and curved blocking.

Those of you who have celebrated Purim by eating hamantaschen cookies will recognize this procedure.

YOU WILL NEED: a piece of foldable paper, a pair of scissors, a pencil.

STEP ONE.

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Cut out a circle of paper.  Cut it to whatever size you like; don’t worry about the shape being perfect.  (a slightly oblong shape might actually get you more accurate results later on.)

STEP TWO.

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Draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle inside the circle so that each point touches the edge.  Again, don’t worry too much about deadly accuracy; these are just folding guidelines.

STEP THREE.

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Pinch in the paper at each point.  I find it’s easiest to first pinch up two points, then move on to the third.

STEP FOUR.

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Now that the points are pinched up, it should be easy for you to fold the paper along the pencil lines.  The triangle is still flat, but the extra half-circles of paper stick up.

STEP FIVE.

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Behold! Whichever corner sticks forward the most is now the front brim of the hat; the other two form the back.  The triangle is the underside of the hat, where your person would normally stick their head in.  You can arrange this little paper thingie at many common angles and immediately figure out the basic arrangement of the hat’s trickiest parts. You can see that the angle I held the model at roughly replicates Luther’s hat down in the inset image.

If you want to replicate the crown of the hat, make this model big enough to accommodate half of a ping-pong ball (for a round crown) or a bottle cap (flat crown), and glue or tape it on.

In actual hats, the “corners” were often not tightly pinched together, especially in the front, so if you want to replicate that look, let the tips of the triangle run off the paper, skip the pinching, and just fold up along the lines.

Now that you have this model, I recommend you go back and look at those screencaps, or at any trustworthy reference source, to fill yourself in on style and material details/divergences.  These hats were made of anything from light felt to heavy leather, decorated with ostrich feathers and gilt, tied down, worn askew, blocked so that they sat more on the back of the head than the front, etc, and came in every size from bitsy to engulfing.

Regardless, this little model will help you draw a tricky angle when your reference sources aren’t working out.

Enjoy the increased ease of drawing one of history’s most frustrating hats!

____

ADDENDUM:  lovely reader Jenn S. made up a nice little cheater template for those of you who don’t want to draw your own circles and triangles!  Click to view and download at full size, then print and use at will.  Thanks, Jenn!

tricorntemplate

La Reine Margot

Created: 24 Apr 2009 / Categories: Bite Me!, Books, History

I have to tell you people:  the photo contest now has entries featuring live chickens and horses nervously conceding to the panel-replicating schemes of various young humans.  I am delighted that I can contribute the loss of dignity of farm animals everywhere.  I expect to hear from PETA shortly.

Lots of dreary self-promotional stuff from me lately!  I will reward your patience, and my soul, with an actual blog entry.

I’m currently rereading La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas.  In French, because I’m fancy, and because I was getting rusty and started to miss the special finickiness of a language that actually has a different past tense for use exclusively in novels.  (If there’s another use, I haven’t found it; please don’t tell me if there is.)

I first read the book while I was in Paris in 2004.  It was one of my major early accomplishments in full-length, unassigned, unsupervised French book reading.  (My first was the French translation of Prisoner of Azkaban, which I assure you was a bizarre and delightful experience.  I mean, Hufflepuff was translated as Poufsouffle, and things don’t get much more wonderful than that.)

La Reine Margot – that’s Queen Margot – tells the deeply romanticized version of the St Bartholomew massacre, in which all of the Protestant (called Huguenot) nobility of the French-ish territories were tricked into coming into Paris for a “just kidding about that war we were waging against you, let’s reconcile!!” wedding between the young Protestant King Henri of Navarre and the Catholic French princess Marguerite.

As soon as the wedding had gone ahead and all the Huguenots had gotten a few drinks in them and were snuggling into their fluffy commemorative comforters to entertain dreams of peacably eating petit-fours on the croquet lawns at the Louvre, the Catholics put on their second-best pair of boots, snuck out the kitchen window and killed several thousands of Huguenots very horribly.

Henri was clever enough to say “oh bosh, heck with Protestantism, I swear I’m a Catholic now” and was kept in custody at at Valois for two years playing endless games of croquet until he managed to sneak out and scurry back to Navarre.  Eventually made it back into town and claimed the throne as Henri IV, after a long series of military campaigns and weird assassinations and games of sectarian musical chairs and borrowing a couple of armies from Queen Elizabeth, presumably along with her delightful recipe for Heretic Muffins.

In short, dashed interesting stuff, even if you don’t throw in a lot of lines about Marguerite’s swanlike neck and delicate complexion and a buddy comedy involving a Catholic count and a Protestant count ending up in the same inn etc.  But that, ladies and gents, is what Dumas does for us.

I love Dumas.  Well, such that I’ve read.  The man was one of the original paid-by-the-letter hacks; he had a small army of researching and plot-designing minions, and as a result his full catalogue runs into the dozens.  Swords and ripped bodices and tales of sprightly intrigue cheeringly garnished with bits and bobs of historical truthiness.

He was also a mulatto.  Did you know that?  The guy who wrote Three Musketeers looked like this:

Alexander Dumas

His grandfather was a Marquis and a famous general  who was stationed in Haiti (hence the mulatto bit), and his own father had been a general in Napoleon’s army until, well, that whole thing where Napoleon ended up defeated and in exile.  Dad died while Alexandre was still in short pants, and after that it was pretty much Madame Dumas and her precocious son shivering in a farmhouse and reading everything they could get their hands on to pass the miserable time.

Eventually he wound up in Paris writing copy for magazines and then fell into fiction-writing, and the rest is high-living and wild debt and marrying actresses and sleeping with dressmakers and getting snarked at for being of mixed race.  One particularly nasty racist was met with this wonderful but also self-hating retort:

“My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great grandfather a monkey. You see, monsieur, my family begins where yours ends.”

Pew pew!  Man down!

No matter what language I’m reading him in, it’s evident that Alexandre Dumas, while capable of crafting a lovely adventure and comedy and a nice turn of phrase, was not interested in creating Deathless Literature.  He created popular melodrama and romance with a humorous edge that was secretly educational.

As an author, I can respect that goal: there’s a place for punishingly dense narratives, but giving pleasure on the level of pure entertainment is something I always hope for.  And, for all that his characters are frequently caricatures – the brash but true-hearted young King, the learned Princess, the brave country Bumpkin, the embittered Soldier With A Dark Secret, the hook-nosed Poisoner, the scheming Seductress – many of them are very recognizably human, and they’re placed in a convincing “past” that is also elastic enough to withstand frantic page-turning.

I wonder how many hundreds of historians and writers read Dumas as young people and were so caught up in the intrigue and in the immediate love for a protagonist that Dumas can provoke like it ain’t no damn thing, that they went on to delve into the actual events of centuries past for professional and educational purpose.  I’m certainly one of them.  I consider that sort of writing a public service, granted one not often accorded the laurels of High Art.

Watching Twilight this week – yes, I know – I found myself becoming quite furious with the storytelling.  Not so much because the events were clumsily arranged or that the premise was silly or that the setting was strangely depicted (they got real creative with some of that there Northwest geography).

What pissed me off was the lack of affection evoked for the main characters, and the lack of any narrative protein – that invitation to investigate subjects beyond the scope of the story.  I finished the movie feeling unmoved by the illogical mannequins who had been pushed around the screen for two hours, and uninterested in further investigating anything beyond a few nice nature trails around the Gorge.

I could have forgiven one of those two things: if it had been utter fluff with lovingly rendered characters (Buffy) or curious-about-the-world grist with slightly dull human vehicles (say, anything by Arthur C. Clarke…).  Fail both of those tests and you fall into the black hole of Narrative Junk Food.  I was happy to see the Harry Potter books turn into such a phenomenon, because Jo Rowling so obviously adored her people as real human beings, and took care to tuck all sorts of little intellectual rewards and tip-offs into their playhouse world.  But Twilight?  Man, that shit is Jolly Ranchers for the soul.

At any rate.  It’s pleasant to reenter the world of Alexandre Dumas and the warmly cartooned world of young Henri and Margot; to sneak around the darkened night streets of Paris circa 1572 and press my ear against the thin doors of the Louvre’s private chambers.  It’s pleasant to go to a place where a story deserves its own grammatic tense.

That’s all.

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