29 April 2010

[art] Some Heraldry I Drew Tonight

When I can get off my figurative duff and finally draw something, I do heraldic designs on demand for my SCA friends.

I'm trying to draw more. I don't think you can call yourself much of an artist, or even a designer, if you don't draw, and I've always had some facility with a pencil and paper. Latterly, I enjoy a great deal drawing in pen, but I'll always adore the graphite.

About heraldry: maybe it's because I've been in the SCA and near those who play in this singular organization for a long time, but I'm always surprised when I tell someone about it and they haven't heard of it. I tend to think it's as common as the Boy Scouts or the National Guard or summat.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is that group of medieval recreation fanatics who aren't those Ren Faire people you hear about. It sprang from a garden party held in the back yard of the fantasy writer Diana Paxson in about 1962 or so, and it currently has thousands of members across the world (but largely still in North America) and is organized into "Kingdoms". Oregon falls into a Kingdom called An Tir. Since the SCA had its origins in the world of idealized Europe in the Middle Ages, of course, that means coats of arms, and that is what I mean when I say heraldry.

The practice of heraldry is actually a sort of graphic design. A person has a vision of a design and asks an artistically-talented herald (say, myself) to render it. The challenge of designing these "devices" (which is another technical term) comes from the fact that coats-of-arms designs are created according to fairly strict rules and a limited canon of symbols (a large variety, to be sure, but one with limits). What's exhilarating about designing within these limits is wresting not only credible heraldic designs from them but also forging a unique style.

This is possible! I have developed a reputation amongst my heraldic colleagues for having developed a recognizable and visually desirable style while remaining within the heraldic graphic tradition. It's one of my proudest achievements, as well as coming up with credible drawings on very short notice when necessary.

Enough (way too many, actually) words at this point. I did do a couple of drawings tonight and I'm quite happy with them. Here's one:

Many people like acquiring designs that in some way symbolize them and what they do or see themselves as. the above design - a squirrel in "rampant" posture (that's the name for the stylization of the limbs wielding a knife and a spoon as thought they were ninja weapons, with acorns strewn across the background. This was requested by a dear sweet lady, a person who's cooked meals for many many SCAers across this section of An Tir (ask any An Tirian about the legendary "Golde Lemon") and is incredibly hardworking and, well a bit of a nut – but in a good way.

Naturally, squirrels don't actually look like that, of course, but there are giveaways that identify the squirrel – the spoon-shaped ears, the triangular head, fluffy, ticked tail. This is the personal style that at once doesn't violate the heraldic mode and canon but kicks it up to the next level.

Also, it must be said that just because people tend to choose images that express what they seem themselves as, some aspect of their character, there's not – and there never was any – requirement to create a design with any connotations at all! If there's a heraldically-correct combination of colors, shapes and/or symbols that one likes just because they like it, then there's no reason you can't do that. Your coat-of-arms is simply for indentification's sake. The only requirement, beyond it being unique (and there's a book of rules to insure that it is unique) is that it obey several design rules which are drawn from real-world heraldic tradition.

It may seem a bit arrogant to say that what I do here transcends the form a bit, but I have people look me up to do their design just because they've seen me do others. And satisfied customers can't be too far wrong.

The other drawing I did tonight was of a boar's head. This is a common-enough element in coats-of-arms … they can connote roughness, toughness, fierceness, or just someone who likes boar's heads:

I was a little intimidated by the thought of drawing the boar's head until I identified some things from some other pictorial resources that were easy to use as touchpoints – the snout, the tusks, the ears. Of course, it doesn't look very much like an actual boar, and my style is a stylization on top of a stylization, but it does seem rather piggy. And rather fierce as well.

And when I showed them to the people who will be using them there was much admiration.

Next best thing to being paid for this stuff.

Apparently I'm kind of awesome at doing this stuff.

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Alan Cordle said...

Needz mor unicornz.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

You wants I should haz moar unicornz?

I will haz more unicornz!

Stay tooned,

kthnkx bai!

Elenor said...


Just wanted to know - i'm an an tirian, and want a rampant squirrel in my device (quite different from this one, don't worry) and was wondering if this has passed? It's not on the an tir roll of arms, and i'm working on my documentation (and would like to be lazy)

Samuel Klein said...

Sorry, Elenor, I've been out of the loop for a while now and while I am supportive of the An Tirian heraldic community I am not what you'd call involved in it at this time. It shouldn't be too hard to find a consulting herald who's active who'd be thrilled to help you out though. Contact your local branch, whatever that may be, or just go straight to the college and ask.