Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Drawing an Animal in Heraldic Style

Heraldic animals are not realistic. They’re very stylized in a way that emphasizes parts that are considered to make it recognizable from a distance and also considered to be important parts of the animal. Like many things, that doesn’t always hold true, but it is a general rule and if you follow standard heraldic style when submitting in the SCA, you’re less likely to draw something that ends up being bounced for stylistic reasons. I recently had the opportunity to draw an emblazon for a client with an animal that I could not find a good exemplar of online. The animal was a natural tiger* statant (standing).
Since I didn’t have a good heraldic exemplar, I had to draw it from scratch. When I do this, I start with pictures of the real animal, then modify it to make it look more heraldic. Here are the reference pictures I used and what I ended up drawing.
I used the heads of these tigers because I couldn't find a straight profile shot of an actual tiger.
There are several ways in which the two are different. The proportions are the first. A heraldic animal has a slightly larger head and larger feet. It also has a cinched waist if it is a mammal (think about greyhounds). The mouth is often drawn open if the animal is not an herbivore. If you want to draw an open mouth, the tongue is elongated and extends beyond the tip of the snout. The teeth will probably be a bit bigger as well. Sometimes (not always) the ears are larger; I opted for that here since it makes the spots on the tiger’s ears more noticeable. The tail is emphasized as well and the end is almost always held erect. If it has a tuft on its tip, this is enlarged and tufts may come off other parts of the tail as well.
Another thing which can change proportions is that heraldic artists tried to fill up white space in period. Don’t have a tiny, lonely charge just pasted onto the very center of its section of the shield- have it fit the section of the shield. Making a charge fit its section of the shield sometimes means distorting the proportions and sometimes means distorting the attitude. Look at the arms of the king of England, for example- three lions passant in pale. To fit those lions one on top of each other, they are drawn with elongated bodies and shortened limbs.
I’ve seen some SCA heraldic artists “filling the space” to an extreme to the point that in some cases I would argue the charge becomes unrecognizable because there isn’t enough white space  to make the outline of the shape easy to see. I’ve seen some of those pass, though, so it isn’t necessarily a barrier to registration. Just be careful about it.
Another thing you’ll notice is that heraldic style is what I like to think of as “roadkill style”. Charges are drawn as though they were actually 2D, not to give the illusion of being 3D (with very rare and particular exception). They are not drawn at angles- typically they are in profile view, though some attitudes are views from the front (affronty, cabossed) or from above (tergiant). In all cases, the animal is not drawn from a pure side view like a realist would draw, though. They are squashed and flattened so that the maximum number of body parts are visible. The main part of the body may be straight from the side, but you can still see both ears, at least parts of all limbs, and all the toes as well. 
The feet of a heraldic feline are much different from a real feline’s paw. All toes are visible, separated, and claws are completely extended. One is drawn as though it were behind the others (the one on top), and the others are drawn so as to be completely visible from tip to base. Imagine you’re holding the cat by the scruff of its neck and it’s paws are waving in the air- the cat would not actually be able to stand on paws extended in heraldic style (if heraldic style paws are even physically possible).
 Whatever you draw, always familiarize yourself with examples from period heraldry, and look for a many as possible. If you can't find exactly what you're looking for, try the same animal in different attitudes, or similar animals in the same attitude (or even similar animals in different attitudes). That is the hands down best way to make sure you at least approximate period style. Also look for examples from your persona's time and place. You might find a different style than elsewhere (some German eagles don't even look like eagles) and I am a huge supporter of drawing to fit your persona's period when it differs from the SCA period as a whole.

*You have to say natural tiger in the blazon because there is a heraldic animal spelled as “tyger” in period which doesn’t actually look like a tiger (medieval Europeans had to do a lot of guesswork with animals they hadn’t seen in life, and sometimes the interpretations they came up with were nothing like the actual animal). If you register a tyger in the SCA, it’s the heraldic monster instead of the real animal.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to think about how the images are purposely distorted! But it makes sense. You'd want the animal to be artistic more than realistic for stylistic purposes, and it's not like it's unrecognizable in most cases.