29. March 2014 · Comments Off on Blame Leonard Lubin · Categories: art, studio, toadbriar · Tags: , , , ,

Can you pinpoint a moment when something crossed your path that would leave a lasting influence on your creative expression for the rest of your life?

For me, that moment happened in a discount bookstore (Northtown Plaza, Buffalo peeps!) sometime around 1986, when I encountered Leonard Lubin’s whimsically illustrated costume history book, The Elegant Beast.

Leonard Lubin - The Elegant Beast - 1981

Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast – 1981

Who could resist the cover?

Leonard Lubin - The Elegant Beast 1981 - title page

Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast – 1981 – title page

 Not 12 year old me, that’s for sure. The title page nailed it.


Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast -1981 – Afghan Hound Cavalier!

 The text is extensively detailed, but the lush watercolor and pencil illustrations on each facing page are where the real magic is to be found.


Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast – 1981 – Directoire period

 Les Incroyables et Merveilleuses – so glam! so fabulous! My love of zebras and dandies traces its genesis to this exact source.


Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast – 1981
Romantic Era – 1830-1840

I still think of this gentleman when I draw a jacket with that slope-shouldered silhouette. The hare head is the natural accessory, certainly.

I’ll always be grateful for how Lubin’s work used naturalism, caricature and expression to illustrate an accurately detailed reference work. I had never encountered something that was both scholarly and comical. Reference material was educational, not frivolous. Learning could be playful? More shockingly, teaching could be playful? This changes everything. It changed me for good, and for the better.


Leonard Lubin – The Elegant Beast – 1981
Baroque – Louis XIV – 1680-1700

What charmed me in particular was what I might today fondly call naturalist geekery: Lubin went the extra mile. The models for the late Baroque entry aren’t just birds – they’re specifically a Eurasian black vulture and a lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo.

I’m sure he just wanted to draw fun stuff in the form of an accurate costume history overview. I wonder if he expected to engage a kid’s imagination and teach her that smart and accurate could play just fine with fun, weird, and unconventional. It was a life-long lesson for which I’m forever grateful.

The book is readily available for purchase online. If you like my work, you ought to get a copy to enjoy. I’m afraid I don’t lend mine out!

This is my sewing machine – the one, the ONLY one, I use. She’s a 1910-1920s era vibrating shuttle treadle machine. There’s no zig-zag or backstitch, but she could sew through a tin can if I wanted to. I don’t worry about breaking any parts, and her steel and iron guts are precise, ingenious, and comprehensible. She’s covered in decals in an Egyptian Scarab theme, though they’re mostly worn away from years of use. This machine is an identical clone of a Singer model in form and function, which is fortunate since I can get replacement parts and bobbins.

When I found her at a yard sale for a pittance, her six-drawer cabinet was stuffed full of notions and pins and chalk and attachments, and even the well-worn original manual. I had to replace the drive-band and do a lot of cleaning and oiling – I think she got passed down and put in storage, but at least it was dry storage. There was a companionable feeling in picking up the tools and parts that a craftswoman stranger had left behind.

She’s so simple by comparison to the new machines – but so effective in her single purpose. I haven’t figured out the assortment of rufflers and other exotic appendages in their clever velvet-lined puzzle-box. I may well never use them, but it’s impressive to see the versatility of my little straight-stitch workhorse.

(And it’s gratifying that sewing machines are one of the only tools that seem optimized for left-handers.)