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.
Who could resist the cover?
Not 12 year old me, that’s for sure. The title page nailed it.
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.
Les Incroyables et Merveilleuses – so glam! so fabulous! My love of zebras and dandies traces its genesis to this exact source.
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.
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!