HEDGEHOGS AND HOBBLE SKIRTS
I’ve spent the last three weeks thinking about hedgehogs, hassocks, and the brief fashion in 1909-1910 known as the “hobble-skirt” because it effectively bound the wearer’s knees together, causing her to take tiny, mincing steps. I’ve had lots of fun drawing studies of vintage fashion plates and little prickly critters with bright eyes and Black Jack Chewing Gum noses. Oh, and hat-stands—not the kind in your hall, but the kind that display hats in shop windows. All this was in preparation for making the final drawing for “Halladay”– the 90th (I kid you not) alphabet-story painting since 1997. After the studies came the character-development drawings. I asked myself, “What are the most distinctive traits of this animal?” And, since my hedgehogs would be clothed in the height of 1910 couture, how could I make them recognizable? Would their spines poke through all that delicate silk and taffeta? I decided, also, that I wanted mine to wear those piled-high, beribboned, bowed and feathered cartwheel hats that were so much the rage. I looked up other illustrators’ hedgehogs. I found a book of Grimm Fairy Tales from my youth and studied “The Hare and the Hedgehog.” These ones had tiny ears and long, curved spines like porcupines. They did have the upturned, pointy noses that I had been trying to reproduce from the reference photos I’d googled. Next I pulled down my ancient, coverless copy of Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever, which came with the purchase of laundry detergent, Tide, I think. Our grandmother on the farm must have sent in the premium, because she’d written “To Shannon and Shelley and Scott, from Grandma Sanders,” on the title page. I leafed through until I found “The Hedgehogs’ Christmas,” and pored over Scarry’s charming paintings of Mr. and Mrs. Hedgehog and their children walking through the snowy nighttime streets of a city right out of Dickens. Here was Mr. Hedgehog finding the bright red apple in a snowdrift and presenting it to his wife. The very last picture shows the family in their burrow, with snow drifted over the top and warm yellow light spilling from the window as Mrs. Hedgehog serves the golden brown apple tart she has baked for her family. Mmm-mmm! But back to Scarry’s hedgehogs—they are delightful. Their ears are tiny, and they are masked almost like raccoons. They are fully clothed, but their spines show on their foreheads and behind their ears. I decided mine had to find the same balance. I also imagined some sort of heavy stout undergarments that would keep any spines from spoiling the fine fabrics of their gowns. Last, I needed some reference photos of period couturier shops. I found several that show recessed-paneled walls, sumptuous rugs, gilt-framed mirrors, and rococo furniture—all elements I could include in my drawing. I even found a photo of a seamstress in a plain black dress and white blouse, on her knees stitching away at an evening gown worn by a salon’s patroness. Perfect! I finished the drawing, the client loved it, (thank goodness!) and I am off to the races with the painting. Now for all those decisions about color!