Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Illustrating Santa

If you are an illustrator, and you have illustrated for a couple of few years, as the Texans say, then you will have created your own version of Santa. Now, if you illustrate in the U.S., your Santa would be Santa Claus; but if you produced your work in England, he would be Father Christmas, and if your work were created in Germany, Santa would be known as Saint Nickolas. In any scenario, you would be participating in a rich tradition of picturing a historical fictional character (don’t tell your kids) who illustrators from decades, indeed centuries past, have described with acute visual similarity. And in doing so you most likely have referred to past interpretations of the jolly old gentleman with white beard, red coat, portly figure, twinkling eyes, and red button nose.

Now as you all know, illustrators work from reference. Even if it from reference we acquire from one and other. But where did the original reference come from. Where did Thomas Nast obtain the reference he used to produce his portrait—one of the earliest of Saint Nick? Perhaps the old gentleman, Kris Cringle that is, was obliging enough, and kind enough to grant Mr. Nast a sitting in order for him do produce a portrait for posterity. Or a photo op, as photography had been invented during Nast’s lifetime. And it is this portrait that has stood the test of decades, and over a century, to serve as reference for all illustrators who have pictured Santa since. What this all means is that perhaps there was real Santa who existed, or perhaps he was an imposter. Or, there was a very astute, worldly Santa, who wanted to conceal his identity and masquerade as an imposter. Either way, there are now hundreds of thousands of illustrations depicting Santa with the accuracy that would assist Interpol in apprehending him, should they receive word of an actual Santa sighting and be on the scene.

We illustrators know without a doubt, there is a Santa. For how would an appar-
ition, a phantom, a specter, a spirit, a persona, be able to actually make money appear in our bank accounts for the portraiture work we have produced of him?

© 2013 Don Arday.

Enjoy the Season! Best Wishes and Happy Holidays!

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