On Heraldry

ardmillanarms

Once every fifteen years, I get on a heraldry kick. I recently did a quick doodle of my ancestor’s coat of arms: Crawford of Ardmillan, an older branch of Clan Crawford whose family seat was in Ayrshire, where they were sheriffs for generations. Among my branch’s multiple claims to fame (including repelling a major Viking invasion by delaying them until the autumn storms destroyed their fleet) is that its founder was the maternal uncle of William Wallace. But enough bragging about historical trivia that I had nothing to do with…

If you start googling around for examples of heraldry, you’ll see a lot of heraldic illustrators who get caught up in their own facility, like graf artists will often do. They’ll often go way overboard with rendering everything, which is counter to the purpose of heradlry. The thing about heraldry is that it’s best when flat: they’re meant to function as symbols, first and foremost. Heraldry looks better when rendered in a flat, bold graphic style–much like the devices on the shields themselves, which were meant to be immediately recognizable on a chaotic battlefield.

One of my all-time favorite illustrated books is a children’s book of heraldry by Don Pottinger & Iain Moncreiffe, called Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated–and it is. Published in 1953, the book is a joy: very informative to those new to the subject. The illustrations are brilliant: the figures are supple and the line work is spontaneous and vital. I could never match it. But the colors–the colors!–are something special: they’re those wonderful British postwar colors that you never see anymore, like royal blue and firecracker red. You want to eat them.

So yeah: one of my favorite things is thousand year-old coats of arms rendered in a mid-century style.