Strange Behavior (Illustration) Entry: David Harrington


David Harrington is entered in the “Strange Behavior Challenge” update: View Challenge Page

Latest Update: Final Image: The Choleric Physiognomist


Physiognomist, heal thyself - a portrait

An ardent follower of physiognomy with an unfortunate choleric visage takes an amputation knife to his nasal profile to treat his disposition.


Paraphernalia used in the pursuit of the sciences of Physiognomy and Phrenology by renowned Gentlemen Scholars, as well as the field of surgery.


for some strange and intricate reasons, the very idea for this illustration placed a big grin on my face! like very much the research material and can’t wait to see some sketches for that concept.


A first pass at composition with one main light. I’ll fine-tune things once I have the proper mass of the man and more complete lighting - right now the candle seems to be too centred.

The chair was designed to make silhouette portraits of people, the sitters shadow being cast on the panel beside their head. Physiognomists determined a person’s character/disposition from their physical appearance, and the shadow portrait seems to have been an important tool for this.

I’m trying to use it here to cast a shadow behind the man’s head so his lit face and the knife stand out. A problem I have is getting the pose right so the action is obvious without obscuring too much of the face with the knife.


olipaf: thanks for looking in and I’m glad the idea tickled you. I love the picture in your gallery - maybe you find inspiration in history too? There’s plenty of strange stuff to choose from :slight_smile:


Hi David,

I love your lighting!:slight_smile: its pretty dramatic and would surely adds more strangeness for your characters later on…Good luck!






great mood you’ve created! History is indeed a good source of inspiration, specially when you can distort it and come up with a strange list of “what if…”
it seems to me that the face position needs to offer a better profile to the light source and provide a clean silhouette…may be the knife is too close to the face? if you want to keep the intention of his gaze on the bust you could have is eyes still staring at it…the man has such a distinct profile(and i know about big noses!)!!
patiently waiting for more…


I’ve put a poser mannequin in to get a better idea of composition. Final models will be my own.


Raffy: thank you. I’m stealing the lighting from Rembrandt and others so I hope it will be dramatic. I wanted to make the action really focused on the self-indulgent act.

Olipaf: thanks for looking in again and the critique. And you are right. I have been struggling with the composition for a while now, trying to have my cake and cut it too. I’ve put up another pic using a poser figure to get a more precise picture. The man is not meant to be looking at the bust but rather in the hand mirror. He has contorted his head so as to get a better view of his nose.

I suppose of all the elements, I was placing least emphasis on the silhouette and the actual shape of the nose. It would be great to be able to show them too but I really wanted to make the action clear without having to read an explanation. I think that unless I have the knife actually touching the nose, it will look like the man is just having a shave? I couldn’t figure another way to make his intent clear (though he doesn’t have the head measuring contraption on yet - I was going to make an extension to this that goes down to the nose and acts as a guide for his surgery).

I had also thought of going in closer but then I’d lose the extra items that explain the scene. My original idea for strange behaviour was centred around spite, something that appears not to have been touched on much in art (I could only come up with Medea killling her children). So I wanted to do a man cutting off his nose to spite his face. And the physiognomy scenario provides a reason for why he would do that.

I’m really open to ideas on composition that might enable the action to be read clearly.

I’ve also started to model the man’s head from the profile picture - he looks like quite a brute rather than a ‘man of science’ :slight_smile:


I love when people find inspiration in history because I always learn so much I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. This will be interesting to follow.

I think the bust could have a bigger importance in your scene. Right now, it’s almost in the dark, behind the candle, the books… like if all this stuff was more important to him. The bust’s nose is your character’s goal, right? His idea of perfection. Wouldn’t he want to keep it close to him, maybe on top of those books, so that when the time comes to cut, if he ever hesitates, he can just look aside and gets from that perfect profile the courage he needs to act?

Yea… maybe a little over-dramatic, but I think you get the point. :slight_smile:


Hey Frotze, thanks for your suggestions - I really appreciate the feedback as it is helping me to refine the story for viewers and not just for myself.

To be honest, with regard to meaning, the bust is a minor part of the picture, which is why I relegated it visually, but your and olipaf’s comments indicate to me that the picture is not clear on its own. I’m now in two minds about whether I should remove the bust entirely.

It would be interesting to understand why you see the bust as of main importance in the picture so I can correct for this. Is it because in the first pre-viz it seems like the man is looking at the bust? Does putting in the eyes looking at the mirror in the second pre-viz help to break the connection?

The bust is a phrenology bust and really quite a poor representation of the face/head - more like a 3D chart (hopefully this will be clearer once it is textured). Phrenology is similar to physiognomy as both were about determing a person’s personality on the basis of their external physical appearance; however, phrenology did this on the basis of the shape and bumps of the top and back of the skull, while physiognomy did it based on facial and other features as well. So the bust wasn’t meant to represent an ideal profile, but rather to support the strange behaviour of following dubious ideas formed from assumptions and prejudices and performing supposedly rational (but spiteful and vainglorious) acts on the basis of them.

Another way I thought of dealing with this is to steal meaning away from the bust. The chair was used to draw silhouettes so I thought I might attach a drawing of the man’s silhouette beside him and include on this a simple diagram of the craniometer showing where the nose should be cut, perhaps with a dotted line. This drawing would hopefully then have more importance in the story telling than the bust. As a bonus, it would also show the man’s exagerated profile clearly, which can’t be seen on the man himself in this pose. As the man will also be wearing a craniometer, I hope it will be apparent that the drawing is of the man.


Woo…Sound nice man.Cool and at the same time a bit creepy/scary…Looking forward to yur next steps!Wearing the craniometer is a cool idea


OK, now I see I was a bit off. :slight_smile: I could have dig more on the subject first - which I just did - but I agree with you on the fact than an illustration should be as much self-explanatory as it can. And since I think it’s a safe guess to assume that most people won’t have much more experience in physiognomy nor phrenology than I did when I first looked at your image, it’s even more crucial to get things right.

Personally, I don’t think you should remove the bust, and this even if it isn’t as important as I first thought. It helps establishing the time period and general mood, and as long as you keep it where it is, this shouldn’t cause any ambiguity. Especially with this drawing idea you had, which I’m pretty sure will help sell your character’s intentions better. I think you should go in that direction.


My first run at the physiognomist. Modelled in XSI. I’ll take it to ZBrush to add more weight to the flesh and break up the symmetry and also to add his expression and pose.

The neck and jaw are relatively unformed as he will be wearing a stock that covers all of his neck and the position of his head means I’ll have to model in some stretching and squashing of the fat on his jowls.


OKMER: thanks for stopping by. All the best gentlemen about town wear craniometers now - it is de rigeur :slight_smile:

Frotze: thanks for your comments and acting as my yardstick :slight_smile: You are right, an average viewer wouldn’t probably have been able to tell exactly what is going on without researching outside the picture. I’m hoping the drawing will make the story clear(er), or at least intrigue someone.


I’ve changed the action to make it clearer he is cutting off his nose. With a knife the guy may have looked like he was just having a shave or cutting a wart off. With the snips I don’t think there should be much confusion. I don’t know if there were snips like these in the late 1700s, but they did have similar design hedge clippers, so as he is a man of books he could have commisioned them specially.

I’ve also added the picture/diagram on the table to reinforce the action and show it is pre-meditated. I wanted it there for explanation, but hopefully it isn’t too in your face and explicitly explanatory.

Now I am close to the final composition and main lighting, it is time to get on with proper modelling and texturing. The man’s face will have clenched eyes in anticipation of the impending pain and will not be so passive.


Hahaa, I like this new point of view :slight_smile:
Great separation of the noise with that device… strangeeee behaviour… :wink:


I like the direction you’ve taken, the snips really make the action clearer. Will you start modeling directly in this pose, or do you plan to do the usual T-pose first?


Oh! I love what you are doing here! Very strong composition and lighting and quite thought provoking. Certainly funny and strange. :slight_smile:

One thing that bothers me slightly is the shadow that is being cast onto his left elbow. It creates the illusion that his left forearm has been severed. Perhaps he has other physical hangups besides his nose?