Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Digital artwork of the tiny blue demon, Titivillus. It is the size of the brass inkwell on which it perches. It's blue, covered with fur, with long ears, little horns, a long nose, and a devilish grin. Its wings are white with blue edges and red pinions. It wears a red kilt with a bit of paper tucked inside. It holds a feather quill that is taller than itself in its claws. Text on a ribbon swirling through his pose: To err is human and I'll hlep [sic]". Books are stacked behind him, but they are tiny books. Demon's books.

“I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words.”
-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye

I’ve been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some time. From the way Titivillus is referenced, I can’t help but feel there may have been some cheeky humor or warmth involved when invoking its mischief. “Drat! I wrote an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a'” seems more in-character than screaming and damning this little demon outright. The kind of curse you’d throw at a cat or other pet known for treading through wet ink before the words are set. This is only conjecture on my part, of course: The culture, opinions, and thoughts of a monk would be difficult to pin down unless they directly wrote them out.

Photograph of an aged fresco of Titivillus tormenting gossiping women and recording their words on a long parchment. This fresco is found in the St. Michael and Mary's church in Melbourne, England.

When I decided to do an homage to this paranormal frequenter of my own work, the above rendition popped out to me as ideal for adapting into a cartoon portrait. My interests skew towards 12th and 13th century and this immediately seemed more in-line with my personal aesthetic studies. In general, I can vaguely guess at an image’s age based on a few interesting features.

The feet
Byzantine demons are typically drawn with bird’s feet. The hoofed feet seem to be a conflation with the fauns, satyrs, and Bacchanalia-influenced renditions of demons from later centuries.

The teeth
Demons from this time period are typically drawn grinning. Americans may mistake these grins as friendly, or cheerful. They are not! They are hungry grins, angry and ferocious grins. Medieval Europeans didn’t bare their teeth like this to smile.

The line quality
12th and 13th century images typically have thick, lyrical lines composing their characters. Perspective and other underdrawing construction techniques are largely ignored. If I had to guess, this would be to accommodate art direction that could be applied easily by artisanal guilds, such as bookmakers, fresco painters, and weavers. Some artists did have individualized careers and specific styles to their work, but many were working with guilds overseeing them. This is just my guess, though.

The work shows the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, together with the Virgin of Mercy and the following characters: Prince Juan de Aragón (1478-1497), the first-born son of the Catholic Monarchs. Infanta Isabel de Aragón (1470-1498), sister of the previous one and queen consort of Portugal. Infanta Juana (1479-1555), who would come to reign in Castile and Aragon as Juana I. Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza (1428-1495), Archbishop of Toledo and Major Chancellor of Castile. On the right are six nuns dressed in the Cistercian habit and praying. And next to her appears an abbess with her crosier who has been identified with the sister of the said cardinal, Leonor de Mendoza, who was abbess of the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos between 1486 and 1499.

My other option was the rendition of Titivillus up in the right corner of this much later fresco circa 1485. Interesting here is that the demons still have bird feet, but the line quality and underdrawings are quite different from 12th and 13th century art. Still not much perspective going on. But, you can see the attempt at making more lifelike shadows and textures on the figures. I wasn’t enamored with this rendition of Titivillus (the skin tone is a bit problematic) but I did enjoy its stylish shorts. The bundle of books tied to its back also appealed to me, so that’s why a bundle of books appears in the background of my image.

Comics Tip

The Devil in the Details

While researching 12th and early 13th century artifacts I fell in love with this inkwell attributed to somewhere in Iran. I could easily imagine a European writer purchasing something like this in a marketplace and cherishing the zodiac-inspired designs. The glaring problem for me, as the artist: How do I replicate the incredible design work I see here, without pledging myself to its embellishment for weeks and weeks?

The solution is…to zoom out. The human eye wouldn’t perceive the designs on the inkwell at this distance anyway. Problem solved!

Tiny digital cartoon of a little Titivillus doodle perched on top of a decidedly plain-looking inkwell.

…What? That’s not what my illustration looks like? Okay. Fine. The original graphic is quite zoomed in, so the detail on the inkwell would be visible. I want the contrast of the fiddly details compared to the simpler design of the character, so what I do is…

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays layer settings described below.

I set up a new layer, and I turn the ‘fill’ to 0%. I set up a ‘stroke’ style to this layer at the same size I use for the rest of my artwork.

Screenshot of the Layer Style menu. It has a 'stroke' effect applied at 5px. The position is inside, blend mode is normal, and color is black. Opacity is set to 100%.

The lack of antialiasing can look a rough up close, but it prints perfectly clean. These are also starter settings, so mess around with them until you find something that fits you or the artwork you’re detailing.

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays Outer Glow effects designed to look like uniform outlines on a layer set to 0% fill.

Depending on the dpi and width of your linework, you may want to use ‘outer glow’ for your outline instead. Here are some starter settings for some sweet outlines with anti-aliasing to smooth them out a bit more. Mess with them until they suit your project.

Blank inkwell lines for decoration. It has a fancy domed lid and perches on little nubbly metal feet.

Time for some ink-on-inkwell action. What would you like this inkwell to look like? Detail it!

Digital lineart of Titivillus. Titivillus perches on an inkwell while holding a quill as big as they are. The ribbon twining around Titivillus's form is blank, ready for any sort of motto a colorist might like to apply to it.

Or, if you only feel like coloring, here’s the free-to-color lines including Titivillus (Via CC BY-NC 3.0 license). Put whatever slogan you like on the ribbon.

Care to read more?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

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Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

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Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Digital artwork of a bishop's skull but with tiny goat legs poking out of it. He stands on a floral pattern with gold leaf. He wears a blue hat and is shaking his papal ferula menacingly (but possibly with good humor; who can tell with a skull's grin).

Skull Bishop
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

Illustration Style Shift
Prior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny Valley. Part of this frustration stemmed from my loose grasp on structural underdrawings, and the other part was from how painting obliterates outlines. Paintings as illustrations are difficult to pin down as ‘complete.’ So, like I have done many times in the past, I turned to art history. Specifically: Bored, poorly-informed monks.

My goal with the graphic novel is to make it half comic, and half illuminated manuscript. What secrets lie in the vellum?

 

Deerface McNoHands
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 36v

My best guess for this character is that it’s meant to depict a medieval mummer. I was utterly charmed by the hidden arms = complete lack of arms. I carried that chaos over into the re-draw. While I have no doubts that medieval people would absolutely suit up in deer hats and robes for no reason, they typically did this kind of thing for Christmas. This leads me to believe that the black ‘vine’ in the antlers is ivy, which would have been used to protect houses from evil spirits. In this case my personal story is that this mummer got a bit tangled up in the decorations this year and is perhaps in need of a good New Year’s resolution. The pink and orange leaves are my invention and represent jazz hands energy.

 


Snail Puppies…Snuppies….or Snrams?
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

What…are these? Snails? Rams? What awaits them at the top of the ladder? Is this what people turn into when they die and are ascending to the next life? I got lucky with this one and was blessed with extremely precious clay fanart of my attempts to figure out what these things even are.

 

Bibo Ergo Sum
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 100r

“I Drink, Therefore I Am.” Sounds pithy, but remember: This guy’s dead. The person who drew him is dead. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But, I added some flavoring botanicals to my illustration and now this image is gracing my friend’s Ko-Fi, set up so that he can buy various gins and tell me what they taste like. What? It seems like a good deal to me.

 

Severely Outdated Baby Yoda Joke
‘The Smithfield Decretals’ (Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria), Toulouse ca. 1300, illuminations added in London ca. 1340
British Library, Royal 10 E IV, fol. 30v

This Yoda-like entity is basically every history-communications go-to when they try to relate medieval art to the modern day. It ranks almost as highly as coconuts. Medieval people had access to coconuts! It’s called ‘trade routes that reach ecosystems, which occasionally contain coconut trees’. Anyway, half of medieval Twitter complains about attempts to reach The Youths via the coconut horse hoof sound effect bit from Monty Python. Anyway. So far, no one complains about the Yoda wearing hot Vibram five-finger shoes.

 

Ye Olde Pokémon Starter
Worksop Bestiary, England c. 1185
NY, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.81, fol. 10v

Okay, about those red things: They’re berries. Medieval monks wouldn’t go out and actually look at a hedgehog. They’d blithely copy the folk story about hedgehogs rolling in grapes and berries to get them stuck on their spines. The hedgehog would then go to its family and give them fruit shish kebab. I give the original illustrator of this bestiary entry props for figuring out a way to color all of the berries in each row on the hedgehog’s back with one swipe of the brush. Excellent time management. Accurate observation of animal behavior? Not so much.

Takeaways
It’s a lot easier to relax when drawing these strange little characters. The simplicity of materials lends itself well to less detail, more emphasis on silhouette. If I were making a comic with only a quill and very limited paints, it would similarly look small and honest in nature, just like these marginalia. I found myself really empathizing with a lot of these centuries-old cartoons. No wonder people ran off to join monasteries and bookmaking guilds. I would, too, if it meant drawing cartoons all day.

Comics Tip

Do-It-Yourself Vellum Texture
Illuminated manuscripts have a particular ‘look’ to them, and the base of that look is the substrate onto which they are painted. This look can be quickly and effectively executed in a digital painting program by understanding the real media materials that the original artists used to create them. Originally, marginalia was painted onto stretched sheets of calf skin called ‘vellum’. These days, artists can digitally recreate the look of vellum, while omitting the expense and cruelty.

Scanning/Photographing
Take a trip to the local crafts store (or craft-re-use center) and pick up different papers. Lay them flat in the sunlight so your camera of choice can pick up all the wonderful, crunchy wrinkles. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got tissue paper, newsprint, copy paper, vellum (the paper kind, not the skin kind) even some fabrics — The texture is what you’re after so give a few things a try. Photograph them at different times of day and see how the color/texture of your paper changes. If you have a scanner, try that out as well, although the lighting will be different!

Tea-Staining
Making your own aged paper/vellum is a fun way to spend the afternoon. Get cheap black teabags and brew them, then slop them on top of the papers of your choice. They’ll immediately wrinkle, distress, and stain the paper in a lot of interesting ways. It’s almost like watercolor. If you want the paper to remain flat, try stretching it on a masonite board with watercolor tape. Otherwise, let it warp and wrinkle for extra textural interest. Photograph and scan this like you would a found texture.

Layering Digital Filters
Art programs can do a pretty good job mimicking real world textures. It’s often just a question of which filters and effects to apply. The ‘noise’ filter is a good place to start, and the ‘motion blur’ and ‘gaussian blur’ filters are a great polisher for any real-world texture. A little bit of hand-painting can also work wonders.

Stock Textures
Many stock photography sites have paper textures that look enough like vellum, they’ll do the trick in a digital application. For free ones, check out Pixabay.com and Wikimedia Commons. I have also created a free vellum stock texture here using scans and digital filter layering techniques. It is public domain for any desired use, even commercial. What sort of illuminations might be possible on this texture?

A free stock texture that looks like vellum, or medieval calf skin. This texture is public domain and may be used for anything!

Care to read more?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn August 15th, I was halfway through a self-appointed monthly comics challenge to create rough art for a 48-page short fantasy story. I'd been lenient with my goals, imagining that most of my time would be spent designing the environment...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’ve been working hard on Warlock’d, but not in any capacity ready for public release. There is a lot of editing to be done on it (and has been done on it) and it gets overwhelming on a day-to-day basis. One issue has been that I’m...

Want to chat about this?