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.

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