ABOUT THE SALMON TROUT HEAD: DESIGN, HISTORY, ARTIST SECRET SOCIETIES, AND MEANING.
Okay, this is a sticker I designed for my Patreon supporters in January 2021! If you are one of my patrons, thank you thank you! Having some level of regular income as an artist is incredibly empowering for any artist.
If you're considering being a patron, join us, you get direct access to me as I work on designing a collection of tiny stickers! and you get 2 stickers each month at a discounted price, I give out discount codes sometimes, and sometimes you get access to rare prototype or artist proof runs!
Okay, on to the details!
This design is called a "salmon trout head". To teach you about the Salmon Trout Head let me teach you a little about the foundations of Formline. Okay first up is a series of images about ovoids, formline design, and why salmon trout heads are a foundational design. Scroll down to the bottom to learn about what it represents and the origins of its name. Okay, lets begin.
This shape is called an Ovoid:
There are a few key characteristics of an ovoid for it to function in a formline design:
Next, this shape is called a U-Shape:
Its key charactaristics are drawn from the ovoid:
Here is the S-Shape:
Many master artists will call ovoid "mother ovoid" because all the other shapes come from the ovoid. This relationship creates the foundation for a formline designs ability to flow:
Now you can see how they relate when you stack a u-shape on to an ovoid:
Now tweak that a bit and add an S-shape to the bottom to indicate the mouth and you get a salmon trout head:
So as a student of formline, one of the first challenges you receive is to draw as many salmon trout heads in as many variations as you can.
This would be a good place to show you a page full of salmon trout head sketches, but unfortunately, I'm not sure which sketch book of mine has all those.
Doing multiple variations of the salmon trout head helps an artist develop the skills for relating these shapes in various ways. Down the road the salmon trout head is used in most designs. See if you can spot all the salmon trout heads in this design:
That brings us to the sticker design. Here are the color variants i played with before settling on the orange and purple:
Okay, on to the name! Salmon trout head. Its kind of a funny name for the design. Because, I don't think it's really a salmon or a trout head. And a salmon is different than a trout anyways. So the name actually came from a document written by Lt. George Emmons of the US Navy. Way back in the day he was interviewing elders asking about the design work. I have a suspicion that the elder he asked, though familiar with formline, wasn't necessarily an artist. some theorize that the artists were a bit of a secret society. IDK about that, but I do think there is some mystery surrounding the linguistics of formline art style. More on that latter. Emmons asked the elder "what does that shape there represent?" and the elder said "looks like maybe a salmon or trout head". so: salmon trout head. The way its used, in the artform, I personally suspect it represents a spirit. There is a certain sacredness associated with joints and eyes, which is often where salmon trout head figures appear. I'm not sure who's spirit, but maybe that depends on the design. Could be the animal or person's spirit depicted, could be that animal or person's ancestors. I don't know, we would have to ask the artists who made them.
Okay, now the bit about the artist secret societies. Now, i'm not sure I buy it entirely, but here is why the concept even arose in discussion. For some reason, nobody can recall the technical terms artists used for Ovoid, U-shape, S-shape, Formline, Salmon Trout-Head, and more! People have re-developed terms, which are very nice! But we are unsure if they are the same as the originals. As you can see above, referring to these terms is is almost essential for teaching the function of formline design. Sharing the knowledge from master artist to apprentice artist absolutely required some terminology as it does when learning the design style today. So, the theory is that artists switched to using English and didn't save the words or they were forgotten for some reason. That lead to the theory that only artists new these terms, and that it must've been some kind of secret society among artists for this knowledge and how it was used. Again, I don't know if there was or not, but I do know that the traditional system was master artist working directly with an apprentice artist to pass knowledge. Its a mystery as to why the words didn't get passed down to us today.
This is all stuff I've learned as an artist and talking to other artists. So I could very well be wrong on some details. Please let me know if you have heard other versions of this information. Gunalchéesh, thank you!
Rico, thanks for this explanation. So interesting and helpful to understand the origins of the designs. Makes the art come more alive in my mind.