Seventh feudal lord of the Matsue Domain, Matsudaira Harusato (aka Lord Fumai), has just gotten major a facelift.
I was asked to make a cover for the February 2015 issue of the city newsletter, and I wanted to do something that felt very representative of Matsue to me. I like history and I like drawing portraits, so I wanted to draw a historical figure. Hands down, this tea-loving lord is my favorite figure of Matsue’s history. Furthermore, they wanted something bright and flashy, so flowers typically work for that. What’s more, I really like camellia (tsubaki), and they are one of the flower symbols of Matsue, and they are frequently used in the tea ceremony, and the camellia valley on the Matsue Castle grounds starts going into major bloom around late February. So Lord Fumai and camellia seemed my obvious choice for content.
Until I asked whether they wanted something like my cartoony Fumai-ko they might have seen before, or if they’d prefer something a little more refined.
“Refined! Refined!” they cheered.
But, given my artistic roots, “refined” mentally translated to “shoujo manga.”
Unfortunately, this is not a face that translates well in shoujo manga.
Ironically, I’m writing this post as the “Portrait In Museum: The Appeal of Portraiture” exhibit is going on at Shimane Art Museum (until March 9). This historical portrait is one of the featured pieces.
Something felt terribly off to me as I was working on it, so much so that I covered up the face while working on the flowers so that I wouldn’t be so disgusted with the results. I consulted with fellow artists to see if there was something I could fix in the anatomy, and as pretty as we all sort of felt it was, we could not quite tell what was so bothersome about it. The people who requested it for the newsletter all loved it and thought it was beautiful, but I was still very put off by it.
The reception has mostly been good, though people go out of their way to say how pretty the camellia are opposed to mentioning the odd figure in the middle, or he’s just an afterthought and people don’t notice him as much as I do. Many people didn’t recognize that it was Lord Fumai even though he was labeled as Lord Fumai right by the spot that said, “Hey! Your local American CIR drew this!” As a couple of elderly acquaintances brought it up in conversation, one said to the other, “There were such pretty camellia! And she drew Lafcadio Hearn, too.” No!! Hearn gets to be on covers all the time, but Fumai is my favorite, so I wanted him to be on the cover!
At last, a friend who is not regularly steeped in the worlds of glittery shoujo manga saw it and burst out laughing, as she articulated right away what was so funny about it—-why is this old man so pretty???
It’s gotten a little easier to look at since then, as I now know what was so weird was about it. Apparently, all that green tea gave him the power of Matcha Magic for this spectacular transformation!