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Celebrities | Sean Longcroft

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Escher and Esther

I loved this 1944 photo of the awesome Esther Williams, and had a mind to adapt it for a pretty picture, so I doodled away at it in spare moments.

Struggling a bit to get some life into her face, and thinking I needed some big extra element to turn it into a picture worth the name, I left it sitting in my half-finished ideas file, along with all the others, for a few months.

This week, whiling away a little of the coronavirus lockdown scrolling through Pinterest, I found a mid C20th pulp sci-fi cover depicting a man trapped inside an ‘Escher Cube’ optical illusion, which struck me as being the possible extra element my Esther picture needed.

And the one letter difference between Esther and Escher made the idea seem providential.

Alas, being Pinterest, it auto-reloaded when I accidentally scrolled a pixel down, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to find the image since. This was annoying partly because it would have been handy to learn from how that artist dealt with the problems depicting an impossibility, or at least compare them with how I did, but also to pay them some credit for the concept here.

And there were problems.

When I shift Esther a centimetre one way to make one part of her interact properly with the cube, immediately another part of her interacts wrongly.
Also, for the optical illusion to work, the cube needs to be near symmetrical, which meant perspective was redundant, and so I couldn’t shift any vertices either.

In the end though, of all the poses or images I could have tried to marry up with the cube, I suspect this one, with its akimbo limbs and crossed-over symmetry, was one of the more workable ones and that, if anything, I actually got quite lucky.

I had a fresh go at drawing Esther, both so her body better fit the cube and also to try a more stylised face, which felt much more engaging. Some fish, bubbles, textures (including the pronounced grain of a wooden door serving as ripples of water) and a circular fame to finish it off.