Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finding Elizabeth and Carleton

Finding images to represent my hero and heroine turned out to be a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated. Because the story is set during the American Revolution, I had to have models who were costumed consistently with the era. The Native American frames, which I’d thought would be my greatest challenge, were taken care of, as were all the rest. How hard could it be to find a couple of 18th century portraits that would do?

First I tried a quick search on my old standby, istockphoto, to see whether I might be able to score real-life models more along the lines of Philip Winchester. Umm . . . no. Searching for both male and female models netted me faces that looked way too modern, even when no costume was visible in the photo. Dear Philip pretty much ruined me for the men, and hardly any were blond anyway. Don’t even get me started on the subject of the women who turned up, especially their hair styles. And every one of the people in their small selection of American Revolution images either had their backs turned or their heads cut off. Sigh. A general search on male models turned up . . . well, let’s just say I don’t want to go there.

Obviously, the only way I was going to find models in authentic costume was to locate 18th century portraits that fit my characters. I searched until my head swam and eventually came up with Sir George Kneller’s portrait titled Lady in a Green Dress. I was immediately enchanted. She’s lovely, and she IS Elizabeth! In fact, I’m thinking I may hire an illustrator to recreate her in the proper context for the Daughter of Liberty cover when we publish a revised version next May. Happily, although the portrait dates to 1703, the model’s costume is neutral enough in style to be acceptable—and it’s green, Elizabeth’s best color.

One down, one to go.

Finding Carleton was an entirely different matter. I soon discovered that most male portraits from that period are of men who are considerably older than Jonathan’s 33 at this point in the story. Undoubtedly that’s because they had arrived at a station in life where they merited and could afford to commission a portrait. I found a few of younger men . . . but how can I phrase this delicately? Umm . . . judging from the sample I found, British men of the period were, shall we say, not what most of us would consider model material. And there were very few blonds. It was mainly a choice of dark hair, red hair, or white wigs. Alas, Jonathan is decidedly blond.

I spent so many hours online searching for just the right man that I began to seriously consider just going with the photo of Philip Winchester in his Crusoe persona. But there was no getting around the copyright issue, alas. Not to mention that he’s way to recognizable, and a movie/TV star is not what I wanted to portray my character.

Back to the search. I scoured numerous museum Web sites, searching on well-known artists such as Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, Joshua Reynolds, Jonathan Singleton Copley, and others. And this time I finally came up with a couple of possibilities. The leading contender quickly became a portrait of Captain George K. H. Coussmaker painted by Joshua Reynolds in 1782. There were several issues with this image, however. First, George is just too young. And he’s too pretty-boy pouty to be quite right for Carleton. Worse, he’s dressed in British uniform. Admittedly, Carleton was a British officer at the beginning of the series, but he was in the 17th Light Dragoons, not the First Regiment of Foot Guards. Helmet, not cocked hat. The uniforms are also different, though most viewers won’t know that.

On the plus side, he’s posed with a bay horse—white blaze, not black like Devil, but nevertheless, it’s a nice touch. And even though his hair is frizzy where Carleton’s is perfectly straight, it is light enough to be considered blond, especially once I did a color correction in Microsoft Picture Manager. Okay, so you can’t have everything. He does look mighty good in those tight white breeches and knee-length black boots. And considering that I couldn’t find anything else remotely acceptable, and most museums—the Met again in this instance—grant usage of images for non-commercial and/or educational purposes, I decided I’d agonized over this video long enough.

It turned out that once he was in place, George was small enough within the portrait’s context that the details were less noticeable. The whole worked well enough that I quickly became reconciled to losing Philip.

That left one last detail: the audio line. More about that tomorrow.

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