Calamity Jane: White Devil of Yellowstone

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Meet Calamity Jane, wild woman of the western frontier. She dressed like a man, drank like a fish, and told tales so bold they’d strip the paint off your walls. Born Martha Jane Canary, she was dubbed Calamity by Captain Egan when they were ambushed returning to their post after subduing an uprising of Native Americans. Riding in advance she heard a gun shot and turned around to see the Captain had been shot. She galloped back quick enough to catch him as he fell from the saddle, slung him onto her horse and brought him back safely to the fort. While he was recovering, he said to her “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.” Or so she claims.

I got to know this dame when I was asked to illustrate a tall tale. I started researching the larger than life characters the populated the western frontier in the late 1800’s. There are the big ones– Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, Davey Crocket, the like, but I found myself drawn to this group of characters who hung around Deadwood, South Dakota. You know I can never pass up an opportunity to draw a badass lady, and only Wild Bill Hickok told bigger lies, so Calamity Jane it was.

Now this assignment is for a book cover, so naturally I turned to pulps and dime novels for inspiration. They’re tacky, fun, and even period appropriate. There’s no way to go wrong here.

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Check it. I did some thumbnails, like you do, imagining various scenes that Calamity Jane might have swept though and caused chaos. She’s really hard to picture outside of a bar. Oh, I might have also drawn a butt. . .

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After about 300 more of these, I narrowed it down to three ideas:

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From left to right we’ve got: The shooting of Wild Bill Hikock in Deadwood’s No 6 Saloon– Rumor has it C Jane (Wild Bill’s self proclaimed lover) showed up at his murderer’s house with nothing but a butchers knife, being so angry she forgot her guns at home. Or so she says. Next, C Jane sharp shooting– did I mention she could outshoot anyone worth their salt? And last her telling this story at a saloon. Do you like my campy rific pulp headlines? I hope so! Now there comes a time in every young artist’s life when they’ve gotta make a decision. In this case we’re gonna choose number three. It captures Calamity Jane’s spirit best. She’s maybe not doing all that much but she’s telling one hell of a story. On to layouts and reference:

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Reference is serious business. In order to find an appropriate hat, I dragged my roommate on a quest for the costume closet our school supposedly has, but knew what building it had ended up in since the illustration department move of last year. Three buildings later, we’ve enlisted a security guard to get us through locked doors and tell us ghost stories on hat quest 2013. Point is, find a good hat to put on your roommate, point a desk light at her, tell her to get mad, and you’ve got the start of a good illustration. Many hours of painting later BOOM finished art.

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It’s the first acrylic painting I’d done seriously in a while, and I think it shows, but I’m having way too much fun courting Calamity to care.

Goodnight cats and kittens, I expect to see you next in 17th century Denmark.

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