Friday, August 30, 2013

The Great History Detective

         I have become slightly obsessed with the research phase of my character development. I'm not sure whether this is good or bad in the context of progress, but it has proven to be good in the "holy crap!" and "WHOA!" and "COooool!!" kind of way.
My grandfather always told stories about growing up in Napa in the 30s & 40s, about all of the characters that existed in he and his brothers' world. Built by my grandpa's words, the Napa in my mind existed outside of the town 100 miles was a glorious, mythical combination of place and time in my imagination.
         It never really occurred to me to find actual photographs of my grandpa's Napa. Why mess with the Napa in my head? But as I began to sketch out how the Napa of my grandpa's childhood felt - the stories and the characters - I wanted for more reference. Obviously to get a feel for the aesthetic and for accuracy....I certainly can't draw a 1939 Oldsmobile from my head!
What began as a Google Image search has turned into full on dork-out historical detective work. I'm talking genealogical dives...into the great depths of time. I've been fitting pieces together here and there and today I found one of those odd shaped little jigsaw pieces that you really need in order to connect the two parts you've been building separately - yeah, that piece! I found that!
         After following random trails like a Basset Hound, I came across a Google street view image of the section of Main Street where my grandpa lived. On it was an abandoned furniture store. Wait..a...minute...the faded paint and shape of the building...yep. It's in the background of a photo of my grandpa and his brothers. The photo must have been taken some time around 1940 and the three boys, dressed as makeshift caballeros, are standing in front of the furniture store, with vibrant paint and clean striped awning. It was ALIVE! Do you know what this proves?!  All my detective work, piecing history together to prove that....indeed. There was a furniture store in Napa. AH HA!
         Well, at the very least, I can happily report that the Napa of my imagination and the Napa that exists in old photographs I've found online are actually quite similar. All of the photos are in black and white, though. Luckily, the Napa in my head is in full Technicolor (with an Instagram vintage filter, of course). And everything I come across is informed by the feeling of my grandfather's stories - adding life to every static image of history I find. So that's lovely.
         While it won't be winning any awards for architectural 10-minute sketch of the is a little feeling sketch of the boys walking home in the golden afternoon of late summer after playing some back alley baseball. Sigh.

And a teeny tonal sketch of the Napa Grocery in my imagination Napa. My grandpa & his brothers used to don homemade capes and masks and marauder along the rooftops of the buildings on their streets.

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