Ambigram: Dead Man’s Folly

Once again, a vertical-axis “mirror” ambigram of a Christie title. Acrylic on square canvas board. I’m attempting to carry on my habit of using the letters themselves (frequently the center letters) to convey some important pictorial plot reference. In this case, we have the folly itself.  🙂

Poirot’s flat, dollhouse miniature style!

Currently I have two room boxes in the works for the sitting room and study of Poirot’s flat. The rooms aren’t replicas of the sets, but I use elements from the sets (including both flats) plus some of my own observations from the books.

I was excited to get my cut MDF pieces from my friends, the Harders, this evening. The sitting room is the first room box. I painted up the walls right away, added paper parquet flooring and baseboards, and glued it all together. Here’s how it looked:

Herringbone parquet is the flooring seen in both of the flats of the television series.

Then came the fun of adding the details! Here’s the current flat-in-progress…

Still missing, as you can see, at least one more painting under the picture light on the right-hand wall, one of the end tables to match the other, and some more shelving, etc.

A little difficult to capture via photo, but the fireplace has a flickering LED bulb behind the vellum fireplace screen. The picture lights and wall sconces are attached to the wall via a glued-on magnet. They’re easy to remove for turning the lights on and off.

Picture lights abound in Poirot’s second flat, so I was delighted to find them in miniature. The round shades of the wall sconces are reminiscent of certain table lamps observable in both flats. The running deer is similar to certain ceramic pieces in the second flat, including mantel decorations.

The brass clothing valet was also a delight to have found; I’ll probably be moving it to the study. I intend to fill the decanters and possibly the glasses and add a bottle of liqueur. I made the chairs, side table, fireplace, and plant stand from scratch, but bought the brass/glass/acrylic furniture.

An aerial view. Obviously, symmetry is important! The area rug was made by heat-bonding a piece of bluish-gray cotton to a stiff felt backing so it would lay very flat. The distinctive wood grain of the chairs, side table, and plant stand were lifted directly from the show. In the opening scene of Third Girl, the camera pans down the lovely wood dining table. I took a screen capture of the wood grain and just printed it out on my computer to use for the furniture.

Fans should understand this reference… 🙂

Refreshments on the coffee table. Included is a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoon, and two plates of macarons. (We actually see Poirot and Mrs. Oliver sharing some macarons in his apartment in Elephants Can Remember.) The wooden box opens and contains cigars; next to it is a cigarette case and a table lighter. White square ashtrays are on the side table.

Coming soon, I hope… the study!  😀

Poirot’s sitting-room painting of… Prague?

Since I’ve been creating certain set pieces in miniature, it has led to an investigation of various artworks that appear in Poirot’s flat(s). For fans of the show, one of the best-known paintings has to be the muted architectural scene that appears behind the fruit bowl in Flat #1. I’ve previously blogged about how Poirot seems to have been abnormally attached to this piece: it was first situated in his Belgian apartment building; then he seems to have nabbed it and take it to his first English residence in Styles St. Mary; and even after he “retires” to grow vegetable marrows, he conveys it to The Larches!

I became curious about that image, and reverse-image-searching for it online had yielded no results. After creating a miniature of it, however, I decided to try again. The painting seemed a bit of an anomaly with Poirot’s other flat furnishings, I thought. In light of how the painting travels with him from Belgium, it would make sense if the picture itself was by a Belgian artist, just to connect it with the character. Indeed, I wondered if it might be a copy or print of a François Jean Louis Boulanger, a 19th-century Belgian artist (he’s called French in that link– don’t believe it!) whose style of “romantic realism” is strongly allied to the image. He painted a number of Ghent and Brussels cityscapes, so surely that would be a logical reason for the presence of that picture in the sitting room. But searching yielded nothing.

But a closer scrutiny revealed the building in Poirot’s picture as actually being the Bridge Tower of the famous Charles Bridge of Prague, Czech Republic! So much for the Belgian angle. After that revelation, further searching finally revealed the origin of the image. No paintings came up, incidentally, but a lithograph by one Vinzenz Morstadt (Czech) did:

Considering the composition, I think there can be no doubt that the painting in the sitting room was modeled after this particular lithograph. Whether the lithograph was also a painting by Morstadt that was copied, or was painted by another of his contemporaries (of whom Boulanger was one), or was just created by Joe Set Designer for the room because it looked Fittingly Continental, I cannot say. But at least most of that mystery is now elucidated, though why Poirot would be keen on a painting of Prague landmarks I also can’t say. (Incidentally, Suchet traveled to Prague for the very first time a couple of years ago. I wonder if fans in Prague have long been delighted at the sight of one of their best-known landmarks behind Poirot’s fruit bowl…?)  🙂

Framed miniature: acrylic paint, illustration board, and balsa wood.

Building a miniature fireplace…

I’ve been well and truly bitten by the miniature bug. I’ve painted miniatures before, but haven’t done much concentrated building in three dimensions (with the exception of my Poirot library). But now I’ve got designs on building vignettes of a miniature flat…

Here are some photos from my construction project of a miniature fireplace. It’s made out of balsa wood, foam board, heavy kraft paper, and illustration board (which is versatile stuff). It’s painted with acrylics, and the “marble” mantle top is illustration board, painted and then glazed. The figurine of the running deer was a different plastic miniature which I painted white and attached to a balsa base– I didn’t sculpt it.  😉

Poirot and Japp, acrylic on canvas board

This is a small canvas board, 5×7″. I really like the mysterious lighting and the comparative lack of color in the image, as well as the “blurry” Japp in the background. But as I try to explain to people, when painting a film screenshot like this (image from The Big Four), half the battle is just finding a shot where the lighting IS good. They’ve already done all the work of making a good screen image; I just adapt it to paint.  🙂

The ghost that took over his life: Poirot’s handwriting in Curtain

“I am writing a letter to Hastings to explain all that has happened, and what makes it extraordinary is that the art department have discovered a way to create my handwriting so that I do not have to write every word myself time after time. It is as though a ghost has taken over my life.”

-David Suchet, Poirot and Me

This little detail about the final scenes of Curtain, mentioned in passing in Suchet’s book, intrigued me when I first read it. Art departments and handwriting are always of special interest! But it was only when I took a close look at what is shown on screen in this episode that his meaning became clear. (In advance: please understand that in this post, I’m not attempting any sort of “gotcha!” to said fine art department– I may have never noticed, had it not been obliquely pointed out by Suchet himself. I merely note this as something that interests me.)

It began simply by noticing that the letter that Poirot was writing to Hastings looked an awful lot, but not quite, like Suchet’s own handwriting. Curious, because the letters all looked like he wrote them, but something seemed a bit off about it. Then I remembered the quote from his book. Do you notice?

Font-lovers may notice what is so curious about the FIRST sentence of Poirot’s writing here: what we’re looking at is essentially a “David Suchet’s Poirot” font. Zoom in (click on the picture) and look at any single letter– try the lower-case “h,” “y,” “m,” for easy examples. Every one of those letters looks exactly the same as every other in that sentence! That’s what looks unusual– the first part of the page is uncommonly smooth and regularized. Now starting at “But really, my friend,” look at the rest of the words. Those are hand-written by Suchet himself, and contain variations on the letters rather than uniformity, appearing much looser that the words that came before. The camera had to show him actually writing with his own hand for these shots, but a font was made of his handwriting for the first part of a paragraph so he wouldn’t have to write it all out each time. Presumably print-outs were made to which he added. This is what his quote at the top of the post meant. If you look carefully, you may even notice that the color of the ink appears slightly different between the “font” and the true handwriting.

Once you see this pattern, you can’t un-see it in the other paragraphs of writing shown. I’ve highlighted the real handwriting in blue brackets; the rest is a printed font.

There are at least two possible reasons I can think of as to why the art department would go to the bother of creating this font in the first place. Either it really was merely to convenience their actor; or it might be that doing too much handwriting in those arthritis-heavy prosthetics does not-nice things to them. There may have been other reasons.

The font works perfectly well for the few moments it appears on screen. If, however, you really wish to forge someone’s writing successfully (or even to create a slightly more believable handwriting font for closer scrutiny, though it is far more expensive to do so), always remember to use multiple variants of letters.  Poirot himself knows enough about forgery to let you in on that.  😉

The 10 most “Poirot” fabrics you’ve EVER seen

I’m a multi-crafter. As quilting is one of my many hobbies, I enjoy hunting for fabrics in unusual themes and motifs that are of interest to me. Poirot has been no exception.

If making Poirot-themed throw quilts is too strange for you (and why should it be? I’m on my fourth or fifth one), perhaps you’ve been thinking of sewing up a tote bag or laptop cover. Why not make one that reminds you of your Agatha Christie interests?  🙂

My criteria for selecting the following fabrics for this post was that each one must represent at least two things that point to Poirot. All fabrics are 100% cotton. I can’t promise that you can necessarily track them all down, but I’ll provide information to help you with your own searching. One or two of these fabrics are somewhat dubious copyright-wise, and one or two aren’t for sale at all. But I hope all will inspire you as fabric-loving Poirot fans.  😉

1.) “Ladies and Gentlemen” fabric by David Textiles

For generic fabric, it hardly gets more Poirot-esque than this black-and-cream fabric. The texts say: “A gentleman is always well-groomed” (moustache), “A gentlman is always well-dressed” (hat and wing collar), “A gentleman is always well-prepared” (umbrella), and “A gentleman is always well-mannered” (hand writing courteous notes). I think you’ll agree that this is Poirot all over! I used this fabric, cut into strips, for my A.B.C. Murders quilt top.

2.) “Longfellow” by Windham Fabrics

I stumbled upon this particular print from the “Longfellow” line while searching for fabric with magnifying glasses (not easy). This one, representing some gentleman-scholar’s desk, features several things suggestive of Poirot: the glass, the pocket watch, old books, maps, and correspondence. The “Longfellow” line also has two other coordinating fabric prints with only pocket watches all over.

3) “Poirot Words” by Kelly Klages (Spoonflower)

I created this fabric– also in black on white– via Spoonflower for personal use (a.k.a., not for sale, sorry). At first glance they are just random French words and expressions, but careful Christie readers know that they are all very Poirot-esque utterances. I used a font reminiscent of that used in the television series. This fabric gets used in just about all of my Poirot projects.  🙂

4.) Moustache batik

I have no information on this multi-color batik fabric, but I was genuinely astonished at how POIROT it was. Many such moustache prints will throw in a motif or two that is not suggestive of our favourite Belgian, such as a pipe or hipster glasses. But this fabric stays so Poirot that you wonder if they didn’t actually have him in mind when designing it.

5.) “Murder on the Orient Express” fabric, by scrummy (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower custom fabric obviously takes a lot of its imagery from the Albert Finney Orient Express film. The references to Christie and the novel are overwhelming, and include the title, Poirot, the train, the suspects, a view of Istanbul, the murder weapon, a newspaper clipping about the Armstrongs, the last words of the book, the clues, etc etc.

6.) “Poppy Lane” by Timeless Treasures

I love this particular retro advertising fabric in the “Poppy Lane” line, as it gives a nice, 1920s kind of setting to a Poirot project. I used it for this throw pillow. Some of the line drawings are rather art nouveau, and the fancy restaurant and car make you feel like you’re stepping right into Christie’s London. Some of the ads are in French, too. And I find that the black, white, and red go very well with many other fabrics I’ve found for these kinds of projects. These sorts of fabrics are really not easy to find.

7.) “Toile de Christie” fabric by artgarage (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower fabric is fun because you can spy ALL of Christie’s famous sleuths– Poirot, Marple, Tommy and Tuppence. Yet it’s very subtle and doesn’t scream the fact to high heaven.

8.) “Gentleman’s Club” by Fabscraps

The “Gentleman’s Club” line (available in three colorways, if you can track it down) has a variety of vintage prints, but I like this one the best. It portrays an assortment of fancy waistcoats, with French script in the background.

9.) “Poirot” by erinejanosik (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower fabric shows imagery that was most obviously taken from the television series. Shown are (Suchet’s) Poirot, the silver-topped swan cane, the vase brooch, a cigarette case, pince-nez, a tisane glass, and a quote from The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

10.) Assorted moustache fabrics by Riley Blake

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For #10, I’m breaking my rule about only showing fabrics with two or more Poirot characteristics to bring you my personal favorite of all-moustache fabrics. Riley Blake’s come in a vast array of variation, including black-on-white, multi-color, tiny white on red, and tiny pink on grey. Very fun, colorful, and versatile!

Black Coffee at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Last week, Alex and I took a spin up to Winnipeg’s Exchange District to see Black Coffee, Christie’s first play (and her only one with Poirot). The Royal MTC put on this play in contribution to the 17th annual Master Playwright Fest, which this year featured Agatha Christie (dubbed ChristieFest). Many Winnipeg theatre companies tried their hand at Christie plays, including The Mousetrap and The Hollow. Free events during ChristieFest included public viewings of the PBS documentary The Mystery of Agatha Christie (with David Suchet) and the films Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.

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Now, I was very excited, as this was my own first Christie play. I’d read both the script of Black Coffee as well as Charles Osborne’s novelization– but of course, plays really do need to be seen! The reviews had been a bit lackluster, but their critique was more directed toward a perceived dullness in Christie’s play itself, not the performance. Well, knowing what to anticipate, I could live with that.  🙂

The cast included Lorne Kennedy as Poirot, Arne MacPherson as Hastings, Ross McMillan as Sir Claud Amory (and Japp), and Claire Armstrong as Lucia Amory. Kennedy gave an especially good performance of Poirot– sometimes, I swear, channeling Suchet. And MacPherson was a likeable, if highly excitable, Hastings. 🙂  One particularly noticeable deviation from the original play is that the secretary Raynor was changed to a woman– “Edwina,” played by Miriam Smith. This was perhaps to balance the male/female ratio.

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The pince-nez and lapel vase are distinctively Suchet’s Poirot. But Lorne Kennedy wore them well.

The set and lighting were really beautiful. Having myself specialized in trompe l’oeil in university and having done some set painting, I was particularly interested in the forced perspective garden scene beyond the French windows. For some reason, I was also mesmerized by the reproduction of a painting of Samuel Johnson high on the wall. It seemed to lend a comfortable, fitting, 18th-century “Sir Joshua Reynolds” sort of air to the distinguished country house set.

Christie herself was not particularly fond of this play, and by all accounts it’s not among her best. It’s a typical cozy mystery with conventional stock characters– the noted scientist, the misunderstood girl, the blackmailer, the vamp, etc. Anyone who is familiar with the story The Mysterious Affair at Styles will notice some pretty obvious plot-borrowing. Christie also borrowed the occasional quote from her own stories. This line in Black Coffee can be found almost verbatim in the story “The Chocolate Box.”

POIROT: Madame, it is sometimes difficult to set a dog on the scent. But once he has found it, nothing on earth will make him leave it. Not if he is a good dog. And I, madame, I, Hercule Poirot, am a very good dog!

Charles Osborne’s adaptation included even more lifting of dialog from Christie stories, including “The Adventure of the ‘Western Star'” and several others. C’est curieux! Also curious is Hastings’ apparent eagerness to be vamped, considering that he’s already been out in Argentina which means he’s already married at the time this play is set. Oh, Hastings…

It was an enjoyable evening and the audience seemed to have fun with the performance. The program was cute, too, including not only Christie facts but suggestions on how to make great coffee!

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My only real regret was not being able to get to more of ChristieFest this February. We didn’t learn of most of the events until it was too late, and being the self-professed greatest Poirot fan in at least Manitoba  😉  this was an embarrassing oversight on my part. But well done, Royal MTC, on an enjoyable interpretation of Black Coffee.  🙂

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