Northwest Coast Formline: Overlapping and 3-Dimensionality

Wow. Am I getting caught up, or further behind on posting my sketches? I’m up to March 22. These sketches I drew while my wife and I were striking it rich in Las Vegas. Not. I do take my sketchbook on every trip.

In the older formline style, pre-1900, formline never overlapped. It was never 3-dimensional — which is the effect of overlapping. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, Charles Edenshaw was the first to employ this technique in his Gunakadeit drawing below.

Charles Edenshaw's Gunakadeit

Charles Edenshaw – Gunakadeit

Many of today’s artists working in the formline style use the overlapping technique. It does give the designs another dimension that adds a mesmerizing multi-layer effect. In the past, the “layering” of design occurred by the mind separating the primary formline from the secondary.

Experimental Tlingit Formline Art by Robert Davis Hoffmann

Layered Forms

There were a few exceptions to 3-dimensional formline. One that comes to mind is the frog emerging from a hole. We have a Chilkat robe at the Sheldon Jackson Museum with one of these designs.

No overlapping in my sketch below. Quite the opposite. Not even solid formline, the shapes float in space. I like to sketch like this when my drawings form imaginary stories. They just come.

Northwest coast formline by Robert Davis Hoffmann, Tlingit

Cry Wolf!

In my design below, which spanned 2 days of sketching, I just find a starting point and work outward. When filling in with small detail, it’s important to know just when to stop. So I left some vacant areas, and even though it’s tempting to keep filling in, I realized that my stopping point was a good choice.

Northwest coast formline by Robert Davis Hoffmann, Tlingit

It’s Complicated

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