The Salmon-Trout Head in Tlingit Formline

In earlier posts, I talk about the importance of practicing the most basic shapes in Tlingit formline until you become proficient. Starting with the simplest ovoid, then graduating to increasingly complex versions of the ovoid is good practice. At some point you will discover one variation of the ovoid is what Bill Holm termed the “salmon-trout” head in his landmark Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. Holm took the term “salmon-trout” from George Emmons list of terms given to him by Tlingit weavers to describe this ovoid shape.

Back to sketch PRACTICE.
Notice in the sketch below how I divided the rectangle in to quadrants: eye, nose, cheek, and mouth. Notice too, the main line running through the shape is the diagonal. This diagonal line is critical. It defines the upper part of the mouth and determines the eye socket too.
Notice that by Figure 2, in simply rounding out the corners of the four areas, I have the basic eye ovoid, the ‘U’ shape for the nose area and also the cheek area, and the ‘S’ area for the mouth. Get those first essential lines established and all that’s left to do is draw in the Primary black lines. Do this hundreds of times and it becomes second nature.

Tlingit Salmon-Trout head formline

Salmon-Trout formline

One of the reasons you want to really get the salmon-trout shape down pat is that you can easily modify this into any land, sea, or air animal from a side profile. When you think of it, a side profile is still eye, nose, cheek and mouth (and sometimes ears). Check it out:

Animal profiles Tlingit formline

Animal profiles

Do you see the basic formlines from the salmon-trout exercise? You are able to illustrate the head of any of the animals used in our clan crests, from the side profile. That’s a good start. You’ll soon be adding arms, legs, wings, tails and so on, to complete the entire design.

Now for some whimsical experimental designs of my own.

Wind Power Tlingit design

Wind Power

Bird Hatching Tlingit design by Robert Davis Hoffmann

Bird Hatching


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Comodo SSL