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Tricorner Hack.

Those of you familiar with my graphic novel Family Man will know that I have spent many, many hours drawing  people wearing tricorn hats.  It was a style of headgear that stuck around for quite some time, and it seems to be the first shaped hat designed expressly for the purpose of driving artists crazy.  (Later fashion provided us with the fedora and the cowboy hat, in which crucibles many a cartoonist has died screaming.)




I know that you don’t want to be that person who gives up and just draws a vague lump on your character’s head.  I can’t help you with the fedora or cowboy hat – but I’m here to lend you a hand with our friend the Tricorn.

There’s one very obvious solution for how to go about properly drawing a tricorn at any angle: buy an expensive reproduction hat online and pose or photograph it as necessary.  However, that will net you many hours of digging through endless Halloween store shopping results for shapeless faux-leather “Jack Sparrow” pirate hats and weird little woolen cereal bowls with a weak brim claiming to be “Colonial hats”. When finally you get to plonk down $400 on an accurate drawing prop, you’ll probably want to do violence to your fellow human beings.


The next most obvious solution, if you’re broke or slightly insane, is to hunt down vast numbers of screen captures from appropriate period films.  I will cop to having, on hand, roughly a gigabyte of stills from 1776: The Musical: The Movie.  I will not claim that these have been unhelpful, but perhaps you aren’t interested in paging through 53 blurry images of Blythe Danner in a corset in hopes of locating that one angle of a guy in a hat.


It’s also wise to keep in mind that any period film is ALSO filtered through the period when it was filmed – hence, in 1776 we learn that Thomas Jefferson really liked 70’s style brushed-up temples.

So if you are looking for the simplest, cheapest, most rudimentary tricorner hat hack: get ready.  This will provide you with the basic folded planes of the tricorn hat so that you can sketch out the essential shape; you’re on your own for deciding the style of the crown and providing the subtler details of material and curved blocking.

Those of you who have celebrated Purim by eating hamantaschen cookies will recognize this procedure.

YOU WILL NEED: a piece of foldable paper, a pair of scissors, a pencil.



Cut out a circle of paper.  Cut it to whatever size you like; don’t worry about the shape being perfect.  (a slightly oblong shape might actually get you more accurate results later on.)



Draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle inside the circle so that each point touches the edge.  Again, don’t worry too much about deadly accuracy; these are just folding guidelines.



Pinch in the paper at each point.  I find it’s easiest to first pinch up two points, then move on to the third.



Now that the points are pinched up, it should be easy for you to fold the paper along the pencil lines.  The triangle is still flat, but the extra half-circles of paper stick up.



Behold! Whichever corner sticks forward the most is now the front brim of the hat; the other two form the back.  The triangle is the underside of the hat, where your person would normally stick their head in.  You can arrange this little paper thingie at many common angles and immediately figure out the basic arrangement of the hat’s trickiest parts. You can see that the angle I held the model at roughly replicates Luther’s hat down in the inset image.

If you want to replicate the crown of the hat, make this model big enough to accommodate half of a ping-pong ball (for a round crown) or a bottle cap (flat crown), and glue or tape it on.

In actual hats, the “corners” were often not tightly pinched together, especially in the front, so if you want to replicate that look, let the tips of the triangle run off the paper, skip the pinching, and just fold up along the lines.

Now that you have this model, I recommend you go back and look at those screencaps, or at any trustworthy reference source, to fill yourself in on style and material details/divergences.  These hats were made of anything from light felt to heavy leather, decorated with ostrich feathers and gilt, tied down, worn askew, blocked so that they sat more on the back of the head than the front, etc, and came in every size from bitsy to engulfing.

Regardless, this little model will help you draw a tricky angle when your reference sources aren’t working out.

Enjoy the increased ease of drawing one of history’s most frustrating hats!


ADDENDUM:  lovely reader Jenn S. made up a nice little cheater template for those of you who don’t want to draw your own circles and triangles!  Click to view and download at full size, then print and use at will.  Thanks, Jenn!


{wp version}


( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
My favorite tricorn reference movie: Le Pacte des Loups. Also, appropriately, a werewolf movie, sort of.
Aug. 18th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Don't get her started on that movie. Oy.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
I have a friend who has a drinking game for it.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
That movie is priceless for the Monica-Bellucci's-boob-to-mountain-range transition ALONE.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)

My favorite part is the random implication of the Templars.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
That was me! As much as I would like you to think there are random anonymous French period costume drama hecklers reading.
Aug. 18th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
OT, but.....
Adrian Paul...*droools*
Aug. 18th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I know what I'm gonna spend my afternoon doing. This is brilliant.
Aug. 18th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Love this! However, may I kindly point you at one of my favorite sulters? Because $25 doesn't seem that bad, and it's a decent shape.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I recall finding this hat! Then promptly losing the link again. It seems VERY decent for the price!
Aug. 18th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
They are my favorite sutler evar. :D They even have a YouTube channel, and show off their ceramics workshop. <3

P.S.: Just tore through the story-to-date of Family Man. Really digging it, even the costuming. ;) Bravo!
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Jas. Townsend is awesome. My fave source for hand-forged fish hooks, flint fire starters, and goose quills.

What, doesn't everyone need those on a semi-regular basis?
Aug. 18th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
$400 for a hat? What you need to do is make friends with a Virginian, preferably one from the South East. Then get them to make a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and have them pick up a tricorn hat from one of the shops there. Then have them mail you that hat. Easy-peasy.

Or in a pinch, order one from The Toymaker of Williamsburg. (I've been there many times. Nice shop.)
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Indeed, one of my complaints is that many of the best hatmakers are focused on upscale tourist areas and re-enactment groups, and therefore don't have good websites for internet buying. And I wouldn't want to burden a Virginian with trying to meet my demands re: hat quality!
Aug. 18th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
Hunh...this is actually quite brilliant, and exactly the sort of thing I was needing. Awesome.
Aug. 18th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC)
Your LOLhats made me giggle helplessly at work. Oh, my sordid passionate history of Highlander fandom. Oh, the Jefferson/Adams in everyone's head after that stairway lean.

Awesome resource, thanks. Also I'm not sure I'd seen a photograph of you before, but you look just like Erika Moen's darling doodles of you led me to expect. (And yours, but hers triangulated.)
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
Jefferson/Adams: the slash that launched a nation. God bless that movie.

I admit to having had brief bouts of Highlander fandom, but even at the time I realized that it was likely the result of chemical imbalance.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, that stairway lean.

My high school fascination with swords and people who don't die overwhelmed all other factors, like Adrian Paul's accents and the entire writing staff. I actually own the Watcher sigil as a necklace, and carved it as a skin-stampable rubber stamp. I'm with Stephen Fry on not feeling even slightly guilty about my 'guilty' pleasures.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't feel guilty, just self-amused! If I felt guilty about all of the silly things I like, I would be in a VERY bad way. ;)
Aug. 18th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
I'm going to claim that I taught you how to make hamantaschen. I'm not sure if it's true, but I'm claiming it.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
You taught me how to make rugelach, actually. For which I am FOREVER grateful.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
...and hamantaschen.
Aug. 18th, 2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
Clever. I once spent a weekend mocking up space ships out of milk cartons and star wars toys for pretty much the same reason.
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
Now that is a weekend well spent.
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
It totally was. It was way more fun than the actual project.
Aug. 19th, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
:D "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." -Bloom County
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
I approve of this post. lol
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
I am unexpectedly distressed by the scissors bracketing your lips. Otherwise, brilliant.
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
Don't worry, my lips were safe the entire time.
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
This makes me want to see 1776: The Move Musical!! Is it any good?

I will remember this should I ever need to draw tricorns in the foreseeable future.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
1776 is not good. It is *awesome*. It actually drew down official censure in its day,which is always a sign in a story's favor,and it had the founders singing songs about politics and being horny. Fantastic movie. Beware of earworms, though.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Haha! And I love me some Founding Fathers! ...wait a minute.

Thanks for the rec, I will go check it out. :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
Did any of you get to read Peter Bagge's comics about the Founding Fathers? They were really funny, and I recommend them and Bagge's oeuvre highly. See also entry "Apocalypse Nerd".

Thanks for the tutorial. One of these days this will come in handy.
Aug. 19th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
I totally thought the addendum image was some sort of illusion image at first, like one of those "All of these triangles are really the same size!" kind of images. That was a brief yet disorienting few seconds.
Aug. 19th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! That's incredibly helpful.
Aug. 19th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
I would love to wear a tricorn hat everyday, but then people will never stop staring.
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
...but if you wore it EVERY day, then people would eventually get used to it and stop staring. At some point they might even stare if you DIDN'T wear your tricorn.
Aug. 20th, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
I actually had someone come into work today and say 'Oh, I didn't know *you* worked here, miss' (he didn't have a cap to twist between his hands but I felt like the Squire's youngest daughter ...) 'I always see you around town ...'

'Wearing a pink hat?'

So no - they don't stop staring ... but they do call you 'Miss' (not that mine's a tricorne ...)
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
Then I had to go google tricorn, just to share your pain (I am thankful I have never yet come near needing to draw one, as I tend to slum about in far earlier centuries). Zounds, I never in my life beheld so much rakish sneering. And yes, a lot that guy. Mr. Deluxe Tricorn. I guess the gold braid makes it "deluxe".
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
You're cute, Dylan.
Aug. 23rd, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
No, YOU'RE cute. Derek.
Aug. 20th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
Mine is made from sculpey, and my screencaps are all from the John Adams HBO miniseries, but yes, Oh My God, yes.

Sep. 1st, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
Tricorner hats - a tutorial!
User glockgal referenced to your post from Tricorner hats - a tutorial! saying: [...] ad to draw thousands in the past; but when I DO suddenly find myself faced with drawing one, it generally ends up being "ZOMG WHAT IS THIS HOW DO I EVEN"

HOW TO: Tricorner hats [...]
Sep. 3rd, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
Very awesome idea. Will prove very helpful!
Sep. 8th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
thank you!
Here is my blogpost linking to this one:

( 49 comments — Leave a comment )

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