Meet the Artist Who's Drawing Every Character From Every Coen Brothers Movie Ever Made

Stephen Case
Stephen Case

Ethan and Joel Coen have directed 17 films spanning three decades, and in that time, they’ve brought some pretty memorable characters to life. They’ve given us the laid-back Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998), the bloodthirsty Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men (2007), and Ulysses, a charming “Dapper Dan man” who leads a band of escaped criminals in O Brother Where Art Thou (2000).

A caricature of Anton Chigurh
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men
Stephen Case

As it turns out, these characters aren’t just enjoyable to watch—they’re also fun to draw, according to Hong Kong-based artist Stephen Case, who's currently making caricatures of every character from every Coen brothers film ever made. If you count major and minor characters—plus some of the more intriguing extras, and the cast of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a forthcoming anthology film—that works out to be well over 700 planned drawings.

This estimate is based on the 100-plus hours of research that Case has put into the project, a figure that doesn't include the time it takes to actually create each drawing. While this may seem like a daunting task, Case has enjoyed rewatching all 17 films, beginning with Blood Simple (1984) and ending with Hail, Caesar! (2016). Case said the idea for the project came from friend and fellow artist Harvey Chan, and it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“What I love about the Coens is, firstly, I'm a huge fan. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Big Lebowski, but they also have many other classics,” Case tells Mental Floss. “Secondly, all their characters are so ripe for caricature, from the lead characters down to the extras.”

Take, for instance, Chad—a dim-witted gym employee in Burn After Reading (2008) who's often seen with his mouth agape.

A caricature of Chad Feldheimer
Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer in Burn After Reading
Stephen Case/Netflix

While watching a movie, Case takes screenshots of the characters he wants to depict, then separates the images into individual computer files.

Next, it’s time to draw. He typically starts with a pencil sketch, then scans the image into his computer and uses Photoshop to digitally add in the color and brushwork. The goal is to achieve a likeness of the character without overexaggerating the features to the point where they're unrecognizable.

Ultimately, Case chooses which characters to include in the project. While he won't take on every extra ever shown in a Coen film, he says he will give characters with “decent screen time” or at least one line of dialogue their due diligence.

“For Raising Arizona, I'll only draw one of the babies rather than all of them, for example,” Case says, referring to the scene in which infertile ex-convict H.I. McDunnough, played by Nicolas Cage, kidnaps one of five babies belonging to a local businessman.

A caricature of H.I. McDunnough
Nicolas Cage as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona
Stephen Case

Case also finds inspiration in characters that make an outsized impression for the relatively short time they spend on screen, like the mysterious visitor in the opening of A Serious Man (2009), who is believed to be a dybbuk (Yiddish evil spirit).

"This is going to be one of the best parts of this project—drawing faces like this," Case wrote in a caption accompanying the drawing. "Most of the Coen Bros characters are ripe for caricature, but faces like this are a gift from God ... or Yahweh ... or whoever."

Caricature of a Yiddish dybbuk
Fyvush Finkel as a Yiddish dybbuk in A Serious Man
Stephen Case/Netflix

The most obscure drawing he has completed so far, though, is of a curmudgeonly man who appears for one second in a painting hanging above Freddy Riedenschneider’s hotel bed in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001).

“It's probably better to draw people as famous as possible, but with the Coens, some of the best characters are extras or those who have small parts,” Case says. “While they may be wasted on a lot of people, I figure fans of the movies will get a kick out of it.”

As for his favorite Coen character? “If I had to choose one it'd have to be John Goodman's Walter in The Big Lebowski,” Case says.

Some of his caricatures are currently on display at Swing A Cat, the art gallery and studio Case owns in Hong Kong. You can also check out his work on Patreon. He says he’s entertaining the idea of publishing a book of his Coen caricatures down the road.

So far, Case has finished about 35 drawings completely. And while he still has a long way to go to reach his goal, see if you can recognize some of the characters he's drawn already:

A caricature of Abby from Blood Simple
Frances McDormand as Abby in Blood Simple (1984)
Stephen Case

A caricature of Carlotta Valdez
Veronica Osorio as Carlotta Valdez in Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Stephen Case

A caricature of Carson Wells
Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells in No Country for Old Men (2007)
Stephen Case

A caricature of the Big Lebowski
Stephen Case

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

Vinnie Ream: The Teen Who Met With Abraham Lincoln for 30 Minutes Every Day

Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most important people in the world have trouble getting even a few minutes of the president’s time. But in 1864, 17-year-old Lavinia “Vinnie” Ream managed to steal half an hour with Abraham Lincoln every day—for five months.

Ream made a name for herself as an artist at a young age. Word of the teen prodigy’s painting prowess quickly spread, and in 1863, Missouri Congressman James Rollins introduced her to sculptor Clark Mills. Through Mills, Ream discovered her talents included molding clay.

After creating small, medallion-sized likenesses of General Custer and many Congressmen, including Thaddeus Stevens, several senators commissioned Ream to create a marble bust—and this was just over a year after she had picked up the skill. The senators allowed Ream to choose her subject, and she picked the president—Abraham Lincoln.

Ream's friends in the Senate personally asked Lincoln to pose for the sculpture, but he declined. After hearing that she was a struggling artist from a Midwestern background not dissimilar to his own, however, Lincoln relented. “He granted me sittings for no other reason than that I was in need,” she later wrote. “Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world I am quite sure I would have been refused.”

Not only did the president agree to the sitting, he gave her a half-hour of his time every day for five months—no small sum of time for a man in such demand. “It seemed that he used this half-hour as a time for relaxation, for he always left instructions that no one was to be admitted during that time,” Ream said. “He seemed to find a strange sort of companionship in being with me, although we talked but little.” He occasionally talked about his son Willie, who had died two years before. The stories sometimes moved him to tears, and he told Vinnie that she reminded him of Willie. Lincoln "never told a funny story to me. He rarely smiled," Ream later recalled.

After Lincoln's fateful night at Ford's Theatre, Congress hired Ream to create a memorial statue of the fallen president, making her the youngest artist—and the first woman—to receive a commission from the U.S. government.

Though she had already proved that she could create a remarkable likeness of Lincoln in bust form, not everyone on the commission was convinced she would be up to the task of sculpting a full-length version. “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work,” Senator Jacob Merritt Howard said.

But Ream had the last laugh: Her work still graces the Capitol Rotunda today.

Vinnie Ream's sculpture of Abraham Lincoln still stands in the Capital Rotunda
USCapitol via Flickr // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

This article originally ran in 2016.

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