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

Last Surviving Person of Interest in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist to Be Released From Prison

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Almost exactly 29 years ago, two men disguised as police officers weaseled their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and started removing prized artworks from the wall. They made off with 13 famous paintings and sculptures, representing a value of more than $500 million. It remains the largest property theft in U.S. history, but no one has ever been charged in connection with the heist.

Now, as Smithsonian reports, the last living person who may have first-hand knowledge about the heist will be released from prison this Sunday after serving 54 months for an unrelated crime. Robert (Bobby) Gentile, an 82-year-old mobster who was jailed for selling a gun to a known murderer, has been questioned by authorities in the past. In 2010, the wife of the late mobster Robert (Bobby) Guarente told investigators she had seen her husband give several of the artworks in question to Gentile—a good friend of Guarente’s—eight years prior.

A 2012 raid of Gentile’s home also revealed a list of black market prices for the stolen items. Previous testimony from other mob associates—coupled with the fact that Gentile had failed a polygraph test when he was questioned about the art heist—suggest Gentile might know more about the crime than he has let on. For his part, though, Gentile says he is innocent and knows nothing about the art or the heist.

The FBI announced in 2013 that it knew who was responsible for the museum heist, but would not reveal their names because they were dead. Still, the whereabouts of the artworks—including prized paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer, and Degas—remain unknown. The museum is offering a $10 million reward to anyone who can provide information leading to “the recovery of all 13 works in good condition," according to the museum's website. A separate $100,000 reward will be provided for the return of an eagle finial that was used by Napoleon’s Imperial Guard.

[h/t Smithsonian]

9 Colors Named After People

Alice Roosevelt—for whom Alice Blue is named—in 1902
Alice Roosevelt—for whom Alice Blue is named—in 1902
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress/Wikimedia // Public Domain

Throughout history, a variety of famous people have lent their names to shades of brilliant blue, shocking purple, grassy green, muddy brown, and other hues. While many of these figures are artists who were known for using or developing these hues, other color eponyms come from the scientists who invented them or those who loved to wear them. Consider this list the place where the history books meet the artist’s palette.

1. Alice Blue

A pale azure blue named for Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, who was known for wearing gowns of the color and thus sparking a trend for it. (She was also known for smoking in public and other forms of mischief-making, leading her father to declare: “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”) Her ice-blue dresses inspired the song "Alice Blue Gown" by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney, which premiered in the 1919 Broadway musical Irene. ("I once had a gown that was almost new / Oh, the daintiest thing, it was sweet Alice Blue / With little forget-me-nots placed here and there / When I had it on, I walked on air.")

2. Yves Klein Blue

Visitors look at 'Monochrome Blue, without title' (1960) by French artist Yves Klein
Visitors look at Monochrome Blue, without title (1960) by French artist Yves Klein
THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images

The artist Yves Klein was interested in art as transcendence, and he’s perhaps best known for painting monochromes in a brilliant ultramarine meant to suggest the infinity of sea and sky. (As Klein once explained, "Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions.") In 1960, he registered a formula for the color—known as IKB, or International Klein Blue—with the French government; the formula relied on ultramarine pigment mixed with a synthetic resin that wouldn't dilute the color.

During his “blue period,” Klein exhibited only blue paintings and objects, releasing a thousand and one blue balloons into the sky in Paris to celebrate one show, and serving gin, Cointreau, and blue-dye cocktails at another. Don’t copy that last idea, mixologists: everyone who drank them peed blue for days.

3. Titian Red

Visitors look at a painting by Renaissance master Titian in Rome
Visitors look at a painting by Renaissance master Titian in Rome
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

A person with red hair is sometimes said to be a Titian, after the great 16th century Venetian painter who was notably fond of painting redheads. (Examples of such paintings include Bacchus and Ariadne and Noli me Tangere, now in London's National Gallery.) In the 1960s, redheaded Barbie dolls were officially known as “Titians.” More loosely, the term has come to mean any orange-red color, although people seem to love to debate exactly what shades count.

4. Scheele's Green

Svenska Familj-Journalen, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Arsenic-based green pigments were all the rage in the 19th century, coloring everything from hosiery to hats to children’s toys. The first such pigment on the scene was Scheele’s Green, discovered by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1775. The vibrant yellow-green hue caught on, especially after it was discovered that arsenic also produced a variety of other greens, from deep emerald to pale peridot. Although Scheele and others knew how toxic these pigments were, that didn't stop the colors from being used for clothing, candles, papers, playing cards, book-bindings, and sometimes even food. In perhaps the most famous example of its use, arsenic green wallpaper graced Napoleon’s last bathroom while he suffered through his exile on St. Helena, and some think the fumes caused by his long baths may have been what killed him.

5. Isabelline

José Reynaldo da Fonseca, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

If true, this color's origin story has to be the most off-putting in history. Once used to describe the pale champagne color of certain horse coats and bird feathers, the term Isabella-colored or isabelline is said (by no less than Isaac D'Israeli's 1791 Curiosities of Literature) to come from Isabel of Austria, the devoted daughter of Philip II of Spain.

Supposedly, when Spain laid siege to the city of Ostend in 1601, Isabella vowed not to change her undergarments until the city was taken. She expected a speedy victory, but much to her dismay (and presumably that of everyone around her), the fighting continued for three years before Spain won.

The Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this origin story, noting that Isabella as a color is first noted in 1600, a year before the siege began. But linguist Michael Quinion notes that accounts in French, German, Spanish and Italian (where isabelline has a similar color meaning) refer to the earlier Queen Isabella of Castile (1451-1504) and the siege of Granada—which means the story might just be true, even if it's about a different Isabella and a different set of 7-month-old dirty underwear.

6. Fuchsia

Heinrich Füllmaurer, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Here's a more pleasant etymology: The vivid red-purple of fuchsia, the color, comes from fuchsia, the flower, which is in turn named for 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. (His last name, by the way, comes from the German word for "fox.") And if you think fuchsia and magenta are the same color, you're closer than you might think: Magenta was originally an aniline dye named fuchsine, named after the fuchsia flower. The name was changed in 1859, the year it was patented, in honor of the French victory at the Battle of Magenta. That apparently helped the dye become a stunning success.

7. Vandyke Brown

Anthony van Dyck, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep, warm, transparent brown was made with a high concentration of organic matter (basically: actual dirt), and was popular with the Old Masters. It was named for the innovative Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who often used the color in his paintings, and who also lent his name to an early photographic printing process—which also produced a brown color, but did not actually involve dirt.

8. Perkin's Mauve

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like so many scientific discoveries, the invention of synthetic dyes happened by accident. In 1856, chemistry student William Henry Perkin, then only 18, was trying to find a new way to make quinine (a popular treatment for malaria, and the ingredient that still gives tonic water its slightly bitter taste). The experiment didn't quite work as planned, but Perkin noticed some purple sludge left over in his flask after rinsing it with alcohol, and realized its potential.

His instincts were good: After Perkin patented his creation and began mass-producing it, the color swept England, becoming so popular that the magazine Punch condemned an outbreak of “the mauve measles.” The color was originally called aniline purple by Perkin, as well as Perkin's purple or Perkin’s violet. The mauve part of “Perkin’s mauve” came a few years later thanks to the French, who named it after their word for the mallow flower.

9. Hooker's Green

Thomas Herbert Maguire, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The warm, grassy "Hooker's Green" is named for botanical illustrator William Hooker (1779–1832), who created a special pigment just to convey the exact green of leaves.

Bonus: Mummy Brown

A close-up of an Egyptian mummy head
A close-up of an Egyptian mummy head
iStock.com/izanbar

OK, it’s not a color named after one person, but a color named after many people—many dead people. First made in the 16th and 17th centuries, but a special favorite of the 19th century painters, this rich brown pigment was created by mixing both human and feline mummy crumbles with white pitch and myrrh. (Although we tend to think of them as protected antiquities today, people in centuries past often considered mummies just another natural resource.)

In part because of its curious components, the pigment wasn’t the most stable in the world, and it fell out of favor once its origin story became better known. According to one biography, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones gave his tube of Mummy Brown a funeral in his garden when he discovered where it came from. The pigment was sold into the 20th century, although if you see the name “mummy brown” used today, rest assured it contains no actual corpses. Probably.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

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