SOME PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
Extract from The Haelterman Armorial, A Collection of Heraldic Artworks.
First published by Kevin Haelterman CWS, Belgium 2019
Being quite new to the world of heraldic art, and its many facets, I dare not claim any expertise in the matter. However, having been part of the field’s modern-day expression for some time, I have made a few observations about heraldry, its artists and the surrounding community. The heraldry community has, more than ever, become a unified whole, thanks to the connectivity that the internet and social media platforms bring. The interest in heraldry seems to be growing again, likely the result of these online communities and the potential influence of popular media. Surely TV shows such as Game of Thrones and games such as The Elder Scrolls have helped in that regard, along with medieval revival groups that enabled many to rediscover heraldry. Although I can’t pinpoint any one particular culprit, I’m sure a combination of many of these influences have helped in creating and nurturing my own interest. That being said, with more opportunities for opinions to clash, the modern heraldry community also seems divided at times. Traditionalist versus modernist, boomers versus millennials, digital versus manual art… these are just some of the bones of contention. Moreso, there’s the –sometimes unintentional– misunderstandings between heraldry from different nations that create interesting discussions. This is of course the inevitable consequence of online communities, which are not defined by national borders, talking about a subject matter that often is. I’ve learned that norms and traditions of heraldry can differ slightly, depending on the nation: one can easily identify a British, Russian or even Flemish Coat of Arms just at a glance. With communities being more globalised, these differences are now more apparent than ever. All this makes for a more exciting and lively discipline. It creates interesting topics of conversation and underlines once more how deep and fascinating the topic can be. A frequent source of debate seems to revolve around authenticity versus creativity. More people have access to the information and tools required to design their own coat of arms, a fact that has allowed me to do what I do. While some countries, like Belgium, have specialised governing bodies that supervise the creation of new heraldry, other countries such as the US are more of a “Wild West” situation. This freedom generates countless interesting questions among many actors in the community. Should new heraldry follow the strict rules and norms defined by past generations (though even those proved variable throughout history), or is there room for new and creative takes? Is it allowed to use less traditional tincture? Can we invent new heraldic beasts? What about the use of an astronaut helmet or a modern riot shield? Ignoring the more extreme examples, even artistic renditions of traditional coat of arms can raise questions as artists try out new styles, making their work stand out in a competitive market with a limited number of patrons. In an attempt to be more competitive, some take greater artistic liberties than others, as can be seen in my collection. Working with different artists has taught me a few interesting things, but most of all that it is hard to judge a book by its cover. Young artists can have a very traditional approach, a cheap work does not mean a low quality result, and a work by a notable artist does not necessarily follow all heraldic norms. Some artists like to work with a lot of feedback, others are more confident in their knowledge and skills to follow their own instincts. Some enjoy a bit of artistic freedom and push for new styles and interpretations, while others enjoy old styles and techniques. In my opinion there’s room for all of that in modern heraldry, as long as there’s an artist willing to do it and a patron willing to pay for it. It’s a good habit to be able to define each work. There’s nothing wrong in calling one work a traditional rendition and labeling another an artistic interpretation. Defining the exact nature of different works is something I have hoped to do here, not just with my own words but also with that of the artists themselves