My father has been drawing this same ‘face’ on my birthday cards and cakes for as long as I remember. I recently started pressing him for info about this face that he’s been drawing for 60 years and it all unfolded with a completely unexpected and satisfying ending.
The Mystery of the Face on the Cake
I'd like to share an image with you that has become an important icon in my life. It's shrouded in mystery, but I hope to unravel some of its secrets soon.
To really get to the heart of this, I think we need to start with the cakes.
I have come to treasure the birthday cakes my family has made for me over the years. Can they be a little crudely decorated? Absolutely. And that is exactly what makes them so unbelievably great.
Looking at this photo , you might be thinking to yourself. "Aww, that's sweet. His kids decorated a cake." You'd be half right. It's sweet, but it was decorated by my FATHER.
The awesome beauty of cakes decorated by my dad is that they inevitably contain drawings that are either incomprehensible or have NOTHING to do with my life. He's adorable. They're like random, edible cave paintings.
Let's review the imagery on CAKE 1.
A: Not sure. My guess is a musical note, but I honestly can't rule out a turnip or a bear tooth complete with root.
B: A cherry... a pumpkin... a chubby sperm... who knows?
C: I'm going to go with either a boat or a submarine with periscope up.
D: Definitely a house. I do own a house -- it's nice to see one on a cake.
E: This brings us to "The Face". And it's the real reason why we're here. The Face has been making appearances on my birthday cakes and cards for as long as I can remember and it always looks like this.
Before we delve further into The Face, let's quickly review CAKE 2. (Despite it reading "Happy Birth Day Dad," I swear to you this is the handiwork of my father, not my kids. I also swear it's a face.)
A: Boat. Never owned a boat. Don't like the beach. So, a nautical theme does make sense. Over the years there have also been several cats. Again, never owned a cat. Don't like cats. But cats on my cake. CLASSIC.
B: Definitely an anchor.
C: Hmm. A bowling ball? A ghost? I don't have a clue.
D & E: A rare double-shot of THE FACE.
Here's another look at it:
In his defense, this is not the clearest version of it that I've seen, but give him a break. He's drawing with a crappy tube of icing.
I've tried to get to the bottom of this face in the past, but for some reason I've never really gotten the complete story. I know he's been drawing it since he was a kid and it was something he found in a book or a magazine that supposedly said this was "HOW TO DRAW A FACE."
I'm also not sure what that is shooting out of The Face, but I think it might be whistling. (Or sneezing, as Craig points out.)
I had a birthday recently and unfortunately my dad and I could not be together for it. He asked me what I wanted as a gift and I told him all I wanted was a step-by-step drawing of The Face and a detailed explanation of the story behind it.
He wasn't thrilled when I told him I wanted to put it on the site, but he eventually gave in. He says it's in the mail. When I get it, I'll post it. Then we all may finally learn HOW TO DRAW A FACE.
(Part 2 of this story can be found here.)
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How To Draw a Face
You may have recently seen my father's drawings of "The Face" which have appeared on my birthday cakes and cards over the years.
For my birthday present this year, all I asked him for was a step-by-step guide explaining exactly how to draw it.
I scanned what he sent. Here are the results...
As fantastic as this guide is, I was left with more questions than answers, so I got him on the phone for the following EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW...
* * * * * * *
Okay, Dad. Tell me the story behind you learning how to draw a face.
Well, I used to sit next to a boy named Mario -- he reminded me of Fat Albert, you know?
Well, he was really heavy, but a very pleasant guy. Very nice and he was gifted. Mario's talent was he could draw so well. And I used to sit next to him in grammar school and I wanted to draw too, but I couldn't draw a circle -- so I got an art book. I think I sent away for it. And what you see is as far my talent took me. This face was in the book and when I was successful at it, I quit as a winner.
Did you and Mario form a band in a junk yard? Fat Albert did that.
Let's get back to the face. You're telling me that this book said this was, "How To Draw A Face"?
It was a cartoon book on how to draw all faces and different kinds of cartoons.
Was this a famous cartoon face or an ordinary face?
No, it was just how you see it! C'mon, this looks good!
Do you remember anything about the book?
It was kind of thick.
What year was this?
I'd say it was about... 1947 maybe. 1948. I was about 7 or 8 years old.
Where were you at the time?
I was in Brooklyn. When I lived on Herkimer Street. Bedford Stuyvesant.
Do you remember the name of the book?
Do you remember what was drawn on the cover?
Do you know who you're speaking to right now?
That's very funny. I think the book had a soft cover and was red and white. You know, now that I'm thinking, it could have been an alphabet book, since the drawing starts out with an "F." So maybe it was to draw by the alphabet, but I'm only guessing on that.
Let's look at the face. Is he wearing a hat?
It's like a hat. A cap. That's just the way they made the face. I guess it's a hat. It could be his hair.
In step 3 you've added an eye. That's an eye right? The thing with the dot in it.
That's an ear.
You realize this is the greatest day of my life, right?
What are you doing with what I'm telling you?
I'm putting it on the website.
So you're going to embarrass me in front of everyone?
I'm just bringing your artistic genius to the world. Back to the drawing. If that's his ear, what are the 2 things to the right of it.
I guess that's his eyes.
YOU GUESS? YOU DON'T KNOW??!
To me, this is a guy. I just followed the picture. There were no instructions. They gave you step-by-step. No written instructions.
And those 2 things are his eyes?
Why do they look like that?
That's the way they had it! It's not my design. I just copied it out of a book.
If those are his eyes, do you think it's weird that the mouth isn't under them?
I never thought about it.
Well, then what is shooting out of his face? A nose? Is he sneezing?
That's the way they finished up the picture. Now that you ask me, I don't have a clue.
Well, what do YOU think that thing is? A nose?
It can't be a nose. It's a design to show the picture was finished at the end.
Like a signature?
It was a wishbone shape with 3 lines going down. That's all I know.
When you see people's faces, do they look like this to you?
I think my face looks great.
I think it looks great, too! Now answer this honestly. How close do you think this resembles the original drawing from the book.
Oh, 100%. It's like a xerox.
This day keeps getting better for me. You realize that.
I'm glad I'm making you happy, but I think you're embarrassing me. This is the limitations of my art.
So, Dad. Now that you're telling me the thing with a dot in it is an ear, someone named Lauren who reads the site tried to recreate what she thought the original art might have looked like, based on your cake drawings. (I send my dad a link to the following...)
Nah, I like mine better. This looks like part of The Scream. You can't have real eyes. This is different. No resemblance at all. She's got square eyebrows. It's nice, but it has NO resemblance. And the mouth is a regular circle. I'm closing this window. I like mine better.
(At this point, my mother interrupts us)
My Mom: Can I tell you what I think. He drew this picture for me many times. Originally I thought that was a pipe that he had in his face.
Dad: Sticking in his neck?!
Mom: It used to be a pipe.
Dad: No, no, no.
Me: You know that game "Telephone" where one kid whispers something into another kid's ear and it goes down the line until at the end it's completely different? I think that's what this is. A crazy game of Telephone that's taken place over 60 years in one man's mind.
Mom: I agree. But I think it got better over time.
Dad: That's what it looked like in the book!
* * * * * * * *
And now you know "How To Draw A Face."
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Face to Face - 60 Years in the Making
In the previous post I interviewed my father about the curious "Face" he has been drawing on my cakes and cards for years. If you haven't read that post yet, DO NOT READ ON. Click here right now and go read it, then come back. I'm serious. This is an order from the top brass at Sneeze HQ.
After I posted that interview, a miracle occurred and some kick-ass Sneeze readers managed to track down scans from the ACTUAL BOOK from the 40s, including the original face! I still can't quite believe it.
I called up my dad and conducted a follow-up interview in which he viewed the original "Face" for the first time in 60 YEARS...
* * * * * * * * * *
Okay, Dad. A bunch of Sneeze readers saw our interview and it looks like a few of them found the actual book AND the original face.
Now before I send you the link, how do you feel about seeing it?
Well, a couple of times I went back to my old reunions and it was not as nice as I thought it would be to go back. But this won't be a problem. It's only a book.
Okay, are you ready to see the cover?
Here's a link. It's called "How To Make Faces" by Frank Webb...
This is so much pressure...
Yeah, that's it! That's it. Wow. How did you guys find it? That's amazing!
I think your guess that the pictures were drawing by the alphabet helped. So, what does it feel like to see it again?
You're bringing back my childhood memories. Back to before I learned how to draw that excellent face. I told you the cover had red on it.
Are you ready to see the face?
Yes. I want to see how far off I went. We need a drumroll.
Here it comes a link...
I'm clicking on it now...
Oh yeah!! See?! It looks like I stopped at Step 3. I guess 4 was too hard. I did put the triangle on his neck.
Yeah. It's a collar. The collar actually looks a lot like how you drew it, especially considering you haven't seen it in 60 years. Overall, how far off do you think you were?
Obviously I left off his nose.
What happened there?
I don't remember. Somewhere along the way I left it off. I hope you're not putting this on your site.
This is not for publication.
Are you crazy? This is ABSOLUTELY for publication. The only reason the internet exists is for this conversation to be on it!
Your picture is closer to the original than I thought it would have been. Especially if you look at your Step 4 and his Step 3.
I left off the nose and I didn't have the eye right.
Yeah, you had those 2 lines that were supposed to be the eye. The real face has a line for the eye, another one for the eyebrow and then a little crease.
I was little and I guess I didn't know what I was drawing, I was just copying it. I drew a face all these years and he couldn't smell anything! And he couldn't see! He was a poor blind bastard with no nose. But he could hear and he could eat.
I think he's like the Sphinx. The nose was lost somewhere along the way, but that didn't make it any less important to the world.
Absolutely. But I like it with the nose.
Whose is better? Yours or the original?
I like mine. But his has more features on Step 4 and you could see a real face. After you picked mine apart, I could see I was leaving some parts out. But I always saw a face. I'm drawing mine right now with a nose. Yeah, he looks better with a nose!
No! You have to promise to always draw it your way.
Maybe I'll make my original drawing and then add a friend with a nose.
That sounds okay. Hey, did you see the "Komik Note" on the bottom of the page? It says, "Take the pointers this book offers, but develop your own individuality."
How about that? I wish I could tell you that I read that and left off the nose on purpose, but I don't think that's the case.
So, do you have any message for The Sneeze readers?
Thank you for bringing back a lot of nostalgia for me. As soon as I saw it I knew that was the book. And now it's back and it's real. So thank you. The Face lives after all these years!
It does. Thanks, Dad.
(15 minutes later my Dad calls me back:)
Hey, I just remembered why I stuck with the "F" picture.
Well, I was just a kid and I remember thinking that a lot of the pictures looked kind of like men's body parts.
The nose on the A face looked like a man's private parts. And I thought the B picture looked like a behind AND more privates.
This actually bothered you?
The kids in my neighborhood were really tough. I didn't want them to pick on me. So when I got to the "F" face, that one was pretty safe so I stuck with it and stopped. Hey, maybe that's why I left the nose off!
That is beyond fantastic. Thanks, Dad.
* * * * * * * * *
I have to give a HUGE thanks to animator Michael Sporn for miraculously having scans from this obscure Frank Webb book on his blog! (And thanks for his blessing to repost those scans here on The Sneeze.) You can see more details from the book right here.
Secondly, thanks to Andrea, Paul and Shane for managing to track down Michael's site.
And most importantly thanks to my dad. Not only for all the fun we've had with this, but just for being the greatest.
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