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Iron Knee Meets An Ellipsis Comin’ Thro’ The Rye

April 15, 2015

Last summer, I did an illustration for Diplomat Magazine for their cover story on the Scottish Referendum on independence. The referendum was held on September 18, 2014.

In case you missed it, Scotland voted No, electing to remain in the British Union. The vote was 55% to 45%, with a voter turnout of 85%.


Oddly enough, two months later, I was asked to illustrate an essay by a young Scot who was attending grad school in the American South at the time of the Referendum. The author struggles with regret and guilt for not being there for the vote and its aftermath,
but remains confident that “the prodigal can always return.”

The essay was called Wild Are The Winds To Meet You, and you can read the entire essay here.


As mentioned in previous posts, many of my ideas are sparked by phrases or passages in the text. Here are the three illustrations I did for Wild Are The Winds, with each preceded by the passage that inspired it.


Within three months I was waist-deep in Tuscaloosa life and head-over-heels for a real Southern boy. Ten months later, he was gone. He was my previous self in reverse: in almost perfect symmetry he packed his life into one suitcase and flew to Glasgow for a masters in film studies, which had been my field for two years at St Andrews.

I could have given a master class in irony. Alanis Morissette would have learned a lot.

Caricature Canadian singer songwriter Alanis Morissette whose most famous song is Ironic playing guitar and singing rebus with clothes iron, knee, human leg

Alanis Morissette is a Canadian singer-songwriter. She achieved her greatest commercial success in the mid 1990’s. Her biggest hit single was Ironic.

You can create a rebus to spell out anything, really, but I wanted to keep it simple so it wouldn’t overwhelm the rest of the illustration. Hence “irony,” instead of “ironic.” My apologies to all you purists out there.

detail image of caricature Canadian singer songwriter Alanis Morissette whose most famous song is Ironic playing guitar and singing rebus with clothes iron, knee, human leg

How accurate is the caricature? Here are some photos of Ms. Morissette.

photographs of Canadian singer songwriter Alanis Morissette

(Scotland) may not be the land of blooming heather and shining river that the songs describe. It may, in many ways, be already broken. But what’s broken can be fixed… I told Tyler when he left that a goodbye can be an ellipsis.


I had to google ellipsis. I found out it’s something that I use all the time. Especially at the end of sentences…

Rebus pictures of plaid letter G, bagpipes, golf ball, golf club, haggis, thistle, Scotsman wearing tam, with ellipsis

I don’t think my “Goodbye…” qualifies as a rebus, but it must be a close cousin.

Using a tartan (what we Americans would call a plaid) was the best I could do for the ‘G.’ Bagpipes got pressed into service for a rather showy lower-case ‘o.’

Modern golf originated in Scotland, so a golf ball and club were perfect for the ‘od.’ That’s “St. Andrews” on the ball, a nod to what many consider the oldest golf course in the world.

I was stumped for a lower-case ‘b,’ until I thought of haggis, Scotland’s legendary “savoury pudding,” a delicacy decidedly not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

detail image of rebus pictures of plaid letter G, bagpipes, golf ball, golf club, haggis, thistle, Scotsman wearing tam, with ellipsis


A thistle, Scotland’s national emblem, made a picturesque ‘y.’ I had to stretch the furthest for the lower-case ‘e’: a wee Scotsman wearin’ a tam o’shanter.

The three large dots on the end represent the ellipsis. So why did I include “sorta,” “kinda,” “maybe”? Because the goodbye may not be final.

Goodbye… is not the same as Goodbye. (period) The ellipsis says: Who knows? Perhaps we’ll meet again.

detail image of rebus pictures of plaid letter G, bagpipes, golf ball, golf club, haggis, thistle, Scotsman wearing tam, with ellipsis

America has opened itself to me, as its old dream promises. For that I’m grateful, as I’m grateful to Scotland for folding my loved ones into its music.

I know above all things that the tune carries a refrain, if not the cry for freedom or unity, then a sustained note of welcome. The Atlantic can be the breath between verses. The lull before a song rejoins.


I heard the author saying that if you’re a Scot, you can go home again. You will always be welcome.

I like the imagery here: Scotland as bagpipes extending the note of welcome: a note that’s a Welcome mat with a little Scottish flag. The musical notes like stepping stones across the water. And Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster making her usual cameo appearance.

This is also a good example of how an illustrator sometimes has to creatively distort things to make them fit: I squeezed the United States’ continental land mass like an accordion, but it’s still recognizable… I think.

Musical notes forming bridge between Scotland and United States, with welcome mat for Scots expatriate cowgirl with flag, bagpipes, and Nessy the Loch Ness Monster

Here’s a detail image:

detail image of musical notes forming bridge between Scotland and United States, with welcome mat for Scots expatriate cowgirl with flag, bagpipes, and Nessy the Loch Ness Monster

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Have you ever been away when something important happened “back home”?

Have you had any experiences that struck you as truly ironic?

Have you ever eaten haggis and lived to tell about it??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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33 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2015 11:15 AM

    There was so much I can identify with in this post that I don’t really know where to begin. Having been very politically active in Scotland in my youth, I am very engaged in Scottish politics. I was very involved in the last Scottish referendum – the one regarding Devolution – so you can imagine how gutted I was to emigrate to America just in time to miss the Independence Referendum. I imagine I will have many more experiences where I am frustrated to be part of the diaspora but that was big one.

    Yes, I have partaken of haggis and survived. I have not, however, eaten meat in many years so I have only eaten vegetarian haggis in recent decades. My husband (who is half English and half American) and my four kids all love haggis and very much miss it – since it cannot be imported into America, a legacy of mad cow disease that also prevents us from donating blood. The spicing of a haggis is lovely.

    I particularly like your Scottish typography, it’s fun use of national stereotypes. The eliipsis component made me think of the Glaswegian phrase “maybes aye maybes naw”. I miss such Scottish patter.


    • April 21, 2015 8:55 AM

      Hi, Laura! I thought of you many times as I was writing this post, knowing you could surely identify with the author’s feelings. Years ago, I worked with a Scotsman who had a very mischievous sense of humor. You and he may have left the dear old homeland, but you are wonderful ambassadors.

      Don’t think I’ve mentioned this before: back in the 80’s, I took one of those package bus tours of Scotland-England-Wales. So I’ve actually been to Scotland, seen the Firth of Forth, walked The Royal Mile, etc. We also had an “authentic Scottish dinner,” which included haggis. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t have a clear recollection of it– probably because it was all part of the tourist assembly line.

      I liked “Maybes aye, maybes naw”– ha! I came across this one while researching the post: “Lang may yer lum reek”– which was translated as “Long may your chimney smoke.” Clearly this was stolen by Mr. Spock, who turned it into the much less colorful “Live long and prosper.” : )

      Always good to see you, thanks for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 21, 2015 9:37 AM

        “Lang may yer lum reek” is an oft used good luck toast. Scots is full of lovely, imagery rich sayings like that. My favourite Scottish saying is “Mony a mickle maks a muckle” meaning that lots of small things add up to something big. I believe the “mickle” is a corruption – probably for the love of alliteration – of “puckle” which is a word we use for a small amount of something – as in “he saved up a puckle of money to buy the book”. Perhaps that saying appeals to my thriftiness. I am also fond of “foggy bummer” which is a type of bee.

        I am glad that you found haggis unmemorable. That at least means you did not find it grotesque. My husband was terrified of haggis when he first moved to Scotland but then he tried it and was converted. He loves it. Scotland actually produces some wonderful food but unfortunately we are known for eating entrails and deep fried chocolate bars.

        Thanks for saying I am a good Ambassador for my homeland. I appreciate that.


        • April 30, 2015 10:16 AM

          Mony a mickle maks a muckle… ha! I’d love that expression no matter what it meant! (your translation clearly indicates it deserves a place in Motivational Literature)

          And “foggy bummer” sounds so cute, it’s hard to imagine getting too upset if you were stung by one: “Naw, naw, ye shouldna be doin’ tha’, ya naughty foggy bummer, you!”

          Entrails and deep-fried chocolate bars… say, you’ve given me an idea for a fast food stand this summer– I’ll make millions!! : )

          Laura, you’re a great ambassador for Scotland. Thanks for your wonderfully engaging comments, and please do excuse this terribly late reply!!

          Liked by 1 person

        • April 30, 2015 10:31 AM

          No apologies required. 🙂


  2. caitlinabha permalink
    April 15, 2015 8:02 PM

    Love this


  3. April 16, 2015 2:20 PM

    For a non-Scottish audience, it might be still useful to mark a piece of land with “Scotland” your illustrations.

    Some Canadians were curious about the Scottish referendum….because Canada had its referendum in Quebec twice, I believe if Quebecers wanted to separate from Canada.

    No I’ve never had haggis. Not sure if I want this culinary joy. In Vancouver, BC, there has been an annual fun evening during Chinese New Year that blends Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year: Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

    Fusion food, skits, song, music and good cheer. A sampling which I’ve never attended the annual event (there’s a fee for food):


    • April 21, 2015 9:31 AM

      Hi, Jean! It’s nice of you to speak up on behalf of the geographically-challenged… : )

      I really busted out laughing when I read that bit about Gung Haggis Fat Choy!! Robbie Burns meets Chinese New Year– yow! Just when you think you’ve heard it all. I’ll definitely be attending this year, and I’m looking forward to some Sweet ‘n’ Sour Haggis!! : )


  4. April 16, 2015 5:11 PM

    Oh, my friend, an accurate caricature of Alanis it is indeed! Once again I am left speechless by the creativity and talent of the Mark Armstrong!
    Thank you!!!! 🙂


    • April 21, 2015 9:42 AM

      My dear Marina! Your lovely comment made me think of that olde Scottish phrase: Ya soonae werds dae faa swee apon meh err lak bekliva rendopps! Which, as I’m sure you know, translates to the Greek expression, “Your sunny words fall sweet upon my ear like baklava raindrops!” And ne’er were truer words spaketh. Thank you, dear Marina– and please don’t be speechless because all of us MK-O fans want to hear more of your ethereal vocals!! : )

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 21, 2015 11:52 AM

        🙂 🙂 Here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damned few an’ they’re a’ deid! 😉


        • April 30, 2015 10:29 AM

          Good heavens, and great Zeus!! D’ye mean ta say that in addition to all your other talents, you also speak fluent phonetic Scots?? My dear Marina!! No wonder you’re considered The Great Cultural Ambassador on Mt. Olympus! You’re one of the very few people who can eat haggis, eat baklava, play the lyre, play the bagpipes, paint, sing, and juggle moonbeams, all at the same time!! To say you’re an ongoing inspiration would be an understatement… : )

          Thanks for your burrrrrr-rootiful comment, and do excuse this hopelessly tardy reply!!


        • May 2, 2015 2:26 PM

          Ah, lang may yer lum reek! 🙂 🙂


        • May 9, 2015 9:19 PM

          My lum reeks, and my socks don’t smell very good, either… : )

          Liked by 1 person

  5. April 17, 2015 1:38 PM

    Aw, as always these are all awesome and excellent caricatures… love them all, especially the way you illustrated the word “Goodbye”… What? Just Wow! Amazing! You’re so good, well illustrated 🙂 I enjoyed this post.
    Thanks so much too for your visit in my blog and always leaving me comments that make me smile from ear to ear… hehehehe… . I am at the moment busy at work so I don’t roam around to blogging community lately…. yet you find time to visit me, really I highly appreciated this from you my friend, I am so honored…
    mmmwahhhh mmmwahhhh mmmwahhhhh


    • April 24, 2015 6:19 PM

      Nay, nay, no, nae, forsooth!– it is I who am honored by your visit here, my dear Dolly!! A visit by so illustrious a personality as yourself puts me over the moon, and it’s a good thing I was wearing my spacesuit, the one with the special jumbo pockets for donuts… : )

      I, too, am way behind in visiting my dear blogger friends, so I understand completely. A person can only do so much, even acclaimed geniuses and achievers like us… : )

      Always an exquisite pleasure to see you, and please keep prescribing haggis for your patients, to help fight tooth decay… mmmmmwahhh! mmmmwahhh! mmmmmmmmmmmmwahhhhhhh!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. April 19, 2015 10:52 PM

    Haggis has no hearts it it, but stomach and lungs of the sheep, yep. Don’t think I’ve ever technically had it– supposedly, it’s banned in the U.S.

    And I’ve been taught that Nova Scotia has more people of Scottish descent than the old homeland, and that’s not counting east Canada, as well– there’s a Canadian fellow in my Twitter feed that has family back in Scotland. Based on everything he’s shared with me, yes, Scotland is always welcoming to its kin in North America.

    My wife claims me for Clan Bruce, since Robert the Bruce is in her ancestry. She calls herself “Heinz 57” but my in-laws have strong Danish associations. Me, I’m mostly Danish; even my own bit of ancestry in Scotland technically has Danish connections (through the Picts that intermarried with the Celts).


    • April 25, 2015 12:24 PM

      Hi, Jak! You’re absolutely right: Scots are the largest ethnic group in Nova Scotia, comprising almost 30% of the population. And as you probably know Nova Scotia literally translates as New Scotland– it all fits!! : )

      I’m no genealogist, but based on my grandparents’ heritage, I figure I’m three-quarters Irish, one-quarter Scots-English. Except when I’m in a bakery, then I’m 95% “Danish”– yum! : )

      Always good to see you, sir, many thanks for your kind support!


  7. April 23, 2015 7:08 AM

    Reblogged this on Down with the Sea.


  8. Fran. permalink
    April 23, 2015 1:23 PM

    Hi! I choose you for the Liebster Award 4.0!


    • April 25, 2015 12:46 PM

      Thank you very much! Is it one of those awards where you have to reveal deep dark secrets about yourself? I revealed 7 secrets about myself in this prior post. I can’t reveal more at this time because it would cause a sensation, and I’d have to go on talk shows and say all sorts of stupid things. I just don’t have the constitution for it… : )

      Thank you again for your kindness!


  9. Lily permalink
    April 24, 2015 1:00 PM

    Ah yes… the ellipsis… quite possibly my favourite piece of punctuation… 😛

    I never realised quite how powerful those three dots could be. They really do make quite a difference; it’s as if the dots are possibly leading you somewhere.

    Your Alanis caricature is top notch – especially the wavy hair! 🙂


    • May 10, 2015 7:42 PM

      The ellipsis… yes… it’s… well… it’s perfect… for people who like dangling sentences… : )

      Or for calling for help: S… O___ S… –if you’re into Morse Code… : )

      Hi, Lily! You’re an ellipsis lover? I’m not surprised. All the best people are… : )

      I like your analysis, too. The dots do seem to be leading the reader somewhere. Inviting their participation on some level. Whoa! That’s kinda heavy… : )

      Thanks for your lovely comment, and please do excuse this hopelessly tardy reply!! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  10. April 26, 2015 5:36 PM

    By George, I think you’ve got it. Mark, you’ve outdone yourself. Alanis Morissette never looked better, ironically. The Scot was and the Loch Ness monster wearin’ a tam, golf and even haggis – which I avoided just because of the description … spot on. The ellipses also hits the perfect note. You can never really say goodbye to a place or person you love. 😉


    • May 10, 2015 8:14 PM

      Thank you, Judy!– and 10 slaps with a wet sea monster’s tail for yours truly, for being so late in responding to your comment! Your “Alanis Morissette never looked better, ironically” made me roar with approval. Now that’s what I call an iron-clad pun… : )

      And I loved your sentiment about never really being able to say goodbye to something you love. One must leave the door open, especially the door to one’s heart…

      Thanks for your braw comment, ye dear lassie, you!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. May 1, 2015 9:21 AM

    I can report proudly that I ate haggis and survived. To me it isn’t so bad, I have to admitt, I liked it much more than the bony fish for breakfast!
    Your letters are a wonderful made. Well ,I can not realy draw but I found out how difficult it is to bring illustrated characters in a decent order.
    Like always, your post made me smile 😉


    • May 10, 2015 8:49 PM

      You had haggis and survived?? Excellent news, my dear Tutti! Any other outcome would have upset me terribly… : )

      You’re right: bony fish is no good for breakfast. Even with cream and sliced bananas. Even with cream and sliced bratwurst. Nothing helps… : )

      Thank you for your kind words about my letters. My penmanship is especially good when I can add special effects on a computer… : )

      I’m glad I made you smile. I saw the brilliant flash on the horizon. “Tutti’s smile is like a thousand suns.” — Old German proverb found in a fortune cookie


  12. amii permalink
    May 5, 2015 4:14 PM

    your page is a new window into a crafty beautiful world , and the comments are engaging to read as well . Awesome work !


    • May 9, 2015 12:56 PM

      What a lovely comment– thank you very much indeed. Yes, I’m blessed with great commenters here– and I can see you’re going to fit right in! Nice to meet you, thanks again! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  13. May 8, 2015 2:05 PM

    Like it 🙂


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