And so in the end it was the littlest shoggoth of all who guided Santa’s sleigh that night

by John Holbo on December 20, 2007


I’ve made you some free X-Mas cards and gift tags!


Just like the ones your kids alway waste the good paper on! So there’s never any when you need it! But before I give you the download links, I have some explaining to do.

The world is filthy with X-Mas cards, says you. Well, I think mine are rather special and nice. They are based on visual elements extracted from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (1904). A very famous and beautiful work. Wikicommons has some lovely pictures. You know what I like best about that cover? (Thanks for asking, and feel free to click for larger.)

I like the fact that ‘Leipzig und Wien’ is in a sans serif font. Somehow that makes it perfect.

As I was saying: I toiled. My great achievement was to mask all the tendrils and wossnames of the central siphonophor-ish monster on Plate 37. (I actually had to draw in some stuff, to make it all connect up. Yes, I actually drew extra tentacles on Haeckel. I’m lucky my wife isn’t giving me a divorce for X-Mas.)

Also, how can you not love something named discomedusa? Plate 28 took a bit of work. (While I’m on the subject: some other lunatic, who knows more about Photoshop than I, but no more about time-management, has extracted a bunch of other Haeckel bits and released the little beasties under a CC license here.)

Without further ado, I give you: a fine specimen of an arborfestivid siphonophore:


I considered various options for making it fancy. I could gild those lily-shaped things, for example. Or put some happy Victorian children under the tree. In the end I settled for a few light flares, and a bit of glow in the bulb on top. Almost minimalist. And do you know what the crazy thing is? No, the other crazy thing. Siphonophores, in addition to being weird colony life-forms – like liberals, fascists and bees, only more so (but possibly not more so than a Nazi made of bees.) As I was saying: the weird thing about a certain sort of siphonophore is: you could even say it glowed. Wikipedia: "They prey on small animals using stinging cells. Among the stinging
cells are stalks with red glowing ends. The tips twitch back and forth
creating a twinkling effect. It is theorized that twinkling red light
attracts small fish that have been found eaten by these siphonophores." Now if that doesn’t merit the full-dress H.P. Lovecraft rewrite of the Rudolph legend, I don’t know what does.

For my next act, I’m going to open a CafePress store in which I sell this stuff on lady’s thong underwear:


Ladies? Would you buy that sort of thing? Guys? On a trucker cap?

Anyway, here are some rather tiny previews (click for larger). Feel free to download, using the link below each picture. (You know you always need more gift tags the night before X-Mas.)


Download the big green X-mas tree card (1 meg). [UPDATE: I had a too-large file uploaded earlier.]


Bow down before the Disco Medusa X-Mas card (1.1 megs).

This next one looks almost sensible, although it has a bit of a rasta thing going on, gestalt-wise. Didn’t really intend that.


Variant Disco Medusa card (1.6 megs).

I call this next one "Snowflake". It’s another siphonophore.


Download "Snowflake"(1 meg).

That’s enough previews. I made two pages of gift tags as well. Link (4 meg) and link (2 megs).

If you find my humble Photoshop noodlings amusing or serviceable, put a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket for me. Or, if you are buying last minute stuff from Amazon, feel free to click through my Amazon link as well. In honor of the post’s theme, may I suggest two fine comics that might belong under the tree: Charles Burns’ Black Hole. (You can preview the first few pages here. If I actually get around to making that thong underwear, the muse of Burns will be inspiring me.) Second, there’s Jim Woodring’s Seeing Things. I haven’t got it yet myself but I want it. (I’ve got The Frank Book, which is great.) If you don’t know Woodring’s stuff … well, you might look at the painting he’s selling right now. His site has lots of images. And they all sort of look like … this guy:


Fun fact! Belle is really bothered by this stuff.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Cheryl’s Mewsings » Blog Archive » Happy Solstice
12.21.07 at 5:11 pm
Christmas Cards
12.22.07 at 3:22 pm



Cheryl 12.20.07 at 9:08 pm

I think you need some appropriate seasonal music, courtesy of the H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society.


Danielle Day 12.20.07 at 10:57 pm

Best. Link. Ever.


joel turnipseed 12.20.07 at 11:37 pm

John, those are beautiful. If we hadn’t just received our holiday cards today, I’d have used them in a heartbeat.

Still, am now crestfallen to discover that the 2 vol. hardcover (at least in German) of the Haeckel runs for about $4500 on Makes the $60 or so I paid for my D’Arcy Thompson 2 vol. set look positively cheap.

Is there a good edition of the Haeckel that you recommend?


moc 12.21.07 at 1:37 am

Hmm, I mistakenly read the first one as ‘Merry F-Mas’.


Robin 12.21.07 at 2:07 am

Hey, these are awesome! May I ask, what license are the works distributed under? The originals are in the public domain, apparently.

If you’re looking for some good ‘free to distribute’ licenses, while still preserving your authorship, may I suggest:


John Holbo 12.21.07 at 2:13 am

Thank you kindly.

Joel, I don’t really know. There are quite a number of in-print editions. A lot of them apparently just contain the plates, which is fine. I’m thinking of buying one myself. Such lovely stuff. (But I think my weary tentacle photoshopping days may be over. Man, that took too long.)


idlemind 12.21.07 at 2:23 am

I think this one looks more Christmasy, somehow.


John Holbo 12.21.07 at 2:25 am

idlemind, you make a good point.


John Holbo 12.21.07 at 2:51 am

Thanks, robin, I actually put little CC license wossnames on the downloads themselves.


Christ Davis 12.21.07 at 3:41 am

And I just got a gift certificate for my favorite tattoo shop! Happy Holiday, indeed.


SEK 12.21.07 at 4:15 am

You’ve made my lonely Christmas less lonely, John. Those are truly beautiful, and looking at them makes me feel like I’m working, and that makes them doubleplus awesome.

That said, don’t recommend people read the Burns. I had nightmares of strange lesions and the folk who lived in them for months after I read Black Hole. It’s Christmas, John, be generous.


Tom T. 12.21.07 at 4:31 am

Some of those do sort of look like Kunst.


Doctor Memory 12.21.07 at 4:56 am

Good lord. I don’t think I realized until this minute that I was bothered by this stuff as well.

I’m never going into the ocean again.


Shawn Crowley 12.21.07 at 7:39 am

Very, very cool. I sent them to my biologist spouse.


Mrs Tilton 12.21.07 at 9:54 am

Sek’s right about Black Hole. In this festive family season, one wants some of Burns’s lighter-hearted, cheerier fare, like Big Baby.


Danielle Day 12.21.07 at 5:04 pm

Re; “…a bit of work”. You can add a background in PhotoShop fairly easily by using the bucket tool (hidden under, i think, Gradient). Pick a color using the eyedropper, select the bucket, and dump the color into the white background. You may then touch up the “fringe-y” areas using the Brush or Clone Stamp.

If you’ll PM me at, i’ll send a PDF of one i did in about 10 minutes.


beccarii 12.22.07 at 5:23 am

Thanks much for posting these – I’ve used them to make tags on all of my Christmas presents. Shrinking them appropriately with PhotoShop while simultaneously increasing the pixel count works well for that purpose.

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