March 4, 2008 2:27 PM   Subscribe

What kind of scar would a whip leave? The whip in question is a cat-o-nine-tails and the scars in question would be about 3 months old.

I'm doing stage make-up for one of my actors. He plays a character that was whipped brutally (over 200 lashes), and in the play he takes off his shirt and reveals the scars on his back (at the time of the reveal they are about three months old). The theatre is a very intimate space, so I have to be careful about going too heavy.

I did a little googling and only found one photograph of scars caused by a whip. They were raised scars, either hypertrophic or keloid. My question is, in what instance would an indented scar occur? Could it possibly result from a whipping in which muscle is likely destroyed along with flesh? Oh, and is there a particular name for that type of scar?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Evangeline to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if you're trying to figure out what the scars need to look like or if you can make an indented scar so I'll tell you what I know about scarring... Indented scars are rare and unusual and do NOT happen with run of the mill one-time whippings. If your character was whipped over time, they will have wounds in various stages of healing which might be useful. You may need to think about two things

1. what's lifelike/realistic
2. what your audience is going to think is lifelike/realistic

hypertrophic-type scarring is more prevalent in darker-skinned people. My Mom is olive-skinned and she gets them, lumpy angry looking scars, I'm not and I don't. If your character is any non-super-Caucasian person they would be appropriate.

I assume you've seen photos like this or this one or this one (warning: disturbing)? There are more at markofthelash.com. Here's a bit of history on what cat-o-nine-tails use would inflict on someone as a military punishment
Regarding the effect of the cat in the punished, the rope’s cat is heavier than the leather one, and when applied by a strong Boatswain Mate, a lash can knock a man down and cut his breath, and a full sentence would tear the back’s skin, leaving the flesh raw, and scarring the back for life.

After two dozen, according to an eyewitness "the lacerated back looks inhuman; it resembles roasted meat burnt nearly black before a scorching fire."

The Cat was outlawed in the US Navy in 1850. In the British Navy it was suspended in 1879, but it remained in the list of Naval Punishments until 1948.
You can probably extrapolate to 200. According to sites I've read, 200 at one time would kill someone.
posted by jessamyn at 2:51 PM on March 4, 2008

I think you're trying too hard. Lines made with reddish-brown lipstick would probably be good enough for community theater.
posted by Class Goat at 3:36 PM on March 4, 2008

Class Goat, actually we're an off-Off-Broadway company working under the Equity Showcase Code. I think, though, even if I were doing community theatre, I would still want to do the best job I could. I am using lipstick (though blue-red is much better than reddish-brown), and I'm also using collodion to create the right texture.

Jessamyn - thanks for the links. The scars in the first couple of links and on the markoftheleash site are too raw. The other one you posted is actually the one I'd found earlier. I can see that they're either hypertrophic or keloid, but as you said, this kind of scarring is more common in dark-skinned individual. The actor I'm working with is just about as pale as they come.

The character was whipped 100 times on one occasion and 300 times on another. According to the script at least, "The shoulder blades are exposed at 100 lashes and somewhere between 250 and 300 lashes you are sentencing a man to death". The play is well researched and based on a historical account of the first penal colony in Australia, so I'm going to take that at face value. I've read that deep, depressed scars can sometimes be caused when muscle and bone are damaged,.

It might seem like I'm over thinking this, but I actually ENJOY this! But in the long run, the audience's perception is more important than the fun I get out of researching this stuff. It's actually a little easier for me to make the depressed scars - I wanted to make sure it was appropriate first, but in the end I'll go with whichever has the most impact on the audience. We want them to gasp.
posted by Evangeline at 4:28 PM on March 4, 2008

Is the play Our Country's Good? I saw a really really abysmally terrible production of that, once.
posted by 1 at 5:28 PM on March 4, 2008

I was going to say that it definitely depends on what sort of theater this is...you'd obviously know the answer to that.

If you're looking for crazy stuff, google up things like slave and sailor scars from the 19th century. You might not find much, but it'll probably be gruesome.

Also, I may be wrong, but I've also heard that darker skinned folks are more susceptible to keloids and raised scars than anyone else. I've been told by a few nurses that depending on the race of the character, the scars might be different.

You might also check into stories like Billy Bud(d?) and Patrick O'Brian sailing novels that do a lot of talking about the lash, as well as fetish sites.
posted by nevercalm at 5:46 PM on March 4, 2008

I was going to guess Our Country's Good.

In our college production, long strips of rubbery scar make-up material were applied nightly to the actor's back. (These maybe? The ones I remember were not as cartoonish. Maybe shape from Liquid Latex?)

Regardless, he kept them on under his costume for the entire show. How many? Maybe six or so, placed as diagonal ridges across his back. Adhered with spirit gum, I believe, though I think that in the second week, the make-up crew were getting tired of the spirit gum giving up along the edges. Powdered to age the scars. I may be wrong, but I think that rubber cement was applied along the edges. Is this healthy? I'm not sure, but I can say that our Sideway (that was the character's name, yes?) lived on to do other shows with our company and did graduate with no permanent ill effects.
posted by grabbingsand at 5:49 PM on March 4, 2008

Yes, grabbingsand, it's "Our Country's Good", and this is my second production - my first was in college (grad school) too!

Because this is off-Off-Broadway, I am the co-producer, make-up artist, and I'm playing Liz. When we did the show at school, we had some talented folks from the costume department create the scars and apply them every night. They were created from latex and could be removed and re-used. They looked fantastic. However, I have a day job (as does my Sideway), and we have about an hour to warm-up, get into costume and make him up, so it's gotta be quick and dirty. I've been applying collodion, which is transparent and tightens on the skin causing it to wrinkle and pucker - great for texture, but not as good for depth. I think the depth will have to be created with contouring.

I ordered the scars you linked to about 2 months ago. As you say, they were very cartoonish and very, very orange.

Ideally, the most effective method would be the one you mentioned, but I'm afraid I don't have the time or skill.

I saw a really really abysmally terrible production of that, once.

Apparently a lot of people have. Ours, however, is freakin' fantastic. ;)
posted by Evangeline at 6:37 PM on March 4, 2008

The whip scars on a character in a Toni Morrison book (Beloved, I think?) were repeatedly described as a chokecherry tree across her back. Fairly potent image, that one.
posted by emd3737 at 7:59 PM on March 4, 2008

I can see that they're either hypertrophic or keloid, but as you said, this kind of scarring is more common in dark-skinned individual. The actor I'm working with is just about as pale as they come.

White people can still get keloid/hypertrophic scars. Some people are just prone to them and will get them no matter what, but for everyone, the more traumatic the injury (and the more it's aggravated during the healing process), the more likely a scar will become hypertrophic. I'm also as pale as they come, and my scars are purple, fading to red and brown as they age.

Based on my one semester of special-effects makeup, I vote for hypertrophic scars -- definitely hyperpigmented, hopefully raised as well if you can work it out technically -- because they'll read well, they'll be appropriately appalling, and they're completely realistic given that scenario.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:29 PM on March 4, 2008

You're talking about a level of trauma that most people have no experience with, so I would imagine just about anything appropriately gruesome and shocking will work nicely. I'm actually surprised to hear that indented scars are unusual; mine certainly all started out fairly puckered and indented before they became flat or slightly raised. (Not that I was whipped, but I had some pretty large surgical incisions.) But again - pretty much anything that looks nasty will work.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:44 PM on March 4, 2008

Thanks everyone. I think I'm going to layer on the collodion thick to create a raised effect. This should be fun. I just feel sorry for the actor. Collodion is a bitch to get off. When I was in school they used it on my face to create an aged look, but taking it off tore up my skin so badly that we settled on contouring.
posted by Evangeline at 7:29 AM on March 5, 2008

« Older Ethics for the Selfish?   |   Help me find hose/tights for the larger - but not... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.