The Oath of Fëanor – early stages

Then Fëanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter 9: Of the Flight of the Noldor

What artist can read these lines without jumping up from the book and darting for the drawing table? I’ve never seen one that really captured what I thought it to look like. As you can imagine, I wanted to show the sons individually, and get a glimpse of what some of them thought about the Oath. Can you image Maglor taking the Oath without the slightest hint of unease? Neither can I.

In 1995, I thought I could pull it off. Hey, I was the greatest artist in the world! All shall love me and despair!

Let us be glad there was no Internet in 1995. Or I’d have found more despair than love. Especially for Maedhros’ mint-green tights. And I would have earned every jot of it.

(There was also no “Peoples of Middle-earth”, so I still thought Amras and Amrod had dark hair.)

After that, I didn’t try again. I’d decided that this scene, as visually compelling as it was, was unpaintable. Mostly because of the question how to get eight people and their drawn swords into one picture without ending up with… that. Over the years, there was this itch to try again… quickly evaporating every time I actually doodled some sketches and hit the same old road blocks.

The next attempt came last autumn, when my first approach was something like this.

Then a user from Comicforum.de convinced me that worm’s eye view was the way to go on this. Which scared me stiff, to say the least. I’m very severely perspectively challenged. Ask my parking skills.

I hit another road block then – I couldn’t get the perspective to work at all. I just couldn’t see it.

Then came our school fair… then came our move to the new house… then came just too much to take care of… the Oath slept again. (Just as in real life. Wait, did I just say that?)

So, over Carnival, I finally dug it out again.

(Carnival, for the non-Germans among you, is a time when Germans mostly along the Rhine suddenly dress up as clowns and cowgirls, spend Thursday to Tuesday in a drunken stupor which nonetheless still allows them to bawl songs with lyrics about coughing earthworms and red horses, and sit in “sessions” where overweight old men in ridiculous hats read out speeches in their local dialects, which aren’t even funny if you actually understand what they say. The only good thing is that it would be absolutely irresponsible to open the schools for those days, so we get a week off, which I usually spend locking and barricading myself inside and drawing for four days non-stop.)

I played around with the previous one unsuccesfully – and finally ended up making reference photos.

Many reference photos.

Loads of reference photos.

These are actually not even half of them.

The artist must be both an actor… and absolutely devoid of all vanity. Now who’d have thought that something that looked so Dancing Queen would be fitting for the Oath of Fëanor?

The room did the trick. Even though my picture has no walls, I could now envision them in relation.

I’m endeavouring to do this one in watercolour, possibly with gouache. Somewhat more solid and a lot more dramatic than what I usually do. If I pull this off, I can’t tell you how happy that’ll make me.

Wish me luck!

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12 thoughts on “The Oath of Fëanor – early stages

  1. Very-very promising!

    Small note: I would have liked the third figure from the right to slant his head less. I think the head leaning over his shoulder speaks of less determination.

    I would also make sure there’s enough space on top of the image! (more or less like in your B&W) picture.

    This should look totally epic. :D

    • I’ll keep him like this. It’s Maedhros – I really like his pose here and want him just like this. Not following altogether blindly – and looking back to keep his brothers in line. I always felt he was better at that than his father. ;)

  2. I quite like the old picture: it could be the cover of an hair metal band, like Posion or Skid Row. It’s quite funny how the twins are perfectly identical, clothes, pose and everything. :)

    The new illustration is brilliant! Not an easy theme in terms of composition, but you got it right!
    Part of me wishes you had enough space on top to avoid cutting the sword, but then I am aware that the composition would look strange.

    • Showing the swords and not having an excess of empty space was a tough balance, but I think I’ve got it now :)

      Yes, those twin poses are hilarious! I just noticed again that each of them has a different coloured stone set into his sword pommel. I like that thought. And Amrod and Amras get two different shades of green! :D

  3. Good luck! It’s very cool that you share these snippets; watching the process of how you draw an image together is very interesting.

  4. Love this idea, though I like the other compositions, too. And the oldest is cute, thank you for sharing them :D
    I second (or third?) the idea of making more space atop to show full swords. And Feanáro’s sword is in odd angle compared to the hilt and arm/hand at the colored sketch.

    • Full swords would be hard – but at least I only have to cut off Fëanor’s. I had another photo-session with my daughter’s wooden sword, so I hope in the final piece, the sword will look more natural. (The wooden longsword I used for my first photo-shoot was too long to hold aloft in or living-room.) XD

  5. Pingback: Perspective | Creativity Casket Illustrations

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