“For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves”

I’m getting closer and closer to the feel that I’ve always wanted to achieve in my art, and, starting a few months ago, finally began to reach. This is another piece squarely along that road!

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Elros and Elrond were taken captive, but Elwing with the Silmaril upon her breast had cast herself into the sea. Thus Maedhros and Maglor gained not the jewel; but it was not lost. For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves, and he gave her the likeness of a great white bird, and upon her breast there shone as a star the Silmaril, as she flew over the water to seek Eärendil her beloved.

The Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

Watercolour and gouache on Canson Vidalon paper; ~26×35 cm.

Prints available!

Video of this soon on Patreon, along with print discounts! Take a peek :)

“You’ll stand with me”

We went to see “The Last Jedi” twice during opening weekend, and I absolutely loved it. The plot problems didn’t bother me much; I loved what was being done with the characters – particularly Rey and Kylo Ren.

I confess that I didn’t trust the movies to develop in a way that would feel satisfying to me – psychological depth had never been the strong suit of Star Wars. I certainly didn’t expect for the movie to go the route it did, but I was delighted to see it.

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“You’ll stand with me”
Watercolour and gouache on Saunders Waterford cold-pressed paper, 15×25 cm

Prints

I had managed to stay almost completely spoiler free, and I really didn’t see this scene coming. I confess I yelped aloud in the cinema when it played on the screen. And all the while, hanging on the edge of my seat, watching Rey and Kylo Ren dissecting Snoke’s guards and cheering for them, I had a little voice at the back of my head: “But I don’t want it to be that easy. Don’t let them ride into the sunset together now.” I loved the way my wish was granted. I can’t wait to see what happens in IX.

Something that really impressed me was the handling of the “fear” theme in the plot. It was fear (however contrived…) that made Anakin turn to the dark side, it was fear that made Luke break off his training, it was fear that drove him to almost kill his own nephew, and it was that fear that fully turned Kylo Ren to the Dark Side.

I love the way they spun this plotline further, and I love the way how Rey turns it upside down. She isn’t afraid, not in the sense those others were, insecure, afraid to lose someone. She grew up depending solely on herself, and while she is cautious and brave and sympathetic towards others, she lacks that desperate streak that those other Force-others had which spoke to the Dark Side in themselves. How I would love for the end to be a true balance, with the Dark being a necessary part of the Light that needs to be understood and worked with rather than feared and avoided!

Yoda understood that; he had some of the best lines – about failure being the greatest teacher, and this truly remarkable line that resonated with me as a teacher and as a parent: “We are what they grow beyond.”

 

 

Ser Loras Tyrell (More experiments: acrylic gouache)

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The Knight of Flowers.
Turner acrylic gouache on Etival cold-pressed paper, 20×30 cm. 

This piece was done for a scholarly work titled “The Heroic and Chivalric Codes of Westeros”, by Dr. Carol Jamison.

It’s also another media experiment. This time, I gave acrylic gouache a go. It’s something that a lot of people have never heard about (and that a lot of stores don’t stock), but it’s actually really, really cool as it combines several features that I like about both watercolours, and acrylics, and gouache.

  • When applied thinly and with much water, it looks like watercolour.
  • It dries to be water-resistant, so it allows glazing (unlike gouache). That also means it dries on your palette, so you need to work with porcelain palettes rather than plastic. Fortunately, a little drop of paint goes a long way, so it’s not much of a waste.
  • In thicker layers, it becomes opaque, but you have a lot of control over how opaque you want it.
  • Even in thicker layers, you don’t get the flaky stuff you tend to get with gouache, unless you want to get very, very thick.
  • When dry, the pant looks matte, like gouache, but unlike acrylics (which is why I don’t like thin acrylics – just don’t like it shiny).

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Left: I did a lot of detail and shadows first (unlike with watercolour, where you’d do those last) and then glazed over the detailing with thinly diluted colour washes; the detailing remains intact.

 

Roast rabbit – and an art revelation

I had a clear “where have you been all my life” moment yesterday. After using gouache quite satisfactorily on Gil-galad, not just for highlights but also for some rendering, I decided it was time for another stab at gouache.

Gouache is often described as opaque watercolour (and indeed, many languages use no separate word for it), and can either be applied thickly and even paste-like, much like oils, or in thinner washes, much like watercolour. I’d often thought about trying around with the former, mainly because I’d been using only the most transparent of watercolours in recent years and felt that going opaque was just the opposite of what I wanted. One and a half years ago, roughly, I bought a book on painting animals in gouache, and faithfully copied the examples. It worked, but I didn’t like it. My gouache tubes went to the bottom of my art cupboard again.

I’d been thinking about the medium again and wanted to take another shot at it, when I looked at some paintings in my “inspiration” folder whose technique had always baffled me and it hit me: They weren’t watercolours. They were thinly glazed gouache paintings.

Gouache has a pastelly, fuzzy quality to it that I’d never really given much thought.

I immediately decided to try that. My mother had asked for a picture of Sam Gamgee roasting a rabbit, and it looked like just the thing to try in gouache.

I painted very much the way I always do, except that I mixed in white instead of relying on the white of the paper. The white gouache made for a fuzziness that just turned blending colours into an absolute dream. The greenery in the background also just fell onto the paper effortlessly. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is that, instead of a thin blue shadow map, I’ll do a bolder, more neutral shadow line the last time, and drop in the blues later, while it’s still wet.

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I recorded the painting process and uploaded it as a timelapse here.

The original painting is available in my Etsy shop!

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The Monster and the Scavenger

This piece combines two of my greatest loves – Star Wars and Art Nouveau. Some very mucha part in me squeed when I saw Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s long-trailing costumes. They were meant for Art Nouveau.

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Watercolour and gouache on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 28×39 cm (11×15 in).

A creature in a mask

Is she done with him yet? Nope, she isn’t. ;)

In fact, the more theories I read about this guy, the more he intrigues me.

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A creature in a mask

Watercolour and gouache on Canson Montval paper (which is seriously reaching its limits for the amount of water I’ve been sploshing on it recently). Size 42×30 cm.

Original here.

Timelapse video here.

Can we talk about the Force vision Rey has when he is called to the Skywalker lightsabre? How amazing is it to heap spoilers and dead giveaways on the audience in such a way that most of them will be too dazed to make any sense of them until they’ve watched a couple of Youtube videos taking the footage apart? Even after the second rewatch, I didn’t have a clue what I’d seen. In my head, it was WHAM rey-rain-hey-its-R2-was-that-luke-menacing-people-ah-that-kylo-guy-awww-that-poor-girl WHAM, and I never realised that I had just seen Kylo Ren saving Rey’s life by running his iconic lightsabre through a masked man – another knight of Ren? – who was just about to kill her.

Which has sold me on the theory that Kylo Ren was the one who left Rey on Jakku.

This is why nobody ever came back for her – because everyone thought she was dead like the others. Kylo Ren defied Snoke by letting her live, and hiding her. That’s why he seems to know who she is throughout the movie. On my first watch, I was sure she was also a daughter of Han and Leia, so that would have explained the familiarity. Obviously, she isn’t (and is quite probably Luke’s daughter – while that Anakin reincarnation theory is beautiful, I think it’s too out of the way), but he still freaks out when he hears that BB-8 left Jakku with the help of a girl. Because now Snoke will know that Kylo Ren disobeyed him all those years ago. I have a feeling that the completion of his training might be an unpleasant experience.

 

Imbolc

First off, a huge thank you to everyone who supported the Indiegogo Campaign for Darkness over Cannae – you’re terrific. I’ll continue to separate stuff – everything Cannae-themed goes to darknessovercannae.com (apart from a few major updates every now and then), and the rest will be posted here.

This is a painting done for my mother’s seventieth birthday, which is in two weeks. She loves Celtic mythology and we both like druidic singer/songwriter Damh the Bard, so I illustrated his song “Brighid“.

In the song, a wanderer comes upon an old woman by a well in early February (Imbolc), and she tells him she was held captive by the Queen of Winter. As she talks, he sees her reflection in the well, and looking up, he beholds a maiden where the old woman has stood. The song has elements of the Ceiliagh and Brighid, two faces of the same goddess, who is reborn as a young maiden at the return of Spring.

Then I saw her reflection in the mirrored well, 
And I looked deep in her face, 
The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place…

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Imbolc


Here’s the reverse, and a detail shot:

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Crossing the Alps

Across the wild alps

Across the wild alps

This piece really gave me a hard time, but it’s probably very fitting that, in mid-October, I struggle with a piece depicting Hannibal struggling with the Alps in mid-October. My losses were in paper and pencils rather than mules and men, but it seems crossing the Alps isn’t meant to be easy.

The lineart stage alone took me a week and four pieces of paper as I redrew this bit and that and put the pieces back together again. The colour was even tougher. I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything as complex as this. I’d say I mostly succeeded. Another parallel there.

Before I started, I made myself a greyscale sketch in Photoshop, so I knew where to get how dark in the final piece.

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Then I mixed some Phtalo Blue, Indigo and Shadow Violet in one compartment of my palette, some Ochre in another, and then some reddish brown from leftovers I had in my palette (probably mainly Burnt Sienna, Piemontite Red, and Sepia).  I sprayed my entire canvas with water and added a very light blue wash, then going into all the bits that are exposed to the light with extremely thin Ochre.

Then, when this had dried, I painte a rather uniform pale blue sky. The picture is going to be busy enough; when everything else is done, I’ll decide how many clouds this piece can handle.

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Next, I started painting the mountains in the back of the image. I used a pale Blue, mainly Phtalo, and painted the “negative space” around the snow. I mixed in some green to suggest a few trees further away.

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Then I went about detailing the rock-faces closer to us, with mixes of different blues (more Pthalo here, more Indigo and Shadow Violet there), intermingled in the shadows and rockier parts with different, toned-down browns I mixed above.

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I make sure never to get too dark, but more and more detailed towards the front.

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More details and deeper shadows to the rocky bits.

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I painted a thin brownish/bluish wash across the army and the space below them, to tie them in with the surroundings. The group of three men, immediately behind Hannibal and the soldier he’s pulling to his feet, is overlaid with a muddy wash so they won’t distract from the two later on.

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I then decided the empty triangle of sky could well use another mountain, plus a few bluer shadows on the other mountains, which I painted in with Phtalo and Indigo.

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Next, I set out to paint the mountainside to the left. It’s completely in shadow, and I mixed some more reddish tones into the blue.

Down there, you can already see me detailing out the rocks with a brownish wash. The colour consists of everything I have on my palette at this point. 
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Finished detailing. Not too much – I want the detail to be almost lost in the rock face later on, enough to look finished and non-monotonous, but nothing to distract from the figures.

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Next, some skin, bronze and leather.

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Outfitting Hannibal’s Libyans with warm winter clothes. Quiet there in the back, I’ll get to you eventually. The elephants go first.

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More detailing of the figures in back. Simultaneously, I determined how dark my darkest spots would be in this image – Hannibal’s hair – to set off the rest against it, and to have something to check the column against, to keep myself from getting too dark in the background.

And well, after fiddling with hundreds of little figures for hours that don’t look like anything, I needed something rewarding to paint.

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In this painting, my approach is very un-classical. Instead of going strictly from light to dark, I made sure to lay done some guidelines, shapes through the painting, forcing myself to keep an overview rather than getting lost in the details.

Like the fact that Hannibal’s sword is four inches long. >_<

So this is where the mixed media part comes in, and I mixed some dark burgundy with gouache and fixed that sword thing. Next, I added some bright colours (not gouache this time, still sticking mainly to the colours I’ve previously used) for Hannibal’s clothes. They’re too bright as of now, but I plan to make generous use of dark shadows and liquid watercolours to tone them down and add that extra punch that liquid watercolours excel at.

The shields of the men in the back have also been detailed with a mix of ochre/Burnt Sienna/violet mixes already in use. No new colours have been introduced here.

I also painted over the entire army in the back again with a good brushful of dirty water. That got rid of the little white flashes of unpainted whites everywhere, and tied them together neatly. I’ll go in later to pick out some bronze helmet highlights.

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Liquid watercolours in action, picking out shadows.
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Some gouache too, for lighter highlights, which I rarely do, but which are needed here.

The colours look off in the photograph; the original looks much better.

As gouache palettes, I always keep the plastic lids of Chipsletten crisps (Pringles-like,but Chipsletten taste better). They’re the perfect size and quality for palettes on an overcrowded desk like mine.

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The epiphany of the week came with the realisation that a watercolour that looks off is ruined, and a gouache painting that looks of may just not be done yet. That’s a concept I never really grasped. The next step will be to understand how to go on. I manage well enough with gouache in metal and clothes, but skin is not very successful yet. A part of me refuses to paint skin with anything opaque, which seems to be my problem.

Last details of the Celt’s helmet…

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And the clothes of the men in front.

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Gandalf walkthrough

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My first step, as usual, is a pale wash over the entire canvas – here, a cool blue. I brush it off with a dry, clean brush over the mountaintops, the smoke, Gandalf’s beard and face where the light hits.

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Then I start painting the face. When everything around it is still so light, the reddish tones around eyes and nose often look totally overdone, but in the end, when everything else is painted as well, it’s hardly noticeable any more, so I often end up darkening it again after all.

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I paint the robe and hat with a mix of Prussian Blue and Shadow Violet, my favourite granulating colour, which results in nice, rough effects here.tut_gan03

Next, some subtle and well-placed darker shades on the mountains.tut_gan04

The blue scarf…. and look how pale that face suddenly seems again.tut_gan05

Let’s have some more red. He looks drunk? Not for long. In the end, it’ll be just right.

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Shading on the fine tips of hair and beard.

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Shading and texturing on the scarf and cloak. I’ve brought out the eyebrows with a bit of gouache.

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Texturing wood works best painting around the highlights of the wooden structure, and deepening the shades in and around the knotholes.

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The Oath has been awakened…

Finished piece (here’s the process). The post was becoming so long that I decided not to hide the finished image at the bottom!

Click to enlarge!

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‘A Silmaril of Fëanor burns again in the woods of Doriath’; and the oath of the sons of Fëanor was waked again from sleep. For while Lúthien wore the Necklace of the Dwarves no Elf would dare to assail her; but now hearing of the renewal of Doriath and of Dior’s pride, the seven gathered again from wandering…

Detail shots (click to enlarge):

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The Oath has been awakened – painting

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In painting this one, I was facing the challenge to have a lot of reds, even in the sky, and horses – which sometimes leads to dangerously girly-calendary motifs.

So far, I seem to have succeeded in not falling over on that side of the fence. I know that because my daughter, a great fan of horses and pink, keeps looking at the picture on my desk and walking away without saying a word. That’s her way of saying, “Really, mum, such lovely horseys, and such ugly colours. I’d tell you so but I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.”

Yay!

Note: The colours on the photographs deviate really far from the actual ones at times. When I used the flash, they’re too yellow; when I didn’t, my daylight lamp resulted in too bluish tones. The entire pic is too large to be properly photographed with the means I have.

The lineart is, again, pencil, scanned, tinted and photocopied onto watercolour paper. See here if you have any questions.

My daughter would have loved the first stage. I overlaid the whole pic with a warm light red wash composed of Madder red and Ochre, dabbing some paint off the horses and figures, particularly the upper parts, allowing all those twenty-eight horse legs to blend into the rest.

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Then, I added streaks of more red into the sky, and blotches of Chromoxide Green, Madder red mixed with Ultramarine, and Burnt Sienna into the ground, for the colours of heather.

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Next, some Ochre, Sepia, but my violet mix from above for the stones. Later, they’ll be lighter than the rest.

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Next, I proceed to paint more heather. I mix more Madder Red with Ultramarine, and paint the upper edges of patches of heather…

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While the paint is still wet, I rinse my brush in the orange-y dirty water in my water container, and drag the paint down with it. The jagged top edge remains unaffected, the rest…

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… is blurred and diluted.

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Patches of heather:

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I proceed to muddy the sky (and frustrate my daughter), and add a dirty wash of Burnt Sienna and Ochre to the top margin of the painting, drawing it down with more dirty water.

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The ground now gets a second wash of my violet mix with Burnt Sienna, darkening it and softening the edges of heather.

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I allow it to bleed into the horses’ legs, to merge them with the ground. A while ago, I used to cleanly separate every element of the image, and sometimes, that would result in cut-and-paste looking picture elements.

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This is a sort of middle stage, from which I can start to add layers. It’s also the sort of stage that’s already starting to look good, and which I can safely leave on my desk without cringing whenever I walk past it…

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After a good night’s sleep, I decide that the ground is too light, and add another darker layer, effectively killing my detailed heather. Which isn’t so bad. It’s still there in a blurry way, and will look very organic when I’m done.

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Now, for the sky. I rewet the upper portion of the picture, mix some dramatic dark violet (with Madder Red, Ultramarine, Indigo, Sepia, and Burnt Sienna) and paint streaks into the wet areas, allowing them to run.

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The ground is dry at this point, and I start to paint the orange shrubbery around the stones. For this, I use gouache – watercolour wouldn’t have been visible. I also redo my heather in the same way I did above.

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I then add some highlights, again with gouache, to the shrubs and stones, and paint a few stray patches of wild wheat.

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Then I go as daring as I get and use green to paint the sallow thorn and the far hills, adding a few berries into the branches.

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Now, finally, the figures. I start with some reds and ochres to see how it looks. Yup – looks good!

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I paint the figures and horses with a fair deal of island hopping, working on whatever spot begs my attention (and is dry), mostly sticking to one colour at a time, more or less.

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More detailing.

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Just to show you how small some of the bits and pieces here are… The entire piece is 65 x 32 cm. … That’s one cent, btw.

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Some final touches with white gouache to spearpoints, hair, fur.

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Finished piece and detail shots: https://goldseven.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-oath-has-been-awakened/

Olwë of Alqualondë

Not many pictures exist of him, do they? Together with Saeros and definitely not more than five others, he held the sad record of the only Silmarillion characters never dawn by me. Remedied!

 

Pencil and white gouache in my sketchbook.

 

Forgiveness

After “All the others, gone” sparked heaps of discussions on the rebirth, re-embodiment and return of Elves who died…

… this absolutely needed to be done.

Entering the realm of wild speculation here rather than “missing scenes.”

No doubt Maedhros spent a long time in the Halls of Mandos, while his mother remained alone in Valinor – her husband and her seven sons, gone. Eventually, Maedhros might have been the first of all her family to leave Mandos again.

Their first meeting… so many things left unsaid, too painful to put into words.

I’m liking this more and more.

… and even more after completely redoing Maedhros. I’m glad I did. The last pose could have been anything. Now it’s a son begging for forgiveness.

For the colours, I went for a minimalist approach. Some coffee in subtle shades, with some of it taken off with a moist brush (by re-wetting it)  in order to get a streaming sunlight effect; coffee mixed with some watercolour paint for both their hair as the only non-coffee coloured item in the piece, and white gouache for the falling petals.

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you
Make the most of all you still have coming to you
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me
Telling me the danger’s past, I need not fear the icy blast again

(Genesis, Undertow)

Detail shots of Maedhros and Nerdanel:

I’ve also changed the title from “Thy son has returned” to “Forgiveness” – also because I realised that Tolkien Elves do not use the familiar “thou” for their elders…

Rescue – sketch

This one really was long overdue. I like the raw, painful sketchiness of it – makes it look as if it was a quick one, even though I spent the entire day erasing and redrawing.

Fingon taking Maedhros back to Mithrim after his rescue (Thorondor’s right wing can be seen in the background).

Most depictions of this scene show Maedhros more exhausted than in pain (some of my own included).  But imagine hanging from your right wrist for more than fifty years – and then having your hand cut off in exactly the same place. It must have been agony.

My heart regularly breaks for Maedhros in that one short half-sentence.

(You know that artists always assume the expressions they’re drawing? I drew this one in the library today. It was only afterwards that I found myself wondering what on earth my students were thinking of me if they looked…)

Sealing Maedhros’ fate – walkthrough

I’ve split the previous post, so that it now contains only the thoughts about the picture. Now here’s the creation process for the image “Sealing Maedhros’ fate”.

The sketch was made in Photoshop. I like sketching digitally; it allows me to move around people or groups of people, flip images to check the averse effect, and anatomy errors are corrected far more easily. I’d actually moved to Photoshop with this piece after trying to sketch on the pastel paper directly, but that’s some unforgiving paper. It turned out such a large mass of people was too ambitious a project to do on pastel paper directly. So I decided to do the lineart on normal drawing board and print it onto pastel paper later. (I have an A3 printer I couldn’t do without anymore!)

The next stage was a clean lineart. As usual, I printed out the digital sketch above on A4 drawing board – faintly in pink – and then drew the lineart over it. The lineart is later scanned, and the pinkish sketch filtered out in Photoshop using Ctrl+U.

In the process, Curufin got the best redesign this character has ever had – actually, a side effect of a redesign of Fëanor I’d been planning all along. It was time to move away from the Prince Valiant haircut. I allowed the Twins to keep that.(Interestingly, the two “recent” Curufin pics – a commission and a collab with Anke Kathrin Eißmann – had Curufin long haired because we’d agreed on that.)

This new look is inspired by British actor Stephen Billington – he had a minor role in Braveheart (famed for being thrown out of a window by Edward the First) and he looked perfect.

Curufin narrowly avoided another redesign, when my four-year-old daughter looked over my shoulder while  was drawing, wanting to know who everyone was and what they were doing. I was just drawing Curufin’s sleeve when I asked her. “Any idea for a pattern I could use there?”

She thought for a moment, then, “Rabbits.”

I did debate putting in some rabbits as a joke, but then decided that it would effectively have ruined the image. XD

Doing the lineart on drawing board rather than pastel paper has another nice effect – the lines are far smoother and the detail works much, much better. The shading, on the other hand, looks much nicer on the rougher paper, so I then printed out my lineart to some A3 size pastel paper, and started shading.

And what a wonderful excuse to go overboard again with Elven clothing designs.

Here you see the finished Amras and Celegorm on the right, and a half-shaded Maglor on the left

Here’s the shaded picture.

That dark blotch over Curufin’s head is hairspray. The best fixative there is. Usually. Maybe I just scanned too soon.

For the finished pic, I used the gouache mainly and most strongly on Maglor (the front figure), to avoid having too many brights tearing the picture apart. Finished image is at the top of this post. :)

Those missing moments

I’m re-reading the Silmarillion again (for the first time in fifteen years, cover to cover) and find myself delightfully stumbling over those little scenes in between that aren’t there – and yet are. One of the reasons why I can’t listen to the audiobook. I want to pause it after every other sentence, to give the words time to settle, and to give the forgotten images time to form. The audiobook just races through it all too quickly.

One of the scenes that caught was:

[B]ut Morgoth held Maedhros as hostage, and sent word that he would not release him unless the Noldor would forsake their war, returning into the West, or else departing far from Beleriand into the South of the world. But the sons of Fëanor knew that Morgoth would betray them, and would not release Maedhros, whatsoever they might do; and they were constrained also by their oath, and might not for any cause forsake the war against their Enemy.

The Silmarillion: Of the Return of the Noldor

The remaining sons of Fëanor were much too diverse to just comply like that. Now the funny thing with those missing moments is that they unfold so easily. I could just hear what they would say when they debated the fate of Maedhros.

Caranthir, Curufin, Maglor, Celegorm, Amrod

Amras: “But surely we will consider these terms? If our brother is given back to us, can we not then resume the war?”

Celegorm: “Morgoth will never return Maedhros to us, whatever we may do. And let us not forget that we have but Morgoth’s word in this. It is well possible that Maedhros is long slain, while he would still use him against us.”

Caranthir: “Shall the sons of Fëanor then be remembered for sitting idle, and neither trying to avenge their father nor to free their brother?”

Curufin: ”Have these past dealings with Morgoth taught you naught? Our father was slain because we took too lightly the strength of Angband. Our brother was taken because we took too lightly the cunning of our Enemy. Nothing can we do, but learn from our folly.”

Amras: “Maglor, thou hast not spoken. What sayest thou?”

Maglor: “My heart is with Amras, and with Caranthir. And yet, I know to be true what Curufin and Celegorm have said. In Hithlum we will remain, and regain our strength, and not yield to the terms of Morgoth.

And my heart prays that this also is true – that Maedhros is indeed dead.”

(My text.)

Amras, after just having lost his twin (according to the version where Amrod is accidentally burned with the ships (1), would probably be the only one to sincerely argue for meeting Morgoth’s terms to win Maedhros’ freedom. He strikes me as rather indifferent to politics, and would probably have been one of the last to realise what exactly the Noldor were up against.

Celegorm would have been deeply uncomfortable when faced with a conflict that could not be solved with a sword or a sneer. The most constructive he’d have to contribute would have been to point out that none of all this might ever work, and convincing himself (and finally, also Maglor) that this was the truth.

Caranthir I expect to be the only one to come up with a daring rescue mission – he’s the most impetuous, and the least subtle. Later Fingon would arrive at the same decisions – for all the right reasons, as opposed to all the wrong ones.

Curufin, on the other hand, would be the first to grasp the scope of what war against Morgoth meant, and that neither treaty nor rescue mission was an option. Cruelty and cunning came to him so easily in the later course of the war that he must have been quick to understand the mind of the Enemy.

And Maglor… Maglor, thrust into a position he never wanted, suddenly found himself up to his ears in a decision he never wanted to make, always having been more suited to following than to leading. After the sudden loss of his grandfather, father, and eldest brother, I can see him all but immobilised with shock, unwilling to make any decision that might go horribly wrong. I always thought he had successfully convinced himself that Maedhros was dead, and tried not to think about an alternative.

Yavanna, Giver of Fruits

It’s incredible how this new sketchbook and gouache technique is breaking through blockades. I suddenly find myself grabbing sketchbook and pencil again on a whim, like reading a passage and thinking, “Oh, I’ll do Yavanna!” Not, “What colours will I use? What format? What pose will I put her in? And why not do Maedhros anyway while I’m trying to decide all that?”
Just this. Spark of inspiration – grab material – sketch – put in gouache – fixate. Close sketchbook. Wait for next spark of inspiration. Repeat.

So, here is Yavanna, Giver of Fruits, Goddess of all things that grow in Tolkien’s legendarium. I always imagined her a lot like Demeter (and small wonder).

Doing all these little (and not so little) sketches really brings me back to my student days. I had a “homework book” that I kept outwardly for writing down assignments, but that was just an alibi; it was little more than a Silmarillion sketchbook. I drew all those minor and minimal characters at times when my mind was reasonably free and my hands needed something to do, and it was so incredibly rewarding. So is this.

Liberating.

Silmarillion sketches

I broke in my new sketchbook over the past week, with, of course, loads and loads of Silmarillion sketches.

As always, click to enlarge!

Fingon the Valiant plunged in for a start. I think I was still warming up there.

A doodled Maglor followed on the upper right; mainly because I’d been looking at pretty photographs of pretty cloaks and wanted to do folds. Maglor always begs for flowy fabric.

Then I doodled some Maedhros-being-captured scenes. I’d really like to revisit one of them. I especially like the one in the centre. The right mix of wrath and fear. I might be getting morbid and do some more captured sketches…

Pencil and gouache on coloured paper just begged for Aredhel the White. I really like how she turned out here, though it seems I couldn’t quite decide which Aredhel she was – the one trying to escape Eöl, or the only who had not yet met him but walked through Nan Elmoth unafraid. Maybe there’s a bit of both in her.

Old techniques and new hairstyles

After “Noldolantë”, I felt myself groping for other media once again. I remembered how much I’d always liked to work on Ingres paper with pencil and white pencil for highlights, and found some sheets lying in my art shelf (bought in England in 1997, O_o). I hadn’t done anything with them after 2003 or so, after trying and failing to scan them.

I then remembered yesterday that I’ve had a new, very good, scanner for five years now and that might just be a reason to give that technique another go.

As usual in such experiments, Maedhros was my guinea pig. It’s obvious that he was rather pleased with it this time. I gave him long hair because I meant it to be pre-Thangorodrim.

And decided I liked it entirely too much. Hot damn. I was deserting my every principle.

Now, feel free to skip the next bit if you’re not into Tolkien hair length or -colour obsession (which would be forgiveable but, if you don’t mind me saying it, completely incomprehensible). Jump in again with the next picture. (This is why I love this blog, by the way. I can ramble about all sorts of things that would totally clog up any picture description in dA)!

I’ve been drawing Maedhros with short hair for… twenty years. Almost to the day. I’ve fiercely defended his short hair with those people who said that ALL Elves had long hair always, ever, from birth, under any circumstances. (Fun fact: I seem to associate hair length with name length. If a Tolkien character has more than three syllables, he stands a good chance of long hair.) Maedhros, with his Greek last syllable, his utter no-nonsense attitude and temporary cruel streaks, always struck me as someone who would never fuss with his hair.

I’ve drawn Maedhros with long hair before, always tied on his back, and always before his captivity on Thangorodrim. But I have to admit the movies have steadily worn out my resistance. And so I suppose it’s official. Maedhros has long hair.

Until further notice.

So, the new look needed to be put to the test. Could it hold up to a full image of a very firm and angry Maedhros sans right hand?

Left: first loose sketch, pose far from final. Behold the reason for my often skewed anatomy: I don’t construct enough.

Right: If looks could kill, the War of Wrath would not have been necessary.

So… I dare say the new look will hold up to pretty much everything.

It helps that, with his hair tied, I can still keep his silhouette.

And good grief, this technique on pastel paper is so incredibly, incredibly satisfying. Results are so fast and so refined. And so wonderfully fitting for illustrating Middle-earth.

This is an image that’s been floating around the back of my head since 2004, I suppose – Maedhros as Lord of Himring.

After failing with Elven architecture in “Noldolantë” (which I wouldn’t be averse to revisiting on pastel paper some time), I made some sketches for Himring. It’s described as a “great fortress” and “citadel” in the Silmarillion, and so I wanted it to convey strength but still retain Elven elegance. Maedhros would not have fussed with an overly filigree design to something that was to withstand a direct assault of Morgoth, but he was still born and raised in Valinor and would not have wanted to live in a huge block of stone (especially not after Angband). I found a nice compromise with a very compact silhouette and flowy design elements within the form.

Still needs some thought, and other paper – this was done on Daler-Rowney Ingres paper which is only 90g thick, so it did not take kindly to my liberally using white gouache for the sky.

Drawing these, I felt reminded suddenly of an RPG adventure I played in the mid-nineties – “Palantír Quest”, from the MERP RPG (which went out of business just afterwards), which sends the characters on a hunt for two lost palantíri in the Fourth Age. It also sent them to the ruins of Maedhros’ citadel on Tol Himling, an isle in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Middle-earth, all that was left of Beleriand. Among the treasure they found there was a suit of armour that belonged to Maedhros – only that it wouldn’t fit anyone under eight feet. :D Never had more fun spoiling an adventurers’ treasure hunt.

That adventure had Maedhros’ personal chambers deep below the ruins of the citadel, because it said that Maedhros was afraid of heights after his torture on Thangorodrim. But seriously – I would expect him to have his chambers in the topmost room of the highest tower, so he could always see Angband. Afraid of heights… no. Just no.

I can’t wait to do more with this technique. Has anyone ever seen a sketchbook with tinted pastel paper? If so, please drop me a line!