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…)