Ice and Fire

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Watercolour and gouache on Canson Héritage torchon paper, 38×26 cm.
Prints here!

Original available – note me if interested!

A few words of explanation on the style/character choices:
I discovered A Song of Ice and Fire in 2003 and devoured the first three books (which was all there was back then) in one go. I totally fell in love with Jon Snow, and I remember loving how realistically written the teenage characters were. I had fun trying to picture them in my school classes I was teaching at the time. It was easy for all of them, except Dany. All the others I could place in any odd Year Seven, Year Eight, Year Nine, easily, but Dany totally eluded me. I didn’t like her, and she didn’t have a face while I read.

The show rectified that, and admirably, which I’m sure has to do with the choice of aging everyone up five years, but my Jon will always remain my Jon.

The Passing of Arwen

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The Passing of Arwen
Watercolour on cold-pressed Waterford paper, 19×27 cm.

“I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so I have chosen, both the sweet and the bitter.”

Prints here!

Original available.

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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Small Goddesses

(Anyone who caught the Pratchett reference, have a cookie!)

I’m in an exciting phase with my art. I’ve felt a latent unhappiness with aspects of it for several years, and this SmArt School class is such an amazing ride. I’m shaping up my stuff for submission to galleries, I’m learning loads, I’m trying out new things, I’m having my butt kicked by truly remarkable people.

These are small, coaster-sized pieces done using very close reference for the basic figure work and facial structures, but then deviating from them for almost everything else.

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Freya, with a peregrine falcon. Watercolour and gouache on Clairefontaine Nuageux paper, 13 cm.

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Tears of Isis. Watercolour, gouache and lavish gold leaf on Clairefontaine Nuageux paper, 13 cm.

These little beauties are available from my Etsy shop, readily framed and matted!

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The end of a realm, of a world, of a dream

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“Jenny bowed her head again. For a moment, the rough clang of blade on blade filled her ears. She remembered that noise, and the cry of the dying, atop a high hill beneath a scorching sun. Black armor and a bloody blade. And the battle. Such a battle, one worthy of the world’s ending. And hadn’t it been? The end of a realm, of a world, of a dream…”

Watercolour and gel pen on Fabriano paper, 28×38 cm.

The battle of Camlann – the calm before the storm. From an upcoming novel by Paul Leone, merging a Victorian vampire tale with Arthurian legend.

Prints here!

It’s been a crazy summer, with a lot of unforeseen stuff that ate up my summer holidays completely. This is the only full painting I got done during that time, which is slightly frustrating, but it’s also another bit of proof for my conviction that breaks in your art transform you. Months ago, I resolved to try a softer approach to colouring than the one I had developed over the last four years (not fully intentionally either). I tried it, but it didn’t work – I just slipped back into old habits. Now, after three months with virtually no painting, it was incredibly easy to incorporate new habits. So – the break was a good thing in the end.

Search for the lost temple

Inspired by Claudia Gray’s novel “Bloodline” (which I haven’t read yet – exam marking season), which discloses that, just a few years prior to TFA, Luke Skywalker was travelling the galaxy in search for the first Jedi temple – with Ben Solo.

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“Search for the lost temple”

Watercolour on Cotman cold-pressed paper, A4 size.

Original sold.

The chronology majorly messes up some of my headcanons, as does the fact that Rey doesn’t seem to be related to the Skywalker family. I was extremely flattered, though, to read a review of the book that discussed the timeline of events and expressed regret over the fact that “that Jenny Dolfen painting” was now obviously AU. Wow. I mean – wow. I’m pop culture!

Dark wings downstream

“They laid him to rest in the ship with his sword upon his legs; and as he drifted home downstream, there came seven black swans, their trumpet calls guiding him to the Otherworld.”

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Some work (loosely) inspired by Arthurian legend that I’ve been wanting to paint for years. The clothes and burial gifts of the warrior are inspired by the Sutton Hoo treasure (as is the build of the ship, though much smaller). Watercolours on Fabriano Grana Fina, 29×39 cm.

Prints here!

Original for sale – contact me if interested!

Learning to fly

What he saw…

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Watercolour and white gouache on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 25×35 cm.

Commission for Doug, who wanted me to show what Kylo Ren saw when he stood in the deserted cockpit of his father’s ship. An unusual piece for me, with all those darks (and that mechanical…. shtuff!) but I’m really pleased with it. It was a great challenge to portray emotion without seeing any faces at all, just through body language. Of course, watching Adam Driver do just that for most of TFA helped!

Prints here!

Smaug

People have often asked me why I’ve never drawn Smaug. I think part of the reason is that he’s so iconic that legions of talented people have drawn him, and I’ve never felt the need. But when the thought arose to do a painting that heavily relied on gold leaf, he came to mind immediately.

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“Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed.”

Watercolour and gold leaf on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 29×40 cm.

 

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).

The dark side, and the light

Trying my hand at another full watercolour portrait of Kylo Ren. It’s cool how much this working from photos phase has taught me about realistic painting since January! Adam Driver’s face still defeats me more often than not, but I’m quite happy with it here. A bit too handsome, perhaps, but I’m biased.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Clairefontaine Nuageux cold-pressed paper, 39×29 cm (~11×15 in)

Original and prints available here!

Video on Patreon.

 

Finn

I feel infinitely bad that this wonderful character hasn’t got his portrait from me yet! He was actually the very first The Force Awakens piece I did, back in December, pretty much after returning from the cinema, but the pose and the colours didn’t work out, and afterwards, I didn’t dare try again. Now, finally!

For me, Finn is the heart of the gorgeous new young cast. He’s fun, he’s brave, he’s kind. He may take second place after Rey, but he’s the one I identified with most, wearing his heart on his sleeve so much, and not bothering to hide it.

I also love what I’ve seen from John Boyega in interviews. Such a fun bloke. I hope that someday, someone will get him to re-dub his character in British English. “I’m a stohmtroopa, I’m here’t save ya.” I really want to hear that. finn_col

Finn. Daniel Smith watercolours on Clairefontaine Nuageux paper, 27×36 cm.

Timelapse video on Youtube.

Original here!

“That hairy beast”

Kylo Ren remembering Chewie. Or trying not to.

Just as he calls his father “Han Solo” to avoid any emotional ties to him, I imagine he avoids thinking of Chewie as anything than in terms of “that hairy beast” or maybe the “walking carpet” Threepio and Leia used to denote the Wookiee. Especially after being shot by him.

Except “Fuzzball”. That was Han’s. He wouldn’t use that.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Hahnemühle Le Rouge cold-pressed paper.

Original here.

Ben and little Rey

Okay, this is it. I’m illustrating headcanons that have a fat chance of being AU in two years’ time. I regret nothing.

Ben Solo (around 15) and Rey (around 4) at the Jedi Academy. Ben is already firmly under Snoke’s influence, already knowing he has to kill his fellow students on Snoke’s orders, and allows nobody to break into his shell. Rey is still trying.

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“Why are you angry?”
“Get lost.”

Watercolour on Clairefontaine Grain Nuageux paper, 30×21 cm.

Original here.
Okay, I’ve broken down and made prints available. :)

 

Sketch to painting video here.

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.

 

Fell and Fey

Some Silmarillion in between, though at least slightly inspired (as probably shows) by Star Wars – ever since I saw Kylo Ren’s costume, I felt Fëanor would really look great in a high collar and flowing coat-tails. I’ve put him in black and gold before, so that was something that always belonged to him, for me.

And though you might say otherwise, the hair is 100% Fëanor, too. ;)

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Gold leaf (22 karat, a slightly paler colour than the 23 karat I usually use):

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Watercolour, gouache, and gold leaf on Canson Montval, 42×30 cm (painting itself an inch smaller).

Original available here

Prints with gold leaf available here.

Rey

… or how Daisy Ridley’s character killed the Mary Sue trope.

There is just so, so much to love about the new Star Wars movie. As always, I’ll give you the art first, so you can skip the rambling if you like.

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Watercolour and white gel pen on Canson Montval paper, 21×30 cm. Sorry, still not a portrait artist. ;) Original painting available here!

This movie has just done so much with me, and Rey is no exception. She continues a great tradition of females that are unusual on the big screen (again, the Prequels didn’t really add a lot to that – Padme almost ruined every progress that Leia had made). What I love most about Rey is that she is basically Luke. Luke with a bit of Indiana Jones, in fact. She’s a young zero-to-hero figure living on a desert planet who can do basically anything (the Indiana Jones factor). People whine that she’s a Mary Sue (which she is most definitely not, since she isn’t an author insert for JJ Abrams. Not that I know of). Of course, what those people mean is that she’s just too good, too perfect, too proficient, too fast. But firstly, those people wouldn’t even notice it if a male protagonist was that much of a wunderkind (or have you heard people whine about Indiana Jones? Neither have I, rightfully), and secondly, those people are ignoring the factors that play into Rey’s apparent ease at success. The only reason why Rey is able to whomp Kylo Ren so thoroughly at the end of the movie is that Ren is practically dead on his feet at the time. And as for bypassing that compressor, of course she knows her way around with junk!

Rey is such a wonderful heroine that it makes you wonder why it took Hollywood so long to take this plunge with a strong, likeable, female action hero whose gender simply has zero impact on the story. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s strong, she’s tragic, she’s tenacious, she’s determined. And she’s cute, but frankly, so is everyone else, so she is in no way dependent upon that one female domain.

It makes me infinitely happy that my daughter, and my son, both get to grow up with a movie that has Rey in it.

Seriously though – Lucasfilm acting all surprised by how successful her character is? The fact that she’s the centre of the story might have been a dead giveaway for the astute-minded, but even if that wasn’t, how is it possible that John Williams gave her her own leitmotiv and somehow the merch producers missed that? *whiplash-inducing headshake*

As little might be thought

“For Maglor took pity upon Elros and Elrond, and he cherished them, and love grew after between them, as little might be thought; but Maglor’s heart was sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath.”

(The Silmarillion, “Of Eärendil and the War of Wrath”)

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Watercolour and gouache on Canson Montval cold-pressed paper, A3 size.

 

A re-run of an old sketch that never took off, so I was really glad when I was asked to revisit it as a commission! My son kindly modelled both Elrond and Elros. Don’t ask me which is which. XD

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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