Toned paper drawings

Experimenting with new (or old) techniques – I broke out the old toned paper again, together with red/brown and white pencil. I love how you can get beautiful sketches and drawings full of life that still look finished. It’s also great to work without (or with minimal) reference again.

“The Girdle of Melian”

“Three is company”

“Until the world is broken and remade” 

All of these are available as matted prints from my shop. The originals all sold straight off the easel, so if you’re interested in purchasing original art such as these, have a look at my Patreon page – all my Patrons get first dibs at original art and new prints!


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.


Maglor sketch

Maglor son of Fëanor. He occupies rather a lot of pages in my sketchbook with some rather good portraits. I think Maedhros is getting jealous. (All there is of him in my sketchbook is after being captured, being tortured, being rescued with his hand cut off… you get the picture. I don’t know why, seriously.)

My colleagues all pity me as I have three free periods on Mondays… but I have to say they do come in handy. I can write down oral marks, mark vocab tests, go shopping, prepare the next lesson, and still get sketches done.

I’ll make this one available as special edition prints for Ring*Con! With some added whites done by hand.

Farewell, sweet earth and northern sky

‘Farewell sweet earth and northern sky,

for ever blest, since here did lie,

and here with lissom limbs did run,

beneath the moon, beneath the sun,

Lúthien Tinúviel

more fair than mortal tongue can tell.

Though all to ruin fell the world,

and were dissolved and backward hurled

unmade into the old abyss,

yet were its making good, for this—

the dawn, the dusk, the earth, the sea—

that Lúthien on a time should be.’

I’m completely submerged in exam papers; this is the only thing worth showing from a few pitiful, hastily scribbled scraps in my sketchbook. For all that, I feel it’s well worth showing.

Beren has acquired a beard. Oh the outrage. Blame Viggo, and Robb and Jon from HBO’s Game of Thrones. But at least Beren is fully entitled to all this scruffy glory, whereas Aragorn is Númenorean and Robb and Jon and fourteen. So there.

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.

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!