Where do Unicorns go?

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In the sea the fish have learnt to fly
on a moonlit night
on wings of silver
as the enchanted stars sail serenely by
Do they know
Where do unicorns go
Where winged horses fly
narwhals lost at sea
and never seen again
Go, go and ask the magpie
where do unicorns go

Watercolour and white gouache on Canson Aquarelle cold-pressed paper, 20×20 cm

Original sold!
Prints are available in my Etsy shop.

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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.

“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.”

 

 

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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Taliesin – Hare, Salmon and Wren

“A radiant brow, shining bright for all to clearly see:
Taliesin is your name, the greatest Bard that this land will ever see!”

(Damh the Bard, Ceridwen and Taliesin)

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Watercolour and white gouache (harp strings) on Fabriano cold-pressed paper, 19×19 cm.

Matted prints available in my Etsy shop!

Original will be framed and available soon!

Taliesin began life as the boy Gwion who had to stir the kettle for the sorceress Ceridwen, in which she was brewing a potion to give her very ugly son Morfran the power of foresight and inspiration. When the potion boiled, it was Gwion who caught the three first drops of potion that would bring power. Fearing the sorceress’s wrath, he used his new skills to turn himself into a hare and flee. But she turned into a greyhound and pursued. He then changed into a salmon, but she took the shape of an otter and pursued him still. He then turned into a wren, but she changed into a falcon and chased him until she brought him to bay in a barn. Desperate, he took the shape of a grain of corn. She turned into a black hen and ate every single piece of corn in the barn.

Nine months later, she gave birth to a son and knew it was Gwion. Though she had vowed to kill him, when he was born, he was so beautiful that she could not bring herself to do it, but placed him in a basket on the sea, where he was found at length, named “Taliesin”, radiant brow, and went on to become the greatest Bard of all time.

Again, I used extensive reference (myself in a plaid scarf, photos of harps and harpers, though the harp is pretty much without direct ref). The face is based on a model, Nick Heymann, and dear me, is he beautiful. As befitting for Taliesin.

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.