This Hither Shore

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All things pass. Summer must end, and the swallows will leave this hither shore…
Celebrían of Rivendell.

Watercolour and white gouache on Canson Héritage cold-pressed paper, 30×23 cm
Paints used:
Naples Yellow, Raw Umber, Lavender (Mijello)
Ultramarine Blue (Sennelier)
Dragon’s Blood (Maimeri)

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Signed prints

Original painting

One of the more personal pieces I’ve done in my life, with a thin coating of Tolkien. It’s been the most uprooting year of my life, with the death of my brother, an eye condition that will probably forever leave me unable to read properly, plus a lot of of other things that, on their own, would have been enough to make me say they were bad, but in the end, only added to a heap of hardships and downright misery since spring.

In February, I was diagnosed with AMNR (acute macular neuroretinopathy), a non-progressive eye condition that results in a blind little spot on the retina. Only 100+ cases are documented, so there is no treatment, cure, therapy, or research. It means that letters are missing from everything I’m trying to read, and I can no longer focus on tiny details, even with a x3 magnifying glass, because they just swim out of focus or are hidden by the blind spot. My left eye can’t compensate, because of another eye condition I’ve had since childhood which never bothered me until now.

(On this note, while I appreciate people’s eagerness to help, please do not give me tips, unless you know someone with *very central* AMNR who has found something that helped them. I’m seeing an excellent doctor who has people coming to him from all over Europe and Asia, so I’m in good hands. And tips born of unqualified knowledge, which, of necessity, is all that anyone could have, just hurt. A lot.)

Last autumn, I felt that I had reached the place where I wanted to be in my life; now life is telling me that I have to fight to keep it. Thanks a lot for not letting me become complacent, life.

While my guitar gently weeps

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I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps

Jan. Watercolour on Canson Héritage cold-pressed paper, 21×30 cm.

Two weeks ago, my brother died of cancer.
We made music together for twenty-seven years. I still can’t believe I will never see him again, sing with him, and cut out silly little things with typos from newspapers to send him on postcards.

They played “While my guitar gently weeps” at his funeral.

Patreon brainstorm

Not only one but several people have contacted me recently, asking whether I had a Patreon, and since then, I’ve been thinking about how to set one up for me – which is a bit unusual, it seems, as most Patreon artists seem to be relying mainly on digital content as giveaways, and most are digital artists.

Think of Patreon as an ongoing Kickstarter – you sponsor an artist over a longer period of time, and you get goodies in return. The cruncher is that the whole idea of Patreon is to run for months or longer, and allow the artist to focus on things he or she loves to do, which of course means that the rewards need to strike a balance between what makes the patrons happy and what the artist can give and still be productive.

Here’s some reward ideas I am thinking of offering. I’d be glad to hear your ideas, too – if you could imagine supporting me, please weigh in in the comments!

Low reward tiers (~1-5 Euros):

  • Shoutouts on my website
  • Access to previews, tutorials, art before I upload them; access to exclusive wallpapers, avatars, and hi-res line art to colour (patrons only)
  • raffle tickets for prints, original art, and commissions. These will start small, but will bet bigger and more elaborate as “milestone goals” are reached
  • chance to weigh in on what I’ll be drawing
  • chance to request tutorials

Mid reward tiers (~10-50 Euros):

  • all of the above plus:
  • Stickers, prints, postcards, bookmarks of my art (actual tangible rewards every month)
  • more raffle tickets (3 instead of one) for commission and original art giveaway raffle

High reward tiers (~50-100 Euros per month – I can dream, right?)

  • all of the above, plus:
  • monthly facsimile prints
  • more raffle tickets (5 instead of one) for commission and original art giveaway raffle
  • Patreon bookmarks created for all high-tier patrons; the lineart will be the same for all and printed, but it will be coloured by hand

And don’t worry: I will NOT restrict my general posting habits and uploads for the public – sponsoring me is an extra reward if you like my art and would like to support me creating it, not blackmail. ;)

If you have any more ideas that are easily doable in higher numbers, and would make you happy, let’s hear them! :)

Why I do what I do

Do you always know why you do what you do? I don’t. If you’d asked me why I draw or paint or write, until a week ago, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Today, at least one possible answer just occurred to me: To be where I want to be.

In rediscovering Hannibal, I’ve rediscovered something else that I haven’t experienced in a while, since the days of the Internet: I want to concern myself with the things that interest me. Reading a book is nice, but too passive. I want to talk. I want to see. I want to hear. And if that’s not possible, I need to create. Not just a drawing or a painting. I want to create the place, the setting, the situation that exists in my head, without anyone telling me I can’t go there right now.

Now for all my life, for most people around me, when I wanted to talk and to see and to hear about the things that concerned me (Hannibal, Middle-earth, Bayer Leverkusen, Richard III), the natural reaction was for the other person’s eyes to go blank and stare fixedly ahead. Or to change the topic. Or to simply leave the room mid-sentence, leaving me standing there and talking to myself until I realised they weren’t coming back. If I play possum, I’m sure she’ll just go away.

That hurt. I had forgotten how much.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I can understand that a mother can think of more interesting things to talk about with her thirteen-year-old girl who desperately wishes to discuss whether Rome broke the Lutatius treaty of 241, or Hannibal broke the Ebro treaty of 226.  And if even my mother couldn’t bring herself to fake interest in that, I shouldn’t have harboured any illusions that my friends would appreciate having the battle of Cannae drawn into the sand at a park and explained Hannibal’s strategic genius, when they really wanted to talk about how cute that boy was or how much of a slut that girl was or whether peppermint Rolo tasted better than caramel fudge.

When I was fourteen or so, I realised that, and stopped bothering others with my worlds, instead creating them for myself, on the paper, where I wouldn’t get on anyone’s nerves. When I showed my creations to my parents, that would give me a precious thirty seconds to share these worlds with them, or, at least, just to talk about my skill.

With Tolkien, or Heroes, or Song of Ice and Fire, I can now go on the Internet and discuss Balrogs’ wings and Jon Snow’s parentage to my heart’s content. Before the Internet, I couldn’t. And even with the Internet, with some of my more nerdy obsessions, I still can’t.

So back then, and today, I make art. If I show it to somebody, that’ll give me a few seconds of talking about the topic.

Weird how such a little effect warrants so much effort.

Twenty-year old Jenny finds her calling

I get a lot of comments from people who see my “progress” charts (like this)  who tell me that it gave them courage to see good artists aren’t born, but have to learn their stuff the hard way, just like everybody else. 1995 always marked a pivotal point for my art for me – less because I suddenly became good, but because that was the year I tried new stuff and made a huge realisation: I can keep improving. I just have to keep going.

I just read through my old diaries and found these two entries, both from 1995, and thought to share them. Aren’t diaries a fascinating device? You really conserve your younger self on the pages, for your older one to read. I always think it’s fascinating.

Whatever your endeavours, good luck with them! And if you meet people who try to put you down by lying to you – emerge stronger for the experience.

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Loughborough Log – Days Four and Five

I’ll cover my return journey first, as that was a nightmare I don’t want to cloud the rest of the report. A horror novel could be written about it, but I’ll just throw these out there: Cancelled ICE, 40 degrees outside and 50 in the space between the two train carriages where I was squeezing into the corridor with ten other people who had all been put into a hopelessly overcrowded regional train, and collapsing from the heat and lack of air. So there. Now for the things that will stay with me for far longer, and deserve to, as they were far better.

Photos coming up in the next post! Hopefully today.

I typed this sitting in London Saint Pancras waiting for the Eurostar, looking back at what might just be the most marvellous days of my life. It’s right up there with birthdays and my wedding day. But it was five days, with the former don’t tend to be.

Taking off my name-tag saying “Return of the Ring – Jenny Dolfen – Special Guest” was strangely heartbreaking. It was a visual sign that these wonderful five days were over.

Saturday started with my second workshop, in which I did a demonstration of my watercolour technique. I suppose it was really flattering that there were so many people attending, as the evening before had been long for most – it was the Ceilidh, but I’d been too tired to go. I was to get my own taste of music later though.

Back from the workshop, I spent more time talking to Ted as well as Anke, and I met Verlyn Flieger, author of some of the best secondary literature on Tolkien I’d ever read. I didn’t have my copy of “Splintered Light” with me, but I asked her to sign my Art Show catalogue, which is now a piece very dear to me – it’s got the most beautiful dedications, drawings, and signatures of all those wonderful people I met at Loughborough in it. I talked very briefly to Cor Blok, who is a very charming man but rather shy.

All my art prints were gone at this point (apart from Maedhros tortured; nobody wanted him, I really wonder why) and I spent the afternoon sketching little watercolour pieces of Fingon, Éowyn, and Shaun as a hobbit, as a thank you for offering me the chance to attend this event and for successfully badgering me every time I was about to cancel it all due to transport, schedule, or babysitting problems. I sold a few of the framed prints that were on exhibit in the art show – I wasn’t going to carry them home again – and took a few orders for prints, as well as working out the most fun commission I’ll be likely to have in the near future: a full watercolour of Fëanor drawing the sword on Fingolfin in the halls of Finwë, with some other Noldor looking on. (Damien, the commissioner, was very happy with my suggestion of having Maedhros and Fingon visible beside their fathers.) I also bought a copy of the beautiful illustrated Silmarillion and carried it over for Ted to sign.

In the evening, there was a masquerade with many humorous entries and a few serious ones, one of which featured again my new friend Simo from Finland, in his Elven armour, together with Francesca from Italy as elf-maid. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of them, but Simo was singing in Finnish, which was really, really fitting too.

After the masquerade, Ted invited me for a drink and we ended up spending the rest of the evening together, talking about art and music and goofing off a lot (“The two returns of the fellowship of tower of the king…” we got no further than that, which was probably for the better). He said he was going to try and put in a good word for me as well as Anke and Kasiopeia in some of the really high places with Harper/Collins, something I had never dared to hope.

Afterwards (after a gigantic all-edible Smaug cake had been brought in and eaten) there was a charity auction, in which a lot of Tolkien memorabilia were sold for a good cause. I’d donated the original painting of “Ancalagon the Black”, who went to Claire Eluned from Wales (who finally taught me the proper pronunciation of a great many things I’d never got exactly right). Ancalagon now holds the honour of having gone for the same price as a copy of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy on Blu-ray hand-signed and sent up from New Zealand by Peter Jackson.

One of my personal highlights on that day (though it wasn’t technically that day any more, being well past midnight) was Ted singing some of the songs that he’d written and composed together with Alex Lewis. You know – I never got why people thought Heavy Metal was supposed to be fitting for Tolkien. I was never that much into the very classical opera-type music either. But Ted and Alex had written a large number of songs to be performed with guitars and sung in different voices, and they did that now, and all that wanted to could join. We sang “The Green Hills of the Shire”, “Queen Beruthiel”, “To the Sea, to the Sea” and a wonderful one of the twelve companions who lost their lives in aiding Beren in his Quest for the Silmaril. I don’t know how long it went on; I went to bed after one on the morning because I was dead on my feet, despite several paints of Coke. Yes, it comes in pints!

Sunday it was leave-taking. (I read “Farewell to Lórien” on the train to London, and that is how I felt.) Jay Johnstone gave me a print of his wonderful work – if you never saw his art, go see it right now – and I actually picked up a CD with the songs Ted and Alex had performed the night before.

So many new impressions, such wonderful days, so many new friends – Shaun and Anke and Ted and Simo and Damien and Lorianne and Francesca and Birgit and Jay and Lyn and Laeg and Meggy and Becky and sooooo many I can’t name.

Can’t wait to see them all again over the next few years on other Tolkien events. :D

Loughborough Log – Day Three

I apologise for the third post in a row without any pictures. I’ve taken loads, and hilarious ones, but you’ll have to wait for those until I’m back in Germany.
Today started with my drawing workshop, which was great fun. In between teaching the basics of human, Elven, Dwarven, and Dragon anatomy, there was much fun to be had with chicken dragons, Warcraft Elves with holes in their hoods and the dangers of foreshortening.

Afterwards, I got to do a few nice little miniature sketches in watercolour, of Fingon and Rosie Cotton. I started one of Maedhros (surprise!) and had done one of Treebeard yesterday. There was loads of interesting talk with all sorts of people, and I am by now seriously out of prints. A single Oath of Fëanor is left, as is Maedhros in Angband (stupid of me to bring that along. Who wants a suffering Maedhros on their wall?). I did sell an original sketch and a framed print, something else that I’m just not used to. I know that, after the last two days, I should have known that this wasn’t the Artist Alley at the Spiel Essen, but still. I feel as I’m inside a beautiful parallel universe that I wish I could stay in.

One of today’s definite highlights was Charles Ross with his One Man Lord of the Ring show. I have NOT laughed this hard in years. Seriously. Charles Ross acts the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in just over an hour. Just him, no props, no other actors. He does all the sound effects and the film music. He manages to tread that fine line between very serious moments that declare his love and respect for the subject matter, and then does the most hilarious parody, most of it in parts that I (and most other Tolkien fans) consider out of place in the movies. For example, Denethor’s table manners and cherry tomato squelching become a running gag, and my favourite dialogue was this:

[Frodo] I will take the ring to Mordor. Although… I do not know the way.

[Aragorn] Then you have my sword.

[Legolas] And my hair.

[Gimli] And my beard. Because I broke me bloody axe.

After that, it was time for another highlight: The art panel, with Ted Nasmith,  Anke Eißmann, Ruth Lacon, and me. Ted is one of the most absolutely charming people you’re ever likely to meet. After the panel, he visited me at the table I was sharing with Anke, and he and I ended up talking for nearly an hour about Silmarillion’s missing moments. It’s such a wonderful experience to connect to people on something that has held such an important place in my heart, but has had such few outlets over the years! We were thrown out of the building at six p. m. so we were interrupted, but we’re going to carry on with this tomorrow.

I’ve talked to Ruth Lacon about her Tolkien art book, which she published a few years ago without official sanctioning, and she said that usually, work “inspired by” is a grey area legally that is not that much of a problem. Anke and I also talked about a possible joint production, possibly with Catherine Chmiel, as a sort of balance to all the male-dominated official Tolkien art out there. I’m going to ask Ted about it tomorrow as well; maybe he can offer some more insight on the matter.

But something I have learnt from this experience is to do more Tolkien conventions and fewer Artist Alleys, begging your pardon, Spiel Essen. I mean, if you have a choice of having, on one hand, people connecting to everything you do, coming to you because they’re seriously fans of your work, paying good money for prints and little drawings, and on the other hand, people walking past your desk, haggling over poster prices and just pocketing your postcards because they think they must be free anyway – I mean – seriously?