“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.”

 

 

Inktober 2017

My first ever Inktober! Inktober’s rules are simple: Post a piece drawn in ink, every day of October.

Initially, I did try actual ink, pen nib, and brush. After day 2, however, I decided that my inking skills were so lacking that I was in danger of totally frustrating myself, especially after almost a year of hardly any art at all. So I decided to stick with what little comfort zone I had left, and do these pieces in ballpoint pen.

I also had the idea that sustained me throughout this month: I decided to dedicate Inktober to my personal heroes of page and screen – all the film and book characters that have fascinated me in my life.

A couple of days in, I had to ask myself: Do I want to have 31 top notch pieces at the end of October? That was my fuzzy mental idea when I started out, and I had to bury that as early as October 2nd. It was marking season; my desk was buried under a hundred exams. I thought about quitting. Then I decided to make this my personal “DO THIS” project. No matter how busy the day was. No matter how little time you have. No matter how crap the drawing is. Do it. Post it. Inktober is all about forming habits. I wanted to show myself that I could still art.

The only one I missed was 15 – we went to see Bayer Leverkusen play VfL Wolfsburg. In retrospect, I should just have done a scribble in the stadium. Today (Oct 31) I would. Two weeks ago, that prospect still felt daunting.

Here are the results, along with my thoughts and comments on each as I first posted them. You can navigate through them by just clicking on the image that’s open.

 

Inktober has been an incredibly valuable experience for me – over the last few years, with two small and then borderline teenage kids, a taxing day job and sky-high levels of exhaustion, I had a lot of excuses for not being creative. Those excuses had become so ironclad that they effectively kept me from creating for about a year. Even the things I did draw and paint were a huge effort. At times, over the summer, I felt that maybe it was time to stop being an artist. The most frightening thing about that thought was that it didn’t frighten me at the time.

I was totally sure I would never finish Inktober (as with the ill-fated Junicorn I tried one and a half years ago), so I hardly advertised it, and hardly prepared for it. Maybe that was good. It definitely took the pressure off me, and uploading even the pieces that were sub-par in my eyes proved unexpectedly cathartic.

A wonderful asset of Inktober has been the flow of positive vibes I’ve been getting through social media, talking to people about the films and books we love (and even encountering some of the authors – talking to Tamora Pierce and being shared by Guy Gavriel Kay and Tad Williams).

Thank you! <3

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!

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!

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.

 

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*

Torn apart

… in which I refuse to feel ashamed for loving Kylo Ren.

This piece was a commission for Deanna, one of my fantastic supporters over at Patreon. She threw a few ideas my way and we ran with Ben Solo as a young Jedi in training, corrupted to the Dark Side by Snoke, torn between the light and the dark but having his path laid out for him through his fear and aggression.

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Torn apart

I can’t believe how much fun it is to figure out this character, and seriously, the only thing that’s keeping me from taking the path to the Dark Side of Fan-fiction is a deeply ingrained aversion against being rendered AU in two years’ time. Art will have to suffice. I put enough story in that to satisfy my needs for explaining the character, but try to leave it symbolic enough so it’ll still work when Episode VIII is out!

The reactions to Kylo Ren are really interesting. Most critics agree that he’s one of the most interesting characters this franchise has had, and certainly the most compelling bad guy. When you’re a teacher in Germany, that picture is slightly different. Quite a few of my students tell me they hated Kylo Ren.

Why? I think he’s too close to home for many people in a certain age group. He embodies the aspects a (male) teenager might dislike about himself. He isn’t cool and badass. He certainly wants to be, and sometimes he fails at it utterly. (Of course, female teenagers usually like him a lot more as they want to pull him back to the light. By his hair or otherwise.)

The expectations for the character were certainly high. In the lead-up to Episode VII, he was everywhere, even on mineral water. You expected him to be the next big bad, and were prepared to embrace your inner badass when you saw him on screen. I think the marketing really has a lot to do with the bad press Kylo Ren gets among younger fans of Star Wars.

And then, of course, he’s got it especially hard in Germany, as the guy who lent him his voice also voices JD from Scrubs. (Funnily, he also voices Dean Winchester, but I never would have known. For Kylo Ren, he definitely gave it a lot more John Dorian and a lot less Dean Winchester.) I don’t know if teenagers in Germany know much Scrubs these days, but the rather whiny voice doesn’t really help. My ears did a couple of double-takes when I heard Adam Driver’s original voice. (His clipped “I’m being torn apart” becomes a melodramatic “Ich bin innerlich zerrissen” in German, which is best translated as “I’m rent on the inside”. Way to kill off that character for German audiences!) My kids will have to endure the movie in English as soon as it comes out on DVD, I can tell you! Here, kiddo, it’s English. It’s good for you. Your resident English teacher says so.

Next stop: Rey!

The Force, it’s calling to you.

So I’ve fallen in love with Star Wars again, and the more I think about it, the more I know why that is. (Scroll down for the art if you’re not into rambling.)

Last week, I dug into my old diaries and found what I wrote when I first saw Episode 1. I was surprised to read myself gushing over a movie that is today considered as bad as they get. I even loved Jar Jar Binks. But even then, I wrote that I loved it all because it was so bad. Literally. I’d been prepared to love it all and when it turned out to be silly, I told myself I loved it for the trash factor. Back then, I was okay with that.

Now, after seeing The Force Awakens twice, I’m only slowly understanding how much the prequels let me down, and how much Episode VII lives up to its very first sentence spoken: “This will begin to set things right”.

Yes, the obvious plot parallels to IV and V bothered me after the first viewing. Not so much after the second. JJ Abrams felt sure Star Wars needed a reboot, and I think it worked fine. My only qualm remains Starkiller Base, but I can apply my Episode 1 practice here and like it because it’s just so ridiculous.

What I love more and more is the characters. Those characters! I can’t even decide which I love most.

JJ Abrams gave us a female protagonist whose gender isn’t even an issue, as well as a black hero whose skin colour is never even mentioned. (It reminds me of the novels of David Weber, where skin colour and gender are totally secondary.) He gave us a daredevil pilot who is kind and likeable instead of selfish and badass. He gave us a villain that is so much your typical entitled manchild that teenagers hate him and adults love him for being such a complex figure.

 

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Poe Dameron

How can you not love Poe? I’m hoping the rewrite of Episode VIII will enlarge his role.

Video of the painting process is here.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Scarred

I didn’t fall in love with Kylo Ren until really late in the day, but as you’ll have noticed, fall in love I did. I can’t wait to find out what turned him to the dark side, and whether anything might turn him back to the light. I’m also semi-guiltily digging through Youtube to locate anything with Adam Driver in it. I can’t believe how versatile he is.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Han Solo

I never really liked Han in the original trilogy. “I happen to like nice men”, and as opposed to Leia, Han never managed to convince me he was one. But in this film, he breaks my heart. He started out as a cocksure smuggler who hadn’t even realised he’d lost his way; he found a terrific girl, found purpose, and ended up losing purpose, and the girl, and his way, as well as their son. The Force Awakens gives us what Han Solo “used to be” and tries to be again, but too many things have happened to be that person again. The Force Awakens is so psychologically astute and I connect with it on so many levels, and I keep discovering new ones.

If you like these (or my other work, to which I’ll no doubt return to, in case you were beginning to worry) – please consider supporting me on Patreon! Early access, special deals in my Etsy shop, digital and physical content, and a chance to win commissions and other goodies!

The Force, Awakened

Three weeks after “The Force Awakens” has hit cinemas, the Star Wars fans are coming out of the woodwork. It’s amazing how many there are. They’ve all lain dormant for the last 15+ years, apparently, including me. Teacher colleagues I’d put down as the most no-nonsense, non-SciFi, and certainly non-space-opera people on earth are discussing Rey’s parentage and Kylo Ren’s story arc with me during breaktime. The geeks awaken. In the least expected and most delightful places.

Just mid-December, I had found myself seriously considering all the steps I would have to take to get rid of the old “GoldSeven” tag and set myself up as Jenny Dolfen instead. And then The Force Awoke. And how it awoke.

Twenty years ago, I was a major Star Wars fan. Ah, the days of the Special Editions! Midnight premieres, binge-drawing Luke Skywalker (mainly 1997-1998), Star Wars role-playing for two days on end.

Luke, 1997

Luke, 1997

Landing on Dagobah, 1998

Landing on Dagobah, 1998

We played a pen and paper RPG campaign that ran for three years (1998-2001), centering on a female former TIE fighter pilot who fled the Star Destroyer she served on with a captured Rebel agent. (You can imagine how wildly I cheered during the escpae scene with Finn and Poe.) She found herself on a Rebel base in a place called Yavin – and then the Alliance needed every capable pilot. So she flew against the Death Star as Gold Seven – and was the lone Y-Wing you see returning to the base with Han and Luke.

Rhun and Sam, 1998

Rhun and Sam, 1998

Comic page of their first meeting, 1999

Comic page of their first meeting, 1999

(I wrote a long fanfic/novel about their story, which can still be found here. The link leads to parts of my old site.)

Then Episode 1 happened. And it all evaporated. All those characers I was prepared to love – Obi-Wan, Padme, Anakin – fell flat or were barely there, or just obnoxious.

While I was optimistic for Episode VII and the trailers made me giddy with excitement, I didn’t dare get my hopes up too far. I expected to like it, and move on. [Spoilers ahead – but if you’re still reading this, you’ve probably watched the movie a couple of times already!)

And now I’m fangirling over Kylo Ren. Sorry not sorry. What a compelling story, what a great reboot, what a wonderful feeling to be “home again, Chewie”. And that’s saying nothing about Ren’s hair, which is almost Fëanorean in its qualities. Along with his whole “tragic flaw” thing (okay, flaw sort of makes it sound manageable), this was the first Star Wars villain ever that really drew me in. Sure, Vader was formidable, the Emperor was sublime, and Anakin was… conflicted on the surface, but the writing and the actor never managed to make me care for his conflict. The Force Awakens, on the other hand, made me feel for a brattish, insecure kid while running a lightsabre through his own father. Well done, JJ Abrams. Well done!

Is it 2017 yet?

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My first Kylo Ren, drawn as Patreon commission for Juhi. Still trying to pin down Adam Driver’s very un-Elven facial structure at that point.

 

“I Will Fulfil Our Destiny”

Even while I was planning this one, I was scared stiff of the composition and that lightsabre. I still can’t believe I managed to pull it off! *happy*

Process video (narrated, including ideas to paint lightsabres) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMwicEAFCnw

I sincerely thought Star Wars was one of the fandoms I had left behind for good, and it feels so good to be back. Chewie… we’re home.