Another Silhou…rillion! I am planning to do a few more of this sort, and of course they’ll be in my shop after my holiday. Right now, I’m still working off the last old orders and am packing, framing and signing stuff for Birmingham!
Aredhel the White. Watercolour on Stonehenge Legion cold-pressed paper, A5 size.
I was given the great honour to design the official T-shirt for the Tolkien2019 event in Birmingham, a four-day conference for the fiftieth birthday of the Tolkien Society next month. These shirts will be exclusive to the event, but I will sell prints later. :) Keep an eye out for them or join my mailing list to be sure!
Watercolour on Legion Stonehenge cold-pressed paper, 29×39 cm.
The newsletter is a good idea if you want to stay up to date – there’s a lot of stuff happening at the moment. I’ve just finished work on a new artbook collecting my works from 2015 to now, which will be available later this summer or in autumn. I’ve been pretty busy with that, and the pins, but I hope that now there’ll be an uptick in watercolour/pencil art again! Thank you all, as always, for supporting my work. <3
Here’s a little tutorial on how to make reference photos work in your art, by making them subject to the idea and an overall composition, not the other way round.
All my paintings begin with an idea of a scene I want to paint. Reference always comes in a second or even third step. I’d decided to paint the scene in the Silmarillion where Fingon’s mounted archers take on a young Glaurung. I had wanted to do this scene for a while.
Working from a photo from the get go never works for me, and certainly not in a complex, multi-character scene. Photos tend to be much less dynamic than the compositions I want to achieve (since I’m an artist, not a photographer), so working from photo without a lot of change often results in boring paintings.
Once I have a picture idea, my mind starts thumbnailing. I try out different compositions in my head, and find where the snags are.
Whenever I do a battle scene, I want to portray both combatants in some way, so it’s very obvious from the start that my camera angle needs some thought. If I want to show Fingon’s face, I can’t have Glaurung (left). If I want to show Glaurung, I’ll have a few Elves from behind, and Fingon somewhere off in the distance (centre). So I decided to show Fingon charging past and shooting behind him (right) – quite obviously, that meant some extremely good reference.
Refining an idea and finding (or shooting) specific reference
At this stage, the scene is still only in my head. I know Glaurung will be in the middle ground, so if Fingon is galloping towards us, he’s closer to us, and needs to shoot behind him. Riders further back will need to shoot straight to the side. This is the reference I need.
Very often, for complicated poses, I shoot reference myself. I know exactly what I want, and I avoid copyright issues. For riders, I often take photos of my daughter at her riding lessons. In this case, I came up blank. None of the hundreds of reenactment photos I’ve shot at events had any mounted archers, and I needed photos of people who knew what they were doing – because I don’t know a lot about archery. So that ruled out family members posing with a bow while sitting astride a sofa.
A Patreon supporter of mine then pointed me to several great mounted archers with Instagram accounts – and there were such an incredible lot of great photos! I immediately reached out to Erin Jardine and Freja Trulsdotter, who gave me permission to use their photos.
I started filing away those photos that were the angle and poses I needed. At this point, the photos and my idea start bouncing off each other in my head, as my idea is defined.
Making your reference work in perspective
A lot can go wrong when you combine several reference photos in one image. Ask yourself: Were the photos all shot from roughly the same height? Look at the horizon line for clues – it’s where the camera was, and your viewer’s eye will be. If the photographer was standing, chances are that the photos will work together. If you have one extreme bird’s or worm’s eye view in there, it won’t work with the others.
Here’s a trick to keep several people standing at different distances to the viewer in perspective: Assume the viewer is standing in the same room. If he is the same height as the characters, align all the eyes at the same level. Unless they’re a king on a dais. Or Maedhros. You can indicate different heights that way, too.
(I haven’t seen this lineart in years, and I apparently changed Celegorm’s expression before finalising this – he cracks me up!)
If you want to put characters into a bird’s eye view, you need to find another converging point by adding invisible heads to them. Or by handing each one a seven-foot lance and having their tips converge. The horizon line has to move up there, too.
If you align the eyes of people on horseback, it will look as if the viewer is also sitting on a horse. (Plus, eye-alignment can sometimes look a bit like differently sized people all dangling from a washing line.) Here, I wanted to put the viewer in the middle of the action, but not on a horse, to add a sense of “Gosh, I’ll be trampled!” to the scene. So what you do is align not the characters’ eyes, but a point that is level with the (standing) viewer’s eye. When you stand next to a charger, your eyes are barely above its rump. So this is where I aligned my riders. I chose their saddlebows, allowing for some unevenness for the movement and uneven terrain.
Plus, the fact that the characters’ heads are all at different levels adds a lot of movement again, forcing the viewer’s eye into an up and down movement, like a gallop.
Instead of choosing three poses that were roughly the same, I decided to use three slightly different ones for the main riders, two slightly from the right, one slightly from the left side. Fingon would be passing us on the right; the one to his left would thunder past us on our left side, while the one to his right is already swerving to cut right across us and vanish off to the right. That way, pressing a mental “play” button on the scene, we see ourselves standing right there as the cavalry passes us left and right. This is a very effective way to thrust the viewer into the middle of the action. It works with any movement.
Compositional rules – distance, crumping, overlap, line of action
I did my best here to adhere to the rules of composition. Putting figures at several distances is a great way to add a sense of space. Having elements or character overlapping each other adds to the sense of space. “Crumping” means clumping several elements together in uneven numbers – here. the three main riders. The line of action is very much defined by the horses’ movement, and I added several elements to the piece that lead the viewers eye – the dragon’s tail, the eyes of the riders and the dragon, all converging in the middle of the piece; the tree trunks that lead the viewer’s eye back into the image in places where other elements threaten to lead it out.
“Again after a hundred years Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the fire-drakes of the North, issued from Angband’s gates by night. He was yet young and scarce half-grown, for long and slow is the life of the dragons, but the Elves fled before him to Ered Wethrin and Dorthonion in dismay; and he defiled the fields of Ard-galen. Then Fingon prince of Hithlum rode against him with archers on horseback, and hemmed him round with a ring of swift riders; and Glaurung could not endure their darts, being not yet come to his full armoury, and he fled back to Angband, and came not forth again for many years. Fingon won great praise, and the Noldor rejoiced; for few foresaw the full meaning and threat of this new thing.”
Watercolour and gouache on Bockingford cold-pressed paper, 29×39 cm. See my shop for prints! Original is sold. :)
Huge thanks to Erin Jardine (@eyesoferin) and Freja Trulsdotter (@artofliberty) for permission to use their mounted archery photos as reference for Fingon’s archers!
I can’t believe I never designed pins until now. It’s so freaking addictive! The Maedhros pin is in production; I’m biting my nails to see it! It’s an exclusive special for my Patreon supporters. If you want one, you can still join up by March 25 to claim yours!
Others will be more openly available in the coming weeks and months, like the #Team Feanor, #Team Fingolfin, and #Team Finarfin pins. ;) I’ll be doing more too, but there’ll continue to be Patreon exclusives. It’s certainly worth a peek!
Watercolour on Bockingford cold-pressed paper, 36×26 cm.
I recently asked my Patrons for suggestions for Maglor scenes, and his slaying Uldor came up several times. It’s such an unusual moment for the gentlest son of Fëanor, to be showing that he, like this brothers, was also a warrior.
Wardens of the North. Watercolour and coloured pencil on Canson Vidalon cold-pressed paper, 16×26 cm.
Prints of this are available here! Or you can try to win one in a giveaway on my Patreon. The original piece will be available in my shop soon! Contact me if you’re interested.
I’m currently on a two-week sick leave after my eye-related headaches got less and less manageable. I’m trying to rest loads, avoid any driving if I can, and training my left eye to take over without protesting too much. It’ll take a lot longer than two weeks to get there (my ophthalmologist is thinking in years), but I hope to give myself a bit of a head start under less stressful conditions. Switching between near and far is the worst. Surprisingly, working on tiny paintings for hours works really well. Which gives me the added recreational experience of doing something that really recharges my mental battery.
It has taken me a while, but I finally begin to feel that I’ve got the ground back under my feet. Just knowing that, in another day or so, this year will be over is surprisingly liberating. There is a lot that 2018 left me and that I will continue to deal with, but it feels immensely gratifying to say, sod off, 2018, you’re history. I’ll deal with stuff, but those horrible months are never, ever coming back.
I finally feel up to saying how grateful I am for my friends, online and offline, who have helped me through these dark months, and whose faith in me has wavered far, far less than my own. I finally feel that maybe it may have been appropriate. All of you who have continued to support me in 2018, in word and deed, THANK YOU! Have a wonderful 2019. We’ve all earned it.
I’m getting closer and closer to the feel that I’ve always wanted to achieve in my art, and, starting a few months ago, finally began to reach. This is another piece squarely along that road!
Elros and Elrond were taken captive, but Elwing with the Silmaril upon her breast had cast herself into the sea. Thus Maedhros and Maglor gained not the jewel; but it was not lost. For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves, and he gave her the likeness of a great white bird, and upon her breast there shone as a star the Silmaril, as she flew over the water to seek Eärendil her beloved.
The Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath
Watercolour and gouache on Canson Vidalon paper; ~26×35 cm.
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.
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!
“Maedhros did deeds of surpassing valour, and the Orcs fled before his face; for since his torment upon Thangorodrim his spirit burned like a white fire within, and he was as one that returns from the dead.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Beleriand.
Watercolour on Canson Vidalon paper, 28×38 cm.
I’m holding a little giveaway of a proof print of this (and others) on Patreon!
Regular and matted prints will be available next week in my Etsy shop. Keep your eyes peeled!
The Hunt. Watercolour on Canson Vidalon paper, 19×39 cm.
Finrod Felagund joins Fëanoreans Maedhros and Maglor on a hunt in Eastern Beleriand. (Click to enlarge!)
After slowly easing back into art again with Inktober and the smallish and whimsical Newt Scamander piece this month, I felt ready to tackle a larger piece again. At first, I actually started it with gathering tons of reference, pasting and lightboxing horses and riders I’d photographed at reenactment events – and then I scrapped all of that and started the first stages loose, without reference, without correct anatomy, just to make sure it flowed the way I wanted it. (Much as I admire reenactors, they don’t flow. At least I can’t photograph them that way.) And suddenly everything just clicked into place again, the way it already had with the Newt piece. I then checked reference and reworked the figures and horses, but I’d once again found what truly makes me happy with my art.
Canson Vidalon paper proved a great choice for this. Its cottony texture allows very soft washes and keeps everything rather light; you really have to work hard for your darks and be very deliberate where you want them. The magnifying glass made another appearance, too. The detail shot below tells you just how small those faces are.
Matted prints of these will soon be available in my Etsy shop – watch social media for more info.
A lot has been happening on Patreon recently! Ten new people have joined us, there’s been a giveaway for calendars and Inktober art, a livestream of painting this one with a Q&A, and the timelapse video for this one is available for my Patrons as well. Ever thought of joining, too? Take a peek!