Finished piece (here’s the process). The post was becoming so long that I decided not to hide the finished image at the bottom!
Click to enlarge!
Detail shots (click to enlarge):
Finished piece (here’s the process). The post was becoming so long that I decided not to hide the finished image at the bottom!
Click to enlarge!
Detail shots (click to enlarge):
In painting this one, I was facing the challenge to have a lot of reds, even in the sky, and horses – which sometimes leads to dangerously girly-calendary motifs.
So far, I seem to have succeeded in not falling over on that side of the fence. I know that because my daughter, a great fan of horses and pink, keeps looking at the picture on my desk and walking away without saying a word. That’s her way of saying, “Really, mum, such lovely horseys, and such ugly colours. I’d tell you so but I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.”
Note: The colours on the photographs deviate really far from the actual ones at times. When I used the flash, they’re too yellow; when I didn’t, my daylight lamp resulted in too bluish tones. The entire pic is too large to be properly photographed with the means I have.
The lineart is, again, pencil, scanned, tinted and photocopied onto watercolour paper. See here if you have any questions.
My daughter would have loved the first stage. I overlaid the whole pic with a warm light red wash composed of Madder red and Ochre, dabbing some paint off the horses and figures, particularly the upper parts, allowing all those twenty-eight horse legs to blend into the rest.
Then, I added streaks of more red into the sky, and blotches of Chromoxide Green, Madder red mixed with Ultramarine, and Burnt Sienna into the ground, for the colours of heather.
Next, some Ochre, Sepia, but my violet mix from above for the stones. Later, they’ll be lighter than the rest.
Next, I proceed to paint more heather. I mix more Madder Red with Ultramarine, and paint the upper edges of patches of heather…
While the paint is still wet, I rinse my brush in the orange-y dirty water in my water container, and drag the paint down with it. The jagged top edge remains unaffected, the rest…
… is blurred and diluted.
Patches of heather:
I proceed to muddy the sky (and frustrate my daughter), and add a dirty wash of Burnt Sienna and Ochre to the top margin of the painting, drawing it down with more dirty water.
The ground now gets a second wash of my violet mix with Burnt Sienna, darkening it and softening the edges of heather.
I allow it to bleed into the horses’ legs, to merge them with the ground. A while ago, I used to cleanly separate every element of the image, and sometimes, that would result in cut-and-paste looking picture elements.
This is a sort of middle stage, from which I can start to add layers. It’s also the sort of stage that’s already starting to look good, and which I can safely leave on my desk without cringing whenever I walk past it…
After a good night’s sleep, I decide that the ground is too light, and add another darker layer, effectively killing my detailed heather. Which isn’t so bad. It’s still there in a blurry way, and will look very organic when I’m done.
Now, for the sky. I rewet the upper portion of the picture, mix some dramatic dark violet (with Madder Red, Ultramarine, Indigo, Sepia, and Burnt Sienna) and paint streaks into the wet areas, allowing them to run.
The ground is dry at this point, and I start to paint the orange shrubbery around the stones. For this, I use gouache – watercolour wouldn’t have been visible. I also redo my heather in the same way I did above.
I then add some highlights, again with gouache, to the shrubs and stones, and paint a few stray patches of wild wheat.
Then I go as daring as I get and use green to paint the sallow thorn and the far hills, adding a few berries into the branches.
Now, finally, the figures. I start with some reds and ochres to see how it looks. Yup – looks good!
I paint the figures and horses with a fair deal of island hopping, working on whatever spot begs my attention (and is dry), mostly sticking to one colour at a time, more or less.
Just to show you how small some of the bits and pieces here are… The entire piece is 65 x 32 cm. … That’s one cent, btw.
Some final touches with white gouache to spearpoints, hair, fur.
Finished piece and detail shots: https://goldseven.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-oath-has-been-awakened/
I sat down yesterday for a reality check. Am I deluded? These all look different to me, even without their characteristic hair. So yes, they are all related (fathers and brothers and sons and daughters and cousins), so they are all immortal and ageless, and they are all beautiful in the same ethereal Elven way, and yes, there are some that are less characteristic than others. But to me, they look exactly as they should. Maybe I’ve become too much of a shepherd. Or, alternatively, it’s just that I don’t see Tolkien’s characters as wildly individual (bordering on cartoonish) as, for example, G. R. R. Martin’s.
‘What!’ cried Bilbo. ‘You can’t tell which parts were mine, and which were the Dúnadan’s?’
‘It is not easy for us to tell the difference between two mortals’ said the Elf.
‘Nonsense, Lindir,’ snorted Bilbo. ‘If you can’t distinguish between a Man and a Hobbit, your judgement is poorer than I imagined. They’re as different as peas and apples.’
‘Maybe. To sheep other sheep no doubt appear different,’ laughed Lindir. ‘Or to shepherds. But Mortals have not been our study. We have other business.'” — The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
Or, in the words of the immortal Hiro Nakamura and Ando Masahashi: “They all look the same to me.” – “That’s racist!”
Loads of leisure at school to scribble stuff in between lessons!
Maedhros trudging back to his own people after his rescue and recovery;
Maedhros being welcomed by his brothers with what borders on exuberance (for guilt-ridden Fëanoreans),
Fëanor in full armour. And a horse. No, I don’t know what it’s doing there. Except maybe demonstrating that a horse without a head is indeed a perfect square.
As always, my lineart is drawn in pencil on Bristol board, scanned, and printed out on watercolour paper. (For any questions on that process, see my FAQ above!)
This one proved to be the toughest watercolour I’ve ever done. I actually did a watercolour thumbnail before painting, trying to work out how much paint to put where. I still started over more often than I’ve ever done with any pic of mine, but I wanted this to be as close to perfect as I could make it, and the background was a beast to work with, because of the flame effect I wanted to achieve.
I went through several attempts with different paints or paper – gouache proved too blotchy and not bright enough, while Arches paper yielded great results for bright fire but then refused to get any darker than pale purple for the figures – and returned finally to my trusty old Schmincke watercolours and Hahnemühle Veneto Torchon paper.
To get there, the first stage was a bright Cadmium Yellow wash over the entire pic, mostly in a horizontal strip where their faces are. And it couldn’t be yellow enough. I found that out the hard way again with one or two earlier attempts; the second red wash swallows all the yellow.
Note: The next three images were not taken of the “final” painting, but of one discarded in between because the lineart was wonky in places. That’s why there’s a slight break between “tut_oath3” and “tut_oath4”.
Then, when the yellow was almost dry, I mixed Madder Red with some Burnt Sienna for the red wash. I use Madder because of its glazing qualities. It dries almost transparent even if applied rather thick. And I needed thick here. No pink this time, please.
I started at the bottom and drew up the red in layers; making it almost pure water in my yellow strip and then getting redder again towards the top.
Now came the trickiest part. I wanted the red to stream up in fiery streaks – blurry around the edges, but not too wet. So I had to get them in at exactly the right time, when the paint was still moist, but not wet. (When you take off very wet paint, it just flows back in, only thinner and paler).
I used a dry, thick (size 12) sable mix brush to take off the paint in the shape of flames leaping up towards Fëanor.
I then went in again and painted more deep reds into the spaces, to augment the effect and counteract the thinning of colour you always get when you take off paint.
So I’ve arrived at this.
I let this stage dry completely and then apply a dark wash that represents the dark sky. My previous approaches had lots of Indigo in it, which resulted in a rather clogged-up feel – Indigo is as opaque as watercolour gets. So this time, I opted for Ultramarine, Madder Red, and some Burnt Sienna to dull down the blue – the result was rather close to Indigo but much more transparent.
Applying that wash was tricky, as I had to paint around the swords and arms. (Did I mention that masking fluid hates me and does not cooperate no matter what?) So I have some wonky bits especially on Curufin’s sword, but I’ll sort those out with the highlights.
Having to paint around small details never makes for a particularly smooth look, but it was okay here. I made sure to have any irregularities running in the same direction as my flame-lines, and that worked pretty well.
So, the background is finished – on to the foreground work.
I start by putting a lilac wash over all the foreground figures, so assure that the underlying colour scheme in the foreground will be both consistent and shadowy. I leave some areas unshaded where the light hits.
After doing this for the whole foreground, we’re left with this.
Next, I tried how much more colour diversity the foreground could take. It *needed* to take some Burnt Sienna for Maedhros’ hair.
Yup. Let’s go ahead and paint clothes.
This still isn’t the full colouring job – the four figures on the left are still missing, and I’ll be adding another darker wash to the clothes later, too.
You see me working from right to left. This is a smart thing to do if you’re left-handed.
Not a smart thing to do whether you’re right-handed or left-handed are wide sleeves. At least not while you paint.
These are the sort of things that make you want to thank God for Photoshop.
So, barring accidents, or glowering at unshaven Curufins if accidents did indeed happen, the nearly-final image is this.
The last thing that needs to be done is something I’ve never actually done before – adding gouache to a finished watercolour painting for highlights. But hey, there’s a first time for everything.
I mixed white gouache with yellow and just a hint of red and set to work. My gouache palettes, incidentally, are the lids of Chipsletten crisps.
I paint in highlights with a very thin brush – a 0/5, which was barely thin enough – and I’m done!
Click to enlarge, please. :)
Then Fëanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter 9: Of the Flight of the Noldor
What artist can read these lines without jumping up from the book and darting for the drawing table? I’ve never seen one that really captured what I thought it to look like. As you can imagine, I wanted to show the sons individually, and get a glimpse of what some of them thought about the Oath. Can you image Maglor taking the Oath without the slightest hint of unease? Neither can I.
In 1995, I thought I could pull it off. Hey, I was the greatest artist in the world! All shall love me and despair!
Let us be glad there was no Internet in 1995. Or I’d have found more despair than love. Especially for Maedhros’ mint-green tights. And I would have earned every jot of it.
(There was also no “Peoples of Middle-earth”, so I still thought Amras and Amrod had dark hair.)
After that, I didn’t try again. I’d decided that this scene, as visually compelling as it was, was unpaintable. Mostly because of the question how to get eight people and their drawn swords into one picture without ending up with… that. Over the years, there was this itch to try again… quickly evaporating every time I actually doodled some sketches and hit the same old road blocks.
The next attempt came last autumn, when my first approach was something like this.
Then a user from Comicforum.de convinced me that worm’s eye view was the way to go on this. Which scared me stiff, to say the least. I’m very severely perspectively challenged. Ask my parking skills.
I hit another road block then – I couldn’t get the perspective to work at all. I just couldn’t see it.
Then came our school fair… then came our move to the new house… then came just too much to take care of… the Oath slept again. (Just as in real life. Wait, did I just say that?)
So, over Carnival, I finally dug it out again.
(Carnival, for the non-Germans among you, is a time when Germans mostly along the Rhine suddenly dress up as clowns and cowgirls, spend Thursday to Tuesday in a drunken stupor which nonetheless still allows them to bawl songs with lyrics about coughing earthworms and red horses, and sit in “sessions” where overweight old men in ridiculous hats read out speeches in their local dialects, which aren’t even funny if you actually understand what they say. The only good thing is that it would be absolutely irresponsible to open the schools for those days, so we get a week off, which I usually spend locking and barricading myself inside and drawing for four days non-stop.)
I played around with the previous one unsuccesfully – and finally ended up making reference photos.
Many reference photos.
Loads of reference photos.
These are actually not even half of them.
The artist must be both an actor… and absolutely devoid of all vanity. Now who’d have thought that something that looked so Dancing Queen would be fitting for the Oath of Fëanor?
The room did the trick. Even though my picture has no walls, I could now envision them in relation.
I’m endeavouring to do this one in watercolour, possibly with gouache. Somewhat more solid and a lot more dramatic than what I usually do. If I pull this off, I can’t tell you how happy that’ll make me.
Wish me luck!
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. :)
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.
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.”
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.