Tolkien-Tag am Niederrhein

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I spent the weekend at Tolkien-Tag am Niederrhein (Tag being the German word for day; just in case you thought it was a weird game of tag, you’re it.)

Had a bunch of very nice conversations and a drawing workshop, and sold a couple of prints – and got some art done! It’s always a good idea to sketch while I sit at my stand. I don’t know why, but people will never believe that I drew these things I’m selling. And even if I tell them, they’ll assume I’ll just “print them out” or, hilariously, “Do you draw those freehand? Or do you use… stencils?”

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Yup. Never go anywhere without my “Finwë dying in Fëanor’s arms” stencil.

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I also did two more sketchbooks. The left was a commission, the right one is for sale. Any takers? I’ll make it 35 € instead of the usual 40 for sketchbooks because it wasn’t a free prompt. And because Éomer’s hand is a bit wonky.

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The Oath has been awakened…

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!

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‘A Silmaril of Fëanor burns again in the woods of Doriath’; and the oath of the sons of Fëanor was waked again from sleep. For while Lúthien wore the Necklace of the Dwarves no Elf would dare to assail her; but now hearing of the renewal of Doriath and of Dior’s pride, the seven gathered again from wandering…

Detail shots (click to enlarge):

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The Oath has been awakened – painting

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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.”

Yay!

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.

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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.

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Next, some Ochre, Sepia, but my violet mix from above for the stones. Later, they’ll be lighter than the rest.

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Next, I proceed to paint more heather. I mix more Madder Red with Ultramarine, and paint the upper edges of patches of heather…

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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…

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… is blurred and diluted.

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Patches of heather:

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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.

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The ground now gets a second wash of my violet mix with Burnt Sienna, darkening it and softening the edges of heather.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I then add some highlights, again with gouache, to the shrubs and stones, and paint a few stray patches of wild wheat.

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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.

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Now, finally, the figures. I start with some reds and ochres to see how it looks. Yup – looks good!

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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.

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More detailing.

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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.

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Some final touches with white gouache to spearpoints, hair, fur.

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Finished piece and detail shots: https://goldseven.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-oath-has-been-awakened/

One little, two little, fifteen little Noldor

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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!”

The Drawing of the Sword

(Drawing the Drawing of the sword always results in semantic weirdness.)

It was in early 1994 that I realised this scene was one tough cookie. Two Elves, one at an arm’s and a sword’s length from the other? That means a bit of Elf at the margins of a picture and rather a lot of nothing in the middle.  I realised that this was an iconic scene from the Silmarillion, but I abandoned the project after this quick sketch.

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(Yes, I was under the impression that Fingolfin was blond.)

One and a half years later, I was doing my first ever watercolours, and I had found out that Fingolfin was dark-haired. I also found that a wider shot would solve part of the problem. I probably realised, theoretically, that foreshortening was called for, but this is 1995 we’re talking. No foreshortening in 1995, no, sir.

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So, this year, I took on a commission of this precise scene and knew I would have to deal with foreshortening and some clever positioning.

In the first sketch, I still had to resort to a carefully draped cloak in order to cover up my foreshortcomings. Then I got some terrific help from the guys at comicforum.de, and managed to pull the pose off sufficiently for me to go with.

A progress shot from the lineart proper: Underneath, you see the sketch printed out in pale yellow, so I can filter it out later.

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Second progress shot.

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Final version of the lineart (plus some parchment texture):

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Left to right: Finwë, Fingolfin, Fingon, Turgon, Argon, Fëanor, Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Curufin.

Now for the Painting of the Sword!

… or, how to avoid cluttering up mass scenes. On your second attempt.

In this painting, I have such an amount of detail in the lineart that I have to be careful not to kill the picture with it.Let me give you a fun example of how *not* to do it, from exactly ten years ago when I still signed my pictures with PJ: Messy goblin battle

Why is the colour job in that one such a train wreck? Because I didn’t know yet that the sharpest contrast of an image goes where you want the viewer’s eye to dwell. And only there. Contrast draws the eye. And light and dark contrast draws the eye most. Dark and light contrast across the whole of a picture draws the eye in a sort of crazy polka from which it will want to break as soon as possible and leave the dancefloor. Permanently.

There are loads of ways to avoid this; here is one that works really well with any medium, but requires a bit of planning beforehand. In fact, I had planned this even before I drew the lineart. In even more fact, this only worked to full satisfaction on the second attempt.

My first stage is nothing unusual if you know my workflow: An even layer of a single colour covering everything, to tie the eventual colour scheme together and avoid glaring white highlights that tear the finished image apart. I choose a mix between Yellow Ochre and Sepia with a bit of Cadmium Yellow.

While the paint is still wet (rule of thumb: wet enough to glisten on the paper, not so wet as to form puddles), I go in with a tissue and dab off the paint from the areas that’ll need to stand out later, like Fëanor’s and Fingolfin’s faces, and, most definitely, the sword.

Please note: Sometimes, the colours in the photos here are pretty far away from the actual ones, especially the later images. Too much distraction and not enough light for my silly old digicam.

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This is the finished first layer with the faces dabbed lighter:

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I want the statues to be lighter than the background, to look like alabaster (and discourage any go-go-girl connotations). Therefore, I paint the background behind everybody slightly darker, but still translucent.

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Now I’m going to make sure that all the detail in the background, while still being noticeable, will not distract too much from the foreground.

To that end, I mix a duller colour with more brown, and paint the background figures and arcs with a uniform layer that only leaves out the alabaster statues and the foreground figures.

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So we’ll cleanly separate the different grounds – fore, middle, and back. I also add some handsome splashing to the bottom of my darker figure layer, which will stay even when all the rendering is done, to serve as “lost edges”. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of lost edges, read what the great Mattias Snygg has to say about it.

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Now, the detail is still there, and we have an image that is well readable and ready for the next stage – colour.

I then made a mistake. Th idea was to force myself to stay light in the background, so I went against watercolouring etiquette and started with the darkest part of the background figures – their hair. That way, I had something to check every other colour against – nothing must get darker than the hair. The idea was good, but the choice of material was not. I used liquid watercolours, as I have for months now – and they tend to cake up, and lose all of the lightness and transparency that a watercolour should have. And that’s what happened here.

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After the stage above, I added a second layer of detailing to the background figures – which killed the piece. Beyond redemption. No matter how lightly you apply liquid watercolours, they always come out more opaque that watercolours from tubes or pans. With my latest pictures, that never bothered me enough to actually scrap a painting, but here, it was inevitable. The second background layer became too dark, killing the detail, clogging up the lineart, and making it almost impossible for me to get the foreground darker and still more detailed than the background.

Before I started painting Fingolfin’s tunic and hair below, I already realised the painting was lost. The foreground didn’t stand out against the background figures any more – they already were too dark.

Lesson learnt: play to the strengths of your materials. Use tubes where you want light and feathery colours. Use liquids where you want it dark and don’t mind opaqueness.

When you arrive at a stage where nothing will save your painting, you take it between two thumbs and forefingers and close your eyes, and only open them again after you’ve heard that RAAAAtttttsch! sound. Makes it easier. Good thing I still had the lineart.

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I started anew and went back to this stage above. I used only watercolours from tubes this time, which really avoided that caked look.

This way, instead of doing the light background first and then forcing me to go ever darker in the thing that was more important in the painting, I started with the foreground – so Fëanor and Fingolfin would determine how light the background would have to be. A terminus post quem non, so to speak.

I started with Fingolfin’s tunic, with a wash of Ultramarine damped down by a touch of Indigo and Madder red, leaving lighter some edges to the right, where the light hits. I then mixed some Sepia with Indigo, Burnt Sienna and Madder and started on Fingolfin’s hair, still using only tube-paint.

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The picture below shows the second, darker, detailing hair layer.

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Then comes a part that’s both very laborious but still rather meditative. People are often amazed how I can have so much patience with patterns. Well, I could never understand why people paint Mandalas! But I suppose it’s much the same.

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After the mandala, sorry, tunic-pattern painting. You’ll see I’ve also added some light skin tones (Burnt Sienna with Madder), and started detailing the beads in Fingolfin’s hair.

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You’ll notice when painting around the patterns with darker colours I didn’t pay much attention to light and dark, leaving the tunic more flat-looking than in the first stage. So, more shadows are in order. For that, I now use some liquid watercolours, to make the colour more solid and dark. Rendering is easier with liquid watercolours, I find. I add quite a lot of purple to the mix, and start at Fingolfin’s right arm.

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And this is what the finished tunic looks like:

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I then mix in some darker brown and purple and give the hair the same darker treatment, adding depth and shadow with liquid watercolour:

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Then, some detailing on the belt, with Sienna and Ultramarine.

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Fingolfin is finished. Time to tackle Fëanor. The overall colour scheme will be blue for the Fingofinians, and red for Fëanoreans, so I start with an oxblood colour on Fëanor’s tunic, mixed from Madder red with some Indigo and Sepia. Tube paints, of course, for transparency.

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I then mix much the same colour, plus some darker purple, for the shading – in liquid watercolours for rendering:

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Some detail work that I tend to get lost in – hence, no in-progress shots for the metal parts and plumes on his helm. The paint dries so fast that I can work on the next layer almost immediately after painting the first, so I rarely take photos in between. All the colours below are again tube ones.

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Some more work on this clothes. I’m undecided with the cloak at this point; I want to make it very light to have Fëanor stand out even more, but for that, I have to check back with the client, so I leave it for the time being. I just add some very delicate gouache to lighter bits on his greaves and other shiny details:

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So the foreground figures are as finished as I can make them for the time being, and this is the overall result:

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With just a hint of Bunt Sienna and Madder red (tubes, of course, for transparency), I then do the faces in the background, leaving out areas where the light hits. They won’t get a shadow layer at this point. Just a single colour/rendering layer. I can always get darker later if I think the pic can handle it, but I can’t get lighter, as I found out the hard way on the first attempt.

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After the faces are painted, I use an extremely light (tube!) layer of Sepia for the hair. And some Burnt Sienna for Maedhros, and some unidentifiable mix for Celegorm, so everybody can pick out a hair colour for him and be happy…

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Next, the sons.

I’ve just bought a very nice tube of Cobalt Turquoise, which is blue enough to qualify as “Fingolfinian” but still very different from what Fingolfin wears, and I use it gratuitously on Fingon, Turgon, and Argon, adding a hint of gold here and there to keep them from becoming too monochromatic.

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The Fëanoreans get a similar treatment with Madder Red and Burnt Sienna, with a touch of purple and gold here and there. Mainly water on the brush, with just a spot of paint, avoiding the mistakes from the first attempt. And all tube paints, of course.

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Next, I do the statues with a very dull mix of Sepia, Madder Red, and a touch of Ultramarine, only painting very light shadows.

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Next, I splash around with rather a lot of purple tones on Finwë. Some redder, some bluer, to show how torn he is between the followings of his sons.

In the end, Fëanor is given a pale gold cloak, and some minor touchups to shadows and such follow… and we’re done! Please click for full view. :)

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Ahem… and as I frequently do when a new year begins, I changed my signature. People keep telling me to include “Dolfen” somewhere; and I keep finding that my previous “Jenny+Year” was fine for pencil but difficult to do with brushes.

Detail shots:

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So, I wish you all a Happy New Year! Drawing Runes this New Year’s Eve brought me Isa, Ice, the Rune of Stagnation. I suppose there can be worse things than stagnating on the level I’ve reached last year (brought to you by Inguz, Rune of Fertility, drawn a year ago). Better than the Rune of Bottomless Plummet or something.

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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.