They’re all available in my Etsy shop now!
I’ll be making a few others over the summer. If you’d like to get a say in which ones will be made, please check out my Patreon!
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!
Some Silmarillion in between, though at least slightly inspired (as probably shows) by Star Wars – ever since I saw Kylo Ren’s costume, I felt Fëanor would really look great in a high collar and flowing coat-tails. I’ve put him in black and gold before, so that was something that always belonged to him, for me.
And though you might say otherwise, the hair is 100% Fëanor, too. ;)
Gold leaf (22 karat, a slightly paler colour than the 23 karat I usually use):
Watercolour, gouache, and gold leaf on Canson Montval, 42×30 cm (painting itself an inch smaller).
Original available here
Prints with gold leaf available here.
This is a commission I took on last November (…!), for a wonderful guy and one of the greatest clients I’ve ever worked with. He wanted a painting of Fëanor holding his slain father, and the scene quickly evolved from there.
As usual, the fist sketches I made were digital, so I could shift around elements and try out what looked good where – digital thumbnailing. In the margin, quite a lot changed; the centre was pretty clear for me right from the start. Only Fëanor’s head went all over the pace during the sketching phase.
At this stage, I took it to pencil and paper, lightly sketching out Fëanor and Finwë.
In the end, I had everything where I wanted it (and had corrected Fëanor’s leg and Finwë’s head wound). For the centre image, I had been working in A4 format, which I find easiest to handle. (Especially on a desk otherwise overflowing with unmarked exams – school really kept me away from drawing for the better part of 2013. But you probably noticed that from the absence of pictures this year.)
I then started on the background. For this, I printed out the centre piece on an A3 sheet of drawing board, in light orange, so I could filter it out digitally later and put the two different elements together but was in less danger of smudging anything. I wanted the centre piece there with me, because the entire piece was to have a unity (Fëanor was to be in direct eye contact with Morgoth across the different picture elements, and later, I continued certain flow lines across the borders- such as Fëanor’s clothing continued in Manwë’s clothing behind Nienna).
Outlining the Valar. Ungoliant would be redrawn completely – she looks absolutely wonderfully terrifying, but I assembled her wrong – the legs are attached between the head and the main body of a spider, not on the main body. I can’t believe I studied spider anatomy for this image, and actually desensitised myself (huge arachnophobic here) enough to be able to google wolf spiders and draw them as terrifyingly as I could make it. Incidentally, the desensitising effect was enough for me to clean the basement floor for the first time since we moved into this house. If I’m feeling particularly daring, I might scrounge up the courage to pack up the spider-infested tent that has been lying around in the laundry room since last September.
Apart from arachnophobic concerns, another huge topic was how to portray the Valar. I’m really glad that the client gave me completely free reign with this. I had a hard time finding back to my view of some of them – I’ve seen entirely too many Morgoths, Mandoses and Manwës looking entirely too pretty. Many will disagree with me for Manwë, and feel free to, by all means – I know that “they took the forms of the children of Ilúvatar”. And yet, Tulkas has a beard, and when I first read the Silmarillion, I imagined the Valar like Greek or Norse Gods, with Manwë definitely in the tradition of Odin and Zeus.
Fun fact: Nienna, for me, has always looked like the woman in the video of “Babe” from Take That. The song was in the charts in 1993, while I was reading the Silmarillion excessively during my last year at school, and the video featured a solder coming home from a war (?) in a wintry landscape, where a woman clothed head to toe in some sort of black gauze was walking through the ruins of a Russian palace covered in snow, usually with her head in her hands. I’d never been much of a Take That fan (my teenage tastes were rather unusual – Maedhros, Hannibal and football players instead of Mark Owen and Gary Barlow), but the video fascinated me visually. And gave me a clear vision of Nienna.
Next up: Watercolours!
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?”
Yup. Never go anywhere without my “Finwë dying in Fëanor’s arms” stencil.
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.
Firstly, I’m finally drawing again – there’s still a whole load of tests that need to be marked over the next month, but most of the other work is out of the way.
This is a commission about the Darkening of Valinor – this will be the centre piece, with Fëanor holding his dead father.
My latest print sale has been a huge success – thank you, all of you who have supported me by buying my prints! The print sale is still up; if you’ve been debating so far, you have until tomorrow to make up your mind. :)
And lastly: I’ve now got a tumblr! I’m still in the process of making up my mind what I’ll post where, but I can imagine that random sketches and wips will go to tumblr rather than my blog – unless it’s walkthroughs, of course. I’ll still do those here. :)
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!”
(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.
(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.
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.
Second progress shot.
Final version of the lineart (plus some parchment texture):
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.
This is the finished first layer with the faces dabbed lighter:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The picture below shows the second, darker, detailing hair layer.
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.
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.
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.
And this is what the finished tunic looks like:
I then mix in some darker brown and purple and give the hair the same darker treatment, adding depth and shadow with liquid watercolour:
Then, some detailing on the belt, with Sienna and Ultramarine.
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.
I then mix much the same colour, plus some darker purple, for the shading – in liquid watercolours for rendering:
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.
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:
So the foreground figures are as finished as I can make them for the time being, and this is the overall result:
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.
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…
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.
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.
Next, I do the statues with a very dull mix of Sepia, Madder Red, and a touch of Ultramarine, only painting very light shadows.
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. :)
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.
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.
Added just a bit of colour to the Hobbit Feest sketch of Fëanor.
And started a new sketch that I’m sure Maedhros knew he couldn’t hold off for ever…
Thinking of treating this a lot rougher, colour-wise, than I usually do. Possibly with a wash like above, maybe even charcoal, ink, acrylics – not decided yet.
Last weekend was Hobbit Feest at Kasteel de Berckt in Baarlo, Netherlands. It was a wonderful and cosy experience (probably too cosy from the organisers’ points of view, as there were really not enough visitors). Though it was rather quiet, I loved it there – I met up with loads of Loughborough friends again, and made loads of new ones. Few visitors but loads of new friends – yes, that actually did work that way. I’ve been trying to analyse why exactly everyone at Hobbit Feest – visitors and vendors alike – were such great guys, and I have several theories as to that.
Theory #1: Dutch people are cool. Yes, they are. So very much so. So relaxed, so friendly, so gregarious, so out- and easygoing. I think this has something to do with it, but the Germans I met there were just as nice, so that can’t have been all there is to it.
Theory #2: Tolkien fans are a much nicer bunch than Fantasy fans at large (as seen at Ring*Con). That’s definitely true. Everyone whom I met at Baarlo had read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings; and those who had not read the Silmarillion were at least duly ashamed of themselves. XD And they loved to discuss their views as much as I do.
Theory#3: I was sketching at my table. You may remember that one of the things I found so weird at Ring*Con was how people didn’t believe I was the artist of the stuff I was selling there. (Something I don’t understand. I think I fit my drawings.) Here, I always had a drawing in front of me, and people who passed by always acknowledged me. All of them smiled and said, “Those are great drawings!” Some then went on, in a friendly way. Most stayed to chat. Many bought prints. I feel like an idiot for not doing that at Ring*Con! So they all really thought I was just sitting there behind a random assortment of prints – no wonder that wasn’t interesting.
Something really funny that I heard a number of times over the weekend was the absolutely incredible line: “Did you draw these? Or… are they printed?”
That sentence is just hilarious when you think about it. It implies I’ve printed out some nice piccies from the Internet and take them to a convention. It also implies that nobody (at least not, apparently, a youngish looking woman in a Norwegian sweater) is even able to draw like that. and the one one who can is… the Internet? I thought that mindset was rather funny. Interestingly, I’ve heard it before, from my very inartistic parents in law.
Talking about parents, De Limburger newspaper was there on Saturday, and I made it into today’s issue with a small interview and a photo! The text recounts how my mother read the Hobbit to me when I was a child, “leaving out the violent scenes” (not essentially true…) and how “Tolkien inspires”. That he does. To this day. And many another to come.
So, aside from the many great conversations I had over the weekend, I did a workshop which was fun as well, though it bordered on a speed record that I was able to do it within one hour. Especially as I was talking English and German simultaneously.
Below, there’s a bit of comparative anatomy: Horses, humans, hobbits, bats and dragons. (And an answer to the question why hobbits are often depicted with larger than usual feet: when we see a clothed form with bare feet, the feet appear tiny to us because we expect something the size of shoes.)
I also wallowed in the absolutely unparalleled luxury of having two, two days in which I could sit and draw! On the first day, I set out to do a pencil drawing (probably soon to be watercoloured) of the “Children of the Forest” sketch I made last week.
On the second day, I gave Fëanor the glamour portrait that he has been demanding since… uh, 2004. I’m sorry, Curufinwë. I feel like treating this one with just a bit of colour too.
Later, I also drew a request sketch for Sarina, of Arwen.
All in all, this has been an absolutely gorgeous weekend – I can’t wait for next May, when I’ll be at Tolkien Tag in Geldern! (Not a weird way of playing tag, by the way, but “Tolkien Day” in German).
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.
A few absolutely incredibly taxing days. Class trip with one hundred twenty-six twelve-year-olds. Three days of sitting a bag of fleas, as we say in German. Some very touching experiences, some rather disheartening ones, and having to be “on” for seventy-six hours on end.
Drawing was a lifeline to sanity.
I can’t seem to stop. O_o
Maglor and Maedhros after the latter’s rescue.
And one that I’ve been wanting to (re)do for years – the Prophecy of the North.
“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.”
Exam marking season is upon me. I’m doomed.
Uh yes, he’ll have armour in the final. It’s… just so I get his anatomy right. You know?
I like Gothmog’s reflection there in the shoulderplate.
… until I realised that he ought to have been reflected in all of Fëanor’s armour. So I got rid of it again in the colouring.
Painted using Dr Martin’s Liquid Watercolours. Now those are colours!
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!