Pin designs

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!

One little, two little, fifteen little Noldor


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.


(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, 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.

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.

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.

Detail shots:


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.

New Silmarillion picture ideas

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.”

Fingolfin – Walkthrough (and how to paint a dapple grey horse)

So, I finally got to painting Fingolfin! I’m extremely happy with the outcome – Very often, the colour schemes I go for result in very clear images with very clearly divided colour areas. In this one, I went for much less colour and hue variation so as not to lose all that detail.

For the sketching and lineart process, see this entry

I started with a generous background wash of a dull brown, mainly Sepia. I dabbed off some paint from the horse and Fingolfin’s face so they’d stand out more brightly later.

No, that was a lie. I started with two hours of trying to print out the lineart, but my printer kept staining the bottom. *kicks it*
(I have an A3 Epson printer with waterproof ink that can handle up to 350 gsm of paper weight. More or less well depending on its mood of the day.)

The paper I work with is Hahnemühle Veneto, which comes in huge rolls that nobody but me will buy, hence they’re practically giving them away at our local art store. It’s wonderfully cottony in texture and hardly twists, so I don’t have to stretch it.

With images like these, I often start with the knotwork. I went for primary colours, but soon saw they looked slightly too baby’s bedroom, so I toned down the blues and reds after the first wash.

I always start with the knots themselves, as for some reason, knotwork looks best when the background is darker than the knots. Here I’m already painting the background. (And wondering how to get rid of that baby’s bedroom charm.)

Now all the borders are painted. I also darkened the border around the whole image.

That blotted-out space up there was me photographing pictures with my gradebook open. >_< 9b would not appreciate the world to know how they did in their last English test. (Well, not all of them.)

Painting a dapple-grey horse

I just love dapple-greys. And I love to paint them. There are several ways how to achieve that dappled look. Initially, I was going to use vodka (yes, you read that right), but the vodka I’m using only works when applied at exactly the right state of drying, which makes working with it quite a hassle. Probably the wrong brand.

So, in lieu of alcoholic beverages, I started with painting the dapples, like this.You paint little circles and ovals, making sure they vary in size and spacing, or the final result will look too uniform.

In order not to have the dapples stand out so much (we want dapples, not polka dots), I overlaid them with a more unifying wash once they’d dried.

Once that wash had dried as well, I added another dotted wash, exactly like the first.

Closeup of the finished dappled rump in the final image.

After painting the horse very bluish, I found that the subtle hue variation I’d had in the background was too subtle after all, and put a more reddish wash over it. Now Fingolfin stood out nicely without looking as if I’d painted the background in greyscale.

Painting armour

To achieve a metallic look, you need to paint a mix of smooth gradients (for the smooth texture of metal) interrupted by sharp light-dark-contrasts (for the reflections).

I started with the first layer. I had three different types of metal: chainmal bits on his arms and lower body, etched plate (on his stomach and other places) and smooth plate. I decided to set them apart by using different blues for them, painting the etched and chainmail bits darker.

The two white bits along his torso are leather straps, which I also painted bluish later.

Here’s the second wash of paint. On his gorget (that the collar piece) and the shoulder plate, you can see some metal reflections already.

Closeup of the armour in the finished piece.

(In case you wonder about the colour changes, the scan here is more true to the colours I used – the camera, again, picked up different hues, as I was working with artificial light again.)

Total time spent: Probably around 13-15 hours.

Fingolfin’s Challenge

The finished image (as always, click to enlarge)
Recommended listening: Two Steps From Hell, Heart of Courage

(space needed before the onset of silliness)

(Incidentally, I recently dug out this – from a calendar I drew back in 1996. XD Thought I’d share.)

New Silmarillion paintings underway

I’m working on two commissions at the moment, both Tolkien, both Silmarillion, and both of the House of Fingolfin. One of them is “Fingolfin’s Challenge”, of Fingolfin riding to challenge Morgoth to single combat. If you don’t know the Silmarillion, Fingolfin is the cousin of Galadriel and a great-great-great……….grandfather of Aragorn, and Morgoth was Sauron’s boss. Yes, boss. Imagine the slaughter.

It also is a good excuse to show my sketching process.

I started with a digital sketch of the basic layout and figures.

I used a reference shot for the horse, but changed bits so as not to stay too close to a photo. I also used one of my favourite drawing aids – my little Andalusian toy horse from the company Schleich. I love those little animals. They’re really true to actual horses, very realistically done.

Pity is my little daughter loves them too, and regularly abducts my pony and my Frisian.

I always planned to do Celtic knotwork in the frames. Years ago, those patterns pretty much used to completely elude me. I have become slightly better, but for this one, I opted for premade ones. I found lovely patterns from deviantnepstock, and traced them for the top frame. For the bottom frame, I used a design from a royalty-free Dover book and changed it to resemble a dragon (as this scene takes place at the end of a dragon battle).

I drew the patterns in A3 size and the figure in A4, to put the whole thing together in Photoshop later. I “ink” with a pencil (in this case, a H one and a mechanical HB). It works well under watercolours and I never really mastered the art of inking.

I also noticed that I put Fingolfin in the same armour that I always draw for his son Fingon. So as to avoid them both looking as if they went to a local Dwarven chainmail sellout together, I put Fingolfin in plate armour, with the client’s permission, who said, “I’d wear plate if I had to go against THAT!”

Now it’s time for some correctional work. As mostly everybody who goes from sketch to inked picture knows (and if you don’t, I envy you), you tend to lose loads and loads of movement between these stages. Some of this loss has to do with sketchy lines being more dynamic by default. The rest just happens as you lose lines and features that didn’t seem important but suddenly are dearly missed.

On the left, you have my scribble. In the middle, there’s the first version of my pencil-inks. When I put those next to each other in Photoshop, it’s easy to see where I lost movement – I lost the tilt of the head, and the drawn-up shoulder. So using the “Liquify” tool (ctrl+shift+x) I can nudge the lines back to where I started out in my sketch.

So now I have my finished pencil piece.

Before I start painting, I make sure I have my colour scheme all planned out. I do this digitally as well, and it usually takes me less than twenty minutes.