Fingon and Aredhel – mixed media experiment

I doodled a very nice Fingon and Aredhel into my sketchbook yesterday – with coloured pencil, which yielded some really charming results. I decided to try watercolour on top of those – only to realise that my coloured pencils were water soluble.

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So I printed the sketches out on watercolour paper again, and got to work, spraying the entire paper with water and then laying down a Quinachridone Gold wash.

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A bit of flesh-tint with Burnt Sienna and Madder Red.

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Some Ultramarine for the shadows.

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More reddish and bluish tints. I really like this effect. Maybe next time I try this technique, I won’t do it on a character with dark hair.

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Painting the hair with Ultramarine, Madder, and rather a lot of Shadow Violet.

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Some final touches with paint, and later some more with Polychromos and white gel pen.

 

Finished:

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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.

Loughborough Pictures

My first exhibition!

And look! I’m on the BBC!

 

My stand. I realised later that it was a weird mix of artists alley and actual stand. This was on the first day; I still had prints!

Jay Johnstone setting up his stand. Now THAT is a stand. I was taking mental notes on how to present myself properly.

Simo, alias Lathron, in his Elven armour that he forged himself. I wish I’d badgered him into doing another somersault that I could take a picture of. But be assured, he did do one; that armour’s very flexible.

Anke Eißmann, who shared a table with me, in the process of sketching Sherlock fanart. ;)

These two had a beautiful stand doing Elven calligraphy.

It was wonderful to see even older fans of Tolkien dressed up and generally sharing all the same enthusiasm.

Before Saruman went to subjugate the Shire under the name of Sharkey, he seems to have tried out Rugby at Lufbra Uni. Judging by the amount of trophies he gathered, it’s surprising he didn’t stick to it. Maybe it was because they always misspelt his name on the jersey.

Malcolm, winner of my purely personal Funniest T-shirt Contest. And generally a wonderful bloke.

Shaun Gunner, deputy chairman of the Tolkien Society and in charge of organising the Return of the Ring event. And yes Shaun, you’re everyone’s favourite! Deservedly.

Nancy Martsch, Ruth Lacon, Ted Nasmith, me, and Anke Eißmann at the “Illustrating Tolkien” panel.

Ted answering questions.

Ted looking at my portfolio. We had a lot of fun discussing lack of backgrounds and lack of characters. It was something I mentioned at the artists panel – that men seem to be focussing on the landscapes and women on the characters.

Me at the watercolour workshop.

Getting ready for the Traditional Knitted Dwarf Toss.

Close-up of the Knitted Dwarf.

A huge Smaug cake that was presented on Saturday night. It was delicious, too.

Ted Nasmith, Alex Lewis, and Lynn Whitaker singing Tolkien-inspired songs. One of my absolute highlights.

Breakfast time with the Dragon Vert Tolkien-reenactment company.

A seamstress from Le Dragon Vert working on a Bayeux- inspired tapestry depicting Éomer.

A setup at camp that just caught my eye.

Farewell to Lufbra. These are the student accommodations, and all in all, they’re about twice as big as the village I live in. I’d never seen such an incredibly large University.

Here are some of the quick watercolour portraits I did over the weekend:

Treebeard

Fingon

Rosie Cotton

Guess who. :D

Another Fingon.

A hobbit I did for Shaun. He said that people seem to draw hobbit feet far too large, and also told me that he had very large feet. So there.

Éowyn.

Sketches from the edge

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.

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.”

Unspoken Resentment

I seem to be one of the few people who always assumed that, when Fingon had rescued Maedhros from Thangorodrim, he took him with him to the people of Fingolfin. It’s always made sense for me. He would have wanted to keep him close, and he wouldn’t have been welcome to stay in the Fëanoreans’ camp, quite apart from the fact that he’s just not brazen enough to just outstay his welcome there – neither could I ever imagine him just dumping Maedhros at his brothers’ doorstep, saying “There ya go! I dared what you didn’t!” and take the next eagle home. XD

So, the question is: How did Fingon’s family react? I imagine it was a mix of anger at his sudden disappearance, admiration for his daring deed, and resentment at helping one of the hated Fëanoreans. The latter would have been strongest in Turgon, just having lost his wife and nearly his daughter, and holding Maedhros squarely responsible, as Fëanor was no longer around to be held responsible.

Hope to finish this with coffee. Hmmmm. Coffee.

First sketch in my sketchbook. I ran out of extra lead in ALL my mechanical pencils and then even the only black Biro I had died on me. O_o Hence the “Och nee!” (German for: Oh noes!) in the corner.

Photoshop sketch done at home.

The lineart. With the help of a ref photo shot of myself with a couple of kitchen towels and a thermos flask. Dear Lord, I need to de-age that hand. You know, I’ll be forty in three years, but you’d never guess it unless you saw my hands. I swear I have the Hands of Dorian Gray. They age in my stead. XD


I decided to change Fingon’s expression as opposed to the lineart – merely concern for Maedhros, not even acknowledging his brother’s resentment, in spite of being perfectly aware of it. He wouldn’t hold a grudge. His aim was to heal a feud, not create new ones. He probably even allowed Turgon for his enmity – mostly because he still didn’t know Maedhros was blameless for the burning of the ships.

If he wasn’t so pure-hearted, I’d have fallen for Fingon instead of Maedhros. He just lacks a dark side.

Finished with coffee. :)