The Darkening of Valinor

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.

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At this stage, I took it to pencil and paper, lightly sketching out Fëanor and Finwë.

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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.)

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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).

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Drawing Morgoth.
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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.

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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!

Morgoth walkthrough

Morgoth Walkthrough? Sounds like the thing Fingolfin didn’t have…

Anyway, here’s a step-by-step of my latest painting: “And Morgoth came.”

As I usually do, I started with a digital sketch. I debated for a while whether I really wanted to give him the ubiquitous Evil Overlord Shoulder Spikes, but then I decided Evil Overlords needed those, desperately.

What I decided he could do without was the skull on his breastplate. He even had skulls on his knees temporarily, but he doesn’t strike me as the flashy sort who’d try to intimidate his enemies (or servants) with skulls on his kneecaps. I mean, he doesn’t need that, does he.

In the lineart, I suddenly realised that I had envisioned Morgoth as stony ever since I first read the Silmarillion, though I had never been aware of it. But all those comparisons to hills, mountains, caverns in the Silmarillion and the Lays of Beleriand were just too strong to ignore. That just goes to show how little I manage to truly see characters in my head.

(By the way, the result of one of my early attempts to depict those rather fuzzy visions of Morgoth, dating back to to 1995, can be found at the end of this post. If you’re very brave.)

My desk, all new and shiny and laid out for several days of painting. Print-outs of the sketch and a quick digital colour mockup lean against the wall. On the left hand side: provisions like crisps and coke. On the right: drawing materials, such as paints, tissue, brushes, and vodka.

What? Oh no, you did read that right.

The first wash of paint: pale red (mostly Alizarin Crimson) and a lot of water.

After drying, the second layer of paint, in the “window” of the main picture: More bright reds. On the left, you see me painting some vodka into the wet paint. Vodka pushes the water away, leaving a bright line. (The water comes flowing back in after a while, so if you want the white line to stay, you need to dry the spot again with a dry brush.)

Some more vodka is put to good use.

The middle and side panels are painted. I’ve also added some jagged, stony spires at the bottom.

For the frame, I mix a couple of different purple hues from varying amounts of Alizarin Crimson, Magenta, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine, Indigo, and Sepia. (Which is all the colours used in this pic.) I kept them separately in my palette.

I wanted a stony texture, so I painted jagged “tiles” and used different hues for adjacent ones. By putting an ink jar underneath my painting, I got it to lie on a slightly slanted surface. Thus, the paint pooled at the bottoms of the tiles, creating an interesting 3D effect.

After painting the entire border and panels, I showed this one to a friend, who said, “Wow! Morgoth in Care Bear Land!”

So, a darkening and dulling of colours was very much in order.

If you’re going to add a glaze over an existing painting, and if you plan on keeping the textures and edges you’ve already painted, you should use a soft brush. My usual synthetic brushes are too hard; they would have rubbed off all the edges I had. I used a soft sable brush, and thus most of the work I’d previously done remained intact.

For the glaze, I used Sepia, Indigo and some Yellow Ochre, for a truly dirty wash that would get rid of all pink fuzz.

Going from light to dark as usual, I put in the first block of colours for Morgoth, modelling some areas already. I used pretty much the same mix of colours (minus Ochre) I already had for the frame, though heavier on the Sepia side – as always in my paintings, no black was used.

I did make use of the pure white of the paper, as opposed to my usual approach – the Silmarils in his crown were deliberately left mostly white.

The first colour-blocking job finished.

The second, darker, colour layer. Here I’m painting the stony structure of his helmet.

Usually, I have two to a maximum of three layers in every given area of a painting. In this one, I had as many as six in some places, to add depth and darkness.

You’ll note that there is a lot of detail and contrast between lighter and darker edges in his upper body (the strongest in his face) and hardly any contrast at all in the lower half. That way, the eye is directed up – as Fingolfin’s must have been, staring up at his massive foe – and isn’t distracted by shiny objects on belt, knees, or other nether regions.

(I was watching The Clone Wars the other day and found myself staring at clone trooper crotches for ninety minutes. There’s a joint in their crotch armour. Why would you put a joint in your crotch armour?? – “Oi, 177-789! Oil your crotch, will ya? It’s creaking again!”)

So, we want none of that; hence, no detail in areas of the pic where the watcher is not supposed to dwell.

Looking at the above stage, I found that the S-curve in Morgoth’s cape on the left creates an awkward sort of shape. I decided to make it sweep out of the left margin, to add more bulk and firmness to his stance. I augmented that effect by adding some more jagged stones jutting out in the left side panel, also leading the eye inwards and up.

The only detailed bit in the lower half of the pic was always supposed to be Morgoth’s mace, Grond. So I left a lot of areas where just the very first reddish layer shows (which looks almost white here but isn’t) and added very dark stony greys for that angular, spiky look. No soft transitions, only harsh edges.

The finished painting.

“And Morgoth came.”
… and I told you.

New Year, New Home, New Drive

Still want to get rid of that awfully squaresville graveyard shrubbery there.

Happy New Year to everyone! Please excuse the long radio silence – the last year was frantically busy and altogether rather unpleasant. The good thing is: We’ve moved into our new home, have unpacked (almost) all boxes, and I feel more sorted and well-ordered than I ever have in years. It’s a strange feeling to have come to the place you’ll grow old in. But also a good one.

These photos were taken last spring, obviously.

The moving itself was not fun – so much went wrong; we had so little help; but it’s over, we’re here, and it’s beautiful here. It’s a cosy little wooden house (really all made of wood – the stone façade there is really just a façade) with a huge cherry tree in the garden.


I’ve finally got one of my biggest wishes: Two separate desks for drawing/school work, and for my computer, so that I’m not distracted so much with the two former. A nicely large desk with nothing on it regularly, just what I put there for any given task. That sets free huge amounts of creativity, I can tell you.

Plus, a daylight lamp that keeps me from messing up my colours when I’m painting at night. (And also keeps one nicely awake.)

We’ve even got a hobby room in the basement – without windows, so naturally, it’s for the sort of hobby that requires the absence of daylight: role-playing! :D We’ve got an entire room in our house devoted to RPG and comics. Another heart’s desire fulfilled for my hubby and me! Photos to come. :D

Rune-drawing on New Year’s Eve has given me Inguz, Nordic rune of fertility, promising a very fruitful year. I’m normally not into these things, but somehow, all the runes I’ve ever drawn have proved incredibly accurate. (Quite opposed to the absolutely identical axolotls that I always get when we do lead-pouring for New Year’s Eve, and the meaning of which I have yet to find out.) So this year, I hope to do a lot of art and I’m determined to get my book going again.

The holidays are almost over, but I’ve been able to spend some time on drawing – it’s always a cool feeling to do a first painting in a new house.

I’m working on several commissions simultaneously; one Silmarillion, two Harry Potter – and the one that looks most likely to make it to number one in 2012 will be a follow-up to “Fingolfin’s Challenge“:

“And Morgoth came.”

Just a digital colour mockup as of now; the final piece will be watercolour.

Here’s to 2012!