While my guitar gently weeps

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I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps

Jan. Watercolour on Canson Héritage cold-pressed paper, 21×30 cm.

Two weeks ago, my brother died of cancer.
We made music together for twenty-seven years. I still can’t believe I will never see him again, sing with him, and cut out silly little things with typos from newspapers to send him on postcards.

They played “While my guitar gently weeps” at his funeral.

Roast rabbit – and an art revelation

I had a clear “where have you been all my life” moment yesterday. After using gouache quite satisfactorily on Gil-galad, not just for highlights but also for some rendering, I decided it was time for another stab at gouache.

Gouache is often described as opaque watercolour (and indeed, many languages use no separate word for it), and can either be applied thickly and even paste-like, much like oils, or in thinner washes, much like watercolour. I’d often thought about trying around with the former, mainly because I’d been using only the most transparent of watercolours in recent years and felt that going opaque was just the opposite of what I wanted. One and a half years ago, roughly, I bought a book on painting animals in gouache, and faithfully copied the examples. It worked, but I didn’t like it. My gouache tubes went to the bottom of my art cupboard again.

I’d been thinking about the medium again and wanted to take another shot at it, when I looked at some paintings in my “inspiration” folder whose technique had always baffled me and it hit me: They weren’t watercolours. They were thinly glazed gouache paintings.

Gouache has a pastelly, fuzzy quality to it that I’d never really given much thought.

I immediately decided to try that. My mother had asked for a picture of Sam Gamgee roasting a rabbit, and it looked like just the thing to try in gouache.

I painted very much the way I always do, except that I mixed in white instead of relying on the white of the paper. The white gouache made for a fuzziness that just turned blending colours into an absolute dream. The greenery in the background also just fell onto the paper effortlessly. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is that, instead of a thin blue shadow map, I’ll do a bolder, more neutral shadow line the last time, and drop in the blues later, while it’s still wet.

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I recorded the painting process and uploaded it as a timelapse here.

The original painting is available in my Etsy shop!

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Loki – Cloak of feathers

I’m taking a SmArt School class with Rebecca Leveille-Guay this autumn, and it’s great! Working with so many creative people, the invaluable art tips, critiques and pointers (on my art and on the others’) are all so inspiring.

The first piece I decided to take to completion in Rebecca’s class was this one – Loki posing with Freya’s cloak of feathers, before flying off in search of Thor’s stolen hammer (and before him and Thor both ending up in drag, but let’s not mention that!)

I used tons of reference for this. The face is a much modified Matt Smith, and for the rest, I actually built part of a feather cloak to take exactly the ref pictures I needed! I’ve never gone to such lengths in a piece, but that was an eye-opener. Rebecca also suggested re-wetting and lifting off dry paint for highlights – something I had never really done and that’s totally addictive.

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Watercolour and gouache on Bockingford cold-pressed paper, 29×21 cm.

Original for sale!

 

The end of a realm, of a world, of a dream

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“Jenny bowed her head again. For a moment, the rough clang of blade on blade filled her ears. She remembered that noise, and the cry of the dying, atop a high hill beneath a scorching sun. Black armor and a bloody blade. And the battle. Such a battle, one worthy of the world’s ending. And hadn’t it been? The end of a realm, of a world, of a dream…”

Watercolour and gel pen on Fabriano paper, 28×38 cm.

The battle of Camlann – the calm before the storm. From an upcoming novel by Paul Leone, merging a Victorian vampire tale with Arthurian legend.

Prints here!

It’s been a crazy summer, with a lot of unforeseen stuff that ate up my summer holidays completely. This is the only full painting I got done during that time, which is slightly frustrating, but it’s also another bit of proof for my conviction that breaks in your art transform you. Months ago, I resolved to try a softer approach to colouring than the one I had developed over the last four years (not fully intentionally either). I tried it, but it didn’t work – I just slipped back into old habits. Now, after three months with virtually no painting, it was incredibly easy to incorporate new habits. So – the break was a good thing in the end.

The Lady of Heron Lake

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Watercolour and gouache, 37×22 cm. Original sold. Prints available here.

Another piece done in the vein of the “Dark Wings Downstream” painting – for years, I’ve had loads of cool visual ideas and never did anything with them because there wasn’t a story to them. But I’m coming to the conclusion that they can be just as rewarding.

I love herons. Behind our village, there are several miles of fields where you can see them all winter – along with storks – standing there regally and demanding to be drawn. I bet the rabbits sharing the same fields will be jealous now, and demand their painting next. I might. But they’ll have to put up with a dragon for company.

 

Search for the lost temple

Inspired by Claudia Gray’s novel “Bloodline” (which I haven’t read yet – exam marking season), which discloses that, just a few years prior to TFA, Luke Skywalker was travelling the galaxy in search for the first Jedi temple – with Ben Solo.

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“Search for the lost temple”

Watercolour on Cotman cold-pressed paper, A4 size.

Original sold.

The chronology majorly messes up some of my headcanons, as does the fact that Rey doesn’t seem to be related to the Skywalker family. I was extremely flattered, though, to read a review of the book that discussed the timeline of events and expressed regret over the fact that “that Jenny Dolfen painting” was now obviously AU. Wow. I mean – wow. I’m pop culture!

Dark wings downstream

“They laid him to rest in the ship with his sword upon his legs; and as he drifted home downstream, there came seven black swans, their trumpet calls guiding him to the Otherworld.”

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Some work (loosely) inspired by Arthurian legend that I’ve been wanting to paint for years. The clothes and burial gifts of the warrior are inspired by the Sutton Hoo treasure (as is the build of the ship, though much smaller). Watercolours on Fabriano Grana Fina, 29×39 cm.

Prints here!

Original for sale – contact me if interested!

Learning to fly

What he saw…

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Watercolour and white gouache on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 25×35 cm.

Commission for Doug, who wanted me to show what Kylo Ren saw when he stood in the deserted cockpit of his father’s ship. An unusual piece for me, with all those darks (and that mechanical…. shtuff!) but I’m really pleased with it. It was a great challenge to portray emotion without seeing any faces at all, just through body language. Of course, watching Adam Driver do just that for most of TFA helped!

Prints here!

The dark side, and the light

Trying my hand at another full watercolour portrait of Kylo Ren. It’s cool how much this working from photos phase has taught me about realistic painting since January! Adam Driver’s face still defeats me more often than not, but I’m quite happy with it here. A bit too handsome, perhaps, but I’m biased.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Clairefontaine Nuageux cold-pressed paper, 39×29 cm (~11×15 in)

Original and prints available here!

Video on Patreon.

 

Finn

I feel infinitely bad that this wonderful character hasn’t got his portrait from me yet! He was actually the very first The Force Awakens piece I did, back in December, pretty much after returning from the cinema, but the pose and the colours didn’t work out, and afterwards, I didn’t dare try again. Now, finally!

For me, Finn is the heart of the gorgeous new young cast. He’s fun, he’s brave, he’s kind. He may take second place after Rey, but he’s the one I identified with most, wearing his heart on his sleeve so much, and not bothering to hide it.

I also love what I’ve seen from John Boyega in interviews. Such a fun bloke. I hope that someday, someone will get him to re-dub his character in British English. “I’m a stohmtroopa, I’m here’t save ya.” I really want to hear that. finn_col

Finn. Daniel Smith watercolours on Clairefontaine Nuageux paper, 27×36 cm.

Timelapse video on Youtube.

Original here!

“That hairy beast”

Kylo Ren remembering Chewie. Or trying not to.

Just as he calls his father “Han Solo” to avoid any emotional ties to him, I imagine he avoids thinking of Chewie as anything than in terms of “that hairy beast” or maybe the “walking carpet” Threepio and Leia used to denote the Wookiee. Especially after being shot by him.

Except “Fuzzball”. That was Han’s. He wouldn’t use that.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Hahnemühle Le Rouge cold-pressed paper.

Original here.

Ben and little Rey

Okay, this is it. I’m illustrating headcanons that have a fat chance of being AU in two years’ time. I regret nothing.

Ben Solo (around 15) and Rey (around 4) at the Jedi Academy. Ben is already firmly under Snoke’s influence, already knowing he has to kill his fellow students on Snoke’s orders, and allows nobody to break into his shell. Rey is still trying.

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“Why are you angry?”
“Get lost.”

Watercolour on Clairefontaine Grain Nuageux paper, 30×21 cm.

Original here.
Okay, I’ve broken down and made prints available. :)

 

Sketch to painting video here.

A creature in a mask

Is she done with him yet? Nope, she isn’t. ;)

In fact, the more theories I read about this guy, the more he intrigues me.

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A creature in a mask

Watercolour and gouache on Canson Montval paper (which is seriously reaching its limits for the amount of water I’ve been sploshing on it recently). Size 42×30 cm.

Original here.

Timelapse video here.

Can we talk about the Force vision Rey has when he is called to the Skywalker lightsabre? How amazing is it to heap spoilers and dead giveaways on the audience in such a way that most of them will be too dazed to make any sense of them until they’ve watched a couple of Youtube videos taking the footage apart? Even after the second rewatch, I didn’t have a clue what I’d seen. In my head, it was WHAM rey-rain-hey-its-R2-was-that-luke-menacing-people-ah-that-kylo-guy-awww-that-poor-girl WHAM, and I never realised that I had just seen Kylo Ren saving Rey’s life by running his iconic lightsabre through a masked man – another knight of Ren? – who was just about to kill her.

Which has sold me on the theory that Kylo Ren was the one who left Rey on Jakku.

This is why nobody ever came back for her – because everyone thought she was dead like the others. Kylo Ren defied Snoke by letting her live, and hiding her. That’s why he seems to know who she is throughout the movie. On my first watch, I was sure she was also a daughter of Han and Leia, so that would have explained the familiarity. Obviously, she isn’t (and is quite probably Luke’s daughter – while that Anakin reincarnation theory is beautiful, I think it’s too out of the way), but he still freaks out when he hears that BB-8 left Jakku with the help of a girl. Because now Snoke will know that Kylo Ren disobeyed him all those years ago. I have a feeling that the completion of his training might be an unpleasant experience.

 

Fell and Fey

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. ;)

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Gold leaf (22 karat, a slightly paler colour than the 23 karat I usually use):

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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.

Torn apart

… in which I refuse to feel ashamed for loving Kylo Ren.

This piece was a commission for Deanna, one of my fantastic supporters over at Patreon. She threw a few ideas my way and we ran with Ben Solo as a young Jedi in training, corrupted to the Dark Side by Snoke, torn between the light and the dark but having his path laid out for him through his fear and aggression.

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Torn apart

I can’t believe how much fun it is to figure out this character, and seriously, the only thing that’s keeping me from taking the path to the Dark Side of Fan-fiction is a deeply ingrained aversion against being rendered AU in two years’ time. Art will have to suffice. I put enough story in that to satisfy my needs for explaining the character, but try to leave it symbolic enough so it’ll still work when Episode VIII is out!

The reactions to Kylo Ren are really interesting. Most critics agree that he’s one of the most interesting characters this franchise has had, and certainly the most compelling bad guy. When you’re a teacher in Germany, that picture is slightly different. Quite a few of my students tell me they hated Kylo Ren.

Why? I think he’s too close to home for many people in a certain age group. He embodies the aspects a (male) teenager might dislike about himself. He isn’t cool and badass. He certainly wants to be, and sometimes he fails at it utterly. (Of course, female teenagers usually like him a lot more as they want to pull him back to the light. By his hair or otherwise.)

The expectations for the character were certainly high. In the lead-up to Episode VII, he was everywhere, even on mineral water. You expected him to be the next big bad, and were prepared to embrace your inner badass when you saw him on screen. I think the marketing really has a lot to do with the bad press Kylo Ren gets among younger fans of Star Wars.

And then, of course, he’s got it especially hard in Germany, as the guy who lent him his voice also voices JD from Scrubs. (Funnily, he also voices Dean Winchester, but I never would have known. For Kylo Ren, he definitely gave it a lot more John Dorian and a lot less Dean Winchester.) I don’t know if teenagers in Germany know much Scrubs these days, but the rather whiny voice doesn’t really help. My ears did a couple of double-takes when I heard Adam Driver’s original voice. (His clipped “I’m being torn apart” becomes a melodramatic “Ich bin innerlich zerrissen” in German, which is best translated as “I’m rent on the inside”. Way to kill off that character for German audiences!) My kids will have to endure the movie in English as soon as it comes out on DVD, I can tell you! Here, kiddo, it’s English. It’s good for you. Your resident English teacher says so.

Next stop: Rey!

The Force, it’s calling to you.

So I’ve fallen in love with Star Wars again, and the more I think about it, the more I know why that is. (Scroll down for the art if you’re not into rambling.)

Last week, I dug into my old diaries and found what I wrote when I first saw Episode 1. I was surprised to read myself gushing over a movie that is today considered as bad as they get. I even loved Jar Jar Binks. But even then, I wrote that I loved it all because it was so bad. Literally. I’d been prepared to love it all and when it turned out to be silly, I told myself I loved it for the trash factor. Back then, I was okay with that.

Now, after seeing The Force Awakens twice, I’m only slowly understanding how much the prequels let me down, and how much Episode VII lives up to its very first sentence spoken: “This will begin to set things right”.

Yes, the obvious plot parallels to IV and V bothered me after the first viewing. Not so much after the second. JJ Abrams felt sure Star Wars needed a reboot, and I think it worked fine. My only qualm remains Starkiller Base, but I can apply my Episode 1 practice here and like it because it’s just so ridiculous.

What I love more and more is the characters. Those characters! I can’t even decide which I love most.

JJ Abrams gave us a female protagonist whose gender isn’t even an issue, as well as a black hero whose skin colour is never even mentioned. (It reminds me of the novels of David Weber, where skin colour and gender are totally secondary.) He gave us a daredevil pilot who is kind and likeable instead of selfish and badass. He gave us a villain that is so much your typical entitled manchild that teenagers hate him and adults love him for being such a complex figure.

 

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Poe Dameron

How can you not love Poe? I’m hoping the rewrite of Episode VIII will enlarge his role.

Video of the painting process is here.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Scarred

I didn’t fall in love with Kylo Ren until really late in the day, but as you’ll have noticed, fall in love I did. I can’t wait to find out what turned him to the dark side, and whether anything might turn him back to the light. I’m also semi-guiltily digging through Youtube to locate anything with Adam Driver in it. I can’t believe how versatile he is.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Han Solo

I never really liked Han in the original trilogy. “I happen to like nice men”, and as opposed to Leia, Han never managed to convince me he was one. But in this film, he breaks my heart. He started out as a cocksure smuggler who hadn’t even realised he’d lost his way; he found a terrific girl, found purpose, and ended up losing purpose, and the girl, and his way, as well as their son. The Force Awakens gives us what Han Solo “used to be” and tries to be again, but too many things have happened to be that person again. The Force Awakens is so psychologically astute and I connect with it on so many levels, and I keep discovering new ones.

If you like these (or my other work, to which I’ll no doubt return to, in case you were beginning to worry) – please consider supporting me on Patreon! Early access, special deals in my Etsy shop, digital and physical content, and a chance to win commissions and other goodies!

As little might be thought

“For Maglor took pity upon Elros and Elrond, and he cherished them, and love grew after between them, as little might be thought; but Maglor’s heart was sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath.”

(The Silmarillion, “Of Eärendil and the War of Wrath”)

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Watercolour and gouache on Canson Montval cold-pressed paper, A3 size.

 

A re-run of an old sketch that never took off, so I was really glad when I was asked to revisit it as a commission! My son kindly modelled both Elrond and Elros. Don’t ask me which is which. XD

Calendars for 2016!

Calendars are here! A beautiful A3 sized wall calendar, and a little calendar of thirteen postcards. Now available in my Etsy shop!

Thranduil in Spring

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The third in a series of four seasonal Thranduils – the last remaining will be summer. Flower-wise, spring is my favourite season, and I really enjoyed the magnolias, cherry blossoms, forget me nots and johnny jump ups in his crown.

Watercolour and a bit of gel pen on Canson Fontenay cold-pressed paper, 20×29 cm.
Prints here! I’ll make a set available once I have all four together. :)