Nine

Just a quick sketch done on, yes, a bowling alley. And yes, there is a connection. My son turned nine yesterday, and today, we invited his friends for bowling (or, more precisely, the German variant, Kegeln). The kids were having fun and they were exceptionally well-behaved, so I had some time to get some sketching done – of an equally nine-year-old Hannibal standing next to his father in the temple of Baal Hammon. That scene is going to need a stronger illu at some later date. When I’m not on a bowling alley and the light is better.

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A similarly simple sketch of Antiochos III, done last week. With reference – a marble bust in the Louvre.

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That’s all Greek to me

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“δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται, δί… uh… διδόμετα…”

“διδόμεθα, Hannibal. That’s a theta, not a tau.”

Hannibal sighed. “Sosylos… can’t we carry on with the Anabasis?”

“The Anabasis? You think I’ll let you near Xenophon when you can’t conjugate δίδωμι?”

“But is that important? People’ll understand me. You understand me.”

“It’s not about being understood somehow. Even a peddler in the market can be understood somehow. I wouldn’t have to be here if it was just about that. It’s the details. Today, you learn to conjugate δίδωμι. You’ll learn to distinguish between tau and theta. Next year, we’ll read Plato. You’ll learn to distinguish between fine points  of right and wrong, and one view and another. You father is chasing you around the fields to exercise your body. This is just as important. I’m chasing you round the Greek verbs to exercise your mind. You’re going to need both.”

“But why Greek? Can’t I exercise my mind with Punic?”

“No. Because, no offence, Punic is a language for peddlers. Your esteemed father saw that and gave me the task of getting some culture into your head. Now, again. δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται…”

We know next to nothing about Hannibal’s youth, save for one thing that I, personally, find very touching: He learned Greek, from a Spartan turot called Sosylos who later followed him on his campaigns as a historian. When I did my Graecum at University and struggled with the Greek conjugations, especially δίδωμι, I often wondered whether there were any words Hannibal hated, too. I always thought it was funny that I understand not one but two languages, Greek and Latin, that Hannibal also spoke.

And of course, if you’re a Latin teacher, you’re so used to fifteen-year-olds with thin arms and legs and huge feet slouched on chairs in deep concentration, questioning every task you make them do.

Sosylos is ever so slightly based on the professor I learnt Greek from. Obviously. :D

Second Punic War – Reloaded

So, I’m going to do something outrageous. I’m going to leave Tolkien – at least for the time being and a few side projects. You may now say, “Why Hannibal? Where’s all this coming from all of a sudden?”

I’ve been a fan of Hannibal since the late eighties. When I was thirteen to sixteen, I read everything on Hannibal I could get my hands on, and back in the day, I produced probably more Hannibal drawings than all the Tolkien work I have ever done combined. I haven’t revisited him since 1991, but old loves die hard.

I’ve now bought a stack of Osprey books (Punic Wars, Roman legions during the Republican times, Hellenistic armour, Iberian tribes around 220 BC), and I plan to go bonkers with all this. I’m giddy with excitement here.

First sketches of Hannibal, and some armour pieces of the right time period, worn by the peoples that Hannibal came into contact with):

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Ooooooooooo can’t wait to do more…

And by the way, it’s August 2nd – happy 2229th anniversary of the Battle of Cannae!

Some more, from a day later. Getting the right mix of North-African and Eastern-Mediterranean, and groping towards fitting representations of different leaders of Hannibal’s army.

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!

Harp lessons

This commission really took me some failed attempts – I couldn’t get two people and a harp to work without reference.

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It only worked when I grabbed my husband and daughter and had them pose for a few reference shots. My daughter’s cutely contorted feet then made it into the drawing. The harp ought to go between Elrond’s legs, I know – but hey, Maglor still has a lot to teach him. And I really, really had to keep those legs.

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The lineart:

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And finally, a light watercolour wash (that still took age to dry last night – the humidity was so high that it took over an hour. I had to resort to the hair dryer!)

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Tolkien-Tag am Niederrhein

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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?”

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Yup. Never go anywhere without my “Finwë dying in Fëanor’s arms” stencil.

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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.

Hobbit Feest

Photo by Leo Munten (L.A. Model Photography)

Photo by Leo Munten (L.A. Model Photography)

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.

Photo by Leo Munten (L.A. Model Photography)

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.)

Photo by Leo Munten (L.A. Model Photography)

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).

Farewell, sweet earth and northern sky

‘Farewell sweet earth and northern sky,

for ever blest, since here did lie,

and here with lissom limbs did run,

beneath the moon, beneath the sun,

Lúthien Tinúviel

more fair than mortal tongue can tell.

Though all to ruin fell the world,

and were dissolved and backward hurled

unmade into the old abyss,

yet were its making good, for this—

the dawn, the dusk, the earth, the sea—

that Lúthien on a time should be.’

I’m completely submerged in exam papers; this is the only thing worth showing from a few pitiful, hastily scribbled scraps in my sketchbook. For all that, I feel it’s well worth showing.

Beren has acquired a beard. Oh the outrage. Blame Viggo, and Robb and Jon from HBO’s Game of Thrones. But at least Beren is fully entitled to all this scruffy glory, whereas Aragorn is Númenorean and Robb and Jon and fourteen. So there.

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.”

Maedhros in Angband – lineart

Poor love. Yes, I feel bad already.

I went back and forth with the chain fettering him to the wall; in the end, I left it there – I don’t think they’d trust him to stay put without it, and the chain makes it clear he still has hands (and arms) back there somewhere. O_o Wouldn’t want anyone to assume he was quite that maimed yet.

Going to colour it today.

Lineart cleanup

I figured I might just as well detail my process of cleaning lineart, since people keep asking how I do it.

As you know, I often sketch digitally, especially for more complicated scenes, and then print out my sketch in a very light, very saturated colour onto Bristol board. Then I use those messy coloured lines as guidelines and draw my clean lineart in pencil (H mechanical pencil, 0.5 size) on top of them, sometimes deviating more, sometimes less. Here, I changed the entire pose to something less stiff.

The lineart is then scanned (in three parts, as I was working in A3), reassembled, and looks like this. The rest of the cleanup job will be conducted by my trusty old friend, Photoshop 6.0. What were you saying? Outdated how? Speak up, sonny!

To get rid of the orange lines, I then open the colour adjustment window using Ctrl+U. I select “red” and then “yellow” in the top rolldown menu, and slide the bar that adjusts the brightness all the way to the right for both.

See – all the orange is gone.

I’ve tried using other colours for the underlaying sketch – cyan for a time, or yellow, but usually, you have two tones you need to filter out. But that’s just a mouseclick. I like orange because it’s great to filter out (better than magenta/pink which usually leaves a greyish rest), and great to work with while I’m drawing on it. Yellow is also great to filter out, but hard to see while doing the lineart!

Then I adjust the contrast using Ctrl+L, and use the burn tool to get rid of smudgy areas I want white in the final lineart.

Sometimes, I also tweak the lines to correct mistakes or just try around in areas that don’t fully satisfy me. Here, I changed Maedhros’ face a bit.

Lastly, I tint the lineart (again using the Ctrl-u function), usually to something in the red to blue range. When I print it out later to be watercoloured, I leave the tint in place, as a slightly coloured lineart results in a more dynamic colouring.

Printing my lineart on watercolour paper is something I’ve done for a long time now. It can be a failsafe against botched watercolour attempts or dirty-water accidents (though that probably doesn’t happen more than once a year). Mainly, I do it as it allows me to develop a very detailed lineart on smooth drawing paper, something that watercolour paper just doesn’t allow to this degree.