Speed now this feathered shaft

Maedhros therefore, being in anguish without hope, begged Fingon to shoot him with his bow; and Fingon strung an arrow, and bent his bow. And seeing no better hope he cried to Manwë, saying: ‘O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need!’

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J. R: R: Tolkien, The Silmarillion: Of the return of the Noldor

Watercolour and Ecoline on Canson Vidalon cold-pressed paper, 23×33 cm

Steps:

Eagles at War

A watercolour illustration I did for author Ben Kane and his upcoming book “Eagles at War”, about the battle of Teutoburg Forest. I met Ben while we were both working on our respective Hannibal novels, and I really enjoyed his novels – and we decided we needed to do something together. Next, I’m doing a larger painting for him, of the battle itself.

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Watercolour and Ecoline on Canson Vidalon cold-pressed paper, 20×30 cm.

Some wip shots:

Finally, I’m having a Spring Sale in my Etsy shop! Every order of 30€ and above is -15%. Just enter SPRING15 at checkout. Take a look!

Fog over Trasimene

Fog over Trasimene

Fog over Trasimene

 

I have a new favourite medium: ACRYLIC INK. I can’t believe how good this stuff is. It’s like the answer to all my failed acrylic and gouache experiments. A medium for transparency-fanciers who want to paint opaquely. Once in a while. But are scared of pasty paint. I just love this medium.

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The world was lost in fog.

The sun should have been up by now – it must be up, judging by the dim, milky twilight that had replaced the clinging, misty darkness – but the lakeshore, the hills, the trees and bushes, even the thirty-thousand men all around were invisible, all but Hannibal’s guard and a handful of Gaetulan spearmen closest to him. The fog had swallowed all. The rocky slope in front of him vanished a short distance from his feet. Covering all the blinking metal parts turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. We could all be waving red flags, he thought; nobody would see.

Even the noises seemed dimmed. The soldiers behind Hannibal, the Gaetulan skirmishers with the heavy Libyan infantry further down the slope to block the exit from the trap, had settled into breathless silence barely interrupted by whispers. Every metal part was wrapped in cloth to prevent them from clanking.

Even the few officers’ horses behind him were almost as silent as the men. There was the tiniest clinking of tack when one of them shook himself restively. Three Iberians of Hannibal’s guard, positioned behind the general, had even coaxed their mounts to the ground. One of the animals gave a little restless nicker, before his master’s ear-scratching quieted him again. The horses were used to this; Hannibal had often marvelled at the horsemen’s skill in keeping their mounts hidden and quiet while lying in wait for an ambush.

Waiting.

Not long now.

The trees and bushes, the hills, the entire lakeshore lay waiting. Thirty-thousand were waiting. There were no messengers, no horn signals. Hannibal had a few quick runners with him, as well as a handful of mounted messengers, but all his officers knew what was to be done, and he would use messengers only if something went horribly wrong and the others had to be warned. But if anything did go horribly wrong, chances were he would be the last to know. Maharbal was stationed at the entry of the narrow pass along the lake. If all went according to plan, the Romans would now be filing past him. Two horn-blasts when the last of the Roman column had passed the entry into the valley; one horn-blast if they detected the trap.

Not a sound. The horns were silent.

Someone behind him stifled a groan as he stretched aching muscles. They had taken their positions on the slopes two hours ago, at first light; the waiting was becoming more and more agonizing now that the day had finally come. The inability to do anything was almost unbearable. Hannibal stared into the fog as if he could force it to reveal its secrets to him. His dead right eye started watering; it still felt unfamiliar to have a half-vision only, even if today, all were equally blind.

And after all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

The twilight grew brighter, but still the fog didn’t lift. When the wind brought snatches of voices, hoofs and the marching feet, a shudder seemed to go through the men behind; there was the briefest outbreak of a hissed “They’re coming!” and hurried prayers in at least three different languages, quickly silenced. Hannibal stared into the mist below. The sounds below were getting louder and nearer, slowly, very slowly. Marching feet, the neighing of horses. Snatches of conversation in Latin, even snatches of laughter, but still there was nothing to be seen.

They have no idea, Hannibal thought, overwhelmed. Yes, he had counted on this, had planned for it, had assured his officers and his men of it, but now, the Gods had truly laid everything into his hands. The fog, the natural ambush site provided by the lakeshore, and incredibly, the utter artlessness of Gaius Flaminius. There was nothing to indicate the Roman consul had sent out any scouts, or his Libyans would have encountered them by now. Flaminius knew Hannibal was just a day’s march ahead of him, but he was leading his army into this misty valley without a shred of caution.

Forty thousand men marching blindly into their doom.

Behind Hannibal, breathless tension. No more hissed comments, not even prayers. His surroundings felt unreal, remote, secondary; his sole focus, every tendril of his being, concentrated on the unseen Roman army making its way along the coastal road, deeper into the mist, towards him, into the waiting trap. Only minutes now, and they would all be inside the jaws of death, still utterly ignorant. Only minutes until there would be no escaping Lake Trasimene. Closer came the hoof-sounds, closer came the voices; now he could hear even the scraping of iron-shod sandals on the sandy road; could make out a half-sentence or two –

Then, two horn-blasts from the far end of the shore. The trap was sprung. The jaws closed.

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!

The harp no longer sings

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This is a concept that has occupied me for years, resulting in several pieces already. It’s symbolic rather than illustrative of any given passage in the text – Maglor, a remnant of the Elves in Middle-earth but excluded from his people, caught in a world of his own where music no longer brings consolation, surrounded by the ruins of the former greatness of the Noldor, whose downfall he had a part in.

I’ve never really done much with the “ruins” part of the scenario; half-hearted attempts at best, probably because I really struggle with architecture of any kind. Now, though, I’ve decided to give it another go.

This is a more refined version of the first sketch.

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Here’s the lineart:

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When I print the lineart, I tint the ruins in the background more greenish and very light, so that it will mostly disappear in the finished painting, and reduce the ruins to faint structures that could just as well be from a dream.

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This picture is a great excuse to make excessive use of my new Cobalt Turquoise from Schmincke. For the first background wash, I mix it with Chrome Oxide Green and a touch of Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow, and apply it very thinly with a soft brush, lighter at the top and darker at the bottom.

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I then re-wet everything, and paint darker streaks, that will look like sunlight filtering through tress – or through water. I want the whole lighting here very ambiguous.

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After this has dried, I use the same colours – more green here, more blue there – very thinly to paint the detail in the ruins.

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To make it less monochromatic, I go in with a bluer tone, and paint the shadows in the areas between the streaks of sunlight. This is the point where my camera decides “This is all just green. Yeah, whatever.” I hope my scanner is more sensitive later…

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In all the following, excuse the turquoise colour mash, please.

Next, I add some Ochre to everything in the foreground – first the structures, to suggest sandstone or a similar stone.

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It gets a greenish-blue layer for shadows, to make it stand out less. I then decide Ochre will make a great foundation for the figure too. This looks very yellow now, but will mostly vanish under the greens and blues of Maglor’s clothing later, only serve as a “grounding” in the light situation around him.

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Some detailing in the ground – mainly with Ultramarine and duller Indigo, but with the brush dipped into Chromoxide Green, Cobalt Turquoise, and Ochre here and there for colour variation.

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Detailing on the leaves, again with the whole range of greens and blues used above.

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The skin is done with Burnt Sienna, as usual, but thinned down beyond recognition with my dirty water, which is now a nice green-blue concoction, rather thick too, as it’s dried overnight. Comes in extremely useful for making any colour fit the mood of my painting.

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I use the same principle with the hair tone, which is Sepia with a lot of dirty green water. The shadows are done with a touch of Indigo, too.

(Give my camera a kick here, please. Thanks.)

On the image on the right below, I’ve re-drawn the eyes and brows slightly with a Sepia marker, as the lineart was starting to dull under the paint.

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Below left: Next, I put in the base tones, very light, of Maglor’s clothes. I choose a mix of Cobalt Turquoise, Ultramarine, and Chromoxide Green for his tunic, and a more Indigo-heavy tone for the cloak. The hose is just my dirty water at this point. ;)

Below right: First layer of rendering. I build the shadows up slowly, mostly with Indigo, to avoid getting too dark too soon, and adding another layer here and there to add depth.

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Below: detailing on the arm guards. (I love doing Maglor’s arm guards.)

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After darkening and shading, and detailing, we arrive at this.

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Final touches include painting the falling petals with white gouache.

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