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!

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.