Post-Spectrum Updates: “Éowyn and the Witch King” Redux

Éowyn and the Witch King

Éowyn and the Witch King
Graphite with Digital Colour, 21cm x 30cm

 

Back in 2011, I entered The Art Order’s “Éowyn and the Nazgúl” challenge, and was deeply honoured to place fourth in the judging. Since that time, it’s been easily the most popular image I’ve ever published on the web – I often see it popping up on different Pinterest boards and Flickr streams. I’m pleased by that, obviously, but it also means I get reminded of the shortcomings of the image.

For instance, even with an after-the-fact model reference check, there were still some issues with Éowyn that I had essentially handled by hiding them in shadow. I also felt that I didn’t really articulate the Fell Beast as much as I could have. I didn’t want it to attract much attention, so I probably overcompensated by not doing much with it at all. I was very happy with the Witch King, but he was a bit too large in proportion to Éowyn (since he was once a man, after all).

I decided I was interested to see what I would do with this picture four years on, so once again I dressed up a very patient artist friend in chainmail and equipped her with a sword and shield. My friend is tall and slim, with long, slender limbs, and she wore the costume with a lot of grace. She provided so many great variations on the original pose that I had trouble picking which one I liked best!

I worked on understanding Éowyn’s relationship to the rise of ground she’s on, and I made sure that the Fell Beast’s carcass was given due attention as well. I also worked to balance the composition better in the overall space, and did my best to preserve the colour scheme of the original. I kept the Witch King very much as he was. Finally, because I really enjoy doing this, I incorporated some of Tolkien’s text in the image.

The final painting has its own new identity, I think, and I’m interested to see if a new panel of judges for this year’s Spectrum annual were willing to vote for it again. I hope you enjoy the new version of this scene, and hopefully it gets as popular as the original painting!

Post-Spectrum Updates: “Isabelle”

Isabelle Acrylic on Panel, 53cm x 45.5cm

Isabelle
Acrylic on Panel, 53cm x 45.5cm

 

Wow, I haven’t posted for six months! I do have plenty of new work going on, though – just been head down in front of the easel.

I’m currently enjoying being on the downhill side of the Spectrum 22 submissions deadline. Isabelle is a piece I’ve been working on since late September, with an eye towards submitting it for consideration for volume 22. I finished it about 3 weeks before the deadline, but still had to get it photographed. My artist friend Sofie Arloff helped me by shooting a much better photo than what I could have done alone. It still isn’t fully accurate to the painting, but I’m slowly getting used to that being the case with photographing artwork, and I really appreciate the assistance!

Isabelle, the model, is the daughter of dear friend from those wild 80’s club/music scene days, and she kindly asked to be painted as an elf. The armour is based on some ornate Italian plate I’d seen.

The technique is basically many, many thin washes of acrylic over two coats of gesso on a masonite panel. I love how the result looks when one is right in front of the artwork, but it hasn’t been easy to capture with a camera. I used the limited palette that I enjoy so much: Mars Black, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre and (the always awesome) Venetian Red. I used a touch of Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson in a few spots. I didn’t use any blue pigment. I learned a lot about how to manipulate colours by placing them next to other colours. It’s one thing to read about this principal, but very exciting to actually see it working for you.

The idea of painting text into the picture is nicked straight from the work of  William Mortensen. It felt like it fit the formal setup of the image.

Special thanks yet again to Howard Lyon, whose Muddy Colors articles have been of immense help and inspiration to me.

I’ll post more of the new works in the next few weeks.

Watercolour in Progress

Work in Progress, watercolour 30x42 cm Canson Montval, Cold Pressed/Fine Grain

Work in Progress, watercolour & graphite 30×42 cm
on Canson Montval, cold pressed/fine grain

Here’s a quick (read: low quality) snap of a piece I am currently working on for The Art Order’s latest challenge. Lots of swedish summertime themes coming through this one, and the tree and rocks from around where I live. I’m really happy with how it’s going – much better than my last large-scale watercolour attempt – but I’m now getting to the point where I’m increasingly wary of messing it up. I can feel that I’ve slowed down and become less adventurous. I still have about three weeks to finish it up, though, so there’s time to get wild and find out how far is “too far”!

New work in progress

"Jehanne with Apple Blossoms" Acrylic on panel, work in progress.

“Jehanne with Apple Blossoms”
Acrylic on panel, work in progress.

It’s summer and hard to concentrate on finishing projects, but I have several paintings on the go. The one above is a larger acrylic version of a watercolour I played around with last summer. I’m having a lot of fun with this one, and since it’s been “in progress” for two years, I’m happy that it’s nearly completed!

I thought I was going to do an acrylic underpainting and then work in oils, but I became interested in how the acrylics were handling on the panel, and I liked how they built up in thin washes. It’s a bit of a rubbish photo and doesn’t really do the actual colours justice, but I’ll take a proper photo when it’s done.

Here’s another WIP that’s been kicking around since one of last winter’s Stockholm Sketchjams – a certain red-maned warrior woman:

"Hyrkanian" Watercolour and Digital, work in progress.

“Hyrkanian”
Watercolour and Digital, work in progress.

This began as a large-format watercolour, but it sort of got away from me – I’m still just starting out in watercolours and felt like I maybe bit off too much! I photographed what I had and took it into Procreate on my iPad. There was a lot of Sergio Toppi emulation going on when I first sketched this (obvious, it seems to me), and Swedish artist Karl Mårtens was also an inspiration, but stumbling across some work by Enric Torres-Prat for a pulp western really helped me get motivated to keep going on this piece.

May 7th, 1429

May 7th, Dawn - 21x27cm, Digital, 2011

May 7th, Dawn – 21×27 cm, Digital

Five hundred and eighty-five years ago today, Jehanne d’Arc led the French army under John of Dunois in the taking of the Tourelles, the heavily fortified and turreted gatehouse at the southern end of the bridge that led over the Loire river and into the besieged city of Orléans. She was seventeen years old. It’s an amazing episode both in Jehanne’s own story and the Hundred Years War itself – her first major military victory and a turning point in the war. The six-month siege itself was lifted on the 8th, and to this day, Jehanne bears the name La Pucelle d’Orléans – “The Maid of Orléans”.

Remembering this date reminded me of a painting I started in 2011 on my iPad, but never finished. I was inspired by N. C. Wyeth at the time, and had wanted to do something with a reduced palette. I’d also wanted to catch that feeling of very early morning in the springtime, that fresh but chilly feel to the morning air. Pulling the picture back up out of my files, I decided to finish up the last remaining details I’d intended and post it here to honor Jehanne and the day.

It was interesting to revisit a painting from nearly three years ago – I was mystified by some of the things I’d done, and sometimes had no remembrance of actually doing them! I’d almost certainly create this picture differently today, but I still like it and still feel good about it. I think there’s some nice passages, even if there are also some slight inaccuracies. I’m toying with the idea of doing a version of this on a big canvas with acrylics or oils…

At any rate, spare a thought today for Jehanne la Pucelle.

Old Year, New Year

So far, there’s been a lot going on for me in 2014 in all respects, but I’ve managed to keep it all together for the most part. The first priority of the year was to look at my work from 2013 and pick the pieces I feel are worthy to send to the Spectrum annual. This past year I seem to have stumbled into a kind of style without quite meaning to – pencil/ink illustrations with digital colour. I realised that most of what I’d want to submit this year came from this one direction I explored, and they seemed to hang together well.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

Second priority of the new year was to finish two pieces from 2013 that just needed that final push of effort to complete. I wanted to get them sorted so I could move on to new things. One of them is a larger-scale acrylic painting called Winter VI that I’ve been working on since last march, and it was great to finally wrap it up and include it in the Spectrum submissions. Howard Lyon’s amazing and enlightening post Feeling Gray Today at the Muddy Colors blog gave me the final key towards finishing  – I repainted the face for the third time and finally achieved what I was after thanks to Howard’s insights (not the best photo, sorry!):

Winter VI - 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

Winter VI – 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

I also created two acrylic portraits to give as Christmas gifts, and was quite pleased with the results – again, it was right after reading that remarkable post, and in contrast to the nearly 11 months I spent circling Winter VI, I created this portrait of the eminent John Wheeldon in just one of the five hours I had available in which to paint it:

John Wheeldon - acrylic on canvas.

John Wheeldon – acrylic on canvas.

Lots more on the go and some fun new things to show already, but I’ll make other posts for them. I’ve also started the second term of my oil painting course under Barbro Runefelt- Taltavull, so I know some good things will come from that…

Happy 2014! (and thanks again, Howard!)

Valkyrjan IV update!

ao_bbdragon

I’m very pleased that Valkyrjan IV was selected by the jury for inclusion in Jon Schindehette‘s upcoming Inspiration book project. It’s very exciting for me as the jury was composed of some of the top artists and art directors working in fantasy and science fiction publishing today – not to mention that the challenge submissions were filled with wonderful and strong work from all quarters! I’m somewhat surprised to find myself in such company.  I always imagine that my personal art sensibilities are a bit arcane and old-fashioned.

It’s a nice validation of the piece, I think – one that I’ve laboured over for years, trying to find the right way in. I had an idea for a darker, more “historical” treatment of a valkyrie about four years ago, and my first attempt was with ArtRage and a Wacom tablet in January 2010. Soon after that, I started using an iPad for my painting  (which I much preferred). I came up with an improved version that I was happy with at the time, but I eventually felt dissatisfied again.

The idea stayed on the back burner until Northern Light Workshop 2, where I decided to take some digital sketches and try to execute the final in acrylic on paper. I think it worked out pretty well considering how rusty I felt with analog painting, and both the instructors and my fellow classmates were very encouraging to me about the picture. Still: not satisfied.

I’d recently had a fun photo reference shoot with Elin Hökby, so I asked if she’d help me get this valkyrie sorted once and for all, and we ended up with some great material. John Jude Palencar’s Rag and Bone piece gave me some new ideas, and I decided to combine it all and go for version IV. The final process is detailed here, but wow – what a long road to get a piece realized! Below is a capsule history graphic showing the key development stages (along with some side diversions):

A "short" history of Valkyrjan IV.

A “short” history of Valkyrjan IV.

I’m really pleased that it all seemed to pay off in the end, even if I sometimes felt like a dog that would not let go of a chewed-on shoe! I also enjoy seeing how my work has changed in almost four years (or not changed in some cases). For instance, here is the original treatment of the valkyrie’s chain hauberk from four years ago, compared to how I handled the same item today:

Chain mail vs. chain mail...

Chain mail vs. chain mail…

Back then, I was slavishly trying to render every detail, thinking that this would be impressive in and of itself (sometimes it can!). Four years on, I’m letting line suggest the outer form and just giving vague hints about the surface of the garment. I don’t know if one approach is necessarily better than the other, but I feel the way I am working now gives me much stronger results. Happily, the judges of the challenge felt the same way!

Thanks again to Jon, Irene Gallo, Lauren Panepinto, Julie Bell, Terryl Whitlatch, Terese Nielsen, and Rebecca Guay for their votes of confidence in my work – it means more than I can properly express.