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!

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”!

Valkyrjan IV

18x30 cm, Sepia Ink on Watercolour Paper with digital colour.

18×30 cm, sepia ink on watercolour paper with digital colour.

This piece is my submission to ArtOrder’s November 2013 Inspiration Challenge. It hasn’t actually been easy to be inspired right now, as this is perhaps the least inspiring time of year here in Sweden. There also hasn’t been much spare time lately for a project like this, so I had to take a lot of short periods of time where I could find them.

I’d been working on this idea on and off since the second Northern Light Workshop, where I’d been trying an acrylic painting of this theme with varied results. Unsatisfied, I invited the gracious Elin Hökby to come back to the studio to help me with poses, and she was interested in the direction of the picture. With her help and support, I came up with enough material that I felt I could get the feeling I was after for the piece – a darker take on the valkyrie inspired by the rune stones I’d seen in Visby on Gotland.

Painting a valkyrie at Northern Light Workshop 2 in 2012.

I wanted to try the so-called “Rackham technique” I’d read about on William Stout’s blog (watercolour over warm-toned ink lines), and so I traced out my sketches on Canson Montval watercolour paper. I used a waterproof Faber-Castell sepia brush pen to ink the linework. I was sort of a nervous wreck doing this, but everything worked out. I was admiring the finished line art when I suddenly realised I’d left out a letter in the old norse translation. I sat there in shock for a while, trying to decide how to handle it. I was going to scan the linework before colouring it anyway, just in case, so I scanned it and fixed the mistake in Photoshop.

I printed out the artwork onto new sheets of the same watercolour paper, but somehow it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I was quite depressed about the whole situation. I finally decided to take the pressure off myself and just colour it digitally. I have a set of digital watercolour brushes created by Justin Gerard that I just love, so I felt better directly about this decision. I still want to try a proper test of the Rackham method, but it’ll have to wait until the next piece!

The finished sepia inking on "Valkyrjan IV".

The finished sepia inking on “Valkyrjan IV”.

From that point, things went well. Even though I set out on this piece with Arthur Rackham and John Bauer firmly in mind, when I look at the finished work, I see how much I’ve been influenced by Hasui Kawase in the colouring. I can even see Mucha and Moebius in there in places. All of our various  inspirations are whispering to us as we work, I suppose.

The text in the framing is a fragment of stanza 54 of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in old norse, which I hope I’ve managed to translate (and spell!) correctly. It says approximately, “Down from the sky came maidens with shining helms…”. I wanted the overall tone to be a bit ominous, and to include the ravens, who are sometimes associated with valkyrie. Her garb is closer to actual viking styles, and she carries a saga-sized drinking horn!

I wonder what the judges of the challenge will think of it – it’s a powerhouse lineup of famous artists and art directors, so no pressure there. At any rate, I learned so much creating this, and I’m motivated to take things further next time – to have the courage to colour the entire piece with watercolours…


“Wanderlust” 18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

This is another piece created for one of Jon Schindehette’s Art Order events: the “Viking” challenge produced in collaboration with Allison Hourcade of RockLove Jewelry. Allison has produced a really wonderful new line of work based on historical viking hoard finds, and the art challenge was simply to include one or several of these pieces into an illustration.

I decided this would fit in thematically with some work I am currently doing anyway. I’ve been researching viking history quite a bit in recent years, and I’m especially interested in some of the newer theories about social structure, fashion and gender roles. This character builds off accepted historical material and plays into some of the newer ideas.

As with Drakflickan, the model for the young woman was the gracious, beautiful and very patient Elin Hökby, who quite definitely possesses a valkyrie’s spirit.

Rune stones are pretty fascinating in and of themselves, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to see some important ones up close. I thought this was a good opportunity to get one into a painting. The inscription on the stone is several stanzas which I quite liked from the skaldic poem Darraðarljoð. The Younger Futhark runes spell out the stanzas in Old Norse, and I hope I didn’t muck it up too badly.

Carl Larsson’s Viking Woman was also an inspiration for this piece.

Wanderlust won first prize in the Comic/Graphic Novel category, and was one of the three nominees for “Best of Show”. Sincere thanks to all the judges and organisers for your time and effort in producing the challenge!

Also as with Drakflickan, the painting is graphite on 120g Canson croquis paper, and was digitally coloured in Photoshop CS6 using Justin Gerard’s excellent watercolour tool presets.


"Drakflickan"18x26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

This is my entry into the recent Art Order challenge with the theme “Dragon World”. This is intended as the cover to an imaginary book for older children called “Drakflickan” (“The Dragon Girl”). The idea of the challenge was to not only depict a dragon, but to show the dragon’s integration and influence with the world that it inhabits. I worked to achieve this by showing an intimate and obviously comfortable connection between the girl and the dragon, and suggesting some sort of working relationship by having them both be similarly armoured.

I didn’t want to do be too explicit about what the relationship between the two actually involves, whether they are equals or one serves the other, but the motif on the shield hopefully implies that they’re involved in some larger tradition of their cultures.

This was created with graphite on 120g Canson croquis paper, and was digitally coloured in Photoshop CS6 using Justin Gerard’s excellent watercolour tool presets.

“Éowyn and the Nazgûl” Final Judging

The final judging for the “Éowyn and the Nazgûl” art challenge has been posted over at The Art Order, and I am fairly staggered to find that I placed fourth in the results:

“Craig J. Spearing was our top winner, receiving recommendations from 10 judges
Nick Deligaris came in number two with nods from 6 judges
Allen Douglas came in number three – fighting tooth and nail for 6 judges as well
David Brasgalla came in number 4 with votes from 5 judges
Andrew Ryan came in number 5 with thumbs-up from 5 judges as well – just barely nudging out
Cory Godbey as the honorable mention”

The judges were:

John Jude Palencar, Justin Gerard, Matt Stewart, Arnie Fenner, Gregory Manchess, Donato Giancola, Eric Fortune, Don Dos Santos, Greg Hildebrandt, Jesper Ejsing, Petar Meseldzija and John Howe.

No pressure, right?

Congratulations to Craig for the well-deserved win, and to the other finalists! A sincere thanks to Jon Schindehette and all of the judges for a huge effort in making this happen – I can hardly express how motivating it is to have their vote of approval for my work, as well as the insightful and helpful critique that was offered during the painting process.

I’m going to put together a post about painting my submission, and try to get that up in a day or so… when my head stops spinning…

The Art Order “Eowyn and the Nazgul” Challenge Final Judging

Muddy Colors

View my portfolio at: Pixelhuset

“Éowyn and the Nazgûl” Final Lineup Posted

The final submissions for the “Éowyn and the Nazgûl” art challenge have been posted over at The Art Order – all 160 of them! I don’t envy the judges such a difficult task. The quality of work is very high, and there’s just so much of it.

It will be very exciting to see what the judges’ reactions to the pieces are. All are giants in the field of illustration, and several are undeniable Tolkien experts in their own right. That’s daunting in itself.

Greg Hildebrandt’s work with his brother Tim was a major inspiration to me when I was a fledgling artist in the 70’s, and the 1977 Ballantine Books Tolkien calendar was one of my bibles at the time. It’s surreal to me that he will now be looking at my Tolkien art, nearly 40 years later. I hope I managed to learn something in the interim…

No matter how the judging goes, this challenge has already been a huge personal success for me, and I am heading into the summer on a real art high. Best of luck to everyone, and thanks to The Art Order and all the judges for taking the time to sponsor such a inspiring and galvanising event!

Here is my final submission. Special thanks to Annica and Rasmus Strand for modeling help and the loan of chainmail, respectively.

A painting of a scene from Tolkien: "Eowyn and the Nazgul"

The Art Order “Eowyn and the Nazgul” Challenge Line-up

Muddy Colors