So, as the title says, I’m in a Tolkien exhibit.
A few months ago, I partecipated into a Tolkien-themed contest managed by CdViA (Compagnia de’ Viaggiatori in Arme, a medieval reviving association) and WOW – Spazio Fumetto (a Milan based exhibition space). And guess what? My painting was chosen to be included in their permanent exhibition!
Here the painting, for bragging purposes.
The contest asked to represent friendship and antagonism in the Tolkien world. I instantly discarded all the Gimli/Legolas ideas that quickly came to mind and decided to dig a little deeper. As much as I love dwarfs (or dwarves, as Tolkien loved to write), this was not the time.
I ended wrapped up again in the Silmarillion, which I read a couple years ago (not the whole thing, I admit!); I remembered there were two Valar brothers who just kept fighting, Melkor and Manwë. Melkor is the big bad guy also known as Morgoth, the one who antagonized Eru Iluvatar and brought chaos into the world: also, Sauron’s boss. Manwë is his brother, “god” of sky and patron of Vanyar elves. Time for some character design!
The main difficulty was to show two people confronting. When it comes to represent duels, you usually have two choices: both people in profile, or the camera-over-shoulder shot. Another popular choice for love/hate relationships is the back-vs-back, which I usually dislike, so i tried a different approach: go frontal for both. The regret in Manwë’s expression would have given the idea of a reluctant confrontation.
Melkor was easy: in the lore there’s clearly written “a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire”, so I went for big and evil: mountain for scale. Since the Jackson’s movies are now the “official” visual language of Tolkien’s work, I studied Sauron’s helm design to match my Melkor’s, so that the link between the two would be immediately clear. My Melkor was to be so clad in evil iconography it would scream “baaaad guuuy!” in capital letters.
Manwë, on the other side… there’s no clear description of him other than his blue clothing and eyes, and the fact he rules over winds and birds. I didn’t want the usual “old guy” Gandalf clone: Manwë loves elves, so I went for an elven look.
My first sketches went in a more alien direction: he is a Valar after all, he doesn’t need to look like a real being. But I noticed I was stranding too far from estabilished visuals of Tolkien work, and feared it wouldn’t have been recognizable. I stepped back to a “regular elf” look, but kept the dreadlocks: I liked them, and they’re easier to paint than long flowing hair.
Then, for the actual painting! I struggled a lot with proportion and kept changing format from a square, to a landscape format, til finally settling for a portrait one. Relative dimensions of the characters changed altogether: they were to be equal, but in the end I decided to make Manwë in human dimensions, so that a viewer could relate to him and shiver in the grandiosity of Morgoth. All fear the mighty Morgoth!
In my mind, this confrontation happens after Manwë freed Melkor from his imprisonement: he tried to save his brother bringing him back to Eluvatar’s side, but now sees there’s no redemption chance for him.
I shot photos of my favourite (and only) model to get a sense of light and shape: say hello to my partner and greatest fan San! He’s a little on the lithe side, so perfect for an elf, a little less perfect for a giant force of destruction. Oh well, I’ll make do.
The color scheme came almost naturally this time, something that seldom happens to me: I didn’t even do a value study! A little correction here and there, a watercolor texture in overlay, and the game is set. I’m in a Tolkien exhibit now!