The Two Trees of Valinor

September 15, 2012

This is a small painting that I completed recently, inspired by the Two Trees of Valinor as described in the first book of the Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien:

And as they watched, upon the mound there came forth two slender shoots; and silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna. Under her song the saplings grew and became fair and tail, and came to flower; and thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor. Of all things which Yavanna made they have most renown, and about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven.

The one had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadow of his fluttering leaves. The other bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light. Telperion the one was called in Valinor, and Silpion, and Ninquelote, and many other names; but Laurelin the other was, and Malinalda, and Culurien, and many names in song beside.

In seven hours the glory of each tree waxed to full and waned again to naught; and each awoke once more to life an hour before the other ceased to shine. Thus in Valinor twice every day there came a gentle hour of softer light when both trees were faint and their gold and silver beams were mingled. Telperion was the elder of the trees and came first to full stature and to bloom; and that first hour in which he shone, the white glimmer of a silver dawn, the Valar reckoned not into the tale of hours, but named it the Opening Hour, and counted from it the ages of their reign in Valinor.
Yavanna was one of the Valar-- essentially a sort of angel who worked to create the world that Iluvatar decreed-- and was responsible for all things that grew on Arda (the world, which Middle-Earth is a part of).

Telperion and Larelin were the only light besides the stars at this time. The Silmarils, gems of great beauty that played a huge role in the first few ages of Ea (the universe) (and which gave their name to The Silmarillion), were created from their dew.

Melkor, the main evil dude and Saruon's overlord-- grew jealous of the trees and their beauty. He wounded them and sent the 'gloom-weaver' Ungoliant (a giant spider, the great-great-great-something-grandmother of Shelob, of Lord of the Rings fame) to poison the trees and drain their sap.

The Sun and the Moon were created from the leaves of Larelin and Telperion, respectively. Other important items from LotR, including the White Tree of Gondor and Galadriel's phial of light which she gives Frodo, also come from these trees.

I had to use a lot of parenthesis to explain all of that... which is just proof that Tolkien truly was a genius subcreator. (That and that the depth of his work can get confusing). Everything had its own place in the story. The Silmarillion can be difficult to read at times, since it feels like a cross between an old mythology book and a dry history text-- a very different style from the Lord of the Rings trilogy--, but the stories are amazing. It is well worth reading! 

I thought I'd share some behind-the-scenes pictures for this painting, not because I'm a great artist whose technique you should copy (seriously, I broke so many "rules" while making this painting) but because I always enjoy seeing how other people approach drawing and you just might like seeing my process.

I began with a light pencil sketch. I didn't use any references-- which is usually a bad thing for me-- but in this case I did not want realistic trees, and so I let my stylistic tendencies go crazy.

Yes, the celtic knotwork in the tree branches was done entirely freehand and based off of nothing but a sharpie drawing I did in an old sketchbook.

I thought at first that I would simply outline the trees in a Chinese calligraphy style... but I've never managed to actually just make a simple picture. I always make things crazy complicated!

The outlining was done in gouache (rhymes with squash, yes, it's very fun to say) mixed with only a tad of water. I used the same brown mixed with blue, for Telperion, and yellow, for Larelin. Gouache (which is really difficult to spell and the spellchecker hates me at the moment) is a very interesting paint, and it feels like a mix between watercolor and acrylics. I totally don't know the proper way to use it.

At this point I thought I'd try painting the "mingling of lights" that occurred twice each day in Arda-- which is an amazing idea and is so much more beautiful inside my head than on paper.

The purple and yellow lights were originally done in watercolor but I went back over them with a very watered-down gouache. Normally you do the background first, people, it makes life easier...

At this point I went into full-out painting mode and really regretted doing this on regular thin journal paper.

You might notice some of the details here-- there are a lot of symbolic things in this picture. 

Firstly, the Celtic knotwork. Aside from being pretty, it's inspired by the interlacing decoration drawn by the Norse and Celtic people. Tolkien was greatly inspired by their mythology and the Two Trees remind me of the mythological tree Yggdrasil

Each tree intertwines around either the Sun or the Moon and the white flowers are inspired by the White Tree of Gondor. I also painted things like the rain of light and the speckled ground.

On the bottom are two leaves (which I tried to draw as Tolkien described for each tree) along with the three Silmarils. I know they don't look like real gems, but I copied Tolkien's heraldic design for them.

The Silmarils, drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien   (image via)

Everything was done in gouache, either very very watered down, like watercolor, or very thick and opaque. I don't know if you can see it but there are many places with decorative opaque white dots...

Gouache works really well in a calligraphy dip pen, by the way. And the Tengwar writing at the top is the English mode and merely reads "Trees of Valinor."

And because I like angled pictures:

Voila, there you go, I did a painting of the Two Trees of Valinor and it turned out nothing like what it appeared in my mind! I like the stylistic work, but I may try my hand at something more realistic...

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  1. Oh, it's beautiful. Maybe not realistic, not exactly like the description, but very much your own and that in and of itself is pretty admirable. I love the knotwork and the Tengwar and everything else you so often incorporate into a piece to make it you. :) Also, just a point of interest: I actually know a girl named Laurelin, named after the tree. I think it's a beautiful name! And a very subtle homage to a beautiful story.

  2. I love it! I especially love that you used the art style that Tolkien himself preferred and used in his own sketches of Middle Earth (have you seen those? He did some colored bits that I found in a book once, they were very cool.)

  3. Awesome! I love all the knotting and illumination work in your page. Blessings!

  4. Beautiful painting. I really liked seeing it come together piece by piece.

  5. What a lovely piece! Love seeing the progression of it!

  6. This is a wonderful painting and I loved seeing the progression and reading about your inspiration and your thoughts along the way... very cool...xx

  7. Beautiful the step by step. Gorgeous photos

  8. I love and appreciate your Celtic style of art.
    Beautiful trees!

  9. This is wonderful and seriously impressive! :) My apologies for the late response. :)

  10. it´s "Laurelin"...not Larelin :p


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