The Love of Starlight {Painting}

August 05, 2014

I got started on Tumblr a few months ago (I'm shaylynnann over there), and I've joined the Tolkien Read-Along event, in which a bunch of Tolkien fans got together and are reading The Silmarillion together.

(For those not nerdy enough to know what The Silmarillion is, it is basically the history and mythology of the world that The Lord of the Rings is set in. It's fantastic but something of a difficult read-- it's not a novel!).

On Sunday I had the rare luxury of free time with nothing to do and nothing hanging over my head, shouting deadlines in my ear. I spent the afternoon and evening drawing, inking, and painting this picture!

It is inspired by the Elves and their love of the stars, and features four quotes from the chapters The Silmarillion that we are covering in this week's readalong. 

For lack of a better name, I am calling this The Love of Starlight.

Click "READ MORE" to see the rest of this post-- behind the scene of the artwork, and an explanation of what is going on in the picture.

Fact: I can't EVER listen to anything but calm background music while doing this part of a drawing. It takes too much brainpower.

It's not exactly a secret that 1) I love basically everything Tolkien-related, 2) I love illuminated manuscripts, and 3) I love bright colors and detailed inkwork.

In this first picture, you can see the start of the drawing. Oh, the fun of rulers and compasses. I have to say that it is really nice to sit down and "doodle" a drawing. I know that this really doesn't qualify as a doodle, but I got to approach it with the same mindset. There were no assignment parameters, no specific challenges to meet, no particular story to tell. Just me, the paper, and some quotes from a book.

I've got my sketchbook with my old painting of the Two Trees of Valinor open because I wanted to echo the tree design in the new painting.

Fact: Listening to audiobooks and podcasts during this stage is the BEST.

I ran into some trouble with the inks.

I use an old fountain pen turned dip pen with interchangeable nibs, and the top part of the pen has somehow disappeared, so I just use my pencil extender to hold the nibs in place to write. The problem is that if I get carried away it's easy to pop the nib out of the extender and make the ink bleed everywhere... which it did, twice.

Also, my india ink somehow isn't perfectly waterproof. It was on 90% of the drawing, but on the quote "Even among the radiant flowers..." it bled like crazy when I attempted to paint it yellow. I'm confused.

The finished inking!

Next the watercolors!

I have a bit of a downfall when it comes to colors. I originally wanted the drawing to be mysterious and starlike in muted shades of blues, purples, silvers, and greens.

haha yeah right that was going to happen.

Instead I made a veritable rainbow. I still like the finished project, it's just not like what I originally thought up.

The good news is that I did not overly plan this painting (I sat down to read the chapters, decide what to draw, start, and finish, all in about six hours).

The finished piece! The last touch was to use some really cool shimmer paint that I found in my mom's  old scrapbooking kit. It doesn't show in the scan (the first image in this post), but hopefully the above photograph shows how sparkly, silver-y, and starlike the shimmer paint is.

Oh yes, and I also used masking fluid in order to make the stars. I originally was going to just load some white paint onto a paint brush, bang the brush on the back of my hand, and let it splatter, but then I remembered that I bought masking fluid and never learned to use it. I think I've got the hang of it now, and MAN does it SMELL!

Now to explain the quotes and symbolism in this painting:

Fan of The Lord of the Rings know that the ancient, mysterious, and wise Elves love starlight. The Elves honor a semi-angelic being called Elbereth. Elbereth is also called Varda. Close readers of the book will recognize these names-- Frodo sings a song or hymn to Elbereth, as do the Elves.

The Silmarillion explains the reasons why the Elves love starlight and Varda so much. The short story is that the Elves came to being before the Sun and Moon were made.

(It helps to keep in mind that Tolkien's work is meant as a type of mythology and creation myth for the world of Arda (the world that contains Middle-Earth).  The Silmarillion seems to draw from old English and Norse and Germanic myths, but with the interesting mix of Tolkien's Catholic worldview flavoring it.)

So, in the beginning, before the Elves and Men were Awakened on Middle-Earth, the Valar (semi-angelic beings of a sort, including Varda) worked on Middle Earth. One of the Valar, Melkor, decided to go off and do his own thing and becomes the Head Honcho Evil Villain Of All Time.

The Valar made great Lamps to light Middle-Earth while they created the land and everything on it according to the plans of Iluvatar. Eventually Melkor destroyed the Lamps and set great Fires raging over the land. The good Valar decided they needed a break and went over to their special island called Valinor, there to wait until the Children of Iluvatar (aka Elves and Men) came into being. Meanwhile Middle-Earth was darkened by Head Honcho Evil Villain Of All Time.

Valinor was lit by the Two Trees of Valinor, which I explained a lot about back when I did a painting of the Two Trees. Basically, the Trees started keeping track of time. One gave off warm light for half a day, the other gave silvery blue light for the other half. The light of these trees was captured in the gemstones called the Silmaril, which caused a bunch of drama and after which The Silmarillion is named. Oh yeah, and the light of the two trees eventually became the Sun and the Moon. 

The Valar eventually learned from Iluvatar that the time for the coming of the Elves was nearing. They were worried about having to go fight Melkor, but decided to wait a while. In the meantime, though...

The Valar named Varda began a great labor, fixing the fires of innumerable bright stars in the sky. She worked for many years to bring light to Middle-Earth.

The Elves were Awakened on Middle Earth by a lake that reflected the light of the stars. They lived there for a time, learning about the world around them and developing language. But there was as yet no Sun or Moon.

When the Elves first appeared on Middle Earth, there was no light besides the light of the stars.

Later, the Valar wanted to keep the Elves safe from Melkor and invited the Elves to go to the Heavenlike island of Valinor. Many of the Elves did go, and were amazed by the beauty of the light given off by the Two Trees. 

Despite the beautiful light of the Trees (and later the light of the Sun and Moon), the Elves never lost their love of starlight and their special devotion to Varda, the Maker of the Stars.

The top of the painting features a quote from Iluvatar (who is basically a sort of allegory for God-- I know that Tolkien didn't like allegories but that's the best way to explain who Iluvatar is). He says:

"It is doom that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness... Great light is for their waning."

(The Firstborn are the Elves). Basically, Iluvatar is letting the Valar know that the Elves will not know the light of the Trees or of the Sun and Moon at the beginning.

The quote at the bottom of the painting reads:

"Varda took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars."

Telperion was the name of the Tree that gave off silvery light (and later created the light of the Moon). This quote is about her labor making the stars.

The central quote says:

"The eyes of the Quendi beheld first of all the stars of Heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight."

(The Elves called themselves the Quendi). This is pretty self-explanatory.

The quote inside the larger ring needs some more explanation:

"Even among the radiant flowers of the Tree-Lit gardens, they longed still at times to see the stars."

Remember how the Valar invited the Elves to Valinor? And that the Two Trees lived on Valinor? This quote is about how the Elves never lost their love of the starlight.

The design covering the field of stars connecting the center calligraphy to the outer ring is a copy of the heraldic device used on the cover of The Silmarillion.

And the trees in the pictures (the bluish one and the yellowish one) are obviously the Two Trees.

The Silmarillion is very confusing to explain-- just read it to appreciate the beauty! But it was strangely inspirational right when I needed something random to draw. I hope you've liked this lengthly peek into my process!

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