Sunday, 30 January 2011

Yavanna, emerging

Some things take a while to come to fruition.  My latest project, a painting of Yavanna Kementári from JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, took two years to come to the drawing board;  just how do you paint one of the Valar?  Tolkien gives us compelling descriptions of Yavanna:  in the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green*; some have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun*; elsewhere in The Sil he tells of how she sings into existence the Two Trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, who wax and wane in turn and give a lovely light: Thus in Valinor twice a day there came a gentle hour of softer light when both trees were faint and their gold and silver beams were mingled*. To paint such a vision was an ambitious plan, and for a long time I had no idea how to go about it.

Yavanna Kementári, pen and ink drawing
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010



Last summer it became clear that any kind of depiction would be better than none, so I started to sketch some basic layouts.  I wanted an Art Nouveau feel to the piece and decided to frame Yavanna with the Two Trees.  How to place her was the next question;  I decided against a pose, preferring to show her almost in passing, perhaps with a fern springing from the hem of her cloak as she walked.  By October I was able to put down a pencil sketch, and eventually, having modified it several times, I felt confident enough to ink it up, holding my breath as I did so.
Now came my next decision.  The outline sketch was extremely simple; if I simply filled in the colour it would look lifeless.   There was no way I could make it look realistic - who knows what a Valar looks like?  or the Two Trees?  and how on earth do you depict gold and silver light, mingling??  I had no idea what to do, and Christmas came and went. In the meantime I did some experimental paintings with bold washes and plenty of water, as described on this blog in January.  So I asked myself: what would happen if I used those on my painting of Yavanna?

Yavanna Kementári, first wet washes
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2011

Action followed thought (not too much thought- counter-productive!). I wetted the paper and dropped in quantities of turquoise and indian yellow.  Then I added some ultramarine and quinacridone gold for good measure.  The whole thing was very, very wet.  For a while I sat there and literally watched the paint drying;  depending on where the pools of water had gathered, colour was marching across the paper, blending and marching back again.  I was pretty sure there were some wonderful greens growing in there, but I couldn't be certain how they would dry.  I made myself walk away until the morning.

Yavanna Kementári, first washes dried
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2011


When I went back the next day, I was astounded with the result.  I almost didn't dare touch it any more; wouldn't it do perfectly well as it was?  Tempted as I was to leave it, I decided to carry on, to find out how Yavanna would present herself to me.  But that will have to wait until the next blog - partly because she isn't finished yet  . . . .!

* The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien, published by HarperCollins


  1. This has the makings of a truly glorious painting - an atmospheric blend of beautiful colours, warmth and light - you can almost feel yourself into the picture. Has a Pre-Raphaelite feel to it as well as Art Nouveau. Wonderful!

  2. I love where this is going. And boy I totally agree the subject matter is a tough one however, you've picked my favorite Valar to paint. I'm looking forward to seeing where this is headed. Get cracking M! :)