Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul

70 X 100 cm (39 1/4 x 27 1/2 inch), oil on MDF board, 2011

At the beginning of the year 2000 I did a sketch (see below) that has marked the start of a long journey towards the finished painting that I am presenting you today .

I do not remember exactly why this scene from The Lord of the Rings book survived for so long in my mind, while many other good concepts never got the chance to be materialized. However, a few years later I did a couple of new rough sketches of the same idea. Because I did not have enough time, or did not get the opportunity to go on with this project, I abandoned the idea once again.

About a year ago I met a collector who asked me to do a painting for his collection. He gave me the freedom to choose the subject. I suggested to him to do the Eowyn painting. It turned out that the scene with Eowyn fighting the mighty Lord of the Nazgul was one of his favorite moments from the entire book trilogy. So, looking through the previously made sketches, and realizing that I still did not yet hit the right “note”, I did another sketch, a tiny one . This time I felt that everything was on the right place.  

As you can see, the genesis of the composition was very slow and gradual, and as the time passed by, I was more and more certain about what I actually wanted to say with this painting.
From the very beginning I was not quite sure how exactly to deal with this scene that was illustrated  many times by numerous illustrators, including Frank Frazetta , Greg and Tim Hilderbrandt and John Howe among others. Not long ago Donato Giancola depicted the same scene and created an excellent illustration. The question that I often asked myself was; how should I approach this popular scene in order to avoid repetition of already used compositional solutions? What must I do to avoid being influenced by the known and celebrated paintings done by already mentioned artists? I did not want to find myself in the situation of competing with the striking depiction of the Eowyn’s fight with the Lord of the Nazgul from the Peter Jackson’s movie either. Is there a dimension of this fascinating moment from the story that was, consciously or unconsciously, “overlooked” by the other artists?
After some thinking about this problem I came to the conclusion that I will have to be myself, and do it in my own, slightly unorthodox way. In other words, I knew I would have to make another interpretation of the subject, risking again to cause the irritation among some puritan Tolkien fans.
First of all, I thought to myself, I am going to try to make yet another fusion between the fine art painting and illustration. The important question was; how should I do that in this particular case? Well, in any case, by approaching the subject slightly more like a fine art painter, and less like an illustrator, first of all by avoiding to be too obviouse, too descriptive, too illustrative. Instead, I thought, I should have to focus on one crucial aspect of that whole scene, and explore its emotional and symbolical content, rather than stay on the surface of the event. This aspect had to be important and  inspiring.
Secondly, I intended to use as few elements as possible in order to depict it. It meant a simple, kind of minimalistic composition, that still had to be interesting and striking. All details that were not serving the main goal of the composition had to go away. No dead bodies of the orks and man laying scattered all over the battlefield, no broken arms, no flags, no beasts, no king Theoden, no Nazgul (just a wing)…All these tempting things had to be removed from the stage just to give the chosen aspect appropriate attention and to make it recognizable and “readable”.
Thirdly, I tried to avoid, as much as it was possible, the literal pictorial translation of the text lines from the book. As long as this helped me make my point clear and to reach my artistic goal, I was ready to change some details from the text, by introducing  inaccurate elements. For instance, I gave Eowyn a full-plate armor, which she, of course, does not wear in the book. I had a good reason for that; first of all I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the masculine aspect of the event on one side, and the feminine presence on the other. This is a crucial aspect of this part of the story, as we know, for no man could destroy the dark Lord…but what about a woman, my Lord Nazgul…?

Besides, when thinking of the symbolism of the scene, I thought I could use a bit of shiny metal that reflects light, as opposed to the dark evil Lord of the Nazgul, who is black (more or less, in my painting) and who absorbs the light – black being a “selfish” color for it does not reflect much light, but rather keeps it for itself, unlike the white color that generously reflects all light back into the world.
And last but not least, I like to paint shiny things like metal armor and other kinds of metal objects. This is probably the illustrator within me who is attracted to the glittering surface of the things and enjoys depicting them…(I must have been a magpie in my previous incarnation)
So, that is how I came to the final composition that is quite plain, liberated from most of the unnecessary details, and whose intention is to evoke a certain feeling , rather than to offer an accurate account of the event from the story. In fact, what I tried to do is to freeze  that moment of Eowyn’s collapse and use it as a symbol of the possible collapse of light and good in the world of Tolkien’s book. In my opinion, this is a kind of mystic moment, that we encounter in our lives from time to time. It happens sometimes that we find ourselves in a desperate situation when the hope is reduced to nothing and when all is pointing out towards the end without a happy end. Yet, something unexpected and unexplainable happens that saves us from disaster. It can be a person who gives us the helping hand, or an unexpected commission, or a newly invented medicine, or whatever ( I personally experienced this wonder almost 20 years ago when I fled my native country). I find this a wonderful mystery and I tried to refer to in my Eowyn painting.

But, where’s hobbit than, you might ask? For in case of Eowyn , he was that “unexpected commission”, her true savior. Well, there he is…

Because of the compositional reasons I had to keep him almost invisible. I did not want him to interfere too much with the swing movement of the Lord Nazgul. However, his presence in the painting is suggested  by a tiny glimmer on his helmet.
At the end, it is up to you, dear artists and art lovers, to decide whether I achieved my goal in this painting, or not. Needless to say, this is just one of many ways of approaching the problem of interpretation in illustration. I think that as long as you know what you want to achieve and how to do it, it cannot go wrong.


  1. Amazing Petar! You have really captured the power and fury of the Lord Nazgul......he is oozing evilness and despair. We can really relate with Eowyn faltering under such an overwhelming foe. I like the subtle glimmer of hope that you have added as well.

    The the energy and power of the brushwork on this.....WOW. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Mission Accomplished! I must admit that the piece wouldn't have meant as much to me if I hadn't read the background on it, nevertheless the pure emotion and energy moved me all the same. I'm grateful that you were kind enough to point out dear Merry in the background and I do agree with your choices to keep him hidden in the mass of alagorical symbolism. Masterfully done, it doesn't need to be literal in it's interpretation-- it carries the spirit of the books perfectly.

  3. the dynamism and tension in the Nasgul lord is absolutely stunning.

  4. My God. This painting is stunning. I almost want to put away my own brushes and call it a day!

    There are moments when another artist does something that shakes your approach at art and, Petar, you've done that for me with this painting. The violent yellow and orange background, rendered with bold brushstrokes and shot through with a bit of cool color for contrast really establishes the menace of the Nazgul. You've communicated a dangerous mood with color and brushwork alone. I also love the red highlights in his cape. The mood here is softened by Eowyn's tired and slightly worried expression in the face of the powerful Nazgul, as if she's only got this one last blow in her before she collapses.

    As an artist I'm both discouraged and inspired at the same time by this piece. Which, as you no doubt know, is the perfect mood for an artist to be in!

    Thank you


  5. You are wonderful. Ignoring the great amounts of pleasure there is to be had from this artwork you have loving crafted, I must tell you straight up: thank you. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your artistic journey. Your words inspire and educate. Thank you sir.

  6. The energy of it is crazy. Awesome!

  7. “…the subtle glimmer of hope…”, and “…he is oozing evilness and despair.” – I like that! Thanks very much, Jared!

    I am glad to hear that the painting “…carries the spirit of the books…”, because if the painting is not infused with a spirit of some kind, it cannot live. Thanks, Micah!

    Thanks for stopping by again, Daniel! Much appreciated.

    Hi Michael – Yes, I know that feeling of being discouraged and inspired (almost) at the same time. As long as we make a quick and smooth transition from discouraged to inspired, and stay inspired, all is well again.
    Yes, exactly, I did try to communicate a certain dangerous mood just with color and brushwork. I am glad you noticed that. Nice analyses of the painting’s mood, Michael. Thanks for the honest reaction!

    Tasli – it’s always nice to hear that the things we do inspire others. I hope this blog will help you find even more contentment and happiness in your creative pursuits. Thank you, Tasli!

    Thanks very much, Brady!

  8. Petar - were you ever worried that your client would feel cheated when denied all the delicious details that could have been added to this picture ?

    1. Is this even a serious question!?
      Did he not paint enough rocks for you?
      The painting is brilliant.
      Be quiet!

  9. Larry - Would you feel cheated, if you were that client…?
    You certainly heard the expression “kill your darlings”, which means that one is to sacrifice “delicious” details, or already nicely painted details, in order to give the whole, or the most important element of the composition full attention.

    Larry, this is a kind of poetry versus novel situation, if you understand what I mean…Good question, anyway!

  10. I was just curious as to how you might explain to a client that you are now going to deliver to them a picture that has less content than perhaps some of your previous works - works that may have initially caught their eye - works that may have inspired them to commission you.
    To me this is a very interesting question because as an artist advances their work often becomes more streamlined - looser and with less "showing off" and some clients may want the old you and not the new and improved you.

  11. Svaka cast Petre! Na radovima ali i na velikom entuzijazmu oko vodjenja bloga. Svakako jedan od najinteresantnijih blogova za koje znam. Kapa dole:)

  12. This is a very interesting topic, Larry. I think I am going to write a post on this subject, soon. Thanks!

    Sreto, hvala najlepse! Nastavljamo da se trudimo I izgaramo, jer kao sto znas “bez muke nema nauke”!

  13. Wow. For me, what takes this painting over the top (way, way, way over the top) is the background. The background has a raw energy to it, being abstract, and yet clarifying the context of the figures.

    My main criticism would be the pose of the Nazgul, as that is as cliche a pose as possible. But against the backdrop of such a masterfully minimal yet maximal background, who really cares? Certainly not I! =)

  14. Hi Petar. I am soooo happy to have found your work online. I got "Prognana Bica" this winter and was so impressed by your work (and by the book). I love the painting, and I like the direction you took. It has lots of 'movement" and it feels epic in a simple, intimate way.
    Puno pozdrava i sve najbolje :)

  15. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew!

    Bree – I am pleased that you noticed the importance of the minimalistic, abstract background within the context of the painting.
    I am less pleased with your second observation.....just joking! Seriously, In my opinion, there are things (in this cases the pose of the Lord Nazgul, I hope ) that possess the timeless archetypal quality, a primordial dimension, so to speak. In this particular case it was not my intention to invent a new, original pose, but rather to try to catch that archetypal movement that emanates the feeling I wanted to depict in the most appropriate way. One of the greatest qualities of Frazetta was his ability to depict that highly evocative movement/pose that is the symbol of the archetype and that carries the essence of the universal. Thanks, Bree!

    Dalibor - The question I often ask myself as an artist is: can we find the epic in the intimate, individual…? Can we find the fragments of great in small. Are we, is universe, is life, really constructed in a way that reflects the principle of the hologram, as the modern science says? Consciously and unconsciously, I try to explore this in my art. Thanks very much for this inspiring observation, Dalibor.(Hvala najlepse I sve najbolje, takodje).

  16. Petar,
    I encountered your work here several months ago and have been sincerely inspired and impressed with what I see.

    I appreciate your concerns for taking such a well-covered piece of classic literature into your own personal, creative domain, and finding a new way to illuminate it. I think you have composed a vivid moment, full of heat and weight.

    Thanks for sharing your imagery and discussion, it is most insightful to a senior illustration student.

  17. Thanks for expressing your thoughts about this blog and my work, Mairin-Taj. Much appreciated!
    I wish you lots of inspiration and much pleasure in your further creative endeavors. And, please say hello to Gary Lippincott, your mentor. I met him a few years ago during the first Spectrum exibition. I remember having a pleasant chat with him.

  18. Thank you, Petar. And it was my pleasure! I will be happy to extend your comments to Gary.

  19. Hvala, Marko! Keep up the good work!