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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tolkien Illustrated: Ted Nasmith #3 – The Hobbit, II

Superuser / Moderator

Apr 3 2007, 2:59am

Post #1 of 10 (699 views)
Tolkien Illustrated: Ted Nasmith #3 – The Hobbit, II Can't Post

“Over time, it becomes not only a question of a desire to paint as many interesting scenes as possible, it’s also interesting to reinterpret certain scenes as my insights into them, as well as my skill and techniques, evolve.”
- Ted Nasmith; tednasmith.com

With the quote above in mind, consider this painting of Gandalf approaching Bag End, which appeared in the 1992 Tolkien Calendar as well as other Tokien-related publications:

An Unexpected Morning Visit; tednasmith.com

…vs. this painting, a privately commissioned work done in April 2005

One Morning Long Ago; tednasmith.com

Question 1 – How has this scene been reinterpreted over time?

Question 2 – What evolving ‘insights’ and skill, if any, do you see between the later picture and the earlier one?

In this quote, Ted mentioned that ‘artistic license’ is acceptable, if not expected, when doing a calendar:

"I can speak of my own experience with having established myself as being kind of a reliable quantity, there's not a lot of fuss around what subjects and what illustrations, for a calendar, I happen to know that if it is a calendar illustration there aren't quite as strict criteria applied. There's more freedom, because it is understood the artistic expression and showcase of art as opposed to specifically applied to a book"
- Ad Astra science fiction convention, February 2002

Question 3 – In light of this quote, do you think the fact that the earlier piece was for a calendar and the later picture was a commission influenced the differences?

A few other unrelated Hobbit paintings follow. They will wrap up the discussion of Nasmith’s paintings depicting The Hobbit.

According to the comments on Ted’s website, this painting of Smaug was the cover (and the illustration for April) of the 1996 Harper Collins Tolkien Calendar.

Scouring the Mountain; tednasmith.com

I wanted to include this picture because I think it’s one amazing picture of Smaug in action. I love how the darkness of the picture emphasizes the fire coming from Smaug’s mouth and the forest burning in the background. The craggy rocks are also very well done, IMHO.

Speaking of craggy rocks, consider this picture of the Goblin’s Gate from the mid-1990s:

Goblin Gate; tednasmith.com

The use of light vs. shadow to define the rocks is very well done, IMHO. The rocks almost look real. (More on realism to come).

Comments on either of these last two paintings are welcome, as are posts of other Hobbit illustrations by Nasmith.

Koru: Maori symbol representing a fern frond as it opens. The koru reaches towards the light, striving for perfection, encouraging new, positive beginnings.

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Apr 3 2007, 9:18am

Post #2 of 10 (541 views)
"One morning Long Ago" [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow, I want to start moving into one of those gorgeous Hobbit Holes first thing tomorrow. I love the stone wall as opposed to the wooden fence in the previous painting. This painting has a much softer look to it and in my mind a more environmental look. It looks as if a lot of the trees have been harvested in both paintings. I don't remember where I learned this but I remember reading that a lot of previous cultures helped to deforest parts of England and other places. So if there is not a lot of wood around and in order to save what wood there is remaining then a stone wall would probably last many many life ages and preserve quite a few trees as long as they were kept out of the fire place! I once had made dream catchers with hemp twine out of swamp willow cuttings to sell in this guys hemp-shop and he insisted there be no wooden beads on them because they were not environmental!!!!

It would be interesting to know exactly why Ted did change the concept. I have noticed that a lot of music artist have become more socially responsible as they age and a lot of times the lyrics are a lot more emotional and in depth also. I see a similar pattern in Teds work. The detail is more realistic and inviting. Being a Tolkien Newbie I have seen very little of Ted's work so thanks Altaira for enlightening me!

The repetition, the doubling and the long strands of interconnected narrative all mean something. They say that life is a series of cycles, and that we will likely meet the same kinds of archetypal guardians, opponents and allies at various stages along the way. But the nature of the conflicts changes as you age and grow over the span of an epic. Reading 'The Lord of the Rings' in my 20s, I was inspired by its idealism, but also terrified by its vision of middle life and old age as a patient, plodding struggle against the mundane grinding of evil. Seeing the movie meant something else to me from my current perspective, around the corner of age fifty, reminding me that the raw intensity of youthful dreams still has purity and power. At the same time, I felt the death of comrades in the movie keenly, for comrades have started to fall around me, and I looked to the story for the courage to continue the struggle without them.~As the legend says, 'One Ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.' We were certainly bound in the darkness, me and that afternoon's audience for the first chapter of 'The Lord of the Rings,' fellow travelers on a long journey together, seeking meaning for our shadowed world in the mirror of a myth, just as humans have always done.~Christopher Vogler

(This post was edited by Shadowfaxfan on Apr 3 2007, 9:20am)

Tol Eressea

Apr 3 2007, 1:01pm

Post #3 of 10 (541 views)
Some observations. [In reply to] Can't Post

Regarding Nasmith's technical development, something seems wrong with the shadow on the door of Bag End in the first painting. From the way he represents the shadows in the rest of the work, the sun appears to come from the right and ever so slightly behind the Hill. In that case, I would expect only the hill itself to cast a shadow on the area before the door. The tree should be and is in shadow. Yet the tree itself casts a shadow on the door, despite the fact that no sunlight appears to touch the tree. In the second painting, the clouds and the shading overall seem gentler and less clumsy. It is details like this (and probably many others I've missed) that make the second painting seem more realistic, more like a photograph.

Regarding decisions Nasmith has made, the choice of a stone fence instead of wood implies to me that the Shire has been settled for a long time. It also makes sense because of the relative dearth of trees. I am curious why, in Nasmith's later painting, he abandoned the Shire's well-ordered fields for something more barren. The sparseness pleases my eye, though. (It reminds me of Scotland, for one thing.) The first painting seems too busy, as if he felt he had to put every element from the text in the painting.

Gandalf is a bit closer to us and more realistic in the second painting. His robes flow beautifully, and he seems less stiff. There's more motion in him. He seems to have a purpose. In the first painting, Bilbo also seems less realistic, more just a suggestion of a figure. (Maybe it's simply because I'm looking at a small image on a computer screen, though.) Bilbo has also stood up in the latter painting, as I think most people would to greet a guest. His standing up also suggests more wariness and tension than a seated pose.

Drat. I'd like to sit and look at this some more but must leave for work.


I used to be GaladrielTX, but it's springtime and I'm shedding.

Beren IV

Apr 4 2007, 3:54am

Post #4 of 10 (518 views)
Nasmith learns contrast [In reply to] Can't Post

Contrast is what Nasmith learned between the two images: how to use lighting to illuminate and accentuate your subjects. In the first painting, Gandalf is in the foreground with the light, but all of the light seems washed out. Bilbo is in shadow and difficult to see. The lack of difference in lighting makes everything seem small, the hill, even the background in the distance doesn't seem that far off. The details are just as sharp in the farmland in the corner on the left as around Gandalf and on hill of Hobbiton itself. The hill also looks less than a few tens of meters away.

In the second, Bilbo stands out plainly obvious, and it is easy to see that Gandalf is striding up to meet him. Gandalf himself is much more dynamic. More importantly than Gandalf's stride, however, is the improved detail in the shading: it makes everything look three-dimensional. The shadow of the chimney on the hill is an especially nice touch. We get the feeling that the sun is shining, and that it is low in the sky, rather than just a general light source coming more-or-less from the viewer. The hill looks larger, closer to a hundred meters to the top instead of half that in the previous painting. Last, the background to the left is shown to be background by the hill's obvious sloping away and by the fact that it becomes blurry in the distance. This is called atmospheric effect, and gives us the image that it is kilometers or tens of kilometers even in the distance, rather than one kilometer at most in the upper painting.

The other two "mountain" paintings are problematic only in the first one's disagreeing with the text, the absence of the vividly-colored Smaug that Tolkien describes. But the flames look like flames, the trees like trees, and the rocks like rocks, and the Dragon like something that could actually be material. In the second, the rocks look a little more artifiicial, although the goblin warriors do not. The red light emanating from the inside makes me wonder what those openings are meant to be, though. Windows or doors? Who carved them? The in-between supports look like columns, which would make sense for a Dwarven dwelling now taken over, but the craftsmanship looks crude, more like what the newer occupants would do. Nasmith tries to have his cake and eat it too, here, and I don't think it works. This particular image, however, I have seen primarily on a Middle Earth Collectable Card Game trading card - and the image is of course greatly scaled down on the card, so a lot of the detail that doesn't look quite right becomes more believable. I wonder what Nasmith was trying to capture here?

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist

Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens

Apr 4 2007, 5:30am

Post #5 of 10 (516 views)
Smaug & Luminism [In reply to] Can't Post

Question 2 – What evolving ‘insights’ and skill, if any, do you see between the later picture and the earlier one?

Insights I think show in the use of a stone fence rather than a picket fence. To him it might be Bilbo standing instead of sitting, but I prefer Bilbo sitting since that is what the book says.

Image #1:
Prefer: Bilbo sitting; the whole front porch area of Bilbo, it seems more Hobbity, country-rustic and the particularly the stones around the door; the lusher green and he use of shadows.

Image #2:
Prefer: Gandalf with his fuller flowing robe; stone fence; the more gentlemen-like quality of Bilbo and somewhat the same for Bag End.
Dislike: the harsh light: it feels like a too dry and unfriendly an environment;

Question 3 – In light of this quote, do you think the fact that the earlier piece was for a calendar and the later picture was a commission influenced the differences?

Undoubtedly! When doing a job for a client, the needs of that client are the guiding force. But not necessarily the whole reason for the changes. Time and experience causes change of perspective an skill, as he mentioned.

'Scouring the Mountain' (Tolkien Gateway)
I love this image of Smaug…I think it one of the best I have seen, (however partial I am to Lee's Smile)

I would add that this image show signs of Luminism, through the lighting of the sky in the sky and especially in Smaug's wings…and of course the fire. It displays good use of aerial perspective as well.

'Goblin’s Gate'
I am very partial to craggy rocks. I respond very strongly to the light & dark aspects and the textural shapes created by it. So, I am sold from the start on the 'Goblin’s Gate'.

Alan Lee Discussion week: starts March 25th in the Reading Room
Discussion Ideas, Alan Lee–Introduction, Scanned images for Alan Lee Discussion.

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Nienna: “ those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope . . . All those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom." — Valaquenta


Apr 4 2007, 2:40pm

Post #6 of 10 (512 views)
Two views of the Shire [In reply to] Can't Post

Question 2 – What evolving ‘insights’ and skill, if any, do you see between the later picture and the earlier one?

The Shire of the second picture seems more "inhabited" and civilized than the first. The focus in the first picture is on the landscape, the grass, trees and hedges-this picture is very green. The second picture pays more attention to the figures, such as the more realistic Gandalf, and to the architectural details, such as the stone steps and the doors. The green grass is broken up with some nice flowers, and there are mountains in the distance. I like both images, but the second is easier on the eyes.

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I wish you could have been there
When she opened up the door
And looked me in the face
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I felt about as welcome
As a Wal-Mart Superstore--John Prine


Apr 4 2007, 8:25pm

Post #7 of 10 (520 views)
Wow! Neon green grass! [In reply to] Can't Post

Nasmith tones down the color and contrast in the second picture. It's like someone turned the contrast control on the TV. He also makes some nice changes to the composition so that Gandalf is moving with his robes flowing, Bilbo is in sun rather than shade, the fence is stone, and Gandalf moves to the center of the picture. Also that large thundercloud in the first picture steals some attention from the subject of the painting, while the clouds in the second picture are small enough to stay in the background but large enough to bring interest to a large part of the canvas. I hope the tunnel inside is larger than the door, though, or else Gandalf will be in a permanent stoop inside. That's more true of the second picture than the first.

I love the contrast of light and dark in the picture of Smaug, but I'm not completely convinced by Smaug himself. Smaug's body is too large for his wings. Of course that's probably true of any dragon, but there's no need to accentuate the problem. I prefer snake-like dragons simply because they look smaller, and therefore more likely to fly. Nasmith's Smaug looks like T-Rex with wings. But yes, the rest of the painting is very nice, and especially the lighting.

Goblin Gate looks better in smaller scale than large. It lacks detail, as if it was drawn to be shrunk. Also it is too light for goblins to be outside, isn't it? I guess that is one bright moon. The gate itself is a little confusing, since we don't see any doors, and the goblins seem to be coming from higher up the mountain. I can't get much feel for the goblins themselves, since we don't see them in detail. They just look like green men. And they seem too uniform, like a human army, all roughly the same size with the same armor and shields and spears, whereas goblins should, I judge, come in a wide variety of sizes, with a wide variety of weapons and armor.

I'm afraid I find the pictures of Bag End a little boring. I would have preferred a close-up of Bilbo and Frodo interacting, with Bilbo looking flustered and Gandalf amused. Focusing on the countryside seems like a bit of a cop-out. The picture of Smaug isn't boring, but unfortunately I have problems with Smaug himself. And as for the Goblin Gate, again it seems a bit of a cop-out to show the goblins only from a distance with no detail. None of these pictures grab me, I'm afraid. I like the technique of the second picture of Bag End the best, but the composition of the picture of Smaug the best.

(This post was edited by Curious on Apr 4 2007, 8:34pm)


Apr 5 2007, 8:27pm

Post #8 of 10 (505 views)
Bagend [In reply to] Can't Post

In the first painting the white picket fence is much too modern. It takes me right out of Middle-Earth and puts me in today. Also, there is an odd quality to the light and the texture of the grass on the side of the hill seems odd. One thing that I do like very much is the divided fields in the far background.

The quality of the light is much better in the second painting and feels more like early morning. The texture of the grass seems much more realistic. I also think that the road seems more realistic with its traces of grass down the middle. I really wish that the divided fields in the background from the first painting were in the second one. Also, I think that the steps and doorway are too refined and not rustic enough. I agree about the other things that have been mentioned like Gandalf’s robes and the clouds and so on. The second painting seems to be of better quality in general.

Daughter of Nienna
Grey Havens

Apr 5 2007, 9:18pm

Post #9 of 10 (511 views)
closer to mid-day [In reply to] Can't Post

A few points to notice:

If you do photography, you will notice the way light is more in early morning compared to mid-day.

The first one is closer to "early morning" because of the shadows. The sun is more on the side in the mornig which created mroe shadows that are longer...stretch out more. I love shooting picts more in the morning because of that (or late afternoon).

The worst time to shoot is mid-day,between 11:00 am and 2:pm the sun is more over head, shadows on the ground are short...casting ugly goulish shadows on a person's face. and every thing turns "hot" (photo term for burnt out details... places in image become too light to hold detail.

most photographers prefer a mmore overcast day to shoot so that the sun is put behind a "screen' shich dufuses the light rays, subduing that intensity of contrast between light and shadow. It causes the light to then gently wrap around sugject, like people's faces.

What does photography have to do with painting...a painter has to understand what light is doing in any condition and anytime of day, just like a photographer.

I brought this up because he second image looks like it could not be any early than 10:30 am. there are still some shadows (on window mounds and Gandalf), but not much and not long. It can not be vvery early in the morning...everything is too "hot" (in artistic terms rathers than actual temperatures).

Alan Lee Discussion week: starts March 25th in the Reading Room
Discussion Ideas, Alan Lee–Introduction, Scanned images for Alan Lee Discussion.

Art Gallery Revised, ORC pic of Hawaii friends, my drawings,
Aloha & Mahalo, Websites Directory
Nienna: “ those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope . . . All those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom." — Valaquenta

(This post was edited by Daughter of Nienna on Apr 5 2007, 9:21pm)


Apr 6 2007, 1:20pm

Post #10 of 10 (554 views)
He has fallen into shadow. [In reply to] Can't Post

The shadows in the first painting are longer, but there is just something strange about the “Quality” of the light. I suppose that would be the color.

To me, the second painting “looks” like morning, but the shadows do seem a bit short. If, in my mind’s eye, I draw a line from the tip of the shadow of the chimney to the top of the chimney it comes toward the observer and to the right at what looks to me to be about 30 degrees elevation. If I do the same for Gandalf’s shadow it looks more like 45 degrees which would be half way between sunrise and noon (midmorning).


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