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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New paintings

There are two new paintings on my easel at the moment. The first one, titled Dragon Race, is a private commission. This will be a part of a book project. There are  some other outstanding artists that participate with their work in this exciting project, such as Boris Vallejo, Donato Giancola, Jullie Bell, Scott Gustafson,  Steven Hickman, Bob Eggleton among a few other excellent illustrators. Below you can see the preliminary rough from the sketchbook, and the final preliminary drawing.

The other painting that I am about to start with, is titled The Rescuer and it is commissioned by the organizers of the  Illuxcon show. Being one of three special guests during the upcoming Illuxcon 4 show, I am obliged to do a painting that will be used in the Illuxcon promotional material. I have been wrestling for a while with this one, until I found a satisfactory compositional solution to the idea I wanted to depict.  Below you can find some preliminary sketches and the final detailed preliminary drawing. The finished painting will be exhibited at Illuxcon 4 this year in Altoona.

Well, I should not cheer too early, for I still have to paint it, and you never know how the painting will develop itself. At the certain moment it becomes a kind of independent entity that one has to listen to and obey its wishes and demands. I am as curious  about the results just as you are, I guess…However, I hope to be able to overcome all the hurdles and temptations and bring this composition to the satisfactory end.
I have to admit that I am too often obsessed with the final results – always latently afraid that the painting will not please me when it’s finished. That it will cause me sleepless nights and make me believe that I finally forgot how to paint…Silly thoughts, of course.
I often wonder where this fear comes from. Perhaps it comes out of my perfectionism…? Or the lack of self-confidence is the source of that fear…? Or perhaps it comes from the competitive attitude…? Or would it be that the mysterious need of the human being to improve himself is the reason. The need  to rise above the boundaries of one’s own abilities and limitations – in order to become something special, the best possible “edition” of oneself, something really worth living for… Frankly, I do not know…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not all giants are ugly!

“Are all giants ugly? This question has been tormenting  me for some time. According to my wife, I have been waking up in the middle of the night, bathing in sweat , and shouting “Yes”, or “No”, depending on the answer that prevailed in my dreams that night, I guess. This torture went on for months,  until the last Sunday afternoon when I finally found the right answer to this crucial question. In the far corner of my mind, where the remnants of the mythological mind still exist, I found a sample of the giant’s race that could be considered as pretty. A funny looking fellow of the considerable proportions, who was aware of his “prettiness”, which is a bit unusual behavior for a giant, for they think that when one is big and strong, one does not have to be pretty or clever.  He also had a good feeling for esthetics and detail, the characteristics quite alien to the giant’s mentality. The little skull-button on his collar testifies to that…”
(from the unwritten and unpublished book Giants – the purpose of their existence and their function in the modern-neoliberal-consumers' society.)

Just pulling your leg!…I have no problems or nightmares in connection with giants whatsoever. There is no book with that silly title either (at least not yet!).
The drawing from above was done in one of the copies of the Serbian edition of Steel Bashaw. A client purchased a copy of the book on my website, and also commissioned me to do a detailed drawing in it.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the Serbian edition of Steel Bashaw with a detailed drawing, please contact me through my email and we will discuss the price and the details of the commission. I still have about 12 copies left in stock.
As for the giants, and without kidding this time – “ The giants are one of my favorite subjects. They are wonderfully grotesque, and I like to draw and paint grotesque things. They are extremely inspiring as a form, as well as a content. In their appearance they are such a good reminder of the inevitability of transience and the deterioration in life. The people who are lucky to reach the old age will eventually become a kind of giants themselves. Well, certainly not in size, but in the physical appearance; big nose and ears, mouth without teeth, bent posture, often grumpy in attitude and with that worn out expression in their watery eyes…sad on one hand, grotesque on the other.
To give my giants the right character and to make them appear more realistic, in a certain way, I have searched for the inspiration among the old people, beggars, drunkards and even the mentally handicapped persons.”
These lines are taken from the bonus section of the US edition of Steel Bashaw. The funny thing is that, when James Gurney posted the information about the publication of this US edition on his blog, beside some nice comments about the illustrations, he also referred to the last paragraph from the text from above. Some people, who left a comment, made a kind of fuss about that, accusing me of not being sensitive enough and being disrespectful towards the old and misfortunate people that I used as the inspiration for my giants. According to them, it was not “politically correct” to treat the less fortunate members of the community in the way I did. Upon reading these comments I was a bit shocked, especially because I never thought of making these old or unfortunate people ridiculous. On the contrary, in my opinion I showed the respect by paying the attention to them, in my own way. Fortunately James came to my rescue, kindly and intelligently, by on one side showing the understanding for the opinion of the politically correct “critics”, but at the same time stressing the importance of the artistic freedom. Some other guys who also defended my approach noted that it is not unusual for an artist to search for the inspiration among the weak and the fragile members of the society.

Well, as for the political correctness and Art - we know that this marriage is an unfortunate one, doomed to fail, sooner or later. Think of the 20st century Soviet Art, so called Social-Realism, and the things that happened to those unfortunate artists  who have not been sufficiently politically correct in their artistic expression.
More samples of not politically correct art… 


Thursday, March 10, 2011


Because we “know” each other a few months, I thought you might be interested in looking even more behind the curtains of my creative process. Today I am going to show you my palette, the painting equipment I use and the surroundings where all of my paintings and drawings are being created.
The palette - in terms of its physical form, I use disposable palette which I do not throw away at the end of the working day, but clean it in order to use it the next day. When the palette gets too dirty and the paint becomes too dry and stiff, I collect as much usable paint as possible and transfer it onto the clean palette sheet. I have heard people saying that disposable palette is for the amateurs and that a professional artist should use a proper wooden, plastic or a glass palette. Well, my disposable amateur-palette does good job for me and it has never prevented me from making professional quality art.

As for the colors I use, there comes the list of the basic colors:
Basic Palette:
-              Titanium white
-              Naples yellow light
-              Cadmium lemon
-              Cadmium yellow medium
-              Yellow ochre
-              Cadmium orange
-              Cadmium red light
-              Alizarin crimson
-              Burnt sienna
-              Burnt umber
-              Yellowish green
-              Permanent green light
-              Sap green
-              Terre-Verte
-              Viridian
-              King’s blue
-              Cerulean blue
-              Cobalt blue
-              French ultramarine
-              Permanent red violet
-              Payne’s grey

There are some additional colors which I use from time to time, whenever a particular problem requires it, but the basic colors are always on my pallet. It does not mean that I use all of the colors that are on my palette every day. There are some colors that I don’t touch for days, but still I like to have them  near me, just in case I need a tiny bit of it. When submerged in the creative “fight”, I find it very irritating when I have to stop painting and search for a particular color in my color box. It destructs my concentration, and therefore I try to avoid this kind of inconvenience by putting on the palette as many colors as I might use that particular day.
You might ask why I use so many different colors, when it is quite obvious that one can get away by using less color. After all, many masters from the previous times created their masterpieces by using often less than 10 colors, I have at least 21 on my palette all the time. Well, unfortunately nobody actually taught me how to use and mix the colors. Even during my studies at the art academy, spending too much time and energy in learning the technical side of painting, was considered to be regressive and useless, and even potentially dangerous for a young aspiring artist. Instead of focusing on learning the fundamentals of the painting métier, we were very much encouraged to work on the development of free expression and our own unique way of creative expression. The reason for such an approach was the prevailing modernistic dogma. Although very important, this was not enough  for me. I wanted to learn how to paint, mix colors and that sort of technical things, but at the end, and most of the time, I was left with the feeling of not being properly “fed”, always latently hungry for that type of knowledge.
Therefore, most of  my technical knowledge and skills I had to collect and develop on my own, studying the paintings of the artists I adored, reading books (although at the time of my studies there was not so much literature of that kind, as it is the case these days), experimenting and above all practicing and keep on working.
Back to the question of my overcrowded palette – I have to admit that I do suffer a little from the lack of the knowledge about color. If I only had just a few pages from one of the Gurney’s books on painting technique on my disposal, I am sure my path would be less rocky, and perhaps I might have accomplished even more in my career.
But, on the other hand, because I was forced to find my own ways, I developed my own approach and style. Although I was inspired by many artists, whose art left some traces in mine, one thing is certain – one cannot see my art as being a surrogate of somebody else’s art.  I still remember my mother’s comments  on my early drawings, that were often copies of the existing works of art. She would say to me: “ Why do you always copy other man’s drawings? Are you not able to make your own drawing without  imitating the art of somebody else…?” After such a remark I always felt bad, because, I guess, deep inside I knew that it’s not good to try to be somebody else. My mother’s words contained an important message as well as a warning.
I am happy to conclude that, now,  I do not have to worry about becoming an epigone of another artist any more. Somehow, along the way, I managed to avoid  that potential disaster. Though there was  a time, I must say, when I was suffering from realization that I would never be as good as Frank  Frazetta,  Arthur Rackham,  Paja Jovanovic , Ilja Repin or John Singer Sargent. Even if I would to spend all my life mastering the Sargent’s approach, I would never become better Sargent than Sargent himself. But then, a thought came to my rescue - I realized that perhaps the best thing I could do with my work and my life is to strive to become the best possible “edition” of Petar Meseldzija. I find this idea worth living for…

I use all sorts of brushes  of various shapes and sizes. Do you see the brownish-red brushes on the right side? These are my “magic” brushes –  the “Stradivarius” among my brushes.
As for the mediums, I use a usual Talens painting medium and I use a usual Turpentine that I buy in a local grocery shop. In the past I have been experimenting with different mediums and gradually came to the conclusion that a proper simple painting medium suites me the best. I use the turpentine to clean the brushes and, occasionally, to mix it with the painting medium.

These are the photos of my little studio. As you can see, it is a bit crowded and the ceiling is quite low, which gives me some troubles especially when working on the larger pieces. But I have plenty of light, which is the most important thing. I have to admit that I do dream of a bigger studio with even better light and enough space for my constantly growing collection of books, paintings, frames and about everything else a professional painter needs. But I am still happy and tremendously grateful for having this little studio, especially having in mind that 20 years ago, when I left my homeland because of the civil war, I left everything behind and had to start again from scratch. 
Let me finish this post with a conclusion - Perhaps is great art not to be found in the advanced, bright and shiny art tools and equipment, but rather in the heart of the artist.
Today’s  bonus:
The Knight and the Dwarfs, oil on masonite, 32 x 58 cm (12 1/2 x 23 inch), 2010

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Unconventional convention sketches

Some guys  just get lucky …
I am presenting you with a selection of drawings  which I did in a number of my books. These drawings were made for fans, colleagues  and friends who  either bought a copy of the book, or have got it from me as a present. The intention was to do a little sketch and to make their copy more personal and special. But in each of these cases,  soon after I started to draw, I felt inspired and instead of a simple sketch I ended up with a detailed drawing. All of them were done in my studio, or during one of my vacations, when I had enough time and when I was in the right mood.  Usually when signing my books during the conventions, I do not have enough time for a nice drawing.  I am always excited and even a bit nervous in this kind of situation. This contributes  to the poor drawing  results and therefore I am almost never satisfied with the sketches that I do during the conventions. These lesser drawings “decorate” the books  of the less fortunate buyers. But, I presume, they are still luckier than those who only got a signature in their copy.
A convention sketch

Unlike the drawings from the conventions, the drawings  presented below were done in the familiar surroundings, with no time limit, and in peace and quiet. They are a kind of materializations of my thoughts and feelings, the ghosts of  the ideas that are roaming through my mind in search of a proper “body” and the final incarnation.  When starting such a drawing session , I often have no idea of what I am going to do. I just begin drawing lines on the paper and I follow the shape that starts to appear. Reacting on what I see in front of me, I gradually build up the form. The story of the piece is developing simultaneously, inspiring the addition of new elements and features. The theme of the drawing often has something  to do with the content of the book, or it might be connected to the  subject matter that preoccupy me at that time.
However, I was so pleased with  a few of these drawings that I decided to include them in some of my book projects.

The next two drawings were conceived as the illustrations for the book Banished demons. As you can see there is not much difference in terms of detail and general quality between them and the drawings from above.
I told you, some guys just get lucky…