By Justin Gerard
One of the great things about the worlds that Tolkien creates are the half-mentioned places and events that are going on in the background of Middle Earth. By hinting at them and leaving them a bit mysterious, Tolkien gives the reader a chance to use their imagination and place themselves inside the world and explore it for themselves.
 Many of us, when we read stories like these, like to imagine ourselves there in the background as clever, dangerous warriors, or as powerful wizards and the like. We don’t ever just place ourselves in there as hapless serfs who get ordered around a lot and eventually eaten. Or as complete bunglers for that matter.
 Which led me to an idea for a painting that I plan to share with you over the next few weeks as it develops. Here’s an initial thumbnail:
 Makes sense right?
 Let me explain: A few months ago, I went mountain biking with a few of my friends. At the beginning of the trail ride my friend Asher listed off the names of the trails we would be on which would lead to which, and I sort of heard, but mostly didn’t. We started riding and things were going well until I got myself into a spectacular wreck that involved several roots, 2 large trees, a stream and possibly a rabid squirrel.
 I had been in the rear of our caravan, and my friends hadn’t witnessed my mishap (thankfully). While I was glad to be spared the embarrassment of having them see me wipe-out and then ask me if I needed training wheels or a squirrel-proof suit, I was dismayed to realize that I had lost them completely. I put myself back together and kept biking in hopes of eventually catching up with them, but it was no good.  They were all experienced master Jedi mountain bikers and I was but a padawan learner. After a while I came to a fork in the trail, but the trail names were unfamiliar. Was it Firetower or Pipsissewa? I know he had said it was one of these trails, but I couldn’t remember which one. So I took one at random and got myself randomly lost. 
It occurred to me, while I was out there bewildered and lost, that if this were war, I would probably have just gotten us all killed. Had I gone to war, I would probably have fought very hard, and then died very fast because of something really stupid, like mishearing the coordinates on a map, and getting myself caught by friendly mortar fire.
This image was a result of that. If I were wandering around in the background of Tolkien’s world, I’d probably have been a dwarf. Not a legendary warrior, or a powerful orc chieftain or a wizard, but A dwarf whose helmet hadn’t been tied quite right, and who got himself and his band into a lot of trouble.
 When I got back from the trail ride, I scribbled this thumbnail down:
This is often what my thumbnails look like, with little notes pointing out important narrative details. Over the next few weeks I will be posting up the progress and development of the rest of the piece.  And we’ll see if our dwarf can make it out of the mess he has gotten himself into.
Stay tuned.