Ideas and the execution for some paintings come quickly, within days or hours even, from the initial impulse to the final touches in oils. Others may take over a decade to gestate – growing, maturing, and metamorphosing in front of your inner eye until they finally find their way out into a concreted form. This later slow progression was taken for my recent creation from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, The Walls of Moria. Yet to fully trace its beginnings, we need to turn way back to 1981 and my introduction to The Lord of the Rings as a teenager:
Gracing my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring was the cover art by Darrell K. Sweet. Sweet was a prolific fantasy and science fiction artist back then, in his prime and a dedicated hard worker. He was brought in to not just illustrated The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit, Silmarillion and the 1982 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar as well. Needless to say, I bought them all, for Sweet was also illustrating the Piers Anthony covers for the Xanth series of novels among scores of others. You couldn’t walk down the aisles of the bookstore and not spot handfuls of Sweet’s covers everywhere.
My desires to illuminate the Doors of Durin were not only fueled by gazing at the Sweet Fellowship cover for years, but also the moment is a wonderfully structure narrative by Tolkien presenting the Fellowship with a challenge not overcome by brute strength, but one of wisdom and knowledge. A sublime resting pause contrasting the violence of the Lurker at the Gate hurtling them into Moria.
A more recent revisitation to this ‘sublime’ theme came back in 2010. I was hosting a couple of fellow artists (Scott Murphy and Grant Newton) for a photo shoot focused around my desire to illustrate the Taming of Smeagol. While they were here, I had sketches for a handful and more of other Lord of the Rings scenes which we took reference shots for, one being the Fellowship at the Doors.
While the reference shots were quite nice for the Doors, there wasn’t that strong spark or drive that pushes me into the need to see a painting come to realization. Nearly all my Middle-earth works are personal projects, pursued and funded by my desire to crystalize a vision I have in my mind’s eye and make it complete. There is no budget nor timeline, just the passion to get it right (what ever that may be!)
Thus, these photos sat on my hard drive over the following years, dormant and waiting for motivation and opportunity to finally strike.
Six years ago, in 2014, the spark almost took to flame for the Doors of Durin. During a family vacation trip to Big Bend in Texas and a canoe trip on the Rio Grande, our passage brought us into the massive towering cliffs of the Santa Elena Canyon. To say I was held speechless by the majesty of those walls is an understatement. That experience was deeply moving, and I’d imagine on par with what rafters may feel traveling through the Grand Canyon.
I could feel the Walls of Moria, and the deep history of Middle-earth (and our Earth!) radiating from the inspiration of that place, and knew I had the wellspring of emotional commitment needed to create that painting of the Doors. Now I needed time.
Step forward another 5 years, and the Covid pandemic found me taking strolls through the rolling landscape of Greenwood Cemetery here in Brooklyn, New York City. Populating the landscape with these memorials are ancient beech trees, their roots bursting forth from the ground and consuming stone and monuments beneath their entangling, earthy fingers. I could feel and literally see the roots of Middle-earth, the rich history of the land of Hollin as Tolkien wished to project – ‘Only the stones remember them now’.
The Covid pandemic also provided hiccups in my typical commercial illustration schedule and opened a chance to carve out the time I was needing to finally complete this project. Thus with all the references gathered and my motivations deeply rooted and entwined, I was able to bring The Walls of Moria into completion this winter.
11 years and not too late! Now on to the next in that handful of Middle-earth concepts…
Prints are available for those interested in my website store: