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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Dark Horror from the Last Age

I show you just this portion of the piece because the rest is too horrifying to show.  

What could possibly make it horrifying? After all, its 2 friends wandering in a sparkling tunnel with bright lights. It should be a recipe for the warm, happy feelings one might associate with Tolkien's literature. 

You should sit down for this, and you should be prepared to run from your computer the minute you see the images below. (I have already run from my computer 3 times just trying to post this.)

Here is the sketch:

Nothing unsustainable yet, right?  So far, so good. I drew this while in a dank subway car in the bowels of France. 
It seems harmless enough right?  A simple, straightforward composition with medium figures in a dark environment.
And so I thought, this will be a great first piece to do for an illustration based on material from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  I have wanted to paint some illustrations based on this awesome story for a while. For the first piece I wanted to attack what for me, has always been the most terrifying and gripping in the story: Shelob's Lair.  

Page 3 of my collection of nightmares. 

My thumbnail seemed solid enough, and seemed to have the right amount of tension in it.  So I started doing my developmental sketches for this. One of the first things I did was to draw several hundred gestures of spiders.  This is a mistake.   

At about number 36 I realized just what soulless terrors spiders can be when seen close enough to make out distinguishable features.  

Unholy Terror # 36

(BTW Thank you Uglyoverload.com for the excellent reference and for the regular updates on hideous creatures that I was perfectly fine before I found out existed.)

In spite of the general horror of these sketches, I persevered.  I thought, "well, these are terrifying and I now have the shakes and won't be able to sleep for weeks, but hey, I'll bet I'll feel a lot better after I knock up a more finished sketch."  
(Now is a good time to stop looking at your computer screen)

I do not feel better. 

After I did this I took several large steps away from my desk and looked for an adult.  Finding none but me in the house, I took 3 showers, then ran back in like batman and smashed the painting with my giant book of mythology.  It has sat there, crushed, until just now when I worked up the courage to see if I had killed it or not. 

Not convinced that this isn't the most terrifying thing you have ever seen? 


Maybe I'm overreacting.  In general I like spiders, of all the creatures with chitinous shells and more than 2 eyes in the world, they are among the most interesting.  But what did me in was the way she was holding her legs up.  In my mind I had seen it as the spider shielding her eyes from the light and trying to blend in with her surroundings until the Hobbits past her so she could sneak up on them from behind.  But after I drew it out, I realized that what was really in my head, was her playing a weird and altogether horrifying peek-a-boo game with the Hobbits. As soon as I got that far my brain exploded and I had to put the drawing down.  A 12 foot spider playing peek-a-boo with its prey was just too much. I could not bring myself to finish this painting.

There has always been something terrifying to me about a predatory creature that is sneaking up on you as if you don't see it.  Like a lion creeping through the grass towards you, its eyes fixed, about to pounce, but acting casual. You know its about to kill you.  Seeing it in stalking mode, and knowing that it is stalking you freaks me out.

I know this is a strange thing to freak a person out, but well, there it is.  This drawing freaked me out.  The spider hiding her eyes behind her limbs, and peaking out had some deep, primordial sinister perversion to it that crossed whatever internal threshold I have for, is going to wreck your brain if you go through the process of staring at the piece for the 25 hours it will take you to paint it.   
But you are probably saying, "Well, what were you expecting Gerard? You are drawing a 12 foot spider in a dark tunnel that eats PEOPLE. Last spawn of Ungoliant, the terror of the pass of Cirith Ungol in Morder, where the freaking shadows lie. What did you think it was going to look like? A Watercolor of ducklings in a quiet pond? Adorable puppies frolicking at the beach?"
All that being said, I am not sure what I am going to do next.  I will have to think about it. 


Next Week: Adorable Puppies Frolicking at the Beach.   


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Are you planning on releasing this in book form? I'd love to get my hands on a copy.

  3. Gack! I don't like even smaller spiders. So it's a good thing you warned us beforehand!
    Now I feel all jumpy!

  4. i'm more nervous about the puppies on the beach.

  5. A richly bound book with all your Tolkien work would be highly desirable; in fact it would be quite. . . precious. . . and I would want it for my very own.

  6. That was extremely fun to read.
    Spiders don't scare me. Sharks however are scarey. Whenever I get near water that I cant see through I hear the jaws theme song.
    I think I just dont want to be a meal. Ever!
    A spider that big could be a potential threat to my core fear of being eaten.
    Now I will run away from my computer. :)

  7. Regardless of the nightmares this piece may have give you, I think you nailed the lighting and mood. I love your work

  8. hahaha... oh man, Justin, this entry is classic! I got a good laugh out of this, and yes.. quite freaky indeed, but soo perfect for the piece! It's also horrifying to be an outsider looking in on this situation, knowing that the two hobbits don't have a clue that she's there waiting in the shadows..so epic, man.

  9. Yesss!... :)

    Bloody brilliant as usual
    Absolutely love it.

    My brother flipped when I showed this to him, as he is rereading Two Towers and just the night before read the same spot about Shelob.

    Fun coincidence

  10. I think shes kinda cute. Makes me think of John Bauer and his trolls.

    Found another black widow in basement recently. Keeping this one as a pet. If Shelob were a brown recluse she would be much more scary to me. Necrosis. Bleh.

  11. You know what is scarier than necrosis? Being paralyzed by giant spider venom, and then gradually devoured by a mouthful of wriggling pincers, while still conscious.

  12. Your writing looks kind of quivery on the thumbnails there. Actually the piece looks really good, and has the potential to make you the next Alan Lee. It's a great follow-up to your Hobbit illustrations.
    I am watching the LOTR films for the first time, and although I haven't seen Shelob yet, I am sure that I will be freaked.

  13. How can you live with yourself?!

    But your Shelob gives more of the feeling I received from the text of the book--moreso than the film version actually. Not sure if I LIKE that... Incredibly cool and incredibly vile.

  14. I like this, I really do... but you know what scares me more than Shelob? The stalagtites on the cave roof - they look like teeth... and I'm claustrophobic. Not nice. Oh, and Gregory, I agree with you about the sharks. Sharks are definitely on my list of major fears. In fact, I have been known to leave swimming pools due to my fear of sharks. Justin, do not ever ever draw a shark. The results would truly be too hideous to contemplate.