There’s something special to me about the stars. Whether it’s Javert’s magnificent solo in Les Miserables, Sam’s simple little song in The Return of the King (the book, of course), or a little offhand comment courtesy of the Doctor, it seems that most (important) literary figures agree with me: their untouchable beauty has the power to inspire. As to Sam, to me the stars represent the truth that there is light and high beauty beyond the darkness of this world.
My most recent pen-and-ink drawing, reproduced for this year’s Christmas card, attempts to capture some of that wonder that I feel.
There were all sorts of delicious challenges associated with this drawing; for example, how was I to shade a dark night sky using only thin lines of India ink? How was I to distinguish the “texture” of the sky from that of the hills, the rocks, the water, the elven maiden’s dress? What sort of “texture” does sky have, anyway? I had to answer that question if I hoped to work it in ink.
I began by thinking about the shaping of that part of the picture. The very concept of the picture demanded that the sky occupy a large part of the composition. I could use clouds and, of course, the placement of the stars to frame the picture, but it wouldn’t be enough. If I wanted the sky to command wonder, it needed a certain amount of shape. The awe-filled tone of the image handily suggested a round shape, a cathedral-like dome.
But I’m not the first artist to attempt to draw the night sky using lines. As I planned out the sky and began adding the first sets of lines to the dome-shape, I thought about the glorious swirls and patterns Van Gogh used in perhaps the most iconic portrait of the night sky to ever be created. Maybe I could use lines like he did, but with different intent—rather than filling the sky with pulsing, throbbing movement, I could stop it in one moment of cathedral-like, crystalline awe.
I filled in swaths of lines in the shape of a dome, leaving some glow around the stars, letting the sky and clouds be a little more stylized than my work normally is. Figuring that maybe the sun had just set in my little imaginary world, I let the lines get thinner and fewer between toward the horizon, making the shape darker around the edges of the dome and enhancing the illusion of space.
When I finished, I was sitting on the rock beside the elven maiden, my lips slightly parted in awe.
While it isn’t nearly as warm, merry, and overtly “Christmasy” as my hobbit Christmas cards from last year, “Wonder” makes a different statement about Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is not just cause for riotous celebration. Sometimes, like a starry night, it is cause for a quiet moment of awe.