Creating “Shadow-Bride,” Part 1

Ever since I read Tolkien’s poem “Shadow-Bride” about six years ago, I’ve been wanting to illustrate it. This month, I decided to accept the challenge.

The poem itself is the perfect little mix of sweet, sad, and just slightly creepy. Creepy in the sense that I like—the Doctor Who sense, in which creepy enhances rather than overrides any inherent sweetness. For it is very, very sweet. Judge for yourself:

There was a man who dwelt alone
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June.

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.

There never more she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.”

(originally published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil)

All thematic elements aside, the poem presents an immediate artistic challenge: drawing two figures, dancing, but casting a believable single shadow that, at the same time, could represent those two figures.

Beautiful little poem with vivid imagery and a sadly sweet story? An artistic puzzle to solve? Bring it on!

I decided to do the piece as two separate 16×20 parts, which would allow me to reproduce the entire poem in calligraphy and, at the same time, have room for a large illustration. If I did it right, I could even make it look like two facing pages of a manuscript. So I planned the two by sketching ideas.


The next step in my process is to draw the pieces, full-size, on tracing paper before transferring to the illustration board. This allows me to make all my messes without damaging my final surface. As you can see, I’m still at this stage. Today I hope to finish the tracing paper work, transfer, do the ink work, and possibly begin painting—after, of course, my lesson plans are done for Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ll see how far I get.

Yesterday I focused on the faces. The faces are, to me, the most important part of this piece—it’s in the faces that I, the artist, choose which mood or theme I want to emphasize, and in this work, I want to emphasize the gentle romance. The colors—by very nature of being moonlit—are going to emphasize the other aspects of this poem. So I drew the faces and drew them again and again. I’ll have to see how well they transfer—sometimes it’s a gamble—but for now, I am pleased:


Hopefully, by next week, I will have some final pictures to share.


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