Game of Thrones

Two characters from Game of Thrones. These pieces bring the total number of my Game of Thrones portraits to 12. Here they are: gallery of all 12 pieces. 11 are pastels, 18″ x 24″, and one is digital. Some would say I’m obsessed. It’s less that I’ve fallen in love with the show, which is very good, or that I’ve become fixated on certain actors or actresses, than that the characters have, well, so much character.

The Game of Thrones gallery is five years in the making.  Looking at it is like traveling through a maze of memories, thematically disconnected but interesting nonetheless.  I remember painting Daenerys in 2010.  It was winter and I used my first set of dark pastels, Terry Ludwig brand. The powder went everywhere in what was then my garage studio.  It clogged the baseboard heating unit and permanently discolored the cement floor.


Drogo was supposed to be easy but he was not.  In the end, the stripes on his shoulders came out flat.

I did the preliminary sketches of Tyrion, the dwarf, on a high speed train in Italy.  The kids were asleep on both sides of me and woke up to comment that the sketches were good but had missed the likeness.

When I started Cersei, I had a light fever.  The pastel dust did not help, nor did the struggle to get a likeness, which eluded me until the end.

Sansa Stark was one of the first paintings I did in our new house.  The basement studio wasn’t finished.  In fact, the spartan basement’s sole visitor was my oldest son, who pitched nightly into a strike zone made of masking tape on the cinder block wall.

May, 2014, I did Margeary Tyrell. (Why do GOTR characters have such hard names to spell?)  That was when my oldest son tried out for a club soccer team.  Storm clouds gathered towards the end of the tryout, which was at my wife’s former high school.  We drove back through a virtual flood and horizontal rain.  Later that night, I wrapped up the painting.  She looks a bit too much like a cat.

June, 2014, was John Snow.  I was happy with how the background blended with the strokes on the face itself.   Shortly after I finished John Snow I went with extended family to Williamsburg for Independence Day.  I had to carry my youngest son on my back for what seemed like a mile to get to and from the fireworks.  The flames in the air were spectacular.

Ygritte was autumn 2014.  I have never done so many preliminary sketches for a painting as I did for that one. Maybe five or six.  I originally thought she had a distinctive chin and forehead, but they were harder to capture than I expected.  In the end she emerged more rugged than beautiful.

Tywin was Christmas, 2014.  My two sisters and their kids came into town, some from half a world away.  We had built a ramp so that my mother could join us.  We laid down a new rug and set up a custom table in the dining room.  The tree was huge and filled with dated pictures of the boys and chipped Santas and cloth ornaments that were losing their threads.  We now approach each Christmas as if it is our last.  My mother’s illness has made life seem fragile. Tywin was on my easel when I took my relatives down to see the study.  I can see them mulling around, making comments, drifting out to play table tennis: the hollow fwapping sound of ball against paddle.  That is what I recall when I see Tywin on paper.  I can smell the chicken curry and milk rice from Christmas lunch; the fresh pine and the smoke near the fireplace.  I can hear the Carol of the Bells on repeat.  My mother cried during her speech.

Oberyn, the Red Viper of Dorne, came next.  He comes from an exotic and sultry place.  But I did the painting during the dead of winter.  There was nothing exotic about it.  There was snow a foot high in the window well.  I had the space heater on its highest setting and it drained the light bulbs and silenced the air purifier.  All my projects at work were ones that had hung around for five years or more.  Very tedious and stagnant.  The oranges and yellows that I built into the painting didn’t do much to warm the winter.  The painting feels cold.

Missandai began on a flight to Chicago, continued on the return flight, and was polished up while watching the Nats slump through April one evening after the next. One family member questioned whether I was leaning too much on the tablet instead of working with real, artist’s materials.  The implication was that I had fallen into a sort of glorified video game.  No. Digital art is real art.

And Arya.  It was time to try something different.  Children are hard to paint.  It was late spring and the weather had warmed up.  The Nats were hitting their way out of the slump; Bryce Harper was on fire.  The azaleas had turned pink and the kids missed soccer practices because of the pollen in their eyes.  Thrones was back on TV and Arya had aged since my reference photo.  But it’s tougher to accurately render a 9 year old than a brooding adolescent girl with a distinctive, short haircut.  I did it for the challenge.

There you have it.


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