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Making an Ent - Part 1 of 3

Normally my ‘blog’ posts are a photo or two with one sentence without a lot of information. This is not that. This is an essay about trying to draw an ent. Ents have been depicted as tree creatures in the Lord of the Rings movies and book illustrations (see Emily Hare, Stephen Hickman, and Justin Gerard).

I'm not so sure about these tree-like portraits. Here's Tolkien's description of Treebeard:

“A large knob-knuckled hand was laid on each of their shoulders, and they were twisted round, gently but irresistibly; then two great arms lifted them up.

They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends. But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating. They were brown, shot with a green light.”

This is from Chapter 4 of the Two Towers. It’s the only detailed description I can find of Treebeard and he is most reminiscent of men or trolls . Ents are never explicitly described as having branches and leaves sticking out of them. Later we meet other ents, and they bring to mind different kinds of trees: Ash, and oak, and beach, each in a variety of shapes and numbers of toes. Treebeard says that some ents may become more tree-like over time, and some trees might become more ent-ish, which shows that they have a somewhat close physiological relationship, and they can become one another over time. Imagine an ent has raised his arms above his head and he standings still. Eyes closed. Is he distinguishable from a tree?

I think a lot of artists have decided the answer is "Yes!", because that’s a fun character to design. In one of many very different portraits, Alan Lee depicts Treebeard as a having a big face and beard with no real head behind it, resting in the center of a tree with limbs sticking out of the top of his head. Now, at first I wanted to go in that same direction with my drawing, but I just isn't in the book and I want my illustration to be "historically accurate".

ent design

Turns out lots of artist have taken my approach already. Here's an example by Ted Nasmith. Another by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. Here's another, very different depiction, also by Ted Nasmith. And others by Michael Kaluta and Darell Sweet. These get pretty far out. Okay, I could keep going, but you can find an amazing variety of ents when you bing it. I'm kidding. When you google it.

(Go back in time to the 80s and ask your average person which of these terms would mean search in our future nomenclature: bing, or google? I'll bet they'd pick bing. It's already an onomatopoeia. Google just sounds made up.)

These are technically correct based on Tolkien's description, but they look too human and at times too goofy for my very serious sensibilities.

Here's what I thought about in my design on the left. Remember, the Ents were the first beings to walk upon the Earth, so they existed before Men and Elves and Dwarves. Treebeard should not look like a humanoid evolving into a tree. He should be protohuman. Protomamal. A creature that's mobile, and has arms and legs and a face, but not much else in common with us physiologically. And I ain't givin' 'em branchiz cuz it ain't in da book, dang-gun-it!

I’ll post the final drawing in the next few days.

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