It all started with the pictures.
I had drawn pictures of winged men earlier in my senior year of high school (at 17 years old), late in 1992. But they were decoration only, ornament, not characters. My mind at the time was playing in a fairytale-style world, following the mishaps of a young prince who had the misfortune of being turned into a cougar.
Maybe I still had cougars on my mind when I drew this first picture February 14-20 of 1993, but I knew this cougar had been born a cougar. Looks rather large, I realize, but the winged person on its back--the first appearance of t'DoL--I knew to be young, and slower to reach full maturity than a human. So, yes, t'DoL showed up on the stage in his fledgling plumage first.
I knew when I drew it that he was a survivor of something that had wiped out his race (the existence of which I pointed at with the paint-markings on the rocks), and that he could communicate with animals.
markers (except gazebo)
The next picture I made I don't have a date for, though it was obviously before graduation, and very likely in April-May, when my spring fever was at its highest. (After graduation, I was back to my outdoor summer job, and certainly wouldn't be interested in drawing something depicting warmth as pleasant.)
t'DoL has his proper adult plumage colors here, though his wings are not anatomically functional. He's also got a darker flesh tone, since I only had one shade of brown marker at this point. I wobbled all over at first, and tended to forget the issue at other times. As is evident, he's still got external ears; I can't remember when I figured that out. He's also got nothing on--the antecedant of avarii having different ideas than humans about nudity.
In my first picture, he was in primitive North America, but in this second one, he was in what would become somewhere in the westernmost parts of the Dominion. There wasn't much of a story behind it, except that the lady in the picture, the wife of a very wealthy lord, is a bit startled to find a live avarii in the garden, when she thought they were just creatures of legend; her husband knew differently.
Here is a picture where I tried him with jet-black flesh on May 2, 1993. I believe I rejected it, at least in part, because the warmth of a brown tone contrasts the cool hues of his feathers better than the harshness of stark black. It would also lead to issues with vitamin D in mountainous climate, but I wasn't thinking much in biological terms at this very early stage.
The next picture here is just marked 'summer of 1993' on the back. It may look familiar to anyone who saw my t'DoL & Shado picture in my Elfwood gallery back around 2003. That's because that picture I made in 2000 as an intentional retread of this one. What-would-eventually-become-the-Shado is a gryphon here, but that was something I abandoned early on (emphatically so after encountering Mercedes Lackey's gryphons, which I love). But the Shado has its own essay.
Anyway, here I was having fun with my newly acquired batch of Crayola markers that were all in shades of brown--I wanted to use them all in one picture. Not too much to say about t'DoL in this picture except that he had become a stable character in his own right by this point--I wasn't wobbling over certain details any more...and I still hadn't the foggiest idea about 'proper' clothing.
pen and markers
I almost forgot this one, as it's in my college planner rather than filed away with my writing-related stuff. September of 1993, a few weeks into my freshman year as a college student. Here are t'DoL and Geren together--I believe my first ever depiction of Geren (I'm glad to see he already has the 5 o'clock shadow going!). I'm afraid there's a lot I hate about this drawing--like t'DoL's neck and Geren's 'skirt' and stupid expressions and and and... Well, it was ink to start with; I couldn't really fix mistakes. Geren doesn't have blue eyes yet; that came later. And I was still experimenting with the color layout on t'DoL's feathers. And realizing just how bright t'DoL's eyes are took me years to wrap my head around. Those shoes are dreadful, ugh.
I can't really talk about what was on my mind when I drew it, as that would be spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the first couple Geren books. But anyone who has can likely guess close enough.
It was January 13, 1994 that I drew the pencil sketch of what I would later put on Elfwood as Adya's dream. Not that I knew anything about Adya at this point--the picture came out of nowhere. The important detail it shows was the triumphant result of my struggle in the autumn of 1993 at understanding how to depict wings that were actually functional for flying with. (I've got the beginnings of it going in the previous picture, but still flailing a little.) All those angel depictions were quite a hurdle to overcome, but studying various references in the college library eventually got me the knowledge I needed.
Now, while t'DoL was developing through those pictures I've showed, he was also coalescing as a character in my mind. Certain features with the timeline were fluid at first--like my earliest ever written Geren-scrap in which the avarii had been gone for only around a century or so, not the 450ish years it later became (and yes, t'DoL found at least one imprisoned avii toward the end of the Geren story, back in the day when I didn't know about the avarii intolerance of captivity). Aside from various wobblings in spring of 1993 over t'DoL's personality, and then wobblings in summer or later physically as I tried to work out the wings (even tried a version where his wings and arms were partly fused) t'DoL himself was remarkably 'whole' as a character by that September. From then on, it was largely a matter of getting to know him better, pinning down the details, and learning what he can or cannot do. He grew much more powerful between 1993 and 1995, which gave me the ongoing tension of how such a creature could ever be held in check--vulnerabilities became as important as capabilities. I remember poor Heruvael got mighty sick of having to put him back together all the time, back in the day when t'DoL couldn't Heal at all.
Which leaves me with this next picture. A leap forward, but then I didn't really draw t'DoL outside of rough sketches much in the middle collage years--too busy slaving away at big depictions of Finrod and Gandalf!
This one is all in ink, that I started in Plant Systematics class in my final semester of collage. And look--I actually dated it! I must have been in a very mushy mood that day, as that was one of the hardest classes I took, and I usually didn't permit myself the slightest lollygagging.
I've got anatomically functional wings, even if they're not perfectly proportioned (that's a struggle every time; still haven't mastered it). But the reason I show this is because I'd finally found my way around to avarii toe-talons and wing-spurs (not that t'DoL would let people see those outside of strong emotion, but I knew I was being decorative with them there). No decent yellow or brown ink, so no hair or skin color in this one.
What's still 'wrong' in spring of 1997 is t'DoL's clothing. He keeps showing up in black in a few of these pictures, because that was my favorite color, but that is not a color he'll ever choose to wear (pity, I think he's luscious in black ;). It's a particular and persistent problem I've got--t'DoL politely ignores questions he considers stupid, and as what he wears is known through tales and ballads to just about everybody in his world, then I guess I'm supposed to automatically know it as well!
It took yet another picture, I believe in the latter summer of 1997, to finally land upon t'DoL's preference in clothing. The picture's hardly a great one, but I tend to forgive it--I did it on the computer, from scratch in MS Paint, pixel by agonizing pixel in places. Alas, it's a mess now--the copy I printed out did not have water-resistant ink, and not having my own pc back then meant items as large as picture files (especially bitmaps) got erased once I was done with them. I was quite attached to it, so I gave it a fun setting with a card-making software (him standing in a doorway) and fancy font, and used it as the cover in a plastic binder for all the stories I had written...until they outgrew it--then I made a separate one for the Hileko stories with a lovely depiction of Hileko's profile that I used as inspiration for an oil painting of him later on.
I dug them up in 2008, and they're horrid. Water stains, colors fading away or rubbed off--the works. I scanned them anyway, so I have a record against the day they're even worse.
The t'DoL cover is viewable here
And darling Hileko can be seen here
And there it is. With t'DoL I largely learned through drawings in those beginning years. Geren was harder--it was through things like Elouai dollmaker and Poser around 2005-6 that I was finally able to weed through hundreds of 'wrong' stuff to settle upon the right physical details. It might have taken me a lifetime otherwise. Even today, my strong visual side continues to be an asset and a source of information. Not solely through pictures, but the best way to kick off a story that's been languishing on my 'What's cooking' page, or in my head, is to have a 'vision' of it, whether I'm fully awake or partly asleep.
Still got a list of questions t'DoL keeps ignoring, too. But I can wait another 15 years, if I must!