Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Middle Earth, The World of Tolkien Illustrated

My passion for illustarting The Hobbit led to my first nationally ( American) published book. Right about that time, in the early Seventies, comic book shops were just starting to be created. Previous to then the only place to buy a comic book was at the newsstand or a drugstore. I found a shop tucked up into the second floor of a small shopping center located in Simsbury Connecticut. It was the kind of shop people who love books have a passion for. It was tucked into the attic of the the building so tightly that the ceiling sloped to accommodate the roof rafters. Like all great little book shops it was piled high with boxes of comics, piles of books and a long glass case stuffed with really collectible treasures and a few special pipes, incense and rolling papers. Norm, the store owner was a very amiable guy and he offered me the entire wall behind, his cash register, to hang my artworks of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
I was hoping to sell a few pieces, which I did, but the real stroke of fortune happened when one of the publishers of a small press, called Centaur Books, visited the shop and wanted to publish my illustrations in a book. The first book devoted to The Hobbit exclusively. Of course they would not have the rights for the text so they marketed the book as a companion book, to go along with, and compliment the Ballantine edition. I was very excited to take on the project and immediately started to create new works that were reminiscent of the artwork that was hanging in Norm's shop. The book was called Middle Earth, The World of Tolkien Illustrated, and Lynn Carter, the noted fantasy writer, wrote the foreword and text. Color printing was very expensive when Middle Earth was published, so many books, including this one, divided the artwork up, so that half was in color and half was in black and white. Still very much into the circle as a compositional form I placed many of the the illustrations into round shapes. In addition, I was smitten the intricate black and white illustrations of the English book illustrators from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and wanted to border some of my illustrations with the same types of intricate artworks that those artists had used. This book also started me on a quest to research historical costumes and armor. Tolkien's text is a fantasy, but he based much of the content on historical events and times very much related to European history. Hooded cloaks, shirts of mail, plate armor, swords and axes all fit into our own historic record, and I wanted to have knowledge of how they evolved and what they looked like to guide me in creating a reality to make the fantasy of Tolkien's words more believable.
The book did sell well for the publisher and ultimately the cover was chosen for the Society of Illustrators 21 show and was printed as a full color two page spread in the annual, which in those days was still half color and half halftone reproductions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

With The Hobbit movie ready to come out in December 2012 I want to share some of my insights and artworks I created when I was working on The Hobbit graphic novel. Many of the artworks accompanying the blog were inspired indirectly or directly by The Hobbit and represent a large cross section of my previous, and latest Tolkien themed work. The Hobbit, has been a big inspiration on my art career as I read it for the first time while I was still in college. Back in the 70's, when I was reading it, there were no visual interpretations of Tolkien's stories available to the public other then his own artwork and the illustrations of Pauline Baynes, and even those I was not immediately aware of. I began to passionately fill my sketchbook with character studies and illustration concepts delineating the lush images Tolkien's words were inspiring. These studies became the basis for my senior project which eventually evolved into an entire Tolkien inspired gallery show replete with four foot maps and life-size Hobbit cut-outs strategically placed and partially hidden behind the plantings in the gallery.
One of the many artists that I drew inspiration from was, Alphonse Mucha. His line quality was sublime and his art nouveau compositions were unique and new to me back then. He had a wonderful way of breaking up sections of his picture-plane into decorative ovals and other round edged shapes. I experimented with shaped compositions and eventually became enamored with circular compositions so many of the illustration I produced were in that format. I painted a few that were over two feet across, which made cutting the mat a real interesting endeavor. I acquired a lot of skill with the compass circle cutting blade and the ruling pen that came with the compass. Ultimately the Tolkien inspired work I produced during my senior year led to my first published book.