Welcome to another edition of Illustrating Westeros, Denkata. To begin, tell us how you became an artist, and the influences that have shaped your style.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to participate in your project, it means a lot to be recognized.
I discovered my passion for art when I was still a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old. I was at Kindergarten and I remember I absolutely hated “art class,” I always refused to draw, even without trying, until one day my teacher was done with my shenanigans and she literally picked me up and put me on the drawing table. I don’t know how, but I was instantly hooked and have been ever since.
In high school, I had a period of self/discovery (or, simply, puberty hit me hard and hormones were taking control) and I put painting on hold for some time as I was struggling to decide what my future career should be. After some time and with the help of my mom, I decided to pursue a career as a graphic designer, as I thought it could unify my interest in art with a modern and popular profession. The moment I bought my first drawing tablet was when I realized what “my style” would be—colorful semi-realism.
I often draw inspiration from films, books and comics, but my creative process is a complete mess. I can get so excited with an idea that I put everything else on hold, yet if I stop for more than a few days it might take months to finish it. Seriously, there are drawings on my PC that remain unfinished since 2013…
You are an outstanding illustrator of George R. R. Martin's works. When did you read the A Song of Ice and Fire books for the first time, and what was your initial impression?
I read A Game of Thrones in my first year at university (2011-12), immediately after Season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones and I was so hooked on it that I ordered all the other books and read them in no time. George R.R. Martin is an absolute genius! The plot is fantastic, the characters are so real, with their complex motivations and flaws, and the amount of detail put in the description of this fictional world is mind-blowing to me. And most importantly, these books are completely unpredictable and like nothing else I’ve ever read.
Who are some of your favourite characters in the series, and is there a scene that is particularly memorable to you?
There are many characters I like in the books such as Melisandre, Daenerys, Jon, Tyrion, Val, Oberyn, the Sand Snakes, Arianne, etc. But undoubtedly my most favorite are the Stark girls and the Lannister twins.
Arya was the first character I was absolutely in love with, her chapters were among my favorite in all the books, especially her training in Braavos.
With Sansa and Jaime it was completely the opposite way, I hated them. I hated them so much that I was thinking, “God when will these idiots die?!”, but seeing how they both progressed with the story made me completely forget why I was feeling so negative towards them in book 1.
Jaime’s redemption arc is one of the storylines I had most fun with, and discovering his past and reasons for his actions made him a character with depth, instead of the arrogant douche we were shown in books 1 and 2.
Sansa has also grown so much from the naïve child she was in book 1, and for me she’s the ultimate survivor of the series.
Cersei is another case—I just love to hate her so much. It was pure joy to watch her fall from grace and singlehandedly destroy the realm, and I have to say I’m very excited for her future.
Honorable mention for a favorite character is Catelyn Stark/Lady Stoneheart, which is also connected with my favorite scene of the series: the Red Wedding. It may sound cliché that I picked this exact scene, but I read it years before we saw it on the show and my shock at the fact that something like this can happen in the middle of a book made me realize that no one is safe in that world. Catelyn is also probably the most real character of all and the one who has experienced most pain during the course of the books. Also Stoneheart’s appearance in the epilogue of book 3 is my second most favorite scene.
Some other scenes I love are Daenerys’ visions in the House of the Undying, Sansa’s final chapter of A Storm of Swords, Arya killing the guard and escaping Harrenhal, Tyrion killing his asshole father, all of the warg dreams, and to be honest, all scenes where the Others attack.
After HBO’s Game of Thrones came out, many readers’ inner pictures of characters and scenes have been replaced by actors and settings from the show. Can you tell us about your own mental images of the characters, and if this has been influenced by the show?
Yes, it definitely influenced my perception of the characters and their appearance. I started as a TV series fan, and when I started reading the first novel I was like “Wait a minute, Daenerys is 13?!” And it’s not the only difference compared to the show. At first, when I started producing fan art for ASOIAF, I was primarily basing my drawings on characters’ appearance from the show, but after some time I decided that as an artist it is far better to express my own vision. Especially when we talk about Essos, to which the show is not doing any justice. Everything is muted down and simplified, instead of embracing this colorful and bizarre continent.
Looking at your gallery, the sibling theme really stands out with pieces representing the blood ties uniting the six Stark children, the three Targaryens and the Lannister twins. What is about them as individuals and about their fraternal bonds that caught your imagination and motivated you to depict them in these group portraits?
I really like the concept of having a sibling, as an only child I have always wondered how it must feel like to share everything with another person through a special blood bond. With these drawings I was aiming at exploring the similarities and opposites among these siblings.
I love the special connection between the Stark children, from the direwolves to their dreams and the idea that there is some magic inside them. I think their bond is very strong, as they often reference each other in their individual chapters, and personally I think they will be key in the end.
The Lannister twins, on the other hand, intrigue me with their unnatural bond, and even though they are described as looking similar, they couldn’t be more diverse in their character traits. Unlike Sansa and Arya, I don’t find that Jaime and Cersei are different sides of the same coin—he’s loyal, doesn’t care about money and power, and public opinion bothers him, while Cersei is a cheater, only interested in power, and completely uninterested in anyone else except herself.
And the Targaryen siblings, my most viewed drawing so far, was inspired by the magic and madness that runs in their family. Rhaegar is one of the most fascinating characters we haven’t really seen in the books. I absolutely love the mystery around him, his obsession with prophecies, confusing character and tragic end. I was really disappointed by Viserys’ death so early in the series, because I wanted to see more of his relationship with Daenerys, but I do understand it was important for her development.
Stranger's Handmaiden is a visceral Lady Stoneheart piece, highlighting her vengeful state and showing the painful losses she has suffered in her son and husband. How did you go about deciding on the composition and details for this painting, and why does Catelyn's gruesome fate capture your artistic interest?
As I mentioned before, Catelyn’s story is one of the most tragic for me, and I do find it of great importance for the overall story. When I heard rumors that Game of Thrones’ showrunners were planning to cut her out of the show, I did this drawing as a “F*** you, idiots. Look at what you’ll be missing if you cut her off.” I didn’t expect they’ll ever see my artwork and think, “Oh, yeah, this guy is right,” but I definitely felt good that people liked it. I based Cat, Robb and Ned on the actors who played them in the show on purpose. Also, I wanted to have a dark and creepy atmosphere, and slightly suggest Stoneheart’s hanged victims on the back. It was important to feature Robb and Ned Stark to make her motivations more clear, and in the books I loved that she managed to get Robb’s crown back. For me, that was a foreshadowing for the Starks getting power back in the future. A man can hope!
Do you have a favourite art technique? And do you have a preference for experimenting with new techniques and styles or for keeping to your established ones?
I really do like traditional art. When I was younger, I loved to experiment with watercolors, pastels, charcoal, pencils, etc. But I have to admit, since I started drawing digitally I don’t plan to return to traditional techniques. The limitless things you can experiment with in Photoshop and the ability to fix mistakes in a blink are something I don’t want to live without.
Is there an ASOIAF artist whose work you admire? And/or a piece of ASOIAF art that you have as a personal favourite?
Kay Huang, this guy has some of the most beautiful renditions of characters and scenes from A Song of Ice and Fire. And Tara Phillips, whom I wouldn’t consider an ASOIAF artist exclusively, but she has done two of the best based-on-the-show character drawings I have recently seen.
Please, give us a link or thumbnail from your gallery of:
a) An ASOIAF illustration you are most proud of?
I guess it has to be this one, partially based on the show and partially on my vision.
b) A piece that was the hardest to draw or paint?
Actually I'm curently working on it. It's an art piece of Rhaegar Targaryen and his black armor has been annoying me for months now. But from the drawings I have already finished, it has to be Jaime and Sansa's potential meeting. I had several conceptual dififculties with it: I wasn't planning to add it to my series of "scenes we haven't seen" which meant I had to think about a background, Jamie was on a horse, Sansa was still disguised as Alayne, etc. But in the end I decided to settle with a more simple concept, as I was losing time for other projects.
Martin is known for being supportive of fan art, and has been personally involved in the creative decisions of the official ASOIAF art for calendars, books and comics, even supplying descriptions to artists and choosing scenes himself. If you could do one official ASOIAF artwork, what would you like to depict?
Oh, that would be lovely! I’d love to depict Drogon causing chaos in Meereen’s fighting pit or Aegon riding with his sisters. I guess it’s high time I draw some dragons…
Is there a plotline, whether in the North, the Vale, King’s Landing or Essos that you're anxious to see resolved in the next book?
Oh, yes! I’m anxious to see anything at this point, I want to read this book so badly! I’m excited about Cersei and Margaery’s trials in King’s Landing, Stannis and the attack on Winterfell, the Meereenese Knot finally solved (Daenerys, please, go to Westeros. Your nephew got there in half a book, and you are still not even close), Jon’s situation on the Wall, and of course the fates of Brienne and Jamie, plus my favourite Lady Stoneheart.
And lastly, can the fandom expect more ASOIAF art from you in the future?
Absolutely! As I mentioned above, soon I’ll be done with a drawing depicting Rhaegar at the Trident, preparing to face Robert Baratheon. And I’m planning to continue my series of scenes that we haven’t seen yet or have potential to happen.
Thank you for talking to us, Denkata! You can see more of his art at: