Illustrating Westeros: TWOIAF Special Edition

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In this first Special Edition of Illustrating Westeros, we are delighted to feature an exclusive interview with Elio Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson, the co-authors, along with George R.R. Martin, of the recently published The World of Ice and Fire. The interview offers a detailed and engaging perspective on the artistic development of TWOIAF and the remarkable artists whose paintings so enriched our appreciation of the dynamic milieu of historical Westeros. If you've found yourself returning time and again to gaze at the fascinating landscapes and characters illustrated within the book, wondering about Martin's specific involvement in certain areas, and are looking forward even more anxiously to the release of his next book, The Winds of Winter, this interview is a must read.

Game of Thrones Battle Of Seven Stars by JohnMcCambridge

Welcome to the special edition of Illustrating Westeros, Elio and Linda. Fans agree that the art in The World of Ice and Fire is overall stunning, and would love to know how it was created. Could you share your knowledge on how the process of outsourcing the artists, selecting the scenes to illustrate and supervising it till the final printing layout went?


One of the very first things George said when the deal for the book was concluded is that he envisioned this as being a really beautiful, richly illustrated coffee table book. He's always been keen on saying talented artists turn their abilities to depicting his world and characters, and this was a fantastic opportunity. A number of artists were immediately on the table—fan-favorites like Marc Simonetti and Michael Komarck, prestigious artists such as Ted Nasmith and Justin Sweet—and it turns out that most (but not all, alas!) of the artists on the “wish list” were available to contribute.


A very significant amount of money was budgeted for the artwork. Eventually, once the book was reaching the point of having a full first draft, the layout and design of the book was outsourced to Becker & Mayer! For them, this kind of book is their bread-and-butter, and they've a lot of experience in this field (they've become the go-to guys for the official Star Wars guides). We owe a lot to them—especially to Delia Greve and Rosebud Eustace, the two lead designers for the book—as well as to Erich Schoeneweiss, the art director at Bantam.


When B&M were brought on board, the log of artists involved grew substantially. Early on, artists like Ted Nasmith and Justin Sweet were already commissioned—in fact, the art used in the 2011 A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar was intended for the book originally, but the long wait in getting the book done plus some issues with the calendar made it appear there first—but with the book swelling from its originally planned 50,000 word count to 180,000, much more art was needed. The good folks at B&M had a number of recommendations (artists such as Chase Stone and José Cabrera Peña), George had some additional suggestions, and we ourselves directed them to an artist or three we thought might be suitable.


And on top of that, there was a rich catalog of art already extant thanks to Fantasy Flight Games, and some of those pieces saw use in the book.


As to the scene selection, a lot of the scenes were decided by B&M and our editor Anne Groell as they went through the drafts, and a few were specific suggestions from George, Linda, and I. For example, George wanted portraits of characters like Aegon the Unworthy's mistresses and various scenes from Targaryen history, and we're the ones who suggested a depiction of a child of the forest, the moment when Rhaegar gave the flowers to Lyanna Stark, and the ruins of Chroyane.


As far as the layout process goes, there were several design revisions until we got to what you see now. The sidebars were treated differently to begin with, the look of the parchment texture was tweaked, and so on.

The Battle of the Trident by Justin Sweet

The Gathering by Marc Simonetti

We've all seen the awe-inspiring depiction of the Iron Throne done by Marc Simonetti, and Martin has praised this as reflecting his ideal vision of Aegon the Conqueror's creation. Can you share any details on Martin's involvement in other seminal symbols and scenes in Westeros?


George offered brief remarks on many images, but there's two sets of images in particular where his involvement was much more substantial. First and foremost, George worked hand-in-hand with Ted Nasmith on his depictions of castles and other places of note. We have a series of email exchanges between them—Linda and I were asked to help out by providing Ted whatever concrete details existed in the books about these various places—where George provides some detailed descriptions of the places as he envisioned them. So Ted's castles are really as “canonical” as they're going to get, unless George takes some art classes.


One of Ted's last pieces was, of course, his depiction of Valyria before the Doom. That was one where we shared what little we had—the “topless towers” line from Catelyn, the magically sculpted stones of Dragonstone—and suggested some ideas. The initial sketch was amazing, but when George saw it he felt it was much too “elvish” . . . and so what followed was a brief essay from him describing Valyria as you see it in the final painting: canals of lava, sculpted towers reaching far above the heat, dragons flitting between them. It was jaw-dropping.


The other place George had some very specific commentary was Aegon the Unworthy's mistresses. Magali Villeneuve's initial sketch was very good, but George pointed out that he had a number of very specific ideas about how each of the women should look and Magali revised accordingly. Long ago, George said he had a notion of a novel about Aegon the Unworthy (after ASOIAF is completed, of course) and I suspect that that was why he was so particular.

Sunspear by Ted Nasmith

Riverrun by Ted Nasmith

Martin has mentioned before that certain scenes and places, such as Dragonstone, were a hard challenge for illustrators to do accurately. Do you know of any other scenes that were especially difficult for artists to translate into an image?


The mistresses of Aegon the Unworthy stand out, because George had such a specific idea. Paolo Puggioni's Storming of the Dragonpit was one that took a lot of work as well, and Paolo discusses it with a great deal of interesting perspective on the process of developing the image from initial concept to final rendition at his blog. (He also provided us that terrific Rhaegar crowning Lyanna as Queen of Love and Beauty image that we had requested.)


The dragons can be very hard for artists, sometimes.

Storming of the Dragonpit 

Rhaegar's Crowning of Lyanna 

You’ve had words of praise for Spaniard artist José Cabrera Peña’s impressive expertise on medieval knights’ arms and armour that surpasses in realism what most artists depict, giving it a more “military magazine” appearance than a fantastical one. Can you tell us more about which scenes specifically you have as favourites by him?


Oh, he was a real “find” by B&M! Don't know if they've worked with him before, but he was one of the artists they proposed, and he just floored Linda and I. His attention to period detail—down to arguing with us a bit about how Barristan's armor should look!—was something we found very attractive. His depiction of Daemon Blackfyre leading the charge at the Redgrass Field was really great. But I have to say, our favorite is his depiction of a Sword of the Morning. There's a beautiful romanticism to the desert sunlight behind him, and of course that attention to detail again—drawing from the kinds of arms and armor in our world that fit what George describes for Dorne—was perfect.

Barristan vs Maelys 

Daemon Blackfyre at Redgrass Fields

A Sword of the Morning

Can you also pinpoint additional favourite scenes and portraits by other artists, and were you surprised by any depiction in particular?


Nasmith's Valyria, absolutely. Doug Wheatley's child of the forest. J.K. Drummond's Nymeria. Philip Straub's Chroyane. Chase Stone's Dunk facing off against the Laughing Storm, and his death of Meraxes (and the King Who Knelt, and the death of Lucerys Velaryon, and . . . Stone was both very prolific for us, and very very good!). Magali Villeneuve's Queen Rhaenys meeting the Yellow Toad in Sunspear. Rhaenyra's last moments as Sunfyre looms by Arthur Bozonnet.  

The Deaths of Prince Lucerys and his Dragon by Chase Stone

the deaths of Prince Lucerys and his dragon by chasestone

Daemon Targaryen offering his crown by Chase Stone

Daemon Targaryen offering his crown by chasestone

Readers have lamented the absence of illustrations for determined scenes and characters, such as those in the Northern sphere. Were there any illustrations that were cut and not included for some reason? And were there scenes from the book you’d have wished to see illustrated yet in the end couldn’t be done?


There was never really an idea of doing book scenes, although one—Arya looking at the dragon skulls beneath the Red Keep, by Justin Sweet—did sneak in (since we could use it in relation to some text concerning dragons). Sweet's paintings were commissioned and mostly completed at a time when originally the book was going to also contain a “Who's Who” of characters from the novels, and the art that was commissioned would include depictions of characters from the series. But that fell by the wayside—the “Who's Who” that we wrote became the foundation for the A World of Ice and Fire app—but still, we had this amazing art so we found a way to use it.


As to anything that was cut, originally there were plans for a portrait of the Dragonknight, and that never happened, alas.

Arya with the Skull of Balerion the Black Dread 


Many new sigils are featured in the World Book and some seem to have been redesigned. Was heraldic information from real history ever used in creating these, or are they purely the artists' interpretation of the text?


Many of these were based on our own original depictions at our website's heraldry section which in turn were drawn from notes George provided to us many years ago. George was very particular in some cases to make sure heraldic rules were followed . . . and in other cases he deliberately broke heraldic rules; for example, traditionally there are rules regarding which colors can be used together, and George threw those out the window (sometimes to his rue—he admitted that the black-on-brown of House Darry, a real no-no in the real world because of clarity, was more problematic than he imagined it would be).

Fantasy works are known for their grand world-building and expansive landscapes, and Martin is certainly carrying on the tradition, sparking our imagination about mysterious places like Valyria and Asshai, and the familiar imposing castles of Westeros. Is there any illustrated landscape that was particularly impressive to you and/or deepened your appreciation/interest in the location in the series?


Valyria, again! The details George provided really brought to life this sorcerous city that was well and truly unlike anything anyone had imagined. That the Fourteen Flames were in the vicinity, sure, we all knew that. That the towers were tall and sculpted, sure. But that the lava of the volcanoes was deliberately channelled through the city, and that the towers were so tall that the dragonlords would be above the heat—would, in some cases, never set their feet on the ground of Valyria, but instead spend their lives in the city flitting from tower to tower on dragon-back—was just amazing to us.


The Fourteen Flames coursing through Valyria

We consider that all artists were good choices in terms of talent, but also wonder if there was an artist that you or GRRM would've loved to work with for this book but that wasn’t possible to hire?


Oh, many. I recall three particular artists George mentioned that he'd like to have seen contribute: Mélanie Delon (who recently did a stunning depiction of Daenerys Targaryen for ImagineFX), Marc Fishman (a Chesley Award-winning artist who provided the illustrations for the Subterranean Press limited edition of A Dance with Dragons), and Roman Papsuev (also known as Amok, the first fan artist to get wide attention because he sought—and received—George's advice on his prolific depictions). We would have loved to see them all included, but schedules are what they are. 

Daenerys by Marc Fishman

Jon and Ghost by Marc Fishman

As our regular interviews have borne out, there’s no shortage of fan artists out there dedicating their time and talent to Martin's world. Do you have any personal advice for those who might hope to move into doing official work, based on your experience in this process?


I think a big thing is to branch out—don't just do ASOIAF work, even if that's what primarily interests you! Some of the artists George praised have very wide portfolios, and some of them he became aware of through that other work. Working in the SF/F genre doesn't hurt, because George keeps an eye on hot and upcoming artists therein—or so is our impression. For example, he gets the annual SPECTRUM art books which collect some of the finest genre art each year, and some of the artists he wanted involved in this project have had contributions there.


The other thing is that getting professional work in the ASOIAF sphere isn't a terrible idea—some of the contributing artists came to George's attention through their work for Fantasy Flight Games (Michael Komarck most famously of all). FFG has recently announced that after 12 years, they're going to relaunch their A Game of Thrones card game in a 2nd edition, and that will likely lead to many opportunities for artists to depict their favorite characters or places . . . and for George to maybe see their work.


Given your heightened appreciation for the value of illustrations and the joy they bring to the text, is there a favourite scene you have in the current timeline of the series that you might one day like to have illustrated?


Excellent question. So many scenes to choose from . . . and yet, as we think about it, a lot of them have already been depicted! A lot of what we've always wanted to see are actually “history” in ASOIAF—stuff from Robert's Rebellion, for example. But in the present day, the first thing that sprang to mind was Jaime Lannister's dream of himself and Brienne in the darkness, facing the ghosts of his dead sworn brothers and Prince Rhaegar. I think that actually has been depicted though, in Fantasy Flight Games's The Art of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. So, too, has been Bran's first sight of the Three-eyed Crow, by Marc Simonetti in the 2013 ASOIAF calendar.


Perhaps the arrival of Prince Oberyn and his glittering train of Dornish lords and ladies would make a nice subject. The acclamation of Euron Greyjoy at the Kingsmoot as well. And as fans of the Knight of Flowers, showing him at the Hand's tourney in both his sets of armor, riding against the likes of Gregor Clegane, would be good fun.

Marc Simonetti's Three-eyed Crow

The tree eyed one...SPOILER by MarcSimonetti

Of course, TWOIAF only whets the appetite for Martin’s next juggernaut release: the highly anticipated The Winds of Winter. If you had to pick one region in the upcoming novel that you think could hold the most artistic value/inspiration for artists, what would it be?


Artists should start eyeing the variety of ways in which you can depict snow and ice . . .


. . . and fire, too. As to a specific region, I think there may be some very interesting things going on in the Vale of Arryn.



Thank you for this enlightening talk, Elio and Linda! You can discuss The World of Ice and Fire at this subforum

Our deepest gratitude to the following artists for granting permission to reuse their artwork here:

Ted Nasmith, Marc Fishman, José Cabrera Peña, Jordi González Escamilla, Marc Simonetti, Justin Sweet and Paolo Puggioni.

© Illustrating Westeros. All rights reserved. No part of this content can be reproduced by any medium.


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I'm almost finished reading AWoIaF and I'm absolutely floored by the amazing illustrations! Truly jaw dropping. I was surprised to see that Mike S. Miller's work wasn't included. I thought he was a favorite of GRRM. But, as mentioned, I suppose scheduling was problematic. 

I have to say, I'm absolutely giddy with excitement over the comments regarding TWoW and the Vale of Arryn! 

Thanks to Illustrating Westeros and Elio & Linda for this insightful interview and to the artists who've used their time and talent to illustrate GRRM's amazing world.