Talks with Tolkien artists: BohemianWeasel

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MirachRavaia's avatar

Can you solve this equation? :iconczechflagplz: + :iconweaselplz: = ?
The solution is a name of a great portugese artist with many lovely illustrations of both the Tolkien books and movies, but also various other topics -
:iconbohemianweasel: BohemianWeasel.

The Ring is Taken to Rivendell by BohemianWeasel Hobbit Illumination: Thorin, vengeance of Dwarves by BohemianWeasel
 Proud Titania and poisonous blooms by BohemianWeasel
John Uskglass, the Raven King crowned in ivy by BohemianWeasel Nasir the Saracen by BohemianWeasel

1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?

I'm Soni (pronounced 'sunny'), an English artist/ illustrator/ idiot. I graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in illustration, and now live and work in Portugal. It's warm, which is nice.

2. It is interesting to find out the stories behind people's usernames. What is yours?

My real name is hard to pronounce, spell, and remember, so a less agonizing title seemed wise. I liked 'Bohemian', it conjured fin-de-siècle decadence of louche artists flopped on a velvet chaise sipping Absinthe in a picturesquely ruined chateau. And so naturally I thought 'it should be a weasel!' because anything that takes itself too seriously is silly.

3. When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave on you?

I had the Hobbit read to me by my mum when I was about four, and I've had excellent nightmares about wolves at the bottom of trees ever since, thank you Professor Tolkien. Then I got impatient and tried to read Lord of the Rings by myself, but the book weighed more than I did, and I could barely lift it let alone understand it. It wasn't until I was about eleven that I was able to read, understand, (and carry) LotR properly. I still have that copy, even though the binding has disintegrated, a huge paperback with Ralph Bakshi's 'Black Riders' on the cover.

4. Did you read the books, or see the movies first?

At the time, the only movies that existed were the animated ones: Bakshi's incomplete version, and the Rankin Bass cartoons. As a kid I was initially bemused by, but then slowly fell in love with, the Bakshi film.
My parents were also fans of the BBC Radio dramatized version, I listened to it often, particularly the songs, and it became part of my inner Middle-earth. So it was a Tolkien book/radio/music/animation stew that I grew up on. Delicious.

5. When the movies came out, many of the inner pictures of characters and scenes in the mind of the readers have been replaced by actors and settings from the movie. Did it happen to you as well? Did you try to prevent it?

After the movies came out it was actually my job to draw them. I worked for Lord of the Rings (for Topps) and then The Hobbit (for Cryptozoic Entertainment) on trading card sets where they specifically wanted recognisable actor likenesses.
I have a great affection for those films as Tolkien-ish creations, but I don't view them as definitive adaptations, nor consider their characters as the definitive versions either. But I think the films got many things right: the costumes and details were wonderful, the armour and weapons glorious, and many of the sets looked authentic and lovingly made. I couldn't imagine a more fitting Meduseld for example; and their Bag-end is probably perfect.

Topps Lord of the Rings cards by BohemianWeasel

6. I would like to build on the previous question, as you have both movie and book inspired art in your gallery. How do you feel about the difference in depicting the actors as their characters, and inventing faces for the characters that has not been depicted in any movie? Which is more difficult, and which is more enjoyable to you?

It can be easier to draw the movie versions because several design choices are already made (face, costume, setting, etc.) and you can spend more time on composition or experimenting with media; it's a good drawing exercise. And sometimes it's just nice to draw the recognisable version so that someone might say 'I AM AWARE OF WHO THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE. I ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. IT IS SATISFACTORY. HAVE A BISCUIT.'
But there's more pressure to be accurate to your sources with movie stuff; fans are eagle-eyed and notice everything, they know how their movie version is supposed to look and notice if you get details wrong.
But if you design your own characters, then you are master of your own details, master of the characters themselves, master of the Universe! There's a lot of research homework to do, and many more decisions to be made, and invariably someone will get annoyed with you for not depicting what they imagined; but when you finally see the character coming to life from your head in paint and colour, and (if) you get it right, it's as magical and joyous as childbirth. Maybe. I don't know, I just have cats.

7. Your recent illustrations focus on the relationship of Melkor and Sauron. What is your opinion on their evil and motives, topics that are not addressed in much depth in the books, but seem to be fascinating to many authors?

People are fascinated by character arcs, whether it's a painful rise to glory or a monumental fall from grace. In Sauron's early days when he was still 'Mairon', he was just a quick-tempered artistic type who believed his ideas were tremendous and that people just needed a little nudge to realise it. I can sort of empathise with that. *cough* His shift of allegiance to Melkor sparks debate and raises interesting questions, and some questions are best answered the long way: with paint. And tea. And sleeplessness, and a lot of re-drawing, and some swearing.

The 'Seduction of Sauron' (in the Tolkien sense of the word rather than anything more hormonal) was part of a series for an exhibition on evil things. I wanted to pick key moments from Sauron's life, and found myself gravitating towards his varied (and invariably disastrous) one-to-one interactions with other people. I only had time to do three paintings (including Melkor and Celebrimbor), but really there was potential for dozens of them, including his history with Galadriel, Gil-galad, Gollum, the Nazgûl, the entire species of Orc, and several hundred characters from the Silmarillion. Then I could just call the series 'It Didn't End Well'. Or 'Why I Unfriended the Dark Lord'.

Seduction of Sauron-Mairon by BohemianWeasel Annatar (Sauron) and Celebrimbor by BohemianWeasel

8. Can you tell us more about the Tolkien art show this work took place in?

It was an exhibition in Sheffield (England) called 'Evil in the Shining Light', a multimedia Tolkien art show by a collection of international artists, and curated by artist John Cockshaw. I made the Sauron pieces particularly for the show in response to the title, as he seems the perfect candidate for something bright and evil. They were also shown at Oxford University for the annual Tolkien Society gathering and exhibition.

9. Now, could you tell us something about you and art? Are you a professional artist, or is art just your hobby? When did you start doing it?

I can't remember ever not drawing, and now it's my job 7 days a week. But it's a privilege to do something I enjoy for a living, so I don't mind not having days off, or going outside, or seeing sunlight, or people. :shifty:
I've drawn trading cards for licensed projects (like LotR, Star Wars, and recently the TV show Penny Dreadful); and illustrations for a variety of books; exhibited in various places; and designed the perfect underground bunker for when I inevitably become a villain.

Topps Empire Strikes Back cards by BohemianWeasel Penny Dreadful Cards preview by BohemianWeasel

10. Who or what influenced your style?

An abbreviated list would be.. Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Golden Age of illustration (1980-1920s) in general; antique stained glass windows; Medieval Russian icon painting, Viktor Vasnetsov; Byzantine mosaics, and Greek sculpture from the Hellenic period.
I liked art nouveau too, but I think it's been done enough already, and feel a bit over-saturated with Mucha and Klimt reproductions.

11. How do you choose which scenes and characters to illustrate?

When I'm reading a book and get to a bit that makes my eyes go big and round, that's usually when I'll grope around for a pen to scribble or sketch ideas down. Now I have a long list of things to get to draw. It's all the fault of authors for writing such interesting things.

12. What other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create fan-art, and why?

'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell', by Susanna Clarke. I adore the book (especially in audiobook format, it's exquisite), and the BBC TV adaptation is delicious too. A lot of things from that time period (early 1800's) inspire me, including the Battle of Waterloo itself.
I also love European fairy-tales which I like to make lavish, brooding and a bit sexy; and Greek myths. There's a wealth of prettiness to be plundered there.

Pan: god of shepherds, pastures, and ffffertility by BohemianWeasel Helios and Selene by BohemianWeasel Morpheus God of Dreams by BohemianWeasel

13. What art technique is your favourite? Do you rather keep to the art techniques and styles you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new ones as well?

I experiment on an almost daily basis, because I'm always unsatisfied with what I've done and know it could be better. Though that means I'm often slower than a tractor full of slugs to get work finished, because if left to my own devices I'll keep 'improving' it. The media I use most though is acrylic paints, coupled with everything shiny. Almost all the glitter and gold paint presently existing in Portugal is in my studio. And my rugs.

14. Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists?

- Keep extra pens and sketch pads *everywhere*, especially by the bed and the bath (really). Many of the best ideas come when you're away from your work desk and feeling relaxed.
- Bored? Then start looking about you and imagining how you'd draw what you can see, practice mental drawings of figure studies, room perspectives, colour ideas, and practice visualisation. Those tedious work meetings and family dinners will just fly by. ;) (Wink)
- Don't worry about making something look photo-realistic, that's what cameras are for. What people will remember most is how your work made them feel.

15. Could you give a link or thumbnail from your gallery of

- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?

I usually like the last difficult thing I did, so at the moment it's the Sauron and Melkor piece mentioned above, but I'm also very fond of this Frodo & Sam scene exhibited at the same show:
Shire Bridge by BohemianWeasel

- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?

Raven King John Uskglass, from Strange and Norrell.

John Uskglass, Raven King crowned in ivy Detail by BohemianWeasel

- a picture that fits your current mood?

This one of Snow White perhaps, tentatively reaching for the shiny thing. And it's partially self-portrait because I had to make my own reference photos. (Except for the Witch's face that's not me shuttup.)
Snow White, the Gift by BohemianWeasel

- a picture that was hardest to paint?

Most recently, a painting called 'The Demon Ball' that was full of characters and different stories and took A Long Time. But later I was able to make vignettes of my favourite couples from it:

Demon Ball detail 2 by BohemianWeasel Demon Ball detail 3 by BohemianWeasel Demon Ball detail 5 by BohemianWeasel

- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?

Persephone and Hades. I like his mist and her tree. And it has a pomegranate.
Persephone and Hades by BohemianWeasel

14. Are there some artists at dA you know, who don't have as much attention as they deserve? If yes, could you give us some thumbnails from their gallery?

Everyone already knows her work, but I can't resist including :iconfaqy: as I'm entirely in love with her work. I think it's perfect and want to hug all of it.

:icontomashijo: Tomás Hijo
Tomás's work conjures Medieval tomes, Nordic carvings and all things magical, it looks like it could have come from Middle-earth itself! He creates some of the most original, detailed, gorgeous, (and funny) Tolkien art I've ever seen. (He only has a small sample on dA so I highly recommend following his FB page.)
The Flight to the Ford by tomashijo

:iconjohn-cockshaw1: John Cockshaw
It's difficult to describe John's work as he's such a renaissance man and combines so many arts together, but he uses photography, digital manipulation, drawing, - and clearly some sort of witchcraft - to create images of Middle-earth that are so dreamlike and laden with atmosphere that you can almost smell and hear them.
Thank you very much for allowing me to share some of my favourite works, and some of my favourite artists. :) (Smile)

Thank you for your time and answers as well!

Coding by Felizias Drawings by ebe-kastein Borders by PhoenixWildfire
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Wasserwaldnymphe's avatar
It's cool that you got featured here! Heart 
I haven't heard of  Arthur Rackham & Edmund Dulac before, but I can see that they inspired you.
You know that I think that your work is very inspiring - it would be indeed interesting to see more adaptions of fairy tales and Greek gods, although I'm always looking forward to you next Melkor-piece XD