Talks with Tolkien artists: Houkakyou

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MirachRavaia's avatar
By MirachRavaia

In :iconwelcometolotr: - welcometolotr's gallery, you can find a great variety of art. She is an artist, cosplayer, and cosplay photographer. Among her pictures, you can see some very interesting ideas of "what if", both humorous and serious, elves in unusual situations, and costume designs inspired by various cultures and historical periods.

She also agreed to a way of interviewing through comments and replies, rather than one note with questions, and so the talk with her could be more spontaneous, for which I thank her - it was great to do an interview this way, and I hope there will be more artists who agree to it in the future. Here are a few examples of here art, and after them, the talk itself. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed it!

LotR/S: Across the Sea by welcometolotr
LotR/S: pearls by welcometolotr
LotR/S: The Dagor Bragollach by welcometolotr
S/CoH: The Real Hamsterwives of Doriath by welcometolotr
LotR: Prophecy by welcometolotr
LotR/H: Monster Mash by welcometolotr
elven clothing chronology by welcometolotr

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

Sure! I'm a university student majoring in history and hoping to go into museum work, but on the side I'm an artist, cosplayer, and photographer. (I used to write, too, but I don't have time for everything, haha.) I've always loved fantasy and the medieval world, so I try to bring them into my life as much as I can while still being a normal, modern-day worker!

So you are a historician? Is there much diffence between your field of study and fantasy, or are they similar to you in principle - more or less real stories that give an escape from modern reality?

Yup! There's a big difference on the surface, mainly because my work so far has involved handling and researching physical artifacts - the material remains of historical cultures - but when you think about it, a lot of fantasy stories parallel reality because they create their own histories, legends, and important objects. Just look at Tolkien; the Silm is the history of the world before The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien invented important artifacts like the Dragon Helm, Anduril, and Glamdring that continued to be relevant despite being taken out of their original context.
Part of what I like about the ancient world and fantasy is that they're so equally different to our own time, though - you're right! Reading about ancient Ireland is as much an escape from the present as reading about Alagaësia is.

Indeed! "History became legend. Legend became myth..." When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you? Did they appeal to your history loving side by the way they are written like a world with rich history that can be uncovered from myths and ancient lore?

My mom tried to get me to read The Hobbit when I was nine, and I couldn't get past the first chapter. It was so boring! I read it for real in middle school for a class and still wasn't enthralled. I finally got around to watching LOTR in 2011 and waded through the books, but I still wasn't really inspired by the stories until I read the Silm in 2012. You might be right - it was definitely the Silm's approach to a real 'history' of Middle-Earth that got me into it!
It's also tantalizing, that there are thousands of years of events described and yet we know so few real details. As readers, we're quite free to imagine the sequence of events in our own terms. That doesn't exist in The Lord of the Rings since it's so heavily detailed. And having read the Silm, having those questions about details and characters and the gaps in events - it was amazing to then go on to read the Histories of Middle-Earth. It's kind of like doing research and finding more sources in real-world history!

Your knowledge of Midlle-earth is then quite extensive, isn't it? Do you consider yourself either a nerd or an expert?

For certain topics, yes! I'm not an expert on dwarven and mannish history (or anything past the First Age, to be honest), but I know way too much about the Finwëans. I do a huge amount of art and read so much fanfiction that it's impossible not to! Yet I still have to acknowledge that I forget things - the legendarium is enormous, and it's very easy to lose small facts. I'll find little details (like that Beren's hair was golden brown, and that Turgon wore white robes with garnets) and quickly forget them and draw the characters different ways! Oops.
I also haven't yet finished the HoME series yet - I keep getting sidetracked. So I'm always learning more~

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. I suppose with focusing mostly on the Silmarillion, it does not concern you that much, but what about LOTR and recently the Hobbit? With your order of reading the books without much interest, then watching the movies, and finally getting hooked by the Silmarillion, I'm quite curious about how your mental images of the characters evolved...

My mental pictures of characters were actually influenced the most by the Rankin-Bass version of the Hobbit, which I watched several times when I was younger. I'd seen pictures of Orlando's Legolas since the early 2000s and knew the character even if I hadn't seen the movie, but my mental images of Elrond, Gandalf, and Bilbo were the Rankin-Bass versions pretty much until I read the Silmarillion. (Let's face it, my image of Bilbo is *still* the RB Bilbo, haha!)
The Peter Jackson Hobbits represented a much larger shift; I made an effort to draw Thranduil several times before the official stills of Lee Pace came out so that I would remember my original ideas. Now I have two Thranduils in my head; one for the movieverse and one for the books. I really try to diverge from the WETA designs as much as I can, so despite the movies I have a very different version of Elrond that I draw, for example. Sometimes I love their work, but a lot of the time I have a very different conception of the characters. I started out trying to emulate their designs and then diverged into my own over the years.

Now, could you tell us something about you and art? You are a digital artist, a cosplayer, a photographer... Is there something else I didn't mention? When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?

I started drawing seriously in 2007 and was inspired primarily by the anime I was watching (Inuyasha, because there are never enough medieval tales in my life). My style has changed greatly over the years with a big lean towards realism and painting instead of cel shading, though many people still consider my art 'anime-style', which rankles! I started cosplaying in 2012 and realized how much I liked crafting my own garments, and by 2014 my art and costuming had become predominantly Tolkien-focused.

I'm inspired by almost every artist I set eyes on - every single one of them has something to teach me. I love motherofbees, alackofghosts, perplexingly, and givenclarity on tumblr, and Gerwell and S-Shanshan on dA...the list goes on. In terms of costuming, Marilla Designs and Oneiromantic Designs really pulled me into the Silmarillion cosplay scene, and avi17 and cheese-cake-panda are doing a good job in keeping me here - we're well on our way to cosplaying every elf in the Silm! My photography developed out of this as well; I've been improving it so that I can take better elf pictures, haha. I keep an eye on cinq-pathetique and Alvi here on deviantart, too!

Your gallery is literally full of elves. What do you base your character (and their clothes) designs on, both for art and for cosplay?

Isn't that the truth! My elves and their clothes have really developed over the past few years; original designs (as I said) were based pretty much on what WETA gave us in the movies. However, I've come to realize that thousands of years of geographically and racially disparate elves definitely would not be so cohesive in dress and hair, and so I now draw off of designs from ancient and medieval cultures all over the world. I take the little details that I find in HoME and elaborate on them in lots of different ways - if you look at my designs for various characters, you'll notice that many have changed a lot over time to incorporate this diversity. A lot of it is still vaguely medieval European in nature though, since that's the dominating style in fandom art.

It's much the same for my cosplay. My Ambarussa and Haleth are fairly medieval, but Indis is very much *not*, and my Galadriel design is more fantasy-warrior based than anything. Eärwen and Aredhel's outfits can't really be pinned down to an era either (though Marilla Designs made Eärwen's dress, so that design is all hers).
I dislike confining myself to just a few styles or time periods. If human design and culture has been so variable over the millennia, then it follows that elven culture would also have changed massively! I always like to see artists and cosplayers branching out with their designs. ;) (Wink)

It's not only the designs that are very diverse in your gallery, but also the scenarios you put the characters in, including AUs, genderbends and humorous situations. Where you get the ideas for those?

A lot of them are inspired by fanfiction! Others come up in my mind because I'll read something and then ask "but what if *this* happened?" The fandom is so diverse that there is always an audience for lighter comics, plot twists, and 'fix-its' (this person survives, that person hands over the Silmaril...). The ones where you prevent characters from dying are obviously very popular, and midnight blogging has also heralded some pretty weird art, haha.

Who is your favourite Tolkien character?

Difficult question! I think I've done the most art of Maedhros, so you could say that he's the one that inspires me the most. Outside of the Finwëans, I think Glorfindel is my favorite.

We know about Inuyasha already, but what other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create fanart, and why?

I did a lot of art for Naruto and Bleach a few years ago, but nowadays the few non-Tolkien pieces I post are usually Twelve Kingdoms or Yu Yu Hakusho related. I like to honor my favorite characters through art! My best recent pieces have all been Tolkien though. It's such a huge percentage of my art that I don't really have standout pieces from other series any more.

What art technique is your favourite? (for drawing, but also for sewing and photography) Do you rather keep to the art techniques and styles you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new ones as well?

I do 99% of my drawing digitally, and it's definitely my preferred method. Photoshop responds to me much more easily than paints and charcoals do, and when I'm drawing traditionally I'll often try to hit the ctrl+z buttons that *don't exist* on my sketchpad. Erasers just aren't the same thing they used to be, haha.

I love the way personal style develops in different people, but I generally don't try to go out of my way to make my art very stylized. I find that it doesn't really work! I'll often alternate between doodling in solid lineart and a more painted sketch, but all the pieces I'm proudest of have been painted instead of cel shaded. They're more realistic, which is my main goal for improvement.

I can't really talk technique in sewing, but for photography I gravitate towards on-location shoots with a fantasy feel (which usually means playing with light and getting a very shallow depth of field for a beautiful blurred background). I often have to work in bad locations, though, which challenges me to create fantasy pictures even with a skyline in the background! (This is a really good example; we were in a flowerbed outside the Javits Convention Center in NYC and still made it work.) For photos I definitely try to play around with different techniques. There are so many ways to edit each photo that it would get boring to stick to the same old method each time, especially when costumes and locations differ so much shoot to shoot.

Can you tell us more about the cosplayers you take shots of? Are there friends you are looking forward to meet at every con, or new faces as well? When you see a great costume, do you approach the cosplayer with an offer of a photoshoot, or do they approach you?

Most of the Tolkien cosplayers are friends that I schedule meetups with, but since I open up slots to the public at some conventions, a lot of my photos are also of people I'd never met before. I'm definitely a go-getter and I ask people for photos all the time, but I don't feel comfortable asking for a prolonged shoot when it wasn't prearranged. (Which is odd, because I love when photographers ask me for that when I'm cosplaying!) I've only ever had one person come up to me and straight up ask for a photo - it was pretty obnoxious. If you've seen me online and want to chat for a minute and *then* ask for a photo - sure! But the person who asked didn't even bother to do that. :( (Sad)
I do try to reach out to Tolkien cosplayers who plan to attend events that I'm also going to - that's how I got into this to begin with! Silm meetups are loads of fun.

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

Take inspiration from other artists, but don't limit yourself just because you think people will disagree with your ideas. The best thing about the Silmarillion is that there is so much room for imagination! Even canon disagrees with itself sometimes; don't restrict yourself to what is popular. Share new designs!

Could you give us a link or thumbnail from your gallery of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?

- I think I'm most proud of this recent one of Elenwë
 LotR/S: Wisteria by welcometolotr
because it was all painted.

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

- Oh god. I think maybe this?
 YYH: Partners in Crime by welcometolotr
 And that was done in January.... I really do very little non-Tolkien! This was done for a Yu Yu Hakusho artbook, but ended up not getting in. Oops.

- your own cosplay you are most proud of?

Indis is my favorite for the overall effect - the way the photoshoot turned out, the way I looked - I'm proud of it because I feel like we took photos of the real Indis that day! But Haleth is the cosplay I'm proudest of for its construction, since it was the first time I made an entire costume from scratch and by myself. I was scared of screwing up the armor and had to do a lot of reference research, but it turned out amazingly!

 LotR/S: Indis the Fair by welcometolotr LotR/S: Haleth the Hunter by welcometolotr
- a cosplay shot you are most proud of?

- Avi will hate me for this, but my favorite shot is this one!
 LotR/S: Mereth Aderthad Interlude by welcometolotr
Fingon & Maedhros at the feast of reuniting <3 My photography has improved since I shot this, but I did a lot of post processing work on it and I'm still proud of how it turned out. (Especially because it wasn't out in nature - we were in the middle of a hotel!)

- any piece that fits your current mood?

LotR/S: Weeping for the Lost by welcometolotr
One word: Midterms. (Normally I'm more in the mood for this, haha):
 LotR/S: IRCW day 4 by welcometolotr

- a piece that was hardest to create?

LotR/S: the wise by welcometolotr
This gave me many hours of tears solely because the colors were so hard to plan out!

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

LotR/S: Silmarillion Height Chart by welcometolotr
I draw so many characters from the legendarium that I've made a lot of height charts over the years. They're very useful, especially since I'm good at forgetting details.

What key people in your life, (on or off of dA) have been inspirations to you, or has supported you, as an artist? You can also tell us why, if you want.

In the Tolkien community, I have to give the most credit to MagicRat , whose stories The Gift and The Last Homely House convinced me to read the Silmarillion in the first place. After that it's lorienscribe, who pulled me onto tumblr, where I really started flourishing. From there I met beleggs and rattleandburn, who got me into cosplaying elves. There are a lot of other people on various websites who give me amazing amounts of support, but I think the most credit goes to those four <3 I owe them a lot!
Off of the web I have to thank my mother, who puts up with all of the elf fabric I throw around and supports my sewing endeavors, and my stepdad, who has been personally responsible for all of my camera equipment since 2012 and encourages all of my work. I'm very lucky :) (Smile)

Is there some artist(s) at dA you know, who doesn't have as much attention as they would deserve? If yes, could you give us some thumbnails from their gallery?

Off of the top of my head...
S-Shanshan Aegnor and Angrod in Dagor Bragollach by S-Shanshan
ThaliaTook Earwen by ThaliaTook
Mellefuielle Silmarillion. Finrod cosplay by Mellefuielle
greenapplefreak first age armor by greenapplefreak

Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?

Thank you to everybody for supporting me, and I hope our love of Tolkien lasts all our lives!!

Thank you very much for your time and answers!

Coding by Felizias Drawings by ebe-kastein Borders by PhoenixWildfire
© 2015 - 2021 MirachRavaia
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peet's avatar
Interesting to discover another Tolkien illustrator and historian for the 'day job', so to speak - just as myself ;)
Riana-art's avatar
When looking at my colleagues there seem to be a lot of fantasy-lovers in the rows of historians and archaeologists (its just harder to say how many of them are illustrating :)), I am just wondering if there are as many working in fields like economics or law.
peet's avatar
Probably not as many, I bet ;) I am however specialising in the history of political economy which dips into natural law and jurisprudence quite a lot, but I guess that doesn't really count!
MirachRavaia's avatar
Interesting! Do you agree with her answer to the 2nd question? How much difference or similarity do you perceive between your field of study and fantasy?
peet's avatar
Yes I do agree, even if my study of history is from a different perspective. Whilst Houkakyou is an historian of artefacts, I approach the subject in terms of the history of ideas; but of course the overlap is tangible and real - artefacts (clothing, fashion, armour, buildings, etc.) are  epiphenomena of cultural and societal norms. And in terms of Tolkien, when you see the myriad of historical epochs that influenced his ideas, it's impossible not to take note if you are interested in history in the first place. In fact in some respects, though I've always enjoyed history my reading of Tolkien inspired me to broaden that interest :)
MagicRat's avatar
Awww... she loves me. :D Fabulous article, MirachRavaia.
welcometolotr's avatar
MagicRat's avatar
SnowInHades's avatar
Great interview. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing :-)
SnowInHades's avatar
ThaliaTook's avatar
Aw, thanks for the shout-out!
IChiTa--WiYa's avatar
Aww yes! Her art and everything else is the best! I love her art so much! *v* 
welcometolotr's avatar
*blushes* Thank you <3
IChiTa--WiYa's avatar
You! You're not supposed to read this! /// *flees; erases myseld from exsistence*
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