Talks with Tolkien artists: Riana-art

20 min read

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MirachRavaia's avatar
By MirachRavaia

We mostly see illustrations of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings or Silmarillion among Tolkien fanart. But how about the other stories, like Leaf by Niggle or Farmer Giles of Ham? You can find those in the gallery of :iconriana-art: - Riana-art! And also illustrations of the Hobbit true to the books:

Leaf by Niggle I by Riana-art Leaf by Niggle IV by Riana-art
The Hobbit - A burglar at work by Riana-art
The Hobbit - An unexpected party by Riana-art
The Hobbit - Riddles in the dark by Riana-art
The Hobbit - A warm welcome by Riana-art

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

my name is Doris, I am im my early thirties from the south of Germany and a quite hobbit-like person: my interest in good food is very high, I  have big feet and would almost always prefer reading a good book to uncomfortable journeys into cold regions :) (Smile) In real life I am an archaeologist writing her thesis and work as an illustrator in that field.

Oh, really? You are already the 4th (or 5th?) archaeologict/historian Tolkien artists that I'm interviewing. It seems like a preferrable job to Tolkien enthusiasts. Is that so? What was first? Your interest in Tolkien or interest in history, and did they have influence on each other?

Indeed, many colleagues were or are reading Tolkien, especially the students. Speaking only for me, originally my interests were sparked by the fascination of old things and mysteries, so as a teenager I was happily reading everything about history and fantasy without making much a difference between both of them. Finding out that Tolkien based much of his stories on existing old stories and afterwards reading more about those epics like Beowulf might have been a factor that made me study such an subject, though my specialization has nothing to do with early medieval times.

Today my academic knowledge influences the way I am reading Tolkien (e.g. I really like some of his less famous works like the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun or Sir Gawain) and sometimes how I am illustrating his stories: Tolkien states that his Farmer Giles story takes part in an early medival Britain, so in my (ahem, planned) pictures the people wear anglo-saxon clothing and Tailbiter (Farmer Giles old fashioned sword) is a late roman spata. 

Farmer Giles of Ham - A Dragon' s Tail by Riana-art

So you read Tolkien first as a teenager? What impression did the books leave in you?

I was about 12 when I read the Hobbit, which had this nice and cozy feeling, but I only managed to fight through the first chapters of Lord of the Rings. But the both films (Bakshi and the promise of the upcoming movie) and a new, contemporary translation made me try to read it again at about 18, and than I was hooked, because the story was so much deeper than most of the modern fantasy books I had read before. 

Did you manage to read the books before the movies then? 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?

I read the book shortly bevore the movies came out, and yes, I have to admit that the characters and scenes were strongly influenced by the Peter Jackson films. I made my A-level/Abitur in art in that time and illustrated the Lord of the Rings for the final exams, and when I did this "fan-art" it had the nice side effect that everybody was recognizing the characters. It was a very good exercise, but today (after 15 years of learning and practising :) (Smile))  I like to develope my own designs and stayed away from the Hobbit-movie-look when I did those illustrations. It requires some effort to "ignore" t the designs of the LotR movies though, because they are quite iconic to me.

Lord of the Rings Fan Art form 2002 by Riana-art

Do you avoid this by illustrating the lesser known Tolkien's books? Why those and not the popular ones with a bigger fandom?

Maybe - its nice to do illustrate scenes that weren't painted very often bevore, so the Tales of the Perilious Realm are a goldmine for me! Plus I often like to illustrate funny or lighthearted stories like the Hobbit, because the mood of the pic I am doing often affects my own feelings.

I also prefer to have complete sets of illustrations, so doing the Lord of the Rings or the whole Silmarillion would take me ages because I rarley find the time to do illustrations at the moment. Poor Farmer Giles of Ham went through the planning stage and might need about two years until the set is finished.

What do you mean by a complete set of illustrations? Every important scene from the story?

That depends on the storiy, sometimes the most important scenes, sometimes scenes that caught my eye or motives that the writer uses frequently.

How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth and other Tolkien's books? Do you prefer the lesser known ones for reading as well?

Well, on the one hand I´ve a huge interest in Tolkiens biography, his letters and the background of his books, on the other hand things like the elvish genealogy still confuses me (and I´m the last person who would want to argue about hair-colors unless its directly mentioned in the text), so my knowledge of Middle-earth is quite fragmentary. I´ve read the Silmarillion once (some parts also twice) and have the Unfinished Tales in my bookshelf to look up some things occasionally, but they never hooked me as much as the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Tales of the Perilous Realm. I guess its because it completely lacks a sense of humor - of course Lord of the Rings is not a funny book as well, but you can sense Tolkiens humor at certain points of the story which is a nice contrast to the grave events.

You said you also liked Tolkien's mythological works, like the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun or Sir Gawain. They can't really be called humorous either, so is it the archaeologist point of view that makes them interesting to you?

What fascinates me about those books is the idea that we are reading about the same motives like people from ancient times.
Of course its a bit nerdy to read a book in 2017 which was written in the 1930th in the style of 13th century about a story that was probably invented way earlier :) (Smile) But it makes me ponder about what the Professor invented and what is original, and where those sources come from, so the additional texts by C. Tolkien are as as interesting as the main text. The English is utterly challenging though, so reading them feels more like studying textbooks to me.

Who is your favourite Tolkien character and why?

My favourite character is Samwise Gamgee because he is the modest hero in the books, acting not due to a feeling of duty but because of his affection. Imho he stands best for Tolkiens idea that even the smallest people can change the course of the future.

Now, could you tell us something about you and art? When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?

Like many others I´ve been painting and drawing from childhood on and began to draw more seriously when I was about 16. Comics had a lot of influence, especially Asterix by A. Uderzo and R. Goscinny, and when I was beginning with watercolors Alan Lee and A. K. Eismann were my role models.

What brought you to deviatArt and how did you pick your username?

I ve followed the herd from Elfwood to Epilogue and then finally reached Deviantart when many of the smaller, more specialized communities for fantasy-art somehow went down the gurgler. My username was originally the name of my first roleplaying character and became my common online-nickname.

What other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create fanart, and why?

Beside Tolkien Terry Pratchett and the Discworld is most inspiring for me. I adore Pratchetts mixture of wisdom and humor and Discworld was important for me since it introduced me to the concept of humor and fantasy. My dabblings in epic, dramatic fantasy art were not very succesfull then.

Unusual settings like Robin Hobbs Liveship Traders books, or all the books by Tad Williams also make me want to create some fanart, but alas, time is short at the moment

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?

Watercolor and ink are my favourite tools because both are techniques that dont require much space and equipment. Today I dont experiment much with tools and techniques but I always try to adjust my style so it matches to the story I am illustrating.

Could you give us an example of the different styles you use for different stories?

For example I wanted to emphasize that the original Hobbit book is a lighthearted book, suitable also for smaller children (in contrast to the movie), so I did many little details and many round forms, done in sweeping lines with a very soft nib. The parchment paper should evoke the feeling that those drawings were for the Red Book, and also creates lesser contrast to the colored ink which gives the whole drawings a softer look.

On the doorstep by Riana-art

In comparison to that the "Leaf by Niggle" story has a very regal athmosphere and made me also quite sad, so I used a lot of black, and a harder nib and technical pens to make my lines more "scratchy and uneasy" and did the people beside Niggle as impersonal silhouettes, to show his isolation. Many of this technical choices are rather subconiuosly, though.

Leaf by Niggle V by Riana-art

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

Something that is often a bit neglected beside learning the basic techniques: think about the tools you are using and how they are affecting the atmosphere in the scenery you are painting. Keep you old art and have a look at it after some years so you can see your progress. And never, never be afraid or ruining a picture, because fearful working will most likely suck out much of the dynamic of your picture and prevent you from experimenting. A lighttable or a simple glass from a frame and a lamp will allow you a second try in cases of emergency.

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

The Hobbit - Out of the frying-pan by Riana-art
I often had some trouble with drawing too much details in the Hobbit series, and in that picture everything went smoothly for the first time, after a fight with the eagle :) (Smile)

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

Sir Marcus of Galloway by Riana-art
The picture in which my original character Sir Marcus had his first appearance, mounted on a highland cattle because I can not paint horses from imgination and thought it was a good idea to hide the anatomy under a lot of fur.

- a picture that fits your current mood?

Discworld - Agnes Perdita X. Nitt by Riana-art
Its finally Friday, the weekend is knocking at the door!

- a picture that was hardest to paint?

The Hobbit - Smaug by Riana-art

The unique Tolkien-Dragons, especially the long and slender Smaug, are difficult to paint for me and it took some careful arrangement to place Smaug in a way I had not to show how the wings are attached to the body, looking both convinceable and true to Tolkiens stylized version of Smaug. I actually vowed in public that I would place Smaug in a cloud of smoke with only his head and tail sticking out, if I ever had to draw him again
:) (Smile)
- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?

When you see the eyes... by Riana-art
It was tough to draw and stands for the big private project I would love to do in my free time...err, after retiring maybe.

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.

I had a great teacher, Martha, at an adults education centre who had the ability to teach each student indiviually, was able to find and explain the problems in a picture, but managed to tell us that in a very gentle way. She died some years ago, but her way of teaching and treating people still impresses me lot.

Inspirational in the Deviant-art community, especially regarding Tolkien is Jenny - Gold-Seven: her use of colors and the harmonic color shemes are great - and her watercolor classes were always fun to attend and a great way to meet other artists.

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?

I guess that would be Walter :icondulliros:, whose travelling sketches allow us to follow his journeys:
  San Cristobal de la Habana by Dulliros
Regarding Tolkien I ve just seen :iconkamenecka-art: who did some fan-art from the movies in her own, very unique style.
 ' Galadriel ' by kamenecka-art

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

No, not about me or my art, but I would like to encourage young artists not to look too much at the great rolemodels such as Alan Lee or John Howe or the most iconic scenes, but to pick their own motives and do them in their own style. Many of us who are Tolkien-enthusiasts will know the text and the scenery that is depicted, so the most fascinating thing is to see how other people imagine that part of the book.

Thank you for your time and answers!

Coding by Felizias Drawings by ebe-kastein Borders by PhoenixWildfire
© 2017 - 2021 MirachRavaia
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peet's avatar
Great interview - I've always really enjoyed Riana-art's work!
Dulliros's avatar
Thank you for the support :w00t:
kamenecka-art's avatar
Thank you for mentioning ;)