Would you guess that "Talks with Tolkien artists" were used and analyzed in a diploma thesis? - RobertBugan wrote a thesis titled "Designing Middle-Earth: Exploring Tolkien’s World via Visual Fan-Art" and you can find some very interesting statistical analyses of our artists there And since RobertBugan is an artist himself, I'm closing the circle of his thesis by interviewing him, not only about his academic work, but also about his incredibly detailed art:
(and more in his gallery)
1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hello, my name is Róbert and I am from Slovakia. I just graduated from the university and got my Master’s degree in teaching history and English. Besides that, I used to work as a part-time construction worker/carpenter, although from now on I will be focusing on my job as a teacher (obviously ).
2. What brought you to deviatArt and how did you pick your username?
I joined DA in 2014 I think, when I finished the high school – I remember that I had some cool pen drawings on back of my study notes (for instance the Ancalagon the Black is drawn on back of my Math writing pad) and I looked for some platform to share it and here I am .
As for my name, "Grond" is my gaming nick from my childhood (I thought it sounded really cool, like an analogy between a thing that destroys everything that stands in its way and a player that tries to do the same ). I got used to that and now I basically use it any time I need to log in somewhere anonymously. As for the suffix Tar (derived from Númenorean king titles) I just attached it, because most of the time, the single Grond is taken. So, really, there is nothing really deep behind my username.
3. How did you enter Tolkien's world for the first time, and what impression did it leave in you?
This is one of my favorite memories. My brother owned The Fellowship of the Ring, and I was 8 or 9 years old when I first tried to read it. Of course, I failed to comprehend the text (for some unknown reasons, I thought that Gandalf was an evil character …) and I gave up after the first chapter. Luckily, the very same day my sister brought a VHS copy of the first film – we watched and I must say, to this day I’ve never been so amazed by any other film the way I was back then. I fell in love with the world, with the characters, aesthetics and the plot, my God how shocked I was when Gandalf fell… I couldn’t stop thinking about the LOTR and of course, I successfully reread the book (having seen the film first really helped with comprehension). The same process happened with the rest of the Trilogy and before I reached 13 I had read everything from Tolkien that had been translated to Slovak.
What is funny about this is that my surroundings – family, friends, teachers – did not like neither of films or books - especially the older generation hated it for being some kind of the “western” nonsense (yeah, our lovely post-communist mentality), so I grew up thinking that my favorite set of stories is a trash. It was way later when I found out how respected and fundamental pieces of literature and cinematography those are. What a relief it was.
4. What creates the image of Middle-earth in your mind? Is it more influenced by the books or movies, or maybe other artists, and did it change over time or remained the same?
For me, the books and PJ’s films are canon – this will never change for me, as it has very deep roots going far to my childhood. So, the film Boromir as portrayed by Sean Bean is my Boromir in my head. However, I very rarely depict scenes or characters showed in the films, as I like being original and I am not very good at copying someone else’s work. The image does evolve in my head, however the standard and the key principles are derived from films’ aesthetics. Example of a direct influence of the films on my art can be seen on my depiction of Strider:
5. Some of Tolkien's books can be hard to read, being more of history annals than fiction. Do you enjoy the scholarly side of studying Tolkien's world as well?
Well, as I studied history and I really loved it, I guess you could tell that I had absolutely zero problem with the deeper exploration of Tolkien’s mythology - on a contrary – I really enjoyed it. There were times, where I could name most of the Númenorean kings or Dúnedain chieftains. That being said, I wish there were more of story-driven complex narrations, as was the case of LOTR, for I find great potential in many parts of the history of Tolkien’s world.
6. Who is your favorite Tolkien character and why?
Aragorn. And this will never change as he has been my favorite character ever since Viggo Mortensen pulled of his hood in Prancing Pony on our crappy Orava TV back in 2003. I know, that current audience requires super deep and super complex multi-dimensional anti-hero characters, but I do not really care about that in Aragorn’s case. He was my childhood role model (and to certain extent he still is) with all the positive traits he has and the scenes or parts of the texts (or the history surrounding him) are for me the most enjoyable.
Also, I feel that some of the characters should get a honorable mention – So my second favorite character is Túrin Turambar, as his tragic arch of an active character struggling against a force (the curse) he cannot possibly win against is incredibly appealing for me. I also like the firing passion surrounding Feanor and his sons. And - Boromir is a type of a character, whom I really learnt to appreciate with each viewing or reading.
7. Are there some topics in Tolkien's works that you are particularly passionate about?
Yes, Children of Húrin is my absolutely favorite story (besides LOTR) and I was never really satisfied with Christopher Tolkien’s rendition – I just couldn’t find the “warmth” and the “organic feeling” that is present in the Professor’s publications, so I often imagine my own version of that story, which I find to be absolutely amazing and actually very different from the other parts of the mythology, as it is dealing with a deconstruction of a hero’s psyche in a situation of the fight that hero cannot win and the fate that hero cannot escape.
8. You wrote a diploma thesis titled "Designing Middle-earth: Exploring Tolkien's World via Visual Fan-art". This is certainly an interesting topic for anyone reading these interviews, so could you tell us why did you choose this topic?
It were my two final years of my study in time of choosing my topic, and I did not want to waste them on doing something I do not care about. So I came to my supervisor (a wonderful doctor Palatinus), introduced this idea and we discussed the way it could be realized. Oh yeah, the whole process was probably the most enjoyable part of my study, as I could finally deal with my inner evening thoughts on an academic level
9. I know it is hard to talk about a full thesis on such a small space, but could you summarize just a few conclusions that you think would be interesting to the artists and fans here?
Yes, that is definitely a hard thing to do, so I am sending a link for my thesis, so anyone interested can read it (and criticize it ):
(The page is in Slovak, but click on the "Prehliadať" button and it will take you to the thesis in English)
But in a very, very brief summary, I advocated for the idea of a shared, collective imagination of Tolkien’s world, that is centralized with its own prototypes (some elements in design and style are more central and some are more peripheral in a sense of the number of their use), has its core representatives in various types of visual media and it goes through its own evolution via modifying factors other than Tolkien’s texts. This elaborates on (and mildly disagrees with) Tolkien preference of the text as the most suitable form for fantasy as it has the ability to create a distinctive image in reader’s mind (more in Tolkien’s famous essay “On Fairy Stories” ), and is theoretically supported primarily via Howard Becker’s theory of Art-worlds and Eleanor Rosch’s theory of the prototypes of cognitive categories.
10. Now the coolest thing about it - you used the Talks with Tolkien artists as a resource for your thesis. What did you learn from analyzing them?
Well the relevant findings of the analysis are in the thesis, and it is too much for such a small space in this interview, but to sum it up – while it did confirm some of my hypotheses of the centralized structure of the collective imagination, it definitely brought many new information, regarding mainly of the contemporary trends in fan-art, for instance with the application of manga style on Tolkien’s world or the emergence of “beautiful villains.”
From personal perspective, I must say that continual reading and analyzing of the interviews was wonderful in terms of discovering individual styles and creative depictions of the world we all love. It helped me a lot in understanding of problematic by diving more into the incredibly rich spectrum of the artists’ imagining. Needless to say, my thesis would not be possible to create without these interviews, so I am very thankful for that and also I am thankful for the additional collaboration between us
11. You not only write about fan-art, but also create it. Could you tell us something about you and art in general? When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?
I have been drawing things since I was a small kid, so I’ve always regarded – the creation of an art - as my hobby – and as my absolutely favorite way of relaxing. The variety of my selection of themes was and still is very chaotic (or rich ?? ), so it goes from dinosaurs, through rural themes, to sci-fi cosmic ships…
What sucks at the moment is that I find less and less time for making any art, as I grow older and responsibilities are heavier. Hopefully, it will change at some point, and I will be able to continue with my progress.
With Tolkien art, I said previously that I am very influenced by film’s aesthetics and design, so seeing Alan Lee’s artwork works for me in a similar way that reading the book does. However I would say that John Howe’s dynamics and sharp shapes are more visible in my art. I must also say that I am deeply influenced by WETA’s artists, by Nick Keller in particular, but also by Warren Mahy, Daniel Falconer, Paul Tobin, Gus Hunter and many others.
From outside of Tolkien’s Artworld, I admire H. R. Giger, Frank Frazetta, Arthur Rackham, Alphonse Mucha … well, a lots of artists from different genres
12. How do you decide what to draw and what's your creative process from picking the theme to finishing a picture?
I rarely decide to draw, most of the time I just scrawl something in my notebook (we had a lot of lessons on my university, so there was definitely a space for that ) and when I get an interesting shape I decide to elaborate on it. The process itself is my way of a relax, so what I do, is that first I let some good music to play. The range of the music is wide - from metal to soundtracks and classics to rap, and it does influence the art itself, as its tempo and color affect the design and style of it (for each drawing here, I could probably name the music that was attached to it, while I was drawing), for the process is heavily improvised – with minimal preparations, and hardly - if any - sketch.
13. There is purely Tolkien fanart in you gallery. Do you ever draw some other topics? What other books or movies do you like or find inspiring, and why?
Yes, I do draw other topics, however not for any other fandom. Other themes for me are personal, which are not meant to be shared and I also draw my original ideas, which I was submitting for some time, however as they did not get any audience or feedback I deleted them and decided that that on this site I will submit only Tolkien-related art.
As for inspiring films, I do admire (visually and narratively speaking) for instance spaghetti westerns - from Sergio Leone in particular (I do occasionally add a cowboy hat to some of my Tolkien characters, as seen bellow) , or films belonging to “New Hollywood” – Easy rider is for instance my favorite piece from that era. I do enjoy Slovak cinematography, especially the grindy naturalistic one – The Shop on Main Street from 1965 was for example very impactful film for me. But I also enjoy any modern quality blockbuster. I am actually glad that I was born in 90s, as I find 90s and the first decade of 2000s the richest in terms of quality films – besides LOTR, we’ve got Forrest Gump, American Beauty, Gladiator, Nolan’s Batman and I could go on and on.
Similar principle goes for books as well, I have many genres that inspire me, from sci-fi, Michael Straczynski and Isaac Asimov would be my most impactful creators, from political satires George Orwell or Wiliam Golding (Ladislav Mňačko would be a Slovak representative), from historical novels Ken Follett’s trilogies … the list is very long, and the point is that I do extract my ideas from a very wide spectrum of films and books.
14. 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 do not experiment that much, although I plan to learn to draw completely digitally. I tend do use anything that is at the moment close to me, so pencils, markers, color pencils and occasionally tempera colors – however the most favorite technique is to draw with a simple pen – you can achieve some nice details with it and the notion, that when you screw up with pen and you cannot go back, do you just go with it, goes well with my way of creative process – for the sake of relaxation. Most of my drawings are edited in graphic software to add contrast, colors and so on.
15. If one should tell a typical feature of your art, it's attention to detail, with careful rendering of every single dragon scale or mail ring. Don't you ever lose patience with a picture?
Hah! No As I said, the creation of art is my form of relaxing, so why would I rush it? Instead, I enjoy every detail I can make, although, yes it probably takes longer, than it should be.
16. Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists? How to not lose patience, for example...
As I am not a professional I do not think I can provide any reasonable advices. But as for the patience, well just think of it as a pleasure that goes away in exact moment you finish the piece. So why wouldn't you make it last as long as it can be
17. Could you tell us, which
- Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?
For me, I always like most the one, which is the most recent - and I was relatively satisfied with my updated rendition of Scatha.
- picture fits your current mood?
I really miss winter at the moment
- picture was hardest to paint?
It was not neccesarily hard, but it took incredibly long to make it, so probably this one.
- other picture you would like to share with us and why?
This was my absolutely first illustration for Silmarillion back in 2009. It took incredibly long and it was ma childhood's "opus magnum."
18. Would you like to thank somebody here? 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.
Well I have not achieved anything significant with my art yet (this is the highlight, probably ), so I do not think it is adequate to thank anybody at this point
19. Would you like to use this space to give a feature to someone? 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 am not a very active member on this platform, especially in past two years, and I honestly lost the track of artists I used to follow, so I would rather skip this one, just in case I would forget someone. Besides, you definitely covered most of Tolkien-themed artists I liked.
20. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
Be creative. Find new things, experiment with the design. Always try to enrich the already established art world and push it forward. Do not be afraid to question conventions. Remember that Howard Becker’s theory says, that once the art-world stagnates, it will eventually die – therefore, the visual aspect of Tolkien’s world needs to keep evolving.
Thank you for your time and answers!