Talks with Tolkien artists: TolmanCotton

14 min read

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MirachRavaia's avatar
By MirachRavaia

If you know a bit about hobbit genealogy, Tolman Cotton is the husband of Lily Brown and father of Rosie Cotton, who married Sam Gamgee in T.A. 3020. But :icontolmancotton: - TolmanCotton is also the nick of a talented Italian artists and art teacher, who illustrates the scenes from Tolkien as they are depicted in the books. So if you want to see some unshaven dwarves with the right beard and cape color, he is your man (or hobbit).

Rauros by TolmanCotton Ghan-buri-ghan by TolmanCotton
Ori by TolmanCotton Fili and Kili by TolmanCotton
 Grey havens by TolmanCotton Mormegil- color by TolmanCotton

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

Well, I'm an art teacher, an art history lover - Renaissance, Caravaggio and the Academy in particular - and a costume maker who happens to like also the world of illustrations. I live in Tuscany, so I've a great deal of art and beautiful sights around me for inspiration. Oh, and a Tolkien fan, of course.

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

I first met the works of Tolkien at a cub scout camp, at ten, and I was hooked. I found the Fellowship of the Ring at the local library, unfortunately the other two books had been stolen (!) so I had to wait for Christmas, when I found a rather bulky package under the tree... needless to say, I loved it. When I read "the choices of Master Samwise" I think I cried.

3. How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien expert?

Well, sort of. My knowledge of Quenya, Sindarin, Westron etc. is laughable, comparing with actual Tolkien scholars, but I think I have read or studied most of the published material about Middle-Earth and the composition of Tolkien lore, plus a lot of extra material by scholars like Helge Fauskanger or Michael Martinez (in fact, I translated in italian most of his "Parma Endorion" essays). I had to do it, since my thesis was on the clothing and accessories of the LoTR characters. Every *single* one of them.

4. When the movies came out, many of the inner pictures of characters and scenes in the mind of the readers have been replaced by actors and settings from the movie.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?

My thesis involved a lot of drawings and sketches and it took me almost two years to complete it. During that time, the first movie came out. I don't know if Ngila Dickson and I had a sort of telepathic bond, but many characters looked very similar, even in colours (for example, both her Boromir and mine wore reddish and blue clothing, and I'm quite sure there's no hint about colours in the book). Others were quite different, but having read (and re-read...) the book so many years before had helped me to form a definite setting in my head. My Sam is NOT Sean Astin, even if his acting is exceptional.

5. 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, and who or what influenced your style?

Art is my job, but more as a teacher than as a performer. It's not easy to live exclusively on art nowadays - in Italy at least - and I love too much working with children to leave it.
I started painting as soon as I could grab a pencil! My father was a painter himself, so he helped me a great deal. I'm a great fan of Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith, but I love also the works of Norman Rockwell and his acute portrayal of people.

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

Sometimes I choose... sometimes it's the scene to beg "please, draw me!" But I have to say that I like drawing hobbits the best. Their simple, down-to-earth approach to life appeals to me far more than elves.

7. 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?

My favourite medium is pencil and sometimes watercolour, but I have tried most techniques - even simple charcoal found on the beach. It's amazing what you can achieve with the right software nowadays, such as Painter or Artrage Studio.

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

Looking at the works of other illustrators I always feel awed and humbled, so I don't feel I'm the right person to give tips... Anyway, first of all you have to think thoroughly about the scene you want to depict and visualise it. If you find it difficult, or elusive, probably it won't work. Then draw a rough sketch to find the right composition and search for reference images to help you with the details. You can find it on the web, or art books, or going outside with a camera, or even looking at the mirror. I use to go to the pub with a notebook and sketch people around me. I found that sometimes hasty sketches give great results.

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

Sam in the garden by TolmanCotton
I'm a hobbit at heart!

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

cry over Ezri - colour version by TolmanCotton
Scott Lynch is very, very different from Tolkien, but his characters feel really alive.

- a picture that fits your current mood?
the choices of master Samwise by TolmanCotton

- a picture that was hardest to paint?
The Crowning of Elessar by TolmanCotton
It's still unfinished!

- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?
A long discussion by TolmanCotton
I drew the first version of this picture when I was fifteen, or sixteen, and then left it in a drawer that I seldom opened. It's amazing to see how one's style changes and evolves. It's like meeting a childhood friend you haven't seen in years.

10. 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.
As I said before, my father. He passed away last week and I miss him sorely. He was the one to teach me how to hold a paintbrush. But for what little I gleaned from the other students at the Academy, I owe him everything I know about painting and drawing.

11. 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?

:iconyudaev: - Yuri Yudaev. His eclectic style is astounding.

12. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
I hope that all the hype for the movies will make more people curious about the actual books, and that after it fades away there will be still people able to appreciate them as they are. Without shaven dwarves! rofl

Thank you very much for your time and answers, Tolman!

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Zeonista's avatar
Another great choice. :)