It is always a pleasure to see new Tolkien artists emerging on deviantArt. - AlystraeaArt started painting just a year ago, and it's been a pleasure watching her progress and new-found passion for art. She could still use more support and exposure, so feel free to explore her gallery and fav or watch! She also writes fanfiction under the name Alystraea on AO3 and FFN and has an alternate dA account for fanfiction illustrations - alystraea
Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hi! I live in Singapore, and I’m a teacher. I’ve been so busy with work and family that I haven't had much time for hobbies and interests. The most interesting thing about me is that I re-discovered Tolkien two years ago and started writing Tolkien fanfic and teaching myself digital art, and I really enjoy it.
Did you join deviantArt after that? What brought you to the site and how did you pick your username here?
When I re-discovered Tolkien’s books in Dec 2014, I began to browse online for Tolkien fanart and was thrilled to find so much on deviantArt! So I lurked here for a few months, but I didn’t become a member until I had tried producing some fanart myself. I thought that getting feedback from other people would be the best way to improve as a beginner. Since no one in my circle was interested in Tolkien or digital painting, I couldn’t really share this with anyone in my real life.
Annamare isn’t at all the username I wanted. I remember I wanted “Menelmacar” (“swordsman of the heavens” in Quenya) because I like stars and I super-like the constellation Orion, which I’ve always identified as “Menelmacar” in Tolkien’s world. But that was already taken. I then tried soooo many other usernames. All taken! Tired and fed-up after umpteen rejections, I finally concocted “Annamárë”, which is a Quenya name: anna (“gift”) + mára (“useful/good”) + ë (feminine name suffix). I was so relieved when it was accepted.
I felt really meh about the name for some time, but it has grown meaningful to me. I blundered my way through my first paintings, and it was discouraging. I was surprised and touched to receive so much kind feedback here on dA. That assured me that I was doing something right, and encouraged me to keep at it. Now I see this hobby as a “good gift” because I am having fun with it, and I want to develop it as much as I can.
Of course, Annamare might also make some think of “Anna the Mare”, which I don’t mind. Horses are cool.
When did you read Tolkien's books or seen the movies for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
My great-uncle passed me his copy of The Hobbit to read when I was 11, and I loved it so much I pestered my parents for a 5-book Tolkien box-set for Christmas. The Lord of the Rings was much darker and more serious, but it didn’t stop me from falling in love with the world of Arda and developing an elf fetish. I then moved on to The Silmarillion, but… I was such a kid that the unrelenting tragedy depressed me terribly. The stories did, however, leave powerful images in my mind - the first elves awakening in starlight, the two Trees shining in Valinor, the first rising of the moon, Maedhros throwing himself into a fiery chasm. Then there were moments that broke my heart - Finrod dying a prisoner in the fortress he himself had built, Beleg dying at Turin’s hand after rescuing him, Maglor wandering by the sea singing his endless lament. It was such a huge universe, so mythic, and the characters so doomed, that it impacted my imagination as no other fantasy book has. The characters I fell in love with then are still the characters I love today – Glorfindel, Finrod, Beleg, and Maglor. Maglor’s suffering never had any closure, which I thought was way worse than dying. This was long before Jackson’s movies and it was a lonely thing then to be a young Tolkien nerd. There was no fandom where I could fangirl with others over my beloved elves. I could only bore and torture my sister with my elf stories, and scribble Maglor fic that thankfully no one ever read.
I’ve never watched the Jackson movies in full. When a major crisis rocked my world just before the first LOTR film was released in 2001, family and loved ones became the only things in life that mattered, and hospitals and intensive care units took over my consciousness. Suddenly, millions loved Tolkien’s world as much as I had, but it meant nothing to me. Over the next few years, I focused on being a caregiver, moved house three times, and got rid of my fantasy book collection.Fastforward to October 2014. I was an educator working 7am to 2am almost every day, and seriously burned out by my job. One weekend The Desolation of Smaug screened on TV, and I thought, “I need a break. I used to like this. Let’s check it out.”
There is a lot of criticism of The Hobbit movies, but DoS had moments of pure magic. The scene above the Mirkwood forest canopy with Bilbo and the butterflies is a particular favourite of mine. As I watched, my love for all things Arda was re-kindled, and after the film, I began to read fanfic and browse for fanart. My poor Other Half was completely mystified by my new interest. Being a sweet guy he got me a copy of Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, but by then I had watched so many clips from it on YouTube that I lost the motivation to watch it right through. Instead, I borrowed Tolkien’s books from the library. A happy discovery that followed was that my sister had saved my old LOTR trilogy from that Christmas box set (even though I had bored her to death with my elf tales years before), and my mom had saved one of my old copies of The Hobbit. But my two copies of The Silmarillion were gone, and my first editions of Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales 1&2, and my Tolkien Bestiary. I’ve only re-bought a few of the key texts I refer to most. I find that the paper and binding nowadays are poorer in quality than those I once had, so I really regret tossing my original copies.
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?
Yes, many of the sets in the movies (like Imladris, Lothlórien, Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith) were amazing and have replaced how I previously imagined them. And the Shire and Mordor were almost exactly how I had always pictured them! My reactions to the actors were mixed, and quite instantaneous—either “Wow! Perfect!” or “Nooooo!!” For example, I see Éowyn, Galadriel and Elrond as looking quite different, though the actors in the roles were excellent thespians. Also, since I’m more Bookverse than Movieverse, it annoyed me that Jackson made so many of his movie elves blond, especially the Silvan elves. I felt only the Vanyar should be blond, and the House of Finarfin because of their Vanyarin ancestry. (But I’ve been so overwhelmed by so many images of Orlando Bloom in his wig that a pale-blond Legolas has irrevocably seeped into my consciousness by now. I get excited, though, whenever I see that someone has painted Legolas with dark hair!) Apart from that, I loved some of the casting choices Jackson made. The hobbits were all brilliant. John Rhys-Davies was awesome as Gimli. And Viggo Mortensen is how I will see Aragorn from henceforth (though I don’t like how Jackson tweaked his characterization).
So your favourite characters are mostly the Silmarillion Elves? Is there someone between them especially dear to you, and why?
Wow, it is so hard to name just one. I will choose Glorfindel because I became mildly obsessed with him from the moment he rode into LOTR on Asfaloth, and fell in love with this description of him: “Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength”. I was unimaginably disappointed when Glorfindel wasn’t part of the Fellowship, and played such a tiny role in the story. I mean, Tolkien gives us this badass, powerful, beautiful creature of light from whom the Nazgûl flee, and then gives him next to nothing to do??? In the LOTR appendices, there is Glorfindel’s prophecy at Fornost and the Witch-King fleeing from his power. In the Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales 2, there is his slaying of the balrog and his death. I would love to have more! Because Tolkien never developed Glorfindel’s story in the Second Age, we can only assume that he took part in many its battles, could have been there when Elrond founded Imladris (depending on when you think he returned to Middle Earth), was most likely part of the Last Alliance. As this is a blank, there seems to be little point to his coming back to Middle Earth. There has been a fair amount of fanfic filling in this gap, but I can’t say I’ve read a lot of it. It has been hard finding fic that captures the essence of Glorfindel as Tolkien described him. I was scratching my head over fanfic that makes him this PTSD-stricken wreck when Tolkien describes him as “fair and young and fearless and full of joy”. I also don’t like him portrayed as a muscle-bound jock when Tolkien’s description of him was actually rather graceful and ethereal. Can strength and power not go together with grace? I try to capture these key qualities when I write him or draw him. I don’t think I have succeeded. I’ll keep trying till I do (which means I'll probably be trying forever).
How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien expert?
I thought I was an expert when I was a kid, but now I know I’m far from one. I haven’t read more than portions of HoME, for I use it as a reference rather than read the volumes cover to cover. So if I depict any person, place or event, I spend time brushing up and researching it—especially for writing. I feel more freedom to simply imagine whatever I want when I draw fanart, whereas when I write fanfic I would like to get my facts as correct as possible. My knowledge is definitely skewed in favour of elves, so I know a lot more about the House of Finwë than I do about hobbits and who’s who in the Shire. My knowledge of elvish grammar is very limited, both for Quenya and Sindarin, so I rely a lot on the Parf Edhellen and Realelvish.net websites. It would be nice to make time to study them both someday!
There are unnumerable visual images behind Tolkien's writing, just waiting to be illustrated. How do you choose which scenes and characters to draw?
I haven’t thought about that before—but looking at the paintings I’ve done so far, I guess I choose characters I love, and I like to paint scenes or settings I’ve not noticed in the fanart before, or which are not so common. Some paintings are related to the fanfics I’m scribbling. Others are a reaction against the stress in my life and living in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It makes me hungry for peace, open spaces, and more of nature, and that comes out in the art.
Is it possible to read your fanfics somewhere as well, or do you keep them just for yourself?
I have very few fanfics but I am happy if anyone wants to read them! They can be found on Archive of Our Own and FF.net My fanfic pseud is Alystraea, and I also have some of my fanfic art here on dA under that name - alystraea
Your gallery is specfic by containing only pictures with Tolkien theme. Do you ever paint some other topics, and if not, why?
I have done so many Tolkien paintings because at this point in my life Tolkien's books seem to be all that really inspires me. It is so strange because I do have other fandoms I like, such as Star Wars, ASOIAF, and X-Men, but somehow I don’t feel any desire to draw those now even though I did some sketches of them when I was in school. With Tolkien, there is a compulsion. I feel almost obsessed sometimes! There are so many paintings I still have in my head, and I am so frustrated because I have so little time, I am so slow, and my ability as an artist is still so limited. Maybe it will only be when I have painted all these elves out of my system that I will be able to move on to other things!
Having said that, I have dabbled in a few other paintings on real-life and faith themes, but I wouldn’t post them here. Looking at my gallery, I think I like that it’s all Tolkien, and for now I think it is nice keeping it that way.
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?
Haha! I know little about art techniques and have tried so few! As a kid I sketched ballerinas and elves and superheroes with a 2B and 5B pencil, and if you took away my computer and my tablet I would resort to that again. But it’s not a matter of preference, it’s that I don’t know how to use anything else. The results when I tried experimenting on my own with watercolour and colour pencils were awful, and I’ve never tried oil or acrylics or pastels.
Digital art is therefore My Thing - even though I also know little about it - because it is forgiving (eraser brushes! undo button! hallelujah!) I’ve now been painting for almost 20 months, and I think I’m still someone with a traditional art mindset playing with a tablet. When digital artists talk shop, to me it’s like they’re talking Martian. I use MyPaint 1.0 (Irsanna here on dA recommended it to me as simple to use and free). I like it but can’t find a lot of info how to use it. I use a pencil brush and sketch, add colours bit by bit like for traditional paint, then erase the untidy parts of the sketch lines. (Duh, does that count as art technique??) 90% of my painting is done with just two brushes – an Airbrush and something called a Mixbrush. I was overjoyed when I discovered the Blend brush 3 months ago! And I don’t know how to create brushes. I watched a few speedpaints on YouTube and I had NO idea how the artists were doing anything, but I was in absolute awe of what they could do. In other words, there is SO MUCH still to be learned that I definitely don’t want to stay where I am. I want to experiment and learn as much as I can!
Where do you see yourself and your art in the future? Do you maybe consider taking a course in it and spend more time with it, or are you content with it being a hobby with a room for self-improvement?
I think art will continue to be a hobby where I do my best to improve myself, and teaching will continue to be my livelihood (unfortunately, I have to be practical). In the future I would definitely like to be more technically adept at digital art, and to find my style better. I want to improve in light/shadow, colour, anatomy, clothes/fabric, and line-art, all of which I’m still figuring out.
Oh, if I could find a course in using MyPaint or any freeware like Krita I would jump on it in a heartbeat! But all the digital art courses here in Singapore are in Adobe Photoshop, and I have made up my mind I’m not going to pay monthly for Creative Cloud. I balk at even the educational package they offer for teachers and students. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, and our home has in the past been hit by medical emergencies that drained our finances, so I must be prudent what I spend on.
The good news is that the Singapore government recently gave each citizen a S$500 (about US$350) grant to go on courses for personal development. Given the cost of things here, that will pay for 90% of just one short course of 8 sessions at an art school. So I’ve scaled back my part-time teaching commitments this semester and I’m planning to use my grant to take Figure Drawing at LaSalle in the evenings. I hope it will give me a foundation in traditional sketching with pencils that I lack - for I’ve always self-taught and I’m embarrassed by how poor my sketching technique is. The course caters to retirees and working adults who are complete beginners, so I’ve no idea what to expect. Here’s hoping it will be useful and fun!
That's great, it sounds like it might be! Now a question to introduce your art to the readers: Could you give us a link or thumbnail from your gallery of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?
The First Elves. Technically it’s not great, but I feel I managed to capture some of that wonder when they first saw the stars.- a picture that fits your current mood?
- a fanficion story you are most proud of?
I have very few fanfics, so the one I am most proud of is The Golden and the Black. The key characters are Glorfindel and Maeglin, and it spans the First to Fourth Ages.
- a picture that fits your current mood?
I’ve gotten most of my work done for the week, so a picture that fits my current mood is one of my early ones, The Horse and His Elf.
- a picture that was hardest to paint?
The Time of Treelight, because of the latticework on the pavilion. I had no idea it would be so difficult and take so long.
- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?
I would like to share this one because Golden and the Black is my first, still incomplete fanfic, and it started me on my journey of becoming an artist. Writing and painting would have been unimaginable to me just a while ago, and it is all because a strange plot bunny attacked me after I read someone's fanfic. Ironically, I've hardly painted any fanfic art though that was my reason for taking up this hobby! (This painting is on my much neglected alystraea dA account.)
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.
So many artists inspire me that there is no way I can list them all! Artists I’ve loved as I grew up include Millais, Waterhouse, Odilon Redon, Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, Errol Le Cain, and comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz. kimberly80, EKukanova, SaMo-art, and WisesnailArt are just a few of the many amazing Tolkien artists who inspire me here on dA.
My greatest support since I started has been all the lovely people who leave encouraging and helpful comments here on dA and on AO3. They really make my day. I’ve also enjoyed interesting and meaningful discussions with some of them about various things (not necessarily art related) and they’ve become friends.
My OH knows and cares nothing about art or Tolkien, but has supported me too, in his own way. When I told him I planned to buy a tablet, he got me my Wacom Intuos. He gives me space to do my thing, and hasn’t been resentful if I spend hours holed up in my corner painting like a madwoman. I was quite shy and secretive about my art at first because he's so devastatingly honest, if he thought my work was crap or meh he would have said so at once and crushed my ego mercilessly. The first piece I dared show him was Glorfindel finds his grave, after I'd been painting for 8 months. His eyes popped and he said, “You did THAT? Like, from scratch?” Coming from him that was the best praise. Ever. Now he tells people, "my wife paints".
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?
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?
Wow. This question stumps me. It seems to me that most of the artists are better than me, much more established here than I am, and are doing great. So I’m just going to give a few thumbnails of the many works that I like a lot and would like to see get more faves.
Doriath by DracarysDrekkar7
Broken by Cris-Nicola
Glorfindel and Ecthelion by Mysilvergreen
Nerdanel and Modern AU Caranthir by EPH-SAN1634. (I’ve never liked AUs to be honest, but the way her creative brain develops the modern day scenarios and places the Tolkien characters in them has won me over.)
Thank you for your time and answers!