This is another interview that was rather hard to accomplish. - breath-art is a well known Chinese artist with a clearly recognizeable style, but he does not speak English well, so at first he declined the interview, but then we found a way through translators. My thanks for the translation belongs to Norloth who translated the questions to Chinese, and to fish-in-fridge who translated the answers back to English.
1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
I am an architect and subway building designer. I am also a freelance part-time artist; I usually do cover art for books and journals during my spare time.
2. When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
It felt like falling into a novel yet familiar world. I loved the idyllic peace of the Shire; I was amazed by the epic battle between the kind men led by Aragorn, and the evil and its accomplices. And most importantly, the broadness and depth of Middle-earth never fails to fascinate me.
3. How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien expert?
What I presently know about Middle-earth, I learnt from Tolkien’s writing and Jackson’s movies. I base my art on both verbal descriptions from the books, and the movies and other images about Middle-earth that I have seen. I am deeply awed by the extensive and detailed settings Tolkien devised for his created world, as well as the sheer beauty of his literature, but I am definitely not Tolkien expert.
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 When the movies came out, many of the inner pictures of characters and scenes in the mind of the readers have been replaced by actors and settings from the movie.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?
Yes, it did. As I said, I keep using both words and images as reference for my Middle-earth art. Actually I relied quite much on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies for my earlier artwork. The Silmarillion, on the other hand, is an unending inspiration that permits me to work out characters and scenes without being influenced by known movie images and designs.
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?
I am professional architect, and freelance artist and illustrator. Maybe I can consider myself a bit more professional than hobbyists. For me, art is one part of my life that I can never give up; I have been very passionate and insistent with my art as a student and later as a semi-professional. I started taking commissions in 2007, when gamespot, a Chinese game journal, invited me to draw six posters on World of Warcraft. I am a big fan of this mmo game, and back then I had already made quite a lot of WoW fanart. Working with gamespot won me many other commission opportunities, and with that I set my first step as freelance illustrator.
There have been many great influences throughout my path, in the shapes of both men and events. Thanks to the tutorials made by Noah (a Chinese illustrator), I came into knowledge and practice of cg art. His tutorials are tailored for painter (a software) users, and to this date painter remains my favourite software. I also have Cgtalk award gallery and a number of Blizzard Games events to thank. Every invitation and every prize instills me with further motivation for art, and some have been influential enough to bring changes to my style.
6. Your illustrations often tell a whole story in one picture. How much effort goes into planning and composition of such a picture? Do you see it as a whole in your mind before you start painting, or only uncover it with the painting process?
Usually it takes a week or two to plan everything in my mind, and a few nights in front to my computer to work them out. A lot of trials and revisions are necessary when it comes to details.
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?
I don’t have a particular technique or style. When I get very used to one style, I would try to break free from it and embrace something brand new. I also combine different styles I have been familiar with, and sometimes a new style is born in this way.
8. How did you develop your unique mosaic style of illustrations?
Firstly I am an architect; I am sensitive to geometric patterns and their visual effects. Ancient frescoes on religious themes are also a great influence. This form of art is capable of telling a full story, and vividly displaying all people and events involved, on a two-dimensional platform. I have always wanted my art to tell a story rather than exhibit a portrait or a still moment; therefore, I keep learning from narrative forms of art, such as religious frescoes, and prize narration as core of my own creative art. Another great influence is stained glass art. I love stained glass art for its play of light and shadow, which gifts a sense of mystery to the subject it portrays. It also demonstrates an in-depth talent in colouring. Lastly, I am a big fan for medieval monastery art, such as Biblical illustration. It never fails to amaze me that medieval monks were able to capture the most exquisite sense of beauty while living a simple and disciplined religious life.
9. You also designed the covers for the Chinese translation of LOTR. Did these get published?
I did. It was an activity hosted by the publisher which I was interested in, and I designed a few covers. No, they didn’t get published. Yet I still can use them to adorn my own LotR copies.
10. Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists?
I believe the artist should base his/her art on his/her own thoughts and style, and find beauty in them. Whereas commissions and verbal descriptions set limit to the artist’s freedom of creativity, they do not affect or restrain the artist’s style, which belongs solely to the artist. No matter what you draw or paint, stay true to your style; your art is unique because your style is.
11. 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.
There are really a lot of them, and giving a full list would probably take up too much answer space here. Therefore I am going to name but a few.
My primary school sketch tutor. He made the effort to explain my art talent to my mother, and encouraged her to take me to more extensive art training.
Ediart, co-founder of the NGA website. His website was both a stage to exhibit my art, and a place to hone my skills.
Noirrs, former chief editor of gamespot. I received my first poster commission from him.
Cross (十字), architect and part-time admin of NGA visual art section. He endeavours to bring more and more cooperation between Chinese artists and Blizzard Games. He is also most encouraging and helpful with young artists.
12. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
There is one Middle-earth, created by Tolkien, but there are millions of ways to portray Middle-earth, in such forms as words, images, and other various media. You can always remember the Middle-earth as you see it and understand it, and depict it accordingly yet freely. This is the way Middle-earth will never fade from our memory.
Thank you very much for your time and answers!
And here I will give you some more art from his gallery, as he did not have access to his dA gallery at the time of the interview, and couldn't answer my questions about it.