This interview has been sitting in my stash for about a year, waiting for a reply from - cylindric. She has been absent from deviantart since then, and I find it a pity to not publish it, since it is almost complete. So here it is, although unfinished.
Edit: Now she has deactivated her account. To not lose the pictures from the interview, I have stored them in my sta.sh.
Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hello ! So, well, I'm Juliette, I'm french and I'm currently an animation student in the north of the country. I'm from the south, somewhere around the riviera, and I've lived in Paris too. If I had to describe myself as efficiently as possible I'd probably just say that I like books and cheese a lot and own way too many hats...I could also say that orange and red are my favourite colours, but that would be rather obvious, wouldn't it ? I love history, languages, encounters in general and I love to travel around Europe whenever I can.
What about your username? Is there some story behind it?
Oh, I don't remember exactly how it ended up being my username, but for a while there was private joke between me and my classmates that I was "the cylinder girl", because we had that one design assignment where we had to come up with an architecture that used a repetitive pattern, and I ended up making over a hundred cylindric little pieces to build up prototypes of a bunch of minimalistic room arrangements and buildings... And since the shape tended to happen a lot in my schoolwork, it became a bit of a joke. It didn't last long and everyone forgot about it, but it's still the username I use everywhere ! I think I just mostly like the sound of it and the shape of the word...
When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
I started with LOTR during my early middleschool years and kind of stuggled through it because it might have been a bit complex for my age, but I did manage to finish it. I enjoyed it and it definitely was a part of my love for fantasy but I think that first reading was a bit too early and it didn't strike me as much as it later. Besides, I later realized I had been reading on a french translation that was so awful it made my eyes burn to read it again... Having learned quite a bit of english in the meantime, I was happy to go back to it in original version. I read the Hobbit and the Silmarillion in highschool, and I'm still currently in the process of catching up with other writings like HoMA.
The books were super important to me as a kid in the way that they made me realize how heavily modern fantasy media was relying on the narrative settled by Tolkien, how founding it had been. But to be quite honest, for me, the awakening to the Tolkien world mostly came with the films. It might be shameful to some to say that ( ) but I was just a small kid when the PJ films started being released and I basically grew up with them, it was a huge part of my creative environment. Today I get to see their flaws through the veil of nostalgia, but it's still the source of everything. I also discovered later Bakshi's animated feature from 1978, and I loved its bizarre charm and experimental approach of feature animation, where the lack of budget somehow got turned into a weird visual playground for those intentionally tacky aesthetics.
Regardless of my opinions on the relevance of these adaptations, I still think it showed me how vast a world it was, and how many possibilities it brought in terms of representations of the characters, of the places, of their lores and cultures, and that's something I think about a lot when I draw Tolkien stuff. Re-reading the books also showed me how there was more to see than what I had focused on before, and going back into that world now as an adult is a really cool experience.
So how much of your peronal picture of Middle-earth is influenced by the movies, and what part its your own, or influenced by something else? 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?
To make this factually simple, when FotR was released into theatres, I was 6. That means, obviously, that I can't even remember a time without the films... so the visuals given by the films have always existed side by side with the story for me. So of course, like for all kids my age, that representation was always super strong in my mind and for the longest time it was all just one big thing for me.
When I recently went back to Tolkien's universe and decided to invest some more of my time to it, I thought about that a lot and wondered how, and if I could manage to detach myself at least a bit from those images I had grown up with, and that were so strong in my imaginary. It seemed important to me to try and find something more personal to it, and to stray away from the generally accepted idea of smooth european-looking fantasy and bring some other influences into it. Of course, the point wasn't to go for something totally revolutionnary or anything, but just to question the general aesthetics. I knew that no matter how much enjoyment the films bring to me, I didn't want to draw peter jackson elves. I run along with the common codes of the genre because that's also why we love fantasy, but I also have fun with tons of cultural influences and folklores to mix up with it, I look up cool traditionnal costumes, I try weird colour schemes, that sort of things.
So yeah, my image of the stories and LOTR especially will always relate a lot to the films, because they're kind of the reason I'm in the first place, and I have no shame in picking up stuff from there because they've been formative for me and i still love them independently from the books. But I have other influences and I hope to show them through my own personal representations, too.
Your character designs are indeed inspired by different cultures, and quite awesome. Could you tell us more about the process of looking for inspiration and designing a character and his costume?
Well, when it comes to picking an outfit or design or I'm a big fan of crowded pinterest boards ! I make moodboards and inspiration boards for families or groups of characters and I stick there mostly traditionnal and historical costumes, but also jewerly, architecture, landscapes, anything that can help the mood. I hoard images from tumblr, pinterest, but also exhibitions and magazines, I just try to keep on the side all the stuff I might want to draw, or that makes me think about a character. And, as some might guess, I have a board full of hats... Sometimes I base the designs of the whole character solely on a hat I like and associated with them, like I did for feanorians for instance. Then it's mostly about general shapes : i decide whether the character's clothes and body shape is going to make them very slender, or round and envelopped, or larger at the top, etc... I try to make their silhouettes dynamic and stylicized in a way that maybe reflects their personality or the way I see them. It's mostly just having fun with clothes I want to draw, to be honest.
That's quite an interesting way of designing a character! Could you also tell us something about you and art? You said you study animation, so I assume art is going to be your professional career? When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?
Yes, I'm currently finishing my first animation course and applying for others and hopefully I'll manage to make a job out of it ! I've worked as intern for a studio already, but besides freelance illustration work I haven't really worked as a professional yet. The glances of animation world I got from festivals and internships were pretty amazing and I'm really thrilled to get started. I've always loved drawing since I was a kid (with more or less success), and when I reached my teens it was big enough for me to want to go for it as a path of study. It's always a hard decision to take, because art world can be tough and the jobs aren't exactly the stable type, but I couldn't really see myself do something else. Or, at least, I wanted to give it a try first so I wouldn't regret. I was super influenced by all the animation that I watched as a kid, mostly cartoon series but also a few features - I was never much of a disney kid, but there were a few french feature films like Michel Ocelot's I'd watch on repeat, and I was introduced to Miyazaki very young which became a massive source of imagination. I also watched Anastasia way too many times which might have induced my russian/slavic aesthetics obsession...
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?
Well, I mostly draw digitally, and I have to admit I tend to stick with the familiar tools of my beloved photoshop and my custom brushes... But I also love drawing traditionnally, and I do a lot of traditionnal stuff for school as well, so I try to make sketchbooks and experiment with other techniques too. I do a lot of gouache for school and for fun, it's my favourite traditionnal technique. I also like charcoal, inks and papercut a lot, and once in a while I do a bit of engraving and screen printing. I'd like to try oils too someday when I have time and budget ! So yes, although with studies and so on I don't have a lot of time for fooling around with that many things, I like to diversify a techniques I use as much as possible. The reason most of my fanart is digital is because it's only a side occupation and I have to keep it quick enough. And the quickest for me is photoshop ! Besides, it has a lot of possibilites for traditionnal-looking effects, with textures and custom brushes, and even that is also something to experiment and have fun with.
In the limited time, how do you decide which scenes and characters to illustrate?
It's usually a heat-of-the-moment kind of decision, really. I'm usually prompted by conversations with fandom friends or particular images that inspired me, and just go with whatever I want to do most at the moment. I try to keep drawing for fun even when I have very little time, so I just lower my expectations for the level of rendering of the pieces when I have to or space up posting intervals, but I try not to stop because it's very important to me not to sink too much in work alone. I have many friends who are also tolkien artists or tolkien writers, and we exchange a lot about ideas and themes and it's always super inspiring ! We come up with theories, share our ideas about characters, and give one another help and critique. These conversations are a big influence for me and my tolkien fan friends are a big part of what I do as an artist, really ! I love to draw things based on fan writing so it's always amazing to read friend work and play around with it. I also try not to draw the same characters over and over, so my choices are often oriented towards things I haven't done too many times yet (of course, some my favourites keep coming up, but sometimes i just can't help it....).
Can you tell us more about Tolkien fanfiction from the point of a reader? What do you expect from a well-written story, and what makes you want to illustrate a fanfic?
Unfortunately I don't read much fiction outside of what my friends write themselves (I'm a bit of a corrupted person like that), mostly because I don't have a lot of time on my hands for reading, but when I do I'm mostly here for reimaginations of the canon and fun theories that try to look at the stories with a different angle. I also love stories that give a closer looks at female characters for instance, and recenters them into the action ; tolkien universe has an incredible amount of endlessly interesting female characters, but they rarely get the attention they'd deserve in the narrative. I loved when several writers suggested the idea of Tar-Miriel being the Witchking (although the idea was subject to polemics, perhaps rightfully, but the debate is also what's interesting) ; it's a sad narrative, maybe even sadder than her original fate, but I find it immensely interesting and compelling and a nice dynamic for a female "villain". And well, those who also follow me on twitter might know, I love silly stories. I'm always there for silly stories. There's nothing that might me me happier than thinking of the Silmarillion as a giant gag sitcom. Or at least, not many things.
What other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create fanart, and why?
I really do make fanart of anything I liked ! These days I do a lot of Star Wars, but as an art and film student I get to see cool things that inspire me every day and I always wish I had more time to make interpretations of all the media that I like. I think the Harry Potter series is the first thing that drew me towards fanart as a kid/young teen and today I have more fandom loves than I have time for... I love working with books and theater because the visuals are flexible and still up to more interpretation, just like I love big sagas with expanding universes because that also leaves open a great window for creativity. You can search for obscure lore facts and characters or make up your own theories and designs, that's the most fun. Tolkien fits in both categories. So I have those big universes I tend to go back to quite often for fanart ( Tolkien, Star Wars, Marvel universe), and then it's a big bucket of mismatched books, historical periods, and discoveries of the moment. I lobe fantasy and sci-fi genres most because of the amount of worldbuilding it calls to, and that's also the reason why big epic sagas of that kind tend to have more fans, because there's nothing better than to be able to be shown an entire universe and look for social, geographic, historical features from a fictional place.
Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists?
Well, when people ask me how to progress with art I always say sketchbooks are the greatest improvement weapon there is. Having a few thematic sketchbooks and filling them up as regularly as possible is a great way to improve. I'd also say, try to be very open and look at many different types of art, regardless of the medium ! Everything can be an inspiration, and if you make efforts to look around and mix up influences your art will definitely grow in maturity and originality. I try to be some as ecletic as possible in my interests and pay attention to as many crafts, arts, cultures and movements as possible. Another thing would be : don't be afraid of colours ! I love it when artists make bold colour choices and experiment with palettes. Of course I also have a long way to go with all these things myself, but drawing also means learning all the time so it's always ok.
This is the point where the interview ended. So thank you for your answers so far, cylindric, and if you would like to finish it sometimes, just drop me a note and I will update this journal with it! For now, instead of the missing rest of the talk, I will feature some more pictures from her gallery:
And also some non-Tolkien themes: