Talks with Tolkien artists: ullakko

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MirachRavaia's avatar
By MirachRavaia

I'm happy to bring you another issue of the Talks with Tolkien artists, this time with a talented finnish illustrator :iconullathynell: - UllaThynell . For the beginning, enjoy a few pieces from her gallery:

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

Hi there! I am Ulla Thynell, a 30-something illustrator living in Helsinki (Finland) with my spouse and our little daughter. I've always been passionate about imagination and stories, both the written and visual variety.

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

I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings first in the mid-90's when I was aroud 12 years old. I was an omnivorous bookworm as a kid, so it was just a matter of time before stumbling upon Tolkien. I was very impressed with Middle-earth - the realm of hobbits, wizards, elves, enchanted forests, invented languages… and I soon became fan the fantasy genre, mainly because of Tolkien's books. For me fantasy represents an ultimate form of nostalgic escapism. It's the place to go to when things in the actual world seem unbearably complicated or mundane.

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

I've read LotR and The Hobbit a few times (and Silmarillion once) but I'm really not very good at remembering the details of the lore with all the names, family lines, etc. When I make illustrations, I usually double-check the relevant canon facts to get them right or close enough in the image. It's nice to have so many Tolkien-themed knowledge banks in the internet nowadays, so you don't have to skim through all the books just to check if a small physical detail is mentioned somewhere. The overall reading experience and interesting visual rendition is what counts to me most, but I do like to get details spot on whenever possible.

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 When the movies came out, many of the inner pictures of characters and scenes in the mind of the readers have been replaced by actors and settings from the movie.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

Fortunately I do still have my own versions in my head. I don't find it particularly difficult to separate the reading and cinematic experiences - they seem somehow very different to me (not just with Tolkien's, but with other books/movies as well). But well, obviously the movies must have had some kind of effect on my illustrations, subconsciously at least. I've noticed this when trying to come up with, say, costume designs and random artefacts, stuff like that. But I still try and make my own interpretations as much as I can. I don't really see the point in re-drawing the exact same thing as in a movie: when I wish to see those characters and settings again, I'd much rather just re-watch the movie than look up for drawings based on it.

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 has always been an essential part of my life (along with reading and writing) and I used to draw and paint regularly just for the fun of it. One year I suddenly decided that being creative is want I seriously want to do with my life and what I'm passionate about. I realised I didn't have enough free time after work and being a mom, so I wanted to try and make it into a career. I began building up a portfolio, quit my previous job and started searching for illustration jobs.

I was lucky enough to get my first book illustration job soon afterwards in 2012, and since then I've had the chance of working with different kinds of children's books: nonfiction, activity sheets, fantasy and fairytales. Quickly after starting working with books I knew I also want to be involved in graphic design, so it's also now my second semester studying that at Helsinki Metropolia UAS.

A great deal of artists and things have influenced my style over the years. Probably the most prominent stylistic influence recently has been my love for vintage illustration, especially the so called "Golden Age of illustration", artists such as Bauer, Rackham or Dulac.

If I had to name my all-time favorite and most inspiring book illustration, it would be Astrid Lindgren's "Most Beloved Sister", illustrated by Hans Arnold. I remember the book and Arnold's drawings very vividly from my own early childhood, and I still love this book to bits, today.

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

I usually get ideas while reading a book: a scene strikes me as particularly visual. For example: I suddenly get a mental image of the atmosphere, a colour, or an interesting visual contrast - light versus dark, sinister versus light, big versus small, etc. I take some notes of these thoughts and then continue reading and let the idea(s) brew in the back of my mind for a few days, before starting to draw.

But occasionally I experience something else interesting in life, like a peculiar weather or scenery in nature, which then reminds me of a certain scene in a book, and then I get inspired to draw that way. And other times I simply want to try something different from my previous work, and pick a scene more randomly. I especially like to draw scenes and characters which we haven't seen in the movies, or which I imagined differently.

It's not always up to me to decide, though. Some characters and subjects just seem harder to draw than others, dispite a vivid image in my head. Go figure!

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?

Traditional mixed media, with watercolour and different pens. I've always enjoyed experimenting with techniques and styles though. Sometimes one medium suits better for a certain subject than some other. B&W ink drawing with lots of linework creates quite a different atmosphere than a colourful, fluid aquarelle. And whenever I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself too much, it's good to switch to a different medium.

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

Well, I do have three tips. Here they are:

If you receive tough criticism or suddenly realise all the flaws in your work at once: don't panic. Everybody gets those moments and hardly ever will creative work be completely anxiety-free. Try to use criticism the proper way: as a fuel for testing your old views and habits and figuring out how to improve, if needed.

Challenge yourself. Decide that each one of your new pieces will be amazing and epic (in its own way) - though don't get too depressed about the fact that the outcome rarely meets the wild expectations. Evaluate your current skills, and then set the standard a couple notches further than that.

There shall always be artist's blocks, discouraging comments, rejections and disappointments. When you feel like giving up, just take a little break, then gently look back afterwards and learn from your mistakes. Finally decide to move on towards new ideas and projects with fresh excitement and ambition. If you're able to do this, repeatedly, then you'll do just fine.

9. Could you give us a link or thumbnail from your gallery of

- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?

- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?
Finding (original painting for sale!) by UllaThynell

- a picture that fits your current mood?

- a picture that was hardest to paint (draw)?

To be honest, I think majority of my work is hard for me to paint. Even (perhaps especially) those that I enjoy creating. I chose the Yavanna piece in the end - not because the subject matter or technique was the most complicated, but because back then this was the first drawing in a long time where I went outside my old comfort zone and decided I want to start learning new things about illustration with an open mind, even when it feels desperately difficult. Yavanna was also my first Tolkien piece ever, so for me it was an unmapped area to try and conquer. Scary!

- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?

I'm sharing this because it's my newest illustration project, a lovely Finnish children's fairy tale book called "Kissa Kiiskinen sankarina ja muita satuja" which was published just this week and is now available for purchase (via me, for example). Wink. (:

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.

My spouse Risto-Jussi has been most supportive over the past couple years, constantly maintaining faith in my career and tolerating my endless, quite pathetic phases of low self esteem and frustration. He is also my trusted artistic advisor, whenever I need a truthful opinion on my current works in progress.

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/links to pictures/ from their gallery?
<da:thumb id="421000130"/> Winter Repose by Seyorrol
Our House by golden-quince Eomer by s-u-w-i Jack and the fern flower by bubug

Moon song by greenpengua Central Park by LiskFeng Circus-Elephant that got lost way by Ebineyland

12. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?

I'm delighted and suprised by the positive attention, comments and notions that my Middle-earth themed art has received online. Interpreting Tolkien's world is such a challenge, and I'm so glad that there are people who enjoy seeing my works. Things like that make sharing the works definitely worthwhile. Thank you!


Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Previous talks:Bullet; Blue with Gold-Seven
                            Bullet; Blue with steamey
                            Bullet; Blue with ekukanova
                            Bullet; Blue with Tulikoura
                            Bullet; Blue with AbePapakhian
                            Bullet; Blue with kimberly80
                            Bullet; Blue with jankolas
                            Bullet; Blue with jgilronan
                            Bullet; Blue with ebe-kastein
                            Bullet; Blue with MatsumotoSensei
                            Bullet; Blue with TurnerMohan

Rohirrim journal skin.

Horse head © 2009 - Grinmir-stock
Texture by kizistock
Knotwork by gbrgraphix
© 2014 - 2021 MirachRavaia
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SoulcolorsArt's avatar
Great interview and work, love it :)
ZauriArt's avatar
That has been an interesting interview ^^
I've found the tips very usefull, and I love the style :)
MirachRavaia's avatar
I'm glad, I got the idea to add a question about tips just now, and I will keep it in the following interviews.
ZauriArt's avatar