A new article (from a LOTR artist and/or collector) will be added each month.
While it largely isn’t very politically correct now days to play with weapons, chances are for some growing up, one of their first ‘replicas’ was a gun, in the form of a water pistol. Recently that is just as likely to be replaced with a nerf gun, for both big and little kids, which can lead to much more accurate looking replicas used for paintball or laser tag.
The other very common childhood replica tended to be a sword, usually just based on some generic design and property for young budding ninja’s, until there was a disturbance in the force. While many of the toy lightsabres could hardly be called an accurate replica, it still helped to plant the seed that would later lead to identical looking lightsabres (based on the hilt at least, science is still working on replicating the blade) as seen in the films.
Unlike lightsabre hilts which just about anyone can recognise on sight but don’t have any name much past ‘Hey, that’s from Star Wars’, legendary weapons from ages past, such as swords can have individual names. While history debates the true facts or even the actual existence of King Arthur and all those around him, all still know the story and no doubt the name of the King’s most famous sword… Excalibur. It is even possible to purchase various replicas of the famous sword, some based on more general designs or on how it was depicted in the 1981 film of the same name.
In more recent literary times, the widely known works of J.R.R. Tolkien introduced the fantasy world of Middle Earth and among many other things a number of newly named swords: Anduril, Narsil, Glamdring, Orcrist and arguably the most recognised, Sting. While the places, characters and names of Middle Earth have been known since 1937 with the first publish of The Hobbit, it wasn’t till 2001 that for millions of people around the world, Middle Earth had a firm visual representation in the shape of Peter Jackson’s film’s based on The Lord of Rings.
That overall look and design was managed by the artists and craftspeople at Weta Workshop with world renowned Middle Earth concept artists: John Howe and Alan Lee. It was around this time that what was largely just a mass produced toy market, started to move towards a more limited, high end range of collectibles based on current popular licensed properties. For swords the license was awarded to United Cutlery, a company that at the time was mostly involved in collectible knives, based on designs by Gil Hibben and others. While for many ‘collectible’ means limited and numbered, much of what United Cutlery produced and still sells are licensed and hence limited to just them but still made on a continuing basis.
At the height of the Lord of the Rings films, United Cutlery was selling a range of swords based on the movie designs, this included Sting, Anduril, Glamdring and Hadhafang among others. These are purely replica display swords, mostly made from stainless steel and produced as unnumbered collectibles. In some cases these are still being produced today, making them not so much a limited collectible but more just a movie replica.
A word of warning about any of the stainless steel swords, when they call them ‘display swords’, they are strictly made for display only. While it’s unlikely that collectors would start swinging them around against objects or other swords, these can be very dangerous due to a high chance of shattering on impact. Real swords are not made from stainless steel, so it’s best to just leave these on display and dust every now and then.
While replica swords were very popular for United Cutlery when the market for Lord of the Rings collectibles exploded in the early 2000’s, by 2005 business conditions at UC had started to take a turn for the worse and by around 2006-07 they filed for bankruptcy. This wasn’t an isolated incident around that time for prop replica manufactures, when Master Replicas had much the same problem. At the time MR’s main focus and license was for Star Wars props, starting out with limited edition replicas of lightsabres on the back of the release of the three new prequel movies at the time.
The problem they faced, which is likely one of the issues that United Cutlery had was that in order to sell something as collectible and brand it as a high-end, high quality movie accurate replica, it generally needed to be a numbered limited edition that cost at least a couple hundred dollars. Initially said limited edition lightsabres sold well, but just like any prop, once made and sold out, something new had to be made and there are only a few lightsabres in Star Wars. Collectible statues have less of a problem with this, especially over a series of films, were the same character can have numerous different costumes and poses, allowing for repeats of the character in different statues.
However, a prop is a prop, it doesn’t change and there is just one of them. When Master Replicas offered Luke’s lightsabre hilt as a movie accurate replica it sold well and soon the edition size was gone. Then MR committed one of the biggest collecting sins that any manufacture could do and offered up another limited run of Luke’s lightsabre hilt, not once, but twice. There was a Version two said to be based on the stunt prop from Return of the Jedi and then another ‘Signature Edition’, which included a plaque signed by Mark Hamill. This then doesn’t include various versions with a light up ‘blade’ or smaller scale or later re-licensed and made again by another company.
When United Cutlery went bankrupt and before being purchased and revived by BudK, there was a mass selloff of stock and this included future products that were only part way through production. In addition to the more standard stainless steel display replica swords, UC also had a small product range called ‘Museum Collection’, which had two major differences. All Museum Collection swords had a strict limited production run which was each individually numbered and the blade was made from high carbon spring steel. They also came with a wood display case and a Certificate of Authenticity. The main Museum Collection sword that was in production at the time was Sting and while all of the blades had been made the display cases were not. This resulted in a ‘fire sale’ on EBay and by various dealers that just sold the Sting MC sword without any case or COA.
Due to being made of Spring Steel all Museum Collection swords come with an extra requirement that all real swords have… maintenance. Stainless steel swords look fine on display and due to materials need little care other then maybe a spot of dusting every now and then. A Spring Steel sword is actually made for combat and won’t shatter on impact like it’s cheaper display replica’s. Not that one is likely to swing around Sting, it still needs to be cared for due to the likelihood of rust.
Over time small rust spots will likely start to appear and the general look of the blade will begin to tarnish. To fix this and help prevent future issues a few items are required: some sandpaper, a lint free cloth, some clean rags or tissues and Renaissance Wax (a micro-crystalline polishing wax used by the British Museum and available on Ebay).
Starting with a fine sandpaper, sand down each rust spot and then with a very fine sandpaper, gently brush down the whole blade in what should be a noticeable direction in which the blade has been milled. If you look at the photo of my Sting sword, you can see that it has horizontal striations across the blade, so I sanded it in that same direction.
Once done, use a dry clean rag or tissues to thoroughly clean off all the grit and dirt due to the sanding and make sure there’s no marks or dust caught in any crevasses. Then, using a lint free clean cloth, apply and rub in a very light layer of Renaissance Wax. This will give the blade a more polished shine while at the same time, the very thin coating of wax will help to prevent future rust from happening. While there’s no need to use any sandpaper on the stainless steel swords, a very light polish with Renaissance Wax won’t hurt and will help to keep all your replica swords looking good for many years to come.
Illustration has been a part of my life for about 25 years now, previously as a part-time job and currently (since 2004) full-time.
My resumé includes hundreds of portraits – animal and people – with a particular fondness for everything equine-related, as I used to work as a groom and rider/trainer when I was younger. I’ve illustrated (black and white) three technical books for the Fédération Equestre du Quebec, another instructional book for Quebec à Cheval, a non-fiction book about the history of the Canadian Horse, have written a collection of short stories called “Pieces of Nothing”, (and painted hundreds as well) for companies such as Cryptozoic Entertainment, Topps Entertainment, Perna Studios, and many others.
As well, there is now a Patreon page where I post travel or nature-related watercolors, as well as other acrylic and sketch card project previews. Occasionally, for Patrons only, sneak peeks to upcoming sketch card sets are posted.
Just a few favorites:
Here is where many of my commissioned art cards are posted (but not all, there are so many): www.rabidhorse.com
Being a full-time illustrator (and author) has essentially made me my own boss. Being your own boss has its ups and downs, as most people surely know in this day and age. In my life, I’ve had two main careers: groom and horse trainer, and Illustrator, for a couple of years at the same time. For the latter part of my time working with horses, I was pretty much my own boss as well, counting three, four, sometimes five clients/stables simultaneously, but usually just two. Inevitably, boredom sets in and one looks for ways to make the job more interesting or to improve one’s skills, because there is ALWAYS room for improvement.
Intermittently – when starting out in the working world, I had a few “regular” jobs: worked nights in a bank sorting cheques (paid well), did some time working in a framing shop (that was cool), washed dishes (hated that job), was an ESL teacher (terribly stressful), and gave riding lessons. Every single job taught me something (Joy dishwashing liquid does NOT make your hands softer!), but the most important thing they taught me was this: most run-of-the-mill jobs do not let you, and often don’t even encourage you, to grow… To move forward and ask questions, change your mind about things or reaffirm something you have learned. Time moves on without you and suddenly there is no more time for questions.
Being your own boss is undoubtedly the scariest job there is – except for being a parent – from the point of view of job security, because of course there are jobs MUCH more frightening, in a life-threatening way. However, there is one thing that makes up for all that. If you have a question about something, or develop an interest in a new way of doing your job, or you feel you want to explore deeper something you are currently doing, by golly there’s a darn good chance your boss will let you.
So where is this post going? Nowhere in particular, except to say that today, no matter what your job is – a “regular” job or a self-employed one – think of something about the job you’re doing that you’d like to learn more about. Go with it. It might lead you somewhere interesting!
Drawn and Divided (D and D)
D and D is a project I started on my own in 2014, drawing and sketching places I've been, drawing in the car or while waiting for people, or just because. Many of them became watercolor pieces.
But there are times when months go by before I can continue, because of other projects - projects that I care about deeply, but keep me from working on this one, and people who have seen these pieces - both online and in my local area - truly seem to enjoy the results from D and D, so with your help I can continue... And the best part? Patrons will receive prints in various formats, original art, and more as time goes on.
For one small dollar a month (or $3, $5, $7 or more), you can become a Patron of D and D, and over time create a collection of high-quality prints (and original art, if you wish), become part of this project to produce sketches and artwork from my travels both near and far. If you are liking my work, becoming a Patron helps me continue this project, permits me to devote time to it and purchase supplies for it and in return, Patrons will always get these pieces (either originals or prints) for free or at greatly reduced prices. At different levels, there will be collections of these pieces in the forms of cards, frame-able prints, and usable greeting cards. For higher level Patrons, originals will be offered as well, for those interested.
You are able to refuse at any time either temporarily or permanently. But know that your Patronage is essential and ALWAYS appreciated and acknowledged!
Find happenings here:
Instagram (but be warned: I post a lot of daschund pictures there!)
April 2017 update
April saw the creation of new pieces: an 8x10 and a few personal sketch/art cards.
These PSCs are my way of trying to improve my skills – basic drawing techniques always need to be worked on, and my paint application skills are far from reliable. Doing watercolors and sketches for my Drawn and Divided project on Patreon, is really and truly helping me continue the learning process, and have a pretty good time while doing it.
So the personal cards are actually a series in their own right, from the beginning of Lord of the Rings, and from The Force Awakens on because last year marked my 10 year anniversary having sketch card be a part of my job (but I had no time to do anything about it.
My brain is also trying to percolate some ideas for another book, but I can't decide yet whether to base this one on fiction or as an art book. Or both? Perhaps a cocktail blend.
Mmmm... cocktails... 🙂
Sixteen years ago, a few friends and I decided to meet to see a movie. The Fellowship of the Ring was newly released and had good reviews. I vaguely remember reading it some time ago, but I didn't recall much.
At the end, when Frodo and Sam looked out to Mount Doom, with Mordor in the distance, and the credits started to roll, I was incredulous! How could they just end it there!? I had no idea that the story was to continue. The Lord of the Rings was the first series of movies that I had personally seen that left me hanging as to what was going to happen.
I adored the film and I was relieved to learn that it was only one of three planned chapters, and sad to learn that I would have to wait a whole year for that second installment. It was that waiting that motivated me to re-read the books, and once I had done that, search other ways to satisfy my new love of the Tolkien world.
I have always been a collector of sorts. I find it a gratifying hobby. I used to love & collect Star Trek: TNG and while it was fun, I ran out of space to store/display it all. I soon discovered trading cards; both inexpensive and small enough that you could easily find a way to store and/or display them. Which is what I turned to in order to help fulfill my love of LOTR, particularly while I waited for the next movie to be released. It was shortly after the Return of the King had been finished in the theatres that I discovered Topps was releasing a card set that included "sketch cards."
The idea of an original, hand drawn, rare card was exciting, and I found myself on a Topp's forum board excitedly anticipating the new set. I met one fellow collector there who seemed to share not only a love of LOTR, but also a passion for art depicting the images from the movies! I only learned years later that this collector that loved the sketch cards as much as I, would become one of the artists on The Two Towers and The Return of the King sets; Len Bellinger.
I followed Len and another collector, Raymond, to the Scoundrel forums, and a whole other world opened up for me. Artists and collectors gathered here, and at the time, it was a crazy-busy place. You just couldn't get enough of it all and there was always entertaining discussions. It was wonderful to actually meet some of the artists and get different perspectives about the collecting world.
Although I don't visit The Scoundrel forum much anymore, some of my closest friends online I met because of LOTR and sketch cards, and have endured to this day. One such artist is Soni Alcorn-Hender, and her work dominates my collection:
In this time, I also saw some sketch cards evolve from a simple sketch to intricately detailed and fully coloured art masterpieces. It really amazes me to this day the amount of dynamics & personality that can fit into these tiny canvasses. I can say that I have never tired of these tiny art pieces. Trading card and sketch card collecting is a world of its own and can be so rewarding in the enduring friendships and shared passions of one another.
I would like to thank Chris for creating the Scoundrel board, Jeannette for asking me to write this, Soni and Len, my favourite artists of LOTR, and those of you who have shared the love of LOTR and ardor of sketch card collecting with me over the years; Jackie, Leah, Sean, Ingrid, Ken, Raymond, et.al
Show cased artists:
Sean Pence, Leah Mangue, Ingrid Hardy, Brent Engstrom, Dennis Budd, Cynthia Narcisi (Cummens), Tony Perna, Killian Plunkett, Cat Staggs, Jerry Vanderstelt, & Clay McCormack.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was directly responsible for setting me back onto the path of photorealistic drawing.
You see, I first learned this style from a local teacher back in 1997 and did it for a couple of years. I started drawing when I was very young and remember drawing anything I could. I always preferred to draw off of reference and, thus, saved scrap images of things or even paused video games to draw what was on the screen. I have fond memories of drawing many different characters from Batman to Star Trek to The Lion King. My parents recognized the natural talent and heard about a local artist who was teaching students in her studio on Saturday mornings. It was there, where I was first introduced to the photo-realistic stlye. Lee Hammond was a great teacher and passed her knowledge and skills onto Nathen and I. While there, we continued to draw much of the same Star Trek characters and other favorites- but in a much better quality and likeness than we were accustomed to. We picked up things pretty quickly and were very proud of the art we were making. Due to her career taking off, Lee had to stop teaching and we both stopped drawing. I'm not sure why, but I guess we became so comfortable in the studio, that we didn't think we could do the same thing at home.
Cut to December 2001 when Fellowship came out. We didn't have much experience in Middle Earth, only a small introduction by way of reading The Hobbit. The trailers certainly piqued our interest and we went to see the film. We weren't entirely sure what we were watching just yet, but once it ended I knew I wanted more. In the year leading up to The Two Towers, I read the Trilogy and really began to fall in love with the world. I mentioned, previously, that we liked to draw favorite characters and Aragorn quickly became my favorite. While reading The Return of the King, I kept seeing the cover photo with Aragorn and it renewed my artistic interest. I decided to pick up the pencil again and start down the road that would eventualy lead to Crytpozoic's sketch cards.
The LOTR Trilogy took me into a far deeper level of interest than I had been before with any property. The characters were so well written and acted. The music and emotion were so moving to experience. The character relationships and the sheer grand scale of the story were unlike anthing I had seen. The attention to detail and clear love and passion for the story from all involved was very apparent in the quality of the production. At the time, we had both decided that we were going to go into the visual effects industry, and Weta's work was nothing short of spectacular. All of the things added up to a welling of inspiration to make a full return to drawing. Nathen began drawing Aragorn and Ringwraith drawings in the year leading up to Return of the King and I, weirdly, drew Wolverine (X2 came out right around then as well). I'm not quite sure how it worked that LOTR inspired other artwork at the same time, but it did. I was happy enough with the Aragorn I had drawn from the book cover, but I knew I could do better. I think I really wanted to build up my skills again and practice quite a bit before I fully tackled another LOTR drawing. I just respected the characters and the work too much to risk messing anything up.
That time, and the years following, was also when we were first introduced to sketch cards. Our favorite artist on the LOTR set, by far, was Andrew Fry. His work was amazing and so perfectly captured the feel of the movies- and he seemed to pump them out like crazy! We both thought it would be really neat to get into those sets but it seemed like a dream out of reach. A few years later, we met someone who put us in touch with Topps and they offered us work on one of their Star Wars sets. We couldn't believe it! It wasn't long before we were offered (and accepted) roughly one set of cards per year for the next 3-4 years. As you know, we ended up getting to do LOTR cards after all, and what an honor that was. We were, of course, secretly hoping that Cryptozoic was going to do an anniversary set that we could jump on but alas...We have since done our own LOTR personal sketch cards and larger drawings but would really like to do more. There are just so many different characters to draw these days- both for personal art and for prints to be sold at conventions.
These movies will remain a constant source of inspiration and reference to draw from and I'm really excited to see what drawings will happen in the coming years. You can certainly bet that this amazing website and the artists featured here will have a hand in that inspriration too.
One of the most often heard phrases any collector will experience is, “Why do you want to waste your money on that!”. Which no doubt is a fair question, but then it’s also something that one can apply to just about anything.
In the realm of what is considered high-end movie based collectibles, why would you ‘waste’ your money on the various types of prop replica’s? For well over a decade the most pervasive collectible for those wanting a piece of their favourite pop culture has been the limited edition resin based statue. Be it at 1/6th or 1/4th scale or mixing in environments, busts, plaques or some other variation on the product lines, these are always a snapshot of a character, a location or a moment in film/TV that reminds you of what caught your interest or sparked your imagination in the world those characters inhabit. For some a static pose is just a little too ‘stiff’, which is where the high-end posable figures come in, but yet again we are still talking 1/6th scale for the most part.
What this all leads to is being able to look at or hold a representation of a much loved character, but people aren’t 30cm tall, so while it sparks the memory, it’s just not the same as actually being there.
It’s here that prop replica’s slice out a very special niche. Not only do they fulfil the above sensations but they provide that extra quality of being ‘real’. Short of meeting the actor and giving them a big hug (which may or may not be appreciated) there’s no other way to get your hands onto the real character. There are of course a few ‘life size’ statues that one can buy, giving you somewhat of that ‘real’ character feel. Being full size and costing thousands of dollars however tends to put these out of reach of most collectors. However, with prop replica’s you can for example wield the characters sword, which for all intents and purposes is no different then what the actor was using on screen.
This is the magic that prop replicas have, allowing you to hold and even pretend that you have the real item, as if it actually is from Middle Earth and found at some archaeological dig in eastern Europe. As real world objects, the range of items that one could have an interest in or attachment to is usually varied by anyone’s personal taste. In some case’s there is enough common interest in certain items that major collectible manufactures will license and produce a range of limited replicas. Chances are one of the first thoughts for a prop replica is weapons. Be it swords from Middle Earth or lightsabre hilts from Star Wars, there has been plenty of opportunities for budding Gandalf’s or Skywalker’s to bust out some moves.
Yet weapons are but a single area of prop replicas, with everything from vambrace’s to complete outfits for one’s collection or a spot of cosplay, the range of clothing type items can be rather extensive. Once pass that, you then have jewellery (in various options from rings to necklaces, to chains and pendants), along with what can be best described overall as paper products. This encompasses such objects as maps, books, letters, invites, drawings, signs and at a push, print reproductions of paintings. Finally, there’s what can likely be best described as ‘objects’. This tends to pull together what are usually everyday items, but that in the film have a special significance or design or plot/story purpose that can making owning one for yourself much more desirable. This can be anything from keys, coins, buttons or a badge, too more common everyday items such as cutlery and crockery or just one of a hundred specific prop items that was seen on screen.
The more one considers what could be a prop replica the more choices start to appear. Take for example the chainmaille keyring from Weta, a small and very cheap item and yet not only does it serve as a prop replica, it’s a little piece of actual movie production. The included chainmaille is exactly the same as what was made by Weta and used on set, being small plastic rings that was light and easy to work with, compared to actual metal based chainmaille. As a single prop replica (which is also surprisingly fun to ‘play with’), it demonstrates the options one can consider for a saleable item.
Needless to say, once interest gets down to that general prop item level, the possibilities almost start to become overwhelming. In a few cases there may be a stand out item or two that companies think will have enough general interest to warrant the time and expense of licensing, producing, manufacturing, packaging and selling to the public. However, in many cases and for various reasons it may just not be worth it to take the risk in the hope that enough will sell to break even or make a profit. This does of course leave a problem… what if it happens to be an item that you really want a prop replica of? Well, in many ways, that’s where things start to get even more interesting, as the only two options left are to either make it yourself or head down the road of private commissions.
Just because there may not be enough commercial interest to produce and sell an item, doesn’t mean there aren’t enough dedicated fans out there willing to step up and fill the void. Besides, as anyone will tell you, if a fan wants something bad enough, they will find a way to get it.
In future articles, we will explore some of the various types of licensed replicas and take a journey down the road of ‘fan made’ items, looking at just how far some people will go and what’s involved in getting produced even a ‘simple’ item for one’s collection.
by MirachRavaia on DeviantArt
from 'Talks with Tolkien Artists' ✦
Excerpt from 28 October 2015 interview
Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
I'm Soni (pronounced 'sunny'), an English artist/ illustrator/ idiot. I graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in illustration, and now live and work in Portugal. It's warm, which is nice.
When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave on you?
I had the Hobbit read to me by my mum when I was about four, and I've had excellent nightmares about wolves at the bottom of trees ever since, thank you Professor Tolkien. Then I got impatient and tried to read Lord of the Rings by myself, but the book weighed more than I did, and I could barely lift it let alone understand it. It wasn't until I was about eleven that I was able to read, understand, (and carry) LotR properly. I still have that copy, even though the binding has disintegrated, a huge paperback with Ralph Bakshi's 'Black Riders' on the cover.
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?
After the movies came out it was actually my job to draw them. I worked for Lord of the Rings (for Topps) and then The Hobbit (for Cryptozoic Entertainment) on trading card sets where they specifically wanted recognisable actor likenesses.
I have a great affection for those films as Tolkien-ish creations, but I don't view them as definitive adaptations, nor consider their characters as the definitive versions either. But I think the films got many things right: the costumes and details were wonderful, the armour and weapons glorious, and many of the sets looked authentic and lovingly made. I couldn't imagine a more fitting Meduseld for example; and their Bag-end is probably perfect.
I would like to build on the previous question, as you have both movie and book inspired art in your gallery. How do you feel about the difference in depicting the actors as their characters, and inventing faces for the characters that has not been depicted in any movie? Which is more difficult, and which is more enjoyable to you?
It can be easier to draw the movie versions because several design choices are already made (face, costume, setting, etc.) and you can spend more time on composition or experimenting with media; it's a good drawing exercise. And sometimes it's just nice to draw the recognisable version so that someone might say 'I AM AWARE OF WHO THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE. I ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. IT IS SATISFACTORY. HAVE A BISCUIT.'
But there's more pressure to be accurate to your sources with movie stuff; fans are eagle-eyed and notice everything, they know how their movie version is supposed to look and notice if you get details wrong.
But if you design your own characters, then you are master of your own details, master of the characters themselves, master of the Universe! There's a lot of research homework to do, and many more decisions to be made, and invariably someone will get annoyed with you for not depicting what they imagined; but when you finally see the character coming to life from your head in paint and colour, and (if) you get it right, it's as magical and joyous as childbirth. Maybe. I don't know, I just have cats.
Your recent illustrations focus on the relationship of Melkor and Sauron. What is your opinion on their evil and motives, topics that are not addressed in much depth in the books, but seem to be fascinating to many authors?
People are fascinated by character arcs, whether it's a painful rise to glory or a monumental fall from grace. In Sauron's early days when he was still 'Mairon', he was just a quick-tempered artistic type who believed his ideas were tremendous and that people just needed a little nudge to realise it. I can sort of empathise with that. *cough* His shift of allegiance to Melkor sparks debate and raises interesting questions, and some questions are best answered the long way: with paint. And tea. And sleeplessness, and a lot of re-drawing, and some swearing.
The 'Seduction of Sauron' (in the Tolkien sense of the word rather than anything more hormonal) was part of a series for an exhibition on evil things. I wanted to pick key moments from Sauron's life, and found myself gravitating towards his varied (and invariably disastrous) one-to-one interactions with other people. I only had time to do three paintings (including Melkor and Celebrimbor), but really there was potential for dozens of them, including his history with Galadriel, Gil-galad, Gollum, the Nazgûl, the entire species of Orc, and several hundred characters from the Silmarillion. Then I could just call the series 'It Didn't End Well'. Or 'Why I Unfriended the Dark Lord'.
Can you tell us more about the Tolkien art show this work took place in?
It was an exhibition in Sheffield (England) called 'Evil in the Shining Light', a multimedia Tolkien art show by a collection of international artists, and curated by artist John Cockshaw. I made the Sauron pieces particularly for the show in response to the title, as he seems the perfect candidate for something bright and evil. They were also shown at Oxford University for the annual Tolkien Society gathering and exhibition.
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?
I can't remember ever not drawing, and now it's my job 7 days a week. But it's a privilege to do something I enjoy for a living, so I don't mind not having days off, or going outside, or seeing sunlight, or people.
I've drawn trading cards for licensed projects (like LotR, Star Wars, and recently the TV show Penny Dreadful); and illustrations for a variety of books; exhibited in various places; and designed the perfect underground bunker for when I inevitably become a villain.
Who or what influenced your style?
An abbreviated list would be..Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Golden Age of illustration (1980-1920s) in general; antique stained glass windows; Medieval Russian icon painting, Viktor Vasnetsov; Byzantine mosaics, and Greek sculpture from the Hellenic period.
I liked art nouveau too, but I think it's been done enough already, and feel a bit over-saturated with Mucha and Klimt reproductions.
How do you choose which scenes and characters to illustrate?
When I'm reading a book and get to a bit that makes my eyes go big and round, that's usually when I'll grope around for a pen to scribble or sketch ideas down. Now I have a long list of things to get to draw. It's all the fault of authors for writing such interesting things.
What other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create fan-art, and why?
'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell', by Susanna Clarke. I adore the book (especially in audiobook format, it's exquisite), and the BBC TV adaptation is delicious too. A lot of things from that time period (early 1800's) inspire me, including the Battle of Waterloo itself.
I also love European fairy-tales which I like to make lavish, brooding and a bit sexy; and Greek myths. There's a wealth of prettiness to be plundered there.
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 experiment on an almost daily basis, because I'm always unsatisfied with what I've done and know it could be better. Though that means I'm often slower than a tractor full of slugs to get work finished, because if left to my own devices I'll keep 'improving' it. The media I use most though is acrylic paints, coupled with everything shiny. Almost all the glitter and gold paint presently existing in Portugal is in my studio. And my rugs.
Could you give a link or thumbnail from your gallery of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?
I usually like the last difficult thing I did, so at the moment it's the Sauron and Melkor piece mentioned above, but I'm also very fond of this Frodo & Sam scene exhibited at the same show:
- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?
Raven King John Uskglass, from Strange and Norrell.
For the full interview: ✦
There were times when I feared at my age I would not live long enough to witness the completion of this website. Yes, it has been under construction for more years than I care to recall. But now that it is finally being officially launched for all to see and enjoy, I have been asked to write a few words regarding my own personal journey into the world of sketch card collecting. Before I do that, I have a confession to make. To this very day I have never read a single word of any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. This might seem highly improbable given the fact that the last fifteen years of my life have been devoted to somehow acquiring every possible art object in anyway connected with Tolkien’s Middle-earth and his epic tale of The Lord of the Rings. You may be wondering then just what it was that could have stoked such an interest in me for Tolkien’s Middle-earth and his tale of The Lord of the Rings. Well the answer is really quite simple. One would need to look no further than the Peter Jackson film trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Yes, it was these three films which provided my very first exposure to Tolkien’s world and his epic saga. The marvelous characters in these films and the films’ monumental portrayal of the eternal battle between good and evil captivated me in both my mind and spirit. Following my viewing of these three films, my entire life was about to take a direction I could never have anticipated in my wildest dreams.
Between the years 2001 and 2004, the Topps Trading Card Company would release a total of seven trading card sets, all related to the release of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. My only prior experience with trading cards had been the Topps baseball cards that I had collected as a youngster. Somehow to my regret and thanks to my mother, these baseball cards would find their way into the trash at some point in time. If this all sounds familiar, it should because it is what happened to the baseball card collections of most youngsters in those days. I was first attracted to the Topps LOTR sets because they offered me an opportunity to collect a series of cast member Autograph Cards from the Peter Jackson films. A selection of Memorabilia Costume Cards would also be offered in a few of these initial seven LOTR card sets. Somehow acquiring all these Autograph and Memorabilia Costume Cards from the films became the central focus of my very existence. Why you might ask did I feel so compelled to acquire all these Autograph and Costume Cards? The only way I can explain this is that acquiring these cards somehow brought me a little bit closer to the world of Middle-earth and to all my beloved characters from the films. I am sure others might say I had simply lost my mind especially in view of what all these Autograph and Costume cards cost me. I think I will stick with my own explanation if it’s all the same to you.
The Topps Trading Card Company would not release another LOTR related trading card set until 2006. That is the year they released their Lord of the Rings Evolution set and for the very first time Artist Sketch Cards as well as Memorabilia Costume Cards could be found amongst the cards in this set. As with the previous seven Topps LOTR sets, I quickly acquired the seven Memorabilia Costume Cards available in this Evolution release. Initially, I had no desire whatsoever to augment my collecting activities to include the Artist Sketch Cards available in this Evolution set. I had never had any prior experience with Artist Sketch Cards and with the funds I had already committed to Autograph and Costume cards previously, I just felt they would be a luxury I simply couldn’t afford.
Around this same time in 2006, Topps had a forum on their own website where collectors were free to discuss just about anything related to their Topps collecting activities. Included in this forum was a section devoted to the Topps LOTR releases. It wasn’t long before I found myself following what collectors were posting regarding Topps most current LOTR release – the Evolution set. There were some very interesting and heated discussions regarding the quality of the Artist Sketch Cards that were included in the Evolution release. One collector in particular really grabbed my attention. He posted under the moniker of “ocdlotr”. His knowledge of and passion for all art and for LOTR art in particular really impressed me. While other collectors were complaining about the poor quality of the work some of the artists contributed to the Evolution set, “ocdlotr” tried to convey his belief to these critics that beauty could be found in even the most simple of line drawings. I admired his character, integrity and courage in standing up to these harsh critics and before I knew it I was posting my own comments in support of his positions. In a relatively short period of time, “ocdlotr” was able to somehow transfer his love and passion for these Evolution Artist Sketch Cards to me and I began to see them in a very different light. I can’t remember when it was that I finally decided to begin collecting these Artist Sketch Cards but it certainly wasn’t long after my encounter with “ocdlotr” on the Topps forum. I would later learn that “ocdlotr’s” real name was Len Bellinger. Yes, Len Bellinger the artist who would later go on to contribute his own art for Topps on their Lord of the Rings Masterpieces I and II releases. And though I have never met him in person, I would follow this gentleman into the very heart of Mordor if he asked me to. A more noble, gentler or kinder soul ever existed and it has been a privilege for me to call him my friend for the past ten years!
Being late to the party for the Evolution release, I realized it would have been all but impossible for me to put together a Master Set of sketch cards by every artist who had contributed art for the Evolution set. I therefore decided to collect a limited number of sketch cards from a few artists whose art held a special appeal for me. Among those artists I decided upon were Randy Martinez,Cat Staggs, Cynthia Cummens, Russ Walks, Allison Sohn, Brian Rood, Gabriel Hernandez, Tom Mandrake, John McCrae, Tom Hodges, Paul Gutierrez, Davide Fabbri, Joseph Booth and Justin Chung. My Evolution sketch card collection was not large by any stretch of the imagination but it did contain many high quality and desirable cards. Unfortunately, practically all of these Evolution Artist Sketch Cards had to be sold after the loss of my job back in the Great Recession of 2008. Parting with these cards and with many more from the LOTR Masterpieces I and II releases was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life and still haunts me to this very day. I was able to retain this Evolution aftermarket Fellowship Set by Randy Martinez and it is one of my most beloved prized possessions:
Len Bellinger (“ocdlotr”) disappeared from the collector’s LOTR forums on the Topps website at some point in early 2006. I tracked him down again and continued to follow his posts on the Scoundrel Art Community Forums beginning in March of 2006. I became a member on Scoundrel in August of 2006 and began posting in my own collection thread entitled “Ken’s LOTR & Hobbit Collection”, which now details my sketch card collecting activities over the past ten years. Amazingly, this collection thread now spans 53 pages and has been viewed over 67,000 times.
In late 2006, Topps would release its Lord of the Rings Masterpieces I set. I remember the fun we collectors experienced every time we uncovered an Artist Sketch Card while busting a pack of cards. Finishing this ritual of pack busting, we all couldn’t wait to post our treasures on Scoundrel. Several of us would undertake the task of assembling Master Sets which would include an Artist Sketch Card from every Artist contracted by Topps to work on this set. This drive to put together Master Sets would touch off fierce bidding wars on Ebay between elite collectors intent on securing the cards by Artists they still needed to complete their Master Sets. Amazingly, these Ebay bidding competitions though spirited never seemed to turn bitter or ugly. A genuine camaraderie seemed to develop among those participating in these bidding wars on Ebay and it was not uncommon for the winning bidder to receive the praise and admiration of those collectors that were outbid for any particular card. It did indeed seem like we were all pulling for each other to complete the task of assembling our Master Sets. This entire scenario would be repeated again with the release of Topps’ LOTR Masterpieces II set in 2008. I am one of the very few collectors who did accomplish the task of assembling a Master Set of Artist Sketch Cards for both the Topps LOTR Masterpieces I and II releases, an accomplishment I am still very proud of.
I would be amiss if I failed to mention the names of some of my fellow LOTR collectors on Scoundrel whose constant encouragement certainly made my collection tasks a whole lot easier and much more pleasant. So my thanks to you – Len (of course), Jeannette, Ian, Phil, Anne, Holly, David, Jack, Dom, Niall, Chris, Craig, Silke, Tom and so many more whose names have now faded from my memory.. Thank you one and all! And a special note of gratitude to a few of the LOTR artists who I was able to establish a genuine relationship with which went far beyond our business interactions. Among those artists I now consider friends are Rich Salvucci, Andy Fry, Jason Potratz and Jack Hai, Soni Alcorn-Henderson, David Rabbitte, David Desbois, Sarah Silva and, of course, Len Bellinger. The incredible talent of these gifted individuals as well as their boundless generosity of spirit and kindness truly has enriched my life for many years. Here is another striking Fellowship Personal Sketch Card set created by Jason Potratz and Jack Hai which still graces my LOTR collection:
I was asked to write a few words about my collecting activities, which only goes to show you – be careful what you ask for. Yes, I have been known to be longwinded in the past. It’s a product of my Liberal Arts education. I will leave you all with these last few thoughts. They are taken from a post I made on Scoundrel in Holly’s LOTR Collection thread on August 1, 2012. Here is that post:
“Have you ever wondered why we are all so drawn to these tiny yet magnificent pieces of cardboard? One viewing of that last batch of cards just posted by Holly will certainly provide everyone with an excellent clue. It is simply their ability to forever freeze in time a favorite character or scene from the LOTR books and movies and instantly transport us all to another world - the world of Middle Earth, a magical place inhabited by hobbits and wizards, dwarves and elves, orcs and uruk-hai, giants and trolls, mumakils and wargs, ents and eagles, balrogs and fellbeasts, ringwraiths and the dead, goblins and giant spiders, and men. These wonderful cards also indelibly etch into our individual and collective memories all the stunning and unforgettable images of the scenic locations where the LOTR saga unfolded - the Shire, Hobbiton, Bag End, Buckleberry Ferry, the Prancing Pony, Weathertop, Rivendell, the Pass at Caradhras, the Hollin Gate, the Mines of Moria, Balin's Tomb, Dwarrowdelf, the Bridge at Khazad-dum, Fangorn Forrest, Lothlorien, Caras Galadon, the River Anduin, Amon Hen, the Argonath, Isengard, the Tower of Orthanc, Rohan, Edoras, The Golden Hall, Helm's Deep, the Hornburg, the Dead Marshes, Gondor, the Beacons of Gondor, Minas Tirith, The Citadel, The White Tree, Osgiliath, the Paths of the Dead, Pelennor Fields, Mordor, Barad-dur, the Black Gate, Cirith Ungol Tower, Minas Morgul, Shelob's Lair, Mt. Doom, and Grey Havens.”
It really doesn’t seem possible these cardboard canvasses measuring only 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches should have such incredible powers but like Middle-earth itself, they are indeed magical!