LOTR Arts reviews, experiences, insights on The Lord of the Rings,
Articles from LOTR artists & collectors added each month.
Officially licensed replicas are all well and good for the big ticket items that can be mass produced (in either limited numbers or as open editions), but what happens if there’s a specific item that you really want that the license holder doesn’t think is viable to produce? One could always wait it out and see if a commercial release happens or even contact a company that currently sells a range of licensed items and suggest what you would like to see released.
There is an off chance that the wish may come true and in fact it has happened in the past. When the Sideshow/Weta range of 1/6th scale statues came to an end, for many one main character that remained missing was Faramir and so at the time a custom commission sculpt was made and sold to around 30-40 people. Years later when Weta got the 1/6th scale statue license back a forum poll was started to ask people what they wanted to see most. Right at the top of the list was Faramir and Weta listened, even to the point that as it was being sculpted with the hood up over his head a second poll between hood up or down was very much in favour of the hood being down. Once again, Weta listened and the final statue did indeed ship with the hood down.
In many ways it was the ‘custom’ statues, in the form of garage kits (so named as these were often produced by individual fans, in the backyard shed and sold as unassembled and unpainted resin kits) that grew into the officially licensed business of collectible statues. While much the same could be said for prop replicas, if one want any such reproduction to be as close as possible to the real thing, then custom ‘home made’ creations become somewhat more difficult. Unlike any given statue, which involves sculpting the master and then creating moulds for all the resin production parts. Any prop replica is usually made out of metal, wood, fabrics/textiles, paper, gems and glass all of which require different skills and equipment in order to create the final object.
Nevertheless, this did not stop some from dreaming big and with the release of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy there was one very special item that had a few people wondering just how far you could push the idea of a custom replica. Near the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, we see Bilbo writing down his experiences travelling to Erebor and back again. In time, Frodo too would record his quest to destroy the One Ring in the same book. Ultimately, this manuscript would come to be known as the Red Book of Westmarch and form the basis of the books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Hand inked, with numerous maps and illustrations and bound in red-leather, only a few pages would be seen in the movie and as a prop, only around 20 complete pages were ever made. But what if a full complete replica could be made, containing the whole story of both Bilbo’s and Frodo’s adventures as told and experienced by them? Crazy idea right… at the very least, it would require completely ‘re-writing’ the Tolkien text as if it was experienced and written in first person, basically as a journal from a Hobbits point of view.
Yet back in 2004, on a LOTR based forum, an individual by the name of Alan using the avatar tag of ‘ob1al’, proposed to do just that and was meet with overwhelming support for the idea. However, re-working the whole text was only half the challenge, in order to create an authentic replica, one still needed skills in calligraphy, illustration and leather working. As it turned out, Alan contacted a master artisan in New Zealand by the name of Indy, who not only had a deep interest in prop replicas, but at the time was also thinking about recreating the Red Book.
For more than year, Alan plus a couple of other people worked on reverse-engineering the books back in to a chronicle of the same events, people, places and emotions as experienced by the Hobbits. At the same time, as chapters were finalised, Indy was crafting each page of the supplied text (using a unique hand writing style for both Bilbo and Frodo) along with any appropriate maps and illustrations. In time, including some of the more complex pages taking 2-3 hours to complete, a full Red Book of some 300 single sided pages was done.
Then these master pages were printed on a heavy parchment type paper and individually aged by hand. After which all pages are then stitched bound and wrapped in an embossed genuine leather cover, resulting in arguably the most ‘precious’ Middle-Earth artefact one could own, a complete Red Book of Westmarch.
Outside of the original order group back in the mid 2000’s, Indy does from time to time and when not busy with other work, make a few more Red Books each year. I was not part of the original group or forum and in fact did not start collecting at all till early 2007, when I joined another forum, the old Shadow and Flame. It was there that someone made us aware of the Red Book project and worked on another group order. When they just stopped posting for some reason, I ended up taking over and communicating with Indy for the group as we arranged to purchase our own copies of the Red Book. I received mine around July 2009….but the journey didn’t end there.
On top of the polystone statues, prop replicas was starting to become a bigger interest, around a certain theme and display idea, with the Red Book shaping up to be the centre piece. I had already purchased licensed replicas of some jewellery items, such as Aragorn’s Ring of Barahir, along with Arwen Evenstar’s Pendant and Galadriel’s Phial that she gave to Frodo. Plus the One Ring, which I would later replace with a more authentic version made by the actual jeweller which made the ones used in the film. All of these items are commercial products and fitted together well, but still lacked a bit of that direct connection to the Red Book. On looking at the films, the solution was obvious and sitting right on the drawing table… Bilbo’s Inkwell.
Purchasing a licensed product was not an option, I looked and no one made an Inkwell. Even checking around for a source of already custom made Inkwells proved to be fruitless. While it did confirm that the idea was not anything new, the original group that produced the Red Book had the same idea and found someone to make a short run of Inkwells (which was not Indy, while he is skilled in many crafts, glass blowing isn’t one of them). As this was now a number of years later, any Inkwells had long since sold and general discussions ended. So if I wanted an Inkwell, I would have to make one myself, which was a problem, since I had no idea how to make glass objects either.
I floated the idea on the Shadow and Flame forum at the time, just to see if anyone else would be interested and I got around half a dozen or so that would like an Inkwell to go with their Red Book. But as always, it would depend on the quality of the item and of course the final price. With that in mind and some reference photo’s I headed into a local crafts type business that was known to me, were a whole group of artists get together to make and sell a wide range of products that have a bit more of the personal touch compared to mass produced items.
I already knew that glass works was one of the things they did, but as it turned out that was mostly done on a bit large scale then what I had in mind. Rather than hand making just a few Inkwells, their solution was to create a mould and then produce the Inkwells from that. While this would have resulted in a more consistent shape/size for each Inkwell, the initial setup cost, along with then each individual Inkwell, made any final cost too much for just a few to be made. This would have been the type of solution one would use if the goal was to make say 400 unique wine glasses for a top end restaurant, not 10 Inkwells for a bunch of ‘strange’ collectors.
The search therefore continued for a glass blower, with a preference of at least being in Australia (where I live) so that if a local pickup wasn’t an option, the postage wouldn’t be too much. It would have been a little silly and added more cost if the Inkwells ended up being made overseas, shipped to me in bulk, where I then had to ship just about all of them back overseas to each individual collector. As it turned out, I did managed to find an interstate glass blower who could take on the job at a cost that was reasonably acceptable to all those interested.
This then started a series of emails, including an overall description of the Inkwell and image from the movie. A few factors made getting an ‘exact’ match to the movie somewhat difficult. First of course was the fact it was only seen on screen briefly, from one angle. At the very least that angle was mostly in profile, so that did help.
In addition I also draw up a simple outline image to help guide the glass blower based on the initial sample they produced. Another fact that was very much guess work, was what size to actually make it. Which included a forum discussion about if it should be hobbit size or ‘normal’ size.
In the end, we went with normal size given that the Red Book replica was also much more normal human size (basically oversize A4, which would seem to be too big if an actual Hobbit had written it). With overall general agreement reached, the glass blower then made up a total of 12 bottles, all of which had some variation in size and shape due to the very individual handmade process. While the size didn’t vary that much, the shape in a couple of cases did. In the end I took 9 of them that I felt was the closest match to the movie version. One was for me and the other 8 for the forum members that wanted one.
The other variable in the production, which in some ways turned out to be more extreme then the shape, was the colour. Ideally each Inkwell would match the light-ish red colour as seen in the movie and while the same amount of additive was used during the production process, the final range of colours turned out to be much broader than expected. While partly dependent of the amount of light shining through the Inkwells, they ranged from a very light red, to a light-medium brown, all the way to an almost brown-black colour. In the end, this was just the nature of hand-made glass (or more likely random impurities in the colour additive that the glassblower had no control over), making each one unique in its own way and ultimately everyone was happy with the Inkwell they received.
As always happens with any ‘limited’ type production, I soon started getting messages from people wanting to know if there was any Inkwells still available. There wasn’t, since I only took what was needed for the initial interest. However the requests for more kept coming, so in the end a second round was ordered from the glassblower. Production was somewhat smoother and faster this time, having worked things out previously but there was still the basic variation due to the hand-made process.
I never did a third round, it was a fair bit of work to manage payments, all the hand packaging of bubble-wrap/peanuts and paper to make sure that something made of glass arrives unbroken to various locations all over the world, while at the same time not really making any money out of the whole process.
While my collecting was starting to slow down as the Hobbit movies were released, a couple of items still caught my eye. Like many, first was no doubt all the gold coins that Smaug was ‘keeping safe’ inside Erebor. This turned out easy to get, as a few people starting making and selling them over ebay and the like, till of course Weta ended up producing and selling an official set of the coins.
The other item that caught my eye was Beorn’s chess set and the single Hedgehog Pawn piece that we see Bilbo had ‘borrowed’ and stored, along with Sting and various other items from his adventure, in a chest at Bagend.
This time I very much doubted that Weta would release such an item and initially no one else had that I could find. So I started making some local enquires, thinking that maybe I could find a local woodworker that could carve one based on a few reference photo’s I could find. As it turned out, this ended up being somewhat harder and more expensive then I had first considered. As such I put the idea on hold for a bit of time but it turned out I wasn’t the only one who thought it would make a good collectible. While reading over the forums one day, I came across a sculptor that had already made the Pawn piece in resin and painted to look like wood. So in the end, that was easy, I just ordered one to add to my collection and I was done………
All of those gold coins looked great and I bought around 8 (2 sets of the 4 different coins) from Weta, but they posed a bit of a display problem. While one could just ‘scatter’ them around, it really didn’t look right. It got me thinking that these are really dwarf coins, currency that likely would have been used daily in transactions between Erebor and the City of Dale and maybe by dwarfs all across Middle-Earth. As such it stands to reason that any self-respecting dwarf would use some sort of coin pouch to carry his or hers gold coins. There wasn’t anything obvious like this that appeared in the films or was clearly visible, however Weta are known for considering every detail, so it was possible such an item was considered and even made, regardless of if it appeared on screen.
For The Hobbit, Weta produced a whole series of detailed art books: The Hobbit Chronicles covering the design process for all 3 films. While reading each book, I was on a constant look out for a possible dwarven coin pouch, and then I found one…. sort of.
There was this single small image of what looked very much like a pouch used to hold coins, only it was labelled “Bofur’s tobacco pouch”.
With further searching not providing any other suitable alternatives, I decided that the ‘tobacco pouch’ would make a very fine coin pouch. My next problem was of course finding someone that could make a leather item with the look and feel of Middle-Earth and that I could afford. It turned out that was the easy part, as I knew a certain New Zealand artist that did a lot of leather work and had a keen interest in Middle-Earth props. When I contacted Indy about the project, he was indeed keen to take on the job and at a very reasonable price for the final product. The only ‘catch’, he was very busy with other work (which is nothing unusual, he’s always busy), so it maybe some time before he could make a start.
From memory, it ended up being about a year before he could take a shot at making the pouch. The first go was pretty good, but there was a few minor issues that Indy wasn’t totally happy with and so after making some adjustments, he produced another. I did make a forum thread about it at the time, but not really sure just how much interest or orders Indy had in the end. Even so, I was very happy with the final result and it fits in perfectly with the rest of my prop replicas.
Dealing with the creation of custom replicas at various levels was an interesting experience and over the course of time they all proceeded fairly smoothly. As such, it’s possible I slipped into a false sense of security and thought that all custom/commissioned projects would go just as smoothly. Turned out I was wrong…. But that’s a whole other story.
From another collector’s viewpoint based in the UK……….
Take a step back in time….. circa 2001 – From Cate Blanchett’s opening words, ‘The World is changed …………… ‘ I was captivated to the point of obsession. Yes we have all heard of Bilbo Baggins and JRR Tolkien. But I was never book-learned. The only book I ever read was John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids which I had to do for ‘O’ Level English Literature – I just never had the patience for all that text. I sort of cheated afterwards and bought the audiobooks and the excellent BBC dramatisations.
Looking back now it’s difficult to envisage what a profound effect Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring would have and still has on so many people. I grew up a fan of Science Fiction / Classic Horror fan – Star Wars, Close Encounters…., Planet of the Apes, The Invaders, The Devil Rides Out, The Omen etc.. The Lord of the Rings however fascinated and engaged me on a whole new level. From day one I was engrossed with the storytelling, the characters, the languages, the whole Tolkien World, I knew there was time worth spending here….
I’ve always been a collector of one thing or another, Marvel and DC comics, stamps, music cds and memorabilia, magazines and football cards. LOTR collectables gave the chance to enhance the passion and fill a void. It all started with polystone Sideshow Weta statues, busts and environments, then Decipher CCG trading cards. Then pieces from the Noble Collection and United Cutlery.
Keenly followed on by Topps trading cards – Yeah autographs – How cool were these I thought? – Signed on card by the all the main actors from the films. What is unusual on the first trading card set is that Topps managed to get all of the main stars to sign. The nine Fellowship members plus Cate, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Ian Holm. I had to track them all down. I was truly hooked!
There was however a twist. I later discovered not only was the Merry card inserted into ‘Retail’ only boxes, the rumour goes that only a small proportion of the cards made into boxes as they were signed in the pub by Dominic Monaghan, allegedly some were lost or defaced, making them an extremely rare pull. The inserted signatures were also quite inconsistent. Suffice to say I ending up paying a small fortune to secure the Master set and a card I was happy with – The card remains a very expensive purchase to this day.
Further card sets followed on for through to 2005. Regular followed by update sets just to make sure the cobwebs never form in deep wallets. The last a rather nice ‘Trilogy’ set with an exquisite base set. The only drama I can remember following the Merry card was the clamber to obtain a Peter Jackson autograph from the ROTK Update. Not Merry proportions but a very expensive card nevertheless. So that was it for card collecting after six sets. Or at least that’s what I thought. Which bring us nicely on to ………………………. sketchcards.
Mid 2006 I got a call out of the blue from Richard of Card Vault fame. ‘Have you seen the new Lord of the Rings Evolution set with sketchcards?’ Despite Richard’s obvious enthusiasm and sales-pitch I was quite dismissive – I wasn’t convinced. What can sketches add to the collection I asked myself? No cases for me then.
Then much later on I came across them on Ebay. Some of them were good, some really, really good ……. and expensive. Could I have got this all wrong? Obviously my conclusion was I had but I’d already missed the boat. There I was scouring the Topps boards trying to find out information. Reading engaging entries from collectors such as ocdlotr – some of those stories have been duplicated on the Scoundrel Forums if you want to find them. I managed to secure one case and selected cards from the secondary market. Rafael Kayanan and Cat Staggs dominated the high prices on this set but most cards were already tucked away in huge collections.
But late to the party could have been a blessing financially with the next release late 2006 – LOTR Masterpieces 1. And I was ready ………….. the fun was about to start.
I remember there being quite a lot of hype surrounding the set. Artists proudly displaying their best cards previewed on MarleyEds emerging website Scoundrel Arts. Discussions as to what are considered the best and favourite sketchcards. The set contained many new emerging artists eager to promote and please. Everyone was starting feel the buzz. I ordered eight cases to break which I thought was a huge investment considering its very much a role of the dice. Four from Card Vault and another four from a dealer in the USA I had bought from before to secure full sets of LOTR CCG cards – Bushkill Cards and Games. I remember them arriving more or less together. I opened Richard’s cases first. Opening each case by opening all eight boxes & spreading all of the packets n block on a tray. Sixteen sketches to come, or so the odds said.
Bingo! – First case soon reveals the most amazing card ever! The centerpiece of Kayanan’s one of one artwork that was used to make the foil sets inserted into packs. The Gandalf piece with Saruman alongside. It couldn’t get better than this.
But I was to carry on pulling amazing cards by The Master Len Bellinger, Sean Pence, Steven Miller, James Hodgkins etc. The next four cases revealed more stellar cards, two full colour sketches by Cat Staggs, beautiful cards by Jerry Vanderstelt, Patrick Hamill, Colleen Doran and Allison Sohn etc.
Wow, but what other cards to add? Hundreds of cards on ebay. Artist Return cards to track down. The Bank balance to think about – But OCD had well and truly kicked in by now. Thought I’d try to add a few returns from my favourite artists including an incredible card by Cat Staggs of Aragorn at the Gates of Moria. Made it matter of priority to collect further characters by Cat, Len, Sean and Allison in the secondary market.
This was also the season of the Memorabilia Show and Collectormania. I remember getting to NEC on one Saturday morning early and picking up a few cards including an amazing mounted Arwen card by Allison Sohn and another few cases to break when arriving home. This was at a time when Dealers pitched up with all their wares. Richard of Card Vault, Dave & Mike, Derek, Anthony, Steve, Chris, Rich with Cards etc – The scene was an extremely vibrant, civilised and exciting place to be.
I broke the cases that evening and pulled half of a diptych by Len Bellinger – Boromir and Lurtz. But…. I remembered seeing the other half at the show. Next morning raced back to Birmingham to acquire the other half and luckily the card was not sold – A deal was done with Richard.
One show Richard also had a beautiful card by Jerry Vanderstelt to show people – Arwen return that looked airbrushed but in the collection of private collector and not for sale – Still one of the best cards I have seen to date. He also organised a meet up with other like-minded UK collectors to share some their collections with each other. Happy days were these!
The secondary market at the time was ultra-competitive and International. I referred to it as the Ebay wars. I remember bidding on numerous cards only to end being sniped or outbid during the night as the majority of auctions tended to be USA based. But bear in mind the exchange rate was $2 to th £1 which was a great help in those early days. It took me about six attempts to win a Pence Legolas and the prices were ever increasing.
Also, you got to know who you were losing to as winning identities were then clear to see. I can’t say I never had a chunter to myself but this was about collecting passion and obsession. Some of these bidders I couldn’t compete with – I knew I had to show discipline……..
Early 2008 bought the eagerly anticipated release of LOTR Masterpieces 2. After the quick sell out of M1 this was going to be bigger, much bigger with over 100 artists contracted – The format however was the same – Two sketches per box – Sixteen per case. I had pre-ordered ten cases and couldn’t wait. Looking at the early breaks posted it I was starting to worry – Certain artists contracted for thousands of cards of poor quality, duplicated over and over in the same break. A definite case ‘like butter scraped over too much bread’. Flippers and Dealers starting to vent about losing money. Still, for the collector there were great cards on ebay to be plundered and lots of surprises. The previews had been far less revealing than M1 so listings and breaks were fresh and eagerly anticipated.
I had decided to concentrate on some of newer artists this time – Soni Alcorn-Hender had been wowing the Tolkien collector for some time with her amazing free-hand personal sketches, Mark McHaley’s amazing pencilling and colouring had come onto the radar and Ingrid Hardy’s landscapes also appealed to me a lot. Lots of great new art to feed the need.
When I eventually got to break my cases, including some more loose boxes acquired at the next Memorabilia show, the pulls were actually much better than expected. No Bellingers, Pences, Staggs or one-of-ones this time, but three cards by Soni, multiple cards by Dennis Budd both full colour and sepia, great cards by Clay McCormack, Wayne Lo, Jeff Carlisle, Irma Ahmed and Mark McHaley plus other nice cards.
Also secured some beautiful cards direct from Cat Staggs and Allison Sohn and some other beautiful return cards by David Rabbitte, Soni, Irma Ahmed, Grant Gould, Joe Corroney, Rich Molinelli, Nick Neocleous and Dennis Budd from other collectors and dealers.
Over the years its always been a target to complete Master Sets for all of the LOTR releases, then upgrading and adding to my favourite artists. The fixation has never ended for me although the aura surrounding sketchcards has dwindled since the 2010’s. Some collectors have left the hobby and some are just quite happy to sit on and enjoy their collections. Which leads me on to 2014 and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey.
I was somewhat grateful for the lull in card sets as it gave me the chance to return to Sideshow Weta and pick up pieces I had neglected the first time around. Also chance to pick up some great new releases from Weta. Minas Tirith and Barad Dur environments come to mind. I’d also observed an upturn in the interest in LOTR and a few new and obsessive collectors joining the ranks. Scoundrel’s traffic was starting to increase again and for the first time I’d started observing Blowout’s message board. Contrary to many I actually liked The Unexpected Journey film a lot and was looking forward to breaking new product. Cryptozoic had taken the contract on and the reviews were excellent and all the main cast had signed except those we already had from LOTR, so I was happy – Except this time only three sketches in a twelve box case – And they were much more expensive – In fact double the price. Taking this into account I ordered four cases.
I was especially looking forward to cards from UK artists Andrew Fry and Carolyn Edwards who I already had a deep admiration for. Plus class act Soni was signed on for her second Tolkien set. Alas this was her one and only Hobbit set due to other commitments.
In honesty the AUJ sketches I pulled were overall disappointing with the exception of a fantastic card by Soni of Balin riding out from Hobbiton. On the flip side I pulled a complete set of autographs with plenty extras with trade value and a three autograph redemption card which I traded rather quickly for a fantastic Sean Pence Thorin Oakenshield.
The next set in the series in early 2015, The Desolation of Smaug followed far too quickly for my liking. I had been given the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy and took it gratefully as I’d become disillusioned with the job anyway. The natural reaction is to pull up the drawbridge and I sort of did this. I thought the film was a big step down on AUJ – Far too much Hollywood and gimmickry for my liking.
Still managed to secure four cases but the sketch pulls were again overall disappointing. I even had to use extras to make up the autograph Master Set. Not that I was lucky enough to pull any, but Cryptozoic added some rare 1/25 Illustration autographs all drawn by John Haun – Very nice touch. One noted pull was a beautiful full colour Bilbo by Gavin Hunt.
About this time I decided to trade off a few of my LOTR sketches to put together a modest set of Hobbit sketches. Inevitably, I do miss some of the old cards but never mind, the LOTR Master sets are preserved and without trading with some very honest and enthusiastic collectors my Hobbit collection would not have been possible.
Truth is I still don’t have the will power to resist nice cards when offered them or see them on ebay. I managed to find a good selection of Hobbit cards from some of my new found favourites – James Henry Smith, Mike James, Bob Stevlic and Marcia Dye amongst others.
The final set in the series – The Battle of the Five Armies – Came out in 2016. This was a great set on many fronts – We got Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans and Peter Jackson for the first time, and I was to pull multiples of them from my four cases! Disappointed we didn’t get Cumberbatch or The Big Yin but you can’t have everything. There was again six rare 1/25 illustration design autographs which I believe are from Alan Lee – Easily my favourite autos from all of the sets. The Ian Holm autograph was also a very short run and now very difficult to track down.
The sketches were also a little more widespread, a minimum of four cards per case and revealed my best pulls of the series – An amazing card by new artist to me Helga Wojik – Bard facing Smaug, Thorin by David Debois, Bofur by Rich Salvucci and Thranduil by Scott Houseman amongst the highlights. Must say on the whole Cryptozoic have done a great job on the Hobbit but the artists – Even better – Great bodies of work from the majority. Kudos to everyone.
But the luck on BotFA didn’t end there. Those who frequent the Blowout Forums will know about the Group Case Breaks from various products by ifish73. I was late to the breaks and had had a go previously without much success. I bought four of the twenty-seven slots in the final case of BotFA and to my surprise won the first pick in the draft – Then amazingly one of the four R13 redemptions which are booklets with the autographs of all thirteen dwarves was pulled – The rest they say is history!
So to date…. Well if you’re like me and you like structure you will always be looking to add cards to meet certain collecting goals. That’s why there’s always one more card ……….whether we will see another Tolkien set though remains to be seen but I think if Cryptozoic were up for an all encompassing set covering the six films, this would be great. I have a feeling however we will be waiting for the new TV series.
Good to see Weta still producing new LOTR products but how those prices have risen – And with VAT now added for European buyers, its a case of just buying the must haves which is a shame…. Just checking out the new SDCC reveals from Weta. Two standouts, an amazing 1/6 Treebeard with Merry and Pippin on branches, also Arwen and Frodo on Asfaloth. Probably out of range for most collectors but incredible additions for those that can endure.
My name is Bruce Gerlach and I am a freelance illustrator and sculptor. Always involved in the arts in some capacity throughout my adult life, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I took the plunge and became an artist full-time and I have been making a go of it since. I have been lucky enough to have worked on some fun and interesting jobs in my career, including t-shirt designs, murals, cartoons, sketch cards, book illustrations, greeting cards, storyboards and logo designs. I have also had paintings, drawings and sculptures exhibited in shows and galleries here across the US and also in Iceland, Australia, and Italy. My cartoons have been selected for International exhibitions all over the world, including a one man show in Croatia. I’m sure it wasn’t much of a thing, but it’s a good conversation piece.
So, on to all things Lord of the Rings. My very ﬁrst sketch card set was the Lord of the Rings Masterpieces II set released by Topps some time ago. I had originally signed up for 400 cards, but ended up over the next few months doing a total of 700 cards. Since this was my ﬁrst time doing anything like this, I really had no idea just how to approach them, so I thought to do a variety of mediums, including pencil, colored pencil and ink. As I fumbled about trying to ﬁnd something that could unify all my cards together, I ended up with some that I really was happy with and some that I was not so happy with.
Well what a journey it’s been. Since first seeing Sideshow Weta’s Sauron statue over 10 years ago to today. My journey and search for the 36 has been amazing.
For those who are not aware of the statue or my quest, I am searching to find the location of all 36 WETA Gandalf the Grey bronze statues.
The ‘Gandalf the Grey bronze’ is a wonderfully expressive piece of art depicting Gandalf at battle with the Balrog. All of the power and majesty of the wizard is on full display in this expertly sculpted piece by Gary Hunt. At over 24″ in height the bronze sculpture is an impressive piece. Cast in the traditional lost-wax process, each piece is individually crafted to the highest standards by experienced bronze craftsmen. Gandalf’s cloak has a special acid washed patina that gives the piece a unique but subtle shading. The statue is engraved with its edition number as well as the signature of the sculptor. Each piece is mounted on a solid marble base that raises its overall height to 27″. The edition size is limited to only 36 pieces with 4 artist proofs.
How it all began
The 36, Where are you? (reproduced from a WETA newsletter)
To be able to fully explain this quest I need to go back to the start which was sitting in a local cinema, I can’t remember what the film was, but just before the film started the Fellowship of the Ring trailer started.
I can only describe my reaction to this as the same sensation you would feel having ice cold water thrown over your face, I was breathless, my heart was racing and my eyes were popping out of my head. For years I had had conversations with friends about films we would love to be made and here was one of them.
When I came out of the cinema I remember calling a friend to talk to them about the trailer rather than the film. The trailer had hooked me in and all of my feelings were captured by the iconic moment when Gandalf confronted the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dûm. That iconic image is the first thing I think of whenever I see or hear anything related to the Lord of the Rings, Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal of this character just resonates with me and is maybe why I am drawn so much to this statue.
The films came and I soon became the proud owner of the box sets and watched the films over and over again, I was at university so I had a lot of spare time!
Collecting The Lord of the Rings
It wasn’t until a few years later that I became aware of the amazing collectibles Weta made, and it was not long until I started my collection. The first statue I saw and owned was Sauron, an amazing piece of art, and this led me to look at all the collectibles that had been made. I was amazed but also disappointed that everything had sold out, I had missed the boat, but I started to collect picking up the odd piece here and there, each time being blown away at the quality of each piece.
Then came the image of Gandalf the Grey Bronze, I had not seen this before but I can clearly remember being mesmerised by it and quickly searching for more images and information, I need to buy this I thought, as it re-created the same excitement I felt seeing that trailer for the first time.
I am not a fan that knows all the stats and facts, nor one that has to have a complete set (though that would be nice), but this I had to have. The statue I saw was for sale but was no where near affordable for me so I thought in a few years maybe, little did I know.
Well a few years passed and as time went on so did the statues value and availability, so I started to save for when the day came another popped up. But life being life meant the pot always got raided for one thing or another that was thrown my way. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never own one, with a young family I could never justify the expense, but I would love to just see it, up close, even just for a minute so I could fully appreciate how wonderful it is. Absorb the colours and shape from all angles not to mention its size, as it is a lot bigger than I first thought.
I remember watching Sir Ian on the Jonathan Ross show where they talked about it, and how number 1 was in his garden being, “weathered by the British weather.” So number 1 is in London, it got me thinking ‘where are the others?’ so I started to search for where the others were.
The Shadow and Flame
The search was slow at first until it led me to The Shadow and Flame (S&F), which can only be described as an extension of Weta; as many artists and members of the Weta team contribute to the forum, but it also engenders the Weta family ethos.
I was quickly made to feel welcome and began to really learn a great deal from real experts and collectors. Within a year I had found 13 plus a couple of artist proofs. My quest, Weta and the S&F was a great escape, allowing my mind to forget the stresses of everyday life, and I was really looking forward to the Hobbit and the collectibles which will surely follow.
My quest continues, but each one becomes harder to find and I doubt I will ever find them all, but I will not stop trying to. My dream of seeing one up close will I hope, one day happen, and if I win the Lotto then yes I would love to own one.
Call for help in the search
The iconic image of this statue represents everything I feel about Lord of the Rings, and now Weta and the wonderful art they produce. It truly is an amazing statue and that is just what I can see from photos. Lots of collectors have their favourite and quest to find their grail, I think that is what makes collecting so much fun and I am fortunate to be part of a community at the S&F where I can share this passion with really amazing collectors, be in contact with Weta who are simply mind-blowingly cool, warm and friendly. I cannot speak highly enough of the help and support they give on a regular basis, so thank you Weta.
If you know of any of the 36 please let me know – you can find me on The Shadow and Flame!
Original WETA pricing structure:
01 to 09 – $4,995 USD
10 to 18 – $5,495 USD
19 to 27 – $5,995 USD
28 to 36 – $6,495 USD
The search continues: lots of happenings
While my search began on the Shadow and Flame forum, unfortunately this forum ‘disappeared’ with many years of collecting chat, information and pictures. However, a new forum was created to continue the passion of many, the Flame of Udûn: https://www.flameofudun.net/
My best friend who was taking a trip to NZ was invited to the WETA Cave and was lucky enough to see the board room version of the bronze. Tim and Magnus were amazing and my friend even got to meet Tania Rogers and hold an Oscar or two.
I have driven the length of my country to simply see one (no.33) and met a fellow flamer who also had one (no.3).
The journey has meant I made lots of discoveries about this amazing sculpture, the sword up sword down saga (discussed by Gavin Hunt in the interview below), the various bases for prototypes and the list goes on.
#7: moved from Austria to USA in August 2017
I have interacted with so many people, even contacting the construction firm who created a collectors amazing hobbit hole which houses the most amazing collection. You can find it on YouTube, but you cannot see the number. After hours of research and the kind help of the construction firm who contacted the owner on my behalf, I discovered the number!
Over the years they have been some bronze statues placed on eBay and I have tried to keep track of where they end up.
One collector had a statue in a lock-up in Australia and I was about to find out the number when the old forum went down and we lost contact. I hope one day he will remake contact as I know there is bound to be a collector is Oz wanting one.
There was even a time when I was contacted by a disgruntled marital partner who wanted to know about the cost of her husband’s collections and bronze for their divorce. A very awkward situation which I found hard to be involved in, I was impartial though hoping the collector kept his collection.
I still can’t believe one of the 36 was raffled off!
My most important find was to know that no.1 owned by Sir Ian was not now in his garden in London but in his pub, The Grapes in London, for all to see. I was contacted by a colleague of his who said I could send a message to Sir Ian and I don’t think I even checked what I had written through over excitement, though this is how I made the discovery about no.1! Unfortunately each time I have gone to make the trip to see it in person, life has got in the way. My dream of meeting Sir Ian and seeing the statue still exists. I was unlucky to miss Sir Ian when he was filming Sherlock a few years ago. He was five minutes up the road but my daughter who was only little at the time was very poorly and needed to be in bed.
Interview with Gary Hunt
For further insights and different perspectives particularly into David’s career with Star Wars, read Galactic Binder interview at:
A star of the Weta Workshop cosmos for over sixteen years. Hailing from Somerset, England, Gary’s first brush with the Workshop came in 2001, seven months after his arrival in New Zealand (after working at the art department on The Lord of the Rings) creating many of the iconic WETA creatures and characters.
I was particularly fortunate to interview Gary Hunt, and gain some insight into
and photos of prototypes and production.
Inside Gary Hunt’s studio
Q1. How did you get the opportunity to sculpt the bronze? Were you asked or did you ask to do it?
Yeah Richard asked me to sculpt the bronze, I think he was quite impressed with my previous sculpts and wanted a Dynamic piece.
Q2. What inspired you to sculpt it in this pose?
Well I think Richard wanted it to be the “you shall not pass” moment from the film but we decided to add the Cloak as it would add dynamism with it swirling around him.
Q3. How does this compare to other pieces you have made?
Bronzes often have a looser expressive feel to them and don’t dwell on the tiny details and fabric textures. I hadn’t really done any “fine art” so had to find a new style which was actually very difficult for me.
Q4. What was the process to get to final product? Were there lots of sketches, prototypes etc?
Actually I think there was only one small plasticine sketch which sold to Richard, he’d also played out a few of the moves in the sculpting room and I spent some time with Ben Hawker. He dressed up in Gandalf’s costume and on a windy day, stood on a picnic bench on the roof decking. The purpose of which was to capture the movement of his cloak. This was before we had a digital camera in the workshop so results weren’t that great, even if we had capture the cloak I added a lot of artistic licence and it stumped me for quite a while. I even lay for hours underneath my bedroom curtains watching them blow in the wind to get an idea as to how fabric move in such a situation.
I had sculpted Sir Ian’s likeness using stills from the film but was lucky enough to be there late one night when he came in to look at the Gandalf the White statue I had just finished… He posed and we got some close-ups of his face especially his mouth which was a great help.
Q5. How did you feel about having to change the sword arm position?
Well I had no idea the sword hand position had changed until it was released… to be honest I was quite annoyed. I can fully understand that it was for safety reasons (they didn’t want anyone to poke their eyes out on the sword tip) but the hand was welded into the sleeve in the new position, Ok it looks pretty good from the front but from the side it looks like he has a broken arm, it just doesn’t quite work, wish I could have modified the sculpt before they decided to make the change, I think it was an American decision, avoiding lawsuits from blind customers!
I have one and intended to split the sword hand and weld it in the original position, something I still have to do! The original is in the Weta Conference room so I see this regularly.
Original to changed pose
Q6. Being more than 10 years old now, how should owners care for their bronze?
Sorry I don’t actually know the answer to that question. Mine has been kept indoors so hasn’t changed since the day I got it but if it were kept outside who knows?
It would age I’m sure but each would probably have to be taken on an individual basis, I can forward photos to the bronze caster here if anyone needs help? I prefer my bronzes without the blue oxidization that can occur.
Q7. If you could do another bronze for LOTR or the Hobbit, what would it be?
Hmm not sure. The Balrog? I’ve always wanted to depict the moment Boromir is on his knees waiting for Lurtz to deliver the final arrow. Not sure if that’s a good choice for a bronze but maybe a polystone collectible, I should bring it up again with Richard as that’s the first sculpt he agreed to let me do when I met him at the LOTR wrap party 3 weeks before I started working at the Workshop ( I’d been working at Stone St 3ft6)… Smaug? Actually I know what I would love to do, the two demonic statues that I sculpted in polystyrene for the set of Minus Morgul, I’d love a set of them on my shelves….yes!
Where the 36 are located
Prototype Weta New Zealand
AP 1 Peter Jackson? NZ: Should make him a bronze for bringing us LOTR
AP 2 WETA New Zealand (sold on trade me)
AP 3 Richard Taylor? New Zealand. thank you for Weta!
AP 4 New Zealand ?
0 Weta’s boardroom (Prototype)
1 Sir Gandalf in his Pub the Grapes.
2 Peter Jackson NZ
10 USA (in a hole in the ground)
17 listed on eBay Germany
18 listed on eBay Germany
19 UK LCTOYS
25 Australia: was listed on eBay in July 2017 for $25,000
33 UK now Germany (sold in 2014): had photos in new home but lost when the forum went down.
36 Arlington Tennessee USA
Of late the trail has gone cold, with nearly 20 still to find. The 36 is probably more like 40 with a couple of AP’s and variants. I hope Weta will rekindle its bronze statue line. So if you know so any of the 36 please let me know.
More than a decade in the making, LOTR Arts is a fulfilment of a Middle-earth dream to honour JRR Tolkien’s and P Jackson’s Lord of the Rings masterpieces.
Showcasing a diverse collection, ranging from books, replicas, art to authored works, the website was launched on 3 January 2017 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Tolkien’s birth. However, this was not the end of the Middle-earth journey, but a new beginning. This article documents this journey.
In the beginning
The goal was to feature each part of the collection on separate searchable threads with brief introductions explaining the aims and content. Its intent was to be informative and enjoyable.
For sketch cards, which had become the primary focus of the collection, they were searchable by character or artist together with a brief description of each character or of the artist and their style.
Of characters, examples of Éowyn:
Of artists, examples of the artistry of Len Bellinger:
The prime focus for collecting sketches was how they could contribute to the creation of sketch The Fellowship of the Ring sketch storyboard was uploaded with the website, The Two Towers and The Return of the King storyboards were posted in the following two months.
An example from FOTR storyboard: a sketch sequence of Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog:
Further, through fortunate circumstances of being in contact with renowned artists enabled the collecting of some unique and exceptional larger art.
For book and replicas, which had been stored away, ‘stock’ photos were used, except for the image of Tolkien’s actual signature in a copy of The Two Towers:
Actual photos of books and replicas as displayed in the collection room will be posted in 2018.
Apart for displaying the collection, the website was intended to be a platform for providing information on experiences of collectors and artists. My sincere thanks go to all those who have contributed in this way, especially to Ken Ditrich, friend and sketch guru.
In addition, the website linked to a fan-fiction fantasy The Ring of Light (inspired by The Lord of the Rings), and announced the existence of another unpublished novel: The Synergy of Being.
Milestone responses from others
To the creation of the site:
‘Congratulations on this remarkable and stunning achievement!’
‘…this is really the most amazing thing i’ve ever seen…’
‘Your site/collection is insane! So much cool stuff.’
‘An amazing collection of art for Middle-earth, from all over this Earth.’
To the reading of The Ring of Light, from Ken:
‘A beautifully written, thoroughly engrossing, enchanted tale of adventure built upon brilliant and tightly woven story lines possessing the power to transport you back to the magical world of Middle-earth….’
‘Having long been a lover of history, I had to often remind myself that “The Ring Of Light” was actually a work of fiction and not historical fact. It does however have an incredible ability to draw a reader into its storylines to such a degree that the reader comes to believe they are witnessing, perhaps even participating in, events that are actually taking place right here and right now. That is indeed quite an extraordinary ability for a work of fiction to possess. It also shines a spotlight on the actions and complex motivations of all the characters appearing within its storylines…’
New website ideas, more features
During 2017, a number of site enhancements were implemented and a number of special new projects were envisaged. Enhancements included streamlined chapter navigation for the storyboards; a ‘New Art’ showcase; the News section incorporated links to articles on Tolkien, Jackson and LOTR from other sites.
In terms of new projects, two sketch journeys were planned:
• one of the iconic locations of Middle-earth, the sketches are loaded from the database, but the appropriate captions for this set need to be adjusted (work in progress)
• one through epic LOTR scenes.
2018 holds-out the potential for further exciting developments, enhanced promotion of the site, and continuing camaraderie of like-minded collectors.
Projects planned for 2018:
• Technical enhancements: the site will be configured for phones and tablets.
• Creation of YouTube videos of the three storyboards.
• A promotion campaign to better publicise the site, eg posting on Sketch Collectors.com, and for The Ring of Light on a select number of fan-fiction sites.
An interview with David Rabbitte on his art influences and Middle-earth journey
David Rabbitte, concept artist, illustrator and animator, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and lived in the U.S. until his parents decided to move the family back to their roots in Ireland when he was eight. David lived there for sixteen years for the most part residing in the quiet countryside in County Galway before moving to Dublin in ‘89 to study Graphic Design, Illustration and Animation. After completing art school, David soon landed a job as a background painter at Don Bluth Ireland Ltd animation studio in ’93 working on his first feature The Pebble and the Penguin.
A year later Bluth moved his crew to the U.S. in Phoenix, Arizona where they worked under 20th Century Fox’s new company Fox Animation Studios. It was there that David worked as a background painter and concept artist on features such as Anastasia, Bartok the Magnificent and Titan A.E.
Since then David has continued to work in various studios, most notably Fat Cat Animation on projects such as Fat Albert, Curious George and the award winning short Rindin the Puffer, as well as working in freelance illustration for various well known clients such as Lucasfilm (on numerous Star Wars projects), also Marvel, Byron Preiss Books, Topps, Upper Deck, Inkworks, Sabertooth Games, Decipher, Fantasy Flight Games to name a few.
For further insights and different perspectives particularly into David’s career with Star Wars, read Galactic Binder interview at: Galacticbinder Interview
Of the many sketch cards David has illustrated since 2004, he got to work on several Lord of the Rings sets, including LOTR Evolution, and LOTR Masterpieces series 1 and 2 for Topps, and later The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for Cryptozoic.
“Visiting Middle Earth through the medium of sketch card art was a wonderful experience,” David says. “I had a lot of fun drawing and painting both portraits and scene stills from the films.”
“While I tried to be faithful to capturing key moments which I would hope would be instantly recognizable to LOTR fans, I did also want to add a bit more of a magical touch through color and atmosphere in the painted cards – not just a photographic representation. I did this by using saturated colors – often blues and oranges – along with airbrush and spatter. I start by drawing it out in pencil. I do an overall wash with watercolor as it is easy to establish the colors I want. Then I add gouache and acrylic as those paints are more opaque and the colors are stronger, and they help define the character more. Sometimes I will use some inks for added intensity. I usually then finish off with pencil colors and some airbrush work.
“I use airbrush to smooth out some areas in the art, but to also add some depth, for example I may use it to give a background some distance from the foreground elements, or sometimes do a little overspray to create a backlit effect. For the final touches I add some spatter, which creates an interesting texture to the scene.”
David’s career covers many art forms, with an impressive number of publication credits:
It would not be until the release of the Topps’ LOTR Evolution card set in late February of 2006, that LOTR artist sketch cards would make their very first appearance. I was a bit late hopping aboard the sketch card collecting bandwagon. Up until that point I had only been collecting cast autograph and costume cards from the earlier Topps’ LOTR releases. Over the course of the next 11 years or so, I have managed to put together a rather extensive collection of LOTR sketch cards. This collection now includes Master Sets of artist sketch cards from the three Topps’ LOTR sketch card releases – Evolution, Masterpieces I, and Masterpieces II.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Evolution release was the authorization Topps extended to every artist who had worked on this set to produce Aftermarket cards. For those of you unfamiliar with Aftermarket cards, artists were permitted to accept personal commissions from private collectors to alter/enhance any original drawing or painting they contributed to the official Evolution release. They were even permitted to erase their original work entirely and replace it with a brand new image of a collector’s choosing. The availability of Evolution Aftermarket cards was a boon for both artists and collectors alike. It would provide artists with another source of income above and beyond what they were paid by Topps for their original contributions to the Evolution set. Collectors would be able to commission a favorite character or scene from the LOTR films from any of the Evolution official artists. It was certainly a win-win situation for everybody involved and resulted in some of the finest LOTR art ever to be seen this side of Middle Earth.
Several of the official artists from the Topps LOTR Evolution release would go on to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them by Topps to create Evolution Aftermarket sketch cards. One such artist was a gentleman by the name of Randy Martinez and his Evolution Aftermarket work would exert a profound influence on my own collecting activities for the next 11 years. On April 22, 2006, Randy posted an Aftermarket 9 card Fellowship of the Ring puzzle set he had been commissioned to produce on behalf of a member of the Scoundrel Art Community Forum. It was his very first post in his own ‘Randy Martinez Aftermarket Cards’ thread showcasing his Evolution Aftermarket creations. The link to the image of that 9 card Fellowship set was severed long ago and consequently vanished from Randy’s Aftermarket thread but it remained indelibly etched in my mind. Thanks to the generosity of the actual owner of this 9 card Fellowship set, Scoundrel member ‘pj1216a’, I have been able to recover this missing image and have been granted authority to use it here in this article. And here is that image:
Even now, some 11 years after Randy first posted this image in his ‘Randy Martinez Aftermarket Cards’ thread on Scoundrel, I still find it difficult to come up with enough superlatives to describe this magnificent composition. Each character is a remarkable true to life representation of their counterparts from the Peter Jackson LOTR films. It remains a masterful combination of incredible artistic beauty and powerful emotion. With my very first viewing of this LOTR Fellowship set, I was convinced of the necessity of adding a similar such Fellowship set to my own collection. I was also certain the artist I needed to reach out to to produce such a set was the very same Randy Martinez. So after acquiring 9 of Randy’s original Evolution sketch cards via Ebay purchases, I contacted Randy and inquired if he would have any interest in creating an Evolution Aftermarket Fellowship set on my behalf. He, of course, responded positively and after a price was agreed upon, my commission was placed. That commission, shown immediately below, was received by me on August 7, 2006. The following day I posted it in the ‘Randy Martinez Aftermarket Cards’ thread on Scoundrel with the following comments:
“These little beauties were received yesterday. The colors and details are just unbelievable! The scans really don’t do them justice. It just blows my mind that such beautiful art can be created on such a small medium. The love Randy has for his craft is clearly evident in each and every sketch he has created for me. I am extremely pleased and grateful to him for the time and effort he put into creating these wonderful little art masterpieces. They will always occupy a place of honor among my Lord Of The Rings card collections. Randy has certainly captured the essence of these nine characters. The expression on each of their faces tells it all – A gallant band of companions on a grim quest! What a marvelous collection of Fellowship Nine sketches! I can’t thank you enough Randy – you are indeed an artistic genius!”
The addition of this very first Fellowship set by Randy Martinez to my LOTR sketch card collection somehow ignited in me a desire and determination to acquire additional such Fellowship sets for my collection. The very next Fellowship set added to my collection was completed and posted January 19, 2008 on Scoundrel in my LOTR collection thread entitled, ‘Ken’s LOTR & Hobbit Collection’. This second Fellowship set is composed entirely of unaltered official Topps Masterpieces I LOTR sketch cards by Matthew Goodmanson and was accomplished through a combination of pack busting, Ebay purchases and the generosity of another member (Holly) of the Scoundrel Art Community Forum. The Merry card was the final sketch that completed this Matthew Goodmanson Fellowship set for me. It was most generously made available to me from Holly’s very own outstanding LOTR sketch card collection and without it my Goodmanson Fellowship set might never have been completed. Here is my second LOTR Fellowship set by Matthew Goodmanson:
On April 16, 2010 I posted on Scoundrel that I would be flying to Florida to care for my Mother who was facing open heart surgery. I would not return back home until July 31, 2010. Just prior to leaving for Florida in April, I had made arrangements with Andy Fry to purchase six of his LOTR personal sketch cards listed on Ebay portraying Frodo, Gandalf, Boromir, Sam, Pippin and Legolas from the Fellowship of Nine. Andy was not an official artist for the three Topps LOTR sketch card releases but would later become an official Topps artist for their Hobbit sketch card releases. I had been an admirer and collector of Andy’s superb portraiture art for quite some time. With the acquisition of these six LOTR Fellowship characters, I felt certain it would be quite possible to piece together a complete Fellowship set by Andy either through additional Ebay purchases or through a personal commission. As it turned out, the three Fellowship characters (Aragorn, Gimli and Merry) I needed to complete my Andy Fry LOTR Fellowship set did indeed make an appearance on Ebay in September of 2010. On September 13, 2010, I announced the completion of my Andy Fry Fellowship set in my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel. And here is that Fellowship set, the third such set added to my collection:
My fourth LOTR Fellowship set by Rich Salvucci consists of nine personal sketch cards commissioned over a period of several months. Rich is another superb portraiture artist whose work I have both admired and collected for many years. Like Andy Fry, he was somehow overlooked by Topps when artists were being recruited for their three LOTR sketch card releases. That oversight would be corrected later on when Topps added Rich to their list of official artists for their Hobbit sketch card releases. The dates shown below were the dates on which each of Rich’s Fellowship characters were posted to my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel.
Gandalf, Legolas – August 3, 2012
Aragorn – August 10, 2012
Boromir, Gimli – August 28, 2012
Frodo, Sam – October 3, 2012
Merry, Pippin – February 15, 2013
With the arrival of Rich’s personal sketch cards of Merry and Pippin on February 15, 2013, announcement was posted in my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel of the completion of Rich Salvucci’s LOTR Fellowship set. Here is that set:
The early history of how my fifth LOTR Fellowship set by Howard Shum came to be is somewhat clouded in mystery. I suspect, at some point in time, I realized I had already collected enough of Howard’s Fellowship characters from the Topps Masterpieces I release to justify an attempt to complete a full Masterpieces I Fellowship set. I am pretty confident at the time I came to this realization, my collection of Howard’s Masterpieces I sketch cards included drawings of Gimli, Frodo, Gandalf, and Boromir. I believe Legolas, Merry and Pippin were added into the mix via Ebay purchases. I would announce the acquisition of a Howard Shum Masterpieces I sketch card of Sam on February 15, 2014 in my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel. It was made available for purchase by a fellow Scoundrel member, ‘mf1971999’. The final missing Fellowship character, Aragorn, would also come into my possession thanks to another member of Scoundrel, ‘pj1216a’. On March 1, 2014, I announced the completion of my fifth LOTR Fellowship set by Howard Shum in my collection thread on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum. Here is that fifth LOTR Fellowship set:
I must take this time to acknowledge the assistance I received upon contacting Howard Shum for verification of the identities of his drawings of the following five Fellowship characters – Boromir, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin and Frodo. Howard was just a perfect delight to interact with and even went so far as to gift me his Masterpieces I artist return card of Frodo when I took the time to advise him I had completed his Fellowship set and posted it to my LOTR collection thread on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum. Here is that artist return card of Frodo by Howard Shum:
Upon receiving this card from Howard, I e-mailed this sincere message of gratitude for his overwhelming generosity:
“The card is simply wonderful and really brought a smile to my face when I first laid eyes on it. It certainly captures all the charm, warmth and goodness of Frodo’s character as might have been observed during his happier times in the shire.”
On March 8, I posted these comments on Scoundrel regarding my interaction with Howard and my reception of his Frodo artist return card :
“You can read so many horror stories here on Scoundrel relating to the difficulties some collectors encounter when dealing with a few artists, I just thought it was time for some heart warming good news for a change. Howard could certainly have just ignored my request for his assistance. A few artists here on Scoundrel that I have contacted in the past for assistance have done just that. But that is not who Howard is. I would have been very happy to just receive Howard’s help in confirming the identities of 5 of his Fellowship characters. I had no reason to suspect or believe my interaction with Howard would result in his sending me as a gift one of his artist return cards from the Topp’s LOTR Masterpieces I set. But, that is exactly who Howard is! My sincere thanks to you my friend – your generosity will not be soon forgotten!”
On February 21, 2014, Tim Proctor announced on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum that he would be conducting a sale of full color sketch cards at a cost of $20 per card. Tim was not an official artist for any of the three Topps LOTR sketch card releases but would be contracted by Topps at a later date to submit work for their Hobbit sketch card releases. I immediately recognized this as an wonderful opportunity to add yet another LOTR Fellowship set to my collection. I contacted Tim on March 2, 2014 about the possibility of his accepting a personal commission from me for such a set. He graciously accepted my offer of a personal commission. Tim thought he would be able to complete my commission by sometime in April but unforeseen circumstances pushed back the actual completion date to May 18, 2014. That is the date on which he forwarded to me a scan of the completed Fellowship set. My patience during that short delay was amply rewarded when I first laid eyes on Tim’s completed Fellowship set. Six days later, on May 24th., I announced the arrival of the sixth LOTR Fellowship set added to my collection on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum. Shown below is that sixth LOTR Fellowship set by Tim Proctor.
My seventh LOTR Fellowship Set would be posted In my LOTR collection thread on the Scoundrel Forum a mere 16 days following my posting of Tim Proctor’s set. It came to me from the very talented hands of an artist by the name of Sarah Silva. I was first introduced to Sarah’s incredible art quite by accident one day when I stumbled upon a personal sketch card she had listed on Ebay of the NCIS character ‘Abby Scuito’ as portrayed by Pauley Perrette. A very big fan of this TV character, I purchased Sarah’s ‘Abby Scuito’ portrait on January 17, 2014 and posted it in my collection thread on Scoundrel on January 31, 2014. On March 28, 2014, I purchased two additional ‘Abby Scuito’ personal sketch cards by Sarah Silva once again from Ebay. When I received delivery of these two cards on April 3, 2014, I discovered a third ‘Abby Scuito’ card had been included in the shipping envelope as a gift from Sarah. I posted all four of my ‘Abby Scuito’ personal sketch cards by Sarah to my collection thread on Scoundrel on April 4, 2014. I also announced in that post that Sarah had accepted a personal commission from me for my seventh LOTR Fellowship set. Sarah was just an absolute delight to work with even agreeing to a delayed payment plan which made it possible for me to fit this latest Fellowship set into my monthly budget. The first three Fellowship characters Sarah completed for me– Gandalf, Frodo and Aragorn – were received on May 9, 2014. The remaining six Fellowship characters – Boromr, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Sam and Merry – were received from Sarah on June 9, 2014. The full Fellowship set was posted in my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel on June 9, 2014. Sarah Silva did not work on any of the Topps’ LOTR or Hobbit sketch card releases. Prior to their release, I did try to encourage her to contact Topps about becoming an official artist for the Hobbit sketch card releases. Regrettably, for personal reasons, she declined to do so. In any event, here is my seventh LOTR Fellowship set by Sarah Silva:
The three Fellowship characters shown immediately below were Ebay acquisitions I first posted to my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel back on December 29, 2007. These three personal sketch cards were the work of a dynamic duo of artists by the names of Jason Potratz and Jack Hai. It would not be until November 13, 2015, almost a full eight years later, that I would contact Jason Potratz regarding the possibility of completing a Fellowship set incorporating the Gandalf, Gimli and Boromir cards already in my possession. In his e-mail response to my inquiry dated November 15, 2015, Jason expressed these concerns to me upon agreeing to accept my personal commission to complete a full Fellowship set:
“I’m sure you understand this point, but no artist/s can recreate the exact style they used ten years ago or even one year ago. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and it’s hard to imitate yourself!
We will accept this commission, but I have trouble imagining that we can match the same style and look exactly. At the time when we painted these cards, I had stopped drawing and painting for about 8 years and slowly was getting back into art, Jack had only even been painting for 2 years at that point! He was so poor and always working to support his family, he never had a chance to draw and paint until he was in his early twenties! This is why we worked together quite well.
Either you can send us these 3 cards and we can retouch the cards to match with the other six, plus the three cards have faded to browns since I didn’t use good quality paints back then. Jack recently retouched a oil card he painted around the time of the three cards and it looks so much better, vibrant and alive with 9 more years experience and the better quality paints and brushes to work with, I hope you consider this option and we will retouch them for FREE to match the new 6 cards and we won’t be repainting the cards completely, the quality will still be there.
The other option is to just let us paint 6 new cards and try to match the level of detail ago these three cards (which take a long time to detail), but the richness of the oils and the method we paint will look very different to these cards though we will match the brown faded look of the three cards that make them look like old oil paintings 1-200 years old in my opinion.”
As these three cards were some of my most treasured LOTR sketch cards, it was not an easy decision for me to make to accept the idea of their being altered in any fashion. In the long run however I trusted Jason’s judgment implicitly and decided to send him the Gandalf, Gimli and Boromir cards and have him and Jack Hai begin work on the six remaining characters which would complete my eight Fellowship set. The three cards were mailed to Jason on November 20, 2015.
It was a bit of a wait, but my eight Fellowship set by Jason Potratz & Jack Hai arrived in the mail on March 2, 2016. It was posted in my LOTR collection thread on Scoundrel the following day, March 3, 2016. In all the years I have been collecting the work of these two gentlemen, they have never disappointed me. My earlier concerns turned out to be unfounded as my every expectation was fulfilled once again by these two masters of their craft and I couldn’t be more pleased. Here is my eight LOTR Fellowship set by these two incredible artists:
I suppose it was only a matter of time before I made the leap from collecting LOTR Fellowship sets to collecting Hobbit Dwarf character sets. On hindsight, it now appears to have been a very logical progression in my collecting activities. In any event, my first Hobbit Dwarf character set would be a personal commission I offered to my friend, Rich Salvucci. Rich had created a LOTR Fellowship set for me earlier that I absolutely adored so I was sure he would be the right artist to contact after deciding to collect Hobbit Dwarf sets. Once again, this commission would be spread out over the course of several months to accommodate my income limitations. It would normally consist of a couple of characters each month but, of course, there were months when even that was not possible. Brothers Gloin and Oin were the first two Dwarf characters received from Rich Salvucci and they were posted in my collection thread on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum on March 21, 2013. Brothers Dori, Nori and Ori would follow and be posted in my collection thread on April 12, 2013. Balin would be added to my Rich Salvucci Hobbit Dwarf collection thanks to the generosity of the founder and owner of this wonderful website. He was posted in my collection thread on May 10, 2013. Fili arrived and made his first appearance in my collection thread on May 16, 2013. Dwalin, Bifur and Bombur would not arrive until October 13, 2013 and the final three dwarf characters, Thorin, Bofur and Kili were posted in my collection thread on November 17, 2013. An eight month commission for my first Hobbit Dwarf character set was at last finished and here is that set:
On May 16, 2013, I posted an announcement in my collection thread on Scoundrel of my intention of trying to piece together a Hobbit Dwarf character set by Jason Potratz and Jack Hai after acquiring five of their Hobbit Dwarf personal sketch cards on Ebay. I would contact Jason Potratz on June 10, 2013 to offer him a commission to complete the eight Dwarf characters I still required for a full set of all 13 Dwarfs. An extended pricing arrangement was negotiated and agreed upon to make it easier to fit this commission into my budget. The commission for the missing eight Dwarf characters was completed and scans of these eight characters were forwarded to me by Jason on August 3, 2013. I was absolutely thrilled upon viewing the scans of these eight Dwarf characters but also realized I now had a dilemma on my hands. These eight commissioned cards all were done with the name of each character printed on their card for identification of the character portrayed. Of the five Dwarf characters I had acquired on Ebay (Thorin, Bombur, Bifur, Bofur and Fili ), only two of the cards (Bombur and Thorin) were identified with their names printed on the card. The remaining three cards (Bifur, Bofur and Fili) were unnamed. After several options were discussed between Jason and I as to how to make this a completely matched set of all 13 Dwarfs, an agreement was struck to simply have Jason and Jack supply new cards of the five characters already in my possession. These five new cards would include the names of the characters portrayed. On August 4, 2013, I E-mailed authorization for Jason to proceed with work on the new versions of the five characters already in my possession. The first eight originally commissioned Dwarf characters were received from Jason on August 17, 2013. The additional five Dwarf characters commissioned to complete a matched set were received September 10, 2013. My second Hobbit Dwarf character set was posted in my collection thread on Scoundrel on September 12, 2013. Here is that set:
On February 14, 2015, I posted in my collection thread on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum a scan of a personal sketch card of the Hobbit character Kili by Sarah Silva. Sarah Silva had been responsible for one of my LOTR Fellowship sets so it just seemed like an incredibly good idea to approach her about her willingness to work on a Hobbit Dwarf set on my behalf. As we had done at the time Sarah agreed to do a LOTR Fellowship set for me, pricing and monthly payment arrangements were discussed and agreed upon and my personal commission for 12 Dwarf characters was placed on February 15, 2015. Here is a breakdown of the completions dates for each of those 12 Dwarf characters:
Dori and Ori – both completed in March of 2015
Fili – April 16th.
Bofur – May 4th.
Thorin – May 14th.
Balin. Dwalin, Bombur – June 24th.
Nori – July 17th.
Bifur, Gloin , Oin – August 28th.
I posted an announcement of the completion of my third Hobbit dwarf character set in my collection thread on the Scoundrel Art Community Forum on September 10, 2015. Here is my third Hobbit Dwarf set by Sarah Silva:
So, there you have it – my complete collection of 8 LOTR Fellowship sets and 3 Hobbit Dwarf sets. It was a whole lot of fun acquiring these sets for my LOTR/Hobbit collection over the past 11 years. I have come to think of my acquisition of all these sets in terms of a quest similar to the quests embarked upon by the LOTR Fellowship Nine and the Hobbit 13 Dwarfs. I suspect there remain sets out there still awaiting my attention. I sincerely hope viewing this article has proven to be both interesting and enjoyable. I do know that posting these sets here on this wonderful LOTRArts website has brought me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. The quest continues!
The Middle-earth of Tolkien and Jackson has spawned the passion of LOTR art in all its forms, but where and when was Middle-earth?
The Encyclopedia of Arda (EOA)
a fascinating insight into Tolkien’s world.
The EOA is an online encyclopedia, owned and moderated by Mark Fisher. It has become one of the most popular Tolkien websites – a fascinating scholarly information resource of all things Tolkien.
Map of Middle-earth
For Ancient times and the times of the Elves, see EOA
“Merely from the story of The Lord of the Rings, it’s perhaps not entirely clear where and when the events take place. That’s especially true for those who have come to Tolkien’s work through the movie version, and so don’t have access to the background details in the Prologue and the Appendices. Actually, the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings has some fairly explicit comments to make on the topic:
‘Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed…’
The Lord of the Rings Prologue, 1 Concerning Hobbits
There’s another reference in Appendix D that confirms this idea:
‘…long ago as those times are now reckoned in years and lives of men, they were not very remote according to the memory of the Earth.’
The Lord of the Rings Appendix D, Calendars
These comments (and many others, as we’ll see) make it clear that Middle-earth is actually no more or less than our own Earth, and the story belongs to a time that was certainly long ago, but not unimaginably remote in time.
Despite the change in the shape of the continents, it isn’t hard to locate the action of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien makes this particular clear in a comment in the Prologue to that book:
‘…the regions in which Hobbits then lived were doubtless the same as those in which they still linger: the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea.’
The Lord of the Rings Prologue, 1 Concerning Hobbits
In other words, the Shire and the lands around lay in the same region of the world as modern Europe. As the characters travel south from the northerly latitudes of the Shire, the climate becomes warmer and drier, just as it would for a traveller journeying from (say) Britain to the southern parts of Europe.
Beyond the lands visited by the Hobbits are others, less familiar, to the south and east. It doesn’t take much imagination to identify the mysterious eastern lands of Rhûn with part of Asia, or the hot southern lands of Harad as being part of Africa.
The Americas are a little more difficult to place in Tolkien’s world. Until the Downfall of Númenor at the end of the Second Age, their approximate place in the World was taken up by Aman in the Uttermost West. After the Downfall, though, Aman as taken away from the mortal world, and there are hints about the new geography of the world among the closing lines of Akallabêth:
‘Ilúvatar cast back the Great Seas west of Middle-earth, and the Empty Lands east of it, and new lands and new seas were made…’
The Silmarillion: Akallabêth
The new lands to the west must surely be the Americas. Those in the east are less easy to identify – perhaps these words refer to the emergence of, say, Australia or Japan, though it’s much harder to be sure of Tolkien’s intentions in this area.
Though we can’t fix the dates of Tolkien’s tales to the precise year, it’s clear that he had in mind a time-scheme placing them just a few thousand years ago. The most specific comment he made on the topic comes from Tolkien’s letters:
‘I imagine the gap [between the Fall of Barad-dûr and modern times] to be about 6000 years…’
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 211, dated 1958
This is less definitive than it might appear, because other references hint at slightly longer time-scales, up to about 8,000 years. So, we can’t say exactly how long ago Frodo made his journey into Mordor, but it’s clearly somewhere between about 6,000 and 8,000 years ago.
From Middle-earth to Our Earth
The dating of Tolkien’s world places it just on the fringes of our own prehistory. Historically, 6,000 to 8,000 years ago most of the world was still in the Stone Age, and the shapes of the continents and their shorelines were basically in their modern form – quite different from those shown in Tolkien’s maps.
So, what happened? Such drastic change seems to imply that some great catastrophe overtook the civilizations of Middle-earth before our own era began, but if that was Tolkien’s intention, he does no more than hint at the possibility.
Whatever the cause, at least something of the old world survived into modern times. For instance, it seems clear that Tolkien imagined both Hobbits and Dragons surviving into historical times, and even to modern days (for instance, see the quote above from the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, where he speaks of Hobbits still lingering in the North-West of the Old World. It seems some of the Elves still remain, too, but in quite changed form – for instance, the Third Age is described as the time of:
‘the last of the lingering dominion of visible fully incarnate Elves’
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 131, provisionally dated 1951
By our time the fading of the last Elves east of the Sea is all but complete, but a few still remain, as whispers or echoes of their ancient selves. One race that definitely survived, of course, was Men. The Third Age of the World was also the establishment of the Dominion of Men, and that’s the ultimate bridge between Tolkien’s world and our own.”
The LOTR Middle-earth journey
The extraordinary imagery of Middle-earth drives the passion for Lord of the Rings (LOTR) sketch collecting. Extending the remarkable artistry of the mini-canvas of the standard 2.5 x 3.5 inch sketch card is an artist’s use of multiple cards to add dramatic scope to the depiction of a characterisation or a scene.
These panels extend from two cards to many multiples (three, four, six, twelve cards etc), though the majority LOTR panels are over two cards. Further, the format can vary across portrait and landscape card orientations.
There are many fascinating stories surrounding the creation and collecting/reuniting of these panels.
In terms of the creation of Middle-earth sketches, there are basically three forms of panels.
First, a number of artists participating on an official set used multiple cards for their artist returns (AR). Many artists did ARs over two cards, and a few did so over six, four or three cards, varying in artistic style and card orientation.
Second is where an artist created a scene over multiple cards on an official set and returned each part to the trading card company (eg Topps), which were inserted separately into boxes (potentially to be pulled by collectors from different parts of the world).
The third form relates to a personal sketch cards (PSC) which are specially commissioned from an artist for a multi-card panel of a particular character(s) or scene.
In terms of collecting, there are a number of ways to be able to add these panels to a collection. First, acquiring ARs or PSCs directly from the artist or from another collector who bought them directly from the artist. For those official panels separated and inserted into boxes, finding a piece on eBay, sketch forum or another collector, then personally locating another (on eBay etc) or buying the panel from another collector who found and reunited the panel themselves.
This article will trace the thrill of the search to find and add panels to the LOTR Arts collection.
i. LOTR MII Artist return (AR) panels purchased directly from artist
Through fortunate circumstances and contacts made via the Scoundrel Arts Community forum (Scoundrel), LOTR Arts was able to collect some exceptional AR panels directly from the artist.
Two artists chose to use all their original six AR cards to create remarkable scenes, Jason Phillips (as a matching Fellowship set) and Brent Engstrom.
Three artists are known to have used four of their AR cards to depict a LOTR scene.
In particular, Kevin Doyle’s The Kiss (featured below) and Mark Propst’s composite of characters and LOTR moments – an amalgam of intensely inked characterisations. Mark sold this via an eBay auction, which was fiercely contested.
A few artists chose to use three AR cards to create characterisation panels and action storylines.
Many artists used two AR cards to highlight an epic LOTR scene or portrait characterisations, (in markedly varied artistic styles). The LOTR Arts collection contains twelve such panels.
Kevin Graham created a two-card penetrating portrait of Denthor using a unique pointillism style.
Alex Buechel agreed to capture the moment of Frodo saying: “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” in dramatically poignant photorealism.
ii. Hobbit two-card panel artist proofs (AP) purchased directly from the artist
Panels were generally disallowed by Cryptozoic, however, a few were approved and released. The following examples were commissioned from the artist. The LOTR Arts collection includes five such panels.
iii. AR panels bought from another collector
Panels purchased many years after the release of the sets from another collector who acquired them directly from the artist. The LOTR Arts collection contains seven such panels.
Kevin Doyle used four AR cards to extend the passion of the exquisite expression of the moment The Kiss.
Darla Ecklund chose to use two landscape cards end-to-end to capture the terrifying confrontation between Frodo and the fellbeast/Nazgul.
Alison Sohn very poignant depiction across two cards of Théoden and Éowyn at the “No more despair” moment.
iv. Panel pieces reunited by LOTR Arts
Over the years, pieces of panels appeared on eBay or on Scoundrel, and were purchased for their ‘stand-alone’ artistry with no real expectation of completing the panel.
Then years later, the other/another part appears on eBay or offered for sale by another collector.
For the LOTR Arts collection this has occurred eight times – in one case the circumstances were so remarkable they are given in detail below.
The first piece was bought off eBay.
The other was acquired years later after extensive negotiations with a committed collecting comrade.
Leah Mangue captured the spine-chilling march of the WitchKing’s army leaving Minas Morgul.
The first piece was purchased off eBay.
Then after some time, a trader having seen the eBay sale, contacted me asking if I wanted to purchase the other half.
Jason Potratz & Jack Hai created a spectacular four-card panel of Frodo and The Ring.
In January 2009, a major sketch card trader placed the two left-hand pieces of this four-card panel on eBay as a Buy-It-Now (BIN). The seller had been trying since the release of the MII set to locate the other pieces and had given up and reluctantly decided to sell the two cards.
Despite realising that it would be virtually impossible to find the other pieces of the panel, I decided that the two-card image of Frodo was spectacular in itself, so took the BIN.
Hours after this, another collector contacted the seller, saying they had the card of the hand holding the Ring, asking if he wished to purchase it. The seller agreed to continue with our BIN deal and to broker the sale of this extra card for me.
The seller and I agreed that it would be highly improbable to ever find the final piece, as it had been rumored that there were a huge number of unopened MII boxes; in any case, even if it had been pulled it might take twenty years to locate. Not more than twenty hours later, another collector contacted the seller saying they had the card of Frodo’s arm.
So more than a year after they had been separated, within 24 hours all four pieces had been located, and within a month had been safely reunited in Australia.
v. Sketch panel partly reunited by LOTR Arts
Renae DeLiz’s The Power of the Rings, four-card MI panel depicting the Elves, Dwarves and Kings of Men, the four pieces were separated and pack-inserted in 2006. The LOTR Arts collection contains two such panels.
In 2007, the Kings of Men right-hand card was purchased via an eBay BIN.
Four year later, the Kings of Men left-hand card, appeared on eBay and was acquired after extensive negotiations.
A further five years later, the third piece, the Dwarves and Rings card, appeared on eBay and was purchased via a deal brokered by a trader.
The search continues for the final piece: the Elves and Rings card.
vi. Other incomplete sketch panels
Over years, despite daily searching eBay and Scoundrel, some panel pieces have not been located. LOTR Arts has seven such incomplete panels. Even in this state they are highly prized and treasured, though the search for the missing pieces continue.
Renae DeLiz created a panel of Eowyn’s dream, the magnificent soulful sketch was purchased from a dear collecting friend when he left sketch-collecting.
Ray Dillon created a rampaging cave troll in Moria, the fearsome sketch was purchased from the same friend.
vii. Panels completed by another collector
Over many years, the LOTR Arts collection has been fortunate to be able to acquire panels of pack-inserted sketches reunited by other collectors. The LOTR Arts collection contains twenty such panels.
Kevin Doyle, four-card portrait of Gollum.
Renae DeLiz, Ray Dillon, Brent Engstrom, Kansas triptych of Gollum’s torment.
Gabriel Hernandez, composite Strider/King Elessar.
John Watkins-Chow (unique card orientation), Éomer finding Éowyn on the battlefield (after she vanquished the WitchKing).
The final set of panels are specially commissioned personal sketch panels to capture a unique image not done/doable in this form in an official set and to fill a gap in the sketch storyboards. The LOTR Arts collection contains twenty-eight such panels.
Jason Potratz and Jack Hai depicting the epic battle of the Last Alliance against Sauron.
Composite five and three card panel
Jason Potratz and Jack Hai five-card panel depiction of one perspective of the Unexpectant Party, which they listed for sale as an eBay auction.
Being fortunate to win the five-card panel, I commissioned Jason/Jack to complete the image of the others at the ‘Unexpectant Party’, in a three-card supplementary panel.
Anna Maksimova, the Fellowship entering Galadriel’s hall.
Javier Gonzalez (eight panels), eg the elves to leave on the last White Ship.
ix. The passion
For LOTR Arts sketch collecting, there is a special passion for Middle-earth imagery depicted over multi-card panels, for those completed and where a search continues.
A new panel display feature is being developed for the sketch gallery (scheduled to be completed in November).
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 8×10 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!