Interview with Rob Alexander for the Council of Elrond.
1. would you mind giving me some brief biographical information aboutyourself: date and place of birth, education and career, family etc.
Born in 1966 in a small township in southern Ontario, Canada (not a town somuch as two farm roads that happened to intersect.) I grew up for thefirst 12 years of my life in Ontario, most of it just outside Toronto,relocated to Alberta when I was 12, then moved again to the USA when Imarried in 1989.
Currently, I call Oregon home, and my wife and I have 5 acres of woodland,1 rather large dog (135 lbs.), 2 cats, and a son who is almost 2 years ofage.
As far as art education, I spent 2 years at the art college in Calgary,Alberta, then a year and a half at a non accredited school in Seattle,leaving half way through the second year when I started to get too manyfreelance jobs to be able to be able to keep up with the class assignmentsas well as the paying jobs. That was in early 1991, and I have been afreelance artist ever since.
I have always loved fantasy art, and growing up I was determined to paintbook covers. I have done a number of them, but I have spent the betterpart of the past 10 years doing work on about 8 or 10 collectable cardgames.
2. I only recently found your work (my jaw actually dropped when I first saw it) but I can only find Middle-Earth collectable card images-have you done any other Tolkien illustrations?
The only actual Tolkien work was for the card game. I have been influencedby Tolkien’s work all my life, and it comes out in little ways in virtuallyeverything I paint, but so far, I have only had the one chance to work fromTolkien’s books on the one project.
3. When did you first read the Lord of the Rings and when did you firststart drawing scenes from the books?
Actually, the books were read to me in second grade. At the start of eachday our teacher would read to the class for about 15 to 20 minutes, and shegot through the Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. I then read theother books on my own, although I seem to remember having to ask themeanings of a lot of the words at first, and it probably took all thatsummer after second grade to finish them.
I still own the copy of the Fellowship that was read to us that year. Notsure exactly how I ended up with it, and it’s rather the worse for wear,but still intact for all that.
4. What do you think it is about Tolkien’s works that makes so manyartists want to draw them?
I’d say it’s his ability to create a world as complex and complete as it isaccessible, and to describe it just enough to fire the imagination, but notenough to over define it for us. That’s the reason as well that so manypeople have such a different idea of what the world and characters shouldlook like. Tolkien’s ability to use language to evoke a mood, create asetting, or establish a character, rather than simply describing something,was superb.
Also, for anyone who likes fantasy, magic, elves and wizards, Tolkien’sworld, with it’s complexity, it’s history and language, and it’s subtletyis for many, I think, a world we wished passionately existed. That initself leads me, at least, to paint it, as it brings it to life just alittle bit for the world.
5. Which of you Middle-earth images are your favourites and why?
Not sure if you mean which scenes from the books do I find most appealing,or which of my paintings are my favourites, so I’ll answer both.
Favourite scenes and places. Rivendell. Got to love it, would live thereif I could. As long as I could visit Fangorn. Lothlorien. Anotherfavourite locale. (Can you tell I’m a fan of elves?!)
Favourite scenes – Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge, the Hobbits on theBarrow Downs, the first time the Hobbits enter into Rivendell, the blackriders caught at the ford, and Smaug falling into the waters of the LongLake from the Hobbit.
As to my favourite of my own illustrations, I’d have to go with Elven Cloak,Tharbad, the Wizards Rover Horses, Thranduil’s Halls, the Witch King, andthe White Hand. I feel that these pieces all work as paintings as well ascapturing something of the heart and spirit of the books.
6. I love your style of painting- can you tell me a little bit abouthow the drawings come into being- how the start life etc?
Well, I work in watercolour, for one, and you can thank Alan Lee for that,primarily. I saw his work, loved it, and set about trying to makewatercolour work for me after that. (At the time, I could hardly draw, andwas young and naive enough to think that my drawing errors could becompensated for by painting, as if somehow using colour would mask theerrors in the drawing!) I never really abandoned watercolour, though, andhave done all but a handful of my work in that medium.
So, my painting process in brief. I start from sketches, of course, toexplore ideas, do a photo shoot once I have the idea firmly nailed down,then prepare a final drawing at the size I want to paint it at. This isdone on something other than the watercolour paper, as it’s very hard onthe paper to draw and erase. Once the drawing is completed, I transfer itto the watercolour paper, and begin laying in the initial washes, trying toestablish the mood and feeling of the piece. If I get that right, I justcontinue to paint until I’m done, and if I am unhappy with the initialwashes (which usually take 10 to 30 minutes, total), then I throw it awayand start over. The more a painting progresses, the less water I add tothe paint, and in the end, I do a lot of dry brush work to create thesurface textures in the piece, after which, it’s finally finished.
7. Do you think your work has been influenced by other Tolkien artists,such as John Howe, The brothers Hildebrandt or even Tolkien himself?
Well, definitely Alan Lee, and John’s work has also been inspirationalsince before I was even noting the names of the artists whose work I wasadmiring. Never really cared for the Hildebrandt’s style, and I pretty muchhad my own ideas of what everything should look like from a very early age,so most of my influences were internal, and sprang from the written words.
8. Have you read the other books by Tolkien- which is your favouriteand why?
I still think the Hobbit is a great curl up for an afternoon and have anadventure where you know nothing too terrible is going to happen book.Loved it as a kid, and still enjoy reading it.
9. What have been the influences on your art- including the non-Tolkien work?
Mainly the old dead guys in the museums, primarily the Northern painters,such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, in fact, just about the whole Dutch school.Also very strongly the Academic painters (Tadema, Leighton, Waterhouse),the Hudson River group (Church is one of my absolute heroes) and theportrait genre artists, most notably the Bougereau’s and Sargent.
In terms of those still breathing, I was exposed to a lot of Whelan,Frazetta, and Boris growing up, and I took things away from all three, aswell as the inking of Wrightson and Vess.
Those are my main artistic influences.
10. Which bits of the book did you find it hardest to draw?
Those damn ents. I never did get one that I thought was completely right.
11. What did you think of the film?
I own the DVD. And the extended DVD. I think The Two Towers was the onlyfilm I saw at a theatre last year. I think it fair to say I loved thefilms.
12. And of course most importantly- will we be seeing any more Tolkienillustrations from you in the future?
I sure hope so. Absolutely nothing on the horizon that I know of for me,but I would jump at any chance to work from the books again.
With thanks to Rob Alexander. Edited by k