This is a long expected... no, not party, but interview with one of the first Tolkien artists I got to know on deviantart, who returned after a long hiatus, - peet. I have been waiting for his answers for a long time, and I can assure you they are worth the both the waiting (mine) and reading (yours)
1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hi, my name is Peter Xavier Price – or Pete; or ‘Peet’ – and I’m primarily a Tolkien illustrator and watercolourist. I’ve been doodling and drawing since I can remember – cliché, I know! – but only took up painting seriously about twelve or thirteen years ago.
2. When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
Like most people who have read Tolkien, I was first introduced to Middle-earth and Arda via The Hobbit, at a very young age; and I also remember that there was an old paperback box set of The Lord of the Rings from the 70s lying around the house too, which belonged to my father – in fact they’re still there to this day. I finally picked up this old dusty copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, and then The Two Towers and Return of the King in my teens (perhaps aged around 14-15) and thereafter read straight through the whole trilogy from front to back. Needless to say I fell in love instantly.
From a young age – long before I’d come across Tolkien – I’d always been interested in history, epic, mythology, fantasy, romanticism and so on; in other words I was completely obsessed with that formula which contained all those classical archetypes: the king, the knight, the princess, the dragon, and so on. So as you can imagine, upon reading the Professor’s work I was simply enthralled. I didn’t know it at the time, but in many respects Tolkien had reinvented this ‘formula’ in its twentieth-century guise and beyond, and this I think is why it has connected with so many people in ensuing generations – not least myself.
3. How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien expert?
I’m by no means an expert, in the sense that there are some true Tolkien scholars out there who either make a living by studying Tolkien’s work, or others who collect all works by, and/or relating to, him. In my case, I haven’t read every single published book or article ever written by or about Tolkien or his creation. Nevertheless, I feel I’m reasonably well versed in the legendarium. Having read The Hobbit and LotR, I turned quickly to The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, and then made my way through the History of Middle-earth series, The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, and various bestiaries and encyclopedias, as well as essays and such like. I used to know (more-or-less off by heart) the various genealogies across the Ages and races of Middle-earth, as well as what hair/eye colour X Y or Z character is supposed to have etc. (that is, when Tolkien explicitly describes it). I never learned how to speak Sindarin or Quenya though - languages was always my weak point at school! And generally I’m a little more rusty in places nowadays, but if I’m not too sure about a certain detail I simply locate the relevant passage, and I’m instantly reminded.
4. When the movies came out, many of the inner pictures of characters and scenes in the mind of the readers have been replaced by actors and settings from the movie. Did it happen to you as well? Did you try to prevent it?
Not really, no. I’m able to clearly demarcate between the two. In my view – and I realise I’m very much in the minority here – Peter Jackson’s movies are blockbuster action films, and bear little resemblance or relevance to the deeper subtleties within Tolkien’s creation, particularly those of theo-philosophical interest. Fellowship was promising, but I feel things when downhill rather quickly and incrementally from Two Towers onwards. I could literally write a thesis on some of the reasons why I believe this to be so, and those Tolkien enthusiasts who have known me over the years – either on DA or elsewhere – know my views on this, so I won’t get into them here. Suffice it to say that, in my view, just as in the infamous case of George Lucas, Jackson ultimately went down the route of using Tolkien’s story to tell special effects, rather than utilising special effects and CGI in order to tell Tolkien’s story.
This being said, I have no qualms with others finding inspiration in the movie-franchise – but it’s simply not for me.
5. Now, could you tell us something about you and art? Are you a professional artist, or is art just your hobby? When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?
I’m both a hobbyist and professional, or rather I should say that I fall somewhere in between. So, if there was the option on DA to describe myself as a ‘semi-professional’ then that’s how I’d prefer to label myself. I’ve undertaken numerous commissions and have sold originals over the previous decade or so, some of which have made their way onto cafe/pub walls, and the like. And I continue to be commissioned to this day in various guises. Currently, I’m working on a series of illustrations for a children’s book that has interest from several publishers, so hopefully this will take off in time. And then there are private commissions that keep me busy.
As I said earlier, I’ve been drawing since I was very young, usually with my two older sisters, who are extremely talented. We used to sit around the family table and draw and paint all day long, from what I remember. Consequently, they influenced me greatly from an early age. My father also used to draw a lot when we were younger, so this must have influenced us too, though none of us undertook any kind of formal training (which might be obvious !) Finally, we have an older second-cousin who was, and still is, a professional animator, and who worked on numerous projects for numerous companies over the decades, including Warner Bros. He always encouraged us.
As for others? In no particular order, I have to say that I’ve been incredibly moved and inspired by a number of artists ranging from Alan Lee, Brian Froud, John Howe and Anke-Katrin Eissmann to John William Waterhouse, Barry Windsor-smith, Jenny Dolfen, Catherine Karina Chmiel, Victor Ambrus, Yoshitaka Amano and (more recently) Shinobu Tanno and Sir Lawrence-Tadema Alma. I’m also in love with Studio Ghibli, particularly the older works that are lesser known, such Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa. In more general terms, I find the history of (predominantly Western) art itself to be very interesting, taking delight in the contrasts and changes in emphases that have taken place throughout the centuries (though I’m not so fond of modern art as a general rule). Pressed to be more specific, I have a particular affinity for the Pre-Raphaelites (which in some ways flavours what I love in contemporary artists), and the aesthetic of pre-Renaissance iconography. Finally, the architecture and sculpture work of antiquity is always a marvel (and so by extension, neo-classicism in a really broad, cultural sense can be very interesting as well).
By the way, my two sisters have DA accounts, but they're not so active anymore. You can find them here:
6. How do you choose which scenes and characters to illustrate?
In general I choose those scenes which resonate most strongly with me, be they ‘quiet’ moments, or others which are usually considered to be more epic or grandiose. In other words, I don’t believe I have a set-formula, and I find myself jumping to and fro quite frequently because of this. In essence, what I tend to do is choose varied moments from across the chronology, allowing me to convey different moods and styles, placing different emphases here and there, just as Tolkien does: portraiture, high-drama, landscape, duels, character interaction/dialogue, etc. It really is the contrast in Tolkien’s world that I find most fascinating. And as one commentator put it to me fairly recently, almost every sentence, let along paragraph or chapter, in Tolkien’s world provides ample opportunity for illustration, and sometimes from a multitude of perspectives too. This is the beauty of his writing, I suppose, which I sincerely hope rubs off – even if to a small degree – in my depictions.
7. What art technique is your favourite? Do you rather keep to the art techniques and styles you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new ones as well?
As noted above, I’m primarily a watercolourist. I dabbled with other traditional mediums much more when I was younger, trying my hand at oils, inks, acrylics, and so on. However, when I decided to buy a set of watercolours and try them out, I knew instantly that they were for me. What I love most about them is their fluidity and relative speed, and I’m particularly intrigued by the number of variables which can affect the outcome of a given painting when working with them, since watercolour seems to be influenced by external factors far more so than any other medium. For example, the type of paper used; the type of brush; the mood you’re in: do I feel like I want to go for a ‘detailed’ slow, laborious day, or a quick, looser more impressionistic ‘wet-in-wet’ day? These variables all affect how the paint transfers onto paper. Even the weather can affect the outcome of a watercolour painting too; say, for example, if it’s a humid, warm day, or whether its winter or summer, meaning that the paint will dry that much more slowly or quickly depending on the temperature or humidity. Again, all these variables contribute to the finished painting in an organic, and therefore (to me) interesting, fashion.
8. Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists?
This is a really difficult question for me to answer, since there are so many styles and mediums out there, and so it’s really not a case of the right way or the wrong way to do things. So I can only speak from a very limited perspective. All I can say is that, for myself, observation is key. Taking a sketchpad around with you and referencing from the world is both rewarding and incredibly useful in the long run. So, you might choose to go to a forest or field and sketch the trees or the clouds. Or maybe you could take it with you on a train and sketch the person sleeping opposite you for anatomy practice, or whatever. The more you do, the more the pieces fall together. And the old adage of practice makes perfect really does apply – and I still consider myself very much a learner. I think all artists do.
9. Could you give us a link or thumbnail from your gallery of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?
I just like the simplicity of this piece, compositionally. The details come across nicely, but it works well as a whole and when viewed from further away too. I surprised myself completely because it just sort of fell out of the brush extremely quickly.
- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?
Can I choose two?
- a picture that fits your current mood?
I’m feeling in a ‘I’m not gonna suffer fools gladly’ mood
- a picture that was hardest to paint?
This one was drawn on unfamiliar paper that just kept on eating and eating the water, so much so that adding layers really wasn’t making that much of a difference. So in the end (which took me a long time to decide) I just gave up, and chose to leave it alone.
- any other picture you would like to share with us and why?
I’m still really fond of this piece, which is one of the earliest of my Tolkien works (2002), because it was the first time I managed to convey what I saw in my mind’s eye (or at least close to it) at the time: the melancholy of leaving Lórien and returning to the winter decay of mortal lands, and likewise, the depression amongst the Fellowship of resuming the Quest itself. I think these chapters to do with Lórien are some of the most beautiful Tolkien has written: it’s a window into his own impression of what the Undying Lands must have been like.
10. What key people in your life, (on or off of dA) have been inspirations to you, or has supported you, as an artist? You can also tell us why, if you want.
In terms of family, I think I probably already answered these points above.
Other than that, though, I have to say that when I first began seriously painting, Anke Eissmann was extremely friendly, encouraging and supportive of me and my art. So I have much to thank her for that. Likewise, I enjoyed and continue to appreciate the camaraderie that existed between me and Jenny Dolfen in the earlier days on DA, when we used to share a lot of comments and anecdotes. If you’re reading this Jenny, I’d love to do another collaboration with you one day (though I know you’re always extremely inundated)!
11. You returned to deviantArt after a long hiatus. What motivated you to come back after such a long time?
You’re right, I’d been largely absent from the Tolkien scene, from DA and from painting more generally for the best part of a decade – from approx. 2006-2014. In that time, I had painted a small number of scenes – ‘Elessar and Mithrandir’, ‘Of Thingol and Melian’, ‘Fingolfin Challenges Morgoth’ and a few others – but in the main, I was concentrating on my BA in History, and then my MA and PhD in Intellectual History (I’m in the final stages of the PhD now), which included a lot of archival work/research, as well as teaching undergraduates. As for returning, this occurred in the summer of 2014 when a representative of Warner Bros contacted me about using the painting ‘Beren and Luthien’ for the DoS EE DVD/Blu-ray, in a ‘making of’ documentary – which, incidentally, remains in the cut, in a section about Mirkwood. In the process, I struck up a good rapport with this individual working on behalf of WB, who made further requests for paintings for DoS, and now this year for the BotFA EE (2015). Thanks to that, they rekindled my desire to paint Tolkien scenes once again.
Incidentally, I realise that this explanation may make me seem a bit hypocritical regarding my views of the movie-adaptations. But in my defence, I’ve always had respect for the process of designing and creating the sets and clothing etc. on those films, if not necessarily for the look, tone or feel (some exceptions aside) of the finished product.
12. Is there some artist(s) at dA you know, who doesn't have as much attention as they would deserve? If yes, could you give us some thumbnails from their gallery?
This is difficult – there are so many!
One Tolkien artist who definitely deserves more exposure is , whose style I think is closest to Tolkien’s own.
I also really like for his attention to historical detail, which gives his Tolkien illustrations a nice feel (much of his other work is based literally on historical figures from our world too).
Finally, I love the beautiful and evocative work of , whether it be Tolkien or not.
13. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
I’d just like to extend my warm thanks to all of you who’ve supported me and my art since I began in earnest. It really is greatly appreciated, and it’s such a pleasure and honour to meet and converse with so many who share my love for Tolkien. On a side note, for those who left me comments or were in contact with me during my long hiatus-cum-sabbatical, and yet didn’t receive a reply: my sincerest apologies! I always try to make it a point to communicate with those who’ve been kind enough to take the time to leave some thoughts; however, I obviously neglected to do that over those years. I hope now to continue where I left off!
To end, I apologise to MirachRavaia for taking so, so long to compete this interview – and I thank her for giving me the opportunity! And if anyone’s interested in my work, please do follow me on Facebook too, where I upload sketches and work-in-progress pieces that don’t appear here on DA: www.facebook.com/peterxavierpr…