For this issue of "Talks with Tolkien artists" I had the pleasure to interview Ebe Kastein ebe-kastein, whose work I admired long before she joined deviantArt. I'm bringing you her art and answers to enjoy:
1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hello to you, too!
As to myself, I have studied art for 12 years and have worked as a professional artist for about 11 years. At the university I majored in English language and literature, which lead me straight to the translation work. I have worked for various translation bureaus and several publishing houses. Translating filled my world already during my studies, and again in the last year, because I lost one steady art client after another within a short span of time to the recession. People either lost their jobs, their companies suddenly ceased to exist, or they lived in terror of having their salaries reduced, which means that they could no longer afford commissioning art on regular basis. Since nothing compares to creating art for me, the change mentioned above was a sad one. I still get occasional commissions, but these days I mainly paint for my own pleasure.
Speaking of languages, in addition to English I have also studied German, Finnish, Spanish, Russian and Latin. And since I am a native Estonian, my mother tongue is Estonian.
Reading is another activity that I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember myself. My interests vary from all aspects of anthropology (I would love to be able to study facial reconstruction under the instruction of the best specialists in the world!), psychology and psychiatry to mythology, early history and fantasy literature.
If I had to name some of my favourite artists, I love numerous paintings done by the Pre-Raphaelites. I deeply admire the gift of John Everett Millais, but also enjoy the works of Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and others belonging to the same movement.
2. When did you read Tolkien’s books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
I clearly remember reading The Hobbit at the age of nine, and loving it very much. Even though I was not able to consciously notice it at the time, his work (along with his Ring trilogy and The Silmarillion that I read as an adult) inspired in me the same sense of wonder that I had first experienced as a small girl, when my mother read to me Irish and Scottish fairy tales. It was much later when I learned that Tolkien had borrowed a lot from the Celtic and Northern mythologies. The way he brought to life the same mysterious beauty that the Celts associated with the Elves and Elf Home touched my heart, and I will surely remain a devoted elf fancier until the end of my life. As impossible as it may be to depict beings of sublime beauty, I stubbornly keep trying.
3. How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien nerd?
I’d say my knowledge of Tolkien’s world is fairly good but far from perfect. For perfection you would need photographic memory, which I don’t possess, and there are still some books published after Professor’s death waiting on my shelf to be read.
About the expression ‘nerd’, I don’t accept it and would never use it for categorizing anyone because of its derogative ring. Having some intellectual interests is a most natural thing, and I consider the total lack of them to be an embarrassing flaw in a person.
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?
Just like many others have pointed out, Tolkien tended to have problems with creating well-rounded, unique characters. They often are rather sketchy, and Tolkien as a writer is far stronger at telling stories and verbally ‘painting’ vast landscapes than making all of his characters come alive. The same struck me when I read his Ring trilogy; for example, all the Hobbits but Sam, who stood out because of his ‘lower class’ use of language and his absolute kindness and loyalty, melted into a faceless bunch for me until I saw the movies. The same is true about Legolas. Tolkien says so little about him that I found it difficult to get a proper grip of his character, his nature.
To sum it up, I happily accepted the wonderful findings of Peter Jackson that filled certain gaps for me. The well-chosen actors made Frodo, Pippin and Merry take shape for me, and greatly improved in my eyes the book version of Gandalf (in the books he struck me as a testy, rather unpleasant old man, but Sir Ian’s wonderful interpretation of Gandalf’s role made me love him). On the other hand, the movie versions of Arwen, Elrond and several others completely clashed with the mental image I had formed of those characters, and I will always imagine them differently from the way they appear in the movies. I gratefully received all that was in harmony with my perception of the characters, and I have never had any problems with PJ’s gorgeous settings. At the same time I hold on to the way I see some characters who look and ‘feel’ wrong to me in the movies. For example, even though Cate Blanchett is sufficiently talented and queenly to play any female ruler, I could never accept the callous tone she used with Frodo. That alone made it impossible for me to regard her as ‘my Galadriel’.
‘My Legolas’ will always look different from the one played by Orlando Bloom, but I appreciate the way Orlando gave life to the character who remained very obscure in the books. So, that means that I have put my personal version of the trilogy together of the bits of my own imagination and those parts of the movie interpretations that I liked.
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?
See my answer to the first question. I am a professional artist, knew at the age of 6 that I would become one, started taking art lessons when I was 6 years old, and have been painting ever since I could hold a brush. As to the last part of the question, I have surely been subconsciously influenced by all, whose art has moved me.
6. You have been painting Tolkien’s characters for a long time, but you only recently joined deviantArt. How is your experience with the site so far?
I very much love deviantArt and find its atmosphere wonderful. Even though my internet time is limited, all my experiences with deviantArt have been brilliant. It seems that those interested in it are amazingly friendly and supportive people. At least so far I have never seen any offensive comments under my own works, or those of the others. Hopefully such kind and encouraging attitude towards the works of the other people will never change on this site.
7. Where do you look for models of the characters that did not appear in the movies? Are they friends, family, or even yourself?
Those who sell magazines have every reason to be glad of having me around. Each month I browse countless mags to find either good body models, or if I’m especially lucky, I might come across a new and suitable face model as well. Finding the right human prototype for my characters often takes years, and it’s most frustrating that in most cases the models’ names are not printed.
I have not yet used any friends of mine as models of Tolkien’s characters – with the exception of painting some lovely clients / pen pals of mine as ellith, normally in the arms of their most beloved characters. Some of those dear people have suggested that I should use myself as a model, but I have not yet done so.
On a few occasions my beautiful niece has posed for me as a body model.
8. Could you tell us more about the techniques you use? Do you rather keep to the art techniques and styles you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new ones as well?
About the first part, I prefer a mixed technique. On my monochromatic works I normally use pencil, black ink and some white gouache; maybe also some water colour, depending on the piece. On my fully coloured paintings I use water colours with pencil, black ink and possibly a bit of white gouache, too.
I have occasionally noticed myself using some fresh technique, but have no interest in spending any of my precious time just on experimenting. The ideas in me want to get out, and while allowing them to do so my hands tend to choose whatever seems like the best technique for depicting a particular scene or character.
As to my style, I think it is an inherent part of me, and the thought of consciously trying to change it seems like a forced path not worth following.
9. Could you give us a link or thumbnail of a picture from your gallery of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?
– I think it is artistically one of my strongest works, and perhaps I should point out this one.
- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?
– It’s very hard to single out such a work, but this one happens to be one of the portraits that I truly like.
- a picture that fits your current mood?
- a picture that was hardest to paint?
– I’m not sure if any work has ever been technically very difficult for me, but sometimes I have had to paint while ill, and those paintings have not been among my best. I remember that I was severely depressed and physically ill while painting this picture of Aang, and doing it demanded an extra effort. It is probably also the darkest painting I have ever produced, which fits the mood I had at the time.
I’d like to add that I’m not exactly ‘proud’ of my own works; the word doesn’t sound correct to my ear, because there is always room for improvement. There are some, of course, which are closer to my heart than others.
10. What key people in your life, (on or off of dA) have been inspirations to you, or have supported you, as an artist? You can also tell us why, if you want.
All of those who have commissioned art works from me have encouraged me to create something that I would otherwise never have painted. For that I am truly grateful to them!
If I had to name a few people who have supported me as an artist a lot either by being good and encouraging friends or otherwise, I’d like to name Enednoviel, Dana and Cindy. I will always think very fondly of several others as well, but perhaps they would dislike it if I listed all of them.
11. Is there some artist(s) at dA you know, who doesn’t have as much attention as they would deserve? If yes, could you give us some thumbnails from their gallery?
I’m afraid that at the moment I cannot reply to this question simply because I have not had enough time to look around on this lovely site. So far I have come across several very gifted people, whose works I have enjoyed and praised in the comments that I have left for them, but thankfully they have also received many positive comments from the others that they truly deserve.
12. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
I am most grateful for every kind and encouraging word that people interested in my art have left at DA, or sent to me in an e-mail. All positive feedback is very precious to me.
Some years ago a net acquaintance of mine asked, when I will move on to creating ‘original art’ instead of ‘fan art’. Since I see Tolkien’s works as a source of endless inspiration, I intend to keep creating paintings inspired by his world for as long as I am able to. In my opinion, there is no difference between the so-called ‘fan art’ based on Tolkien and the ‘original art’ that often draws ideas from other mythologies. Tolkien is undoubtedly a classic and his mythology deserves respect. His universe is so rich and full of wonders that it should not be considered any less valuable than, say, Greek mythology that many Old Masters have been inspired by.
I find all art pieces original, and am not quite sure if there truly exists such a phenomenon as ‘fan art’. Seriously, should I be carried away by Greek or any other widely known mythology, in what sense would I be closer to creating ‘original art’ as opposed to ‘fan art’?
Every artist is influenced by something, and in one way or another most artists could be called ‘illustrators’ (I heard from someone that that is also regarded as a less than respectable label in the art world). After all, every true artist is excited about one subject or another, and living without the ability to get truly carried away by anything equals death to me. I would not like to experience such sad existence, and cheer for all who create and love the art that is based on Tolkien’s works.
Thank you for the interview!
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