After the Easter break, I bring you a very interesting interview. - Qitian is not only an artist, but also fanfiction writer and larper. She followed in Tolkien's footsteps in studying English Philology, and is a second-degree student of Tolkien himself! (meaning that she studied under a professor who was taught by Tolkien )
You can find her fanfiction stories under the name Lyra in the Silmarillion Writer's Guild here: www.silmarillionwritersguild.o…
And here are a few of her pictures before we get to the talk itself:
Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?
Hello! I'm a 32-year-old journalist, wannabe artist and writer. I'm the mother of two little boys and living in an old farmhouse in Germany, which might explain why I'm no longer as active in the fandom as I'd like to be. I'm flattered that I still qualify for an interview!
It is interesting to find out the stories behind people's usernames. What is yours?
That's a complicated one! Back in grade 12, I took a Chinese class. As part of that class, we tried to use Chinese names for ourselves. Most of us were happy to use a list of common Western names transliterated into the sound-world of Chinese, but I wasn't satisfied with the choices for most girls' names (including my own), which were all "pretty flower" and "beautiful peach" and whatnot. Being a rebellious teenager, I didn't want any of that! So I made up my own, transliterating "Christiane" into 起天 Qītĭan, which in my head meant "rise up to the sky" or something similarly cool and empowering. Rebellious enough for me! Leaving out the fancy diacritics, that's Qitian. It became my first online handle, and as my preferred user name of Lyra was already taken when I signed up for dA, I fell back on Qitian.When did you read Tolkien's books for the first time, and what impression did they leave in you?
I think I read The Hobbit
as a kid, but it didn't leave any particular impression at the time. In fact, for a long time I thought that Tolkien's books wouldn't be my thing at all, because all fantasy books I read as a teenager didn't excite me at all! But in 2000, when I was 17, I came across the Ringspell in a quotes collection, and that resonated with me deeply. So naturally I had to seek out the book that it came from! I bought and read The Lord of the Rings
and was absolutely blown away. I loved the feeling that there was a complete world in which this story was set, a world that didn't just serve as a convenient backdrop to the story but had a history and a life of its own. I felt like an anthropologist on a field trip to a strange but very real place!
When she saw that I was ploughing through the Appendices, my judo teacher said "If you enjoy those, you're going to love The Silmarillion
!"... so that was next on the list. She was right. I loved it, even though I barely understood it when I first read it!
To this day, I still don't particularly care for most fantasy books - but Tolkien's books feel more like historical fiction to me, and I love that.
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?
That definitely happened to me, yes. I don't even remember how I imagined most of the characters before seeing the first movie teasers! I adopted the depiction from the movies quite happily, except in those cases where the actors didn't match my mental images at all - like in the case of Samwise, Legolas, Boromir, Faramir, Éowyn and Denethor. In those cases, I kept my own ideas in my head. The same goes for the costumes. The movie costumes are way more elaborate and fussy than what I imagined previously, and although I admire the work of the costume department, when I visualise these characters, they tend to wear the simpler designs I had in my mind from the start. I don't think any conscious decision was involved, though. When the movie depiction more or less fitted my inner pictures, they replaced the latter, and when they didn't fit, they never made it in.How extensive is your knowledge of Middle-earth? Do you consider yourself Tolkien expert?
I think I have a pretty informed idea about Middle-earth, especially after co-running the Silmarillion
Re-read two years ago, but I'd hesitate to call myself an expert! I know that my knowledge is quite patchy. I really delve into research about characters or settings that I'm interested in, such as Númenor or some of the Fëanorians, but I'm woefully ignorant about other things that I don't care about enough, such as Gondolin or much of The Hobbit
. And even in the fields where I feel quite competent, every now and then someone will dig out a detail that I've never come across before! By now, I don't think my knowledge of Middle-earth has any hope of ever being complete. I think people who claim that they know everything about Middle-earth just have no clue how much they don't know!Who is your favourite Tolkien character, and why?
Do I have to pick just one? That's really hard! There are so many characters about whom I care deeply. But generally, my favourite among the favourites is the character that I'm currently thinking about most.
Right now, that would be Nerdanel. She has very little "screen time" in The Silmarillion
, but what we learn about her from there and from the History of Middle-earth
etc. makes her such an interesting character. She's an eminent artist and craftswoman; she's smart, but not judgemental; and she not only manages to change Fëanor's mind for a while, but also takes a clear stand when she realises that he's beyond reason. So clearly she's quite independent and true to her own moral compass. And somehow she manages to give birth to and raise seven kids! (I'm sometimes overtaxed with two.
Mind you, I also sympathise with Fëanor, who's definitely also a favourite character of mine! So that's complicated. -- Other favourites include Galadriel, Maedhros, Maglor, Eärendil, Elendil, Isildur, Éowyn, Faramir, Samwise and Rosie Cotton.You have a degree in English Philology, quite like Tolkien himself! Did he have any influence on your choice, and did you encounter his philological works during your studies? What do you think about the fact that he started creating Middle-earth as a background for his made-up languages?
Yes and yes! English happened to be a subject that I enjoyed in school, so choosing it as my major made sense either way. But would I have put so much focus on linguistics if I hadn't known that my favourite author was a linguist? I doubt it - most people I encountered in university, especially during the first years, agreed that linguistics were boring and something that one endured because they were part of the whole "linguistics and literature" setup. After the intermediate exam, I met a few more likeminded people, and I was lucky in that my university had just hired a new professor who did classes on language history. I did encounter some of Tolkien's works in those classes; his work on Beowulf
and especially Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
is still a staple. I even had a few classes with a guest professor who, when he was young, had studied at Merton College under Lewis and Tolkien! That was quite exciting.
I love the fact that Tolkien made up his world as a playground for his made-up languages. It's such a unique and intriguing approach! You'd generally expect that a fantasy world - languages included - is made up in order to serve whatever story the author wants to tell. Creating the world as well as its history in order to use and explore one's own languages is a bit counter-intuitive, but as we can see, it works really well. It has certainly given us some fantastically convincing constructed languages!That's fascinating! About those languages, are you also proficient (as much as one can be with the language being artifical and incomplete) in Quenya or Sindarin?
I wish! I can puzzle out (or translate into) Quenya if I have a dictionary and grammar on hand, but in order to be proficient, I'd have to put more effort into actually remembering the grammar and vocabulary. Sindarin, on the other hand, completely eludes me. The sound changes! I just can't wrap my mind around it! So I admire its beauty from afar, but leave the study of it to other people. Quenya at least is a language that I feel comfortable working with. As long as I can look things up.In your profile you say you are a LARPer. Are these larps Tolkien or fantasy themed as well, and what character(s) do you use to play?
There used to be a Tolkien-themed LARP series (First Age with some liberties) that I attended, but unfortunately the organisers have dropped the Tolkien aspect to reach wider audiences. It was awesome while it lasted, though. Now, the LARPs I participate in have a general fantasy theme - including but not limited to Tolkien's works. I currently play a Númenorean botanist called Khibil. Before Khibil, I played Olóriel, a Noldorin scribe. So I'm still taking my inspiration directly from Tolkien fandom, but many other players base their characters on other backgrounds like DSA (German D&D), Warhammer, or even Real World History. Still, I encounter other Tolkien-focused players as well - not always without complications! Imagine Khibil from Rómenna running into a troup of Third Age Ithílien Rangers. "Why do you keep using the past tense when talking about my home?!"
Oh, I almost forgot about the Rohan LARP series! That was a pretty low-key but very intense. I did not play an intellectual character there, but a simple kitchen maid. So I wasn't involved in any important plotlines or quests, but I got to witness all the exciting goings-on (and gossip about them with my fellow kitchen workers). I sort of miss playing in these small, dedicated groups in a relatively closely delineated setting (preferably Tolkien-based), and I really hope I find another Tolkien LARP eventually. There seem to be some in Poland and Russia, but that's a bit far to travel, and then there's the language barrier......and sindarin is hard, right? But you said something about living in an old farmhouse. Is it just living there, or farming as well? How much does it resemble the "idylic" lifestyle of Hobbits?
Nope, no farming! Unfortunately, the people who owned the house before us stopped farming and turned the old dairy and work half of the farmhouse into an apartment. The main stable had already burned out in the 1970s, though the walls were still left, so we could rebuild. We're using part of it as a workshop, and part of it as a laundry room. There's also a big shed and two smaller stables, but they currently just serve as garages. There is so much work to do about the house, which our predecessors left in a pretty bad state, that we can't currently afford investing in animals, although keeping a few pigs or goats is a long-term dream. - However, I do dabble in horticulture (and get more ambitious every year!), and I keep bees, so some Hobbit-style country life does take place! But also a lot of semi-modern DIY.Maybe also Beorn-style, in that case 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?
Without the skin-changing.
I'm a hobby artist, though of course it would be nice to get paid for my art. As for when I started doing it, that's another long story. I know I drew fanart for Jim Knopf
when I was four, and for Vicke the Viking
when I was seven - though of course I didn't know it was "fanart" at the time! Unfortunately, I never "properly" learned drawing or painting beyond the raw basics taught in school. Somehow, my parents assumed that since I clearly had a basic talent for art, I'd figure it out by myself. In a way, I did - but what I figured out wasn't necessarily the easiest, most efficient or just generally agreed-upon way of doing it, and once I've formed habits, I'm very slow to break them! So I'm taking a lot of detours. I'm slowly picking up better techniques through tutorials and observation, but I'd have to practice a lot more!
Anyway, that ignorance about proper technique has probably influenced my style the most - what others kindly call my "style" is really just the result of my weird way of doing things. But of course there are artists whose style I'd like to emulate, if only I could! As a child, the book illustrations of Ilon Wikland were a huge influence. Just as I was dreaming about writing like Astrid Lindgren, I wanted to draw like Ilon Wikland. Then for a long time I didn't draw scenes or people at all, instead becoming obsessed with landscapes - either impressionist style or in an imitation of Japanese woodcuts. I only began to draw people again when I got into Star Wars
fandom, but I can't say that there were any specific artists that inspired me at the time - it was more like a return to my, hm, innocent childhood style. Only with extra lightsabres thrown in.
Then a co-student introduced me to the art of Alphonse Mucha. My art teacher in school probably wasn't a fan of art nouveau and my mom was more interested in the architecture and furniture design of the movement, so I'd never come across the paintings! That was definitely an eye-opener. I'd only just read The Silmarillion
and decided that this newly discovered style was just perfect for depicting those epic characters! While my first attempts were rather unconvincing, I still love to apply Mucha's design ideas to Tolkien's characters.
Then I came across the art of Jenny Dolfen (Gold-Seven
) at the Game Fair in, uh, 2004 or so. Ironically, it wasn't her Tolkien art that I discovered, but her work on Drow Elves, A Song of Ice and Fire
and Blade of the Immortal
! I didn't dare to ask for a sketch of Maedhros because I thought he would take too much explaining! I only found out about her Tolkien fanart a lot later, when I'd already tried to produce my own Tolkien art in a sorry imitation of her style. To this day, I try to learn as much from her as I can. There are other fanartists and illustrators whom I admire and pick up little things from, but Jenny's definitely been the most influential one.You are also a writer, so I would like to ask the same about fanfiction and writing in general as well: When did you start doing it, and who or what influenced your style?
I started writing a little later than I started drawing.
Looking back, I wrote my very first piece of fanfiction when I was seven - a story about a self-insert character who accompanied Vicke the Viking into the "Cave of a Thousand Dragons". Then, as I said, I aspired to be like Astrid Lindgren and tried to write about my friends' and my playground adventures in our idyllic little village, but as I didn't yet know how to leave out the boring things, that wasn't a particularly good read. ("Afterwards, they had to do maths. On that day, they practiced multiplication. The teacher wrote a couple of problems on the blackboard." ...)
There's a bit of a gap during my teenage years when sports became more important than art or writing, and then there's a time when I wrote only poetry. When Star Wars: Episode I
came out, I got sucked into that fandom and wrote some fanfiction about Qui-gon Jinn, on whom I still have a bit of a crush, and some about an X-wing pilot (Force-sensitive, of course!) set during the aftermath of Return of the Jedi
. Although I already had regular internet access by that time, I never thought of seeking out other people's fanfic, though. I didn't even know the word! I only learned about that at university. Just when I was disappointed that nobody else in the Department of English Philology seemed to like Tolkien, I overheard two co-students in Japanese class whisper about "bzz bzz bzz Legolas bzz bzz bzz Haldir"! That was how I learned about fanfiction, slash fiction, and Livejournal all in one day... after that, I became an avid reader of fanfiction, but I only started writing my own Tolkien fanfic ("The Tempered Steel", then named "The Plotbunny That Crawled Out Of Angband") in 2007. Back then, I thought I'd only ever have that one story to tell...
I like to think that I have my own style, of course! I'm more confident about my writing than I am about my art. But the kinds of stories that I tend to tell are doubtlessly influenced by a couple of writers whom I admire: J.R.R.Tolkien (everybody act surprised!), Neil Gaiman, Pearl S. Buck, Michael Ende and Astrid Lindgren; and on the fannish side of things, Dawn Felagund and Ithilwen.As a writer, how do you feel about the position of fanfiction in current literature?
I really wish fanfiction had a better standing. I suppose it isn't surprising that commercial literature looks down on something that's done for free and won't sell, but it's very sad that even within fandom, many people seem to think that fanfiction is purely a guilty pleasure of no merit whatsoever. Even some fanfic authors seem to believe that of themselves! It's even more puzzling for me because, as I've mentioned, my gateway fandom was Star Wars
, where there are heaps and heaps of succesful, commercially published offspin fiction in what used to be the Expanded Universe (called Star Wars Legends
these days). Some of it was pretty darn good fiction, too! And this is basically licensed fanfic! So from that experience, I knew that derivative fiction could be a thriving market (as well as good entertainment) that most fans embraced. It was odd to come from there to discussions about whether fanfic was a) legitimate and b) any good or something to be ashamed of.
At the same time, some commercial authors are madly protective of their own work (which I understand) to the point of explicitly banning fanfiction of their work (which I refuse to understand). Not only is this futile (on their home computers, people can write whatever the heck they want), it also shows a very bad understanding of their fanbase (people who write fanfiction are often the same people who buy collectors' editions, attend readings and otherwise generate revenue for the author) and an unhealthy arrogance. It's one thing not to like a certain subgenre of fanfiction, like slash fiction or AU fix-it fic, and it's perfectly OK for authors to say that they don't want to read fanfic about their characters, but it's another thing to try and make one's fans feel bad about doing something they love.
Of course, there is some horribly awful fanfiction out there, but there are also brilliant pieces of writing. Just as there are awful as well as brilliant books in commercial literature. So it's unfair to dismiss fanfiction out of hand.
Fortunately, other authors take a more relaxed stance. And every now and then, fanfiction will actually receive neutral-to-positive attention in the media. But it's still predominantly depicted as a weird, nerdy thing to do, rather than a non-commercial genre in its own right. Or at least, as a hobby that doesn't need to make money in order to be satisfying. Nobody asks soccer fans why they dress up and buy heaps of tickets to cheer on their teams instead of becoming pro soccer players themselves, or model toy train enthusiasts why they don't go and build real working big engines!Very well said! Now I would like to ask, how do you choose which scenes and characters to illustrate or write about?
I don't choose them, they choose me.
The great advantage of working non-professionally is that I don't have to fulfill any specific audience expectations. I'm my primary audience, so if a scene or character inspires me to draw it or write about it, that's good enough. This happens in different ways - maybe I'm reading a book or fanfic that features a really inspiring scene, or I'm coming across a prompt that sparks an idea for a story or painting, or maybe there's a song or a quote that puts a scene or character in my mind. Once inspiration hits, the challenge is getting it to paper (or the screen). In writing, I'll often play out the scene in my head (this is a good way of calming down before falling asleep, or of keeping my mind occupied while my hands are busy doing the dishes or weeding the garden), so parts of the story will already be prepared when I sit down to write. However, it can easily happen that I'll remember that I had an awesome line of dialogue prepared last night... and now I can't recall it! Or there will be blanks between scenes that I skipped over in my head, but when actually writing, I will have to bridge them somehow. But it seems to be working well, on the whole. In art, I tend to have a picture of what I want to achieve in my head. I'm good with visualisation, but I'm also impatient and lazy, so I don't really sit down to do composition sketches or the like. In most cases, the original "sketch" will end up being the lineart for the finished product. In fact, it took me a while to realise that this isn't how all artists work, and that the artists I admire probably spend a lot of time brooding over sketches of different poses in order to find the most dynamic one, rather than expecting the whole thing to jump out of their head onto paper perfect and in one piece! So by now I try to at least play with different angles or compositional ideas in my head first. Most of the time, I carry the idea of a painting in my head for a long time before finally managing to sit down and draw it. There always seems something more pressing to do! The trouble with that is that I've grown so familiar with the visualised, "perfect" idea that I'm bound to be disappointed by whatever I manage to create in the end...
Of course, there are some exceptions. Sometimes I feel the urge to work on long-term projects or series, like the "Tengwar Karuta" or the "Strong Women" series. In such cases, I can't just wait for inspiration to strike, but have to consciously think about what to illustrate. So I'll sit down and make lists of characters or scenes that fit, and then pick and choose from the list until it's done (or until I loose motivation, ahem). I guess that's how I'd work if someone asked me to illustrate a novel, too - make a list of scenes that offer themselves, and then work from that. I recently illustrated two picture books for my children, and for them, I actually painted the pictures in the same order that they were in the storyboard. So it turned out that I can work in an organised manner, too! But most of the time, I'm at the whim of the muses.I actually wanted to ask about "Tengwar Karuta". Could you shortly explain what this series is about?
Shortly? Oof! Well, "Karuta" is a Japanese card game in which players have to find the illustration that matches the sentence that has been read out to them. In order to simplify this a little, the illustrations are marked with the first syllable of the sentence. Every syllable of the Japanese Hiragana alphabet appears exactly once. It's quite a fun game, and I thought that it would be great to create a Tengwar version of it that could be played at LARP events or Tolkien conventions. So that's basically what it's about.
Of course, Tengwar don't work with syllables - but each tengwa has a name that also happens to be a perfectly ordinary Quenya word. For instance, the tengwa for "T" is called tinco
, which means "metal". (As opposed to the Western alphabet, where the character for "T" is just called "tee" without meaning "tea" or something.) So I came up with a series of sentences, each of them featuring the name of a tengwa at the very beginning of the sentence, and translating them into Quenya. Due to the restrictive grammar system of Quenya, word order appears to be pretty free, so this was relatively easy to pull off. (With the help of a dictionary, the Ardalambion section on Quenya grammar, and my Latin skills from school.) So I'd end up with something like "Dwarves search for METALS in the mountains" (literally, "FOR METALS in mountains search Dwarves") for the tinco
tengwa. After the translation, it was time for calligraphy and painting! Each sentence got its own separate card, and each illustration of a sentence (in this case, a couple of Dwarves mining for metals in a mountain cave) also got its own card. As only the consonants have their own names, the vowel sounds of Quenya didn't get any cards. Maybe I'll make up sentences for the vowels at some point, but for the time being, it's nice to feel that the series is finished.
I have no idea whether the game was ever actually played... but it was a fun exercise!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?
Pencil and watercolour! That's definitely what I use most, and get the best results with. I sometimes experiment with other techniques - I've tried digital painting and photo manipulation, painting in oil and acrylic colours, coloured pencils, oil pastels, and coffee - but so far, all these experiments have remained rare and far between. I dabble in calligraphy a bit more regularly. And outside of 2D art, I like to play with costume design - some historical, some fantasy - and sewing. I've also attempted leatherwork and soap stone sculpting. So I do attempt other techniques sometimes, when I get the chance. But on the whole, I feel most comfortable with watercolours!Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists or writers?
For the artists: Don't be as lazy as I am? In order to get better (or stay reliably good), I suspect one needs to constantly keep on practicing one's skills, rather than hoping that somehow, suddenly, your hands will know what to do. I don't have any technical advice, but whatever your medium, I'm pretty sure that practicing helps.
For the writers: Don't be disheartened when someone tells you how writing works, and it totally isn't how you work. That doesn't mean you're doing it the wrong way. There are heaps of "tricks for writers" written both by critics and by writers. You'll find some of these lists useful, and some of them confusing, and some of them just plain alienating. That's OK. Writing is an immensely personal thing, and every person is different. Some people can work best on their couch at home, others work better in a public space. Some people write third person POV (omniscient or otherwise), other people enjoy writing in first person, and a lot of people find that one POV is great for one story but not for another. Some people write only about what they know, while others love writing well outside the framework of their own experience. Some people put a lot of work into outlines and worldbuilding before they start writing, and others just make things up as they go along. All of that - and more! - is the right way of doing it, just as long as it works for you. Don't trust anyone who claims that their own way of writing is the only right way. You don't have to follow the rules of any other writer, even if it's someone you really admire. Forget marketability. Experiment, find out what works for you, find your own voice, and write the stories that want to be written by you. And never forget - whether you're published or not, whether other people like your stories or hate them - as long as you write, as long as you want
to write, you are
a writer.Could you give us a thumbnail from your gallery or a link if it's posted elsewhere of
- a Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?- a fanfiction story you are most proud of?
- a picture from other fandom or original picture you are most proud of?- a picture that fits your current mood?- a picture that was hardest to paint, and story hardest to write?- any other picture and/or story you would like to share with us and why?
Let's get to the "I thank..." part of an Oscar speech 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.
One of those illustrations for the storybook for my kids that I mentioned above, and one of the more detailed ones. I just love these little tater trolls, and their cozy little cave stuffed with all their provisions for winter...
Oof... there's a reason why there's a time limit on Oscar speeches, right?
I'll try to make it short! SO! I would like to thank my parents for instilling me with a love of art, and for putting up with my youthful ambitions; my fannish circle of friends - online and offline - for sharing my enthusiasm, commenting kindly on my fic and art, and recommending new cool things to me (you know who you are!); everybody who writes comments and reviews a) at all and b) in a constructive and friendly manner; all authors and artists who accept fanworks - even those of dubious quality or content - as a form of admiration; and all those tireless mods who run fannish communities, contests and challenges, investing their time, nerves and heart's blood into other people's enjoyment. You rock the world! 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 to feature here?
Hmm. "Not as much attention as they would deserve" suggests something like <100 watchers, and most of the artists I watch around here seem to be doing better than that... or are no longer active. But I think Murrauddin
and her evocative storybook style illustrations could use some more attention. I think they capture the essence of Tolkien's stories very well, for instance:
Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?
Sure, while I have the chance! To the fans of Tolkien: I wish there were less arguments among the different fandom factions. There's no right or wrong way of being a fan! Whether people came into fandom decades ago or were introduced to the material just recently, whether they prefer The Hobbit or The Silmarillion or even footnote 147 from The History of Middle-earth or *gasp* the movies, whether they write hardcore Angbang fic or family-friendly stories about Aragorn, whether they discuss issues of racism or sexism in Tolkien's works or worship the very ground he walked on, they're all fans. You don't have to get along with everybody, but perhaps everybody can agree to disagree, just avoid those corners of fandom and stick to people who like to celebrate their fandom in a way that you too enjoy. There's too much vitriol, too many flames and too much fighting in what should be a happy experience. I know it's probably too much to ask because it seems to be human nature to fight about pretty much everything, but just... live and let live, folks?
To the fans of my art (if "fans" is the right word at all): Thank you so much! I know I'm not one of the big stars of the Tolkien fanart community, so I'm grateful for every single one of you who likes my attempts at depicting Middle-earth nonetheless.
Thank you very much for your time and answers!