The amazing Middle-earth art of John Cockshaw
What was the moment when you decided you wanted to apply your artistic talent to creating Lord of the Rings artworks? Was there a particular trigger?
Funnily enough I don’t think I decided it just happened naturally, with a strong trigger right at the end. The inspiration I had to create work in response Middle-earth needed bedding in and a long period of gestation until a firm notion appeared about what form it should take. Rushing wasn’t an option. Like many fans of J.R.R Tolkien’s work I carried my appreciation of that mythology everywhere with me and particularly on long walks over the English countryside, when striding over the moorland in a bracing five-beat Isengard pattern (a reference for Shore enthusiasts there). It was when I began to see Tolkien-esque familiarities in landscapes and architectural features all around me that I kept returning to the idea of forming a fantasy land from real world elements. The Middle-earth of the movies was so effective because of the feeling that you knew it, that it could be somewhere you’d perhaps visited or where you lived yourself. Lucky enough to live in a quaint and historical part of the North of England surrounded by landscape of great character both near and far I had a rich source of inspiration to draw from. My local city of Ripon can often feel like a pleasant stroll through Bree at times. The trigger came from Alan Lee and John Howe’s paintings, and like the filmmakers who were similarly inspired, I was captivated by their hauntingly beautiful watercolour illustrations. I loved the atmospheric details of climate in their depictions of Middle-earth as well as the fact that Middle-earth stood foremost as a central character integral to the illustrated scene.
My plan for From Mordor to the Misty Mountains (an unintentional homage to John Howe’s categories of his Lord of the Rings artwork on his website) was that it was going to look illustrative and have a cinematic quality, but any action and character content was going to happen on the periphery of the scene or out of shot to allow the features of the Middle-earth landscape to come to the fore, work their magic and stir the imagination. Any references to characters would mostly be small and distant. In the same immersive way you might engage with a given landscape when going on a long distance walk, say, the aim was to really draw viewers in establish a strong sense of viewpoint: that of a Middle-earth journeyman or wandering hobbit traversing the landscape on foot.
Tell us about the first LOTR-inspired artwork you did, what made you choose that one, and what you think of it now.
The first work in the collection that I completed was Campfire at the Watchtower of Amon Sul and it became the test case. The approach to the work was straightforward at this stage in particular with this piece; take a great photograph of a rugged Scottish landscape and tweak it ever so slightly to look like a scene from The Lord of the Rings without looking artificial. It became apparent quite quickly that I had managed to achieve the result I’d been after and it possessed the qualities I’d set out to capture. I look back at it now and I still like it greatly. It serves to illustrate how the work has taken on two styles that sit well side by side: the tendency towards the cinematic and photo-real and the much more illustrative.
How long do these pieces generally take to create?
These pieces can vary quite considerably. Some may be done over two to three nights (always a gap to allow for evaluation and improvement) but some pieces might take blood, sweat and tears over a number of weeks to complete. The Shire is a case in point, the basic composition of the image was locked quickly in a flash of inspiration but it took weeks of redrafting and altering before it really came to be finished. I won’t venture into technical details, but will just say that the lighting wasn’t right and tree-lines weren’t right. It took a lot to get the right degree of Middle-earth into that composition. But eventually hard work rewards you…if you’re lucky.
Taking an ever-expanding library of my photography which has grown and been carefully edited down to a best selection over seven years. A composition will typically be assembled digitally from two to three initial photographic elements that are enhanced by progressive layers of colour and photographic elements. At an earlier point in the planning stage each digital composition had a sketched-out equivalent in photographic terms – essentially a physically cut and pasted photo collage. That sketchbook-like process has been eliminated now that I’m a bit more adept at digital work, but in the beginning my working practice and approach was very much from the vantage point of an oil painter. I’m trying not to be too technical in my description of the process as it can be more interesting to retain some of the mystery and for artists in general to keep a degree of their working practice elusive.Posted in Alan Lee, Creations, Exhibits, Fans, John Howe, Lord of the Rings, LotR Books, LotR Movies on November 18, 2012 by Demosthenes