The amazing Middle-earth art of John Cockshaw
What sort of equipment do you use?
In terms of equipment I use a Fujifilm Finepix S5800 which gets me the results I need and is nicely portable and has joined me in many a scramble up rocky hills and squeezing into confined cliff crevices to get the shots I’ve needed. It was passed on to me by my brother James and I’m a sentimental fellow who will love it until it works no more. It’s a great means to an end of getting the perfectly composed photograph to be worked into the final composition. It’s also up to the job of getting the quickly discovered shot, the instant image of an opportune encounter with landscape that, like a quick sketch, will inform the larger whole. The digital processing is completed using Gimp, the open source image manipulation software.
You say you work on a micro, macro and landscape scale. For people who aren’t necessarily familiar with photography, can you explain what this means, and how these elements come together to create the finished work?
Put simply the work is composed from an exhaustive range of landscape views photographed on my travels in the UK but also from my expeditions abroad such as Austria and Tunisia for example. But working in effective combination with this are photographs of micro-landscapes that are discovered when you really scrutinise the landscape close-up. So this is where you get extremely close to a subject and photograph that section of tree bark that, via the Macro lens, becomes a mountain ridge or the minute sections of driftwood found on a beach that become the looming tower of Cirith Ungol or the forbidding Minas Morgul. This is where my love of the miniature-scale work employed for The Lord of the Rings comes in. Combining these full-size and miniature scale elements is really just a case of creative composition and careful selection, but I learnt from studying the special effects documentaries for the trilogy just how clever miniature work can be and it provides a great joy when the effect can be pulled off quite creatively. The Hobbit will no longer utilise miniature work on account of the advances in technology, but I have no doubt the quality of the CGI will look as delicately crafted, intricate and continue to hold the same breathtaking appeal.
I’m curious about your scouting of places and locations, as it seems as though it could be a kind of homage to parts of the English countryside you like? Is it a process of random discovery, or do you have some plan?
The scouting of the places and locations is nothing but a sheer joy of the project. It often isn’t planned but I try and make use of every location that I newly visit or return to again and again. There is a certain degree of homage to the English countryside I like mirroring Tolkien’s love of his home country, but to be honest my hawk-like eyes could find Middle-earth wherever I found myself. Mostly it is a random discovery of places which makes it fun to be constantly on the look-out for opportunities, but on the few occasions I haven’t had my camera with me it’s been a real wrench and I’ve learnt from that mistake! Another element of location scouting is that when you’re scrutinising a landscape close-up on a miniature scale you’ve just made your world twice as vast for photographic opportunities. My poor wife has suffered on many lovely walks where I’ve stopped for an impromptu but extensive photo-shoot!
I’d love if you could briefly profile for us a couple of your Middle-earth creations.
Starting with Minas Tirith I had great elements for the foreground and background sections of the composition from photographs taken in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales and Mountain peaks taken near the Italian border of Austria. The problem was coming up with a convincing method of creating a hint of the regal majesty of Minas Tirith that could sit centrally in the landscape. The result I arrived at involved composing a likeness of the city using photo elements of sheer white cliff faces taken in Cornwall in the South West of England. The White Tower of Ecthelion was an industrial tower that I’d spotted and photographed 5 years previously whilst on a 12-mile walk in South Yorkshire. All of a sudden Minas Tirith nestled discreetly in the hills of the composition with only atmospheric details of mist, a subtly lit beacon and added texture to bring it to life.
With Fangorn Forest (Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold) I built up a likeness of Treebeard’s tall frame and limb branches from an extensive scouting of tree elements that possessed a figurative likeness. The facial composition of Treebeard was much harder to get right but I’d had no problem with finding facial likenesses in bark texture etc. As a test I made a physical photo collage which worked very well, however the digital equivalent very quickly fell apart. So to complete the full figure I combined the digital figure with a digital scan of the collaged face and with further blending gave it a more accurate appearance. One afternoon in my local woodland I spied a section of trees that I immediately knew was a perfect spot for Treebeard to occupy. With further lighting adjustments and atmospheric details the composition was complete.
Have you submitted your art to competitions? I understand you’re exhibiting right now?
I’m very excited about current and future interest in the collection of artwork. Many viewers have found certain Boschian and Pre-Raphaelite similarities in specific pieces, which is fascinating and part of the whole beauty of opening the work up to interpretation. First and foremost the work will be available for purchase at The Rapture Gallery in Harrogate within my locality of North Yorkshire. What first inspired me to approach the gallery for this collection was the owner and Artist/Sculptor Wayne Malton’s amazing Balrog sculpture that he had just completed as a commission. I knew this would be a good home for the work. It is hoped other venues will express interest as exposure builds and I’m hoping something will be take place within my home city of Ripon. I’ve recently been interviewed by UK fan site The Hobbit Movie and had a selection of the work featured on the site. I’m in the process of arranging a project for Spring 2013 with Sarehole Mill in Birmingham, a location with a strong connection to Tolkien’s childhood that is interested in hosting the work in a yet to be decided manner. Sarehole Mill is a romantic site and a fully working mill but because of its size the project will be will ultimately be on a small scale, but whether it’s an eventual display or interior / exterior installation it will be a huge privilege to be involved with a location that has a strong link to Tolkien’s past. Details are to be confirmed.
I’m going to continue with the collection and further refine my techniques. I intend to begin working on pieces in direct response to The Hobbit films, but an element of just enjoying and living with the films for a bit and appreciating Howard Shore’s score as well will be required. I hope to carry on building my reputation as a distinctive UK Tolkien artist by continued exposure of the work.
In terms of other Lord of the Rings projects in the fire, well there is a little oddity that I’d like to mention that I completed earlier this year. With dogged determination and a passion that never burned out I completed a short zero-budget film, a two-parter of 15 minutes apiece, where elements of sci-fi cinema merged with art house and fantasy. The film mirrors certain aspects of Chris Marker’s La Jetee and story-wise concerns a variation on the Ring of Power idea. Completing it was a fight against constant equipment failure and other difficulties but it was a sheer labour of love and a trailer is available to view on the blog I’m just not too sure how well the name translates as it’s called The Power of Ultram which I think in the US is a brand name for the drug Tramadol.
Thank you greatly, it’s been a pleasure to spend time with TheOneRing.net and share my work with its community of fans.
Readers can visit John’s site here to find out more about his works, his ideas and his exhibits. TORn is also hosting a more extensive gallery of images here.
Posted in Alan Lee, Creations, Exhibits, Fans, John Howe, Lord of the Rings, LotR Books, LotR Movies on November 18, 2012 by