Over on Wraith Land, Thomas Kelley has just published the second part of his extended interview with Tolkien artist Jay Johnstone.
Jay’s artwork employs techniques from religious manuscripts, icon and fresco illustrations from the medieval period, and uses a variety of mediums — oils, watercolors, acrylics, egg tempera with gold powder and leaf. Striking detail and traditional techniques give the impression of artwork that could have been produced in the real Middle-earth.
The first part explored how Johnstone’s own dreams influence his art. In this second part, Kelly explores Johnstone’s medieval illumination approach to Tolkien art in detail.
When I interviewed Jay last year in April, I asked him about this “text within a text” vision in his Tolkien art, which to me are of the same theme as his “dream within a dream” iconographies. Using his painting “Gandalf in the Library of Minas Tirith” as an example, I pointed out how he meticulously detailed the books and scrolls in that image with Tengwar lettering. You can also see this painstaking attention throughout, as in works like “The Dwarves,” which illuminates Thror’s map in Bag End from The Hobbit.
“You know, I can’t remember what it says but there’s two parchments on his desk and both of them are written on and the lettering is about a millimeter high,” he says of the Gandalf in Minas Tirith work, chuckling a bit under his breath. “It’s absolutely tiny. I literally do it with a magnifying glass and a precision brush, a brush with one hair on it. I do that in quite a lot of paintings.”
It’s another level of getting inside Middle-earth, down to the micro. Such works are a celebration of the writers and sages inside that meta world, and of writing and learning itself. Johnstone’s “Círdan the Shipwright” — with its Tengwar and ship schematics on parchment — and his “Bilbo at the Library at Rivendell” — with history flowing from Bilbo’s pen — give us a new window into time.