I've had the good fortune to have a decent amount of time to do some in-depth painting these past few weeks, which resulted in a series of pieces starring Mae and each of the Alastaire siblings. First is Mae in a typical interaction with Mona. Mae's got her old silver compass, and Mona is wearing her royal pearl pendant.
Next is Mae glancing sidelong at Colm (why do they always look like they just got caught making surreptitious love? What is this subtext??). This intimate little scene comes near the middle of the book, where they're each sharing a few of their secrets with the other. Mae's roughed up from an altercation with a rockslide.
And finally, we come to Arlen. Anyone who's ever been backpacking knows there's always that one person who remembers they have a pocket full of beef jerky just after the bear bag is hung.
Arlen is that person.
From an artistic standpoint, each of these pieces has furthered my own little quest of achieving more depth in my work and not getting too finicky with details. Like most artists, I have a tendency to overwork my pieces. To counter this, I've been working zoomed out to 33% and only going in really close for intricate details like faces. It's helped some, though I still need to work on preserving the freshness of the original sketch.
Of all the artists I follow, the one who most frequently inspires me to sit down and pour myself into a new piece while weeping softly onto my tablet is Lois van Baarle. Educated in Belgium and the Netherlands, she works as a freelance illustrator and animator. I discovered her work in high school and have been learning from her ever since.
What can I say about Lois? Honestly the two words that jump to mind are luscious whimsy (aaaand with that, my agent probably just slammed her head against her desk). She has the most incredible mastery of color and a distinct talent for underwater scenes. Sometimes edgy, sometimes sugary, always brilliant.
Her tutorials and progress videos have furthered my own artwork during a time when I don’t have the luxury of taking physical art classes. I’ve adopted some of her methods, particularly her technique of laying down a Multiply layer and then erasing bits of it to provide a guide for shading. Most recently, her work has inspired me to pursue more depth and dimension in my pieces. But more importantly, she inspires me to create. Her work has pulled me out of several art slumps, pushed me to break away from my comfort zone, and encouraged me to keep working even when (especially when) a piece falls apart.
Online, she mostly uses the username Loish, and you can find her work at her website, DeviantArt page, or Facebook page. She just recently put out an art book, as I’ve been subtly reminding my husband (“This. I want this for Christmas. Let me write it down for you. There, it’s on your bedside table.”).
So, thanks Lois, for your gorgeous work and fantastic imagination!
I have almost three sketchbooks full of concept sketches and illustrations for Woodwalker, but I can only post a fraction of them without giving away the plot. So here are a few benign ones. First up is our protagonist, Mae. Top left is her in Woodwalker uniform giving (shouting) her opinions to the king of the Silverwood, followed by a few scenes from her subsequent exile. Bottom left is Mae as a young scout, probably just after joining the Royal Guard, listening intently to her Woodwalker.
Next up are some Alastaire babies. First is Arlen stuffing his face with gingerbread ("eating his feelings" my friend Caitlin would say). Then an awkward family portrait, and a typical interaction between Mona and her mother ("keep that chin up."). And finally Mona being crowned queen of Lumen Lake at age eleven, watched by Colm and a distracted Arlen.
And finally, a few scene illustrations, starting with a shot of the group on their journey through the Silverwood. To the right is one of the earliest scenes in the book, though in retrospect, it sort of looks like Mona just caught Mae sleeping with Colm (brb, going to make some manuscript edits). Bottom left is Arlen with his prized (read: only) possession, his atlatl, the Bird of Prey. Bottom right is Mae revealing (plot twist!) she's not a cat person.
I can pinpoint a lot of books that inspired me to write and draw at an early age, but few have been more influential than the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, so it’s fitting to begin in Middle Earth. My first memory of these books came at the age of eight, when my dad read me The Hobbit out loud. We were traveling at the time, and we were taking a red-eye plane flight when we reached the iconic scene when the goblins are setting fire to the trees where Thorin and Company are hiding. My dad has never been one to do things halfway, so he belted out for all our fellow passengers to hear: Fifteen birds in five fir trees, their feathers were fanned in a fiery breeze! I was mortified at the time, of course, but now it’s the most vivid thing I picture about that scene.
The Hobbit was my first literary love. I read it every year throughout my childhood, but the first time I picked up Lord of the Rings, full of the afterglow of the Battle of Five Armies, I cracked my head on the sudden shift in tone and voice. I couldn’t get past the Council of Elrond. Through middle school, I shied away from LotR, until the momentous occasion occurred—there were going to be movies. Well, I couldn’t go see a movie in good faith without having read the book, could I? So I crept back to my copy of Fellowship of the Ring. I read it, set it down, saw the movie, came back, read it again, and then polished off The Two Towers and Return of the King in just a few days. I think it helped to have a face to put with each character.
Thus began the true era of The Lord of the Rings for me. I was blessed in high school with a group of unabashedly nerdy friends, and we fed off each other’s nerdtastic energy like bees on honey. I quickly consumed The Silmarillion and Book of Lost Tales, and later Unfinished Tales. I drew, I wrote, I dreamed, I created, I more or less drove my parents to insanity until I graduated high school and moved out of the house.
(To be clear, despite my love for Lee Pace and Martin Freeman, The Hobbit films were a huge disappointment for me. I thought they were made with far less integrity than LotR, and I mostly try to ignore them.)
The obsession continued through college and grad school, though it did change in nature, becoming a bit less fangirly and more scholarly (think Implications of the Abduction of Celebrían and the Nuances of Quenya vs Sindarin). But most importantly, it drove me to research and to write. I dove into the depths of the appendices and The Silmarillion to create stories of my own within Tolkien’s world (see: Abduction of Celebrían, above).
Now, fanfiction gets a bad rap, stigmatized as weird erotica and half-baked Mary Sues. Writers: don’t let this stop you. Fanfiction is an amazing incubator for a budding author. It eliminates some of the legwork of creating your own world and characters, and as a result, it allows you to find your voice, learn how to build a successful story arc, and, if you do it right, RESEARCH!! I researched the heck out of my works even though I knew I was never going to publish or share them.
So fanfiction gave me a foundation and a playground to let my writing skills run around and fall down and get dirty. But after a while, I began to feel the constraints of working within someone else’s world. Let’s be real, there’s not a whole lot of space for women in Middle Earth. Sure, you have a few notable characters (including my favorite, Eowyn), but they’re auxiliary at best. It’s a boy’s story at heart. Gender egalitarianism and its influence on my work is a post for a different day, so let’s leave it with me being tired of feeling sidelined in this world I loved so much.
This frustration fed directly into the creation of Woodwalker and its sequels. The stories then gained a life of their own which drove them away from the Tolkien-esque feel I started out with, but the underlying foundation is still there—adventure, long journeys, distinct cultures, and skilled characters (the majority of which are women, hey-ooo!).
So, thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien. You inspired me, like so many other artists and writers, to find my own Middle Earth, though I’ll venture to say none of us will ever achieve the same kind of depth and cultural shift. In fact, clever readers might notice a distinct nod to Tolkien as my mentor in the pages of Woodwalker. Can you find it?
Woohoo! Night Night, Little Tiger, the children's book I illustrated, is now available at Amazon and at Clemson-area retailers! Anyone with ties to Clemson will enjoy this little book. And a special initiative to all my Tiger Band friends, past, present, and future--- how many TB references can you find throughout the book? The authors and I will be doing a book signing at Denver Downs on Sunday, October 4th (that’s Clemson Day at the farm). Come out and say hi! I’ll doodle in your book for you!
See my Events page for the next upcoming signings!
While in Yellowstone, I had the amazing opportunity to take a watercolor sketchbook class up in Lamar Valley. This was a free perk of being a park ranger, and it was one of my favorite experiences of the whole summer. In the height of August, when we were nearly seeing 12,000 people through the visitor center every day, I got to run away to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and spend three days sketching landscapes.
I’d always been a little terrified of watercolors. They just seemed really uncontrollable. But our
instructor, Suzie Garner (you can find her on Twitter @suzie_garner), helped me embrace their
looseness and unpredictability. Now I’m totally in love with the freshness of watercolors, and how easy it is to throw down my paints and projects mid-stroke and pick it all back up a few hours later (this is immensely helpful when there’s some crisis with the kids).
I started bringing my little sketchbook with me all over Yellowstone, even backpacking in the Tetons and along Shoshone Lake. Sitting and painting the landscape is so immersive, and looking back at my sketches plants me right back in that experience. When I look at my favorite sketch below, I remember exactly how still the lake was that morning, how we heard elk bugling across the water, and how the steam curled up from the geyser basin. Gah! An all-inclusive memory.
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator