Earlier this week I stumbled across Gerwell and his artwork, or more specifically his Silmarillion artwork. What fascinated me the most were his illustrations of the Ainur. Their designs are so different from any other interpretations I’ve seen and I’m very happy to have had the chance to talk a little with Gerwell about him and his art.
Can you tell me something about yourself and your background with art?
Gerwell: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but it had always been a hobby until I turned 17 or 18. I started learning more seriously and moving toward artistic studies. However I got bored with what I could get taught in schools so I changed my path to 3D studies. After finishing those I realised I really wanted to be a great illustrator, and since then I’m working toward this goal.
What is your connection to J. R. R. Tolkien’s works/ when and how did you discover them? Also, I’ve noticed that much of your Tolkien-related work contains subject matter from The Silmarillion. What is it exactly that draws you to that book?
Gerwell: It had always been in a corner of my mind; when I was a kid I had the Ralph Bakshi animation and I found it intriguing. But in 2001 when Peter Jackson released his first movie, I picked up the two last books and read them, and found them wonderful, but difficult at the same time.
A friend made me discover The Silmarillion years later, and I read The Hobbit while I was at it. Those two books really charmed me, although I found The Silmarillion difficult too then, because there were so many characters with similar names.
But I read The Silmarillion again recently and that’s when my interest got stirred so much. It’s a very rich work that mixes themes from a few mythologies and religions. The aesthetics of the characters really appeal to me, and the fact I’m rather free to picture them the way I want makes it all the more interesting for me, as an artist. There is a lot that is left to the imagination of the reader, which allows the book to carry on in one’s mind, after reading it.
Since there isn’t much to see of The Silmarillion’s characters and landscapes, does that make it easier or more challenging to come up with your own interpretations?
Gerwell: Definitely, that’s the good and the bad point when doing art of this book I think. It’s amazing how Tolkien managed to create such a complex world and still remain so vague on details that could be judged essential. You hardly ever learn anything about what some main characters look like. It’s sometimes very frustrating because I keep thinking: “Oh damn I hope I’m not making this completely out of spirit,” but maybe it’s what Tolkien wanted, to keep it vague and up to the imagination of the reader. But it’s very exciting to have so much room for my own interpretations, it even helps to get closer to some characters.
Have you/do you create art for other stories by the professor, such as The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit?
Gerwell: I have this picture of Galadriel showing her mirror to Sam and Frodo, but it’s not finished… Otherwise no, not for now anyway. Although a few scenes from those books really inspire me, such as Gandalf’s fight against the Balrog (of course). Maybe later!
Your character designs are very unique and I find myself mesmerized by all the little details you include in the hair, clothes and especially your landscapes. Where do you get your inspiration; are there any cultures and/or certain time periods that inspire you?
Gerwell: Thank you, haha. There’s inspiration to pick from every culture probably. I can mix everything to my liking afterwards but try to keep it coherent. Today with the internet, it’s very easy to find inspiration with a few clicks. I’m mostly inspired by Asian and European Medieval fashions. But I occasionally take things from completely different cultures and time periods, too keep something original.
Is there a particular piece you’re most proud of?
Gerwell: Hmm… Haha, well. I should do more paintings instead of cell-shaded pictures, but the three I’m rather proud of are:
What is usually your process from when you decide on a scene/character to a completed piece?
Gerwell: It depends. I often sketch something on paper very quickly, until I get to a pose/design/composition I’m happy with. Then I just redraw the sketch on Photoshop or Paint Tool Sai and go on with the usual process of painting or lineart cell-shading. But sometimes I don’t bother sketching on paper and just directly start on the computer.
Usually ideas come by themselves and I just sharpen them up a bit afterwards.
Who are your favorite artists; any favorite Tolkien-illustrators? Do you have a favorite piece of Tolkien-related artwork?
Gerwell: There’s Phobs, here are a few things he did:
But John Howe of course is a great inspiration; here are some pictures from him that I love:
Aside from Tolkien’s legendarium, what other subjects and stories do enjoy working from?
Gerwell: My own, haha. I do draw characters from other universes, but usually from video games or manga, so it’s probably irrelevant to this interview.
Are there any subjects you found especially challenging to illustrate? If so, why?
Gerwell: Morgoth was difficult because I never managed to create a clear image of him while reading The Silmarillion. And Phobs’ got stuck in my mind after and I thought it was a good representation, so I hardly bothered. But when I actually decided to draw him I got stuck and had to go through multiple designs before ending up with something satisfying.
What is your favorite medium? Do you prefer to work more digitally or traditionally?
Gerwell: There’s a different charm to both, but I can do so much more digitally, it hardly compares… And I’m not really good with traditionnal mediums, it gets really messy.
Do you sell any products, such as prints, of your work?
Gerwell: Not currently.
Any future projects you have planned and is there anything you would like to one day try out?
Gerwell: I’m always surfing a tsunami of ideas for various projects. Sadly I only have time to start a few before losing motivation… So I’m still waiting for the big awesome one that will keep me motivated!
I would like to make a comic someday, and know the feeling of having achieved a big project and feel proud of it.