There’s definitely no denying that the Tolkien community is filled with extremely talented people and I absolutely love seeing all of the artwork fans create. It’s fascinating to see how artists each have their own take and spin on all the places and characters we know and love.
Last year I saw an illustration of Éowyn vs. the Witch-king on tumblr by artist, Angela Rizza, and I just remember thinking, “WOW,” because I’ve never before seen Tolkien’s world portrayed that way. Angela includes a lot of beautiful colors and details that I can’t get enough of and her work gives me the chance to fantasize how The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit would be like as illustrated storybooks. I couldn’t wait to find out more and I’m very lucky to have had the chance to talk a little with Angela about her and her artwork.
Angela: I live in New York and graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology in 2011 with my BFA in Illustration. Since I was a kid, I have always been drawing, fantasy and dragons were my favorite subjects. Then in college I expanded what genres I drew, but fantasy and literature are something I always love coming back to. Since graduating I’ve been featured in Level Magazine, Imagine FX, Creative Quarterly, Illustration Age, and on Behance. Recent clients include Bioware, HelpInk, and I love doing gallery shows.
What was your first experience with Tolkien?
Angela: I remember in elementary school we had something like a Book Barn that came around twice a year selling cheap books. I bought The Hobbit because I really liked the cover art, I was always impulsively buying books for their cover art, not really the stories. But this one I read and it was my first intro into the whole fantasy genre. I loved all of the different races, cultures, world building, and it really boosted my imagination. Instead of drawing only what I saw, I began drawing things that didn’t exist and reading more and more fiction.
I know this probably isn’t the easiest question, but do you have a favorite piece that you’ve created?
Angela: Haha, yea it’s a bit hard to answer because I will hate something when I finish it, love it a week later, then hate it again maybe a few months later. But if I had to choose my favorite is probably my Ravens piece, I had a lot of fun doing the feathers and patterns on it, and I’ve received a lot of compliments on it.
I read that you work traditionally and digitally. What’s your process usually, from when an idea strikes to a completed product?
Angela: I have folders and folders of reference. Sometimes I’ll come across a picture of a tree or maybe a dress and think, I need to do something with this, and it just builds off of that. I usually come up with thumbnails in my head right before I go to sleep, I doodle the ones that stick the next day, and I have in mind some images I want to use for reference. I will pick a thumbnail, work on it a bit and make a final thumbnail. Then on paper draw it out in pencil, then add value with black water color, then add lines and detail with pen and ink. Then it gets scanned into Photoshop, I put the lineart on a mask layer which lets me color it, usually brown. Then I just get to work coloring, experimenting with what looks good, add some details, and fix up the final image with levels and curves.
Where do you get your inspiration? Any artists that you admire?
Angela: A big inspiration to me has to be Arthur Rackham, I love his linework and characters, especially their clothing and the environments they’re in. Some other similar artists include Edmund Dulac, Harry Clarke, Charles Robinson, John Bauer, Yoshitaka Amano, Vania Zouravliov, and I get some inspiration from comics and tattoos.
Have the LOTR/Hobbit movies influenced how you perceive certain landscapes and characters to look?
Angela: For The Hobbit, I tried to give Biblo’s face a bit of Martin Freeman’s qualities, and I went with their costumes. It’s just so recent and in everyone’s minds, that I feel if I don’t do it somewhat exact I’ll get criticism. I actually got a bit of that with my Eagles piece, everyone wanted to know why they weren’t brown and had three eyes. I was just adding a bit of myself into it. But when I did The Lord of the Rings pieces, the movies were done so long ago, people don’t remember all of the details and I let my own aesthetic take over.
Do you have a favorite Tolkien character and location? If so, what is it that draws you to them?
Angela: Based on the movies, I would have to say Bilbo is my favorite character and I am enjoying The Hobbit more than LotR. With LotR I feel like a lot of characters were telling the story, and in The Hobbit, the point of view is basically Bilbo the whole time, and there is a lot more character development.
What are you looking the most forward to in the next two Hobbit movies?
Angela: I love seeing creatures! I’m really excited for Smaug, especially hearing Benedict speak as him. I’m hoping he isn’t the typical looking dragon, and has some elements from the animated movie.
Why do you consider your Balrog piece to be one of your favorites?
Angela: I liked playing with light in the Balrog piece and the color scheme was something new. It was also my favorite scene in that movie.
How would you describe your style?
Angela: I think my style is like a modern version of classical storybook illustration. I take the technique and follow it traditionally, but make it more current and less outdated with lots of color and with fashion that is more in style.
There is just so much left to do with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I want to tackle a few more of those first. I want to more scenes from The Hobbit as the movie progresses, would like to do a piece with the goblins or the White Orc soon. Right now I think I’ll switch to some Game of Thrones pieces.
What do you enjoy drawing the most?
Angela: I love drawing birds and plants most.
I’ve seen that you indeed do work from other stories and novels like Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. Aside from Tolkien, what subjects do you most enjoy drawing from?
Angela: I like re-illustrating stories I read as a child, the way I saw it in my head. I was devoutly reading Harry Potter, as soon as it came out, and when I saw the movies, they didn’t really look how I expected. And with A Game of Thrones, I just love everything about it and I like the very serious look of the world, I have fun toning it down a bit and making it more like a classic children’s book. There’s a few other pieces I’d like to do from movies like The Fall, Labyrinth, Italo Calvino’s fairy tales, and I want to try and do a kickstarter to fund a children’s book about endangered species of animals.
Would you say fantasy is your favorite genre? If so, why?
Angela: Yep! There’s just no limits when it comes to fantasy, anything can happen and you don’t need much of an explanation for it.
If you are interested in seeing more of Angela’s work be sure to visit her websites: