When I first saw Tomás Hijo’s Tolkien artwork, I immediately wanted to zoom in to see everything. The first piece I saw was his poster of The Battle of Five Armies, it’s a total of 40 inches wide and honestly, I’m still amazed. The amount of detail put into this one poster is amazing, I can’t even begin to imagine how much time and patience went into creating it.
Tomás Hijo has illustrated more or less 60 books, many of them for children. He’s created artwork for schools and picture books from various publishers and themes. “Some of them have been published by my own little, cute, lovely publishing house: Tatanka Books. I do not have formal education in art, but I got into the business and things went in the right direction, I guess. Nowadays I teach Illustration at the Fine Arts School of the University of Salamanca, Spain.” When he works freelance for publishers his schedule is usually tight so to keep up with everything he works digital. But when it comes to his personal work, he chooses to work with oils, watercolor and pastels. “Lately, I’ve been doing some scratching on prepared boards. The Battle of the Five Armies illustration is done that way.”
Tomás’ story of how he became a Tolkien fan is certainly one of chance. Because Tomás loves fantasy and science fiction comics/movies, one day in the late eighties he ordered a poster of a wizard after his friend showed him a catalogue of records. It wasn’t until weeks later that he realized there were some lettering on top that read The Lord of the Rings. “I thought it was fascinating, and I didn’t know why. When I saw the book on the shelf in a friend’s room, I borrowed it. Well, not really, as the book is still in my library next to that wonderful Jim Cauty poster. Of course I read the book and got caught.”
What he appreciates most about Middle-earth is its universal lessons. “I figured out that everybody who loves Tolkien has wondered themselves what Aragorn or Frodo would have done in a concrete situation that affects them. Tolkien’s works offer answers to such questions beyond the singularities of our reality. In addition, I would say that his vision adds charm, love, and mystery to nature. And I love it.”
When I asked him how he would describe his style, he said that when you see his work all together, you will see that there is not a uniform style. “I try to generate one for each work (unless the client chooses one from previous commissions) but, logically, every one of them shares elements with others. I tend to be simple in shapes but I love to add details, I like to deform anatomy to make it talk about the character, I love hard shapes, and strong contrasts, and motion. I try to avoid graphic stereotypes, perspective, excessive ‘volumetric information’ and effects I consider too easy and too often seen (being Photoshop filters the anathema).”
He gets inspiration from many different artists such as Mike Mignola, Alan Lee, Satoshi Kitamura, Isidro Ferrer, Javier Serrano, and the list goes on! He is also inspired by filmmakers, writers, painters, trees, animals, and people he sees. “I’m always taking mental snapshots of ears, back’s curves, neck positions, leaf shapes…” Aside from Tolkien’s stories, Tomás enjoys drawing well, everything! “I had drawn weird things as instruction leaflets for uranium miners, and I enjoyed a lot. Well, I didn’t enjoy when I had to illustrate that book for music students full of 1×1 vignettes with full symphonic orchestras!” Animals and monsters are also a lot of fun for him to draw. Specifically bodies in motion of odd proportions, like his Balrog piece for example.
Since I was thinking about how much I’d love to see his work featured in the books, I asked him which he would most love to see and he went with The Silmarillion. “I think that The Silmarillion is still dark in a lot of places. I wouldn’t have to fight with previous depictions so often there. And there’s a lot of epic and tragedy! Yummy!” I’d buy that book! I’m just saying.
Tomás sees the non-human races in Tolkien’s world as a frame for the race of men and hobbits. “They are the only characters that can sustain tragedy in a scale that I can identify with. I love the epic of elves, dwarves, balrogs, dragons and gods, but I can’t relate to them properly when immortality, divine rights of primogeniture or pure and eternal evil are in the base of the drama.” His favorite character is Boromir, and refers to him as a quintessential tragic character who carries a huge burden and is very proud. “His virtues and flaws are so… Shakespearian… Aragorn, Eowin, Grima, Théoden, Sam, Túrin… are, for me, the most interesting characters.” His favorite Middle-earth location is not one populated by Men, rather it’s “any foggy forest where it is said you can have a glimpse of an elf.” The part in LOTR where Frodo and Sam come across the desecrated sculpture with athelas growing on top fascinates Tomás, in the movie and book.
Tomás admits that he enjoyed the LOTR movies a lot. He was that fan who bought every single type of DVD, normal, extended, special, collector’s edition, you name it! He got all the “art-of” books and didn’t miss any Easter eggs. “But I was critic with a lot of things. I think Peter Jackson and his folks did a wonderful visual work, but went too far in terms of drama and narrative interest (more and more as they advanced). Both things are heightened in the new [Hobbit] trilogy: visual design are even better, story treatment is obviously worse. My heart is broken between the magnificence of Thranduil’s chambers (Lake City, Erebor, etc.) and the incredible stupidity of that giant golden dwarf. Argh!”
Tomás is a hobbit at heart, and if he lived in Middle-earth he’d happily live in the Shire! “Warm fire, ale, nice furniture, open air parties… I would choose that kind of life if I was permitted to have a little adventure from time to time. It would be enough to wander around a ruined watchtower and return home before it starts to rain.”
Speaking of hobbits, I asked Tomás how long it takes him to complete a piece, like his one of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins for example. “I spend a lot of time sketching and resolving issues before I attack the board. But when I am sure and focused (a rare thing if you are the father of a five years old boy), I work fast. Lobelia was completed in a day and half. The Battle of Five Armies took a week plus retouching. I need to work a lot of hours to achieve the desired proficiency. If I have only half an hour, I prefer to check the mail or chat in Facebook.”
Make sure to zoom in on the Lobelia piece on his Etsy!