Visions of Middle Earth – Our EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tolkien artist, Ted Nasmith

by May 18, 2003Other News

Ted Nasmith has been a fan of Tolkien’s writings for many years and is one of the most easily recognisable Tolkien artists.  I was able to catch up with Ted just recently and discuss his Tolkien art, his thoughts on the Peter Jackson movies, and  his participation and support of the Gathering of the Fellowship fan convention in Toronto this year, (where Ted will be a guest of honour.)

Elbren: Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a longtime love for you, first introduced to you by your sister, I believe.  Did being introduced to Middle Earth truly change  you?
Ted Nasmith: It’s probably more accurate to describe it as a kind of recovery experience. You suddenly rediscover a neglected part of your soul through someone like Tolkien, and it becomes a powerful lens through which you see your place and define your identity. It would seem I was somehow meant to fulfill my main creative potential through illustrating Tolkien.

Elbren:  Many say that your art of Middle Earth is the most accurate portrayal of what Tolkien describes in his books, especially regarding arms and armour.  Is that deliberate, (as in you read passages before and during a painting project); or, is that simply because the images are that strong for you?
Ted Nasmith: I’m not sure about the arms and armour part (–but appreciate it if people are saying that), but I do try to discern something of what I imagine Tolkien might’ve meant, and try to pay attention to his own views on any aspect of Middle-earth. I think what might contribute to a feeling of harmony with what people think looks authentic in Middle-earth is at least partly due to my simply having a passion for Middle-earth in general, and trying to follow my pleasure in depicting it with a balance of intuition and common-sense research into what Tolkien, or another source of technical information, says about the subject in question. The answer is really both; I have a strong sense of the images, but that’s come clearer over the years of deliberately trying to find out what Tolkien may have meant.

Elbren:  What is the first step when you start painting?  Do you see an image in your head?
Ted Nasmith: Yes. After reading the passage in question, I do see a scene in my mind, and can make a drawing from that. However, I’m not always satisfied that that’s the best version of the subject, and will look at other, photographic sources of ideas (my own or from my clippings files) in case these offer a better approach to the composition or colour scheme. Taking a step back like that can mean a better piece of art in the end, even if I return to the original out-of-my-head image after exhausting the alternatives.

Elbren:  What is your favorite image or Middle Earth project (of images)?
Ted Nasmith: I think I tend to be drawn most to the scenes with soul; that involve situations and places that are rich in ‘natural magic’ and ‘faerie’. They emphasize natural beauty and mood, and are intended to touch the spirit of faerie in others. Therefore the landscape and carefully observed details are important; a consideration of the totality of things involved in the scene–light, mood, the relationship of things in the scene, what to leave out, what to suggest only vaguely, various nuances that engage the viewer.

 Elbren: What haven’t you painted or drawn, from Middle Earth, that you simply feel that you MUST, at some point, draw or paint.
Ted Nasmith: Now that I’ve been able to paint so many dozens of LotR and Silmarillion illustrations, there aren’t many things I feel an urgency to depict, but rather look forward to continuing to paint M-e scenes and filling in this or that blank along the way. I think I’d like to investigate the Númenorean epic in more depth, and paint more of the scenes from, say, Turin, the Fall of Gondolin, or Beren and Luthien, as well as other Silmarillion themes. I’d love to illustrate Smith of Wootton Major, too, if there’s ever a call for a new version. Focussing more exclusively on a particular episode of LotR would also be interesting–such as the Old Forest/Tom Bombadil sequence, the Lothlorien sequence, the Ithilien scenes, or the journey to Mt. Doom.

Elbren:  Do you feel like your contributions to Tolkien’s world enhance what Tolkien himself created?
Ted Nasmith: That has always been my expressed objective, yes. That is a question best asked of those with an opinion on my work, though.

Elbren:  Have you any Middle Earth art (of your creation) where you deliberately veer from Tolkien’s own descriptions?  If so, why?
Ted Nasmith:  In general, I don’t see any point in veering away, but it may be that I’m not being bold enough. I can imagine being seized with an idea which is somewhere between Tolkien and another source of inspiration, and which has its own integrity, but it holds no great interest for me as yet. Partly I just move from one project to another in Tolkien illustration and haven’t the time or energy to paint personal works outside the scope of that–besides other commissions of a commercial sort.  

Elbren:  Now we have the Peter Jackson films; from what we know, you did not participate in their making.  Do you wish that you had (been asked)?
Ted Nasmith:  I was asked, in fact. Due to a combination of factors, personal and professional, I couldn’t accept–but it was good to know there was a place for me there.

Elbren: Assuming that you’ve seen the films, has it changed any of your personal  mental images of Middle-earth?
Ted Nasmith: I’d be naive if I didn’t expect some of those images to percolate into my store of ideas; the movies are a feast for the eyes, and the locations and sets by and large intelligently conceived (based often on my and others established painted conceptions, note). It’s hard to ignore the work of the many creative professionals employed to realize Middle-earth for the screen, but I think it’s important to be careful that my work and the movie ideas not tend to merge, and if that means making conscious decisions to depart from the films’ conception of this or that, or just keep my own ideas distinct, then that’s okay.

A native of Goderich, Ontario, Ted Nasmith spent much of his young life on the move and lived for three years in France; he now lives and works in Markham, Canada. As an illustrator he divides his time between architectural rendering and a variety of other forms of illustration, particularly the Tolkien paintings he is becoming renowned for. Ted Nasmith will be a Guest of Honour at The Gathering of the Fellowship in Toronto, December 2003.


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