Grounded in Reality

I love my reality with a dash of fantasy.

As much as I enjoy the epic, fantastical, and sometimes mystical elements of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre, it’s really the more mundane, everyday themes that draw me in. The small details of our heroes’ life and the worlds they live in give us a way to relate and connect with them. And that’s not just for storylines or plots or characters, but design as well. Hobbits from Tolkien’s Middle Earth would simply not be the same without the description of their charming little hobbit-holes.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 

-J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”

When you look at movies like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, it’s the dirty smokestacks, littered streets, and retrofitted brownstones that almost instantly make you sympathize with Deckard. Who could live in such decaying conditions? When Luke Skywalker crash-lands on the mist-shrouded surface of Dagobah for the first time in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I remember my curiosity at the small gadgets and scattered gear when he sets up his base camp in the swamp. What are all these things for? They give us a sense that there’s more to this story than just what the characters are doing.

It’s those seemingly tiny elements that immerse us into the world, most of the time without us even knowing it.

I try to approach my art with this same outlook in mind. Utility and logic seem more important considerations to me than what looks cool or trendy. One obvious example is the ridiculousness of the bikini-clad fantasy warrior poised against armed and armored opponents. Even when painted well (e.g. Frank Frazetta), the illogical armor design interrupts my suspension of disbelief, and I’m aware of the painting and the artist, and not the story it’s supposed to portray.

When used correctly, these small, real-world elements help bring us closer to the story and the characters. When plausible sensibilities are removed it doesn’t create a more interesting design or story, it prevents us from being able to relate as easily. That doesn’t mean we’re not free to abstract but—for me—it must be based in utility and logic. I find I appreciate abstraction when it comes to the physical rendering of the painting (i.e. brushstrokes, colors, composition, etc.), not the design.

In this piece, I expounded on the research I gathered from ancient Irish/Celtic weaponry and armor to come up with the design elements.

This is true for (almost) all of my favorite artists, modern (Alan Lee, Greg Manchess, and Petar Meseldzija to name a few) and classical. While I can appreciate Picasso and Pollock for what they contributed to the world of art at large, I much prefer the expressive, yet accurate portraiture of John Signer Sargent and Anders Zorn.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on art, films, and literature! Leave a comment or drop me a line on Facebook.