Artist Interpretation – feedback from the masses

Morgan Le Fay by Nicole CadetThe feedback cycle on a painting can be both wonderful and painful. While some comments make you feel all mushy and happy inside, other comments have you scratching your head. And then there are the trolls who you just have to shrug your shoulders at and keep painting anyway.

A couple of times I’ve posted a painting, and I get feedback about:

  • the artwork reminding the person of some random book or character I’ve never heard about,
  • the artwork reminds them of an existing painting or artist’s style (depending on how this is done, this can either be a compliment or a veiled snark)
  • Some pieces people swear that I’ve referenced a particular famous person (when I haven’t)
  • I’ve even had someone tell me that my interpretation of a myth/ goddess was wrong and insinuated it was an insult to their religion.

Most of the time I’m interested to hear how my art relates to a person. That connection is almost as important as my reason for painting a piece!

The fact of the matter remains is that art is subjective. We take in all that’s around us, mix it up a bit, let it stew, gather dust, then start painting. Sometimes the references are directly inspired by some ‘thing’. I generally try to say that in the comments – like ‘this is a fan art painting’ based upon a particular book or movie. Even pictures based on myths, I try and talk a little bit about my research and reasons for my interpretation.

Honestly, some times I just let my muse take me, and only see the references after I’ve finished and stepped away.

So I thought I’d say something about the references I do and don’t use :)

Young Adults Books

I’m an adult. I was a teenager during the 90’s, back before the YA genre really came into being. Back before the interweb! Yes, there was a time when not everyone had a computer, and not everyone was connected. You went from children’s books to adults books – and you went to a library or a book store to get your fix. There was not much in between – we had Point thrillers, RL Stine, L. J. Smith (Vampire diaries – which I disliked intensely as a teenager. Elena annoyed me.)… and maybe you could class the Dragonlance chronicles in that middle area. If you were like me, I was reading David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Heinlein and other adult authors when I was about 13 (also Mills and Boons and Georgette Heyer, but that’s another story). There was no Harry Potter, no Cassandra Clare, no Twilight, no Animorphs.

So if you say is my work based on a novel which is a Young Adult book, it’s probably coincidence only. I do occasionally read YA novels, but not a huge amount. And by the way, many of the books coming out have references to earlier books… nothing is ever created in a vacuum.

Lord Of The Rings

Ok, I loved the movies. I read the books after I saw the movies (my grade 5 teacher told me to read the Hobbit, but I never could get into it). I still have to read the Hobbit or The Silmarillion. I actually fell in love with Elves after reading Dragonlance (Larry Elmore was a huge idol growing up and I loved all the Dungeons and Dragons artwork from that time). More importantly, Alan Lee (one of the concept artists for the movies) was an artist I loved as a child. I used to borrow a book called Castles and another called Mabinogion from the library and pore over the illustrations. So yes, there will be references to Lord of the Rings, however there are a lot of references to Celtic knotwork, Art Nouveau architecture, Viking designs, Persian armour and other historically based imagery. My brain hoards pretty pictures.

Anything by Laurell K. Hamilton

This one I can positively say NO. I’ve tried reading her books, and I don’t like them. Nothing to do with the genre, I just don’t enjoy her writing or her books. I have read a number of Vampire/Witch/Werewolf based books (before the market became glutted by them), so inspirations will have come from the other books if anywhere. Plus I love mythology. Particularly obscure gods, goddesses and creatures.

Merlin/ The Tudors/ Any faux medieval drama

I like pretty costumes, but when I’m trying to work with a more historically accurate painting, there’s a lot of research that goes in. Historical paintings, descriptions from manuscripts, historical re-enactors (I’m a member of the SCA so there are a lot of people who know a lot, and have really good examples of experimental recreation garb and objects). Movies rarely get it 100% because movies are about pretty people in pretty clothes. Some movies are really well researched, others might as well have hired the costume from a bad costume hire shop. I get people making comments that costumes would look better with the belt on the outside of a sleeveless surcoat. Or maybe it would look prettier if there was no chemise under the bodice.

It’s kind of like comparing the Pre-Raphaelites (late Victorian painters that made pretty versions of history) and the late medieval/renaissance paintings (from the time where many of the real clothes were being worn). History and fantasy are different. What we think is pretty would be bland or ugly by historical standards. I like blending the two, I try and point out when I’ve completely deviated from history. This is when I wish people read comments! But don’t take my word on it, there are plenty of resources out there that explain why the chemise is under the corset, or why my surcoat is not belted (you can probably find obscure references that show it over as well, but it’s not common)!

Many of my paintings are inspired by what I read

I research costumes, though I haven’t made any costumes recently. I’m researching early Italian Renaissance, but Saxon and Iron Age is also a favourite. I also love books on Mythology… particularly the ones that have photos of ancient carvings, and poems translated directly from the ancient sources. I also love traditional fairy tales and folk tales, which are often a lot darker than our modern day fairy tales.

Mostly, what I hope you take away from this is that there is more to the world that what’s in Wikipedia or shown on TV. Read a book, listen to some music, go to an art gallery. Expose yourself to more than just what’s popular!