Soni, or Bohemian Weasel, is a talented artist whose work can be viewed in solo exhibitions, and has illustrated for Portuguese children’s books. She is best known for her much sought after Sketch Cards depicting everything from mythology, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and more. Her sketch cards have even been featured in a Lord of the Rings collection by the famous TOPPS and you can see her work featured in and on the cover of the book, Sketch Card Mania.
Can you tell us something about yourself and your artistic experience?
BW: I’m an illustrator from the south of England with a penchant for Elves, tea, and weasels. After graduating from Glasgow I sought somewhere quieter (and warmer) where I could focus on drawing. That led me to Portugal, and a delicious little attic flat in an old house by the sea. I did as much art-related work as possible: illustrating children’s books, exhibitions, private art tuition, and various commissions; but what I liked best was drawing characters and scenes from LotR. A friend (the very talented Grant Gould) suggested me to the art director at Topps for a LotR project they were doing, and when I was asked to participate I think they heard the squeals across the Atlantic.
You have different themes that you illustrate. From Tolkien, to mythology to Star Wars, etc. What is your favorite subject to illustrate and why?
BW: I’ll probably always love drawing Tolkien’s works best as it’s practically part of the family. My parents read the stories to me when I was tiny, we listened to the radio plays together, made up stories about Elves on long car journeys, and did ‘that Gollum voice’ at every opportunity. (I’m in awe of what Andy Serkis achieved, particularly in The Hobbit where Gollum was at his best yet, but Peter Woodthorpe’s version is how I’ll always hear Gollum when I read the books.) I can’t remember a time without drawing or Tolkien, so it’s most natural to combine the two! When I do step out of Middle-earth it’s often straight into Victorian London or Ancient Greece. Admittedly I do love a good vampire, or top-hatted ghoul,vengeful Greek god, or harpy. But I think I like Elves best.
Sketch card art has become a huge industry for collectors and artists. What is it about sketch cards that attracts so much interest?
BW: There’s something quite magical about a work of art so small it fits in the palm of your hand. I think there’s something gem-like and precious in seeing those images so compacted; and logistically they’re easier to store and carry around. You can have your own art gallery inside a binder! (Or hoard them in a delicious arty pile and sleep on them like Smaug.)
You have worked on sketch cards for Topps, including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. How is this medium different from your usual art?
BW: Smaller and more stress! It can be quite daunting to have to produce 100 small drawings in the time I’d usually make one big one! But it taught me a lot about drawing: including how to attack a drawing less nervously, and when to put it down -PUT IT DOWN NOW – and just stop fiddling with it. If left to my own devices without deadlines, I fear I’d never get anything finished for all the fiddling and tweaking.
J.R.R. Tolkien has been called the “Father of Modern Fantasy Literature”. If Tolkien had not written ‘The Lord of the Rings’, what do you feel the impact on 20th century literature would have been?
BW: Obviously there would be a lot less fantasy in the now familiar Tolkien-esque mold (where high elves are snooty, dwarves are surly, little people are quaint, and jewellery’s magical).
But the impact wouldn’t be limited to literature, or even just art – I think Tolkien’s works have planted an important seed of longing in people’s minds for a more romantic, less industrial age; a seed that casts deep roots and a longing that can last a lifetime. Perhaps even contributing to the popularity of Medieval romances, fairy tales, historical re-enactments and the SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) movement, and even ecological issues as people seek lives more in tune with nature. After all, Hobbit Holes are not only possible now, but also very low impact dwellings…
What aspects of your approach to depicting the story of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ make you unique and set you apart from other artists who have used Tolkien’s work as their inspiration.
BW: The difference may from my other inspirations: a love for Victorian illustration left me with my own spidery way of drawing lines; and a fascination for medieval icon paintings and stained glass shaped the way I draw and compose images. I’d like to make art that could have come from Middle-earth itself!
Do you feel that Peter Jackson’s LOTR films and the upcoming Hobbit films truly capture the spirit of Tolkien’s work?
BW: They capture a very Middle-earth-ish spirit, a beautiful one, but perhaps more of our present-day imagining than Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
One of the subtle but deep differences is setting it in New Zealand. It made sense as New Zealand is so beautiful, varied and unspoilt; yet there’s something about it (perhaps the vegetation, the colours, the quality of the light?) that’s inherently different from the European landscapes that Middle-earth locations were based on and inspired by. However, I think the films caught the spirit of the difference races brilliantly – particularly Hobbits and Dwarves. It would’ve been easy to make the shorter peoples clownish and silly, but there’s a depth, range and richness that lifts the characters from the book and breathes life into them.
What advice would you give a new artist starting out, and what do you think is the most effective way to market yourself and your work?
BW: Practice your art every day, and do it in whatever way pleases YOU the most. Ultimately it will be a labour of love, so make sure it’s something you love doing. Make lots of experiments and lots of mistakes, they lead to exciting things.Don’t be harsh with yourself and your expectations; there’s no such thing as being ‘bad at drawing’ – that’s just what people say when when they can’t make their art look like a photo. Bugger photos, that’s what cameras are for. What really stands out is work with character and vision. Be brave, be unique, and be persistent!
If you want to get your work seen, Facebook, Tumblr and DeviantArt.Com are all useful. Consider forums and message-boards relevant to your interests, and also forums frequented by experienced artists who are doing what you’d like to do; these are good places to make contacts, as a good word can open all sorts of doors, not just Durin’s. If you’re sending work to art directors for consideration, be polite, brief and professional. Check out their websites for information on what submissions they’re considering and in what formats – then follow those directions to the letter.
Where can people find more of your work?
There are various Tolkien websites using my work to illustrate their articles, including http://valarguild.org/ and http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki
My printed work can be found in various trading card sets (images of which are also on my site), as well as a few different books, most notably ‘Livro de canções populares e infantis’ (a hardback collection of traditional Portuguese children’s songs) and ‘Sketch Card Mania’ an art collective that includes my work.
I’ll be participating in more exhibitions in late 2013 and 2014 (mostly in the UK) details to be announced nearer the dates!
You have seen her work, and now you can have a chance to win your very own print from Bohemian Weasel!
Enter to win this amazing print: “Vale of Imladris”
HOW TO WIN
To win, answer the following question (thought of by the artist featured here), in the comment section below or on the Facebook pages. A winner will be randomly chosen from all the correct answers.
Question: Who was the first (named) Elf that Frodo met in Lord of the Rings?