Over the past year I have been creating twelve new oil paintings for inclusion in the 2015 Calendar for George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Also known to many as The Game of Thrones. One of the great pleasures of this commission was the chance (and requirement!) to read all five novels of the series currently in print. Luckily I had the buffer of a few months to get started before we needed to settle on concepts for the first image of the calendar, the cover. George is an amazing writer, taking you on a roller coaster ride of places, events and emotions as first you hate someone then learn to appreciate their inner workings. And there are others we just keep on despising, page after page...
As I began to delve deeper into the novels looking for potential content to develop as calendar images, the clarity of persona which can strike clear as a bell in a short story character was getting muffled and complex. Where was the easy hero, the epic battle, the righteous quest for good? Who was the protagonist now that Ned has lost his head? Who's storyline will lead to the Iron Throne and who are these books about anyway?! I LOVED this about George's writing. There is no black and white (well except in Braavos), there are only shades of gray. Very much like our own world. It is for this reason I wish there were 36 months to each year, as my ideas came flowing like a river and twelve was far too few a number to choose to create from such a rich universe! I love ambiguity, I love the reluctant hero, I love seeing through the lenses of the other side and most of all I love a challenge.
Very early on I decided to create a unified series of these paintings. Rather than approach each image as a separate solution to solve, I wanted the set to read as a wonderfully unified whole, with plenty of variation within each unique piece of art, but brought under a common size, complexity and interpretative voice.
With the very first concept I set out to create the calendar as paintings each of size 30" x 30" and all oil on panel. I knew the first few would be easier to undertake given the time for the final deadline of this past February, but was heavily burdened by these constraints as the final three paintings needed to be finished in one month! And they were not the easiest of compositions either (twelve plus figures of the Night's Watch in one of them!) The challenge was stressful, but the results all the more satisfying.
With the source material of the calendar as the original writings from the novels, I was not beholden to the likenesses nor portrayal of the actors from the Game of Thrones HBO series. I was at liberty to interpret as I saw fit, from castle creation to cultural invention to character physiques. George Martin is an avid lover and collector of art, and it is his desire that the artists commissioned for these calendars be free to exercise their own visions of his worlds. I owe a deep thank you to George for both the confidence and freedom he has given to push my abilities to their limits in creating this series. I hope it lives up to his expectations.
Random House has just released the cover to the calendar, and although I cannot share with you any other art at this time, I thought this would in the least allow an introduction on my thoughts and intentions in where this series is headed. The HBO show has created an beautiful world from the novels, and it is very difficult to compete with those creations as a visual artist. It is hard not to imagine Ned without seeing the face of Sean Bean. How do you compete? I took an approach which has always been successful and my focus within illustrative art commissions, that of conveying intent and emotion without chasing after details.
I found myself asking larger questions about conflict, family and wealth imbalances as a way to tap into ideas - concepts which resonate with our modern world. Seeing the worlds of Westeros through these lenses opened my work up to broad interpretations of the story which went past simple character portraits. It is for this reason I am extremely happy with the results, and a reason many fans may not be satisfied with my paintings. This is not a calendar of specific moments from the novels, but rather a way to taste the bitterness, brutality and passion George brings with his words.
Preliminary Drawing 23" x 23" graphite on paper
rough concept 6" x 6" pencil and chalk on toned paper