Welcome to another edition of Illustrating Westeros, Joshua. To begin, tell us how you became an artist, and the influences that have shaped your style.
I started drawing when I was a kid, together with my brothers. We had the habit of making comics, and the competition between us who had better ideas and drawings shaped my passion for art. There are a lot of influences that shaped my style, including my school. We had illustration subjects wherein we were required to draw using pen only. I was satisfied with my work, and I liked the pen medium.
I also have this theory that anyone or any piece of art can be good if you put effort and a lot of time on it. But maybe that’s the case for some forms of art, because sometimes I also do fast sketches and they seem good too. That's what shaped my style; I strive to put the best effort and time in my works, thinking it would look good if I carefully and patiently laid down the details.
You’ve become known in the fandom recently for your illustration thesis project that remakes one of George R. R. Martin's novellas, The Princess and the Queen, as a medieval-looking manuscript history book by a maester. What was your initial impression upon reading the ASOIAF books and the accompanying novellas?
I am interested in history, ancient history up to the medieval age. I like reading and knowing about the lives of influential leaders, the minds of great military strategists in history. Pitched battles particularly fascinate me. In other words, the whole world of ancient and medieval history was one of my nerd side interests, and that’s why when I saw the first season of Game of Thrones I was immediately hooked up. I must say I’m a bookworm too, but I’d never encountered ASOIAF until HBO's Game of Thrones, and after watching all the available seasons at that time (I watched GOT first when season 3 was already out), I couldn't handle the suspense and immersed myself in the books. I read through it so fast that I felt like the wait for The Winds of Winter is taking a toll on me and I plunged into fandom, and read all other ASOIAF books, lore and novellas.
I immediately got the impression that GRRM had created a very, very vast fictional world. It fascinated me that ASOIAF even has its own version of English, or so is how I feel. It really gives me the best things I love about medieval history and more, it has 'fantasy' that is dark. I would say it is dark, unlike clichéd monsters and whatnot, and it’s mysterious. Maybe that’s why it is also very compelling, edging the readers' curiosity. ASOIAF is dark and brutal for me, a lot of its characters are also 'grey', making it a lot more mature, darker, and I would say realistic, given the situations in their world. Politics, characters, and background lore are amazing. Now, I sound like a real nerd fanboy here.
Let's discuss the details of how your thesis on The Princess and the Queen came about and was developed. Why did you choose this particular story, and how did you go about making the project a reality in terms of getting permission and beginning to formulate your ideas?
I wanted to tackle a side of ASOIAF that is rarely (or is it?) touched by fan artists, I wanted to promote the rich background history/lore of ASOIAF to Game of Thrones fans (a part of my thesis' objectives), and I wanted to share with GOT fans my experience of knowing that there's more to ASOIAF than just the main story, in HBO's Game of Thrones, to those who are not yet aware of it.
I chose The Princess and the Queen because I judged it would be the most "fun" to be seen illustrated by fans and readers unfamiliar with GOT, because of two things: dragons, and dragons vs. dragons. I really knew from the start that I wanted to create an illustrated book version for the novella. But problems as to how would I make it and expound it (a novella is shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story), make it legit that it could be possible to publish such book.
I originally planned to focus on bringing out the harsh and brutal effects of war, of civil war, in the book, highlighting the effects of the involvement of Targaryens and their dragons. I planned gore for the illustrations. But I would’ve had issues and problems regarding the book's target market and audience (I'm also aiming to promote GOT/ASOIAF to non-ASOIAF readers), so I abandoned it.
I also originally planned the book theme to be more than just old-paper drawings, I wanted it to be like the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, hence the illustrations would not be as you see it now. But then again, I encountered problems, but this time it would be time. It would require some time for me to learn and adapt how to draw in illuminated style that would still appeal to modern audiences, and time was really not on my side. As a student, I had other subjects besides my thesis, and illustrations were just 40% of it. Honestly, I'm not satisfied with the book, I felt it was rushed and deprived of my original plans, but nonetheless I’m happy the community noticed it. I plan to overhaul all the illustrations.
Before I began my thesis, and after coming up with my idea, I contacted George R.R. Martin through his email shown on his website regarding permissions. I got an answer the day after from his assistant, Patricia Rogers, telling me that I could go on with it so long as I would not use it for commercial purposes and to send her my address. I also requested for an autograph, which to my disbelief I actually got, even if I’m not from the U.S.
Your illustrations in the book are detailed pen drawings, expertly capturing the seminal atmospheric scenes that occur during the Targaryen civil war, in addition to many portraits of characters. Tell us about your creative process with these drawings, the challenges experienced in realising your vision, and the impact you wanted to have on the viewer.
I wanted—or I tried to—create scenes for the viewers that would make them linger and scan the illustration. I wanted to make the illustrations dark and gritty. I tried using pen and ink, and eventually it has become my preferred medium in traditional illustration.
I wanted to emphasize for the viewers and awe them with the size of the dragons. I think I might even have overdone it, but that's how I pictured it from the book. I read the novella three times, too, imagining every time how good would a scene look if illustrated. I constantly took notes and thumbnails of the planned scenes I pictured while reading. In total, I wrote down 50+ planned scenes I visualized; that’s how interesting the novella is, but I narrowed it down to a few, and eventually 24 illustrations were produced.
Of the scenes I had challenges creating, it was cityscapes and anything that requires towns and houses. I must admit I'm weak at perspective. That's why I refrained from street-level scenes like the "commotion of bringing Arrax's head into King’s Landing." I also encountered problems regarding resources, I lacked proper means to transfer my illustrations onto the computer. I didn't have a scanner, so I relied on the camera of my phone. I had to improvise on a lot of stuff.
The fan-favourite scene of the aerial combat between Prince Daemon and Prince Aemond is one of the illustrations that distinguishes your style very well, showcasing the epic clash with a tightly detailed focus that reflects the fearsome encounter. What can you share about the specific process of creating this piece?
This piece was the second scene I made. It is one of my favourites too, and I immediately jumped to it. This piece was a honing stone for my style for the rest of the illustrations; it is here that I experimented and tried using a lot of strokes and different hatchings to create a detailed feel.
It had undergone two scene options: one was showing the zoomed-out view of the heads of the two dragons coming together, giving Daemon opportunity to jump; and the other was what you see right now. I couldn't decide, but in the end I prompted for the latter on grounds that I had too many dragon scenes already, and I wanted to give a close look at a dragonrider. It shows a still sitting and strapped Aemond struggling against Daemon, who is already standing on board.
A random thought that crossed my mind was how come the saddle and straps of the dragonriders don’t burn when two dragons collide, trash and burn each other, i.e. like in the Battle of Rook's Rest? I guess they didn't, or else the riders would have burned too every time, like a character did. So, it prompted me to illustrate what a dragon saddle would look like, how it would attach the rider so firmly that he won’t fall off in barrel rolls, and specialized saddle straps that don’t burn.
The next two paintings we'd like to explore don't feature a battle, but they do comprise of the duelling coronations of Aegon II in King’s Landing and his half-sister Rhaenyra on Dragonstone. Both scenes contain the impressive architecture and landscape features of their surroundings and highlight the crowds that bore witness. What would you consider to be the defining similarities and contrasts between these two moments as you illustrated them?
The similarities I made on both coronations were to include dragons. I pictured that the Targaryens' source of power was their dragons, and them being present in the coronations to awe the masses seemed natural. I also wanted to show how capable and close the Targaryens were to their dragons. The differences would be that Aegon's coronation would be inside the Dragonpit compared to Rhaenyra's, which would make it darker. I highlighted the coronation of Aegon to show that he had missing Kingsguard members, and highlighted the crowd on Rhaenyra's to give the readers the feeling of being witnesses.
Nettles meeting with Sheepstealer is another masterpiece of composition and mood, where the size and frightful presence of the dragon in comparison to the small girl who attempts to tame this beast are fantastically emphasised. Did you go through many different sketches for this piece? And what do you find inspirational and/or challenging as an artist in depicting such memorable face-offs?
I also had challenges deciding which of the dragonseed scenes I would feature. Nettles won, and partly due to the scene I was already picturing in my mind, a contrast between sizes, between her and a monster. There is something about Sheepstealer's wild and tame attitude in addition to Nettles' surprisingly cunning one, how a mere child (who’s not really a child) by accident and instinct feeds a beast, an animal. It reminded me of kids feeding dogs, sort of, but in this case it is a large dragon.
I had other different sketches for this scene: one was depicting Sheepstealer already feeding on the carcass of a sheep while Nettles watches sitting, a close up, and Sheepstealer looking at Nettles while his mouth is full; Sheepstealer descending towards Nettles (from Nettles’ point of view). But I settled for this one for the reasons mentioned above. It was the 4th piece I drew, and this is where I set up what a dragon in my books would look like.
We’ve noticed you opted for a very attractive antique parchment appearance as a distinctive layout for your book. To elaborate on the decisions on its design you made, what would you say were some of the challenges and payoffs in designing the book this way?
After abandoning the said plans for the thesis, I settled for "The book Archmaester Gyldayn recorded and illustrated." I had challenges blending in the illustrations with the book's layout, I drew my illustrations first, not thinking how it would look like with the text of the book. For the overall look of the book, the old parchment look is fine, but my thesis panel did not like it, saying it was too dark and interfered with the detail of lines in my style.
Now that your thesis project is successfully completed, can you reveal allegiances to either the Blacks or the Greens? And who are some of your favourite characters in the main ASOIAF series?
Definitely a Black supporter! I feel it was really a douche move of the Greens to keep King Viserys’ death a secret, also kinda disrespected the dead by leaving him to semi-rot in his bedroom. They are the ones who caused the war. I also like Daemon Targaryen, it almost feels like GRRM made him to be liked by the readers, to be the badass one. Read the The Rogue Prince novella for his full story.
In the main ASOIAF series, I like Brienne and Pod, Arya, Stannis and Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, and of course Tyrion. I like their chapters very much.
Do you have any plans to do fan art on some of these favourite characters, or other Martin publications set in the Westeros universe?
I plan to remaster the scenes in my thesis, and complete the ones missing from the book. I’ll be illustrating other battles—6 battles, if I remember, the storming of the Dragonpit, and the conclusion of the novella. I plan to touch mostly other ASOIAF-related books, planning on focusing on big scenes using the same style and with much more details and things to look at. When The Winds of Winter comes out, I’ll definitely draw Bran’s side and the Wall.
I also plan to make my own DeviantArt account; I find that the community here is very warm.
Thank you for talking to us, Joshua! You can see more of his art at: