Alvaro Calvo Escudero represents a newer generation of LOTR: LCG artists. Where a lot of the artists that contributed to staple cards like Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins(Spirit) are no longer prominent or providing illustration at all, Alvaro’s work has been pretty steady since its introduction.
Alvaro Calvo Escudero’s most recent work at the time of this post is “The Thing in the Depths.” The artwork behind the monster the characters face off with in the latter of half of the quest intrigued me to say the least, and when I learned all of the creature cards were from Mr. Escudero I decided to reach out. He was happy enough to answer a few questions for me. Read on to see my thoughts on his work followed by the interview!
Aside from a treachery in a nightmare pack, Alvaro’s first break into the game is in the oh-so-lovely Dunlanding enemies we encountered in the Voice of Isengard. Dunland Berserker and Chief Turch are two of Alvaro’s Dunlanding illustrations with a couple other enemy cards and a treachery rounding out everything Dunland.
Looking at Chief Turch we can already get a strong sense of Alvaro Calvo Escudero’s style. Vibrant colors, strong contrast, and striking angles are what, to this Took’s eyes, define Mr. Escudero and his representation in this game. We see Chief Turch in what could be the Lord of the Rings version of a Michael Bay/Top Gun sunset, his back illuminated by what almost looks like a fire-lit sky. To his left the world is already growing dark, a mellow blue cast on his torso and face. The rather turbulent clouds above him take on the same color combination and his rocky footing beneath him looks ominous with it’s similar red backlight. Though the pitchforks do tend to nudge the feel of this piece in an obvious direction, the lighting alone makes for a scene that feels like a moment on the precipice of action.
Jumping a bit ahead we go to an illustration Alvaro provided for the Foundations of Stone Nightmare Pack. Putting subject matter aside, we can see a big component of Alvaro’s artwork in the coloring. Where there isn’t necessarily heavy contrast in the way of lighting, the colors themselves are about as separate from each other as you can get, and there are only 3 colors that define the piece as a whole: Red, Blue, and Green. Though this illustration of another, less-explored part of Tolkien’s world isn’t sporting any drastic angles like the illustration for Chief Turch, this portrayal of a Primeval Thing is no less striking. This might be my favorite of Mr. Escudero’s work. It may be a bit alien/sci-fi, straying from the more grounded fantasy that defines the Lord of the Rings novels, but Tolkien’s world as a whole is extremely fantastical and for a subject like the Primeval Thing that is unknown even to an enemy like Sauron, the otherworldly nature of the card works perfectly.
Now we move onto something away from Middle Earth. Found on Alvaro’s ArtStation Page, this piece, titled Counter!, is just a fun and exciting piece of art. I’ll admit I’m not sure where this belongs (looks like D&D to me) but it looks straight out of a movie, as far as cinematic technique is concerned. For me, my eye was immediately drawn to the dragon, who’s illuminated orange facade stands out among the mostly blue illustration. From there, I noticed the huge slope that takes up nearly a third of the picture before my eyes began to speed along it’s decline towards the mounted warrior, spear in hand. You can almost imagine the camera following a similar trajectory, ending with an at-the-edge-of-your-seat moment with the two forces colliding or with the warrior narrowly dodging the flames of its foe, or perhaps something else entirely. Either way, very similar to Chief Turch, there’s a lot of action in this picture and it’s amazing!
Mr. Alvaro’s work stands out, and I almost mean that literally (not just that the quality is excellent!) His artwork is either full of strong, rich colors that clash together in glorious ways or his work with the “camera” and lighting make for a cinematic portrayal that isn’t always seen in card games.
Take this one for instance, titled “Eye of the Beast.” It’s my favorite of Alvaro’s Thing in the Depth cards and, again, shows how what a couple color combinations and clever camera placement can make a relatively simple card look dynamic. Instead of just showing us the beast (or rather its Eye), Alvaro gives us a bit more, showing large, sturdy scales that continue to run off screen and massive tentacles that quickly disappear into the water, keeping us guessing as to the true size of the creature, though one would already assume the worst. In front of the beast, a strange orange light dances along the waves and behind we see its source. Way off in the distance, ominous clouds break to reveal a orange sky that almost looks like it’s on fire. The use of the horizon in the back, not just it’s angle but how far it looks, makes the “viewer” look isolated, as if the only thing in several miles is this massive creature with its eyes locked on potential prey, it’s as much hopeless as it is ominous in tone.
But enough of me rambling on about Alvaro Escudero’s work! Take a look at what he had to say about his approach, how he got into the business, his thoughts on LOTR and more! (note: Alvaro, who primarily speaks Spanish, was nice enough to answer my questions in English. Some of the wording has been edited on my end)
(S) How long have you been drawing and illustrating? What got you into the profession?
(A) Like a lot of others colleagues, from childhood …and after studying art some years and taking it more seriously I started as an illustrator and concept artist for video games.
(S) You have had to draw pieces of Middle Earth that aren’t too prominent in the novels. Where did you get your inspiration for things like the Dunlendings or The Thing in the Depths and its many tentacles?
(A) These moments have been more difficult because the references are fewer, but at the same time more exciting because you have less restrictions than other famous parts. For Dunlendings I took some time to study correctly the brief from FFG and history of them, understanding their character you learn a lot about their poses. Angry and bearded people and films like Conan were a good reference for some aesthetics too. I had to analyze a lot of rude facial expressions and It was cool to learn more about anatomy. I always try to learn something with any project.
(S) How did you get involved with the LoTR: LCG and/or Fantasy Flight Games in General?
(A) LOTR through books and films they create a fan. I translated my impressions to my sketchbook. I like to always do it with things that impress me.
I started with FFG thanks to a friend who advised me. I took my portfolio and completed it with some fantastic illustraions, I sent it to them and I waited some time. They were very kind giving me an opportunity from the beginning.
(S) You mentioned you have received some negative feedback about your style? Any idea why?
(A) It’s not negative feedback rather no feedback, It’s true. I’m not moving as well as other artists in social network and I think not many people know about me and my work. I have to work with it better. I really don’t know what think the LOTR fans about my work. Know it would be great.
(S) Also, in regards to your style. It looks like you pick a particular color (blue, green, yellow) and theme the scene around that color. How would you define your style?
(A) Yes, It’s one way to give a particular sense and attitude to the picture. Using the color phichology in the end and moving through it.
I always felt very inspired by impressionist people, and one of the greatest J. Sorolla. But about my own style, I’ve been waiting and fighting for it for a long time. And I think we haven’t found each other. I really think I haven’t a very recognizable style but now I’m not so confused like before and I decided to relax and be more natural with it.
(S) What methods do you use when illustrating? Do you work digitally or with a physical medium?
(A) Now I’m more digital artist than traditional. Deadlines are faster than ever. But I continue painting in my free time or for commissions.
Of course, I always use pen and pencils to study and for the previous sketches for pieces. One of the best moments of the process I can say: Sketchbook, pencil and coffee.
(S) What is your favorite piece you’ve released so far? Both in Lord of the Rings and outside of it?
(S) Do you play the Lord of the Rings: LCG? If not, are there other tabletop games you enjoy?
(A) Tabletop games is one of the things I have to start to do this summer. They have evolved a lot and I think it’s the time for enjoy with them.
(S) Are you a fan of Lord of the Rings (Movies, Novels, etc.)? If so, who is your favorite character?
(A) Yes. Of course, one of the best character ever written: Gollum/Smeagol.
(S) What projects are you currently working on?
(A) As freelance I have various clients at the same time but now I’m working hard for HEX people and its very cool fantasy world.
(S) Where can people find your work?
(A) web: escudero.artstation.com
(S) It looks like you are based out of Spain. Any chance players can find you and your work at any upcoming conventions in Europe or North America?
(A) No at this moment. Maybe FFG invite me some day with them…. 😉
That’s it! Thanks again Alvaro for allowing me to showcase your work and answering some of my questions. Though there are links just above this paragraph I’ve put all the main links below:
Thanks for reading!
-The Secondhand Took