My favorite part of a new expansion or adventure pack is getting to, of course, see the new cards. If I can resist the temptation that is spoilers, I enjoy, just as equally if not more so, the chance to lose myself in all the new art that has entered into our game. Thankfully, one card did not get spoiled for me, and when I looked at it I had to pause and take note. I’m speaking of Ghan-Buri-Ghan the Lore ally from Flame of the West illustrated by Piya Wannachaiwong!
Being a fan of Lord of the Rings, of fantasy, of sci-fi, of epic stories, mythical beasts, and so on, it’s sometimes hard for me to be wow’d by art that aims to portray “fantastical” elements. I feel like I wouldn’t be alone in this. We’ve grown accustom to seeing dragons, trolls, elves, sweeping valleys and impossibly jagged mountain ranges that the fantastic seems normal to us. I wouldn’t say we’re jaded to it, just accustomed. Much to my surprise, Ghan-Buri-Ghan made me stop and really look at the art. I felt like a kid again, looking at a character from The Dark Crystal or The Neverending Story. I’m so happy this card is in our game.
Strangely enough, Ghan-Buri-Ghan as a character is little more than another species of “man” in the Tolkien universe. They’re a little more stout, look just a little different from “us” but for all intents and purpose they’re regular people. What sets them apart, aside from diverging paths in their evolution, is their complete and utter isolation from the races of Middle Earth. Not many people know of their existence, as much of a legend to some as Hobbits were to the men of Rohan. This isolation sets them apart far more than anything genetic. Their culture, their way of life, many things about them that isn’t just their natural appearance is otherworldly to many. Piya Wannachaiwong does a great job of getting that across.
As is the case with some of the cards released for FFG games, the illustration for Ghan-Buri-Ghan is slightly different from it’s card version to it’s source material. This is most likely for printing purposes and for players to more easily identify a card among many. Even so, the magic is still there. What I find most interesting about this piece is the amount of detail found throughout. The spiral lines adorning Ghan-Buri-Ghan’s face and arms, the antlers framing his face, almost looking like they’re a natural part of him, his wide and squat facial features, and the feathers that creep through on his right side, almost mistaken for hair. There’s so much detail in this illustration that I’ve noticed something new every time, like the fine fur on his fore-arms or the crow’s feet that accompany his questioning eyes. Interestingly enough all of it feels very un-Lord of the Rings until you realize that it’s Ghan-Buri-Ghan and then you get that “a ha” moment. It was an eye opening experience for me, a fan, player, and reader. I find that a thematic win as it feels like somewhat of an emulation of the characters’ own reactions in the novels when they encountered this Chief of the Woses.
And of course, having looked at Ghan-Buri-Ghan I decided to take a peek at what else Piya Wannachaiwong has brought to Tolkien’s world via our lovely card game. The results surprised me to say the least. It seems like nothing is out of the question in regards to what Piya will create. Some of his cards are Epic, some cinematic, others are very fantastical, and some are down-right grotesque. Let’s get to it!
The Lazy Lob Spider from “On the Doorstep” is a particularly nasty arachnid. The angle of the picture, its piercing eyes, and it’s menacing “crown” adorning its head, all make for an overwhelming and off-putting spider. There’s no laziness in those eyes.
While not grotesque, but certainly on the creepy side, another standout card for me is the Golbin Lurker from Into the Pit Nightmare. Looking a little gremlin-esque, this cave dwelling Goblin is a ferocious looking creature. His teeth are more jagged than what I’m used to seeing, his ears a little more exaggerated than most, and his eyes give a strange yellow glow that make you hope you’d never have to encounter such a monster. The grin is sinister, a little bit of drool coming off, showing that it can barely hold off from springing on some unsuspecting victim, adding whatever spoils it may find to it’s growing collection of rings and other jewelry. Like Ghan-Buri-Ghan there is a lot of fun little details in this card.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the Prowling Wolf that Piya produced for The Voice of Isengard deluxe expansion. A fan-favorite of some other key members in our community, the Prowling Wolf has the right amount of fantasy. Mostly thanks to the influence of the PJ movies, I think we grow accustom to the more subtle fantasy elements shown in the films, and forget that Tolkien’s world, even in the 3rd age, is still full of magic (even if it’s not for good).
As far as player cards go, nothing stands out to me more (other than Ghan) than Taste it Again! Portraying one of my favorite moments in the story, this card illustrates the moment where Sam faces the ferocious Shelob and, using Frodo’s sword, Sting, lands a devastating blow against the Spider. It’s easy to get lost in the wild colors in this art. The pale yellow eminating from Shelob’s many eyes and the angelic blue of Sting’s blade as it injures the creature. Taking a closer look you get to see what is probably one of the more alien, and yet still terrifying, depictions of Shelob thus far. The mouth (and I’m not an expert of spider anatomy) reminds me more of Predator than anything in our world. The teeth, the eyes, the little hairs sprouting all over the place, it can give you shivers. Pretty odd actually to have such a menacing piece of art be represented in a player card. I know it’s because of little Sam in the corner saving the day, but Shelob is so overwhelming. As a side note, that’s another thing I enjoy about this. Shelob herself is almost the entire piece, with just a little bit of space for Sam, and even then we don’t get to see all of him.
Piya’s work on his main site is even more varied than his Lord of the Rings: LCG contributions. He has done work for Calendars, Star Wars Day, his personal portfolio, etc. I highly recommend taking a few moments to go through his site yourself and seeing some of the amazing work he has done. Below are just a few of what stand out to me:
Here’s a crossover I didn’t know I wanted. Though it’s not exactly a crossover (kind of jumped the gun there) Piya describes it on his site as “A Tolkein-esque depiction of the story of the 47 Ronin.” Who wouldn’t love to see that?! If you take a closer look you can see that the blade being wielded by the central warrior may not be “real” in the normal sense of the word. If you look at the hilt it seems to be formed from light, slowly taking the shape of a blade as it goes up, with little bits of itself licking upward like a flame. Always a fan of lighting, I also enjoy the little patch of snow at the bottom, the little mounds of snow, arrow-ridden, and the blue/white moonlight being muddled with the golden yellow the sword.
It isn’t always swords, and elves, and violence, in Piya’s portfolio. There’s a good selection of more adorable pieces as well. This is a collaboration between Piya and his fiancee. She did the drawing, he painted over it for a fur exercise. Again, the lighting here is fun to absorb, the sunlight that creeps through the trees onto the red panda’s ears and the soft glow it gives to the animal. What I find particularly interesting about this is his ability (and this could be credited to either him or his fiancee) to emulate a shallow depth of field. Here only the face of the red panda is in focus, and not all of it is crisp, from there the focus falls off. It feels like a real photo.
Then there is the Yokai Sketchbook, probably my favorite area of Piya’s website, and that may be because I’m mostly unfamiliar with the source material. I’ve heard the term Kirin (center) before, and Oni are popular in mainstream fantasy, but I’ve never heard of a Jubokko (left) and I had to research what a Yuki-Onna (right) was. For any YuYu Hakusho fans, think Yukina. From trees dripping what appears to be blood, umbrellas with demonic faces and actual tongues, to a flaming wheel with a demon’s head at its center, the different Yokai represented in Piya’s sketchbook are fun to take in and, for me, give me insight into a world with which I am not entirely familiar. Not to mention the line and ink work done in these “sketches” are beautifully done and again, represent the different styles Piya can produce.
I’m a big fan of what Piya has brought to our game so far, and like many of the artists, I look forward to what else we will see from him. He was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his work, his approach, and so on. Enjoy, and as always, Thanks for Reading!
-The Secondhand Took
(2HT) How long have you been drawing and illustrating and why did you start?
(P) As far back as I can remember. I got started because I LOVED dinosaurs and still do. There was a magic in bringing these creatures that no longer exist to life, even if just on paper.
(2HT) How did you turn what you do into a profession?
(P) I don’t think I had much say in the matter. Throughout my life, art was the one constant. It was what I did consistently and what I did with some degree of skill. You might have heard artists say that they didn’t choose art, art chose them. That’s me. My family hoped I would become a doctor or lawyer, and I went to college as a bio/pre-med major. My grades were abysmal despite the fact that I studied pretty much every waking moment I had. It was clear I could become a failed doctor or throw all caution to the wind and embrace the identity I always had inside. I have to say that my family was concerned but ended up helping me go to art school anyway.
(2HT) For a character like Ghan-Buri-Ghan, where did you go to for inspiration?
(P) My art director Zoe Robinson sent me some art already done of Ghan-Buri-Ghan. I had in mind a face that had a savage exterior with a core of deep wisdom underneath. I knew I wanted a brow ridge that was absolutely Neanderthal. There’s elements of Maori in there as well.
(P) I’d have to say the Orc Trickster for the Blood of Gondor Nightmare Pack. He’s the Orc hanging upside down. The art direction for that card called for an Orc assassin type, ready to pounce on you and rip your throat out. The idea of depicting him upside down came to me one day when I envisioned an evil, Pennywise type clown dropping upside down in front of me. I did not sleep well that night, but I had a great idea for a card! Don’t ask me where I got that idea; despite what you hear about artists, I’ve never done drugs and barely even drink.
(2HT) What is your favorite subject to illustrate (General Fantasy, LoTR, Star Wars, monsters, etc)?
(P) Easily, dragons. My art director Deb Freytag said I’m one of the monster guys in the artists pool.
(2HT) Can you tell me a little bit about the Yokai Sketchbook? What prompted you to start it and what’s the goal?
(P) Oh God that’s a LONG story with a lot of random parts that just came together.
I think it steps from two things that I wanted to improve about myself. First, consistency. I had never done a long term project that I had kept going for more than a handful of months. Second, I would sometimes look at some artists’ sketchbooks and marvel at how beautiful and resolved they were considering they were sketches. If you look at my sketchbook, it’s chicken scratch thumbnails. They’re absolutely vital to what I do, and I’m not ashamed of them, but I always had that ‘wouldn’t that be nice’ feeling.
Finally (told you this was a long story), watercolor artist Ania Mohrbacher had just finished an entire Moleskine sketchbook with just ink drawings, started over one Inktober. When I saw her lovely sketches, I knew I had to make one. It was exactly what I needed to address those two issues I just mentioned. But what should I do subject wise?
I got the idea for the Yokai Sketchbook (Yokai are Japanese ‘demons’) from the one and only comic book I consistently read: Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai. A cartoon about a samurai rabbit set in feudal Japan sounds like a joke, but the stories are amazing, Usagi is an interesting character, and Stan has been writing Usagi for 30 years. 30 YEARS! Anyway, Sakai released a book a few years ago about the Hyyaki Yakko (the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons), which is a night every year in Japanese legend when the Yokai come out to the human world en masse. That was the third missing piece for my project.
My final goal for this project is to fill the entire sketchbook with Yokai. Every. Single. Page. I knew I would never be able to do it daily, but I am resolved to finish it. I may not be the most consistent artist who ever lived, but I WILL finish this sketchbook, and that has to mean something.
(2HT) My favorite one so far is Yuki-Onna. I’m familiar with some of the Yokai but not her, could you elaborate?
(P) Yuki-Onna or Snow Woman is a yokai that takes the form of a striking young woman with dark hair and beautiful, but terrorizing eyes who appear randomly to people caught in the snow. She is said to freeze people to death on the spot or simply lead them astray in a snowstorm so they die of exposure.
(2HT) How did you get involved with the LoTR: LCG and/or Fantasy Flight Games in General?
(P) Connections. The artist Christopher Burdett (RAWR!) looked at my work and encouraged me to write to Zoe. I sent in my work, didn’t hear from them for 3 years and suddenly, I was getting emails from them.
(2HT) Also, in regards to your style. I honestly had a hard time putting into words because you produce so many different pieces of art. How would you describe your style?
(P) My ‘professional’ style is kind of mainstream I would say. Representational, imaginative realism, as James Gurney would say. I also like my colors rich and bright. If you want dreary, post apocalyptic looks, I’m probably not for you. But if you like your fantasy art big, bright and colorful with an unapologetic love of monsters, well my email is email@example.com! (Shameless I know.)
(2HT) What methods do you use when illustrating? Do you work digitally or with a physical medium? I noticed on your facebook you’ve been doing a lot of watercolor recently.
(P) Professional art (ie art that I’m paid to do) is pencil drawing and digital painting in Photoshop. The watercolors are because I’m constantly curious and I keep on having to scratch another itch. I’ve done oils, ink, and have even played around with handwritten type. Call me again in a year and don’t be surprised if I tell you that I’m sculpting or something like that.
(2HT) Outside of Lord of the Rings, what’s been your favorite piece you’ve created so far?
(P) Oh dear Lord don’t ask me what my favorites are of my work! The curse of being an artist is you see all of the flaws of your work. I will say the Ymgarl Genestealer holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer 40000 since my teen years and being able to contribute, even in a small way, to that universe was truly special to me.
(2HT) Do you play the Lord of the Rings: LCG? If not, are there other tabletop games you enjoy?
(P) To be honest, I’m not much of a gamer. I DID do Warhammer 40k many years ago, but I follow games more for the art and background than for the game.
(2HT) Are you a fan of Lord of the Rings (Movies, Novels, etc.)? If so, who is your favorite character?
(P) I’ve read the Hobbit a few hundred times and I love the Lord of the Rings movies. Favorite character…probably King Theoden. Even with his title of King, he wrestles with self doubt over the death of his son, whether he truly protected his people at Helms Deep etc. When the Becons of Amon Din are lit, he grabs his chance at redemption. He fights like a true warrior and dies like one too.
(2HT) What projects are you currently working on?
(P) At this very moment, my next dragon calendar. My first calendar, for 2017, was published through Llewellyn and at the time of this interview is available online and hopefully available in stores in the next few weeks. My Yokai Sketchbook is still going strong (I have a ton more to scan for my website; my Instagram (@piyastudios) is the best way to keep current on that. Inktober is just over the horizon; I have a theme ready and looking forward to that. I’m producing a bit of art for an upcoming Harry Potter Festival in early October and Retro Game Con in November. I’m continuing to play around with traditional media, I have both watercolor and oil projects being worked on.
I’m also a teacher at Moore College of Art and Design, which is a significant, but very worthwhile, investment in my time.
(2HT) Where can people find your work? Are there any conventions or similar gatherings you like to attend where people could find your work?
(P) My website is www.piyastudios.com. My handles on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are @piyastudios.
I’m still figuring out the convention scene, I’ll be exhibiting at Baltimore Comic Con 2016 this weekend, the Harry Potter Festival in Maryland in October, and I have a table reserved for Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. I’ll continue to update on my website and social media when I’m hitting conventions.