When I first played Ruins of Belegost the first thing that struck me was the art. The depiction of the creatures that inhabited the derelict were as fascinating and mysterious as they were fierce. I saw Naurlhug and was affixed by his drake-like appearance and his molten body, barely able to contain some inner fire. Then I played the quest and started encountering the Artifacts found amidst the rubble and I became entranced, and felt the desire to see more remnants of the second age. Who was responsible for said artifacts? Lucas Durham.
When I started to get truly invested in these artist spotlights, I wrote down an initial list of artists I wanted to cover. Lucas Durham was one of them and he has been kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions. As always, scroll down to the 2nd half of this post to read what he has to say!
According to his website, Lucas is stationed in the Chicago area after studying at the American Academy of Art. During his time as a student he studied briefly in Italy where he fell in love with the Renaissance and Baroque style that is so prevalent there. As a freelance illustrator, Lucas has combined his love of the aforementioned techniques and mixed them with modern approaches to create a style unique to himself. Working in the card game and literary industries, Lucas regularly contributes sci-fi/fantasy artwork and considers himself an avid member of the community.
Not being terribly versed in the nuances of art history, but still knowing a small amount, I must say I agree with the above points. A fair amount of Mr. Durham’s work has a traditional quality to it, even though the subject matter may be of a more fantastic nature. But what about his Lord of the Rings work?
You will probably be most aware of Lucas Durham’s work with the release of Ruins of Belegost (as mentioned above). During the quest, it is possible for the players to come across ancient artifacts from ages past. A set of keys, an ancient tome, and a tattered map are just some of the items our Heroes can find.
My favorite is, perhaps, the Keys of Belegost. While the original art, which you see above, shows an uncropped version of the card art, you still get just as much detail as you would in the game. And this is what is particularly enjoyable about Mr. Durham’s work. There is just so much to digest. The keys, though they look dwarven in design, are of themselves very different among each other, some looking rather simple and plain and others looking like they would open thick stone doors protecting massive vaults. They key on the left has a keyring that looks like a dwarven helmet. It’s clear these keys belonged to someone, maybe a guard, as is evident by the skeletal hand that is barely covering them, hinting that whoever this was, died with them in his or her possession. Was this person trying to escape, only to suffer a terrible fate, or did they lock themselves or the enemy out? Shutting themselves (and anyone else) inside to stay safe. Whatever their reasoning, they met a gruesome fate. Pools of blood can be found on the cracked stone floor and a blanket of spider webs have covered the keys and hand.
The Sword of Belegost is a close runner up. Like the keys, there are a lot of fun things to pick out and notice. Similar to the keys, the sword is covered with threads of small spider-webs. Instead of pools of blood, globs of rain water have collected around the sword, and the pale light indicates that this part of the ruins is either near an entrance, or part of a more dilapidated section that has fallen into decay and opened the ruins to the outside elements. The pommel of the sword shows a dwarven face, either indicating its owner or the ruler at the time. If you look at the scabbard you will notice, about halfway down, a square shape with a door motif inside. If you look at the rest of the artifacts from the set, you will see that icon appear throughout. It even bears resemblance to the keyring I mentioned in my previous paragraph. Whether this is just a fun easter egg Lucas has sprinkled throughout the pieces, or if it is actually meant to be the “Icon” of the city, it’s nice to know that such detail was provided throughout.
*Fun fact. I will be keeping my writing as it was as I find this enjoyable from a readers’ standpoint but the icons are, in fact, Lucas’s signature. It can be found in another card he has provided, albeit in a later release.
Maybe you didn’t get to play Ruins of Belegost and the art you just saw was brand new to you. If you cracked open the deluxe expansion The Grey Havens, then you may find a familiar style represented in a couple of the cards. The art pictured above is for the Mariner’s Compass. This piece is a lot warmer than the artifacts of Belegost, and that could mostly be due to the art direction for the respective scenarios. Compass aside, the portrayal of these navigators and their map is very “golden” and reminds me of the classic novel Treasure Island, even if the subject matter is a bit on the nose. Here, Lucas’s more traditional style takes control of the steering wheel and you could almost argue this is piece is recycled from some old fictional novel or RPG source book. Amidst all the gritty, realistic, and dark artwork that permeates mainstream movies, video games, etc. I am glad to see art such as this being created, even if only for a card game. While the brush strokes may be more apparent in Mariner’s Compass, there is still an amount of realism and detail to be had. The lighting on the telescope and ring (on the left hand) is superb, adding to the warmth of the piece, and the fact that you can read the names of the roads, cities, and forests in the depicted map is excellent! The words could have just been scribble, and we probably wouldn’t have noticed. Thankfully fortune favors the curious, and there is more to be seen than you would expect. And, of course, if you look near the top right corner of the map, Lucas’s signature can be found.
Lucas has done a variety of cards for FFG’s other titles, such as Star Wars and the Game of Thrones: LCG. I’m happy to say that, even though he jumps to different IP’s, Lucas’s style remains the same, especially in the Game of Thrones: Card Game.
If I had to pick a card from that game, Needle would be at the top. Mr. Durham, while he is certainly well skilled in lighting and detail, his ability to portray textures (especially with metal) is fascinating. On the surface, this piece is fairly straightforward. It’s a a character (I assume Arya Stark) unsheathing “Needle.” While the clothes are plain, the rest of the picture is arguably the opposite. And to be fair, you can even spot detail in the tunic. From the stitched leather belt (and the wrinkles formed by the knot) to the elaborate belt buckle and the glimmering sword, this representation of a simple sword being revealed is quite magical. Warm, strong sunlight bathes the arms of the character and the pommel on the sword, and the blade itself reflects the blue light around it, creating a lovely effect that makes it look so much more than “a shiny sword.” It is as if the colors belong to the sword itself, rather than it being a reflection of its surroundings.
Before I move on to the questions, I wanted to cover a couple of Lucas’s work outside of any known IP.
The first one that caught my attention was titled Benzaiten and the Dragon. While its being on the top of his personal page may have been why it initially stood out to me, the subjects of this piece caught my attention. I’m a sucker for all things Japan. I love the culture, the anime, I love the instruments, outfits, legends, etc. Seriously. Can’t wait for that L5R game, FFG… Anyway, back to the art. There’s obviously a lot going on in this painting, I mean look! There’s a fierce looking woman in a beautiful kimono playing an instrument in front of a terrifying dragon. Both subjects represented here are portrayed as tremendously strong individuals. The Dragon, Gozoryu, is of the more ferocious type of strength. His teeth are bared, his eyes are literally emitting lighting, and his hairs, from his whiskers and beard to the ones that go down his spine, are swirling with an incredible amount of energy. His fixation on the woman is alarming, despite all the motion going on around him, he himself seems very still, focusing on the powerful woman playing her instrument. Benzaiten, the goddess depicted, pays little heed to the dragon, and her body language, from how she is turned towards her instrument to her grip and the stern look that adorns her face, shows that much. Despite everything going on in the piece, Benzaiten looks to be in control and that is where her strength seems to be.
Sorry about that. That last paragraph became quite the digression. I don’t want it to shortchange this next one, however, titled The Procession of Galactic Pope Mary Joan III. Not a single person in this painting is reduced to a few smudged brush strokes. Every person has a face, an expression, and a purpose in the piece. Even the robot Templars(?) that are at the front of the procession are alive. They aren’t merely looking onward but surveying the crowd. Like a lot of the artists I cover, and especially like Lucas Durham, my favorite part about this piece is the lighting. Having traveled to Europe myself (this piece is partially inspired by a trip to Germany) I’ve experienced the crowded streets and alleyways (that are often actually streets) that make up most, if not all, of the major cities. Sometimes you will find a spot that is particularly dark, the claustrophobic buildings blocking out all manner of light. And then, if you catch it, you’ll find the occasional shaft of sunlight beam downward. While I have only seen this happen on empty chairs, old doorways, or a random stranger, the people in the above illustration are experiencing this divine intervention of the sun appearing right before the frickin’ Galactic Pope! What I mean to say is, that there is an incredible amount of realism, even in a picture where a Sci-Fi political figure is riding a Dinosaur. If you take a look at this illustration’s DeviantArt Page you will find that this picture very much came out of real life experiences, the same can be said for Benzaiten and the Dragon which had its own Kickstarter page.
But enough of my thoughts. I reached out to Lucas Durham a couple of weeks ago and he was able to take some time out of his busy schedule and generously answer some questions. Enjoy!
(2HT) How long have you been drawing and illustrating and why did you start?
(LD) I’ve been drawing for as long as I could hold a pencil. My parents ran a graphic design business and they collected limited art prints as a hobby. Being raised in such a creative environment almost predetermined that I’d end up pursuing one of the fine arts.
(2HT) How did you turn what you do into a profession?
(LD) Again, because of the creative family, it was sort of a natural progression. Both of my folks were very enthusiastic for me to attend an art school, and thankfully we lived near Chicago. I was able to commute to the city and attend the American Academy of Art, which is the Alma mater of such talents as Alex Ross, Aaron Miller, Thomas Blackshear, and Jill Thompson, just to name a few.
As for getting work in speculative fiction and gaming, I’m fortunate that the artist community surrounding the subject matter is extremely friendly and were more than eager to help me establish myself. If you show up, prove that you’re hungry and willing to work hard to meet company standards, most of the artists are willing to help get you in touch with art directors.
(2HT) What is your favorite subject to illustrate (General Fantasy, LoTR, Star Wars, monsters, etc)?
(LD) Very broadly, I like to paint characters that show agency, and are hopeful. I also like illustrations that force me to do some anthropological research before I start. It’s one thing to be commissioned to paint a fantasy sword, but it’s a much better experience when challenged to pay homage to Celtic, Assyrian, or Mongolian cultures, sometimes even in the same sword design!
(2HT) What methods do you use when illustrating? Do you work digitally or with a physical medium?
(LD) For commercial work, I usually start with a graphite underdrawing, then scan it, and finally paint the image digitally. Photoshop was the first medium I learned, so I’m fastest and most adept on that platform, which is really important when dealing with a deadline or revisions. If the painting is a personal project, I normally work traditionally.
(LD) I booked a portfolio review with one of their art directors at Gen Con. Looking back, I’m shocked she offered me work, but Zoe Robinson has a talent for spotting and fostering potential. They started me off with some item cards for the Android: Netrunner LCG, and eventually the started trying me out in some of their other licenses and intellectual properties. Mariner’s Compass and Narya were the first two cards I illustrated for the LoTR: LCG, and they’re still two of my favorites from that time-frame.
(2HT) How do you approach your illustrations? Do you use/make your own references?
(LD) I’m very traditional. Most of my preliminary process was taught to me by illustrators who studied the techniques of Golden Age Illustrators, particularly Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. I usually go through several rough compositions, then find, buy, or make referential props that I photograph for my illustrations.
I use real people for my illustrations, too. If the budget can afford it, I try to hire professional models, but usually I end up using friends, family, and neighbors to stand in for the characters. In the end, I think this is to my benefit, because it adds another layer of authenticity to my art.
(2HT) In regards to your style, how would you describe it?
(LD) I think my favorite description was coined by James Gurney: Imaginative Realist, because I try to paint things realistically, but also paint what doesn’t exist.
(2HT) I’m a big fan of your Procession/Galactic Pope illustration. I’ll admit, it might be my ignorance talking, but where did this idea come from? You mentioned Asimov’s “Foundation” on your DeviantArt page. Is this from that world or one of your own design?
(LD) It isn’t from anything particular, but is based off of some general concepts found in soft science fiction literature. I enjoy books like “Dune,” “Foundation,” “Old Man’s War,” and “The Speaker for the Dead” that depict how cultures and religions that were established here on Earth might evolve as we start to colonize the stars. The basic concept behind the painting is, “What would happen if we created an interstellar society, and then it collapsed. What happens to a colony during that dark age?” I attempted to paint a feast day celebration that was happening at such a colony, so you get that crazy juxtaposition of what looks like pre-industrial costumes with sci-fi armor and tech. I should probably mention that I studied in Florence, Italy for a semester, so I’d often see a similar clash of tradition and modernism play out on a daily basis.
(2HT) You call out Todd Lockwood as another influencer of the Galactic Pope piece. Would you say he is a major influence in general? What other artists fill this role?
(LD) I was actually in a mentorship with Todd when I was working on that piece. I’ve always admired the sprawling D&D battle paintings he’s famous for, so I used the class as an opportunity to learn how to design a chaotic scene like he’s so skillfully depicts. I consider him a major influence along with some other academic speculative painters, like James Gurney, Donato Giancola, Sarah Winters, and Cynthia Sheppard to name a few.
(2HT) Looking at some of your art, I notice a lot of people smirking. Is this on purpose or just something that has happened coincidentally over multiple illustrations?
(LD) Wow, I never noticed that before! But it makes sense. Like I mentioned earlier, I try to depict characters with agency and hope, and smirking shows a small level of confidence or control over the situation.
It might also be caused by my reference photo process. I’m primarily using friends and family for models, and they often candidly make those grins while standing in my living room half decked out in a renn fair costume, holding a broom and pretending it’s a magical lance.
(2HT) Do you play the Lord of the Rings Card Game or any other tabletop/board game?
(LD) I actually haven’t played any of the FFG LCGs, but my wife and I are big fans of board games. We regularly attend and host gaming parties and play co-op games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island. We’ve also attempted to play a few nights of D&D, but with our current lives, it’s hard to schedule block out an RPG night.
(2HT) Fan of the films or not, what’s your favorite LoTR film?
(LD) In my opinion, the films are more an adaptation of John Howe and Alan Lee’s paintings than an interpretation of the original texts. That said, I admire the work of both painters and I feel like Peter Jackson and his team did an amazing job, so I love the movies for that reason. My favorite flips per viewing, but at least for now, my favorite the Return of the King: Extended Edition.
(2HT) Favorite LoTR Character?
(LD) Hard choice, but at least for now, Túrin Turambar. I’m fascinated by his tragic story, and I just enjoy what my imagination conjures up during that portion of the Silmarillion. I think at some point I’ll have to do a personal painting of Túrin in his dwarf-helm.
(2HT) I mentioned Galactic Pope was probably my favorite. What is your favorite piece you’ve created?
(LD) Although I don’t consider it my most successfully executed painting, but my current favorite is the illustration for the card “Arya’s Gift” from The Game of Thrones: LCG. It was just a great experience and it is one of my favorite scenes in the book. When I’m reading “A Song of Ice and Fire,” I often see my younger brother in the role of Jon Snow. Naturally, I asked him to pose with his friend. You don’t get many opportunities to be commissioned to execute exactly what you’ve always wanted to illustrate, so I’m a little bias.
(2HT) Where can people find you/ your work? Do you attend any conventions?
(LD) My website: http://www.lucasdurham.com
My DeviantART page: http://lucasdurham.deviantart.com
You can also follow me on instagram at @lucasdurham1000
As for conventions, I’ll for certain be at showing at Capricon, Anime Central, Spectrum Live, and Gen Con this year. I’m also waiting for the confirmation for a couple of east coast conventions scheduled during the second half of the year, so stay tuned, haha!
Secondhand Took – Thank you Lucas for answering some questions. If you would like to reach out to Lucas about his art or maybe pick up a print of your own, be sure to check out his links above or pay him a visit at one of the conventions mentioned in the above paragraph!
As always, thanks for reading!
-The Secondhand Took