Katy Grierson is a freelance illustrator and concept artist who has provided the art for a number of cards in the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game for quite awhile. Outside of Lord of the Rings, Katy Grierson has a diverse portfolio containing a variety of subjects for other IP’s and otherwise.
There was a time when I kept myself free from card spoilers. I would indulge in the occasional FFG preview article, but whenever a leak would spring somewhere on an internet forum, I would try and divert my attention elsewhere. Because nothing is more exciting, especially in this day of immediate satisfaction, then picking up a new batch of cards (whatever game you may play) and enjoying the spectacle of it all. It may sound cheesy but I know we’ve all been there at least once.
I say all of this because when The Grey Havens, the Deluxe Expansion that kicked off the Dreamchaser Cycle, was released in 2015, I knew very little of the incoming cards. Once I saw Matt Stewart’s nautical illustration on the cover I knew, visually, this would be a pretty awesome set. And I wasn’t disappointed. Not just by Matt Stewart of course, because this article isn’t about him, but several other artists including Katy Grierson. The card that particularly struck me was this:
The Evening Star is one of my favorite cards from the entire Cycle/Deluxe Expansion. Sure, the effect is amazing when played appropriately, but I remember being awestruck just by the illustration. As much of a fan I am of Lord of the Rings and the world Middle Earth, you can only see so many depictions of gnarly forests or beautiful mountains. The Evening Star, to me, succeeds in so many levels. For starters, it checks off the Noldor box. Though the card doesn’t explicitly say, the architecture in the foreground seems of Elvish design, especially since this particular structure seems built for stargazing, something akin to the Noldor. The second box that’s checked off is that related to travel. A common thread among Miss Grierson’s environmental pieces is that there is a sense of depth. In The Evening Star, you see a stone pathway, leading to the edge of the railing, which leads to some rolling hills, which leads into a small mountain in the back, and finally to the star up above. There are quite a few “miles” represented in such a small piece of art that it’s interesting to ponder.
All thematic win-ness aside, I enjoy this piece as a standalone work of art. If I had no knowledge of Lord of the Rings, I would be asking myself, where is this setting? What civilization shares such adoration for the stars? And what is the significance of this massive star in the sky, shining with otherworldly aura? There’s a sense of wonder in The Evening Star and you can’t help but want to step into the picture and walk down that path yourself.
Going from the macro to the micro is a card that many may not remember. The Gate Key made its debut as an objective artifact in The Temple of the Deceived AP. In this scenario, players are journeying through dense jungles, hoping to find a hidden temple that will shed some light on an evolving story. The Gate Key functions exactly as it is intended, though to obtain it players have to defeat the fearsome Gate Guardian, an undead monstrosity. But let’s get back to the card. One thing that most will probably be drawn to is the amount of detail presented. This ancient Numenorian Artifact portrays a similar motif, the White Tree of Gondor. Gone is the splendor of the ancient Numenorian culture, this relic of their age being weathered, though thankfully not beyond recognition. The cracks slicing across the tree, the chipping paint, down to the fact that the tree roots look like they’ve grown around the medallion. All of these serve to illustrate just how old this key is. But my favorite part about the Gate Key is the lighting. I’m a sucker for it. In this case the way Katy Grierson uses dappled lighting to further hit home that this artifact has been abandoned for years upon years adds a nice touch. You can almost imagine the larger picture, of ancient trees blocking out most of the sunlight on not just this ancient treasure, but lord knows what else. What else indeed.
As I stated in the beginning, Katy Grierson has provided quite a few pieces of art for Lord of the Rings, at least all the way back to The Treason of Saruman. Though most of these are locations, each one has it’s own distinct style and character that stands them apart from the rest. I highly recommend checking out Hall of Beorn and seeing the rest for yourself.
Stepping outside of Middle Earth and into other realms brings us now to Katy Grierson’s ArtStation Profile. Her portfolio is quite varied, representing several different subjects in multiple styles, showcasing her talents far beyond what we have seen in our own game.
Simply titled “River” this piece is, according to the site, a sketchy doodle. Miss Grierson points out in her description of “River” that she likes the colors and I will admit that is what drew me in the first place. The splotchy, blocky brush strokes of the mountains and riverbanks each come with their own color, and the strokes themselves seem to go in their own directions at time. While this is certainly abstract, I appreciate how your mind, or mine at least, is allowed to fill in the gaps at your leisure. For me, this is a work of fantasy, the little sailboat going into some vast wide unknown, about to partake on an adventure. The mountain in the back may just have an odd formation, but to me it almost looks like the remnant of an ancient statue or other structure. And when it comes down to it, again thanks to the colors, it’s just a fun piece of art. Sometimes gritty realism can get old, and there’s nothing wrong with getting absorbed in something like this.
The last illustration I want to show you is “Lost Sentries,” which looks like it may be a concept piece. I particularly suggest checking out this one’s page to see the accompanying GIF that showcases how Katy Grierson got here. All that aside, it’s always a joy to see artists capture a sense of epic scale, and “Lost Sentries” certainly accomplishes that. At a passing glance, you may just assume this illustration is simply portraying some gnarled vines and roots, but a couple more seconds and things begin to take a new shape. The most obvious is the small figure in the bottom right, indicating the true size of the overgrowth being shown. My guess is he/she is on a mission, searching for the Lost Sentries which may perhaps be represented by whatever structure is in the distance. The structure itself is clearly not in alignment with the major growth surrounding it. It almost feels like the tip of a mechanical iceberg, hinting at some larger creation that is unseen to both the viewer and the figure in the corner. The red light emanating from the structure hints that it may be active. Scattered around are other fun details, from the bits of metal on the opposite corner of the figure to the tattered ribbons scattered on the higher roots indicating that maybe, something lives here or did so long ago. Finally the waterfalls scarcely visible in the distance at a couple locations add to the mystical flavor to “Lost Sentries” and, to me, makes me feel like all of this is underground. Last to note are the blurred out vines framing the picture and comprising the true foreground of the whole thing. While it could just be simple framing, it’s fun to imagine that perhaps this is not just the viewer’s perspective but that of a watcher, observing the figure from within the environment itself. Maybe the figure is unwelcome?
Read on to hear from Katy herself; How she got into art, what IP she would love to illustrate, and more!
First up, maybe the obvious one. What got you into illustrating and what got you into concept art in particular?
I’ve always loved to draw and create ever since I can remember and I suppose I just never got out of the habit of it, I was never overly academic at school so I just sort of fell into it after realising it could actually be a career and that I could earn a living doing something I loved. Specifically in terms of concept art, I really enjoy world building which is basically what concept art is as you can dissect aspects of the world and I find it fascinating that you could look at the shape of a building and extrapolate what the decoration on their pottery might be.
I do tend to have a different process with commissioned vs personal work simply because with client work I always have a set brief to work from which always provides some structure from the outset, whereas with personal work I do tend to sort of throw ideas onto a digital canvas and see what sticks.
In terms of preparation I will almost always start with either a very loose sketch or a series of quick thumbnails to get a sense of composition and movement then slowly start to build the picture up. It depends a little on the subject matter – with environments I will create very much as I go without too much preparation, while images with people/objects or creatures I will tend to do a much tighter drawing before starting to render to make sure anatomy and whatnot are right.
Colourful, I adore using and playing with colour so I try to put it in my work as much as possible.
I like the serenity of it, it feels like a really peaceful place to just go and stargaze but still draws you in to the image. Often times the environments have to be quite dramatic to keep interest but the whole feel of Evening Star was a very different sense which I think is why I enjoy it so much.
I have a couple I really like but Misleading Path just because the colours are so spectacular in it. I was so glad my Art Director Zoë Robinson picked that thumbnail as I will often like a different one than the one that is picked.
Huorn is my second favourite I think, there is something about angry evil trees I find appealing, it was so much fun to illustrate.
I am a fan of The Lord of the Rings, though I have to confess I haven’t read the books. Though I have read The Hobbit which I really enjoyed. I think Aragorn/Strider is my favourite character I like how he was all mysterious about his past and the character arc as he goes through the narrative.
I haven’t played LOTR Card game, though I would like to have a go at some point. I do play Settlers of Catan and I’m hoping to get into Dungeons and Dragons quite soon as the RPG element really appeals to me.
Ohhh that is a toughy! I think working on Bethesda’s Skyrim/Elder Scrolls would be amazing because I love dragons and magic and adventuring plus all the lore that has been put into that franchise.
You can find my portfolio of work here (www.kovah.co.uk) and there are links to all my social media on there as well. I do tend to post most of my work on Artstation (https://www.artstation.com/artist/kovah) I have no plans for conventions this year though I’m hoping to get in on some of the UK ones next year, crossed fingers.
Thanks again, Katy, for taking the time to share with us a little bit about yourself and your art!
As always, thanks for reading!
-The Secondhand Took