Art in the LOTR: LCG – Owen William Weber

Last month I covered Katy Grierson, a concept artist and illustrator who contributed many environment pieces for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. This month I shifted gears and wanted to point the spot-light on Owen William Weber. His realistic approach to painting fantastic elements have given us a smattering of allies, attachments, and enemies for Lord of the Rings. Most notably, however, you may recognize his work via the new Leadership Gimli Hero from The Sands of Harad Deluxe Expansion.

Owen William Weber has been providing card illustrations for LOTR: LCG for quite some time now, dating as far back as The Steward’s Fear. While his catalogue for The Lord of the Rings isn’t necessarily extensive, each piece brings with it a painstaking approach to detail, quality, and realism that stands them out from the hundreds of cards we see throughout our gameplay sessions.

The card illustration you may be most familiar with is Gondorian Shield, practically a Tactics sphere staple. While the full image does expand the image slightly, thankfully the card itself contains most of the original detail. The final image could have been done simplistically, giving players a bare-bones depiction of a soldier’s shield. Mr. Weber goes a bit further and places the shield among several others; Their possessors all trudging through a bleak, twilight environment, heads hanging and eyes nearly shut. It’s almost a somber representation of a shield if it weren’t for the central subject, upon which the sun shines with splendor on the Gondorian insignia. As the soldiers carry on weathered, there is a glimmer (almost literally) of hope shining down. Outside of the Lord of the Rings story it’s already a great artistic decision, made even better given the thematic material it represents. The more I look at Gondorian Shield the more I appreciate it.

Continuing with staples brings us to Barliman Butterbur. While not necessarily a staple within the game itself, Barliman can be considered a staple in fantasy. He’s the stereotypical inkeeper, much like Bree became the sterotypical tavern that inspired many others in future stories and settings. In the novels, Barliman is described as bald and fat, with red cheeks and a white apron. Despite his outwardly appearance, Barliman is one of the more genuine people that the Hobbits meet throughout their journey. He may not know much about the outside world, but he makes his ignorance known (despite lending an opinion or two). When asked if he would ever leave Bree, Barliman explains that no money would pry him away from his home town. He’s well respected and runs one of the most recognized Inns in Middle Earth and our Earth. What I enjoy about Owen’s depiction of Butterbur is that it plays off his strengths. Sure, he’s got a beer belly (probably from tasting his own wares) and his rosy cheeks make him a little less threatening than most, but there is strength in his arms and he hold himself with dignity. More importantly, where Mr. Weber chose to place the camera takes things further, turning this portrait into a fairly epic shot. You can imagine finding this illustration next to the page during Barliman’s introduction or, to bring things to 2017, this would most definitely be justified as Barliman’s main wiki photo. It’s the shot for Barliman. Lastly, I find the color palette a soothing one, filled with warm tones throughout. It’s a welcoming tone, one you would expect from The Prancing Pony.

Given that I referenced Gimli in the beginning, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cover Owen William Weber’s representation of the famous Dwarf! The first thing I noticed when I looked at the entire image on Owen’s website is that it makes no bones to showcase the sad aftermath of war. Typically our Heroes, if they are shown near a victim of combat, are placed next to a fallen Orc, Spider, or otherwise (or their foe is off-camera). Here there is no enemy. The tower is battered and bruised, blood can be seen creeping through the bricks and caked to Gimli’s blade. Behind him lies a fallen soldier of Rohan, pierced with two gruesome “arrows.” I look at the Gimli in this illustration and I don’t see a Hero ecstatic after a victorious battle, but one taking a moment to gather his thoughts as the horror of what has happened begins to set in. It’s also alleviating to see that this Gimli isn’t made to be attractive or overly masculine (a common trope in fantasy artwork and the er… Hobbit films). The dwarf we see before us is short in stature (not just proportionately sized to a smaller height), carries the weight of a few good beers and hearty meals beneath his chainmail, the rolls adding a nice touch themselves. Yet there is still power to be seen in those hands of his.  The axe he wields, filled with notches and stains, looks like it’d be a heavy thing for an average sized human to carry, yet with just one hand and a firm grip Gimli has it resting on his shoulders as he views the sunrise.

Before I jump into Owen’s non-LOTR work, I want to quickly address Leaf-Wrapped Lembas for those Campaign fans out there. If you’ve ever wondered who illustrated that photo-realistic depiction of the famous elvish waybread, then look no further. Mr. Weber has a post dedicated to the process he took to create the final product. I highly recommend checking it out!

 

Coming up with the next image of Mr. Weber’s to discuss was a challenge for me. Just browsing through his Personal tab on his site gives you a broader sense of his work in both subject matter and style. From depiction of household pets, to fairy tail monsters and real-world landscapes, there’s a lot to absorb just on that page alone – you’ll also find a portrait for all the Direwolves for you Game of Thrones Fans (his illustration of Ghost is my favorite). I will instead, pull from his Dinosaurs tab. However, I would recommend, as I do with all of these artist spotlights, that you give his site a good look on your own and discover your own favorites!

Of the Dinosaur pieces, Pachyrhinosaurus caught my eye initially. And I won’t even lie, it stems merely from the fact that there is a badass dinosaur with some equally badass warpaint and/or tattoos on its body. There isn’t much else to say about this illustration except that Mr. Weber knows how to portray Dinosaurs exceptionally well and not just in the world of scientific accuracy. There is a bit of personality present in all the subjects he paints, and beyond that their strength and power is readily apparent. Case in point, his Brontotherium illustration.

Brontotherium, to me, is a mirrored image of Gondorian Shield. The Dinosaurs are going left to right, while the soldiers marched in the opposite direction. The color palette feels the same, except with an emphasis on light colors instead of dark, and instead of a shining shield being the main subject a shadowed horn(?) takes center-stage. It’s the darkness that catches your eye this time instead of the light, ominous indeed. Gondorian Shield represents a ray of hope in a bleak setting, while Brontotherium feels like a sense of dread in an otherwise peaceful setting. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that who/whatever the Brontotherium is staring down is “a dead-man” I can almost feel the fear in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps this is a showdown at a watering hole, either way, I would not want to be the target of this particular dino.

As I said, there is a lot to enjoy when it comes to Owen William Weber’s full portfolio. Check out his trading card section to see not only his work for Lord of the Rings, but for Upper Deck and some other FFG titles. Outside of that I guarantee you will find something that catches your attention as I have. Before you do that, read on a bit more to hear from Mr. Weber himself, who took time out of his schedule to answer some questions. Thank you, Owen!

 

 

What got you into illustrating in the first place?

When I was initially looking at colleges, I had planned on being an animation major. I was a big fan of Disney films. Not many colleges in the area I was looking had programs in animation, or if they did, I wasn’t a fan of the school. Along the way, I was advised that even if I couldn’t be trained in an animation program, I could be an illustrator, learn the basics, and later pick up animation. While getting my BA in Illustration at the Hartford Art School, I lost interest in animation, which was good, because obviously, animation has moved on to being mostly a digital media, and I was more interested in the cell animation style. Illustration gave me the technical skills I wanted in my art and the subject matter I was interested in, mainly fantasy. There is also a really great, supportive community in the Illustration field, which is very different from a lot of other art professions. It can be a really cutthroat atmosphere in the art world, but everyone is happy to see each other succeed in the Illustration world.

According to your site, you primarily paint in oils. Can you expand upon why this is your preference over other methods?

I have tried many media in my life, and oils always gave me the most comfort. Acrylics dry very fast, but I could never get the painting effect I was looking for. I love watercolor, but that’s more of a fun thing for me. For my professional work, I need to get those really deep darks that I wasn’t really achieving in watercolor. A lot of people complain about the drying time with oils, but I have never really struggled with that. As for digital, I think it all boils down to liking the physical act of painting on a board, and not looking at a screen all day. I have always had trouble picking colors on the color wheel on photoshop, it never made much sense to me, but if I lay out the paints in front of me, mixing those oils into various splotches of mud, that I can wrap my head around.

How do you approach a piece, especially those with more fantastic elements. Do you create your own references and are there any other methods you use?

Making things up or using reference from the internet is always a last resort. I only do that if there is no other way. I usually photograph my wife for the female characters and myself for the males. I always love using different models if I can, but time usually constrains my options. I create very basic models out of Super Sculpey, light them and photograph them for the various creatures or dinosaurs I paint.

I see a lot of Dinosaurs on your site, both painted and inked. Are Dinosaurs a favorite subject of yours?

Dinosaurs have always been an interest of mine. My mom loves telling the story that when I was in kindergarten, when asked what we would like to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a paleontologist, after which my teacher had to go look up what that meant. I was really into Dino Riders as a kid, and then Jurassic Park came out when I was 9 years old. From then on I was completely obsessed. After years and years of not really pursuing my interest in them, it dawned on me that I should really try painting them. It’s been 3-4 years now, and I have never grown tired of painting them, which usually happens with various series I start.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not well versed in art styles or history. Another artist I interviewed described their work as Imaginative Realist. Would you agree with that in relation to your art or is it something else? In short, how would you describe your style.

Yes. The first time I came across that term was when James Gurney released his book “Imaginative Realism”, which is the bible for any illustrator, whether you are a fantasy illustrator or not. It’s a great way of describing most of the artists in the modern fantasy art field.

The “Personal” section on your site is quite fun to browse! Aside from some obvious inspiration like Game of Thrones, where do you get inspiration for some of the others?

Thank you! Some are ideas I send to prospective clients, some, like the Nisses, are our family’s holiday cards. I do a new one every year. I try to do at least one plein-air painting while in the Catskills during the summer, so there are a few of those. Others are random sketches that I did, and then, urged by my wife, painted. A lot of my dinosaur paintings are also quite personal, and rarely commissioned, but they fit better in their own category.

Are you a fan of The Lord of the Rings and, if so, who is your favorite character?

Lord of the Rings is my favorite book. I love reading Sam, he is a constant source of hope and courage. Aragorn is probably the most interesting character since, aside from the hobbits, Tolkien gave him the most story. Eowyn is a favorite of mine, she’s one of the few women in Lord of the Rings, but she makes a hell of an impression and is still one of the better strong female characters that I’ve read.

What do you think about the (PJ) films?

They are my favorite films. I can’t get enough of them. I wish the Extended Editions were longer. I remember when The Return of the King came out, people were talking about how there were so many endings and it kept going on and on, I couldn’t relate to them whatsoever. Those films are basically perfect in my opinion, I understand the changes they made from the books and I agree with those decisions. I could talk about this for a long time, so I’ll stop there.

What is your favorite piece you’ve done so far?

My two favorite pieces are “December Maple”, a painting of my wife with a tree from the backyard at my parent’s house, and “Beliefs Mean Nothing”, a painting of a religious man walking away from the shadow of a triceratops. They are both deeply personal pieces, and both have gotten me into illustration annuals that were life goals of mine. It goes to show, paint what means the most to you, and people will see heart in your piece.

What is one IP you would like to illustrate but haven’t had the chance to yet?

That’s a tough one. I guess if they came out with an illustrated volume of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, that would mean a lot to me. I also love The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. That has some really interesting imagery.

Where can people find your work?/ Will you be attending any conventions where people can stop by?

I am @owweber on Instagram, I try to post a lot of process pictures of new work. On Facebook, my art page is Owen William Weber Illustration. My website is oweber.com. This year I will be showing in Indianapolis for Gen Con Indy August 17-20 in the Art Show, and I will be in the Showcase at Illuxcon in Reading, PA October 20-21.

Thanks again, Owen, for taking the time to answer some of my questions and letting me put your art on the blog! 

And, as always, thanks for reading!

-The Secondhand Took

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