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The art that made Game of Thrones a modern classic

Tolkien's universe

Ted painted Eastwatch by the Sea, the castle guarding the eastern terminus of The Wall

Ted painted Eastwatch by the Sea, the castle guarding the eastern terminus of The Wall

Ted Nasmith admits bias in choosing his favourite fantasy writer. As a teenager he sent a letter to JRR Tolkien along with an original Lord of the Rings-inspired painting. The author's generous feedback encouraged a passion that had already formed roots in the verdant Middle-Earth.

Having since given much of his career to depicting Tolkien's universe, Ted has recently moved to Martin's – particularly painting
the castles scattered around the three continents of the Known World in the 2011 calendar.

"For an artist he offers rich imagery – the castles are great flights of fancy, impossibly huge, unusual, perched on mountains or sea stacks, or next to the massive ice wall," he says.

Michael Komarck brings his exquisite detail in light and shade, and to the most complex character, Tyrion Lannister

Michael Komarck brings his exquisite detail in light and shade, and to the most complex character, Tyrion Lannister

Although it's more than the middle two initials that link George Raymond Richard Martin with John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the similarities can be overstated. "It's known that Martin was a reader of The Lord of the Rings, but to his credit, he avoided trying to imitate Tolkien."

Coming from an architectural background, Ted appreciates Ice and Fire's "believable continental mass: sophisticated, logical. As with Tolkien, Martin describes not only its breadth but its deep history and lore. Martin's elaborate detail offers excellent material for the artist to base imagery upon."

Of the two titans' masterworks, Martin's is the more narrative driven – a fact that Marc Simonetti used to his advantage to produce one of George's favourite paintings.

Here's a WIP of the dragon-forged Iron Throne, for the forthcoming A World of Ice and Fire book

Here's a WIP of the dragon-forged Iron Throne, for the forthcoming A World of Ice and Fire book

"The minute I saw Marc's work on the French book editions I thought to myself, 'this guy is great, let's hire him for some more,'" says George. If it wasn't for Marc Simonetti's single-mindedness, this recognition might not have happened.

He trained as an engineer, and one day while formulating the coatings for non-stick frying pans he decided to jump ship and start from zero. He was already painting every spare moment and had devoured Terry Pratchett's best-selling Discworld books, before turning his attention to Ice and Fire. That was a good start.

After "tons" of FFG Game of Thrones card art jobs, an impressed publisher gave him carte blanche on international Ice and Fire book covers. With an intimate knowledge and love of the text, given further force by a rare humility, he got stuck in. "I'm not making art," says Marc today. "The art is inside the book. I'm making an image that'll make someone want to grab the book."

Impressionistic

Marc's usual approach to such a vast world would be to pick on the smallest detail: "A glimpse of two lines from a thousand pages". Indeed, for Ice and Fire he didn't want to represent a scene from the book at all.

"I wanted to make a generic illustration to give the idea of how big it is, of how adult it is – it's not the average fantasy book," he says. "It's not about a classic scene of fighting, or a wild effect. It's about intelligence, people – real characters. That's why I tried to stick to a more traditional feeling, Impressionist, Sergeant, Sisley, Whistler."

A Song of Ice and Fire book cover artist Marc Simonetti shows us a scene to come!

A Song of Ice and Fire book cover artist Marc Simonetti shows us a scene to come!

For a Mexican edition of the books he painted the Iron Throne – made of a 1,000 swords. George was impressed, but it wasn't quite there yet. An exchange of emails between the two preceded Marc's second attempt, for forthcoming book The World of Ice and Fire. The result was spot on. "The second version of the Iron Throne that he did, it really is the Iron Throne the way I see it," declares the author.

Valar morghulis

The future looks healthy for Ice and Fire art. Donato Giancola is enjoying his work on the 2015 Ice and Fire calendar – he's even trying to change the fabric of time so he can extend the project. "I've been working on sketches and concept drawings for the past two months," he says, "and I jokingly told George that Westeros should have 14 months to their year, just so I could create more paintings."

Donato Giancola painted Melisandre, the Red Priestess, 12 years ago, but recently came back to Martin's world

Donato Giancola painted Melisandre, the Red Priestess, 12 years ago, but recently came back to Martin's world

Long before trying to establish the Donatonian calendar, the artist took to this fantasy world some 12 years ago with a commission to paint Melisandre, Red Priestess of the Lord of Light. It should come as no surprise who was on hand to give him some pointers. "George is a fan of artists and believes that you prime the pump and then let the artist do what they do best," says Donato. Those old habits again!

And unlike the other popular fantasy epic that's long since closed its enchanted stone doors on events, there's no end in sight for this densely webbed story or the accompanying artwork.

With the sixth book of the series imminent, and the fifth TV season already snapping at the author's heels, many more brushes and styluses will be wielded to help visualise what George RR Martin continues to see in his mind's eye.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 108.

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