The Art of Ted Nasmith

Nasmith started sketching and drawing at a young age his skill eventually being nurtured by the time he got to high school; it was whilst in his third year that upon his sister’s recommendation he began to read The Lord of the Rings; Tolkien’s literature became a focus for Nasmith and the inspiration that he found in Tolkien’s writing led him to drawing scenes and characters from the books.

“Tolkien had long since had a very profound effect on me, and helped lead to much that I now count most significant in life. It opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend.” – Ted Nasmith

I can really relate to that quote as my early discovery of Tolkien has definitely inspired the path that I’m on now, the only difference being that I suppressed it for years whilst attending to other distractions that life sent my way.

Another quote that I’ve taken from Nasmith’s bio on his website and one that I love explains his style of artwork and how he realised it:

“It was the Brothers Hildebrandt’s three glossy calendars of 1976, 77, and 78 that excited me to seriously seek publication, though. Their work was realistic and detailed, but I felt I had qualities and insight in my own work that surpassed theirs. The comparison also helped me further define my own style and interpretations. In that period various traditional illustrators and painters of the past century and a half informed my developing style, too. I would describe it as an echo of the American Luminist (landscape) and wider Victorian neo-classical styles. I felt these traditions would well compliment the sweeping grandeur of LotR, and I’d always been attracted to this kind of art. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis once came to decide that they needed to write the kind of books they wanted to read; I decided someone (me) must paint the kind of Tolkien illustrations I wanted to see!” – Ted Nasmith

After some years of producing Tolkien inspired artworks and trying to get published without any joy, Nasmith eventually achieved his goal and Tolkien’s publishers offered to include four of his gouache works in the 1987 calendar. Since then. Nasmith’s artworks have been used for multiple calendars and illustrated versions of Tolkien’s literature and he has become a very successful illustrator.

Now for some of the artworks themselves, each piece that I’ve chosen to post here are created using gouache on illustration board; beautifully painted and inspiring works of art, each of which show the imagination of this incredibly skilled artist.

Under the Spell of the Barrow Wight - 1987 Tolkien Calendar - January
Under the Spell of the Barrow Wight – 1987 Tolkien Calendar – January

This beautifully rendered illustration shows a scene that will be familiar only to the readers of the books and not to people who have only seen the movies.

After falling asleep and becoming lost in the Barrow-Downs; Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin end up being captured and taken to a barrow by a Barrow-wight.

As he lay there, thinking and getting a hold of himself, he noticed all at once that the darkness was slowly giving way: a pale greenish light was growing round him.

He turned, and there in the cold glow he saw lying beside him Sam, Pippin and Merry. They were on their backs, and their faces looked deathly pale; and they were clad in white. About them lay many treasures, of gold maybe, though in that light they looked cold and unlovely. Swords lay by their sides, and shields were at their feet. But across their three necks lay one long naked sword.

As is evident from that passage taken from The Fellowship of the Ring – Book One – Chapter VIII Nasmith has worked exclusively with Tolkien’s writing and imagined the scene visually, capturing it in my opinion to perfection.

The Pillars of the Kings - 2002 Tolkien Calendar - November
The Pillars of the Kings – 2002 Tolkien Calendar – November

The statues themselves are strikingly similar to those from the movies drawn up by Alan Lee and John Howe, yet although similar the scene bears striking differences as well.

An amazing atmosphere in this piece and it truly gives one a sense of the size of the collosal pillars of the kings of old.

At the Sign of The Prancing Pony - 1990 Tolkien Calendar - January
At the Sign of The Prancing Pony – 1990 Tolkien Calendar – January

This is one of my favourite pieces of Nasmith’s work, it’s a very well painted piece of work, the warmth of the inn is inviting the viewer to step inside and become a part of the scene, leaving the darkness of the world behind in doing so.

The buildings are rendered wonderfully (no wonder considering Nasmith started out as an architectural renderer) and the sign itself is so typical of an old style inn/tavern sign. This piece truly set out the scene of the narrative perfectly and totally from the imagination of Nasmith himself.

I really love the lighting of this work as well, this is such a clever and thoughtful rendition of a place that feels familiar to all Tolkien fans and when picturing this scene, I see this artwork rather than the movie version; which I have seen many more times than I’ve read the books.

Through the Marshes - 1996 Tolkien Calendar - August
Through the Marshes – 1996 Tolkien Calendar – August

As Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes, the viewer can feel the atmosphere of this dank and morbid place with a glance. The skeleton in the foreground shows the risk being taken in traversing such a landscape and at the same time reminding the viewer of their own mortality; whilst simply gazing at August’s slot on the calendar and scribbling in appointments for the month. That is of course if one was to use it as a normal calendar, personally if I would have had these calendars I would have been determined to keep them in perfect condition.

The Wrath of the Ents - 2003 Tolkien Calendar - Centerfold
The Wrath of the Ents – 2003 Tolkien Calendar – Centerfold

True to the title, this piece really does show a wrathful scene of destruction on the part of the Ents; launching lumps of mountain rock upon the industrialised Isengard, home to the traitor Saruman.

The fires and smoke obstruct some of the view of the background mountains whilst the tower of Orthanc itself stands firm, like one of the many ancient phallic symbols seen throughout our world today. A sign of power and masculinity, on the verge of being destroyed by nature, a force rising up to rid Middle-earth of this industrial travesty.

The Blue Wizards Journeying East
The Blue Wizards Journeying East

Not much is said about the Blue Wizards, other than that they arrived in Middle-earth with the other three Wizards, Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White and Radagast the Brown; after which they journeyed to the East of Middle-earth, possibly losing sight of their mission and starting magical cults, or something along those lines.

I love this work as it gives a visual accompaniment to a story that was never truly started let alone finished by Tolkien, also completely excluded from the movies other than a comment by Saruman about ‘the rods of the five wizards’. It’s a real bug bear of mine to find out what did happen with these wizards and what their stories were, but still that’s just something that we’ll never know in any depth.

Endgame on the Mountain - 2004 Tolkien Calendar - June
Endgame on the Mountain – 2004 Tolkien Calendar – June

This piece shows Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom and Gollum about to land on them in a bid to steal the ring from Frodo.

Nasmith has really set a strong atmosphere for the location, the blood red firey sky contrasted by the blackness of the volcano slopes reeks of an evil and dark land. The smokey noxious fumes are apparent as they rise across the scene, drifting through the landscape casually, slowly poisoning the Hobbits; both of whom are clearly exhausted and their clothes tattered and worn.

I am enthralled with the way Nasmith describes rock formations through his paintings, there’s a lot to be learned from it. One thing I will note though is that Gollum looks totally alien, he just doesn’t look like the Gollum that’s been drummed into my mind’s eye as portrayed in the movies and played by Andy Serkis, which was done incredibly well and impossible to match, let alone beat.

Across Gorgoroth - 1996 Tolkien Calendar - November
Across Gorgoroth – 1996 Tolkien Calendar – November

This perfectly created vision of the Landscape of Mordor is stunning to say the least. every element of this painting transfers one to the landscape and brings one into the scene as though being there in person.

The volcano spewing out its filth and the evil looking lightning strikes adding further to the tension and despair of such a place.

Frodo and Sam are vaguely discernible near the bottom of the piece, making slow progress across the treacherous landscape and at first they are quite hard to find, it’s a bit like Where’s Wally but fairly easier and with a far superior fashion sense.

Departure at the Grey Havens - 1996 Tolkien Calendar - December
Departure at the Grey Havens – 1996 Tolkien Calendar – December

Now to look at the final piece of Nasmith’s work for this post, the heart touching moment and unbearably painful separation of Frodo and Samwise, as well as the departure of the dear old wizard Gandalf, who by this point in the story has been adopted as every reader and viewers grandfather; or maybe that’s just me.

This painting is beautiful and shows a side of Middle-earth the doesn’t look so bad after all, although by this point the ring has been destroyed and Sauron defeated.

The sky in this piece is also amazing, a symbol of goodness and light, a positive ending to a predominantly darkened story.

Nasmith is still producing artwork and he has created illustrations for a variety of Tolkien’s literature, he has also produced a few for George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Saga. Alongside illustration, he is also an avid musician.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and gained something from it, I find it inspiring to look at the work of other artists, especially when relating to the project I’m currently working on. Please feel free to comment, re-blog and follow and thanks for your attention and time to read this post.

Join me next Wednesday for Part IV of my Lord of the Rings Project and until then, take care!


9 thoughts on “The Art of Ted Nasmith

  1. What a joy to read this post! I’m a big admirer of Ted Nasmith’s Tolkien artwork, and you’ve described what makes his paintings so evocative and memorable very well. I agree, what makes his work quite unique in some ways is the way he works so closely with the source material. So you really do feel as though you’re seeing an especially faithful rendition of Tolkien’s story and own imagination. I hadn’t come across the painting of the Prancing Pony, that really is exactly how I visualised it – and it captures the warmth and safety of the inn just as described by Tolkien, as opposed to the dark and threatening depiction in the film. There is a lovely collection of Nasmith’s paintings here, well-chosen! I like them all, my own personal favourite is this one: Anyhow, thanks for sharing your thoughts and the artwork, I’ll be reblogging this at my place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for your comments I really appreciate it, Nasmith certainly does hold true to Tolkien’s writing and works incredibly well with turning the information into a visual work, his style really compliments the work as well he’s definitely nailed it.

      I’ll have a look at your link now and thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Earth and Oak and commented:
    I’m a big admirer of Ted Nasmith’s Tolkien artwork, I’ve blogged about it a few times here. So it was a joy to come across J Glover’s blog reviewing some of Nasmith’s most evocative paintings. Well worth a read, the descriptions and images will transport you to Middle-earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha you’re welcome and thank you also, same here anything lotr grabs my attention immediately and when it’s artwork as well I’m twice as hooked. I love seeing the variety of ways different artists envisioned the legendarium.

      Liked by 1 person

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