‘Ulmo appears before Tuor’ by Fabio Leone

In 2015 the Tolkien Society recognised the artwork of Fabio Leone with an award, as one of the exciting up and coming Tolkien artists on the scene.

FB: How did you react when you found out you had won the Tolkien Society Award 2015 for Best Artwork?
FL: It could sound as a “cliche’”, but I wasn’t expecting to win. My painting was proposed to the Tolkien Society by the Italian Network, together with the artworks of my friend and colleague Andrea Piparo and Angelo Montanini: the first is really talented and the latter a big name in illustration. I simply came back at my desk in the evening and found more than fifty notifications on Facebook.  “What the heck…” I thought, opening the notification page. I couldn’t believe it!

Art from ‘Sleepy Hollow’, by Fabio Leone

FB: You are not a stranger to awards. In 2013 you illustrated The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving [published by Compass], and the book won the Language Learner Literature Award. How did you get involved in that project?
FL: It was my agency who proposed me this project. I worked as hard as I could to meet the client’s needs and the book received good reviews and later a prize. It was a wonderful story to illustrate and a tough nut to crack, because I’m not used at working in a “cartoony” style.

FB: Tolkien, zombies and skeletons. It is safe to assume that Fantasy is your backyard. Why fantasy?
FL: Fantasy was always present in my life: I was a kid of the ‘80’s in Italy. As everyone of my generation, I grew up watching japanese cartoons. I responded more at the fantasy series than the “historical” ones. But one cartoon, in particular, scorched my heart and never left me since, “Future boy Conan”. It was Fantasy and Epic at its finest and only later I discovered that one of the three directors was Hayao Miyazaki. I was lucky to be a child when “Labyrinth”, “LadyHawke”, “The Goonies”, “Explorer”, “Willow”, “The Neverending Story”, were continuously aired on television. At the same time I never let go my passion for videogames: I started at 5 with a Commodore-64 and now I’m hyping for Fallout4. As an adult I also enjoy other kind of literature such as Biographies, Sci-fi, History of Science, Scientific divulgation… but fantasy books are alway where I can reach them… together with graphic novels, comics and my Studio Ghibli collection. Zombies and skeletons are, to me, funny to paint. You could push the design wherever you want without losing the “suspension of disbelief”. It’s a rare commodity for a realist fantasy painter.

‘Thrain, son of Thror’ by Fabio Leone

FB: Who is the writer that most influenced your art?
FL: When I’ve started reading Fantasy, I thought that Terry Brooks was “the one”… but later, as a pivotal  event… Tolkien happened. He’s my man. Everything I love about Fantasy it’s in his books and it’s an eternal pleasure to read and read again his “Tree and Leaf”, a true manifesto on how I want to approach the problem of representing Fantasy Literature

FB: And what about the artist that inspired you to follow in their footsteps, when you first started drawing?
FL: Hard to say: when I was a child I always enjoyed drawing but without any role model in particular. For many years this passion subsided and it was only when I was evaluating how to complete my studies that I’ve decided to give my artistic side a chance and enrolled at the Fine Arts Academy in Rome. At the time I just  wanted to discover the classics, but later, when my career as illustrator was starting, I’ve re-discovered Donato Giancola and fell in love with his skill and aesthetic approach.

Beorn, by Fabio Leone

FB: Let’s talk about mediums. You seem to enjoy trying different techniques, from pencil all the way to digital art. Tell us about this journey – what are your thoughts on the evolution of art through the ages? And what is your favourite technique?
FL: It’s a vast topic, but I can give my point of view, that of a modern painter looking back at the past. Art has always been experimenting ground for applied technology. Painters have always experimented for the latest colors, shipped from faraway lands or discovered in the furnaces of the industrial revolution. The most astounding artist alway used some “technology” to achieve incredible results and often their methods were kept secret; the myth survives that the past painters, somehow, painted “from memory” exceptional landscapes or intricate anatomies. Many look at the old painters as demigods that can’t be approached. But “Visual Art” always lived at the crossroad of technique, passion and technology. Today we have digital painting and, after  a humble beginning, we can observe and admire the works of undisputed masters working in the digital media.

At the moment I’m enjoying painting digitally, but it’s my desire to get back at the pencils and traditional oil painting: it was next to impossible to learn it properly at the academy but now, I think I can try again with more positive results

FB: You are from Italy – there is always a big responsibility when it comes to producing art. What are your thoughts on the current Italian artistic landscape?
FL: I can’t say I know enough of the italian production to be objective about its quality, but everyone can see that, for aspiring artist, it’s very difficult to find proper formation in Italy. This lack of possibilities is quite sad  and it’s slowing down a new generation of artists. Luckily there are many online courses that can help. For example I’m following the courses at Schoolism and those are just fantastic.

Skeletor, by Fabio Leone

FB: It seems that creativity is back to be privately funded these days, as proven by the success of Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Patreon, to name a few. How do you see the impact of the internet on creativity in general?
FL: Internet made possible a contact between the artist and the public, without the filter of the big agencies and producers. As every human experiment, it could turn out as a good one or  a bad one and the defining point is the quality of the artist and the artwork that is produced. Facebook gave me visibility and a way to communicate, Society6 gave me the opportunity to sell my art worldwide. Now with Patreon I’m experimenting how to approach the public in a different way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes frustrating, but trying it’s the essence of this job. It’s not my aim to collect as much “Likes” as I can: now I’m focusing on my art and how to improve it – popularity is just a by-product of well produced art. Having a response from the public gives me energy to push myself further.