Warning: Adult content (discussion of LotR erotic fan art, although not at all graphically).
Recently, following links to links, I have been browsing LJ's and galleries for LotR fan art, specifically erotic art featuring Frodo. I don't mean manips, but paintings and drawings.
I found it very educational (and, in the end, inspiring)....
What a wide variety there is in levels of expertise! And how different are the graphic styles that influence fan artists.
I'll say up front that some of the illustrations that artists post are plain bad. If their content weren't NC-17, they could be drawn by small children, which makes them look all the more unsuitable as erotic art. A primitively-done drawing of Batman saving a busload of people has charm, a crudely-done drawing of Frodo in the clinches with his lover has little or none.
But sheer technical skill isn't a guarantee that a work will appeal. Even among illustrators who show real skill, what appeals to the viewer has as much to do with a work's style and tone than with the technical virtuosity with which it was made.
I am terribly picky about LotR art. (Surprise!) As might be guessed from my Frodo Art Travesties, I am an appreciator of art from the archives of classical western painting and sculpture. One of the reasons I so love the LotR film trilogy is because of the way its art designers made countless visual references to great art from the past. Screencap after screencap looks as though it were a canvas painted by one of the masters of western art. I think this sort of art - representational art from the western traditional - best suits Tolkien's narrative world. I think it best conveys the adult-level depth and complexity of his story, and gives a flavour of the cultural history that informs Tolkien's Middle-earth.
Many LotR artists and illustrators seem to work out of the received tradition of western painting, and it is this sort of Tolkien illustrating I most appreciate. Having said that, I do like some of it better than others. For instance, I imagine the hobbits to have slightly pointed ears, a propensity for curly hair on their heads, and a thick thatch of it on the tops of their feet. Other than that, I picture them proportioned and looking like humans, merely smaller in stature. Some Tolkien artists working in traditional styles picture the hobbits as being much less like humans. They proportion them differently -- usually making them squattier; short-limbed like dwarves in a Grimm's fairy tale -- or portray them with slightly different-looking faces. The hobbits look like a race apart -- human-like but not human. As may be imagined, I tend not to like these hobbit illustrations (except as displays of skill). I like hobbits depicted this way even less when they are shown in erotic acts.
When I browse LotR art sites featuring the work of fans, especially those that specialize in hobbits, a lot of it seems influenced more by cartoons than by traditional painting. Some of this fan art reminds me of older cartoon styles, recalling the sort of work found in older Disney-style features that were based on fairy tales. These films drew heavily from classic storybook illustrators. The animation artists seemed to be trying to produce a look that was beautiful, idealized. Except for the comic ones, the characters were rendered in a way that was more realistic than stylized. Other hobbit artists seem to be more inspired by cartoon art in which the style is less realistic and more exaggerated; the characters are depicted as more "quirky and cute," than beautiful. (I am thinking of later Disney-type animated features, usually featuring comic characters. Bakshi's hobbits would be in this style.)
What seems extremely popular now in hobbit fan art are the cartoon styles found in Manga graphic novels. We can't keep these books on the shelves in the library's "Young Adult" section. Like the older American counterparts, there seem to be two major categories. Some Manga art goes for a more story-book, idealized beauty, especially in the humans, but the basic look is more realistic than exaggerated. Other Manga features graphics that are more heavily stylized. Humans, especially, are less realistic-looking, portrayed more as funny or "cute and quirky." Although I can tell from the icons and images many users post, cartoon-based LotR art is extremely popular, for me, whether it draws from the American-based models or the Manga styles, it just doesn't "feel" like the right style to illustrate Tolkien. Perhaps, because I associate cartoon-style graphics with simplified stories and simplified characters, the style fails to convey, for me, the sense of depth, complexity, and rich detail I see in Tolkien's world.
I am afraid cartoon-based hobbits are not for me. And, the cuter and prettier they are the less I like them. Whether done in the style of older American animation or in the Manga styles, the characters are so pretty and so cute, they become infantilized. When I look at pictures showing these childish-looking hobbits performing sexual acts, I tend to shudder. Some of them are so cutsie-wootsie, however, even for this genre, pictures of the hobbits in the clinches look more silly than disturbing. Last night I was looking through some erotic illustrations done in this style and it was like leafing through an illustrated edition of the Kama Sutra starring Precious Moments figurines. Or they made me think of "Lord of the Peeps" (a parody of LotR made from dioramas, in which all the characters are played by marshmallow bunnies).
But, the erotica of some of the artists really, really appealed to me. Some was simply hot, but the best of it was moving, too. Even when an artist's draftsmanship was not superior, I really appreciated it when they seemed to make an effort to render the hobbits as if they were real, adult characters, in real, adult scenarios, making real, adult love. Some felt so true to life in tone and immediacy, they gave the sense they had been drawn from life; if not, from vivid memories of real encounters. I suppose some of them worked only from their imaginations, while others worked from photographs or the drawings of others. Anyway, I so enjoyed the best drawings, I thought, "I want some pictures like that for my story!"
That's right: I felt inspired! But, I decided that in order to produce illustrations that could make me happy, I would have to work from existing images and copy them in a rote manner, modifying them selectively. I did some looking around. Eureka! Right at our own library (home of "Too Hot to Sleep"), I found a sex manual for couples, illustrated with tasteful but graphic pencil drawings that would do just beautifully. They just needed a little modification. I'd have to de-herk-ify the man's body, plump up the woman's (and give her hair from a previous century)....
Ah, but I would need to change the model's face and head to Frodo's. This would be the difficult part. I had always been good drawing the human body, ever since a class in Life Drawing. But while I could draw a good face, it never looked like the model's. I stunk at portraiture. This, I could see, would be the challenge: drawing a Frodo face.
I tried doing it on the computer, really I did. But it did not work. Still, I decided the computer could help me a little. I could use what our computer could do as a guide, the original photograph having been super-simplified into a vague scheme of lines. I could let those lines guide my hand and eye. (It is not as though "my" Frodo looks exactly like film-Frodo, anyway.) Maybe I could learn to draw better while I was at it!
Note: if any of you digital artists out there know of a way to make a photographic image look like detailed pencil sketch, please let me know. Thanks! (This will be a project for the future, of course, but I really am excited about trying my hand at erotic drawing!)
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Below is a version of the screencap I was trying to make look like a pencil drawing. It didn't work, as I said, but effects other than "Drawing" came out interestingly. I liked one effect so well I tweaked it for an hour. I am posting it below.
In the source screencap, Frodo is lying on a rock in the lava flow remarking how, at last, he has regained his sense memory. "I can see the Shire...!" he sighs ecstatically. While I am actually engrossed watching the film, I can see the Shire, too. But, seen out of context, I confess this image makes me see things other than the Shire. Like Frodo stripped, sweaty, and crying out in pleasure.
This version did not come out as particularly hot, but I liked it very much:
~ I Can See the Shire, using the "Watercolor Wash" effect: