Below is the interview we did with Melanie Giuffré, portrait sketch artist (and my sister). We would like to thank her for being the guest artist for our very first issue and sharing a little bit about the artwork she’s created over the last few years. We hope to see more of her work soon and possibly do a video interview as well….
NHP: Let’s start at the beginning; why did you start drawing and why?
MG: I believe I was about seven or eight years old when I really started to draw. My earliest memory of drawing my first “portrait” was when I had to do a picture for school one day, and decided to draw one of Jesus. I remember my parents were really impressed with it, which was my first sign of encouragement into drawing more. So afterwards, I just started drawing other things, and became obsessed with drawing horses for a while.
Unfortunately, I think I went through a phase where art was my thing and then I got frustrated with it and just stopped “drawing” for a long time. It wasn’t until I turned fourteen that I got back into it, and my grandmother gave me my first sketch pad and pencils. I think that’s when I really started to have a real interest in art. I attempted a few portraits and even tried to draw things from my imagination, but ultimately I felt like my “pictures” were never very good.
So again, I got away from drawing altogether for a long time. Even though I had taken art classes from college and still had a love for it, I always compared my pieces to others and always felt that they were inferior and mediocre. It really became a love/hate relationship for me for a time.
Fast forward about five years later, I was inspired to do a portrait of an actor dressed as a dwarf. Because I had been away from sketching for a significant amount of time, I felt that I was losing that drive to sketch and struggled to make that portrait look exactly like the actor. But I think what really changed everything for me, was when my sister Bernadette said that my portrait was my “own” interpretation of the actor. I took that as a reminder that every artist is different: they view objects differently from everyone else, and there’s really no right or wrong way to do a piece of artwork, and every artist has their own creative ideas. That really changed how I viewed my own technique of drawing, and because of that I think my artwork has vastly improved since then. I take art seriously and my love for it has definitely grown, too.
NHP: Definitely sounds like a labor of love! What makes you want to draw something or someone?
MG: I guess I have an odd fascination with certain objects. And when I see them, I just have this need to draw them. I’m “drawn” to them so to speak. I’m very intrigued with lighting/shadows and textures and how they appear, especially with a person’s face. I’ve been told for years that faces are the hardest to draw, and yet they’re my favorite. I love how each face is unique and how they each tell their own story.
NHP: Tell us about your LOTR and HOBBIT drawings. Tolkien’s world has inspired a plethora of artwork through the century and it seems that Peter Jackson’s trilogies have as well. What attracted you to Middle Earth lore and art?
MG: Since Tolkien illustrated his work in such a rich way with detailing of characters and places, I find that I can easily immerse myself into that lore. You know the Catholic Church, for example, inspired a lot of the designs that you find in the architecture and artwork found all over Europe. So I feel like with Tolkien’s work, that’s been an inspiration for many fans of his work going from art, writing, music and even little independent films, as well as Peter Jackson’s films. As for myself, I love the fact that because his work is so massive that it’s very to easy to get lost in that world. And the artwork for that world is just beautiful and fascinating to me. And now it does exist, thanks to Peter Jackson, the late Andrew Lesnie, John Howe, Alan Lee, and the rest of the incredible crew.
NHP: Yes, I want to thank him for making these films. Do you have a favorite tool you use for your different drawings?
NHP: What/who would you say has inspired or impacted your artwork the most?
MG: My dad, an artist himself, my first art professor from college, and friends who are artists themselves.
NHP: You’ve had the opportunity to connect with and receive mentor-ship from one of Peter Jackson’s conceptual artists for LOTR and the HOBBIT. Tell us how John Howe has impacted your work, especially with the Dwarves during the release of the movies.
MG: I was actually a little intimidated when I sent my first sketch to him, which was a humble sketch of Thorin Oakenshield. Because he has such a vast repertoire under his belt, I wasn’t sure how he would respond to my work, given my background and lack of experience. But he was actually very kind and VERY encouraging with what I had done, that he even challenged me to do portraits of the other 12 dwarves from the Hobbit! I had no intention of doing them at the beginning, but honestly, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. John Howe has become such an incredible mentor to me. He completely “gets” where I’m coming from, so he can relate to certain areas that I struggle with at times whenever I’m putting a portrait together. I think he sees that I have the potential and appreciates the work I put into my portraits and the drive to really develop my skill. So, to have his support in what I do as an amateur artist has definitely given me the motivation and the encouragement to be a better artist.
NHP: Besides drawing, you are also an avid photographer. What got you interested and how would you say it differs/compares with drawing something on canvass?
MG: I think the two compare in the fact that I like to focus on detailing. I love taking pictures of nature. From looking at the texturing of the bark on a tree and how it just goes on forever, the fine detailing of a leaf, or the formation of clouds in the winter months, really captivate me. Everything has layers and layers of detailing when you think about it. I guess that’s what attracts me when I take certain photographs or even when I do a portrait of a person’s face.
NHP: What is MelArt and what can we expect to see from it in the near future?
MG: “MelArt” is actually a Facebook page for my artwork, but I’m still tweaking it up a bit, so it’s not currently out publicly yet. Eventually, I’d like to have my own website with said name, but the FB page will have to do for now. Hopefully it’ll be up and running sometime in the year 2016. I hope to have some new portraits included with my other pieces by then. And who knows, maybe some brand new work as well. 🙂
And we at New Hope Productions are sure there will be! Be on the lookout for MelArt on Facebook and videos in the near future. (Homepage photo taken by Melanie Giuffré)