Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017
by William Furney
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WonderStreet interview with illustrator Ed Org

Illustrator Ed Org is known for his mystical creations and traces his early inspiration for becoming an artist to wandering around the pristine natural environment of his home in Shropshire – an experience he laments many children growing up today will not have due to the crowded urban settings most live in. Here, in an interview with WonderStreet, Ed talks about how he's now finding stimulation for his mythological illustrations in very old things, such as items at antique fairs, and how today, the internet and social media is driving a whole new wave of artists – but will any really stand out?

You're from rural Shropshire and now live in Cheltenham. How have these places influenced your work?

Shropshire, the county of my birth, has probably shaped my art to a great degree. A childhood of exploring the various woods, fields, willow-fringed streams and the wildlife that it contained is something that I will never forget. None of this now exists as it all lies beneath the roads, roundabouts and houses of Telford New Town. Cheltenham, as a rule, does not influence my work. I now get my “fix” of the countryside by visiting Devon, Cornwall and other wilder areas as much as I can. Children of today will never have the opportunity to experience the same intensity of exploration that I and others had in the '60s and early '70s.

You've said that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was a major influence on you when you were studying art back in the 70s. What was it that so struck you about the series?

I was advised by a friend to read LOTR when I was at school, but thought it was a book about fairies and elves – how wrong I was. I read it and was impressed by its underlying moral standing, compared with the garbage of books like Game of Thrones. Part of the effect I got when reading the book was that I had first read of Tolkien’s experience of the First World War. My father died just as I started my foundation course and he had opened up to me in his last days about his experiences of fighting in Russia (the siege of Leningrad) and the terrible atrocities inflicted on women and children by Russian troops as they pushed the Germans back on the Northern Front of Narva. The stuff of real nightmares, and this “War in the East” mirrored the book for me. My pictures for LOTR which I did in the early '70s were quite dark and brutal in comparison to what I do now. I do think of revisiting the book, but the films keep getting in the way – and Alan Lee’s illustrations are hard to beat because of their “Englishness”.

Many people dream of becoming an artist but are fearful of leaving so-called safe employment and striking out on their own. But that's just what you did. How were the early years, and what would you say to a budding artist thinking of becoming a professional?

It is easier nowadays to have a living in art. I have had various jobs – grass cutter, cartographer, graphic designer to name a few – before I settled on doing my own thing. The craft fairs of the last 25 years allowed me to show my work to a large audience countrywide. For new artists it is the internet and the various social media that seem to do the same job. Unfortunately with the net you are competing with what seems like an unending stream of new artists. You need to be different to stand out and a certain amount of luck will probably play a part.

How have your mythological themes developed over the years?

My work has become more romantic and most of this has come from finding old books on poetry, illustrated Victorian books and the like. A German legend might have a parallel in an Italian tale, and so it goes on. I can always find something to fire my imagination in my old books and I am still finding things in vintage and antique fairs to this day.

Have you ever been surprised by what you've managed to come up with?

It's not so much a surprise that can happen, because artists should always have a certain doubt about their work. Nothing is ever perfect and it is really up to the viewer to decide what value it has.

Give us a brief rundown of your typical day – starting from the time you get up until you go to bed.

My day varies – it depends on whether I am working on a new picture or mounting and framing stock for a show. I invariably find the most mundane of things impinge on my time and my work tends to either flow or ebb.

As an illustrator, you’ve been involved in books, exhibitions and done some corporate work. What would be your dream assignment or project of the future? Is there something you’d just love to work on or someone you’re aching to work with?

A dream assignment would be to illustrate The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I don’t think it has ever been illustrated, but having read it there are many strange, imaginative passages contained within it.

Do you think that art and illustration are properly appreciated in the UK, both in terms of public interest and government support?

High art may be more appreciated than illustration, but this has always been the case – illustration being the poor relation. However, I think that producing an illustration takes a lot more thought and, indeed, imagination than people realise. I think an Arthur Rackham or Edward Burne-Jones will outlast a Tracey Emin at the end of days.

What do you hope to have achieved by this time next year?

I keep on thinking about starting a large picture, Gawain and the Green Knight. Mind you, I have had this thought for the last five years, and I still haven’t got past doing a few thumbnails.

And finally, could you please share a few images and tell us a little about each?

The Frost Maiden

Pen and ink with watercolour. An imaginary picture, a goddess of winter with her guardians. My father told me of how he would travel to school in the late 1920s on a horse-drawn sled with wolves ever watchful in the surrounding forest

Neptune’s Fair Daughter

Pencil and watercolour on blue-tinted paper. A favourite theme of mine – mermaids and the like. I will never tire of producing this type of imagery.

The Ravenstone

Pencil. A landscape based on the Dartmoor oakwood called Wistman’s Wood. These are what I call fragment landscapes: the actual scene is made up from different viewpoints and areas. Although you couldn’t find the actual scene, you could find the individual trees and rocks, etc, if you really wanted to!

The Stealer of Stars

Pencil. A purely fantasy image. I probably am known more for my pencil work, which have a sort of engraved look. A beautiful girl with wings – what more could you want? Until the light goes out.

The Elven Sword

Pencil and watercolour on coloured paper. A more recent picture with perhaps a passing nod to LOTR. It has sparked a few ideas which I might work on in the future for a set of images based on Tolkien’s work. I have bought some new props recently which with the combination of a new model might be interesting.

It seems clear that Ed has no shortage of ideas and inspiration to carry his work far into the future – as well as a vast pool of powerful imagination to draw on. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this hugely talented artist and his work as much as we have in interviewing him.

Have a look at the WonderStreet profile of Ed Org here.

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