All authors draw upon a wide range of inspirations when creating their stories, such as real-life experiences, places they have visited, concerns about the world and society, books they have read. For me, visual art has always inspired and influenced my writing. I cannot claim to be an expert in art history, and as much as I enjoy sketching, my artistic skills are limited at best, but I find it an endlessly absorbing subject and a way of finding different perspectives on the world. By offering us a safe space to consider and explore feelings and fears we otherwise feel uncomfortable in confronting, art can help us all feel a little less alone in this world.
In this blog series, I am going to focus on four artists who have been particularly important to me and my creative work: Ian Miller, Elisabeth Frink, Paul Nash and Alfred Wallis. In this post, I am going to discuss the work of British fantasy artist Ian Miller.
Since childhood I have loved the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, and my first encounter with the artwork of Ian Miller was in the book A Tolkien Bestiary; many beautiful and atmospheric images filled the pages of this book, but for me Miller’s illustrations stood out.
Whenever we read a novel we have our internal interpretations of the story, the setting and the characters, and I found in Miller’s images the darkness and intensity I’d always enjoyed in Tolkien’s books. For example, his portrayal of Helm’s Deep conveyed the terrifying scale of the battle, especially the monstrous, remorseless power of Saruman’s army – the whole image is so alive, I felt as though I could hear the battle, the clashing of steel, the drums, the screams. As with all Miller’s work, it boasts incredible detail, bursting with energy, two of the malevolent characters almost staring at, challenging, the viewer. When writing my epic fantasy Tree of Life trilogy, I wrote several battle scenes and I always keep this image of Helm’s Deep in my mind when doing so.
Born in 1946 and educated at St Martin’s School of Art, Ian Miller became one of Britain’s foremost fantasy illustrators. Known for his distinctive Gothic style, Miller’s work is immediately recognisable, and although profoundly original, I detect hints of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Albrecht Dürer in his work. Miller has worked on many book covers, including editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. He contributed to Ralph Bakshi’s animated films, most notably the memorable post-apocalyptic science fantasy Wizards, where his macabre, richly detailed backgrounds added real atmosphere and a sense of depth.
Miller also produced memorable illustrations inspired by Mervyn Peake’s classic series of Gormenghast books. Central to the story is the monstrous edifice of Gormenghast itself, whose ancient towers and mighty walls provide the ideal setting for the ritual-ridden people living there. Many of the characters inhabit the dank, damp corridors and rooms like ghosts, and the castle seems to be rotting and sinking. Through his dark, almost surreal style, Miller captures the slow decay of Gormenghast, hinting at the rising madness of the society within.
Miller once said:
“Rust, falling facades, tottering buttresses, and an overriding sense of impermanence, these are the things which fascinate me the most.”
These objects of fascination coalesce in Miller’s Gormenghast illustrations, creating frightening but compelling visions that truly complement Peake’s Gothic masterpiece.
The bold, often grotesque and nightmarish visions of Ian Miller lurk always somewhere in my imagination; whenever I write scenes set in forests full of gnarled trees or in crumbling buildings and edifices, I know they are in part inspired by Miller’s work.
If you are interested in finding out more about Ian Miller, there is a collection of his artwork in the book ‘The Art of Ian Miller’, which showcases the sheer scale and depth of his creativity.
If you’re interested in my writing, you can get the ebook version of my first novel - The Map of the Known World – for FREE. Please see the following Kindle preview: