The song of Ice and Fire artist talks thrones and art fetishes
Marc Simonetti received a very detailed commission from an author. It described a throne – now perhaps the most famous throne not just in fantasy but in fiction. In the past, many artists attempted to illustrate this throne – including Marc – but nobody had yet got it quite right. This time, the French illustrator drew more than 50 versions. Still none of them worked. They somehow didn’t quite match the image in the author’s head.
The Iron Throne is a grotesque thing, described as being built using a thousand twisted steel blades. It’s big, too. So big that the king must climb steps to sit on it. Up to now, Marc had drawn the throne in silhouette. Then he came up with a new idea: he’d set the ugly throne against a beautiful background. The author, George RR Martin, liked what he saw.
“The Iron Throne worked once I did the background,” says the French illustrator. “Because picturing that big throne in a strong, beautiful environment balances out its ugliness. I just had to correct a few things and clean the piece. George said: ‘ This is this one!’”
The Game of Thrones author was so impressed with the 2014 illustration – eventually published in companion book The World of Ice & Fire – that he suggested anyone who draws the throne in future should first consult Marc’s drawing. George said the French artist got it “absolutely right”.
“With some commissions,” Marc says, “I read the whole book and then submit an idea. On others, I attempt to answer a brief. But I always try to have at least one small thing that makes the illustration pop. I can see when an illustration is beginning to acquire a special kind of visual interest, because it starts to vibrate.”
Marc is best known for his work on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels. He’s also illustrated Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth and the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. Beyond his book illustrations, the Frenchman has created concept art for
I’m just a geek, a fan of comics, fantasy and science fiction. My goal is to visually translate the feeling I have
EA, Ubisoft and Activision. More recently, he moved into feature films.
“Sometimes I think I’m just a random geek,” he says, “a fan of comics, fantasy and science fiction. My illustrations have something that uses that generic language. Most of my ideas come from books, from my visual library. When I make an illustration, my only goal is to visually translate the feeling I have.”
da Vinci was an engineer
Marc studied at two art schools at two very different times in his life. He attended the first – in French Alpine town Annecy – between eight and 14 years old. But art was just a hobby back then. Really, he wanted to be an engineer. “Engineering looked kind of interesting, from a child’s point of view. But, for me, Leonardo da Vinci was an engineer.”
He found his career as an engineer a bit different to da Vinci’s. So Marc signed up to the Emile Cohl School in Lyon.
I’m fine with people expressing themselves. Not everyone has to like my stuff
“I attended for one year, to change my professional life. I was 25 years old then. I didn’t like my work as an engineer, so there was a lot at stake. I learnt as much as I could in that year, but my personal work was even more intense than the work done for the school.”
The Frenchman joined a video games company straight out of art school, but it took over five years before he made a decent living from his art.
Marc always strives to make his paintings closely resemble the text he’s illustrating for, as with George’s Iron Throne. But there are a couple of characteristics that tie Marc’s work together. “Fetishes,” he calls them. He loves perspective, especially perspectives that look a bit wrong, a little twisted. One of the problems George had with past illustrations of the Iron Throne was the scale. They simply weren’t big enough. No one does big quite like Marc.
His environments go off into the distance and straight over the horizon for thousands of miles. His people are often dwarfed by the places in which he draws them. He loves colours, using them to create depth and mood. Some illustrations he gets right first time. Others, he has to start over again and again.
“At the end of the day, only my name will be at the bottom of the illustration, so I have to give my best each time. If I have to change a part of the picture that kills the composition or the colour scheme, I adjust the rest to make it work again. Most of the time it’s for the best. A good
Hall of Kings Marc Simonetti’s suitably epic cover for Terry Brooks’ 1977 fantasy novel Sword of Shannara.
The Hunt In this piece for Le Pré aux Clercs publishing company’s 2014 calendar, Marc contrasts the darkness of violence with the lightness of nature.
Shadow of Em pire Marc shows off his love of perspective on the cover for Jay Allan’s novel Shadow of Empire. Age of Myth Marc’s people are dwarfed by the place in which he draws them on the cover for Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan. Turtle Recall This is cover art for Turtle Recall by Stephen Briggs and the late Terry Pratchett.
Nôo Don’t look down: Marc’s cover art for Nôo by Stefan Wul takes plunging perspective to a whole new level.