Off the Page: The Tortall Project


Ever wondered about the artist drawing those fantastic pieces of fanart you reblog on Tumblr or favorite on deviantArt? Here’s your chance to get behind the scenes with these artists who bring the faces and lives alive from some of your favorite young adult books.

This week is a little bit different since we’re featuring a multitude of talented artists. They have collaborated together on deviantArt to create The Tortall Project. They create comics using the worlds from author Tamora Pierce‘s books. Tortall is the name of the country from Tamora Pierce’s quartets of books The Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, and Protector of the Small.

The first volume of their work is out on Lulu as a free download. It includes comics featuring both Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Circle of Magic series. Read on below about their project and how these artists have brought Pierce’s books to life.

  • "Fireside"

What encouraged you to start the Tortall Comic Project?
Alanna/Devo: If memory serves me right Steph mentioned it was a fan anthology of illustrations for the Harry Potter series that was part of the inspiration.

Alena/whitelyte: I remember that I was browsing the fan art for Tamora Pierce and I came across Steph’s work. I visited her page, where she had said she was interested in doing a Tamora Pierce comic. So I messaged her, expressing my interest in helping/joining her. We started talking, and I swear, it was like the next day, TCP was a group with a layout and rough idea. Claire was also sent a message about being a founder but wasn’t able to join us until about 1-3 months after, when I saw her at Comic Con.

Kristin/Queen-Obsessed: Steph and Alena explained that it all started “a long time ago” when Steph mentioned online that she wanted to turn Tammy’s books into comics. When Alena gifted Steph with a deviantART subscription for the new year, she asked Steph about that idea, and Steph decided to go for it. Within days the project had begun. The founders were all quick to correct me when I called Alena the “second-in-command.” Steph explained that the three girls are equal because, among other things, although it was her idea, it was Alena who inspired her to make it a community project and who got the ball rolling. Alena further explained the dynamic with a comparison from Lady Knight: “I’m Raoul, she’s Vanget.” [Vanget is a general, Raoul is a Knight Commander.]

Claire/prismageek: I wasn’t aware of the group till it was beginning work on the first book, but I desperately wanted to join once I knew of it. Making illustrations based on Tamora Pierce’s work had been something I enjoyed doing for years, making a comic off of them sounded really exciting!

What is it about the authors’ writing that inspired you to create your community?
Alanna/Devo: I would argue there’s a sense of realism in Ms. Pierce’s writing. It grounds the fantasy elements in the challenges the characters have to go through to get there—travel takes time, magic needs careful preparation, and pages have to study and train to eventually earn their shield. Likewise, everything that’s in the anthology is the end result of people undertaking a challenge.

What was your favorite reaction you have received regarding the project or your own art?
Claire/prismageek: The artists who have just discovered our group and the excitement they express at finding friends to share these characters with.

Alanna/Devo: I’d like to say it was my own reaction when the book finally arrived (best birthday present ever), but I didn’t expect that my family would be so very proud when the first project was complete.

What kind of requirements or deadlines do you require for your community?
Claire/prismageek: We don’t require anything in terms of artistic ability, but we do want people to have the means or equipment to be able to get their work on to the group gallery. This means they are a part of the deviantArt community, a member of our deviantArt group, and have either a scanner they can access or a digital tablet and some sort of art program on their computer. We do also provide templates so all the projects will print correctly.

Our deadlines are set roughly, but we keep track of what has been submitted and adjust them when too many artists are unable to meet the original date. We try to respect the fact that everyone has a life beyond the group.

Alanna/Devo: Unfortunately as Ms. Pierce explains on her website FAQ, being a published author brings with it contractual guidelines she must honor, including a ban on reading fan fiction based on her books. That posed a big dilemma for us since one of our goals was for Ms. Pierce to receive a copy, and because of that it was decided that we wouldn’t accept written works. It’s a real shame. There’s some phenomenal writing out there.

What’s your process? What type of medium/art programs do you use or prefer?
Alanna/Devo: Any type of visual media– I should say any type that could be represented in the 2d planes of the pages– be it a drawing or a photo of something with more dimensions. In fact, we had a fantastic idea from a talented fiber artist for a photo entry that would be staged with handmade figures and custom backgrounds. That’s just amazing.

Our process is to work through the stages of comic-making–scripting, thumbnail page sketches, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering—as a group. Our deadlines are defined by those stages so the work is spread out into some more manageable. The other advantage is that by having people post their progress, they have the opportunity to get another person’s perspective. Perhaps solve some problems they encountered on the way.

Claire/prismageek: The standard process setup by our deadlines is to start with basic thumbnails to work out placement of characters and camera, rough pencils that to some degree define the artist’s own style and the amount of detail each illustration will include. Next we have the clean up phase called Inking, which creates the final lines of the drawings. Then we ask that everyone takes a moment to lay in their dialogue and check the layout of their work. This version is then colored or given tones depending on the artist’s preference.

Although we prefer digital art, simply because it’s simpler to submit to the group, we do not detour any artist from working traditionally. Most of our artists seem to use a combination of the two.

Personally I might draw a rough on paper, then scan it onto my computer. I use a combination of an Intuos drawing tablet and a small portable tablet I borrow from another artist to clean up my work, then back to just my Intuos and Photoshop to create the final colored version.

Is there a piece of art that you’re most proud to show off to others?
Alanna/Devo: Is ‘all of it’ an option? No? I’d say it’s the comics and illustrations by people who had never made them before this project are a special spot of pride for me.

Claire/prismageek: I’m getting excited to show the final product of my entry for our second book. Other illustrations I’ve done in the past I also enjoy but I also look at these and wish to draw something that surpasses them.

Are there any themes or surprises you’ve noticed come up in your work?
Alanna/Devo: I’m not sure how the Project and the rest of the fandom get away with having so much creative talent, but whatever it is don’t stop now. It makes my day!

Do you have anything else that you’re working on or have any future artistic goals?
Kristin/Queen-Obsessed: We’re just working towards finishing the second volume for now, but it’s up to future admins to decide what direction it may go.

Claire/prismageek: I want to improve all my basic skills. Every time I get too busy to draw regularly I feel I lose something of these.

What kind of deadlines do you have and do you have a target date for your final project?
Alanna/Devo: Current plan is to publish by early summer.

What advice or insight would you give to other artists?
Alanna/Devo: There’s always this point in a big project, whether it started that way or not, where you suddenly comprehend the scale of it and get intimidated. Keep working on it and don’t get discouraged, because it will be complete before you realize it.

Kristin/Queen-Obsessed: You’ve got to practice. A lot. If you’re not drawing or sewing or writing, or whatever it is for you, then you’ll never get better. And artists seem to have a habit, especially when they’re just starting out, of disliking their work. But I’ve seen enough “one year later” redraws on deviantArt to know that the best way to like your art, to improve your art, is just to make art. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said something about how “I don’t care what you create, just go out there and make good art.”

Claire/prismageek: Everyone is born with a different amount of drawing ability. However just like any other talent you have to practice as often as you can if you wish to improve. Try not to judge yourself based on the success of others, drawing should bring you enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment! Remember that not everyone has to attend art school to be successful.

Thank you to the artists from The Tortall Project!

Be sure to check out their individual pages (listed above) for a sample of their work and see if you can spot them in the free download at Lulu. If you want to learn more about their group, visit their deviantArt page.

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About Author

Natasha M. Heck

Natasha believes cats and words are the shiniest things in the 'verse. She has touched Stonehenge, climbed the Glastonbury Tor, walked the Philosopher's Path, and kissed her true love on the Eiffel Tower. She's a fangirl, Jedi Knight, and Gryffindor whose love of unicorns led her to live in the land of geekdom and sunshine. She has an English degree emphasis in Creative Writing, and is using it to follow her dreams.

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