Their Work Was Almost Pure Fantasy

1 Nov 2012

When I use the words "fantasy pictures," I'm usually referring to all sorts of imaginative realism--not only sci-fi art or wanting to know how to draw a dragon. But bringing in a layer of fantasy to your paintings or drawings can be daunting because you don't want it to be cheesy. If you want to look at a group of fantasy images that balance these elements perfectly, look no further than the Pre-Raphaelites.

Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851, oil on canvas.
Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851, oil on canvas.

The Pre-Raphaelite "brotherhood" (grrrrr!) was all about studying nature, often bringing in a spiritual or Romantic bent to their work, and avoiding muddy colors and "classical" compositions that were, in these artists' opinions, overused and uninspired. Instead, they used bold, undiluted colors on white canvas for rich effects, added a lot of detail and ornamentation to their work, and created incredibly complex compositions in their fantasy images. 

Their subjects are inspired by stories--from Shakespeare, the bible, Romantic poetry--that we may be familiar with, but they are presented in such a way that the stories gain an otherworldly tinge. In the hands of John Everett Millais, Ophelia's drowning becomes a fantasy artwork of a frozen water nymph. We still get the reference to the Shakespeare play, but the painting takes on a life of its own and sets the scene in a completely different way.

Pia de' Tolomei by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1868-1880.
Pia de' Tolomei by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1868-1880.

The fantasy art elements in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's work come through his use of objects that have layers of rich symbolism. La Pia de' Tolomei is a reference to the discovery of Pia in Dante's Purgatorio, and in the painting, Rossetti furthers his out-of-this-world narrative with images of birds, arrows, jewelry, a rosary and prayer book, Gothic architectural motifs, and more. It's a rich visual feast, and a painting that is steeped in fantasy art that simultaneously seems quite real.

That's exactly how I would approach including fantasy images in my work, too. Make them relevant to the story I want to tell but not overpowering. The Pre-Raphaelites have taught me this, and I've also learned a lot from the American Artist fantasy-art issue, which features so many works inspired by fantasy, just like the Pre-Raphaelites were.

Right now all of our digital art magazines and books are on sale, including the American Artist fantasy-art issue. It's a great resource if you want to enhance your work with narratives that aren't cut and dry "reality," and I for one love it. I hope you do, too! Enjoy!

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Bongobongo wrote
on 2 Nov 2012 6:37 AM


  I wouldn't be too offended at an art groups self selected name as did the Pre-Ralphaelite Brotherhood.  Until the G.I. bill made it possible for the masses to achieve  higher educations, the vocation of artist was not one the common citizen could afford to choose. It was the mostly the realm of the wealthy. Many artists tolerate the behavior of Picasso, Pollack and the geriatric wife beater, Edward Hopper because they are Modern and important.  

frizzlerock wrote
on 3 Nov 2012 9:13 PM

Have always loved the John Everett Millais one.