Sword and Sorcery Paintings – Some of My Favorite Inspirations

People who have read my work have said that I have a very visual style. While I’m waiting for my laptop to boot up (or procrastinating) I look up paintings by some of my favorite fantasy artists. The newer fantasy art that has sprung up in the wake of the highly saturated World-of Warcraft visual style is eye catching, but there’s an older flavor that I’ve really taken a liking to.

Death Dealer II by Frank Frazetta

Muted, dreary, and brutal is how one could describe Death Dealer II. Instead of a highly detailed, fantastical background, we only need a swirl of nightmarish smoke to amplify whats happening in the foreground. Dominating the painting is the Death Dealer himself, whose strain and exertion can be felt just by looking at his contorting, twisting muscles. This isn’t the physique of a buff romantic interest – it’s the grotesque form of a monster that happens to be in human form. His foes are a legion of grey, twisted creatures whose details evoke more than they describe.

Evoking rather than defining is one reason I’m drawn to this sort of art. Where many artists try to describe the particular visual aspects of a subject, those in the vein of Frazetta go for that which lies beneath the details. What few hints we are given about the subject are dripping with emotion.

Sacrifice (Conan the Avenger) by Frank Frazetta

Within a shadow-shrouded temple, surrounded by creatures from forgotten corners of the world, Conan advances towards his prey in Sacrifice. Instead of a valiant charging hero, we see the Cimmerian barbarian clutching his hands like talons while smoldering white eyes glare at the robed figure. Rising from the smoke of the spilled censer are a horde of half-formed Cthulhu-esque demons. This right here is what sword and sorcery means (at least as far as I’m concerned).

Tarzan by Simon Bisley

Moving away from Frazetta, we have a familiar hero painted in an unfamiliar light. Disney may have codified Tarzan as a fun, friendly character for my generation and onward, but Simon Bisley does justice to the man raised in the dark heart of the unforgiving jungle. Here on display is glory in its most primal form; a victorious holds his kill in triumph to the praise of not just his gorilla friends, but the heavens above. The blood running down his arms is a nice touch, too. Out of all the paintings I look at, this one inspired Krael, the main character from my novel The Wizard Slayer, the most.

Chained by Frank Frazetta

Chained is the painting that I actually have hanging in my room. Here we see Conan facing off against a huge snake. He may be technically outmatched and helpless, but the painting says otherwise. Instead of reeling away in terror, Conan seems to be leaning in towards the serpent, the might of his body pulling the chains taught.

There’s something about the brutal ferocity of this art that you don’t often see elsewhere. It speaks to an older genre of fantasy that centered around brutal heroes and villains whose magical prowess could not be truly understood.

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