The Froud family's thatch–roof farmhouse sits buried in ivy down a quiet country lane in Devon, and its old front door (with a goblin door–knocker) is a doorway into Faerieland. Inside is the kind of enchanted house one usually finds only in fantasy books: full of carved medieval furniture, Pre–Raphaelite fabrics, costumes, masks, old books, puppets, Victorian toys, and magical props from films. Faeries, goblins, trolls and sprites stare down from Brian's paintings on the walls — and cavort in the shape of dolls created by his wife Wendy, a sculptor.
Brian's deep involvement with folklore and myth began during his art–student days, when he came across a book by Arthur Rackham in his college library. This master illustrator evoked the wonder of childhood with fey and richly animate landscapes, re–awakening Brian's interest in fairy tales and their imagery. He began to study the folklore of Britain, and then the tales of other lands — fascinated by the ways the magical traditions in all cultures shared common roots. When he left college, he spent five years working in the field of commercial illustration in London, but he continued to paint mythic images and to develop a distinctive style of his own. In the mid–Seventies, Brian's early mythic art was published in Once Upon a Time (a survey of modern English illustration) and collected in The Land of Froud, both from David Larkin's Peacock Press.
In 1975, Brian moved from London to the misty Dartmoor countryside, sharing a house with fellow artists Alan Lee and Marja Lee Kruÿt, and their children Owen and Virginia. Alan and Brian collaborated on Faeries, a lavishly illustrated book of British faery lore — which subsequently became a best–seller on both sides of the Atlantic. Brian's magical vision of the world so impressed the American filmmaker Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets) that he hired Brian to create two feature films: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It was on the set of the first movie that Brian met Wendy, a puppet designer who created the "gelflings" and other creatures. By the time of the second film they'd married and their son, Toby, was born. (He played the baby stolen by David Bowie's Goblin King in Labyrinth.) In the decades since, although Brian still designs for film and other media, he has largely concentrated on what could be called "faery portraiture" — producing an enormous body of work published in a number of internationally bestselling books, including Good Faeries, Bad Faeries; The Faeriesí Oracle; The Runes of Elfland; Chelsea Morning; and the volumes of the "Lady Cottington Pressed Fairies" series.
"I've been actively engaged with mythic imagery ever since I picked up that Rackham book," says Brian, "but it really came into focus for me when I moved from London to the country. As I walked the extraordinary landscape of Dartmoor, I looked at the trees and the rocks and the hills and I could see the personality in those forms . . .then they metamorphosed under my pencil into faeries, goblins and trolls. After Alan and I published Faeries, he moved on from the subject of faery folklore to illustrate Tolkien and other literary works . . .while I discovered that my own exploration of Faerieland had only just begun. In the countryside, the old stories seemed to come alive around me; the faeries were a tangible aspect of the landscape, pulses of spirit, emotion, and light. They insisted on taking form under my pencil, emerging on the page before me cloaked in archetypal shapes drawn from nature and myth. I'd attracted their attention, you see, and they hadn't finished with me yet.
"After completing the two Henson films, I returned to my Dartmoor studio and began to paint the faeries once more — listening to the mythic voice of the landscape, transcribing it through images. Although I love book art and design, I lost interest in being an 'illustrator' — at least as so many modern illustrators (and art directors) seem to define the term: that is, they attempt to render a scene precisely as an author has described it. To me, this just isn't interesting. If a writer has already done a good job of painting a picture in a reader's mind, why should I reproduce it? I'm more interested in what takes place around the corner, what we haven't already seen, what lies between the words of a text. In book art, I want the picture to compliment or comment on the text without simply reproducing it, creating a world of its own that the viewer can step into and explore. I turned down illustration jobs and concentrated instead on painting my faery pictures — pictures that would tell their own stories. From a purely commercial point of view, this seemed to be a risky decision . . .but I knew deep inside I was on the right track, and so I soldiered on. Increasingly my art fell into a grey area between what's commonly perceived of as 'fine art' (for gallery exhibition) and 'illustration' (for book publication). I intended my pictures for both environments, and this initially met with some resistance. For a long while it seemed as though no one but the faeries and my friends would ever see this new work."
Text copyright by Brian Froud and Terri Windling. It may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of both authors. All images on this page copyright by Brian Froud. They may not be reproduced in any form without the artist's express permission. Visit his website for more information.