Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator"

Battle of Evesham (c) Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator
     I have a friend who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada named Pat, who like me is into all things medieval. Several weeks back he informed me he had a distant cousin living in the UK, who did historical drawing, paintings and illustrations for books. We have been friends for over four years now. I was a bit miffed, he was just now mentioning this to me. However I also believe things happen at their own time and pacing in our lives. So when something is supposed to happen it does. I asked him, who is your distant cousin? Matthew Ryan he replied.

     Well I don't know about the majority of people out there, but I have known of Matthew's talents and his paintings about as long as I have my friend. Do you think he would be interested in doing an interview? I asked. "That could probably be arranged" was the reply I received. The conversation you will see below, is the result of an off hand remark, coinciding with being in the right place at the right time. Thank you Pat for your assistance.

Matthew Ryan, welcome to Modern Medievalist. With your indulgence, I am going to just jump right in and start asking questions.

Q: I recently read where you said it had taken you 35 years to get to this point in your career. Where were you 35 years ago?

A: Ah, that was a little tongue in cheek but also very true.... I am thirty five so meant that every time I complete a piece of work the it has took me my whole life to get to this "new" stage. Knowledge of the subject, ideas and technical development is all of course an ongoing thing and in my mind my best piece of work is always my next. I have always been interested in Art and have for a long time had a fascination and love of history especially medieval. I have only recently been working as an historical illustrator but am fortunate to have already had some very good clients and briefs.

Q: Did you receive formal training to be an Artist?

A: Yes I did a degree in illustration.... must admit over here an illustration degree does not include what people would call technical formal training. I learnt much from the degree however but my work is I would say (if this does not sound to self congratulating) a combination of talent, practice and work. When I took my degree in Illustration it was not historical illustration that I was working on... a tutor at the time I remember was often saying "draw what you know and what you love" this at the age of about twenty went right over my head and I remember thinking I can draw whatever people want me to draw. However years later when I combined my two passions and painted historical themes my work went to a new place and the realization of what he said became very true. This is another reason why I only advertise as an historical illustrator now. Painting what your are interested in and love gives your work more sincerity and the passion you have for the subject can come through in the finished work.
Matthew Ryan working on a composition.

Q: Where do you find your subjects? (I know in the UK you just about can't swing a dead cat around your head without hitting a reenactor of some sort.)

A: Reenactors are visually a key source for me, you can not beat seeing in real life the textures and combinations of how light plays on a surface, things such as steel - polished in the sun or rusted in the rain on a dull autumn morning all these things give the paintings depth and character. I am a big advocate of artists drawing from nature and the world around them. However in saying that that is only one aspect of sources for my work... landscape photography is an important element and something I also enjoy. Setting the soldier in his landscape is as much of an important thing for me as details such as kit and uniform etc. Another and possibly most important part of the process is direct contemporary sources and for the medieval period this mostly leaves us with tomb effigies, manuscript art and some of the later period paintings and written descriptive accounts. I find the access now available on-line with digitized manuscripts invaluable. All these things can be used and cross referenced to try and bring together what I hope is as accurate as I can be with a glimpse, or view to the past.
Q: What did you present for this year (publication and completed work) and what does 2014 hold in store?

A:Some of the work in the past twelve months have been.... Four paintings for the channel 4 series "Walking through History with Tony Robinson" about the 1719 Jacobite uprising. The battle of Bryn Glas for Medieval Warfare Magazine, A painting I made of the 1460 Battle of Northampton based on my friend and historian Mike Ingram's work. This was made to help draw awareness to the battle and help save the site from potential development work. The original I donated to the people of Northampton and it is currently on display at Northampton Museum alongside the recent facial reconstruction of Richard III. Also worked and working on editorial briefs for some Spanish military history Magazines, Desperta Ferro.

-Wow! You have really been busy-

I  have been working on a large canvas of the battle of Bosworth, this is a self made brief and so it has had to be side lined for the moment, but I hope to have time to work on it again soon. My Bosworth piece has been in the planning for a couple of years, with the interest now in King Richard III I am sure it will be a popular image and something I hope to become iconic. I have many possible exciting projects for next year, some of which may be work for the Magna Carta 800 project that I would relish. Also in the cards (and due to my archery I must do this) is paintings to mark the 2015 anniversary of Agincourt!

Q: So you are an Archer then?

A: I am. I have been practicing archery since I was a child. My father had several flat bows, and I started from there. I also became a Fletcher, and have made my own arrows. My practical experience with Archery, Fletching led me to creating some of the illustrations for Mike Loades Osprey book on Archery, and they also used several photographs of arrows I had made. By the way, it was perhaps my love of shooting the English/Welsh Warbows that started me off drawing and painting things medieval.

The Power of the  English/Welsh Warbow.

Q: Can anyone commission your work? Or do you strictly work for Authors, Historical Organizations, or Museums?

A: Any one can commission my work, however the magazines, book and TV shows are a great avenue to showcase my work. Also the publishing side of things allows me to have interesting and helpful communications with historians, editors etc within the profession and helps with my constant learning on the subjects. I try and stay fresh with input from reenactors. Without the input of people who have practical application of building a Bow or some other medieval object, then the art would become two dimensional and flat.

Q: What is the latest offering from Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator?

A: Hopefully by the time this article is published I will have a website up and running, where my art can be viewed and limited edition prints of my work can be ordered.

-His website is up, and will be listed in the link section below.-

Thank you Matthew Ryan. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Considering all of the irons you have in the fire, I truly appreciate the time you took away from your art to speak to me and my readers. All of my best, and I eagerly look forward to viewing your latest projects.

-DS Baker.

Here is Matthew Ryan's Website address:

Here is Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator's page on Facebook:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"National Living History Fayre! & Its Creator David Smith"

    British humor and American humor rarely cross paths with each other understanding what the other just said. Americans have loved just about everything Monty Python has ever produced. Last year on Facebook I began to notice these strange advertisements on the timeline. Pictures of Legolas and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings with these very strange and cryptic messages. Some of them were quite bizarre to this American's reading eye. I hasten to add though, there were very funny, in a dry as a desiccated bone sort of way.

    In America we have gun and knife shows just about every weekend of the year, all year long. It is nothing to have a hunting exposition and a fishing convention to be held at the same time and in the same facility. In certain parts of the upper mid-west and the deep south, you can have half a dozen of such conventions within a three hour driving circle from your home. Putting together a historical fair, where arms and armour, clothing, cooking utensils, fabrics, textiles, shoes... any thing you would need to create a historical persona don't just happen in the UK. There are councils, (Think very small local governments.) to consult. Property Owners, Tax Authorities, Health Officials. There is an enormous mountain of red tape, which has to be cleaved like Alexander slicing through the Gordian Knot. -It is very much a process. Not to mention most of the promoters who put on the various shows, charge money for admission.

     Not everyone wants to go to a market and purchase their "Kit" as they call it, from a medieval style merchant. But if they do, they don't want to be charged for the privilege! To that end my friend and fellow sophisticate David Smith started the National Living History Fair. Here is our interview, perhaps he will shed some light on how things are done in the "Old World."
David Kevin Smith

Q: How long have you been involved in the Living History scene in the UK? And tell us a bit about yourself.

A: Since 2003. So I would guess this is going on 11 years. I left school at 16 and joined the Army, then spend several years working in Hotel Management before going to University and then training to become a Chartered Accountant with Touche Ross & Co in London. Passed my exams and joined one of the companies I had been auditing, spent years counting beans full time before being made redundant in 1993. Since then I've mixed contract work as an accountant with running events, starting with Antique Fairs and ending up with Medieval Festivals.

Q: At what point did you decide to create the Fair?

A: I saw TORM at a venue I was planning to use for an Antiques Fair and thought it was amazing. Then I discovered it was a monopoly and staged just twice a year, and had a waiting list of traders as well as many traders who had fallen out with the management. This was as opposed to competing with 300 other Antiques Fairs every weekend...
Lots of arms and armour from Katso Armour

Q:Explain the significance of this Fair and Why it is so popular?

A: We set out to be friendly and to have fun, and becasue we were the new kid on the block we were quite deliberately going to be more affordable. After a run of disastrous events in 2006 I lost control of the original NLHF, which is now trading as the ILHF at Bruntingthorpe, but several traders asked me in 2012 if I'd re-stage the old NLHF as it used to be - affordable and fun - and so I took another look at it to see if it could be done.

Q:  I know you have exhibitors from all over Europe who attend. Can you tell us from which countries they come from?

A: We won't have quite so many this November as the dates - which are arranged to co-incide with TORM which is just 9 miles up the road - clash with the huge established Medieval market at Pontoise in France. But we are delighted to have Spes Medieval and Lady Malina from Poland, Lixa Bellorum from Germany, Kasto Armoury from the Czech Republic, and Magen from Fairbow Netherland.
Lady Malina Fashions from Poland.

Q: In total how many vendors/exhibitors attend and what services do they offer?

A: Currently we have bookings from 124 traders, who will be exhibiting a vast range of things, from Armour to Beeswax. You can find a complete list on the website, which I try to keep as up to date as possible. Basically, if you're involved with re-enactment you'll find things here they you didn't even know you needed, as well as almost everything you knew about! And we have FREE admission, so you can spend all your hard earned cash on goodies!

Q: This looks to be a new experience for those who are used to the old fair...

A: One of the main issues that folk complained about at the original NLHF was that they couldn't stay over on site. This applied just as much to traders as customers, and although it meant that some local pubs did a roaring trade over the Friday and Saturday of the market, it was a real shame that it wasn't really possible for everyone to get together for a decent social all together.

So when I was looking for a suitable venue for the re-born NLHF I was determined to find somewhere that had the facility for Camping, ideally sufficient room for all the traders and for all the customers as well who wanted to keep their accommodation and travelling costs to a minimum, brave the terrifying English weather, and have some fun as well as doing a lot of business.
The indoor exhibition space, with wide avenues for shoppers and suppliers. 

Onley Grounds EC offers us 1,000 acres – we’ll have trouble filling that up for a few years! And has a brand new Shower Block, and is used to coping with 15,000 or so happy campers for their big Pony Shows…and it has a rather nice Bar, a great cafe, and a brand new and very well equipped Shower and Toilet Block…

Small swords, perfect for that early 18th Century portrayal
Jacob's Armoury

Sounds like a grand time will be had by all! Thank you David Smith for taking the time to talk about your event good sir!

-DS Baker.

Here is the link on Facebook to the NLHF which should also include driving directions to:

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Sword Wielding Fantasy and Fiction Writer-M. Harold Page!"

"The blade sheared through padding, collar bone, ribs, and came out the other side. Head, arm and shoulder thudded to the ground. The remainder of the corpse still stood, sheared torso like a bucket of steaming offal." -England AD 1454, the chaotic eve of the Wars of the Roses.
Jack Rose would rather be a scholar than a knight. However, when a brutal landowner steals his family estates and plans to evict the tenants, Jack must take up the sword and win back his inheritance by force of arms. As he wades through increasingly lethal encounters, it becomes clear that War is in his blood. Now he must decide who he really is…-An Excerpt from "The Sword is Mightier."

     Recently I came across a person who, with the voice of authority commented on several post at the Facebook home of Modern Medievalist. Which led to several conversations over the following weeks and months. It turns out this person was my future friend M. Harold Page. Known to me as Martin. Apparently there is another writer by the name of Martin Page... I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was into a lot of the things both topical and historical I find fascinating. He is also someone who is hard to nail down long enough to hold a conversation, because it seems he has more than one iron in the fire at any given time. Ony after much persuasion was I able to get him to sit still long enough and have a conversation with me. Enjoy!

Q: Who is M. Harold Page?

A: I'm Scottish-based 40-something swordsman, father and writer. As a youth, I dropped out of an Engineering degree in order to study Classics and Medieval History. I also fronted a rock and roll band and can still hammer out boogie-woogie on the piano. These days, my hobby time goes on teaching and fighting German Longsword at Edinburgh's Dawn Duellist Society.

Q: What part of the world do you live in and how does this affect your writing.

A: Scotland. It's a place where you can not move for History. Seriously, if I climb on the roof of my tenement, I can see two castles, one dating to the 14th century, the other to Roman times. Growing up here gave me a sense of the past and present being real, and that infuses my all my work

Q: What have been the biggest literary influences on your writing? And when did you decide to seriously begin the process of becoming a writer?

A: I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and a similar but more muscular Young Adult writer called Ronald Welch. Later I discovered Robert E Howard, Leigh Bracket and Edgar Rice Burroughs. However the finishing school for me as a writer was discovering Harold Lamb who really knew how to write a historical adventure. When did I choose? I've always written. However, round about the birth of my son, I realized it was now or never. Time to stop tinkering and get on with it. That was nearly a decade ago.

Q: What was the biggest support mechanism you have developed? Meaning friends, fellow writers and or family?

A: Family is my foundation. However I'm lucky enough to belong to a community of professional writers and creatives based in Edinburgh. Monthly coffee with my peers has kept me from leaning on my family too much.

Q: Research. How important is it to your writing and how much do you do it yourself or do have a loose affiliation of Researchers who gleam the dusty shelves of University Libraries?

A: I've spent most of it my life wallowing in history, and I do my own martial arts historical research (and have the scars to prove it). However, sometimes I come up against the need for "boots on the ground" details to do with customs, laws and mentality. For these I shamelessly tap my living history and academic friends, who I am always careful to credit.

Q: You are a practitioner of medieval sword fighting techniques; which use not just the point and blade but the pommel, grappling and throws.  How has this influenced your description of scenes you write about concerning combat?

A: I've been lucky enough not to see anything like actual combat, and am always aware that this is a different neurochemical and moral experience. That said, being able to handle a longsword, and having some knowledge of other arts lets me write realistic combat scenes. I do not burden my descriptions with technical terms, but most students of the sword would know exactly what was going on.

Q: For Those Who Might want to know, do you own your own suit of armor? (Harness is a better historical term.)

A:  A rather battered Northern European harness languishes in my hall cupboard. We don't fight in armour at my club, and I'm too busy with family to go to re-enactment events at the weekend, though I have fond and formative memories of these.
M. Harold Page at his Club.
(c) Malcolm Matthew.

Q: What has been one of the more interesting or surprising facts from history you have uncovered in your writing?

A: I love finding moments of personal bravery that would make a Frazetta illustration. I was thrilled to read that a single knight held the bridge at Castle Kerak, fending off the Saracens while the garrison got organized. The most surprising; Vikings abandoned trial by combat well before the rest of Europe did.

Q: Your current book is a tie-in, with what universe?

A: The "Sword is Mightier" ties into the game War of the Roses. This is a multi-player online combat game by Paradox Interactive, in which players get to fight on one or the other side in the War of the Roses, with realistic armour and weapons. I had a tremendous creative freedom because War of the Roses itself does not have a story line, so the brief was create an action adventure story set in the Wars of the Roses. I opted for hitting the ground just before it started in the aftermath of the English defeat in the Hundred Years War. I also have a Foreworld SideQuest coming out soon.

On a personal note: I am a life long fan of  sword fighting bloody adventure. I am heartily glad to see the genre very much alive and kicking, screaming, and fighting! Thank you M. Harold Page for your time. I am eagerly awaiting your next set of adventures!

-DS Baker

Here are links, to M. Harold Page's Blogs:

Black Gate SF Magazine:'s authors page:

Paradox Books Author's Page where you can order directly from the publisher:

Paradox Interactive Portal for the War of the Roses Game: