Interview with Jemima Catlin about the new illustrated edition of The Hobbit (06.10.13 by Pieter Collier) -
The first new illustrated edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit since Alan Lee’s iconic illustrations brought the much-loved children’s tale to life in 1997.
The Hobbit, illustrated by Jemima Catlin,published in both hardback and a deluxe foiled slipcase edition, contains 150 brand new colour illustrations.
Jemima’s work is quirky and whimsical, taking inspiration from classic children’s book illustrators like E.H. Shephard’s Winnie the Pooh and Tove Jansson’s Moomins, along with Japanese anime from Studio Ghibli such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
A lot of interviews have been made with the young artist and many have spread the love for this new illustrated edition. I thought it was time to release the small interview I had with Jemima Catlin, where of course we discussed her illustrations for The Hobbit.
TL. Dear Jemima Catlin, it is so nice to be able to talk with you about your illustrations for The Hobbit! But can you first tell us a bit more about yourself?
I was born in Dorchester, Dorset UK in 1986. I have always wanted to be an illustrator from a very young age and began writing my own stories and illustrating them from the age of 8. I come from quite a creative background; my Mother is an artist and writer, and my Father is a professional photographer. After A levels I studied a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Weymouth College, and then went on to do a Foundation Degree in Visual Communication at the Arts University at Bournemouth, followed by a BA Honours Degree in Illustration.
TL. When did you get into touch with tolkien's works for the first time?
I first read The Hobbit when I was 12 and I loved it - I couldn't put it down! My Grandfather was a Tolkien book collector, and it is sad he wasn't around to see that I illustrated The Hobbit. The first ever Middle Earth inspired drawing I did was for my sister's wedding table plan in 2008; I drew two huge Ent's with the table names at the ends of the branches. Then when I was at university, I decided to illustrate the short story Roverandom by J R R Tolkien for my final major project.
TL. I have read you started out by illustrating another tale by Tolkien, namely Roverandom. Why did you choose to illustrate this small tale?
I found the varying environments and unusual characters in Roverandom very inspiring, I really enjoyed illustrating it. Being a short story, it was the perfect length for my project as we only had 3 months to complete it. I illustrated it using monoprint techniques, which involves drawing on a piece of paper placed over a sheet of glass covered in printing ink, the drawing is then picked up by the ink on the other side of the paper creating a reverse image. The result is a lot less detailed than conventional ways of drawing, but adds spontaneity and movement to the illustrations.
TL. In the end we did not get an illustrated edition of Roverandom but a new illustrated edition of the Hobbit, there must for sure be a fascinating story behind this?
I sent an email to Harpercollins with a few samples of my drawings for Roverandom attached, asking if they could send me the text so that I could bind a book with my illustrations in for my university project. David Brawn, Publishing Director of Estates at HarperCollins, kindly sent me the text and commented on the drawings, inviting me to the offices to show him the book once I had finished. I was incredibly excited by the prospect of showing my project to David and arranged an appointment straight away once I had completed binding the book. During the meeting, David was very interested in the work and sent several samples to the Tolkien Estate. Christopher Tolkien replied to David and spoke very warmly of my illustrations, but wasn't sure that this particular monoprint style suited his fathers tale. A whole year later, David contacted me saying that Christopher Tolkien and his wife Baillie had admired some of my more detailed drawings on my website and were interested in what my interpretation for The Hobbit may be like. I was invited up to HarperCollins offices again, but this time to discuss the possibility of creating a children's edition of The Hobbit!
TL. Your style is very different from for example Alan Lee, the previous illustrator of the Hobbit. How would you describe your own style?
I love Alan Lees illustrations, the detail and accuracy is amazing. My illustrations for The Hobbit needed to appeal to children as well as adults, and I was strongly influenced by tolkien's own drawings. tolkien's descriptions in The Hobbit are full of colour, light and atmosphere, and I tried to capture this in my illustrations.
TL. Do you think that this illustrated edition is some sort of answer to the hyper realism used in the Peter Jackson movie adaptations?
I really enjoyed The Lord of The Rings trilogy films when they were first released, and I must have seen them countless times. Perhaps young children would not be able to see the films as some of the violent scenes may be too scary, so I hope that my illustrations can offer an alternative less graphic way to enjoy The Hobbit visually.
TL. We could read that Tolkien publisher David Brawn is a fan of your work, do you think the Tolkien family is also in support of your creations?
Christopher Tolkien asked me to illustrate The Hobbit, and I had feedback from the Tolkien family throughout the whole project, they approved all the illustrations before publication.
TL. 150 (or more) illustrations is a huge job, how did you go about choosing what you were going to create?
I started off doing character sketches initially, it was important I got the characters right. Then I went through the book picking out scenes I found most inspiring. Once I had finished around 60 drawings, I created chapter layouts, working out where more images were needed. I then made my way through the layouts completing the rest of the illustrations. I made sure to give each dwarf an individual appearance, and kept faithful to tolkien's descriptions and colours. From the first meeting about The Hobbit to publication, the process took almost two and a half years all together!
TL. The Hobbit is a nice size but how do the original pieces of art compare to the printed result. Are they larger or smaller?
All the original artworks vary in size, many of them are A3, but some are as small as 4 inches! All of them are much larger than the printed versions in the book though.
TL. Do you have inspirational sources, like photographs, live models or is all created from your head?
Everything was drawn from my head, but if I was finding it difficult to draw a position of a hand for instance then I would get my husband to pose sometimes. tolkien's own drawings were a big influence, for example I kept the spikes along Smaug's spine and the shape at the end of his tail. It was important to me that the characters looked similar to how Tolkien intended them to look.
TL. Did you find yourself influenced by the movie adaptations or other illustrators?
I deliberately didn't let myself get influenced by anything except tolkien's own illustrations.
TL. What is the hope for your work?
I hope that my illustrations will introduce a whole new generation to Middle Earth, and that they will help children to visualise the characters and scenes in The Hobbit.
TL. Can we expect other illustrated editions by your hand or will it only be The Hobbit that gets your illustrations?
There are no plans as of yet to illustrate another edition of tolkien's works. I would love to revisit Roverandom one day though, and to illustrate it in a similar style to The Hobbit.
TL. Do you think an overview exhibition of your art is something we will be able to visit in the future?
I haven't any plans to exhibit the originals from The Hobbit yet. I have been doing ink drawings of trees near to where I live in Dorchester, I will be publishing a limited edition book of these soon that will be available from my website before November and the originals will also be available.
TL. I'd wish to add one final question to the interview. Looking at the hobbit sitting against the tree on the cover, is this referring to the famous picture of Tolkien? Showing him as a hobbit? Guess he must have like that!
There is a long story behind the cover! I'll try to keep it shortish though:
The cover illustration for The Hobbit is inspired by the cover for 'The Red Fairy Book' by Andrew Lang. I came across this book while searching 'red book' on google images for inspiration for the cover. The image on the front of the Red Fairy Book shows a lady leaning against a tree, and this reminded me of the famous photo of Tolkien sitting at the foot of a tree. I thought it would be nice to draw Bilbo in the same position as Tolkien from that famous photo, a way of including him in my drawing somehow. A month later, before drawing the cover illustration, I found out that The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang was one of tolkien's favourite books as a child and a big influence on him! This spooky coincidence lead me to drawing Bilbo at the foot of a tree in the same position as Tolkien, and with trailing vines opposite - similar to The Red Fairy Book. Bilbo had to be facing the other way though so that the tree trunk could wrap around the spine - so this slightly disguised the fact that he was sitting in a similar position to Tolkien.
Title: The Hobbit, fully illustrated gift edition
Illustrator: Jemima Catlin
Publication Date: September 12, 2013
Type: hardcover, 320 pages
Title: The Hobbit, fully illustrated deluxe edition
Illustrator: Jemima Catlin
Publication Date: September 12, 2013
Type: hardcover, 320 pages
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