Interview with Bill Sanderson, illustrator of the new Tolkien book - The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (20.04.09 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Cover art by Bill Sanderson for the New Scientist
It is always guessing: who will be illustrating the new edition of The Hobbit, the upcoming Tolkien book,... This time we were all surprised to hear that the illustrator Bill Sanderson had been chosen to illustrate the new Tolkien book, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, to be released worldwide on the 5th of May.

Of course the first thing I did when I heard the news was to try and get into contact with the artist to ask permission for a small interview. To my surprise the illustrations were still being produced and so I posponed the interview to a later date.

Today, I'm very happy to be able to release the following Q&A with Bill Sanderson, who studied Illustration and Graphic Design from 1966 at the West of England College of Art and first taught art at a school in London while establishing his freelance work. His early commissions were editorial, for The Times, Time Out and the Radio Times. In the late 1970s he added advertising and publishing to his portfolio. He is part of a talented generation that matured in the 1970’s and has carried on working in much the same way to the present. There is a generous selection of his work on his own website that can be viewed by clicking here. In 2005 he won an award for book cover design from the V&A. His book work includes a series of Penguin covers for the novels of Anthony Burgess in the 1980s, Harry Harrison and Felix Dennis. Now, early May his art will be seen in the upcoming The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

The Interview with Bill Sanderson

illustrator Bill Sanderson self-portrait
TL: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

BS: Yes, I'm a freelance illustrator and that has been almost my sole occupation for the last thirty-five years. I've drawn pictures for many magazine and books, and also for advertisements. Apart from a very limited amount of teaching I've been able to work from home for all that time though I have other interests to take me away from my studio such as cycling and more recently, stereo photography. I have a web site showing samples of my work at which I MUST get around to bringing up to date! I don't look at it that often...

TL: You have been asked to illustrate the new Tolkien book 'The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun' -how do you feel about that?

BS: My English teacher at school read his class the first chapter of 'The Hobbit' when I was about thirteen, my first introduction to Tolkien. We were all enraptured, and it's an honour to do these pictures after all these years.

TL: Did you ever read Tolkien before?

BS: After the experience described above I immediately read and enjoyed 'The Hobbit' but admit that I couldn't make any progress with the 'Lord of the Rings' for many years. Eventually I read all the books, and then read them aloud to my son when he was small. I haven't read them since then.

Illustration by Bill Sanderson
TL: This new Tolkien book is not Middle-earth related and will show a different aspect of Tolkien. Do you think your style of illustration will match the retelling of the great legend of Northern antiquity?

BS: I think that's why I was commissioned! I have in fact followed fairly closely the carvings on some Norse wooden pillars which tell the story. The photographs supplied to me for reference showed the very powerful designs of this old work, and I hope I've captured some of that power for the printed page.

TL: Will you also be making a cover images? And a symbol for the deluxe and leather bound edition?

BS: I drew a cover image but I believe a photograph (see Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun FAQ for more info) is going to be used instead. I have drawn a few small typographic devices which will probably be used throughout the text, as well as the main illustrations.

Diplomacy by Bill Sanderson
TL: Can you please tell us a bit more about the scraper board technique?

BS: The drawings are done on a coated board on which there is a black ink film. When you engrave through the ink (it is more akin to drawing as no great pressure is needed to cut through the ink) you are making a white line, so it's a bit like drawing a black line on white paper, only in reverse. This reversal means that the drawings are immediately supplied with a solidity, and 'carving' the drawing out is what appeals to me.

TL: Will your illustrations be in black and white or also have color?

BS: Just black and white: it suits the medium.

TL: While you have won great prizes in the past, most Tolkien fans will not have heard of you. Do you have great expectations for this new Tolkien book?

BS: The Norse legends are good, strong stories and this one is no exception. Let's hope it catches people's imagination.

TL: Do you think we can expect some more illustrations by you in the future? But for Middle-earth related books?

BS: I certainly wouldn't mind being commissioned but we'll have to see what the reaction is to this book first.

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