Interview with Benjamin Harff, upcoming Tolkien illustrator and creator of the Edel-Silmarillion (09.07.09 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

It is always good to know some extra languages, especially when you are interested into Tolkien. The works by J.R.R. Tolkien have long been translated in many languages and are being read and loved all over the planet. Once in a while I read Tolkien related books or website articles in other languages - because outside the English speaking realm there are many fans who are active in there local area.

On one of my wanderings around the internet I stumbled upon the article "Edel-Silmarillion als Diplomarbeit". As by chance I discovered the most beautiful copy of The Silmarillion I had ever seen.

With a little help from the kind people of Der Herr der Ringe I got into contact with the creator of this "Edel-Silmarillion", Benjamin Harff. He accepted to do an interview about his art work.

I truly hope to see more Tolkien art from this upcoming Tolkien artist! But for now enjoy this interview and the pictures of his version of The Silmarillion. Edel-Silmarillion is a word that needs to be added!
Benjamin Harper creater of the Edel Silmarillion

Interview with Benjamin Harff, upcoming Tolkien illustrator and creator of the Edel-Silmarillion

TL: Can you please tell me a little about yourself?

BH: I was born in 1980 in Euskirchen, Germany. I have always been interested in the manifold ways of art, especially painting & drawing as well as music. Later I learned other art forms also, such as poetry and martial arts. My father is a tiler, so I early realized that pure inspiration is useless without skill, knowledge and hard work. So my approach to art is very close to earth. You can compare this to a tree: Only with strong roots the tree can grow and unfold its beauty. You grow in two directions - to the darkness of the earth and the light of the sky. But your contact to earth is always closer than to the sky. I graduated at the Rhein-Sieg-Akademie für realistische bildende Kunst und Design in Hennef, Germany in Illustration and Graphic Design this year and now I want to work as an illustrator and calligrapher.

TL: When did you get interested into Tolkien?

My first contact with Tolkiens books was in about 1991, when I was eleven years old. I was camping with some friends in the woods and we used to read to each other at the fireside, first from the Hobbit, then from the Lord of the Rings. These were experiences which left a very strong impression on me.

TL: I wanted to talk to you about the Deluxe edition of the Silmarillion you created. what prompted you to make it?

I created the deluxe-Silmarillion for my exam at the Academy of Arts. My first idea was to create illustrations for the Lord of the Rings, but I realized that the films had left a too strong impression upon me, so I could not work free. So I decided to illustrate the Silmarillion. The calligraphy was first planned to be reduced to one single initial for each chapter. So I studied the „History of Middle-Earth“-books as well as the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and especially his works as an illustrator, which give many indications about his imagination of Middle-Earth that cannot be derived from written words. I also tried to find out what inspired him lyrically and visually and I think you can put that into one word: nature.

It is obvious that Tolkien was also a lover of calligraphy, especially medieval. In the book „J.R.R. Tolkien – Artist and Illustrator“ I found a hint about a book concerning calligraphy Tolkien had read. So I bought the same book and worked it through.

That was the point where I had more and more fun in doing medieval calligraphy and finally I had to make a decision: Illustrations OR calligraphy. This was not easy, because I had made very excessive preparations for the oil-paintings, but my time was so short, that I could not do both.

I do not regret my decision, because I have made my exam now and there are still tons of studies and prepared wood-plates waiting for paint. One study in pencil I put along with these words, they show the taking of Arathorn by the Hill-Trolls.
Benjamin Harper Edel Quenta Silmarillion
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion
TL: Can you explain how it was made?

All the initials, the calligraphic pages and illumination was drawn and painted by hand. I used a steel-pen and indian ink as well as brushes and water colours. For the metal colours silver, gold and copper I took acrylics, because they are easier to handle than really laid gold and you can also work with water colour on acrylics.

After this all the work had to be digitalized by scanning and fotography, followed by the fitting into the text.

This was done in only very short time, and that is why there are so many errors in the typography. I first wanted to do the bookbinding by myself, but because I printed the book at home with a Canon-Inkjet I could not receive suitable paper for a folio-binding, so I had to let it be done by a professional bookbinder.

She was so kind to show me how a leather-cover is made and let me work in her workshop, so the binding into goat leather was made by me (with help, of course).

Concerning the cover I am not quite satisfied, because I had liked to do some adornments, but the time in my exam was just too short. So for me this is a kind of alpha-version, and may be one day I find the time to do a finer beta-version.

TL: All the calligraphy was created by yourself or is it based on existing manuscripts?

BH: You must note that it is impossible to say „This is my own creation!“. When I just look into a book about medieval calligraphy (and I read several of them) I am at this point influenced by what I see. But if you mean „copy“, I can say that I did not copy anything, but only adapted the styles, so where similarities occur, they are not intentional.
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion page Of the Noldor in Beleriand
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion artist page

TL: Did you write the text by hand or was it typed?

The text was typed. It would probably have taken a year just to write the pure text if I had written it by hand. But then it had been very „true“ indeed. If I had had that time - I am crazy enough to have it done.

TL: How long did it take to make this book?

The whole process took about half a year, plus about half a year where I dealed mainly with the illustrations but also collected knowledge and made sketches for calligraphy. That may appear long, but you have to note that I also had to work for the financing of my studium and do a lot of other things for my exam.

leather work for Edel-Silmariilion
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion page work in progress
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion finished result

TL: What were the biggest problems you faced in making this book?

I had a lot of problems, but the main problem was my strict limitation in time and money. Looking back I cannot understand how it worked! For my exam it would have been enough to do calligraphy for only one or two chapters. But I didn´t want to have a book with maybe twenty printed and 380 empty pages! That would not have been worthy for a tolkien-work and I had better done a  short story or so. But I thought: „This is your exam and maybe the last time that you can do what you want as an illustrator!“ So I did it, and couldn´t have done it with that fire, wouldn´t it have been a tolkien-work. And although this was extremely hard, the fire did not cease.

TL: What is the page you like best?

I like the opening page best – the whole page is filled just with the word „Silmarillion“. It took the most time of all, I think about seventy or eighty hours.

Calligraphy page of The Silmarillion
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion page
Benjamin Harper Edel Silmarillion art page

TL: Was there only produced one copy?

Yes. The Academy of Arts would have liked to have a copy, but I just could not finance a second one.

TL: Are you planning to put this book into publication, did you contact a publisher yet?

BH: No. The rights are with the Tolkien Estate, and I would gladly work for them, but they didn´t answer my requests until now. I will keep on writing to them, until I can afford a travel to Great Britain and just put the book on their table.

TL: Did you have permission from the Tolkien Estate to make this book?

I made  requests via the Tolkien Estate homepage, but didn´t receive any answer. I think there are only few to deal with the questions and they are daily flooded with mails, so that they just can´t read every single one. But it is just a personal artistic work and I do not make any money with it.

TL: Why did you create the Silmarillion and not another Tolkien book?

BH: This is partial answered above. With its mythological character the Silmarillion suited best, because the blooming of medieval calligraphy was also in a religious context. Also the very great span of time in the First Age gave room for many different styles in the title-pages of the single chapters, while in the „Hobbit“ or the „Lord of the Rings“ it would have been better to have an at some extent clear style with not so much differences. In this exam I had the possibility to play with all styles, put own ideas into them and find the one I like best.

The Silmarillion art by Benjamin Harff
Detail artwork from Edel Silmarillion
Manuscript pages from Edel Silmarillion

TL: In the process of making this book did you learn more about calligraphy, manuscripts or the Silmarillion itself?

BH: Of course, yes! Although I had weekly calligraphy-lessons at the Academy of Arts for four years, I learned more than ever in these 12 months. I also learned how highly developed the designing and the techniques in the craftmanships of the middle-ages were. Finally, I realized how little respect is given to the written word in a world where you can gain any information with a few mouse-clicks. Maybe it is now the time to give the word an adequate garment.

TL:  Will you now also make a Hobbit or even a Lord of the Rings?

BH: Tolkien will always be subject of my work, but now I first have to develop as an artist and illustrator and so do the work I get. There will be the oil-paintings, and there will be more calligraphy, but they can now only be done beside, after the daily work. But who knows, maybe one day HarperCollins or the Tolkien Estate get notice of me and want me to create something.

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