Interview with Anke Eissmann (05.02.10 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Anke Eissmann is well known for her artwork and illustrations for Tolkien's works. After studying visual communication in Weimar (Germany) Anke attended Colchester Institute (UK) for one year to improve her skills in graphic design. At present she teaches art at the Johanneum Gymnasium in Herborn (Germany). Her illustrations and artwork are held in high esteem. Some of Ankes illustrations and further information may be found on her website at anke.edoras-art.de.

In the following interview Anke gives an account of her relationship to Tolkien and his works, her passion for art as well as the luxury edition of the “Dragon Episode” taken from Beowulf which is published by Walking Tree Publishers. The interview was conducted by Andre Gand and published on November 21th, 2009 at www.tolkien-buecher.de. We wish to thank him to give the kind permission to reproduce this interview here.

Andre: How did you encounter Tolkien?

Anke Eissmann: On christmas 1991 I watched the Bakshi-movie The Lord of the Rings for the first time. It inspired me to read Lord of the Rings - the main purpose being to find out what happens next in the story. During a summer holiday in Denmark in 1992 I had reached the end of book 4, the chapter “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”. And there and then something “clicked”.

I had liked the book from the beginning, especially because it somehow combined elements of those stories I had found inspiring or moving before. But from this particular chapter onward the tale truly gripped me. Shortly after I had finished reading LotR I began to look for more books by Tolkien.
Once I started reading them in English a whole new world of primary and especially secondary literature opened up. Well, and so I was doomed...
Illustrator Andke Eissmann

Eventually my artwork appeared on the internet, where it was seen by a certain Mr. Bulles of the German Tolkien Society, who invited me to exhibit it at some obscure events of theirs called the “Tolkien Thing”. This was back in 2000. I signed up for membership right away. That same year I also attended Oxonmoot in Oxford for the first time, with more events following, the most important of which surely was “Tolkien 2005” in Birmingham. And there is no end in sight.


Andre: Your illustrations for Tolkien's works are known worldwide. How did this begin? Was there a particular scene in Tolkien's work which especially inspired you?

Anke Eissmann: Actually I started drawing and painting images inspired by the book (LotR) right away. I had done so with other books as well, therefore it was not new to me but rather an opportunity to recreate my thoughts about what I had read in a form that could be communicated. For an artist, the great thing about Tolkien is that you can address or depict many different elements, depending on what interests you. When I started illustrating LotR I experienced a phase typical for teenager, and was very much taken by horses.

Most excellent: there are plenty horses and ponies in the book. Therefore I started out with scenes featuring equestrian topics. Only later hobbits, men, elves and dwarves started to appear more and more.
Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds

I cannot think of one particular scene that inspired me, although there are some passages (not just in LotR) I have illustrated repeatedly and to which I return regularly. And there are certain characters - well, I think my preferences in that regard are rather well known, and manifested in many depictions of a certain younger brother of Boromir of Gondor.


Andre: Tolkien also created own artwork for his books. Most of those have been compiled in J.R.R. Tolkien. Artist and Illustrator (edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull). Has Tolkien's own artwork been an inspiration for you?

Anke Eissmann: Only recently at Ring*Con I held a lecture about Tolkien as an Artist, meaning I've researched his own artwork quite thoroughly. I like his style - since I, too, often work in watercolour I know what a challenge it can be, and therefore appreciate his efforts all the more. In addition I use his paintings and drawings as reference and research-material for my own artwork, e.g. his view of Bag End, or the Númenórean carpets, or the patterns and ornaments he designed in general. In some of my pictures you'll be able to detect especially the latter. The book Pictures by Tolkien was one of the first works of secondary literature I acquired after having read The Lord of the Rings for the first time.
Lúthien prepares her escape from Hírilorn


Andre: Is there one of your own Tolkien-illustrations you are particularly proud of, or which you like especially?

Anke Eissmann: There are two paintings from my series of illustrations for the “The Lay of Leithian” from History of Middle-earth, Vol. 3: The Lays of Beleriand I still like even after the many years since their creation. They are “Lúthien prepares her escape from Hírilorn” and “Beren recovers a Silmaril”. Both paintings were created in a matter of a few days, which is always a sure sign for inspiration going strong.
Beren recovers a Silmaril


Andre: Except for Tolkien-inspired illustrations: which other artistic interests do you have?

Anke Eissmann: Generally, I'm interested in mythological and historical themes, meaning that many of my works are set in these fields. Recently I have illustrated books about Greek Tales, fairytales, and a children's book about “Sisi” of Austria. Moreover I created artwork for three novels of Naomi Novik's Temeraire-series, which is set during the Napoleonic Era and combines historic events with fantasy (dragons). Moreover I'm interested in historical reenactment, both concerning research and the more practical aspect of costume-making, which is shown by a couple of self-made medieval costumes, soon to be supplemented by a Napoleonic one. Another field I'm interested in is animation. During my studies I created some animated short-films, and I'd like to do so again, but at the moment I sadly lack the necessary time.
The hatchling Illustration for the Temeraire-series


Andre: The Old English epic poem Beowulf is closely linked with Tolkien, and Walking Tree Publishers are going to publish a luxury edition of the “Dragon Episode” from Beowulf, in the production of which you have been involved to a great extent. Could you tell us something about the luxury edition? Where did the idea to publish it come from?

Anke Eissmann: Actually this edition has been in existence for several years, since 2003 to be exact. It was created as my final project for a BA (Hons) Art & Design course at Colchester Institut in Colchester, England. The field of study was graphic design. After finishing my studies at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Thuringia, I spent another year at Colchester Institute (I had already spent an exchange semester there) in order to focus more strongly on graphic design and illustration.

Ever since reading Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth I had become very interested in Old English and Beowulf. Moreover Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon gravesite known for its marvellous finds is situated not far from Colchester, and so I decided to illustrate the epic poem and create a book. Right from the start I wanted to use the original Old English text in combination with a verse translation.

Cover from Beowulf and the Dragon

For the latter I chose the one by John Porter which I liked best. For the purpose of the final project I created a hand-bound “one off”. Afterwards, nothing happened with it for several years. I had always dreamed about getting the book published, but the search for a suitable publisher proved to be difficult. To produce the book was going to be expensive and risky, as it it's not “mainstream”. In 2008, during a visit of Frankfurt Book Fair I finally had the idea of contacting Walking Tree Publishers. They had already used some of my Tolkien-inspired paintings as cover-illustrations for some of their publications, and other artwork, too, for example for Roots and Branches by Tom Shippey.

Since my book's introduction mentions Tolkien I hoped that it would have link enough to the professor's works to make WTP accept Beowulf and the Dragon for publication, and be willing to face the risk of producing and financing a “luxury” edition. After all, it's rather different from their other publications. However, WTP supported me right from the start. Together we discussed the next steps. I am very grateful for their support and advice, in particular for Thomas Honegger's corrections and proof-reading of the Old English text. I had been worried about copyright issues concerning John Porter's translation, but luckily he allowed us to use it for the publication.

I am particularly pleased about the fact that Tom Shippey agreed to write a foreword. This is especially delightful because his book The Road to Middle-earth caused me to get interested in Beowulf in the first place.


Andre: This edition deals with the so-called “Dragon Episode” from Beowulf. Could you tell us briefly what this is about and why it was chosen for the book? Was there a particular reason why you did not use the entire Beowulf?

Anke Eissmann: Well, it was simply too long. It was obvious from the beginning that illustrating and designing an edition of the entire Beowulf would exceed the frame of a final project both in terms of size and amount of time needed to complete it.

After all, we were allowed only about three months for the project, not counting research. At first I had considered concentrating on the first part that deals with Beowulf and Grendel.

But soon I realised that it has been illustrated several times in the past, and has moreover been used for various films and TV-series.



Wiglaf and Beowulf Illustration from Beowulf and the Dragon

Moveover I found the dragon-episode more interesting, and somehow more “Tolkienesque” because of its links to The Hobbit, for example. This part deals with the aging hero Beowulf having to fight a dragon who ravages his realm after a thief stole a golden cup from its hoard (sounds familiar, doesn't it?). Beowulf sets out with his warband, but when battle threatens only the young warrior Wiglaf dares to stand by him, the rest of the warriors flee. Beowulf kills the dragon, but is wounded mortally.


Andre: How did you choose the motifs for this edition of Beowulf?

Anke Eissmann: Firstly, I wanted to achieve a relatively equal scattering of illustrations in the book. A second aspect was to determine which passages of the story are of particular importance, or else lend themselves well to illustration. Often during reading a story or a book I develop certain ideas. Some scenes virtually “jump” at you, and this happened here as well, for example with the scene showing Wiglaf in the foreground and the “battle-shirkers” in the background). Moreover I wanted to include artwork depicting authentic historical items in order to “earth” this rather fantastical tale. Thus, the drawing of the stolen cup is based on a find from Jelling, Denmark, from the Viking age - roughly the time of the poem's creation.
The fight I Illustration from Beowulf and the Dragon


Andre: Often, publications by Walking Tree feature one of your illustrations on their covers. May we look forward to more of your paintings decorating books by Walking Tree in the future?

Anke Eissmann: Soon WTP is going to release Music in Middle-earth, which features one of my paintings created especially for this book. Moreover there is going to be a book by Judith Klinger, again with one of my drawings on the cover. And after... who knows? I think WTP might be able to help you there. In any case my art and I are always at their disposal.
Daeron and Lúthien Illustration for Music in Middle-earth (WTP, 2009)
Title: Music in Middle-earth
by: Heidi Steimel (Editor), Friedhelm Schneidewind (Editor)

Publisher:
Walking Tree Publication
Publication Date:
15 Jan 2010

Type:
paperback
Pages: 318 pages
Size: 23.2 x 15.4 x 2 cm
ISBN-10: 3905703149
ISBN-13: 978-3905703146


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