Craft & Design
Art Student’s Hand Illumination and Binding of Tolkien’s Silmarillion

A German art student, Benjamin Harff, decided, for his exam at the Academy of Arts, to do something only slightly ambitious — to hand-illuminate and bind a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. It took him six months of work. In very 21st century elvish-monk style, he hand-illuminated the text which had been printed on his home Canon inkjet printer. He worked with a binder to assemble the resulting book.

I spent a year of my life, in my youth, fancying myself some sort of modern-day monastic scribe and doing this sort of Celtic knotwork-inspired illumination and calligraphy, so I am in awe of his talent. I know firsthand how hard this is to do well.

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

94 thoughts on “Art Student’s Hand Illumination and Binding of Tolkien’s Silmarillion

  1. This typo is driving me insane. And the fact that people are retweeting it with “illuminates” instead of the obvious correct word “illustrates” is even crazier!

    1. You are insane :-)  “Illuminates” is the correct word here.  Look it up in a dictionary or on wikipedia. 

      “An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations.”

      1. I’ve been deleting the rude comments about Nathan. He made a mistake. I’m sure he’s enlightened on the subject now. No need to make him feel worse.

        And please see our Community Guidelines. We have a “Be Nice” policy. No name calling, no personal attacks, no insults on your momma, etc. https://makezine.com/comments/

        1. @facebook-1170654055:disqus I deleted your second insulting comment too. If you post another one, I will ban you from our commenting system.

        2. @facebook-1170654055:disqus I deleted your second insulting comment too. If you post another one, I will ban you from our commenting system.

    2. You are incorrect. What he is doing is referred to as ‘illuminating’ a manuscript. So you can stop going insane and just relax.

      1. I think this might be a “bit” i.e. Nathan is making a really obvious error in order poke a metaphorical stick into an even more metaphorical hornet’s nest and make some buzzing noise.  Or maybe, since “illuminating” texts pretty much started a gradual decline with the invention of the movable type press, and the fact that monks figured out that they can make more money selling beer to literate drunks than selling bibles to illiterate “royalty,” we can forgive Nathan with being unfamiliar with a practice that peaked before the industrial age.

  2. I. Am. In. Awe.

    This ruined the rest of my day, as I will simply be looking at the few pictures posted for hours.

  3. This is totally awesome!  He should seek consent from Tolkien’s foundation to allow this to be published.  There’s a lot of fans out there who’d pay good money for something like this, especially in a leather binding!

  4. This is totally awesome!  He should seek consent from Tolkien’s foundation to allow this to be published.  There’s a lot of fans out there who’d pay good money for something like this, especially in a leather binding!

    1. I’m at the same acadamy and saw his exam (yes I was allowed to touch this stunning book *shiver*). If I remember it correctly he tried to get the permission to publish it, but the Tolkien Foundation forbade it. But I can give no guarantee on my words :)

  5. This is totally awesome!  He should seek consent from Tolkien’s foundation to allow this to be published.  There’s a lot of fans out there who’d pay good money for something like this, especially in a leather binding!

  6. Absolutely Beautiful! Too bad more people don’t have the courage, tenacity, and inspiration, to see and appreciate just how consumed and yet awe-inspired one must be to be dedicated to this type of project. Heartfelt Congratulations to Benjamin!

    1. It would not surprise me if a publisher gets hold of this to publish a special edition. Perhaps an updated edition of the one that includes the Ted Nasmith illustrations.

      1. While I really enjoy Nasmith, Lee and several other Tolkien illustrators, I think it would be very odd/incongruous to mix modern illustration with the more ancient-style illumination & text. The serious magic and logical beauty of Harff’s work comes as a package and would be marred, the spell broken if there was an attempt to integrate relatively untimely elements to it.

    2. There’s a link at the end of the story that shows several more photos and part of the binding technique..

  7. I don’t know art, but I know what I like.

    Bah, yes, I do know art, and this is just plain _good_. Bravo! Bravo!

    1. Most art these days is pseudo intellectual trash, real art first of all captivates the viewer in some way. It doesn’t have to have a meaning or some political message either.

  8. It takes just as much love and dedication to Tolkien’s vision to do such a thing, as it took the monks of Kells to accomplish the book that has survived 14 centuries. I desperately hope this young man has had the vision to do this work on acid free vellum or at least a paper that can live as long.

    1. *BOOKS*- corrected

      cus the great library of the middle east (pre that thief Alex the great) had housed books of wisdom from all faiths.

    1. This isn’t the type of work you want an e-copy. This is one to have a physical copy, to take it down and fully appreciate it.

  9. Reblogged this on Why's That A Classic? and commented:
    I hope you guys don’t feel cheated that one of my first posts is a reblog. There will be a few reblogged posts on here, as and when I find them interesting/relevant.
    This is just incredible – What an undertaking. What an amazing work of art. And classic literature! Let me know what you think; personally, I am in awe.

  10. I wish this article had more details, like what grade he got, and more about the making – I was confused by this quote:
    “In very 21st century elvish-monk style, he hand-illuminated the text which had been printed on his home Canon inkjet printer”
    The author says it’s “hand illuminated,” but then says he printed it out – did he create it in the computer, did he type it up and just color in the spaces….? If you look at the blue “O’s,” two look slightly different, which would mean he hand drew them, which is obviously more impressive.
    A recent scribe named Donald Jackson hand made a copy of the entire Bible called St. Johns Bible, after the college that commissioned it. He spent years and a ton of money. If you enjoy illuminated manuscripts, that’s another one to check out.
    I wish this story made the mainstream media headlines, I’d rather watch an hour documentary about this Benjamin Harff doing this spectacular artwork, than the Kardashians doing….absolutely nothing except “being famous”…..

    1. dale ,
      he probaby designed the pages using a art program like SKETCHBOOK /MANGA PRO , and i may be wrong but hand illuminated probably means he printed it in black and white and then put the color on himself O_o

      1. more likely (given one of the shots appears to be him doing the actual line work.) is that the raw text was printed, and the illuminations and edge work are done by hand.

      2. An illuminated text is the name for this style of ornamented initials, opening pages, borders, marginalia etc. and the individual illustrations or initials that make up an illuminated text or manuscript are called “Illuminations”.

        “Hand Illuminated” means the calligraphic pages and ornamental caps/pages were done by hand, while the bulk of the text was printed. Many books were still hand illuminated after the invention of the printing press and introduction of movable type to Europe. So this project is very much in line with common European practices of the mid 15th century onwards. :)

          1. Haha, just attempting to clarify his process and terminology (i.e. the illustrations are completely hand done as seen in the interview linked in the article, not based on printed outlines, though for all I know he might have used digital tools for the preliminary sketches) and adding some historical context :)

            As a hobby printer and bookbinder, the nerd in me gets excited when I see someone put this kind of work into something. :p

          2. yes but you have to remember XD not all of us are privy to be talented in comp tech (which is why a lot of people talk smack about a subject even tho they have zero experience on the subject.)
            me i have more than 4 grand worth of soft and hardware attached to my TOUCHSMART TX2 and MOTION COMPUTING LE1700 tablets. so i know a little of my field :)

            dont forget bro , the guys from PIMP MY RIDE / AMERICAN CHOPPERS/BUILD OFFS free hand a lot of their designs so this kid having that skill is not unheard of . :)

          3. It’s a shame none of that software is a spellchecker.

            Also, for all the ‘smack’ you talk, the reason he corrected you is because you were wrong in your explanation.

            Your explanation may have come first but it’s relatively worthless because it wasn’t the right one. He didn’t seem angry anyway, but you do, trying to defend yourself by boasting about your computer set-up as if it means anything to defend your incorrect explanation with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t: a good computer =/= a correct answer.

          4. @AndrewSparkes:disqus hey do us a favor AND KEEP YOUR TRAP SHUT ok , joke killer.

            its people like you *who ALWAYS need to correct something espeshullay frendly banter between 2 adults* that ruin it 4 uz all .

            and NO ONE WAS TALKING TO YOU … so go back into your basement , pendecho.

        1. Do know of any apps/programs for PC that can print just the black and white alphabet letter? I don’t have the skills yet to do a free hand drawing but a coloring book type book would really help. I looked on google BUT a lot of the books are rather primitive. I don’t mind paying a little extra if has to come Europe.

          1. Thanks for reply…. I just ordered an ebook from them and am looking forward to practicing….. Kind Reagards, Caroline

  11. And people wonder why books were so valuable and so little available before the printing press. No conspiracy theories needed; it’s evident that few had the money to compensate for half a year’s work.

  12. The strangest part is that the base text and background paper texture was “inkjet printed” which makes it very probably water soluble and likely to fade with time.

  13. We’ll be hearing of him :-). Someone who can dedicate so much time and effort to make something of beauty is someone the world will know.

    Gratuliere!

    1. Yes! The bacon grease will waterproof the pages and a well preserved slice would make a wonderful bookmark. And the smell… that heavenly smell of bacon! Ahhh… and after a few weeks it would smell like an orc’s armpit!

  14. “I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and
    Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their
    fundamental unreason. They have a bright colour, but are like a broken
    stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact ‘mad’
    as your reader says – but I don’t believe I am.”

  15. I would literally buy a copy of this if he was able to do a printed version of it
    this is my fav book ever and this is beyond words amazing

Comments are closed.

Tagged

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn