Illustrating Tolkien, cont.

MS: John, do you have any word on influences at all?

JH: Uh, yeah. Yeah, I think it is a terrible error to consciously choose anything, because that means you're not actually living your life properly. If you're trying to do a creative job, influences are multiform, they come from everywhere. There is little difference between the influence from someone else's illustration and from someone else's music, it's that the media is in common, so therefore you are tributary to graphic elements that you may or may not be tempted to lift out. Now lifting stuff from somebody- I have a good example actually (holds up a paperback book), this is a cover I bought in Germany at the airport, I don't know if you can see it. It's a Gandalf that I know fairly well, but this one has a different-coloured robe and he's in a forest. So here's someone who didn't escape an influence, in a rather direct fashion. (Audience laughter) But when I find the guy I'll kill 'im (smiles, audience laughs). No, I honestly think to be too consciously aware of influence is an ill choice, I think it is normal to be heavily influenced when you are very young. I often have people come up to me and say, "I'm in art school, but I'm too afraid of being influenced by so-and-so," which seems to me to be ludicrous, and my reply is, go ahead and copy their stuff for a year if you feel like it, it's not a crime. You'll get it out of your system and you'll grow much quicker than if you force yourself to stay away from it. And as you grow older, and in some cases wiser, you're a little more set in your ways and you are less influenced on a purely operative level, although all the time as a visual person. I hope you guys agree or I'll kick you out (grins, the other two laugh).
Everything you see that is intriguing, new, enticing, exciting you suddenly think, "Oh geez, that's great, I could use that." But then you look at it carefully and you realize it's not yours, you can't use it, the part you thought you saw was not the thing that's actually there. It's not the same universe, it's not the same world, it's not the same way of approaching the image, in itself. Yeah, I think it should not be an intellectual process, I think it should be an emotional one, and then you just take it from there, it is up to you to decide what to do with it. The only thing I do not approve of in any way, shape or form, are people who rip other people's ideas off and then try to pass it off as their own. I find that to be really dismaying and a sign of something, of just a desire to be loved, which they are approaching the wrong way. So, if you want to plonk somebody else's work into yours, fine, but stand up and be a man and say you did it. There's nothing wrong with it, it's not a crime. It's true that if you have, if you occupy a temporal position after having illustrated a work, like you mentioned, the Alice in Wonderland illustrations, right, he was the first guy to do it. Therefore, not only is he the first, so therefore he's fixed a certain amount of imagery in people's minds, to that is attached, an immense nostalgia because it has acquired a certain "age." Therefore people aren't looking at it in the same way, they're looking at their own childhood, so therefore they're not looking at it in the same way as they are, a new piece of artwork. It's a very complex business, and I think you have to approach it in as natural a fashion as possible.

MS: And of course you must remember what that great illustrator Picasso had to say about this, that "Minor artists borrow, great artists steal." (general laughter) Any other questions?

Q: I have three kids, two of whom really like to draw. Loved the movie and are reading the books. I'd like to encourage them to draw from books, to take a scene from a book that they've read and to draw it, to try and encourage the artistic aspect. What's the best way that you think as an artist of doing that?

JH: I think you should encourage them in every way. I think you should not allow yourself to make a value judgement on what they do. But I think you should express fervently and loudly the things you find which appeal to you, the things that you think they've understood and discovered, and encourage them just to look into the book. I mean, looking into the book is actually looking into yourself, anyway, but you're simply using the book as a tool. So any tool you have as a parent to encourage your children on a path that they feel is interesting, then applause, applause all around. Don't worry about what book, let them choose what they want, and just be supportive and encouraging, because you're not there to do anything else but provide them with the tools, and to give them the atmosphere that they need to create in.

MS: Absolutely, I couldn't say that better myself. Yes?

Q: What other books would you love to illustrate?

MS: Good question, whoa. Let's see... personally speaking (pause), actually that's almost impossible, there's a list. There's an absolute list. For me, of course, Farmer Giles, that's the one I sure would like to get to in this lifetime. I think I'd like to do an H.G. Wells, actually. "The Time Machine" would be a lot of fun. Perhaps some of that purely imaginative, like poems, I'm thinking of E. Nesbitt or, it's amazing how many books there are. It's almost impossible to say, but Farmer Giles, definitely, yeah.

TN: I'm kind of a confirmed Tolkien fanatic, as far as what I wanted doesn't really stretch beyond Tolkien much. If I'm introduced to something I guess I learned to love because it takes me by surprise then I'm kind of an artist for hire. I don't have too many unfulfilled ambitions outside of wanting to explore Tolkien's world, I kind have an agenda in that regard it stretches on an on. In that way too I don't give myself room to think about possible other ones, but I know if it contains some of the same key ingredients that appeal to me then I suppose it would be a delight. I guess I'm somewhat blinkered in terms that I'm not out there reading a current work, I haven't even read some of the great classics in fantasy, and so I don't have too many other ambitions in illustrating, just the ones I haven't illustrated in Tolkien! (chuckles)

Q: What aspects of Tolkien inspire you to do a piece of work, is it a character, place setting, architecture?

TN: When I can see an image which strikes me as very beautiful and interesting, full of maybe a good deal of interest from the point of view of light, there's a quality of light he described and you think, "Yeah, I've seen that, if I could get that in the picture it would be interesting." And maybe there's an interesting transformation or phenomenon being described, a type of artifact; the elven swords or especially the cloaks from Galadriel render a person nearly invisible, things of that kind are intriguing to the artist, so you're thinking it would be a challenge to capture that in some way, use it to enhance the theme of the picture. Certain characters juxtapose with other characters. I've been rereading "The Return of the King" in preparation for the third of the three calendars I'm doing, and I hadn't read it right through for many years now, so it's quite fresh for me. I'm actually doing thumbnails as I go along. I'm discovering scenes I hadn't remembered at all from years ago when I first read it. They're coming alive very strongly for me, and I'm thinking, oh boy, there's so many great ideas here. For instance, after the downfall of Barad-dr, they're waiting in Minas Tirith for news and tidings, it describes how, this is a very brief scene, one paragraph or something, one of the great eagles flies from the battle and proclaims the news to the city of Minas Tirith, and I had absolutely forgotten that, and thought a great eagle and the city together, that would make an amazing painting. Just having it perched upon one of the parapets or something. Extraordinary stuff, he just gives you these incredible ideas.

MS: I just wanted to say that, as a foil to Ted, I'm going to be the devil's advocate, is that I would love to illustrate Tolkien, but I know as an artist I couldn't stay in Tolkien. I couldn't just do Tolkien, I was just thinking of "The Once and Future King," which is a brilliant story, absolutely brilliant, and that certainly would be a book I would love to illustrate. And I feel that the other stuff that I do, if I was to come eventually back to Tolkien it would actually improved my Tolkien visions in some ways, by travelling outside of that world. There's one recent book, Ted you said you hadn't kept up with all the new books that have come out, but there's a book that came out recently that I would love to illustrate in black and white, because of the kind of story it is, It's called "The Sparrow," I don't know if anybody here has read it, it's by Mary Doria Russell, just an absolutely spine-tinglingly good book, I mean it's just extraordinary, and there's a world, a really really deep dark fascinating world that I would love to enter into, as an illustrator, because I love the book so much. I kind of grew up with Tolkien, and some of the images and scenes are sort of seared in my mind, but I know personally I wouldn't want to stay there. I really feel I'd like to travel elsewhere, and then when I come back I feel that I've been around the world, as it were, and it would improve what I might do with the imagery that appeals to me, in Tolkien. John? John has nothing to say, so we'll get on to the next question. Yeah?

Q: Even before the release of the movie, a remarkable number of different Lord of the Rings covers have popped up, really within the last two or three years, to the point that, once I was walking through a bookstore, and checking out the Harper-Collins editions I counted no fewer than 10 different covers. There were black covers with the ring on it, there were some covers with John Howe's artwork, covers with Ted Nasmith's artwork, covers with the movie, and then there's these strange blue covers, I was just wondering, once things settle down, what do you think would in fact make for the best cover art for (the) Lord of the Rings?

MS: Well, I can tell you, all that stuff, of course, is marketing. I mean, Harper-Collins should probably get an award for "How to Repackage the Same Book Nine Million Times." (general laughter) There's a boxed set of seven, there's a boxed set with three, there's a fat one, and on and on. There's Alan Lee's illustrated edition, now in trade paperback, I suspect that, you must have realized this by now, that Tolkien is a cash cow for Harper-Collins, so what they will be doing, beavering away in London where they make most of these decisions, is "How can we give a fresh look," and they will continue to give a fresh look for Tolkien, probably for as long as Tolkien is around. It won't settle, it won't settle. There'll be the people who are drawn to the black covers, because they're very sort of moderne and chic and yet they have that, you can just feel the Eye of Mordor drawing you in. (general laughter) It won't settle, when we're rustling away somewhere there'll be a whole bunch of new illustrators pop up, and they'll be doing it, they'll be having a go, so it never will settle. (looks to the sides) Right lads?

JH: There's also a problem with the book trade such as it is, in that if it's not new it's not in the front of the shop. Agatha Christie books, which everyone knows and loves, the editor of those suddenly realized at one point that his sales were dropping and dropping and dropping and dropping, because like Unwin books a few years ago, they thought they could just republish the same paperbacks forever and ever, and sell them. But they're not new, even if it's the same book it has to be new in some way, and the fact that if you slap a new cover on it, you're able to put it in the front of the shop again. But no one here is complaining, I hope, because that makes work for people like us! (general laughter)

Q: Sometimes what happens is that characters emerge who may not be "there" in Tolkien. Have you ever had any intruders who try to make their way into your illustrations, who did not belong there?

TN: I don't think I've ever had a problem with something like that. If it's not mentioned or implied, I would want them to be appropriately anonymous so that they don't distract particularly. Yes, you could probably explore some of that kind of thing and inject some of your own views. It's an interesting idea. He gives you all these cryptic details but he doesn't explain it all in the books, so that has given every amateur Tolkien storywriter tremendous potential for going off on a tangent.

MS: With your indulgence, I would like to illustrate Tolkien with a piece of music. I'm a musician as well, we're playing here tonight at 7:00 with my band, and I have a very short guitar piece called "Arwen's Tears." and if you're into it, I'll play it for you. (The audience claps their hands. Martin Springett takes out an acoustic guitar.) Hope you can hear it up there?
(plays guitar for two minutes, there is much applause at the end)

TN: CDs and cassetes are available on the way out.(general laughter)

MS: They are, they are! (more laughter)

JH: Any more questions?

Q: Is a Tolkien book that's suitable for illustration also suitable for, say, when the images are moving, or is it perhaps too static?

JH: I beg your pardon?

Q: Well, the Tolkien book, does Tolkien feel different in moving images is what I'm asking basically.

MS: Do your images change from the book to the film?

JH: That's a very curious question. I was always sure that I spent most of my time trying to render things like movement, but apparently I haven't (smiles). No, I don't think there's any contradiction. I regrettably didn't have the chance to contribute to the costumes in the film, because they were done, after the costume department was being set up, when we were actually leaving New Zealand to come back home. I think Nila did a wonderful job, all things considered in the time that she had to do it. But when you say "moving" images I think the ambition of most illustrators would be to see their work come alive in a temporal sense, in that you spend your whole life working in two dimensions, but you're thinking in three. I believe that you should be living in the fourth one, which is movement, time, the passing of time and life itself, everything is alive. A rock is alive in the sense that it has motion, that was captured in it when it was formed, it has motion in it as it decays, a tree is moving even when there is no wind, because there's movement in the growth, it's a question of scale and speed. So I believe there's no contradiction at all. But I didn't really understand your question, so maybe Ted can answer?

TN: I think I can't really add much to that. I understand what John means, when you do think in three dimensions, when I do architectural renderings and other kinds of very realistic artwork, I am dealing with perspective drawings. That's putting three dimensions into two, and I apply the same spatial thinking to a painting. Sometimes you can overdo it, getting too technical when most people looking at it are not at all wanting to criticize it or compare it on that level. You may actually be compromising the integrity of the image by getting too bogged down in that sort of thing. There's always a balance to be struck, and I think the most loose drivel can be animated. On the simplest level that's maybe what you were talking about. Anything can be brought to life, the Flintstones were brought to life. (laughter)

JH: I'm interested in what you said, because your question implies that illustration is necessarily static, would you comment on that please, in front of the public? (laughter)

Q: Well, if I want to relate specific examples, the movie to me didn't seem to have the same quality as a lot of your illustrations, where the movement is obviously implied in your illustrations, in the movie people were running about, it seemed to destroy some of the painterly nature of what I see when I picture Tolkien.

JH: An illustrator has a terribly unfair advantage over a filmmaker anyway, because you can put in what you like, you don't have to deal with physical facts as a storyteller. It's much simpler to do one image than to do a succession of shots, where you by necessity have to deal with simple, physical problems. I think the elves in the movie are the most difficult things to render because they shouldn't even be human; they should be more than human, they should be superhuman. But how do you do it? How do you do it without it turning into a sci-fi flick? There were endless discussions over how to actually treat the elves themselves, and there were so many things that I think were enhanced by the movie, because of the succession of events and the buildup of tension, which you can not necessarily do in one picture. But on the other hand it's true he (Tolkien) has obliged to show a huge amount, to carry the story along, so therefore, obviously, deception of people who have a more complete picture in their minds, this is obviously treading upon to get from one side of the screen to the other. I think that is a common problem depending on the media that you are using, so there's not much (any) other way to do it, you have to tell the story. Did that make sense?

TN: Another thing, that I would suggest along those lines is to remember that a film, if we're talking about translating illustrations or paintings into film, a film itself is from the camera's point of view, it's still a picture, a moving picture though, and it's controlling what's in that frame every bit as much as the artist is, but using different techniques and different criteria and with different problems to solve. But it's still illusion, so the film version of the Lord of the Rings will bring some strengths to the story that weren't available in reading it. The dynamics of actually seeing and hearing, that aspect of it, the intensity of actually experiencing these things happening, unfolding in front of you, but like John was suggesting, you lose something because the descriptions of elves can never be properly rendered, they end up coming down to something more ordinary, no matter how much magic is injected.

MS: I think John was touching on it, to illustrate a scene, and I certainly agree with this, to illustrate it by almost doing nothing, in other words, you, the viewer are still going to be allowed to create your own response. The real trouble that a filmmaker has is that they have to be literal, they actually have to show it. So what Peter Jackson did well, I think, was shall we say, create the backworld, create the atmosphere. He shows us some stunning imagery, but there is such an understanding of the overarching atmosphere of the story that even though I think you could complain that some things are left out, or do we need to see this, or this battle went on too long, or whatever, you should approach it like any film. That's the one thing for me that he captured perfectly, which was just that particular atmosphere, and I think, really, with another director it would have gone down the tube. I don't who would have been able to get it quite as well as that.

Q: Terry Gilliam?

MS: Terry Gilliam? Okay, Terry Gilliam.

JH: I'd just like to add that any imagery that is trying to tell a story is a proposition made by the person who is creating the image. Now, It's not somebody begging in the street with an image, it's somebody proposing an image. Now this image could be either strong, it can sometimes be overbearing, it may sometimes be boring, it can sometimes give you too much, it can sometimes be full of what I love to call pathological detail, which is from border to border, there is no room for me to get in. But, it is somebody proposing you something. Now it's up to you, because it's not a proposal, it's not somebody begging for you to look at it, but it's somebody with ideas, with a lifetime behind it, and something to share. So, it's a friendly proposal, and it's also one which carries a huge amount of respect for the people that is is being given to, or sold to, or whatever. I think it's an exchange, but it's an indirect exchange, which is something which I think agrees with most of the people who are behind this people except Martin, who's a little more outgoing than Ted or I, who I think sort of preferred to sit at home and get it done rather than being directly involved in the follow-up process. So it's an interesting proposition because you're searching for a contact with people, but you're searching for it with something to propose. So the most magic moments are when someone has received that image, because then the communication is complete. This is what illustration is all about, it's all about telling something, but it's also about hearing and hoping it's being heard. This is not a plea, "Go buy my book," it's an attempt to explain what illustrators are on about, and why they're doing illustration and not some other form of figurative or non-figurative art. I think illustrators are people who are fairly introspective, they have something to say but they don't have the words to say it. But you can also use pictures to say what you want to say. The language is a little different because you have to reinvent your own language; can you imagine if every writer wrote in a language that was his own personal language? Every person who wanted to read his book had to learn a new language. That would be an intersting proposition, and illustrating is something like that. If you look at illustration through the ages, you will see all of these personal languages, which are deeply rooted in their own times. But, they're also very much individual languages. So if there's something to be communicated, then it's a question of simply hoping that people who are looking at it are able to read it. But on the other hand, you're not spending any time worrying about whether it's being received or not. So yeah, it's an interesting profession. And it's interesting to meet, this is why today, things like this are fun, it's interesting to meet the people who actually look at it, because you don't get to see them very often.

MS: what time is it?

JH: (looks at his watch, set on Geneva time) It's 10:00.

MS: OK, so it's 4:00, and this is the end of the panel, thank you for coming.


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