Benjamin Harff produced a hand-illuminated edition of Tolkien's The Silmarillion (a famously dense set of myths and background for Middle Earth) as a final project at art school; in this interview, he explains his motivation and his process.
Harff could have gotten his degree by completing a chapter or two, but couldn't bear to leave the work unfinished, so he did the whole thing.
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.
Interview with Benjamin Harff, upcoming Tolkien illustrator and creator of the Edel-Silmarillion (09.07.09 by Pieter Collier) [Pieter Collier/Tolkien Library]