John Howe’s World: Strange and Familiar

Sometimes I find an illustrator who captures on paper what I imagine as I read.  This is especially  rare for old favourites like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that have been growing in my imagination since childhood.  But when I look at the drawings and paintings by John Howe, I recognise people and places I have known all my life.


I’ve been enjoying myself digging through his unusually thorough and entertaining site. and am sharing some of my favourites here.  Bilbo Baggins’s Bag End, from inside and out, round green door and all.  I love the grassy roof, and the curved beams:




Then there are 13 dwarves singing and playing  at the unexpected party:



I’ve made some enlargements of details.  I love the earnest expressions and neatly combed hair.  I’ve always wondered what became of all their instruments.  Did they take them with on the journey, or are they still at Bag End?




“The Unexpected Party” is an example of how John Howe creates a sense of authenticity in fantasy worlds by careful research.  Just look at those instruments, and the precise way in which the musicians hold them.

I enjoyed the many comments by the illustrator – for example, this on on Smaug:

“Making his chin rest on his feet, like some enormous dog curled up before a fireplace took some cautious bending of his long long neck.”



Like Tolkien, John Howe has a special fascination with trees and the particular manner of their growth.  Here is a detail of Treebeard the Ent:



John Howe’s site is  full of advice and interesting anecdotes.  The pages “How to Paint Rocks” and “How to Paint Grass”  gives insight into his conceptual process.  It is about thinking as much as looking.  He stresses the careful observation of each rock, root or leaf, but he is interested in more than the apparent surface of things:

“Rock is defined by two things : the forces that went into shaping the original stone and the forces that weather and erode it. Both are history and movement made… rock, if you like, …The underpinning of the world, whichever world it is that one has at hand, is determined by this.”

That last phrase sums up what attracts me to his work, where so much fantasy art leaves me cold.   His careful observation and research results in a world that is rooted in the familiar.  The same forces of nature and history work on Middle Earth as on our world.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Patterns from Stories « Masha
  2. Shanra
    May 29, 2009 @ 21:28:56

    What a beautiful and thoughtful post on Howe’s art, Masha! (Yes, I fail at comments. ^-^; ) But truly, it’s a heartwarming post to read, and not just because the art is beautiful.

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