John Howe (artist)

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Daydreaming with pencil and paper is a respectable form of meditation.

John Howe (born 21 August 1957) is an artist and book illustrator, widely known for his works based upon J. R. R. Tolkien's stories.


  • Artist’s block? Look outside yourself first. Then look in. No block can resist that.
  • Daydreaming with pencil and paper is a respectable form of meditation.
  • Drawing from life is about as close as you can get to communion with your subject. Drawing a tree is losing yourself in everything that defines a tree, defines life when it wears bark and bears branches. It matters very little what you actually end up with in your sketchbook, it's what you end up with IN your head that counts.
  • EVERY time I do ANYTHING, it's the FIRST time. It's all new, no matter how many times it's been. So now, when asked "when did you do your first drawings?", I can truthfully answer "I'll tell you next week, when I've done them."
  • Illustrating the works of J.R.R. Tolkien means deciding what is best not illustrated, deciding what needs deep shadow or distance or slanting November light. Tolkien is the master of evocation — his descriptions are catalysts for the reader, who summons his own personal pantheon of heroes and demons to complete the picture. Illustrating Tolkien means confronting these nebulous certitudes, radically differing from one reader to the next. Illustrating Tolkien means treading warily, dipping one's brushes in shadow and rinsing them in light. Battle and balance, down the impossible path between the clear and the obscure.
  • Tolkien's landscapes are full of familiar landmarks, though every reader has a personal view of Middle-earth. My own is partially drawn from places I know; Old Man Willow is grafted from a grove of ancient, pollarded willows just down the lake from my Swiss home. The trees which hide the Hobbits from the Black Rider are on the West coast of Vancouver Island, half a week's hike down the Pacific Rim Park, with a heavy mist blowing in off the Pacific.
  • The person who flatly states "Elves aren't like that!" is hard pressed to describe how they really look... as if Tolkien has summoned archetypes from so deep in our minds that we can only recall them incompletely.
  • The technique of drawing must be devoted to what really matters: the communication. The main goal is to transmit a text and what the illustrator add as personnal feelings, histories of himself and pieces of life. The reader who already experienced emotions close to that of the illustrator will share these feelings. I have sometimes been rewarded by readers who very precicely saw the things that I had tried to put in my work. Drawing must seek for interest, not for admiration. Because admiration wears quickly.
  • It doesn't matter if something is technically quite flashy. That's not where the interest is. I really believe there is a strong value to narrative painting that goes much deeper than appearances.
  • It must NEVER be "me, myself and my misunderstood creativity vs. the rest of the world". Creativity is supposed to open your world up to others, to the world itself. It's a funny mix, I think, but it must be a happy one.
  • Our faults are identical to our qualities. What makes them one or the other is how well we judge where to apply them.
  • What can make your work interesting is as much who you are — imagine you're a sponge, trying to soak up the WHOLE world: history, art, music, everything — as how you draw. Drawing from life means not only doing a respectably rendered nude or a still life, but getting close to what life is all about.
  • IF I was teaching an art class, I think we would spend only half the time drawing, all the rest would be all about making more complete and experienced human beings out of the students. I am often appalled at how narrowly focused many people are. Art is very much about LOOKING at things, being interested in things, remembering what you see. I was born with busy eyes.

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