John Howe is one of the world's most renowned fantasy artists and book illustrators, best known for his illustrations of J. R. R. Tolkien's works.
John Howe was born August 21, 1957 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. One year after graduating from high school, he decided to spend a year abroad in France, then enrolled at the École des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg. He graduated in 1981 and began immediately working as a freelance illustrator. His early commissions were political cartoons, magazine illustrations, comics, animated films and advertising projects.
Howe's early influences included Frank Frazetta, whose book covers he “slavishly copied in oil pastel – of all things” and discovered the first Tolkien calendar imagery. In Strasbourg he located the birthplace of illustrator Gustave Doré, whose engravings he had admired, and got his first glimpse of Europe’s incredible architectural heritage. His later exploration (with a borrowed pass key) of Strasbourg cathedral, from the catacombs to the very top of the spire, led him to a deeper appreciation of medieval art and architecture (as well as a few truly scary moments). He has since also learned to love standing stones, Green Men, Robert Holdstock, Robin Hobb, ravens and horseshoe crabs, Terry Gilliam, Beowulf, Arthur, Merlin, anything medieval, Romanesque, Moorish or Carolingian, Askeli Gallen-Kalella, John Bauer, Old Man Willows, Druid Oaks, Russell Hoban, Gaudi, José Segrelles, Sidney Sime, Hector Guimard and lots more besides...
Howe never went back home to Canada after his studies, and appreciates wandering about in Europe, where so much history and mythology is embedded in the landscape, and where archetypes abound.
First discovering J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings during his school years, Howe immediately began to draw his own illustrations of classic trilogy:
"Around that time (during elementary school) I read The Lord of the Rings, first The Two Towers, then The Return of the King and finally The Fellowship of the Ring. Admittedly, it was hardly the best way to read the most popular fantasy trilogy of the century. It seemed that everyone who started the first volume never got any further, as it was by far the most borrowed of the three. I had to wait months to get it. The real spark came from the calendars, which showed me that it could be illustrated. I went through the Hildebrandt calendar, doing my own versions of the same scenes. Mercifully, none of these have survived, although there is a very dusty box under a bed somewhere..."
Since the late eighties, John Howe has created illustrations and covers for many publications of Tolkien's books, including THE HOBBIT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE SILMARILLION, THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH and for peripheral products such as calendars, diaries, maps and games.
In late 1997, Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema invited Howe and noted Tolkien artist Alan Lee to take part in making The Lord of the Rings film trilogy as a chief conceptual designers. Most of the imagery in the films is based on Lee and Howe's various illustrations. John Howe was responsible for the darker aspects of Middle-earth - Fell beasts, the Balrog, Barad-dur, Minas Morgul and the Black Gates etc, while Alan Lee kept mainly to the safer side of the Anduin. John Howe and Alan Lee's participation in this project placed them amongst the most famous fantasy artists of our time.
However, Howe's work is not limited to Tolkien's world, and includes myths such as the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf. He also illustrated many other books, principally in the fantasy genre (Robin Hobb and Robert Holdstock, for instance). Howe also contributed to the film adaptation of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis. In 2005 a limited edition of George R. R. Martin's novel A CLASH OF KINGS was released by publisher Meisha Merlin, complete with numerous illustrations by Howe. He has recently published FANTASY ART WORKSHOP, which he calls a “philosophical how-to book”, on drawing and painting, followed by two other titles: FORGING DRAGONS and FANTASY DRAWING WORKSHOP. Howe has also written and illustrated LOST WORLDS, an exploration of two dozen lost civilizations, both historical and mythological, and is working on new titles in the same series. He has regularly held personal exhibitions in France, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland over the past twenty years. Two documentaries, JOHN HOWE, THERE AND BACK AGAIN (Sweden/Switzerland, 2004) and THE LORD OF THE BRUSH (Canada 2005), trace his life and career.
John Howe is a member of the living history group the Companie of Saynt George. He now lives in Neuchвtel, Switzerland, with his wife, Fataneh, who is also an illustrator, and their son Dana.
Currently, John Howe and Alan Lee are working as conceptual designers on upcoming two-part film adaptation of The Hobbit, directing by Peter Jackson.