John Howe – Concept Art Master

In a previous post I wrote briefly about some artworks created for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the books and the movies; created by the artists Alan Lee & John Howe and I have decided to take a more in depth look at John Howe for this post.

John Howe is quite possibly my favourite Contemporary artist and illustrator, I find his work extremely inspirational and inventive, his imagination is magically unlimited and his ability to transcribe his vision onto the page is awe-inspiring.

As usual when I write about an artist, I’m not going to write a biography but that information can be found either on John Howe’s Wikipedia page or his own website.

The main focus of this post is the sketches that John Howe has created in order to depict J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium as concept design for the movie trilogy.

So without further ado;

John Howe - Bag End - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
Back Door of Bag End

Here we have a concept sketch of the Back Door of Bag End, which wasn’t built into the movie set but it’s an interesting design nonetheless. I suppose it’s sketches like these that set artists like John Howe apart from many others; I mean how many people thought about a back door at Bag End? I know I certainly didn’t, not that I was employed for the concept design in the first place but it’s just something that has never crossed my mind; although admittedly I have wondered how a Hobbit’s toilet would look, it must be pretty close to the ground and not as wide as a conventional toilet. Good job I wasn’t employed for this work I guess…

John Howe - Gandalf Arrives in Hobbiton - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
Gandalf Arrives in Hobbiton

This is the sort of sketch that I find characteristic of John, it’s alive with movement and very narrative in nature. In the description on his website John says “What started as a sketch of Gandalf and his cart ended up as a view of Hobbiton”; that statement expresses the beauty of sketching, it’s an evolutionary process that you can always add more to. Sometimes I think the main skill of the discipline is knowing when to keep going and knowing when to stop.

I really love this sketch, it’s more of a tonal piece without much linework other than on the cart; in theory Gandalf is portrayed as a scribbled tone, but one can instantly tell who it is.

John Howe - The Hobbits Arrive in Bree - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
The Hobbits Arrive in Bree

This very unfinished looking sketch is another that is alive with movement and narrative, one can see the four loosely sketched Hobbits walking up the slope in the village of Bree, heading towards the Prancing Pony Inn, their fate sealed by Tolkien and described visually here by John Howe.

The freedom and looseness of this piece really adds character to the scene, it’s enjoyable to look at it and let my own imagination fill in the blanks.

John Howe - The Prancing Pony - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
The Prancing Pony

This sketch is a more refined architectural perspective piece and that works well for the subject matter being depicted. The Prancing Pony is one of the many places of Middle-earth that I would love to visit and spend a night or two at before continuing on that lengthy road that Bilbo informed us about. There’s just something about this Medieval looking inn that entices me and gives me the taste for beer.

John Howe - The Argonath - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
The Argonath

This sketch well and truly sums up my personal definition of what a sketch is, loosely and beautifully rendered, at a glance it’s simple looking but the sketch captures more detail and visual information than some might give it credit for.

An early sketch for the Argonath that eventually evolved into one of the most stunning and fascinating scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring.

John Howe - The Caverns of Isengard - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
The Caverns of Isengard

This remarkable sketch shows the destructive makeover given to Isengard once Saruman had turned his hand to evil doings and created his own breed of Orcs to turn this once beautiful place into an industrialised scene from the worst nightmares of a naturist; and by naturist I mean the worshipers of nature, not the invite the neighbours round for naked dinner type.

The use of the graphite tone in this sketch really adds to the atmosphere of the scene, it’s clear to see that the place is in a dismal state of ruinous activity.

John Howe - The Paths of the Dead 1 - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
The Paths of the Dead

The perilous Paths of the Dead that Aragorn had to take in order to recruit the army of the dead for the the oncoming battle. This sketch gives a glimpse at the enormous number of dead that reside there and the scale of the space, in comparison to the size of the figures it is a huge area, just tucked away out of sight of the rest of Middle-earth and never visited by anyone because everybody feared the place, and rightly so.

John Howe - Legolas & Gimli at Helm's Deep - illustration - concept art - the lord of the rings
Legolas & Gimli at Helm’s Deep

This is the final sketch for this post and another example of how they can evolve; John states on his website “This image started out as a little doodle of yet-another-Elven-helmet, but rapidly turned into a full-blown portrait of Legolas and Gimli atop the Deeping Wall”.

I really love this piece and the contrast it has between the details of Legolas and the unfinished surroundings. This is a great example of John’s skill with a pencil creating line that is complementary with the tone.

He has given Legolas the serene elegance possessed by the Elven race. Gimli can be seen slowly making his way up the steps and looking burdened with weight.


That’s all the artwork for this post but there is plenty more out there, I’m currently watching a documentary that features John Howe called ‘A la recherche du Hobbit’, and yes as the title suggests it is in French, but even without understanding the language it’s worth watching. I can pick the odd words out here and there but my overall understanding comes from the visual side of it.

Funnily enough it was watching a documentary about John Howe and Alan Lee creating concept art for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in 2013 that encouraged me to work towards becoming an artist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the artwork herein and please feel free to leave a comment, share and subscribe to my blog!


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