Or A Few Words and Some Pictures
By John Howe

At rather a loss as to what to actually write for this newsletter, I’ve fallen back on the tried and true method of using something I’ve written before. (I have an excuse, I am working very assiduously writing texts for another book.)

Following is the introduction from FANTASY ART WORKSHOP, just so you won’t have to read it IN the bookshop come October, and can get directly to Terry Gilliam’s fantastic foreword and Alan Lee’s poetical afterword. (In between there are a few pictures, you can skip those if need be.)

Just Between Us

I wanted to call this book “How to Draw Like Me It’s A Cinch Anybody Can Do It”, but the editors seem strangely reticent. (They said it was too long, so we agreed on a different choice of words.)

It’s almost what the book is all about, but not quite. I will ramble on endlessly about how I draw and paint, but it’s REALLY all about how to draw like YOU. If you’re reading this introduction, and wondering if this would be money well spent, I’ll try to save you some time.

If you know how to draw already and you are quite satisfied with the results, then this book is not really for you.

If you feel figurative and narrative imagery is dull, this book is not for you.

If you feel that mythology and fantasy have little to say to our modern world, then this book is most definitely not for you.

If you are searching for off-the-shelf methods and surefire technical tricks of the trade, then this book is not for you.

If you believe pictures should speak for themselves, I’m tempted to tell you to buy it; there is an abundance of loquacious imagery inside.


If you find your mind is so full of images that they keep escaping unbidden from your fingertips, then this book may be for you.

If you are unsure of the direction your artwork wishes to take, but know you should be heading somewhere, then this book may be a signpost of a kind for your journey.

If you find pleasure in telling stories in pictures, then this book may help you.

If life has obliged you to leave pages of yourself unturned, and you’d feel better with a little company for a chapter or two, then perhaps this book is for you.

I should say right from the start that I dislike most “How To…” books, unless they are purely technical, and concern themselves spark plugs, hot water pipes or computer software.. I dislike the temptation to reduce an intuitive and intensely personal process to a series of steps or a recipe. I am dubious of assemblages of rectangles and ovals magically becoming horses, tigers or trees. I moan when I see famous paintings divided into arbitrary circles, triangles and (fool’s-)golden means.

They reduce drawing to a method, in exactly the same fashion that first-graders learn to form legible letters – they are the equivalent of row upon row of vertical strokes, circles and diagonals.. Naturally, you will learn to write legibly, but you may not learn to express yourself.

Drawing is giving oneself up to an exercise with no immediate application. It is a form of communion with your subject, be it in front of you or in your head. Expertise and skill go hand in hand with your desire to express feelings, to tell stories, to create and share worlds.

It’s personal.

So, I have tried to find the words to say how I feel. With each picture being worth a thousand, that makes quite a few. The editors have had to seriously cut their number, and I’m grateful to them for allowing my thoughts such unruly growth, only pruning when necessary.

This book is personal too. I can only speak for myself, not for illustration theory. Nor am I trying to speak to some fictitious potential average buyer/reader.

If I could, I would rewrite this book for each one of you, and include a couple of chapters of your work. Of course, this isn’t possible, so I beg your indulgence.

Inside, you’ll find a first section that talks about how I get along with the Muse and find my inspiration (wherever and however I can), the second about what materials and techniques I use and how I use them (as best I can).

A third looks at a selection of my work, with step-by-step case studies to give blow-by-blow accounts of the process (this is the book’s reality show slice of life, complete with commissioning editors, deadlines and last-minute deliveries), while the fifth section deals with presenting your work and a last bit about the varied fields illustration can lead you to wander in.

And, lastly, to my comrades-in-art and fellow illustrators, I beg your indulgence also for this foray into the dreaded land of Explanation and the perilous realm of Reason, momentarily forsaking the foggy shores of Inspiration. I am speaking only for myself, not for my profession. All of you have your own voices. (But buy the book anyway.)


Otherwise, I’d like to mention a couple of recent interviews. (Please do go read them, the authors deserve every encouragement for patiently dealing with my inconsistencies and tardiness with a rare brand of perseverance.

Interview done in Saint-Ursanne with Pieter Collier, at the Tolkien Library.

This one is very short and tongue-in-cheek, on the LCSV4 site.

And while we are on the subject of talking to strangers, here’s another on-line interview: Middle Ages Meets Middle-Earth.