Review 3. The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee

The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee

About the Author

Alan Lee was born in 1947 in Middlesex, England, he is an acclaimed book illustrator and conceptual designer and set decorator for films. His most famous works are the centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings and diamond edition of The Hobbit. He studied graphic design and the depiction of Celtic and Norse myths. He has illustrated many books and won many awards for his work. He was also the Conceptual Designer and Set decorator on Percy Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.


In The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook Alan Lee reveals in pictures and in words how he created the beautiful watercolour paintings for the special centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings. These images would prove so powerful and evocative that they would eventually define the look of Percy Jackson’s movie trilogy and would earn him a coveted Academy Award.

The book is filled with over 150 of his sketches and early conceptual pieces to show how the project progressed from idea to finished art. It also contains a selection of colour paintings reproduced in full page glory, together with numerous examples of previously unseen conceptual art produced for the films and many new works drawn specially for this book.

The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook provides a fascinating insight into the imagination of the man who painted Tolkien’s vision, firstly onto the page and then in three dimensions on the cinema screen. It will also be of interest to many of the 100,000 people who have bought the illustrated The Lord of the Rings as well as for budding artists interested in unlocking the secrets of book illustration.


I was very lucky to receive this book for my birthday this year, as it has been on my wish list for some time. I must admit I had forgotten this book was on my wish list, so it was a great surprise to receive it. I remember my mom buying me the centenary illustrated edition of The Lord of Rings and it is one of my favourite books, so actually to be able to read how Alan Lee came up with his amazing art work has been rather exciting.

Firstly, I must admit I did not read the book, I just sat there looking at each page and the beautiful art work appearing on each page, remembering where the sketches fit in with the narrative. I was pleased I took the time to enjoy the art work first, as I know I am quite often guilty of getting too absorbed in the words and missing out on the beauty of the art. 

Once I had seen all the artwork I then went back to the beginning and started to read. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the book, sometimes with these types of books I easily lose focus and find it hard to finish the book. However, this book I could not put down. I loved how Lee described the history he has with the story and how parts of his childhood influenced his imagination for some of the scenes. Lee describes how when he read The Lord of the Rings he was constantly imagining what the scene looked like and thinking what was Tolkien wanting the scenes to look like and what images were influencing his descriptions in the book and Lee wanting to be as true to that as he could. 

Seeing the little sketches and ideas that Lee worked through in the book gives you a glimpse into what it must be like inside Lee’s head. I can not imagine that he ever stops creating either in his head or doodling on paper, that is what comes across most in the book. He is always thinking and working. 

The picture below shows the sketch of one of my favourite watercolour images in the centenary edition, Eowyn with Aragorn. I love this image so much and to see the sketch is wonderful, it is fascinating to see a rough version of one of my all time favourite images. 


The following picture is also one of my favourites – Tom Bombadil’s house. I loved the chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring with Tom and I was really upset it was not in the film, so I was really pleased to see it included in the sketchbook and to read about how Lee created it.


The details in the book about how the film sets were created are fascinating and just magical. It really brought it home to me just how many people were involved in the making of one of my all time favourite film series. I also loved how Lee is happily telling the reader about his frustrations, the art work he wasn’t so happy with and particularly when he had to pull all nighters. 

The thing I loved the most about this book was that Lee did not focus it all on the film and included so much about the centenary edition, the book I love so much. Lee is such a talented artist and it was wonderful to be briefly part of his world.

I truly loved this book and even though I have finished it, I still pick it up and dip in to look again at the stunning artwork. 

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars. 

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