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a visit to alan lee's studio

When the three films of The Lord of the Rings came out, I watched the featurettes obsessively after each one, to see how the enormous teams had crafted the films. Most illustrators work alone in their homes or studios, and the idea of using illustration skills to work together on a massive project like that fascinated me. So of course I came across the work of Alan Lee, who together with John Howe, created the look of the LOTR and The Hobbit films. And then I started working with Philip Reeve, whose own artistic inspiration comes from artists based around where he now lives, on Dartmoor: Alan and Brian Froud (The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth) in particular. So I was thrilled to meet up with Alan for the first time last Christmas, along with remarkable artist David Wyatt (who has illustrated several of Philip's books). I never thought I'd actually get to visit Alan's studio and see where he worked, but last week I did!



Philip and I were in Chagford to do a couple events for Chagword Lit Fest, along with Sarah Reeve and my husband Stuart.



Afterward we met up for a pub lunch with Alan and David, and then I didn't know if it would be too cheeky to ask to pop in for a peek at Alan's place (but I really, really wanted to see it). And he kindly let us visit.



A lot of the drawings we looked at were ones he's been working on for The Hobbit Sketchbook, which comes out in September this year, and looks amazing.



Here's Gandalf's staff from the films, with the little pipe that slides out of the knot at the top.



Alan mostly works in pencil - sometimes in charcoal - and keeps a big selection of pencils to hand.




I kept finding spectacles, but he said he uses different glasses for different tasks.



One of the most interesting things was seeing all the different places he has to work: a front room where he does some sketches over breakfast, a room for scanning, and a room with a big screen for digital artwork. We walked out into the courtyard where we found two more studio buildings: one that I've shown here, for drawing and painting.



The other building inside was the opposite to the first; almost stark, with an open floor for dancing.



Here's the table there where Alan plots out his books, cutting out and gluing down thumbnail images so he can see everything laid out all at once.



And, of course, a tasteful selfie holding Alan's big gold Oscar statuette aloft.



Huge thanks to Alan for giving us such a wonderful look into where he works, I'm still rather a-buzz from it!



And here's Dartmoor, where it's easy to understand the inspiration for Alan's drawings.



If you want to find out more about Alan's work, there are lots of LOTR features online, as well as this interview of Alan by my friend Joe Gordon at last year's Edinburgh Book Fest. You can follow Alan on Twitter (@alanlee11225760) and his public Facebook page.

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Sarah McIntyre

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