What do I really need to say about Tolkien's artwork? There are still entire generations of readers unaware that Tolkien was so interested in visual arts. His early landscapes were capable but looked rather a lot like any average landscape painter. Yet when he drew his own ideas out of his own head, a vibrant and unique style blossomed. Early works like "The Man in the Moon" and "A Merry Christmas" show a willingness to leap headfirst into the rabbit hole of creativity and the unknown. Splendor floods your eyes in pieces like "The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring," "The Misty Mountains" (hidden at the back of the index, but happily in full color), and "Old Man Willow." Your skin might crawl a bit when you look at "Wickedness" and "After," but this was no deranged mind that created them. His creativity trickled on and on throughout his long life, regardless of his mental state.
Tolkien's strengths seem to have been equally divided between watercolors and sketches. He seldom ever drew a human face, but his Middle Earth-related landscapes are marvelous. He was able to stare at a tree and capture every detail, even with one silly lead pencil on mealy yellow paper. His crests are also of important historical note (and could teach graphic designers a thing or two). Some readers will be amused at the randomness of his paper choices but amazed at how serious and detailed his doodles were.
So after saying all that, allow me to explain my "4 star" reasoning before you jump all over me. Yes, Tolkien's art is fascinating and fabulous, and I appreciate the inclusion of so many pieces (even unfinished sketches). What I don't like is the amount of pieces that were included as black-and-white pictures. Some black ink sketches (or black lead pencil sketches) were included in color (this is obvious due to the yellowed nature of the paper, which you wouldn't see if they were B&W images), yet some color sketches - and even some watercolors! - were included as B&W. I realize that this was most likely a budgeting issue, but it's sloppy given the details that Tolkien put into his art. By printing them as B&W, we lose out on a lot of details and moods. Certainly there are color pieces included in this book, and we get to see the really spectacular ones in all their glory, but I feel like we're not getting the 100% complete picture (pun intended) of his visual art.
Another particular complaint of mine is the use of numbering all illustrations but sometimes leaving this numbering to twist anonymously in the wind. Numbering plates is well and good, but there is no master list anywhere plainly describing a timeline or probable year of creation. I searched in vain for such a page and was only met with text endnotes. Some of these endnotes do reveal dates, and the written text does discuss some dates, but this feels partial somehow (I believe the authors even discuss a few drawings that are NOT actually included for viewing in the book). I realize that some dates are uncertain (Tolkien saved almost every scrap he generated, but was not necessarily a good history recorder), but approximations for *all* the works would have been nice. Knowing which order the drawings were made would also be a significant aid to watching the progression of ideas. This book was assembled under the full authorization of the Tolkien Trust/Estate (therefore it would have been proofread or at least glanced at during the editing process by knowledgeable people), and a lack of this detail is disappointing.
What's the difference between this book and the earlier, much-lauded "Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien"? Well, for one thing, many of the pieces included in "Pictures" are printed in a much larger size, sometimes even taking up a full page. "Pictures" is, shall we say, rather *lean* on written text because the main point there is to show the art off and enjoy it. Readers (or viewers, as the case may be) are encouraged to muse on the meanings for themselves. This means that more of the project budget must have been directed towards both color printing and larger image size. However, the relative rarity and fairly high price of "Pictures" shuts many people out from buying it. In that case, "Artist and Illustrator" (which averages 75% cheaper in price) is a fine alternative. The feel of "Artist and Illustrator" is a bit more academic and attempts to analyze the images (sometimes excessively), whereas "Pictures" is a pure eye candy experience. I'm not going to say that one is necessarily better than the other ("Pictures" does, after all, have much fewer illustrations included), but potential buyers should know that they ARE different entities in some ways. I'm not berating the efforts of Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull - they should be praised for taking such pains to discuss a relatively ignored area of Tolkien's life - nor am I saying it's a waste of time to read this book. This is time well spent to read this book, rest assured! I am merely pointing out that there are differences between this book and other sources. Even if you buy this just for the pictures and ignore the text, it's still well worth the money!
A must for Tolkien fans or aspiring fantasy artists, even with its minor flaws.