He and John Howe are considered the two most famous Tolkien artists, and their drawings ended up being authoritative for most of the art direction of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Alan Lee was educated at Ealing School of Art in London. He went on to illustrate many fantasy books such as the centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings, Faeries (with Brian Froud), The Mabinogion, Castles and Merlin Dreams. He won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration in 1993 for Black Ships before Troy and the Best Artist Award at the World Fantasy Awards of 1998.
Having reached significance as illustrators, Lee and John Howe were chosen to act as the lead artists of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, starting in 2000. Lee illustrated many of the scenarios for the movies, including objects and weapons for the actors. Costume personnel Ngila Dickson considered him a "team leader" of the crew of designers. In 2004, Lee won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his work on the third film in the trilogy, The Return of the King. He made cameo appearances in the other two films. Lee has also worked as a conceptual designer on the films Legend, Erik the Viking and King Kong and the television miniseries Merlin. John Howe and he would later work again with Peter Jackson, on The Hobbit trilogy beginning in 2011.
- "My chief concern in illustrating The Lord of the Rings was in attempting to provide a visual accompaniment for the story without interfering with, or dislodging, the pictures the author is carefully building up in the reader's mind. I felt that my task lay in shadowing the heroes on their epic quest, often at a distance, closing in on them at times of heightened emotion but avoiding trying to re-create the dramatic high points of the text."
- —from Tolkien's World: Paintings of Middle-earth 
A major portfolio of Lee's Middle-earth illustrations was published in 2005 as The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook, which gained immense popularity. In 2008, Lee provided an Afterword in Tales from the Perilous Realm, for which he illustrated. He went on to provide cover and interior drawings for the publications of Tolkien's Great Tales: The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin.
He resides with his family in Chagford, Devonshire, England.
- The Fall of Gondolin (2018)
- Tolkien Calendar 2019 (2018)
- Beren and Lúthien (2017)
- Tales from the Perilous Realm (2008)
- The Children of Húrin (2007)
- The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (2004)
- Sauron Defeated: The End of the Third Age (Cover drawing) (2000)
- Publication of The Hobbit (1997)
- David Day, Tolkien's Ring (1994)
- Publication of The Lord of the Rings (1992)
For images of his illustrations, see Art by Alan Lee.
Alan Lee played one of the nine Kings of Men, future Nazgûl, in the Prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring, as well as a Man of Rohan in The Two Towers, and a Lake-town musician in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. These three roles were uncredited.
- 1978 - Locus Awards, best illustrated book (Nominated)
- 1989 - Chesley Awards, Best Interior Illustration, for book Merlin's Dreams
- 1993 - CILIP, Kate Greenaway Medal for best children's book illustration
- 1998 - World Fantasy Convention, award for Best Artist
- 1998 - Chesley Awards, Best Interior Illustration, for a publication of The Hobbit
- 2000 - Spectrum Fantastic Art, Grand Master Award
- 2002 - NBR Award, Best Production Design/Art Direction, for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- 2003 - Visual Effect Society Award, Best Effects Art Direction in a Motion Picture, for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- 2004 - Academy Award, Best Art Direction or Set Decoration, for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- 2004 - Golden Satellite Award, Best Art Direction, for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King