Ken Howard was born in London. He studied at the Hornsey College of Art(1949–53) and the Royal College of Art(1955–58). In 1958 he won a British Council Scholarship to Florence. He spent his National Service in the Royal Marines (1953–55). In 1973 and 1978 he was the Official War Artist to Northern Ireland, and 1973–80 worked in various locations, including Hong Kong, Cyprus and Canada with the British Army. In 1983 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA). In 1998 he became President of the New English Art Club, a post he held until 2003. In 1991 he was elected a Royal Academician (RA).
He paints in a "traditional" manner, based on strong observation and a high degree of draughtsmanship combined with tonal precision. The depiction of light is a strong and recurrent element of his work. A notable theme is the nude model in his studio. Another theme is a city scene, such as Venice, with emphasis placed on the reflection of light from puddles after rain. He has said:
I was brought up in London surrounded by railway yards and factories. This has very much influenced the use of horizontal and vertical structures and lines in my work. I am not a landscape painter, but rather a vertical horizontal and linear painter, which is why I have a passion for the lines that occur within my studios, and include them in my paintings. When I study a model, I think of that figure not in rhythmical terms, but in vertical or horizontal positions and planes.
His work is in public collections including the National Army Museum, Guildhall Art Gallery, Ulster Museumand Imperial War Museum.
Howard was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.