Here we\'re in Hoplite Hell.
The editor, Nikolai Bogdanovic wants to show the moment where the Athenians turn and flee from The Boetians. The terrain on the plateau isn\'t flat, and I keep seeing a Baroque ceiling image in my head, with tumbling figures almost falling towards us down a rocky slope. Nic Fields, the author, describes a three-quarter moon lighting the scene. While I\'m thinking how I\'ll deal with the moonlight I start to draw the plate in pencil so that Nic and Nikolai can see how I want to show the battle.
There are two ways I can go at this: Either as a monochrome, probably almost abstract, with the forms fractured by deep shadow and robbed of colour by the cheesy moonlight, or to give the moon credit for more power in that clear ancient Mediterranean air and allow more of the form and colour to show, rather as I did with the paratroops in the snow.I choose the latter. If I don\'t like the way it is going I can always go into Frank Miller noir mode then.
The pencil gets the thumbs up, and my son makes a flying visit from university so it\'s out in the garden with his sleeves rolled up for a modelling session with the digital. I didn\'t make him wear my home-made ancient gear as it is attitude and spear-grip that\'s key to the poses I\'d drawn in the rough. Twenty minutes of over-acting from Rob and I have what I need. It is, as he points out,\' a funny way to make a living\'.I redraw the whole thing in pale ink as usual, in the light of my new figure references and start to paint the foreground action. In the background I see a swarming hill with dark figures barely showing against a dusty black sky. I paint in the hill, then airbrush the sky and the freehand the Moon, which I\'d masked out. I bought a zoom telescope recently and it brings the Moon\'s surface into sharp relief, particularly the edge of the light, where the planet turns away from us into darkness. There the contours and craters are astonishingly vivid. I include a bit of this detail. Nothing for it then but to take deep breath and let all that hard work in the foreground have it with the airbrush. The result is a fair bit darker than the photograph shows. It\'s a scary moment , but I\'ve managed not to over-do it, for a change, and I start to fill in the ground details and cast shadows. I want to show the environment as prickly and hostile, dusty and full of pitfalls. I originally had the idea that the sharpened edges of weapons could glint horribly, and they\'re just about the last things I paint.
I allow a portrait of Rob to survive as the guy in the foreground with a head -wound. That\'s as a warning of what could happen if he ever joins a badly- led Hoplite phalanx. Don\'t do it, kid. Since taking the last shot there\'s been a lot of good moonlight here and I added a yellowish glow to the moon as a result of noticing just how cheese-like the old thing is.
So, the night battle goes for a rest while I turn my attention to the last plate, a trireme fight which will long outlive its welcome on my drawing board, and may even provide the same aversion therapy as did having to draw three orchestras in one year. I don\'t do orchestras now.
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