It was suggested that it might be a nice idea to have a regular-ish slot on the blog where you get to hear about the doings of an Osprey illustrator, focusing the scribbling on a particular piece of illustration. I\'m into blogs at the moment and I can\'t resist a challenge, so here goes!
I\'m currently working on the future Campaign title Amiens 1918, and the plate I\'m going to deal with is a dogfight between a bunch of Se5s and Fokker DVIIs.
The first thing you need to understand is that being an illustrator is also being part of a team. The author, in this case Al McCluskey, who, like many Campaign writers, is an Army officer and Marcus Cowper, the editor. It\'s part of the author\'s job to come up with two or three briefs describing what he wants to see in the plates and supplying some references. In this case, Al, not being shy about these things, supplied sketches too.


Some illustrators don\'t like authors to do this, but I do. It gets me much more directly into the author\'s mind, and it\'s his book.
Now you should also know that I\'ve been a WWI air warfare buff since reading Biggles as a lad. My Grandad was a Nottingham milkman before the war and delivered Albert Ball\'s milk. This is the first time in thirty-odd years that I\'ve been asked to paint anything like this, so I was in a state of boyish excitement… which is bad, as a sort of nervousness can set in. I also know that painting aircraft is a life\'s work in itself and I\'m a first timer in this, my favourite period… Can I come up to scratch?
So to start with, I do a thumbnail sketch of my own to show Al and Marcus. It\'s based on Al\'s drawing, but I want to get in closer to the action. I love the weird geometry of biplanes and I want to chop up the picture area with disorienting angles.


While they\'re considering that I start to assemble my cast. I long ago gave up drawing this sort of thing freehand. I need models. My WWI guru is Dave Andrews, who besides having the world\'s best job as a model-maker for Games Workshop, is a fount of knowledge and hardware for Great War subjects. He has 1/48 Se and Fokker, the latter with beautifully painted Lozenge camo. He also drops the pebble into the pool that sets the whole thing alive for me. Almost as a PS to an email he says "Check out vfx Red Baron on Youtube."
I watched it.
Now I knew that a German film on Richtofen was being made, and I\'d seen stuff on the web about the production, but this couple of minutes of "teaser" is a revelation. CGI has reached a stage of complete perfection, and I was blown away by a blizzard of superb imagery. These planes are alive! Wheeling and spinning, control surfaces flickering as they contest the skies over a deeply-shaded land. The ground looked like a pit of darkness through the clouds and I wanted to use that idea. See for yourself what I'm talking about here:

So trying to forget the feelings of complete feebleness, that a mere painter of stills must feel in the face of such swirling glory, and having had the OK for the thumbnail, I started to take a series of photographs of the models. I also assembled the eight or nine books on the subject I have and scoured them for detail.
I printed the digital photos and enlarged or reduced them to the size I needed for the painting and traced them onto the paper using a lightbox. At this stage, I tried to correct the inevitable crudeness of detail in the models. The full-sized pencil was then scanned and emailed to Al and Marcus.
Everything was deemed OK with the pencil, and Marcus buzzed off to Japan and Australia. Alright for some. So I was on my own, and it was time to paint.
(For the artists amongst you, I use Schoellershammer 4G paper - or board if there\'s no lightboxing and FW Acrylic Inks.)
I drew over the pencil with a thin ink mix to fix the drawing then rubbed out the pencil marks. It was fairly late in the day and I wanted to tackle the main technical problem, which was the lozenge camo on the wings of the nearest DVII. This stuff was beautifully designed, printed fabric in about five colours and various mixes which formed the wing covering. I love it, but it\'s terribly complicated and when thrown into perspective is a complete nightmare. However, one of my books shows a reconstructed DVII and in the photos the upper wings are quite bleached out by the light, with a few lozenges showing up along the wing surface. This could be the answer and I painted an approximation of the pattern and airbrushed over the wings before knocking off for the night. Thank goodness for the blue daylight lightbulb.


The next morning I began to lay down the main colours on the foreground planes. I like to get the main things well-established before I go into the background. I know this goes against normal instruction, but it sets the tones up and when there is limited time for a job, it gives a maximum amount of desk time to the main subject. I use masking film anyway, so it isn\'t really a problem. The colour of British WWI aircraft is a problem. Kit companies always suggest a greenish shade, the Camel in the IWM is chocolate brown.
I had to go to London anyway and spent a couple of hours at Duxford, the flying collection of the Imperial War Museum on the way. They don\'t have an Se or a DVII but it\'s good to see real WWI planes, even if they look a lot tauter than the baggy jobs you see in the photos of the time.The blessed plane colour looked different in different lights. Guru Dave calls it green/brown shift. I settled on a brownish greenish colour with brown shadows.


I pressed on with the group of nearest aircraft, then masked them out, and the unpainted ones in the background. Time to consider the sky. I\'d decided on a tilted horizon, as I wanted to unbalance the picture. It was August when the dogfight took place, so I couldn\'t go too mad with the gloom I so admired in some of the Red Baron imagery. The whole background was airbrushed freehand and some of the suggestions of detail on the ground were painted in.


I then painted in the rest of the planes. Hannant\'s package with the Bristol Fighter kit made it through the strike-hit post, and I botched it together well enough for my purposes. It\'s a lovely Roden (Ukrainian!) kit, and I felt guilty about not giving it the attention it deserved, but I needed it NOW. As it turned out, the Brisfits in the painting were so tiny that I probably didn\'t need the model after all. Dave had a 1/48 kit unmade - he said I could make it and use it… I won\'t let him see what happens these days when I make a kit for a painting!
So I brought the painting to what I call \'resting\' stage.


Osprey normally allow quite a long time from briefing to final art date, a couple of months. This is very rare in the illustration world and allows illustrators the luxury of having a good rest from the painting before picking it up again with fresh eyes. I know I\'ll play with those lozenges some more, and I\'ll fiddle around with other areas too probably. I still find it hard to look at my finished artwork in books though. It\'s fixed and I see things I didn\'t see before, and wish I\'d altered. I\'ve even been known to change things when Osprey sent the art back. How sad is that?

(More from Peter and other Osprey artists coming soon!)