The Oldhammer crowd is a funny beast. Chatting about the books that made such an impression on you at a young age tends to throw up odd little inconsistencies. One of the main ones that I've become aware of is how people react to different artists. We all know the classic images from the rule books and we have them burned into our collective memories. The illustrators were the most important members of the GW team in a way. Without their work the books would have been endless streams of text with the occasional pics of miniatures. GW always employed a range of illustrators and their styles varied immensely and was as much a matter of taste as your favourite miniature sculptor.
A lot of the guys I talk to have a love for Tony Ackland's stuff and I can see why, his stuff is detailed and evocative and has filled the Warhammer tomes with some of their most memorable images. Some people will even go out of their way to own a piece of his work but, can I tell you a secret?
I don't like it. Something about the way he drew the human (or non-human) form just didn't connect with me. I found it too delicate and at the same time stiff and unnatural (can I just stress that this is only my opinion).
One of the illustrators who made the grade however was Russ Nicholson. Russ had been working in Fantasy art for ages having done the original Fighting Fantasy Book 'Warlock of Firetop Mountain'
And also did the illustrations for the 1st edition of the Fiend Folio
But it was his vibrant, violent, complex images for warhammer the caught my attention. It was his work that made me want to take art at school (even though I wasn't very good) and it was his work that I wanted to emulate. His black and white pieces were full of clever use of line work and dark areas shade. The images seem to coalesce from a flurry of lines and dots and appear almost ephemeral, like a picture suddenly solidifying from tv static.
The movement with in his is balanced with his brilliant grasp of form and shape, the horses in the above pic are gorgeously rendered and you can feel the wild abandon of the charge as it thunders towards who ever is unlucky enough to be receiving it.
Pics like the one above are so full of detail that its impossible to take it all in one go. The bear repeated visits and reward you with new details everytime.
The battle scene above is complex and confusing, Elf vs Elf with Skaven at their feet. He uses effects that are more akin to a comic artist to show the effects a (magical?) weapons hit against the shield. The press and confusing of battle, bodies being crushed beneath the combatants feet, blood spraying from their wounds.
The empire portayed in the picture above is a brilliant mix of the historical and the fantastic, the grim faced veterans crowded round the ramparts, ready to repulse the attack of the faceless foe. Implacable and richly garbed they are the perfect reflection of the Fighter figures that Aly Morrison made at the time. Everything the Empire should be.
The picture of the traitor marine above, more than any other, makes me think of Kevin O'Neill's work on Nemesis the Warlock for 2000ad. The same gory anarchy and a similarly eldritch approach to line and shade.
So there you have it. Russ Nicholson was above all the artist that drew me into Warhammer and expanded my lust for bloody miniature conflict. Thanks Russ. If you want to see far more of his stuff then check out his blog http://russnicholson.blogspot.co.uk/ there is a host wonderful stuff in there, including the last piece he was working on for GW before they parted company.