It\'s not all dogfights and moonlit battles with Osprey. I really enjoy doing titles in the Fortress series. It may be the model maker in me, but I find suggesting a complete world in a relatively small illustration very satisfying. This month I\'ve been working on \'British Forts in the age of Arthur\' by Angus Konstam - Orcadian, Pirate expert and fellow wargamer.

   We\'re building theoretical structures on the patterns of post-holes and attempting to see beneath existing later medieval ruins, deepest Time Team territory. I must admit, the main reason I watch Time Team, apart from the bad hair and the fascinating range of English  accents, is to catch a glimpse of their illustrator, Victor Ambrus scratching away with his old pencil. They hardly ever let him speak. They should, his Hungarian tones would add extra richness to the accent mix. He was responsible for me being an illustrator, though we\'ve never met.

  I was twelve years old  and standing in the library in Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. I took a book off the shelf called \'The Cossacks\' by B.Bartos Hoppner. Victor had illustrated it in his distinctive black and white style, thumbprints, splatters, and funny hands doing that alien finger thing. It was the first time I\'d seen his work and I loved it. \'I\'m going to do this\' I decided there and then. A light was switched on in my head.

  The thing was, I think, that his work was accessible. I loved all the Look and Learn Illustrators too, but the idea that I could ever make images like the faultless Embletons, or Peter Jackson or McBride was absurd. Victor though, found a route to visual excitement that I thought I might be able to take, and I shamelessly set about imitating him. The imitated style doesn\'t last though, and somehow your own thing emerges. I\'m convinced that\'s how we all get started.

  That\'s the ramble, now back to the Dark Ages. Birdoswald is a Roman fort (still present in the form of low walls) that was adapted for use by some Warlord in the sixth century. Angus\' brief contained a nice reconstruction with a hall built on the remains of a Roman granary and I based my pencil offering on that.


  It was Angus\' idea to have the scene set at a time of snow. Warriors, perhaps the prototypes for Arthur\'s knights arrive for a winter feast.

  I\'ve always speculated about how quickly the Britons, abandoned by the Legions, returned to type. Roman building culture had dominated for four hundred years, but the archaeology says timber and thatch returned PDQ.

I can\'t help seeing it as a sort of post-apocalyptic vision. The vicus built outside the fort, lies ruined under fresh snow. The gateway is restored with minimum effort, and the forebuilding of the basilica is rebuilt as stabling.

  The pencil gets the OK so I fix it with pale ink and set to work on the cutaway interiors DSCF3616

I don\'t think a proper feast could be laid on just by  doing all the cooking at the central hearth so I set up a kitchen, medieval style, next door. A storeroom built on the foundations of the other granary provides the winter larder. Stores are kept off the damp stones on a makeshift wooden floor. I want the warm interiors to contrast  with the cold outside so I begin to lay in the exterior with blue airbrush washes.



  I don\'t know when we stopped drawing thatch halls with holes in the roof for the smoke to escape from, but they\'ve somehow quietly left the scene. So smoke is filtering out of the thatch, the perfect 5cm snow layer melts off the heated crest line and our visiting knights and their retainers paddle footprints all over the site. The last shot of the artwork isn\'t necessarily the end of it. I\'ll put it aside for a week and have another look.


  I\'ve just read the brief for an intriguing Vanguard title double page spread, so the next time I write here it will be about Warrior Women and War Elephants.