Saturday 18 May 2013

Blood and Iron: Les Edwards and the Painting of The Lost and the Damned

The whole painting in its finished form. In preparing for this article, I reconsidered the image with fresh eyes and noticed several details that had before been lost on me. The tentacles grasping the warrior's blade being one!

“Nurgle is the Great Lord of Decay. He is also the Lord of All, because all things, no matter how solid and permanent they seem, are liable to physical corruption. Indeed, the very processes of construction and creation foreshadow destruction and decay.”


In the late ‘80s, GW Books (the recently formed subsidory of GW itself) published a range of novels and artbooks. One such publication was Blood and Iron, a celebration of the fantasy and science-fiction art of Les Edwards, an artist who had worked for GW on various projects and had contributed many a painting to grace the cover of White Dwarf. Now I had been aware of the book (and the Blanche and Miller equivalent, Ratspike) since 1989 when it appeared for publication in White Dwarf. Since the enlightenment that followed the discovery of Heroes for Wargames, I have been particularly interested to see what other late ‘80s books I could source for Oldhammer inspiration.

Amazon was a good starting point. When they are not avoiding paying tax, they are offering a great number of second hand books for sale. Blood and Iron was among them. For £3 I was able to get my hands on a near perfect hardback copy and got to spend a wonderful forty minutes or so immersing myself in its content while waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s surgery.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered among the vivid and disturbing artworks, an article written my Edwards’ himself, discussing the artist’s process behind the painting of The Lost and the Damned book cover. I didn’t have to think twice about using the chronicle to put together this post and share with readers not lucky enough to own Les’ book.

I have used italics to help differentiate between my commentary and Edwards’ writings. So in a way, its does look like I have interviewed the great man rather than just quoting from the book, but I am sure that you all will forgive the deceit. So to start then!

So who is Les Edwards then?

Thankfully, for the errant blogger, Les maintains a very impressive website, which is well worth a visit. It contains a detailed overview of his career to date and I have quoted much of his biography here to help orient the reader about his life and work. 

Les Edwards has been a professional illustrator for over thirty- five years. He has worked in many fields and areas but is best known for the huge number of book jackets he has produced in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror genres; the latter sometimes being known as his "Red Period".

After studying at the famous, not to say notorious, Hornsey College of Art from 1968 to 1972, where he was firmly advised that he would never be an illustrator, he was recruited by the Young Artists Agency, and has been working as an illustrator ever since. He is now represented by Val Edwards. His work has included major advertising campaigns, movie posters for films including John Carpenter's The Thing and Clive Barker's Nightbreed and he has worked in film production and gaming.

He has illustrated two graphic novels based on stories by Clive Barker; Son of Celluloid, about an ambulatory cancer, and Rawhead Rex, which tells of the adventures of a baby-eating monster and has absolutely no connection to his own views on children. Both books were critically acclaimed. In recent years Les has taken to painting under the pseudonym "Edward Miller" in order to do a different kind of work and use a more romantic style. 

He is a seven time recipient of the British Fantasy Award for Best Artist, has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award five times (his alter-ego Edward Miller won it in 2008), and for a Chesley Award on five occasions as well. He has also been a Guest of Honour at a World Science Fiction Convention. An enthusiastic member of the British Fantasy Society, he may often be found reclining gracefully under a table at one of their many functions.

When he is not chained to his easel, his spare time is taken up with half building plastic model kits and allowing them to gather dust in an appropriately artistic fashion, playing the guitar in a uniquely unmusical manner, and fencing, a sport at which his enthusiasm is surpassed only by his almost supernatural lack of ability.

He produced a great number of 'Golden Age' artworks, most notably the cover painting for Dark Future and, of course, the iconic cover painting from Heroquest and its supplements. 

The Lost and the Damned in Les Edwards' Own Words

“Before the first paint tube is squeezed, the first brush dipped or the first shirt cuff ruined, there is the rough. This is to give the Art Director or client an impression of what the final artwork will look like, and to ensure that the composition meets his requirements. In this case, the Art Director was Uncle John Blanche, who had a pretty clear of what he wanted and where the type would eventually go."

"The first job is to collect as much reference material as possible. Actual photos of Nurgle are not easy to come by so I was supplied with a copy of Tony Ackland's definitive rendering of the Chaos Power. There were also some Citadel Miniatures to hand to give me details of costume and armour, and I had several photos of landscapes, which, although I did not refer to them directly, were there to keep my mind on the right track. After a series of brief and indecipherable thumbnail sketches, I was ready to start the rough proper. I would normally spend some time on drawing the figures before hand, to work out pose, taking photographs if necessary. However, as most of the characters are encased in armour in this picture, I could dispense with this stage, but made sure that I had plenty of photographic references on armour. "

"As a Chaos Power, Nurgle can appear in any form so I thought it a good idea to give him a few more horns. He was to dominate the picture, but be distant at the same time. So I decided he would be sitting on a pile of bodies (but as it will be seen, this idea got rather lost.) Having drawn the rough to the proportions required and allowed space for the type, I then had to await the client's approval and suggestions. These suggestions concerned Nurgle's symbol on the banners, and some changes to the foreground figures to ensure that they fit neatly into the Games Workshop Universe. With these changes in mind, and a photocopy of the rough in view, it was time to start the painting proper."

An early work in progress image of the painting. He the board has been undercoated and the detail sketched and covered in Gesso primer. From Blood and Iron.
"Surrounded by a pile of reference material, sketches and pencil shavings, I now proceeded to draw."

"When the drawing is complete I masked the edges with tape, leaving an area for "bleed" all around. The next stage was to prime the board with two thin coats of acrylic "Gesso" primer, this is rather like white emulsion paint, which brushes out quite thinly. Its purpose is to prevent the oil paint from sinking into the board and leaving the pigment looking dull and flat. It dries quite quickly, and when dry is semi-transparent so that the drawing is still clearly visible."

The underpainting. Light and shade added to the initial stage. From Blood and Iron.
"Using washes of burnt umber acrylic, I painted everything in tones of brown. Although I used burnt umber, any dark or neutral colour will do. The point of this is to firstly see how the painting might work in terms of light and shade, where shadows fall etc. and secondly to give some three-dimensional form to the main items. I don't always include this stage, but with a reasonably complex scene like this it is a help."

"When I had decided that the underpainting was sufficiently complete for my purposes, I painted a thin wash of pale green acrylic over everything to give a kind of unity to the picture. It was at this point that my main problem, which I had suspected beforehand, made itself evident: the figure of Nurgle had to look distant - in order to appear huge - but at the same had to be the main point of interest."

"I used the mass of receding figures at the bottom and left of the painting to suggest a sense of depth from the start, but I was concerned that this effect might be overwhelmed if Nurgle was too detailed. With this in mind I went on to the next step."

The famous painting nearing completion. From Blood and Iron.
"Now came the messy part. I had used acrylics for the underpainting because they are quick drying, and although I know illustrators who swear by acrylics, I prefer oils and use them from this point onwards."

"There is a good deal of Cadmium Green in this painting because I found that other greens were inclined to lose too much intensity when mixed with other colours. I mix the colours in the old-fashioned way, with a palette knife, using a medium called Liquin, which cuts down the drying time of the oils"

"Working fairly quickly, and using as big a brush as practical, I began to "block in" the colours. I would normally start with the sky, which as the largest area would probably do most to give the overall feel of the picture. In this case, however, I had a strong feeling about the colour of the water in the lower part of the painting. I wanted a sickly yellow-green, but because I needed a strong colour in this area, the final result tended to be more yellow than I originally intended. Then with a large, flat brush, I thinly painted the sky. This is where most of the Cadmium Green was used. I extended the the sky colour right across the figure of Nurgle which had the effect of making him recede into the distance. Although I knew he would end up much darker, I felt that I now had a reasonable starting point. Leaving teh foreground figures to last, I treated the whole painting in a similar way, paying little attention to details and dealing only with broad areas of colour."

"The foreground figures were treated a little more carefully, but still in a fairly loose fashion, with the colours, particularly red-browns, chosen partly to help bring the figures forward in the picture. I would normally have to complete at this stage in a day, but naturally the more complex the picture the longer it takes. Overnight the sky dried sufficiently for me to paint Nurgle himself, taking care that the red parts were not too bright."

Just the final detials to add. From Blood and Iron.
"With all the colour blocked in with varying degrees are care, it was time to begin the process of finishing each area. I decided to leave Nurgle until last once again. I made the sky somewhat darker and then began to complete the foreground warriors. I tackled them more or less one at a time, although I would occasionally jump to something else for a change. This is pretty slow work, but there is no way around it. As this stage, I was at pains to refer to my photographs of amour and the miniature figures. I should mention that, in order to make the details easier to see, I had given the models a very thin was of oil paints."

"I was trying to use strong colours, but at the same time to keep a feeling of rot and decay. Much of the rust on the central Chaos Warrior and the armour of the Space Marine is bright orange straight from the tube, applied in patches over the previous coat of reddy-brown. The left hand side of the painting I kept fairly shadowy and vague so that it would not draw the eye away from Nurgle. In repainting the water, I made sure to keep it a strong yellow, as I was beginning to feel that the lower part of the painting was becoming rather grey. There is not a great deal of colour in the figures, but I felt that bright blues or greens would be unsuitable for Nurgle's horde. Apart from a few minor details, I finished the rest of the picture before at last turning to Nurgle himself."

"At this point I was reasonably happy with Nurgle's apparent distance and size. I felt that I would be able to keep these aspects unchanged if I kept his lower half a little vague and misty and put plenty of texture and detail on the top part. My natural urge was to make him very indistinct, but as he was to be the focus of the illustration, this was not appropriate. This half and half approach seemed a reasonable compromise, but it meant, of course, that what was meant to be a pile of bodies at Nurgle's feet, became a vague mass."

"In the end the compromise did not work as well as I had hoped, Nurgle certainly looks huge, but not as vast as I'd imagined. He had to be rendered in sufficient detail to show the extent of his disgustingness, but at the same time this served to diminish the scale. If I were to do the job again I might do this a little differently, which is usually my feeling at the end of a painting: it could have been better. After the addition of a few details, such as some tiny demons and rotting flesh, the completed illustration was sent off to Games Workshop. They asked for some minor alterations, so to highlight the area surrounding Nurgle's head, and the addition of a few more banners. With these changes made and the artwork returned to them, the job was complete."


The cover painting to The Lost of the Damned is one of my favourite pieces of art from the 'Golden Age' (or should we start revering to this period as the 'Age of Ansell'?) though I know for conversations with other enthusiasts that the image still divides opinion. So why do I like it when others consider it to be one of Edwards' weaker works for GW? Well, I suppose it has a lot to do with what it represents rather than the finished art on its own. I was bought Slaves to Darkness for Christmas in 1988. I had to wait until 2011 to finally own the second RoC book. So the painting came to represent the unknown excellence of whatever the book wold contain. Any additional publication that used the image, I would seek to purchase for I assume internal excellence. Such a view, held by me for many, many years (and based on the novel Plague Daemon) was dashed to a thousand pieces when I read The Plague of the Plague Lord which was, to be frank, utter, utter shite.

What are your opinions of Les' painting? Do you love, loath or feel indifferent about it? Have you ever seen the painting displayed or did you once (or, indeed, still) work for GW and can share any further secrets about this famous representation of a Chaos God?



If you are interested in reading more or seeing more of Edwards' art, then this book is a must. 


  1. Hi and thanks for sharing this great article and thoughts about Les Edwards and his work with GW and "Lost and the damned".
    If it is one of his best one could argue but what I like about his work with this book is that he do not focus on warriors as such but more on the landscape, the chaos wastes and decay. The exe is drawn towards the greater demon but starts with the warriors. It is also not as comical like the cover of "Slaves to darkness".
    For me it is great as I like scenerical paintings like this or work by Roger Dean. Who uses more lights.
    I am also a great fan of John Blanche but his work tends to be more disturbing.
    For me the 80s are the "Golden Age" when it comes to illustrations in GW publications.
    Keep showing more..

  2. Great link to his website. I didn't know he did some of the classic Dark Future illustrations of which a few you can still buy the original - very tempting. The lost and the damned painting is for me almost the signature for citadel. I was longing badly for this book back in the days but didn't get it...and still don't have it. Will buy it though as soon as I find a somewhat reasonable price tag. I have though slave to darkness which I am currently reading back to back. Thx/Hans

  3. A great piece, Orlygg! And thanks for pointing me towards Les Edwards, so I could finally learn who did those fantastic pieces of artwork for the HeroQuest boxes that I have loved so much ever since I was a lad ;-)

  4. Very nice article. Makes me want to get out the paints!

  5. I got hold of a copy of Blood & Iron the other week. It was worth it. Although it's probably easier to browse his website. A lot of Les's artwork I remember from Steve Jackson's BattleCards in 1993. His horror work is truly terrifying. The Lost and the Damned and Heroquest will always be remembered.

  6. oh wow, I never knew who painted the iconic Hero Quest box covers, now I do, and he did the old Fighting Fantasy style game cards from the early 90's as well?

    Damn I really do owe a lot of my childhood art tastes to the man.

  7. I picked up Blood and Iron at Games Day 1990, I really wish I still had it!