Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

First Claw – Composition Sketches

A while ago, I started talking to an artist about getting a piece of work done for First Claw, showing them in all their treacherous, grimy glory. There were three reasons for this, and the most obvious was because I get asked a helluva lot just how to model First Claw for people to use them in their Chaos armies. I’d just point out that being asked such a thing is literally one of the most flattering things ever, and it felt churlish to barely be able to respond at all, beyond “However you like, dude. Their armour marks and distinguishing features are covered in the novels, but feel free to go nuts.”

I’ve seen a fair bit of First Claw art already (and a lot of First Claw miniatures), but I still get asked how they look, so it’s obviously something that people want to know in painstaking detail. Good writing (and I flatter myself by saying that, but I mostly mean it in general, as a rule of prose) gives you rich impressions, key hints, vital details and distinguishing characteristics, but it doesn’t hold your hand through 15 pages of description about one guy’s armour. An image is worth a thousand words on that score. It’s a significant and important distinction between the two mediums. Good art shows you inside someone’s imagination. Good writing gives you enough of a framework to instantly imagine something yourself.

That could be a post in itself, so I’ll save it for later.

The other two reasons I wanted this done were infinitely more selfish, which is much more in-character for a hatred-fueled hermit like me. Firstly, it’s cool. Secondly, it’s awesome inspiration for when you’re writing.

I chose to beg Shane Cook for this project because I’d seen several of his primarchs posted on Heresy-Online, and some of his other work on Bolter & Chainsword. I found him too late for it to directly inspire my descriptions of Corax, Curze or Lorgar (all of which are my fave pieces he’s done), but they looked so much like the images in my head that I felt something click. His grittiness was exactly right for Chaos Astartes, and so the begging began.

He’s working on First Claw, but out of nowhere – out of the random firings of an artist’s synapses – came a test sketch of Talos, unhelmed. That’s the bad boy you can see above. When people ask me if their representation of Character X is close to my imagination, the answer is invariably “Naw.” And that’s the point. I don’t really want to always see a word-perfect thing given life from my head, I think it’s often more interesting for writers to see how other people perceive those characters in their own heads. It’s a more honest and fascinating deal when you see another person’s perception of your work.

But that said, this Talos comes very close. He differs in a lot of ways (in my head, f’rex, Talos is quite handsome, but in the pale, remote, cold way Michaelangelo’s David is handsome), but the coldness, the feel of him, made me feel like I was looking at someone very familiar. I loved it immediately, especially since it was such a surprise. I think Shane did it for kicks.

Anyway, to the heart of the matter. Here’s the early composition sketch for First Claw. It’s set after Blood Reaver and ‘The Core’ in Fear the Alien, so don’t sweat it if you’ve only read Soul Hunter and struggle to recognise them. They go through a lot in Blood Reaver. Oh, boy, do they ever.

Obviously, this is the roughest of rough sketches, purely as a compositional piece and to nail the core armour details, but I think it’s obvious the final piece will be absolutely killer. Talos will be changing a bit (Shane’s already working on new poses to match the others) and his armour is a little bulkier and less sleek than the rest in this, but it’s not hard to see that this is going to be something special.

Apologies if it screws up your screens. Click to see more detail.

No prizes for guessing who is who. It’s too easy.

You can find Shane’s stuff atΒ http://slaine69.deviantart.com/.

I highly recommend his Curze, by the way:Β http://slaine69.deviantart.com/gallery/?offset=24#/d2hcb0i. That should give you a hint of how the final piece here will look.

February 5, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,


  1. Talos is obviously the guy in the middle but it has been sometime since I read Soul Hunter, I dont remember the names of the other ones. I do remember the new guy who was in another Claw-squad and the guy falling into Khorne-worshipping (which I guess is the guy to the far right with a heavy bolter).

    Comment by Forkmaster | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  2. HAWT!!

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  3. Freakin’ Sweet! Thank you for this; and Slaine, thank you also.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  4. Freaking amazing. You’re a lucky man to get these guys done so well. I’m working on figuring out xarl and cyrion now. The bolter/eviscerator is mixing me up. I love the winged helm though. Please keep it!

    Comment by DantheDman | February 5, 2011 | Reply

    • I can give you the rough descriptions that I sent to Shane, if it’ll help, dude.

      And yeah, Xarl is keeping the winged helmet crest. He makes a point of it in Blood Reaver.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | February 5, 2011 | Reply

      • Yeah man that would be awesome.

        The inclusion of Variel has got me mixing things up inside the 18th too. awesome idea mixing stuff up inside squads, adds a whole new element to the nature of a renegade pirate force.

        Comment by DantheDman | February 14, 2011 | Reply

  5. I think I can guess who’s who. πŸ˜€

    Those drawings are insane. They’re perfect. I can’t wait to see them finished – I think Xarl’s actually my favourite.

    I’d never seen that Night Haunter before either – it’s boss.

    The drawing of Talos unhelmed is awesome too – it’s the eyes I think. There’s something crazy unsettling about the eyes. Niiice.

    I am now torn as to which drawing of Shane’s to use as my desktop wallpaper.

    Comment by RayeRaye | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  6. Looks a lot like Captain Nero.

    Comment by TheSGC | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  7. Love the artwork , now just waitin for one with
    Talos wearing his helmet so i can get my Talos tattoo πŸ™‚

    Comment by Neill | February 5, 2011 | Reply

    • You can kinda see his Soul Hunter rune on the sketch with all of First Claw, but yeah, it’ll show more in the finished piece.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  8. Damn. Now I’m just a little bit in love with Talos.

    Comment by Sarah Cawkwell | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  9. I’m gonna go with, from far left, Xarl, Uzas, Variel (maybe?), Talos, Cyrion, and Mercutian.

    Comment by Phoebus Lazaridis | February 5, 2011 | Reply

    • Left to right: Variel, Xarl, Uzas, Talos, Cyrion (whose helmet is wrong unless he scored a new one), and Mercutian.

      Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | February 6, 2011 | Reply

      • Was it not Xarl who was decorated with the skins of enemies, though?

        Comment by Phoebus Lazaridis | February 7, 2011 | Reply

  10. What was it? “Hammer House of Chaos Marines?” Or “Benny Faces?”

    Hopefully, Blood Reaver will prompt the design studio or, at least Forge World, to do a decent Night Lords upgrade sprue. The miniatures are showing their age.

    Also, you need to settle it, once and for all: is the lightning painted on their armour or is a crawling, clawing, witch-fire mark of chaos? Guess which I think is cooler…

    [Slaine/Chicken Chaser/Swearing as a character trait.] Dark Days…

    Comment by G | February 5, 2011 | Reply

    • The Exalted’s is the crawling witchfire; everyone else’s is described as being painted.

      Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | February 6, 2011 | Reply

  11. Mmmm Thunder Armor πŸ™‚

    Comment by Nick Sharps | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  12. I’ve always loved Slaine’s stuff.

    And now we have a kick-ass artist drawing pictures for a kick-ass author…MADE. OF. WIN!

    Comment by JCC | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  13. Very cool. Good WH40k art is difficult to find on DA, and Shane does VERY well to fill the gap. πŸ™‚
    Can’t wait to read more Night Lords πŸ™‚

    Comment by Christopher Meyer | February 6, 2011 | Reply

  14. Looks like the only thing I had off from the pic is the backpack.
    That pic is awesome

    Comment by BigWill | February 7, 2011 | Reply

  15. When can we assume see the cover of Blood Reaver btw?

    Comment by Forkmaster | February 7, 2011 | Reply

  16. Haug…guh…gahjablahgh…

    Pardon the drool, but these are *so wonderful.*

    Comment by Lexington | February 8, 2011 | Reply

  17. thanks for the link, when i have money i might have to get a few of his works as posters or something.

    also, first post here.
    loved first heretic
    same for helsreach, which was different and better than i expected

    Comment by Josh | February 9, 2011 | Reply

  18. Winged Helmets are Awesome! I like to picture them in my head like they are prototypes of the corona Nox. With flexible wings n stuff.

    Not to fond on the helmet of the one with the heavy bolter. It would look cool if he had a Beakie marine helmet. Even in the codex illustration one Night Lord has it.

    Anyways this is just too freaking cool! Rock n roll keep us posted!

    Comment by Guillermo | February 10, 2011 | Reply

  19. Your constant modesty is always refreshing, don’t lose that -looking forward to the next night lords book.

    Would be nice to see what your take on the iron warriors would be seeing as we only have graham mcneils which at times strikes me as somewhat out of character from the index astartes article [daemons, daemoncubula, possession and sorcery] despite his sterling attention to detail [or research] on siege tactics. Then again as a theme that you have both pursued; the legions are fractured and undivided legions all seem to have a split between astartes that favour the ruinous powers and those that completely wash their hands of them in both your books.
    My interpretation of the background is that astartes such as the exalted and that fellow you had who worshipped khorne would be in the vast minority – after all these are undivided legions and it never really struck me that the background suggested that the undivided legions were as frivolous with the gods as the black legion are. I seem to remember reading that the iron warriors and night lords in particular shunned them in favour of their primarchs. Would be interested to hear your opinion on the relationship between what are essentially undivided legions rather than cult legions.

    Also props to you on choosing to have the story take place from an astartes perspective. Often I’ve seen alot of authors shove in hordes of uninteresting human supporting characters because they dont think that an astartes perspective can be easily related to or empathised with which is clearly nonsense.

    Comment by seth | February 11, 2011 | Reply

  20. yeah slaine! He puts his pics up on our forums, heresyonline,and probably several others. That’s so awesome he is drawing for you guys now but not surprising tbh. His work is absolutely fantastic.

    Comment by Unxpekted22 | February 11, 2011 | Reply

    • btw, just finished the first heretic. Incredible read! Argel Tal is one of my favorite 40k characters for sure.

      Comment by Unxpekted22 | February 11, 2011 | Reply

  21. Love them. IMo, that’s the first time a winged Night Lord helmet doesn’t look stupid.

    Comment by Oliver Booms | February 24, 2011 | Reply

  22. I’ve been sitting in the student center and happened to leave my laptop screen up with that seconds sketch up. Within 30 minutes 3 different people had asked me what it was and for more information about your books. These folks had absolutely no previous exposure to tabletop games or Warhammer 40,000. One person said it reminded him of Gears of War, though. (sigh)

    My point being, it’s already an awesome and effective piece of artwork. I can’t wait to see the finished image.

    Comment by Paul Fetherolf | March 4, 2011 | Reply

  23. Sketches’re pretty good, but i think it would be great if Clint Langley makes them! He has great Thousand Sons and Nurgle Chaos Space Marines, and his First Claw would certainly be great!
    Also, i has a question. It is certain Talos and his warriors’re Chaos Space Marines and fight for Chaos Undivided, but my friend doesn’t think so. Who’s right? It’s important for us, so, lord Bowden, answer me by e-mail (prussian@mail.ru), or here, if it isn’t difficult. Look forward to your answer.

    Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 13, 2011 | Reply

    • As I understand it, Talos doesnt follow any God. He actually despises the Warp as much as the Imperium. He looks down upon his Warband leader the Exalted and at some point even his squadmember Uzas for falling to Khorne.

      Comment by Forkmaster | March 14, 2011 | Reply

  24. Yes, it is so. But i mean Chaos Undivided but not the Dark Gods, ’cause CU doesn’t mean Gods! As Iron Warriors or Alpha Legion or Black Legion which fight for Chaos Undivided (in the game it means they bear Chaos Glory Icon, but not Khorne/Nurgle/… Icons). So i would like to know, is Talos and his warriors fighting for Chaos Undivided as the rest of the Night Lords or not? If we think over it’s quite logically if they do ’cause they’re Chaos Space Marines!

    Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 14, 2011 | Reply

    • If they’re fighting for something, officially that would be the Tzeentch mark since they’re Warband leader has fallen deep into his clutches.

      Comment by Forkmaster | March 15, 2011 | Reply

      • Tzeentch? It sounds good! But i don’t remember the Exalted has fallen to the Architect of Fates. I think i should read “Soul Hunter” again… Or do you mean Talos has fallen? Is it so in the new book of ADB?

        Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 15, 2011 | Reply

      • The Exalted had fallen to Tzeentch and was trying to corrupt Talos, bringing representatives from all 4 Chaos Gods, were all except Nurgle would accept him into their brace, since he considered Talos to be too weak.

        Talos doesnt follow any God, he despises Chaos as much as the Imperium, but if he would have follow anything it would be Chaos Undivided. I would recommend that. I would want to re-read the book once more but I got too many other unread books waiting already and not enough time.

        Comment by Forkmaster | March 16, 2011 | Reply

  25. It’s interesting… So, Talos isn’t a Chaos Space Marine, he and some of his fellows are simply renegades? But it is not so important if the Exalted has fallen to the Changer of the Ways. But i can say we can find more information if we read the next book of ADB, “Blood Reaver” and story “Core” from the “Fear the Alien”.
    And i should say we should continue our conversation, ’cause it is quite interesting for me. Would you like to use my e-mail (prussian@mail.ru)? It would be great if we continue.

    Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 16, 2011 | Reply

  26. A renegade and pirate would be a good term for defining him. πŸ™‚ I havent read the core, but I bought the book some week ago. I was thinking of waitin until after Blood Reaver to read it. ^^

    And only mentioned the Exalteds worship that if you wanted to labled them as any warband following a speficic God, Chaos Undivided/Glory or Tzeentch would be my best bets. Oh I dont use messenger Im afraid. But if you want some web-sites with people like me and others to discuss fluff and book on I can recommend them here.

    Im not sure about the rules from ADB about posting links, but I’ll try and ask for forgiveness some other time. Here you got http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/index.php

    But as said, only one of many, but its the one I currently uses. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Forkmaster | March 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Renegade and pirate? it seems it is so πŸ™‚ in any case we will see what ADB will write about Talos further but now Blood Reaver is more important as it is about the fighting of Night Lords with the servants of the False Emperor πŸ™‚ Story of this book seems very interesting!

      It is sad you don’t use e-mails but thank you for the new forum. I’m always glad to read new πŸ™‚

      Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 17, 2011 | Reply

  27. It was meant to be a “or” instead of an “and”. ^^ Yes, very intruiging indeed. Ive heard it will be a trilogy, and many fans speculated or was hoping there would be more than one trilogy about them. We will have to wait and see just.

    Yeah well I got too much to do. Youll find many people interested in the fluff-section just both you and me who are discussing the latest releases and the true meanings behind them. ^^

    Comment by Forkmaster | March 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Oh! I understand )) well, i can say all Space Marines that are not loyal to the Emperor and the Imperium are both pirates and renegades but some worship Chaos ))

      Thank you again ) but our discussion is interesting and useful too)

      Comment by Culvain Hestarius | March 17, 2011 | Reply

  28. First Claw is just about the best thing going in 40K novels! I even turned my wife onto them, and she’s really not even into 40K.

    Yes, I’m planning on building a small Night Lords army. My wife said SHE wants to paint them!

    Talos and Uzas remind me SO much of my two sons in the way they interact, especially when Talos slapped Uzas in the head while they were in the drop pod. (My older son is like Uzas and Talos reminds me of my younger boy.)

    I can’t wait to read “Blood Reaver”!

    Comment by Ryan Parkinson | March 18, 2011 | Reply

  29. I really LOVE the illustration of Talos and First Claw!!! A great artist illustrating for a great author. Can’t get any better than that. The tag-team of Shane Cook and Aaron Dembski-Bowden ranks right up there with the duo of Frank Frazetta and Robert E. Howard. Keep up the great work, y’all!!!

    Comment by Ryan Parkinson | March 18, 2011 | Reply

  30. Think we’ll get to see a picture of Captain Malcharion as a Dreadnought? I hope so.

    Comment by Ryan Parkinson | March 19, 2011 | Reply

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