The monumentally influential Warhammer 40k artist John Blanche has retired from his role in Games Workshop’s design studio, as of May 31. Blanche has been involved with Games Workshop (GW) in a variety of roles since 1977, and played a huge role in defining the visual language of Warhammer and Warhammer 40k.
Blanche started working with Games Workshop before Warhammer: The Old World was a twinkle in Bryan Ansell’s eye, first producing cover art for issue four of the firm’s White Dwarf magazine, and for the first British edition of Dungeons and Dragons which GW co-published with TSR.
Blanche produced historic artwork for every Warhammer 40k faction and Warhammer fantasy army. He made the box art for the very first edition of Warhammer, the Chaos Warrior Harry the Hammer smashing a skeleton’s jaw off with his war hammer.
Blanche’s battle scenes, from the covers of Warhammer 40k second edition – a war between Blood Angels and Orks; and third edition – a defiant host of Black Templars Space Marines; are immediately recognisable for anyone who was wargaming in the ‘90s. His illustrations of the Emperor of Mankind interred on the golden throne are still definitive.
After Bryan Ansell’s acquisition of Games Workshop from its founders Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson in the late ‘80s, Blanche was appointed as the company’s art director. He shaped the visual direction of the company throughout a critical period in which it focused entirely on its own intellectual property and the production of miniatures, breaking from its origins as an importer and distributor of American RPGs and board games.
In recent years Blanche has contributed concept art for the GW design studios, providing inspiration for miniature sculptors to define new ranges. This video interview shows his process:
The news of Blanche’s retirement was broken on Twitter by his former GW colleague Tuomas Pirinen, who collaborated with him on the rulebook for Warhammer spin-off skirmish game Mordheim.
Blanche is an avid miniature convertor and painter. His original creations and baroque art have inspired the ‘Blanchitsu’ school of painting miniatures, which favours stark contrasts between light and dark and limited colour pallets. He’s also an inspirational figure for the Inq28 movement, participating in community-organised megagames.
If you love Blanche’s aesthetic and want more of it in your wargames, we recommend investigating the indie games of the Inq28 scene. The fan-made Kill Team spin-off Acolyte, horror skirmish game Necropolis28 (think ‘Warhammer meets Dark Souls‘), and even the pacifist NonCombatTabletop movement are all great excuses to whip up some Blanchitsu miniatures and get them onto the tabletop.