The duel called for two martial artists battling in the midst of a storm. The rest was left open to interpretation.
What I really wanted was for them to be fighting in the overgrown ruins of some ancient temple or monument, kind of like these ruins:
But it was pretty hard to design a composition with this in mind, which still left focus on the duelling characters, which was, after all, the important subject matter.
This was the eventual composition, a stairway, with a soon to be arch. It gave room for the stormy elements, and wasn't so overpowering as to detract from the characters.
Here it is with the arch and characters blocked in. The background is way too dark in hindsight, but this was 7/8 months ago, and has since been published, so there's no going back now.
Beginning block in on the characters. Usually I like to do the background on day 1, and the figure/focus on day 2, so I'm not tired/distracted by the time I get to the central focus of the image.
Effects! I wanted the Daibo to be reverberating from the force, and needed the pavement to be cracking and the water to be splashing up. I began pushing the background further back too.
Adding costume to the second chap. I wanted the colours to be contrasting for distinction - if this assignment taught me anything it was how to paint crumpled and layered cloth.
And that was it for the first illustration!