It’s made out of meat

With the beastman out of the way, I’ve been mostly busy working on Lady Gaga in the meat dress, and I’ve been reasonably productive in that regard. In order to avoid the constant restarting I suffered last time I tried to paint her, I started from the top down. This was also sensible, because she’s delicate but also rather long, which meant I had to handle her quite a bit while painting the upper half.

This also gave me some time to think about how to approach the tights, and I think I worked out a decent method that I really should have thought of to begin with: just paint the tights first. My previous efforts had been based on getting the skin right before using glazes or other methods to paint the tights over that, but inevitably when I was finally happy with the skin, I was forced to scrap it all when the tights went wrong.

I was also less concerned about getting the skin right when I got to the legs because I’d worked out the recipe and techniques by the time I got there from having done her face and arms. As I say, I really should have figured that out a while ago.

Anyway, in the end, I’m reasonably happy with the legs. Not thrilled with them, but I’ve had so many issues trying to sort out the sculpt on her front leg that I’m mostly just happy to have it done and out of the way. I’ll no doubt try to poke at it as I work on her wee booties, but I think there are real limitations that can’t be fixed without just carving the knee away entirely and trying to resculpt it (again), and I’m well past caring that badly.

So, to the pictures:

The dress I’m very pleased with. It only took a little bit of thinking to figure out the method for it, and I was quite pleased when the first part I attempted came out well. It’s basically underpainted in ochre, then glazed in reds and purples, with a touch of chestnut for the sinews.

Of course, this leads me in neatly to the title of the post, which is a reference to a very fun short story by Terry Bisson called They’re Made out of Meat, which was also turned into a marvellous short film. I highly recommend both.

With Gaga rapidly approaching completion, I need to start prepping for the next few pieces in the series, which all, sadly, will require a lot of sculpting. I should really know better by now.

The blank that Gaga is based on also came with a set of ‘parts’ so you can build your own figure with at least some basis for the anatomy. Like Gaga, however, some bits are basically unusable. Like the face, pictured below alongside the Hornet head that I’ll use instead.

It should be relatively obvious which face I’ll be using. Feel free to guess who this head will be going on. By the next post, I should have at least built up the parts so make it a bit easier to guess.

I also have a couple more figures on the way for the other models going in the series, one of which should be considerably simpler than the others, so I might get a bit distracted between the models as I get annoyed by the sculpting.

On quitting

I don’t like to quit pieces – at least, not once there’s a certain amount of work done – but sometimes a model really tries your patience. The beastman is one such piece.

For clarity up front: I’m not quitting him, I just hate him. He’s too far along to give up on, especially with the end in sight. He’s also quite striking, even if the actual paintwork is rubbish.

Anyway, back onto the topic.

I don’t have a set of rules about what makes me like or dislike a model, although there are trends:

  • I don’t like models that are all sculpture with no room for the painter’s interpretation. There are a lot of these about at the moment, pretty much all in the high fantasy genre, and the models are, indisputably, beautifully sculpted. The anatomy is perfect, the details are crisp, all that jazz. However, they’re a work for the sculptor, not the painter. The painter turns up and throws some snazzy lighting effect on it, ultra-shiny NMM, whatever, but it’s still the sculptor’s work. These are models that you can’t take out of their original context. Half the time, you can’t even try to be novel because it’ll just look weird.
  • I don’t like horny nerd-boy models. You know the ones. I could throw out a couple of obvious manufacturers, but anyone familiar with the hobby already knows which ones I’m talking about. I could probably talk at great length about why I don’t like these models and not even scratch the surface. (I should note that there’s a gradient within this sort of model – from the relatively inoffensive “quite a bit of cleavage” all the way through to “that’s probably illegal in Japan”. On the less-offensive end of the scale I might be convinced by a good model with a lot of opportunities. On the other end, I honestly can’t see a reason for them to be made other than to fill some teenager’s ill-advised fantasies.)
  • I don’t like excessive detail. Games Workshop put me off this – you’re painting a model, get about 75% of the way through it, and then you realise you still have six pouches, five spare weapons and a million tiny skulls still to go. They’re not massive details, and you don’t need to put the same effort in, but you also know that if you paint all six pouches the same colour, it’ll look artificial and draw undue attention to them. I swear, there are some sculptors who cannot leave a model alone.
  • I don’t like sculpted texture where gestured texture will work. You mostly see this in the hair on models. Some sculptors will cover it it tiny lines so you know that it’s hair, while others will build the forms and leave it to the painter to sort out, knowing that hair at that scale would probably not look terribly textured.

So, the beastman. He generally passes most of these conditions other than the texture. But holy crap, what texture. There’s barely an open surface on the whole model. Worse, it’s incredibly finely detailed texture. My kudos to Allan for actually achieving that, but he’s caused me an enormous amount of frustration. You see, with texture that fine across so much of the model you have two choices:

  1. Spend the rest of your life very carefully picking it out by hand.
  2. Pretend it isn’t there except in key places, and rely on washes to capture as much of the detail as possible.

I haven’t included ‘dry brush the hell out of it’ here because the detail is too fine, so the drybrush would just fill in the recesses in a lot of places, and not catch on any of the detail in others.

Anyway, I went with the second option because I’m not stupid. The beast has some lovely muscle forms, so that was really an easy choice. However, all the back and forth with washes, reasserting highlights, glazing to get the colour back in, reasserting the shades, etc. meant the whole thing took much longer than it really should have.

An extra flaw in all this texture is totally unrelated to the model, but very notable for me. I have psoriasis, as many of you probably know, which means I basically get dandruff all over my body. This gets into everything, which is something I’m used to; when it gets into fur texture, however, it’s damn near impossible to get out again. The beastman is doomed to have his own case of severe dandruff, and there’s not a lot I can do about that.

Worse than all of these crimes, however, was my own hubris.

I don’t like painting models in subassemblies if I can help it. I find it difficult to figure out the light or to appreciate how a scheme is going to come together. Unless there are key details that will be unreachable once assembled, I much prefer to work on an assembled model. I’ve done this plenty of times on models the same size or larger and not had much of an issue.

The beastman, however, is a different, erm, beast. He’s lanky and spread out, hunched over and still has parts that couldn’t be glued in place to begin with. This meant that I was forced to keep turning him around and upside down as I painted him, getting bits in the way, impeding my brush’s access, having to brace a finger against a part I’d already painted, and all that. If you want to paint this model, do not assemble him until you’re down to the last flourishes. Avoid that as much as possible.

And just so you don’t have to have waded through this furious rant without some kind of reward, here are some pictures of the bastard in question, about 90% done:

One of the few things I do really like about this model is how good he looks from behind. That’s a lovely bum.

Of ferns and fur

Since last update, the still lifes have all been finished. Viz:

They’re also up on Putty and Paint if anyone fancies giving them a vote, but they’ve done pretty well so far anyway. I am exceedingly happy with this project – I think it’s my best and most interesting work. Probably not as eye-catching as 25 duck vignettes or the Operation Knox busts, but certainly more satisfying for me.

With them out of the way, I was about to start on my next project, but then I remembered that it involves a huge amount of sculpting. As in, all of it. I don’t think anything exists that I could usefully base the project on.

Because, as you know, I detest sculpting, I thought I’d slack off instead and do something kind of brainless. Well, not brainless, but with much less creativity or thought: essentially ‘just another model’. So I dug through my grey pile and pulled out a couple of candidates before settling on the beastman by Terrible Kids’ Stuff.

The first thing I did was toss out the stone base thing that he comes with. It’s not very interesting and if I used it, I’d end up just sticking more rocks around it with maybe some moss or grass tufts. Pretty dull stuff, and nothing that really provides a proper narrative or setting for the piece. Instead, I headed down into the garden and brutalised our rosemary bush.

When we moved in a couple of years ago, this bush was threatening to block our access to the back gate, so I cut it back pretty significantly. I don’t think it’s recovered, and it may never do so, but it is clinging on. I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from the idea that I may have successfully killed a rosemary. I didn’t think that was possible. Anyway, while it’s clinging on, I occasionally snip off some of the dead branches for basing material.

I like rosemary for this for a few reasons:

  1. It doesn’t become very brittle as it dries out. This means you can keep a stash of it and you don’t need to worry too much about whether it’ll be too fragile a year or two later.
  2. The surface texture is a good scale mimic for actual bark. That is to say, when you paint it up, it doesn’t look like a twig: it looks like a branch or a tree trunk.
  3. It’s damn near impossible to kill a rosemary bush, so they’re a reliable source. They also grow back fast, so it’s essentially an endless supply.

Of course, number 3 may not always apply, as it turns out.

Anyway, with the carnage of my assault on the rosemary bush in hand, I hacked up a plinth a bit and stuck things together, resulting in this:

I’d originally been planning on using paper ferns for this, but I’d recently bought some new etched brass plants from Chichkov Workshop, and they are absolutely fantastic. Be aware that they ship from Russia, though, so postage does take quite a while.

The brass also has the bonus that it’s more likely to stay put where I glue it, and to retain the shape I want. Handy stuff. On the other hand, painting etched brass plants will shred your paintbrushes. This is why we have airbrushes. Get most of the light and colour in place with the airbrush, then you just have to touch them up to finish. I’m not very good with my airbrush, but even I can make etched brass ferns look decent.

Anyway, the first couple of pictures above show how it started out, while the third (with beastman in place) shows it closer to being ready to paint. Of note, I added some moss texture and a couple of wooden stakes. The moss texture is just an old pumice paste I discovered I still had lying around. I roughly pushed it into place then smoothed it over with a wet paintbrush. I could have used one of the foam moss products, but I’m increasingly dissatisfied with those. The particle sizes are often too large, it’s difficult to work with and it doesn’t take paint terribly well.

The stakes are a bit of a throwback to one of my very first Warhammer armies. Back in the day, I added some similar sort of stakes to the movement trays I used for my beastman army. I envisaged them as sort of territorial markers, and that all sort of came back to me as I was putting the base together. You can’t see it in this shot, but I’ve also added a bit of fabric to one of the stakes to make it a little more totem-like. The idea is to convey the sense that the beastman is protecting his territory. (I mean, he probably butchered a village and sacrificed the children to the dark gods in order to claim the territory, but he’s still not a totally bad guy. BOTH SIDES, you guys.)

With all that built, I cracked out the airbrush. Which had some kind of terrible blockage, so I stripped it down, cleaned it all thoroughly, and it proceeded to work only to a mediocre level. Still, it was good enough that I could get most of the work done. Here it is now, with all of the details finished:

Actually, I tell a lie: the scrap of fabric on the territorial marker hasn’t been done yet, because I’ll want that to link to the beastman and I still haven’t figured out what I’m actually going to do with him…

One of the last details I added to the base was some dead fern leaves. These are paper ferns, painted brown and glued in a couple of spots. I’ve used these to try to blend the lines between the mossy areas and the ground scatter, as well as adding a little more interest.

And with that, I now need to look up beastman colour schemes because I am utterly stumped.

Memento mori

I’ve not been the most productive since the start of the year – well, I sort of have, but not in way that gives me much cause to post. The duck commission that flew over to Singapore had some issues on the way and a couple of them were damaged, so I’ve mostly been spending time recreating those (and coming up with better ways of transporting them). I think they actually look better so far, but there’s a slight issue.

I don’t actually have enough sitting ducks or ducklings left. Now, normally, I’d just suck it up and pay the exorbitant postage to get some more ducks from the US. Unfortunately, Brexit Britain has decided to throw a spanner in those works by demanding that companies outside the UK deal with the VAT on their end, which is an absolutely ludicrous request. A lot of companies have – very understandably – thrown up the middle finger and some choice language at the very idea of it and now refuse to fulfil orders to the UK under a certain value (about £135, I believe).

Sadly for me, Industria Mechanika is one of those companies. I don’t blame them at all, and Michael, who runs it, deserves all the business in the world. (Seriously, go buy some stuff, just don’t try to get it delivered to the UK unless it’s a big order.)

This means that I need to discuss with the client what to do about it. I have nearly enough ducks and ducklings, and it’s possible he can cannibalise surviving pieces from the damaged ones he has to finish them off or that I can swap a sitting duck out for a standing one, but it’s considerably less than ideal. And all of this is just a tiny part of the vain pursuit of some fantasy world where the UK gets to regain the lost glories of the Empire. Or sovereignty. Or something involving massive xenophobia. Or something. A red, white and blue Brexit (red tape, white supremacy and blue passports, presumably).

Bah.


Anyway, I have managed to do some work on the next still life: a pair of old boots. The boots actually took far too long to make because I don’t know what I’m doing with putty and had to figure out how to sculpt them without ending up with a pair of boots for the Elephant Man.

On the left is the raw build; the right is the painting in progress. Boots have smudges of undercoat where it would be difficult to reach once they’re in place (I plan to paint them in situ). The wallpaper pattern is a simplified tulip design I found online.

The plan is to focus attention on the boots with saturation, so hopefully I won’t cock that up. I’m also going to try to make cobwebs using a hairspray method I found online. Assuming it doesn’t go completely wrong, that should add the finishing touch.

Those of you with some knowledge of still lifes will gather that this is a memento mori – a painting that highlights mortality. These often feature skulls, centipedes, dead things and the like, and some are incredibly clever in how they hide all of the symbols. In this instance, the combination of the decaying wallpaper, the cobweb and the boot on its side should convey the right idea. Just as my other still lifes try to convey the idea that someone is just out of shot, this should convey the idea that he’s not coming back.

That feels a bit painfully apt at the moment.

2020: A year best left undescribed

As it’s the end of almost certainly the worst year in living memory (certainly in my living memory) for the people of the first world, it’s the usual time for reflecting on how things went and considering what they might be like in the next year. I suspect I’m not alone in hoping that 2021 is a marked improvement.

On the plus side, there’s the news that we have a number of viable vaccines being rolled out, and, with luck, the Tory government over here in the UK will discover that they’re not completely incompetent and corrupt, and we’ll actually get an effective rollout. I’m not holding my breath on that one. Over the last year, the government has shown that not only is it hideously corrupt (see: contracts for PPE) but also incompetent to a level that even a banana republic would find embarrassing (see: literally everything else). Someone more optimistic than me might hold onto the slimmest hope that this time the Tories won’t fuck it up.

What I am looking forward to is a gradual return to model shows. As it stands, Salute has not yet been cancelled, but I suspect that’s going to happen, as I can’t see a show of that scale going ahead in April, when the vaccination programme will presumably still be getting going. I believe the earliest show I have some confidence of being able to go ahead is Scale Model Challenge over in the Netherlands. That’s actually an excellent start for the show season to get started on – it’s a brilliant show that I thoroughly enjoy, and it should be a great way to kick it all back off.

That is, of course, assuming the UK isn’t still a pariah, given both the pandemic and Brexit. I am married to an EU citizen, though, so I might be able to smuggle myself in a suitcase or something.

Anyway, what has 2020 been like for my painting?

Initially, it was a bit of a write off. I didn’t have much of a routine, and all the disruption of moving to working from home sort of put me off for a while. On top of that, while I’m not terribly competitive, I do like to have shows as deadlines for my projects. With all the shows being cancelled left and right, my impetus sort of evaporated. It took quite a while to get back into the swing of things, and I had to make a concerted effort.

In the end, I actually ended up probably more productive than I have been for years. Not only that, but I think 2020 has been my most creative year. As you’ll see from my summary image, I managed quite a lot and across different genres and media. Pretty pleased, really:

Not pictured: duck commission and a couple of other pieces I gave to friends.

Notably, I hardly did any of my original plan. Lady Gaga is still sitting undercoated and begging me to finish tidying the sculpt, I have an assembled bull, and I’m still putting off some of the other things that would require sculpting. However, I did get Putin done, and I’ve started my still life project. I think five of those will do, not counting the vegetables (because the composition isn’t up to scratch).

And on that note, here’s my latest tiny frustration:

In case you’re wondering, it’s a vase and I’m making some sunflowers. Lots of tiny pieces of paper to make the petals. The bit of plasticard will be a smart phone and I’ll add a coffee cup for composition.

It’s actually been weirdly difficult to come up with ideas for the series. I tried looking up modern still lifes, but they’re honestly mostly terribly contrived. ‘Here’s my iron next to four pieces of fruit and an antique candlestick’ sort of thing. They’re not a reflection of life at all, merely exercises in composition. It’s a bit sad, really. What I’m aiming for is a series that suggests that life is going on somewhere nearby, so the scenes need to be more naturalistic.

It also occurred to me that these are all scratch builds so far, which means I can enter them in a different category where that’s available. That’s novel.