Time for a break

Aladdin Sane is now ready to take the stage, and I’m pretty happy with how he came out (from the front, anyway):

The paint is a bit rough in places, and the light is frankly all over the place, but he’s on stage and the impact is good, so I’m happy to call him done. One of the best parts of this model was discovering that my sculpting was actually pretty good. I enjoyed getting to grips with the various folds, and there weren’t too many parts of the model that annoyed me. The guitar strap is a bit rubbish, and his collar should have been neater and more even, but otherwise job’s a good ‘un.

While Bowie is technically not yet finished, I don’t have a suitable plinth and need to wait for Martin to machine some for me. Rather than leaping straight into Kate, however, I thought I’d take a break from 54mm scale, if only for the sake of my eyes.

As is my usual habit, I thought I’d do a fantasy piece. I’ve found that I don’t actually have a fantasy ‘project’ lined up for some time (need to either hire someone to engrave some flats for me or learn to do it myself), so it’s sensible to have a go at one.

Mr Lee’s Minis recently released a few new busts – technically, not actually new, but existing busts at a slightly smaller scale. I took the opportunity to order a Neutrino (the other Operation Knox bust I was interested in) and the Pharaoh’s Curse bust. I’d been very keen on the Pharaoh’s Curse since it came out, but it was just too big. At 75% the size, however, it’s just right.

Way back, about twenty years ago, I had a Tomb Kings army for Warhammer. This was before there was a proper army book, just a list printed in White Dwarf, and obviously almost no models available. Having been fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians as a kid, I of course jumped at the opportunity and promptly converted a whole army of them, largely from a combination of the classic Citadel Skeleton Army models and toilet paper soaked in PVA. By the standards of the time, they looked shit hot.* By today’s standards, they probably look terrible. I have no idea where the army is now. I think I sold them for a profit at some point.

* The army was actually the subject of some scandal at one point in my tournament-going days. The first year I took them to SouthCon (the main Warhammer/40K tournament in New Zealand’s South Island back in the day), I won Best Painted Army, which I’d made a bit of a habit of by then. The following year, I took my new Vampire Counts army, which was considerably cooler, more striking, etc., while a friend borrowed the Tomb Kings and brought them along. The guys who judged the painting side, however, must have been sick of me dominating the painting prize for the last few years and awarded the Best Painted prize to my friend. Even though they obviously knew who painted it. Moral of the story: painting well doesn’t always make you friends.

Anyway, because I’ve always loved Ancient Egyptian stuff, this bust ended up next on the work bench. I also wanted to use it to try out a few things and to take advantage of the larger scale to really refine things much more than I’m able to on a 54mm model.

I’d watched a few videos about doing more with my airbrush, and thought I’d give it a go doing some NMM – setting up the main lights and colour bands, etc. This didn’t really work at all, and I’ve come to conclusion that my current brush (Iwata Neo) just isn’t suited to that level of detail. It’s perfectly good for base colours, general lighting, and all that, but it doesn’t quite have the control for doing more detailed work (or maybe I’m just incompetent). That’s fine – I expected to have to go in with the hairy brush anyway.

So, this is where he’s at so far:

I’ve mostly been working on the bands around his chest and the collar from below his chin up to his right shoulder, and a few spots still need some more glazing to bring the gold back. Next, I’ll do the rest of the collar, then the headpiece, then the armbands. At some point there are another couple of bits of jewellery to add, too, not to mention his comically massive sword.

While the airbrush wasn’t much use for actually picking out all the light bands, it did speed things up a bit, so I’ll give it credit there.

Kate and Freddie

As mentioned previously, my current project is a small series of pop stars, predominantly in silly outfits. Of course, no one make these models, so I’ve been forced to sculpt (which, I will probably never get sick of saying, I hate). Now, obviously I can barely managed to tweak models with my own sculpting, so I’m rubbish at sculpting anatomy. Thankfully, there are a few ways around this.

As seen in the previous entries, Bowie was based on a print of Michelangelo’s David and Lady Gaga used a blank mannequin. For the next couple, I needed one to be relatively static (so I realistically just needed a naked person in a fairly plain standing pose) while the other needed much more flexibility.

The first of these is Freddie Mercury with a 1950s-era vintage hoover, a la “I want to break free”. For the base model, I used a mannequin from Friulmodel. I took a bit of a gamble on this one, as the website doesn’t show what the actual model looks like, but I figured for the price, it would be hard to go completely wrong. What actually arrived is actually quite a nice wee kit. The ‘visible’ anatomy (legs and arms) are well sculpted, and wouldn’t need too much extra work for more dynamic poses. For Freddie, who’s basically just standing mid-sweep with the hoover, it was simple matter of just bending the limbs into place, twisting the torso ever so slightly, then filling the gaps and adding the clothes:

(Apologies for the over exposure, but I find it difficult to get a clear picture of anything that’s just metal and grey putty. Hopefully it’ll all be clearer once there’s some paint on him.)

The toughest part of the sculpt was actually his moustache, because it’s so incredibly tiny. In the end, I gave up trying to use putty at all, and simply mixed some snow flock with PVA glue and painted it in place. This gave me much more control and saved an awful lot of swearing.

The next figure is Kate Bush from her iconic “Wuthering Heights” dance. I previously mentioned this sculpt as I used the other parts from the same kit that made Lady Gaga. Just as with Lady Gaga, I’ve had to make quite a few adjustments to those parts. The boobs and butt were, again, shaved down to more realistic proportions, and I’ve replaced both the head and hands with a Hornet head and Royal Model hands.

The design of the original kit’s hands is actually remarkably daft. The forearm parts aren’t long enough to reach the wrists, so you need to drill a pin hole into the hand in order to link up with the forearm… except that the hands are barely a millimetre thick and have no part of the wrist included, so you’d be drilling directly into the base of the palm. This might be feasible with a small enough drill bit, but you’re also contending with some of the most fragile fingers I’ve ever seen, so you can’t even get a decent grip on the hand in order to drill into it. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to use those hands.

Anyway, Kate is now mostly done – she just needs her hair and one shoe done, and probably some more tidying and extra folds on the skirt or something:

Oh, and I might bend her thumb up. It’s just a little bothersome.

Anyway, with all these nearing completion, I’ll soon be able to get back to the bit I really enjoy: painting.

However, it also means I’m now thinking ahead to my next project, and all of my options involve a lot of sculpting. As a result, I’m now looking into learning how to sculpt in 3D. I figure sculpting using a mouse or stylus can’t be more hateful than using putty, and I won’t have to wait for one part to set before working on the next. Blender seems to be a pretty decent bit of software, so I guess I’ll see how I get on with it.

POP

Since the last update, Lady Gaga has been finished up, and she looks FABULOUS. The scene is based on the actual show she attended in the meat dress, which was usefully quite heavy on black instead of red. If she’d been on the red carpet, I would have had to do something to make sure she stood out. Perhaps put a strong shadow around her or something. Anyway, the main challenge of the setting was doing all the tiny MTV logos, which, I suppose, are at least mercifully simple.

What you might note is that the logos actually become a little larger as they go up the backdrop. Rather than being an error, this was a deliberate choice to elongate the scene. I’m not sure it works incredibly well, but I do like the effect.

Since completing her, I’ve started on two more figures, both of which require quite a lot of sculpting. My nemesis.

Thematically, they’re all linked: pop stars. As you may know, I enjoy being a bit confrontational with my models. Not in the “here’s Hitler with tits and a massive strap-on” vein of confrontational, but more trying to push the envelope of what people might think of when they think about historical categories at model shows. In this case, I’m doing a series of characters who are dressed in a fantastical style. In many ways, this is really just an extension of painting Vikings and gladiators: they’re an approachable visual for fantasy painters.

So, with that in mind for this project, the sculpting on the first of the two figures is now done: Michelangelo’s David Bowie. I had first thought about doing Bowie in the style of Virgin Mary of the Sacred Heart or similar, but that felt like I’d be going too far away from historical and really just creating a fictional piece. Instead, I thought I’d just combine Davids for a double dose of history.

It’s worth noting that Bowie and David have quite different anatomies. Aside from the obvious, Michelangelo’s version is clearly more muscular. A judge at a show might take issue with that. My immediate response would probably be to point out that a significant proportion of other, acceptable models are also based on works of art, and that it’s quite unlikely some of the people depicted really were as flawless as the portraits (and thus the models based on them) depict. I’d quite like to see a version of Napoleon with acne scarring, for instance. (Note: I have no idea whether Napoleon had acne scarring. I don’t particularly care.) At that stage, we’re really arguing over how accurately a model should depict the subject.

I suppose I could also get around by just saying that it’s a Bowie impersonator.

Anyway, back on topic.

I started with a 3D print of David, using a scan created by a group called Scan the World, which goes around making 3D scans of famous artefacts and offering them for free online. Brilliant stuff. Kyle over at Mr Lee’s Minis recently started a print on demand service, so I asked if he could rescale the model to about 54mm, which he obliged three times to make sure the size was right, so now I have David in a range of sizes. The largest was pretty much spot on, so I have two backups for smaller scenes if I want. Here’s how he started (I actually forgot to take a picture, so this is the next one down in size):

(Those who follow me on Facebook or Instagram will note that this is an uncensored picture – this is my website, with my rules! Free nudes for all! I look forward to a spike in my hits from Google.)

I obviously had to grind away the tree stump and base, then build up the costume I wanted Bowie to wear.

As I fear crushing details I’ve already sculpted with my ungainly fingers, I tend to only work on small sections at a time, which was a little frustrating, but the work went pretty quickly:

I have since applied an undercoat, which I find helps me spot rough areas, details that need work, and so on. It gets rid of the contrast between different putty mixes, the base model, etc. I was very pleased to see that everything seems to have come out properly. One of the parts of sculpting I often struggle with is getting a new bit of work to blend into the existing putty – that slight line between different parts really, really annoys me. I spent a lot of time (and probably several litres of my saliva on my sculpting tools) smoothing those joins out, and it’s paid off. Thank goodness.

Now I’m torn between getting started on the painting or cracking on and doing the sculpt work for the next one so I can get all of the sculpting out of the way. Having said that, it’s quite likely I’ll do at least one more pop star, and I have a few candidates, although some probably aren’t well known enough to sneak into the historical category without a note explaining who they are, and I’m not terribly keen on that.

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.