Of ducks and wine and waste

I’ve been rather lazy of late and not done a lot of work on Project Duck. Part of this was simply being very busy, but that’s really a bit of a shit excuse when painting a duck only takes 40 minutes or so. The real reason, I suppose, is that it’s equally very difficult to work yourself up to paint (setting up the wet palette, etc.) when all you’re going to do is 40 minutes of painting. That, really, is the challenge when you’re doing very, very small things. For this reason, I am thoroughly looking forward to my next project.

Anyway, I’ve finally done a bit of work on the running ducks:

What you see here are two Indian runner ducks and the beginning of a vineyard. Runner ducks were bred for pest control, unlike most other domestic breeds, which were either bred for meat or for eggs. Traditionally, runner ducks lived around rice paddies and ate whatever bugs would prey on the rice. Rice paddies are actually pretty interesting because they don’t actually need all the water – it’s simply that the rice can survive being waterlogged, and doing so minimises the parasites and bugs, and once you introduce runner ducks, you get rid of the few pests that remain. It’s all very environmentally pleasant compared to a lot of other crops.

Anyway, runner ducks, it turns out, are so good at that job – and so fixated on eating bugs – that some vineyards actually use them for the same purpose. I recommend looking up videos of ducks in vineyards, because it’s quite entertaining watching them run about through the grapevines. So, to this end, I’ve opted for that setting and created what I hope looks enough like a vineyard. It’s not finished yet, obviously – I’ve simply made something and airbrushed the basic colours in. I’m not a particularly proficient airbrush painter, but I like that I can use it to quickly coat a complex shape like this and then get the colours and light in place. It shouldn’t take long to sort it all out.

In other painting news, it occurred to me that I haven’t posted any decent pics of the latest batch of ducks: the northern pintail, shelduck and paradise duck:

The paradise duck’s and shelduck’s scenes were chosen as a sort of ‘ducks having to deal with human waste’ sort of theme. When I first came to Britain, I was genuinely astonished with the amount of rubbish I saw. The first pile of cans I saw on the verge when I was on a bus stuck in traffic on the M25, I assumed must have been somewhere that teenagers went to get trashed. I wish I was right – instead, the rubbish just continued for mile after mile. It was enormously depressing.

This isn’t to say that New Zealand is actually much better – we just don’t have as many people. The last time I was there, I walked along a beautiful beach in Russell picking up rubbish as I went. There was nowhere on this beach further than 20 metres from a bin.

Anyway, for the Shelduck, I opted for a McDonald’s bag because that’s a particular plague where I live. The local McDonald’s opened a few years ago and, even though it’s on the edge of town, the increase in rubbish on the streets has been remarkable. The Irn Bru can is much more benign: I have a Geordie friend and I thought it would amuse him.

The paradise duck, meanwhile, is mounted on a beer crate. Beer crates are pretty common thing in Australia and New Zealand, and it took all my willpower (and sensibility) not to put “Speight’s” (Some People Enjoy It, God Hates The Stuff) on the side. Aside from that, paradise ducks are native to New Zealand, and the butterfly she’s attempting to eat is based on the forest ringlet, which is an endangered New Zealand butterfly. Mike the Kiwi, a painter friend from – of all places – New Zealand, has suggested adding a male paradise duck because, as he reminds me, they do mate for life. I’ll probably try to make a sleeping drake and put him inside the crate.

Euro Miniature Expo 2019

Another week, another show – the last couple of months have obviously been a busy part of the calendar, and this spurt of the show season has ended with one of my favourite shows: Euro.

There’s obviously the usual stuff to talk about, but first, the pictures (with usual “I’m a bad photographer and the light in the hall makes me worse” excuses):

As for myself, I was over the moon to get gold for the ducks, the Oakwood Studios prize and nominated for best of show. Despite Paul announcing that I didn’t even use wooden plinths, I will point out that the board they’re mounted on is, in fact, made of wood (although I think it’s just pine). So, my delicious trophies:

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Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk about the attendance, which was certainly down. Golden Demon was on the same day, which I assume took away a lot of the fantasy figure painters and all of the fantasy vehicles. It’s a real shame, because it’s great when the hall is full and there are no empty tables, but the show circuit is busy at this time of year and other (political) shenanigans almost certainly kept some of the Europeans away.

Despite that, I still had a great time at the show – I think the extra space in the trading hall being used for demos was a really good idea. It made the whole thing feel much less mercenary than it has in past years, when you’ve struggled to move because the traders’ tables were crammed in.

I’d also point out that the quality at the top end was still right up there – Euro still has a reputation as a tough show, which I think brings out that competitive streak. I remember back in the day, the ‘Euro gold’ was almost legendary; it’s perhaps lost a little of that glamour as the numbers have dwindled, but you do still see much of the same level of work on display. I can also say that the judging was still very tough because I was judging the fantasy figures and I’m a complete bastard.

As with all shows, it’ll live or die on the punters turning up – I know that I think it’s important for the UK to have a ‘big’ show that’s reasonably accessible to other parts of Europe to bring people in. At the moment, Euro is really the only show to do that (I discount GD because it’s restricted to GW, which means it’s cutting out huge parts of the hobby – historical figures, flats, etc.). Perhaps another one will turn up, but I’ll support Euro for as long as I can.

I do think that a change of venue could really benefit the show, especially if it can be moved somewhere with a larger appeal – perhaps somewhere with a castle, or a particularly nice town square. Something really British (ideally not Jeremy-Kyle-and-Eastenders British). The shows I’ve most enjoyed attending have all had something to do outside the show, especially cafes and bars to sit in the sun and talk nerd-things with other nerds.

So, with Euro out of the way, I believe the next show I’m planning to attend is a little show in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, in June. It’s mostly vehicles as far as I can tell (like, 23 categories of vehicles and one for figures), but I thought I’d check it out anyway. I might not drag the ducks to that.

BMSS Annual Show 2019

Last week, I took wee Martin down to London for the BMSS Annual Show. I was there last year and enjoyed it, and he was keen to collect some trophies (because that’s all that motivates him nowadays – where did I go wrong?). Unfortunately, I managed to forget the camera, so I only have a few very dodgy phone pictures, which really don’t do justice to any of the pieces.

These are the only pictures that are even remotely worth including – the rest were even worse. In my defence, the lighting in there is utterly terrible. I think moving the tables to the opposite wall would instantly improve things.

I had taken the WWI chap and the ducks down, thinking that perhaps this would be the show that the private from Lincolnshire might finally get some recognition, but he had other plans and failed to make it to the show intact. In fact, the whole wine and cheese shop decided to break in half. I have no idea how it managed to do this, but suffice it to say that he’s retired now. Long may he be miserable.

The ducks, meanwhile, got a gold and an honourable mention for the President’s Medal, which was pretty cool. Martin, of course, took everything he’d painted for the last six years and was very pleased with himself.

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Isn’t he special.

Meanwhile, I realised that I needed to polish up the ducks a bit – the homemade plaques are really rough, and the pics I’ve seen online highlight that. So I went ahead and got in touch with Name It Plates and had some done professionally:

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I think these work considerably better. Name It were incredibly helpful – these are a custom size and needed a pretty quick turnaround, and they were faster than I expected (about four days from initial contact to having the plaques in my hands!), and they even gave me a discount for bulk. I’d recommend them to anyone.

You might notice that Dusty and Otter aren’t in there – Dusty was coming loose, so I had to make a slight repair. They’ll be back in the display for Euro. You might also notice that there are a couple more – a shelduck and a paradise duck. Paradise ducks are native to New Zealand and actually buck the trend of females being less colourful. This one isn’t quite finished, but is complete enough to join in the fashion parade here.

Along with the northern pintail I’m working on, that will bring me up to 18 ducks, leaving only seven or so to go. I know I want to do runner ducks, an eider and some crested mergansers, but I’m not sure about the last few after that. If you happen to have a favourite duck, I’d be keen to hear. Might knock something loose.

Salute 2019

Obvious first things first: the ducks took Best of Show, which I’m still pretty overwhelmed by. More on that later – as is tradition, pics first. Also as is tradition – apologies for the pics. My traditional list of excuses:

  1. The lighting is notoriously bad at Salute. I think putting some LED strips at the front might help a bit, as all of the lighting is behind the models otherwise.
  2. It’s really hard to get to the cabinets, so I couldn’t actually get to see everything, and I couldn’t always get a good angle on the stuff I could get to.
  3. The judges seemed to pull things out pretty quickly, so most of the winning stuff was already off getting photographed or on the finalists table.
  4. I’m a terrible photographer unless the conditions are right.

Anyway, with the traditions out of the way:

In the end, as I say, the ducks took Best of Show, while the Occitan knight made it to the finalists table and the WWI chap, once again, failed to get anything. It’s almost funny – I know he’s a good piece, but there’s obviously something that makes people see straight through him. Perhaps the unending brown-ness of it all.

Anyway, the ducks. I guess they demonstrate that a good idea can be as good as a technically excellent piece. If you compare the ducks to any other piece on the finalists table, I strongly suspect you’d have to conclude that the ducks are the weaker paintjob. They don’t have anything flashy going on, the blends aren’t perfect, the textures are occasionally haphazard or weird. I can barely paint the eyes. The bases are nice and varied, but they’re nothing on most others.

What the ducks do have is novelty. Salute, perhaps more than other shows, is a gaming show and that really comes through in the entries – the overwhelming majority are soldiers or monsters, or something else of that sort. If you present them with something so completely different from what they’re used to, you automatically catch some attention, and any attention from the judges is a Good Thing. It can be very easy to be overlooked if you don’t have something to catch the eye – I guess most of the time that thing is ‘amazing paintwork’. 

The other thing the ducks have is scale, in a sort of weird sense, given they’re tiny. By presenting 15 bases of ducks, each with its own little scene, I sort of cheated – I basically made 15 vignettes and pretended they’re all one entry by sticking them on a block of wood. Having said that, that’s part of the project: I want the ducks to feel like the illustrations from James Audubon’s Birds of America, or like those little taxidermy scenes in museums. I guess I like the idea that my work might be sort of educational (who knew all those varieties of duck even existed? I certainly didn’t before I started this).

In the end, I’m really, really pleased that people enjoy the ducks and that, perhaps, what I’m trying to achieve is successful. I never considered myself the kind of painter who would ever win a best of show simply because I lack the technical ability that so many other painters can manage – I’m pretty happy being a decent painter who gets a lot of enjoyment out of pushing paint around (and very little joy from pushing putty around). I do, however, also like doing things that perhaps other people haven’t considered. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before – like converting Latorre’s pirate bust by gouging out his chest.

My next project probably won’t be as successful, but I do hope it’ll be at least as interesting (and perhaps a little confrontational). Speaking of which, I need to commission a few sculpts – including a flat – so if you happen to be willing to trade your talents for my money, do get in touch.

p.s. I have now heard possibly every joke about eating duck. You’re all terribly, terribly witty and original.

Sword and Lance 2019

This was my first trip up to Sword and Lance, but it’s probably one of the longest running shows in the UK, and I know a few people who had been before and enjoyed it, so Martin and I took a wee jaunt up from Ely. We’re quite pleased that we did.

So, pictures first:

I only had four entries (although one of those entries was, to be fair, fifteen ducks) and walked away with two golds (the pirate bust and the ducks) and a silver (the Occitan knight), and best of miscellaneous (the ducks). I was mostly pleased that not only did people ‘get’ the ducks, but that they really liked them. That’s probably the most gratifying part of the whole thing.

Martin, meanwhile, brought everything he’d painted for the last six years and got lots of golds, and I think a silver and a bronze. He also got best of fantasy and best of historical. I doubt he’ll shut up about this show for the next couple of years.

Anyway, here’s how the ducks were presented (and they’ll be much the same for Salute next week, albeit with a couple of missing plaques in place):

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So, the show itself:

  1. Darlington seems to be a really nice town. It’s actually a bit of a shame that the show isn’t more popular, because there are a lot of cool pubs, bars and restaurants around, and there would be plenty for people to do. It’s also quite pretty, at least from what we saw.
  2. The show is reasonably small – probably 150-200 entries in total from about 30-40 painters (disclaimer: I’m quite terrible at estimating things like this).
  3. It’s what I’d call a ‘community show’ rather than one of the big super-competitive shows like Euro, SMC, etc. It’s more about having a bunch of people around who all like painting and giving them prizes. For people who are new to the show circuit, it would be a really good entry point because it’s not too stressful or competitive.
  4. The whole show was very convenient except for the four-hour drive each way. The town has lots of hotels, lots of pubs and bars (and I mean lots), good restaurants, etc., and the show venue had plenty of parking for £1 for the day.

I’ll almost certainly be back next year if it doesn’t clash with Herzog von Bayern. This year it only clashed with Euroma, which is a show I’d like to head to one day, but that’ll be a task for a year when I don’t have quite so much on.