Research

As those of you who pay any attention to me on Facebook will be aware, I’ve finished Graham and Trevor, and they do look handsome:

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There are a lot of things that could do with more work – the NMM is a bit lacklustre in the hand (although I’m very happy with the axe head), the algae on the boat isn’t terribly prominent or obvious, lots of bits are rough, etc.

However, this was really a practice piece to get me into flats – figuring out how the light works, and all that – and I’m really happy with the result for a first effort. I’m especially pleased with how the water came out – that’s not part of the piece, but I thought it would help sell the scene.

So, rather than dealing with sculpting, I thought I’d do another flat, hopefully putting all the things I’ve learnt into practice. After a few sessions, I have this:

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So far, the face, stockings, gloves and his left leg are done, although I’ll probably keep poking at them as the piece progresses and I get a better idea about how the colours balance and how the light should fall across the piece.

Anyway, I began this piece assuming he (Dave) was Spanish, based almost solely on the wee goatee and some vague memories of conquistadors dressing like this. However, when I went to look for some reference images to pick colours, it turned out I was dead wrong.

This is where research comes in. In historical painting, research is very important, especially for competitions.* If you don’t know the right colours and materials, you’re liable to do something based on what you think it should be, and it’s reasonable to assume that a judge knows, for a definite fact, what it should be, and that’s where you lose points.

Beyond just pleasing the judges, part of the reason a lot of people paint historical pieces is out of some respect for the past, and often for the characters they’re painting (I’d like to think there’s less of that when painting Nazis and Confederates, but the jury is still out on that one…). As such, it’s really more respectful to try to faithfully recreate the uniform and setting.

* A caveat: I do think the ‘rule of cool’ should pretty much always win – after all, a lot of the pieces that end up being made into models are based on artwork, and the artists who painted these things are as prone to interpretation and adaptation as the rest of us. Not to mention that, when a piece is based on a famous figure from history, the art is usually commissioned by that person, and the artist really wants to get paid and not beheaded, so there’s often a degree of polishing to make sure the portrait or sculpture is suitably flattering.

So, when I realised that this bloke was indeed not a Spaniard, I had to figure out what he could be, and that’s where the internet really comes in handy. I don’t have a complete library of Osprey references to rummage through, but the internet does.

The first thing, of course, was to try to narrow my searches down from just ‘halberdier’. Halberds, as you might have some inkling, were popular weapons for an astonishingly long time. For that, you need to pay some attention to the piece you’re painting and focus on key details that might be regionally or historically distinct. I’ve marked the key things I was looking at in glorious technicolour below:

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These are the sorts of things that, from my experience, are pretty clear markers of times and/or locations.

The halberd head is a good one to start with, because you can look at the design, do a quick Google image search for ‘halberd heads’ and find something that’s either exactly right or pretty similar. What I came across was an ornate one from the guard of Emperor Matthias of the Holy Roman Empire. He was around in the early 17th century, which seemed about right for the rest of the figure, so I set about trying to find some references for it. Sadly, the helmets didn’t match.

In the 17th century, a lot of soldiers were still fairly irregular, so uniforms were whatever they had to hand or whatever their boss was willing to buy for them, so I might’ve gotten away with it, except that Matthias’s guard was obviously a professional unit and wore matching uniforms, as befits someone whose death was about to kick off the Thirty Years’ War (which started with the infamous Defenestration of Prague).

So, I moved on to identifying the helmet, which turned out to be a burgonet. These were popular around the same time, so I was able to reasonably assume that this guy was a soldier in the Thirty Years’ War.

As I looked through images of soldiers from that war, however, I came across a few pictures that were pretty much right – notably down to the sword and shoes, and some displaying a sash, too. It turns out they weren’t pictures of the Thirty Years’ War at all, but Dutch soldiers from the Eighty Years’ War, which was the Dutch war for independence from Spain and happened at about the same time.

So, in the end, not only was this guy not Spanish at all (although I suppose the Spanish at the time probably considered them Spanish – or at least part of Spain), he was, in fact, fighting against Spain. I was simultaneously completely wrong and so very, very close.

Based on that, I saw an outfit I liked the look of and decided to dress Dave in that. I’m sure he’ll look suitably handsome and rebellious.

Caveat: I could be completely wrong, but I spent literally hours doing this research and Dave was naked. If anyone knows better, please let me know. I might still have time to correct things.

A few of my least favourite things

In addition to musicals, there are a number of things that fall into my ‘fuck everything about that’ list. Notably, these are sculpting (as you might have gathered from some of my previous posts) and NMM (non-metallic metal, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and are just here for the pictures and the swearing). Of late, I’ve been forced to do both.

Well, it’s not really ‘forced’ if it was my own idea, but whatever.

Anyway, the NMM. I dislike NMM for a few reasons:

  1. It forces the canvas into two dimensions. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get it to work in three dimensions, but it’s forcing a miniature, which is inherently three dimensional, to bow to a different set of rules.
  2. This leads into the second point: it works really well in photographs, which are obviously two dimensional. I’ve always felt that this is somehow deceitful. To be fair, metallics never look right in photographs, either.
  3. A lot of the really top-tier NMM going round in the last few years doesn’t even remotely look like metal once you see it in the round. In photographs, it’s remarkable – highly realistic reflections, specularity – all that. Incredible stuff. Until you see it in person and it doesn’t look like anything at all (with some exceptions – I really liked the gold on one of Kirill Kanaev’s recent pieces¬†when I saw that in person).

Basically, my issue with NMM is that it’s ideal for models that you don’t actually have in front of you, which makes it perfect for box art. It shows off some incredible blending, and in extreme cases an astonishing appreciation for light and surfaces. However, I paint for myself and I like to look at my models with my eyes rather than through a phone camera.

This is all a very long way of saying “I’m really bad at NMM, but it’s just because I don’t like it on philosophical grounds, and also I’m out of practice blending anything because I spent a year painting tiny ducks that hardly needed to be blended at all”.

[I will note that there are strong arguments in favour of NMM as more realistic than normal metallics in the round, because you’re already forcing the lighting simply by painting the figure, and therefore the additional reflectivity of metallic paint is actually less realistic, etc., etc. Paint what you want, and paint it however you like.]

So, for the Normans (Graham and Trevor), NMM was unfortunately kind of a necessity – flats are, well, flat, so you need to force the light anyway, and they also feel much more like canvas painting, which demands NMM (although now I want to do a Klimt flat with lots of metallics). So, with all that out of the way, behold my abomination (spearhead and Graham’s shield currently unfinished):

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You’re all very lucky that this is a photograph, because the NMM looks considerably worse in person.

On to sculpting. I don’t think I need to explain again why I hate sculpting, but I will.

  1. It takes absolutely forever.
  2. Putty enjoys sticking to everything.
  3. Putty hates me.
  4. I always mix up too much putty and end up wasting loads of it.
  5. Sometimes I think “I’ll just mix up a little less putty”, and then mix too little and fail to get anything done.
  6. I buy models so that I don’t have to sculpt. Anything that forces me to sculpt is, therefore, somehow inadequate and I feel cheated for having spent money on something inadequate. (Note that this is almost always my own fault for having a Good Idea that requires sculpting.)

Unfortunately, I’ve had a number of Good Ideas over the last year, and this is the first of them and the first part of my next major project. On the plus side, I didn’t have to sculpt everything on this – the main body is a mannequin from Michael Kontraros (now out of production, I believe) – so I suppose I should be a little grateful that I don’t have to contend with anatomy and all that.

Before I tell you what it is, I’ll post the picture and you should all attempt to guess what it’s meant to be in order to assess my skills. (Remember that I didn’t do the basic figure, just the decoration so far.)

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That’s right, it’s Lady Gaga in her famous meat dress.

Unfortunately, the mannequin is a little too endowed up top, so I need to remove the boob-steaks, file her down a bit and then make new, less voluminous boob-steaks. I obviously also need to give her hair and a beef-yarmulke, medallion-boots, etc.

I’m also half tempted to just rip all the putty off and do the whole dress out of pieces of pewter sheet, but I think that’ll just lead to even more swearing.

Scale Model Challenge 2019

I’m back from Eindhoven and have finally finished going through my pictures. Sadly, they’re worse than usual for one key reason: I bought a secondhand camera so I wouldn’t have to keep nicking my wife’s camera (and worrying that I might lose it), and the display doesn’t work on it, so I wasn’t able to check the pictures as I was taking them. I’d tested the camera before leaving to assess ideal conditions (how well it captures detail, at what sort of distance, lighting, flash, etc.) and thought I’d had it figured out, but it turns out it’s quite a bit more picky than I’d realised. Still, it’ll be fine for landscape and architecture stuff when I’m on holiday, so I suppose it’s not a complete loss (and it was very cheap for what it is).

Anyway, with the usual excuses out of the way, here are the pics I’ve managed to salvage:

So, despite all that, I did manage to get nearly 300 pictures close to my usual standard of photography (which I would charitably call ‘adequate’).

As to results: the ducks did very well, nabbing a bronze medal in masters’ historical painting as well as a lovely trophy from the people who organise Ruby Sphere, which is a competition held in Moscow. That was a real surprise, because it wasn’t actually there when I first checked whether they’d got anything in the morning. It was only later when I was trying to get some more photos that I saw it. BEHOLD:

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So, the show itself. I believe attendance was down on last year, which isn’t hugely surprising with the World Expo there in July next year – I imagine a lot of people are saving their money for that trip, and quite a few will also be working on special projects. Having said that, there were still 1500 entries, which is no small number.

I managed to actually spend very little this year, which was also quite nice. Given my new approach to painting – plan out a whole display and just work on that – my actual needs are much more focused, so I only buy things that will generally contribute to the next project. As that project is a little weird, there’s not really much I was going to find at the show. As a result, I only picked up a couple of plinths, a couple of flats (for practice), some more Scale Colour Artist paints and a pair of bulls.

I also gave away most of my spare waterfowls now that the duck project is complete (I’ll do a proper photo shoot for them and get some nice pictures up as soon as I can be bothered unpacking them). There are some lucky people who now have geese, ducks and/or ducklings. I look forward to seeing what they do with them.

Ben also was lucky enough to be the world’s only owner of an authentic Fet waterfowl outside the Fet Family Collection. He’d sent me a picture of the Untitled Goose wielding a Klingon bat’leth with the simple instruction “Make. It. Happen.” So I did.

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The Untitled Goose then spent the rest of the show hanging out in the judges’ display because Ben presumably wanted to show him off to the world, and not at all because he didn’t have his case on him.

So, with SMC out of the way, I believe the next show on the itinerary will be Bugle Call over near Bristol next month. It’ll be a very quick trip and probably exhausting.

Next update, however, will return to talking about my daft projects. The next one is properly daft. Probably.

Shnoz

Since the last update, I’ve managed quite a bit of progress – the eider, mergansers and shoveler are all done, and I’ve also finished up a pink-eared duck with ducklings. This leaves two ducks for the whole display, and then I can move on with my life and paint something weird.

So, the eider, crested mergansers and shoveler, with water finished up:

I’m pretty happy with how the shoveler’s splashdown came out – it was sort of an extension of the splashing that I’d put on the torrent ducks’ base: bits of acetate attached with sculptable water, then coated with more (especially on the edges and corners) to make it more natural.

The pink-eared duck is a strange one, but what else would expect from an Australian bird? The name comes from the small, bright pink spots behind its eyes, which has to be unique among ducks. On top of this, they’re zebra-striped and, like the shoveler, have a massive shnoz. They also have really sturdy neck, almost like body builders. As I say, they’re weird. However, all the weirdness did make it pretty enjoyable. If anyone needs a duck for a fantasy scene, may I recommend the pink-eared duck.

I imagined it was in a sort of canal setting, or perhaps an old park. They’re apparently common even in urban areas in Australia, so it seemed appropriate. It also gave a nice opportunity to put the very pale ducklings against a relatively dark scene. Lots of the ducklings elsewhere in my collection are almost hidden, but these are less timid.

Finally, Martin has made the display base for the whole collection, which is pretty fantastic:

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It’s a solid lump of plastic. The corner was chipped, so I’ve patched that with a bit of milliput. It’ll be sprayed black and varnished, so don’t worry about the garish blue.

Of course, now that it’s in my possession, I had to try it out – which also shows just how close I am to finishing up:

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Caveat: This isn’t the actual order they’ll be laid out. I’ll need to decide the best way to display them and write that out so I don’t forget.

Needless to say, I’m quite excited to take them all to SMC, although I am a little concerned that the whole thing might take up quite a bit of space in a relatively cramped competition. Having said that, it’s only 20cm square, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I also won’t be gluing them to the display, so I guess I can always just cram them in together (although I dread to think of the potential damage as judges move things around and other contestants shuffle models to make space).

I’m also hoping there’s a wildlife category at the World Expo next year (there was at Stresa in 2014) because I think it’d be nice to see them surrounded by other works of the same type, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.

So, the last two ducks will be a musk duck (IT HAS A NECK SCROTUM) and a wigeon (because that has to be the silliest name for a duck I’ve ever heard), and then it’s finally time to move on…

Back on track

It’s been some time since I’ve done any work on the ducks, but Martin has finally delivered a new shipment of plinths, so I can get back to it and finish them up for SMC in October. That gives me about two months to do the last few, which should be more than enough, especially as two of those only need their bases.

The first of those, the eider, is pretty much done – just needs some water to fill in the space and he’ll be finished.

You can’t quite see, but I used the duck footprint stamp to add a couple of steps behind him. Hopefully they’ll survive the snow setting.

Speaking of which, before doing the snow I tested it out, because I haven’t done anything with snow in close to twenty years. Somehow. Not sure how that happened, but it did. Anyway, many years ago, I bought some Gale Force 9 snow effect that I’d never used. Rather than going out and seeing what else is available, I thought I might as well test it out, and I’m pretty happy I did.

The test was over grey (so you can actually see the snow, and to test its coverage over colour) on a sheet of plasticard. I tested three methods:

  1. Sprinkled over PVA
  2. Mixed into PVA, then with extra sprinkled over top
  3. Mixed with PVA, no sprinkling

The results:

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What’s really pleasing is that all of them work pretty well for different types of effect. I can see 1 working well for frost or a very light dusting of snow, 2 for nice powder, and 3 for partially melted or icy snow. It also has the benefit that it’s quite sparkly without having to deal with crushed glass or microballoons, which come with not insignificant health risks.

The other thing I got to try out was my new set of ‘Scalecolour Artist’ paints, which I finally got from the Kickstarter a couple of weeks back. I used these to paint the eider’s base (and contrary to appearances, there’s a lot of blue and green in there; it’s not greyscale – blame the lighting and the fact that it’s mostly in shadow). I was a little concerned as I’d not seen anyone talk about them online, and I know some people got them well before me. I suppose in the meantime the GW Contrast paints had come out, and maybe that just drowned them out. Or maybe everyone’s still hyped about the Kimera Kolors.

I can, however, unequivocally state that I love the Scalecolour paints. They’re exactly what I should have been using years ago. I have no idea why it took so long to move to tube paints, other than that it just didn’t occur to me because all of the ‘hobby acrylics’ are bottled. I still like normal Scalecolour paints and Vallejos, and I have a few from other manufacturers, but the Artist range is definitely going to take over a lot of roles.

So, my key thoughts on them:

  1. The body is excellent. I ended up using them almost neat and wet blending a lot, which isn’t something I usually do. I’m pretty excited to try some basically impasto painting with them. They also appear to thin down really nicely if you prefer to glaze your blends in.
  2. They have a nice ‘brush feel’. I found that I had better control over them because I had a better idea of how they’d flow off the brush.
  3. The coverage is great – although I’ve not tested how well white, yellow or red (the usual ‘poor coverage’ suspects) cover. I suspect the white is actually pretty decent just from its behaviour on the palette, but the yellow will probably need an ochre base to really work.
  4. Primarily, the paints really suit my techniques and preferred ways of painting – this might not be the case for everyone. I did a lot of art all the way through school, and it turns out I’m still pretty comfortable with tube acrylics (although a lot of the stuff I did used a lot of texture from building up the paints, a bit like heavy oils, which probably isn’t something I’ll do a lot of with models).

Anyway, hopefully I’ll get to use them on something that doesn’t end up hiding in the shadows soon. It feels almost criminal to use them for basing.

Up next, basing for the crested mergansers and I’m building a shoveler duck, which has a massive shnoz.