Death and the soldier and volumes

While you might have expected an update about the Roman, I’ll be leaving him aside for a little bit for a couple of reasons:

  1. I need to rethink the direction of the piece. While he’s a perfectly adequate Roman as it stands, it’s not really interesting or eye-catching. Most of the other Pegaso mini-busts are pretty easy to add interpretation to because they’re less formalised. With a Roman, though, you don’t get too many choices of colour. I might end up just finishing him as-is, but I’ll need to consider other options first.
  2. The rod that the bust is supplied with is white metal, just like the rest of the model, which means it’s pinned to the plinth and pinned to the bust. With a weighty chunk of metal on top, the pin can’t really take any jolting and it’s now come loose and is wobbling about and making him look drunk. I’ll be taking him off that rod and replacing it with my usual brass tube, which is a much, much sturdier solution.

So, with the Roman set aside, I’ve decided to do a fantasy-ish sort of piece: Vakula, another of Oleksandr Bilibov’s pieces from Mr Lee’s Minis. Go and buy it. It’s great.

The bust is based on Vakula (perhaps obviously) from Gogol’s short story, Christmas Eve. I’ve been a fan of Russian and Ukrainian authors for quite some time (my favourites are Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov and Andrei Kurkov – read almost anything by any of them and you can’t go wrong), so there was already quite an appeal.

However, when I first saw the bust in progress, I thought of a different story: Death and the Soldier, which is my favourite fairy tale. If you’re unfamiliar and don’t like reading, it featured as one of the stories told in The Storyteller, which was a show from the late 80s that featured John Hurt narrating folk tales that were acted out by muppets.

In brief, however, the soldier of the title ends up with a bag that can hold anything, and at some point he ends up with a bag full of devils. As you can see below, that’s the part of the story we catch here:

The skin is most of the way there. I’ve pushed more colour than usual into the cheeks using very thin layers of a pure magenta (although the photos are having difficulty picking that up), but there’s still some shading and refining to go. In particular, I need to sort out his left cheek.

If you’re new-ish to painting, you’ll probably read a lot about “volumes”, which is what I’ll be talking about here. When a painter talks about “refining volumes” or “developing volumes” or, perhaps, “getting all up in volumes” or “taking that sexy volume out for a nice dinner”, what they’re talking about is how to apply paint to accentuate a shape. If you’ve come from the GW army painting school, you’ll be used to defining shapes by putting highlights on all the edges. That’s perfectly valid for an army, but it doesn’t generally cut it for high-level display painting.

By way of example, I’ve marked a couple of lines below:example

In the untouched image, the face looks alright. There’s more shading on one side than the other, however, which means that the cheek on your right is darker overall and, crucially, less defined. He’s got quite angular features and yet this cheek looks like it’s come from a much rounder face. This is the volume, and the aim of “refining a volume” is to either work with it and make sure the viewer sees it as such, or to work against it and somehow conceal it from the viewer. For the most part, painters want the viewer to see all the key volumes from a distance. You might choose to “conceal” a volume if it’s a silly detail or the cast has come out wrong and you forgot to fix it before painting. If you don’t pay attention, you can end up losing a volume and everything looks a little too soft or smudged.

The lines I’ve marked show where I need to accentuate the shape of the cheek. I’m currently thinking some extra shading should generally do it, but with a slight highlight on the skin near the moustache because of the angle of the light.

And yes, I know he’s a little boss-eyed.

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