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).


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.

Who needs models when you have vegetables?

Since my last post, I’ve finished off the android and I’m pretty happy with how he came out:

He’s up on Putty and Paint, too, if you’re interested.

I’ve also finally finished all of my commission pieces with this recreation of the mallards:

They’ll be getting packed up and sent off to their new owner later this month, along with the scaups, whio, wood ducks and the dog on jetty.

So, what’s up next?

As those of you who follow me on Facebook might have noticed, I’ve been posting cryptically about vegetables. In particular, I’d been sculpting tiny, tiny carrots and potatoes and the like. These could be useful for any number of purposes, and I imagine a lot of people have probably done the same before for their dioramas and vignettes. I can’t think of too many models that would benefit from carrots, but I’m probably just oblivious.

Anyway, I thought I’d explain myself a bit, starting by showing off the result. Note that this is really just a proof of concept rather than a ‘finished’ work. The composition is pretty terrible and the painting was rushed, but I wanted to assess whether the idea was sound:

Hopefully it’s fairly obvious that I was aiming for a still life.

I’ve actually been thinking about doing still lifes for some time, but it turns out no one really does loose fruit and vegetable models (or at least not at the scale I like to work at – there are probably 120mm scale things around). The thing that grabs me about them is the ability to set a scene that has no characters in it. You can extend this idea to create scenes that imply someone’s presence, which is something I think I’ll try out for the next one, but I do like the simplicity and peace evoked by something like this.

I obviously also need to work on the composition. I’ve chosen to use the same plinth I put the ducks on for this one, but it could be that a slightly larger area will give me a bit more freedom and force me to really clutter it up carefully.

For anyone interested in how I made things, it’s all pretty simple.

Cloth was made by rolling a sheet of magic sculpt with some talcum powder. This stops it sticking to anything and means you can handle it without leaving fingerprints. I made a rectangular sheet and draped it over the base, which is just the plinth with a bit of sculptiboard stuck on. It was possibly a little too thick, so I had to force some of the folds into it (most folds are around the back) with a paintbrush handle.

Carrots were made by rolling some magic sculpt into a rough carrot shape over three short strands of copper wire. I don’t remember what gauge the wire is (maybe 0.25mm?) because I bought it about 15 years ago. If you check out craft websites, it’s easy enough to find and you’ll get more than you could ever possibly use. The leaves are fronds cut from some paper ferns and glued to the copper wire with PVA.

Cabbage is just a ball of magicsculpt with some strips of paper glued on in overlapping sections, then a bit of magic sculpt to round it out and tidy up.

The potatoes and radishes are just rough shapes that anyone can probably do better. If you’re interested in making your own vegetables, I recommend doing something more interesting than potatoes. You can always knock out some spuds with whatever putty you have left over at the end.

Super green

For once, I’m updating to post about only one model. It’s not that I’m without other projects at the moment – that would be laughable – but that I’m mildly consumed by the project I’m working on.

I should probably finish up the last ducks for the commission, but they’re a distraction. They’re currently just a couple of undercoated figures and a blob of magic sculpt on a plinth, so not much to talk about, either.

Anyway, the project I’m finding so engrossing – which you might have seen on Facebook or Instagram – is an android soldier from Mr Lee’s Minis, sculpted by Christoph Eichhorn (perhaps better known as Trovarion). Several years back, I painted the other android Christoph has in his range on Mr Lee’s Minis, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m not sure what put me off getting this one, but I’m quite pleased I did, because I can now apply all the stuff I’ve learned since then.

This piece is also a good example of showing how sometimes my ideas evolve as I’m working on a piece.

To start with: the inspiration. I bought the model with only a vague idea. I wanted to make it almost an anti-war model, taking the clearly military gear from the front and subverting it. The gear on the back is a little less uniform, which ties into that. Running with this idea, I thought it would be neat to take some of Joker’s motifs from Full Metal Jacket and apply them to the figure.

As you can see from this early shot, that didn’t really work out:

For those who haven’t seen the film, Joker is a soldier assigned to the journalism corps in Vietnam, and he enjoys displaying things like ‘Born to kill’ on his helmet right next to a badge with the peace symbol. I attempted to put the slogan over a shiny face plate initially, thinking that this would provide enough contrast to be readable, but it unfortunately just highlights how artificial the text is. Back to the drawing board for me.

So, with that failure out the way, I re-evaluated what I was aiming for and – crucially – the model I was actually painting. While a shiny face plate is a cool idea – it makes it look more like a visor, which is an interesting take on the model – it doesn’t actually work terribly well because the surface itself isn’t smooth enough. I had a hell of a time trying to get the shiny effect because the way light actually interacts with it doesn’t support the illusion.

I also realised that the model has already done part of the work for me with regard to subversion. As noted previously, the back of the model already has extra gear that doesn’t entirely gel with the idea of a dedicated soldier. I suppose you could make them work, but the badges and patches beg for something more – and something that stands out a little.

So, with this in mind, I decided to stick with the general Vietnam theme for the military stuff and have ended up with possibly the greenest model I’ve ever done.

I think the pair of pouches are the only parts so far that don’t have any green in them, other than the splash of orange on his antenna, and they still have that green strap.

It’s been a fun exercise trying to differentiate the really green parts, especially as they’re all based on different mixes of the same few paints (old GW Dark Angels Green, VMC Military Green and VMC US Dark Green).

I still don’t quite know how he’ll evolve, but I’m enjoying the journey a lot. In the end, how green will he be?