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):


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.

How to make a duck, or exercises in unnecessary detail

It occurs to me that most people probably haven’t bothered to look at the ducks I use for this project (shame on you), and fewer still have bought any (which you can do here, by the way – let me know if you want to order any, though, as the postage is quite steep and I can just add any to my own next order).

So, what I begin with are a few ducks in each pack that look like this:


There’s also a goose, but I don’t care about those too much (I just gave away a whole bunch – let me know if you’d like one and I’l bring them to the next show we’re both at).

Anyway, as you can see, there are ducklings, a sitting duck, a standing duck and a flying duck. The flying duck is difficult to use because you still need to create the illusion that they’re in the air. Normally you’d hide a pin in the wing and have that in contact with something, but, as you can see, the wings are essentially transparent. I’ve used the wings on other ducks (like the magpie duck), and the head is pretty handy for ducks that have a more streamlined profile, but otherwise those don’t get used either.

The ducklings are absurdly tiny and basically impossible to convert (although I did convert the falling duckling in the wood duck scene), so they have limited use, too. This means that I have a sitting duck and a standing duck to fill in for every possible variety.

(Many of you have seen me hunting for duck models at shows – this is why.)

So, if you’ve ever paid much attention to ducks at all, you’ll probably note that the females in most varieties have very similar colouring – the men are gaudy and ostentatious, and the women are camouflaged to hide from the men. This is partially why the majority of the ducks I’ve done are male, but it also helps to explain why I have to convert them so often – if I didn’t, all of the females would probably end up looking very, very similar.

So, when converting the model, I look at a few key features of the duck:

  1. The tail
  2. The bill
  3. The neck

This accounts for the overwhelming majority of all the differences you can really see at this scale. A few have extra things like tufts on their head (like the scaups and tufted peking) or sail feathers (like the mandarin), but that’s not been too much of a concern. Sometimes the heads are a bit more streamlined, as I mentioned earlier, like the torrent ducks.

Anyway, with the details set, I then have the great joy of cutting up models that are already tiny in order to add or remove other tiny things. This is how you end up with things like this:


Above are a couple of comb ducks (so named for the combs on top of the bills), who are still waiting for a base, a shelduck (note the tail and the bill), and a northern pintail (note the tail, obviously). Other than the structural changes, about all that’s left to tweak are the poses, hence the pintail’s turned head.

It should be noted that I really, really don’t like sculpting, so, if you happen to be thinking about starting a model company or plan on producing some accessories, a few extra ducks wouldn’t go amiss.

The Gathering Quack

A few more weeks down, and a few more ducks prepared. I finally got around to cracking out my new airbrush to paint the cayugas’ base, and I’m pretty happy with it. I’ll need a little more practice before it’s really a prime tool in the toolchest, but it’s certainly a step up from my last couple of airbrushes, which were decidedly shite.

So, first up are the completed cayugas. I went with a sort of mudflats setting. Lake Cayuga has a whole host of different environments, so I was pretty free to pick and choose what I wanted them to be doing, but I also had this set of paper plants that I was keen to try out. I quite like them, but they’re quite fiddly. I ended up using a heavier gauge of wire for the stems because the wire supplied probably would have bent under the weight of the paper leaves…

What you probably can’t see in the picture is the footprints I added to the muddier front of the base. I made a simple tool out of a paperclip and a spare etched brass duckfoot. That’s thinking with fire!

Up next are a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks in a mangrove swamp, also called ‘OMG SOMETHING TOUCHED MY FOOT’. It’s not quite finished, as I want to add a very thin layer of water to the base.

I’d been wanting to do something in the mangroves for a while because, frankly, mangrove swamps are cool. I’m not sure it works entirely because the root nodules look a bit like stalagmites, but that does, however, mean that I now know how to make stalagmites. I suppose that’s a win.

So, with these done, I now have 14 of the wee scenes complete. I was originally aiming for 25-30, so that’s fair whack of them. I also now have to display them in THREE ROWS, which feels like a kind of victory.


We’re also now approaching the start of the competition season, and I’ve plotted out quite a few of the shows I’ll be attending (and dragging Martin along to, as well), and the ducks will certainly be coming along to most of them in some form or another. So, here’s the schedule:

  • 30 March: Sword and Lance
  • 6 April: Salute
  • 27 April: BMSS Annual Show
  • 11-12 May: Euro Miniature Expo
  • 19-20 October: Scale Model Challenge

Sword and Lance is a new one for me, so I’m not sure what to expect except that it’s Up North, which is apparently meaningful to people who are also, from my perspective, from Up North. If you’re going, too, we’ll be arriving the night before and will, obviously, be amenable to beers.

I believe there’s one or two other little local shows I might hit up along the way, so if you know of any, tell me about them and I’ll see if I can fit them into the schedule.

As some might notice, there’s no Duke of Bavaria/Herzog von Bayern listed this year. This is rather sad, as it’s probably my favourite show of the year, but I have some friends who had the gall to get married the day beforehand, and organising a hurried trip back from the other side of the country to then fly out to Germany, or lugging all sorts of wedding stuff around the whole way was going to be a little much.

So, that’s a shame, but I’ll certainly be trying to get back there next year. If you do go, eat some wurst on my behalf. And take pictures of it so I can enjoy them vicariously.

At last, some normal ducks

I’m attempting to predict reactions to this week’s production: mallards. Before I started on this project, when I needed to paint a duck, I’d usually default to mallards or white ducks, because while I could have done them up as something more interesting, it would have run the risk of confusing people. People expect their ducks to be mallards, just like they expect ducklings to be yellow or yellow and brown, and they expect ducks to have orange feet and so on. Those ducks were not the centre of attention for the models they accompanied, so I didn’t want to detract by throwing some exotic South American breed in there.

At last, however, I have capitulated. Behold: mallards.

If you look closely, you’ll also see a yellow and brown wee duckling nestled between them.

I was actually hoping for the foliage to be a little leafier and more varied, but someone (Martin) came by to do some hobby and just used all of my paper ferns. These will do, however. They are brass, so I need to be careful not to touch them lest the paint come loose, throwing off the whole illusion.

Up next is a variety I’ve been keen to do for a while: wood ducks. Back in 2012, PBS in the States made a documentary about ducks called “A Duckumentary” (which you can watch on Daily Motion over here). Awful name aside, the stars of that documentary were some wood ducks, which are both colourful and interesting to look at (well, the drakes are – the females are, well, brown, which you’ll notice is pretty common among ducks) and quite characterful. Wood ducks make their nests in the hollows of trees, 30 feet or more in the air. When the ducklings are ready to leave the nest, they make a leap of faith and plummet to the ground. Thankfully, ducklings are quite bouncy and the ground is very soft.

Anyway, I’ll be attempting to recreate this, albeit without the ridiculous height – sometimes you just have to sacrifice absolute realism.

The female isn’t in place yet, just the drake, a couple of ducklings will be peeking out from their nest, and a third will be plummeting towards its mother. That’s the plan, anyway.

Finally, when Martin came by the other day to steal all of my paper ferns, he also had me take some photos of his stuff. You might recall that we had a challenge to paint the Latorre pirate bust and here we finally have a photo of the two together:


I’m sure you’ll agree that Martin’s is truly awful.