Three dilemmas

With the latest flat complete (and up on Putty and Paint over here), I don’t really have much of an excuse to not work on Lady Gaga – or do I?

The problem with my Good Ideas, is that nowadays I have one Grand Idea, which gives rise to several Good Ideas. The Grand Idea I’m working on is to recreate artworks as models, which doesn’t seem all that Grand, and certainly not original – I mean, I’m sure we’ve all seen at least two or three versions of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, and at least a couple more of Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, not to mention various Last Suppers, and so on.

However, of late, I’ve been interested in seeing how far away from ‘traditional’ historical entries I can go while still being indisputably historical. The ducks are a good example of this, simply because model shows are awash with military pieces, and civilians and wildlife make up a vanishingly small minority. So, this Grand Idea is to take some less traditional art topics and turn them into models. Lady Gaga is the first of these – the meat dress is a prime example of performance art. Some of the other pieces I’ll be working on are marginally less approachable, I suspect.

So, here’s the lineup so far:

From the left we have: a bull (obviously), Lady Gaga and Vladimir Putin. I’ve already explained Lady Gaga, so on to the others:

The bull will be one of a pair working as a sort of shorthand version of Picasso’s Bull, which depicts a bull in various stages of abstraction. This bull was one of a pair I picked up at SMC last year, and I’ll have to make the second one from scratch. More sculpting, alas, but at least an abstract bull doesn’t need to be particularly refined.

Putin will be a recreation of the apparently banned painting of Putin in drag (I say ‘apparently’ because the legal declaration taken as a ban doesn’t specifically identify the image). I’ll make a few changes to the original simply because some elements won’t really work on a model – tinting all the skin pink would probably just look awful, for instance.

I’d originally intended to do this simply as a greyscale piece with the tints supplied on clear acrylic sheets to make more of a point about censorship (when does the picture become objectionable? If any change at all is objectionable, does the artist have any real freedom?), but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a gimmick (well, more of a gimmick than making the piece in the first place).

(Note: If anyone hears about a novichok attack in Cambridgeshire, it’s been nice knowing all of you.)

I bought Putin as a 3D print from Shapeways, and the quality is generally excellent. If you look at the full-size image, you should be able to see the printing lines, but they’re pretty minor. I did clean up a few of the more notable ones, but I’m happy to leave the rest and rely on the paint gradually sorting them out. I do have one issue, however: a porous section on top of his head:


That darker area is rougher than the rest of the print and soaks up the paint, so I’ll need to fix that, probably with a thin layer of magicsculpt or milliput.

And finally, Lady Gaga has, in fact, progressed. She now has her booties and jewellery, and the start of her hair:

The hair is currently strips of pewter sheet, which has two advantage for me:

  1. It’s very thin, so I’m less concerned about the hair ending up too bulky.
  2. It’s rigid, so I can add the crimping now.

I’ll sculpt over this as thin as I can to build out the rest, fill in the gaps and add a little motion to it. This, of course, means that Lady Gaga is very nearly ready for paint – huzzah!

Iron Skull 2020

This weekend, Martin and I headed down to London for the first Iron Skull show. I honestly wasn’t expecting much: it’s a first-past-the-post competition with categories clearly built on the Golden Demon model – monsters, vehicles, squads, etc., and only a single category for historical (which, to be fair, is fine for the most part – very few painters take much interest in doing whole regiments for historical, and they allowed historical vehicles to be entered alongside fantasy and sci-fi ones).

Having a strong preference for open display competitions, I’m not generally convinced that squad/regiment entries are really much more than giving a nod to the wargaming roots of most fantasy and sci-fi painters. While this isn’t a necessarily bad thing, it does seem to me that in these cases painting is being treated as kind of subordinate to a wider hobby, rather than being something that really does stand on its own merits.

So I was generally expecting some of the painfully competitive types among a horde of GW fanboys. There were, of course, a lot of GW entries – there always will be at a show catering to sci-fi and fantasy – but I didn’t see any evidence of the petty competitiveness that I’ve seen far too often at other first-past-the-post shows, which was a pleasant surprise. In fact, the whole thing was very friendly and ended up being a pretty great day out.

So, assuming it’s still on next year, I’m pretty confident Martin and I will be back.

Anyway, on with the photos, and then some more commentary:

So. something you might note is that the pictures are uniquely terrible, even for me. This is where my commentary begins:

  1. Lighting
    The cabinets were the usual type you see at GD and Salute, and like both of those venues, somehow no one has yet figured out how to properly light them. These cabinets had hard lighting, and were lit from behind. Unless your figure was in a six-inch sweet spot on the third shelf down, it’d be lucky to look even remotely accurate. I couldn’t get a single shot of David Soper’s best of show piece because it was so atrociously lit.
    I’m also informed that the style of cabinet they used can be fitted with diffuse lighting.
    I can understand that the judges want to be able to see the models, but the judges had a separate table at the back with some very good lighting, and they could do exactly as Alan Merrett for years and bring a little torch if they need to.
    Alternatively, they could do exactly what all of the other major shows I attend do: just put the models on tables or shelves.
  2. Backpacks
    For the love of god, ban backpacks at model shows. Even though this show had the figures in cabinets, minimising the risk of damage to the models, people in a cramped area turning around and smacking me with their backpack is getting tiresome. They take up too much space, force everyone else to accommodate their need for whatever the hell they’re carrying around in there (rocks? Scaffolding? Who knows), and just piss me the hell off.
    Whenever I see someone with a backpack at a model show, I assume they’re a selfish arsehole with a severe Oedipus complex. Are you a selfish arsehole with a severe Oedipus complex? No? THEN DON’T WEAR YOUR BACKPACK.
    Ban backpacks. Ban backpacks. Ban backpacks.
  3. Cabinet arrangements
    Cabinets are always hell to get to at shows, but it’s not helped when they’re arranged in an L shape. This means that instead of, say, four people looking at each cabinet, you end up with a clot in the middle where you might get 2 people looking at each of the corner cabinets. This reduces overall traffic flow and increases the temperature.
    This really also comes back to my point about using tables or shelves. There was plenty of space in the hall to allow more room to view the entries.

So, while this sounds very negative, they’re actually quite minor points (except the lighting – I’m honestly perplexed as to how anyone can run a show (especially one they clearly invested so much money in) now without understanding the importance of good lighting. The hall itself was very well lit and didn’t have competing lighting coming in large windows, so it’s really the ideal venue to get that right).

Overall, it was a very good show, so it would be remiss to not mention the positives:

    I might be slightly biased, but this is something a lot of shows don’t really take into account. Iron Skull had a small bar with some seating, so you could sit down, have a drink and talk smack about models. There weren’t many traders, so the hall was spacious. It was really pretty well laid out (except for the cabinets, obviously).
    Granted, quite a few shows have bars on site nowadays, but they’re often cramped, inconveniently located and/or horrendously expensive (I believe I paid £2.50 for a bottle of water at Euro). The bar here was pretty much exactly the right size for the show, and the seating was about right.
  2. Great trophies/badges
    The trophies and finalist pins are really nicely made. I have trophies from shows all over the place, and these are probably among the nicest ones I’ve seen. My finalist pin will look very good in the drawer, shaming the finalist pins/badges/bits of card I have from elsewhere.
  3. Little touches
    The show also had some really nice little things, like the quality of the entry card that sat under your model – they were actual card with rounded corners rather than a flimsy bit of paper or a number on a sticker stuck to your plinth. It’s not much, but I did think they were actually a nice little touch.
    The lanyard passes. Again, really basic, but much nicer than a stamp on your hand or one of those nigh-unbreakable bracelets.
  4. Location
    While the area doesn’t look like much, it was literally a few minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street, which was strangely convenient because trains weren’t running into King’s Cross. Martin and I also went off wandering to look for lunch and found an absolutely awesome tapas restaurant. We’re contemplating whether our better halves might want to come next year, if only for the lunch.

All in all, it was a great day out, and the competition was exactly the right size for the venue. I think the guys who organised it did an excellent job of gauging their needs and accommodating precisely. Sort out the lighting and ban backpacks, and bingo: you have a winner.

Oh, and Martin got some kind of trophy, I think. Just in case you hadn’t noticed him spamming it all over the Internet.

A variety of scales

This week, it seems I’ve been working in a whole range of different scales – from the very large flat down to a teeny-tiny 32mm-scale schoolgirl. Not that this is a particular indicator of excellent progress – everything is still a bit rough and isn’t coming across well in the photos, but oh, well.

So, first up, progress on the halberdier:


As you can see, he’s come along quite a way, although much of that is rough and difficult to read properly. The orange, in particular, has caused me grief. There were about four attempts at it before this, and I’m now inclined to leave it there. I might hit some higher spots on it, though, it make it look silkier, but the general gist is as it will be.

The helmet is the most recent part, and it looks considerably better in the hand. I think I need to go back in with some black ink to improve the coverage, as too much of it is just a sort of muddy blue at the moment.

Beyond that, it’s really only his frilly shirt collar, the halberd and the dirt, and then he’ll be ready for mounting. I’m thinking of a pretty tight frame for this one, as he’s already sort of spread out, and giving too much space around him will make the frame both massive and astonishingly empty.

Up next, some heels for Lady Gaga:

There’s obviously not a lot of change here, except that she now appears to have ice skates. Those are just blocks of sculptiboard that will form the core of the platforms. This should make sure they’re equal heights, which can be a little problematic when only one foot is really in contact with the ground.

I am, of course, petrified at the idea of sculpting her hair. I have a sort of plan for it, but we’ll have to see how that works out.

Finally, the tiny creepy schoolgirl:


This is really just a bit of fun with a slight purpose. My old wargaming club has started having an annual tournament/get together, which I obviously can’t attend (I mean, I guess it’s technically possible for me to fly around the world for a weekend of beer and Warhammer, but that doesn’t seem the most fiscally responsible thing to do) so I instead provide some trophies and prizes.

Last year, I sort of cleaned out all the old stuff I’m not too attached to anymore, so this year I’m making a custom trophy, which will feature this wee sweetheart. I’ll chuck some other stuff in the package, too, just to make the postage worthwhile. Anyway, she won’t take much longer, so expect finished pics in the next update.

In other news, I’ll be attending Iron Skull down in London in a couple of weeks, which should be interesting. If I’m honest, I’m not expecting much from the show – it seems to have positioned itself as a painting competition aligned with wargaming, much like Golden Demon and Salute, so I expect to see a lot of last year’s Golden Demon entries and stuff like that. I also don’t really have anything new to take, so I’ll just drag along a couple of older pieces and see how they do.

Martin is, of course, taking everything he’s painted for the last six years (yes, the minotaur is apparently attending – just in case you somehow hadn’t seen it yet).

Back to it

It’s been some time since I’ve posted, which is because it’s been some time since I’ve done any hobby stuff. Partially, this is because I took a long holiday to the Antipodes, which was very pleasant, but also reminded me why I don’t live there anymore (SPORTS, MATE).

Mostly, however, it’s been the accursed Playstation. That, and Witcher 3, which I finally got around to playing. A word to the wise: if you’re prone to getting sucked into games and find it difficult to drag yourself away until they’re finished, don’t play games with more than a hundred hours of content.

Anyway, Geralt has now saved the world (and defeated some sort of demon in a battle of wits, not to mention saving totally-not-France from a vengeful vampire), so I can get back to what I should be doing.

First up, some progress on the flat:


I’m not totally sold on the trousers, but they’re good enough for now. I’ll probably come back to them later to sort them out a little more. The NMM I’m reasonably pleased with. I was going for a black lacquered sort of effect, and I think this is a competent effort. I’ll see out it works out once the breastplate and helmet are done, too. The fancy guard still needs some work, I think. Needs more colour and light on the upper section.

And that brings me to Lady Gaga:

As much as I despise sculpting, I do think this is coming along. I’ve sorted out a few of the issues I was having – reduced the size of her chest and resculpted the beef there, added to the shanks on her legs to make them a little less even, narrowed the waist a touch, added to her nose and given her slightly more prominent cheekbones. There are still some bits to resolve:

  • The fillets at her waist I think need to blend up over her chest. It looks a little too empire line at the moment.
  • Straps on the back need to be tidied up.
  • Beef booties need to go a little higher, and – of course – the steak platforms need to go under those.
  • Her neck needs to be filed down, as she’ll be getting a choker, and I need to make sure it doesn’t make her neck bigger than her head.

Still, all things considered, she’s coming along nicely. She should be a pretty quick paintjob, but obviously I don’t want to be struggling against the sculpt when the sculpt is my own doing.


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:


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:


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:


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.