Salute 2021

It’s been much too long since I last updated the blog about my own work, but that can wait for now as I’ve just returned from Salute so this entry is earmarked for show coverage. The usual caveat of “I’m a terrible photographer” (I’ve discarded more than half of the photos I took because they were even worse) is this time further enhanced by the especially terrible lighting in the cabinets, but I’ll talk about that in more detail after the pictures. First picture is Andy Wardle’s best of show. Click the pictures to embiggen.

Prelude to rant:

None of my ranting below is from sour grapes (or, at least, I’m pretty sure it’s not). I had a good idea of what I was likely to get going into the show, and I got exactly what I expected. This rant is born from years of going to shows and seeing some problems continue without being addressed, the most prominent of which is lighting.

Rant begins:

While Salute is generally known for the poor quality of lighting, I think this year it was somehow worse than normal. As usual, the lights were behind the models, presumably so the judges can see the backs of the models better without needing some fancy bit of kit like a torch. This, of course, means that we, the attendees and entrants, can barely see the figures in the cabinets. One cabinet – with the miscellaneous and large scale entries – didn’t even have any lights working. I didn’t think it was possible, but this actually made it worse.

I’m not a massively competitive painter, as I’ve said before, but one of the main reasons I attend and enter shows is to be able to see my pieces alongside others to have a clearer gauge of where I am in my painting as compared to others, and to see what different techniques and effects can do for how a piece is interpreted. All that artsy stuff.

Needless to say, if I can’t actually see the models, I get almost nothing from it.

Furthermore, I can only assume some of the judging must have been influenced by this atrocious lighting. One piece in particular was, for me, the stand-out entry of the show. I thought it was a strong contender for best of show. It remained in the cabinet, not even a finalist. (For reference, it’s the woman in the tree that I managed to get a picture of with the help of a couple of friends using their phones as torches.)

There can be only a few possible reasons that it stayed where it was:

  1. It was actually rubbish and I am deluded. The painter (Andy Wardle) actually won best of show with a different piece, so I’m confident it really was as good as I thought, or at least close to that and almost certainly should have made it to the finalist table.
  2. The lighting was so bad that the judges couldn’t see it properly. If this was the case, they should have done some due diligence and actually taken the model somewhere it could be seen properly. They should have done this with every single piece that was entered, but some clearly never budged once they were in the cabinet.
  3. The judges don’t know what they’re looking at. I don’t know any of the judges personally, so I can’t say whether it was that or one of the other reasons.
  4. The judges were absolutely correct and the category was clearly much tougher than I realised. This is, granted, absolutely possible. But I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t see any of the models properly at all.

If I sound a bit miffed by this, it’s because I think if a painter spends tens or hundreds of hours working on a model, they deserve to have that piece honestly appraised at a competition. This isn’t just for the painters in the top tier – everyone who entered a model put in a lot of work and presented it for judging and for display to the public. If the judges aren’t paying proper attention and the public can’t see the models clearly, I think the show has has failed to deliver.

I probably wouldn’t be so annoyed by it if it wasn’t an old, known problem. No show run today has any excuse for crap lighting. If you can’t figure out that the display is for both the judges and the public, I’m not sure what the purpose of the show is.

Note that none of this is to denigrate any of the winners. From what I could see on the winners’ table at the end of the show, everything that made it there was very good. Most of the decisions were probably the right ones – and the hobby is an art, so there’s always an element of taste, etc. that’s going to make deciding between various pieces difficult. However, when it’s clear that some pieces haven’t been looked at properly (or at all, in some cases), I don’t think you can really say that the judging was as thorough as it should have been.

With all this said, I’m not sure I’ll come back to Salute again. Outside the painting competition, the show doesn’t really have much of a draw for me – I’m not a gamer and the more ‘painterly’ companies that used to attend have all stopped coming. So, if I can’t actually see the models, what do I get from attending? At best, I get a confusing set of judging results that I can’t properly appreciate.

Rant ends.

Never paint one of my sculpts

In the many weeks since my last post, I completed the tomb king bust, which I have just remembered to upload to Putty & Paint here. I’m generally pretty happy with how he came out – the lighting is a bit all over the place, but I rationalise that with the rule of cool – I needed the light to hit places it probably shouldn’t have to make sure the gold was suitably shiny.

In case you don’t want to head over to Putty & Paint, here’s how he ended up:

Since then, I started Kate Bush. I then restarted Kate Bush. I then stripped Kate Bush and restarted again with oils. I then stripped Kate Bush, discovered that one of her heels had broken off and pretty much discarded her. She’s essentially unpaintable.

The main reason for this is that I’m not a very good sculptor. A secondary reason is that I was too fixated on trying to replicate a specific pose from the Wuthering Heights music video. This isn’t, in itself, a terrible idea. The problem is that for a model to work as a paintable object, the forms need to work to help the painter establish contrast and composition. This wasn’t something I really managed terribly well with Kate. So she’s being removed from the set of pop stars.

The lesson is to never paint anything I have sculpted. I think that next time I have a great idea that requires models that don’t exist, I’ll need to bite the bullet and get someone else to sculpt them for me. If you’re a sculptor who wants to be paid to be involved in weird projects that may or may not get noticed at shows, do get in touch.

To get over this, I started on Freddie, and he’s been much more accommodating. There are still issues that come down to my terrible sculpting, but the overall figure is much more amenable to being painted. (One of his feet did break off, but I can fix that pretty easily once I get onto the legs.)

He will get a generous dose of AK Ultra Matte before he’s finished, so hopefully the errant, less controllable shine on his hair and vinyl miniskirt will be a little less distracting. But now I’m quite looking forward to painting his vintage Hoover.

Time for a break

Aladdin Sane is now ready to take the stage, and I’m pretty happy with how he came out (from the front, anyway):

The paint is a bit rough in places, and the light is frankly all over the place, but he’s on stage and the impact is good, so I’m happy to call him done. One of the best parts of this model was discovering that my sculpting was actually pretty good. I enjoyed getting to grips with the various folds, and there weren’t too many parts of the model that annoyed me. The guitar strap is a bit rubbish, and his collar should have been neater and more even, but otherwise job’s a good ‘un.

While Bowie is technically not yet finished, I don’t have a suitable plinth and need to wait for Martin to machine some for me. Rather than leaping straight into Kate, however, I thought I’d take a break from 54mm scale, if only for the sake of my eyes.

As is my usual habit, I thought I’d do a fantasy piece. I’ve found that I don’t actually have a fantasy ‘project’ lined up for some time (need to either hire someone to engrave some flats for me or learn to do it myself), so it’s sensible to have a go at one.

Mr Lee’s Minis recently released a few new busts – technically, not actually new, but existing busts at a slightly smaller scale. I took the opportunity to order a Neutrino (the other Operation Knox bust I was interested in) and the Pharaoh’s Curse bust. I’d been very keen on the Pharaoh’s Curse since it came out, but it was just too big. At 75% the size, however, it’s just right.

Way back, about twenty years ago, I had a Tomb Kings army for Warhammer. This was before there was a proper army book, just a list printed in White Dwarf, and obviously almost no models available. Having been fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians as a kid, I of course jumped at the opportunity and promptly converted a whole army of them, largely from a combination of the classic Citadel Skeleton Army models and toilet paper soaked in PVA. By the standards of the time, they looked shit hot.* By today’s standards, they probably look terrible. I have no idea where the army is now. I think I sold them for a profit at some point.

* The army was actually the subject of some scandal at one point in my tournament-going days. The first year I took them to SouthCon (the main Warhammer/40K tournament in New Zealand’s South Island back in the day), I won Best Painted Army, which I’d made a bit of a habit of by then. The following year, I took my new Vampire Counts army, which was considerably cooler, more striking, etc., while a friend borrowed the Tomb Kings and brought them along. The guys who judged the painting side, however, must have been sick of me dominating the painting prize for the last few years and awarded the Best Painted prize to my friend. Even though they obviously knew who painted it. Moral of the story: painting well doesn’t always make you friends.

Anyway, because I’ve always loved Ancient Egyptian stuff, this bust ended up next on the work bench. I also wanted to use it to try out a few things and to take advantage of the larger scale to really refine things much more than I’m able to on a 54mm model.

I’d watched a few videos about doing more with my airbrush, and thought I’d give it a go doing some NMM – setting up the main lights and colour bands, etc. This didn’t really work at all, and I’ve come to conclusion that my current brush (Iwata Neo) just isn’t suited to that level of detail. It’s perfectly good for base colours, general lighting, and all that, but it doesn’t quite have the control for doing more detailed work (or maybe I’m just incompetent). That’s fine – I expected to have to go in with the hairy brush anyway.

So, this is where he’s at so far:

I’ve mostly been working on the bands around his chest and the collar from below his chin up to his right shoulder, and a few spots still need some more glazing to bring the gold back. Next, I’ll do the rest of the collar, then the headpiece, then the armbands. At some point there are another couple of bits of jewellery to add, too, not to mention his comically massive sword.

While the airbrush wasn’t much use for actually picking out all the light bands, it did speed things up a bit, so I’ll give it credit there.

Kate and Freddie

As mentioned previously, my current project is a small series of pop stars, predominantly in silly outfits. Of course, no one make these models, so I’ve been forced to sculpt (which, I will probably never get sick of saying, I hate). Now, obviously I can barely managed to tweak models with my own sculpting, so I’m rubbish at sculpting anatomy. Thankfully, there are a few ways around this.

As seen in the previous entries, Bowie was based on a print of Michelangelo’s David and Lady Gaga used a blank mannequin. For the next couple, I needed one to be relatively static (so I realistically just needed a naked person in a fairly plain standing pose) while the other needed much more flexibility.

The first of these is Freddie Mercury with a 1950s-era vintage hoover, a la “I want to break free”. For the base model, I used a mannequin from Friulmodel. I took a bit of a gamble on this one, as the website doesn’t show what the actual model looks like, but I figured for the price, it would be hard to go completely wrong. What actually arrived is actually quite a nice wee kit. The ‘visible’ anatomy (legs and arms) are well sculpted, and wouldn’t need too much extra work for more dynamic poses. For Freddie, who’s basically just standing mid-sweep with the hoover, it was simple matter of just bending the limbs into place, twisting the torso ever so slightly, then filling the gaps and adding the clothes:

(Apologies for the over exposure, but I find it difficult to get a clear picture of anything that’s just metal and grey putty. Hopefully it’ll all be clearer once there’s some paint on him.)

The toughest part of the sculpt was actually his moustache, because it’s so incredibly tiny. In the end, I gave up trying to use putty at all, and simply mixed some snow flock with PVA glue and painted it in place. This gave me much more control and saved an awful lot of swearing.

The next figure is Kate Bush from her iconic “Wuthering Heights” dance. I previously mentioned this sculpt as I used the other parts from the same kit that made Lady Gaga. Just as with Lady Gaga, I’ve had to make quite a few adjustments to those parts. The boobs and butt were, again, shaved down to more realistic proportions, and I’ve replaced both the head and hands with a Hornet head and Royal Model hands.

The design of the original kit’s hands is actually remarkably daft. The forearm parts aren’t long enough to reach the wrists, so you need to drill a pin hole into the hand in order to link up with the forearm… except that the hands are barely a millimetre thick and have no part of the wrist included, so you’d be drilling directly into the base of the palm. This might be feasible with a small enough drill bit, but you’re also contending with some of the most fragile fingers I’ve ever seen, so you can’t even get a decent grip on the hand in order to drill into it. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to use those hands.

Anyway, Kate is now mostly done – she just needs her hair and one shoe done, and probably some more tidying and extra folds on the skirt or something:

Oh, and I might bend her thumb up. It’s just a little bothersome.

Anyway, with all these nearing completion, I’ll soon be able to get back to the bit I really enjoy: painting.

However, it also means I’m now thinking ahead to my next project, and all of my options involve a lot of sculpting. As a result, I’m now looking into learning how to sculpt in 3D. I figure sculpting using a mouse or stylus can’t be more hateful than using putty, and I won’t have to wait for one part to set before working on the next. Blender seems to be a pretty decent bit of software, so I guess I’ll see how I get on with it.


Since the last update, Lady Gaga has been finished up, and she looks FABULOUS. The scene is based on the actual show she attended in the meat dress, which was usefully quite heavy on black instead of red. If she’d been on the red carpet, I would have had to do something to make sure she stood out. Perhaps put a strong shadow around her or something. Anyway, the main challenge of the setting was doing all the tiny MTV logos, which, I suppose, are at least mercifully simple.

What you might note is that the logos actually become a little larger as they go up the backdrop. Rather than being an error, this was a deliberate choice to elongate the scene. I’m not sure it works incredibly well, but I do like the effect.

Since completing her, I’ve started on two more figures, both of which require quite a lot of sculpting. My nemesis.

Thematically, they’re all linked: pop stars. As you may know, I enjoy being a bit confrontational with my models. Not in the “here’s Hitler with tits and a massive strap-on” vein of confrontational, but more trying to push the envelope of what people might think of when they think about historical categories at model shows. In this case, I’m doing a series of characters who are dressed in a fantastical style. In many ways, this is really just an extension of painting Vikings and gladiators: they’re an approachable visual for fantasy painters.

So, with that in mind for this project, the sculpting on the first of the two figures is now done: Michelangelo’s David Bowie. I had first thought about doing Bowie in the style of Virgin Mary of the Sacred Heart or similar, but that felt like I’d be going too far away from historical and really just creating a fictional piece. Instead, I thought I’d just combine Davids for a double dose of history.

It’s worth noting that Bowie and David have quite different anatomies. Aside from the obvious, Michelangelo’s version is clearly more muscular. A judge at a show might take issue with that. My immediate response would probably be to point out that a significant proportion of other, acceptable models are also based on works of art, and that it’s quite unlikely some of the people depicted really were as flawless as the portraits (and thus the models based on them) depict. I’d quite like to see a version of Napoleon with acne scarring, for instance. (Note: I have no idea whether Napoleon had acne scarring. I don’t particularly care.) At that stage, we’re really arguing over how accurately a model should depict the subject.

I suppose I could also get around by just saying that it’s a Bowie impersonator.

Anyway, back on topic.

I started with a 3D print of David, using a scan created by a group called Scan the World, which goes around making 3D scans of famous artefacts and offering them for free online. Brilliant stuff. Kyle over at Mr Lee’s Minis recently started a print on demand service, so I asked if he could rescale the model to about 54mm, which he obliged three times to make sure the size was right, so now I have David in a range of sizes. The largest was pretty much spot on, so I have two backups for smaller scenes if I want. Here’s how he started (I actually forgot to take a picture, so this is the next one down in size):

(Those who follow me on Facebook or Instagram will note that this is an uncensored picture – this is my website, with my rules! Free nudes for all! I look forward to a spike in my hits from Google.)

I obviously had to grind away the tree stump and base, then build up the costume I wanted Bowie to wear.

As I fear crushing details I’ve already sculpted with my ungainly fingers, I tend to only work on small sections at a time, which was a little frustrating, but the work went pretty quickly:

I have since applied an undercoat, which I find helps me spot rough areas, details that need work, and so on. It gets rid of the contrast between different putty mixes, the base model, etc. I was very pleased to see that everything seems to have come out properly. One of the parts of sculpting I often struggle with is getting a new bit of work to blend into the existing putty – that slight line between different parts really, really annoys me. I spent a lot of time (and probably several litres of my saliva on my sculpting tools) smoothing those joins out, and it’s paid off. Thank goodness.

Now I’m torn between getting started on the painting or cracking on and doing the sculpt work for the next one so I can get all of the sculpting out of the way. Having said that, it’s quite likely I’ll do at least one more pop star, and I have a few candidates, although some probably aren’t well known enough to sneak into the historical category without a note explaining who they are, and I’m not terribly keen on that.