A few of my least favourite things

In addition to musicals, there are a number of things that fall into my ‘fuck everything about that’ list. Notably, these are sculpting (as you might have gathered from some of my previous posts) and NMM (non-metallic metal, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and are just here for the pictures and the swearing). Of late, I’ve been forced to do both.

Well, it’s not really ‘forced’ if it was my own idea, but whatever.

Anyway, the NMM. I dislike NMM for a few reasons:

  1. It forces the canvas into two dimensions. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get it to work in three dimensions, but it’s forcing a miniature, which is inherently three dimensional, to bow to a different set of rules.
  2. This leads into the second point: it works really well in photographs, which are obviously two dimensional. I’ve always felt that this is somehow deceitful. To be fair, metallics never look right in photographs, either.
  3. A lot of the really top-tier NMM going round in the last few years doesn’t even remotely look like metal once you see it in the round. In photographs, it’s remarkable – highly realistic reflections, specularity – all that. Incredible stuff. Until you see it in person and it doesn’t look like anything at all (with some exceptions – I really liked the gold on one of Kirill Kanaev’s recent pieces when I saw that in person).

Basically, my issue with NMM is that it’s ideal for models that you don’t actually have in front of you, which makes it perfect for box art. It shows off some incredible blending, and in extreme cases an astonishing appreciation for light and surfaces. However, I paint for myself and I like to look at my models with my eyes rather than through a phone camera.

This is all a very long way of saying “I’m really bad at NMM, but it’s just because I don’t like it on philosophical grounds, and also I’m out of practice blending anything because I spent a year painting tiny ducks that hardly needed to be blended at all”.

[I will note that there are strong arguments in favour of NMM as more realistic than normal metallics in the round, because you’re already forcing the lighting simply by painting the figure, and therefore the additional reflectivity of metallic paint is actually less realistic, etc., etc. Paint what you want, and paint it however you like.]

So, for the Normans (Graham and Trevor), NMM was unfortunately kind of a necessity – flats are, well, flat, so you need to force the light anyway, and they also feel much more like canvas painting, which demands NMM (although now I want to do a Klimt flat with lots of metallics). So, with all that out of the way, behold my abomination (spearhead and Graham’s shield currently unfinished):


You’re all very lucky that this is a photograph, because the NMM looks considerably worse in person.

On to sculpting. I don’t think I need to explain again why I hate sculpting, but I will.

  1. It takes absolutely forever.
  2. Putty enjoys sticking to everything.
  3. Putty hates me.
  4. I always mix up too much putty and end up wasting loads of it.
  5. Sometimes I think “I’ll just mix up a little less putty”, and then mix too little and fail to get anything done.
  6. I buy models so that I don’t have to sculpt. Anything that forces me to sculpt is, therefore, somehow inadequate and I feel cheated for having spent money on something inadequate. (Note that this is almost always my own fault for having a Good Idea that requires sculpting.)

Unfortunately, I’ve had a number of Good Ideas over the last year, and this is the first of them and the first part of my next major project. On the plus side, I didn’t have to sculpt everything on this – the main body is a mannequin from Michael Kontraros (now out of production, I believe) – so I suppose I should be a little grateful that I don’t have to contend with anatomy and all that.

Before I tell you what it is, I’ll post the picture and you should all attempt to guess what it’s meant to be in order to assess my skills. (Remember that I didn’t do the basic figure, just the decoration so far.)


That’s right, it’s Lady Gaga in her famous meat dress.

Unfortunately, the mannequin is a little too endowed up top, so I need to remove the boob-steaks, file her down a bit and then make new, less voluminous boob-steaks. I obviously also need to give her hair and a beef-yarmulke, medallion-boots, etc.

I’m also half tempted to just rip all the putty off and do the whole dress out of pieces of pewter sheet, but I think that’ll just lead to even more swearing.

Scale Model Challenge 2019

I’m back from Eindhoven and have finally finished going through my pictures. Sadly, they’re worse than usual for one key reason: I bought a secondhand camera so I wouldn’t have to keep nicking my wife’s camera (and worrying that I might lose it), and the display doesn’t work on it, so I wasn’t able to check the pictures as I was taking them. I’d tested the camera before leaving to assess ideal conditions (how well it captures detail, at what sort of distance, lighting, flash, etc.) and thought I’d had it figured out, but it turns out it’s quite a bit more picky than I’d realised. Still, it’ll be fine for landscape and architecture stuff when I’m on holiday, so I suppose it’s not a complete loss (and it was very cheap for what it is).

Anyway, with the usual excuses out of the way, here are the pics I’ve managed to salvage:

So, despite all that, I did manage to get nearly 300 pictures close to my usual standard of photography (which I would charitably call ‘adequate’).

As to results: the ducks did very well, nabbing a bronze medal in masters’ historical painting as well as a lovely trophy from the people who organise Ruby Sphere, which is a competition held in Moscow. That was a real surprise, because it wasn’t actually there when I first checked whether they’d got anything in the morning. It was only later when I was trying to get some more photos that I saw it. BEHOLD:


So, the show itself. I believe attendance was down on last year, which isn’t hugely surprising with the World Expo there in July next year – I imagine a lot of people are saving their money for that trip, and quite a few will also be working on special projects. Having said that, there were still 1500 entries, which is no small number.

I managed to actually spend very little this year, which was also quite nice. Given my new approach to painting – plan out a whole display and just work on that – my actual needs are much more focused, so I only buy things that will generally contribute to the next project. As that project is a little weird, there’s not really much I was going to find at the show. As a result, I only picked up a couple of plinths, a couple of flats (for practice), some more Scale Colour Artist paints and a pair of bulls.

I also gave away most of my spare waterfowls now that the duck project is complete (I’ll do a proper photo shoot for them and get some nice pictures up as soon as I can be bothered unpacking them). There are some lucky people who now have geese, ducks and/or ducklings. I look forward to seeing what they do with them.

Ben also was lucky enough to be the world’s only owner of an authentic Fet waterfowl outside the Fet Family Collection. He’d sent me a picture of the Untitled Goose wielding a Klingon bat’leth with the simple instruction “Make. It. Happen.” So I did.


The Untitled Goose then spent the rest of the show hanging out in the judges’ display because Ben presumably wanted to show him off to the world, and not at all because he didn’t have his case on him.

So, with SMC out of the way, I believe the next show on the itinerary will be Bugle Call over near Bristol next month. It’ll be a very quick trip and probably exhausting.

Next update, however, will return to talking about my daft projects. The next one is properly daft. Probably.


Since the last update, I’ve managed quite a bit of progress – the eider, mergansers and shoveler are all done, and I’ve also finished up a pink-eared duck with ducklings. This leaves two ducks for the whole display, and then I can move on with my life and paint something weird.

So, the eider, crested mergansers and shoveler, with water finished up:

I’m pretty happy with how the shoveler’s splashdown came out – it was sort of an extension of the splashing that I’d put on the torrent ducks’ base: bits of acetate attached with sculptable water, then coated with more (especially on the edges and corners) to make it more natural.

The pink-eared duck is a strange one, but what else would expect from an Australian bird? The name comes from the small, bright pink spots behind its eyes, which has to be unique among ducks. On top of this, they’re zebra-striped and, like the shoveler, have a massive shnoz. They also have really sturdy neck, almost like body builders. As I say, they’re weird. However, all the weirdness did make it pretty enjoyable. If anyone needs a duck for a fantasy scene, may I recommend the pink-eared duck.

I imagined it was in a sort of canal setting, or perhaps an old park. They’re apparently common even in urban areas in Australia, so it seemed appropriate. It also gave a nice opportunity to put the very pale ducklings against a relatively dark scene. Lots of the ducklings elsewhere in my collection are almost hidden, but these are less timid.

Finally, Martin has made the display base for the whole collection, which is pretty fantastic:


It’s a solid lump of plastic. The corner was chipped, so I’ve patched that with a bit of milliput. It’ll be sprayed black and varnished, so don’t worry about the garish blue.

Of course, now that it’s in my possession, I had to try it out – which also shows just how close I am to finishing up:


Caveat: This isn’t the actual order they’ll be laid out. I’ll need to decide the best way to display them and write that out so I don’t forget.

Needless to say, I’m quite excited to take them all to SMC, although I am a little concerned that the whole thing might take up quite a bit of space in a relatively cramped competition. Having said that, it’s only 20cm square, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I also won’t be gluing them to the display, so I guess I can always just cram them in together (although I dread to think of the potential damage as judges move things around and other contestants shuffle models to make space).

I’m also hoping there’s a wildlife category at the World Expo next year (there was at Stresa in 2014) because I think it’d be nice to see them surrounded by other works of the same type, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.

So, the last two ducks will be a musk duck (IT HAS A NECK SCROTUM) and a wigeon (because that has to be the silliest name for a duck I’ve ever heard), and then it’s finally time to move on…

Back on track

It’s been some time since I’ve done any work on the ducks, but Martin has finally delivered a new shipment of plinths, so I can get back to it and finish them up for SMC in October. That gives me about two months to do the last few, which should be more than enough, especially as two of those only need their bases.

The first of those, the eider, is pretty much done – just needs some water to fill in the space and he’ll be finished.

You can’t quite see, but I used the duck footprint stamp to add a couple of steps behind him. Hopefully they’ll survive the snow setting.

Speaking of which, before doing the snow I tested it out, because I haven’t done anything with snow in close to twenty years. Somehow. Not sure how that happened, but it did. Anyway, many years ago, I bought some Gale Force 9 snow effect that I’d never used. Rather than going out and seeing what else is available, I thought I might as well test it out, and I’m pretty happy I did.

The test was over grey (so you can actually see the snow, and to test its coverage over colour) on a sheet of plasticard. I tested three methods:

  1. Sprinkled over PVA
  2. Mixed into PVA, then with extra sprinkled over top
  3. Mixed with PVA, no sprinkling

The results:


What’s really pleasing is that all of them work pretty well for different types of effect. I can see 1 working well for frost or a very light dusting of snow, 2 for nice powder, and 3 for partially melted or icy snow. It also has the benefit that it’s quite sparkly without having to deal with crushed glass or microballoons, which come with not insignificant health risks.

The other thing I got to try out was my new set of ‘Scalecolour Artist’ paints, which I finally got from the Kickstarter a couple of weeks back. I used these to paint the eider’s base (and contrary to appearances, there’s a lot of blue and green in there; it’s not greyscale – blame the lighting and the fact that it’s mostly in shadow). I was a little concerned as I’d not seen anyone talk about them online, and I know some people got them well before me. I suppose in the meantime the GW Contrast paints had come out, and maybe that just drowned them out. Or maybe everyone’s still hyped about the Kimera Kolors.

I can, however, unequivocally state that I love the Scalecolour paints. They’re exactly what I should have been using years ago. I have no idea why it took so long to move to tube paints, other than that it just didn’t occur to me because all of the ‘hobby acrylics’ are bottled. I still like normal Scalecolour paints and Vallejos, and I have a few from other manufacturers, but the Artist range is definitely going to take over a lot of roles.

So, my key thoughts on them:

  1. The body is excellent. I ended up using them almost neat and wet blending a lot, which isn’t something I usually do. I’m pretty excited to try some basically impasto painting with them. They also appear to thin down really nicely if you prefer to glaze your blends in.
  2. They have a nice ‘brush feel’. I found that I had better control over them because I had a better idea of how they’d flow off the brush.
  3. The coverage is great – although I’ve not tested how well white, yellow or red (the usual ‘poor coverage’ suspects) cover. I suspect the white is actually pretty decent just from its behaviour on the palette, but the yellow will probably need an ochre base to really work.
  4. Primarily, the paints really suit my techniques and preferred ways of painting – this might not be the case for everyone. I did a lot of art all the way through school, and it turns out I’m still pretty comfortable with tube acrylics (although a lot of the stuff I did used a lot of texture from building up the paints, a bit like heavy oils, which probably isn’t something I’ll do a lot of with models).

Anyway, hopefully I’ll get to use them on something that doesn’t end up hiding in the shadows soon. It feels almost criminal to use them for basing.

Up next, basing for the crested mergansers and I’m building a shoveler duck, which has a massive shnoz.

Return of the Quack

Despite a dearth of updates, I have actually been working on more ducks. Probably not as much as I should because I foolishly purchased a PS4, which has been a terrible distraction. Also, I’ve been running out of plinths and waiting for Martin to make me some more, so I’ve been rationalising my excess gaming as a way of filling in some time while I wait for those. It’s a perfectly reasonable excuse, obviously.

Anyway, I’ve done a few things with the ducks. First up, the runner ducks are done, as is their grape vine:

It’s not really an ideal composition, I don’t think, but it’s more difficult to work with ducks that are so solidly dedicated to being vertical. The other ducks are all somewhere between horizontal and vertical, or at least have some notion of motion, which makes it much easier to compose them. Still, I’m quite pleased with the scene as it’s very different from all of the others.

Up next, I followed Mike the Kiwi’s suggestion and added a male to the paradise duck scene. I opted to have him snoozing in the crate, and I think it really adds a lot of character to the piece. It might well be one of my favourites now.


As I mentioned previously, the males of this particular breed are very dull, which really goes against the grain for most varieties of duck. They’re largely a dark blue-grey, with blackish head, a slightly red-brown chest and little flecks of colour on the wings, most of which disappears into a haze of dark blue-grey…

Finally, I’ve worked up an eider. Eiders are pretty badass ducks. They live in the Arctic circle for a start, live on shellfish that they pull up from the seabed, get hunted by arseholes who want comfy duvets, and sound like middle-aged women seeing a very handsome young man (as this video/audio establishes, they do so sarcastically).

The conversion was relatively straightforward: they’re notable mostly for the extra structure around the bill, but they also have slightly elongated tail feathers and surprisingly sturdy necks (which presumably helps them wrench shellfish off the sea floor). They’re also quite pretty, and I think this might be my best black and white duck yet (pardon the lack of base, but someone – *cough* Martin *cough* – still hasn’t made my last few plinths):

I’ll also need to figure out how to do snow for this one, but that should actually be a pretty fun experiment. I’ll see if I can get pictures and a range of supplies to see which is the best solution.