BMSS 2022

Just yesterday, Martin, Joey and I took a wee roadtrip to the British Model Soldier Society’s Annual Show. It used to be held in a church hall in Pimlico, London, which was an easy trip down on the train, but the venue was very small and the competition hall was very dark. Since the pandemic, they’ve moved the show to Reading, which is more of a journey for us, but it’s considerably more spacious and has much improved lighting, both of which make it quite worthwhile, I think.

Also, the venue is just around the corner from what is apparently one of the best pubs in the region (and it was indeed quite good). This, combined with marginally cheaper beer than in London and Ely, makes for quite an improvement overall.

Hopefully you’ll see the benefit of improved lighting in the photos, but I should note that they did supply some very small battery-powered lamps that unfortunately left many of the models backlit to some degree. I suspect lighting overall would be improved simply by removing those lamps, or more expensively by replacing them with larger daylight lamps that can be angled to provide frontal lighting for the figures.

Anyway, on to the pictures:

As you may be aware – or notice from the pictures – the BMSS has a very strong interest in military history, so fantasy pieces and civilian pieces are relatively rare. This is fine – it is the British Model Soldier Society, after all – but it does mean that you’re never quite sure how those other pieces will be judged. In the end, the only real controversy from the Ely delegation was Martin’s Scottish Highlander (a military historical piece, obviously), which still got a bronze.

Overall results:

  • Martin: Two golds (dragon and troll), two silvers (Yarry and Pirate Poopy-Pants) and a bronze (Scottish Highlander).
  • Joey: Bronze (The Trio) and commended (10mm Viking).
  • Fet: Gold (Apophys), two silvers (Bowie and Gaga), bronze (Freddie) and commended (10mm Saracen).

Overall, it was a fun day out without any stress over the show, which I think is something a lot of people miss out on at shows. There’s often consternation over how your work will be judged, whether you’ll win the prizes you may think you deserve, etc. I don’t think that’s really the case at the BMSS Annual Show for the simple reason that they really like giving out prizes, and generally seem to get the rankings about right (Highlanders notwithstanding). Also, several good pubs nearby. More shows need to remember that they should cater to people’s needs outside of the show. Pubs, in my case.

Finally, it was especially great to meet up with some people we haven’t seen since before the pandemic. A few of them are coming along to the Fen Model Show next week, so we’ll see them there, but we’ll be working so probably won’t have time to mingle.

On that note, we have two pubs basically right outside the venue for the Fen Model Show. We’re thinking about the visitors’ needs.

Hammerhead Model Show 2022

Yesterday, Martin, Joey and I headed up north to the Hammerhead Model Show, which is held just outside Newark, which is a little way outside Nottingham. It’s actually not too long a drive for us, and we’ve been itching to get to some shows since they all disappeared during COVID and following the disappointment of Salute last year.

The usual caveats, then the photos, then the commentary:

  • I suck as a photographer, etc.
  • The models were mostly in round perspex display cases, some of which were a little scratched or fogged. The competition organisers were gracious enough to pull some models out for me when they were available, but I didn’t want to take up all their time and slow down the entry process or judging.
  • I didn’t get all the winners because Martin won four categories and he doesn’t need help spamming his photos all over the internet. If you’d like to see the rest of his stuff, it’s all on his Instagram.

For results, we took the following:

  • Martin: gold in open (dragon), historical single figure (highlander), sci-fi single figure (Ares) and fantasy single figure (troll), and best of show (troll).
  • Joey: bronze in open (girl on wolf over waterfall).
  • Fet: silver in historical single figure (10mm Saracen) and bronze in sci-fi single figure (post-apocalyptic chap).

The show is very much a gaming show, rather than a dedicated painting show, so the standard was good, but not necessarily amazing – having said that, the top entries were all excellent. There were some entries that really caught my attention – in particular the collection of post-apocalyptic cars, which I thought was a really novel approach to the ‘sci-fi group’ category.

The lighting was actually quite good, despite there not being any dedicated lights for the show. Unfortunately, the big windows on the side of the building were behind the cabinets, which did make it occasionally difficult to take photos, but they didn’t interfere with being able to actually see the models in person. Overall, I’d say the lighting was fine for the purposes of the show. Had it been a bit darker outside, this might not have been the case.

The cabinet shelves were probably a bit too shallow, which made it awkward to see some models, and meant that others had to be relegated to the table or the tops of the cabinets. While this did make it easier to see those models, it also made it a little difficult to figure out what models were in each category.

The judging seemed like it was pretty accurate, but it was hard to really know, as they didn’t announce anyone other than the golds. You found out if you’d won anything when you collected your models. There also wasn’t anything for people who came second or third, which is a bit of a shame. I don’t think the organisers need to sort out trophies or anything, but a nice branded card or something would at least give those people who placed something to take home and put on the trophy shelf.

I assume the full results will be published in Wargames Illustrated, but it would be better to have something physical on the day, and would also be good (especially for the junior category) to announce the full list of winners on the day.

Outside of the painting competition, there were a lot of traders, including quite a few with things to offer painters – airbrushes, modelling tools and supplies, etc. A couple of traders were also selling models more likely to appeal to painters rather than gamers, which was nice to see.

A strong positive for me was the social element. While there wasn’t a massive number of painters, those who were there were very friendly and we got to chatting to them, inviting them to the Fen Model Show in April. Hopefully we’ll actually have enough space for everyone…

All up, this was a fun show that we’ll probably come back to. I think Martin feels little like he brought a gun to a knife fight, so we’ll see if his competitive side can be beaten back to stop him dominating next year.

Update: James, who ran the competition, has been in touch and tells me that this was the first year they awarded second and third places, so the announcement issue is really a teething problem, and next year they’ll be sure to announce all the winners. Huzzah! Also, I apparently got bronze in sci-fi single figure, so I’ve updated that above.

Catching up

In a single, monstrous post I shall endeavour to make up for all the posts I’ve neglected over the last few months. For aid of reading, I shall even use subheadings, so you can pretend you’re reading several distinct posts.


POP is as complete as it’s going to be. As noted in a previous blog, I had to surrender to the fact that Kate wasn’t really paintable. It’s annoying, but not a complete disaster. I honestly think the three pieces look great together and it doesn’t look obvious that anything is missing.

Plaques are from Name It Plates, who have always been very accommodating for my weird requirements, strange font choices, etc. They’re also surprisingly affordable, which is obviously a bonus.

As you can see, I also managed to get all of them in front of relevant scenes. The stylised cityscape behind Bowie is based on the stage set for the Diamond Dogs tour. If you look it up, you’ll see it’s a bit different, but making something accurate that also fit within the space would mean having a weird grey wall with maybe a bizarre pool of blood. Not sure that would have really looked like anything. This way, hopefully, it looks like it’s intended to be a stage set.

For Freddie, I simplified the house he’s vacuuming in the music video for “I want to break free”. I was torn back and forth over whether to paint a pattern onto the wallpaper, but in the end, I suspect it would have drawn too much attention away from the model. I also deliberately placed a sort of spotlight effect over it to help focus on Freddie.

Overall I’m very pleased with the project, but it’s certainly not something I want to try again. I got very little enjoyment from the sculpting, and a lot of the painting process was marred by having to deal with some of the shoddier parts of that sculpting.

A quick bit of fun and some experiments

While I was waiting on the plinths for Bowie and Freddie, I had a couple of weeks with nothing to do. That, of course, would have been a terrible waste, so I had a look around for something I thought I could knock out quickly and have a bit of fun with. That led me to Nuts Planet’s Trigger range, which is a nice sort of semi-realistic post-apocalyptic setting. I’d been wanting to do something in that vein for quite a while simply because I’ve not really done it before.

Trigger also has the advantage that it’s available in different scales – it’s mostly a 75mm range, but some figures are available larger or smaller. 54mm is really my favourite scale for humans, so I had a rummage around for something that appealed and ended up picking a gangster, mostly because his weird infected arm looked interesting and I thought the pose was neutral enough that I could come up with just about any scene I wanted. The scene:

I wanted to depart from the usual dusty, ruined city look that dominates in the post-apocalyptic section at shows (there’s not normally a section for this, but somehow they all seem to gravitate together). I could have gone that way, but I feel like it’s been done and the best way to sell it seems to be with posters stuck on walls, lots of dry pigments and some models of incredibly mundane items like post boxes and bollards. I also wanted to draw on the idea of the infection in his arm – as if it could be something that doesn’t just affect people, but the whole world. I liked the idea that the infection was re-greening the world, sort of turning the ‘infection’ title back on the humans.

I then threw in some ideas from Fallout (the lectern is specifically based on the one that’s present in every church in Fallout 4) because I love those games.

The plants are all etched brass from Chichkov Shop, which I now have quite a stash of because they’re so good.

Painting the gangster was really straightforward, but pleasantly varied. I wanted a range of different textures, and the folds on the trousers begged to be treated as denim, which I don’t think I’ve done before.

My biggest issue with painting the figure was trying to figure out the colours so that they wouldn’t overwhelm the green on the base but would somehow still allow focus to be drawn as necessary. In the end, I remembered that most people wear fairly nondescript colours, so a dash of spot colour on the bandana and hat would to an admirable job of drawing attention.

One thing I should note is that because the sculpts are designed for 75mm, some of the details at 54mm are insanely tiny. I nearly went blind dealing with the drip bag and vials on his torso.

Overall, very pleased with how he came out. When you work on large projects that take a long time, you’re sort of restricted to painting to a standard that you set with the first piece or element. This is magnified when you have to apply that standard to figures sculpted by me. It was really enjoyable flexing the painting muscles a bit more on this piece, not least because the size meant I could get it all done fairly quickly.

Birds of New Zealand

I obviously have a sort of reputation for painting birds. “What? Not a duck?” is a pretty common comment on one of my non-bird pieces (even though the duck project was finished more than two years ago now…). I don’t mind the reputation especially, but I do feel like I need to do more to get away from it.

Obviously, I decided to paint some more birds.

I’ve had a plan for a while to recreate a series of New Zealand stamps as models – it’s a fairly famous stamp series that must have been in circulation for a decade or so (or felt like it, anyway) and depicted a range of native birds. NZ’s birds are pretty awesome, too.

Notably, however, the series does not include two of my favourite native birds: the kea and the pīwakawaka.

The kea is the world’s only alpine parrot and is astonishingly clever. They’re now mostly famous for destroying cars and being a bit cheeky, but back in the day they were blamed for everything that could possibly go wrong in the South Island – predominantly killing sheep. I believe the jury is still out on whether they actually did this in any real numbers or were just scavengers, but they were also once described as “A terrible man-eating parrot which devours human flesh with evident enjoyment” (Oregon Sunday Journal, 1914), which should go some way towards showing what people thought of them. Anyway, as a result of some really terrible press, kea were hunted mercilessly, right to the edge of extinction. The NZ government used to pay a bounty on kea beaks. You can read more about how the kea barely clung onto existence in this fairly long but very interesting article from Stuff.

The pīwakawaka (or fantail), meanwhile, is fairly common throughout New Zealand. They behave a bit like robins, and seem very friendly to humans when you’re out tramping through the bush. This is actually because your movements stir up the tiny insects that fantails love to eat. So I suppose they probably do quite like humans.

Anyway, back to the toys. I had bought a set of birds from HonourGuard in 75mm scale, figuring they might be useful for something sometime, and they’d been staring at me across my desk. A quick couple of tweaks, and two of them now pretty closely resembled my favourite NZ birds.

The painting was fairly straightforward, and the settings seemed obvious enough to me: alpine rocks and tussocks for the kea, undergrowth in a native forest for the fantail. The main issue with the fantail was that his size and relatively beige colouring risked having him disappear into the details. I got around this with a couple of simple tricks:

  1. Almost everything else is variations on the same green. This means that anything that isn’t green instantly has some kind of contrast.
  2. I focused the light around the fantail, sort of like a spotlight. This is a very basic trick to draw the eye. The last thing I’d want is a really bright spot out on the periphery.

Anyway, here’s the result:

I’ll now put the actual birds of NZ project on the backburner. Might come back to it in a few years.

The History of Pazuzu

So, what’s next? It’s a bit of a weird one. Eight small dioramas in 10mm scale, each depicting a scene at various moments in the history of a culture that worships Pazuzu (the demon that possesses Regan in The Exorcist). There’s a long explanation of how I came up with the idea, but I’ll leave that for next time.

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.