Sunday, 18 December 2011

Art of femme...

It has been quite a time since I talked about sculpting in any kind of detail but decided that I had something I'd like to talk about. So, today's topic is sculpting women. This will be more about the broad nature of doing so rather than an instructional piece.

I've been a pro sculptor for just over twelve years now and have specialised in sculpting women for most of that time. It's generally what I bring to the table and, during my freelance years it was by far the lion's share of what I was asked to sculpt, mainly because there really aren't that many sculptors out there who can convincingly sculpt women and those guys tend to be very busy people. The best out there, in my opinion would be Kev White and Juan Diaz. Both incredibly adept at rendering the female form. I consider myself to be pretty good too but those two I feel are the masters within our industry.

So, what's the best advice I can give in approaching a female sculpt? Well, first up I have to draw a bit of a line in the sand. I'm talking about sculpting women in 28mm and thereabouts and it'll be far from reality. In the real world, femininity is a complicated affair without a whole lot of rules. Like most in life, what works works and what doesn't probably does for someone else. But, in 28mm it's much easier to have harder rules. I have a rule that I put above all others for female minis and, in my opinion, it's where many sculptors fall down and miss the mark...

... femininity is in the hips!

There's a tendency amongst many sculptors to approach sculpting a woman in the same way as a man but to keep the figure skinnier and give it boobs. Frankly, you should be able to sculpt a flat chested female figure and still have it look female or you aren't getting it right and the breasts wont make it right. This often compounds by the sculptor making the breasts larger in an attempt to make the figure more feminine and it just gets comical or grotesque. No, the breasts aren't the point (err... so to speak), it's hips and bums where you'll make a female figure. I often surprise other sculptors when I tell them that I start my sculpture with the bum (male or female). I always sculpt torso first and the bum is the first putty to go on.

At an armature level, keep the hips wide and don't be scared to put a little meat on the thighs upon bulking out.

Keep a smooth but deep curve at the small of the back, it accentuates the bum and gives an elegant quality to the profile of the figure.

Flat belly? Not so fast. Just as you deepen the curve of the back you should let there be a gentle curve to the belly.

So then, I said not to use the breasts as a way to make the figure feminine but obviously they need to be sculpted right as well. The biggest mistake made other than oversizing in an attempt to make the figure more female would be in their positioning on the torso. They're lower than expected. I see many figures where the breasts emanate from the collar bone. Make sure there is a significant gap between the collar bone and the top of the breast.

And so to faces. Almost a topic in itself but I will do the quick version here. As with body shapes there is an idealisation that is generally required at this scale. It's very easy to sculpt an accurate version of a beautiful real woman and have it look rather masculine at 28mm. The nuances tend to get lost and the femininity with it.

Pointy chin! Keep the chin narrow. Woman can have quite wide jaws and still be very feminine but at this scale it's tough to make it work.

Narrow mouth and keep it low on the face. A wide mouth is very difficult to pull off on a female mini so keep it narrow. I tend towards a full but quite narrow lower lip and not so much sculpting the upper lip as tilting the gap of the mouth upwards around 45 degrees and shaping the edge.

Keep the eyes nicely defined and probably avoid lower eyelids (not a hard rule but usually better without).

When it comes to nasolabial folds on a female face I either avoid or try to keep them subtle.

Above all when you are sculpting women everything seems to be elegant curves that run into one another whether it be the body or the face.

Remember, you can often get away with anatomical murder when sculpting a bloke but it's easy to get a female figure wrong (I'm not going to pretend that I've never got it wrong).

Haven't sculpted my traditional birthday mini this year... hmm... wonder what it should be?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bountiful Basing Buffoonery from Blanche and Buddle...

Okay, about time for another blog post I feel (okay, overdue I'll admit).

When John gave me notes on his painting for my last post he also talked a little about basing. I decided his thoughts would be more appropriate for their own post though I'm also going to touch a little on my own basing technique...

First up, basing thoughts from Mr Blanchitsu himself. Fundamentally John sees his figures as gaming pieces, despite the level of work, and thus he doesn't like to go overboard on his bases. He doesn't like them too elaborate or too high and refers to it as a frame for the mini and also remarking that he dislikes the big guilded frames often found surrounding paintings in galleries. He finds them disrespectful to the artist. Frames should not be noticed, they are not in competition with the artist just as the base should not be in competition with the figure. Consider the figure moving through a grim futuristic landscape, not stuck to 10 tons of wreckage every step.

As well as regular sand, John also uses Bicarbonate of Soda as basing material which is a lot finer. Looking at his figures it gives just enough texture to pick up the paintbrush strokes without building things up too much. The different grades of sand work nicely to break up the groundwork. Though at pains to not go too nuts over his bases I'm sure John doesn't want them to be dull. A little interest on the base goes a long way... be it a skull or some discarded remnant of tech.

I rather like painting bases on my own figures though I have a slightly unusual take on things. Painting the base is my first step in painting rather than the usual last one. I find if I paint the base last it can become a bit of an afterthought and so I like to 'set the scene' right at the start. The only real part I don't do is add static grass (or tufts) as I like to varnish figures and it's easier to add this stuff afterwards. But whether an army figure or a grand Golden Demon entry, base is almost always first.

Now, I really need to get basing on my latest painting project, I'm well behind schedule...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The noble art of Blanchitsu... and the new black...

If anyone has picked up the latest White Dwarf they may just find a little article called Blanchitsu where Mr John Blanche of art fame introduces some of my work along with that of Julian Bayliss. Well, in a sort of reverse I shall now talk a little about one of John's own pieces...

As you may already have read I plan to talk a lot about the new, or perhaps resurgence of, dirty painting techniques and my own probable struggle in achieving this. John's work is perhaps the perfect place to start as the modern miniature painting hobby pretty much started with him. I don't want to delve into that too much as I touched on it in my last post and want to make this one about one of John's recent figures.

John was kind enough to send me a number of notes on the figure. The base figure for this conversion and paintjob is one of the new plastic single figures that GW have released. In this case it is Brian Nelson's Wraith; a beautiful figure in it's own right. John was attracted to it's sense of movement and the large plain surfaces that create a blank canvas for the painter, a quality that I love in figures. He admits that there is not a huge potential for conversion without compromising the inherent simplicity of the sculpt but I think he's managed it anyway, certainly when you take a conversion as the idea of changing a figure's concept over simply physical alteration.

Rather interestingly, John is not making a hard statement on what the figure actually is. Possibly a psyker, either loyalist or renegade as part of a warband. An interesting point that unties him from worrying exactly how the figure should look and leaving room for expression. It also exemplifies the blurred line of good and evil in 40K. Personally it immediately makes me think of all the mad stuff that you get in the backgrounds of 40K art that is often hard to pin down on exactly what it is and what purpose it serves. Newcomers to the hobby may take the idea of servo skulls for granted but John was drawing them in the backgrounds of pics for years before they were nailed down to a specific thing. The question 'what are all those flying skulls about?' was a common question for GW creatives for many years.

John describes his technique as fast and dirty, trying to avoid over shading or artificially smoothing things out, going for what he calls a dark, earthy and entropic realism. It's a very painterly approach and often cites Rembrant as an inspiration. Of course a quick and dirty style doesn't literally mean quick. John does take his time using washes over a neat basecoat and then adding white for highlights. He remarks about the deliberately anarchic stitching on the back of the robe where he picked away with a scalpel in the glue seam before the glue completely set as if it was coming loose. A small detail that adds to the texture of the piece both physically and also in it's concept.

It's worth taking a close look at the pics, at all the little details and the texture of the piece. It's not at all easy to take a canvas this smooth and infuse it with such a raw and earthy look. I find this kind of work endlessly fascinating due to my rather more scientific approach to painting. I know from experience that just 'painting rough' does not get the results. Painting messy is easy, painting dirty but good is a whole different ball game in a different park, played by aliens...

Just in case you are wondering...

Brian Nelson Wraith
Cables from Cadian Command
Cut down Marine Bolter with nozzle from Cadian Lasgun
Head from Corpse Cart corpse
Plus bits from Grey Knight Sprue

There is, John says, amongst newcomers to the hobby to assume there is a magic solution to painting or some answer that can be told and suddenly you can paint. Alas, and I can confirm, it doesn't really work like that. It takes practice and experience. Hand eye brain learning as he puts it. Your hands and instincts might get there before your brain gets it. That's not to say that advice is useless, just that it takes more than an instruction guide to paint minis, especially if you want to forge your own path. And forging your own path is the new black!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A new power is rising...

Saruman had it right. We can always trust Saruman...

Today I'm going to be retreading some ground but it feels appropriate as this post is somewhat the start of a new direction for this blog. Well... at least for the time being.

I've talked a little in the past about the mini painting hobby still being rather young. The modern hobby that we enjoy pretty much had it's infancy in the seventies as pioneers started to think about 25mm figures as worth modelling and painting to more than a utilitarian standard, then onwards to a childhood in the 80s and 90s where the industry and it's hobbyists became very excitable and madness ensued (Chaos Toilets anyone?) but as that went on this child began to grow and figured out what worked. There came solid techniques, tried and tested and product formats that endured. This was where the modern painting hobby became what it is today. Then came the teenage years. The 2000s and pretty much up until now...

The teenage minis industry, rather like a person went a bit stroppy in it's way, metaphorically shouting 'you don't understand me' and desperately trying to rebel against what had come before. This was both good and bad. In it's rebellion the industry pushed the boundaries to work out what was possible and figure out what was 'cool'. There were a lot of boutique companies (and larger companies that acted similarly such as Rackham). There now existed a new cutting edge for minis. They were flamboyant and hyper detailed and there existed a new way of painting them that you were pretty much expected to aspire to. Perfect blends, subtle colouring, NMM (and it's flashy cousin SENMM). And often hundreds of hours on single figures brought forth from a new breed of 'painting celebrities'. And beautiful minis were created. However, there's a problem...

Like many of the 'rebellious teens' out there, in their rebellion they often don't realise how much they are actually conforming to something. Kind of like an emo or goth who thinks they're being really different... just like all the other millions of teenagers doing the same. Nothing especially wrong with it but there's a sense of 'you have to be different, just like me and everyone else or you're not doing it right' and the minis industry ended up in the same place. The minis became hyper detailed and the techniques incredibly intense processes. And I didn't see a lot of people talking about how much fun the ensuing figures were to achieve. I'm sure some people loved doing it but I saw a lot of people basically torturing themselves and burning out trying to do 'what they were supposed to do'.

In running Spyglass Miniatures I remember trying to do something different. My figures were simple and I always tried to have the idea that the figures didn't lend themselves to a particular colour scheme so people could quickly have fun painting them. Maybe I played the detail down to far sometimes but one thing I noticed over all the years I did this was that it was very difficult to sell them in the face of a screaming teenage industry going on about how such a thing wasn't 'right'. The other end of things, however, was that when people did buy them, I noticed that they often actually got painted and then I'd see the commentary on the paintjob saying how much fun it was to paint. Even if I was broke, it made me smile. I once sculpted a caricature zombie, 40mm tall, called Zzzz. One of my worst sellers. I think about 30 exist in the world. I think I've seen about twenty different painted ones. That's an incredible percentage to actually be painted. When people took a risk and tried something a little simpler they blatantly enjoyed it.

So, the industry as something of a stroppy teenager with an attitude of 'my way or the highway' and not overly concerned with people having fun as much as pushing the boundaries of what is possible... so what next. Well, one day, not so long ago, something happened that I've been expecting for a long while. It wasn't a single event as the hobby is too large for such things but somewhere along the line I think the hobby just said to itself...


And in that statement I think the industry began to grow up and I feel we are taking the first steps into adulthood.

There's a new wave out there just at the moment. Painters who are embracing different ways to do things. This always happened of course but the difference is that people are starting to sit up and take notice of this stuff. There are a bunch of blogs out there which are suddenly getting a large readership and are about messages of finding what type of painting and modelling make you happy and going with it. I hope you'll consider this blog one of them. But then there's the Spiky Rat Pack and the Legion of Plastic. Both of these places are exploring their painting and modelling in new directions. Both places are very much inspired by the works of industry legend John Blanche who has always taken an approach to his minis that didn't try to conform to what anyone expected. I think these bloggers are tapping into that sense of fun and experimentation that existed in the infancy of the hobby where John was so instrumental. Then taking these ideas and flying with them using modern techniques and tools (and a lot of plastic toy soldiers that make mad conversions a lot easier than they were back then).

I also saw a very graphic style that differed greatly from Eavy Metal and the boutique styles in Tears of Envy's blog and also via Martin Whitmore. Again, people who were having fun with something totally different and people start to react to it.

I think people are just a little fed up with a hobby that has become so much hard work and now they want to chill a bit. It doesn't mean that the boutique styles are in any way wrong, simply that we are embracing a diversity in how we approach our individual hobbies and this can only be a good thing. I know I'm playing with all kinds of new ways to do things as I've had my fill of trying to paint perfect. My challenge is to get a bit of dirty into my work.

So, I'm planning to play with more dirty painting around here and hope to show off the odd mini from John Blanche who seems to be having all kinds of fun with his figures just at the moment. In a few days I'll be back on here with a load of pics of one of his recent paintjobs and a little insight into his thought process behind such a piece. It's fascinating stuff.

I'll leave you now with links to the blogs and sites I mentioned...

Spiky Rat Pack

Legion of Plastic

Tears of Envy

Martin Whitmore

Hope this will be food for thought and I'll be back with less rambling posts in the near future. And hopefully pics of toys...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Getting the wrong thing wrong...

Been thinking a little about one of the curious sculpting phenomena that I live with as part of my process and thought I'd share. We're into sculpting theory territory here...

Okay, we've all been there. We've sculpted a part of a figure that's wrong and we can't seem to get it right no matter what. Drives you up the wall because you're sure that head is right and yet it looks wrong. Well, sometimes it's actually right and what we haven't noticed is the something else we got wrong that is making the part we thought wrong, but is actually right... err... look wrong (hey, I never said I'd make sense).

One little problem I've had in the past is that a head has seemed too big on one of those ladies in dresses that I've sculpted a million times and I've finally worked out that it's not the head at all. I'd measured it twenty times and it was right. No, the problem turned out to be the collar bone that was too high and jutting too far forward. I fixed that and the head becomes right.

So, when you're sure you've got something wrong and can't quite figure out why be sure to check the rest of your figure to see if the actual problem is elsewhere. You maybe surprised how often this is the case...

Monday, 7 November 2011

150 members... plus a 'check this out'...

Hello from 'extremely busy and somewhat knackered' world.

In the process of figuring (pun) out what to write about in the near future but have a couple of little things to say today.

Firstly Spyglass Asylum now has 150 followers. Woohoo! Must find things to talk to you all about.

But, there's something more interesting to say tonight. I just discovered that mini painting legend Jakob Rune Nielsen (JRN) has setup his own blog and it's certainly worth reading and following. There's an awesome floating fat Nurgle dude there already so pop on over and peruse...


Now, I need to sleep. Tomorrow I've got to sculpt [deleted by Inquisition]. I'm sure it'll all turn out great!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Corpse Cart 3: The base...

In the tradition of movies the first part was the classic (dealing with the cool conversion stuff), the second overlong, probably confusing and with the feeling that you've seen it before (oohh... Steve talks about using washes) and the third part tries to recapture the original with a new twist...

So, we're back to broad modelling stuff and so on... here's the base.

I'll start with a pic. Here's how the base looked before painting.

The details then...

There were many plans for what the base and there was a point where I wanted to use a straight gaming base (in this case a standard chariot base) but once the ox was attached the cart was too long for the base and I didn't want to make a non stadard gaming base as I may as well go to the other thought: diorama base.

The general thought was the cart rumbling along and the battlefield coming to life around it. I originally wanted a lot more raising dead and also wanted them to be zombies but I lacked ideal materials without heavy scratchbuilds so went with skellies... and it'd have to be just a few. One idea that was put to me by my good friend Neil (there you go, I mentioned you) was that the dead were rising as the cart passes so they would be more risen behind it than in front, like a wave of the dead. A good plan that with a lack of skeletons doesn't quite come off but it's there in a mild form.

The wooden base is actually a picture frame with a 5" by 7" aperture. Ideal for my purposes. I started by cutting a rectangle of plasticard to work over and added sides to the back and right side which tapered downwards towards the front and left respectively. I don't like dioramas to be too flat and this gave me a nice, uneven hill framework to build around.

I then went away and constructed the raw materials. I made the skeletons up quickly and onto a sheet of plasticard with a little groundwork around them sculpted in ProCreate. After they were finished and the putty was cured I popped them off the plasticard and glued them into position on the base.

Then comes the tree. I felt the base needed something that would aid the composition and give it some height. A twisted and gnarled dead tree seemed ideal. The immediate thought was the citadel plastic trees which had just the right look but alas, they were far too large so it'd have to be a scratchbuild. On the bright side this gave me unparalleled control over the look of the tree.

Overall, on the base I wanted a feel of motion from right to left. I remember reading in White Dwarf when the new Vampire Counts range first turned up a few years back about how they were designed to all look as though they were being blown forward from the back and I carried this through the diorama. Obviously the tree isn't getting blown but I decided that though it would curl to the right it would then twist all it's branches, to a greater or lesser extent, back to the left, creating what I hoped would be a very pleasing composition.

The tree was started with six long lengths of wire. They were bunched together and then twisted tightly at the middle point to create the trunk. A bit of brute force got the correct shape and this left me with six wires out of each end. They were then twisted into groups of two for a short distance and posed before using single strands of wire for the extremities of the branches. I did the same to make the roots. So the trunk is six wires down to three for larger branches and finally down to one for finer ones.

I then sculpted over the armature with ProCreate to create the bark. Not too much I can say about this other than to be quick and be bold. After the broad shapes were in place I added the striations and so on with a sculpting tool and finally, when the putty was mostly cured, battered the surface with the bristles of an old toothbrush to add a little texture.

Finally I added a few extra twigs by rolling out lengths of Procreate and adding them to the branches and sculpted the broken off stump out the side. With hindsight I'd have gone one stage further and added even finer twigs for a more complex look. BUt hindsight is 20:20 as they say...

The tree was pinned to the base. Easy enough as the wires extended out of the roots naturally. Then came the messy bit. I mixed up a vast quantity of Magic Sculp and packed it over the whole surface of the base and around the skellies and tree. I worked as quickly as possible fighting against the curing time as I then had to put in the textures by rolling real stones over the putty and then press in small rocks and skulls. I also pushed the cart into the putty so that it would have a good place to locate on the base and then added the hoof prints from the ox and the trail of the wheels (yes, I rolled the actual Corpse Cart wheels backwards from the point where it would sit).

So, that was the base constructed and now onto painting. For future reference, I actually painted this before the cart. I almost always paint bases before figures.

Alas there maybe a lack of detail here as it was a messy process that involved a lot of experimentation and mistakes so I couldn't accurately tell you exactly how things were painted but there are a few clues...

I painted the skeletons in the same way as and bone sections on the cart.

The groundwork was basecoated with a mix of Charadon Granite and Khemri Brown then drybrushed with Khemri Brown and Kommando Khaki to lift it a little further. The rocks from a base of a mix of Adeptus Battle Grey and Charadon Granite up to Kommando Khaki and a light drybrush of white. There were then varying washes of Devlan Mud.

The tree was basecoated with Chardon Granite and then drybrushed up by adding more and more Skull White until it was just pure Skull White. Then... four coats of Devlan Mud. This was my plan and it... sort of worked but not that greatly.

Finally I added static grass. I used the Citadel Burnt Grass (the brown one) and drybrushed it after the pva dried with Goblin Green and then up to Bleached Bone.

So, painting done on the base...

Err... yeah... except...

... it really didn't look so great. The pic there doesn't look bad but it all looked a little harsh and just a bit unimpressive. The skellies weren't very neat looking, the tree looked horribly powdery and the static grass felt a bit flat and dull.

Soooo... more work. It was then that I decided that the idea of scrubbrushing that I'd been playing with in my head might be a lifesaver (see the last blog entry for more details).

I scrubbrushed nearly everything on the base (except the static grass) with Charadon Granite to equalise things and it helped. The powdery finish on the tree was reduced, the groundwork started to look natural and it neatened up the skellies giving them a dusty, fresh from the earth, quality. I then added patches of Citadel Scorched Grass (the fibrous green one) over the original static grass and drybrushed it with bleached bone. The extra tones and height helped no end. I added glazes of Kommando Khaki onto parts of the tree to highlight subtly and clean it up a bit. Finally more patches of Devlan Mud and washes of Chaos Black on the groundwork to darken it down.

I had a base that was a little more fitting for the cart I'd spent a good while converting and was about to paint under time constraints. So, it worked out.

And that's the Corpse Cart project. Lots of fun and probably more stress than such a project should be but I got there in the end and my placing third in the Open made it all worthwhile.

My acceptance speech thanks Neil for being the sounding board and sending up the 'half a Corpse Cart' I'd left behind in Cornwall, Colin for coming to the rescue with spare Corpse Cart parts as things went horribly wrong at certain stages and Mike, Martin and Seb for general advice and nagging.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Painting the Corpse Cart...

Before I jump into this post I'd like to extend thanks to izeColt from the Spiky Rat Pack Blog for the excellent front view pic of the cart that you see above. Taken with his iPhone of all things. I'm getting more and more disturbed by how well that gadget can take a pic of a mini...

Check out the Spiky's blog here . Definitely a worthwhile read if you've not already found it :)

So then, painting the Corpse Cart.

After all the conversion work I had to plan how to tackle the figure. Larger figures are not my strong point so my immediate thought is always towards sub-assemblies. Basically I wanted to break the figure down into semi-built components that I could paint separately and then assemble right at the end. This gave me several distinct and smaller projects to handle and it becomes more manageable for me. One thing I was clear on was that, at assembly time, I did not want to be gap-filling. I wanted to literally glue things into place and... done. So, I made sure all the joining areas were hidden. Here we have a photo of all the pieces after a blast of black undercoat and ready for an appointment with my paintbrush...

The first thing I tackled was the base but I want to devote another blog post to that so, assume for the time being that I've already done that. As it stands it was a more complicated process than that for reasons I'll get back to in both this post and the one for the base.

So, onwards with the paintjob. I ploughed straight into work on it with a view to a fairly 'Eavy Metal' style paintjob and quickly found my painting skills had deserted me and everything was going spectacularly poorly. After a day or two of thinking 'screw this' I kind of came back to my recent skirmishes with painting in a much quicker and dirtier style. Thoughts turned towards the idea of mixing these techniques with my classic techniques and indeed playing with new techniques to see what was possible. And thus, I ventured back into the painting process...

First up I tackled the ox. Having decided that this was the main draw of my entry it felt like a good plan to get it done with quickly and while my inspiration was high. I started by layering from Chaos Black up to Charadon Granite over the fleshy areas and painted the bone sections a dull grey working around Codex Grey and not worrying overly about absolute neatness. I then started adding a mix of Tallarn Flesh and Codex Grey to the Charadon Granite for a few sparse highlights and around the edges of the torn flesh, particularly around the gaping hole in his side. I also used these concoctions to paint the exposed guts.

Things were a bit rough at this point and so I used a technique that I'd always had running about in my head but had never tried out. I call it scrub-brushing and I used Charadon Granite for it. Basically I thinned the Charadon Granite right down to a wash level. Then I loaded an old brush, blotted most of it and then proceeded to pretty much add it with a scrubbing motion rather like drybrushing but getting it into all the shading too. This has the effect of glazing all the tones, evening out the highlights and generally smoothing things out. I got a couple of odd looks at the studio when I mentioned I'd been glazing with Foundation Paints. At this point I had a nice, appropriately dull but fairly clean looking ox. I then started to look at the idea I'd had recently for painting blood.

A while back I'd played with the idea of painting blood just using the Citadel Washes using Baal Red. It worked quite well but was too pink in tone so I'd thought a 50/50 mix of Baal Red and Gryphonne Sepia might just do the trick. So, thought I'd give it a shot on the ox. I mixed up a batch and splashed it onto the ox it patches, concentrating around the hole in his side. The washes are quite subtle so I started on layer after layer and each time it worked better and better. Can't remember how many but I think it was four or five. The transparency and subtle way it settles gave me exactly the look I was going for and the reddened section around the hole is one of my favourite parts of the whole diorama.

Onto the cart itself. The wood and metal sections were all painted quite quick and dirty as I lacked much time to spend on them but I think the style works and these areas don't naturally draw the eye anyway.

The wood was basecoated Bestial Brown and roughly highlighted by adding more and more bleached bone. Mostly this was a case of not having too much paint on the brush and using the side of it to pick up the wood grain. Like drybrushing but with slightly more wet paint. Final highlights were near pure Bleached Bone and just on the edges. I wasn't worried about neatness as long as I didn't get paint on areas already painted (the haft is attached to the already painted ox in it's sub assembly). Neatness was then taken care of by two heavy washes of Devlan Mud. This deepened and darkened everything back to a nice wood effect and I then went over again with splashes of Thraka Green wash to give some tones in the wood. Two layers again but just here and there. And the wood is done.

Metals were even simpler. Basecoat of Boltgun Metal followed by a heavy wash of Badab Black. Then I caught a few edges with Boltgun to re-highlight and splashed a few areas with Gryphonne Sepia for a suble rust effect.

The golds were interesting. I generally don't use gold paint as mentioned in previous entries. I used a mix of Boltgun Metal and Burnt Umber artist's ink as a basecoat. Then a wash of Devlan Mud over this. Finally I mixed up a wash of 50/50 Regal Blue and Dark Angels Green and washed patches of this over the gold areas to add a patina. Gave a really nice finish. These areas on the figure are still quite dull but are just enough to add a little extra colour where needed. Going for the gritty and sombre colour scheme risked a very dull result I was trying to avoid.

So, onto the Corpses...

I quickly decided that the corpses should have a uniform skintone. Not realistic especially but it worked well. The basecoat was approximately a 50/50 mix of Tallarn Flesh and Adeptus Battle Grey and all clothing was painted in dull browns and fawns that would show up too much. Highlighting on the skin was added with Kommando Khaki and a few final highlights were added with a little extra white. The rats were painted in basically the same way as the ox. I then scrub-brushed the Corpses with Charadon Granite in much the same way as the ox and then they got that same blood treatment. I ended up with a fairly disturbing look I feel.

The reds on the shields and the Necromancer's robe were painted in much the same way. I started with a basecoat of Scorched Brown and layered up to Blood Red. Final Highlights added a mix of Dwarf Flesh and Bubonic Brown to the Blood red (I'd have just used Vomit Brown if I had any at the time). I thinned a mix of Graveyard Earth and Kommando Khaki and splashed it over the edges of the Necromancer's Cloak. Many layers to build up a subtle, muddy look. Then blood mix spattered over this.

The black parts on the Necromancer were simply Chaos Black highlighted by adding Dwarf Flesh (one of my pet techniques).

The Necromancer's Flesh was basically painted the same as the corpses just with a little more neatness and a little extra highlighting to draw the eye.

The parchments were basecoated Charadon Granite and highlighted by adding Skull White. The text was added with a thinned mix of Bestial Brown and Chaos Black. I finished the parchment with a thin wash of Charadon Granite to tie things together.

Well, that's the main thrust of the painting of this beast, minus the base of course... and I'll get back to that very soon.

All in I'm really happy with how he turned out though there were a number of ropey moments and I quite the project many times over the course of the process. Glad I persevered though, obviously...

I'll finish with another pic of the rear of the figure.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Transportation of Corpses... and Open contests...


Sorry for the delay everyone. I've been pretty tired the last week of so with work, getting my Open entry finished up and then working Games Day last weekend. But all worth it as my Open entry, a converted Corpse Cart, picked up third place in the contest. My first win in the Open after a few tries over the years.

So, to the entry itself. Not long after joining the studio I started thinking it'd be cool to enter the Open and the task of selecting a figure began. After a few false starts I settled upon the Corpse Cart. The Corpse Cart is a wonderful plastic kit though one that I really haven't seen painted that many times and certainly not as a contest entry. That was as good a reason as any to make it the project I would go with. Then we hit a problem. I can paint well but the guys who regularly enter the open aren't good painters, they are often the best of the best and I couldn't really compete paintjob to paintjob so I had to work out something else and sculpting and conversion seemed like a plan.

I'd thought about painting a Corpse Cart many times over the years and had always planned to not have it pulled by zombies. Nothing against zombies of course (who would) but I wanted something different. The idea had always been a skeletal horse but I started thinking if I could impress more. A few early thoughts were of getting a plastic regular horse and 'zombifying' it. Then I took a look at the ancient Plague Cart model that was presumably the initial spur of the Corpse Cart concept.

A classic figure of it's day but showing it's age. Then I saw the Ox pulling it. Hmmm, Steve thinks, that could be cool. We we certainly thinking scratchbuild for that and I quickly decided that zombie ox was more appropriate than skeletal ox. So, I delved straight ito sculpting myself a zombie ox. A little way into the sculpting process I started thinking that, without the constraints of casting, it really should be hollowed out and so you can look into the ox and see all the inside of his ribcage and if you peer back into the darkness, his intestines. Niiiice!

After a lot of working out the logistics of how the cart would attach to the ox I had the piece ready. And here's the pics I luckily remembered to take before painting...

With the ox complete I was concentrating on the cart itself. I decided to put the new single figure plastic Necromancer, released with Storm of Magic, on the back instead of the figure that comes with the cart. He fits quite well as long as you open the right arm component out a bit and fill the gap. Just a bit of trimming to get it to fit nicely.

I also added a grotesque face to the bell and generally went around the cart either removing or adding small details.

So, with the conversion done I was ready for painting... aaaand... to be continued. I don't want to turn this one post into a behemoth so will save the painting stage for another post. There will be another after that to talk about the basework... not sure if I have decent pics... hope I have some.

But I'm not going to leave this post without showing you the finished article. Admittedly not the best pic ever but it at least shows the whole figure. So, here it is... The Corpse Cart!!!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bringing back dirty...

Currently I am knee deep in the painting part of my entry for the Open competition at next week's Games Day. I spent far too long on conversion work and building the base so am currently painting at warp speed. It hasn't helped that there have been a number of false starts on various painting tasks.

I'd originally planned a somewhat Eavy Metal style paintjob with bright colours, contrasts and lot's of sharp edge highlighting but time constraints and my lack of recent painting practice has set me on a different path.

Regular readers will know I'd been playing with one hour paintjobs and a lot of washes in the months before my move to Nottingham. A much dirtier style and it's been kind of fun. So there had been a part of me wanting to play with a more radical painting approach on a competition entry. I'm not going to go into the details of this today as I'll probably be wanting to talk about my Open entry after next week when I see if my new approach has caused me to crash and burn...

However... it does bring me to my point. What's so wrong with dirty miniatures. Now, I'm not talking about sloppy or poor painting but why does it always have to be so clean and meticulous. I'm not just talking Eavy Metal style here, there seems to be a feeling in the larger minis world that painting has to be perfect blends to stand up to microscope scrutiny. There are other ways. When I started painting back in the eighties, gritty atmosphere on minis was pretty much the norm. Now, painting quality has improved so much since then but did we have to leave the style behind?

I had my first chance to take a good look at some of John Blanche's minis a few months back and I found them profoundly awesome. Given that John was one of the major forces behind the modern minis hobby it's perhaps ironic that his style has ended up as something of a counterculture. In viewing his miniatures close up you really can see the thought process and the layers of detail. It's not something that is best served by photographs of his work.

So, I've been on something of a mission over the last week or so to reinvent what I'm doing in terms of painting. Been fun so far. My entry is in many pieces so I'm rather looking forward to the time when I can get them put together and see how the various elements work together. I'm pretty sure it will be something of a departure from my normal style regardless of how well it comes out.

But it's something to think about. Do we always have to be so neat and tidy?

Hopefully I'll soon be able to talk a little more about what I've been getting up to on this miniature. There will be a blog post very soon to introduce you to a new technique I have been using on this figure. I'm calling it scrubbing and it's working pretty well for me...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On to the Demons...

So, it's that time of year. Golden Demon approaches so I must prepare to take yet another stab at winning that elusive Slayer Sword...

... oh wait, hang on. Nope, can't do that anymore as staff can't enter. Fair enough.

This leaves me with the Open competition and it's reputation for being fiendishly difficult bringing in many of the ludicrously talented Eavy Metal painters and Citadel Design Team. Time is fairly short and I'm considerably busier than I was. Tempting to just say 'don't bother' this year. But, I like a challenge so I'm going to try and get something done.

And so we get to the point of this post. How does one approach a painting contest? Obviously there's fun to be had but contests are a lot of work and personally I enter to win (though always prepared to lose without a major strop. I'm usually fairly calm when I get brutalised by better painters).

I always like the targeted approach to such things. I break things down and try to come at it from the right angle. This year I have the Open to contend with and this has it's own challenges. If I assume that I want a shot at winning I immediately can't just enter an unconverted single figure on a slotted base. Last year, Kornel Kozak won third place doing exactly that but I'm not that good at painting. And there are multiple regular entrants who are ridiculously better at painting than me. So, how do you proceed? Well, you look at the fact that it's not all about painting.

I can sculpt a bit so I will bring that particular part of my arsenal to my assault. I would make the immediate plan for there to be something that is an obvious demonstration of my sculpting (rather than lots of subtle details).

And the second prong of the assault is to be appropriate to the imagery of the system you are painting for. I would try to make the judges think 'that's so Warhammer' or 'that's so 40K'. For me, the master of this is multiple Slayer Sword winner Jakob Nielson who produces entries that just ooze with the atmosphere of GW's worlds.

I think doing both of these along with the best I can manage painting wise hopefully offsets the fact that there are better painters. As said, I can live with not winning (and it's a bad idea to enter anything if you can't handle losing) but don't want to put all that time in without at least having a shot.

So, what am I going to do? Sorry, not telling. As is traditional for me, I don't publically show my entries until the day. You want a clue? Okay... Squelch, squelch, crack, squeek, MOOOOO!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

So I lamped him...

A lot of my latter freelance and independent sculpting days were spent working on finer details than my normal blank canvas style. I commented often about practically living under my optivisor and I was developing a hump for all the leaning forward...

Now I'm working under new lamps and it's been something of a revelation. My previous setup was two angle poises with 32watt daylight bulbs in each. Seemed pretty good. Now I'm using a non-flicker strip light with three tubes in it. More light and it's setup for minimal glare. It's been an utter revelation. Even working fine detail I rarely have to resort to the optivisor. It should say something that I'm feeling more comfortable now sculpting 9-5 than I was before sculpting intermittently.

So, whether sculpting or painting, be good to yourself and get proper lighting. It can get pretty expensive but it's money well spent if it makes your work more comfortable and better with it.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Coming up for air...



... GASP!!!

And, despite all rumours that may circulate to the contrary, I'm not dead yet. I have, however, moved 300 miles with only the possessions that would fit in the back of my brother-in-law's car. But I'm now in the wilds of Nottinghamhamshireham or whatever it's supposed to be called and am... in a twist that nobody saw coming, actually working for a living. Going to a place of work and everything. And not wandering off into town for a coffee three times a day when I'm supposed to be making a toy soldier or whatever.

So, what now?

Actually it's something of a difficult question. I find myself in a rather awkward position in many ways. At this point it's rather harder for me to continue exactly as I have as this blog was very much set up via my position as a source internal to the industry but with my ability to be totally impartial as someone with no industry ties. This is not the case anymore as I now have some lovely people employing me (it's a rather less evil place than some might suggest).

In my position as a company man now I'm currently trying to figure out precisely what kind of thing Spyglass Asylum will contain from now on. I want to remain relevant and interesting without just being a mouthpiece for whatever mini I just painted (for obvious reasons I can't post what I'm sculpting now).

So, please be patient while I work this stuff out. Maybe some kind of hobby thing will mutate out of all this. Have been told many times I should do some sculptural jewellery. Maybe I'll do something off the wall like that and share it. Or something else equally as mad. Watch this space... err... please!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Getting Spyglass stuff...

As mentioned, I have now closed down Spyglass but the rights to the figures, old and new, have been picked up by other parties. The same is true for Eolith.

What I can tell you right now...

Heresy Miniatures have picked up the rights to nearly all the 28mm (and thereabouts) figures that I have produced. That's at

The zO range of figures have been picked up by Elodie Mae at

The 54mm Eolith figures have also found a new home and I'm sure that the new owner will announce them in due course.

So, no panic. If you missed out on stuff (quite easy as I never did a big public closing sale) then it should all turn up again elsewhere before long.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Spyglass Miniatures is closed...

As another aside from my normal rambling about general minis industry shenanigans, I thought this was a good place to make the announcement that I have now closed Spyglass Miniatures (and Eolith was, of course, already closed).

It's not all doom and gloom though (certainly not for me as I'm moving on to other things) as I can tell you that various interested parties have taken on the rights to my figures and pretty much everything has found a new home over the last week or so (did I tell anyone that it's been a mad week). The parties in question will, I'm sure, make their announcements as and when they feel ready to do so. Right at the moment I'm in the process of pulling everything together and getting the relevant bits to their new owners...

Well, it's been a blast. I wont miss doing mail orders I will have to admit. Having just the one Post Office in Truro was no laughing matter. The fact that it was basically impossible to do a mailing run on a Monday (pension day) should say it all. That said I've enjoyed being able to sculpt all manner of weird and wonderful things over the years.

And I really have to paint 54mm Dracula sometime...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Eolith 54mm range for sale... SOLD!

Two posts in one day? Yeah. For more abstract ideas scroll down to the next entry (about sculpting styles).

UPDATE: Range has been sold.

Looking to sell the Eolith Miniatures fantasy 54mm range ahead of my move in a couple of weeks. Check out the Eolith site for details...

Eolith Miniatures Site

I hope you'll consider this one of the exceptions that proves the rule about me being blatantly commercial on my blog.

Concerning style...

Over the last year or so I've been thinking a lot about personal styles of painting and sculpting. You may have seen quite a bit about my painting style revamp on here of late.

I'd like to talk a little bit about styles and something that rather surprises me. It's that painters and sculptors rarely work outside their tightly defined style. Personally I like to muck about with mine from time to time to give me a fresh perspective and generally keep the inspiration up. Of course that brings us to a related point: conscious versus unconscious style.

I think I'm a good example to use when it comes to this phenomena. I'm quite well known for reinventing the wheel with regards to my sculpting or painting styles. I'm the guy who was known for this...

and then suddenly went to this...

Quite a dramatic change and personally I don't see much of a style in common but I keep hearing that people can still see the 'Buddle aesthetic' in them and talk of clean lines and elegant forms which are both inherent in my process. But definitely an unconscious thing in this case as one reason I made this massive change was that people kept going on that my figures were undetailed and lacking texture and I'd always considered that to be my intention. Eventually I wanted to go ahead and sculpt something that was totally different.

Despite unconscious stylings bleeding through the change it does bring up an interesting point to ponder upon. That point is not to always do things in the way you always do them just because that's the way you always do them. For most this is a hobby and although you are free to do things in the same way, sometimes it's good to do something totally different. It's then quite fun to look at this totally different approach and see what unconsciously is still there from your normal style.

I kind of got onto thinking about this style issue over the last few days due to a few comments I heard about my new job working for Games Workshop. Obviously this is going to mean that my style will be mutating once more as I work towards adding my figures into a range produced by rather a lot of people and needing it to fit in. A few people seemed worried that my personal style would get lost in the shuffle and I'd end up sculpting cookie cutter figures. I really don't see that happening and, even with another style change, I thoroughly expect people to finally see my work for GW and say 'hey, that's a Buddle fig'. I mean, they've a large team of sculptors and I can still pick out Jes Goodwin's work from Brian Nelson's or Mark Harrison's or Mike Anderson's. They all work in the GW style but there's still loads of room for individuality.

Of course we never know where the changes might end. Five years from now maybe you'll see me sculpting a giant monster on a computer. Now THAT would be a style change...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Moving on to new things...

If there's ever a lesson to learn it's that as much as things may seem like they're going to stay the same, you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball or a new path. I've been rather up in the air for the last few months with things going on behind the scenes and my future has seemed rather uncertain. You've probably noticed that the blog has been a little erratic of late with regards to updates and that my miniatures releases haven't had a proper focus. This is because three months ago I applied for a position as an in house sculptor with Games Workshop. These things tend to take time to work out and I've now been offered and accepted said position.

This means that over the next week or two I will be shutting down operations on my miniatures business as it's not something I can run alongside my new job and, frankly, I'm looking to be able to relax and have some proper time off outside of work (something that every self employed person out there will no doubtably understand).

Right now I can't wait to get started sculpting cool stuff for GW as many of you will know I'm a long time GW geek and there's always been the part of me that wanted to work with their imagery. Plus it's going to offer me the new challenge of sculpting for plastic. A challenge that I relish as I do like plastic figures.

Not exactly sure what happens to the blog but the plan is to keep it going. I'll just have to work out what I'll be writing about.

Now I think I have a few mad weeks of sorting out a move from Cornwall to Nottingham...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Sculpting a photo of a mini....

I had a conversation with another sculptor the other day regarding another of those curious phenomena that I am so drawn to writing about. In this case it is all about the styles in which we are sculpting these days and the pressure to sculpt in a certain way.

It's no secret that minis are becoming more detailed, scarily so in some cases. The point put to me and something that I have thought myself in a round about way in the past is that we're no longer sculpting for the person to see in reality and that we are now sculpting figures to look good in photographs (usually shown many times larger than the figure itself).

This is perhaps not surprising as very few companies out there are selling their figures to people who will make their decision whether to buy or not based upon looking at the figure itself in reality. No, in this internet age, we are shopping via photos on computer screens and probably looking at a pic that is 500 or even up to 1000 pixels high. The problem with this is that it's a totally different ballgame for a sculptor to make a figure that looks good under such circumstances and it's not uncommon to find that you get the figure and the figure that the sculptor has probably sacrificed his sanity and eyesight to sculpt is not an easy paintjob because it's so finely worked. Such figures are of course incredibly impressive and, as a sculptor, I am constantly blown away by such things but, as a painter, I still gravitate towards a bolder style of sculpture that looks good at 30 odd mm tall but might look a little clumsy/strange when blown up to five times it's actual size. I think the key there is not to show it quite so large. Zoomed in is one thing but there are limits (I try to make my mini pics on the small side but large enough to see the detail).

I do sometimes worry about how many sculptors are going to burn themselves out (or just strain their eyes beyond repair) to live up to the demands of detail and giant pictures. This pressure is there. I've ended up suddenly sculpting in a much more detailed style now and it does worry me a tad. My figures are being very well received but I'm very aware of just how much time I spend under an optivisor these days...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A pack of rats... with spikes...

Spyglass Asylum is my fairly analytical stream of consciousness regarding the design and manufacture of minis from the point of view of someone inside the industry. Much of this is with regards to the design, sculpture and painting of the minis themselves.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to another blog I read: Spiky Rat Pack. This blog is the home of okkiW and izeColt, two insane hobbyists sharing said insanity with the world. I'm linking there because it's almost an opposite and counterpart to what I do here. I talk the creation of miniatures from my experience and analysis of the industry as I see it and the 'spikys' cover much of the same ground but from the perspective of someone not yet sucked right in to the industry and they do it with an enormous amount of enthusiasm (and there's talent to go with it).

I'm not going to share pics of their works here but instead will just offer you the link to go and check their stuff out. I'm watching their many crazy projects with interest and am greatly looking forward to seeing where it all ends up.

Just click below to enter their world...

Spiky Rat Pack

Saturday, 11 June 2011

More paintjobs...

Still playing with my washes...

My latest Spyglass release was a good chance to try out my technique in an emergency as I had to paint three figures in short order.

First up was the 32mm version of my old 54mm Eolith sculpt, Autumn. Perversely my newer sculpting style meant that the small version had more detail than the large but that's the way it goes. Still, new painting technique meant she still didn't take much over an hour.

A quick basecoat over black of mostly Foundation paints. Flesh was Tallarn mixed with Skull White. The green is Knarloc with a little Dheneb Stone and the brown is Calthan with a little Dheneb Stone. I two toned the corset to bring out the swirls (just a little extra Dheneb).

Custom brown wash all over. Thraka Green Wash over the green to take a little dirtiness out of it and then Gryphonne Sepia over the whole fig. I added a few careful highlights using the basetones mixed with Gryphonne Sepia and she was done. Bit fiddly on the highlight stages but she came out quite nicely.

Next up were the zombies...

The fat guy zombie was just a dream to paint. Flesh was Dheneb Stone with a little Gretchin Green. Darkened the mouth and eyes. Painted the teeth and white of the eyes in pure Dheneb. Khemri Brown with a little Dheneb for the trousers and Dheneb alone for the trousers.

Custom Brown wash all over then Gryphonne Sepia all over. Finally sploshed a couple of layers of Baal Red for the Blood. Done. About thirty minutes painting, if that. Very happy. The little girl was similar. Flesh was Dheneb with a little Mordian Blue in it. The dress a mix of Mechrite Red and Iyanden Darksun. I added a slight highlight to the dress with a little extra Darksun in it. But the same washes and blood stages. You kind of lose the bloodied eye in the photos...

Anyway, just a few hours painting and my month's releases are done. Went rather well all in. Certainly beats slaving away for days...

Should you be interested in these figures they're over at

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Painting Heroes: Martin Footit...

Right, here is my bloody late first painting heroes article. Sorry, been a little under the weather this week (though I finished a very overdue paintjob on my fat zombie earlier that I will share soon).

Anyway, my first painter to talk about in this potential series of articles is Martin Footit. I'll make no secret of the fact that I like looking at the Eavy Metal style and most of my painting has been somewhere along those lines. Martin is certainly a GW style painter and cut his teeth with many years on the 'Eavy Metal team before moving on to being a sculptor and producing a great deal of rather nice and painter-friendly figures.

I'll take you through three of Martin's works and talk a little about why I'm generally in awe of his work.

This is a closeup of Martin's subtle conversion of the Inquisitor scaled Eldar Ranger (that means it's 54mm(ish)). IT was probably seeing this figure that first really made me take note of Martin's work. I saw it at Games Day where it was entered in the Open and I got a good close look. Frankly I thought it was the best painting I'd ever seen. The painting is just immaculate here with perfect blends everywhere. What really grabbed me was the shading. All too often shading on a mini can get muddy but on this figure it was just so... vibrant but utterly appropriate. A classic lesson in the idea that it's not always the quality of paintjob but the choice of colours and the tones within those colours that can make a paintjob rise (though in this case, it was hardly making up for sloppy technique elsewhere).

This Blood Angels Terminator was Martin's entry in the Open at GD last year and romped home to win the category. Again, it's not so much the colour scheme but the tones used in the colours that make the figure glow. All coupled with an exquisitely judged base/setting where everything works together to draw the eye in to the main figure without overwhelming it. Very easy to do with a large base like this.

Again, this wizard brings us back to the core of what makes Martin's work so special. Check the perfectly chosen and applied shading on the off-white fabric but also the details of the pages of the book or the pink nose. And again we have the figure placed in a small setting which has become something of a Footit tradition. Often his bases are quite vast but here it's a lot more subtle.

The greatest praise I can give is that when I was painting my Greatsword for the last Golden Demon, the question I was generally asking myself is 'what would this figure look like painted and modelled by Martin. Now, I'm not quite as accomplished as him but it paid off pretty well with a silver demon so that ain't half bad...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Painting heroes...

Been thinking a lot about the whole 'best mini painters' thing. As many of you will know I picked my top three sculptors a few months back and it was very tough to pick them. So much so that I wimped out of putting that top three in order. I've had suggestions that I should do a similar series for painters...

... that's a tough call.

There are many great sculptors out there and picking three was difficult but if there are many great sculptors there are huge numbers of great painters. Certainly by comparison. I'm not sure it's possible to nail it down to a top three that I wouldn't want to change every other day as my moods swung. So, I'm thinking a different approach. I'm calling it Painting Heroes. With Painting Heroes I will not make it about top threes or rankings I will simply, every now and then, post about a painter that I think is bleeding edge amazing. The painters whose works make me drool.

So, who will be first? Well, in the next few days I will post my first Painting Hero. Despite the difficulty of ranking painters there is one painter out there who I just adore the works of and was the first name to spring to my mind.

Not saying who that is today but would immediately like to open up the floor to you, the reader, to comment here and tell me who your choice for a painting hero would be. I'm curious as to how many of you might choose the person I'll be blogging about next...

Oh, and before anyone thinks about it I'm using Hero in a unisex form here. I just thought Heroes sounded good and I don't want to be messing about with writing hero or heroine every other line when talking about this in general.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

And onward...

Will try to put up some interesting articles in the next few days but wanted to say 100 followers! Woohoo.

Also, the day before yesterday I set a new record for page views in a day and not only broke my previous record, but doubled it. And I broke the old record by a fair margin yesterday as well. Mainly because I've now had 1000 page views for the Citadel Finecast review.

So, going great at the moment. What's next. Well, I have a few ideas for posts but it has been pointed out that I did my top three sculptor posts a while back but haven't done the same or painters. That's admittedly a tougher gig given that there are many more astounding painters out there than sculptors so it might not be a focused top three but I think a general 'top painters' series mightbe in order...

So, who'll be first up? Hmm...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Citadel Finecast...

Finecast! Seems to be the buzzword just at the moment. Games Workshop's replacement material for metal and it's been a source of much conjecture over the past few weeks. High expectations. Assumptions. Doomsaying. Revolutions. Information and misinformation. Well, yesterday it hit stores and finally we can take a look for ourselves and form opinions. There are reviews of the new figures popping up everywhere and I'm going to shamelessly jump on that bandwagon. I took a trip to GW Truro yesterday and grabbed a couple of figures to have a play with.

I'm imagining most of you will know what all this is about but here's a quick explanation anyway. GW have decided to stop producing their figures in metal and have switched to a new resin product. Not going to go into much about the technical changes regarding the production of this new material as I'm operating on a lack of knowledge and there'd be a lot of assuming going on. Instead I'll simply approach this as an end product as that's all that really matters.

Well, I purchased a Wood Elf Lord with Great Weapon and a Vampire Counts Varghulf.

First up, the Wood Elf. There were three on the rack and, as I always do, I inspected all of them to pick the nicest casting. All three were fine and I grabbed one. Now, here's where my review will differ from most out there. I'm seeing loads of pictures of the sprues. They can be pretty scruffy and horrible looking things it seems with sprues that seem to be messy and warped and a fair amount of flash with lots of cut in sprueing. I really don't think the sprues should be what we're looking at. It'd be nice if they looked more attractive but, in the end, I don't think it's especially relevant. Instead, I have sat with nothing more than a pair of clippers, a modelling knife and superglue and seen how they look after a cleanup and assembly. The resin flash is very different to metal flash in general. It pulls away cleanly, usually with just a finger so don't panic too much bout it. Looks much worse than it is. In the case of the Wood Elf I actually spent around twenty minutes cleaning up but that's me being obsessive. I could have had the figure in close to this shape in five minutes. So, how does it look? Well, pic time.

I'm very happy with the result. The material is quite bizarre as a resin. I've used a few over the years and nothing like this. First up it's flexible. Very handy for fine parts. Unlike most resins it isn't going to easily snap and that's important given GW figures are meant to be gamed with. It's very soft to cut and clean up and really you're best off with a sharp modelling knife rather than files. The material cuts very cleanly and doesn't tear which is very useful. All in, cleaning was a pleasant process compared to the usual swearing at metal, plus the non-reflective nature of the resin means it's easier to see mouldlines and, hopefully, you're less likely to discover ones you missed after undercoating...

As for the quality of the figure itself, I'm also very happy. I had a metal version of this figure and this new version has a slightly more dimensional quality as resin doesn't typically shrink in the same way as metal. Lines are clean and sharp. It's also very easy to glue as the resin really grabs the superglue. Not sure I could break the superglue joint where the sword is glued on if I tried...

So, that's the Wood Elf. I'd say it's pretty much a success and exactly what I hoped for. Now, onto my other purchase.

The Varghulf was something of a worry. I'd heard rumbling and seen pics of quite a number of miscasts and the Varghulf was a boxed set so I couldn't see the sprues ahead of purchase. Upon opening the box things looked okay. Possibly not quite the level of casting quality of the Wood Elf but nothing to really worry about. One of the outer sprues was massively warped but the wing component on it was perfectly okay. I spent about half an hour cleaning the figure up and gluing it together. Like the Wood Elf this was me being pretty meticulous and I think I could have got it in good shape and assembled inside ten minutes. And here are the pics...

As you can see, it's in pretty good shape. I'm certainly pleased with it. No major areas of miscast and the parts fitted well. Absolutely no need for pinning on this one. Little bit mucky around one of his back feet but nothing a few swipes of my modelling knife didn't fix. Noticed a couple of rough areas on the pics where I could clean up a little more but that's pretty much how it is with most minis. Happy with my Varghulf? Yep, very much so.

So, a good experience all in. Now, to wider thoughts. At the basic level I'm happy with these minis and I think the switch is a great plan, the material chosen is excellent and practical and I'm hoping it'll be a bright future with Finecast. Unfortunately, as yet, it's not all wine and roses (not sure why I say that. I don't drink wine and I'm not especially into flowers).

From looking around at many blisters yesterday, the quality of casting I saw varied pretty dramatically. I was lucky that the two figures I wanted were both in good shape though I saw a few that weren't. I'm quite glad I didn't want an Avatar as the one on the shelf were not looking good at all and had all the hallmarks of being cast in a mould way past it's useful service life. The resin had apparently been eating at the surface of the mould rubber (resin tends to do this) and there was rubber mould material buried in the casting. Not a good thing.

On the other hand I saw some figures looking utterly remarkable. The Commissar Yarrick's were lovely. Probably the best example was a Black Orc Warboss (the normal one, not Grimgor) who was next to absolute perfection. It's a figure that I'd never really liked at all but I was almost tempted to buy as he looked so lovely in his clamshell. Definitely a figure that made me sit upand take notice.

I saw an unboxed Azhag the Slaughterer on his Wyvern. Not so perfect as the Black Orc but I remember thinking that this was a huge and complicated model and I remarked that if I'd bought it that I'd have been very pleased with the casting quality.

All-in, the majority of the figures were 'good'. Not remarkable and utterly wonderful but of a quality that would clean up to the required level with a little time and a modelling knife. Considering the boasts of this material I'd like to see a slightly higher average quality but the best casting were certainly everything I could have wanted from the new material.

Something really needs to be done with the worse ones. It's okay to say that they will be replaced but there are blatantly a noticeable number of castings getting out there that really shouldn't have made their way into public hands. I don't know the situation but my opinion (and we all know what opinions are worth) is that the casters are working too quickly and the moulds are being run past the point where they should be replaced. This needs to be dealt with. It's good that GW are quick to replace the bad ones but it's surely a better plan to make sure that they don't need to (yes, there will always be bad casts that need replacing but this needs to be minimised). And should you get a bad casting that is beyond your ability to fix up then absolutely it should be replaced with a better one.

Looking from the outside in I generally feel that this grand plan of pulling metal from stores and releasing over a hundred new products worldwide on one day was massively over-ambitious. As far as I can see, yesterday was the largest product release by GW of all time and by quite a margin. I was doing some conservative sums on how many blisters and boxes have been cast over the past few months for this release and, no matter how you estimate, it's a staggering amount of casting. Perhaps unsurprising that there are issues with some of the product. But then my natural mindset on something like this isn't to push so much out at once but to phase things in. Perhaps pilot Finecast with new releases for a few months, coupled with a few popular kits from past armies to allow people to get the new stuff and for the company to build slowly, hopefully avoiding any major problems. I quite understand the lure of getting metal out of the stores all at once but it might not have been the practical solution. All in, I have to feel that producing less product with less miscasts is the way to go. Better to produce a thousand minis that are all good than to produce eleven hundred where a hundred of them are problems that need to be replaced. Otherwise it's more work for the same result (and yes I'm perfectly aware that's a gross oversimplification, but the point holds).

In summing up I have to ask myself the big question. Is Finecast the future and a good thing? You know what, I'm siding with a hopeful yes. In theory this new material is precisely what I'm looking for in my figures and I think is practical for the wider market (be careful of looking back at the metals with rose tinted glasses. I haven't been happy with GW's metal output in some time). So, it's over to GW. You've dropped something utterly huge into the middle of the hobby and, for better or worse, it's shockwave is being felt far and wide. What happens next is in their hands.

And, cutting through all this, back to basics... I have a lovely Wood Elf and Varghulf upstairs on my painting desk. That's a positive and I'd very much like to end this review on a positive as that's what I'm feeling. Is the future bright? I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Spyglass Miniatures...

I hadn't really planned this blog to be a shameless promotional engine for my work, more a place for me to mutter incoherently about whatever minis stuff I like but occasionally these things cross over so I hope you'll forgive me announcing that I've set up a new website for Spyglass Miniatures. Initially the main idea was to have a place to sell my new 28mm Monk and the other bits I'm currently working on and I really think Eolith, the other brand name I've used, is more associated with 54mm.

But, I can hopefully saunter over to a relevant side of things as I've painted my new monk and he was an interesting process that harks back to previous blog posts. Yay for vague relevance. It's my excuse and I'm sticking to it...

Here he is by the way.

Painting him was a curious process. I had one resin casting of him so I kind of had to get him right not having any useful stuff about the house for stripping resin. He was to be painted with my recent wash techniques and I tried a slightly different approach as I'm still developing the best way to make the technique work. Went with white undercoat this time and I ended up with a rather grainier basecoat that didn't take the wash so well. Wasn't awful but lacked the quality I'd been pushing for. So I ended up repainting a few bits. In the end I was never going to get the result I wanted inside the normal way I work with the basecoat double wash technique so I had to improvise...

And here we get to a new painting tip.

I decided to re-highlight the figure. This is the normal way of working with these washes but I find it's a tough one to pull off as it can look harsh and I love the subtle effect of the washes. Still, the fig needed it. So, I tried something new. I ixed a highlight colour basically the same as the original basecoat and then I added wash to the paint to achieve several things. Firstly the wash tints the paint below it so the highlight colour is a tough one to judge. Mixing the wash and the paint makes it much easier to amtch and get a a matching tone. You need quite a lot of wash in the paint as the pigmentation is so low. But this has a side advantage. The washes have enough body that they don't ridiculously thin the paint and they also add to the transparency nicely so it makes for a great paint on highlight without chalkiness or stepping. This made life rather nice to be honest.

The Monk ended up taking the best part of two hours though a lot of that was wasted motion. He's probably an hour or so paintjob if I'd planned this from the start. Came out quite nicely anyway...

And rounding back to my announcement, you can find my new online store at...

Spyglass Miniatures

Friday, 6 May 2011

Undercuts and what the hell they are...

Been planning to do this one since the beginning but it required me to prepare some simple images so I got distracted by other shiny topics. Today I want to talk about that big miniatures buzzword: undercuts. This is apparently a rather mysterious phenomena that is not entirely understood. Generally people seem to be vaguely aware that metal and resin minis can typically have undercuts but plastic ones can't. This is broadly true due to the processes in which they are cast. The more accurate truth is that it's not the casting material but the material that the mould is made from that makes the difference. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is a big topic so lets keep to the basics. What the hell is an undercut. To explain this simply I need to take you through a vastly simplified explanation of moulding a component.

This rather unremarkable shape is our component. It's designed as a zero undercut component though this doesn't need to be clarified yet. The above image is actually a cross section of the component.

Now we see the component in a one part mould (shown in grey). Not a complicated thing to mould at all.

And here we see the component taken out of the mould. It can be slipped out easily and a casting could do the same.

Now then, we move onto the meat and potatoes of this explanation.

Here we have a new component cross section. Similar to the first except for the indents on either side of the lowest section. These indents into the sides of the component are called undercuts (yay).

And here, once again, we have the component in it's one piece mould. Many of you will know what's coming next...

Marked in red on this picture are the points where the mould material enters the undercuts. The bottommost section of the component is therefore locked into the mould and it can't be easily pulled out.

Now we get onto the difference between the mould materials.

Rubber - Metal and Resin miniatures are typically cast in rubber moulds which flex. In the above example you could free the component from the mould by flexing the rubber and pulling the component. Over time, depending on how deep the undercut is, this will put wear and tear on the mould so it's best to keep your undercuts on a sculpture quite shallow. But, all in you're okay. Your sculpture with undercuts can be cast okay.

Metal - Plastic Miniatures are typically cast into moulds made from steel and there's no way you can flex them at all. So, in the above example the component would literally be locked into the mould and the only way to remove it would damage the component . So, sculptures for plastic production can have no undercuts on them at all. Not even shallow ones. Not even a panel line.

So, that's the very dry and dull explanation of what undercuts are. It's the areas around the side of a miniature or component that go inward and would trap the mould. Limited undercuts are okay for metal or plastic miniatures but plastic figures can't have them.

And thus we come to how sculpting miniatures for plastic production is a whole other ballgame. It becomes a massive puzzle where you're trying to find a way to get all the detail you want on a figure without ever having a single undercut. The ways to do this are many and varied. Sometimes you go with multiparts to minimise the problem. Other times it's just about being bloody clever with how you design the component, perhaps designing it to lie in the mould at a strange angle or thinking your way around a visual design that hides the limitations.

I've been studying plastic miniature sprues for years. I have a bit of a mental disease where I'm constantly looking at plastic figures to understand just how they were achieved. It's incredibly clever stuff.

Well, I hope that made some sort of sense. It's a brutal subject to explain properly and I think I shall follow up with another post where I look at a few minis in different materials and point out exactly what I've been talking about in more practical examples.

And I deeply apologise if this suddenly felt like an extremely dull lecture at college...