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...


  1. yup having loads of funne - being more expressionistic with a very minimal pallete - trying for a rembrandt heavy shaded style with a jenny saville painterly technique - in the words of migs - ELEMENTAL ......

  2. Great post Steve and I am flattered you'd mention me alongside these luminaries! I totally agree the hobby is rather convention-lead. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of sites like Coolminiornot which compile everything and so build expectations?

    Funnily enough, I've just been experimenting with unconventional styles and will post my (varying) results soon.

    J.B. - Initially misread your post as "Jimmy Saville". Now then, now then... Poor Jimmy. :-(

  3. Excellent post, JB The Rat Packand Migs have been inspiering me for a couple o months now. More so than at any time i can remember since laying hands on Rouge Trader back in the day.
    Oh the Gothic punk tumbla and mols inq28 blog has also been a prime source. Keep on ramblin Mr Buddle.

  4. Wonderful post, I can only echo the sentiment. I was hooked by Mr Blanche as a youth by his wonderful artwork, I believe the cover of the original skeleton warrior box set was the one that turned me forever into a Blanche fan and perhaps even started me off on the road to art college.

  5. Wise words again Steve!
    This scene will always need some of that teenage, angst filled energy, even as it has reached the adulthood.
    I sure hope that we will never see this thing turning old and senile!!!;)

  6. The kids always liked painting yours a great deal and I think Shae is the one I painted the most in the program. I painted the 30mm about 4 times and the 54mm twice. I have your pirate chickie on the table right now for a fantasy group build

  7. Nice write-up, Steve. Personally, I have been thinking of myself as having moved "post-daemon" this year. Not that I don't consider going to events and painting competitively again, but I have been pondering to try and do it on my own - new - terms. Funny enough my big competition commitment in Chicago earlier this year made me want to explore expressive mini-painting and bolder conversions. I love my competition model and love taking the time to do them, but bold fast conversions are satisfying in another way.

    Thanks for the inspireing writing!

  8. Jacob - You should have seen Kari's Goblyn Slayer at this years GD..talkin' about own terms! I wish more painters would enter GD with more personal entries:)

  9. well he can cos its on your blog - gorgeous and very fine piece of work it be ......

  10. Yes, but seeing it live, that is a totally different thing!
    Same thing with your minis John:)

  11. true that but i really enjoy looking at photos of mi minis especially when they are enlarged - they look like paintings and reveal all sorts of strange accidents that i never noticed on the actual figure and of course theres many who cannot ever see certain finished pieces so its webshots that do the job - you do loose the 3 D quality the most i think but i tend to paint for one view point - steve i know has views on sculpting for photos and not for the finished thing .... however i do not paint for photos ....

  12. Great post! I can especially relate to "people basically torturing themselves and burning out trying to do 'what they were supposed to do'."

    I tried for a very long time now to paint perfect blendings, which ended up in me beiing frustrated with the hobby and no mini I am proud of since a very long time, even though in the beginnings I was on the good way...

    After reading some of the blogs you mentionned, I feel now that it is time to change my approach...not beeing I try hard anymore, but to find a more instinctive way of painting, were fun is the most important thing and not a rating on CMON...

    Thanks for the inspiring words, but also the inspiring work by all these great guys running these blogs!

  13. Inspired by your article I treid to add my own ideas about how to save time without sacrificing 'impact'.

  14. its certainly not about saving time for me but a completely different set of criteria - on the field of battle mucked up dusty weather beaten and torn presents a deferent look to that of shelf perfect brand new armour equipment and clothes - i taught mcvey how to blend 25 years ago but i cannot do such things now as mi eyes and patience will not let me - however applied the rembrandt saville principle i have feel liberated in application and enjoy the finished article far more - strangely i find a more energetic more impressionist technique to be more realistic and have a more gritty dynamic however it takes me blimmin ages to do whearas steve has created a much faster technique where he can tackle units at a more realistic level - its still a very smooth and precise finish tho and adopts which to me is a rather scientific approach - i use very few paints and inks and never worry about proportions of mix etc .... - im at a place now where i find over highlighting rather artificial and ive always felt metal should be metal .....