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!