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!


  1. I think the closing paragraph is one of the most important things for newcomers to understand. Nobody just "gets it" right from the start, there is a learning curve and it goes far beyond the technical skills to create the truly stunning pieces.

    Great to see your work in this months WD and good to see more articles from John too - it really added a different "style" into this months issue with some great models (loved Julians marauders!)



  2. Steve, you said "Rather interestingly, John is not making a hard statement on what the figure actually is." - have to agree with it.

    One of the most inspiring things in John's art is that his works leave so much to the beholder. There are few hard statements in John Blanche's art, regardless if it is a painted picture, a sketch, or a miniature. There's so much left for the viewer's imagination even if the subject is strongly hinted. You never feel it's the only interpretation. Makes it all less black and white, more like shades of grey.

  3. I totally agree with the " (...)There's so much left for the viewer's imagination even if the subject is strongly hinted(...) " stuff.

    Love blanche's art and minis but being a grown up art student and a grumpy person, it always come to my mind what would had happen if this mini hitted CMoN community under a diferent user/name than Blanche ? Would it have a so warm reception ?

    ...just wondering/in criticism to blanche intended.

  4. meant NO criticism intended...

  5. i care not for such communities nor opinions - i paint minis for me and no others or to gain critiques - its just such great funne and im certainly not in competition with anyone - the web has given people a medium to become armchair critics - the level of entitlement displayed by certain forums just astounds me - i love looking at painted minis - i show people mine in the same spirit .....

    1. I assume you are THE J.B.; if so, thanks for everything Warhammer.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. A fantastic interpretation of a great plastic kit. I find it extremely inspireing that a model can change appearence with such simple but effective changes. And still the model is very close to the original. Somehow the models (conversion and original) states very effectively how well the various GW systems correspond modelwise. A wraith in one system, a sinister hooded character in the other.

    To me the whole CMON discussion is somehow ruled out by the fact that the model ozes of both fun and hobby. These days CMON seems to be mostly about technique and the media seems to favour certain styles. This model is about something else. This model brings forth themes such as experimentation, mood, painterly mini-painting, and overall an approach to the hobby that has to do with a joy of creating little pieces of 40K fiction and doing this without following other people's rules and aesthetics.

  7. so well put jakob - thx ....

  8. Just got my hands on the latest WD. Had to hunt it down for a while... Blanchitsu was the reason for me to buy one. It'd be great if J.B. would write his article more often, such is the joy of reading 'em.

    Steve, it was also refreshing to see your work on the pages of White Dwarf. Wash effect on the woodelf was seriously astonishing! I need to kick myself to do some painting so I can join your dirty painting band wagon...

  9. I am slightly late to this party but the figure is awesome and Steve's analysis equally insightful. I agree there is no magic solution to painting miniatures, and those minis which intrigue me on CMoN are usually those which don't achieve a 9 or 10 rating. I like to see originality, style and army coherence (if it's a battalion). My personal preference is for minis which look good on the table, rather than those which might look good in photos.

    I must go and hunt down that White Dwarf...

  10. its having the raw material that ditates the pace for me - granted theres tons of stuff about but just organising it is a job in its self - currently waiting for stuff from migs who's locked in a non web set up situation and PDH himself so short of hobby time this time of year - i do have some jakob stuff waiting to go and most of mine is waiting for release dates of the minis - steve has more material coming thru this blog as well as his own projects - its all saturday afternoon work for me and it always displaces drawings - i did charge miself with one slow drawing a month in mi sunday work slot but ive fallen back a great deal on that this year - i enjoy painting minis more but i figure that its a greater creative endeavour to keep producing illustrations - tammy has had most new ones on her blog - theres some to come and some that got absorbed into GW product so again im waiting for that product release - today im drawing - yesterday i greened bits on two minis - its slow work .....

  11. Javi, you wondered "what would had happen if this mini hitted CMoN community under a diferent user/name than Blanche?"

    I suppose many would call it an imitation of John Blanche's style. Many would bash it for technical shortcomings. I am afraid people on CMON (and in the hobby community in general) are so focused on technical aspects like smooth blending, color theory, lighting effects, etc. that they lose stuff like mood or atmosphere from their sight.

    A bit sad, isn't it?

    I must say that I wasn't a huge fan of Blanche's works at first. They were too messy and rushed looking to me. I had to grow up to appreciate them. Now I am a huge admirer of John's works and owe him a lot as far as my look on the miniature painting hobby goes.

  12. i dont follow these things but there seems to be a general lack of understanding of colour theory or maybe the application of such - id go along with not precise and fast - they go together really - if i go slow and careful it just looks the same or lacks a certain dynamic - however i do not paint to have a pristine piece but a small part of a big emotional whole - i used to dislike frazetta but not now ...... and please call me john ....

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  14. Lovely work John ,lots of movement very characterful (earthy) conversion, the base and the model seem to blend together, particularly like the wood effect on the shield. i would quite like to see a diorama created by you.