Friday, 17 February 2017

Let There Be Light! : What Kind of Lighting Works Best For Miniature Painting?

One of the questions I get asked by many gamers and painters is, "What kind of light should I be using for painting minis?"  It's a simple question, that has many different answers.

Generally speaking, what you are looking for in a painting light is something that gives off a nice, clean tone of light.  What I mean by "clean" is something that is not too far in the warm, yellow end of the light spectrum, or too far into the cold blue end of the colour spectrum.  Either extreme will affect your colour perception, and can trick your eye into thinking that the paints you are using are something they are not.

The old fashioned incandescent lights were very warm in tone, which made sense because they were created by heating up a tiny filament that created more heat than light.  Later on, there were various fluorescent tubes sold that were very blue in colour... the light was created by sending an electrical current through a gas filled tube to excite the molecules into producing light.  Neither method created a form of light that approximated natural sunlight very well (and even sunlight varied in colour temperature quite often).

Nowadays, we have a number of lights and light bulbs that are marketed as "Daylight", which basically mean that produce light in the 5000k to 6500k range (as opposed to "warm" lights, which are meant to reproduce the old fashioned incandescent lights, sit around the 2700k range, and old halogen lights are around 3000k).  This is the sweet spot of lighting, as far as we painters are concerned.  5000k or 6500k allows our eyes to see colours on our palette and miniature for what they really are... not tinted or colour shifted by the colour of the light itself.

So, the very first consideration any painter should have when choosing a light, is to stick to something that produces a light between 5000k and 6500k.  When in doubt, look for those numbers on the packaging, or on the product itself.  Don't just look for the word, "daylight", as that is just a marketing term which could mean anything.  "Daylight" for lights can be just as misleading and confusing as "organic", or "all natural" for foods.

Next, look at your painting station.  How do you want the light to be set up?

For my personal setup, I like a light with a position-able (articulated) arm, so that I can move the light around and adjust the angle and height without having to tear it down and re-set it up elsewhere.  The ones I have also clamp firmly to my desk, so that I don't worry about knocking them over.  However, you may like something completely different, as your preferences and your desk setup may be completely different from mine.  There are lights with a weighted base that you simply set down anywhere you have space on the desk, and there are lights that mount to the walls or ceiling.  There are also floor lamps with long arms that put the light where you like (although I find they are often designed with reading at a couch or chair in mind, rather than painting).

Those are the two basic considerations that spring to mind.  That being said, why don't we have a quick look at various lighting options, and I'll give you my thoughts and experiences with each?

The first light worth looking at just so happens to be one of the least expensive options.  Which also happens to be one of the most versatile.  And coincidentally, happens to be the one I use now.

It's the standard desk lamp.



A venerable design, widely available just about anywhere (office supplies stores, art stores, furniture stores, etc... I believe mine are from IKEA).  The versatility comes from the fact that it can accept a number of different kinds of light bulbs, so long as they have a standard size twist-in base.  You can put an incandescent bulb in there, halogen bulb, or LED bulb.  You can also find bulbs in varying wattage, based on how bright a light you need.  And you can position and adjust the angle as needed.  The only real drawback to these is that they take up a fair bit of room, and need a sturdy surface to clamp on to.

And did I mention that these are dirt-cheap?

Of all the kinds of bulbs you can use, I would strongly advise avoiding the old fashioned incandescent bulbs.  Not only are they incredibly energy inefficient and short lived (meaning that you have to replace them quite often), but they usually put out a very yellow light.  In addition, they put out a lot of heat, which can get uncomfortable when the lamp is inches from your head.



I currently use the twisted florescent tube bulbs (which remind me of curly fries... mmmmm, curly fries...).  While they still put out a little bit of heat, it's generally not noticeable unless you are painting for hours and hours.  They have a good long life, and use substantially less energy than the incandescent versions.  They do cost a little more to buy, but pay for themselves in the long run.  And they put out a very pleasant 6500k light, which make the colours and details pop nicely.

Years ago, when these first came out, they did put out a faint humming sound, but I can't hear anything from the ones being sold nowadays.



The latest offerings in bulbs are daylight LED bulbs.  These promise to be much better than even the florescent ones, in that they use even less energy, last even longer, and produce almost no heat whatsoever.  Plus, they are much more impact resistant, so no worries of breaking them.  They are a bit more expensive, but are coming down in price all the time (and still MUCH less expensive than some of the dedicated painting lights sold in art stores).

They are also made in a number of different colour temperatures, but the ones you are looking for are the 5000k ones.  I haven't seen any 6500k versions yet, but the 5000k ones seem to work just fine.  Great for painting, and great for photography (although you still need to diffuse the light somewhat if you are using them for photographing your minis).

For those who are always looking for the fanciest, most expensive solutions, here are a few to consider:



A variation of the basic clamping desk lamp would be this one.  It's a magnifying desk lamp.

This has a magnifying lense in the centre, which is the "donut hole" to the florescent tube that wraps around it.  I used to own one of these, and bought it thinking that the magnifying lense would be useful for painting finer details on my miniatures.  However, unlike the binocular magnification of an optivisor or reading glasses, this robs you of any depth perception.  I found that I had a hard time determining where my hand and brush were, relative to the miniature I was painting.  I suppose it would be good for the occasional up-close look for particular details, but not for painting with.

I ended up using it just like a regular adjustable desk lamp for a time, as the light was bright, and had a good colour temperature.  However, when it came time to replace the "bulb", I found that they were very pricey.  It was much cheaper for me to ditch the magnifying desk lamp and just get a regular desk lamp with a daylight bulb.

My advice would be to not bother with one of those.

Here's a look at one of the most hyped lamps in the history of miniature painting:



For quite some time in the late nineties, and early 2000s, everyone was talking about the "Ott light".  Decent florescent lamps were hard to come by back then, and the most plentiful bulb to use with your basic desk lamp was the old yellow light incandescent.  At the time, Ott lights were a godsend.  They worked off a florescent tube, but produced a very nice, white light.  They also didn't hum loudly, like the old florescents, and created almost no noticeable heat at all.

Sold by the hype, I went out and bought one.  It was painfully expensive, but I figured that it would be worth it.

In terms of light quality, the light was everything that people had said it was.  It was clean, and it made details pop.  It was easy on the eyes too.  The only problem I had with it was that it wasn't very bright... with the ambient room light on, I could barely tell that the lamp was on or off.  Add in the high price tag (even the replacement light tubes were expensive!), and I eventually gave up on this light.

Newer, more recent versions may be much better... I don't know.  All I know is the one that I got back in '01 was barely brighter than a candle.  Very disappointing for the price.

Another possibility:



I've seen a few variations on the above design, but never used one myself.  Some use long florescent tubes, and some newer ones use LED strips.  Either way, these look promising.  The benefit of using one of these over the standard desk lamp would be that they throw light evenly over a wider area, with less of a central "hot spot" of light.  I mitigate this with the use of two separate lamps, but if I were to only use one light, it might be this one.  However, given the choice between florescent or LED, I would opt for the LED... longer life, less heat, no buzzing noise, shatterproof, and more energy efficient.  Either version is likely to be pricey, however.



Speaking of even light, this is a pic that's gotten a lot of attention recently.  It's of Mathieu Fontaine's painting desk (check out all those Golden Demon awards on the window sill!), and the "light arches" that he uses.

Custom made for him out of LED light strips, these cast a very even light across nearly the whole surface of his desk.  Provided the light strips you get are the right colour temperature range, these would do the job very nicely.

The funny thing is that 4 years before he got this setup, I was sitting in his Vancouver Masterclass, and when the topic of preferred lighting came up, I suggested creating a setup using one of the new LED light hoods that were just coming out for fish aquariums.  Mathieu scoffed at the idea, and then proudly showed off this setup years later... essentially a stripped down version of the idea I first proposed in his painting class!

Now have a look at this pic, taken during Alfonso Giraldes' Masterclass in Vancouver last year:


Using two lamps borrowed from the students, Alfonso quickly set up a spot to work on a demo bust for us.  It appears one lamp is a long florescent tube lamp, and the other is a small portable Ott lamp (likely one of the newer LED versions).  Between the two, he was able to produce a fairly even, white light across his workstation, which worked out very well.

So, perhaps the question isn't, "What lamp works best for miniature painting?", but perhaps "What LAMPS should I use for miniature painting?"  As we can see, two lamps are better than one.

Speaking of portable...


For longtime followers of Sable and Spray, you might recognize this pic from my "Portable Painting Setup : Perfect for Lunch Breaks" post.  This is a very modest setup... something I can break out, do a bit of modest bit of painting (say perhaps, just a blue cloak), and then pack back up, all within the space of an hour.  No point in lugging along a huge desk lamp (or two)... a simple LED headlamp is sufficient for the task.  Combine that with a reasonably well lit room, either from overhead lights (hopefully not yellowish incandescents), or from a nearby window, and it's enough lighting to get by.

One other note I should make before finishing up this article... be mindful of what kind of lighting your miniatures will be viewed in.  If you paint up your minis under a clean white 5000k + light, but then try taking pictures of your minis under yellow incandescents or 2700k bulbs, you may be shocked how differently your colours turn out.  The models simply won't look the same.  The same goes for the lighting that painting judges may view your minis under.  However, in that case we are generally pretty fortunate that most reputable painting competitions try their best to use clean white light... very similar to the light you should try using while painting.  That's not because they are the best lights to paint under, but because they also are the best lights to display miniatures well.

Now, some of you may be using something else entirely than what I've presented in this article, and it may be working for you.  If so, then use what you like.  However, if you were thinking of trying something else out, then you might find some of what I've written above quite useful. Perhaps you'll find yourself enjoying painting much more, with less eye strain, and better able to discern details and colours.  I certainly hope so.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Eavy Metal Style of Painting, or "Is Duncan Rhodes the Messiah of Mini Painting?"

Duncan Rhodes always drinks his painting wash water after he finishes a model.

For some, mini painting is an art form.  For others, it's simply a chore to be quickly gotten over with prior to playing a game.  Sometimes the two mindsets clash.

However, there IS a happy medium between the two, and I would have to say that it's the Eavy Metal painting method / style, which was popularized by Games Workshop eons ago (and is more popular and refined than ever today).

Now, I've mentioned before, I started mini painting back in the late eighties when there were very few published mini painting step-by-steps, no YouTube videos, no painting DVDs (or VHS tapes, for that matter), and no mini painting classes.  These are all things that we all take for granted nowadays, but back then we simply saw pics of completed minis in White Dwarf and Dragon magazine, and did our best to guess at the tools and techniques used, and somehow reverse engineer the process.

Back in the 80's, we would stare at White Dwarf pages like these for hours, trying to figure out how the artists achieved various effects.
And then we'd end up with something like this...

GW / Citadel Miniatures was making the move away from being a game importer and distributor in the UK, to their new focus of creating miniatures.  However, sales of individual miniatures as a business model was very limited in growth.  After all, most D&D players only needed a single miniature to represent their character, and a DM might only need a handful of models.

"The Role-Playing Games Monthly"... a far cry from where White Dwarf's at now.

So GW started publishing rules for playing with entire armies of miniatures.  As you know, this was a fantastic business model... and suddenly GW was selling quite a lot of minis.  In some cases, however, the only thing slowing down people's purchasing was how much money they had to spend, and how fast they could paint.

In some ways, that's how the Eavy Metal method of painting came about.  Gamers and collectors needed a fast and efficient way to paint their miniatures.  The sooner they finished a miniature and got it on the table, the sooner they would be back in the shop, looking for their next acquisition.

It also needed to be easy to understand, so that people new to the hobby would not be intimidated, and could pick it up quite quickly.  When I worked at GW, we often heard non-gamers look at the display cases and say, "Wow, I could never paint like that".  Of course, like wolves hearing a distress call from a weakened deer, we would then swoop in and say, "Actually, it's quite easy.  If you've got a minute, I can show you how at our painting table over here...".  Then, after a 20-30 min demo where the potential customer got to walk away with their first painted miniature, we were often able to talk them into a purchase.

"Why hello, dear... would you like a painting lesson?"

Lastly, it still had to look good.  This style of painting had to help showcase all the details on the miniature... it couldn't be a quick and dirty "dip-job".  It's understood that part of the draw of the hobby is how fantastic a fully painted army looks on the tabletop... potentially every gamer's army would essentially be a marketing tool to drive further sales of minis, and help bring in new blood.  Whatever method of painting that GW promoted would have to keep that in mind.

And so if you look at the motivations behind one of the main driving forces behind the evolution of miniature painting, Games Workshop as a corporation, then you see how the basic primer, basecoat, wash, and layer highlight (with optional drybrush) method made perfect sense.  It's quick to learn, quick to paint, and for economy of effort, it's hard to beat the end result.

Now, also consider that GW also sells their own line of paints, and has done so for quite some time.  Yes, they are made by other companies, but they are made to GW's direction.  Sales of these paints represent a very large chunk of their income, and any painting tutorial published in White Dwarf, or posted online or on YouTube goes a long way in helping drive sales of GW paints.  Part of what makes the Eavy Metal method so easy is that you rarely have to mix paints... every painting tutorial has a long laundry list of colours that you can simply pick up and layer on your mini.

Use this system, and you may never need to learn how to mix paints.

(Side Note: Other companies are also doing their part as well in specifically targeting the beginner.  Reaper came out with a "Triad System" of paints, in which each they grouped each colour into separate base, shade, and highlight pots.  I've also noticed that many P3 paints are given names like "Menoth White Base", and "Menoth White Highlight".  Organizing your paint range in this manner turns purchasing paints into an established system that new painters can easily understand, even without any knowledge of colour theory).   

Okay... so if you've read all that, you might now think of me as some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.  You likely just love the painting techniques shown on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel, or those published in White Dwarf, for the simple fact that they have vastly improved your own painting.  The thing is, both are entirely valid reasons for this style to exist.  This method of painting has evolved BOTH to help new painters / gamers, AND to help GW's sales as well.  One reason / result does not devalue the other whatsoever.  They live in happy harmony.  GW has done the hobbyist a huge favour, while at the same time doing themselves a favour too.

Now, there's very little NOT to like about the painting method.  Even though it's simple in concept and execution, the end result is a clean, bright, and characterful model, that looks fantastic on both the tabletop, and in the display case.  For that reason, it's incredibly popular, and in particular I'm seeing many people rave about Duncan Rhodes' painting tutorials on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel.  I've seen a few of them, and most recently I've been checking out the ones on how he has painted the new Saint Celestine model and Inquisitor Greyfax.  Frankly, I was blown away at how simple, effective, and elegant the painting was. 

How to paint Inquisitor Greyfax, the Duncan Rhodes way

The best part of the promotion of this method of painting is that it's getting more painted miniatures out there.  One thing that I absolutely loathe is seeing hordes of bare metal / resin / plastic at gaming stores or at tournaments (I even wrote a whole article on how much I dislike it).  I think it's absolutely awesome that we are seeing more and more beautifully painted minis, and people are taking more pride in their models.

However, to play Devil's Advocate for a second, the one drawback to everyone following Duncan's painting vids is that we're going to start seeing similar paintjobs from one person's army to another.  Much the same happened back in the early nineties, when everyone copied Mike McVey and the Eavy Metal style. Many of the gamers I played with pretty much had identically painted armies.

Don't get me wrong... I still like Duncan's vids. As far as economy of effort, it's fantastic. Easy to follow, and amazing results. However, unlike the McVey era, there are so many different styles and techniques out there now, it's a bit of a shame that more people aren't trying to branch out a bit more and find their own style of painting.


Let me make an analogy here.

Say everyone has a bunch of potatoes. Most of those people are serving boiled potatoes, because Duncan has posted a vid of how to quickly and easily get your potatoes to the dinner table by dunking them in a pot of boiling water. It's simple, and it's a heck of a lot tastier and better looking / smelling than a plate of raw potatoes.

But if that's all people are trying, then they are missing out on all the other ways to prepare and eat potatoes. Why not roast or mash them? Cut them up and deep fry them as french fries? Bake them and pile on some butter, chives, and sour cream? Slice them thin and fry them up as chips? Dice them up and turn them into hash browns? Sure, all those methods take a bit more time and effort than plopping potatoes into boiling water, but the end result may be worth it.



If cooked potatoes are like painted minis, then poutine is a Slayer Sword winning entry!

My point being, sure, it's awesome that we are seeing fewer raw potatoes on dinner tables, but hopefully after people have tried boiled potatoes for awhile, they go out and try their hand at other ways to cook them. Otherwise every time you go to a friend's place, or visit relatives, or go to a restaurant, you'll see the same boiled potatoes over and over again... just done up by different people.


But that's a very minor point considering the overall benefit to gaming / hobbying.  The impact of the efforts of WarhammerTV, White Dwarf magazine, Duncan Rhodes, and every red-shirt staff member at a GW store is enormous.  While many gamers will likely watch WarhammerTV and be satisfied with a lifetime of painting to that standard, many a future Slayer Sword winner will take their first baby steps because of Duncan... but not if they stop their progress there.

I really hope that after people learn to "thin their paints", and that "multiple thin coats are better than one thick one", that their interest and passion will just have started to be piqued.  Hopefully they go on to find other influences, like Mig Jimenez, Mathieu Fontaine, Massive Voodoo, James Wappel, John Blanche, Darren Latham, David Soper, Alfonso Giraldes, etc etc etc (please see some of the other blogs on my sidebar list, or Google them).  Duncan Rhodes is the starting point I recommend for anyone new to this art form, but I implore you, do not stop there.  Just as there are many different ways to prepare a potato, I strongly urge everyone to try out as many different ways to paint a miniature as they can.

Just not the "Pure Edging" approach that some White Dwarf staff were pushing in the years previous to Duncan Rhodes coming on the scene... jeez... it's still shite.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Recent Purchase : Mig Catalogue and Weathering Magazine

Just a quick post regarding a few things I picked up from my local hobby shop (Burnaby Hobbies), and a few thoughts on them.



I'm a huge fan of anything from Mig Jimenez (who incidentally, kind of looks like a Spanish version of George Michael).  If you don't know the name, you should.  This man has pioneered so many weathering techniques for scale models, it's crazy.  He has worked for a number of different companies, helping them formulate painting supplies to help make weathering easier and push the boundaries in what can be done with a model.  He has also founded a number of companies himself (the original MIG company, and AK Interactive, are two well known ones, which were both wrestled away from him... a long story which I may be able to go into in a later post).  His latest company is Ammo by Mig, which has an extensive line of oils, pigments, acrylic paints, enamel paints, basing materials, and some amazing how-to-books.

Well illustrated, well translated, his "Weathering" magazine picks a topic with each issue, and has a number of great step-by-step articles on that topic.

Adding depth with enamel washes

Highlighting and shading with oils... longer working times, easier to blend, but longer drying times and messier too.

Looking forward to applying some of these techniques on my X-Wing models


The Mig catalogue is more than just a list of products for sale.  There is a small smattering of how-to articles included as well (thought not quite as in depth as the ones in the Weathering magazine, or in one of his dedicated books), but it showcases the huge range of modeling paints, mediums, basing materials, pigments, washes, and books.

The catalogue is full of brief step-by-steps

Hmmm... I wonder if this would work for Vallejo paint bottles?

Sorry to sound like a sales pitch, but I can't help but geek out over this stuff.  A word of warning to anyone else who wants to get neck deep in weathering geekery... collecting all these books and paints / pigments gets pretty darn expensive over time.  I've probably spent more on these products than I have on the models themselves in recent years.

If you're into this kind of thing, another company worth checking out is Secret Weapon Miniatures.  The owner, Justin McCoy, is an award winning scale modeller himself, and has produced a great range of weathering products as well.

GW Forgeworld has a smattering of related products as well, which is appropriate because these these tools and techniques work amazingly well on their models.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please comment, and I will try and answer as best I can.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Alfonso "Banshee" Giraldes : Vancouver, Canada Masterclass


Early this month, I had the privilege to attend Alfonso "Banshee" Giraldes' Vancouver Masterclass, his first in a series as he tours across Canada.  Alfonso is an incredibly talented painter, sculptor, sketch artist, teacher, and mini art historian from Spain.  Despite only being 32 years old (10 years my junior), this man has a resume that is absolutely astounding.  He has won a multitude of painting awards across Europe.  He has worked for Knight Models, Forgeworld, Andrea Press, Nuts Planet, and many other notable miniature companies.  He has taught some of the biggest names in our art form... people like Raffaele Picca, Ben Komets, and others.  And with Madrid, Spain being about as far away from the Wet Coast as you can get, this was a rare opportunity to learn from one of the most influential people in mini painting history.  Even Mathieu said that he had lots to learn from Alfonso... and if someone who has won 19 Golden Demon awards and taught painting all over the world is saying that, the chances were that I would likely learn something from Alfonso as well.

Now, Vancouver has only a small but dedicated mini painting community.  It's not like it is in Europe, where art appreciation is in their blood, and small kids go to art museums on their field trips to see Rembrandts, Van Goghs, and Matisses.  We do not have mini art extravaganzas like the Golden Demons, Mont San Savino, the World Expo, and Euromilitaire... where you can go hang out with the top names, and check out their works in person.  But somehow we have managed to bring people like Mathieu Fontaine and Meg Maples to inject new skills, techniques, and approaches to mini painting our damp corner of the world.  And now we have had Alfonso, and mini painting in Canada will never be the same.

Alfonso's class took place over two days, which is never enough when you have a guy with that much talent.  I'm not sure what he was expecting... he was going to be away from home for about a month and a half, going from Vancouver, then to Montreal, then over to Winnipeg, and finally Calgary.  And coming from sunny Spain, over to Canada's wet and cold Fall weather would likely take some adjusting to.

What's worse, the day before he left home, we were being warned of a big storm approaching our coast.  The media and government was warning everyone to be prepared for massive windstorms and rain that would likely knock out power to a good part of the area.  Mathieu had set up a Facebook group for all the  students, and while we were stocking up on non-perishable food and water, we were also telling each other to grab candles and headlamps in case we had to paint in the dark. 
Luckily the worst part of the storm ending up hitting a bit further south than the weatherman had predicted.  Even so, we got drenched in rain... a perfect welcome for our guest.

We all got to the venue safely, including the people that had to take a ferry over from Vancouver Island, and one gentleman that crossed the border from the US to attend.  We had been told to bring our regular hobby supplies with us, along with a few other items if possible... artist heavy body acrylics in the primary colours, plus black and white, artist quality inks (in the same colours), a really large wet palette, and a 70 or 75mm model.  The reasons behind these models would become apparent soon after we started.

Alfonso started off by introducing himself, a task that took a little while considering his extensive history in the field.  His grasp of the English language was very impressive, and we had no difficulties following anything he taught (I had watched a number of YouTube videos of Mig Jimenez the night before, and I think Alfonso's English was considerably smoother).  We then broke out our pens, notebooks, brushes, and wet palettes, and got down to business.

I'm not going to lay out Alfonso's course in a blog post, but I will tell you what to expect if you get a chance to take it.  It's radically different than any other mini painting class I've ever taken part in.

Most teachers teach technique.  They show you a few tips.  They demonstrate the use of a few new tools, and they show you how to blend, shade, highlight, and maybe weather a bit.  They talk about their preferred brushes, and answer questions along the way.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach... it's what most painters want to learn, and it produces the quickest boost to your painting skills.  As a student, you can walk away from a course like that, and start improving your painting right away.

Alfonso's class is nothing at all like that.  His is more of a thinking painter's challenge... he makes you ask why certain colour schemes seem to work better than others.  He gets you to examine each colour, and get intimate with it... learn all the nuances and personality quirks, and then discover how they like to play with other colours.  And how to bend it to your will.

To give you an example, Alfonso made us understand that we associate colours with ideas.  Blue is cold, depth, calm, darkness, night, death, and humidity.  It is also the noble family of colours, with properties not associated with yellows (which is just about everything that blue is not).  Red, the last primary colour, stands apart, but while blue and yellow are rivals, red is sympathetic in its interplay with other colours.  The other colours (non-primary) also have their qualities and personality quirks, but like a biological child, they are a blending of their primary parents.

He also made us understand the relative strength of each colour.  In pigmented paint, colour has a relative strength (whereas in light, every colour is pretty much equally strong).  It's important to know just how powerful the natural tendency of a colour is, because there is also the additional factor of how strongly pigmented the particular paint or ink that you are using is.

Paints, palette, brushes, and most importantly, coffee and a muffin!


Remember how I mentioned that we were asked to bring some artist quality heavy body acrylics and inks with us?  It's because Alfonso has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes in paint development in the past, and realized that many hobby paint companies are forced to cut corners when they formulate their paints for a variety of reasons (but mostly because of cost).  High quality artist paints, on the other hand, typically have more potent pigments, and high quality artist inks are the most potent of all... sometimes adding a little ink to the paint on your palette can really add an extra punch to your colour.

The reason why this is important is to keep all this in mind when you are mixing paint.  Yellow, a typically weak colour, is easily overpowered when mixed with something like blue, which is a very potent colour.  Therefore, in order to get a "pure" green, you would need to mix several parts yellow to just a little bit of blue.  Of course, you can also try using a more weakly pigmented blue to even things out, or a more concentrated pigment strength yellow (such as in an artist quality ink).

All this is a bit moot if you rarely mix paint.  Most of us paint the easy way... when painting a green part of your mini, you might start by grabbing a pot of mid-tone green, shading with a darker version of that green from a different pot of paint, and highlighting with a pot of lighter green.  This is an easy formula for acceptable (and predictable) results, but it gets a bit boring after a while, and it certainly limits what you can do with a mini in terms of controlling atmosphere, temperature, and mood.

In order to push past "the ordinary", we need to learn how to mix paint.  We needed to learn how to dissect and deconstruct the paints that we already had, and learn how to experiment and mix with them so that we could discover how to rebuild them into completely different tools.  Concepts of colour, tone, nuance, temperature, value, brightness, and luminosity were crammed into our heads in a short amount of time.

My wet palette after a few different exercises


I felt like we were taking some sort of higher level culinary class, taught by a Michelin star chef.  We were breaking things down to a level that was beyond just refining technique.  We weren't just learning how to recreate traditional appetizers, entrees, and desserts... we were understanding our ingredients at a molecular level, in order to design brand new dishes and flavours with them. 

Alfonso had us doing one colour exercise after another.  It became readily apparent why he wanted us all to try using these giant oversized wet palettes... even though they were the size of laptops, we utilized every last inch of space while searching for the perfect blend of paint.

I have to say that it was a bit exhausting and mentally taxing.  I admit I leaned over the shoulder of my fellow classmates (especially my friends Jeremy Fleet and Matthew Beavis, who grasped these concepts much more quickly than I did) on many occasions to take a peek off their notes.  For my poor friend Steve Kemp (who sat to my left), it was his very first painting Masterclass, and he was getting a real crash course in higher conceptual painting (to his credit, he was picking up everything almost as quickly as I, and he didn't have the university art courses and decades of painting experience that I did... what Steve did have was a much bigger brain than me).

Thankfully, at the end of the first day Alfonso brought out some of his works-in-progress, and a few pics from his tablet.  This really helped crystalize the reasons why we were going through all this work, and just what it was that we were trying to accomplish.  We weren't treating our minis like 3D colouring books any more... we were working on them like 3D illustrators and artists. Alfonso defines himself as a 3D illustrator, bringing an illustrative approach to 3D models (which is actually more difficult than 2D, because you don't necessarily have a background with which you can establish mood, tone, atmosphere, and lighting).

Understanding how to break down a subject into shapes, in order to determine where the shadows and highlights would form.  And how light and shadow appear differently on different kinds of textures and surfaces.


The second day, we were right into the battlefront trenches once again.  This time, we were understanding Alfonso's motto and battle cry, "Fuck Smoothness".

"Fuck Smoothness" meant learning how to apply texture.  It meant not being obsessed with achieving perfectly smooth blends.  It meant hard lines here and there, abrupt transitions with crazily contrasting colours, and bending the subject to your will, forcing it to take on aspects that you could impose on it.

"Fuck Smoothness" encapsulates his feeling that the miniature world's current obsession with perfect blends (my friend Sebastien Cormier calls it "The Smoothness Meta", or "The technician's bias toward the primacy of technique") is going to eventually lead it to an evolutionary dead end.  His illustration background (a Master's degree in the arts) has made him more open to "imperfection", so long as it's done in order to push the boundaries of mini painting.  He wants everyone to be striving and accepting and developing new styles of mini painting.

If you look at 2D art, not everyone is working in Norman Rockwell's style, or Giger, or Picasso.  All their styles are phenomenal, but if only one style was acceptable, then the other painters would be considered failures.  This is obviously not the case.  The miniature painting world should be the same... many different styles and techniques and interpretations, and any artist working in one particular style should be able to recognize and acknowledge the brilliance of a piece done well in another style. 

It got me thinking of other painters that don't necessarily work in the contemporary mini painting format / formula... John Blanche and James Wappel come to mind.  Both are from the 2D illustration world.  Both are wonderful 3D mini painters as well.  And both do NOT paint in your usual Crystal Brush or Slayer Sword winning style.

In my opinion, this is not to say that all smoothness should be devalued too... it's incredibly difficult to master, and is an easily recognizable sign of talent and dedication.  It's just that you can still achieve mind-blowing results using techniques that aren't smooth at all.

Alfonso's current favourite artists are Sang Eon Lee and Kirill Kanaev, and they are perfect examples of what I mean.  Their stuff looks smooth from a distance, but once you look VERY closely (zoom in on a pic of one of their busts), you realize that the effect is actually achieved by laying down a variety of different textures and colours (what Alfonso refers to as "noise").  Your brain blends it altogether and arranges it in your head so that it makes sense, but you don't really, truly understand all the elements that are acting to create these impressions until you understand their processes and approach.

Kirill Kanaev
Sang Eon Lee



Near the end of the 2nd day, he was able to sit down and take us through the processes and approach himself.  Using his famous "Anonymous" bust (he had sculpted this for the express purpose of using it as a teaching platform, and also as a platform for experimentation), he showed us the various stages he went through to go from primered resin, to finished bust.







It was quite marvelous to watch.  Using only the three primary colours (red, blue, and yellow), plus some black and white, he was able to create skin tones effortlessly.  He would push colours around on his palette, and apply them in rough blocks on the model (with a chisel shaped brush!).  He also pushed colours around directly on the model, mixing right on the surface of the mini itself... wet blending, only somehow more freeform and chaotic.  And speaking of chaotic, whenever he made a "mistake", he would just go with it, and make it part of the final paintjob.

He played with all the concepts he discussed earlier... value, brightness, luminosity, colour, tone, temperature, and nuance.  He played with saturation and desaturation.  He would harmonize or contrast depending on his will.  He broke down components of the model into different planes, which he would play off of in order to create artificial shadows.  And he somehow did this in about 45 minutes, completing the bust while conducting a class and answering questions at the same time.

All done with just blue, red, yellow, black, and white.

Adding detail where there was none on the model... deep scars, deeply exaggerated cheekbones, and extra creases.

\Check out the shadow under the chin.  Hard, knife-sharp transitions, showing deep undercut shadows, and highlights within shadows.





One bonus was that much of our class was Alfonso telling us stories and the history of mini painting, which we couldn't get enough of.  It gave context and richness to this art form, and personalized it wonderfully.  I can't say that every class that he teaches is likely like this... we were always struggling to make up time, and much of that was probably because we kept encouraging him to be a storyteller, rather than a teacher.  But it was kind of like spending time with an old war veteran or famous movie director... getting a chance to talk to someone who was actually taking part in the evolution of our hobby, working at the various companies that nudged it along, and had a personal relationship with many of the legendary names was quite special.

One personal experience I had at the end of the class was when I pulled out my copy of an old Andrea Press book, "How to Paint Fantasy Miniatures" (published 2006), and asked Alfonso to sign it for me.

He had written an article within it, all about freehand designs (the example was a mini that he had won a Golden Demon with).  Other writers within were such legends like David Rodriguez, Julio Cabos, Jose Palomares, Jeremie Bonamant, and Juan Carlos Avila Ribadas.

Alfonso's face lit up when he saw the book.  It was a huge blast from the past for him, and he got somewhat emotional as he recalled the circumstances around his contribution to the publication, that time period of his life (a very difficult and somewhat desperate time as he struggled to establish himself, and was being taken advantage of for his talent).  He had a few stories to tell, which came out as he flipped through the pages and saw the authors and their works.

He gladly signed the inside cover, and got a few selfies with the book to send to some of his friends back home.  I told him that I had found my copy in the back of a games store years and years ago during a driving trip to California.  At the end, he said that if you had told him 10 years ago that he would be one day signing a copy during a class he was teaching in Canada, he wouldn't have believed it.



Of the two people holding the book, guess which one is the Spaniard?  ;)


As a book collector (I love picking up just about anything to do with mini and scale model painting), I have to say that was one of the coolest experiences I've had in regards to a publication.  This book will definitely have a place of honour in the collection.

In the end, I can't say that this class will have as an immediate impact on my painting as the ones I took with Mathieu Fontaine or Meg Maples / Soley.  I loved those classes, and they helped me break through some significant plateaus in my painting development.  I learned a ton of new techniques that demystified many of the works I have admired in print, but could never replicate in person up until then.  Mathieu and Meg are insanely talented painters, and fantastic teachers whose courses will up your game right away.

However, that's not the intent of Alfonso's class.  He knows there are many teachers teaching techniques, so he has made the decision to take a different approach.  Instead, Alfonso is teaching us to think... to break form with everything we thought we knew about painting before, and go down the crazy unpaved paths.  Expression, not imitation.  I think his course will have a profound, long-term impact on me, and everyone he teaches.  And he is very likely one of the most passionate people in this art form that I have ever met... which is really, really awesome because just being around him fires you up and inspires you.

Mind = Normal

Mind = Blown
Oh, and I have some quick thank-you's to add.  First of all, thanks to Mathieu Fontaine for heading up the effort to bring Alfonso to the Great White North (ie Canada).  Also, thanks to Jason Dyer and Chris Jones for making the arrangements for him to come to Vancouver.  Thanks again to Matthew Beavis and Jeremy Fleet for letting me cheat off their notes, and explaining things to me when I couldn't figure out what I was doing and wanted to break my brushes.  Thanks to Stephen Kemp for carpooling with me and covering the cost of gas.  And thanks to GW Jade Green, just because I love the colour (and I may finally be able to mix it up from scratch, which is nice because GW stopped making Jade Green about a decade ago).

A big thanks to James Gates of High Calibre Miniatures, who provided some really nice models as giveaways, and who runs an amazing mail-order miniature service out of North Vancouver.  Seriously... I ordered "The Last Mercenary" model from High Calibre shortly before the class (a 75mm Nuts Planet figure that Alfonso actually sculpted!), and he responded to my emails immediately, and I received my model within days.  Crazy good service!

And finally, a big thank you to Alfonso.  Thanks for coming halfway around the world to teach us.  Thanks for challenging us.  Thanks for opening our minds.  Thanks for inspiring us. And thanks for being such a nice guy too.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Quick Update: Judging at Attack-X, Upcoming Banshee Masterclass, and New SableandSpray Email Address

Hi Guys,

Spring has just ended, and it's been a crazy busy time for me.  Very little in the way of actual painting (unless you count working on walls and furniture at home), but I've been intently following many events in the miniature painting world (thanks to various Facebook groups, blogs, and websites... many thanks to anyone who works on these things and updates for all the rest of us who can only live vicariously through you).

Oh, and Pinterest.  Holy crap, Pinterest is addictive... if you're not on Pinterest, you should try it.  It's a really rich mine of inspiring pics, on just about any topic (look me up when you get on.  My account is "Kelly Kim", and I'm the Asian guy doing his best "The Thinker" pose... with the thousands of geek-themed pics).

 
I do have a few upcoming events of my own though.  I thought I'd do up a quick post to let you know what they are, and then hope to go into more detail on them in some blog posts to come.



First of all, I've been asked to help revamp and run the 2016 Attack-X miniature painting competition, held in Kamloops on September 9-11th.  Attack-X is a very successful gaming convention, and one of the events held there was called the "Sage Brush" painting competition.

This year, myself and Jillian Walker are organizing the new version of the event, called "The Sable Shield".  We will have rules and regulations and further details posted to the Attack-X website and Facebook group soon, but if you want to get a head start on the competition, you should know that we will have four categories: Single model, Unit / Group, Large model, and Small Scale (15mm and under).

It will also be an Open format, instead of the traditional podium award system.  That means that there is no limit to the number of awards... you win so long as the entries meet the standard of quality for each level (Gold, Silver, Bronze... more thoughts on the Open format in an upcoming blog post).  In addition to that, we will also have four trophies for "Best in Category" (one for each category, naturally), and the "Best of Show" award... otherwise known as the "Sable Shield" (which I understand will be a nice shield, perfect for putting on display in your hobby room or man / woman cave).

Check out the Attack-X website for more details.  And "Like" the Facebook group as well for regular updates.  I'll also be posting more details on this blog.

In addition to running and judging the painting competition, Jillian and I will also be the judges for the painting scores in the gaming tournaments.  We'll be walking around the gaming tables with clipboards in hand, trying not to get in anyone's way while the action is going on.  However, we will be asking gamers to point out their favourite conversions and paintjobs, to make sure we recognize all the effort that went into your armies.  For the most part, the more work you put into your army before the event, the better your score... talent and skill does help, but painting scores are more about rewarding time and effort than anything else.  News Flash: bare metal and visible primer won't impress anyone.

We have some fantastic support for this event, but are always happy to have more sponsors.  Feel free to contact Nathan Bosa (the Attack-X event organizer) or myself if you are interested in being part of this awesome con.

In October and November, the legendary Alphonso "Banshee" Giraldes is coming to North America for a cross-Canada tour.  Banshee is one of the most influential artists in miniature painting, and has been teaching Masterclass painting courses for some time now.  Our own Canadian legend, Mathieu Fontaine, is organizing the tour, and bringing Banshee all the way from Spain.



Vancouver's date is set for November 12th and 13th  (UPDATE: Dates for Vancouver have been changed to October 15th and 16th), and I've registered to attend.  Seeing as Mathieu (who has won more painting awards than any other Canadian) has said himself that he has much to learn from Banshee, I figured that this was an opportunity I couldn't miss.  The other stops are in Montreal, Calgary (thanks to Dallas Madill, the Alberta Godfather of mini painting), and Winnipeg.  Not sure why Toronto didn't organize a class... considering that they host a respectable painting competition called "Sword and Brush", you would think that they had a healthy mini painting community there.

I just don't get Torontonians sometimes... who else would vote in a mayor like Rob Ford (a man who makes Donald Trump seem "normal") multiple times?

Contact Mathieu Fontaine if you want to sign up.  Seriously... how often do you get a chance to be taught by one of the great European artists?  If you live in North America, the answer is "not damn often".

The last bit of news to share with you guys is that I finally got off my butt and created an email address for Sable and Spray.  If you would like to contact me, email sableandspray@gmail.com and I will get back to you.  If things are busy, it may take a little while, but I will respond.

Unless you're a Nigerian Prince in need of a bank account.  Or you are offering penis extensions and cheap meds.  Doubly so if you are a Nigerian Prince offering penis extensions and cheap meds.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Gaming Rooms, Hobby Dens, Home Studios, and Man-Caves : A Few Thoughts and Pics for Inspiration

I've been giving a lot of thought to game / hobby rooms and man-caves lately.  As a quick blog post, I've pulled a bunch of pics off the Net and pasted them below, along with some initial impressions and ideas (NOTE: I apologize in advance for any peculiarities of format of this article... I did some cutting and pasting of text and images, and for some reason Blogger got really really confused by this):



Link to original source page.

This is a FANTASTIC game room.  Stylishly adorned (although maybe not to my wife's tastes), plenty of hidden storage under the gaming tables, lots of light, places to put down a few drinks and ranks of casualties along the wall mounted shelves... this is gorgeous setup.  This is what every gamer's basement should aspire to.  Hopefully this gamer's hobby and painting area is just as nicely done.

Link to original source page.

Speaking of model train rooms, this hobby room obviously belongs to a train enthusiast.  I like the used of cabinets and wall mounted shelves for storage.  The pics and maps on the walls are also a great touch... it's nice to have visual inspiration on hand.  While not an elegant setup (by design magazine standards, which is what some spouses and in-laws base their "good taste" on), it's actually quite tidy and organized.




These are the types of hobby rooms that might meet with spouse approval.  Especially if her hobby is drinking wine and collecting antique long guns.

Those are some beautiful cabinets.  The way the lighting is set up, and the professional design and layout... this screams money.  It's like a wonderful private museum for when the rich Illuminati get together on weekends.  I would LOVE to see something like this, but geared towards the gamer / mini-painter / hobbyist.  I dunno... anyone got any pics of George R.R. Martin's private mini collection?


Link to original source page.

Speaking of classy... this is a pretty nice display of reproduction fantasy swords and staves.  Most of them look like the United Cutlery line of Lord of the Rings swords, but some of them I don't recognize (but they still probably have plenty of meaning to the owner).  Again, tastefully done, although I'd probably keep them behind glass myself... I can see my 7 year old taking a few down and hacking up my man-cave while playing with them.

Love it though.  A great example of how geekery can be done tastefully.


Link to original source page.

This, unfortunately, is more common amongst geeks.  This is Adam Savage's (of Mythbusters fame) collection of movie props and reproduction pieces.  To a diehard geek, this collection is absolutely gobsmacking awesome.  To anyone else though, it looks like the cluttered set of the TV show, "Hoarders".  To be fair, he's got enough stuff in this one room to fill a multi-level museum.  It would be hard to imagine how else this could be artfully displayed in such a space.  As it is, I'd be worried that if I tried playing pool here, I'd accidentally smack and set off the Rocketeer's jet backpack, a la "The Empire Strikes Back" ("Boba Fett?  Where?").




https://www.pinterest.com/hmoly/cool-stuff/

This wall of display cabinets are done pretty nicely as well.  Probably not TOO expensive to do, either.  I understand that there are inexpensive glass doors sold for the IKEA “BILLY” bookcase line that would do the trick.  Add a tiny bit of weatherstripping around the edges of the doors, and it’d be dustproof too.



http://robhawkinshobby.blogspot.ca/2012/01/kicking-off-new-year-with-new-hobby.html

Plenty of gamers would have something more like this setup.  Plenty of eye-candy on display for the gamer, but for non-gaming guests, it may look like a confusing mess (although from up close, you can tell that it’s actually pretty tidy and organized).  From a design standpoint, I would probably try and have a bookcase and display case that were pretty close in dimension and scale.  Similarly, I would prefer to have them in the same colour if possible.  This would make for a more seamless transition visually, and make it easier for your eye to read.
The colours of the shelving units are also something to consider.  The white is nice in a small room because it recedes into the light coloured walls nicely, and visually opens up the space.  However, I do like black too, because the colours of the models pop better against it, and black has a nice museum-quality to it that acts like a nice picture frame.  The only drawback to black is that it shows dust easily, and it visually occupies a lot of space.

Having both units with such dissimilar footprints and overall dimensions breaks the flow of the room quite a bit too.  What I would have liked to see instead of that puny (in comparison to the glass door cabinet) bookcase is another cabinet with the exact same dimensions, but perhaps with opaque doors instead of glass ones.  This would allow you to cram all sorts of modelling supplies and unsightly mess, and still have a clean streamlined appearance in the room.  That being said, I’ve also seen many books artfully displayed in glass door bookcases too… something about the doors frame the books nicely, so opaque isn’t the only way to go.

I guess the big thing is that the beautiful fully painted minis should be the focus of everyone’s attention, not the boxes of unassembled models and bottles of flock.  If the supplies were in covered cabinets, then they would not be competing for attention with the gorgeous paintjobs.



Now THIS is gaming and display done very well.  Museum style display cabinets in the back, with a clean, classy gaming table before it, with plenty of room to walk all the way around it.  If I was to nitpick, this room might benefit from some nicely framed art and decorative items on the walls as well (the space above the alcove is just screaming for a horizontally displayed sword, or a movie prop fantasy tavern sign), but I can’t really say much else about it.




Hmmm… could THIS pic be of the same room, only taken from the other end of the table? :
A very cool hobby area setup.  You’ve got nicely laid out and organized paint racks, little tiny drawers for bits and small tools, a photography setup at the far right, and a computer for picture processing and surfing for reference photos on the far left.  Larger tools and hobby supplies probably stored in the drawers underneath it all too.

The one thing is that I normally prefer to have my work space in a separate area.  To me, they are like garages and artist studios.  They are naturally very cluttered, messy areas.  You wouldn’t want a mechanic’s garage and the supercar sales showroom occupying the same space, as one is a messy workspace, and the other is a pristine display.  Similarly, you wouldn’t want to entertain high society guests in the same room where wine is being pressed… it’s hard to feel classy about drinking fine wine when there’s someone stomping barefoot on grapes right next to you.

However, in the context of everything being all part of one “man-cave”, it works regardless.



Not quite as classy as the previous example, but probably almost just as functional.  This is still a man-cave I could definitely live with.  Great work space with great lighting and tools easily at hand.  Although without any space underneath the work surface, there’s no room to tuck your knees in so that you can get right up and cozy with your minis and paints.  That can lead to serious back pain as you crouch far forward in your chair to work.

The gaming table looks interesting.  It’s almost as if the varnished brown wood top is set atop of a regular dining table.  It would have to be anchored down somehow to prevent tipping over, if that’s the case.



This is an interesting one.  My first instinct would be to replace all the bookcases with closed door cabinets so that your eye would be free to focus on the nice gaming table.  However, unlike hobby supplies, I think books are beautiful things.

However, books can also be visually chaotic and cluttered looking, unless organized and displayed properly.  There are plenty of pics of private libraries online that illustrate this idea… many libraries are sumptuous and inviting, whereas others look like rat nests.
The way to improve this room would be to replace all the bookcases with the same kind… not necessarily identical to one another, but at least thematically and dimensionally the same family.




This is better.  The cabinets against the far wall are visually related and sympathetic in dimension and appearance.  The table is a good size as well, and can be worked around easily.  I might have added some doors to the shelves of both the cabinets and the table though, just to clean up the look of the room and refocus the viewer’s attention to the game in play and at the armies in the cases.  A few art pieces on the walls above the glass cabinets would be a nice touch, and I would move the sword to the column between them.  Also, the room could use better lighting.

My wife hates valances above windows and doors, so those would have to go.  She does have a point… the era of the pleated valance has come and gone.
Love the big AT-AT.  Damn, that’s nice.

One question I would love answered is whether or not the short bookcases holding up the gaming table have wheels on them.  It would be interesting to have a table you could break down between games... put the terrain and models away, put the green table top against the wall or in a closet, and then wheel the supporting bookcases back against the walls to open the space up again.  Hmmm…



I have the same idea about this game table.  Take the table top off and store it somewhere, and then push the “legs” back against the wall to be regular old bookcases again.

My only concern would be whether or not the table is very stable when set up.  Perhaps you’d have to have to incorporate some way of clamping the tabletop down to the cases, so that it doesn’t tip off when you lean on one end, or bump into the table.



Another simple, attractive, and functional gaming table.  More artwork on the walls would be nice though  (you guys should see a theme in my personal tastes by now).  This room looks a little stark, and art would make it a bit more interesting and inviting.

If the last room was a bit bare and cold, this one is a bit too busy.  Not the same hobby as us, but I like this pic in terms of it being a good example of someone showing off their passion like we gamers / mini-painters like to do.  This guy definitely put some thought and consideration into planning out this room, but then crammed it to overflowing with sports memorabilia.  It’s really hard on the eyes, and can use a little bit of negative space just to open it up a tiny bit.



Now this is a seriously neat and tidy work space.  Yeesh… mine certainly doesn’t look like this.  I really like it, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t see myself keeping it so neat and tidy over time.  It’s inspiring though.  Lots of lighting, a combination of closed and open storage, lots of open table space to work, and even the colours and dimensions look harmonious.

They say that a cluttered work space can be stressful to work in.  If that’s the case, then this room would be like zen meditation.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough for one blog post.  I’m pretty sure I could keep going on and on for days by pulling up more and more pictures off of Google and Pinterest.  For now, I’ll just end this article with this pic of a really cool hidden door that would be the ultimate finishing touch for any man-cave. 


Really now… what would be cooler than a “Scooby-Doo” style hidden door to your hobby room?  There are a million reasons to have something like this.  Where would I even start?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.