Friday, 9 November 2012 : A really quick guide

One website that is a must for anyone interested in miniature art is coolminiornot.  It is probably the largest online collection of painted / sculpted minis ever, and a driving force in the hobby.

However, it can be a little daunting to some, due to it's massive content.  I have to say, most of my visits to CMoN (as it's often abreviated) is a quick check of the top rated submissions of the last 7 days, and perhaps a peek at what's new in the forums / articles / store.  However, anyone really passionate about the hobby can really lose track of time here... there's that much stuff to check out.

Of course, you people are probably just as busy as I am these days (taking care of the kid / kids, running errands, working multiple jobs, making time for friends and family, completing every console game ever made, and painting the occasional model), so I'll give you the quick rundown on the highlights of the site:

Browsing the top models:
The "meat" of the site is the premise that users can submit pics of their latest works, and have other users and visitors to the site rate and comment on their submissions.  This is what Coolminiornot was all about when it first launched, and this is what really separates it from every other miniature forum and online store out there.

On the menu bar near the top, pick out "Browse Gallery" and pick out whatever option you'd like.  I tend to go for "Top Last 7 Days", and start from there.  These are the top rated entries going back a week, and they are almost all jaw-droppingly amazing works of art.  You can really get inspired within a few minutes of checking these out.

Of course, if you're looking for something specific to guide your latest project, I like to just hit "Browse Gallery".  After that, you are shown a number of the most recent entries, and lots of drop down menus and fields where you can enter your search criteria.  For example, if I was starting work on a Sisters of Battle army, I might enter "Games Workshop" under Manufacturer, "Science Fiction" under Catagory, and select "Rating (Descending)" under Order By (I like to start with the highest rated entries first, and go down the list from there... the more original concepts tend to be more highly rated).

Oh wow... there's some of my entries from almost a decade ago still in there.   Not bad for oldskool, eh?

Of course, if your ego ever needs deflating, and your jaw likes sitting on the floor, check out "Top Artists".  The entries featured here are likely to make you want to throw away all your paints and models in despair.  The thing to remember is that all these artists started off as beginners, like everyone else.  With enough practice and dedication, there's nothing they have done that you can't accomplish yourself one day.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself...

Now, those are the features that really set CMoN apart from other web destinations.  However, there is also a thriving forum on there as well (go ahead and ask your questions... there are some extremely helpful and accomplished artists on there that will answer them), and a well stocked online store (where you can find all sorts of hard to find models and art supplies).

Overall, CMoN is a worthy site that will consume much too much of your spare time.  That being said, none of the new techniques, inspiring pics, helpful advice, etc., are of any use if you don't actually put them into practice.  So go paint, and check out CMoN whenever you're feeling painting burnout, and you need a quick "recharge".

Friday, 2 November 2012

Painting in the 90s and Now: What Changed?

Thoughts on weathering and quick links

Back in the day (pre-2000's), miniature painters didn't do a heck of a lot of weathering to their models.  The fashion at the time was bright, vibrant colours, candy-like finishes, and as clean a look as possible... just about everything looked like it had just come out of a car wash with a coat of Turtle Wax.

There were many reasons for this.  Like many trends in miniature painting, painting fashion was set by the Eavy Metal team (Games Workshop's in-house studio of professional miniature painters).  Their painting style was determined by the photo and printing technology of the time... it was often difficult to make out fine detail and subtle shades in a picture of a model once it was printed on the cardboard stock of a package, or in the pages of White Dwarf magazine, especially when the model was only barely over an inch in height.  Therefore, it was best to go bright, clean, and simple with your paint scheme.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about... Chris Borer's Golden Demon winning Ultramarines dreadnought from US Games Day 1999:

I have to admit, I was also a slave to fashion, well past it's fashionable time.  Here's an example of my Salamander's dreadnought done for a client in 2002:

Salamanders Dreadnought (Draco)
Notice that the emphasis is on smooth, clean highlights, each part is easily defined, and details are discernable even from a distance.  As most models were painted for the express purpose of looking good on the tabletop (where they would be admired from an arm's length), this was the height of miniature fashion for over a decade.

However, photo technology improved, miniature magazines were now printed on high quality glossy paper, and most miniature companies were now promoting their products on the Net (where a 32mm model would be blown up into a picture the size of a 20"+ monitor).

Also, an upstart French company called Rackham started producing miniatures with really really fine details, and their studio painters used painting techniques borrowed from 2 dimensional canvas and european comic book art.  Heavily stylized stuff, and very impressive.  They really popularized non-metallic metallic effects (ie using a wide palatte of flat colours to convey the impression of metallic shines and reflections, rather than using paints with real metal flakes / pigments), chipping, wear, and rust effects.

Once that happened, people started looking outside the hobby for all kinds of painting techniques that could be incorporated into their miniature art.  One such area was historical modelling.  Previously, fantasy and sci-fi gaming miniature painting was very much a separate discipline from historical modelling.  We did up all sorts of pretty garish looking stuff (but meticulously highlighted and detailed), and they did grungy, beat up (by historically accurate) models.  We painted dragons and multi-turreted flying tanks, and they did mud covered drab looking Sherman tanks.  Both sides really didn't value what the other side did much, and while our "gamer funk" smelled the same, we never ventured deep enough into each other's territory to figure out what the other side was doing.

Well, at some point, both sides started stealing tricks from each other... although we fantasy / sci-fi painters probably had more to learn from the historical guys (which makes sense... they've been around longer than us). 

One guy, Miguel Jimenez (a historical guy), had some pretty radical ideas, and started doing what he called, "Colour Modulation".  He describes the process in the following blog article:

Colour Modulation is basically a different approach to deciding what direction your highlights and shades should go in, and if done well, creates amazing contrast.

Over this, all sorts of weathering techniques are applied, and tones down the model into something much more realistic looking.  Here's an example of a model he's painted with Colour Modulation, and weathered only one side.  It's really easy to see how much of an impact the weathering makes:

With careful use of washes, pigments, an airbrush, and oil paints (all done in separate stages, and not necessarily in that order), the model is turned from something that looks like a digital model for a computer game, into something that looks like a full size real tank as seen from a distance.

Sorry for using Mathieu Fontaine as an example yet again, but he describes the process pretty well in the following tutorial, as used on a Games Workshop Valkyrie flyer:

Soon, I'll post some pics of a few of my latest attempts to experiment in this style, but for now, let's just say that I spent some quality time tinkering around with oil paints and white spirits purchased from my local art supply shops (Opus and Loomis, if you're in my neck of the woods), and some dry pigments direct from Secret Weapon Miniatures in combination with MIG pigment fixer (the company Mig Jimenez founded and owned, until he lost control of the company some time back... he's afiliated with a competing company called AK Interactive now).  After a few less than satisfactory attempts, I'm finally getting the hang of things.  In fact, I just won 2 awards in a local painting competition with a small diorama and an armoured personnel carrier.

I sincerely think this is the direction miniature painting is taking now (well, it's been going this way for awhile... I just haven't been paying much attention until recently), and very few miniature painting competitions will go to models painted in the "old-skool" style any more.  Old school still has it's place though... but it's best appreciated on the gaming table, with mass-ranked troops and entire armoured battle groups.  Up close with the macro-lens or the good old Mark I eyeball, weathering is adding a whole new dimension and depth to miniature painting.

Added notes (5 Nov 2012): Having just re-read the above entry, I realized that perhaps I'm selling the "clean" look a bit short.  Perhaps I frothed at the mouth a bit too much about the importance of weathering... I SHOULD say that it's really just another tool in your toolkit of painting skills, and should be treated as such.  It's great vehicles, armour, etc., but it should be used in context... if your subject matter doesn't require it, don't use it.

I just finished playing "Mass Effect 3", and had to say that the visuals really blew me away.  Part of the reason why was the subtle, and not overstated, use of weathering.  Armour was worn, scratched, and beaten.  However, it was not overdone... it wasn't as if everything was covered in rust, gouged down to the bare metal, etc.  Excessive weathering may have detracted from the high-tech look the artists were going for... perhaps distracted the eye a bit.  I'll have to keep this in mind when painting.  I don't want people to look at my models and only see the weathering and not the work that went into shading, blending, and highlighting.  Gotta make sure everything's in balance.

Oh, and I noticed Jarrett Lee's name in the game credits.  For anyone who's not familiar with his work, he's an Alberta Canadian miniature artist of considerable talent.  Check out his blog here.