Friday, 15 March 2013

The creation of the first Space Marine: an explanation by their first sculptor

BellofSouls posted a link to something I think any fan of Warhammer 40,000 would appreciate: a deposition regarding the creation of Games Workshop's most recognizable intellectual property: the Space Marine.

In it, Bob Naismith (a sculptor for Games Workshop back in the '80s) explains how he came up with the design for the very first Space Marine model, with some design input from Rick Priestley (one of the designers of "Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader").  Titled, "Exhibit H" in a civil action case between Games Workshop and ChapterHouse Studios, in it, Games Workshop's lawyer grills Mr. Naismith on various aspects of the Space Marine's design, it's design inspirations, and whether or not he was aware that the term, "Space Marine" was in use before he came up with his take on it.

Now, I'm no lawyer, and the only legal show I've ever watched on TV was "Night Court" (that should tell you how old I am), so I focused on the story behind the creative process that brought this iconic sci-fi soldier to life.  It's amazing how this man thought, and to think that if he hadn't been so knowledgeable about ancient Roman armour, or been a bigger fan of any other ancient or medieval time period (for example, the feudal Samurai???), Space Marines as we know it would have turned out very differently.

One thing that puzzles me is why a U.K. game company and design studio is so fascinated with American-style football?  I mean, there was Bloodbowl, but now we find out that Space Marine shoulder pads were inspired by NFL-style football player shoulder guards?  Whaaaa?

Anyway, it's definately worth checking out:

And a pic of the very first Space Marine (GW's take on the concept, anyway) model ever sculpted:

I know... to the average everyday person, this is probably boring as all heck, but for a GW geek like myself, this is the coolest thing I've read in quite some time!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Ah, the memories... pics of models from years ago

I've got some projects on the go at the moment, but nothing worth posting about so far.  However, I'm also digging through the old hard drive and seeing what little suprises there are in there... I hope to one day organize all the pics of my past paintjobs so that I have a ready reference for any future projects.  Oh, and it's just nice to see all the models I've painted in the past.  As a former professional painter, I've probably painted thousands of miniatures since I first picked up a paintbrush back in the late '80s.  Of those thousands of models (possibly tens of thousands, actually), I probably only have a few hundred in my personal collection.  Most I've done for clients, and others I sold off on eBay or to friends.  Some were done while in the employ of Games Workshop, so they belonged to the store at which I worked.

One of the drawbacks to being a professional miniature painter is what I call, "The Surrogate Mother Syndrome".  As an artist, you tend to invest quite a bit of yourself into each model you work on.  You pour your creativity into it, your thoughts, your time, and even some pain (try being hunched over a painting table with your wrists locked together for 40+ hours a week, and see how your lower back, shoulders, and neck feel!).  That's akin to being pregnant and bringing a baby to term (I can imagine all my female readers being outraged by that comparison... but let's just say it's a mild comparison to the real thing).  Then, in order to get paid and make sure the rent is taken care of, and you can afford groceries, you get one chance to admire the finished product while the paint dries, and then you pack it all up in layers and layers of bubble wrap, gently cradle it in a box full of packing peanuts, and ship it to places like St. Louis, Italy, Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, etc., never to be seen again by the person who made it.  It's quite a difficult thing to do, and if I was lucky, I'd have JUST enough time to take a pic of the model, which helped ease the pain somewhat.

Efficiency is also paramount in professional painting... you need to complete the paintjob as fast as you can, while still managing to produce a model that will absolutely wow the client.  It's a fine balance, and one that you would sometimes misjudge.  If the model didn't meet or exceed client expectations, we would redo the model, wasting time and shipping costs.  If you spent too much time on the model in the first place though, that would push your other projects back, creating a longer wait for other clients, and cutting into your hourly take-home pay by a substantial amount (since we would only charge the quoted price on a contract, no matter how long it actually took to complete).

That being said, some of my finest works ever were contract pieces.  There were some models that I completed for others that I would have bought back from the client if I could have afforded to.  In fact, I always thought that if I was to win the lottery, I'd track down as many of my former pieces and buy them back to have in my own collection.  I know it's a weird thing to contemplate, especially since I think I've grown as an artist, and my style and skills have changed, but I really have a soft spot for all my former works of art.  They represent landmarks in my painting evolution as an artist, and reflect something of myself from those former times.

On that note, here is a small sample of models I've completed in years past:

This is a Forgeworld ThunderHawk gunship that I completed for a client back in 2005 (I think).  It's a beast of a model... about the size of one of my cats.  The client in question was a great guy, and when I asked him if I could delay shipping it out by a week so that I could enter it in the Vancouver Conflict painting competition (Conflicts were smaller versions of the internationally reknowned "Games Day" events), he agreed.  

The pic is from Games Workshop Canada's website, and it's one that the staff took after it won the large model catagory (the client got the model, and I got to keep the trophy).  This is a great example of the pre-military modelling techniques that were fashionable at the time.  Each armour panel is given hand-painted shading, blacklining, layered highlighting, and edging.  In order to give them enough definition to have visual impact at any viewing distance, I worked the heck out of the highlights and shading, to give it as much contrast as possible.  It was incredibly time-consuming, and because my approach to it was similar to what I would have done on a much smaller model (a dreadnought, for example), it took quite some time to complete.  There were a few concessions done for time efficiency though... otherwise I would have had to charge a fortune to finish it:

If you look closely at the lighted instrument panels, I used the same colour on almost every single one of them (yay, Jade Green!).  That saved considerable time compared to making each one a different colour, while not sacrificing that much visual interest.  This was also some time before OSL (object source lighting) came into vogue, so I was able to save some time there too.  Weathering was also uncommon at that time, so the paintjob was done in the clean, simple, and bright style that was prevalent in most miniature magazines.  I used some decals as well, to save some time on freehand work.  In addition, I initially thought to freehand the skulls all over the model, but it became immediately apparent that this was simply too huge a model to do that with... it would have taken forever.  Therefore, I added the skulls to the areas that your eye was going to be drawn to first... that way you couldn't help but notice them.  In hindsight, I probably could have simply highlighted each rivet in the background base colour instead of painting each one metallic and blacklining them... that one step alone could have saved hours (there was THAT many rivets on there...gah!).

That same year, I painted this Calidus Assassin model for my own personal collection.  Actually, I painted it for an earlier online miniature painting competition, in which she did respectably well, but did not win.  Again, simple and clean was the style of the day.  Zenithal highlighting wasn't in the painter's vocabulary.  The Eavy Metal painting studio drove the painting fashions at the time, and this was very much done in their style.  However, what made this model different than the studio paintjob was the use of skin on the abs and arms... I didn't care for the full-body black skinsuit, as it really needed to be broken up into contrasting colours to add visual interest.  The severed head was simply something done out of whimsy, and probably a bit childish in retrospect.  Still, this was done for fun, and I'm still fond of the model.  It won the 40K single model catagory in the very same painting competition as the ThunderHawk above.

This Boromir model from the Lord of the Rings range was a quickie paintjob I did for the same Conflict painting competition as those models above.  I figured that the Lord of the Rings catagory would not be as hotly contested as some of the other catagories, so investing two evenings of my own time might reap a nice reward.  The catagory was tougher than I thought, but Boromir still managed to take home the trophy.  He features layered highlighting, an elevated base (something that wasn't nearly as prevalent at the time as it is today), and some fairly simple freehand work (which was as close to the movie version of the banner as I could make it).  It's a nice model, and I'm a huge fan of Sean Bean as an actor (although his characters always seem doomed to die), so it has a deserving place in my display cabinet to this day.

This photo dates back to 2002, but I'm sure I painted it a few years earlier.  It was a limited edition release of a Legion of the Damned sergeant (named Sgt. Centurius).  I ended up putting up for auction on eBay back when Sorcerer Studios was just starting up, and we needed the exposure that a high profile auction on eBay would bring.  eBay rarely brought in the dollars... if an auction price went above what we would charge normally, people could just have us do one up on contract instead.  However, since this was a limited edition model, it got a fair bit of attention, which is what we needed as a fledgling startup.  The layered highlighting is a bit heavy-handed, but still not too bad.  The bones were done in a flesh to bone fashion... not the stark white of dried bone, or greys of aged bone, but something a bit "fresher" looking.  The metals were simply done in GW chainmail with the old GW armour wash.  The base has an aquila on it, at a time when most models simply had flock glued to them.  The base is rimmed in Goblin Green... which every Eavy Metal studio paintjob had (even the Necromunda models, which I didn't get at the time).  I don't like how the skull decal on the banner turned out... it was placed correctly, and I painted over it to give it the appearance of freehand work, but the slight silvering around the edges of the decal give it away.  I will post a blog in the future on how to do decals properly, and avoid this common mistake.  The flames were done properly... highlighted at the bottom, not the top.  Even the Eavy Metal guys always got this wrong... flames are lit from within, so the light comes from below, not from an external source at the top.  This is a major pet peeve of mine to this very day (GottaCon painting competitors take note!).

This is an Epic scale Imperator Titan model I did for the same client as the ThunderHawk above.  I can't remember when this was done... my best guess was 2004 or so.  The whole thing is about as tall as a ball point pen, which is huge by Epic 40,000 standards... the largest model in the whole range.  In order to give it a real sense of scale, I created a custom base for it, with some ruined buildings and a Rhino armoured personnel carrier on it (the size of a standard tank).  The top of this model reminded me of the British Columbia Provincial Parliament buildings in Victoria (where I lived for about 6 years previously).  Even though I don't play Epic, this is one of those models I'd love to own just because it's so cool.  Tom... if you're reading this and you still have this model in your collection, let me know what it'll take to get it in my display case at home.

This 40K Chaos Sorcerer dates back to 2002, and it was something of an experiment for me (even though it was done for a client).  I hadn't seen much in the way of metals shaded in other colours at the time, and so I thought I'd give it a try.  After it was done, I posted a pic on Coolminiornot, and it seemed that it was something new for many people, as it garnered some nice comments and a decently high score (check it out here).  The sword effect was something different at the time as well.  Rather than highlights the edges, I decided that I would try highlighting it from within, as if it was something otherwordly.  It looked a bit too much like a lightsabre at first, so that's why I added the Tzeentch symbol and the stars.  I also painted the bolt pistol's outer casing up in woodgrain, which was interesting, but probably not practical (I'm not so sure a bolt pistol should have that much in common with a .45 Thompson or AK-47).  Overall, this model seemed to work out fine, even if it was a hodgepodge of experimental effects.  In fact, it's still my highest ranked paintjob on CMoN, although the standards were much lower back in 2002 (it would probably score very poorly if I posted something similar now).

Last pic for now is an Eldar Harlequin model I painted up in 2007 for a personal (and local) friend of mine.  This is an ancient sculpt... I think Jes Goodwin came up with this model back in the late eighties, or early nineties at the latest.  However, other than the hugely oversized hands, it holds up very well to the passage of time (oversized hands were what sculptors did back in the day... don't know why... might be something to do with the soft nature of the lead they were cast from).  Harlequins were supposed to be a riot of colours, so I went with something as outrageous as possible.  Stripy pants, pinks, purples, reds, golds, whites, a bit of black for contrast, and even a touch of jade green (I love Jade Green!).  The pistol he''s holding is supposed to be made of crystal, so I decided to treat it much like a gem... highlighted from within, as if it was letting light in and refracting it back out.  Overall, it was a fun model to paint, and I think it came out pretty well, even if there was nothing particularly cutting edge or adventurous about the paintjob at the time.

Well, that's enough for now.  These paintjobs reflect where my head was at, at the time they were created.  Everything was painted with an emphasis on time efficiency, but I pushed the techniques where and when I could.  Nowadays, I'm no longer painting for anyone but myself, so I spend as long as I like on models.  That has turned out to be a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, it's nice to feel free to experiment, and not be pressured into finishing something to a time schedule.  I now try all sorts of weathering techniques, new painting mediums, new painting tools, and explore the internet and painting DVDs for any hint of something new to try out.  I paint pretty much whatever models I like, regardless of brand or army.  And I can paint models for purely display now, if I like, rather than just game-play.

On the other hand, I got to paint some pretty spectacular models back in those days.  While I personally couldn't afford to buy Forgeworld Titans, ThunderHawk gunships, and rare limited edition models, my clients could, and I got to build and paint them.  I also tended to get things done back then... nowadays it seems like I keep starting models, and then never finishing them.  Greed is a huge motivator, and when you need to pay the bills, you get things done.  Not so much when the only motivation you have is simply to try out something new.  Unless it's for a painting competition or for a friend, I tend not to finish anything anymore.  The process interests me more than the actual finished product.  I like the feeling of learning, and completing anything is just a bonus.  That's why I need to find reasons to finish projects... all those half-painted models tend to haunt me in the end.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a pic of myself back in 2005, when I was sharing a studio at the back of my buddy Chad's place.  This Forgeworld Bloodthirster model is another one of those "I can't afford one of my own, but I'm glad I still got the chance to paint one for someone else" projects.  It's a gorgeous piece, and one that I hope I get a chance to paint up and display in my own miniature display case one day.  IF I can finish one up, that is...

I'll post some more past pics in future blog posts.  In the meantime, if you want to check some other works of mine out from years gone by, check out my Coolminiornot posts:

Friday, 8 March 2013

Drake: the Dragon Wargame, now on Kickstarter!

Well, it looks like after some extra development time, Drake is now on Kickstarter!  Head over to their website ( and then check out their Kickstarter page ( for what looks to be a very interesting game, and some really nice miniatures.

I was pleasantly suprised to find out that much of the development of this game is happening in my hometown, Vancouver.  Even better, two artists that I respect very much are involved: Chad Lascelles (my former partner in crime with Sorcerer Studios), and Lee De Kock (who entered a fantastically painted pre-production Drake model in this year's GottaCon miniature painting competition).

If I find out any more details, I'll post something up.  I for one would love to paint up one of those dragons, and perhaps some of the Rish faction models.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Portal: Free Downloadable Miniatures Magazine!

WAMP, one of the friendliest miniature painting communities on the Net, has re-launched their regular magazine: Portal.  Why is this big news?  Because it's a fantastic read, full of inspiring pics of gorgeously painted miniatures, various news articles covering all corners of the industry, great interviews with the people behind the products we purchase and the pre-eminent artists in our hobby, reviews of various models from all sorts of companies, and awesome tutorials that may change the way you paint models.

Best of all, it's free!

Now, I know I sound like a paid spokesperson (like my idol, the Shamwow guy), but I genuinely like this online publication.  The quality is pretty darn good, the articles are well written, and it's a quick and easy read.  When they post their latest issue, I like to download it as a PDF to my Blackberry Playbook (although I suspect any tablet would do nicely), and read later at my leisure (often during my lunch break at work... tablet in one hand, huge floppy sandwich in the other).  I'm often cynical about anything "free", but there really isn't much reason not to like this digital magazine.

Anyway, I suggest you head over to WAMP and download their latest issue, and form your own opinion.  More likely than not, you'll like it enough to download each issue as it comes out.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Samurai Space Marines (and Ogres from Cathay)!

As I mentioned before, I used to be one of the artists behind Brushworks.  Back in the early 2000's (as far as I can remember), BW was one of THE FIRST professional miniature painting companies.  The founder got the business afiliated with the Portent website (at the time, the biggest and baddest of the GW rumour and news leak websites), and then went about recruiting the biggest names in the competitive miniature painting circuit.  Just about everyone on the team was a multi-Golden Demon award winning painter, with the  possible exception of myself and Mike Butcher.

If that name sounds familiar to you, you're probably as old as I am.  ;)  Mike was a staple of the Games Workshop tournament circuit in North America, and was well known for entering gorgeously converted and painted armies.  In fact, he almost monopolized the "Best Army" and "Players Choice" awards during that time.  His works got featured in the North American edition of White Dwarf more times than my high school classmate Steve Nash has been in Sports Illustrated.

Anyway, I stumbled on to his blog ( recently, and on it, he mentioned that he was considering doing a Warhammer Fantasy Ogre army in a Cathay theme.  Now, the fantasy world of Warhammer Fantasy Battle is huge... and most literature from it centres mainly on their equivilant of continental Europe.  However, some reference has been made to the far east, and the nations of Cathay and Nippon (think ancient China and Japan respectively).  There are mind-boggling possibilities for an awe-inspiring Cathayan army, especially when fused with the Ogres, who are mainly mercenaries who fight in whatever style and manner their employers employ.

Just thinking about that made me recall this little guy:

Quote from my 2003 posting of this model:

"Some time back, the North American edition of White Dwarf announced a Design a Space Marine Chapter competition. To enter, you had to do a complete write up of a Marine Chapter, with background, notes about chapter markings, etc. As well, entries had to include a painted sample model. As a reward, the top ten entries would be featured in White Dwarf, and get their models sent back to them. 11th place and on would get nothing (and wouldn't even get their models back).

Being of Asian descent, I always lamented the fact that GW had, for the most part, overlooked the rich historical and cultural background of historic Asia. I went about researching Feudal Japanese background as an inspiration for my own chapter, and then came up with some concept sketches for a "Samurai Space Marine" (boy does that sound bad...).

I used Tau shoulder pads instead of standard Marine ones, gave him the helmet crest from the High Elf regiment boxed set, and replaced his chainsword with the blade and handle of an Eldar Howling Banshee. Instead of the standard back banner, I went with a Japanese style "Sashimono". I considered sculpting additional details on him, but thought that if this chapter was ever going to catch on (I was hoping that others might look at the picture in WD and feel inspired to start their own Spirit Dragons army), I had to keep the conversion work as simple as possible.

I then put in as many hours of painting as I ever have on any Golden Demon entry I've ever painted. I had no idea if the pic would be blown up at all, so the blending had to be as smooth as possible. I placed some teeny-tiny flowers on the base to emphasize that "tranquil warrior" feeling, finished it off with two layers of dullcote, and shipped him off Fedex to US GW HQ.

If you'd like to see the WD pics, check out page 42 of White Dwarf #276 (North American edition). I managed to squeak out a 2nd place finish amongst some really tough competition."

Well, I commented on Mike's blog that I would really love to see a Cathayan Ogre Kingdoms army done by him, and that if he started one, I'd finally get around to doing my Samurai Space Marine army.  So far, he's done a few models for a client some time back, and I've only got the one concept model for my army.

He agreed, and it looks like we'll be starting our respective armies sometime late spring / early summer of this year.  While I used the word, "challenge", I think we're both of the mindset that we're essentially just going to be egging each other on.  It'll keep our motivation high and our momentum up, hopefully.

So, in the meantime, I've got some other projects to finish up, and I'll also be going through all my reference materials to see if I can gather as many pics to inspire any projects for this army.  I have several boxes worth of feudal Japanese history books to look through (I'm a bit of a military history geek, and samurai are just plain cool to me), as well as my usual sources of inspiration (Spectrum art books, DeviantArt website, etc.).  So far, I'm thinking a fusion of feudal samurai and ninja arms and armour, with an anime-style futuristic special ops feel.

Remember when I talked about collecting all kinds of pics off the Net and putting them away in a special folder on your hard drive or tablet for future inspiration?  Well, just a quick 2 minute peek in my 2D folder and I came up with these gems (apologies for not crediting the original artists):

I think I'm starting to get a feel for what I'm going to have to work with.  I'm also going to have to pick through my bitz boxes to see what physical materials I've got.  Now, I'm pretty set as far as extra bits go, but there's not alot of asian themed parts from Games Workshop, so I may have to do some sculpting of my own.  That's not something I'm very good at, or even enjoy all that much (green stuff is my nemesis... I can't seem to get the knack for sculpting something that develops a rubbery skin if you don't work it just right).  Once I've sculpted a few parts, I've got some Instant Mold I picked up recently, which may make it possible to make multiples of those parts.  Seeing as I've got an entire army to do, that just might come in handy.

In short, this will be a fairly monumental task for me.  It'll involve quite a bit of planning (which I tend to get overwhelmed in), lots of experimenting (which I love to do, but tend to get carried away with), mastering new techniques and tools (which will lead to frustration, which will lead to anger, which will lead to the Dark Side...), and lots of mind-slogging hard work (which is just tedious).  However, the rewards will be well worth it.  I'll finally have a gorgeous Space Marine army, which is guarenteed to get me tons of attention from mobs of fantastically beautiful women.  Well, if not that, I hope to get at least a grudging nod of approval from Mike Butcher, at least.

Just to finish off this entry, and whet your appetite for the start of the cross-blog challenge starting late spring / early summer of 2013, here's some pics I took of the very same Spirit Dragon model after I did a few quick updates to it a few years ago:

And some pics of a unit of Cathayan Ogres I did up for a friend of mine almost a decade ago:

Now, those Ogres won't hold a candle to what Mike's planning, I'm sure.  All I did was add a few tattoos to the champion, and carry the image over to the banner.  After a quick look at Mike's last blog post, I'm sure my ogres will look like mere mooks compared to his high fantasy gods out of "Big Trouble in Little China".

I'm thinking that this'll be quite epic.