Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Confessions of a Paint Hoor: More Blasts From the Past

It's been a little while since my last post, but in this case, it means I've been busy painting (after a hernia surgery).  I'll have some WIP pics up soon, but for today, I'll just be posting a few random pics from my years as a painter-for-hire.  As with most everything we create, they each have a story behind them... or at least some interesting thoughts.

Let's start with a piece that I actually kept for myself.  This is a Tir Na Bor dwarf cannon crew from the Rackham game called "Confrontation".  Confrontation had been out for some time in France before we North Americans started hearing about it.  The rules came in a little tiny booklet that was included in every blister pack, there were cardboard chits included as well, and the game was suprisingly complex for something that came free with every model and was contained in a flimsy booklet that was smaller than my iPhone manual.  The models themselves were all made of lead, and were therefore easy to clean and prep for painting.

Rackham was very continental European, as we North Americans view them.  To me, that means that everything was gorgeously stylized, infused with tons of character.  They were like something taken from the pages of a French graphic novel (mix western comics with Japanese anime, and then raise it to another level).  From their concept sketches, to the sculpts, and especially their in-house studio paintjobs (it was rumoured that each painter was given up to 40 hours to work on each model... far more than what I suspect the Eavy Metal painters are alotted), the emphasis was on producing the most beautiful miniatures available at the time.  It was incredibly intimidating to paint a Confrontation model... all the top painters of the time were investing as much fervour into them as any university dissertation, and proudly posting the results on the Net.  I felt I had to somehow live up to those impossibly high standards.

As soon as my local game store starting stocking Confrontation, our usual gaming group pretty much bought out their entire first shipment within the first day.  I was left with the Tir Na Bor dwarves as my faction (by default... everything else was gone by the time I got there), but in the end, I really came to love these little guys.  "Plucky" and "tenacious" were the words that came to mind when I painted them.  So much character and attitude oozed from these tiny little models, you couldn't help but fall in love with them.

So, as a painter, how to you compete with the likes of Jennifer Haley or the Rackham studio painters?  I decided I wouldn't even try.  They all went with non-metallic metal effects (painting metal areas with non-metallic pigmented paints in such a way as to IMPLY that they were made of metal), so I went with traditional metallic paints.  In every other way, I simply painted these models the same way I painted all my GW models... with time-tested and true Eavy Metal / Mike McVey style techniques.  They went reasonably well, although now I regret not pushing myself and taking that opportunity to go outside my comfort zone.  Still... I'm pretty happy with how this pair turned out.  

Sadly, as far as artistic and creative genius, Confrontation hit it's peak shortly afterwards (mid 2000s?), and then died a miserable death.  For reasons unknown to me (financial mismanagement, perhaps?), the company stumbled badly, and reinvented and recast the line in rubber, and tried selling them as pre-painted plastics.  It outraged the existing fan base, and struggled to grab market share away from the Heroclix and MageKnight crowd (the people who don't give a crap about nicely painted models).  In the end, the various sculptors, artists, and painters who made this company so admired by many ended up scattering to the four winds.  However, their legacy lives on, as there are tons of smaller startup companies who emulate their style very well, NMM has found a permanent place in many painter's skillsets, and even GW models have improved greatly... the sculpts got more ambitious, more dynamic, and more flowing.  They still have a little way to go with facial expressions in order to match the above sculpt, but they are definately getting there.

These are two different takes on the same model ("Aenir, Sword of Twilight, as I recall).  I painted the first one up on contract for a client, and the second one went up on eBay.

There's something so clean and crisp about this sculpt... every detail is very nicely defined, and there are plenty of wide open areas that invite the painter to go crazy with freehand additions.  The creases lend themselves nicely to some great drapery effect blending, and the fact that it was done in a single-piece sculpt (meaning I didn't have to glue, pin, or otherwise cobble together separate bits) means that I could get right to the painting with a minimum of fuss, and that I wouldn't have to worry about parts breaking off during painting, shipping or gaming.  It was a painter's dream.

The first model was done up in pretty much the same style as the Eavy Metal studio paintjob.  I don't work in those olive tones much, so it was a challenge to "reverse-engineer" the paintjob based on a tiny pic in White Dwarf magazine.  However, it was worth the effort.  Those colours work extremely well.  The olives and tans in most paint ranges blend nicely, and it was like working with a soft buttery palatte.  The gold filigree detailing on the inside of the cloak was fun too... it just takes a steady hand, paint thinned down to just the right consistency (a tad thicker than ink), and a brush with a really nice point.  If I was to do this paintjob over again, I'd probably do more with the base and the sword, but painting for hire is always a balancing act between how much "art" you can infuse into a model, and how little time you can do it in.  Overall, I'm really happy with how this model turned out (especially at the skill level I was at, at the time).

The second model was an experiment, driven by the observation that Dark Elves were selling fairly well on eBay at the time.  The Aenir model was devoid of any details that would make him exclusively a Wood Elf, High Elf, or even a Dark Elf model... I thought he'd work equally well as any of the above.  By sculpting on a facemask, I gave him a more "assassin-y" look, which I hoped would make him sell better.  I attached a blood splashed high elf shield to the base (the severed strap is just a tiny bit of paper), and used a traditional dark elf colour scheme.  One of the most common magic items Dark Elf gamers used on their assassins was the Chill Blade, so I tried to imply that the blade was magically frozen.  A little bit of freehand designs were added to the cloak and sword (I couldn't leave that gorgeous cloak alone... it was begging for some freehand), and some blue hair for that evil anime look, and it was ready for eBay.  Of course, it didn't sell for all that much (when you're a contract painter, any buyer can simply pay your contract rate to replicate any eBay item you've posted in the past), but it got a number of views, which always helps bring in potential clients.

I'm currently building up a Dark Elf army of my own at the moment, and have been hunting for an Aenir model of my own to add to it.  Unfortunately, they are no longer offered through GW, and I'm afraid of going the eBay route.  Hopefully one of my friends has one that they can spare...

I painted up some of these Juan Diaz sculpted Daemonettes on Steeds of Slaanesh for a client's Warhammer 40,000 Chaos army, and liked them so much that I painted up a 6 model unit for my very own Warhammer Fantasy Chaos army.  Juan Diaz was the first GW sculptor that really got the female form, in my opinion.  He didn't just sculpt some "lovely lady bumps" (to quote Fergie from the Black Eye Peas) onto an otherwise androgynous form.  His sculpts really hit the mark, and were luscious to paint.  Trying to get the absolute smoothest blends was key... anything less and this model would have looked too rough and coarse for a seductress of Slaanesh.

I later sold my own Daemonette models.  One I sold at one of the Vancouver Grand Tournaments I competed at, and the other five (every unit in my Slaanesh army was in multiples of 6: the holy number of Slaanesh) I later sold to Zac Belado, the founder of Tabletop Gaming News.  I now regret selling those models, and even more, I regret not buying them back from Zac when I had the chance.  Of course, I was perpetually broke for a good chunk of my life, so it was certainly difficult to justify holding on to something when people were waving money in front of my face, and digging money out of an empty bank account wasn't any easier.  At least I'm happy that they ended up in the hands of people who could really appreciate the hard work that went into them.

My local GW store (one that I had worked at a few years prior to this project) held a diorama contest at some point.  Now, I had never worked on a diorama before, but I had these leftover models from various contracts I had worked on.  I also had just finished seeing a Jen Haley painted piece where she had used part of a geode as the base, and an idea started forming in my head.  I used an agate slice as a Dark Eldar portal, and glued part of a DE warrior emerging from it.  The idea was that somehow a lone, solitary Tau Fire Warrior happened to be at the site of a Warp Portal in order to give the Dark Eldar invaders "A Proper Welcome".  I gave him a sashimono samurai back banner (even then, I was obsessed with samurai warriors), and wrote the Tau runes for "Ronin" on it, to imply that he was an adventurer, and not part of an army.  A eastern style gunslinger, if you will (I even had a few Tau weapons laid out next to the rock behind him, so he could grab those quickly instead of reloading).

I plan on revisiting this concept at some point in the future.  I like the idea, but I'm not 100% happy with how I executed it.  For one thing, there is simply too much negative unused space.  I would like to tighten everything up... fill it with more detail so that it adds to the story, and doesn't look like an oversized tabletop gaming quality base.  I would also like to do the Tau Fire Warrior in a completely different colour scheme... having the purple in common with the enemy means that he doesn't contrast enough with them... it makes him visually sympathetic to them, and that's not the point.

In any case, it wasn't a bad piece for my very first diorama.  I learned quite a bit from the process, and it sold for a decent amount on eBay later (I could never hold on to anything back then... every time my bank account started dipping, I'd scramble around for something to hawk).  I vaguely recall this going to some collector in Alaska or Hawaii, although I could be wrong (it was around 10 years ago), so the likelihood of my ever seeing this piece in person again (let alone getting it back into my own display case) is highly unlikely.  Sigh.

One of the very first super-heavy vehicles that Forgeworld put out was this Eldar grav tank.  A beautiful piece, and a seriously solid chunk of resin.  The studio had released some pics of an Alaitoc army with this mottled pattern to it, and one of our clients really wanted us to replicate it.  It came down to our studio or another he was considering, and when I promised that not only would I replicate the mottling, I would also add some small murals to the sides, we got the contract.

Well, the mottling took MUCH longer than I had anticipated, so the murals ended up a bit smaller than I had planned on (to make up for the time, and meet the deadline).  Still, I'm happy with how it all turned out.  The fiery yin-yang and the electrical farseer hand added a nice visual touch to the model, and broke up all that busy camo-like patterning.  It was done in a very clean style otherwise, which suited the fashion at the time (and the Eldar race, I thought).  Chad's Dark Reapers are in the foreground of the pics, in order to make it easier for the viewer to understand just how big this model was.  While Chad and I worked together, and even passed projects back and forth between the two of us, his style still differred somewhat from mine... but that's a blog for another day.

Ah, these are some work-in-progress pics of a Forgeworld resin Inquisitorial Valkrye.  Our best client had referred us to one of his friends, who commissioned this Valkrye as his very first contract.  It was an amazing model to build and paint, and no one had done one up as part of an Inquisition army before (to my knowledge).  I based the colour scheme on a pic of an Inquisition Rhino I saw in the Daemonhunters codex (painted up by the Eavy Metal crew), added some Forgeworld resin Inquisition details, and voila!  Aerial support for the Spanish... er, Imperial, Inquisition!

Unfortunately, this thing didn't make it to it's destination intact.  We wrapped this in several layers of bubble wrap, with rolls of foam under the wings to give them more support.  We then lovingly placed it into a heavy-weight corrugated cardboard box filled to the brim with packing peanuts.  Apparently US customs hacked the whole thing open with a box cutter, took a look at it to make sure there weren't any drugs inside, then dumped it back into the box WITHOUT any of the packing materials.  By the time it reached the client, the wings and tail had completely broken off, the paint was chipped to heck, and everyone was generally pissed off.  I believe our policy at the time was to have it shipped back to us, redone completely, and shipped back to the client, at our expense.  I can't even recall if it worked out that way, or if we just ended up refunding the client our fee.  To this day, I can't look at a Valkrye without it bringing up some painful memories.

A Forgeworld Warhound titan... the first that Forgeworld put out.  The thing is taller than a small dog, and didn't balance all that well, but damn!  It was gorgeous, inside and out.  I'll have to go into detail about it more later, but this model stands out in my mind as one of the coolest things I have ever painted.  If only I had the disposable income and time to do one up for myself!  With much more weathering, and some colour modulation, of course.  And perhaps some more practice with an airbrush, and maybe use some pigments... oh, and oil paints... etc. etc. etc.

Two contracts done up during the Sorcerer Studios days. The first pic is just part of an Epic 40,000 Tau army (the whole project took up two shelves), and the second pic was the start of someone's Lord of the Rings collection.  I remember Chad sitting across from me, toiling away at the Minas Tirith army, while I was grinding out orc after orc... I think there was 130 in total.  I very nearly went insane, especially since the plastic orcs were horrible sculpts... the undercuts in particular were very nasty.  The metal models went much better, but overall, these were not up to the Perry twins usually high standards of sculpting, in my opinion.  Of course, that might just be me holding a grudge after having to paint so many.  The Tau army, on the other hand, was actually quite fun to paint, and I don't say that about Epic and Warmaster armies all that often.

For a two man studio, we had quite a production line set up.  We had one large kitchen table where the two of us sat and painted (with one more station between us, so that friends could drop in and paint with us anytime they wanted... it was quite social).  We had one bookcase / shelving system that was usually nearly full of completed projects, just waiting to be packed up and shipped every wednesday.  We also had another two bookcases (one short, and one full height) full of boxes of bits, and all the latest codexes and army books (for references).  We had a cleaning / prepping / conversion station at the far end of the studio as well that doubled as a photo station every so often.  The computer station was in the adjacent room, for processing pics, corresponding with clients, answering emails, and posting up the occasional eBay auction.  The only thing we didn't have was a proper website.  It didn't take us long to build up our business to have a 3 month waiting list for projects, and so a website with full gallery of painted miniatures never seemed that urgent a priority.  After all, a website is a marketing tool, and when we already had more business than we  could handle, it didn't seem like a good use of time to try and attract even more work.  If a potential client emailed us for details, we would simply direct them to our Coolminiornot pages, and quoted them a rate after they sent us the details of their proposed project.

Which brings me to another point: one time someone on the CMoN forums asked for advice on approaching a professional painter to complete a project for him.  All sorts of people tossed in their two cents (lots of great advice), but I got a ton of flack for suggesting that he only look at professional FULL-TIME miniature painters.  Why?  Because someone who paints models on the side isn't relying on your contract to pay his rent and his bills.  It's side money to them... just a little bit of pocket change to fund their own model buying habits.  For us, we needed that money.  If I didn't get that model painted and sent back to the client quickly, I was going to have a hard time paying for my groceries.  If I didn't paint that model up to, or exceeding, the client's expectations, then I couldn't count on them to send me another contract, which could potentially pay next month's rent.  In short, full time painters are more dependant, and thus more desperate, for your money.  You have more leverage over them, whereas a part time painter could take their bloody time, and were more likely to flake out on you if the project (or transaction) went sideways.

Now, I only said that to this particular person because he didn't know any professional painters at the time.  In the hands of a friend, meaning someone I knew personally, and would probably run into from time to time, I would have no compunctions about giving them my models and money, even if painting wasn't a full time job for them.  There's trust there, and that's something missing via an online transaction with someone you don't know.  Without that trust, you need to rely on their greed, and their reliance on your business.  At the very least, they need to have a good reputation to protect.

I'd say that people nowadays are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a good painting studio or professional painter.  It certainly wasn't like that back when Chad and I were running Sorcerer Studios, and it was even worse back when I was part of Brushworks.  Back then, it was the online wild west, with all sorts of shysters and people wanting to turn a quick buck.  There was even one ass who kept putting up eBay auctions with pics of models he hadn't even painted himself.  The Brushworks guys sent him an email, pointing out the fact that it was misleading to use pics of Mike McVey painted models to promote his own painting service, after which he wrote a small disclaimer at the bottom of each auction which read, "The pictures above are not of my own paintjobs, but are indicative of the quality of my painted models."  That was shady enough, but then he had that disclaimer up in white font, on a white background (therefore you couldn't read it unless you highlighted the entire section).  Sigh.

I'm even tempted to hire a few painters myself one of these days.  It would be nice to have a shelf in my display case with a nice collection of painted miniatures from artists that I personally admire.  I'd love to have my very own Mathieu Fontaine, James Wappel, Jarrett Lee, Raffaele and / or Roman, Javier Gonzalez, Giraldez, Camelson, etc. etc. etc. (the list is way too long to include them all).  If only to try and reverse engineer their paintjobs, and improve my own painting, that is.  ;)

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