Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mother's Day : Holy Moses!!!

Just a reminder to all of you to call your moms today, and perhaps treat them to dinner.  While very few of them really understand our obsession with miniature painting (who does?), they still love us.

I was trying to think of something I could write that would relate to mothers and painting, and remembered this little guy:

And another pic with a penny, just so non-painters understand just how tiny these models are:

When my wife and I were still just dating (but shortly before I proposed to her), I had to try and explain what I did for a living to my future in-laws.  For some time, I had simply described myself as a "Contract Artist", which most people took to mean that I came up with some sort of 2 dimension canvas or promotional art for clients.

Of course, my in-laws wanted to know more, and I felt like I was decieving them by letting them think I worked on canvas with giant brushes.  So, one day when we were visiting them, I brought along a small carrying case and a few finished models.  I carefully selected ones that weren't TOO weird... no green alien Ork nobs in mega armour, no Sisters Repentia with exposed boobs, and no hermaphrodite Greater Daemons of Slaanesh.

After all, my father and mother in law were fairly conservative Menonites (which is NOT the same as the Amish, apparently).  They definately weren't radical right wing religious nuts... but more like really friendly and fairly accepting Christians that led pretty normal lives.  Fantasy and Sci-Fi weren't really things they had much exposure to, and miniature painting even less so.

Anyway, I sat them down at the dining table, opened my fig case, and let them have a look at a few miniatures.  The very first one my future mother in law picked up was this 25mm Lord of the Rings Saruman figure, and she exclaimed, "Look!  It's Moses!"

I think my jaw dropped.  Moses?  Really?  It was pretty obvious to me that it was Saruman.  It took me a second to realize that LotR and J.R.R. Tolkien wasn't something that EVERYONE knew about.  It wasn't certainly the FIRST thing that would come to mind to everyone in the world.

I didn't say anything.  It was fine that my in-laws thought I was painting miniatures of Biblical figures.  In fact, my future grandmother in law and aunt-in-law also dropped by a few minutes later, and when they saw the miniatures, they also exclaimed, "Wow!  That's a great Moses!"  I just smiled and nodded.  It was good enough to know that they knew I painted little models for a living, and still didn't mind me dating their youngest girl.

I have pretty great in-laws, which is probably the reason I have such a great wife, which is why my son has a pretty great mom.  Do I need to go into great detail about miniature painting and try and convert them to hard-core geekdom?  No.  It's just not necessary, and it would have just alienated them.  Not everyone in the world needs to be a geek, although I am certainly very proud to be a geek myself.  I was also raised as a Christian, which for me is 100% compatible with my love of Star Wars, miniature games and miniatures, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, comic books, Firefly, etc. etc. etc.  I don't push my religious beliefs on anyone, which means I don't think I should push my love of geeky goodness on anyone either...

Although I did force my wife to watch the original Star Trek movies.  Hey, she knew what she was getting into when she married me, didn't she?  The mother of my child has to at least know who the heck Spock is!

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Finished Warmachine Cygnar Stormblades

Remember when I said that the only way I manage to get models done in a timely fashion was if I was getting paid for it, or if it was for an upcoming competition?  Well, the Cygnar Stormblades are now done, and the money has already been spent on paying off the bills from various Kickstarters and shiny new paintball gun upgrades.  Oh well.

After a pretty rough start, I have to say that I'm pretty pleased at how these models eventually turned out.  Prep and assembly was the main issue... like I said before, the Privateer plastic was an odd material to work with... something inbetween a resin and traditional plastic.  It holds a decent amount of detail, but it doesn't respond well to a needle file or scraper.  I can't quite explain it, but it was almost like the models disliked being cleaned.  I also noticed some off-coloured residue on the parts, which meant I had to soak them in warm water and soap for a few hours, just in case it was some sort of leftover mould release lubricant.  Being particularly wary of these models, I gave them a final scrub with a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid.

Also, there were quite a few noticeable mould lines, many of which ran right through areas of high detail.  Therefore, scraping them off was a delicate and time consuming process.  However, despite all that, these were pretty nice models to paint.  At least, they didn't fight me nearly as much during the painting stage.

The process of painting was very similar to what I've done on my old rank and file models, only with more care and attention paid to feathering and wet blending.  When that wasn't enough to get a smooth transition, additional layers of glaze were added.

One thing I've changed with my approach to painting lately is my choice of basecoat colours.  In the past, I would pick a fairly dark shade of whatever colour I was using (for example, scab red).  Then I would give it an ink wash to further define the shadows, rebuild the base, and then add layers of progressively lighter colours all the way up to the highlights.  In the end, the overall impression was a wide spectrum of shades and tones, and wouldn't come across as overly dark or overly light overall.

However, I've started picking much lighter shades for my choice of basecoat colours.  Then I would spend more time building up the shades, and then building up the highlights from there.  The reasoning was that darker tones had more coverage / opacity, thus it is easier to build upon your shades than to highlight.  I'm not 100% sold on the concept, but it seems to be working out so far.  The only drawback I'm finding is that my basecoat takes a few more coats to ensure solid coverage.  Like I said, lighter colours / tones usually have weaker opacity.

The tufts of grass on the bases are Battlefields Wilderness Tuft from The Army Painter.  These are pre-made tufts of static grass, attached to sticky sheet of plastic.  You simply dab some white glue on the base where you want the tuft to go, pull the tuft of your choice off the sheet with some tweezers (there are an assortment of random sized patches), and push it down onto the white glue on your base.  The glue will dry clear, and the grass will appear fairly natural... at least, it looks much better than the old method of grabbing a pinch full of loose static grass and pressing it down with your finger.  Games Workshop also has their version of this product, but I've read one or two reviews stating that of the two brands, The Army Painter version was slightly better (apparently there were some issues of the glue holding the tuft together being a bit less transparent in the GW tufts).

I also added some OSL (object source lighting) as requested by the client (a good friend of mine).  I decided to do this the old fashioned way (no airbrush) and build up progressive layers of thinned down glazes.  It went terribly at first... for some reason, the glazes wouldn't grip to the metallic paints used on the weapons.  Instead, after I laid down a thin even layer, it would simply pull back into little puddles / water droplets.  Perhaps I thinned down the glaze too much?  In any case, I ended up using more opaque paints, which worked in the end (even though they covered up the surrounding areas, rather than tinting them).

Another client request was for lines to be added to the bases to denote facing of the model during gaming.  Now, I've seen this on various people's models, and in my opinion, they look pretty tacky.  The rim of a base acts as a nice frame for the model... it adds a nice elegant touch that is somehow sullied by the addition of a decidedly artificial line on either side of the model.

That being said, these were primarily gaming pieces, and even I could see the practicality of defining the model's front and back facings.  I played around with a few ideas, and came up with using glowing runes instead as an alternative.  The outside edges of the runes would work as the bisecting lines, while giving the base an artistic touch, in keeping with the background and fluff of the model (the runes were taken directly from the Warmachine world).  I put an "F" on the front, a "L" on the left side, and a "R" on the right.  A bit more time consuming than simple slashes would have been, but I think they are much nicer to look at.

Two light coats of Testors Dullcote later, and the models were finished.  I've had excellent results with Games Workshop's Purity Seal spray as well, but I find that it's a touch more "satin" in finish when compared to Dullcote.  That means GW's spray is probably more durable, but if the players handle the models by the bases whenever possible, that shouldn't be too much of an issue.

Whatever the brand of spray sealant, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to get the best results.  First of all, do not spray when it's cold or excessively humid outside.  If you do, instead of a clear coat, it's more likely that you will get a foggy layer.  Second of all, make sure you shake the heck out of the can before you spray.  Lastly, after you're done, turn the can upside down and spray until it runs clear.  That should prevent the tip from clogging, and as with airbrushes, fountain pens, dropper bottles, and other things, clogged tips are a bad thing.

So, what's next?  I'm not sure.  Other than on this particular project, I've been taking it easy.  I underwent an open hernia surgery 3 weeks ago, and it'll probably be another 2-3 weeks until I'm fully healed up.  Until then, sitting in a hunched position for long periods of time puts pressure on my lower abdomen, which leads to a bit of soreness.  I'm trying to alleviate that by alternating activities as much as possible, so I'm not locked into any one position for long.  I really need to start playing around with bits in preparation for my Samurai Space Marine army, however, I'm really obsessed with the whole "Inq28" thing right now (Inquisitor, the game, in 28mm scale).  There's a whole community out there converting, sculpting, and painting up their own Inquisitorial retainers and Inquisitors a la John Blanche style, and it's absolutely fascinating, and quite gorgeous.  It's only a matter of time before I jump on the bandwagon as well, but I will probably try and make sure my models are fully useable in games of 40K as well... my Sisters of Battle army could use the help of the Imperial Inquisition...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Farewell Specialist Games

If you've been following the buzz on the Net lately, you'll already know that GW is shutting down their subsiduary company, Specialist Games.  Rather than re-hash the news, I'd rather talk about my feelings on the matter.

Back in the day... when I was still just a lowly red-shirt in service to the mighty institution known as Games Workshop, we had two big releases each year, one in the spring, and one in the fall.  The fall release was usually the BIG release of the year... typically a new edition of one of the "core" systems (Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, etc.).  The spring release was often a new, untested system.  Sometimes it was a boxed board game, like Space Hulk, but sometimes it was an offshoot of 40K or Fantasy in a more collectable format, like Mordheim or Inquisitor.

Games like Necromunda, Inquisitor, Mordheim, GorkaMorka, Bloodbowl, Epic, etc., were great games in their own right.  As retail sales people, these games were an almost automatic sale to hardcore 40K and Fantasy players, but most importantly, they were an easy sell to casual and non-gamers due to the low cost of entry (starter box set, which could be shared between two gamers, or someone could easily join an existing gaming group by only buying the models needed for his own gang / warband / etc.).  For us, they were the "gateway drug" by which we could slowly bring fresh blood into the hobby.  We would run a quick demo game, we would show them what they needed to get started, and they could get playing.  Later, they would want to play another gang / warband / team / etc.  They would get more and more invested in the story and background of the Games Workshop universes.  At a certain point, they would find themselves making the (oh so tiny) step into a full blown 40K or Fantasy army.

On the other hand, 40K and Fantasy on their own were much harder to sell to non-gamers.  Try showing a army box set to the mom of a 13 year old kid.  Then show them the starter paint set, a can of primer, a fig carrying case, some terrain, glue, clippers, needle files, exacto knife, and the starter box set.  The cost of getting into the hobby was intimidating, especially when it looked like that was just the START of what your kid would be asking you for.

Contrast that to the cost of a Bloodbowl team.  Sure, you still need to get some hobby supplies, but people always seemed to think that that was the end of it.  I buy a box of models, some hobby supplies, borrow the rulebook when I go over to my buddy's place, and I'm done.  Of course, it never ends there, but people starting out in the hobby don't know that.

When you have a Mordheim gang, you have a small chunk of an Empire army right there.  It's the building block... the foundation... the cornerstone to your future army.  It only takes one slip, and you have crossed over from being a Mordheim player to a Fantasy collector.  Same thing with GorkaMorka... how many ork armies started off as GorkaMorka gangs?

For existing 40K and Fantasy gamers, these systems were a nice change of pace from playing the same core systems over and over again.  Most people considered them to be welcome diversions from their regular games.  Just when people started dropping out of the gaming group out of lack of interest, a new game system would come out, one that was set in the same familiar universe (only from a fresh new perspective), and it wouldn't take much prodding to get "that guy who hasn't shown up for game night in awhile" to come out and maybe pick up that gang / faction that no one else has started yet.  And of course, once you've got a few models "that would look great in that Imperial Guard army that I've thought about starting", before you knew it, you were building a brand new army for 40K or Fantasy, and getting enthusiastic about playing the core systems again.

Anyway, in 2002-ish, Games Workshop decided to break the spring / fall release cycle, and concentrate on their core systems.  I believe Lord of the Rings had a big part of play in that decision.  Now that GW had 3 core systems, they had a lot on their plate, and the "little" games had to go.  All other game systems would now be handled and supported by the Specialist Games division (headed up by Jervis Johnson at first, as I recall).  They were distractions, and were perhaps considered a drain on the games development resources that were better suited to supporting the big three games.

At first, it looked like the smaller games finally had a dedicated development team of their own to support those games alone.  Specialist Games was full of promise.  A few new miniatures were released (mostly as online sales only), and fans of those games could keep on playing them, with the hope that those games would be updated on occasion, and they could get their "new shiny" fix whenever a new model was released.

Unfortunately, nothing much seemed to come of it.  White Dwarf magazine focused solely on 40K, Fantasy, and Lord of the Rings.  Not much appeared in GW's major monthly publication regarding the Specialist Games.  People lost interest.  People stopped buying models for those games.  On occasion, the diehard gamers would dust off their old collections, and play a league within their own circle of friends.  However, GW saw very few sales, and I guess it was inevitable that they would someday pull the plug on the Specialist Games venture.

Yes, we (as gamers) were partly to blame.  I confess... I haven't bought any new Bloodbowl, Epic, Battlefleet Gothic, Warmaster, Inquisitor, Necromunda, or Mordheim models in a long long time.  I haven't even played any of those games in quite some time.  I even have boxes of unpainted models for every single one of those systems... all collecting dust.  If I was ever to get back into one of those games, my first stop wouldn't be my local games store to buy more models, it would be my parent's garage to dig those dusty models out of storage.

However, without a NEW Necromunda, or a NEW Mordheim, or NEW Bloodbowl, etc., I just can't get fired up about collecting more models.  Consumers are conditioned to leap at the newest, shiniest things that have been just released (or re-released).  Old gamers like me need to see a game company actively supporting their old games.  It reassures us, and excites us.

As for the non-gamers... the potential lifers in the making... they need an easier baby-step into the Fantasy and 40K universes.  It's much easier to sell Warmachine, Infinity, Dark Age, Hordes, etc. to someone who is just stepping into the hobby.  To the timid newcomer, there is something reassuring about being able to play with the big boys right away.  They can get stuck in right away, and no one is going to scoff at them for only bringing one small fig case to the local game store's game night.  I mean, c'mon... what longtime 40K player is going to want to play against a brand new player who only has half the contents of the Dark Vengence box set?  Really?  It's like showing up to an open-class exotic car race with a Mazda Miata.  At least the new Warmachine player can show up with a dozen models and still find people to play with.

Also, Games Workshop just doesn't seem as interesting and dynamic without letting their games developers go crazy once in awhile.  Instead of churning out new codexes and army books all the time, wasn't it great to see them come up with entirely new games set in the same worlds?  The ability to explore new gaming concepts often paid off for the big games too... many of the rules for Necromunda and Mordheim made their way into later editions of 40K and Fantasy... once they had been tested out and explored more fully in these smaller game systems.

In short, I don't think these games were distractions or drains.  These games SUPPORTED the main games, and enriched them.  Building upon these smaller games, and building new ones, would be a great way to revitalize the GW IP's, and bring new gamers into the fold, while at the same time bringing old gamers BACK into the fold.

Anyway, I was hoping to do a run-down of all the Specialist Games, and present my thoughts and happy memories of each.  However, this blog post has gone on long enough, and now sleep deprivation is swiftly catching up with me.  I'm certain my writing has already lost all focus, and likely anything I write from here on would just be garbage.  I certainly didn't want this blog post to be full of negativity and GW-hate.  Sable and Spray was meant to be primarily a painting blog, not a gaming one, and not an editorial on the gaming industry.  However, I'm human, and some of my fondest memories of collecting, building, converting, painting, and yes, gaming, revolved around the games that Games Workshop is now discarding like so much junk.  That's the reason for tonight's rant.  Apologies for any offense it may have caused, and opposing opinions and comments are ALWAYS welcomed here on S&S.

G'night all.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Optivisor: The Review

Have you ever seen one of these in your local hobby / craft shop?:

These have been around for a long long time, and while I've often given them a quick glance, I've always dismissed them out of hand.  After all, my eyes were pretty good (the last time I took an eye exam, I shocked the nurse when I was able to read everything on the other side of the room, even the copyright date at the bottom of the eye poster), and I figured that if there was a detail I couldn't make out on a miniature, it was fairly likely that few other people could discern that detail either.

Well, two things happened to change my mind.  First of all, my eyesight is not as good as it used to be.  I'd say it's still better than most, and I'm not likely to need glasses any time soon, but as I approach 40, I have to admit that it's not going to get any better.  It seems to take my eyes fractionally longer to adjust to different light conditions, and it takes fractionally longer to focus on fiddly little things.  Nothing's blurry... yet, but my eyes do get tired during a long painting session, which never seemed to happen before.

The second thing that happened is the Internet.  Well... that, and the advent of really nice digital pics, and super-sized computer monitors.  Once upon a time, we viewed miniatures at life size, or perhaps only a little bit larger than life size.  Either we saw the model in hand, on the tabletop, in a display case, or perhaps in a print magazine picture that was perhaps only slightly larger than the real thing.

Nowadays though, we're used to seeing high quality digital pictures of our 28mm tall miniatures blown up to the size of our tablets or monitors.  Suddenly, it's no longer good enough to be able to paint pupils on the eyes of our models... we need to paint the colour of the eyes, a small dot of light reflecting off the iris, and the red veins around the edges of the eye. Okay, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration if you only plan on cranking out tabletop quality paintjobs for your 3000 point Warhammer 40K army, but if you aspire to hit the top 10 miniature paintjobs of the week on Coolminiornot, then you've got to treat that tiny model as if it was the size of your forearm.

In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that that's why more and more painters are finding themselves favouring 32mm and 54mm models nowadays... because it's easier to get an impressive final product to view on a larger screen.

Anyway, the combination of the two is a bit of depressing state of affairs for me.  Not only do I have to step up my game, but my most important tools (my eyes) are blunter than they've ever been.  During Mathieu Fontaine's painting clinic, I remember him advising his students to avoid optivisors if at all possible, but out of desperation, I decided to give one a try.

I picked up this one at Burnaby Hobbies, a nearby hobby store (the non-gaming kind... lots of R/C cars, model tanks, tons of tools and modelling supplies) for a tad over $30.  I can't recall the brand, but there are similar makes and models from all kinds of companies out there, and they all looked the same to me.  I'm sure there are nicer ones out there, but I'm not willing to spend that kind of money on an experiment.

So... what did I get for $30?

The visor itself is a rigid plastic, as are the lenses.  However, the strap is a more flexible sort of plastic, and it adjusts in size with a velcro strip.  Wearing one isn't all that uncomfortable, and I was able to get it snug enough to keep it in place on my head.  Seeing as I still have almost all of my hair, I can't say how comfortable it would be if you were bald, but I don't think it would be all that bad.  This is in part because of just how light the whole contraption is.  For a guy who wears a ballcap all the time, and occasionally uses a LED headlamp when I paint away from my home studio, I didn't find this visor to be uncomfortable at all.

The interesting bit is that this particular model actually has three lenses.

By flipping each up and down, you can "set" the visor to different magnifications.  A great feature for some people, but I found anything more than a single lense to be massive overkill.  I needed a magnifying lense, not a microscope!

Anyway, I tried it out, and it did a great job of effectively bringing the model closer to my face, while still maintaining a nice crisp view of it.  I was also suprised that I still retained a degree of depth perception.  I once owned one of those artist desk lamps with the magnifying lense in the middle of it, and I never used the magnification because it robbed me of any sense of depth... and the whole thing was pretty awkward to paint under anyway.

While painting with the Optivisor, I was able to make out the details on my models better, which helped when I was painting pupils on some infantry models.  While working on some freehand designs, I didn't find myself squinting, and was able to hold a more precise line.  In effect, I was able to see what my model would look like when viewed on a large screen monitor, and it did help.

However, there were some pretty major drawbacks as well.  It has a really shallow focal depth.  That means that when you try and look at something other than your model, it goes out of focus.  I would be working on a freehand line on a cloak, but then my brush and hand would go out of focus when I reached for my palatte or wash water.  At first, I just flipped the mag lense down whenever I needed the extra magnification, and then flipped it back up, but that got tedious.  I ended up keeping the lense down, but tilting my head back so I could look under the lense whenever I needed to look at something other than the model in my left hand.  It was sort of what people do with bifocal glasses, only in reverse.  It worked, but after awhile, my neck got sore from leaning my head back and forth so much, and my eyes got sore from adjusting from magnification to natural vision over and over again.

So will I continue to use an optivisor?  Only in rare instances, I would think.  The hassle of flipping my head back and forth like Zaphod Beeblebrox in the last "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" movie is considerable, and I worry what the long term effects of constantly refocusing my eyes is going to be like.

That being said, I thought detail work seemed to be a bit easier, and my results were slightly better.  I think what I'll do is paint without it 99.9% of the time, and only break it out when I'm doing the finishing touches on a competition piece.  If it's tabletop quality, I won't even bother.

However, I may change my tune in another decade or so.  If my vision is ever shot so bad that I have a hard time "reading" a model with my unaided eyes, I'll probably find myself using the optivisor more and more often.

And let's hope that we don't ever end up looking at pics of our 28mm models on wall sized monitors in the future...

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.  ;)