Thursday, 6 November 2014

Game Changers: OSL and Victoria Lamb's "Rescue of Sister Joan"

Welcome back for the 2nd entry in my list of Game Changers: The Top Ten Miniature Paintjobs That Most Inspired / Influenced the Art / Hobby Forever.

OSL (for "Object Source Lighting", in case you were wondering) feels like it's been around forever in miniature painting, but in reality it hasn't.  And it's origins in miniature painting isn't something that organically grew over time, like some slow evolutionary step akin to fish growing legs and starting to walk around on earth.  Nope... OSL hit the scene like an enormous wrecking ball, and the lady at the controls was an Australian named Victoria Lamb.

First of all, what is OSL?  WAMP (one of the premier mini painting forums) has an excellent on wiki mini painting terms, and they define OSL as:

"Object-source lighting or OSL is a painting technique where the light source is a fixed point (or points) near or on the miniature. The usual light source in OSL is an object on the miniature that one would expect to be casting light, which gives the technique its name. In contrast, miniatures are often portrayed with a light source which is far away, such as a sun directly overhead in the case of zenithal lighting.

It is common to use object-source lighting when the viewer would expect part of the miniature to cast light on other parts, such as when there is a torch or campfire present, or a powerful spell effect. Object source lighting can be used alone, when the object(s) casting light are the only sources of light present, or can be combined with other light sources like zenithal lighting. It is also common for the object source lighting to represent an object casting colored light, such as a torch casting a warm glow, or an arcane spell effect casting blue or green light.

To paint OSL, the goal is to simulate the effect of a light source with paint. Objects closer to the light source should be lit more brightly than objects far from the light source, and only objects with an unobstructed line to the light source should be lit, so shadows will be cast directly away from the light source.

A classic example of object-source lighting is Victoria Lamb's diorama, The Rescue of Sister Joan."

And no, I did not add that last line.  Evidently someone else agrees with me that The Rescue of Sister Joan is possibly the most well-known example of OSL.

In any case, before I post a pic of this game changer, I should set the scene for you.  The year was 2001, and Games Workshop was perhaps at the peak of their dominance over the miniature gaming world.  Their convention, Games Day, was being held in 7 different countries at the time, and their miniature painting competition, the Golden Demons, was THE painting competition to win.  In the same way that competitors at the Olympics can forever call themselves "Olympians" afterwards, someone that competed at the Golden Demons and won one of the iconic statuettes could thereafter call themselves a "Golden Demon Winning Artist".  It was the Oscars of miniature painting (and might very well be again, but that's a whole different blog article to come).

Australia had been hosting their Games Day / Golden Demons for only 3 years prior, and from what we could tell from pics published in White Dwarf and on the Net, there was a strong group of painters down under, but it had a long way yet to go before it was considered on par with the UK, the US, or France (Canada had it's own GD as well, and while our pool of painters was still working hard to gain international recognition, the fact that many top US painters came up to Toronto to compete gave people the illusion that our pool was just as strong as anywhere else).  Now, before anyone thinks that I'm bashing on the Aussies, I'm not.  They had some crazy talent (Leigh Carpenter comes to mind, and this was before Sebastian Archer exploded onto the scene), but miniature gaming was newer there than someplace like the UK, and it had the same problem that Canada did when trying to showcase the BEST of the country... geography.  It cost me almost a month's wages (at what meager amount I was earning back then) to fly to Toronto from Vancouver (driving it would have taken me close to half a month to get there and back), including hotel stays and other expenses.  That meant that really only half the country could reasonably expect to make the trip to compete, and I expect it was much the same issue in Australia.

But I digress.  Pics of the Golden Demon winners were almost always featured in White Dwarf magazine, and were all over the Internet within hours of the event itself.  It was a huge deal, but I don't think people had the same sense of anticipation to see the latest winners of Australia more than they would of the UK or France.  There were some really impressive works that were winning down there, technically very proficient perhaps, but rarely anything that would make a person go, "Oh Snap!"

But then this came along:

Yeah, my jaw dropped when I first saw pics of this entry.

"The Rescue of Sister Joan", by Victoria Lamb, won the highest award of the day, the Slayer Sword.  More than a Golden Demon (with a bronze, silver, and gold awarded in each catagory), the Slayer Sword is awarded to the best entry of the whole competition, much like a "Best of Show" award.

First impression?  It's an amazing diorama.  There is a clear story going on here, one with plenty of drama and tension.  With the help of a little bit of conversion work, every model is dynamically (yet naturally) posed.  There is no dead space as well... it's a tightly composed set piece (helped, no doubt, by Victoria's background in production set and costume design for theatre).  

The painting itself is technically very well executed (with only one "shortcut" that I will explain later).  The style is exactly what we expected to see in Golden Demon entries of that time period... clean, uncluttered, bright, and vibrant.  A bit more use of grey than what we were accustomed to seeing in your typical 'Eavy Metal paintjob, but that was a deliberate choice that suited the mood and purpose of this piece very well.

If you don't recognize the miniatures, they come from a GW game called, "Mordheim".  Set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, each player picked one of the various factions, then created a gang to game with.  The story behind the game was that there was a city recently ruined by a cataclysmic meteor impact, and now it was crawling with gangs of looters, monsters, and puritanical nutjobs.  The nuns in this diorama were from the "Sisters of Sigmar" faction, and their opponents here were from the "Witch Hunters".  Ms. Lamb's diorama perfectly captures what would happen if the Witch Hunters were attempting to live up to their title.

The Sisters arrive in the nick of time, in order to save their compatriot from the fire of puritanical righteousness.  They have dispatched a number of the deluded fanatics, only to be held at sword's length by the leader of the warband, who makes his last stand, ready to thrust his burning brand deep into the heart of the stacked and pitch-soaked kindling.

Not to be overlooked, the background is also simply wondrous to look at, and could be considered a character in it's own right.  The stone walls depict one of the many ruined buildings in the city of Mordheim, and the damaged outer wall lets the viewer see the pale moon partially obscured by a cloudy night sky.  Seriously... every horror movie we've ever seen has conditioned us to get in the mood for some drama.

The stepped floor is also planned out to perfection.  The different levels allow for the models to be positioned at different heights, giving us a clear view of each.  They are angled diagonally across the floor, instead of at right angles to the edges of the diorama (a classic tip from Shepard Paine's "How to Build Dioramas"... the original Bible of diorama building) in order to engage and interest the viewer's eye better.  They also draw the eye up toward the main focal point, which is the Witch Hunter's torch, and the subjects it illuminates.

Which brings us to the main reason why this work of art is an easy pick for my Top Ten Game Changers list.  The glowing Object Source Lighting effect in this diorama.

Now, I don't know if this was the first time that OSL was used in miniature painting.  Considering how long OSL has been around in 2D canvas art, I rather doubt that no one else thought to apply it to miniature art before 2001.  However, this is definitely the first time I laid eyes on it, and likely I'm not the only one.  

Before OSL, mini-painters used to paint highlights and apply shading in order to simulate an even tone of light across entire models.  Everything was painted as if the subject was a magazine fashion model standing in a photo studio, and there were photographer's assistants standing all around with big round photo light reflector discs.  Even zenithal highlighting wasn't all that common a technique to see applied to a miniature.

Is this an example of an evenly lit model, or a weak excuse to post another pic of Kate Beckinsale?

If you think about it, it makes quite a bit of sense.  Miniature painting as an art form in it's own right wasn't as big as it is now.  At the time, almost all miniatures were painted for gaming purposes, or painted as if they were going to be used for gaming.  If that's the case, then the model was going to be viewed from any angle.  Having a forced perspective wasn't going to be the case 99% of the time, so the model had to look good from all directions.

And we also followed what we saw in the gaming magazines very closely... most notably White Dwarf magazine.  Games Workshop's own in-house studio of painters was called the 'Eavy Metal team, and their sole purpose was to make their miniatures look as good as possible for marketing purposes and to drive sales of the miniatures first and foremost.  If evenly lit models sold Louis Vuitton and Gucci clothes really well, then the same could be said about Games Workshop's own Citadel brand of models too.

This is the standard of painting we all strove for, back in the day. They did look consistently good from all angles though.

But OSL is different.  Object Source Lighting is rethinking your way of highlighting and shading to imply that the model is being lit from a particular object ON the model itself, or just off to one side of the model.  It may leave the opposing side of the model in shadow.  It also may mean that the surfaces directly facing the light source are cast in a harsh reflection.  There will be extremely strong contrasts between anything facing towards the light versus facing away.

OSL isn't something you just apply like a tool or different medium.  OSL starts in the brain of the painter, and requires a carefully considered approach.  It's not just "whatever is closest to the light source is brighter, and it just gets dimmer the further away from the light source".  Yes, that's partially true, but anything facing away from the source will be in the shade no matter how close or far away, in direct relief from the light (like the underside of a sun umbrella).  That's why I shudder when people seem to think that all they need to do to get a good OSL effect is hit the area with an quick shot from an airbrush.  Yeah, that might work, but only if the cone of paint is traveling in exactly the same direction as the light would be from the light source.  Personally, my preferred tool for OSL is a regular ol' sable brush.  More control, more thought, no easy way out.

Ohmygerd, OSL!! Seriously, the Hellbrute's face looks like there's a blue spotlight on it, instead of being lit from within.

Yoda shows us how it's done.  Size matters not.

I won't turn this blog article into a "how-to" for OSL (lots of great articles and vids on the Net for that already), but it's good to have a basic understanding of the concept and application so that people can imagine how different this was for us back in 2001.  Even so, this particular piece is not necessarily the BEST application of OSL ever presented in miniature art form, but it was a huge first step towards that.

Why would I say that this wasn't the best application of OSL?  Well, perhaps I should say that it wasn't the most involved use of OSL... it was a half step.  Victoria explains it best on her own website:

"The rescue of Sister Joan was my first attempt at painting lit models. The scenery and figures were painted separately. I did not seriously attempt to paint reflected torchlight on the figures themselves. I simply shaded and highlighted them as normal while keeping a rough idea of where the light was coming from. I made sure that the surfaces closest to the light source were painted lighter and those in shadow were darker and heavily shaded. I did not add any orange "light" to the figures themselves."

If you think about it, the light coming from the torch is a warm reddish / orange light.  If the torch is the only light in the room (other than the weak moonlight from above), then all the surfaces catching the light should be "tinted" orange.  Instead, while she did highlight towards the torch, it didn't influence her use of colour, and the models are lit as if from a clean white light.

However, she did do this right when it comes to the stone wall behind the torch.

"The dramatic lighting in this scene was mostly achieved with the stone scenery. I started by painting it as normal, just dry brushing with progressively lighter greys to create a normal stone effect. I then temporarily placed the witch hunter figure in position and stuck a pin in the stonework directly behind the flame of the torch.

After removing the figure the pin served as a marker for the light source. Working outwards from the pin I dry brushed a large circular area of stone with a dark red, and the same in a large pool around the position of the witch hunter's feet. Orange was gradually added to the red and the process repeated in smaller circles finishing up with the brightest orange (but not as bright as the torch itself) directly behind the torch in the position marked by the pin."

So Victoria simplified the OSL process by quite a big margin, but it still worked beautifully.  By neatly side-stepping the tricky colour calculations involved in orange-tinting the figures, she can maintain the true colouration of the skin, armour, weapons, and clothing.  This allows for a more diverse range of colours to be used in the diorama as a whole.  While not as "realistic", some artistic license should always be allowed for, as this IS high-fantasy art, after all.

On simpler subject matter, however (nothing as big as this complex diorama), colour shifting can be very beautiful and impressive:

A great example of colour shifted OSL by Natalya Melnik
On a later project, Victoria once again "shortcuts" her OSL and earns a Golden Demon award with this duel:

"Fiery Angel" 2003 Bronze Demon winner
Again, the shortcut here being that all the surfaces that the OSL treatment is applied to were black and white to begin with, making it easier to bring the orange fiery tones in.  Again, this makes little difference on the overall visual impact... sometimes simplicity is best.

And the impact of "The Rescue of Sister Joan" was equally huge.  Her Slayer Sword win of 2001 was the first time a woman had ever won the most prestigious award in miniature painting (in gaming scale at least... I don't follow the historical / monster / vinyl kit / scale modeller / etc. scene as closely, so I can't comment there).  Painters like Jennifer Haley and Natalya Melnik won theirs shortly afterwards (both won a pair in the States, at Baltimore and Chicago Games Days), but Victoria was the first.  Women may represent a significant statistical minority in gaming, but the few female painters in our art form definately take home a sizable share of trophies and accolades.  People like her were an inspiration to female painters around the world.

As far as OSL was concerned, it was as if an infectious idea took hold of painters everywhere.  Suddenly everyone was giving it a try.

From the slightly subtle:

David Rodriguez's Gandalf. White light from tip of staff, against the red light coming from the lava.
An amazing mecha by "Bohun"

To the over-the-top obvious:

"Shawn R.L." did up this model titled, "FIRE!!!!!"
"Light My Fire" by "Thunderhawker"

Even GW's own 'Eavy Metal team got into it, as evidenced by this sampling of OSL paintjobs (including a nod to Victoria Lamb as well):

And they weren't the only company studio painters who used it to promote their own goods:

OSL essentially added a whole new dimension to miniature painting.  Not every miniature and paintjob benefited from it, but depending on the subject matter, and the mood you were trying to achieve, it did come in handy once in awhile.  And it was definitely one of those things you could do to help take a paintjob up a notch if you really wanted to show off your painting skills.  However, it had to be appropriate to the piece, and it had to be well done, otherwise it would detract from the quality of the model.

Another great example of Victoria Lamb OSL would be this Gen Con Indy winning diorama from 2004:

Slightly different in tone than her previous OSL dioramas, as the green glow of the auspex really gives it a sense of cold dread, rather than hot violent action.  And while she does use predominantly black areas to showcase her OSL (and simplify the process), she does have some colour shifted OSL on the face, hair, and fingers of the hunted and hounded Cadian soldier.  It's definately a step up from "The Rescue" in terms of technical mastery, but it's more intimate, and less like a theatrical set in scope and range of colour.  The main thing to remember here is that her use of OSL strengthens and enhances the story, rather than distracts from it.

And so miniature painting as we know it was changed in a very tangible way by this one work of art.  "The Rescue of Sister Joan" gave us Object Source Lighting, and now every painter trying to make a name for himself / herself would need to attempt it at least once.  The work imprinted itself on our collective consciousness, and made many of us push ourselves to master a new trick, and that's never a bad thing for the art form as a whole.

Without a doubt, this was a Game Changer, and an easy pick for my top ten list.

Any guesses as to my next pick??

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Game Changers: My Top Ten Miniature Paintjobs That Most Inspired / Influenced Our Hobby / Art

Many of the most impressive and awe-inspiring paintjobs out there are the ones that show the most refinement... the artist takes everything that is currently known about miniature painting, and pushes the technical envelope, beyond the limits of what was possible before.  Those paintjobs represent countless hours of hard work, pain, and persistence.  The end product is something that can win competitions, drop jaws, and make other painters green with envy.

Then, there are paintjobs that aren't just more refined versions of what knowledge and techniques are already out there.  There are those painters who are more like explorers... venturing out into the unknown (at least, unknown in our hobby), and through experimentation and perseverance, bring something new into our art form.  These are the game-changers... the projects that represent some sort of revolution in painting.

There are countless awe-inspiring and inspirational miniature painting projects out there.  What I've tried to do is distill them down to what I consider the top ten most innovative (at the time) and influential paintjobs in the short history of our hobby (at least as far back as I can recall, which is the late late '80s, and beginning of the '90s).  No doubt, many people will disagree with my choices... "Top Ten" lists are rarely without controversy.  In fact, I asked for some help on the Coolminiornot forums in creating this list, and the discussion there was as heated as it gets:

One of the big reasons for starting that thread was to do my best to take my personal biases out of the equation.  In that regard, I think this top ten list is a big failure.  As Avelorn said, "To make an objective list is impossible; keep that in mind when discussing."  Many works up for consideration got discussed, and discarded on the basis that they were inspirational, but perhaps not influential.  And it wasn't just as matter of innovation... the project needed to also have gotten enough exposure, reached enough artists, to have made a decided impact on the art form as a whole.  Just because something influenced me personally, and inspired me to approach my painting differently, didn't mean it was the one piece that defined or signified an overall change in the art form.

I'd also like to mention that any list that's limited to ten selections is always going to be a grossly incomplete list.  You simply cannot cover every revolution in miniature painting with only ten picks.  Just as Maxim magazine cannot list every beautiful woman in their "Top 50" list of hottest women, there was no way I could put together a top ten list without leaving out some incredibly influential and innovative works.  I made some judgement calls as to which ones I thought best fit the "Game-Changer" title.  Not to worry, I have every intention of doing more "Top Ten" lists in the future... perhaps your favourite works will be included in one of those.

Oh, and just for the record, so long as Kate Beckinsale is included in any Top 50 hottest list, I'm okay with it.  ;)

Let me be totally open and transparent about how I'm going about this: First off, this is still kind of a work in progress.  Instead of listing all ten in one super long blog post, I'll break it up into several postings.  This gives each work it's own breathing space... this way I can do up a fairly extensive writeup on each, which is what a hugely influential work deserves.

Second of all, I plan on interjecting the occasional, "honourable mentions".  These are amazing works in their own right, and ones that almost made it onto my list.  But even though they were stellar works of art, perhaps they didn't get the exposure required to reach enough artists, or for some reason they didn't inspire enough people to try taking their own painting in a new direction.  These are also works that some others will have argued for inclusion in this list, but I disagreed with.  Like I said, it'll be hard to keep my own personal biases out of this, but I think that my influences are very similar to most painters that have been around for some time.

Lastly, I'm going to admit right now that I only have 7 works nailed down with certainty.  I still have yet to make up my mind about which ones will finish off my top ten, but hopefully I can get some suggestions from you guys.  My criteria for inclusion in the top ten is going to be very stringent... a work has to be VERY influential on the hobby as a whole.  It can't just be a gorgeous work of art (in which case, this would be a very easy list to complete), but something that many painters can point to as a turning point influence in their own painting.  And while I've been able to point to many influential painters, often it's hard to nail down just one work of theirs that has redefined miniature painting as a whole.

Regardless, I've decided to go ahead and get started writing this series of blog posts, and figure out the final 3 somewhere along the way.  So... in no particular order for now (maybe I'll order them once I've finished all ten), here's the first of my top ten picks for Game Changers: The Miniature Paintjobs That Most Inspired / Influenced our Art Form:

Unfortunately, this was the best pic I could find.  Barely captures the wonder of this work.
A better shot of the banner, and the minotaur's back-side.  That banner is easily as impressive as any recent award-winning work, and it was done back in the '80s!

Of all the miniature painters, there are very few (if any) people that have more of an influence on our art form than John Blanche.  Seriously... if there was a Godfather of miniature painting, we'd all be kissing Don Blanche's pinky ring.  He was there at pretty much the very formative stages of our hobby, and if you look at where mini-painting was at before John Blanche became the art director of Games Workshop in 1986 (thanks Wikipedia!), it was a very different beast entirely.

If you want a good read concerning his history as an artist, and his philosophy and approach to art, one excellent article is this interview:

Perhaps Mr. Blanche is better known for his 2D art than his 3D stuff.  Many of his works are instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever played a Games Workshop game, and there are many blogs and websites that have covered his work.  Two of my favourites are:

Of course, my two favourite 2D works of art by "The Man" are:

Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition box cover (1993)

Amazonia Gothique (cover of White Dwarf #79)

Which is very odd, because of all his works, they are possibly the least like his miniature painting style.

Oh, and as a Sisters of Battle player, I love this painting as well.  I even have a shirt with this work on the front.  This one is a bit more indicative of his pre-Raphaelite leanings, and his use of less saturated sepia tones and hyper detailed backgrounds.
You either love or hate the Blanche style of miniature painting (well, perhaps "hate" is too strong a word... maybe "confused by" is a better way of putting it).  It's really raw and unrefined.  Messy and chaotic.  Elemental.  Compared to other contemporary painters, it appears sloppy even.  But to many, it's simply brilliant.

There's an energy to his work that's hard to see in cleaner paintjobs.  It's precisely BECAUSE it is crazy and untamed, that he has so many "Blanche-ites".  Many works that I saw in early White Dwarf issues were very much in his style (late '80s, primarily), and there is a resurgence in Blanche-style painting and converting in the Inq28 (Inquisitor 28mm) mini-painting and gaming community.

Blanche-ites are miniature painting's counter-culture.  They have rejected the clean 'Eavy Metal style that is mainstream miniature painting by going in the exact opposite direction.  And it's a style that is unlikely to ever overtake the mainstream, as it's really unsuitable for miniature marketing purposes (you need a fairly "clean" and uncluttered paint scheme, with dramatic contrasts in highlights and shading to best showcase the sculpt itself).  Still... models painted in this manner are stylish in the extreme, and fun to look at.

For some excellent examples of "Blanche-style" (try Googling it. Not to worry, it won't turn up pages from the Kama-Sutra), check out:

The Spiky Rat Pack blog
The Legion of Plastic blog
The Officio Convertorum blog

Steve Buddle (multiple Golden Demon winner, sculptor, and associate of J.B.'s) discusses this style in length on his blog :
(Be sure to check out the comments. John posts a few as "J.B." to explain his approach to painting).

Jakob Rune Nielson (another one of the all-time "Greats" in miniature painting) is also heavily influenced by John Blanche.  This can be seen especially in his earlier works, but even now his stuff has an impression of dirt and dust and unpolished raw-ness.  His two websites / blogs are:

So we've established that John Blanche is hugely influential as an artist, and has made a huge impact over the course of his entire career.  But how did this one Minotaur in particular make an impact on miniature painting as a whole, and why would I rate it as one of the most influential paintjobs of all time?

First of all, it won the "Master Painter" award at Games Day 1987.  I'm not sure of the context of the "Master Painter" award... but I'm guessing that since Ivan Bartlett won the Slayer Sword that year, the "Master Painter" award would have been more like today's "Open Catagory" prize (a kind of "anything goes, and anyone but the judges can enter" catagory).  If you look at the time period, miniature painting as we know it was in its infancy.  There wasn't really established styles and techniques at the time.  Heck, people didn't even know what brushes and paints were best to use!

For a model painted in this hectic, cluttered, chaotic style to win a major painting award was huge.  It also helped establish John Blanche as a guiding force in miniature painting.

If you look at this model, the first thing you see is the amazing freehand painted Mona Lisa on the banner.  It pretty much grabs your eyes and won't let go.  There are many fantastic freehand painters on the scene nowadays (Karol Rudyk is the first name that pops to mind, but there are so so many others), but this rendition of Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece is still as good as it gets.  Consider that John picked one of THE most recognizable works of art ever.  When copying such a iconic image, there is no forgiveness for the slightest error... the viewer's eyes would pick up on any distortions or missed details right away.

John seems to really like the Mona Lisa, as also evidenced by this 2D work of his.
Jeff Vader's twisted take on the same theme.

The ogre face sun shield atop the banner was a very common theme at the time... or did it become a common theme only AFTER John painted this miniature?  I didn't follow the UK painting scene very closely back then (being a 12 or 13 year old kid in western Canada would have made that difficult, and we had nothing even close to today's Internet), so I can only conjecture based off of my collection of vintage White Dwarf magazines.  It seemed like every miniature carrying a shield has some sort of "evil sun"... which perhaps led to the image becoming the mascot and theme for an entire clan of Warhammer 40K orks.  In any case, it's undeniable that John Blanche had a huge role in popularizing the use of freehand wavy sunbeams and saber-toothed mascots.

Unfortunately, this is what comes up when you enter "Painted ogre face" into Google.  Proof that the Internet is NOT infallible.
Ah, much better.  THIS is the way we used to paint shields way back in the day!!

Every square millimeter of the model is crammed with detail, which is a fashion that got lost sometime in the nineties, and didn't really come back in vogue until this decade.  Of course, there were many examples of exceptions, but bases in particular were very minimalist in general for a number of years (Eavy Metal set the trend for this, and it's my understanding that the corporate execs at GW had given them a set of rules governing how they could paint at the time... hence the bright green grassy bases on the studio Necromunda models).  That being said, I don't think anyone would expect a John Blanche model to be clean and simple... just look at the example of the Warhammer 40K 2nd edition box cover to see how he never seems to stop cramming detail in his art until there isn't a clean spot left.

This means the model is layered in detail... your eye can keep wandering around and finding little stories in every corner.  There are mouths here and there, random eyes, more than one head, pustules, fungus, etc.  And that visual journey around the whole miniature brings me to another characteristic Blanche detail that we all seem to take for granted.

Notice the checker pattern just under the head of the axe.  On this particular model, it's an almost insignificant detail.  However, just like the wavy sunbeam and the evil sun, it's a freehand detail that has insinuated its way into becoming a cornerstone of Warhammer imagery.  When someone thinks "Warhammer / Warhammer 40K", you can't help but think of skulls, checker patterns, and wavy sunbeams.  All three themes are in this one model, which helped push them into the forefront of gamer consciousness.  And it's stuck there to this very day.

Look familiar?

You could practically play Chess on this guy.

Confrontation goblins by Rackham.  A great example of the far reaching influence of John Blanche's utterly pointless but very stylistic use of checker patterns.  When competing miniature company studios are unashamed to borrow style elements from you, you know you've got influence!

I dunno... in the end, maybe this model DIDN'T start all these trends, but it definitely is the one model that I think best exemplified the dawn of this style of painting.  Whereas most paintjobs of this era do not hold up well to the test of time (when compared to the "modern masters"), John's stuff is still very compelling.  It kind of reminds me of something Brian Froud (concept artist for Jim Hensen) would have done for "Labyrinth"... if he was on a very bad LSD trip.

John Blanche's style of painting is not for everyone, and will NEVER be for everyone.  You either love it or hate it.  Blanchites are always going to be the creepy goth punk kid in the corner of the classroom, but that's okay by them.  Even though it'll never be mainstream, we can't help but be influenced by them, and elements of that style will percolate into our unconsciousness.  Just as my generation looked askew at guys with bright coloured mohawks back in the '80s, we can't help but see uncoloured faux-hawks everywhere these days.  Every time someone paints an evil sun on their ork buggy, they are unconsciously channeling John Blanche, and this model.  Every time someone paints a checker pattern on a model whose subject character probably couldn't paint a straight line, they are being influenced by John Blanche, and this model.  And everyone who juxtaposes a finely detailed piece of classic art atop a contrasting piece of a chaotic painting or conversion, it's very possible that they may have been influenced by John Blanche and this model.

John Blanche's Chaos Minotaur from 1987 was the "Typhoid Mary", or "Patient Zero" of the Blanche school of miniature painting.  And that makes it one of the most influential and inspiring pieces of miniature art ever. my opinion.  And that's all this list is... various somewhat-researched, highly nostalgia-based, well-considered but very biased picks of just one guy who has been painting miniatures for a reasonable length of time.  :)

Oh, and just because I did say that no list was complete without Kate Beckinsale:

Hopefully this pic is a nice palate cleanser after seeing the one of the Shrek wedding.  Yikes.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Painting Competition Entries: The Shotgun Approach

I always say that winning an award shouldn't be your one and only goal when entering a painting competition.  The true value of entering competitions is for the experience, the motivation, and the camaraderie that competitive painting gives you.  Simply competing makes you a better painter, and I firmly believe that.  It doesn't matter if you think you have a chance at winning or not, the act and effort of pushing yourself to the best of your ability in order to enter a model that showcases your hard work and talent is enough of a reason to enter.

However, what if you REALLY want to win?  You know you're up against some stiff competition... fellow artists whose work you respect, and yet you still want to give yourself the best chance of spanking their butts?

For a no-holds-barred competition entry (not just "Oh, I'm really proud of something I just painted, and maybe I'll throw it into the competition and see how it does"), I think you need to take what I call, "The Shotgun Approach".

This is my PAINTBRUSH!!!

What is the Shotgun Approach?  It's not a precision sniper shot directed at a particular judge's one weakness.  Instead, it's a massive blunderbuss blast to all the possible nerve endings.

After all, every judge has their own personal biases, and certain artistic sensibilities.  One judge is consistently wowed by impressive freehand, another judge puts the importance of seamless blending above all else.  Perhaps one judge loves weathering effects, but maybe you get a judge who goes nuts over back-story infused entries.  If you don't know what kind of judge you will get, your entry needs to hit ALL the bases. Like a duck-hunting shotgun, you are basically trying to throw every trick you know up into the air, in hopes that something in your entry will connect with the judge and bring you the win.

For this to work, it will take considerable pre-planning, and sufficient skill in various tools and techniques.  A shotgun entry will be a sterling example of everything you know about miniatures, and it will take time, imagination, and considerable effort.

In our local painting scene of Vancouver, Canada, there are painters with reputations for excellence in one area or another.  They specialize, and have certain strengths that put them far and above the average painter... in that one aspect of painting.  If I was to try and think of a reason why this is the case, I would have to say that the majority of painters in Vancouver are relatively new... it's a pretty young crowd overall, and if you've only been painting for a short number of years, then pushing yourself to mastery of one aspect of painting is achievable with a considerable amount of blood, sweat, and tears.  However, it's hard to get good at EVERYTHING if you haven't been around as long as some.

Now, I'm not a world-class painter.  Locally, I've done pretty well, completed a number of pieces that I'm very proud of, and even made a living at it for a number of years.  But those years of 40-60 hour work weeks drained the enjoyment out of painting over time.  I got burnt out in the hobby, and let my brushes collect dust for nearly a decade.  Even had I continued to push my talents on a daily basis, it would have been an incredible feat to keep up and perhaps catch up to my painting idols of the day.  However, without constant practice and constant dedication to improving my craft, there was absolutely no way I could reach my full potential.

But here's the thing... I kept lurking in the painting scene.  The Internet allowed me to constantly check up on what was going on, and watching the trends.  I did paint here and there, and try out a few new things every so often.  I would follow other painters, check up on their WIPs ("works in progress"), read their tutorials, and try and replicate some of their techniques the same way the at-home cook follows the recipe of a celebrity chef.

My idol

Over time, this accumulated experience from all this tinkering has given me a deep and varied skillset.  When I finally got around to really taking painting seriously again, I was able to take classes with master painters such as Mathieu Fontaine and Meg Maples, and that has only broadened and strengthened my repertoire of painting skills, and given me more familiarity with various tools that I hadn't worked with before (weathering powders, glazes, airbrushes, resins, mediums, etc.).  Most importantly, those classes re-energized my desire to get better, and gave me extra confidence going in to painting competitions.

So when I decide to put together a competition-worthy model, I can hit it with a number of different techniques, and have a pretty good chance of catching the judge's eye.  You may still be beaten out by an entry that exceeds your skill in one particular aspect or another, provided that it's the aspect that the judge of the day values most of all.  But if you don't know what kind of judge you will get, the shotgun approach gives you the best overall chance of at least getting in to the final cut.

Is it more time-consuming?  Hell yeah.  I've done up models that had some of my best blending ever, and instead of being able to call it a day, I've only called it half-done.  After that, I've poured hours and hours into adding freehand, doing up some weathering, adding OSL (object source lighting) effects, and throwing every other trick, technique, special tool, and even every gimmick I could think of at it.  Then when THAT was done, I sunk a huge amount of time into some sort of eye-catching base or display stand.  In the end, I could have probably done up 3-4 competition-worthy (or at least display-worthy) entries in the same amount of time as that one entry.

Almost done?  Not even close...
Closer, but still a long way off.
Hours later, this is still nowhere near finished.
Probably needs more cowbell...

But I think it's worth it.  If I knew in advance what kind of judge I was dealing with, I could target that judge's particular weakness specifically, and not worry about any other aspect that didn't really impress him / her.  It would certainly save me a ton of time and effort.  But when you have an unknown judge, you go in with everything you've got.

Karol Rudyk's 2012 Slayer Sword winner.  The ultimate "Shotgun Approach" entry.
Kickass base?  Check.
Impeccable blending?  Check.
Convincing special (weathering and gore) effects?  Check.
Incredibly intricate freehand banner?  Check.
Expertly reposed and remodelled kit?  Check.
This entry does everything but fly around the convention centre on its own.

And if I still lose?  Well, I've still got a kickass model that I can still be very proud of.  But most importantly, I've pushed myself and my talents in not just one single aspect of painting / modelling, but in EVERY aspect of painting / modelling.  It means that I can't help but become a better and stronger painter in every regard, and if I continue to compete in this manner, I will be a well-rounded painter with no one real weakness.

I never go in to a competition with any guarantee of a win, but I do try to give myself a fighting chance.  The only thing that is 100% guaranteed is that I will probably walk away from the competition as a MUCH stronger painter.  To me, that's success.  That's as tangible a reward for hard work as any trophy.

So the next time you enter a painting competition and don't walk away with a prize, don't blame the judge for not valuing your particular talent or specialty enough.  Not all people have the same eye for miniature art.  Figure out what it was that the winning entry had that was better than your own entry, and work on shoring up that aspect of your painting.  And seek out new ways of painting and practice the heck out of them so that you can hit your next competition entry with a myriad of tricks that will catch ANY judge's eye, no matter their personal preferences.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Painted vs. Unpainted: Why Even Bother?

"The Hobby" as we know it, revolves around miniatures and game rules.  Those are the two components that are the fundamental cornerstones of our obsession.  Before "The Hobby", there were games, and there were models.  But just like a certain sweet treat that I have a certain fondness for, marrying two great things often makes for a fantastic fattening nom-nom that is far sweeter than the sum of it's parts.

Can you remember the first time you were exposed to miniature games?  Did you walk by a games store, pop in looking for toys, and see a beautifully laid out gaming table, with gorgeously painted miniatures and dice battling it out, and two (or more) gamers having a blast?  Or did you start off playing Dungeons and Dragons, and delighted in finding that one miniature that perfectly represented the character you had been role-playing for some time now?  

The point is, there's something different about playing a miniatures game, rather than a board game, card game, or video game.  There's a sense of ownership over an army, and the miniatures more fully belong to you than some cheap Chinese injection molded chess pieces or chits on a piece of cardboard.  It's somehow more elevated, more personal, and definitely more characterful.  And it's not just in your imagination, it's tactile, and visually decadent.

I'm incredibly passionate about "The Hobby", as a gamer, and as a modeller.  So a part of me cries inside whenever I see people dispassionately playing games with unpainted or single-colour primered models.

Recently, Bush Craft posted some coverage from Nova, and in it, he pointed out that only a few people showed up for a $15 painting seminar by one of the biggest names in the industry, Justin McCoy of Secret Weapon Miniatures.

Justin's "Zombie Truck" with working LED lights and fantastic weathering
Now Justin is just an amazing miniature painter, but with an extensive background in the pure modelling side of things.  He is an IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) award winner, and founded and runs a company that produces some of the best modelling and painting supplies in the world.  His products have helped the likes of Mathieu Fontaine win multiple Golden Demon awards, and the rest of us create really nice finished gaming models.  Getting a chance to sit down with him and ask him questions and watch him demonstrate his techniques is a rare privilege, and I was shocked to hear that so few people took advantage of this opportunity.

I wrote a comment to that effect, and probably worded things a bit more harshly than I intended to.  I also picked on one particular gaming system, and it's fans in general, which is something I should have qualified a bit better to explain why I felt that way.  It was a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the "jerk"), and I apologize for how it was worded, but I should explain my position and the reasons of my ire.

Here's the link to the post on House of Paincakes, and my comment below:

"Only 8 attendees for a Masterclass with Justin McCoy??? There's something seriously wrong with that number. Is it just me, or are there more and more gamers who just don't give a crap about playing with nicely painted models? 

I blame WarmaHordes... every tournament I've witnessed of those systems has a ratio of 1 painted army to about 12 unpainted or simply primered ones. The ones that ARE painted are usually gorgeous, but most PP gamers simply don't care about what their models LOOK like, just what they do in the game."

To be fair, EVERY game system has players who couldn't care less what their models looked like.  Every game system has players who don't think anything is amiss if they field a mess of reflective bare metal models and legions of dull grey plastic.

But what is it about Warmachine and Hordes players that seems to encourage a total disregard for miniature painting?  Or conversions?  Or doing much of anything to inject character and life into their models?

I guess I'm making a gross example of WarmaHordes players based solely off my own personal experiences with their gaming crowd.  As far as gaming is concerned, I'm not particularly widely travelled, and I can only judge based off of what I've seen in my neck of the woods.  But what I've seen are in-store gaming nights where one player in twelve actually has paint on their models.  And large tournaments where only 6-8 players fielded half painted armies, and only 3-4 players had fully painted armies.  The vast majority of players seem to have done nothing to their models except glue the parts together, and maybe marked the facings on the bases.

By contrast, the local tournaments for Infinity, Malifaux, Flames of War, Warhammer 40K and Fantasy are bursting with colour.  FoW models have intricate unit markings painted on tiny little tanks.  Infinity and Malifaux models are usually well painted and mounted to amazingly atmospheric bases.  And even the "worst" painted miniatures in the GW tournaments show incredibly characterful conversions and fantastical army display stands.

I'm no Infinity, Malifaux, or FoW player, but I do have a Warmachine army (fully painted), and a number of 40K and Fantasy armies (in various stages of painting, but a number of them are fully painted and proudly occupy a glass fig case at home).

You certainly can't blame the Privateer Press studio.  Just about every miniature they put out is amazing in detail, pose, and character.  They employ some of the most talented sculptors and in-house painters in the industry.  Their models certainly do not compare badly in any way to those produced by other miniature gaming companies.

A PP model I painted years ago.  Fantastic sculpt, and so much fun to paint!
And check out fellow Vancouverite Arthur Nicholson's blog for some gorgeous PP fully painted models that he games with quite often.
But let's put aside my confusion regarding end-use of their models for a second.  Let me tell you why I think miniature painting is an integral part of our hobby, and explain why I'm so passionate about the hobby as a whole (gaming + painting).

I didn't start off buying miniatures for the sole purpose of painting them.  I bought them to game with.  Way back in the '80s, my cousin got me hooked on the very first edition of a role-playing game called "Gamma World".  This led (of course) to me playing and hosting games of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  My first miniatures were cast from lead, and represented my characters and the various monsters that they encountered.  We moved them about on a wet-erase grid map, and handled them with fingers stained with cheese dust and pop.

Later, one of my friends picked up copies of the original Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader and Warhammer Fantasy rulebooks, and we marvelled at the idea of controlling entire armies of miniatures (such as they were at the time... no giant games of Apocalypse for us.  An army consisted of a handful of whatever models we had).  There was a rudimentary introduction to painting miniatures in the book, and after picking up a few issues of White Dwarf magazine, some Testors enamel paints and crappy synthetic brushes, and the now legendary RT1 plastic Space Marine boxed set, I tried my hand at miniature painting.

I was SO proud of these when I did them. Freehand and shading... awesome!

Once I learned how to drybrush, I drybrushed EVERYTHING!!!
Enamel paints, and my first attempts at washes.  Oh, and real blood on the weapons (I accidentally cut my finger, and thought, "Why not?")

To put it bluntly and honestly, I sucked at painting miniatures.  Sure, I can blame the poor tools and choice of paints I had at the time (oil based enamels and brushes that were too cheap to sell at a dollar store?), but I lacked any skill, training, planning, or patience.  But the crazy thing was, I was damn proud of those first paintjobs.

And I kept at it.  Pre-internet, all I had to go off of was the occasional painting article in White Dwarf (painters of my era will always owe a huge debt to Mike McVey and the rest of the Eavy Metal team).  No one else I knew was painting miniatures either.  I continued to stink, but every time I learned a new skill (OMG!  Drybrushing!!!!), I got really excited and proudly showed off my models to everyone I gamed with.

But I was still a gamer, first and foremost.  It wasn't something that competed with miniature painting.  They went hand-in-hand for me.  I spent a considerable amount of time poring over army lists, reading and re-reading rules books (you had to, otherwise the rules lawyers would annoy the heck out of you every time), and alternating playing games of miniature games and pen-and-paper RPGs.  I even managed to get competent enough at the gaming aspect to win a few tournaments and write an on-going wargaming column on one of the earliest and definitely one of the highest traffic-ed hubs of the gaming internet: Portent.  But I also painted whenever I had some quiet time to myself, and whenever I wanted to field a new unit at my next game night.

And I wasn't the only one in my gaming circle that painted their miniatures.  We all painted models.  It was just viewed as part of the hobby, and another aspect that we all loved about it.  Every game night was a mutual admiration love-fest, as we scrutinized each other's latest paintjobs and commented on them.  And while we poked fun at each other's sense of style once in awhile (I still recall my buddy Rob fielding a Space Marine captain with a sculpted afro and disco riser boots.  He got ribbed about it constantly, but it only made him smile with satisfaction), we also complimented each other all the time.

Pardon me for getting nostalgic for a moment, but those were great, great days of gaming.  We quickly learned that the easiest way to beat my friend Mike was to target his most recently painted miniature / unit, and wipe it out on the first turn.  He would be so incensed for the rest of the game, that he completely lost track of any mission objectives and would simply rush his models across the table in search of revenge.

My friend Darren had this one unit of Guardsmen that he painted in orange tiger stripe.  They were simply garish and utterly atrocious to look at, but he took so much pride in them that they always showed up to battle every game.  Despite having the exact same stats as every other unit of generic Guardsmen, they were somehow "elite" and special to him.

My buddy Derek was the star painter of our group.  His Ultramarine army was simply a treat to gaze upon.  I never really cared if I won or lost a game against him... it was just a pleasure to check out his army, ogle his latest paintjobs, and bug him for painting tips.  The experience of playing against such a magnificent looking army was like going out on a date with a supermodel.  The game was fun, but it was much more than just a game.

I have judged many miniature painting scores for various Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40K, and the occasional WarmaHordes tournament.  In order to engage the gamers, I ask each and every one of them to point out the models in their army that they are most proud of.  Even the most inexperienced painter's eyes light up when they get asked this question, and they get really excited when picking up their current favourite models to describe the conversions done to it, what aspects turned out better than they had expected, and the challenges they faced while painting it. 

A fantastic Nurgle army at the 2013 Wet Coast Grand Tournament

An anime style Tau army at the 2013 Wet Coast Grand Tournament

My buddy Nick's Guard army at the 2013 Wet Coast Grand Tournament

Painted models have more personality.  They are infused with a tangible amount of the owner's character.  They aren't just mere chits or chess pieces, but tiny little avatars of the gamer.  They are our representatives on the battlefield.  They proudly take to the field in our colours, and when they die, we are definitely more invested in their heroic ends.

Now ask the owner of an unpainted army if they have ever felt that same pride and sense of ownership when they deployed their models across the gaming table.  Have they ever had their opponent whistle in appreciation at seeing a great looking army?  Have they ever had an opponent ask if they could pick up one of their models to get a closer look at it, and then say, "Wow, really nice work, man"?  Or has anyone asked them for painting tips mid-game, or perhaps asked them how they achieved a particular conversion?

I doubt it.  Because their army looks like every other effing bare metal / plastic army out there.  It has nothing to set itself apart, and it shows no effort or care from its owner.  Frankly, it's BORING.

Would you be excited to play against this army?  Or proud to display it if it was your own?
And how the heck do two opponents tell each others models apart if they both field unpainted identical armies?


If you can't be bothered to paint your models, or convert your models, or do anything except glue the arms on and shove the tabs into the slots, then why the heck are you playing a miniatures game anyway?  You are missing out on so much more.

This hobby isn't just gaming.  It's the background story.  It's the terrain.  It's the shared "in-the-trenches" experience of struggling to paint fricking eyes on a model that's only one damn inch tall.  It's the sheer spectacle of seeing two colourful armies of miniatures raging back and forth across a fully realized 3d representation of a battlefield.  This hobby is AWESOME, and if all you do is game, then you are depriving yourself (and your opponent) of at least half of what this hobby is all about.

Now let me step back for a second, and say that while I think an unpainted army is boring, that's not to say that you can't still have quite a bit of fun while gaming with one.  Gamers with unpainted armies are not necessarily boring to play against either.  It's just that it's not the full experience of miniature gaming, just like watching a good silent movie is not the full cinematic experience of movie enjoyment.  Try watching your favourite movie on mute and with close captioning on, and see what I mean (c'mon... what would Star Wars be like without the John Williams soundtrack?).

So I'm not going to say that I will never play against someone with an unpainted army.  And I'm not saying that everyone HAS to play with painted armies in order to enjoy gaming.  But what I AM saying is that gaming without at least attempting to paint an army makes me just a little sad, because the gamer who never tries their hand at painting will never understand the pride and sense of accomplishment that a fully realized hobbyist (gamer / painter) will.

 Let me finish this rant by recalling a time when I heard a Privateer Press Ganger (a Warmachine / Hordes enthusiast whose job is to grow the hobby and the game's fan base) say that he much preferred the "clean" look of an unpainted army to that of a "badly" painted one.  It's a sentiment that I heard an echo of when Von spoke of armies "ruined to meet a three colour standard".

Let's think about how that might come across to a beginner who is considering trying his hand at painting, or worse yet, to a beginner who has JUST started painting, and is uncertain as to how people may react to his first attempts.

Yup.  It's a tad insensitive to tell people that you'd rather they just left their models unpainted, isn't it?

We all suck at the beginning.  No one produces a Golden Demon winning paintjob on their very first try.  But rough paintjobs are the necessary first step towards getting better, and no one should be self-conscious or embarrassed of their early paintjobs.

Even Matt Wilson, founder of Privateer Press, has admitted to painting miniatures badly.  Years ago, my buddy Zac started a website called, "Tabletop Gaming News" ("TGN" for short, which he later sold to Coolminiornot), and asked his readers to submit questions that they wanted to ask Matt.  Almost all the questions that were selected were submitted by "hard core" Warmachine gamers who were asking all sorts of rules clarifications and questions about game play.  However, Zac also included two questions of mine: "Do you think miniature painting will ever be more widely accepted as art?", and "Do you paint miniatures, and can we see them?"

Now Matt Wilson is a 2D artist of astounding talent.  His work has been used in Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, and Warmachine / Hordes (of course).  He has won awards, and his pieces have been featured in such esteemed publications such as Spectrum.  The strange thing was, he admitted to having a number of painted miniatures, admitted that they had definite flaws, and declined to share them publicly. 

To me, that's a shame.  He could have inspired many new painters, and shown them that even the founder of their favourite game company was just a regular guy when it came to learning the ropes of miniature painting.  Instead, his chosen representatives in the gaming community are telling people that unpainted models are nicer looking than beginner painted ones.

And I think that's the wrong message.  Our hobby needs gamers who are bold enough to try painting, even if they know their first few attempts will likely be very rough.  Just as civilized society in general needs art in order to have soul, I think that miniature gaming in general needs miniature painting in order to have personality and life.

And for frick's sake, when you have a chance to take a class taught by an insanely talented and experienced painter / teacher, all for the price of a single unpainted plastic GW character model, make sure you take it!!!