Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast Buys Games Workshop

The following fax arrived at work, with the familiar GW corporate logo and header at the top of it:

"Good morning,

On April 1st, Hasbro Incorporated, parent company of Wizards of the Coast, purchased a majority share and controlling interest of Games Workshop Group PLC.  This is exciting news for the gaming industry, as the leading manufacturer of role-playing and collectible card games and the leading manufacturer of miniature games have now been consolidated into the same family.

What does this mean for the staff of Games Workshop?  It means that your stores are now able to expand their product ranges to offer more than just Games Workshop products.  Soon, retail staff will be able to demo not only Warhammer games, but also run intro games and tournaments of Magic the Gathering, and Pokémon the Trading Card Game.

By bringing these amazing worlds together, Hasbro / WotC is presented with a whole host of new possibilities... one which the front line sales staff of the existing Games Workshop retail stores are well positioned to deliver.

Let me be the first to say, welcome to the fold!


April Phules
CEO Hasbro Gaming Division"

The GW retail stores on the west coast of Canada (the closest GW stores to the WotC headquarters in Washington State) were the first to receive these faxes.  Corporate memos arrived regularly in this manner, but never had the content been quite so shocking.  Within minutes, the store manager of GW West Vancouver was calling the store manager in Burnaby (the flagship store of the region).  After a heated and outraged rant, he threatened to quit his job if he and his staff were going to be required to run demo games of Pokémon.

More phone calls came in.  The staff of one store was calling the next, asking if they had also received the shocking news.  The store staff then sent a copy of the fax on to the Canadian HQ of GW.

Finally, the area manager (who was out of town at the time) called in to the Burnaby store for a routine check-in.  The store manager then told him about the fax, and read it out aloud to him after setting the phone to speaker mode so that all the staff could hear his reaction.

After the first paragraph had been read aloud, the area manager began muttering, "I've got to call Martin, I've got to call Martin (Martin Perkins was the Retail Manager for GW North America)."  He continued to mumble this repeatedly, even after the last line of the fax was read to him.  It wasn't until he said that he needed to hang up and call GW HQ right away, that the retail staff re-read the name of the "Hasbro CEO" over again and then pointed out the date, that he finally stopped his panicked ramble.

This all happened on my day off while I was a lowly red-shirt (retail salesperson) at the Games Workshop Burnaby store years and years ago... the flagship store of Western Canada.  Sometime after noon, I calmly walked into the store, greeted my co-workers, and asked them how they liked my fax that I had sent them from my home that morning.

One of my co-workers gave me a dumbfounded stare.  "You sent that!?" he exclaimed.  He then ran to the back of the shop, and brought out my boss, the store manager.

The manager then got me to call the area manager.  After a brief, "Ha ha, you got me", I then received a stern warning NEVER to forge an official-looking corporate fax ever again.

Some time later, I was fired from my job at GW. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Basing Materials and Tools: It's All About the Base (Part I)

A few weeks ago, I was in the process of packing up all my worldly possessions, in hopes of getting my condo ready to sell.  As such, everything but the essentials were getting boxed up and put into storage, including most everything that's in my "man-cave / cat restroom" (for a breakdown of how that works, see my previous post on my workspace at home)

As I was doing this, I uncovered a few boxes full of assorted crap that I use to finish up the bases of my miniatures.  I've collected all sorts of odds and ends over the decades... basically anything that I come across that catches my eye and sparks my imagination.  Some of the following items are time-tested things that are staples of my basing methods, and others are just whimsical items that I purchased or picked up in hopes of someday finding a use for them.

This is what I call my "Bento Box of Basing".  Anyone familiar who frequents Japanese restaurants as often as I do, will get the reference.  Bento boxes are basically the highly refined far eastern version of a Hungry Man dinner... it's a lunch box of compartmentalized food options, that altogether make up a nicely varied meal.  However, instead of sushi, tempura, teriyaki, and salad, this box has odd items used to add interest to my bases.

The plastic bin itself is an old piece of packaging from a circa early 2000's GW model kit.  It works great in that when the lid is closed shut, it does a reasonably good job of keeping all the items from mixing into one another.

The items inside?  Well, clockwise from the top left corner, we have shards of glass (from a florist shop, I believe.  I vaguely remember aimlessly wandering around a floral shop with my wife, and picking up a jar of the stuff, which is normally used in vases and floral decor).  When applied sparingly on a base with tiny dabs of super glue, they do a good job of replicating large jagged rocks when painted up as such.

Next, we have some sort of dyed sponge flock, which came glued to long strings.  The strings that hold the bits of sponge flock together are finer than human hair in diameter, making them almost invisible.  You simply tear chunks of the stuff off, then glue it down with ever so slightly watered down white glue.  The glue dries clear, and then you have tiny clumps of what resembles shrubbery.  If you use it in long strings, and then run it up walls of terrain, you get something that looks like climbing vines.  You find this stuff on occasion in various hobby shops, and a little goes a long way.

At the top right, we have the same thing as the broken up glass in the top left corner, only much finer.  Again, I apply tiny dabs of super glue strategically around the base, and using a pair of fine tweezers, pick up and set down pieces of this stuff to create smaller rocks.  On small bases, I will use these alone, but on big bases and terrain pieces, I'll use a combination of the big and small rocks in order to fill in volume, and get a somewhat more realistic effect than if I used the large ones alone.  After all, when rocks get broken up, they don't usually shatter up into roughly equal sized chunks... there's usually smaller and larger pieces all together.

Lastly, at the bottom we have similar dyed sponge flock to the compartment above (but in different hues), and also dyed lichen.  If you ever collected White Dwarf magazines back in the eighties, or ever owned a copy of the original Warhammer 40,000 : Rogue Trader book, you'll have seen plenty of pics of models and terrain that were decorated with a rainbow array of coloured lichen.  I don't use this often any more, as it doesn't scale up well when you view it in pics blown up many times bigger than the actual model itself.  But if your piece will likely never be viewed on a gigantic computer screen, lichen might just be the ticket to a quick and semi-realistic alien bush.

Hmmm... maybe I should say, "alien shrubbery" instead.  

 Ah, beach sand.  Far better than any pre-bagged stuff you could possibly find in any hobby or craft store.  And it's absolutely free (although if you're unlucky, possibly not free of cat crap).  I filled this container about a decade ago, based thousands of models in the meantime (absolutely no exaggeration... we cranked out entire armies during my studio days on a weekly basis), and there's still sand in there.  I simply visited my local beach on a rainy day (so that there was no one around to question my "theft" of public property), and then took the stuff home and left it to dry for a few days.  And make sure you sift out any random sticks or pieces of broken beer bottles before using.

The reason why I say this stuff is better than store-bought stuff is because it's made up of ROUGHLY similar sized grains, but not perfectly cloned identically sized grains of sand.  Every bag of store-bought stuff I've used has been too uniform in consistency, and ends up looking very unnatural when the base is done.  I even ended up buying multiple bags of sand of varying sizes and textures, and mixing the stuff together to get a more natural effect, but finally realized that if I wanted something that looked natural, maybe I should look to nature itself first.  This stuff is pure hobby gold, and it's on just about every sandy beach on earth.

As for application, thin down some white glue with plain water (you can play around with the consistency for different effects, but most of the time I go for about a 50/50 mix), brush it on the base with a beat up old brush (white glue will ruin new brushes), give it a second or two to firm up a tiny bit, and then dip into the sand bin.  Then shake off the excess (I also sweep my thumb around the rim of the base to get rid of any unwanted stuff sticking there), and leave overnight to dry completely before painting.  If you're in a rush, you can use a hair blow dryer on a low setting to speed up the drying process, but I usually find some other project to work on in the meantime instead of sitting around, holding a hairdryer to my models.

And every hobbyist should recognize wood flock and static grass.  The stuff on the left was what EVERY base and green terrain piece was dressed up in back in the '80s and '90s.  We simply brushed on a thin layer of white glue to the top of our bases, dipped the base in a bin of green wood flock (I believe it's coloured sawdust, in essence), shook the excess off, and that was it.  The only other option that was in vogue at the time was to use sand instead, and then paint the sand with a dark green basecoat, and finish it off with a light green (or yellow) drybrush to bring out the texture.

But then static grass came on the scene.  We then did the sand method of basing, but instead of green, we went with tones of brown.  Once that was dry, we carefully applied dabs of white glue here and there, pinched a bit of static grass between two fingers, and pressed it into place.  You would then give it a moment for the white glue to thicken up a bit, and then lightly blow on the static grass to make it stand up (err... why does everything I write sound dirty in this article?).

One trick I learned regarding placement of those clumps of grass was to place some next to the model's feet.  That would give the impression of the model's weight, sinking into the grass.  Clumps of static grass could also be used to hide imperfections in the basing... gaps where the model's tab didn't quite fill in the slot, for example.

This particular bin of static grass was a blend of two or three different bags.  I find most pre-packaged bags are too uniform in colour, and in an attempt to make them look more wild and natural (and less like a golf course), I would take a few colours, put them in one container, and shake the whole thing vigorously to mix them all together.

Nowadays, I don't find myself using either type of flock all that often on my gaming bases.  On larger terrain pieces, or on certain larger bases that I'm attempting to turn into some sort of mini-diorama, this stuff is still gold, but for most gaming bases, I found a simpler solution in the Army Painter pre-made tufts shown a bit later in this article.

Ah, white glue and herbs.  First of all, let's talk about the oregano, as some people are probably wondering if I plan on eating my models.  I vaguely recall reading some article about using ground up oregano leaves to simulate fallen leaf litter, and decided to give it a try.  It was fine back in the pre-internet days when people weren't viewing pics of your models blown up to fill an entire giant computer monitor, but nowadays they don't pass off as well at that level of close scrutiny.  I'll still use the stuff on terrain and big dioramas, where people are looking at the piece as a whole, but not too closely.  And I'll use some from time to time in my pizza and spaghetti sauces too.

White glue deserves a mention because it's the unsung hero of basing.  Just about everything needs white glue to bind it together.  

Superglue is fine for certain items that have at least a minute amount of heft to it, provided you plan on painting over the piece after it's all dry.  That's because superglue (cyanoacrylate) sometimes goes all frosted looking as it dries, as opposed to how white glue shrinks and dries completely clear.  You can also play with the consistency of white glue, since it's water soluble.  Mix a bit of water into it to thin it out, or wait for it to thicken a bit as it dries.  Sure, it's not as strong as superglue, but how much strength do you need to hold a tiny fleck of flock, or grain of sand?

And one thing that confused the crap out of me as a kid was how many different names white glue has.  Some people refer to it as white glue, others call it wood glue, and still others call it craft glue or school glue.  It took me a while to figure out that everyone was referring to basically the same thing.  And if you want to spend more money for the same thing, buy white glue branded with a hobby company logo, or stationary logo.  If you want to save money, go to a hardware store and buy a big bottle of the basic wood glue.  It's usually less expensive per mL for contractors and carpenters, since they usually go through huge amounts of the stuff.  Just make sure it says that it will dry clear and transparent.

The use of cork board really took off in the early 2000's, when people were exposed to the fine work of the Rackham (makers of Confrontation) studio.  When you tear the stuff, it has a texture like cracked stone, and a simple basecoat and drybrush will exaggerate and emphasize that.  The flat surface on top and bottom is great for gluing broken up sheets of the stuff, with lots of flat surface area to contact the top of the base and bottom of the model's feet.  It's super easy and quick to do, which probably led to the technique's over-exposure by the time this decade rolled around.  People still use it all the time, but it definitely won't impress people like it did back then.  Back then, it was the best thing since yoga pants became fashionable on fit women that work out.  Now that your saggy-ass grandma started wearing them to go shopping at WalMart, it's not quite so special.  When done tastefully and sparingly, it's still okay though.

The snow flock and leaf litter shown here probably each deserve their own pic.  I'll address each separately, because they are not necessarily used together.

There are lots of different kinds of snow flock out there.  My current favourite is the Secret Weapon crushed glass, mixed with a tiny bit of baking soda.  This particular package contains Gale Force Nine's micro-bubble snow flock though.  If you were to look at the stuff under a magnifying glass, you'd see that it's comprised of identically shaped and sized white synthetic balls.  When you apply the stuff on your base with some white glue, it does give off the impression of fluffy white snow, but it still looks a bit too uniform in pics.  Because the balls all have the exact same size, shape (perfectly round, no less), and colour, there's none of the subtle variation in the way light hits the stuff, like real snow would react to light.  It's serviceable in it's intended application, but is it the best simulation of snow available to hobbyists?  Eh... it looks fine.  The main strength of this stuff is that it's much easier to apply than either finely ground crushed glass (which sparkles nicely, but is dangerous if inhaled or handled improperly) or baking soda (which you need to find JUST the right ratio of glue to soda to work properly).

My take on micro-bubble snow flock?  Definately go for it if gaming quality is what you are going for.  It's fast and easy to use.  I'd still wear a dust mask while handling it though... if you sneeze or inhale sharply around this stuff, you're still going to make a mess.

As for the leaf litter, this is commercially packaged and dyed birch seeds.  Below is a pic of what birch seeds look like in nature:

I found this stuff on a birch tree in my parent's back yard, in the fall.  They look like crumbly pods at first glance, but when you break them up a bit, you see that the component pieces look kind of like tiny leaves.  The ones from my parent's tree were much finer and smaller than the ones I bought in the hobby shop, but you can see how they are closely related.  Since each piece actually has something of a leaf shape, they pass closer scrutiny than the ripped up ground oregano I mentioned before.

But they'll make your spagetti sauce or soup taste like crap.

These are the Army Painter Battlefields tufts that I wrote about earlier.  This is what has replaced the bin of loose static grass for most of my basing needs.  

Why?  Primarily because I think it looks better, but also because in many ways it's easier to use.  The two containers at the top right of the pic are pre-made clumps of static grass (with some variety in colouration in each clump).  They have a flat bottom that only needs a tiny dab of white glue to fix to the base.  The hairs are packed very tightly, so they have that nice dense foliage look to them, and they all stand at a fairly natural looking angle.  To use them, you simply place a dot of white glue where you want to on the base, then pull a patch of grass off the sheet with a set of tweezers, and set them into place.  So easy.

GW also makes their version of grass tufts, but I've read some reviews saying that the base of them is not perfectly clear, so they look a bit more unnatural up close.  The Army Painter stuff has been near perfect in my estimation, so while I am a bit of a GW whore that normally can't resist buying anything branded with their label (at least, that's what Mathieu Fontaine called me when he saw that I had bought the overpriced GW kolinsky sable brush set), I'm not all that tempted to try the GW stuff when the Army Painter version works so damn well.

I haven't yet had an occasion to use the other three ones in the pic, but I'll get around to it one day.  I'm horribly addicted to buying anything hobby-related that costs less than a meal, so I couldn't resist when I saw these in the shop.  The top right one looks like meadow flowers, the one below that looks like patches of grass with a light dusting of snow, and the bottom pack looks like clumps of poison ivy.  I can't comment on how good or bad these particular ones are yet, but one day we'll see.

Remember how I was saying that ground oregano doesn't scale well when viewed under microscopic scrutiny?  Even the old standby, birch seeds, loses a little something when you post up-close pics of the stuff on giant computer monitors.  

Well, companies nowadays are coming out with products like brass-etch leaves, and laser-cut paper leaves now.  Since they are shaped exactly like the real thing, they work pretty well at fooling our eye / brain sense of scale.  They do require some extra work on the part of the modeller though.  Brass etch needs to be primered and painted, and even the coloured paper stuff looks better with a little touch of highlighting and shading (often just a little drybrushing will do it though).  You also have to take a little care in strategically placing the stuff, in order to complete the illusion.

I've got some brass etch somewhere that I've used on a few occasions, but it looks like I'm currently out of the stuff.  I did find this random box of laser-cut paper ferns in my box of basing odds-and-ends, and will have to give it a try one of these days.

While I'm talking about modelled leaves and plants, I think I should mention that many hobby model kits do come with the odd plastic, resin, or metal bit of sculpted foliage.  I've used a few spare bits from an old GW wood-elves sprue to great effect in the past.  The only thing is that they tend to be very chunky when viewed up close.  I guess casting a fern out of white metal or extruded plastic would be too difficult, or too fragile, and so they tend to have the thickness of a shield or armour plate.  If you are planning on actually gaming with your models (instead of just putting them in a display case and never touching them again), these are probably a better bet than the super thin brass-etch and laser-cut stuff.

Ah, wood bark.  I love this stuff.  You can either source it yourself from nature (just restrict yourself to pulling it off of fallen dead trees, instead of live ones please!), or go to a landscaping store and buy bark mulch.  While each piece has beautiful variations in colour, shape, and texture, it would look horribly out of scale on a miniature as-is.  What you do with the stuff is break off a piece to the size that works best for your model (don't cut it, unless you need a flat side to it for mounting), then glue it into place (pinning helps with larger pieces).  Give it a layer of black primer (the stuff is porous, so it may take more than one coat), and then drybrush in successively lighter shades of whatever rocky colours you like.  When you are done, the finished piece should replicate a giant chunk of shale-like rock quite nicely.

I'm planning on doing up a full article about these someday, but here's the short and skinny version:

I love raiding the recycling.  I always seem to find all sorts of neat items that can be repurposed for miniatures.  In this particular case, I have various dipping sauce containers, spray can lids, and even single serve yoghurt containers that I've washed out, then filled with Plaster of Paris to give them weight and structural integrity.  Flipped over and spray painted, they make half-decent cheap display bases for oddball miniature projects and single minis.  I still like dedicated and commercially built mini-plinths and bases better (such as the ones offered by Secret Weapon Minis and Dragon Forge, but these are half decent (and nearly free!)

Well, that's enough of a peek into my man-cave contents for now.  I'll come back with a follow up article at some point... likely after I've found a new house, and set up a new hobby cave.  I am also almost finished processing all my GottaCon pics, and will continue with the GottaCon 2015 Miniature Painting Contest coverage.  In addition, I just received my copy of "Figopedia" (a painting guide written by the incomparable Jeremie Bonamont Teboul.  I have some great first impressions of it, but I do plan on writing up a full review when I get the chance.

Please stay tuned for more, and comments are always welcome!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

GottaCon 2015 part 1: Initial Thoughts and Coverage

Well, back from another successful GottaCon, and a great time was had by all.

Bigger and more ambitious than last year (which was bigger and more ambitious than the year before, and so on...), GottaCon 2015 was held at the Victoria Conference Centre in downtown Victoria, and expanded into the conference centre across the street as well (formerly the Crystal Garden).  All the board and miniature games were concentrated in the one building, along with most of the vendors, leaving the electronic games, card games, role-playing games, and other big events (including a Star Wars themed burlesque show!) in the main venue.

This meant that all the miniature gamers were all on the same floor of the same venue this year, which was fantastic for the miniature painting competition, and the miniature painting clinic.  Last year, both were situated next to the Warmahordes tournament, Malifaux tournament, and the Flames of War tournament, but far, far away from the GW tournaments.  This meant that few Warhammer Fantasy and 40K gamers were even aware of the miniature painting events.  Not so this year!

Which meant that we got to see some spectacular models from a wide variety of gaming systems, and miniature companies.

Overall, we still had fewer entries in total, for some reason.  Not quite sure why, but it definitely did not hurt the level of competition.  Most repeat attendees agreed that the quality of entries went up a notch over the past years, and I think it reflects how the west coast miniature painting scene is definitely maturing year after year.  It may be that higher level of painting is intimidating many newer painters away from the competition, but the whole point of competing is not necessarily to win, but to improve... and competing and showcasing your models to thousands of convention attendees is one of the best motivators to get better that I can think of.

As always, Meg Maples sums up that thought much better than I do: http://arcanepaintworks.blogspot.ca/2014/12/why-i-compete.html

I'll be posting pics of all the entries in upcoming posts, and doing up a bit of a writeup on each one.  As a judge, I think it might be helpful to each of the contestants to hear what our thoughts were on their entries... what we loved about them, and where we think they could do more to improve their chances next year.

In addition, I will get the thoughts of my co-judge, Lee DeKock, on the top entries in each category.  Lee was absolutely amazing to work with, and is a fantastic artist in his own right.  His insights were spot-on, and lent a broader perspective to our judging.

Lee also assisted in running the painting clinic, and proved to be an incredible teacher as well.

Yup, right next to the painting cabinets, we had a table set up with multiple painting stations, where painters could drop in, work on their own models, and receive personalized instruction (advice, demonstrations, feedback, tips and tricks) from Lee and myself.  Throughout the weekend, many people took advantage of this opportunity to hone their skills, and learn new techniques.  Many more people simply asked us plenty of questions and asked us to demonstrate particular techniques, even if they didn't bring any models of their own.

In front of these participants, I had set up a few competed models of my own, which I found helped prompt a number of interesting questions and discussions from painters and non-painters throughout the Con.

Around dinnertime on the Saturday, Lee and I switched our focus on photographing the entries, before launching into the hard-core judging.

You can see my portable photobooth in the above pic.  While fairly huge when set up, it looks barely big enough to contain this Warhound titan.  The white walls did a decent job of diffusing the light, and reducing artificial shadows, but I think we might have overdid the amount of light by a tiny bit:

This is how most of the pics turned out:  a bit washed out, and definitely flat looking.  However, a tiny bit of light photo editing seemed to help:

A little better.  I definitely did not subject the pics to the full "Playboy Photoshop" treatment (see how this guy's breasts don't look any bigger?  And his waist is also exactly the same size too!), but just toned down the white a bit.  This allowed the contrasts to pop a bit more, and more accurately reflect what the model looked like in person.  I also cropped the pic in order to clear out a bit of the unnecessary dead space.
Due to space constraints (I did have to carry enough kit to set up an entire table of painting stations, after all), I left my wife's DSLR camera and full size tripod at home, opting to bring a clamping mini tripod, and a small compact digital camera instead.  That being said, I think the pics turned out okay, considering.
Anyway, that's enough for now.  I'll try and follow up this post soon, with more in-depth coverage of the Gottacon miniature painting contest entries.  I'm also currently working on some ideas for articles to go up on the House of Paincakes blog, and Steve Kemp of the YouTube channel, "WarGamers Shut Up and Jam Gaiden" and I are talking about putting together an episode about painting.
All this, and I'm also right in the middle of selling my condo, and trying to find a detached home in Vancouver that I can actually afford.  Yikes.
Stay tuned!  Plenty of GottaCon 2015 miniature goodness to come!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

GottaCon 2015 this weekend!

Just a reminder to anyone who can get to Victoria, B.C., that GottaCon 2015 is running this weekend.  Along with the usual gamer-y goodness (tournaments, vendors, used stuff auction, etc.), there is also a fantastic painting competition (judged again by yours truly, and Lee DeKock), as well as a drop-in painting clinic (again, run by myself and Lee).

I've had some questions asked regarding the painting clinic, and thought it might be good to explain what one might expect, why we're running it as a clinic (and not as a formal class), what materials you should bring, and times.

First of all, what exactly is a painting "clinic", and how does it differ from a "class"?

Live demos! Free advice! Bad jokes!

Clinics are drop-in friendly ways of learning how to paint, where we address the specific areas of painting that each painter wants to concentrate on.  Drop by, sit down, pull out some models that you are currently working on (and possibly having difficulties with), and either Lee or myself will happily discuss and demonstrate any tools or techniques that will help you get to the next stage of your painting level.

We will have a few painting stations set up, and I will have a number of my own paints and supplies out to work with.  However, painters should bring their own models, brushes, and perhaps some of their own paints as well.  In addition, as I can only bring a limited number of lamps (and I'm not sure what the overhead lighting will look like yet), and there is a limited number of outlets anyway, I usually recommend bringing a headlamp (one of my favourite items for painting while travelling).

In fact, if you pack a kit like the one I outline in this previous blog post, you should be fine:

A typical portable painting kit.  Yours may differ slightly.

The advantage of a drop-in painting clinic is that it allows the painters to concentrate on their own particular goals and challenges.  If you are having a hard time getting smoother blends, we can work on that together.  if you want to see how to get deeper contrasts on your models, we can show you some techniques that would help there too.  If you want to learn how to get more precise freehand work done, we can take care of that too.  And once we've shown you how, you can practice it for as long as you like, and get feedback any time you like.  And if you need to rush off in order to get to your next convention event, you can pack up and leave any time you like.

Don't get me wrong, I love painting classes too.  It's just that in the context of a huge gaming convention, with many interested participants coming and going due to all the events going on, an open free-form skills clinic seems to have worked out the best for everyone involved (both instructors and participants).  In contrast, classes seem to work best when there's just one instructor, and a whole mess of students, and they all have a set start and finish time (with plenty of time in between).

Speaking of time, my intention is to get to the venue early on Saturday, set up the table, and run it until dinnertime.  Lee and I will alternate back and forth (giving each other a chance to go to the bathroom every so often), and give any participants our full attention.  After dinner, we will shut down the table, and then focus on judging the painting competition.  On Sunday, it's likely we won't open up the clinic table until sometime around lunch, and then resume painting until we have to pack up and head for the ferry back to the mainland.

Judging last year's painting competition.  ;)

As for the painting competition, I've run coverage of the previous two years of GottaCon's events, as well as my thoughts as a judge (starting with this post from Feb 2013).  If you are interested, I suggest reading through a few of the posts for examples of previous entries, and my feedback as a judge for each.  In addition, there's some great advice from a painting judge's point of view in these two articles as well:


Anyway, it's getting pretty late, and I'm going to pack it in for the night.  I'm currently in the middle of trying to get my condo ready for sale (actually, the first open house is while I'm gone in Victoria for GottaCon), and the whole process has been absolutely exhausting.  Between renos, cleaning, packing, staging, and negotiating details, I haven't found any time to paint or blog much.  But before I head to bed, I'd first like to thank Lee for offering to help out this year, and to thank Paul Puhallo, who runs the whole miniature gaming component for GottaCon.  It's a huge job, and without his help, there would be no miniature painting component either.

I'd also like to mention that I've been corresponding back and forth with Loquacious over at House of Paincakes, and have been invited to contribute every so often to their fantastic blog.  They've got some talented writers over there, with an even quirkier and twisted sense of humour than I do.  I invite you guys to check out HoP often, and see for yourself.

Goodnight, and I hope to see you at GottaCon!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Happy New Year!

I've got a few posts that I am working on at the moment, and they are slowly coming together bit by bit. The other day, a friend of mine was asking when I would finish off the GottaCon 2014 miniature painting coverage, which was a fair question, considering that GottaCon 2015 is coming up VERY shortly.

The fact is, Sable and Spray posts, no matter the topic, take an eon to write.  It's entirely my fault though... I majored in English Literature and Creative Writing back in University, and can't help but agonize over every word, sentence, and paragraph.  When you used to crank out a minimum of 3 to 6 essays a week, and then get them handed back to you the following week with red pen "suggestions" and criticisms all over it, it tends to make you very paranoid about trying to get your writing "just right", in a futile attempt to have your next essay defaced just a little less by an angry professor.

On top of that, I also used to write for the University school newspaper.  Yeah, I know... I was a glutton for punishment.  I originally did it for the loftiest of intentions, which was to get some work experience in a setting similar to what I was hoping to eventually work in, but in the end I just did it for the free CD's, and free movie and concert tickets (FYI, being an "Arts and Entertainment Journalist" has WAY better perks than being a news reporter).

That being said, 20 years later, I find that I actually ENJOY writing.  It's even better when I get to write about things I really enjoy talking about.  The only problem is that the rest of my life is so hectic that I rarely get a quiet moment to sit and paint, let alone WRITE about painting.

Even so, I do get a fair bit more writing done than what you readers see in Sable and Spray.  Most of it I consider unpublishable, simply because some part of me still fears the red pen.  Therefore I only publish the stuff that I've tweaked over and over again, self-edited at least half a dozen times until it's like a polished ball of words.  Other articles are literary dead ends... I start writing about some topic, and then a few hours or days into it, I realize that what I had produced was the typed equivalent of a perm on a dead poodle.  In other words, lots of pretty words that formed an otherwise incoherent mess.

My most productive period of writing for this blog was while my son was in his last year of pre-school.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take a year off from my government job (unpaid leave, mind you, but my wife and I thought it was good to take advantage of the opportunity to spend some serious quality time with him).  Whenever I dropped him off, I walked over to the neighboring public library, and just wrote.  A few hours later, I picked him up, and late at night, I would have another hour or so to write or paint at home.  It was really great... it mellowed me out, and was an extremely satisfying and productive year.

Outside of that time, I basically have the same "golden hour" that all parents of young children do.  After you get off work, you go pick up your kid from after-school care, then do all the things you need to do as a family, up until the moment you put your kid to bed.  Then you get about an hour to decompress, watch TV, play video games, read a book, paint, write, or do whatever you like.  But you only get about an hour or so before you have to get yourself to bed, because you have to get up early to do the whole routine over again.

This is what happens when I try and paint BEFORE my son goes to bed.

If I'm lucky, I crank out a few paragraphs, find a pic or meme to insert into my current work in progress, and maybe read a magazine or watch a "Survivorman" episode on my PVR before passing out.

Well... he DOES have a better survival rate than Sean Bean, that's for sure.

BTW, I LOVE survivalist books and shows.  Dunno why... I was definately bred as a full-on city boy, but with the beautiful wilds of western Canada just a beyond the urban sprawl of Vancouver, it's easy for the boyhood fantasy part of my brain to conjure images of me roughing it in the back country (the reality is far less fun than the fantasy though... way too many mosquitoes in real life).

Anyway, back to painting and blogging.

2014 was an eventful year in terms of both.  The traffic for Sable and Spray continues to grow slowly and steadily, despite the slowdown in frequency of published blog posts.  In particular, the GottaCon coverage got quite a few hits, which is nice because a number of people who read them live nowhere near Victoria (I believe people found much of the advice and examples posted in those posts to be very relevant to improving their own painting).

In addition, one post got quite a favourable response: the post where I used a quote from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters / Nirvana to illustrate the fact that it's okay to turn out the occasional disappointing piece in order to get better at anything.  You have to push the boundaries of what you're comfortable with, and really scare yourself with the shaky first steps into uncharted territory, otherwise you will never improve as an artist.

Of course, sometimes unexpected challenges and revelations come from accidentally bumping into unanticipated problems, such as my painting competition base that rejected having paint stick to it.  Turns out that I wasn't the only one this has happened to, and my trick of adding white glue and liquid dish soap to the mix was something people were happy to learn about.

And my latest series of trying to pin down what I consider the top ten most influential works of art within our genre has also gotten some positive feedback.  I simply love history, and our hobby has a rich one.  Even though miniature painting as we know it (from gaming roots, that is) is still relatively young, it has it's equivalents to Michelangelo's "David", or Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa".  I even got some nice responses from the guys at the Coolminiornot forums, and even one of my idols in mini-painting, Mathieu Fontaine messaged me to give his two cents (an honour, considering how many people he's influenced, and the important part he's played in miniature painting history).

As for my own growth in the art form, even though I didn't produce a ton of finished models this year, I can happily say that every single one I did taught me something about painting, and pushed my skills in new directions (or solidified / strengthened my grasp of those techniques and tools).

The highlight has got to be the course with the wonderful Meg Maples (formerly of Privateer Press and Reaper, but now a superlative freelance artist and instructor).  We Vancouverites were incredibly fortunate to have her come to our town to teach a weekend course, and thanks to her, I finally got a handle on two-brush blending.  My skills in that technique still need a lot of work, but at least my feet are pointed in the right direction now.

I wish my university experience was half as fun as being in a Masterclass miniature painting course.

GottaCon 2014 was a blast as well.  I got to do a little miniature painting instruction myself, by running an open table and miniature painting workshop.  I also got to see for myself just how far the miniature painting talent level of Western Canada has come in the last few years, and it's looking really promising.

Speaking of local talent, one of the best painters I know, Arthur Nicholson, and I got together and created a Facebook group specifically for Vancouver painters (which now includes a few from Victoria and other surrounding cities / towns).  Through the group, members have been able to share their own pics for feedback, inform each other of local painting events / sales / competitions / get-togethers, and ask one another for advice on finding certain painting supplies / tools locally.  It's a great network of local talent, local emerging talent, and die-hard hobbyists.  In the short amount of time it's been in existence, it's grown to almost a hundred members, who have uploaded over 300 pics, and actually helped bring Meg Maples to Vancouver to put on a class!

One real regret I have this year was that I had to miss the IPMS Vancouver Fall Show.  I discovered the event in 2013, came away with some incredible pics and inspiration, and also managed to pick up a number of wins in various categories.  I intended to return in 2014 with some new entries, and my camera warmed up and ready to go, but the scheduling clashed with my family Thanksgiving camping trip (Canadian Thanksgiving is a month before the US one... we Canucks are quicker to say "thank you" than our neighbours to the south).  ;)

One event that I did manage to attend was the Immortal Brush painting competition, held at Strategies Games every year.  I have NEVER attended a hobby shop painting competition as strong as Darren's, and he really works hard to make it a memorable and rewarding one each year.  As always, it was attended by some of the most insane talent in our corner of the world, and there were some great entries.  It's also a fantastic entry point for people entering the competitive scene as well, as there was an entire table of random door prizes given out to people just for entering!  As for judging, Immortal Brush's is consistently good, as Darren often invites leading and interesting talent to determine the winners.  In the past, he's had video game art directors, leading fantasy and sci-fi commission and contract artists, professional miniature painters and sculptors, and local game designers do the judging.  The weird variety of backgrounds of these judges actually formed my wide approach to miniature painting competition pieces, as evidenced by my blog article about the "Shotgun Approach".

I also got hooked into playing the "X-Wing" miniatures game.  For anyone who is not familiar with it, it's a great ship battles game with pre-painted models.  While the pre-paints are fantastic (possibly the best I've seen), I have seen some great re-paints online, and actually did repaint some X-Wings and Tie Fighters for the Immortal Brush competition.  I'm now building up an Imperial fleet, and looking forward to fielding some more repaints on the gaming table.

I should probably start finishing up this particular blog post, and start with some random pics of projects I've worked on in 2014.

As for 2015?  Well, GottaCon is being held in Victoria again in February, and I plan on being there (judging the painting competition, and running the open painting workshop again).

My local Games Workshop store usually runs a spring and fall painting competition, which I've only ever managed to attend once or twice.  Hopefully I can make it this year and get a few entries in.

I've got to keep working on my two brush blending, and my airbrush skills.  Both are proving to be most challenging, and I mess up more often than I succeed.  Still, I get better each and every time I try.

I'd also like to review my notes from Mathieu Fontaine's course, and develop my weathering skills a bit more.  Use of oils and pigments in particular still scare the crap out of me, but they did manage to elevate my Space Hulk diorama to a whole new level back in 2012.  I've just got to keep working with these, and referring back to my original notes to refresh my memory, until I get more comfortable and confident with them.

I also want to work on creating more memorable bases.  I consider them an integral part of the artist's canvas, and while you do not want them to overshadow your central piece, if you do the absolute minimum with them, I consider it a wasted opportunity to show off a little bit.

Immortal Brush will loom over my head until next fall, and for two years running, Matthew Beavis has won the diorama category, and the People's Choice award (both of which I had won the year before that).  I hope to give him some more competition this year with a dedicated competition entry.  That'll be quite the challenge, as I can't think of another painter who works nearly as hard to improve himself and up his game year after year.

I also want to get more into X-Wing.  I picked up a shuttle, tie advanced, tie bomber, and a Firespray recently, and can't wait to see how good they can look with a quality repaint.

I may be moving sometime this year too, which is likely to put a big damper on my painting and blogging though.  My painting for sure, as many of my supplies will likely be put into storage when we list our current place for sale.  With the market in Vancouver being so competitive, we need to display our place as if it was a showcase condo in a trendy new development.  That means only having the bare essentials in our place, and making it look like something out of a design magazine.  Gamers might like seeing display cases of miniatures, bookcases of art and gaming books, and a table full of modelling supplies, but it would likely confuse most potential buyers, and make the place look tiny and cramped.  On the plus side, it'll be fun setting up a new workspace in whatever place we move into.  Maybe I won't have to paint in a tiny room with the cat's litter box just behind my desk any more!

I would love to attend another painting class or two, but don't know of any coming up around here (other than the one I'm running at GottaCon).  Failing that, I'm thinking of trying to organize a regular communal painting night somewhere.  Imagine being able to get a room full of great local painters, all working on various pieces, and freely sharing tips and feedback.  That's a fantastic way for everyone to get much better at painting, and get to know one another better.

And I'm looking forward to my new Figone book by Jeremie Bonamont being finished and delivered to me sometime in 2015.  I really enjoyed my Massive Voodoo Indiegogo books from 2013 (2014?), and hope that Jeremie's will prove equally inspiring and insightful.

Perhaps this year I'll be able to make the IPMS Fall Show, but as my in-laws are already making plans for the same weekend, perhaps not.  I'm still convinced that seeking out different art forms in order to cross-pollinate tools and techniques and concepts into our own style is a really good way of developing into a distinctive and interesting artist.

Anyway guys, thanks for following Sable and Spray.  I really do appreciate it.  Please keep checking back now and then... I hope to make it worth your time!