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!