Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Painting Competitions : Popular / Public Voting vs Painting Judges... My Experiences and Opinions

In nearly 30 years of painting minis and 20 years of entering painting competitions, I've entered quite a number of gaming tournaments with "Best Painted Army" scoring, and dedicated painting competitions.  The overwhelming majority of those were scored / judged / decided on by either a single judge, or a team of judges.  However, there were a number of them where the final results were decided by popular vote, and I thought I should share my experiences and opinions regarding both methods.

Most of you will be familiar with the standard judging method.  You enter some painted miniatures, there's a designated judge (or team of judges) that examine them, and they score the entries or rank them based on their own criteria.

The other method is to invite the general public to vote or judge the entries instead.  It could be by popular vote (everyone votes for their favourite entry, and then the entry with the most votes wins), or by rankings (assign points to entries, and the winners are determined by total number of points), or perhaps some other way of determining the will of the people.

Both ways of determining the winners have a number of pros and cons, most of which are very dependent on WHO in particular is doing the judging.  A quick rundown of what the advantages and disadvantages of either would be:

-Consistency in judging.

I would give this one to the standard judging method.

If you have designated judges, the same people are doing the judging for all the entries, based on the same criteria, personal biases, and examination "environmental factors" (lighting, time spent per entry, etc).  No entry is judged under different conditions or biases. No entry is skipped over, because it's the judge's duty to examine every entry in the competition.

This is important, because many convention attendees or fellow painting competitors may only give some of the entries the most cursory of glances, or ignore some entries altogether.  They may only favour the ones that are displayed at eye level.  They may only look at the ones in the display cases closest to the gaming tables.  Or they may only look at the models that come from the army or game range that they are fans of.  In short, they may not give every entry a fair shake.

-Standard of judging.

If the competition organizer gets to pick his or her judges, you know what you are getting in terms of a critical eye.  Yes, we all know that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and that everyone's opinion of "art" is valid.  However, if the judge is a skilled painter, then they should be able to recognize certain techniques used, and understand how well executed they were.

It's like hiring a home inspector when you've decided to purchase a house.  Or having a trained mechanic look over a used car before you buy it.  These people are professionals.  They know what to look for.  They will recognize if something has been well maintained, or expertly put together.  Sure, it's nice to have your dad or mom look over the house or car and give you an opinion on it, but unless they are experienced and knowledgeable in that field, how reliable is their judgement?

I have entered more than a few painting competitions that were presided over by inexperienced judges, or ones who had only mastered the most rudimentary painting techniques.  I can't tell you how pissed off a contestant can be when their 40-60+ hour flawlessly blended mini gets "beat" by a 20 min drybrush special.  Or if that flawless hand blended mini gets mistaken for and dismissed as a "quickie airbrush job" by someone who can't tell the difference (and also doesn't get how difficult a tool an airbrush is to master!).  Imagine if you entered a cooking competition, came up with a full course meal that belonged in a Michelin rated restaurant, and lost to someone who entered a microwave pizza-pop because the judges themselves still thought that making toast was a neat trick?  Yeah... that's kind of how it feels like...

Yeah, this should TOTALLY win a top-tier cooking competition.

However, if the judges are well respected, indisputably talented painters of the highest caliber, then while they may still be subject to some personal preferences and minor biases, they are not likely to overlook the amount of effort and difficulty that went into a particular project.  Therefore, the final decisions made by the judges may be more widely accepted as well.  A good judge should be able to defend their decisions with more than something like, "Oh, that model was awesome-er than the others."

Popular voting exacerbates these issues.  Not all the voters will be particularly skilled or knowledgeable painters... many of them will be novices.  Provided that the vast majority of voters are good painters themselves, this may still work out well, but if not...

-Hidden agendas affecting judging.

Hmmm... this one could go either way.  Often when a certain piece is favoured to win by the general populace, but doesn't, judges are accused of having some sort of bias or hidden agenda.  I know that at past Golden Demon competitions, one of the more popular assertions was that recently released miniatures are more likely to win, as the company sponsoring the competition (Games Workshop) has a vested interest in promoting their newest products (an assertion that has been disputed by many past GD judges).

If the winner of a competition happens to be a close friend of one of the judges, that too, can be viewed with suspicion.  This is actually pretty hard to avoid though, as the painting community is not all that large, and in the era of social media, everyone seems to know everyone else (especially at the highest levels of the art form).

However, in past painting competitions that I have entered that were determined by "popular vote", agendas were blatantly present as well.  Voters would often vote for their friends, regardless of whether or not that friend had a stronger entry than someone else.  Thus, they became popularity contests, rather than painting competitions.  It often becomes readily apparent when a painting competition devolves in this manner, as the rest of the field is left wondering how THAT entry somehow managed to beat that OTHER entry.  It's perfectly understandable that you wish your friend the best of luck in a painting competition, but it's another thing to derail the purpose of the competition (which should be : may the best entry win) by voting for a less deserving entry.

Allow me to share one such experience I had with popular voting, that may help illustrate this potential pitfall.  Years and years ago (early 2000s), I was competing in a Warhammer Fantasy gaming tournament (the last Vancouver Grand Tournament, in the old school days) with my Chaos Fantasy army.  At the time, I was a pretty serious gamer, but I really prided myself in putting together some of the best painted armies around.  With a number of Best Painted and Best Army Appearance awards under my belt, and this being one of the best efforts I had put into a new army, I figured that I had a good shot at winning this one as well.

However, this would be the first time Games Workshop would leave the Best Painted award to a popular vote.  Having had every past pick picked apart on social media (something that happens with every subjective award... people will always second guess and armchair quarterback your choices...), they decided to absolve their responsibility by picking their ten favourite armies, and then leave the final choice up to the players.

Each player in the tournament was given a vote, and the top ten armies (20 actually... 10 for Fantasy, and 10 for 40K) were put out on display. It made for an impressive sight, and each of the chosen players / painters was justifiably proud to see their armies ooh-ed and aah-ed over by the 150 or so gamers.

Gaming clubs were in full attendance that year, as evidenced by all the bright shirts proudly proclaiming their particular allegiance.  While everyone had a good look at all the entries, it was quite obvious that everyone was voting for the army (or armies) that belonged to their friends, rather than basing their vote on artistic merit or effort.  One club even had their members go around the hall and try and convince everyone they knew to vote for the one member of theirs that had made it into the top 10.  That club also happened to be the largest one in attendance.

And still, I was comfortable with my chances of winning the painting award.  While I didn't formally belong to any gaming club in particular, my time as a former Games Workshop retail shop employee meant that I personally knew almost every gamer in attendance.  As for my army, it definitely drew the biggest crowd around it at the display table, and during every game I played.  Even between games (like during the lunch break), I was hearing many people talk about my army, and telling their friends to go check it out.

In the end, the buddy system won out though.  When the votes were counted up, each of the armies drew votes from their respective gaming clubs and buddies. Mine picked up all the spare, unaffiliated votes.  It ended up one vote short of the prize (which especially burned, since I didn't vote for my own army... it didn't feel right at the time).  Two days later, some of the members of winning club were bragging on all the local gaming forums that their voting power had secured the win... not that their member had the best painted army, but that their club was "da best" because it had the most members in attendance.  After seeing this behaviour on the forums, JP Coulter, the organizer of the North American GW Grand Tournaments, vowed never to use the popular voting method for painting awards ever again.

This criticism is often brought up in regards to online painting competitions.  The Crystal Brush (held annually at Adepticon every year) is the best known painting competition with a popular vote component.  Controversy erupts every year after the results are in, and accusations of vote petitioning and people voting for their favourite artist, rather than favourite piece (regardless of who created it), are always brought up.  Whether or not this actually plays a factor is debatable (this year's overall Crystal Brush winners, for example, were almost universally accepted as worthy winners), but whenever a vote doesn't go your way, it's easy to lay accusations of unfair vote mongering practices (I'm looking at you, Trump!).

Hard to argue with the results of this year's Crystal Brush, when the winner looks this good.


So, in the end, which method of judging and determining winners do I personally favour?  While both have their pros and cons, it's been my experience that using dedicated judges, rather than open public voting, is often more fair.  If your goal really is to hand the award to the best painted entries, then you have a better chance of doing that if you have knowledgeable, experienced, reputable painters as your judges.  It's okay to have a dedicated "People's Choice" award for the entry with the most votes, but the "Best Painted" award really should go to the one that truly is the best painted, and usually that takes a good eye to pick up on that.  Better yet, if you have two or three really good judges, it can potentially counterbalance any personal biases of any one judge, bettering the chances of a well considered and well regarded result.

On a related note : Want to know what goes through a painting judge's mind?  I've got a pair of articles on the subject, one more from the purely painting competition judge's point of view, and one from the gaming tournament paint scoring point of view:



If Chuck Norris ever judges a painting competition, don't argue with the results.  It may be the last mistake you ever make.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dark Elf Standard Bearer of Khaine for Warhammer Fantasy / Age of Sigmar : The Blood Elves

I realize that it's been some time since I last posted anything up about any of my own personal works, so I thought that it would be nice to present a small project I did up last year.  I was helping to organize The Sable Shield painting competition at the Attack-X gaming convention (in Kamloops, B.C.), and my co-organizer and co-judge, Jillian Walker, had challenged me to a painting duel.

Now, I know I really struggle with finding the time, energy, and motivation to paint these days... with family, work, a new house to renovate, a big yard to tame, and a great kid that I love spending time with (might as well spend as much time as I can with him now, considering that he'll likely want to stay away from me when he's a teenager...), painting keeps getting pushed lower and lower on the "To-Do List".

But seeing as I was making the long drive out to Kamloops anyway, spending time working on many behind-the-scenes details and paperwork to try and make this painting competition a success, Jillian and I thought it would be a fun diversion from the work we were doing, and great motivation to get a small project done.  Now I just needed to get a mini done before the event, and do it up to such a standard so that it would look like crap next to the model she was bringing.

So, I had to decide on a single mini to paint.  I didn't have a whole lot of time, so I decided against doing anything too intricate, or with too much conversion work involved.  But I still needed it to be impressive... not just technically impressive, but pretty showy.  Many of the people viewing the minis were gamers first and foremost, and not hard-core miniature painters.  These guys might not appreciate technical difficulty or advanced miniature painting techniques... they were going to want to see the "ooh / aah" factor.  I needed to bring the bling.

I've been working on and off on a Dark Elf army for Warhammer Fantasy Battle for years.  I started playing Fantasy back in the early 90s with a High Elf army, won a few "Best Painted" awards with it, more importantly I won many a hard-fought game with it (Elves reward a finesse style of play, and brutally punish a sloppy or inattentive army general... I lost game after game at first, but after sticking with this army for several years, I got pretty good with it), and then sold it off sometime around 2000 to pay off some bills.  I really missed how that army played, looked, and how much fun it was to paint as well.  Not wanting to do up the same thing exactly, I decided to do up a Dark Elf army, which I'd only managed to paint up a few units and characters just before GW decided to wipe out the Old World and do Age of Sigmar instead (f*ck, don't get me started...).

The army needed an army standard bearer, and so I found this old Gary Morley sculpted mini.  I believe it was a regimental standard for some unit in the old range, but the oversized sculpt would make for a decent army standard bearer on foot.  He was posed very dramatically, and was a one piece sculpt (which I rather like to paint, as they are robust and hard to break, and there are no hard-to-reach areas to test your patience).  I'm not a huge fan of the sword as it's unnecessarily busy looking and looks rather impractical, but that's the way they did "Evil" weapons back in the day.  Changing it out would take time, and take away from the nostalgia factor.

The armour plates and sword would prove to be a challenge for my modest TMM (True Metallic Metallic) painting skills (see my previous article on TMM vs NMM for a description of how TMM works).  The cloak would be a good opportunity to practice my blending.  And the banner was going to be the main attraction... nothing impresses the masses like a good bit of freehand, and this banner had enough room for plenty of freehand.

Now, traditionally Dark Elves (the Warhammer Fantasy kind, not the TSR / WotC / Forgotten Realms sort) have been associated with blacks and purples.  They are very much signature colours for this particular race, and used by the Eavy Metal team and GW artists to excellent effect.  However, I had been playing the Warhammer Online MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game when it first came out, and my character on there was a Dark Elf war priest of Khaine... the bloody elven god of murder.  I wanted my army to work around the theme of a zealot army, single minded in their efforts to heap prayers and offerings to this god, and these offerings were going to be in the form of lots, and lots of bloodletting.

I give free hugs!

So, black and red was the theme.  Steel would be a neutral colour (essentially a metallic grey), and the occasional bits of bone, flesh, and leather to add organic colour touches here and there to offset all the bright red.

Anyway, I got started with a light coat of black primer, followed by an even lighter dusting of white.  The black gave the recesses of the mini much needed depth (remember, this is a relatively flat one piece mini), but the white coat over top would not reach those same recesses, and only settle on the higher points of the model.  This gave the model a black and white look, allowed me to see all the definition on the mini (which helped me plan the next stages), and any bright colours I laid down would have the brightness I needed for them to pop (black undercoats tend to dull down bright colours, white tend to make them brighter).

Fast forward to when I got all the colours down, using progressive drybrushing on the chainmail, blended TMM on the plate mail, sword, and banner topper, and push-pull blending and two-brush blending on the cloth areas.  Ink washes helped with blacklining to give it hard definition, and keep the viewer's eyes from blending each area into one another.  However, in order to tie the painting together a bit better, I worked in some earth coloured glazes into the recesses of the armour, which also gave the impression of how reflective polished armour would pick up the colour of the dirt around him.

I freehanded a skull and blood splash effect onto the banner.  However, it didn't turn out how I had hoped... somehow it didn't look impressive enough.  While sufficiently gaudy enough for a unit standard, it didn't suit something that would be carried into battle next to the army general him / herself.

After a quick look through some old Dark Elf army books, and the very neat iconography contained within, I came across a solution: add a spiky crown.  This gives the skull motif more height, adds a regal touch, and makes it much more menacing.

Now, despite the height of his banner, one thing that always makes a model stand out more in a display case (particularly one that is crammed full of other minis) is something to elevate it.  This way no other model will be obscuring yours.  It also gives it a bit bigger footprint in the figure case, gives it a visual border in much the same way as a nice frame does for a wall painting, and gives it a bit more breathing space /elbow room from the other miniatures.

Long ago, I had purchased a nice resin plinth from Secret Weapon Miniatures, and finally got to put it to good use.  The only problem was that it was a bit tall for this miniature, so I figured adding a bit more freehand on the front of it would help with that.  Not sure if it did, but it did give me another chance to show off some freehand skills.  I started it off with a simple skull.

While nice, it still needed a bit more punch.  So, in order to reinforce the blood theme, I thought it would be interesting to have it emerging from a pool of it.  I pulled up some blood ripple pics from Google for inspiration.

That one was interesting, and I could almost see the drop being where my skull would go.  But the ripple effect on that picture was a bit too chaotic, and not stylized enough.  I then found the following picture:

Much better.  I then painted in onto the plinth, and added a bit more reflective light bouncing off the waves.

Overall, not bad.  There was still a bit too much dead space above the blood and skull, but I had run out of time.  Not only did I need to get back to working on organizing the painting competition, but I was starting to run out of creative juices.  At some point, you just have to walk away from a miniature.  I could still return to it at a later point, but for now, it was done.  I never really get a feeling that a miniature is truly finished, but there is a natural point where it feels okay to leave it as-is.  After all, Leonardo da Vinci once famously said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

The miniature was well received with the Attack-X convention-goers.  Later, I entered it into the store painting competition at my local Games Workshop, and it placed first in the Fantasy / Age of Sigmar single miniature category.  I then entered it in the Vancouver IPMS Fall Show (while the name implies that they do a big show every season, they really only hold one big show a year which happens to be in the Fall).  While it did well in bringing home a ribbon, I believe it was beat out by my 40K assassins (you can enter multiple times in the same category at IPMS, so it's possible for one person to sweep all the top placings in a given category).

The best pic I have right now.  I really need to sit down and take some studio-quality pics of my miniatures.

All in all, a nice little project.  I have a tendency to overthink and over-plan my paintjobs, often spending much more time on the lead up to painting than I do on the painting itself.  Sometimes Google and Pinterest are your friends (in this case, Google helped with finding reference pictures for blood splatters and blood ripples), and other times you just get carried away with the research, and it eats away at time that would be better spent painting.

In this case, having a looming deadline and a clear vision of what I needed to get done helped rein all that in.  I only researched for as long as I needed to find an image that worked well enough (you never find "the perfect reference pic", no matter how long you spend trying).  And I stuck to a theme that I knew I could achieve, although it was still challenging enough to test and push my skills.

Well, let me know what you think.  As always, comments and criticism are welcome.  Right now, I've got a number of other projects on the go, but not enough time to spend painting.  I'll post up some WIP pics when I can.  I'm currently working on some Battletech mechs for one friend, some 40K Grey Knights for another, and if I can find the time, I would like to bust out some busts so that I can practice what I learned at Alfonso "Banshee" Giraldes' colour theory course, and Mathieu Fontaine's airbrush course.  And I have a Sisters of Battle army that needs some updating so that I can get some games of the new Warhammer 40,000 in... it just never ends, does it?  And that, in my opinion, is a very good thing.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Quick Tip: Using Matt Medium to Get Rid of Shiny Model Syndrome

Just a quick post on a valuable tip for getting rid of those stubborn shiny spots and finishes that even Dullcote matte sealer spray won't get rid of.

This is a fairly common problem for a number of painters.  Many times we'll paint a miniature, and either the washes come out glossy and shiny, or the paint itself inherently dries to a candy-like finish.  The common fix is to hit the model with a coat of matt sealer spray when it's done.  Not only does the sealer spray tone down the shininess, but it also gives the model a transparent protective coat that helps defend it against some minor wear and tear.

While I've used matte sealer from companies like Games Workshop, Privateer Press, Armoury, Ral Partha, Army Painter, and others, I keep coming back to Testor's Dullcote for the flattest finish of all of them.  My experience is that matte sealers from gaming companies are slightly more durable, but aren't quite as matte to the eye as ones from dedicated modelling companies (who aren't as concerned about durability).  Testor's Dullcote (which comes in fairly small cans) has earned quite the reputation from numerous painters as the go-to matte spray sealer when you have a model with a shiny finish that needs killing.

However, spray sealers have their weaknesses.  They often have a hard time reaching the deepest recesses of a model.  They often go glossy when we get heavy-handed with them.  Unless you mask off certain areas, they cover EVERYTHING on the model with the same finish (which stinks if you want your metallics to be shiny, and your gems to be glossy, but everything else to be flat).  They can give a cloudy finish if the can is not shaken well enough, spray from too far away on a hot day (the spray can dry before it even hits the model), or if you are spraying in the cold.  And often times, they just aren't matte enough to do the job, especially when the model is especially shiny.  What's a model painter to do, if this is the case?

Well, that's when matte medium comes to the rescue.  Normally, we use matte medium as a painting medium... which is to say that it's designed to be mixed in with our paints on the painting palette.  It's slightly cloudy when wet, but dries clear, and most importantly of all, it dries incredibly matte.  It's just the trick for thinning out your paints and inks, without getting the runny-ness of thinning with water alone (using water alone also dilutes the binders that make the pigments spread evenly, causing the colours to break up somewhat as you are painting).  Mixing a tiny bit of matte medium with the paint and water on your palette allows you to create weakly pigmented paints that are great for glazing and translucent layering, but still retaining enough body and thickness to retain easy control over where you are laying it down.

Amazing that something so flat, can come out of a bottle so round...

Years and years ago, shortly after I found some acrylic matte medium in the art stores (before they started showing up in gaming shops in the Vallejo miniature painting line), I thought of trying it out straight up, without mixing any paints in with it.  I was using inks quite heavily at the time, which were great for creating washes for shading.  However, inks have a tendency to dry very, very glossy.  This created quite a problem, as the recesses of my models were catching more ambient light than the highlighted raised detail!  The usual fix, spray matte sealer, wasn't doing a great job of countering this, as these were the areas that spray was least likely to reach as well.

I put some on my painting palette, thinned it with a tiny amount of water in order to get it to flow off the brush smoothly (it's a bit too thick straight from the pot), and then proceeded to lay it down like I would with a glaze (only this "glaze" was completely transparent when dry).  To my pleasant surprise, it worked like a charm.

By applying it by brush, I had a level of control I wouldn't have had with a spray can.  This was long before airbrushes really caught on in our hobby, and so I had to use a sable brush at the time.  I could place the matte sealer precisely where I wanted it, avoid areas I didn't want to dull down, and also control the consistency of the matte glaze.  And it dried MUCH flatter than any spray matte sealer out there... even more so than the much celebrated Testors Dullcote.

As with anything, there were some trade-offs.  It was more time-consuming than a rattle can, of course, but this wasn't something I would do on an entire unit or army anyway.  Also, if you brushed it on too quickly, or if it was watered down a bit too much, it would froth up and create bubbles on the miniature (this was fixed by brushing out the bubbles with a moist brush while the matte medium was still wet on the model... an easy but time-consuming fix).  And in many cases, a second coat was needed as any missed spots wouldn't show up until after the first coat dried completely.

One more thing to note is that matte sealer is matte because it has a very fine texture to it that disrupts any light from bouncing off it in a reflective manner.  Gloss sealer is glossy because it dries to a smooth, polished, mirror-like finish. If you are planning on putting any decals on AFTER using matte sealer, it's best to put down a layer of gloss sealer where you want the decal to go beforehand.  If you have a matte medium or matte spray underneath a decal, the decal will trap tiny air bubbles underneath it due to the rough pebbly surface of the matte sealer.  When dry, it will give your decal a "silvered" finish, which makes it extremely obvious that it's a decal, instead of giving the impression of something painted on.  After the decal is set, you can always apply matte sealer over top to kill any residual shine.

By the careful use and placement of brush-on matte medium, satin varnish, and gloss varnish, you can control the types of finish you want on every part of your model.  For example, you may use matte medium over the clothing, skin, etc., while using satin varnish over the metals, and gloss varnish over glass, eyes, and gems.  This allows you add another level of contrast and realism to your models.

This became such a staple and fundamental part of my miniature painting techniques, that I didn't realize that there were a number of painters out there that relied solely on spray matte sealer to kill shiny finishes.  The casual gamers that I hung out with didn't seem to mind this issue much, but more serious painters would.  It wasn't until I started blogging, and following other people's blogs, that I realized that there were any high level painters that didn't figure this out for themselves.

Two painters that I follow quite religiously are Dave Soper and Jarrett Lee.  Both have done what I never have, which is win Golden Demons, and in Mr. Soper's case, multiple Slayer Swords.  Dave struggled with a Dark Eldar diorama that he had applied some of the new GW washes on, and Jarrett had some Zombicide models that came out pretty glossy after washing them with inks.  In the comments section of their blogs, I suggested they try using Vallejo Matt Medium as a paint-on spot solution to their issues:




In both cases, this solution worked like a charm.  I even joked on Dave Soper's blog that I would now be able to take partial credit for any Slayer Swords he won from then on... and then he went on to win multiple Slayer Swords!

This is probably the closest I'll ever get to winning a Sword.  Sad, really.  :(

Anyway, I think is a good example of how even the best painters in the world never stop learning.  And that often the best tips come from newer or less experienced painters, who often come at an issue from a fresh perspective.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mathieu Fontaine Painting Masterclasses in Vancouver : Masterclass Painting and Airbrushing Classes!

I'm extremely excited to announce that Mathieu Fontaine will be coming to Vancouver to teach two courses : his classic Masterclass, and his brand new airbrush course.  I posted this up in a few local Facebook groups earlier, but somehow managed to forget to post this up on my blog as well!

Five years ago, I was totally burnt out on miniature painting after doing it for a living for over half a decade.  I had no passion for it any more, and couldn't even bear the thought of sitting in a chair and breaking out the brushes, despite having a closet full of miniatures in various states of completion.

Then it was announced that Mathieu Fontaine was coming to Vancouver to teach a set of painting Masterclasses, and I figured, "What the hell..." and signed up.  I have to say that it was the best thing that ever happened to my mini painting.  It demystified many of the techniques used by many of the top painters, gave me a whole new set of skills and techniques to work on, gifted me with a much more solid understanding of what makes some paintjobs work better than others, and most importantly, it made me extremely excited to paint again.

Mathieu brought this diorama along, and it was amazing to see "in the flesh"

For those people who are unfamiliar with Mathieu, he is an extremely accomplished painter from the province of Quebec (the primarily French speaking part of Canada).  And he is one of the "Game Changers" in the world of miniature painting, at least for North America.

Eons ago, miniature painting was dominated by the Eavy Metal style that was "perfected" by Games Workshop.  As I have mentioned before in a previous blog article, it's a fantastic method of painting for beginners and gamers, as it's simple and clean.  However, once you've reached the limits of what that style can accomplish, it's kind of an evolutionary dead end in terms of art.

However, GW was organizing it's proprietary "Games Day" conventions all across the world, with the "Golden Demons" painting competitions set within them.  It's a painting competition that draws the best of the best, due to all the coverage it attracts online and in print.  Win a Golden Demon, or better yet, the Slayer Sword (the "Best in Show" award for Games Day), and people all around the world would know about it.  And because of that, an interesting thing began to happen.

Different art styles were showing up at Golden Demons.  In particular, the continental Europeans (most notably in France, Spain, and Italy) were producing some of the most wondrously expressive paintjobs, accomplished with the highest levels of technical skill. And while we had our own Games Days / Golden Demons in Canada and the US, their stuff was making us look like we were painting with our fingers in elementary school.

Mathieu, and a few select Quebecois painters, managed to reach out to some of the best Euro painters and learn from them.  It was the supercharged injection that our painting scene direly needed.  From that, the standard of painting went up... way up.  Mathieu went on to become one of the winning-est miniature painters in the world (having won awards in both the New World and the Old).

For some examples of his works, check out some of the following links:

Mathieu's website : http://mathieufontaineminiatureart.com/

Mathieu on Putty and Paint : http://www.puttyandpaint.com/Akaranseth

Mathieu's Golden Demon winning entries : http://demonwinner.free.fr/peintre.php?id_peintre=1227

A 2014 interview with Mathieu : http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2014/08/miniature-painting-masters-mathieu-fontaine.html

Not only has Mathieu made his mark by winning all sorts of awards for his work, but he has also made his imprint on miniature painting by paying it forward.  He has been teaching miniature painting for years now, starting long before I took his class half a decade ago.

Now, I admit that first impressions of Mathieu can be a bit daunting.  He's a bit brusque, extremely opinionated, sarcastic to the extreme, and he never seems to pronounce the letter, "H" (in short, he's a shining example of Quebecois manliness).  But he's also a great friend to have, and a great source of insightful truth about art.  And if he starts to make fun of you, then you know that he is starting to like you.  He's kind of funny that way.  ;)

He has also gone on to paint for many private collectors worldwide, including a few models for George R.R. Martin (the author of The Game of Thrones).

For these reasons, I'm really happy to be able to play a small part in bringing him back to Vancouver.  As you all know, I love this city, and I would really love to make it a mecca of miniature painting.  The problem is that we are geographically and culturally far removed from the epicentres of the art form (the UK, France, Spain, Italy, mainly).  Thanks to the Internet, we get access to digital doses of the international painting scene, but it's still not the same as being there.  So it's great when we can bring people like Alfonso "Banshee" Giraldes here, or Meg Maples, or Mathieu.  Each Masterclass we have here noticeably elevates the painting locally.  It also inspires people to keep developing miniature painting as an art form.

So, for anyone who has been learning how to paint by watching YouTube videos, or reading White Dwarf magazine, or hanging out at their local game shop and slinging paint with their buddies, a Masterclass may be a daunting prospect.  But perhaps I can make an analogy here:

If you are a home cook... a pretty decent home cook, by all accounts... would you be content with staying at that level?  Would you still be having fun cooking years later, if you don't challenge yourself, and meet higher level chefs once in awhile?  Be exposed to some of the best cooking in the world?

Now say that you hear that Gordon Ramsey is coming to town to teach two weekends of cooking?  This is a Michelin star rated chef... perhaps one of the best in the world (certainly one of the best known).  And he's making time to teach a small class of students of all levels of experience, from beginner to expert, how he likes to cook.

Wouldn't THAT be a neat experience?  Inspiring, perhaps?  Possibly transform how you cook from now on?

Not to mention how FUN it might be?

I know I'm gushing more than a little bit.  Perhaps even being over-dramatic.  But I'm just trying to get my point across.  Painting is a journey, and one that is more interesting because of the people you meet along the way.  This is a great opportunity, and I'm really happy to help be a part of that.

If you are interested, email me at kellykim@bikerider.com , and I'll answer your questions, and fill in the details.  Your spot is not reserved until payment is received, and we do have a few spots left at the moment.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Let There Be Light! : What Kind of Lighting Works Best For Miniature Painting?

One of the questions I get asked by many gamers and painters is, "What kind of light should I be using for painting minis?"  It's a simple question, that has many different answers.

Generally speaking, what you are looking for in a painting light is something that gives off a nice, clean tone of light.  What I mean by "clean" is something that is not too far in the warm, yellow end of the light spectrum, or too far into the cold blue end of the colour spectrum.  Either extreme will affect your colour perception, and can trick your eye into thinking that the paints you are using are something they are not.

The old fashioned incandescent lights were very warm in tone, which made sense because they were created by heating up a tiny filament that created more heat than light.  Later on, there were various fluorescent tubes sold that were very blue in colour... the light was created by sending an electrical current through a gas filled tube to excite the molecules into producing light.  Neither method created a form of light that approximated natural sunlight very well (and even sunlight varied in colour temperature quite often).

Nowadays, we have a number of lights and light bulbs that are marketed as "Daylight", which basically mean that produce light in the 5000k to 6500k range (as opposed to "warm" lights, which are meant to reproduce the old fashioned incandescent lights, sit around the 2700k range, and old halogen lights are around 3000k).  This is the sweet spot of lighting, as far as we painters are concerned.  5000k or 6500k allows our eyes to see colours on our palette and miniature for what they really are... not tinted or colour shifted by the colour of the light itself.

So, the very first consideration any painter should have when choosing a light, is to stick to something that produces a light between 5000k and 6500k.  When in doubt, look for those numbers on the packaging, or on the product itself.  Don't just look for the word, "daylight", as that is just a marketing term which could mean anything.  "Daylight" for lights can be just as misleading and confusing as "organic", or "all natural" for foods.

Next, look at your painting station.  How do you want the light to be set up?

For my personal setup, I like a light with a position-able (articulated) arm, so that I can move the light around and adjust the angle and height without having to tear it down and re-set it up elsewhere.  The ones I have also clamp firmly to my desk, so that I don't worry about knocking them over.  However, you may like something completely different, as your preferences and your desk setup may be completely different from mine.  There are lights with a weighted base that you simply set down anywhere you have space on the desk, and there are lights that mount to the walls or ceiling.  There are also floor lamps with long arms that put the light where you like (although I find they are often designed with reading at a couch or chair in mind, rather than painting).

Those are the two basic considerations that spring to mind.  That being said, why don't we have a quick look at various lighting options, and I'll give you my thoughts and experiences with each?

The first light worth looking at just so happens to be one of the least expensive options.  Which also happens to be one of the most versatile.  And coincidentally, happens to be the one I use now.

It's the standard desk lamp.

A venerable design, widely available just about anywhere (office supplies stores, art stores, furniture stores, etc... I believe mine are from IKEA).  The versatility comes from the fact that it can accept a number of different kinds of light bulbs, so long as they have a standard size twist-in base.  You can put an incandescent bulb in there, halogen bulb, or LED bulb.  You can also find bulbs in varying wattage, based on how bright a light you need.  And you can position and adjust the angle as needed.  The only real drawback to these is that they take up a fair bit of room, and need a sturdy surface to clamp on to.

And did I mention that these are dirt-cheap?

Of all the kinds of bulbs you can use, I would strongly advise avoiding the old fashioned incandescent bulbs.  Not only are they incredibly energy inefficient and short lived (meaning that you have to replace them quite often), but they usually put out a very yellow light.  In addition, they put out a lot of heat, which can get uncomfortable when the lamp is inches from your head.

I currently use the twisted florescent tube bulbs (which remind me of curly fries... mmmmm, curly fries...).  While they still put out a little bit of heat, it's generally not noticeable unless you are painting for hours and hours.  They have a good long life, and use substantially less energy than the incandescent versions.  They do cost a little more to buy, but pay for themselves in the long run.  And they put out a very pleasant 6500k light, which make the colours and details pop nicely.

Years ago, when these first came out, they did put out a faint humming sound, but I can't hear anything from the ones being sold nowadays.

The latest offerings in bulbs are daylight LED bulbs.  These promise to be much better than even the florescent ones, in that they use even less energy, last even longer, and produce almost no heat whatsoever.  Plus, they are much more impact resistant, so no worries of breaking them.  They are a bit more expensive, but are coming down in price all the time (and still MUCH less expensive than some of the dedicated painting lights sold in art stores).

They are also made in a number of different colour temperatures, but the ones you are looking for are the 5000k ones.  I haven't seen any 6500k versions yet, but the 5000k ones seem to work just fine.  Great for painting, and great for photography (although you still need to diffuse the light somewhat if you are using them for photographing your minis).

For those who are always looking for the fanciest, most expensive solutions, here are a few to consider:

A variation of the basic clamping desk lamp would be this one.  It's a magnifying desk lamp.

This has a magnifying lense in the centre, which is the "donut hole" to the florescent tube that wraps around it.  I used to own one of these, and bought it thinking that the magnifying lense would be useful for painting finer details on my miniatures.  However, unlike the binocular magnification of an optivisor or reading glasses, this robs you of any depth perception.  I found that I had a hard time determining where my hand and brush were, relative to the miniature I was painting.  I suppose it would be good for the occasional up-close look for particular details, but not for painting with.

I ended up using it just like a regular adjustable desk lamp for a time, as the light was bright, and had a good colour temperature.  However, when it came time to replace the "bulb", I found that they were very pricey.  It was much cheaper for me to ditch the magnifying desk lamp and just get a regular desk lamp with a daylight bulb.

My advice would be to not bother with one of those.

Here's a look at one of the most hyped lamps in the history of miniature painting:

For quite some time in the late nineties, and early 2000s, everyone was talking about the "Ott light".  Decent florescent lamps were hard to come by back then, and the most plentiful bulb to use with your basic desk lamp was the old yellow light incandescent.  At the time, Ott lights were a godsend.  They worked off a florescent tube, but produced a very nice, white light.  They also didn't hum loudly, like the old florescents, and created almost no noticeable heat at all.

Sold by the hype, I went out and bought one.  It was painfully expensive, but I figured that it would be worth it.

In terms of light quality, the light was everything that people had said it was.  It was clean, and it made details pop.  It was easy on the eyes too.  The only problem I had with it was that it wasn't very bright... with the ambient room light on, I could barely tell that the lamp was on or off.  Add in the high price tag (even the replacement light tubes were expensive!), and I eventually gave up on this light.

Newer, more recent versions may be much better... I don't know.  All I know is the one that I got back in '01 was barely brighter than a candle.  Very disappointing for the price.

Another possibility:

I've seen a few variations on the above design, but never used one myself.  Some use long florescent tubes, and some newer ones use LED strips.  Either way, these look promising.  The benefit of using one of these over the standard desk lamp would be that they throw light evenly over a wider area, with less of a central "hot spot" of light.  I mitigate this with the use of two separate lamps, but if I were to only use one light, it might be this one.  However, given the choice between florescent or LED, I would opt for the LED... longer life, less heat, no buzzing noise, shatterproof, and more energy efficient.  Either version is likely to be pricey, however.

Speaking of even light, this is a pic that's gotten a lot of attention recently.  It's of Mathieu Fontaine's painting desk (check out all those Golden Demon awards on the window sill!), and the "light arches" that he uses.

Custom made for him out of LED light strips, these cast a very even light across nearly the whole surface of his desk.  Provided the light strips you get are the right colour temperature range, these would do the job very nicely.

The funny thing is that 4 years before he got this setup, I was sitting in his Vancouver Masterclass, and when the topic of preferred lighting came up, I suggested creating a setup using one of the new LED light hoods that were just coming out for fish aquariums.  Mathieu scoffed at the idea, and then proudly showed off this setup years later... essentially a stripped down version of the idea I first proposed in his painting class!

Now have a look at this pic, taken during Alfonso Giraldes' Masterclass in Vancouver last year:

Using two lamps borrowed from the students, Alfonso quickly set up a spot to work on a demo bust for us.  It appears one lamp is a long florescent tube lamp, and the other is a small portable Ott lamp (likely one of the newer LED versions).  Between the two, he was able to produce a fairly even, white light across his workstation, which worked out very well.

So, perhaps the question isn't, "What lamp works best for miniature painting?", but perhaps "What LAMPS should I use for miniature painting?"  As we can see, two lamps are better than one.

Speaking of portable...

For longtime followers of Sable and Spray, you might recognize this pic from my "Portable Painting Setup : Perfect for Lunch Breaks" post.  This is a very modest setup... something I can break out, do a bit of modest bit of painting (say perhaps, just a blue cloak), and then pack back up, all within the space of an hour.  No point in lugging along a huge desk lamp (or two)... a simple LED headlamp is sufficient for the task.  Combine that with a reasonably well lit room, either from overhead lights (hopefully not yellowish incandescents), or from a nearby window, and it's enough lighting to get by.

One other note I should make before finishing up this article... be mindful of what kind of lighting your miniatures will be viewed in.  If you paint up your minis under a clean white 5000k + light, but then try taking pictures of your minis under yellow incandescents or 2700k bulbs, you may be shocked how differently your colours turn out.  The models simply won't look the same.  The same goes for the lighting that painting judges may view your minis under.  However, in that case we are generally pretty fortunate that most reputable painting competitions try their best to use clean white light... very similar to the light you should try using while painting.  That's not because they are the best lights to paint under, but because they also are the best lights to display miniatures well.

Now, some of you may be using something else entirely than what I've presented in this article, and it may be working for you.  If so, then use what you like.  However, if you were thinking of trying something else out, then you might find some of what I've written above quite useful. Perhaps you'll find yourself enjoying painting much more, with less eye strain, and better able to discern details and colours.  I certainly hope so.

*Edit 2018: I was recently sent two lights to review.  Please check out the article here:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Eavy Metal Style of Painting, or "Is Duncan Rhodes the Messiah of Mini Painting?"

Duncan Rhodes always drinks his painting wash water after he finishes a model.

For some, mini painting is an art form.  For others, it's simply a chore to be quickly gotten over with prior to playing a game.  Sometimes the two mindsets clash.

However, there IS a happy medium between the two, and I would have to say that it's the Eavy Metal painting method / style, which was popularized by Games Workshop eons ago (and is more popular and refined than ever today).

Now, I've mentioned before, I started mini painting back in the late eighties when there were very few published mini painting step-by-steps, no YouTube videos, no painting DVDs (or VHS tapes, for that matter), and no mini painting classes.  These are all things that we all take for granted nowadays, but back then we simply saw pics of completed minis in White Dwarf and Dragon magazine, and did our best to guess at the tools and techniques used, and somehow reverse engineer the process.

Back in the 80's, we would stare at White Dwarf pages like these for hours, trying to figure out how the artists achieved various effects.
And then we'd end up with something like this...

GW / Citadel Miniatures was making the move away from being a game importer and distributor in the UK, to their new focus of creating miniatures.  However, sales of individual miniatures as a business model was very limited in growth.  After all, most D&D players only needed a single miniature to represent their character, and a DM might only need a handful of models.

"The Role-Playing Games Monthly"... a far cry from where White Dwarf's at now.

So GW started publishing rules for playing with entire armies of miniatures.  As you know, this was a fantastic business model... and suddenly GW was selling quite a lot of minis.  In some cases, however, the only thing slowing down people's purchasing was how much money they had to spend, and how fast they could paint.

In some ways, that's how the Eavy Metal method of painting came about.  Gamers and collectors needed a fast and efficient way to paint their miniatures.  The sooner they finished a miniature and got it on the table, the sooner they would be back in the shop, looking for their next acquisition.

It also needed to be easy to understand, so that people new to the hobby would not be intimidated, and could pick it up quite quickly.  When I worked at GW, we often heard non-gamers look at the display cases and say, "Wow, I could never paint like that".  Of course, like wolves hearing a distress call from a weakened deer, we would then swoop in and say, "Actually, it's quite easy.  If you've got a minute, I can show you how at our painting table over here...".  Then, after a 20-30 min demo where the potential customer got to walk away with their first painted miniature, we were often able to talk them into a purchase.

"Why hello, dear... would you like a painting lesson?"

Lastly, it still had to look good.  This style of painting had to help showcase all the details on the miniature... it couldn't be a quick and dirty "dip-job".  It's understood that part of the draw of the hobby is how fantastic a fully painted army looks on the tabletop... potentially every gamer's army would essentially be a marketing tool to drive further sales of minis, and help bring in new blood.  Whatever method of painting that GW promoted would have to keep that in mind.

And so if you look at the motivations behind one of the main driving forces behind the evolution of miniature painting, Games Workshop as a corporation, then you see how the basic primer, basecoat, wash, and layer highlight (with optional drybrush) method made perfect sense.  It's quick to learn, quick to paint, and for economy of effort, it's hard to beat the end result.

Now, also consider that GW also sells their own line of paints, and has done so for quite some time.  Yes, they are made by other companies, but they are made to GW's direction.  Sales of these paints represent a very large chunk of their income, and any painting tutorial published in White Dwarf, or posted online or on YouTube goes a long way in helping drive sales of GW paints.  Part of what makes the Eavy Metal method so easy is that you rarely have to mix paints... every painting tutorial has a long laundry list of colours that you can simply pick up and layer on your mini.

Use this system, and you may never need to learn how to mix paints.

(Side Note: Other companies are also doing their part as well in specifically targeting the beginner.  Reaper came out with a "Triad System" of paints, in which each they grouped each colour into separate base, shade, and highlight pots.  I've also noticed that many P3 paints are given names like "Menoth White Base", and "Menoth White Highlight".  Organizing your paint range in this manner turns purchasing paints into an established system that new painters can easily understand, even without any knowledge of colour theory).   

Okay... so if you've read all that, you might now think of me as some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.  You likely just love the painting techniques shown on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel, or those published in White Dwarf, for the simple fact that they have vastly improved your own painting.  The thing is, both are entirely valid reasons for this style to exist.  This method of painting has evolved BOTH to help new painters / gamers, AND to help GW's sales as well.  One reason / result does not devalue the other whatsoever.  They live in happy harmony.  GW has done the hobbyist a huge favour, while at the same time doing themselves a favour too.

Now, there's very little NOT to like about the painting method.  Even though it's simple in concept and execution, the end result is a clean, bright, and characterful model, that looks fantastic on both the tabletop, and in the display case.  For that reason, it's incredibly popular, and in particular I'm seeing many people rave about Duncan Rhodes' painting tutorials on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel.  I've seen a few of them, and most recently I've been checking out the ones on how he has painted the new Saint Celestine model and Inquisitor Greyfax.  Frankly, I was blown away at how simple, effective, and elegant the painting was. 

How to paint Inquisitor Greyfax, the Duncan Rhodes way

The best part of the promotion of this method of painting is that it's getting more painted miniatures out there.  One thing that I absolutely loathe is seeing hordes of bare metal / resin / plastic at gaming stores or at tournaments (I even wrote a whole article on how much I dislike it).  I think it's absolutely awesome that we are seeing more and more beautifully painted minis, and people are taking more pride in their models.

However, to play Devil's Advocate for a second, the one drawback to everyone following Duncan's painting vids is that we're going to start seeing similar paintjobs from one person's army to another.  Much the same happened back in the early nineties, when everyone copied Mike McVey and the Eavy Metal style. Many of the gamers I played with pretty much had identically painted armies.

Don't get me wrong... I still like Duncan's vids. As far as economy of effort, it's fantastic. Easy to follow, and amazing results. However, unlike the McVey era, there are so many different styles and techniques out there now, it's a bit of a shame that more people aren't trying to branch out a bit more and find their own style of painting.

Let me make an analogy here.

Say everyone has a bunch of potatoes. Most of those people are serving boiled potatoes, because Duncan has posted a vid of how to quickly and easily get your potatoes to the dinner table by dunking them in a pot of boiling water. It's simple, and it's a heck of a lot tastier and better looking / smelling than a plate of raw potatoes.

But if that's all people are trying, then they are missing out on all the other ways to prepare and eat potatoes. Why not roast or mash them? Cut them up and deep fry them as french fries? Bake them and pile on some butter, chives, and sour cream? Slice them thin and fry them up as chips? Dice them up and turn them into hash browns? Sure, all those methods take a bit more time and effort than plopping potatoes into boiling water, but the end result may be worth it.

If cooked potatoes are like painted minis, then poutine is a Slayer Sword winning entry!

My point being, sure, it's awesome that we are seeing fewer raw potatoes on dinner tables, but hopefully after people have tried boiled potatoes for awhile, they go out and try their hand at other ways to cook them. Otherwise every time you go to a friend's place, or visit relatives, or go to a restaurant, you'll see the same boiled potatoes over and over again... just done up by different people.

But that's a very minor point considering the overall benefit to gaming / hobbying.  The impact of the efforts of WarhammerTV, White Dwarf magazine, Duncan Rhodes, and every red-shirt staff member at a GW store is enormous.  While many gamers will likely watch WarhammerTV and be satisfied with a lifetime of painting to that standard, many a future Slayer Sword winner will take their first baby steps because of Duncan... but not if they stop their progress there.

I really hope that after people learn to "thin their paints", and that "multiple thin coats are better than one thick one", that their interest and passion will just have started to be piqued.  Hopefully they go on to find other influences, like Mig Jimenez, Mathieu Fontaine, Massive Voodoo, James Wappel, John Blanche, Darren Latham, David Soper, Alfonso Giraldes, etc etc etc (please see some of the other blogs on my sidebar list, or Google them).  Duncan Rhodes is the starting point I recommend for anyone new to this art form, but I implore you, do not stop there.  Just as there are many different ways to prepare a potato, I strongly urge everyone to try out as many different ways to paint a miniature as they can.

Just not the "Pure Edging" approach that some White Dwarf staff were pushing in the years previous to Duncan Rhodes coming on the scene... jeez... it's still shite.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Recent Purchase : Mig Catalogue and Weathering Magazine

Just a quick post regarding a few things I picked up from my local hobby shop (Burnaby Hobbies), and a few thoughts on them.

I'm a huge fan of anything from Mig Jimenez (who incidentally, kind of looks like a Spanish version of George Michael).  If you don't know the name, you should.  This man has pioneered so many weathering techniques for scale models, it's crazy.  He has worked for a number of different companies, helping them formulate painting supplies to help make weathering easier and push the boundaries in what can be done with a model.  He has also founded a number of companies himself (the original MIG company, and AK Interactive, are two well known ones, which were both wrestled away from him... a long story which I may be able to go into in a later post).  His latest company is Ammo by Mig, which has an extensive line of oils, pigments, acrylic paints, enamel paints, basing materials, and some amazing how-to-books.

Well illustrated, well translated, his "Weathering" magazine picks a topic with each issue, and has a number of great step-by-step articles on that topic.

Adding depth with enamel washes

Highlighting and shading with oils... longer working times, easier to blend, but longer drying times and messier too.

Looking forward to applying some of these techniques on my X-Wing models

The Mig catalogue is more than just a list of products for sale.  There is a small smattering of how-to articles included as well (thought not quite as in depth as the ones in the Weathering magazine, or in one of his dedicated books), but it showcases the huge range of modeling paints, mediums, basing materials, pigments, washes, and books.

The catalogue is full of brief step-by-steps

Hmmm... I wonder if this would work for Vallejo paint bottles?

Sorry to sound like a sales pitch, but I can't help but geek out over this stuff.  A word of warning to anyone else who wants to get neck deep in weathering geekery... collecting all these books and paints / pigments gets pretty darn expensive over time.  I've probably spent more on these products than I have on the models themselves in recent years.

If you're into this kind of thing, another company worth checking out is Secret Weapon Miniatures.  The owner, Justin McCoy, is an award winning scale modeller himself, and has produced a great range of weathering products as well.

GW Forgeworld has a smattering of related products as well, which is appropriate because these these tools and techniques work amazingly well on their models.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please comment, and I will try and answer as best I can.