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.

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