Friday, 3 April 2020

Weathering a Kastelan Robot – Part 1.

I’d planned to keep the details of this project fairly close to my chest because I’m painting it for my next workshop ‘Dirt, damage and decay - weathering a Kastelan Robot‘. However, as the workshop has been postponed (for obvious reasons), I’ve decided to share my progress in more detail. I’ll also be posting a series of tutorials, focused on different aspects of the weathering, over the coming weeks.

Why a Kastelan Robot?

My choice of model for this project has been a long process. The weathering workshop grew out of my previous Abyssal Warlord workshop. That was focused on painting the amour and especially on texture and damage. I’ve been on the lookout for a model that:
  • had lots of armour/hard surfaces;
  • was lighter and easier to handle than the warlord (he’s very heavy!); and
  • was more economical to use as a workshop model.

I very nearly settled on the Easy To Build Primaris Redemptor Dreadnought. But then I took a closer look at the Kastelan Robots and they fit the pill perfectly! In addition to meeting my criteria they had the benefit of being particularly appropriate for a weathering workshop. The model represents a ‘huge ancient robot built ten thousand years ago’ so it’s more than likely to have picked up a scratch or two. On a more personal note, with it’s rounded form and curved surfaces, the aesthetics of the Kastelan appealed to me more than the boxy Dreadnought.

With the model selected it was time to think about how I was going to approach painting it for the workshop. Broadly speaking this meant how much and what type of weathering was I going to demonstrate. Over the years I’ve expanded my repertoire of weathering effects and I wanted to go well beyond what I’d demonstrated in the Abyssal Warlord workshop. Off the top of my head, the Kastelan afforded me the opportunity to explore corrosion in the form of rust and verdigris, dirt, staining, battle damage and general wear and tear. I decided to go all out and maybe even over-the-top with the weathering. This would enable workshop participants to thoroughly explore the subject, it would also be fun!

The very first thing I did was to sit down and make some notes. These are simply a series of random jottings on my thoughts for things like techniques, materials, colours and the workshop’s structure. As and when I have a relevant idea it will get added to my notebook so that it’s not forgotten. And then it was time for my least favorite part of any project, preparing the model for painting.

Preparing the model.

If there’s one drawback with my choice of model it’s that there are a lot of parts to prepare and assemble! However, I think the model is worth the effort required. The process was a straightforward enough matter of following the instructions. But first I removed the mould lines by using a scalpel to scrape them away and then lightly sanding them with fine grit sandpaper. I like to wet sand a plastic model because I think it gives a smoother finish; it also stops dust getting into the air.

It’s well worth taking some time to study the instructions before you start, because later parts often cover up the mould lines on earlier parts as you assemble the model. This can save a lot of time and it’s most frustrating to carefully clean a part only to discover that it gets covered up! The same principal applies to gap filling. A little bit of planning and test fitting can go a long way towards making the job easier!

It’s also a good idea to think about the model’s pose early in the process. The Kastelan allows some degree of choice in the final pose so you need to consider the situation and setting the model will be in as well as the overall composition. You want to create something interesting and dynamic but you also need to be mindful of how easy (or not) the pose will be to paint. It was at this stage that I decided to leave the arms off and paint them as sub-assemblies. This would enable me to access the side areas of the model. I also considered keeping the legs separate for painting but decided against this. I wanted to establish the pose before I had committed to painting, and the relationship between the legs, hips and torso was crucial. It was more straightforward to assemble these parts unpainted. All in all I found the model quicker and easier to assemble than I’d expected and I’m very pleased with the pose I’ve created.

To prime or not to prime!

It was time to start painting and that meant I had to consider primer and basecoat. I know it still shocks some people that I don’t always prime my models before painting. This is very much my own personal preference not some rampant crusade against priming! I want as few layers of paint between myself and the detail as posible! I make my decisions on a model-by-model basis.

My models will not be handled once finished so I don’t need a primer to help protect them from wear and tear. For me primer is most useful in helping the paint adhere to the surface of a model. This is only really an issue on large surface areas which can be more difficult to cover with a basecoat alone, and may be prone to rubbing during the painting process.

In the case of the Kastelan I decided to go without primer. Although it’s quite a large model (for me) it’s made up of a lot of smaller surfaces and I didn’t anticipate any problems with paint coverage. When I paint a basecoat onto a model I prefer to use Citadel base paints, slightly diluted and applied in three to four thin coats. The first coat will look like a patchy mess but, as long as each coat is thoroughly dry, the coverage gets better with each successive coat.

The ugly truth! These are my basecoating brushes.
I've used them on all my slayer sword winning models!

I apply the paint with a dabbing (dare I say stippling) action. Spreading the paint as far as it will go before I reload my brush. A little dilute paint can go a very long way and this will help to ensure the finished result is smooth and even. The Kastelan posed a particular challenge to this process because the model has a lot of nooks and crannies. Getting paint into all these tricky areas took a lot of concentration and was a little frustrating. Repeatedly checking the model under different lighting and studying it from every angle are the best ways to deal with the issue. It’s very important to spend time and effort getting a good basecoat down. You do not want to be finding any spots of unpainted plastic halfway through a project!

In my next posting I’ll be looking at my choice of a colour palette and how I use that to create an overall color scheme for my Kastelan Robot.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Rockgut Troggoth Part 10. Making a scenic base for my models.

Like everyone else I’ve been dealing with the changes to daily life made necessary by our efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus. As I have asthma and my partner has a heart condition we’ve been busy getting everything in place to be able to isolate ourselves. That’s been complicated by having to help and support my recently widowed Mum. But we are all in the same boat (even if we are keeping at least two metres apart) so I guess we’ll settle into our new way of life in time.

Life goes on! So it’s time to catch up with my blog posting again! 

The week running up to the Iron Skull Painting competition saw a frenzy of basing activity, partly due to the impending deadline; but mostly due to a burst of energy and enthusiasm. It felt very good to lose myself in my hobby for a few days and even better to see that result is substantial progress.

I usually find painting a base to be a quicker, less intense, sort of painting but the base for this project was not insubstantial and it incorporated a face, albeit a stone face. To get things started I decided to use Zenithal priming. That’s not something I’m overly fond of as I think it’s a rather imprecise way of representing the fall of light on a subject. But in this case it was a great way of quickly establishing the initial placement of highlight and shade areas. Before I did that, however, I took reference photos for the intended lighting and these were enormously helpful in achieving the subtlety and nuance that the priming lacked.

I often use photos for lighting reference and it’s something I recommend in my workshops. I think reference photos should always be used for guidance rather than something you must slavishly copy. The big difference they have made to my painting is that the placement of highlights and shadows on my models is now a matter of informed choice.

I said ‘frenzy’ earlier and so it was because I completed
all the painting for the stone in a single day
after nine hours of solid painting!

I often heavily dry brush my bases but in this case I painted all the stone using a combination of layering, glazes and stippling. This gave me a lot of control over my textures and in a few places the Zenithal priming still shows through, creating a soft speckled texture that works nicely for the stone. My colour palette is the same as I used on the Troggoth’s rocks. This was always a part of my plan and it helps to tie the models in to their environment.

It’s important to remember that all the colours on a base should be considered as a part of an overall colour scheme. My Troggoth and the Goblin both feature a dominant warm red/brown with cooler green/grey shades to contrast and complement. Those same green/grey shades are the dominant colour on my base. However I have still used the same dark brown as a global shade colour on the base as I used on the Troggoth.

These are the colours I used to create the green/grey tone for my rocks.

I’m not going into much detail about how I added the plants to my base because most of it was covered in my earlier post: ‘Adding plant effects to a model. Or, the grass is always greener on the other side of the Troggoth!’

However I will stress that the plants should work within the overall colour palette and contribute to texture contrast, so be mindful when you pick which grass tufts to use! Something I tried out for the first time was clump foliage. It’s a mixture of ground up foam particles and fine fibers and it worked wonders for the overall look of my plants. I found mine in a model railway shop where there was a wide range of colours and sizes.

A few examples of the clump foliage on my base.

The final step was to fix the models to the base and this is where special care should be taken. I’d planned well ahead for this so I was ready when the time came. It’s vital that your models look like they are properly situated in the environment you are creating. They should make proper and appropriate contact with the surface they are standing on. They should also affect and be affected by their immediate environment, for example putting dirt on a model’s feet and footprints on the ground.

The big challenge for this project was to make sure that both models were in full contact with the base. Both the Troggoth and the Goblin have perfectly flat surfaces underneath where they contact their bases. Because I’d decided not to have any plants on the upper surface of the rock base there would be no way of hiding any gaps. This is the reason I mounted the models onto a flat slab of stone. But the surface texture of that stone created a few gaps between the models and the ground surface!

My solution was to fill these gaps with dilute PVA woodworking glue. Surface tension drew this mix into the gaps. Over the course of several applications the gaps were filled and camouflaged. Dilute PVA is great for filling fine gaps on painted models but it’s very important to allow each application to dry thoroughly before applying the next due to shrinkage.

Basing models is something I really enjoy. It can be tricky and has the potential to go wrong. But if you plan ahead and take a little care it can be the finishing touch that brings that something extra to a model.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Rockgut Troggoth Part 9. “Lob it, don’t drop it!”

Rather than writing a great long post I’m going to keep things fairly brief and make this a photo-focused piece.

It’s been a whole year since I actually finished a project! Not that I haven’t been busy since but a combination of workshops, long term projects and life in general has kept me on the go without actually getting to the end of a project. Until now that is because my Troggoth/Goblin project, now titled “Lob it, don’t drop it!” is finished!

If your not already sick to death of seeing my Troggoth here are a few close-up pics showing the detais (and brush marks).

I’m going to talk about how I brought the all elements together and finished the project in my next posting.

But in the mean time I have cause for celebration. I’d been looking forward to the Iron Skull painting competition for some time but, until the end of last week, it was looking like I wouldn’t have anything to bring along. With everything that happened at the start of the year my thoughts were not on painting or competitions.

Then when my Troggoth project came together, in what I can only describe as a super productive painting frenzy (again more on that next time), I suddenly found myself with an entry. Not that that prevented my usual pre-show nerves and jitters but they were rewarded with a major success!

The Iron Skull Trophy for 'Best in Show'
Gold Trophy for Scene/Duel/Diorama

I’m so very pleased and proud that my Troggoth won gold in it’s category Scene/Duel/Diorama. Then, to make an already great day even better, it went on to win Best in Show!

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Rockgut Troggoth (and Zarbag the Goblin) – Part 8.

It feels very good to get back to some painting after the upheaval of Dad’s death and funeral. I’d like to say that everything is back to normal but of course nothing will be quite the same again and it will take time to figure out what the new normal is.

Together at last! Testing the composition
for the Troggoth & Zarbag.

I left Zarbag just as his paint job began to come together but also as I came across my first problem: my palette of colours for Zarbag was the same as for my Troggoth. This made good sense as they are going on the same base and exist in the same environment. The difference is in the proportions of those colours. On my Troggoth the reds, greens and grey/blacks are secondary colours to the flesh tones but on Zarbag they are dominant. The highlight and shade colours are common to both minis.

The problem occurred with the red. On the Troggoth I used P3 Skorne Red in the flesh tones and it brings a lot of warmth and life to an otherwise cool and desaturated palette. Skorne Red is a great shade but the formulation has a soft shine when dry. This was fine on my Troggoth but on Zarbag’s robes it looked horrible! First of all it was too shiny for fabric but even worse the shine meant that it was difficult to see the blending while I was painting. This resulted in a slightly patchy and uneven finish.

The solution came in the form of AK Interactive Ultra Matte Varnish. So far this stuff has worked like magic for me! One thinly applied coat and the surface takes on a beautifully even ultra matt finish. I was then able to retouch my painting on the hood using Scale Colour paints to refine the highlights and shading to my satisfaction.

The red hood before and after the matte varnish.

The hands and feet were fiddly but otherwise straightforward as I was working with the same flesh tones that I’d used on the face. Although Zarbag’s flesh looks, naturally enough, predominantly green, the shadows are a warm red/brown. This gives added depth and nuance to his flesh but it also helps to tie him together with the Troggoth. In addition I’ve glazed some subtle blue tones onto the yellow/green flesh. This helps to create a range of warm and cool greens.

The colours used for Zarbag's flesh tones.

The other main area of note is Zarbag’s sickle, which deserved special attention. I decided to use true metallics for the blade, as the shine of the metal would create an interesting material contrast with the other surfaces. In addition, the verdigris effects I planned to use look especially good against true metallics. I painted the blade with a warm coppery gold and then worked up to a yellow gold mid-tone and then to a cooler silvery gold highlight. I then used some Citadel Colour Contrast Paints to glaze over the blade. The Contrast Paints tied everything together and softened the shine.

The metallics used on Zarbag's sickle.

The verdigris is the fun bit! Using a very dilute blue/green, I applied blobs and spots of colour to the blade. Before that was fully dry I removed the paint with a clean wet brush. This will leave stains and tide marks where the edges of the paint started to dry. I repeated this process several times with varying blue/green shades. I then glazed over the verdigris with a dark green to soften the effect.

I repeated a similar process with dark brown on Zarbag’s red robes to create some unpleasant looking stains which were further enhanced with the addition of some brown texture paint. This was created with a mix of paint, chinchilla sand and matt varnish.

Zarbag is such a small mini that I’ve been able to finish him with in a few days. All together I painted him in about a week although that’s been split up and spread out over time.

With Zarbag done I could then turn my attention to the base but, before I started painting, I had to get the back and side surfaces flush and seamless. Although not complicated it was a frustrating task. I’d used a mixture of materials to build the base including plaster, plastic, MDF and Milliput. The varying degrees of hardness meant that even when sanded flush the boundaries between the different materials could be seen and felt. The solution was to prime the base and then gently wet sand the seams - multiple times! A seamless surface can be created this way but it’s frustrating because I had to keep checking my work in different lighting to be sure I was successful.

With the base as well finished as I am ever going to get it (there is no such thing as perfection) it was time to test fit my models onto it. This would be the first time I’d been able to put the two models together in the context they are intended for. With a little fiddling the composition came together exactly as I wanted. This is a great relief as it means I can move on to painting the base with a degree of confidence that the overall project will come together well!

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Remembering Dad

Robert George Soper “Bob”  

9th September 1938 – 10th January 2020

Family and friends came together yesterday at Test Valley Crematorium to remember Dad. He was taken from us by circumstances that were tragic and sudden. It was my honour to be able to pay tribute to Dad as a part of the service held in his memory. I would like to share my words and a few pictures of Dad on this blog.

Dad’s death was an overwhelming shock and, for a time, it drove out all other thoughts and feelings. But as I’ve prepared for today I’ve been able to reflect on my memories of Dad and that’s helped me to put his death in its proper place in relation to his life.

Some of my memories of Dad may seem a little random, and maybe even inconsequential but they’re all precious; and anyway that’s how memories work. I’d like to share a just a handful of them with you.

It was Dad who gave me my nickname of Sproket.

I remember Dad’s penknife. Always in his pocket and ready when needed. I remembered the snap as it cut through the twine on a hay bale. But it was much more than a work tool used on the farm. On Sunday mornings dad would take my brother Richard and I up the lane to visit Nan Soper. As we walked he would fill his pockets with Hazelnuts picked fresh from the hedgerows. With a twist of his knife the shells were opened and the nuts shared as we walked along.

On those same walks he’d casually chop the tops off the giant hogweed as we went along. Penknife held at arms length, never missing and (almost) always managing the feat with a single practiced stroke.

That penknife would help build our incredible dens, slice an apple or carve and shape a walking stick. In memory it seemes like an inseparable part of Dad.

Dad had a soft spot for chimpanzees. Not so much the real animals as presented by the likes of Sir David Attenborough but rather the comedy kind and most especially Cheeta. The real star of the Tarzan movies from the 1930s and 40s.

I have vague memories of a rubber chimp mask that Dad put to good use when playing pranks. But I most clearly remember watching ‘Tarzan's New York Adventure’ with dad when I was small, and our shared delight in Cheetas antics. Dad was a connoisseur of mischief and Cheeta was at the top of his list!

In more recent years when ever looking for a birthday or Father’s day card I always knew I couldn’t go wrong with a comedy chimp.

Time passed and as I reached my teens my relationship with dad became more complicated. I was moving towards a very different world and life than the one Dad knew and we sometimes clashed.

Most of my style choices caused him no little concern but it was the pink mohawk in 1983 that finally pushed him over the edge. I will just say that, for all the embarrassment I undoubtedly caused him, he was more than able to even the score. That sense of mischief meant that, one way or another, he could always get the better of me!

College followed school and the time eventually came for me to leave home and make my own way in the world. That was a tricky transition and it was certainly an emotional one. But I’ll never forget that it was Dad who calmed the stormy waters and helped me take my first steps into the adult world.

I already had much to be grateful for but life was to blessed me with so much more. It gave me the opportunity to know Dad as one adult to another. I got to see him grow happier and more contented as he moved through his life. I’ve been given the time to understand his views and values and to realize that, naturally enough, we have much in common.

I learned (eventually)to take delight in his humour, to admire his once embarrassing sense of mischief and his strength of character! He showed me how being comfortable enough with yourself to sometimes act foolishly does not make you a fool – quite the opposite!

Dad and Mum on the day of their engagement.
Together for 58 years

We never said ‘I love you’ to one another! Do I regret that – not in the least! Because the years we had gave us the opportunity to know and understand each other Father and Son. I was able to say ‘thank you’ and to show my love for him. And to recognize the love in all his actions. From the least little hazelnut to the long hours of hard work that supported me through my education.

Dad was taken away too suddenly and too soon but I am forever grateful for the man who was my farther and for all the years I had with him.