Sunday, 15 April 2018

Salute 2018

It’s been a long busy Easter, but it’s also been a very good one! The two week break started on Easter weekend with my partner Mark breaking up from school (he’s a teacher) and our friend Terry arriving to spend a long weekend. Then, on the Thursday, Mark, myself and our friends Sue and David flew off to Athens for a five day break where, by a quirk of contrasting religious calendars, we had Easter weekend all over again! Athens is a city I’ve long wanted to visit and it didn’t disappoint. We hit the ground running hiking up various rocky outcrops and roaming the streets to visit the monuments. Then on the final weekend of the Easter break there was Salute 2018!

I was already a little weary going into the day and this year Salute seemed bigger, noisier and hotter than ever! But I had a great time and really enjoyed the opportunity to meet up with my fellow painters and hobbyists. Of course from my perspective the main event was the painting competition.

In my last post I wrote about how I revisited my Abyssal Warlord to improve the details on his cloak fixings. I did this specifically because I wanted to enter him in the painting comp at Salute. One of my major personal painting goals since returning to the hobby has been to expand my range to include larger scale models. It’s been quite a learning curve!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I’m very pleased with the paint jobs I’ve produced. But this has been a journey to an aspect of the hobby where I had no prior experience and it’s taken me out of my comfort zone. So much the better for my development and growth but it’s had its frustrations!

I’ve had to swallow my pride and learn from my mistakes. I quickly realized that I couldn’t simply apply what I’d do on a 35mm mini to a bust. Over the last four years I’ve tried to introduce a touch of realism into my painting of larger scale models. It’s a subtle shift but I’ve found it can make a huge difference! It’s an approach that’s spilled out into all of my painting and I think the result can be seen in my painting of the Death Guard and Horticulous Slimux.

I was surprised at just how nervous I felt the morning before Salute this year. I’ve had some competition success over the last few years with my larger scale projects winning a couple of bronzes and a silver. Gold, however, has eluded me and Gold is the standard I want to achieve! I had hopes that I might pull it off with the Warlord but the standard was high and there was some stiff competition in the cabinet. So I braced myself for a disappointment.

I finally did it and the Abyssal Warlord won me a Gold in the Large Scale category! I have a huge feeling of achievement and pride to have finally achieved my ambition.

There is, of course, so much more to learn and I’ve still got a long way to go on this particular painting journey. But I feel I’ve reached a significant landmark from which I can continue to develop. I need to step up my game and level up on the neglected, but not forgotten, Akito bust!

Monday, 26 March 2018

A fishy tale!

Last summer I painted the Abyssal Warlord from Scale 75 for my workshop at Element Games. Although he started out as a demo mini I decided to try and finish him to competition standard, and I was pretty pleased with how he turned out. I took the finished model along to the Golden Demon winner’s day, at Games Workshop HQ in Nottingham, to get some feedback from my fellow painters.

Having successfully smuggled a non-GW model in, without setting off the alarm at the gates, I put him out on display. The reaction was very good but there was one bit of very helpful feedback. Put simply, the rings that attached his cloak to his armour were the weak link in the paint job and didn’t match up to the rest of the model.

I believe that we are all our own toughest critics and deep down we always know when something isn’t up to scratch! However, I’m very good at deceiving myself, and it’s all too easy to think that it’s ok and no one will notice. Thank goodness someone did notice and gave me a, much needed, push to sort it out!

The root of the problem was in the casting, which wasn’t great in this area. However it’s my job to spot such issues before I’ve glued the parts together and base coated them – my bad!

This required a little thought so I put the Warlord in the cabinet and took plenty of time to ponder the issue. I decided the solution was to remove the offending rings and replace them so that I could then repaint the area. It would be straight forward enough to replace them and sculpt some new fur and fixings. Straightforward in principle but bloody fiddly to do!

I took a little more time to think through a plan of action and I’m very glad I did. I gradually began to rethink my idea of replacing the rings like for like. This seemed to me to be an opportunity to add something a little extra. My thoughts came together very slowly but, in the end, I decided to work with the fish theme already on this model and put fish head terminals onto the cloak.

At this point I remembered the fish familiar in the Silver Tower box and I had my solution. The fish familiar was the perfect size and, because it’s made from plastic, easy to cut and carve to fit. With Horticulous Slimux done I decided this week was a good time to get the Warlord out and make the changes to him.

The Warlord is a weighty, top-heavy model and this made the whole process much harder than it should have been. To cope with this I had to proceed very (even for me) slowly and carefully.

I began by carving away the old rings and a little of the adjoining fur. It was a horrible job but by proceeding with extreme caution I managed to remove the unwanted parts without causing extra damage to the paintwork. Then I had to cut the fish down to size by removing the head, filing off the back half of it’s face and re-carving this surface to fit onto the Warlord’s shoulders.

I glued the new, pre-painted, fish head terminals onto the Warlord’s shoulders with epoxy glue and, once this had set, sculpted new fur to connect the old and new parts. I finished off by repainting the fur to blend the old and new together.

To say the least it was a tricky change to make, and I hate doing this sort of work on a ‘finished’ mini at the best of times! But I think the effort has paid off and I’m very pleased with the result. The new fish head terminals add to the under-sea theme and I think they also improve the overall composition. They help to bring extra focus to the face by framing it with areas of the cold gold. They also create a subtle triangle of gold within the overall colour composition that I find very satisfying!

Thanks to Ellis Kaye for giving me the feedback that prompted me to make the changes!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Horticulus Slimux – Part 5

Horticulus Slimux is finished, and it’s been a hard slog because I‘ve pushed myself hard to refine the textures and transitions to the best of my ability! The experience has been quite intense and I found I could only really work on this mini in short bursts, of an hour or two, at a time. But I think the hard work has paid off and I’m very happy with the finished result!

The decision to focus my paint job on Slimux’s identity, as an ancient gardener, has helped me to keep an overall focus while working on the many small details. I feel it’s also helped me to create the feeling of Slimux being a distinct individual among the masses of Nurgle’s demons. And that is exactly what I wanted to achieve! Of course, no matter how happy I am with Slimux, he is just one element of a bigger model and I now have to start thinking about that dirty great snail and the base in more detail!

The Saturday before last I spent the day at Warhammer Salisbury as ‘artist in residence’! Recent events in Salisbury had, understandably, made things in town a little quieter than usual. However, you can’t keep a good hobbyist down and I enjoyed a full day of hobby related chat and demos. The morning in particular evolved into an extended Q & A and I hope I was able to share the benefit of my many years of painting experience.

A major talking point of the day was ‘How to take your painting to the next level’. What emerged from these discussions was the conclusion that attention to detail is crucial! This works on many levels but, for the purposes of this article, I’ll try to provide a simplified version.

By it’s very nature this hobby is all about detail but there is one VERY important thing to remember.

Don’t ever lose track of the overall scheme. Small details, like eyes, fingernails or jewelry, are important but the thing that holds it all together is the overall scheme. Global lighting, contrast, colour and composition are the things that provide a strong foundation for all the small details.

Attention to detail means paying attention to ALL the many factors that come into play in creating a successful paint scheme. You can’t cut any corners and ‘good enough’ is never good enough! Deep down I think we all know when we’ve not quite done our best and it’s important to pay attention to, and trust, those instincts.

You may well think “that’s easier said than done” and I agree. Taking things to the next level, regardless of you current standard of painting, requires you to commit to investing a lot of time and effort.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Horticulus Slimux – Part 4

Apart from the odd pimple all of Slimux’s flesh tones are all painted. It’s been worth the effort to achieve the finished effect but it’s been a very hard slog. I’ve had to spend a lot of time going back and forth between the various tones and in a few places the paint was beginning to build up. That’s a problem I’ve not encountered for many years.

When paint begins to build up on a mini it can result in a rough grainy surface that detracts from, and spoils, the finished result. It’s the reason I started working with increasingly dilute paint mixes and up until now that has avoided the problem. Avoiding heavy paint build up is by far the best option but if it does occur there are a couple of solutions I fall back on.

The first is to burnish the painted surface and flatten out any lumps and bumps. This needs to be done with a clean smooth surface for example the end of a paintbrush handle or, my favourite, the rounded end of a sculpting tool. This all needs to be done with extreme care as it can damage the painted surface and cause bigger problems than those you are trying to fix. However, when it goes well it can work like a dream!

My second solution is to apply several layers of varnish to the rough area. Each layer needs to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. Once again great care is needed as it’s all too easy to build up a lumpy surface but that may be less distracting than a rough grainy one!

Thankfully a combination of these techniques has fixed Slimux’s flesh and now the surface textures are as I want them!

At the same time as I’ve been painting Slimux I’ve been building Mulch. I now have enough of him put together to be able to start work on a base. This is something I prefer to do as an integrated part of the project in order that the model and the base work together as an overall composition. It’s early days yet, but I’m pleased with how things are coming together.

I’ve a good feeling about this project but it’s increasingly clear that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to complete Horticulous Slimux and Mulch to the standard I expect from myself. As soon as I started this project I began to suspect that it probably wouldn’t be ready in time for the Golden Demon Classic in May and I’m OK with that!

I feel that over the last couple of years I’ve begun to fall into the habit of chasing deadlines. A deadline is not in itself a bad thing and I’ve always found that competitions are a great way of giving my painting year some structure and goals. But over the last year I’ve felt increasingly that my painting schedule was getting out of control and competition deadlines are a part of the reason.

When I’ve done my best work it’s always been because I’ve taken as long as I needed to do it. It’s time to dig my heels in and reassert my identity as a painter because I refuse to compromise the quality or the experience of my painting. I’m going with the flow and enjoying my painting for it's own sake!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Horticulous Slimux - Part 3

The eyes have it!

I’ve been painting minis for the best part of 37 years now and I get the same pleasure and satisfaction from it at the age of 51 as I did when I started at 14! I like to think that, as I’ve grown in experience, I’ve been able to develop and refine my technique to the point where my painting skills are the best they have ever been.

However not everything gets better with age alas! I’ve gradually been finding it increasingly difficult to hold focus on my minis as I paint them. I first noticed it while I was painting my Plague Marine but recently it’s become a serious obstacle to my painting of Horticulous Slimux! Put simply after a short time painting my focus slips and I can’t see what I’m doing. Oh the joys of being middle aged!

Thankfully the remedy is simple enough. I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m no longer 25 and get a stronger pair of painting glasses. Much relieved, I can now focus on the mini for long enough to refine the textures and colour transitions to my satisfaction.

As a result of all this, and the fact that it’s half term, I’ve not made a massive amount of progress this last week. However I’m very pleased with what I have achieved. I’ve refined the green plant growth on Horticulous and painted the flesh tones on one of his legs. I’ve also been able, now I can see them, to go back and refine those areas I’d already painted.

Although my colour palette is very different, my technique for painting the flesh tones is a more polished version of the one I used for my Plague Bearers. I paint a base coat of Rakarth flesh then I glaze over this with my mid tone and shade colours. These colours provide an element of saturation to the, otherwise neutral, flesh tones and glazing over a light base colour gives them a feeling of depth and luminosity. The result is colorful but messy.

I then build my highlights up, with a series of dilute layers, over the glazed layer. These are created using my neutral flesh tones. Although I’ve used Ivory for the extreme highlights the majority of the highlighting is created using Flayed One Flesh. This has a warmer yellower tone than the ivory and gives a softer look to the flesh. It’s during the highlighting stage that I create the texture by building up areas of stippling and, in this case, wrinkles.

At the same time as I build up the highlights, I glaze the red, yellow and blue tones back in, if an area becomes too pale or the highlights too harsh. This is a very organic process with a lot of going back and forth between glazes and highlights until I’m satisfied with the result.

Coming back to the topic of eyes, I’ve had a lot of requests for a tutorial on Horticulous Slimux’s blind eye. But I’m not going to do one as such! The reason being that the technique really doesn’t merit it. The eye was painted with very basic glazes of desaturated blue/grey and red/grey tones. The pupil was then glazed on with a darker grey tone making sure to keep it soft and undefined. The whole thing was then finished off with a strong white highlight on the top surface and a softer highlight along the bottom edge.

The real secret to painting the blind eye was that I found good reference material. In the end an image of the old faun from the film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ gave me what I needed. The trick with using reference material is not to simply copy without thinking, but rather to study and then apply what you have observed to your mini. In the case of the eye, I looked at the overall colour and transparency of the eye paying attention to how the light reflected off the surface while also penetrating partway into that surface. I also studied the pupil and how it looked diffuse as a result of the cataract.

Using reference material to help inform you painting choices can make a huge difference to the final result. As I said in my first posting for Horticulous Slimux, I’ve sourced pictures of slugs, snails, frogs and caterpillars and I think they are going to be a great inspiration when I get round to painting Mulch!

Friday, 9 February 2018

Horticulous Slimux – Part 2

It feels like it’s been a long time since I got into a steady daily painting regime. But over the last couple of weeks, inspired by Horticulous Slimux, I’ve found my groove and established a productive routine!

Last week I decided on a colour palette for the pale flesh tone I wanted to use. This week I’ve been adding some brown and green tones to compliment and contrast with the flesh. The use of the green plays a key part of my overal concept for Horticulous.

As I said last week, I was inspired by the idea of him being old and a gardener. Both factors I want to incorporate into my paintjob. I hope his blind eyes and pale wrinkled flesh create a feeling of age. Although there are a lot of details on this mini that help to portray Horticulous as a gardener, I wanted to build the idea of Nurgle’s garden into my approach to painting him.

In the past I’ve added crusty rough skin and nodules to my Plaguebearers. This time I’ve decided to elaborate upon the effect and add tiny plants and tendrils. I love the idea that Horticulous may be using parts of his own body as a nursery for some of the plants in Nurgle’s garden.

I created rough, mossy areas on his neck and shoulders and then added tiny plant shoots into this texture. To make a texture paste I’ve used a range of materials. First of all I used Games Workshop’s texture paint Stirland Mud to create my initial rough texture. This was put straight onto the mini before I painted a base layer onto it. For a finer texture I used a mix of matt vanish, fine sand and micro balloons (used to bulk out and lighten resin) tinted with green paint. This fine textured mix was added onto the painted mini to create the mossy effect. Use only a very small amount at a time as a little can go a long way. Once applied to the mini I push it around with a clean damp brush. While this mix is not a perfect replacement for my once beloved bicarbonate of soda it comes pretty close.

For the shoots sprouting out of his neck and shoulders I’ve used bamboo roots from my garden. I set up a production line and pre painted a range of roots prior to needing them. This gave me a range to pick and choose from. To apply them I cut the very tips of the painted roots with a scalpel and glued them into position with PVA glue and tweezers. This process is every bit as fiddly as it sounds!

I’ve also added a few mossy growths to the handles on his shears. In addition to adding my fine texture paste, I’ve carved into the blades of the shears to enhance the corroded look of them. I used a scalpel to cut a series of notches and a drill to hollow out some corroded pits. Once I’d done that I brushed a little plastic glue over the pits and notches to soften up the cut edges and enhance the corroded look.

The blades have been given a base coat, wash and highlight prior to some more detailed work with rust effects. I’ve decided to use true metalics on Horticulous to further add to the range of material contrasts on this mini.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Horticulous Slimux – Part 1

It seems like everybody is painting Nurgle minis at the moment. Which is no great surprise considering the recent glut of impressive new Nurgle minis. How could I ever resist!

From the moment I first saw Horticulous Slimux I knew I was going to paint him. Every now and again a mini comes out that ticks all my boxes and this one does that to the max! Games Workshop rarely releases minis with such a strong feeling of whimsy. That, along with the almost cartoon like styling and subject, give this mini a strong ‘old school’ feel. On top of all that he’s Nurgle’s head gardener and, possibly, the first ever Plaguebearer! The last two details have given me lots to think about and inspired my approach to painting him.

It would have been pretty straight forward to break out the forest green and paint Horticulous Slimux in the same way as my other plague bearers. But I had a nagging feeling that, for me, that would be too obvious an approach. Horticulous Slimux is a significant character in the Nurgle pantheon and as such requires special treatment.

He is a truly ancient being and I wanted to reflect this in my paint job. To put it simply, I wanted him to look old. After a little time pondering this I’ve decided to paint him in a pale desaturated flesh tone. I think an almost human flesh tone will give him an extremely creepy feel. To help create the feeling of great age I’m painting a lot of lines and wrinkles into the texture of his flesh. I’ve also decided to paint his eyes (he has five) as though they are fogged over with cataracts.

For my colour palette I’ve used a range of colours that incorporate blue, yellow and red tones alongside neutral and flesh tones. This approach is the same as the one I used for both Akito and the Abyssal Warlord and it’s served me well in achieving realistic pale flesh tones.

Neutral & flesh tones
Red, yellow & blue tones

Realism is going to be a key word in my approach to painting both Horticulous Slimux and his steed Mulch. The sculpt is in a cartoony style and, although I love this, I’ve decided to play against it with my painting style. I don’t expect the finished paint job to look ultra naturalistic (he’s a plague demon on a giant demonic snail after all!); but I think using lots of ‘real world’ reference, and a palette of muted ‘natural’ colours, and will give the finished result something a little extra.

I’ve painted quite a few Nurgle minis and I don’t want to fall into the trap of getting too comfortable by simply painting ‘more of the same’! I’m on the lookout to find a new angle and using ‘real world’ reference will help me to do this. I’ve sourced pictures of slugs, snails, frogs and caterpillars. I think they are going to be a great source of inspiration!

Friday, 26 January 2018

C-Girl Akito – finishing the leather & starting the hair.

Having spent a little more time on Akito I’ve finished painting her leather jacket. In truth I may go back and tweak a few details as the overall paint job develops, but it’s reached the stage where I can move on to the next area.

So I decided to turn my attention to the hair. I’m pleased with the initial work but it still needs some attention especially with regard to the volumes. In addition to that I want to work some subtle colour variations into the pink. I think it looks a little monochromatic at the moment so I’m going to incorporate some hints of yellow/orange tones into the pinks. I think this will look a little more realistic and swing the overall tone away from the slightly purple tone it currently has. I definitely want the hair to be a strawberry pink and at the moment it’s more like raspberry!

I’d stated that I wasn’t going to put Akito down until she was finished. And from that statement you can probably guess that Akito has to go back on the shelf for a while. It was pointed out to me that the Golden Demon Classic, in May, is getting closer and I don’t have anything painted for it yet!

I’d like to have something to take, so I think it’s high time I started painting it!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2017 Looking back... and forward.

I caught a cold over Christmas (who didn’t this year?) and suffered a flare up of my asthma. So my painting motivation has been at an all time low for the last few weeks! Such is life and I’ve learned to go with the ebb and flow of enthusiasm for my hobby. Rather than beating myself up over my lack of progress, I can see that it all tends to even out over the long term.

As I’ve begun to feel better (but not up to painting) I’ve spent a little time on this blog replacing some of the missing pictures. It’s just as much of a slog as I’d feared, but I’ve worked my way back to the end of October 2014 and the start of Gutrot Spume!

It’s been quite nostalgic to go through my old picture and it’s heartening to see how my painting has continued to develop and, I hope, improve over the last few years. As I say in my bio on this blog, ‘there is always something new to learn’.

All this nostalgia reminds me that it’s time to look back and review the past year! Overall it feels as if I’ve been less productive in terms of finished miniatures especially as I’m now painting ‘full time’. However while this is true it’s not the whole picture.

The first half of the year was dominated by my workshops and the necessary preparation they involved. So when you factor in the Plaguebearers I painted ready for Copenhagen, my output is on a par with previous years.

This greyscale Plaguebearer was painted for my contrast workshop in Copenhagen.

My three workshops, in Copenhagen, Stockport and Hull, were a huge and thoroughly enjoyable part of my painting year and I’m looking forward to developing this side of things in the coming year.

Contrast in Copenhagen
Textured NMM in Stockport
Monster Flesh in Hull

2017 saw me finish three projects: The Orruk Megaboss, The Abyssal Warlord and the Death Guard Chaos Space Marine. In addition to these, and the aforementioned Plaguebearers, I’ve put a fair bit of work into the Akito bust and made a tentative start on my new Nurgle Predator.

I think the three finished minis represent a very distinct phase in my painting. This year I’ve explored and developed my approach to painting contrasting textures and that’s very evident in my work. I feel that, over the last year, I’ve greatly increased my range in this area. That’s something I’m especially pleased about because I think it’s bridged a gap in my skill set. Not so very long ago I was all about smoothness!

I’ve enjoyed continued success in painting competitions. They remain a great motivator to improve my painting and help to give my painting year some structure. Salute 2017 saw me take home a Bronze for my Abalam bust. The Golden Demon Classic in May saw me win a Gold in what was the most strongly contested Golden Demon I’ve attended! But it was the Warhammer 40,000 Open Day in November that gave me my greatest success with a Gold and my fifth Slayer Sword. I’m very proud but no one gets anywhere by resting on their laurels so I’m going to have to keep on my toes and keep pushing myself to grow as a painter!

On the personal side, I took myself in hand this last year and made a major effort to improve my health. Over the last few years I’d become quite seriously over weight for someone of my height, or lack of it, and my blood pressure had gone through the roof as a result. I got my diet under control and began to exercise regularly. By August I’d undergone quite a transformation having lost 44 pounds and ‘found’ a full head of hair! Most importantly my blood pressure is now good for someone of my age.

These photos are, give or take a week, taken one year apart,
it's quite a shock to see exactly how much I've changed!
So what of the future? As I said earlier I’m looking forward to further developing my painting workshops. I shall be returning to Element Games for my ‘Contrast in miniature painting’ workshop on the 2nd and 3rd of June and beyond that I’m looking into running a series of workshops by myself in Southampton.

On the painting front I have Akito to finish. This project continues to challenge and stimulate me, as it’s so different from anything else I’ve ever painted before. I’m looking forward to seeing Akito finished, hopefully in time for this year’s Salute.

Once Akito is done I will turn my attention to the 2018 Golden Demon season and consider my approach this year. I’d like to work on some long-term projects, as this is where I do my best work. But for 2018 I will probably try and get a couple of character minis painted and I already have my eye on some likely candidates.

In the much longer term there is the new Nurgle Predator and the recent release of a plastic Great Unclean One by Games Workshop has raised some very interesting possibilities and further fueled my enthusiasm for this particular project.

Although my plans for 2018 are a little vague, the year feels full of possibilities and I’m keen to see where it will take me!