Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Summer Update...

One thing I can't help noticing about the beautiful weather we've had in the UK over the last couple of weeks is that it doesn't half dry out the paint on your palette quickly!  Not that I'm complaining.  I'm a slow painter at the best of times, but my need for swiftness is rather pressing at the moment.

In less than two weeks (as of writing this), on the 27th July, 4Tk Gaming in Colchester is holding its annual Summer Open Day, incorporating the Golden Gears 2013 painting competition.  As this is not only my FLGS, but also a tremendous supporter of the wargaming hobby in general as well as the shop who kindly bought Ayako Ito during the Heroes For Heroes painting event earlier this year, I felt compelled to enter.  And of course, we painters do love to show off our work, don't we?

Now, one miniature in a few weeks is no problem, though a stretch for me at competition standard, but my painting guru Gus Pollard has instead managed to somehow convince me to enter not one, but FOUR categories; Single Figure, Troop/Unit, Vehicle/Monster, and the Open Category.

EIGHT MINIATURES.  (Again, for most professional painters this would be a breeze, but for me it's a big deal).

Luckily, I'm cheating with the Vehicle/Monster category, I have a certain Mantic Kings of War Orc Giant which fits the bill nicely, or I could enter my Space Wolves Land Raider.  Neither of them are perfect, but I do love them.  (I wonder if I could enter them both...?)

The problem with the other categories is that I actually have to get something painted!

So what am I working on, then?

Well, the Open Category was a bit of a given.  How could I resist painting the beautiful 'Artemis' from Hasslefree Miniatures?  This miniature was made for competitions.  Large areas of metallics, large areas of skin.  There's no superfluous detail - it is a miniature which does not allow you to hide poor painting - which of course may be my downfall!

Artemis - Work In Progress
For the Troop/Unit category, I decided to enter my five-strong Ito Clan starter set for GCT's Bushido.  I fell in love with these guys while painting Ayako Ito from the same range.  They are five vastly different, characterful miniatures which meld both history and fantasy seamlessly.  The greatest challenge for me I think will be the cobra-headed warrior, Akimoto.  As you can see from the work-in-progress photos, I'm deviating from the traditional greens of the Ito Clan to go for a more serene and oceanic turquoise feel.

Ito Clan (and Artemis!) - Work In Progress

Finally, the Single Figure category is a bit of a secret at the moment.  All I will say is that it's a sci-fi miniature from Mantic Games.

Ooooh!  The intrigue!!!

But why all the secrecy, I hear you ask?

Well, as of this month, I have become part of Ironwatch magazine's 'Iron Forge' team along with some other fantastic miniature painters.  Each issue, we will all be trying to submit some beautifully painted miniatures from Mantic's many excellent games.  However, I'd quite like to give the magazine an air of exclusivity - or at least, first dibs, so where possible I'm trying not to show my submissions until they've been published in Ironwatch first, which I'm sure you'll agree is the decent thing to do!  All I will say about the miniature so far is that I'm very pleased with how it's shaping up...

Sorry there's nothing more concrete at the moment, but hopefully there will be lots of exciting finished projects to show by next month!

Now for more painting!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Azrael, Supreme Grand Master of the Dark Angels

When the guys at 4Tk Gaming in Colchester asked me to paint Grand Master Azrael for their display cabinet, I jumped at the chance.  He's a really great miniature and it's been a very long time since I last painted a Space Marine - and this particular Space Marine has everything that makes a miniature fun to paint:  flowing robes, a big banner (okay, so it's moulded - *cough* CHEAT! *cough*), armour, a big gun, and of course a mysterious and sinister little chap carrying a winged helmet.

This project was made even more fun by the knowledge that Azrael was intended solely for display, so I didn't need to worry too much about making sure that the colours and bases matched exactly with a pre-existing army.  Instead, I just kept a photo of the 'Codex' version of the miniature close at hand for reference, and then went with whatever techniques I thought would look best.

I began by basecoating the Power Armour with pure Dark Angels Green before shading it with a wash mixed from Dark Angels Green, Necron Abyss and Badab Black.  Once this was dry, I painted thinned Chaos Black into the very deepest recesses.  Once the shading was finished, I worked the armour back up to the basecoat of Dark Angels Green before highlighting with Snot Green.  I mixed Rotting Flesh into the Snot Green to add a second highlight, before applying an extreme highlight of pure Rotting Flesh.  To counter some of the highlights seeming a bit too harsh, I applied a 3:1 wash of Dark Angels Green and Chaos Black.  The armour was not quite finished there.  When the rest of the model was completed, I added some extra highlights of White Scar to make the armour stand out a little more.

The next areas I tackled were the white robes and the wings on the banner.  Initially, I basecoated these with a 3:1 mix of Ceramite White and Graveyard Earth, before roughly shading the recesses with Graveyard Earth mixed with a touch of Chaos Black.  Next I added some more black into the mix and painted it into the deepest recesses.  To smooth out the blending a little, I built the white areas back up to the basecoat mix.

I then began to build up the highlights on the tunic and similar areas.  The initial highlight consisted of Ceramite White with a tiny amount of Graveyard Earth.  Before continuing, I decided to darken the shades even more with some Agrax Earthshade.  Once this was dry, I added an extreme highlight of Ceramite White to the areas.

I began to paint the black areas with a 1:1 mix of Chaos Black and Necron Abyss.  I built these areas up by gradually adding more and more Necron Abyss.  After this, I jumped straight into doing an extreme highlight using Space Wolves Grey.

Afterwards, I toned down this highlight by adding some more shading, using a mix of Chaos Black and Nuln Oil, before re-applying the Space Wolves Grey to the lightest parts.

Once the reds were finished, the miniature really started to take shape.  I basecoated the red areas with Mechrite Red as a foundation and then layered Blood Red over it, completely covering the original layer before glazing it with (the frankly magnificent) Bloodletter.  Once this was dry, I worked the areas up to Blazing Orange.  The amount of Blazing Orange I used depended upon whether or not I wanted the finished area to look red or orange.  Finally, I edge-highlighted with Vomit Brown and then did an extreme highlight using a 1:1 mix of Vomit Brown and White Scar.

The 'clean' whites were very quick to achieve.  I began by basecoating them with Codex Grey before working them up to Fortress Grey and then finally White Scar.

After this, I painted the skulls - firstly by basecoating with a 1:1 mix of Codex Grey and Scorched Brown.  A shading wash was then applied, using a 1:1:1 mix of Scorched Brown, Chaos Black and Nuln Oil.  Next, three simple layers of Codex Grey, Fortress Grey and Dheneb Stone were added.  Finally, I worked the Dheneb Stone up to pure white by adding more and more White Scar over about three stages.  To give the skulls a little more colour I mixed a very thin blend of approximately 1:1 Nuln Oil and Biel-Tan Green and glazed the whole of each skull before re-applying the pure white highlight.

I'm usually quite messy with metallics, so normally I prefer to paint them first - but as they are such a small part of this miniature, I trusted myself to do them almost last this time.

The silver metallics were done using a mix of Chaos Black and Boltgun Metal, followed by highlights of Chainmail and Mithril Silver.  I added a light wash of Chaos Black at the end.

Finally for the metallics, I painted the gold areas with a mix of Shining Gold and Scorched Brown.  I washed the areas with a 1:1 mix of Scorched Brown and Nuln Oil before highlighting with Shining Gold, Vomit Brown, and then Mithril Silver.  Finally, I added a wash of Leviathan Purple.

I basecoated the face with a 1:1 mix of Tallarn Flesh and Calthan Brown, followed by a wash of thinned Dark Flesh.  I then began to build up the highlights with a 1:1 mix of Tallarn Flesh and Dwarf Flesh.  Next I added another wash, this time thinned Scorched Brown.  Next came a 1:1:1 highlight of Tallarn Flesh, Dwarf Flesh and Bleached Bone.

For the next highlight, I added more Bleached Bone to the previous mix before highlighting with pure Bleached Bone.  Finally I added a 1:1 extreme highlight of White Scar and Bleached Bone.

This technique for the skin was actually stolen from Anja Wettergren's brilliant 'Eavy Metal Masterclass on painting Sergeant Lorenzo from the latest edition of Space Hulk.

The hair was pretty much the last unpainted area left to work on, and that was simply a case of working up from Necron Abyss to pure Ice Blue before adding a wash of extremely thin Nuln Oil.  That said, at this point I don't think there was a single part of the miniature I was completely happy with, so I made a list (left) of everything that still needed working on, which took me a little while to get through!

Once I'd worked my way through this list, it was time to do the bases.  Because these miniatures were for display, I wasn't constrained by having to fit the bases with any pre-existing army.  Given this free rein, I decided to do something that I'd never tried before and create a Mount Doom-esque basing scheme that reflected the flames on Azrael's banner.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that this method was in any way my own.  In fact, I pinched it happily and wholeheartedly from two excellent blogs by Centerpiece Miniatures.  I'm not going to reha
sh it here because I totally recommend reading the excellent original articles.

For the rocks:

And for the actual lava:

Finally, once I was happy with the bases, I went back and did something extremely simple - but it was something which improved the look of the finished miniatures tremendously.  With nothing more than a thinned Bloodletter glaze, I coloured the undersides of the miniature with red to simulate the glow from the lava.  When you compare the image above to the final images, I hope you'll agree that this had a profound  effect on the finished piece and is proof of the importance of tying the look and feel of the miniature in with the base.

To finish, I just want to say that I really enjoyed painting this miniature as it allowed me to relax a little and enjoy the painting more than the previous one or two miniatures, especially with Sanguinius - which was tremendously straining, trying to paint almost an entire miniature in non-metallic gold armour for the first time in my life!  Yeargh!

Anyway, here are the finished images of Azrael and his helmet-lugging companion.  I hope you like them:

And that's it for the sons of Caliban for now, but I have a funny feeling that I'll be cracking open the Dark Angels Green again before too long...

Friday, 17 May 2013

Peace Through Superior Firepower (And Gorilla Glue)!

When I was contacted a few months back by Jon Hughes, one half of the excellent Strange Things Afoot at the Circle K film podcast, asking me if I'd ever consider painting anything bigger than a 28mm miniature, I was intrigued to say the least.

I think my initial reaction was something along the lines of 'Um... How big?' to which the reply came:

"Would you take on something, say perhaps, the size and shape of a USCM M41-A Pulse Rifle, as seen in the film Aliens?"

I have to say, first I nearly spat my coffee out!

I then had a sobering moment when I realised that I'd never attempted anything like this before and that it was far beyond my skills and knowledge.

Then I thought 'Screw that, it's an Aliens Pulse Rifle!' and took the job.

It became obvious from the very start that this was really a modelling job, not so much an actual painting job.  With painting, life is much easier when you start to get to full-scale kits.

With a 28mm or 32mm miniature (for example), because the folds and creases and recesses on the miniature are so small, any ambient light in the room will struggle to naturally react in a way which mimics the way it would react with a life-size version of, say, an elf archer or a Space Marine.  Because of this, we need to give the light a helping hand by adding shading and highlighting to the model - and it's this which is the hardest part of painting: using highlights and shades to give the illusion that the miniature is actually real.  With a kit which is full-scale on the other hand, you don't have any of those concerns - mainly you just need to be neat and accurate, and the laws of physics governing light quanta will sort the rest out!

After excitedly ripping open the box, I couldn't resist doing
a dry assemble, just to get a feel for the size of it.  To the
bottom-right, you can see the ELECTRONIC LED
(Never thought I'd manage to crowbar that phrase into a painting blog...)

When the kit arrived, I was completely blown away.  Having looked at a few different resin Pulse Rifle kits, I was expecting the model to be a simple resin shell which would be, once assembled, hollow in the middle.  Needless to say I was extremely excited to discover that the rifle was solid resin throughout, meaning that it was tremendously heavy, adding to the realism of the finished piece.

All of the resin parts, laid out and washed in warm, soapy
water to remove residual grease left over from the
moulding process.
Of course, being heavy is lovely - but it does have its down-sides.  The final assembly of the Pulse Rifle consisted of three large sub-sections, each one exerting a tremendous pull on its joints.  Because of this, there is no way that liquid super-glue would be strong enough to hold the rifle together.

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the assembly, but if you're interested, the manufacturer's website (www.spatcave.com) has a set of video tutorials explaining in great detail how the rifle is best assembled.  I followed these instructions as closely as possible, although my work was a hell of a lot slower!!

The video files can be found here:


There are however a few things I'd like to share.

Firstly, one of the factors which made this model exciting wasn't just the scale of it, but the fact that it incorporated an LED ammo-counter, meaning that part of the assembly included the installation of working electronic components.  This was quite daunting because generally, if a mistake is made when building or painting a model, you can pretty much fix anything with time and hard work.  However, during the entire assembly, I was painfully aware that because the internal workings of the LED were locked away inside the excruciatingly well-pinned and glued model, if an problems with the wiring or connections cropped up, I would probably be unable to repair them - completely ruining the model for my client!  Luckily, the actual installation itself was very simple.  All of the components came connected and soldered, so all that was needed was to glue the LED screen and the ON / OFF switch into place.

The working LED on this model is a
brilliant touch!
As I said before, with parts this heavy, there was no way that my usual liquid super-glue would hold this beast of a model together!  It was in Spatcave's excellent video tutorials that I was introduced to what would be, for the duration of the assembly stage, my new best friend:


If you've never heard of it, I'll say this:  This stuff is awesome - if at times a little like a wild, untameable beast.  What's really useful about this particular adhesive is that not only does it bond with the strength of the titular gorilla, it also expands as it dries, meaning that it also acts as something of a filler between the bonded parts which can be sanded down once dry, thus reducing the need for filling with modelling putty (though there is still a some filling needed if you want the joints to be perfectly smooth...).

Of course, you need to be careful exactly how much glue you apply as too much will add a great deal of clean-up time when you have to cut and sand off masses of excess adhesive.

The glue itself reacts with water, so I needed to wet both sides of the parts to be glued before spreading a thin layer of the adhesive across them, though not quite to the edges.  Before this stage, I had already drilled several holes into each part and screwed large screws in to act as pins (slightly larger than the paper-clip pins which I usually use for miniatures!).  As you can see, the parts needed to then be heavily clamped to ensure the strongest grip once dry.

Once all of the parts had been drilled, pinned, glued, filled, sanded, drilled again (in the case of the vent holes) and then fully assembled, it was time to get down to the actual painting, which was extremely simple.

The first thing I needed to do was spray the rifle matte black.  I found it very helpful that the resin was black and not white because not only will it be less noticeable if at some future time the gun gets scratched or chipped, but also because if the spray missed any of the deeper recesses, it would be impossible to tell (of course, I'm certain that it didn't miss any of the recesses...).

The next job was to mask off all of the black areas, and of course the LED readout window, before spraying the green areas.  For this, Jon and I agreed on a camouflage green spray, designed mainly for hides used by bird-watchers and wildlife photographers, produced - believe it or not - by Halfords.

This took slightly more coats to completely cover the relevant areas as it was much thinner than the Chaos Black undercoat spray.  In the end though, it gave a good, smooth covering, despite using up almost the entire can.

The colouring in this photograph (below) is sightly deceptive as the finish was actually much more green than this.

Once I was confident that I had achieved complete coverage with the green spray, I left the model for twenty-four hours to dry, just to be on the safe side.

Once dry, I removed the masking tape and touched up any areas of black that had not quite escaped the spray, as well as the magazine clips and the screws.  I found this to be a lot more painstaking than you would imagine, knowing that it would be quite awkward to repair the green areas if I accidentally slipped with my brush.  Saying that, the inevitable slips which I did make were tidied up by spraying the green paint directly into the lid of the paint can so that it pooled at the bottom, and then brushing it on by hand.

The metallic areas in the image above were painted next.  They were a simple case of a Boltgun Metal basecoat, followed by consecutive washes of Badab Black and Devlan Mud before highlighting with Chainmail.

As you can see from this image, by now it's really starting to
take shape.
The thing which made this model stand out from a standard-issue Pulse Rifle was the personalisation Jon requested.  There were two small additions to be made.  Firstly, simply the words 'Peace Through Superior Firepower!' to be added to the back of the rifle, and secondly (and most awesome-ly), Hudson's* 'Death or Glory' motif as seen on his body armour, to be painted on the front.

[*If you don't know who Hudson is, I imagine you won't have made it this far into the blog...]

Though the text was a relatively simple thing to do, I wanted the Death or Glory motif to be as accurate as possible.  With that in mind, as opposed to attempting to make an exact freehand copy, I decided to try out printing it as a custom-made decal.  It was simply a case of Googling the design and transferring it to Adobe Illustrator in order to create a decal sheet.

As you can see, I laid out the design in several sizes in order to give myself a few different options.  I then printed this out on specialist paper designed for custom-printing decals.  The process worked as a whole, though - despite sealing the page with matte varnish - when I applied MicroSol to the decal, I found that the black had 'bled' overnight as the fluid dried.  This wasn't really an issue though, as it was a simple design - I managed to tidy the bleeding up with black and white paint.  In the end then, there was an element of freehand after all!

A simple but effective design.
After this, it was simply a case of adding some weathering to the model as a whole.  Originally, I only weathered the black 'metal' areas (simply by using Chainmail), but Jon requested chips be added to the green areas too and this (in both our opinions, I think) lifted the look and feel of the model above and beyond what either of us had expected!

Finally, I matte varnished the rifle as I knew for a fact that this model would be handled countless times and I wanted to preserve the paintwork as best I could.  Once this was dry, I gloss varnished the pistol grip and the grenade launcher pump handle (sorry for my abysmal weapon terminology - I think I could probably identify the trigger correctly, but that's all...) to differentiate them from the metal areas.

I'm really proud of the way this model turned out and, I'll be honest, I was really heartbroken to have to give it back.  I would love to own one of these myself and if I were given the opportunity to paint another one in the future, I would definitely jump at the chance!

So, without any further rambling, here is the finished Pulse Rifle in all it's (or her) glory...

"I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine.
This is an M41-A pulse rifle. Ten millimetre with
over-and-under thirty millimetre pump action
grenade launcher."

"All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for?
Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps!
A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm.
Every meal's a banquet! Every pay cheque a fortune!
Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!"

"What do you mean, 'They cut the power'?
How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!"

"That's it man, game over man, game over!"

"Is this gonna be a stand-up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?"

"Man, I'm telling you, I got a bad feeling about this drop..."

"Maybe we got 'em demoralized."

"God damn it, that's not all! Because if one of those things
gets down here then that will be all!
Then all this - this bullsh*t that you think is so
important, you can just kiss all that goodbye!"

"But each one of these things comes from an egg, right?
So who's laying these eggs?"

"All right, sweethearts, you're a team and there's nothin'
to worry about. We come here, and we gonna conquer,
and we gonna kick some, is that understood?  That's
what we gonna do, sweethearts, we are going to go
and get some. All right, people, on the ready line!"

"We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and
they mostly come at night.  Mostly."

"Hudson, sir. He's Hicks."

"That's the grenade launcher.
I don't think you want to mess with that."

"Don't touch that. Dangerous, honey."

If you like the look of this and want to see anything smaller (!) that I've painted, you can (as always)...