Bob Ross was known to say that in painting, we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents. Recently, I had a hobby experience that really drove that point home when working on my Swamp Siren model, and that reminded me just how hard it is to actually mess something up in this hobby.
The Swamp Siren was the first model from MiniCrate, Privateer Press’ monthly exclusive miniature subscription service. It is an alternate sculpt for their Swamp Horror, a Minion warbeast. Now, when one starts thinking of models that Privateer Press can do pin-up alternate sculpts of, the Swamp Horror is not one that comes to mind. However, they hit it out of the pot with this sculpt. It’s a unique twist on both the original model and a mermaid, and just looks damn cool. And the little baby swamp siren in her hand, looking up at her is just so cute.
The model is in two parts, mostly one big chunk of resin, with the left arm below the elbow being a metal piece. I pinned mine just to be sure, because there isn’t that much surface area at the contact point, though you may not need to.
The model itself has three or four main surfaces: The skin, the chitin, the tentacles, and perhaps the webbing between the tentacles. This means that you have multiple distinct textures to work with, and it’s worth taking some time to think about colour choices. While you want these areas to be distinct, you also don’t want them to clash. I decided to stick to mostly pink and purple, but have the skin be in a pale blue-green, similar to the studio scheme.
When it came to painting the tentacles, I decided to start with a textured pattern and paint with thin glazes to add colour. So, after priming the model white, I began by drawing in a pattern of black lines, then followed up with some pink and purple glazes until I got something that I liked. The other thing I did to show texture was adding light lines to the chitin to make it look a little more boney. While I initially did it in purple, I hit it with a blue glaze afterwards.
And here is where I start to get ambitious. I picked up some of the Woodland Scenics Deep Pour water as well as a bottle of tint because I had a vision for a water pour. You will note that I used a square base for her; this sort of think is probably possible with a round base and that was my first idea, however someone mentioned to me that I would have to be concerned about the refraction obscuring the underwater parts.
So, I started by doing a little test and encasing a crappy prepainted heroclix guy in the deep pour water in a McDonald’s cup. This was definitely a good idea, as it showed me how much tint to use to get the desired level of tint in the water, as well as the importance of sealing the base in order to avoid bubbles as air escapes from porous materials.
After his noble sacrifice, I began making some formwork out of plasticard and P3 blister packs. With that done, I mixed up some of the stuff and did my pour, careful to pour it to the level of her hand.
That’s where things started to go wrong.
I had thought that I had sealed the base sufficiently with multiple layers of gloss varnish, but evidently, I was wrong. There were some small areas near the base where bubbles started to appear, and as much as I tried to knock the base of the mini to agitate them to the surface where they could be popped, there were some that formed when the resin was sufficiently cured to the point where it was just to viscous for it to make it to the surface.
Of course, I didn’t help it by trying to poke it with a very thin brass rod to try to pop some bubbles that were still underwater. And then, on top of that, one of the corners of the forms started leaking, leaving one of the corners completely messed up.
So, it came time to fix what I could. The bubbles were unfixable, but I could at least deal with the issues on the corners. I mixed up a little more of the water effects, and poured it into the cavity where I had my leak. After waiting for that to dry and prying the formwork off, I turned it on its side and made some smaller forms to tackle the other bubbles in the corners. I’d pour the mixture into cavities where bubbles had formed, relying on a piece of plastic to keep it from running off the side.
To get this all working together and looking good, this required a lot of elbow grease with the sandpaper, cloth, and polishing compound. Finally, I hit the whole thing with gloss varnish through the airbrush to smooth it all out and give the impression of the wet swamp siren glistening in the sunlight. I had managed to fix the bubbles on the edges, but the bubbles on the inside were still bothering me.
Because I decided that I wasn’t being ambitious enough with the goal of doing water effects for the first time on a competition and display piece, I decided to try out a whole new art form. I cut out a piece of packaging, primed it black, and decided to make a miniature painting of a swamp to go with my painted miniature.
Fortunately, I had google image search to work off of, and I had watched enough Bob Ross over the past little while that I thought that I could do
it. I found a picture of a swamp at dusk and decided to go for it, starting with the sky and the water, then following up with the trees on the horizon and their reflection, and finally the trees in the foreground, making sure to highlight the side closer to the sun. With that done, I took bright green and carefully drew in some lettering, and glued the whole thing to the side.
Happy Little Accidents
So, at the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling great about this miniature. The bubbles were annoying the hell out of me, because they represented where I screwed up with the water effects and they were something that I couldn’t fix. However, I decided to post some pictures up on facebook anyways, and you can imagine what the response was:
“Those bubbles are so amazing!”
“How did you do the bubbles?”
“I love those bubbles!”
And so on.
It was really an interesting experience. I was very much being my own harshest critic on this, but even though I kind of started to hate it a little as I looked at all the little imperfections in the water effects, it turned out that people loved my mistake.
And, with this feedback in mind, it helped me be at peace with my work and learn to love the bubbles that had so infuriated me when I first finished it. I would say the two things I have learned from this are that first, Bob Ross was right when he said that there are no mistakes, only happy little accidents. Second, being “too ambitious” in this hobby isn’t really a thing. Now, I definitely got some benefits out of testing it out first with that little HeroClix guy in the McDonald’s cup, but it is because I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone and yes, made a couple happy little accidents along the way, that I came up with something really special.