Warmachine: The joy of playing with noobs

I’ve been playing Warmachine for about three and a half years now, and I think it is fair to say that during that time, I reached a point where my love for the game started to wane. I’m not sure it was one specific thing, but rather an accumulation of a bunch of small issues, negative experiences, and constant exposure to the internet that caused my relationship with the game to sour.

This manifested itself as burnout. At some point, I stopped going to tournaments. I started finding them to be too stressful. Having to lug army boxes across town on the bus and spend an entire day at a game store just became too much. A one-day tournament is half your weekend. There could be long breaks between rounds where you have nothing to do but look at the wall of products in the store for the 34th time and struggle to manage your anxiety level. You eventually tire of the same basic scenario, only with six variations that have different geometry. You end up stressing out over your next matchup – am I going to end up having to play my next round against “that guy,” or the guy who brought the really scary list that absolutely dunks on my army and makes the game almost pointless? What if I lose list chicken and am trapped for the next two hours in a hellishly bad matchup?

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For the last time, Harkevich is not OP!

On top of all that, there is the pressure to perform. In competitive pursuits, all too often, how much you are valued in your community and your own self-worth gets tied to your win/loss record. So, you end up pushing too hard, stressing out over every little mistake, trying to git gud and not fall off the competitive play treadmill. And do it all on clock. And when you finally win… well, a not insignificant amount of the time, you are quickly reminded that it is no great accomplishment because this model in your army is OP, that model is OP, and your entire faction is the easy mode newbie faction that any moron can win with.

Between that and consistent exposure to negativity on the internet on top of some baseline social anxiety, I was starting to get burned out on the game.

It was against this backdrop that a coworker expressed some interest in wargaming. He was a Lego collector so we started by doing a demo of Mobile Frame Zero, after which I offered him a demo of Warmachine. Of course, the first step was that I would have to paint up a second army, but I figured it was worth it.

So, I got together some Cygnar models and met him in the dingy basement of my FLGS for a battlebox game. I compressed all the important rules down to one sheet of paper and gave it to him, explained a few things, and ran him through the activation of a warjack, letting his Juggernaut spend some focus beating on my Ironclad. Then, we lined up against each other with a simple scenario consisting of a single circle in the middle of the table, and bashed each other’s faces in.

He enjoyed it and came back for more. But, as we gradually worked up from battlebox games to 35 points with themes and more complex scenarios, a funny thing started happening.

I started having fun playing Warmachine again.

Fun? That’s heresy!

In the Warmachine community it can sometimes be easy to lose track of the idea that the game is supposed to be fun. If you’re on the internet, most of the media you consume is focused on competitive play. Just about all of the micro-celebrities who are worshipped in this community are people who have won major tournaments. When you get caught up in this scene, you often end up grinding out practice games, paying the same few scenarios over and over and it can start to get boring. Then you have to keep it up because there is always a new boogeyman list in CID that you need to either figure out how to play or figure out how to beat to stay on top. “This is Warmachine; it’s not supposed to be fun!” or something to that effect is a common joke, but there can be a grain of truth to it.

At some point, it can just become mentally and emotionally draining. Your hobby starts to feel like work, and you start thinking you would rather stay home and paint than go to a tournament.

But, playing smaller games in a more casual setting with a friend was completely different. There wasn’t the stress of trying to perform at a tournament, because it was just a fun casual game and my objective was to help him learn and show him the possibilities of the game. We weren’t playing Steamroller, so we could set up whatever fancy terrain we wanted (including hills!) and create a little spectacle that looked fairly cool. Once he got the jist of it, we could finish a game in a reasonable amount of time, and if there was an early assassination, we had time to re-rack and try again. In short, we were playing for fun.

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Pictured: fun

The other thing is that at lower points levels, the information overload is lessened. One of the most challenging experiences in Warmachine is looking at your opponent’s list and realizing that you are up against an entire table of “what does this model do again?” At 35 points, there is still a lot of depth due to the caster and her interactions with the army, but the complexity is a lot less overwhelming when you aren’t up against the likes of multiple units and six different beasts, all with different stat profiles, roles and animi. Since you are less overwhelmed, you tend to have more complete of a tactical picture and can really play a good game with that engaging back and forth as the battle ebbs and flows rather than a “what just happened?” game where one feels “gotcha’d” into submission.

Fun is infectious

The other interesting thing about new players is that they often bring a sense of wonder into the game that has long since vanished from the heart of the veteran player. Everything is cool and new to them, and that excitement is contagious. Getting new players to try a power attack for the first time is just such an awesome cinematic experience that you can’t help but smile as his big ugly beast throws your giant robit at a swarm of infantry. Seeing the guy I’m getting into the game start talking about lists, lore and painting and getting excited about it gets me excited and has rekindled my passion for the game.

It also reminded me of why I, and likely why a lot of other players, got into the game. I didn’t start playing because someone told me that there was this intense tournament grind and maybe someday I could become the next Iron Gauntlet winner or go to the WTC. I started playing because me and the guy who got me a battlebox for Christmas one year went out one night had fun pushing our little painted dudes around. And also because I got the starter box and read about how Sorscha was this badass warrior wizard who commanded this awesome giant coal-powered robit to deliver a giant axe to the faces of all foes of the motherland.

The bottom line

New players are the lifeblood of a community, but judging by some of the internet chatter that I’ve seen, some players consider it a chore to onboard them into the game. Playing below 75 points in a non-tournament standard format and using lists that are a little watered down to provide an enjoyable experience rather than the optimum way to stomp someone into the ground is anathema to a certain section of the player base. If you are stuck on that competitive treadmill, taking a night away from practice games for tournaments to help someone who can barely allocate focus is a costly proposition.

However, new players are the lifeblood of a game like Warmachine. But don’t play a battlebox game with a new player for the game or for the “meta”; do it for yourself. Rather than being a chore, if you go into it with the right attitude, you may find bringing new players into the game to be more enjoyable than doing yet another 75 point steamroller game. And, if your enthusiasm for the game is flagging, seeing it through the eyes of a new player can help remind you what got you into the game to begin with.

Bonus: Hot take!

After a few 35 point games, I asked my coworker if he would like to move on up to 50 and then the tournament standard of 75. He told me that he was comfortable at this level and didn’t want to add to it for the time being. Which, it turned out I was completely fine with, as by this time, I had learned that Warmachine is much more fun at 35 points than at the tournament standard of 75.

Frozen Ninja 3D Cyborg Bust

Growing up as a Star Trek fan, I probably watched more than my share of episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. While they were in their last season when I started tuning in, the Space Channel was running reruns on a daily basis, so it wasn’t hard to get my fill of Delta Quadrant adventures with Janeway, Neelix, and the holographic doctor played by JohnnyCab from the Total Recall movie.

Of course, being a young man at the time, there was a certain character who was introduced a couple seasons in with the goal of appealing to my demographic. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can say it didn’t work. While the Borg had been kicking around since the days of Picard, and had by that time established themselves as the biggest and most fascinating bad guys in the galaxy, it was with Seven of Nine that we first got insight into how a person raised by the Borg would interact when no longer part of the Collective.

So, when I saw a kickstarter offering up a bust of a cyborg from Frozen Ninja 3D, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would fail my will save and end up acquiring her.

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The Bust

Frozen Ninja 3D is a fairly new player in this game, using digital sculpting and 3D printing to make a master and casting resin copies based on that, which is the direction that the industry is going in. The company launched via kickstarter maybe a year ago. I’m not sure how much experience the prime sculptor has in the industry prior to launching this company though I did see him mention online somewhere that this is his first bust. Somehow, the model itself just has a certain feel to it that betrays its origins as a digitally sculpted model. It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly that is, but if it weren’t for the fact that the subject is up my alley, I might have taken a pass on it as it doesn’t quite have the same je ne sais quoi as some of the other busts in my collection.

I did make a few small modifications to the model. First, the original sculpt had a part of the hair that was really lacking any sort of detail, so in order to not have a big, smooth are where there should be strands of hair, I carved some detail into it. Next, I used half-round sections of plasticard and some glue and putty to add what are essentially glowing tubes or hoses of some sort into a couple of the wide gaps in her chest armour. Finally, I added an antenna to the cybernetic implant on the side of her head, which was just a piece of a paper clip cut down to size.

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Areas with modifications circled

And, of course, I did a zenithal prime with some cool shadows, as I do for most of my work. In this case, I left her head separate from her torso for the start of my painting, just to make the airbrushing easier and get under the hair.

Skin and Hair

For the skin tone, I wanted to do something a little different than my usual approach. Quite predictably, I chose to use Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager as my reference source. There are plenty of pictures available of her both in her Borg drone getup and half-deborgified from the episodes where she joined the crew, and a lot of them have been taken in the fairly neutral light of the starship Voyager as opposed to the overall darkness punctuated by green lights of a Borg cube.

The important piece of knowledge that I gathered from staring at pictures of Jeri Ryan (oh, the sacrifices I make for you people…) was that the skin had to look somewhat unnatural and have some cool tones in it to emphasize the artificial nature of the cybernetic implants. A Borg drone with rosy red cheeks and pink lips would just look odd. It also wasn’t smooth and uniform, having a lot of mottling and imperfections as dermatology and makeup aren’t huge priorities in the Borg Collective. I also wanted to go for something a little on the darker side as I knew I was going to be doing a lot of gunmetal and black leathery colours on this model, plus the facial structure implied to me that she may have been a little darker-skinned before being turned into a cyborg.

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I did here. It involved a lot of airbrushing and playing around with different colours – blues, purples, greys, various skin tones, and I think I shaded it with some Payne’s Grey ink shot from below, as well as stippled on some little imperfections with a sponge. Once I got something I thought looked interesting and was happy with, I decided to leave it well enough alone and not touch it for the remainder of the project because like anything truly artistic, I wasn’t sure exactly what I did and didn’t think I could replicate the process.

As for the hair, I knew there were going to be a lot of green glowing parts on the final project, so colour theory demanded something reddish. So, I went for an orangeish strawberry blonde. As usual, I started with a wet blend to highlight the overall shape of the hair, working up from some orangey ochre tones like P3’s Bogrin Brown and Moldy Ochre, to highlight colours like Reaper’s Blond Hair. I then followed up with some quick dry brushing and washes to get some quick shadows and highlights on individual strands of hair, and followed up with some manual highlights and shading to reinforce what I had achieved with the basics.

True Metallic Metals

With the skin tones done, it was time to move on to something else. Readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of the extra pop you get from using True Metallic Metal (TMM) techniques, but that they are also quite difficult because most metal paints kind of suck. So, I basecoated it all in Vallejo Metal Color’s Gunmetal Grey and got to work.

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Half-done TMM

With a clean basecoat down, what I had to do to get the TMM effects was to use inks to darken the shadows and use VMC Silver to catch the highlights. I eventually hit on a good way to do this; start by applying the inks from dark to light, then throw down a little silver in your highlight area. By drawing the silver into the inks and then blending the whole thing together a little, you can get a decent quick blend. With the inks being less shiny than the metals, you get a cool effect where there is more sparkle in the highlights than there is in the shadows, as there should be.

As for the colours, I chose to sneak a little bit of purple into my metallics – not enough to read as some sort of funky purple metal, but just enough to add a hint of a different colour to them (which, of course, is also not enough to actually appear in any of my photos because I’m bad at photography). I chose purple for two reasons. First, I felt it would contrast nicely with the orange hair and green glowing bits, creating a nice triadic colour scheme. Second, I had plenty of purple artist ink on hand as that is a shade colour I use quite frequently.

So, the typical highlight went from Black to Payne’s Grey (a nice desaturated blue-black) to Dioxazine Purple inks, into VMC silver. That was all blended together, then I would go back in and reinforce the highlights. As for where I placed the highlights… well, that was a challenge with all the flat plates on her armour. It was done using Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) principles, and placing NMM highlights can be an article in itself, so if you are interested, find someone who is better than me and look up her tutorial.

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TMM recipe. Liquitex and FW inks are very similar, the only difference is Liquitex fits on my paint rack.

Finally, for some of the edge highlighting, I switched to Scale75 as their consistency is a little more natural for certain techniques, and their Speed Metal is whiter than anything in the VMC range so it makes a nice highest highlight.

Other Details

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There were some parts of her armour that looked less metallic than others – areas like her stomach and some areas on her upper chest, around her collar. These I chose to do as some sort of futuristic non-metallic synthetic leather-like material. Whatever you might call it, I started from Nightshade Purple in the deepest shadows to have a subtle tie-in with the metals, then worked up to Reaper MSP Coal Black and P3 Coal Black, mixing in some P3 Menoth White Highlight into the highest highlight. It may seem strange to use the same colour from two different brands, but these actually have a different tone. While the hue is similar, P3’s take on Coal Black is a little lighter and more saturated than Reaper’s version so it is good as a higher highlight over a base of Reaper’s version.

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“Leather” and hair colours

In most of these areas, I applied this with the brush, blending my highlights and adding edge highlights. However, there were a couple areas where I wanted to get some different texture so I decided to do a little basic stencil work, using a piece of aluminum mesh to make a diamond pattern that I could airbrush over.

Finally, I added some glow effects around some of the lights and switches on her suit, making sure to make the source of the light the brightest area and glazing some green glow effects around where the surface might catch the light.

Final Thoughts

This was an interesting project. Not being one to play the more out there fantasy races when I do wargaming, I haven’t really done much in the way of unnatural skin tones. So that made for an interesting challenge. While it worked out on this project, it is still a little beyond my comfort zone as as soon as I got something that I liked, I immediately hit the eject button and decided that I wouldn’t risk screwing it up.

As for the TMM, this project did end up demanding a lot from me, and I’m still not sure I’m at the point where I’m getting perfectly smooth blends with metallic paints. They are just always tricky to work with, and perhaps I should have gone for NMM on this project instead. Working on the TMM really tested my endurance as it took a lot of pushing to get past the phase where your model looks like crap and you hate it, and in that phase I was getting frustrated with trying to blend metal paints.

But, whether it is one of my best works or not, I made it over the hill and down the other side. And that’s really what matters at the end of the day.

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Bonus Content: Cup Noodle Gunpla!

So, I had somehow managed to acquire a couple tiny, special edition Gundam models that were produced for the 40th anniversary of Cup Noodle, a Japanese company making ready to make cups of noodles. So, here is Char’s Zaku and a Gelgoog in all their tiny glory.

Thoughts on judging

Whenever we go to a modelling competition, one aspect that always gets a lot of attention is the judging. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on the judging, and rarely is it the case that those with the most vocal opinions think that the judging was fine.

Now, I’m not going to get into the controversy over whether Jimbo’s P-69 Thundercat should have beaten Cletus’ Blackburn Bastard for best in show at the East Westington IPMS show three years ago, but I do think it is worthwhile to explain the difference between different judging systems and the pros and cons of each, if only to help out new people. IPMS USA is currently discussing switching from 1-2-3 to open system at their nationals, and the style of judging (if you even plan to make it a competitive thing) is one important decision for anyone looking at starting up a local show.

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This guy gets it

There are a couple important caveats to this article that I would like to address up front. This article should not be taken as me being salty over any decision at a recent show, or upset that any show doesn’t use my favourite judging system. That is not the case, and I’ve intentionally saved this for publication at an appropriate time in between shows so it doesn’t read like sour grapes or criticizing any particular show organizers.

Second, I think at the end of the day, it is important to keep things in perspective. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off is a winner, and the true prizes are the friends you make along the way. While competitions can be fun, getting too competitive about your hobby is a surefire road to misery and frustration (see: why I don’t do competitive Warmachine anymore).

Judging systems

The first, and probably the most established, judging system is IPMS style 1-2-3 judging. Here, there are multiple categories and a team of judges simply chooses the best, 2nd best, and 3rd best model on the table. While this may sound subjective, judges are trained to judge models according to standards laid out in the judging document. In these standards, craftsmanship is king. They have wisely chosen to avoid judging historical accuracy to prevent fistfights over the proper shade of RLM 69 or the number of rivets on the glacis plate on the real thing. And since they’re focused mainly on craftsmanship, they tend to be fairly objective – a missed seam line is a missed seam line, regardless of a judge’s level of affinity for the subject.

We also have the open system which is common in figure shows. Instead of competing against each other, modellers are competing against a set of objective criteria. There are generally Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals, and each entrant simply gets what the judges think their work deserves. This means that there can be any number of people winning any colour of medal – and zero is still a valid number.

Next, we have systems that are based on rubrics. This is common for Gunpla builders, and I believe it is often used for AMPS shows and paint scores in 40K tournaments, but I’ve never been to either of those. Here, there are a number of categories representing various aspects of a build – construction, painting, modifications, etc. Points are deducted for mistakes and added for things that are particularly well done, and at the end of the day, points are added up across all the categories and all the judges, generating a total score. This score can be then used either to rank the models most points to least, or give out awards to anyone who scores a certain number of point.

Finally, we have a simple people’s choice award, where attendees vote on their favourites and he who gets the most votes wins. The voter base can either be fellow entrants or the general public.

Of course, the differences between these systems aren’t always set in stone. Figure contests regularly feature best in show awards in addition to the gold-silver-bronze system. IPMS shows may use the open system for junior categories, so as not to crush the dreams of any young modeller. An open system can judge every model individually, or a modeller’s work as a whole, only giving out one award per category for his best work. And any show may incorporate a “people’s choice” award in addition to the judged criteria. Further, there are variations in these – IPMS contests can have “no sweeps” rules to prevent one person from taking home all the prizes in the categories, GSB style contests can judge and award every single model or an artist’s work as a whole, and rubrics can be either extremely detailed or very basic and can weigh different aspects of a build.

My thoughts

All of these systems have their pros and cons, and they are all heavily ingrained in the culture of the communities that have adopted them.

The IPMS style is nice and simple, and you can get a lot of judging done quickly. A simple glance over the table can greatly narrow down the number of models that are in contention and that a judge really needs to examine closely. However as anyone who has tried to organize a model show can attest, when you have very diverse builds, the sheer number of categories required to ensure that you have like competing against like, that there are not too many or too few entries per category, and that every possible thing that can show up has a category, ends up becoming a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention when the number of entries in each category is invariably much different than what you planned, judges often have to split or merge categories for there to be any semblance of fair competition. And then how the judges tweaked the categories on the day of the contest can be a bone of contention for those who didn’t win.

Further, there will always be some categories that end up being more hotly contested than others, so in some ways it is less of an objective measure. You can win first place in your category either by doing an amazing model and beating the other couple dozen amazing 1:48 aircraft, or you could be the only entrant in an obscure category and take home first place with a mediocre entry. I know that personally, the amount of hardware that I bring home at an IPMS show within driving distance depends about as much on who else shows up as it does on my quality of work.

There is also a risk of disappointment for those who don’t place. Anyone from 4th to last has no idea how well they did. As one example, I judged a competition a few months ago where we narrowed it down to the final four, figured out the winner and runner-up fairly easily, and then spend a lot of time deliberating over who gets the bronze and who goes home with nothing. If I hadn’t talked to the guy who was in 4th place afterwards, he may have been discouraged simply because he would have no way of knowing how close he was to placing.

Finally, because the IPMS style is comparing the models to each other, there are some logistical challenges. You need to have all the models on the table before you start judging, whereas with points systems and open systems, if the judges know they are going to have their work cut out of them, they can simply judge models as they arrive or get a head start before the entry deadline.

Open System

The open system has a lot of advantages. The main one is that you aren’t competing against each other, you are competing against yourself. How you do on the day doesn’t depend on who else shows up. This gives you a more accurate representation of where your skills are at, and it can help you set realistic goals, such as if you won Bronze one year, to go for Silver the next.

The open system also doesn’t require as many categories as the 1-2-3 system, which makes things a lot simpler. However, the judges tend to have a bit more work cut out for them as under a 1-2-3 system, a quick glance can often knock out a majority of the entrants who are uncompetitive and cut down on the number of models that need a serious look. The open system requires the judges to look at every model on the table (or, at least, everyone’s best work in a category) and give it its appropriate award.

I also think the prevalence of the open system contributes to the friendliness and mostly drama-free nature of the miniature painting community. When you are very rarely directly competing against each other, you are more invested in helping each other build their skills. When your friend wins a gold medal, it’s not bittersweet because he beat you to get it.

Rubrics and points

As for rubrics, to be honest, I’m not a big fan for a few reasons. First, I feel like they are popular because they have the appearance of objectivity, however I’m not sure they are actually that much more objective than something like the IPMS style, where there are no rubrics and the judges just confer and make a call. The theory is that simply choosing the best is open to favouritism, and points systems make things more objective. However, there is nothing preventing a biased judge from simply giving their favourites more points than the rest, either consciously or unconsciously.

Second, rubrics encourage people to build to the rubric if they want to be successful in the competition. Instead of simply approaching the build how they want, people end up having to tick off a number of boxes to get the maximum score or at least a competitive score in the category. For example, competitions that award points for conversions and customization may encourage people to do unnecessary modifications just so they can say that they did a conversion and get the points for that category. If the rubric isn’t well-designed, then you could have situations where it discourages creativity by rewarding certain specific style choices – for example, punishing an automotive modeller who enters a showroom clean car by giving him a big fat zero in the weathering category.

Can the people be trusted?

People’s choice is an interesting one and it makes judging a lot easier by simply removing the need for judges altogether. That said, in model shows as in democracy, the people can’t always be trusted. People tend to be attracted to the biggest, shiniest model with the most blinking lights. However, said model may, on closer inspection, have a ton of seam lines, alignment issues, and problems with the finish which are not apparent to the layman at a quick glance. Good models can get passed over simply because they aren’t the biggest, most eye-catching thing on the table. However, just having a show with a ballot can make for a much more chilled out atmosphere than a judged contest.

Feedback?

While feedback is good, not everyone wants feedback and not all feedback is useful. If you missed a mold line, being told to clean up your mold lines doesn’t really help you as a modeller. You already know you’re supposed to deal with that; that’s not new information for you. However, feedback such as new weathering techniques, suggestions on diorama composition, colour theory and lighting, etc., can actually help bring you to the next level.

I also feel that when it comes to feedback, some people are genuinely interested in improving their skills and progressing as a modeller, and some people just want to be salty that they didn’t win. They don’t want honest critique, they want to know why they lost and use it as ammo to grumble.

Again, I feel like the GSB system lends itself more to honest feedback because judges can tell you what you can do to bring yourself to the next level, rather than comparing your entry to other models and saying “well, Jim over there made something nicer.” Knowing what you can do to go from Bronze to Silver is much more valuable information than knowing which mold line you missed or what tiny flaw in your model caused the other guy to beat you.

If you really want feedback, track down a judge and ask him or her for it. Or, just talk to your friends and fellow competitors and get their feedback. Detailed feedback on a score sheet sounds nice, but it is onerous for the judges and it may not be as useful as simply having a conversation about your work with friends, regardless of whether they have a fancy judge title or not.

Prize Support

This is a tricky subject. I mean, upon initial glance, prize support is good, right? Everyone loves free stuff, and the more expensive free stuff, the better. If we can get hundreds of dollars of stuff and give it to the winner, then that’s great and it will encourage more people to join in, right?

However, there are some issues with large prize pools that may outweigh the draw of free stuff. When you have prizes like free trips to Japan to compete in the GBWC world cup or the $10,000 Crystal Brush, the stakes get higher and competition starts to get more intense. You can see this in things like Magic and Warhammer tournaments with large prize pools; by raising the stakes, you encourage people to be more cutthroat about things and increase the risk of salt and unsportsmanlike behaviour. IPMS deals with this by insisting that the prizes don’t have much if any intrinsic value – instead of wads of cash or expensive uber-kits, you are rewarded with a small medal or trophy, bragging rights, and the warm fuzzy feelings you get from recognition by your peers.

Further, in a smaller community, if you have a small number of people who are winning all the time, it can start to feel a little discouraging for the rest of the modellers. If you have entry fees and the same people winning all the prizes all the time, it can start to feel like same guy is taking your lunch money every day and this can encourage people who don’t have a chance to not show up, not participate, and not learn and grow by competing.

I’m not saying that prize support isn’t appreciated or that free kits isn’t a nice thing to have, but if people want the prizes badly enough that it starts to negatively affect their sportsmanship and attitude towards the competition, it can be a double-edged sword. How much is too much, and if you do have a generous sponsor, what portion of the prize pool should go to reward performance in the competition versus participation prizes like raffles, silent auctions, and door prizes, is worth some careful consideration.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, given my background, I like the open system. However, I feel like at the end of the day, too much competition can be unhealthy and perhaps there is something to be said for doing exhibitions and pageants instead of competitions. Aside from the occasional outburst of drama due to disagreements with a judge’s decision, it is all too easy to fall into a trap of comparing oneself to others in a hobby that should be about relaxation and, if you want to push it, self-improvement. Regardless of the format of the competition, one would be well served to go into it caring more for the friends you make and the inspiration on the tables than the awards you win.

Painting is Good: A Response

So, a thing happened on the Warmachine internet today

While I am loath to start an internet fight, especially with someone who has way more pull in the Warmachine community, it seems as though I have been called out a little with a couple comments in the article that seem to be referring to my articles suggesting the use of painting as a tiebreaker or to grant small in-game bonuses for painted armies is a toxic attitude that has no place in the game.

So, I’m going to lay out my thoughts on the subject and provide, if not a counterpoint, at least a basis for some discussion that is hopefully a little more positive than the last time I talked about this.

Emotions

I will acknowledge here that this is a subject where emotions are running high. People who are trying to get painted but aren’t there yet can feel bad when others talk about how awesome it is to play it painted. Those who try to push for fully painted events or encouraging painting in organized play are occasionally branded “paint-shamers” (protip: don’t google “paint shaming”) and told they don’t belong. Even saying something as innocuous as “fighting the war on the grey hordes” can be cause offense. Some competitive players feel strongly that painting interferes with the purity of the competitive game and that models are and should be nothing more than stats on bases. And those of us who started with Warhammer may have had some traumatic experience arguing with a judge over the three colour rule or chafing at biased paint judging. In this sort of environment, I don’t have particularly high hopes for a non-heated discussion and am pretty sure that this question isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon but… I don’t know, I guess I’m enough of a masochist that I’m ready to wade into this pool once again.

Everyone CAN paint

First, I would argue that the occasional painting requirement isn’t as exclusionary as people say it is, for the simple fact that (just about) everyone can paint.

We live in a golden age of miniature painting. There are tons of products out there, from Army Painter colour matching spray primers to GW Contrast Paints designed to get your army painted up quickly. On top of that, the internet has made a ton of content available for free on how to get your army painted up quickly. Duncan can show you how to paint a space marine in 10 minutes, and if you don’t like the basecoat-wash-drybrush method, you can check out sketch style or just slather the thing in contrast paints.

Incidentally, I would guess that a not-insignificant portion of those who don’t like painting are victims of a bad experience when they were just starting out. Something like trying to paint Army Painter yellow straight over black primer because they don’t know any better, and then having a bad time, getting frustrated, and quitting. These are people who can be shown the light.

Perhaps there are a small number of people out there who have very specific disabilities that mean they legitimately can’t paint but which doesn’t affect their ability to play the game, however the intersection on that Venn diagram is so small that this argument isn’t particularly meaningful, and communities can band together to help those people. If someone I know wants to go to a fully painted tournament but has an issue like severe carpal tunnel, I’ll bust out the airbrush help him at least get to a three colour minimum quickly.

Now, “I can’t paint,” “I don’t want to paint,” “I don’t have time to paint because I have seven kids and work 12 hours a day,” and “I don’t have time to paint because I play six hours of Overwatch a night” are all fundamentally very different arguments, and this is where discussions often go south. However, before we dismiss the very concept of rewarding painting or having a fully painted event out of hand as “not inclusive,” we should recognize that “not having access to a painted army” isn’t some sort of immutable characteristic like the colour of one’s skin.

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Born this way!

Painting makes the game better

This one shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is. I feel like there is something about seeing two fully painted armies go at it that makes for more of an enjoyable experience for everyone. Privateer Press recognizes this; it is why they strongly encourage people to play it painted in the steamroller packet and put a lot of effort into promoting the hobby aspect of the game.

Further, I would argue that given the importance of target selection in Warmachine, painted armies improve competitive play. It’s a lot easier to pick out which dude is a solo or unit attachment at a distance when the armies are painted. Even if they aren’t well-painted or painted in the studio colours, just blocking in some colour or doing some dry brushing allows your opponent to pick out distinct shapes like the tiny emblem on the shoulder pads that the unit attachment has from across the table much easier than if they are looking at a sea of unpainted plastic or black primer.

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See how much easier it is to distinguish the UA and Leader of the Shocktroopers on the right for both players. Now imagine they were unpainted…

Painting attracts new players

I do think playing it painted does help bring new players into the game. I’ve been spending the past couple months getting a coworker into the game, and one of the first things I did when I embarked on that journey was painting up some Cygnar so I could play the bad guys fully painted against him. My feeling is that this, along with taking some care to make the tables look good, helped get him hooked much more efficiently than if I were to roll up with the blue plastic battlebox and duking it out on a table that looks like the battle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Now, he’s making his first big purchases and watching both battle reports and painting videos.

Further, if we are playing in a highly public space, such as a large, multi-game convention, then we are competing for people’s eyeballs with games like 40K, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars Legion, and X-Wing. By putting in an effort to make the game look good, we can attract more attention than if we were rocking grey plastic.

What would I like to see?

I’m not saying that you should have your army fed into a wood chipper if you dare show up with unpainted models, or that game stores should scold people who dare show bare plastic in public. However, all too often, it feels as though the hobby aspect is an afterthought in Warmachine, and as someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of the game, that’s something that is occasionally frustrating.

I think it would be nice to have something baked into the game or into organized play to encourage painting. The catch is, I’m not sure what that would be. I’ve thrown out a couple suggestions in the past like a small in-game bonus for painted armies or using proportion of models painted as a tiebreaker, but the negative reception that these ideas received in the WMH community (apparently suggesting an alternative method of doing tiebreakers is a “toxic attitude” now?) pretty much renders them a non-starter.

I do think having painting awards at the local level is a good idea. Unlike Jaden, I don’t think they need to necessarily always be raffles. The beauty of a painting award is that, unlike a tournament prize where there aren’t really any alternatives to just giving it to the person who won all her games, there are lots of ways to do a painting award and you can mix it up so everyone has a chance and you keep the competition fresh. Best army, best unit, or best single model. For unit or single model, you could require them to have been painted within a certain period of time so the guy whose Sorscha won Crystal Brush in 2005 doesn’t keep bringing the same model. You could decide by popular vote or, if you have one shark who is winning the painting competition all the time, you could enlist her as a judge and have her choose the winners and offer any desired feedback. Or, yes, you could have a raffle for everyone who has accomplished something like field a fully painted army or finish painting a unit in the last couple months.

I would also point out as an aside that, right now, the problem of having one or two people from the meta winning every time and being a discouragement to other players is a reality for tournament prizes, though it is rarely talked about. One of the guys in my meta won the big tournament at Lock and Load a couple weeks ago, so I have zero chance of winning any tournament that he shows up to (not that I hold it against him or anything). It seems a little unusual that the best player winning the tournament all the time isn’t seen as an issue, while the best painter winning best painted all the time is a reason why we can’t have painting awards. If, at a tournament, the only prizes are given for competitive performance, then you risk harbouring resentment when the newer or less-skilled players just have their lunch money in the form of entry fees taken month-in and month-out.

As for painting requirements at tournaments, I don’t think they should be necessary all the time. However, I would like to see a fully painted, premier-level tournament format officially supported by Privateer Press. Since they not only got rid of all painting requirements in their Masters and Champions format, but worded their packet in such a way that you aren’t allowed to run an officially sanctioned Masters or Champions event with a painting requirement, I haven’t heard of any fully painted event within 1000 km. In effect, the number of fully painted tournaments that I can go to has dropped to essentially zero, and that is kind of a disappointment for me.

I feel like the sort of big conventions that you plan your attendance at six months out are a great venue for a fully painted event. Since the people who want to travel great distances to go to these events are making travel plans months in advance, they have a lot of time to get a couple lists painted. With space and time for multiple tournaments, Iron Arena, and other programming, people who don’t have a fully painted army don’t have to twiddle their thumbs. For people like me, we are more likely to make the trek because a fully painted event is a special experience, and it’s not like we are ever going to qualify for the super top level invitational tournaments that do have painting requirements like WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals.

Trash Talk: Not just for painting!

The impetus for Jaden to write this article was a meme of someone making a disappointed face that his opponent was unpainted. First, I’m as guilty as anyone of using sarcasm in my writing and having it not be conveyed properly in text, or having a dry sense of humour that doesn’t always come across as intended. I’m sure the offending meme was meant as a humourous, tongue in cheek joke, however it was evidently taken serious enough to spawn now multiple articles in the Warmachine blogosphere.

However, if we are to talk about “paint-shaming,” I feel like that is only one small part of how we treat each other in the Warmachine community. Even if you consider the occasional tongue in cheek reference that I’ve made in the worst possible way, I’ve still taken a lot more crap for playing “easy mode” Khador (while Cryx, not Khador, was dominating the tournament scene, but I digress) or not being good enough at the game than I’ve ever dished out over painting.

There is a line between gentle ribbing, friendly trash talk, and stuff that comes across as disrespectful or bullying. That line can be in different places for everyone; I know for me, there was a time when I was doing more tournament play and I would get very sensitive to comments about how I only won because models like Harkevich or Torch in my army were OP because it was taken as an attack on my abilities at a point in my life when I still cared about being good at the game.

Further, internet meme culture is notoriously harsh, particularly in nerdy, niche communities like Warmachine. There are some forums and facebook groups that I personally try to avoid because they are a cesspool of negativity and they make me not want to play the game, so I can see why there would be a negative reaction to something like this.

So, are memes making fun of unpainted armies wrong? Maybe – after all, a little trash talk between close friends who know where each other’s line is is a lot different than going up to a random new player and bullying him – but is it any more wrong than memes portraying Khador players as unskilled mouth-breathers who just derp derp charge and win despite their lack of intelligence, or Cygnar players as whiny losers who don’t know what to do if they can’t crutch on Haley2, or Legion players as whiners who complain whenever they are told that there is a rule in the game that applies to them?

Conclusions

No, no one has to paint. However, Warmachine kind of has a reputation as the worst looking miniature game on the market and that’s not because the model sculpts are bad. I think finding ways to encourage painting that, while they are not judgemental, reinforce the idea that painting is a part of this hobby and is not a distant second fiddle to competitive play, is important. I’d like to see everyone encouraged to at the very least set having a fully painted army as an aspirational goal, because even in this golden age it does take time and sometimes you can’t get all your dudes painted before the big game. The more painted armies out there, the better it is for everyone.

Oh, and also don’t tell people who like painting or don’t absolutely hate painting requirements to go play 40K instead. That’s not helping grow the Warmachine community either.

Initial thoughts: GSW Colorshift and Scale75 Metallics

As part of my hoarding of paints and tools, I’ve been trying out some new products lately, and figured I would share some thoughts on them. One caveat before I get into the reviews — I will include photos, but because of the nature of metallics and especially color shift paints, it’s going to be difficult to capture the effect on film.

Green Stuff World Colorshift

These paints are a little unusual. I’ve gotten all three sets, because every time I would see a new set at a show, I would jump at it, only for it to collect dust because I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Where I kept getting hung up was on shading and highlighting. When I do my metallics, I don’t like to just paint something silver and call it done. It has to be shaded and highlighted, just like the rest of the model. Shade and highlight colours are dictated by colour theory, which brings up an obvious issue. If I’m painting with paints that change colour depending on the viewing angle, just what colour am I supposed to use to shade and highlight something that is green some of the time and purple others?

Anyways, I had somehow manage to mangle the assembly of a Bandai HG ball gundam (no small feat, given how idiot-proof Bandai kits are), so I figured I woudl clean it up as best I could and use it as a testbed.

The instructions say that you are supposed to apply them over a gloss black primer for the best effect, which seemed a little odd to me. After all, the point of primer is to adhere to the model and provide a surface for the paint to adhere to, and a smooth, shiny surface is by nature going to have less tooth than a matte surface.

However, I did spot some gloss black Stynylrez at a hobby shop, so I figured I would give it a go. I’m not sure if it was the product or something I was doing wrong, but I found this to be a little tricky, with the application being nowhere near as idiot-proof as the regular matte Stynylrez. I eventually found priming with regular black Stynylrez then going over it with the gloss to be a better approach than trying to spray the gloss straight onto the model.

The first issue I had, which is immediately obvious as soon as you take the paints out of the box, is that the colour(s) of paint in the bottle has little to no relationship with the colour of a surface painted with colorshift paints. So, you will have to paint the lids of the bottles with the corresponding paint if you have any hope of knowing what colour is which, which is something that I do to all my paints anyways.

The biggest issue, however, has to do with coverage and consistency. Coverage is pretty poor, and isn’t helped by the fact that the instructions dictate that it is to be applied over black primer. Further, it has to be applied in very thin coats, otherwise the medium ends up drying in a sort of thick, milky consistency. Doing all this over a gloss black primer can be extremely difficult with a brush, and even with an airbrush it is very easy to flood the surface and ruin the finish. As for touching up mistakes, forget about it.

I will give them this though, they go through the airbrush pretty nicely.

With the airbrush, the shading and highlighting issue actually turned out to be not much of a problem. Since they need so many coats to build up coverage and are applied over a black primer, simply varying the number of coats between your highlights and your shadows will help give it a shaded effect. Go for full coverage on the first couple coats, and from there, you can transition into just doing a zenithal for your last coat or two.

So, it’s tricky to apply, but how does it look? Well, to be honest, I’m kind of underwhelmed. First, the colour shift effect isn’t as pronounced as I was expecting it to be. Second, there is a bit of an issue with the finish. The pigments are fairly large, so on a close examination, it looks less like smooth, machined metal and more like something that was covered in glitter.

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In spite of all that, I do think it can still have its uses. I think it would look good on something like a Convergence of Cyriss army, and at gaming table distances, large, sparkly pigments are less of an issue.

Scale75 Metallics

When it comes to metallic paints, I find myself agreeing largely with Vince Venturella, who is better than me at both painting and creating content. I like true metallic metals; there is just something about the shine that pops when you’re looking at the miniature in real life. The problem is that most metallic paints designed for miniature painters are basically trash.

The one exception to this rule is Vallejo Metal Color. Not Vallejo Model Air, not Vallejo Game Color, but Vallejo Metal Color. The stuff that comes in the bigger bottles with the black and silver labels. This stuff blows your GW Leadbelcher and your P3 Quick Silver out of the water. However, there is one problem. Since it is designed to cater to the scale model crowd, specifically aircraft modelers, the range isn’t well suited to what we do. Out of their 16 or so colours, they have about five different colours of aluminum but only one copper and one gold — and the gold isn’t even very good, having a weird green tone to it that might be useful if you’re painting the golden scepter of some evil lich lord who just radiates corruption and necrotic energy, but isn’t great otherwise.

So, after hearing a lot of people talk up the Scale75 metallics and seeing them being used on twitch streams, and seeing a local game store get a rack of Scale75, I decided to take the plunge and try it.

Now, before I get into the product, there are a couple things that I would like to address. First, there is the question of availability. It’s still difficult and expensive to get Scale75 in Canada; only a very small number of stores in Canada carry it, and ordering from the Scale75USA website means you get to deal with the joys of currency conversion and customs. Even if you are lucky enough as I am to have a local store that carries it, it is still a little pricey. At the one local store that carries it and which has good prices on most of their products, I’m paying $6.50 a bottle. This is definitely above average for miniature paint, and for me, there is a bit of a psychological leap between being able to get a bottle of paint for a fiver and not.

Second, I feel like Scale75 is one of those brands that there is a lot of hype out on the internet for. They’ve successfully positioned themselves in the market as the serious paint for serious painters. The paint itself might be that good for all I know; I haven’t seriously tried out their non-metallic paints yet. However, I tend to be naturally suspicious of things that look like fads, so there is something that rubs me the wrong way about these paints. I’m not going to run out and get rid of all my paints to go all in on a new brand just because it’s the new hotness, and I’m content with my current paint collection for now, so unless it turns out to be legitimately that good, I’m happy to stick to my assortment of mostly Reaper, with a few P3s, Vallejos, and Citadels for flavour. After all, if Reaper paints are good enough for Kirill, I suppose they’re good enough for me.

Anyways, Scale75 has about ten or twelve different metallic paints, in various shades of silver, gold and copper. The gold and brass colours are my main focus because they fill in a gap that all my other paints have left.

The first thing you will notice when you compare Scale75 to its competitors is the the pigment size. If you look close enough at most metallic paints, you can see that the tiny glitter-like flakes in them, which is simply the nature of metallic pigments. As a result, it’s impossible to get the very smooth finish that you might see on machined metal. Scale75 metallic paints seem to have pigment ground much finer than most of their competitors, which contributes to a better finish than most.

With their finely ground pigments, they also airbrush well. I had no problems with my Xtreme Patriot with the 0.35 mm nozzle. You can airbrush them almost straight from the pot, however a drop or two of flow improver can go a long way.

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The top part of these… things… were airbrushed with Scale75 gold metallics

Playing with the hairy sticks, I was immediately struck by how much smoother they are than most of the metallic paints I’m used to. Consistency is a bit thinner, but not Vallejo Metal Color thin. Coverage is decent, though Duncan’s advice of two thin coats probably applies here as with most metallic paints. You can highlight with them and get decent blends, though I’ve get to do a big, display-level TMM project that has large metallic areas with them.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that they behave in a way which is fairly similar to normal acrylic paint. This doesn’t sound like much, but as anyone who has dealt with metallics can tell you, it’s a big compliment.

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Stabby guy with some brass bits done in Scale75

I think I still prefer the Vallejo Metal Color just because of the sheer coverage and workability of the VMCs, however the VMC has a very thin consistency, closer to an ink than most miniature paints, which can take a little bit of practice to get used to if you’re coming from something like Leadbelcher. This also isn’t always welcome when you’re utilizing techniques that prefer a thick paint like drybrushing. The Scale75 is a little closer in consistency to traditional metallic miniature paints, however it blows them out of the water. I do also have the Badger Metalsmith paints to compare them to, but that is more of a paint system than a paint and I’m too lazy to play alchemist every time I want to lay down some gold paint.

In short, these Scale75 metallics are a great addition to your hobby arsenal. Out of all the gold paints I’ve tried, they’re the best on the market, though they kind of win by default as most gold paints are pretty mediocre. If I was to give someone advice on what metallic paints to start out with, I would probably tell them to buy VMC for the silver metallics and supplement that with Scale75 for the golds.

The most important question

In this review, you will note that I may have left out one of the most important questions as it pertains to any miniature paint: how does it taste?

For the Color Shift paints, since they are best applied with an airbrush in multiple thin coats, and you probably aren’t going to be blending them, it shouldn’t really come up very often. As for the Scale75 metallics, they don’t taste bad right away, but if you keep working with them, licking your brush as you go, you will notice a bad taste in your mouth. However, they are so much better than other gold colours that you might as well grab a beer and wash it down.

The final verdict is that I would probably give the GSW Colorshift paints a C, and the Scale75 paints an A. The GSW Colorshift paints just don’t quite live up to my expectations, though they can still be useful, while the Scale75 metallics are my new favourite gold paints though they haven’t dethroned Vallejo Metal Color for my silvers.

Bustin’ a Move with Nancy and Sorscha

To paraphrase the esteemed Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big busts and I cannot lie. When it comes to painting figures, I think the 1/12 bust is my favourite scale. 1/12 is a big enough scale to incorporate some really nice details and textures, especially on the skin and eyes. However, being a bust, that means I can get the large scale which enables a lot of detail work without having as large or expensive of a model as if it were a full figure. Plus, painting pants and boots can be kind of boring, and a bust focuses on only the interesting parts.

Starting out

I had mentioned them on this blog before, but had done two busts recently: the Sorscha bust from Privateer Press, and Nancy Steelpunch from Scale75. Both were high quality resin pieces, and cleanup was pretty minimal, with a little bit of work required on Sorscha and not much at all on Nancy. Both were assembled and then zenithal primed with Stynylrez white over black, going heavy on the white as is my usual approach.

Next, I laid in some airbrushed base coats on the skin. I started with blue, as that is my deepest shadow and it is generally easier to work from shadow to highlight with the airbrush. From there, I went into skin tones, working up from my deepest shade of Reaper MSP Soft Blue to my highest highlight of a very fair skin tone. The goal here isn’t to get everything perfect, rather, it’s just a quick way to lay in a nice base and get about 80% there, from where I can manually paint and glaze additional layers overtop.

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Skin airbrushed over a zenithal highlight

Sorscha

Here is where the process started to diverge. Nancy had a lot of skin showing, so I figured I was finished with the airbrush on her for the time being. Sorscha, however, was mostly pink armour. So, masking off her face with a bit of silly putty, I worked up from a shadow colour of Reaper MSP Nightshade Purple mixed with Punk Rock Pink, up to neat Punk Rock Pink, then Blush Pink and finally some Braaaaiins Pink for the highest highlight.

Next was some texturing techniques that I picked up in a class I had taken with Aaron Lovejoy a little while ago. I went over the airbrushed base coat with a bunch of stippling, using the base coats to guide me as to where I should stipple what colour. Once it was all stippled and I had the texture laid in, it was time for some airbrush glazing – mix up some very thin paints in your airbrush, and just barely pull the trigger back, depositing a thin glaze over your stippled texture. It will blend all your stippling back together, but so long as you aren’t too heavy and start laying down opaque coats, you will still have some texture from the stippling showing through. I started with some Nightshade Purple shot up from below to reinforce the shadows, then came from above with my pink highlight colours. I may have been a little heavier than intended on the highlight colours as the more pastel pinks have a lot of white in them contributing to more opacity than I anticipated, but the end result was good enough for me and I wasn’t about to spend another few hours re-stippling everything just because things ended up being a little more subtle than intended.

For the white trim, I used a similar but slightly different process. I started with a basecoat of Reaper’s Stormy Grey, then covered it with a wet blend from Stormy Grey up to Misty Grey. From there, I stippled in the texture and brushed on the glazes instead of using an airbrush because there is no way I’m going to do that much masking. I also added texture to the leather straps in a similar manner, adding some fine details then using glazes and washes to blend them all together with the rest of the leather.

The hair was base coated in a deep walnut brown, and highlighted with a series of desaturated blues. However, I also added in a touch of a light, desaturated purple in the highlights. This helps blend the hair into all the pink, and also represents a bit of reflection of light from her pink armour off her hair. For the hat, I did it in two phases. First, to get the general highlights and shadows, I basecoated and wet-blended the grey, ignoring the fur texture and using your wet-blending to roughly highlight and shade it as though it were simple, flat cloth. From there, I used washes and dry-brushing to highlight the actual fur, with a little bit of manual edge highlighting of individual tufts of fur applied afterwards just to kick it up a notch. For my shade colour, I wanted to stick to a cool grey, so I went with primarily GW’s Drakenhof Nightshade, however I also added the slightest hint of various coloured GW washes to give a little colour variation to it because grey is boring.

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Hair — note the blue reflections and the hints of purple in the highest highlights.

I was debating weathering her armour, but at the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. First, I thought it looked nice clean and was a little afraid that weathering would ruin it. Second, I was also concerned that with all the work I did to add texture, painting on a bunch of chipping and scratches on the armour would add just so much contrast that it would just completely overshadow and wipe out the more subtle texturing effects. Finally, I decided to rationalize it by figuring that Sorscha probably isn’t going to be wearing that much makeup to war, and dirty, heavily chipped armour would clash with lipstick and eyeshadow. As such, I figured that I would go with a “parade clean” scheme, where Sorscha is trying to look her best to show off her pride in the Khadoran military (and, perhaps make Vlad feel a few pangs of regret over dumping her and marrying the Empress).

This take on Sorscha doesn’t have a whole lot of colour variation, interesting freehand, or the like, but I think she stands out for two reasons. First, with the pink being such a bright, intense colour and the way I took a little artistic license with the lighting to draw the viewer into the face, it can suck an observer in from several feet away. Second, once you come in closer, you start seeing some of the texture variation across the model. Even without weathering, there are just so many textures on this simple bust – skin, hair/fur, cloth, leather, painted metal, and shiny metal – that there is a lot going on even without the addition of any sort of freehand or the like.

At the end of the day though, Sorscha is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms universe, and I think I did her justice here, even if she didn’t place at the last competition I brought her to.

Nancy

As for Nancy, my colour choice was already set. I painted a miniature of her last year, with red and black clothes in a vaguely Harley Quinn inspired theme and blue hair. I tweaked a couple little things from the miniature version because it wasn’t quite working at 1/12, most notably, I changed the necklace from a silver to a gold metal to incorporate a bit better colour balance.

The two challenging things on Nancy were the tattoos and the true metallic metals on the fist. For the tattoos, I wanted to tell a story. The idea was that Nancy here is a steampunk mechanic who lost her hands in an industrial accident thanks to Victorian-era workplace health and safety regulations. Of course, as any steampunk mechanic worth her salt would do, she simply invented a pair of giant mechano-hands.

In order to literally spell it out for the viewer, I decided to tattoo the phrase “What doesn’t kill you…” on her chest. In this case, the phrase is taken quite literally as what doesn’t kill you actually does make you stronger when you replace your hands with giant mechanical fists. I also added tattoos of gears and other mechanical bits on the side of her head to represent her chosen career path, as well as some random tattoos here and there just to balance it all out.

There are a couple tricks to tattoos. First, black tattoo ink often has a bit of blue to it for some reason, so it’s a good idea to use a blue-black like Payne’s Grey inks or Reaper’s Blue Liner paint. Second, unless a tattoo has been just applied, it needs to be blended into the skin as it fades a little as it heals. To do this, I made a glaze in one of my flesh tones and simply applied it over the areas with the tattoo, knocking back the contrast between it and the skin.

Beyond that, it is simply an exercise in fine freehand, so get yourself a good brush in your steady hand, and use thin paints with plenty of flow improver so they flow smoothly and consistently off your brush. I’m not sure I’ve quite mastered it, but I think the tattoos here at least look somewhat realistic.

For the hands, I decided to go with true metallic metals because I appreciate the shine. For the uninitiated, there is a technique called non-metallic metal (NMM) where you paint in highlights, shadows, glints of light and reflections using matte paints in order to portray metal. That is often used on box art and competition pieces because it looks really good in photos. True metallic metals is the use of metallic paints, but instead of just painting the whole thing in the same tone of silver or gold, you apply some of those non-metallic metal techniques of shading and highlights. This way, you get both the intense shadows and highlight of NMM, and a bit of shine from your metallic paints, which, although it is trickier to photograph well, I think helps add some pop to the real life model.

The tricky thing with TMM is that metallic paints are a bastard to blend. Vallejo Metal Color is workable, but even it isn’t as nice as blending with regular paints. As for gold paints, there isn’t much on the market for gold acrylic paints that don’t suck. Not to mention that you can’t use your expensive sable brushes here as metallic paints chew up natural hair brushes very quickly. I used P3 golds, which I find to be decent have a fairly tone on, but the gold paint still leaves a lot to be desired (In fairness, so do just about all of their competitors).

The other challenge was simply deciding where to put the highlights and shadows. With all the big flat surfaces, it was tricky figuring out exactly where to put the glints of light. I’m not sure I completely nailed it – there are a couple places on the fist where I think adding another highlight or adjusting the brightness here and there might help kick the metals up a notch. That said, I am loath to rework a model once I’ve called it finished and put it on a plinth because I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of trying to fix up all my old models and having nothing ever be truly finished. I may touch it up before the next big show, but it’s good enough for now.

One additional thing — late in the game, something about the colour balance seemed off. I conferred with some of my associates and they recommended that I repaint the poofy shoulder things yellow. I decided to take their advice into account, and promptly ignored it in favour of doing something else. Instead of repainting those poofy arm things, I chose to redo her necklace, swapping the silver metallic for gold, thus balancing out some of the colours on her body and bringing in a bit more of a “callback” on her body to the extensive brass bits on her mechano-fist. This definitely helped, fixing some of the colour balance issues that made it look a little off.

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The finished version above looks so much better with the gold necklace instead of silver

Conclusions

I’ve said it before, but painting busts poses a lot more interesting challenges than 30mm miniatures. The shortcuts you use on small miniatures like washes just don’t work at that scale. On the flip side, the relatively large size means you can incorporate more details than you can on a miniature. I’m sure Nancy and Sorscha won’t be my last busts; in fact, I have one on my bench right now…

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