Happy Accidents and fun with water effects

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 model

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.

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Painting

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.

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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.

Water Effects

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.

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oh god, it’s horrible

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.

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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.

Miniature Paintings

IMG_0761.JPGBecause 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.

IMG_0762.JPGFortunately, 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.

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Baselog: Sexy Gorman

That’s a title that I never thought I would write.

Anyways, recently I finished up my first Privateer Pres model designed solely for display and not gaming purposes. For this undertaking, I figured I should go big or go home, so I chose the “di Wulfe in Sheep’s Clothing” VIP model from MiniCrate.

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Studio scheme

To be honest, I wasn’t really jazzed about this model when it was first announced. While I like what Privateer Press is doing with some of their mini-crate models in doing the gender-bending alternate sculpts, I just wasn’t crazy about the idea of a model wearing a sheep onesie based on a mediocre pun. However, once I got the model in the mail, she really grew on me. The sculpt quality is great, with a lot of crisp details and an excellent job on the facial features, and there weren’t a lot of mold lines to clean up. Further, the whimsical nature of the sheep onesie was something that I only began to appreciate once I saw it in person.

Of course, it is well documented that when presented with a studio scheme, my youthful anarchist tendencies tend to come out and I immediately decide to do something else with the model other than following the directions laid out by studio painters. This was no exception; my black sheep tendencies meant that I decided to go with a black sheep instead of a white one, as well as make a lot of the leather bits and straps that comprise the rest of her clothing black and shiny like my Zerkova2 rather than brown or grey.

That said, this article isn’t so much about the painting of the figure, because a lot of the techniques I used on her are things that I have been practicing lately for this purpose, and which I have covered in previous articles. This article is going to be all about that base. Specifically, the display plinth that I had made up for this project.

Quick Safety PSA: My process for this project involved a lot of cutting, filing, and sanding of resin pieces. Resin dust which is produced from these processes is nasty stuff, and you really don’t want it to get into your lungs. We want to be painting miniatures for a while, so make sure to take appropriate precautions for dust control and protecting your lungs.

So, once I decided that I was going to make this a display quality mini on a nice plinth, a couple considerations came to mind. First, I knew I didn’t want to go with a wooden plinth, because I just didn’t think it would go well with the steampunk aesthetic of Warmachine. Second, I started thinking about composition. I knew I didn’t want to just have her standing on a perfectly flat piece of ground, so I wanted some variation in elevation on the top surface. I also wanted to incorporate multiple textures, so I eventually settled on a vision of her standing on a sloping surface with some rock behind her.

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The first step…

Anyways, after browsing the internet for a little while, I settled on a 40mm square plinth from Dark Messiah Bases. These are black resin plinths that come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and have a nice, sleek, modern look which is a great start for a display miniature project, even if you don’t do a lot to them.

Of course, I’m interested in taking it to the next level, so I’m going to do some stuff to it. First, I took my jeweler’s saw and cut away a little piece on the front, just because for this project, I wanted to have it sloping slightly forward. Next, I created the rock formations out of bark chips. After cutting them to size, I drilled into them and pinned them to the base with some brass rod and plenty of gel super glue, just to make sure they would stay on nicely.

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Milliput sculpting

Next, it was time for some sculpting. I chose Milliput as my sculpting medium, because (spoiler alert) I knew I was going to do a lot of filing and sanding, and milliput works a lot better for that sort of thing than something like green stuff. I sculpted the slope of the ground in milliput, then added some in areas of the rock face where it needed a little filling out. I also made sure to sculpt outwards from the top of the base a little, because I wanted to carry the flat, vertical surface of the sides of the plinth upwards as though this base is a perfectly square cutout of the surrounding groundwork.

From there, it was a matter of filing and sanding the sides flat. Starting with a big old hand file and progressing to a sanding block with some very fine sandpaper, I took it down to a flat surface.

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Sanded flat

With the sculpting done, I primed the whole thing black, then used the airbrush to give it a coat of the straight black acrylic hobby paint of my choice. The rationale behind the coat of regular paint over the primer was just in case I needed to do any touch ups at the end; I wanted to make sure the black paint I used for the touchup matched the surrounding area.

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After the basic profile of the groundwork was applied, it was time to add some texture to the ground area. Some people glue sand or other grit down, but I like to use textured artist mediums. It’s probably a matter of personal opinion, but I find these to be a lot more convenient than using glue and grit as they are easier to apply and I don’t have to clean loose sand out of my apartment when I’m done. Further, you can mix some cheap craft paint straight into the medium and save yourself a step in painting that sand up.

I applied a quick dark grey basecoat to the rocks, and from there, it’s a matter of applying washes, dry-brushing, and perhaps a hint of dry pigments until you get something you are happy with. I like to give everything a dark wash and then work everything up with browns and greys and tans. Applying some dry pigments in a controlled manner can also help add just that little touch of colour variation to grey rocks and generate a bit of visual interest, which is a trick I touched on before but might write something focusing on it soon.

After attaching the model to the base, we need to add vegetation. This could be a whole article in itself, but throw on a bit of flock, static grass, tufts, and leaves, and you’ll end up with some nice finishing touches on your base.

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The finished project

Finally, I made up a little sign for the front just to take the whimsical, punnish theme home. I started out by cutting out a piece of plastic from a Privateer Press blister pack and doing a little sanding on the edges and roughened up the surface that was going to be the back a little. After priming it white, I took out my airbrush and a few different off-white colours in various shades of bone, ivory, light khaki, etc. I airbrushed a nice smooth base coat with one of them, then followed up with the others, putting a couple drops through the airbrush (with a drop of an appropriate thinner, of course), not bothering to clean out the airbrush between colours and just randomly spraying some patterns on. These slightly different colours are going to be a base for the sort of aged, uneven look that I’m going for with the sign.

Once I was happy with that, I cleaned out the airbrush, turned the pressure way down (into the single-digits), and pulled out some Scale75 Intense Wood ink. Aside from having quite possibly the funniest paint name in my collection (get it? because wood…), this colour, as its name applies, works really well to help create a realistic wood effect. In this case, what I did was drop some of it in my airbrush and shoot it onto the target at a very low pressure, which, similar to a wood stain, went on like a glaze and shifted the colour of the underlying material into a nice woody tone. Again, I wasn’t going for an even coat; I wanted to get some colour variation, so I sprayed it on in a sort of random pattern, varying the amount on any given point to get dark and light spots.

Finally, I shot it the sign with a quick spray of dullcote, as the Scale75 inks dry a little glossy when applied as a glaze. With the shine gone, I used freehand techniques to draw the skull and write on the sign. Here, I wasn’t too concerned with making the lettering perfect; I wanted the sign to have a sort of hand-drawn look as though it might be something spray painted on a wall by a graffiti artist.

From there, we can just glue the sign on and we’re done! With this neat display plinth, I’m looking forward to bringing her out to painting competitions as well as putting her in a place of pride on my shelf.

I buy stuff — Naughty Gears, MiniCrate, and Reaper

Like any good miniature painter, I buy more miniatures than I can possibly paint, and the backlog just keeps growing.  Over the past few weeks, my mailbox has been abuzz with activity, as orders from Scale75, Reaper, and Privateer Press have arrived and made their way into my ever-growing paint queue.

Scale75

scale75_brigitteDespite my ambivalence about the gaming and hobby industry’s move towards kickstarter, as soon as I saw the Naughty Gears models from Scale75, I knew I had to get in on it.  These are 1/12 busts of steampunk women, with some decidedly I’ve been wanting to move up from 30-ish mm scale to something bigger, and despite my best efforts, I eventually relented and went in on the Sexy level, selecting Mary Read, Helga Blitzhammer, Jessica Thunderhawk, and of course, Nancy Steelpunch, as well as a couple addons and other goodies.

Right off the bat, these models have some great character design to them.  Despite being decidedly pinup in nature when it comes to things like body proportions and the amount of skin showing (hey, Helga’s a blacksmith! It’s hot near her forge!), most of these models also exude a certain confidence and, dare I say, badassery in their sculpts.  A couple are a little much for me when it comes to the amount of skin showing, but as I am a sucker for both pinups and steampunk, I have to give these a ten out of ten for character design.

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There are a couple that I’m looking forward to painting in particular.  Nancy Steelpunch is just an amazing model that ticks all the right boxes for me.  Extraneous steampunk goggles, robotic arms, and a punkish undercut all combine to create what is sure to be a joy to paint and display.  Helga, as well, is a model where I think there is a lot one can do there.  You can add some soot and sweat stains on her shirt to make it look like she’s been working hard, and with some orange lighting in front of her to make it look like she is standing in font of a forge, basked in its orange glow, there’s a lot that one can do with the model.

IMG_2164When we get to the quality of the models, it’s just great all around.  They are all just some amazingly detailed models.  The straight lines are laser straight, the detail is crisp and bountiful, and the mold lines are practically nonexistant.  I did a dry fit, and the pieces just go together perfectly.  While they may be a little on the pricy side, the quality and the awesome character design easily justifies the cost.

My level on the kickstarter came with some additional goodies, the best being their book “Steampunk in Miniature” which has detailed instructions on how to paint these models up.  Aside from some not-so-great translations in the introduction section, the book is chock-full of great content to take you from the primer to the finishing touches.  Big pictures and detailed instructions will definitely help me transition to this much larger scale than I am used to, and one feature of the book that I really liked was that it catered to multiple different paint styles — airbrush users versus regular brush, and instructions for both non-metallic and true metallic metals.

Unfortunately, while the quality of the models was great, there were a couple of disappointments associated with the Scale75 kickstarter process that served to remind me why I’m not a huge fan of kickstarter, especially for established companies looking to expand their product line rather than startups.

 

First, there was the Mary Read debacle. For those of you who aren’t aware, shortly after the kickstarter ended, Scale75 ran into a copyright issue and could no longer produce the Mary Read figure they had advertised. They initially offered up Amelia Steam as a replacement, however their customers weren’t thrilled as Mary Read was one of the best and likely most popular sculpts.  Eventually, to mollify the people who went in for Mary Read, Scale75 offered up an alternate sculpt which was copyright-compliant. While it was nice to get a Mary Read, all the changes they had to make to avoid copyright issues really made it a completely different model.  The awesome hair of the original Mary Read was covered up by a bandanna, which meant that while the new sculpt wasn’t bad, what we actually got was a pale shadow of what could have been.

 

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Helga — note the difference in facial expression between her art and the model

Second, I was a little disappointed with the sculpt on Helga Blitzhammer.  I was sold on her based on the concept art, but when they sculpted her, the facial expression changed.  It went from the cold, stern expression to a big smile.  This changes the whole tone of the piece, going from a serious blacksmith at work to more of a smiling, cheesecakey model.  While I can’t complain too much because I believe the render was available before the kickstarter ended, it was a little frustrating to see the model not match the concept art which initially sold me on her.

That said, overall, these are still some great models and I’m looking forward to painting them and trying out a new scale.

Minicrate

I also received my first shipment from MiniCrate, Privateer Press’ new miniature subscription program.  For those who are not aware, the concept behind MiniCrate is that you sign up for a monthly subscription and each month you are sent an exclusive, limited-run miniature from PP.  Once they are all sent out, the tooling will be destroyed.  So far, all of the miniatures in MiniCrate that have been revealed are alternate sculpts of existing models in their inventory.

mc_wolf_in_sheep_squareIncluded in this box were both their Di Wulfe in Sheep’s Clothing (aka: Sexy Gorman) and the Swamp Siren.  The Sexy Gorman is a one piece metal model, representing a female version of their Gorman di Wulfe model, while the Swamp Siren comes in two pieces:  A resin piece making up the bulk of the model and a metal left arm.

Now, the sculpts on these are, and always will be, polarizing.  A lot of the MiniCrate models have gone the pinup route, so if you don’t like painting pinups for whatever reason, then you probably won’t like these.  Further, with the Sexy Gorman’s entire sculpt based around a pun, people are either going to love her or hate her and her sheep onesie.

Initially, I was in the camp that wasn’t sold on the Sexy Gorman model, and subscribed to get the Swamp Siren.  I thought the sheep onesie was just silly.  But, the more I look at it, the more the model has grown on me. Yes, it’s kind of silly, but in a fun, whimsical way.  And as someone who likes doing these sort of conversions to my models, I love the Privateer Press gender-bent alternate sculpts.  I’ve already got her cleaned and mounted on a pill bottle for painting, and have some plinths on order for her…

mc_swamp_horror_squareAs for the Swamp Siren, I absolutely love the design.  The fact that they could take their Swamp Horror and turn it into a pinup model, while keeping the feel and the distinctive elements of the original, is nothing short of amazing. They managed to incorporate all the tentacles, spikes, and chitinous plating of the original into a sculpt that is the right mix of horrible, Cthulhu-esque abomination and attractive lady. She’s an awesome sculpt, and one that is definitely going to be closer to the top than the bottom of my painting queue.

IMG_2167.JPGUnfortunately, the Swamp Siren suffers from some quality control issues.  While the model itself is made of good material and has some nice detail, and is generally similar in crispness, detail, quality of sculpt, etc., to Eilish Garritty from No Quarter Prime, my models had some severe problems.  Looking at the model, it’s clear that the two halves of the mold were misaligned pretty badly, leaving me with a massive mold line running all the way up one side of her body, up and down the right arm, over the neck and head, and back down the other side. Although some mold lines are expected and normally I wouldn’t complain about cleaning it up, the misalignment was such that I wouldn’t be able to get the head and neck to look as intended.

I did compare my Swamp Siren to one of my locals, and his seemed to be quite nice, with only some minor mold lines on the tentacles that are easy enough to clean up.  I suspect I just happened to get a bad mold, or perhaps something went wrong with the tooling partway through the run and some models that weren’t up to snuff slipped through QC.  Fortunately, Privateer Press’ customer service is great, a lot better than their quality control at times, and I got a replacement free of charge.  The replacement does still have some mold lines to trim and a little work to be done, but is far better than the initial model.

While I still think the MiniCrate service is a wonderful idea and I like these models, my one piece oadvice here would be to take a close look at the model as soon as you get it, as given the limited nature of the release, it may be difficult to get a replacement if you don’t notice the issues right away because you put it on the shelf without looking and didn’t get around to it for a year.  Especially if they destroy the tooling in a sufficiently spectacular way, as promised.

Reaper

It’s no secret that I like Reaper paints.  Unfortunately, I live in a city that doesn’t have any stores which carry Reaper paints.  Further, the city I live in gets cold during the winter, so I’m a little paranoid about ordering paints which could potentially freeze in transit.

As a result, noticing that I was running low on some of my bread and butter army colours, I put in a couple orders from Reaper recently.  So, aside from the paints, there were a couple figures that I wanted.  With The Old Witch of Khador sitting on my shelf and Old Witch 2 now sitting on the shelf at my FLGS, I figured now would be a good time to stock up on crows for conversions, so after ordering about a dozen of their Murder of Crows…

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ivanetta.jpgAnyways, I also picked up Ivanetta Kozlov, which is a pretty nice miniature that I figured would be a nice palate cleanser from painting up oodles and oodles of Privateer Press products.  She’s a solid miniature; this isn’t the cheap Bones plastic, it’s old-school metal, and the basing bits included make it a whole scene in a little package.  Mold lines do exist, but your standard cleanup protocol will apply. Plus, while the miniature definitely falls on the fantasy side of the fence, there is a bit of a historical nod towards some of the Soviet female snipers such as Lyudmila Pavlichenko who served in WWII, so that’s a nice touch.

And, of course, with Reaper’s October promotions, I got some bonus minis, including their 25th anniversary Lysette (who is also a nice metal mini), a few paints, and a little goody bag with some Halloween candy which I promptly ate.  All in all, it was a nice little haul.

So, looks like I’ve got a busy winter approaching…