Sword, Brush and Boudicca – S&B 2019

September and October have been a couple of busy months at the evil lair that serves as the headquarters of Ice Axe Miniatures, so I’ve been falling behind a little on my writing. However, before it fades too far from memory, I wanted to talk about Sword and Brush 2019.

The Show

Sword and Brush is probably my favourite show within driving distance. While it isn’t the largest, it is focused almost completely on the art of painting miniatures and figures. Over the past couple years, they have been incorporating a wargaming tournament aspect, however not much in the way of games I play, so the figure show and the vendors remain pretty much the only draw for me.

And that is more than enough! With over 200 entries, the sheer number and quality of the models on display is over the top. Just about everything on the table is of a high enough quality to at the very least warrant a good, long look, and you could learn a lot just by closely examining some of the models and trying to figure out how the artist accomplished certain techniques or what went into his or her mind with colour choices and light placement.

In fact, I would say that it is almost intimidating going into a show like this and placing your work on the table. I’m not sure what it is – perhaps it is the fact that I have stared at the piece for dozens of hours while painting it, or perhaps it is in knowing exactly what went into it, or perhaps it is just a mix of imposter syndrome and a generic, self-hating artist attitude – but I found myself actually feeling a little out of place with my entries, wondering if I’m not just embarrassing myself by putting my stuff on the table next to some of the amazing models on display.

Some that I would like to give a shout out to are Paul Stockley’s Spitfire Pilot and Soviet female tanker. The Spitfire Pilot won best in show, and between all the straps, clothing, skin and five o’clock shadow, is just an amazing exploration of texture. Kyle Maitland’s “Exit the Actress” showed some cool effects with lighting and setting the stage, plus she had pink hair, which is something I appreciate on miniatures. This pirate shark dude was nice and whimsical, and Philippe Godbout, who I travelled down with, packed a lot of neat lighting and shadow effects into a simple, practically mono-textured subject.

(note: Images taken from the Sword and Brush website, because one thing I learned at this show is that I really suck at photography)

Boudicca

While I had a number of entries in this show, my pièce de résistance (see! All those French classes are paying off already!) was Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni. Boudicca (or Boudica, or Boadicea, or Buddug, or…) is a British folk hero who lived in the 1st century AD who was queen of a Celtic tribe in East Anglia. To make a long story short, the Romans messed with her so naturally she raised an army of over 100,000 Celtic warriors, burned down London, and made Nero consider withdrawing the Romans from Britain before her catastrophic defeat. In short, she’s pretty badass.

The model is a 1/10 scale resin bust from FeR Miniatures, which comes in a few pieces which are not hard to put together for those who are experienced with resin models. The spear and the sword are a little fragile, and while the mold lines are mostly hidden, you may need to do a little work on the one on her right arm. Overall, the model has that great combination of interesting subject, nice sculpt, and wonderful detail on the hair that makes it a great choice.

As for the colour scheme, while I am normally too punk rock to stick to a studio scheme, in this case, I didn’t have much of a choice. Obviously, if one is to paint Boudicca, one has to start with “a great mass of the tawniest hair,” as Cassius Dio put it in her day. Also, since this is a bust, I have to put in some neat textures somewhere, which means some plaid pattern with a lot of green in it would offer both an interesting texture and some nice contrast to the red hair. A bit of blue war paint is, of course, both historically accurate and a good way to make her look tougher. Add an off-white tunic, and you basically have the studio scheme.

Of course, there is more to colour theory and composition than just picking out colours. There is light placement, shadow, and highlight to consider as well. Since she is turning her head off to one side, I chose a primary light source somewhere between the direction of her head and the direction of her body. As for shadow colours, I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately, inspired partly by some pieces I had seen in real life (including a really awesome bust at the Southern Ontario Open that gave me a run for my money for Best in Show), so I tried to incorporate cool, dark colours like Reaper’s Nightshade Purple and Coal Black in the deepest shadows – colours a little more interesting than black.

Painting time!

After assembly, my first step was to give the model a zenithal prime to get a good understanding of shadow and light placement and shoot some washes up into the shadows to tint the shadows blue on most of the model and purple on the cloak. Now, I work best by roughing in all the colours then refining them down into the final product. So, my next step was to lay in some base colours, using my airbrush on the skin and tunic and wet-blending on everything else. The goal here is not to get the smooth, uniform basecoat like Duncan of Games Workshop fame teaches, but to quickly and roughly lay out your colour scheme and work in shadows and highlights.

With the base colours laid in, it was time to take out the nice brushes to paint. I followed my usual procedure of reinforcing highlights, doing blending and glazing to smooth things out, and adding in details such as the eyes, the lips, and the sword. Particularly nerve-wracking was the addition of the blue war paint to the face – the model was so close to completion and I had spent so much time on the skin tones that it was sort of like when you do weathering over detailed freehand; one of those times where you need to get over your fear of ruining something you’ve worked hard on and just paint bravely. So, I’m glad I didn’t let fear get the better of me, because that war paint definitely makes her look tough and badass.

The plaid was a new one for me as well; I started by laying out the pattern, then doing a lot of cross-hatching with a 10/0 liner brush in dark colours to fill in the plaid. Then more cross-hatching. Then some stippling. And some more cross-hatching. And so on. After several layers of cross-hatching and a little stippling, both to get the effect I wanted and to cover up my initial lines to lay out the location of the plaid, I came away with something that I was happy with – something that not only had a plaid pattern, but also had a bit of a rough texture to it. The effect kind of faded out in the back and in the deepest shadows of the cloak which may look like I got lazy, but that was intentional – shadowed areas probably shouldn’t convey as much visual information as highlights. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.

As for that wonderous hair, it was a particular challenge and something that I thought was important to get right. I don’t have a lot of experience painting red hair, especially not at this scale. So, after doing some research, I decided that I would work up from Coal Black in the deepest shadows, into a deep crimson, then a rusty red, then up through some orangey ochres and Reaper’s Blonde hair, and into off-white top highlights. Overtop my wet blend, I layered in some highlights and did some dry brushing and washes to get started. But I was kind of struggling to get it to look right. Even as I went over the dry brushed areas and started painting in the highlights and manually putting them in with the brush, it wasn’t quite looking right. Where I hit the breakthrough was when I decided to kick up the highest highlight using P3’s Frostbite, a very light, desaturated blue which is a go-to colour for certain highly reflective surfaces.

The model was finished with a block of cherry wood for a plinth, and a sign printed off and painted over with inks and washes. So, with her completed, back to the show…

The Judging System

I’ve talked about judging systems before here, so if you want to get some background on this, I have a previous article here. Sword and Brush uses the Open System, where models are awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal based on objective criteria, rather than in comparison to other models on the table.

Sword and Brush only has a few categories, and entrants are required to group all their entries within the same category together. While there is no restriction on the number of entries per category, entrants can only receive one award per category. Generally, this is awarded to your best piece, but if you have multiple entries and there is no standout piece in your collection so the judges can’t decide which of yours is the best, you may simply be awarded a medal for your collection as a whole.

To be honest, I think this is the best way of doing it. The open system fundamentally promotes a healthier attitude towards competition, but it gets critiqued for taking longer to judge and requiring more award purchases. By only judging an entrant’s best work in a category, you can cut down both time and award costs. And, of course, the “best of” awards are done in the traditional competitive style, for people who like the head to head competition.

The Awards Ceremony

So, in the first category, Historical Figures, I sat there, patiently waiting for my name to be called. Last year, I had won a couple silvers and was hoping to repeat that achievement. However, the sense of relief at not hearing my name called for a certificate or a bronze was quickly replaced with shock and excitement when I didn’t hear my name called for a silver either. With Boudicca, I had earned my first gold medal.

The rest of the awards ceremony was a little anti-climactic; I picked up three more silvers in fantasy, vehicles, and fantasy vehicles and a bronze for wargaming unit. I know it’s not good to place too much value on trophies and medals, but seeing all the insanely good models on the tables and taking home a gold made all that imposter syndrome from earlier disappear. While, obviously, I have a lot to learn, it is a nice feeling to know that I can at least mix it up with the best of ‘em and not totally embarrass myself.

Now I just need to figure out how to top that next year…

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Bonus Content: Red Haro Ball

I haven’t painted much red. It’s kind of a tricky colour, because it’s so intense it can be hard to fit it into a scheme, and because you need to really master your colour theory to highlight it and make it look good.

So, I decided to rectify that. I had this little Bandai Haro/Ball kit which was kind of cute, however it was a little frustrating because there were a lot of hollow areas that I had to fill and sand. I also added a little greeblification under the one slightly ajar hatch with some styrene and a couple guitar strings. So, after many different colours of primers, paints, and inks, I came up with this little guy, with a primary light source coming from the top front right, a secondary source from the top back left, and some green glow coming from the eyes. Fun little kit, aside from all the hollows on the arms.

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Sword and Brush 2018 – Retrospective

Well, it’s been almost a month since Sword and Brush, and I figured I should actually get this article out there before it fades too much from memory.

Sword and Brush, held annually in Toronto, is probably the largest and most premiere miniature and figure painting competition in Canada. This was my first time going, and also this year was the first time they have expanded to include some wargaming tournaments in the same room as the painting competition. The painting competition and miniature show took place basically all day on Saturday with tournaments running simultaneously, while Sunday was set aside for tournaments only.

In addition to the show and the tournaments, there were also vendors, raffles, classes, and a buy and sell table.

The Show

I didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, but the level of quality on display was nothing short of amazing. There was a great diversity of models on the table, from Napoleonics to fantasy to sci-fi. The vehicle categories were also a nice touch, particularly the TLAV that came away with the theme award. Without going into too much detail, here’s a dump of some stuff that I liked.

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Nemo bust from Privateer Press. Only problem is that Nemo is some Cygnaran jerkface.

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Nice tartan…

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Did someone say “busts”?

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What is this I don’t even…

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Cool black and white figures on a colour diorama

Classes

One of the planned classes this year had to be cancelled, however there were still two very good classes. James Craig did a class on weathering, showing off how to paint on chipping and scratches as well as fun tricks with chipping medium. Colin Arthurs did a class on sculpting where he went over every step in sculpting a Napoleonic figure. Both these classes were interesting, though I think I’m going to be trying out the weathering techniques in that class a lot sooner than I’m going to try to sculpt my own figures.

Tournaments

Most of the tournaments were for games that I didn’t play and didn’t have any models for, but the exception was Necromunda, which I’ve been getting into as of late. The initial idea was that “Necromunda by night” would be a little tournament, but after one incredibly long, bloody and brutal game, I think everyone was a little tired. I had a blast; lots of crazy things happened in the game such as my leader sniping out the opposing leader with a bolter before getting insta-killed by a mook with a needle rifle, and Jaana, my shotgun-wielding champion, punching someone to death who tried to sneak up behind her and shoot her in the back.

A big tip of the hat here goes to whoever provided terrain; with multi-level catwalks and plenty of cover, there was a lot of very impactful terrain on the table. The aesthetics of this sort of terrain is something that I tend to miss in Warmachine, which is my primary game and which is usually played with mousepads on a flat mat.

Convention haul

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I managed to pick up some interesting stuff, both by doing fairly well on raffles and by being a little bad and spending some money at the vendors and the buy and sell table.

First, I stopped at the Badger table and picked up a few things. I grabbed some of their Minitaire paints, which are a line of paints that I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the opportunity to yet. I haven’t used them very much yet, but they seem to shoot through the airbrush fairly well (which is to be expected from a paint line produced by an airbrush company) and, if you can pick them up at a con, are an insanely good deal on a dollars per milliliter basis. I also picked up some needle lubricant (protip: don’t store this next to your super glue; I almost had an airbrush maintenance disaster) and a high roller trigger for my Krome. If your Badger airbrush doesn’t come standard with this trigger like the Xtreme Patriot, then I would definitely recommending picking up one of these.

IMG_0773.JPGI also bought an International Brigade figure from the Spanish Civil War in 75mm scale from Bent Bristle Miniatures. The Spanish Civil War is a perhaps unappreciated conflict, and the various international volunteers who went to Spain to fight for socialism and democracy are all too often forgotten in their home countries. So, this was one rare case where a historical figure really jumped out at me and demanded that I fork over some money and paint it.

On the buy and sell table, I picked up a giant resin inn to use as a piece of terrain, which is quite possibly the largest chunk of resin I’ve ever seen. Also, there was a Bombardier Bombshell from Privateer Press on the table which I bought because of course I did.

Finally, I did pretty good in the raffles, coming away with a Cerberus model from Aradia Miniatures, and a piece of a saloon from Pegaso Models for use on a display base. The Cerberus is far from my usual jam as I tend to shy away from more beastly figures, but it could be an interesting project. As for the saloon, I’m going to have to find a 75mm scale steampunk wild west model for this thing, which, let’s face it, is probably something that I want to do anyways.

My results

I entered into three categories this year. Amy Johnson went into their historical category, and both my pile of new Man-O-War solos and Necromunda gang ended up in the wargaming unit category. Finally, I put about six or seven models into the fantasy category because that’s my focus.

As mentioned above, when they do the judging, you only get awards for what they consider to be your best models. I managed to come away with two silvers, for my Mary Read and Amy Johnson busts, respectively, and a bronze for my Man-O-War.

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I know I say a lot that you shouldn’t worry about how you place compared to others or chase trophies, but I was quite happy with my results. With all the amazing stuff on display, I ended up doing that thing where you put your stuff on the table, then worry that your stuff is worse than everyone else’s and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Turns out that was just self-hating artist talk. Silver is good, especially for a first time. It’s something to be proud of, but also leaves some room for growth.

Conclusion

Sword and Brush was a blast. Anyone who is interested in miniature and figure painting and who is within driving distance should definitely go. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough yet, then go and learn because with this level of competition, there’s no shame in going home empty-handed.