In the name of conjugal concord, I decommissioned my expansive paint table. As is the rule with all horizontal surfaces, it collected bits and bobs that only reduced its utility. Additionally, the higher purpose of my humble hobby space is to be a guest room. Though we don’t host guests frequently, I suppose those who do stay won’t want to bunk alongside a dusty profusion of hobbying detritus.
So, pressed back into service is a small oak table with two drawers, which does possess the distinction of being the only piece of furniture that my father has ever made for me. It’s positioned in a window dormer and thus features a nice view of our cul-de-sac. Immortalized squeaky-clean here, but that won’t last. And, it’s a a bit of a cheat really, as we shall see anon. The only apparent miniatures are a few of my Splintered Light “Faithful” Woodland Warriors.
I dulled the pain of disappointment over the diminution of digs by constructing a larger rack for my craft paints. This one holds the current inventory, including stray 4 and 8 ounce bottles, as well as a smattering of GW pots that persist. I actually broke out router and jig so that it has dovetail joints in the corners (!)
Here you behold the neat cheat. The continued health of my marriage also depended upon me moving the wargames table out of my sons’ room and, for the moment, it is a mound of wargames creations. I am haunted by the comment of a hobbyist years ago (which I likely read on the Miniature Page) who asserted that the critical first step of every project should be ascertaining where it will be stored. Well, I always trust that one to the angels, and like me, they get distracted before the job is finished… So, all my hobbying stuff is piled atop my wargames table, thoroughly defeating the goal of a tranquil guest room.
My current “project,” therefore, is to relocate the boxes of scratch building materials (which are some of the banker’s boxes beneath the table), box up newer projects currently homeless (and put them under the table), and create an attractive set-up on the tabletop, all before our next guest arrives in round-about a month’s time. Buena suerte, my friend, buena suerte.
This is a parable concerning craft paints, real guitars, and pretend pianos. I wrote a bit in my essay on the GULP that I paint both terrain and miniatures with inexpensive craft paints. This wasn’t always the case.
When I was new to the hobby of collecting and painting miniatures, I did a lot lot of research online. Rather than serving as inspiration, all those meticulously painted miniatures served as intimidation and generally hindered the process. I started out buying Testors acrylics (because those were available at my local hobby shop, Hungates) but soon fell under the spell of ætheric fiends asserting that only Games Workshop pigments were worthy. But nothing I painted with those expensive paints looked like those I saw online.
I eventually stopped painting miniatures entirely, focussing instead on terrain, which, of course, I daubed with craft paint from Walmart, Michael’s, and A.C. Moore. When I embarked upon the Square Pegs project, it seemed obvious to use craft paints, as those cylindrical warriors boast a lot of surface area. Plus, for awhile there, GW kept changing around their paint names, pot types, and generally confused me. When the big box o’ Reaper Bones arrived all bendy-plasticy, craft paint kept flowing.
Now, if you’re wondering, or just bored, this is when I get to the parable part with musical instruments.
For way longer than I’ve collected miniatures—about 30 years, in fact— I’ve played guitar. Or rather, I’ve attempted to play guitar; I am an auto didact, not a particularly perspicacious one, and it took me about 26 years of making noise to realize that it’s difficult to teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to do…
So, I carried my son for guitar lessons for a year or so, and worked up the nerve to take some myself. My teacher was a professional musician who had been involved in jangle-pop music in the 80’s North Carolina music scene, contemporaneous with rise of R.E.M. His band wasn’t similarly successful, but he loved to play guitar, so he made a life of working in the studio, teaching guitar, and playing in local bands. His especial gift is a connection between ears, brain, and fingers. In addition to the encyclopedia of songs he knows, he can simply listen to a song, figure out what the guitarist is playing, and transcribe it for the student.
Back in the 80’s, I had a serviceable guitar purchased by my parents. But I too was under the spell of the young R.E.M. and decided that an expensive electric guitar would certainly improve my playing. I got a bank loan (!) to purchase a Rickenbaker 330, which cost the equivalent of $3700 in today’s dollars (!). The short and obvious conclusion to this part of my tale is that this dear beauty didn’t bring me any closer to Buck or . I was just a lousy guitarist with an expensive axe. I’ve collected a few more here and there, and as recently as a few years ago bought a Squier Telecaster (at least I didn’t bite for the real deal) because I thought that would make me better.,,
The main guitar I practice on to this day is that serviceable Yamaha dreadnought bought for me by my parents circa 1984. One afternoon, my teacher Brad was adeptly unravelling some tune for me on his beat up, Willy Nelson-looking classical guitar, and I fumbled along behind pathetically. Bothered by some sort of string buzz emanating from my guitar, he asked if he could play it for a moment. Music erupted like you hear on the radio. There was still some sort of buzz owing to the vagaries of 30 year-old frets, but he could minimize it by how he held his fingers.
Some days later, while painting clothespins to look like 19th century Victorian soldiers, I was visited by epiphany. Brad sounded great on his old practice guitar, he sounded great on my middling Yamaha, and he sounded great on his expensive Les Paul;— he is a gifted musician and would sound great on a tissue box with rubber bands stretched across it. He is a living equivalent of Schroeder in Peanuts, who can coax classical music out of a piano with the black keys painted on.
Great miniature painters can go on for as long as they like about the necessity of expensive paints, but I’m fairly certain they could knock out superb work with daubs of mud and a stick. I’m not saying that only a gifted few can do great work;— rather, that the amount of practice one puts in trumps the quality of the tools.
So, I plan to plod on with craft paints and an inclination to improve my technique. I won’t try anything too hard; I’m satisfied with a base coat and shading with future wash. After 20-odd years and a modest accumulation of guitars, I have learned to Travis pick and can sound like a coffee house folk singer should I want to. In all of my hobbying, I attend to people who have practiced more than I (and are likely more talented than I), incorporating what I can.
While trolling in the Hirst Arts forums for inspiration awhile back, I ran across an interesting post. Someone was wishing for new plans of things to build with Hirst Arts blocks and someone else suggested taking existing projects and building them with blocks from different molds—using “gothic” blocks for a “fieldstone” project, for example.
Well, financial reality being what it is, I’d been stopping myself from purchasing the molds necessary to build the Ruined Fieldstone Tower. But, I had a plethora of gothic molds. I studied the tower plans and decided to try a new take on this project.
Laying blocks out on the plans, I began to see the challenges. Some of the fieldstone pieces—the arches in particular—did not have gothic analogues; at least not on any of the molds I owned. And I would have to make the “ruined” bits myself. Because of the random nature of the fieldstone pieces, Bruce used a lot of butt joints between walls that would look funny with regular gothic blocks.
I used Bruce’s plans as a starting point and made up the rest as I progressed. All of the corners had to be joined like a regular building so that the blocks would be properly staggered. Some of the arches could be replicated, but others had to be fabricated with extra “little” bricks glued on. One final bête noire was the bit I chose as the top and bottom of the columns. It was a piece from the Gothic Church that, too bad for me, was only on the mold once. So, I had to cast that little piece about 2,000,000 times to finish the project.
The part I thought would be fun (but wasn’t so much) was ruining blocks for the top edge. They were carved up easily enough with an Exacto knife or box cutter, but I fussed endlessly to get it to look like “natural” destruction.
Bruce added a tree to the little well/pool in the courtyard, which looked suitably dramatic and spooky, but I thought it might make it hard to maneuver figures in an already cramped space. I opted for some stones and murky water.
When I set to work on the base, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could’t really do the “gothic” gray paint job, as that was how I had painted the tower. So, I used his “earth tones”— the colors he uses for fieldstone buildings. I don’t love it for stone, but I needed some contrast. I also wasn’t convinced by his tutorial on how to carve foam to look like rocks. I did a bit under the tower itself, but the rest in my usual, hurried manner. In the photographs, I don’t mind his method, though, so I may try it again in the future.
I did finally get the fieldstone mold for Christmas (but not the one with the ruined bits, so I still can’t do the original tower), so you might notice I added the skulls. I’m not sure if they are quite the thing, but… One might spy a gargoyle perched upon the column to the right of them. Him, I like.
All it needs for completion is some drab greenery. I’ve got suitable flock; Bruce used “coarse turf,” which I have too, but mine is bright and cheery and would ruin the mood. I’ll get the right stuff and then decide.
In the final shots, it appears that the tower has been garrisoned by the self-same jaundiced goblins who debuted on this blog a few weeks ago.
Isubmit this little vignette as confirmation that I completed another dozen Bones. “Dungeon Attack” goblins, this time; compadres of the kobolds I knocked out last week.
Following Chris Palmer’s lead, I eschewed green and sought guidance from my venerable 1/e AD&D Monster Manual: “Goblins range from yellow through dull orange to brick red in their skin color.” Chris chose orange, so I bit for yellow.
I used a limited palette of midnight blue for the clothes, yellow skin, brick red for the Hittite hats, and gold for the weaponry. (For some reason, all my bad guys wield gold, while the good guys prefer silver…). So, when they all showed up for a skirmish in my gothic dungeon, they were particularly irascible because they had all worn the same dress. Oh, well… at least one can see they’re all on the same team.
I’ll also make mention that I’ve gone almost entirely over to craft paints now. I have a post percolating concerning my evolution as a mediocre painter. The short version is that I used to be a so-so painter using expensive paints, now I’m a comme ci comme ça painter using paint I buy at Walmart.
Here’s the paint table as of yesterday. A frenetic hodgepodge mirroring the mind of the painter (but not really in that good creative way, more’s the pity).
Scattered about you see several Hirst Arts pieces in various states of completion. The kobolds from earlier could still be found still skulking about, four or so rebased Heroclix, and the primed chaps and chapettes to the right are Foundry Darkest Africa.
The very first minis I purchased in my adulthood were a passel of western figures from Monday Knight Productions. They turned out to be a mixture of 25 and 28mm, as I really didn’t know the difference then, and the site doesn’t seem to differentiate. This was nearly 15 years ago, and these wee desperadoes formed the core of my Great Unpainted Lead Pile, or GULP, which also happens to be the sound I utter when I behold its vastness.
Soon thereafter I became enamored of colonial and VSF figures, and made several big purchases from Wargames Foundry, both the Darkest Africa and Western ranges. I think I may have acquired some Old Glory Pirates next (which, I just realized, invalidates my claim a few days back that Mega Minis civilians were my first post-70’s FLGS miniature purchase; I plundered the OG scurvy dogs from the dearly departed War Room in Atlanta).
Falling under the spell of 15mm VSF, I was able to increase the numbers of figures I purchased for the same amount of money. I became an enthusiast for Irregular Miniatures, which remains, I believe, an acquired taste. Reading Wind in the Willows and Redwall to my little boys resulted in a few strategic buys from Splintered Light (those little boys are both teenagers now, one poised to leave for college; the armed mice remain bare metal). With lamb-like dutifulness I followed internet advice to purchase boardgames (Descent, Battle Lore, Super Dungeon Explore) for more figures. I fell hook, line, and lead sinker for the 10mm craze, thinking that 5mm less to paint might get things going. Then the Reaper Bones Kickstarter ambushed me.
I should note that during this 15 year period, my rate of purchasing far exceeded the rate of painting. Among many curses of the internet is that innocent eyes are exposed to examples of painting skills that far exceed one’s own. No matter how many tips and tutorials I read, my little people never ended up looking like those gorgeous models online. Oh, I could slap a coat of paint on the Irregular fellows, as the usual comment one hears is that “they look disappointing out of the box, but paint up nicely…” But those ladies and gentlemen from the Foundry were expensive and the examples online are so pretty… So, they languished among many others in the GULP. (As you may have detected in the above list, the GULP comprises plastic as well as lead, and, when you think about it, probably contains no lead at all, as I don’t think they use that anymore).
Now, I’m also thoroughly fastidious as well as avaricious, so, I will make clear, mine was not a messy mass of lead. I washed and ogled each and every figure upon arrival. Some sat out for awhile, perhaps dreaming that they might be reborn in glorious technicolor. The vast majority were eventually packed neatly away in boxes, bagged and labelled in anticipation of the day when their turn would come.
In fact, I devised quite the system. Minis “at bat” would be scattered about the painting table (of which I’ve had a number through the years). To the left is the current batch, including some Bones goblins, Foundry Victorians, and a Brigade Games Stealth Squad I bought for a reason that is lost to me. There were 12 Bones kobolds there until yesterday evening.
Minis “on deck” are based and likely primed, and I’ve taken to storing them in stacking tupperware containers from Walmart to keep the dust off. Basing and priming is easy and hints at the promise that I might actually work on a figure. So, there are many, many miniatures “on deck.”
Finally, the sad souls “in the hole” are packed in photo boxes with attractive “old map” prints on the outside. Lately things have become a bit more lax, as the Super Dungeon Explore figures did get primed, and so are theoretically on deck, but are still piled in the box I primed ’em in. And the Reaper box is just one big overwhelming jumble. (And, yes, lest you worry, the Bones II box is on its way as well.)
Of all things, I spent about a year fabricating my own figures out of clothes pegs, the sordid story of which is elsewhere detailed. I will credit my experience of both the Square Pegs and the Reaper Bones with my painting renaissance. Painting Square Pegs was transformational because, well, in the end, it’s just a clothespin. It’s only gonna look so good. And, though the Bones are festooned with excruciating detail, they are just bendy plastic guys and gals, not the solid metal “clean limbed chaps” I bought from Foundry all those years ago. Somehow, it didn’t feel as serious painting plastic—the stakes were not as high—so I made more headway.
I hope that I will be able to maintain the momentum of productivity initiated on this break. To my credit, I have essentially halted buying new miniatures, out of sheer embarrassment as much as anything, so I guess I’m participating in one of those “Pledges” people talk about. At some point I’ll feel sufficiently positive about my progress and find some new pretties that I can’t live without.
Much like my credit card debt, the GULP keeps me getting up each morning and going back to work.
One of the bones they throw to public school teachers is periodic respite to recover from post-traumatic stress. It is my custom to fill these breaks with sufficient industry that my return to the kindergartners is a welcome relief.
During the past two weeks, for example, I constructed a brace of bookshelf headboards for my sons’ beds, performed the usual chores on our acre farm, and indulged in a mess of hobbying. The Mega Minis townsfolk featured yesterday were, in fact, the third substantial project I completed. The second was one I hadn’t anticipated. [The first was making a gaming mat from an old bed sheet, caulk, and lots of flock].
My older son is a superhero enthusiast and for a time, years back, he amassed a modest collection of Heroclix and Heroscape figures. He played both games a bit with friends, pitted them against Lego constructions, and then eventually allowed them to gather dust. At the onset of this break, he challenged me to a super-heroic skirmish on the new wargames table (which I built on the last break…). We decided to give Ganesha Games’ Power Legion a whirl. The sole spanner in the works was that I cannot abide those enormous click bases.
[As an aside, I’ve always considered myself to be an imaginative person. One would think, therefore, that I could employ said imagination to overlook the occasional gigantic rulebook or bottle of soda nestled among the scenery. Sadly, this is not the case. I find that with the little people and terrain I paint and build, a certain quantity of verisimilitude is essential. So, the click bases had to go.]
Rebasing the Clix was an unexpected detour, but I found the process thoroughly pleasant. Since I didn’t do the paint jobs on the figures (and had no intention of repainting them), I could ignore their simplicity. It came as a surprise (as always) how spectacular the Chick Lewis Magic Wash makes paltry painting skills appear. Please to forgive the cellphone photos—I’ll admit that a fruitless quest for the perfect set up to photograph my creations is one among many reasons that I haven’t posted in æons.
In order to keep some self-exacted promises, I will likely inflict upon you an uptick in posts on this blog. It is my intention in the newly-arrived year both to write more and to make a dent in the GULP (the Great Unpainted Lead Pile) that lives in the closet.
This motley crew of civilians come to us from the much-missed Mega Miniatures. They remain, I believe, my sole purchase at a FLGS (which has moved, expanded, and undergone a name change between the time I purchased and painted these lovelies…) since 1970-something.
The poor souls have loitered, based and primed, for every bit of two years before sat down to dash on a coat of paint. Note well that I do not submit them as exemplars of any sort of painting skill. Rather, they have lifted my spirits on this first day of the new year by the simple fact that they are finished at last!
Ifirst discovered Roger Curry’s Lateral Science website (now blog) a decade ago. He would seem to be in the process of distilling it into a “novel”— The Ernest Glitch Chronicles. I have to let Roger Curry describe this one for you himself:
During the mid-eighteen hundreds, the Weardale savant Ernest Glitch performed scientific and technological investigations, little known to the present student of the history of science. An eccentric and volatile person, his pursuit of knowledge was accompanied by the sort of hedonism only the very rich can enjoy. The results of experiments he and his assistant Hodges undertook were never published. As he kept no log-book, the main record of the discoveries they made are the letters he wrote to Michael Faraday.
In this book, the letters to Faraday are presented, together with contemporary reports, a journal Glitch made of his expedition to Africa, and several narratives of his life. Also, reference is made to both his ancestors and, in detail, his descendants.
Contains very strong language. The letters and accounts of the work of Ernest Glitch are of an appalling nature in parts, containing references to animal and human experimentation, extreme violence, Victorian drug abuse, and complete disregard for the dignity of native peoples. 381 pages. 135 thousand words.
I don’t yet find evidence that an e-bookified version is available, but one can read it all online by foraging through the blog. Ripping inspiration for VSF technology and adventure.
From the Archives (Originally posted December 20, 2002)