Saturday, 2 November 2013

Everybody's a Critic: Sprue Cutters Union #15

Welcome wargamers and hobbyists, to the gallery. This is where I come to ogle the incredible artistic triumphs of miniature painting, and curse my inability to reach these same lofty heights of skill and technical brilliance. Pardon me while I pop in my gum shield. I have a tendency to grind my teeth when browsing the gallery...
This week, the Sprue Cutters Union has been tasked with discussing the things that we personally look for in a painted and presented miniature:
- What do you think makes an outstanding finished model? -
As a wargamer, the approach I take to painting miniatures, and therefore what I look for in a model as a comparison to my own skills (or lack thereof), will differ from my scale model building compatriots. I play Fantasy and Science Fiction based wargames, which tend to have fantastically themed and coloured armies. This typically also means that the miniatures that players of 40K and Fantasy paint are very different to scale military models and historical wargaming miniatures.
Where historically based miniatures might well be painted in camouflage and approved colours dependent on nation and particular unit, all of which tend to be functional and display practical merit, my own Fantasy and Sci-fi gaming miniatures lean toward brighter or at least more striking colour schemes, often showing utter disdain for the practicalities of 'environment appropriate' attire.
There are however exceptions to this. My Imperial Guard army for Warhammer 40,000 for example, are not an army of superhuman genetically enhanced warriors, or dead to begin with and therefore unconcerned with silly things like getting killed, and so they do utilise a camouflage scheme for their fatigues and equipment. There are however other armies like Space Marines, who wear their Chapter colours, which can range from black to bright yellow or blood red. The Chapter I collect, the Dark Angels (1st Legion for the win), have their amour in the majority painted dark green, though the famed warriors of the 1st Company, the Deathwing, wear bone white armour, and the tenacious hunters of the 2nd Company wear jet black armour.
There are many armies for players of 40K and Fantasy to choose from, and given that collectors are perfectly within their rights to invent their own military units to take into battle with their own colour schemes, almost limitless potential to develop an aesthetic dependent purely on personal preference limited only by the ability of the collector to first envisage and then apply their chosen scheme, from bright red armoured Ork Speed Freeks, to gaudily clothed Eldar Harlequins, and Tyranid warrior organisms all the colours of the rainbow.
So, having laid out the painting environment that I hail from, what are the things I look for in a painted and presented miniature? I guess what I am asking is 'what impresses me?', and the answer to that is pretty simple really.
When I paint gaming miniatures, there are certain processes I always go through, which may be different from other painters, but this is how I do it:
- Assembly
- Undercoat
- Base coats
- Layering
- Highlights
- Washes
- Final highlights
- Basing
Now I think most painters go through most of these stages, not necessarily in the same order, perhaps there are additional things they do that I don't, but this list establishes my basis for comparison, the only variable between painters being neatness and an ability to blend colours.
I believe that I can paint consistently to what is known as 'battlefield standard', which means a neatly painted miniature with a couple of levels of technical painting, which is just fine for gaming, but won't necessarily win me any painting competitions. I am endeavouring to continously improve my standard, and I develop my technical skill level, and doing this gives me a better appreciation of the level of skill required to achieve really impressive results.
What I am really looking for at the simplest level, is miniatures painted to a standard which better than I can achieve, and uses techniques I either struggle with or have never attempted because I wouldn't know where to start. An example of this would be NNM or 'non-metallic metal', which is a method of painting a section of a miniature to appear metallic, with shine and reflection indicative of metal (or mirrored surfaces for that matter) without the use of metallic paints. Another example is a buzz word in painting at the moment; 'object source lighting' or 'OSL', which is a way of painting the light from a source like a light or glowing weapons so that the light appears to fall on nearby objects by applying a tint to the area around the light source.
I have a general understanding of how these techniques are applied, but am yet to attempt them, so they still hold an air of mystery and wonder. So, I am impressed by miniatures that surpass my own level of painting, which means techniques like OSL and NNM, extreme levels of highlighting combined with colour blending so that you can't see the shift from tone to tone.
Here is a fantastic and well known example of Object Source Lighting by Victoria Lamb, painter and sculptor extraordinaire, who as you can see ran a seminar at Adepticon this year. The image is taken from the Victoria Miniatures Facebook page.


And this photo is of a model painted by Darren Latham, who as I recall pioneered the art of Non-Metallic Metal within the pages of Games Workshop's White Dwarf magazine. Darren is a veteran of the world famous 'Eavy Metal painting team, and now also a sculptor of Games Workshop miniatures. The picture is taken from the Games Workshop website Non-Metallic Metal Gallery.


I also look for extras, like well finished and interesting basing, which usually would tend to be seen on centrepiece or character models, and freehand work like text and images painted onto cloaks, armour plating and banners, which requires both flat painting skill and a very steady hand to achieve on a tiny scale.
The last thing I think I look for is conversion work and sculpting, both of which are an art in themselves. I am impressed by extreme conversions that stand out but don't look out of place, but also subtle work that you don't even realise is an alteration from the original miniature without having the original to hand, or having the changes pointed out to you.

All of the things I have mentioned are the kinds of things that competition winning entries possess, and the runners up for that matter, because these days the standard of painting can reach incredible but not wholly unachieveable with sufficient practice and patience. And talking to other painters is key to getting from the unfathomable to the surmountable in short order.
If you would like to read more posts on this topic from the points of view of other Union members, then please check out the links below. Each member brings something different to the Union, so all worth a read.
If you think you might like to join the Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters), look here. All you need is a blog, and a passion for miniature modelling.
Thanks for reading.