Monthly Archives: September 2013

A New Adventure

This wednesday I’m running the first adventure in a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  We’re playing 3.5 Edition, as that’s the one everyone’s most familiar with and I quite like it.  It’s a small game, with only three players so far, but they’re an eclectic bunch.  First up is my partner of many years, who is one of those players with a recurring character.  She runs a thief named Barron Jones whose identity is passed from master to apprentice, like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride.  I’m excited to see the newest incarnation in action.

Then there’s my friend KyoheiZero who has never played D&D before but devours video games and table-top wargames.  He’s having trouble envisioning how the game will play out, but he’ll see soon enough.

And finally my friend Chimpomagee, who is an old-school D&D player in the body of a twenty-three year-old Computer Science student.  He devised his character concept first, and then rolled his abilities and took them exactly as they fell in order, for more interesting role-playing.  Haven’t seen anyone do that in years.  He has been running a campaign of his own for some of his other friends who were also new to traditional RPGs, and is still amazed by the fact that you can suggest anything you like and there are no imaginary walls for your character to hit.

I’ve run a lot of games over the years, but I’m particularly excited about this one.  Nervous too.  These days I have no time to get lost in details and I think that’s a good thing.  I’m going in with a clear head, a page of notes, a hand-drawn map of a tower and the sense of a blank world ready to be coloured in by the player’s stories.

Let’s see how we go…

Painting Miniatures and the Cult of Difficulty

Continuing in the vein of my last post, I recently saw someone online showing some miniatures in progress.  They had done some excellent highlighting work to create the effect of shiny black leather/PVC uniforms, and were having trouble getting the model’s helmet to match.  One commentator said “you could cheat and use gloss varnish.”

This is a perfect illustration of what I call the Cult of Difficulty in miniature painting.  There seems to be an unspoken community norm that the more time and effort it takes you to create an effect, the more worthy of praise your work is and the “better” you are as a model painter.  There seems to be little comprehension of the fact that different effects create different visual feels.  And that is what is most important about which method you use – not how hard it is, or how much practice it takes to do it.

I mentioned in another post that since model painting is a hobby, most people who do it are not trained or professional artists.  This has an effect on community norms.  I think this Cult of Difficulty is just an instance of the common sentiment expressed by non-artists when they see a work of art that looks like it was made easily: “I could do that.”  With the silent implication that therefore it is not worthy of much respect or praise.

Trained and professional artists know that the right response to “I could do that” is “yeah, but you didn’t.  And now you can’t, without being derivative.”  This is because it  doesn’t matter how an artwork was created.  All that matters is that it is original and looks good.

Now personally I wouldn’t advise gloss varnish for the model I mentioned at the start of this post.  But not because it’s somehow “cheating.” I wouldn’t use gloss varnish because the rest of the model has been painted in a representational rather than a realistic style, and it would look odd and spoil the effect.  If you want something to look like glossy black paint the best thing to use is glossy black paint.  But if you want to paint a picture of glossy black paint, then you have to approach it in a whole different way.

Many people in our community seem unaware that there are different, equally valid ways to go when painting a model, choices that affect which tools and techniques you are better off using.  It seems completely arbitrary to me which ways the community applauds and which ways they sniff at as cheap tricks, except for one thing: all the ways in the former category take ages to do or require a great deal of practice or a natural aptitude.

That doesn’t mean they are better.  Perhaps you prefer the look created by what I call the painterly style, and that’s fair enough.  But how hard something is to make is not a good way to judge art, at all.

Next time I’ll write a little about a few of the basic aesthetic approaches I can see in use in fantasy and sci-fi miniature painting.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment,

James

Metallic Paints versus Non-Metallic-Metal Effects

The other day I saw someone online say that non-metallic metal is the best technique to use on Infinity models, and that metallic paints don’t look good on them for some reason.

This got me thinking about the techniques we use for painting metal.  I should say right now that in most cases I prefer using metallic paints (even on Infinity models).  This is because I think NMM methods can create a cartoonish effect.  Lately I have been leaning more and more towards a realistic style, similar to the one a lot of historical modellers aim for.  By this I mean creating depth and realism by using subtle highlighting only, and applying weathering powders and oils over what is essentially a simple neat paint-job.

The thing is, neither method is better, and both involve assumptions.  If you use NMM then you commit yourself to mimicking the effect of a light source, which means imagining where it would be and then painting the areas that you want to look reflective as though the light was there.  This is why I think NMM creates a cartoonish finish, or at least a painterly one: the model will forever after have a light source basically painted onto it, which I think removes it from its environment a little.

Metallic paints actually make the area reflective, which means that the model is at home in its surroundings.  One problem with metallics though is that they get their effect by having lots of tiny chips of shiny in the pigment, so it’s almost impossible to avoid leaving a texture, which doesn’t look great since metal areas are naturally smooth.

I’ve found that this can be overcome by using better quality metallics.  Your GW or Vallejo acrylics have this problem, but fork out a bit more money for some Vallejo Liquid Silver, or a Humbrol enamel, and you’ll find they have a texture similar to non-metallic paints.  Just remember that they clean up with spirit instead of water.

The real problem though is consistency.  If you’re going to use NMM, then you have to paint the whole model as though it has the imaginary light source.  This might sound basic, but I’ve seen models with clever NMM and then the rest of it is shaded and highlighted in a neutral way and doesn’t match.

Likewise, if you use metallic paints then I think the model will look better if the rest of the colours also speak for themselves, and realism is achieved mainly by weathering.  Don’t dramatically highlight the cloak comic-book style and then have a sword that gets its metal effect via natural light.

Anyway that’s just some thoughts.  I wonder if there are other ways to paint metal?  These are just the two that I know of.

Till next time,

James

Infinity Terrain Update

I’ve gotten a bit more serious lately with my terrain project for Infinity.  The Infinity Australia facebook group is inspiring me.  People there tend to go all-out with their terrain and it encourages you to step up to the challenge.  But also it’s a little daunting.  I’ve never made terrain, except perhaps a few crumby cardboard buildings as a boy.  I initially wanted to make the whole table, but as a wise person once said: make it if you have more time than money, buy it if you have more money than time.  I don’t have much of either but I have less time, and I was moving slowly and not having much fun trying to build it all.  Best to prise open the wallet then.

This table for example, by Michael Hurrell and Clayton Teschward, is a dishearteningly fantastic example of the sort of table I'm aiming to build.

This table for example, by Michael Hurrell and Clayton Teschward, is a dishearteningly fantastic example of the sort of table I’m aiming to build.

It was my birthday recently, and with the spoils I have made an order from the excellent people at BP Laser Terrain in Brisbane.  It should be enough, combined with the odds and ends I have, to make a full table – some bought, some built.

Now, on to concept.  I’d like to make a cyberpunk/dystopian slum area of a megacity.  So for inspiration I’m thinking Judge Dredd crossed with the dingier parts of the city in Blade Runner.  Since I play Yu Jing, it will be a Yu Jing city, and since it’s a slum that means probably lots of Japanese people.  I’m thinking that they’ll be largely ateks (people without advanced tech; in this case, people too poor to own it).  I’ll need wrecked hi-tech vehicles, signs in Chinese and rebellious graffiti in Japanese.  Planned structures include a noodle shop, a yuan-yuan pirate hideout and storage warehouse, shabby dwellings, and some public toilets (because I’ve never seen toilets on a table).

I’m mostly looking forward to the painting and weathering stage, as that is the area where I actually feel comfortable!  But first, it must be buillt…

Till next time,

James