Friday, February 27, 2015

Orbital Shipyard II: Experiments in Press Molding

Here's the thing about scratch-building starship miniatures: It's difficult. And time-consuming. And fiddly.

Sometimes you get frustrated with trying to build your model from the various pen bits, cigarette lighters, oddments, and thingummys, and you start effing around instead.

Then you wind up with weird abominations like this:

And then you get tantalized. You find more things to press into clay that's a little too stiff to roll out evenly. You try and figure ways around the problems of symmetry. 

You actually try and make a two part press mold work. These are the things you use:

This is what it looks like while the resin is curing:

This is what it looks like when you eff up pouring:

And this is what you get in the end, none of it fitting together or resembling anything usable as a miniature, but all of it promising the wonderous concretization of ideas that is the terminal point of my interest in this hobby:

So. Back to the dry-dock. But with the knowledge that the cosmos will some day yield the sweet, sweet juice of miniature space battles.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Vento Servitas: Painting the Windy City Wizard

Following on from last week's post on converting the Windy City Wizard, we are now ready to begin painting. This is a process (or, if you count the banner, several processes) that I've been meaning to document here for quite some time, as it's handy to be able to refer people here when they ask me about my paintjobs. I have to warn you, though, it's a little long.

At the end of the last section, we had the figure undercoated in mid gray, ready for the process of under shading. At this point, I give the whole model a generous wash of diluted Windsor and Newton black ink.

As ever with washes, you want to avoid pooling--but in this case the risk is not that great since there will be a lot of drybrush layers on top of it. Furthermore, the W&N inks are really good about sinking into the recesses. If you are using diluted black acrylic instead, I recommend adding a few generous dollops of matte medium to get a similar effect.

Once the wash is completely dry, go back with an overbrush of the mid gray basecoat (this, for reference, is 1:1 white to black. Some people like to add blue to this mix...I've never tried that, but intend to...someday.) You can see the result above.

At this point, I do something slightly...unorthodox (but only slightly). I've been developing a technique for painting surfaces decorated with starfields--a sort of mystical/magical look. In this case, I want the wizard's robe to be a kind of fay garment, a textile woven of the deepest regions of the cosmos. So I take an old toothbrush and dab it in some white paint, then flick it gently over my paper towel until all the larger gobs have flown  off. Then I go on to flick the brush over the empty areas of robe.

If you're doing just a normal undershaded figure, simply skip this step. 

The rest is all drybrushing. As I progress to lighter and lighter shades, I try and make the highlight more and more zenithal. Holding the miniature so that you are looking at it from the top down helps, as if your eye were the light source. The areas you can see should be the lightest. Also, be sure to avoid obliterating the starfields, if using.

The model is drybrushed with 2:1 white to black...

...followed by 4:1...

...then 8:1, and finally a dusting of pure white.

At this point, all of the edges and details are clearly defined, which makes the painting process even easier.

While I was waiting for the wash to dry (that part takes a while) I went back to the banner. I had let the waterproof ink (I use noodlers bulletproof black) dry overnight to avoid any streaking. Now I go over the whole banner very gently with an eraser to remove the pencil undersketch.

I went Windsor & Newton again for the colors here. I'ts hard to beat them for vibrancy (though I've heard that liquitex have similar properties, are available in single colors, and are less expensive, so I'll definitely be giving them a try at some point as well.)

I wanted to keep the color palat relatively simple, so for the hat, beard and face, I used the same mixture of Peat Brown and Deep Red inks (approximately 1:2) diluted to various opacities with water. The lettering and the wizard's eyes were done with Vermillion straight from the pot.

I went with Blue for the background of the flag and for the windy speach bubble, completing the hommage to the flag for the city of Chicago (and the colors of CSW) The motto ribbon and middle stripe were done in a dilute mixture of Canary Yellow and Peat Brown to give an aged look to the relatively white spaces.

Don't want things looking too clean though, so I took my trusty old toothbrush and flicked that same yellow brown mixture over the front of the banner...

...and then the rest of the yellow-brown and the red-brown mixtures generously all over the backs.

While that was drying, I went on to the painting stages for the figure. Prior to starting out, I had already treated the banner pole to some Rub n' Buff ersatz gold leaf. Next up is the skin (this needs to be done separately and in the traditional fashion because the drybrush highlights do not make for convinciing flesh.)

Now comes the fun part: glazing! For this step you use thinned out inks or paints to apply a color to an area while allowing the dry-brushed highlights to show through. W&N inks thinned with water are great for this, or can be used straight from the bottle for more intense colors. Acrylics thinned with matte medium also work very well and are a little easier to control, though are not quite as vibrant. Above, you can see I glazed the red areas, since they happened to be the same color as the wash I used for the skin.

Here you can see the exposed skin highlights are done and the eyes are a nice, menacing, spell-castery red.

From here, you move from color to color and spot to spot on the mini. The process is rather like applying a wash, except with less paint in the brush. I like to load my brush with glaze, then touch it to a paper towel a couple of times to make sure there's no excess. When you touch brush to surface, you want to deposit a thin even coat of translucent color, rather than a pool.

You may find some areas (like the skull or the book pages above) that don't quite glaze up nicely. This tends to be lighter colors. These are easy to tackle with traditional highlights. Sometimes it's as simple as mixing your glazing color with a bit of acryllic and using that to enhance the under-shaded highlights.

On this figure, I worked more or less on a whim, selecting the colors for the familiar, the feather, the stack of books on the fly. The base got a greeny-brown wash to suggest damp stone.

The one thing I had planned out was the robe. I wanted it to be a rich and vibrant blue, so I used Ultramarine straight from the jar all over the robe.

Now, here's the thing about W&N inks: they bleed. Their website might say that they're water-resistant, and maybe they are...on paper, after some time. But when you've just put the ink to the figure, it will come loose again if you put more glaze on top or next to it.

You can use this to your advantage. I used it to blend purple ink into the blue at the edge of the robe, the ends of the sleeves, and the tip of the hat. Basically, it's like wet-blending except you don't need two brushes and you don't need to worry about drying time.

It's like magic.

Perfect technique to suggest illimitable nebulae in the depths of a wizard's robe.

Here are the finished pictures.

I have to say that if I were to do it again, I might lighten up on the Ultramarine a little bit. It's a very intense color and might obscure the stars a little too much. In all, the effect needs some further development.

Well, that was exhausting. Thanks for sticking with me through such a long post. Let me know what you think in the comments...


Monday, February 23, 2015

Vento Servitas: Converting the Windy City Wizard

The guys at CSW had the wonderful idea of doing a Secret Santa miniature exchange at the end of last year. As, very unusually, I took the time to document the process, I thought I'd do a step-by-step on how I went about converting and painting my contribution.

But first, the inspiration. Gifts were to be painted miniatures tailored to the recipient. I drew Tim as my giftee, and I remembered seeing his Fairy army in the pictures of the club's Kings of War game.

That got me thinking of Summer Knight: Dresden Files Bk IV in which the eponymous Harry Dresden, a hard-bitten wizard private detective, participates in a battle between fairy courts.

...and that got me thinking about how a wizard would make a great character for a KOW army. Fairies...wizards...Chicago...wind... 

So I embarked on this conversion of Reaper's Keiran Tallowmire, which I had sitting around unpainted. I could have just painted it straight, but I like giving my figures a twist if I can. I decided on a nice, big, weird shaped banner to make the wizard stand out from the massed regiments of fay.

First step was to remove the head of the staff, carefully leaving the hand of the familiar sitting on the wizard's shoulder as intact as possible. I then drilled back into the base of the staff and inserted a suitably large and twisted bit of brass rod. I happened to have another weird little bones familiar that I decided to use as a banner-topper.

And it was good. But when I went to add the cross beam, I realized I would need some further ornamentation. I dug through my bits box and came out with a GW dwarf weapons sprue.

The obvious move would have been to use axe heads, but it didn't feel quite right. Eventually I hit on the idea of using the hands themselves to cap each end of the cross-piece.

A couple snips and a careful bit of drilling and carving and I had some nice, empty fists to use.

These then went were drilled and glued on:

The thing with making custom banners is that it can be very difficult to make them sturdy; however, with a little experimenting, I hit on the following rock-solid method using sewing thread and superglue.

First, cut a nice, long piece of thread (like, at least a foot, maybe two). Position the elements and tie them with a criss-cross of thread. This won't be very stable; you'll be able to slide the pieces until you have a configuration you're happy with. Seal it with a drop of superglue.

Continue to carefully wrap with thread, using a variety of patterns: up, across, and diagonal. Make the wrap pretty tight. Every once in a while, saturate the growing knot with a few more drops of superglue. This should harden the thread into a solid mass.

Eventually, you'll get something like the above; a solid, sturdy join. When you're satisfied with it's strength, trim any excess thread and coat in a final application of superglue.

As long as I was experimenting, I decided I'd try using baking soda and superglue as a new basing material to create a fine, stone-like texture. That done, I brushed on some mid-gray in anticipation of undershading.

Now that I had the pole made, it was time to design the banner itself. I placed the figure against some Vellum and traced how I wanted the banner to fall.

I've always really liked the goofy mottos on Old Skool banners, and in this case, there was really only one choice for what the banner would say. In the book series, one of the most common spells that Harry Dresden uses allows him to control the wind. And since this is the Windy City...

Vento Servitas!

I drew up the image in drawing pencil first and then went back in with waterproof ink. I called it a night at this point while I let that dry, and went to bed incredibly excited about the project. It's amazing how just a small grain of inspiration can turn a figure in which you have little interest into an intense, multi-layered project.

Stay tuned next time for how I painted the Windy City Wizard using undershading and W&N inks.

In the meantime, let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Playtesting at the Club: The Dogs and The Dust

I haven't said much about it here yet (out of fear of hexing myself) but for the past six months or so, I have been tinkering away at a set of scifi skirmish rules called The Dogs and the Dust. The project originally started because I wanted a game with the simplicity of Song of Blades and Heroes but with the feel of Necromunda. It has since absorbed a lot of other elements: the shock system from Nuclear Rennaisance; a simplified version of the attack/shoot/magic dice and Dreadskull systems from Skulldred; a radically altered version of the command dice system from Chain of Command.

It's still very early days, but nevertheless the guys at CSW sportingly agreed to help in some preliminary play tests. What follows are some pictures from the game.  

Above: the beginning of a game-long standoff between Pat's commander and Josh's motile brain-in-a-jar.
Like SoBH and Skulldred, TD&TD is meant to be completely customisable. As a result, this three way game saw everything from walking lobotomies and storm troopers to mechanized walkers.

Pat's scout gets the drop on some storm troopers with poison flechettes.
I was testing a way of randomly generating objectives. There were d6 objectives (we rolled 4) that players took turns placing before deployment. Players could deploy characters anywhere within 12" of an edge and 6" from any opponent. After deployment, each objective was individually determined to be worth d6 victory points, and then each one was scattered either 3", 6", 12", or stayed put. As a result, the action was all over the map from the very first turn.

Government and Corporate troops play laser tag among tire sculptures.
There was a lot of absurdity as we encountered some...ah...soft spots in the rules. It was also a lot slower than I expected, running about two hours for a three player game (which is probably twice what a game of SoBH runs), so it definitely needs streamlining. But by the same token, the guys picked up the basics really quickly and seemed to enjoy themselves. A huge learning experience, all told. Still a lot of work to do going forward...

A complex showdown under the Noonan day sun.
...but hopefully some day soon, I'll have a beta test version to share...