Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Intergalactic Hoosegow

Yesterday in Intentional Terrain I hinted that I was working on an abandoned jail for my temporarily orkified mine camp.

In general it's a pretty standard blue foam build. Press texture in. Draw blocks with a ball point pen. You know the drill . . . The only abnormality is that I insist on mudding things selectively, which I described yesterday. You can see below how I block-textured small sections of the wall and left the rest blank before covering the remainder with an irregular skim-coat of joint compound. (Or mud, if you prefer the trade name.)

Well, this morning when I went to paint the thing I made a little booboo. For those who are unaware styrene is a non-polar organic which is readily broken down by non-polar solvents, like those in CA+ or most rattle cans. When gluing this isn't necessarily a problem, because the melted styrene eventually solidifies together making a pretty decent bond. This is precisely how your old plastic glues work: they literally melt the plastic which then recrystallizes in a modified form. There's clearly a chemical reaction as the resulting material is rather different (probably not polymerized) and you can often detect a slight release of heat when you drip a lot of solvent based glue onto foam. Further, the odor is rather distinct. But it works, and fairly quickly at that, which is the important thing from my perspective. I don't have the patience for PVA.

But I digress . . . when you're painting styrene based foam, like the blue stuff (and pink and white, for that matter) it's generally best to use a plastic friendly, i.e. acrylic paint. Some hardware stores do indeed sell this in a rattle can. I have bought some. . . . But that wasn't the rattle can I grabbed this morning. Somehow I didn't look at the label, just the color on the cap: grey. Grey is good sometimes. Styrofoam and xylene, however, aren't the best of friends. You might notice a rather distinct change in texture between the above pictures and those below. Thanks to the xylene (and possibly the acetone) my blocks became much rougher and more porous on the surface. Hey, that's okay. Just makes 'em look all that much more arid/deserty. I have, in point of fact, used this property in the distant past. Xylene REALLY eats into low density white styrofoam making positively gorgeous battle damage. Todays experiment was something of a happy accident. Not complaining, mind you, just observing.

The interior isn't much to write home about, but it's there. The railing isn't pretty, but it should serve to help keep players from knocking miniatures down the stairs. (Much as it would in reality.)

The pillars are likewise crude, but they work to hold the floor. And the stairs would be a splendid trip hazard to unwary attackers or escaping prisoners. (Uneven stairs trip people up terribly. And these are very, very uneven.)

I suppose this isn't really most properly a jail. It's really more of a small blockhouse for the local constabulary. As you can see, the windows were cut with defense in mind.

Of course, one can't completely resist the urge to see what the view might be like from the inside.

I'm sorry, what did you say about Squiggycap's ride? He's got good taste. And it's red, so it'll go faster, as every orc (and police officer) knows.

There will be more later, as there's still some small structures and set dressing to be made, but the camp is well on it's way. Honestly, it's pretty well usable for the upcoming episode right now, but I still have time before filming begins, so I'll use that to improve what's beginning to look like a good thing.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Composer

Monday, September 15, 2014

Intentional Terrain

The continuing adventures of the Lace-Rock Gang requires me to craft a new set. You may recall that in the last episode Kitty Lee was abducted by some rather green looking pirates. This isn't to say that they were seasick, or inexperienced, or anything else of the sort. They were, in point of fact hale, hearty, and as far from water as possible. Also quite accustomed to the work they were doing. However, all this notwithstanding they were quite green, being orks.

Well, if the gang is to rescue their girl in "Hello Kitty on a Hot Tin Roof" then I need an orky place where orky pirates might take her. This is something of a quickbuild, though not a one day project, as I figure I need to slap together a small village or at least a decent cluster of huts. Fortunately, orks aren't known for the quality carpentry. As I see it they probably live in conditions generally similar to many semi-nomadic desert dwellers. Which means I figure I can use the ork huts for other purposes in the future with the addition of some reasonable set dressing.

I already have a small circular hut made from a cookie tin that you've perhaps seen around the back earlier shots:

I'm not repeating this yet, but I want the new buildings to fit with it. This time I went with a more conventional foam-board experiment. In the first shot below you can see two structures, one substantially complete, though not as yet fully painted, and the other still in early days.

I'm loosely drawing on adobe or stucco structures one might find in the Middle East or the American West for inspiration. I moved away from the round building for now, as squares are easier to build, more temporally flexible, and facilitate greater building density should the need arise.The basic structure is, as you can see, pretty standard.

The one element of the building that might be a little novel is my use of wallboard joint compound. I bought this a fair number of years ago. It's served me fairly well. You might argue that it's too brittle and delicate, but I figure if you can finish a wall with the stuff you can finish a model with it. Once it's cleaned up and sealed with paint it becomes a fairly durable surface. Below you can see it applied to the exterior walls. Thinner coats will dry faster, but you can build it up to cover miniature sins. (Hey, that's what it's for in real walls too!) If you want a smooth coat you can sand it down to a very fine finish, but I wanted roughness and irregularity. I use it first foe texture and only second to fill gaps. You don't even need to completely cover a wall to create an effective texture. On the long windowless wall at right you can see where the dark foam-board shows through, but once it's painted it looks much the same as the other walls.

Here's a few pictures of the finished structures with some of the fine fellows who might inhabit them.

Ever wondered how a vacation picture at an ork settlement might look? Wonder no more. Here's one of Kitty's shots from her very pleasant stay in the Moab Wastes outside Logansport.

The next build will be a little different, though you can see that some of the same techniques apply. More on this one later when it's complete. This will ultimately be the town jail. I suspect the ork settlement is really a reclaimed mining camp, given the remarkably similarity of the buildings to human architecture from old Terra.

The second part of the build is up and running in Intergalactic Hoosegow. Take a peek to see how the jail came out. It's a twist ending, boys and girls. Keeps you on the edge of your seats. And do check back. There's more coming soon, as this build progresses, and there are a few other bits of old business and back-burner projects that could use updating. As always, thank you. See you soon, space fans.

The Composer

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Learning to Paint: Confessions of a Thick-Skulled, Thin-Skinned, Softbellied Leadhead

A little while ago I read a debate discussing the merits of painting in this odd sport we call miniatures wargaming. I'm beginning to think I'd like to partially remove the "war" part from my own miniatures gaming, in light of the 90s transformation of roll-playing games and the parallel inroads adventure games like Pulp Alley have made into the miniature world, but we'll leave that post for another day. Today we'll just talk about painting.

To give a little context, there were two posts; one on a Chiagoland gaming forum, and the other on Facebook. The Chi-town blogger was writing in defense of club rules requiring players to paint their armies. He regarded painting as an essential component of the hobby (which he called simply "wargaming.") The Facebook fellow took affront at this and defended the idea that players should be able to play games however they chose. I suspect he felt that the painterly crowd (of which I count myself a member) can be somewhat intimidating and off-putting.

For my part, I agree with both of them. I certainly think it's possible to play a game with unpainted miniatures. I'll even grant that it can be rewarding and fun. But I'm pretty much bollocks at the actual "game" aspect. I play boardgames regularly, but place well only infrequently. I also lose miniatures games more often than not. I'm even worse at hardcore tactical games like chess. (Though this will probably never stop me from trying.) I'm simply too impulsive a player to do terribly well when confronted with players who can chain together long logical sequences of events. Thus unpainted miniatures wargames have much less appeal to me. They're perfectly legitimate. In many ways I believe a boardgame to be a more accurate measure of one's strategic or tactical acumen. I think they're more successful in miniaturizing complex, multi-part problems. But I like the "art" aspect of miniatures wargames, and I miss that in miniatures games without paint. I don't wish to say that everyone needs to take their hobbies in the same direction as mine, but if you do, and find yourself intimidated by painters of long experience, allow me to take you on a journey through my own youth. If you've been following my recent work . . .

. . . I'll show you where I started and how I got where I am today. I've technically done part of this before, in as much as I've talked about the origins of my gaming misadventure, and my modeling techniques, but I haven't carefully and systematically described the development. One thing I'd like to do with this is assure everyone that any decent, self-respecting gamer, would allow ANY of these models on the same board as his own exquisite and lovely paint jobs. Even the antiques with the block-painting. (Exceptions are made for genre and scale, of course.)

To begin, I'll break my oldhammer modeling career up into five approximate phases, in each of which I developed a new painting technique. In the late eighties, when I started collecting 40K miniatures, I block painted things. I liked to freepaint flourishes, since I was already a somewhat experienced aircraft modeler, but I used none of the established human figurative techniques. I don't really have any photography of what was then the newhammer of the era, and all the evidence has since been either destroyed or covered up, but I do have some 1/48 flyboys still sporting original paint from roughly the same period.

Tthese are pretty simple block paints except for the art on the back of the mechanic's jacket. There's no shading, no highlighting, no illustrated eyeballs. These are quite definitely NOT up to my present standards, but they still look more or less presentable. I'd guess that a starter could hope to learn to paint to this standard in a few miniatures at most. (Maybe excepting the nude.)

In the second phase I discovered . . . let's call it "damp-brushing." I'd been using drybrusing for weathering on aircraft and trains for a while, but this wasn't a weathering technique. You use it to paint a color coat with less than full/even coverage.  I picked it up from one of my neighborhood friends. We based in black and then drybrushed heavily in color on top of that. This left deep shadows and an interesting textured look. Eventually we added genuine drybrushing in lighter shades of related colors creating a more nuanced, layered effect. I still have quite a lot of miniatures wearing this paint waiting for a trip to the pinesol tanks.

The third phase is mostly distinguished by increasing skill and more free-painting. This came after I went off to college in the early nineties. During this phase I got less done, as the demands of work and class (more the former) took away from my painting time. The bulk of the Space Wolves and orks date from this period, which ran from about 1992-95. After the second edition came out I began to lose interest in the game and took perhaps a two year break. In 1997 I began to work fitfully on the Crimson Dragons and Crimson Fists before life intervened to draw me away again. (I should note that a fair percentage of both Crimsons are minor rescue paints of phase II and earlier phase III paintjobs.)

The fourth phase is really the beginning of what I would call my more or less "mature" painting style. Some time after 2000 I found myself again with the luxury of a small place to work. It was a tiny corner of a bedroom, but I had a makeshift workbench (which I use to this day), and a little light to work by. This is when I began painting my squat army. (Bless the wee little beardies, every one.) I was devastated by the news that the squats had been bested by the insectile hordes. As a salve for the sting, I bought a job-lot of unwanted squats from a friend. It was during this phase that I really perfected my eyeballs (to the extent that I have to date), began highlighting in the traditional, non-drybrush sense, and started to systematically blackline. I still base in black, so this last isn't always necessary. You can leave the blackline as a negative space rather than actively painting it, but sometimes it needs touching up.

Like phases two and three, phase four flows more or less organically into phase five. The only distinguishing characteristic is that I began to blend and to use inks. I had artists inks sitting around that I used for drawing and map work and decided, what the heck? Why not at least see what happens? I also began to use a black wash. To date I have not begun using other washes, but the inks generally achieve some of the same effects. I use them most often on skin tones, but I also use them on fabric. Black washes can be useful on any number of things. (If you drybrush too heavily and want to darken things back up . . . the wash comes to your rescue. Drybrush a little more lightly on top of that and you're back where you wanted to be. It's a nearly instant repair that's saved me several times.) To blend, which I most often do when highlighting skin tones or reflections, I apply a thin line of heavyish paint and then pull it out away from the point where I desire the brightest reflection. I sometimes find it useful to add a touch of "clean" water to the brush, if the color you want to blend has begun to dry slightly. I say "clean" as the dirty brown stuff in which you just cleaned your brushes will leave a mark, so you'll want something fresh. Saliva is surprisingly effective if you're lazy and don't mind the slight "ick" factor.

Anyway, this is a remarkably long way of saying that you too can learn to do this. If a stubborn fool like me, who takes twenty years to even TRY an ink, having them sitting to his side for fully ten of those years can learn to paint, well anybody can. And even if you never get past the naked-girl-noseart-block-paint phase, reasonable people will game with you. You can put your miniatures on the table and at normal table distances, or even zoomed in quite a bit, they'll look just fine.

Play with confidence. I may not quite be Golden Gobbo grade yet, but I'm getting good enough that I'm comfortable saying I know how to do this. I hope that maybe it helps to see where I've come from. I guarantee you, all the fabulous miniatures painters you see out there started in similar or even less skilled places. It's a learning process. And what took me thirty-odd years and left me with boxes of half-crappy miniatures you, dear reader, can do in much shorter order. I'd suggest trying all the stages independently. (And maybe developing a few more besides. The one with the airbrush might be useful.) But maybe one or two miniatures to a stage will suffice rather than dozens or hundreds.

As always, thank you for bearing along on this journey of exhibitionistic self-discovery. I hope that there is something useful or enjoyable here.

The Composer