Sunday, January 29, 2017

The X-Men's Smurf


After impersonating the Incredible Hulk and destroying my Drakhun, I went ahead and started on my X-men because, well, you can only play videogames for just so long before your guilt forces you to pick up a paintbrush and try to push that rock back up that grey plastic and soft metal mountain (hobbyist know what I'm talking about).

I started with Cyclops because I figured he would be a good model to practice painting gradients on (the way I accidentally stumbled onto with Batman) since, well, I hate him. A lot. So I'm actually kind of conflicted about the fact that I think he came out looking pretty good.


The model was fairly easy to put together; his left arm was a separate piece but I decided not to bother with gap filling, and it looks OK. There was of course some cleaning involved, but I don't remember it being too bad; the model is largely smooth, so it wasn't too hard to clean off mold lines and such like.

Similarly, it was quite easy to paint. The blue was basecoated in GW's Regal Blue, washed with GW's Asurmen Blue, then drybrushed in Regal Blue again to better show the topography. The first highlight was in GW's Enchanted Blue, and the second was in GW's Ice Blue. The highlights were thinned to something like a 2:2:1 mix of Lahmian Medium : Phoenix Acrylic Retard Medium : paint. I was trying to get something very transparent that would flow well. Unfortunately, even with the drying retarder, the consistancy changed as I was working (my wet palette was actually not wet enough I think), which led to some difficulties, but I was mostly able to fix them.

However, my repairs were not perfect because of a strange property of Enchanted Blue. I love the colour of Enchanted Blue, but for some reason when you thin it, it actually changes colour a little, becoming less saturated once dry (this is an actual change that doesn't seem to depend on how many layers you put down: the colour is just different). I've actually given it the saturation back in the past by lightly drybrushing the unthinned paint on top of the painted layer, but in this case I only drybrushed on top of the trouble areas while trying to fix them. As a result, there's a couple of spots on the model which stand out a bit because the colour is different, most noticeably the right thigh and... surrounding areas. It's quite annoying (and, to be honest, embarrassing).

Anyway, once I finished the highlighting I decided that the Ice Blue was too desaturated and it didn't look very good, so I wanted to glaze it with something a little saturated to tie the colours together. I settled on my brand new, unused Badger Miniataire Ghost Tint: Blue, mixed with a lot of Lahmian Medium (perhaps 2:1 medium:paint) because I was afraid it would be too strong straight out of the bottle. The result was a big improvement, helping to unify the layers and smooth the transitions.

The gold was GW Skrag Brown (I think) followed by Scale75 Elven Gold. The arm and leg bands were then washed with GW Orgryn Flesh and edge-highlighted with a mix of Elven Gold and Scale75 Speed Metal. The skin was undercoated in GW Bronzed Flesh, basecoated in P3 Ryn Flesh, then washed with Ogryn Flesh. Ryn Flesh is pretty much the exact same colour as GW Elf Flesh, but I tend to have having trouble getting a smooth surface with Elf Flesh, I was hoping Ryn Flesh would go on a bit smoother. I haven't really tested it enough to say if it does, but it looks good so far.

I decided to switch to a more neutral grey for the base; I used GW Codex Grey (I think, the name has worn off the bottle), lightly drybrushed with VMC White Grey, then washed with GW Badab Black. Speaking of the bases, normally cut the tab off models and pin them to their base, but with the latest batch of Knight Models I had decided to try actually using the models with the slot in the base as intended. This is the first time I noticed something: there's only one cast. All the Knight Models bases are exactly the same. I hadn't realised this before because I had been sculpting over the hole and then orienting the models freely, but now that I was sticking them all down the same way it became dramatically obvious that they are all standing on the exact same patch of dirt.

It's just one more way that Knight Models is getting on my nerves, just one more hassle you have to go through with these figures, one more problem for inexperienced modelers. I have to assume they don't really expect you to actually use the supplied bases or something? Since these are apparently figures for experienced modelers (as evidenced by how big a pain they are to put together sometimes), I guess they just assume you've got your own fancy bases you're planning to use. Either that or they just don't care.

Anyway, I ended up sculpting over a fairly large area of the X-Men's bases to try to hide the similarities. Maybe I'll just give in and stop using the supplied bases, I'll just have to figure out an alternative that fits with the models I've already done.

Just a small note, but this is the first model I varnished with my new spray-on gloss varnish (before using my usual spray-on matt of course). I left the gloss to dry for about a day before applying the matt, then right after applying the matt I somehow managed to knock him against a shelf as I was setting him down to dry. I didn't think I had hit him too hard, yet the paint was damaged (it was a small area, luckily not hard to do a passable repair job afterwards). I'm wondering if the varnish did not turn out as tough as usual? Really hard to say since I've never really done much testing or anything, but I'm planning to try to apply the gloss more generously next time. I might also change my method a bit; right now I leave longer than I probably need between sprays as I believe it helps avoid the Sugar Coated Frosting of Doom, but I wonder if that adversely affects the strength of the varnish coat. I'll try spraying more quickly next time, while still trying to avoid putting so much down that it runs. Well, I'll have to try on a test model first.


Overall I'm very happy with how he came out. I had some trouble with some of the larger, flatter areas, but overall I think it looks good. I'm also happy about how quick he was to assemble (barring the base) and paint. Actual painting took me almost exactly a week from start to finish (and I don't think I painted every day in that time), including varnishing, which is very quick for me. The rest of the team is more complex so I don't expect to get them all done that quickly, but I'm still hopeful that I'll manage to turn them out at a decent pace (by my standards at least), if I can resist the temptation to spend too much time on other projects. And assuming I don't need to go job hunting, which I might soon - although to be honest, I would probably get through them more quickly if I was unemployed... sigh.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Drakhun Down

I've never liked the whole "MOW-on-a-horse" thing, mainly because I had a hard time believing a horse could take that weight. OK, it's a fantasy world and all that, it's a very large horse, etc... I dunno, I just feel sorry for the horse. So when I was putting mine together, I took the opportunity to use something... else...

In order to take that much weight on a single leg, I pinned and reinforced the leg with not one, but three strong pins, and filled the base with milliput to help weigh it down. Funnily enough I had to bend the leg itself a little to get the pose to look right - the original model (Khurasan's He-Who-Kills) is 15mm scale, and actually looking down as if to chomp down on a small animal.

I decided to skip the reins (the Drakhun doesn't have any free hands anyway), but I did give him a saddle. I tried to add some detail to keep it visually interesting.

Funnily enough, the original Drakhun didn't have any stirrups. That just doesn't make any sense, so I did my best to give him some. I also sculpted a simple texture for the bottom of his feet, to replace the smooth flat surface that was originally there.

This was another one of my slow-burn projects; I started this in 2015, and even impatiently threw him into a game as soon as he was assembled (he was killed without ever getting to make a single attack... which pretty much always happens the first time you play a new model that you're excited to use).

It's been a really busy few months, but I finally got tired of seeing his disassembled parts (I left the two pieces separate for painting) and decided to finish him. So I took whatever time I could find (very, very little lately), and slowly got the paint where it needed to be. Finally he was painted, glued together, and ready to be varnished.

And then he fell down and hit the floor. His head broke off, his mohawk-blade-thing bent 90 degrees, and both his arms were knocked loose.

As you can imagine, I was about ready to kill someone. Well, I picked up the pieces and checked them over. The arms didn't look bad, the head would be a problem but I could probably figure something out. It would be a lot of work to fix the parts and the paint job, but probably do-able. Then I noticed that the model seemed to be bent.

It might not be obvious from the photos, but the leg seemed to have bent slightly in such a way that the model was now tilted. I tried to bend it back, but it just kind of broke off from the base a little at the foot. I wasn't sure I could fix it properly such that it would be robust and stand up to normal use, aaaaaand at that point I just gave in to my rage and destroyed the model, throwing the pieces away.


So yeah, I'm extremely angry and depressed and dispirited and demotivated. And now I'm feeling regret that I destroyed the model instead of trying to fix it as best I could. I liked this one, and put a lot of work into it; I had a blog/forum post title all ready to go and everything (it was going to be a click-baity line about a MOW on a horse being a stupid idea, then the first line of the post would be something sarcastic about how this is much less silly).

It's just... I'm always busy. This is my hobby, this is what I enjoy, I have dozens of projects that I want to finish, things I've started years ago in some cases, and yet I just never seem to have enough time or energy to put much work into them, and yet I keep accumulating new ones. Just yesterday I had an idea for the mini-Juggernaut model I have lying around, but even though it's a really simple idea I don't know when I'll actually ever be able to do finish it; probably 2020 at this rate. I don't know, I go online and see blogs where people finish an entire army in a month or two, and yet here I am, putting everything I have into finishing a dozen models a year (if I'm lucky).

It feels like something that should be a hobby, but has turned into a second job. What should I do, just give up and go back to spending what little free time I have on videogames? Just keep throwing away the few minutes I get to myself with nothing to show for it at the end? I mean, this hobby is itself a waste of time, but at least I get something (small, trivial, and unimportant) to show for it at the end, right?

I dunno, some days I'm just sick of everything. Today is one of those days.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 End of Year Report

Since this is turning into an annual thing, I thought I'd try to be a little more official with the title.

I kinda felt like this was a difficult year for me. It's hard to say why really, I just wasn't happy about the way some things turned out I guess. Oh well, never mind. Let's get started.


Old Resolutions
While I did remember and work on a couple of these, I pretty much completely forgot about the whole "read more useful stuff" thing. But I do feel as if I started to make progress on the others nearer to the end of the year.

1. Wake up early
I've kinda of been all over the place, but in the last few months I've started to more reliably sleep at a decent time at night and wake up at a decent time in the morning. So I'm getting there I guess.

2. Excercise
It took a while, but in the last few months I've started to get in a bit of exercise semi-reliably. It's progress, even if it's happening slowly.

3. Eat Better
I'm trying. It's a little hard to tell what's "better" these days, but I've finally started to cut out the pastries a little, so that's something.

4. Read More
I read, like, half a useful book. Kinda dropped the ball on this one.



New Resolutions:
I say "new" but it's more of an iterative process I suppose.

1. Sleep Early
Basically I think I've been going at this from the wrong end. I can only really wake up early if I sleep early, which means forcing myself to put everything down and turn off the lights a little earlier at night. Right now I'm more-or-less waking up with the sun, but I want to try to push it a bit earlier. I don't like waking up when it's still dark, but I'm going to try it and see if it helps me with my daily routine (or lack thereof).

2. Waste less time in the morning
One reason why I feel like I need to wake up early is because I'm a very slow mover in the mornings. I tend to waste time on unimportant stuff until I feel awake enough to tackle the difficult jobs (like getting my sorry bee-hind to work). So maybe if I put more effort into using my morning efficiently, I might not need to worry about waking up too early after all. Let's hope so.

3. Use time more efficiently
Similar to the last one, but this is more about making intelligent decisions on what to spend my time on. Let's just say I played a whole lot of Overwatch this year (seriously, there's a menu that shows you how many hours you've been playing that game, and what it says on my screen scares me a little). Damn, but those special event costumes are sooooooo good!

4. Exercise
I'm starting to pick up a bit of momentum on this right now, so I want to keep trying to nail down a solid routine that's actually useful and that I actually stick to.

5. Follow single projects through to the end
I've touched on this before, but one of the reasons why I feel as if I get so little done is that I tend to leap between a very large number of projects at the same time, and most of them end up sitting half-finished on a shelf forever. At the end of the day this is kind of a massive waste of time since that work doesn't amount to anything, so I want to try to be more disciplined and focus on a smaller number of projects at a time, seeing them through from start to finish.

6. Give more time to more important projects even if they are difficult
I've realised that in my desire to get as much stuff done as possible, I'm tending to push back difficult (but more important or more rewarding) projects to focus on easier ones that I can finish more quickly and have something to show for. For example, this year I painted TWENTY ONE models (compared to about five last year), but they were mostly quite small simple models (drybrushed Ninja and stuff); nothing like the insane twenty-plus piece Casey I painted last year. Meanwhile some challenging conversions that I've been planning for years have just sat around gathering dust. But that's just hobby stuff; there's some more important "projects" that I should probably get back to... like learning how to cook...



Well, here's to hoping 2017 is a better and more productive year for me. I'm almost surprised to find myself feeling strangely optimistic. Maybe I'm just glad 2016 is over. So long 2016!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Slapfight

I originally invested in the Batman Miniatures game because I assumed it would be a nice game to play with friends who are new to tabletop gaming. However, when I read the rulebook I realised it was not very friendly to inexperienced players.

I actually liked a lot of the rules; the whole "using dice as allocated counters, then just picking them up and throwing them" thing was clever and elegant. However, there were probably more rules that I didn't like. I still think the movement rules are needlessly messy, for example. I find the ROF rules strangely annoying. Having to track ammo is annoying: no-one should be walking into a dangerous situation with only three bullets in their gun. Also, they use true line-of-sight rules then tell you to "imagine how the model looks if it was standing up straight on it's base"... then release a bunch of sculpts that have models standing on elevation and stuff.

Another thing is that I don't like rolling dice against a single stat for a small model count game like this. It makes sense in large unit-based games like Warhammer, and there is a bit of interaction between different stats here (you roll dice straight against the opponent's defense, but a higher attack stat allows you to make more attacks for example), but it still feels strange that your chance of a single attack landing on an opponent is purely a function of their skill, and your own skill does not come into play.

There's far too many "hidden stats": there is no "movement" stat on the card, all models have a movement stat of 10cm... except the ones that have special rules that change that. Ranged weapons have not ranged state, they all have unlimited range... except the ones that have special rules that change that. They also don't have a to-wound stat, they all use the model's strength stat... except the ones that have a special rule that gives them a different to-wound value.

I just find the mindset behind the rules strange to me; everything is handled by special rules instead of designing the base rules to be flexible. Why add a special rule to change how fast a model can move (that you need to look up and remember to account for) instead of just have a SPD stat on the model itself? Ditto for weapon range etc. I guess PP's clear, modular, well-designed rules have spoiled me.

Anyway, I decided that to play the game I would need to write a simplified version of the rules. So I did. Or rather, I am in the process of doing so. With two small but useable (I think) armies painted and ready, I decided to finally give the game (or my hybrid of it) a go. I ran Ra's Al Ghul and four ninjas, while my friend (let's call him The Watcher) got Batman and four cops.

It... did not go very well.


Pre-Game:
We were playing a simple "kill the other guy" game. We set up the table in a very basic way. Each of us placed a lamp-post.


Deployment:


Round 1:
I won initiative and ran my dudes, climbing on stuff. He was a bit more cagey, not going as far forwards as he could.


Round 2:
We started taking shots at each other, to little effect. I thought I could get into melee this turn, but was a bit short.
Almost there!
He needed a two, got a one. Totally expected.


Round 3:
Finally we had made it into melee. Batman got the drop on Ra's, and promptly whiffed all his attacks.

"So, we meet again, Batman!"

Ah, the age old battle, cop vs ninja...

"Oh no officer, I'm not a ninja, I was just on my way to Comicon."

Aaaaaaand then this happened....
"Fight, you must not! Through peace, the way is!"
"What's that? This is DC, I'm in the wrong universe? Screw that, I'm not a part of your system!"
Yeah, it was late and we had work the next day, so we decided to stop there.


Post-mortem:
Like I said, it wasn't working. It seems that a simplified version of the base rules wasn't enough as so many models depend on special rules to work, and I hadn't had time to work on the special rules or making custom cards for the models to better fit the simplified version we were playing, and as a result the balance seemed to be off; after several rounds only two attacks actually managed to wound, everything was just bouncing off. Unless the actual game is supposed to be like that? I dunno, the lack of objectives didn't help either as once the models made it into melee there wasn't much motivation to do anything other than just stand there and throw dice.

So now I'm not sure whether to stick with the Batman system and try to introduce enough complexity into our games for it to work, or whether to try and use an alternate system (maybe something model-agnostic like Frostgrave) instead. I understand that Knight Models will be releasing some cards allowing the Batman models to be used with their Marvel/DC game system (which I hear is more casual), so maybe that will be an option at some point.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Noctournal Flying Rodent Man


I was putting this guy off until after I had finished most of the rest of the models for the Batman game. I wasn't looking forwards to painting him as I figured just painting tons of greys would be boring, but it actually wasn't.

He was rather challenging to paint as I couldn't rely as much on my existing paint collection; I had to mix up a bunch of new shades for him. And while I was able to use drybrushing to blend the layers on his cloak, there wasn't enough room for than on his body.

I decided this would be a good time to try two-brush blending, but experiments on a test model were abject failures, so I decided to just rely on plain layering to highlight the body. I thinned my paint a fair amount using water and "Phoenix acrylic retard medium" (something that I found in a local shop). The resulting paint was thin enough that it took many layers to build up a solid colour; this actually worked to my advantage as it allowed me to get a blending effect just by shrinking the area I was covering as I built up the layers.


The cloak was painted with the old Citadel Shadow Grey, shaded with Badab Black wash, and highlighted with a mix of Shadow Grey and Blue Horror. The suit was various mixes of Vallejo Black Grey and Citadel Dawnstone, with a watered down wash of Badab Black on top - I added some acrylic retarder again, which was thick enough that the was wasn't too runny, and the extended drying time helped me apply it and avoid patchiness. I think the boots and gauntlets were simply Vallejo Black Grey (or maybe a lighter mix) edge-highlighted with Dawnstone.

The belt was Citadel Lyanden Darksun highlighted with Citadel Sunburst Yellow, then washed with the same Badab Black mix as the body suit. The tiny, tiny eyes were just plain white - I debated not painting them at all since it actually looked fine just darkly shaded there, but decided to try and see how they looked painted, and went with it. I considered trying to paint the ovals in his gauntlets to look like lit-up screens, but decided it would take away from the rest of the mini and just left them.

Prep work wasn't as bad as some of the other Knights Models' minis I've worked with, but he still suffered from stupid-thin bits that I needed to fix/support. The ears were originally very flimsy and not very symmetrical, so I had to bulk them up a lot with greenstuff. The Batarang was also slightly miscast - enough to look bad, so I had to reshape one side to better match the other. There was a bit of gap filling as well, no big deal really, though the gap on the left arm was big enough that I wasn't able to sculpt the join very well, and it's a bit of a poor spot on the final painted figure.


To put that in context, I've had to do a lot of re-sculpting and weapon replacements on the other Knights Models' minis I've assembled so far. It occurs to me that I didn't show any WIP photos in the old posts, so I thought I'd put them up here.

Filling the huge holes in their crappy bases to try to make them look good:

Repairs and sculpting missing detail:

Replacing flimsy misshapen weapons:

Filling quite large gaps:


Anyway, back to Batman. This might sound silly, but I think this is the happiest I've ever been with one of my paintjobs. I look at this guy and can't believe I painted him because I don't believe I can't paint that well. I think he looks great, and it makes me want to paint more superheros and other smooth organic models. Now if only I could drum up the courage to assemble the damned things in the first place...

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Best Villain Name Ever


To lead my generic ninjas into battle, here's Ra's Al Ghul. While the model is nice enough, I didn't really want to spend too much time on him, so he's a bit of a rush job.


I didn't want to just paint him in blacks and greys, so I decided he would be wearing a dark green suit. Well, that was the plan anyway; clearly I should have used a darker highlight colour. Oh well. I settled on purple for the scarf and tie; a royal colour that looks nice with the green. I also give him slightly darker skin than I usually do, to suggest an Arab ancestry to match his name.

I had a bit of trouble when painting him. I tried to use my usual highlight-plus-drybrush technique for the blends, but the green I was using for the highlights doesn't drybrush very well - low opacity I think - so it didn't really work, and I ended up with these really sharp highlights. It doesn't look very good up close, but it's not bad on the table, and the nice colour scheme is quite pleasing to the eye, so overall I'm OK with him.

I think his came out OK considering how fine the detail is on these minis. I used the simplest way I know of painting eyes: white base, black dot, shade with Ogryn Flesh at the same time as shading the face. Even just that was a struggle that had me yelling profanities at the walls, his eyes are so small.

Funnily enough his head is actually a little disproportionately large when compared to some of the other miniatures in the range, but I guess that's fitting for a guy who's first name is "head".

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Captain Deadpool!


This guy was a gift for a friend. I was experimenting with a different light setup for photography, so the photos are perhaps not quite as good as they might have been (if nothing else they are a bit warmer than they should be).


This guy was an opportunity to practice highlighting muscles and that sort of organic shape. I think he came out quite well; the black didn't quite work the way I wanted it to, but it's not bad, and the red is pretty good I reckon. The belt buckle was a bit of a challenge; the results may not look amazing in the photos, but in real life his belt buckle is so tiny that I think most people would agree that what I managed is pretty good.

As is usual for Knight Models' stuff, assembly was a complete pain. Bad mold lines (you can see that I didn't manage to completely get rid of a few), plenty of gap filling required, including merging the model to the base, and of course the swords were so ridiculously flimsy (I practically could not handle the model without bending them) that I simply had to replace them, which was a bit of a job. Of course, me being me, I only pulled the trigger on that after I had already attached the arms and sculpted over the join. Then of course I snapped an arm off while drilling the hole, meaning I had to repeat the sculpting part... sigh.


The sheaths weren't as bad as the swords, but they were still vulnerable to bending. Plus they looked too small to me; I think they were actually narrower than the original blades. So I put together replacements for them as well. Then I lost the replacements and had to assemble another set... sigh. Well, the second set of replacements actually ended up looking a fair bit better than the first, so that's alright I suppose.

Overall I enjoyed painting him (if not assembling him) and I'm happy with how he turned out. I think he was a good learning experience. I'm starting to enjoy painting Knight Models a bit more; while painting my 40K stuff has mostly been about highlighting armour, and painting my PP stuff has mostly been about picking out all the detail that covers every surface, painting these models has been more about highlighting organic shapes, which is something I haven't really done very much of so far.