Friday, April 30, 2010

Hidden Cost of TLoS?

With a new army in the works I have understandably been thinking a lot about how I want my army to look and what I can do to achieve this vision. In the past I have always liked to do some minor conversion work on my models, usually just changing slightly a pose or kit-bashing an HQ or hero but I've never attempted anything more significant than that. I've recently chosen to base my Stonecutters off of the newly released Codex: Blood Angels and have been examining it in terms of how I can express my Simpsons theme using those units available in the list. Again I do not foresee having to do too much conversion work on this project, with the exception being two of the three HQ units which I believe I can use to express my army's theme. But as I consider how to build these two individuals, The Sanguinor and Mephiston for those who might be curious, one of my primary concerns is to avoid any unintentional, in-game advantages such modeling might confer. Why do I worry about this? It is because of true line of sight.

The rule known as True Line of Sight presented on page 16 of the main rulebook was one of the most notable and initially controversial changes when going from the fourth to the fifth edition of Warhammer 40,000. I was worried at first about it but after some experience came to appreciate this way of reducing the amount of abstraction within the game's mechanics, in particular with things like area terrain. Can you see it or can't you... simple right? Also it encourages players to crouch down a bit for that soldier's-eye-view of the battle which is fun and cool in itself. I always liked doing that anyway even before this was a rule as I'm sure many others did as well. I also suspect that I am not the only one who finds it irresistible to peek through the window of a multi-storey terrain piece, imaging myself to be a sniper looking for his next target. The fact that this is now an integral part of how the game is played therefore seems to be an overall improvement as it makes the experience more immersive than ever before.

And so I've come to generally like the usage of TLoS in 40k, though in the last few months I have become increasingly aware of a potential downsid to this rule. TLoS makes the game in its current iteration so much less abstract than those of the past it is as if WYSIWYG has been expanded from the level of individual models to now encompass the entire table and everything on it. For all its advantages, I believe TLoS presents an unexpected limiting factor on the scope of conversions and modeling, as well as placing an undue emphasis on the design of the official models. While it may not be a big deal, this is unfortunate for a hobby that also strongly encourages creativity and the imagination. This very well could have been a concern for gamers using earlier editions of the game and I just was not aware of it at the time, but my sense was that crazy and wild conversions were applauded rather than challenged. It's hard to look through an old White Dwarf and not see at least a few bizarre constructions. I have no doubt that there have been arguments concerning "fair" modeling for as long as there have been templates and bases, but it seems to me that this type of kvetching has gotten louder as the understanding of TLoS and its impact on the game has grown.

It may seem paranoid of me but I would prefer to avoid having to defend whatever modeling choices I end up making for my army. I started thinking about all of this because over the past year or so I have in fact seen people defend their own such decisions quite a bit. As a recent example from early March, Rob Baer (MBG) of Spikey Bits posted an article at Bell of Lost Souls showing off his pair of Supa Battlewagons. When the Battlewagon kit was first released I was a little disappointed, thinking it wasn't bulky enough to suit its billing. I therefore really liked Rob's conversion as it more closely matched the scale I had always imagined battlewagons to be. You can see in the picture below the difference between a standard battlewagon and one of Rob's upsized creations.

As cool and impressive of a conversion as it is, beginning with only the fourth comment most of the discussion of Rob's article seemed to focus on whether or not this is an egregious example of modeling to gain an unfair advantage within the game. The chief complaint as I understand it was that by expanding the width, the Ork player would benefit from having a larger AV14 frontal armor, thus making it more difficult for the opposing player to get the angles necessary to target the more vulnerable side armor. Rob defended this potential advantage by pointing out that his larger vehicles would conversely suffer from being easier to hit with blast template weapons, perhaps balancing out the gains of a larger front to side ratio. My generally poor generalship precludes me from weighing in on the merits of these arguments other than to say that both sides seem to make legitimate points. What bothers me is that this type of dispute is now unequivocally a part of our hobby, one that was already replete with quibbling and rules lawyering.

Less than a month later this realization really crystalized for me when talking to friends about their experience participating in the various 40k tournaments at AdeptiCon. I heard of a particular controversy involving a counts-as Imperial Guard army that made use of converted Squats and a host of flying counts-as Chimeras. I apologize for the blurriness of my photo but the Chimeras in question are those red and green winged vehicles seen in the picture below.

My older brother used to play Squats so when he departed the game I inherited his collection and still have a box of them safely tucked away as evidence of my hoarding problem. I've since maintained a special spot in my heart for those hapless Space Dwarves and therefore always appreciate it when I see someone resurrect them from the dustbin of future-history. I was dismayed to learn that the flying Squats were the center of this debate as to whether or not the organizers should have allowed such a drastic reinterpretation of the Chimera. Apparently the builders of these vehicles had anticipated this possibility and had the foresight to get their conversions approved sometime in advance before their arrival at the convention. This did not however stop the complaints as apparently judges were called over several times by opposing players to argue that these were in some way unfairly designed, accompanied I'm sure by much grumbling. I don't know who was right and the complaints made against them could very well have been valid. Again what troubles me is that this whole scenario suggests a new limit to creative expression within our hobby, at least if one intends on playing in a tournament setting or possibly even at your own FLGS.

Lastly, check out the above WIP photo of an Imperial Guard Valkyrie conversion dubbed the Copperhead, one of Col. Hessler's current projects that I've been keenly following at his blog, SADOUKAD 16. I think this is an awesome variation of the usual build (and by the way, the newer pics he has since posted are even cooler!), especially as it reminds me in particular of the dropship from the movie Aliens. The very first comment on this photo, however, raised the question of modeling for advantage by noting that people may complain about changes to the LoS from the various weapon locations on this model. Seeing examples like these, I really do not think I am exaggerating this tension between TLoS and innovative or unorthodox approaches to modeling as it would appear to be on other people's minds as well.

I am not in favor of abusive approaches to gaming, this is after all a hobby about playing with little toy soldiers and space men and should be fun for all involved. I still might complain about an obvious attempt to gain an advantage through the nefarious use of glue and plastic, especially if the end product just flat out looks like crap. But if the design is cool and whatever possible advantage conferred is not too over the top as to be silly, I would like to think that I am more likely to see such resourcefulness as an enhancement to my experience rather than an unjust detraction. So then where would I draw the line? My answer to that is essentially that of Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter's famous statement regarding obscene pornography, that it is hard to define, "but I know it when I see it." So unfortunately I cannot provide anything more than a vague notion of when a conversion crosses the line. With the current rules governing TLoS this is something gamers will have to decide for themselves, and perhaps at the price of a less creative hobby however slight that diminishment might be.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Land Worth Fighting For

Even though the remodeling and cleanup are done, I still have not been able to set up a good place to paint so unfortunately I am yet to put brush to miniature this month. I am happy to report that I have nonetheless been painting since last Thursday as I am finally working on my Realm of Battle Gameboard, otherwise known as a car payment. So all that dithering about what theme to go with amounted to nothing really as I have opted to go with the standard pastoral look of green fields. Versatility won out over the more creative considerations as I now plan on having it replace my other two foam boards which would thus free up lots of space. Therefore I need this board to be usable across multiple game systems and settings, hence my decision to not do anything wild. Besides, they're called battlefields, right?

Agents of the Inquisition arrive to inspect my progress.

I painted the first panel of my board using the brown and ochre paints included in the Games Workshop scenery kit. I can already tell I'll run out of those colors long before I finish this project, not to mention a bunch of other paint pots. This thing really is a huge amount of plastic and just eats up paint as well as flock. I'm covering over most of the painted areas which now seems kind of silly to me, but the grassy look will have to do. I understand now why so many other people's boards that I've seen on the internet have been left completely bare other than the paint. I thought my test panel looked pretty good after just a basecoat and a couple of layers of drybrushing and thought about stopping there. Once I started painting the big blocks of stone I felt like I had committed myself to flocking so as to hide my total lack of transition between the dirt and stone. I'm sure, however, that I will be more than satisfied with my flocked board once I can put some sections together.

The first 2'x2' panel is finished.

Since most of the board will end up being covered in flock, which at the time of purchase I believed was more autumnal hued but oh well, the features left on it for personalization include a few large areas of stone, some cliff faces, and those infamous skull pits. I don't want to do anything so unusual or extreme as to distract from the overall pastural feel of the board and so I started by painting the stone with, appropriately enough, Dehneb Stone. It's a light, almost chalky colored grey and so my plan was to stain it using a variety of colorful washes, going from Gryphonne Sepia to Thraka Green, and then lastly Leviathan Purple. (Hmmm.... yellow, purple, and green. Does that mean my theme is Mardi Gras?) I'm pleased with how the stone areas turned out with the first one, though I have been going a bit heavier with the washes on my second panel. It started out as an accident as I forgot to thin the Gryphonne Sepia but I have since decided it won't look bad to have some variation here. That't what I'm telling myself, at least.

Apply wash then wipe off, repeat until satisfied or bored.

I am yet to deal with the cliff faces but will most likely give them the same treatment as the horizontal patches of stone, perhaps changing up the palette of washes slightly but otherwise painting them basically the same way. I am currently working on the second of the flat panels and therefore I'm now getting to deal with my first of the skull pits. I'm not doing anything fancy with the skulls themselves nor the stones around the pit, other than the same set of washes, but I do plan on filling the pits with resin to simulate water. I won't be doing that until the very last step of this project so I still have time to decide whether or not I want to tint the resin. I'm leaning toward not for the sake of simplicity, but I thought it might also be interesting to tint each one a different color for a more otherworldly effect. We'll see about that, but my laziness will probably win out. I'm leaving for a wedding at the end of this week so my goal is to be done with all the painting and flocking before I go, leaving the resin to be poured upon my return.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From the Ground Up

Tonight I am officially launching the modeling part of my Stonecutters army project. Yup, another marine army... hooray, right? But unlike the other times that I've done Space Marine armies, the Stonecutters are conceptually my own creation and will hopefully reflect something of myself in its realization. It's all basically a joke and meant for fun, but I'm still going to take the hobby side of this as seriously as I can precisely because it will be my personal contribution to the insanity of the 41st millennium.

To that end I am scrapping my first idea of using some old marines that I had assembled years ago but then never went any further. I built around forty of them but couldn't decide whether I wanted to do Crimson Fists or Scythes of the Emperor. I painted a few from each chapter but was not happy with either and just sort of moved on to other projects. I thought about using them for the Stonecutters to save time and money, but having looked at them recently I know they aren't going to do as I envision wanting a lot more customization on each individual. I will therefore be starting entirely fresh with the Stonecutters which is probably as it should be. I can at least use some of the old marines to test out color schemes and figure out how to paint the new guys.

With that in mind I've been checking out various lines of resin bases as that seems like as good a place to start as any other. I've played around with some resin bases in the past here and there but that's been it. This time however I'd like to try using them for the whole army if possible. While looking at the styles for bases I've been trying to imagine how they might fit my vision of the Stonecutters but wasn't entirely satisfied with the ones I found. Until today, that is. Dragon Forge fortuitously released today a new line of bases called Sanctuary and I knew right away that this is what I wanted for my army. Sticking with the inspiration of Homer the Great, I like the idea of having some fancy flooring for my guys to stomp on. I picture the army's setting as the inside of their secret (i.e., totally obvious) fortress-monastary which I think will be well represented with this style of base. I'm placing an order with Dragon Forge tonight and will now try to decide what to put on top of them. I've got lots of random marine stuff around the house and I'm sure there will be enough with which to start, it's just a matter of finding them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Showcase: Circle Orboros

While waiting on the police after his car was broken into at AdeptiCon, DrGabe was kind enough to photograph my finished Circle Orboros guys. I'm so impressed with his camera skills that from now on the pictures I take are going to look pretty poor in comparison. Also it makes me wish I had done more painting before leaving for the con. Thanks again, Gabe... I'll come to Missouri next time I need pictures of something.

Kaya the Wildborne

Warpwolf Heavy Warbeast

Argus Light Warbeasts

Gorax Light Warbeast

Shifting Stones

Lord of the Feast

Friday, April 16, 2010

Clearing the Space

In order to attend AdeptiCon I spent around forty hours behind the wheel and drove more than 2,000 miles. Obviously this gave me a lot of time to think. Since I moved from my old house on James Island two years and two days ago, space has been a dear and precious thing as my family has grown in size. On my way to the con I decided it was time I began thinning my collection of miniatures to better suit my new life as a family man. My first step in this process would be to come home with less stuff than what I took with me.

While there I ended up deciding to give DrGabe my fully painted and converted Death Guard army to take home with him and I happily departed Lombard with an empty transport bag. The army was collected based on the previous edition of their Codex and I never got around to updating it to better accommodate the current set of rules. I picked it up cheap off of eBay (back when I trusted eBay, more on that in a moment) and therefore had no special attachment to it other than as an admirer of its original modeler. Also I know it's gone to a good home and will be enjoyed, so good all around. Yesterday I shipped out the last of my unassembled Plague Marines that I had bought to use with this army, thus ending my fealty to Nurgle.

Longtime readers of this weblog may remember that dealing with storage space has been an issue for me for almost as long as I've been writing this journal. I still have essentially all the same stuff that I said six months ago I was ready to sell off, I've just been too hesitant to pull the trigger because I don't trust eBay. I've had problems there with both transactions and security so that I avoid it now as much as possible. The last straw for me was when someone hacked my account and almost succeeded in purchasing a $24,ooo motorcycle in Germany. At this point I would rather give the stuff away than mess around with the hassles of selling them online, not to mention any more criminal fraud. So this was one of the things I thought about driving home, resolved to finally shrink my collection to only those projects I am seriously planning to work on in the near(ish) future. I've carried these things around long enough and I will be happier being free of them, knowing that they are with people who will make better use of them than I ever would.

In the coming days I am going to review my collection of boxes and figure out exactly what parts of it I want to give away. I already know, however, that this will be quite a lot, including at least a pair of unassembled armies. I'm also not sure how I want to go about this, whether I should do something interesting like contests or just post a list and let people claim things as they like. I'd appreciate suggestions from anybody who reads this regarding this matter. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hobby Seminars at AdeptiCon

It's taken a long time but I finally have a good opportunity to write my review of all those hobby seminars I attended at AdeptiCon. I would have preferred to have done this while the experience was still fresh in my mind, and while people were actually still interested in the event, but what can I say? Life happens... at least the home remodeling is done, though there is still a lot of cleaning up left to do. It's been such a whirlwind of activity here that I feel like I'm only now starting to unwind from the trip. And it was indeed a great trip. From Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon I went to thirteen seminars and was in class for close to 30 hours! It was a really fun time and I am very glad that I went.

What follows is my take on each of the seminars, representing a pretty large percentage of all those that were offered this year. I believe the only ones I missed were on resin casting, the intro to painting class, and painting female faces and skin. There may have been others, but I think I got them all. Also please note that with this review I am not going to make any attempt at conveying the actual lessons imparted to me during these classes as there is no way I could do them justice. Many of my teachers are professional artists and instructors and so it would not be fair to them if I were to misrepresent them in any way. And be warned, this will be a long post. My goal is to provide a sense of what went on in each of the many classes in which I was enrolled, so it's gonna take a while.

WH40k Tactics Boot Camp
I signed up for this mainly out of curiosity rather than any strong desire to hone my 40k fighting skills. It was taught by a sizable group of experienced gamers including numerous members of the team that will be representing the United States at the upcoming 40k European Team Championships. As you can see in the picture above, it was also a particularly beer-friendly seminar. These guys set up three full gaming tables in the room earlier that day and would go long into the night playing games and drinking, doing both with large numbers of spectators crowding around to see the action. Then for a couple hours that evening they took a break from gaming to teach a class on basic 40ks tactics and strategy to a group of more than twenty students. Yeah, it was some class alright... it's probably a good thing that I'm not nearly the drinker I used to be if I was to have any chance of making it through the weekend.

Despite the instructors being somewhat disorganized in their presentation it was nonetheless a fun session, although it was hard to tell if people were really getting much out of the lessons. We spent the first hour or so discussing army construction and general strategy, then the next hour plus going from table to table looking at specific examples of deployment and in-game tactical situations. They had a nice variety of very well painted armies with them for their demonstrations that included a pair of Chaos Marine armies, Space Wolves, Eldar, Steel Legion mech-IG, and one of the most colorful Tyranid armies I've ever seen (the 'Nids pictured in my post last Wednesday were from this army). However useful the information was to the other attendees, it was a good class with a lot of interaction and a jovial atmosphere. The guys running it were also extremely generous, giving away more than a dozen gaming-related prizes during the course of the seminar. One student even won a brand new IG Hellhound for correctly answering a question about using the flamer template! How cool is that?

Live Flesh: Painting Skin and Faces
This class was taught by Bennet Blalock-Doane, the first of four or five of my teachers who would go on to each win multiple Rogue Daemon awards on the last day of the convention. He also played in the Warhammer Ancient Battles tournament using his pictured Celtic army (I think they were supposed to be Ancient British but I didn't ask), and I assume he did well as I seem to remember him winning awards for both painting and gaming. It was another fun and lively class although it did feature the one real screw-up that occurred during my whole weekend of seminars. There were only six miniatures available to paint for a class of 18 students. Bennet used one himself to demonstrate his techniques which left only five for the rest of the class.

We all divided ourselves into groups and either painted as a team or else had one person be the designated painter while the others watched and chatted. My group ended up choosing to do the latter and I volunteered to be one of the watchers. I didn't really care but it would have been nice to have a little naked Celt as a souvenir. Bennet explained that he had checked a few days before arriving at the event and saw that only four people had so far registered online and therefore thought six minis would be enough. But then a lot of additional people registered for the class in person that morning and caught him unprepared as the class had suddenly more than tripled in size. What seemed odd to me about this is that since our teacher plays Celts himself I thought he would have just prepared enough models for a fully registered class. He could then have incorporated any unused ones into his own projects as they were from the same line of plastic minis as those in his army.

Despite this one honest mistake everyone seemed to have a good time and the shortage of miniatures was not a big deal. There was also the same lack of copies of Bennet's printed guide summarizing his lessons so that only a third of the class got to walk away with one of them as well. He did promptly email his pdf to everyone who wanted it. I would gladly retake this class and would recommend it to others, but compared to the other painting seminars this one was less satisfying. I do believe that I would have gotten more out of the class had I been able to do some painting myself, but without the pdf I would have had trouble remembering much of what we went over. Bennet himself was a very friendly, outgoing person and a good teacher who was eager to assist his students. He also helped inspire me to start seriously looking at Warhammer Ancients again..... Oh no!

All the Small Things: Freehand Designs
This was the first of two classes that I took taught by James and Cathy Wappel of WindyCity Miniatures. They are both professional artists and I believe Jim is a professor of some sort, specializing in painting with water colors. He and Cathy brought with them numerous examples of their work, all of which were simply amazing and included a few of the pieces for which they won Rogue Daemon awards. His true skill as a painter was obvious in the ease with which he demonstrated his techniques, at times painting example tattoos while holding his brush upside down so that we could see better without any trouble or hesitation. This is the type of stuff that I really enjoy getting to witness in person and one of the things I most liked about taking these hobby seminars.

We started off by discussing how one plans and practices freehand designs before the actual painting begins, then we practiced drawing our own Celtic-style shield design until we were comfortable with it. We each received a rectangular shield already primed and basecoated for us so we could jump right in and try out for ourselves the Wappels' techniques. At first I was nervous and skeptical about what I would be able to do, but I have to say that I am quite pleased with what I achieved on my first attempt. It would take a lot of practice before I become confident enough to try it out for real, but it was certainly encouraging.

We then spent the last hour of the class learning how to do freehand tattoos. Again the Wappels were very helpful and did a great job presenting these lessons. After seeing Jim demonstrate how he does tattoos we got to practice doing them on either a male or female Celtic-looking miniature. I got a bare-chested dude wearing a kilt and so went about covering him in swirling green tattoos. Again I was surprised by the quality of results I was able to get in a short amount of time, even being able to work a little on his kilt for extra practice doing tight lines. This seminar was easily worth the cost of registration and I liked it a lot.

Here We Stand: Advanced Basing Techniques
The second of the seminars taught by the Wappels, I was expecting this class to be about modeling and sculpting bases with fancy or unusual materials. Instead it focused on the particular techniques used in painting bases to look like marble and tile. The making of these bases was actually the subject of one of the seminars Jim Wappel did at last year's AdeptiCon and there were even a few students in our class who had taken it the previous year. I'm pretty sure however that Jim said there were instructions on their website and working with Sculptie (I don't know if that's the right name for the stuff but it's close) sounded easy enough.

We first went over Jim's preferred method for doing marble, though I can also see this technique being applied to painting flames as well. You can see the results I got with this method in the picture above on the base to the left. Next we discussed how to paint tiled floor and paving stones so as to achieve as much depth as possible and then got to practice it ourselves, resulting in the center base pictured. Finally there was time at the end to do one more style of marble that used a very simple stippling technique followed by some blended brushwork. This was how I painted the base on the right side of the photo. Even though it wasn't what I was expecting, I still really enjoyed this class and would love to incorporate what I learned into my own painting and modeling. I'm very happy with how my bases turned out and I'm sure I'll find at least a few miniatures in the future who would like to stand on a beautiful marble floor.

Metallics with a Shine
Renowned painter Mathieu Fontaine was our instructor for this class, as well as several of the other classes that I took at AdeptiCon. All total I was in five seminars for more than twelve hours with Mathieu as my instructor, so of all my teachers I feel like I became most familiar with both his painting and methodology. Not that I am anywhere even remotely near his level of ability, just that I had the most time to observe and study how he approaches his own projects. Mathieu is a truly gifted artist and is now one of my painting heroes. It is no surprise why he has won so many awards at the major painting events and competitions. At this year's AdeptiCon he entered three miniatures in the Rogue Daemon competition, winning first place for each one in their respective categories as well as the award for best overall.

As my introduction to painting the Mathieu Fontaine way, which is quite different from how I normally paint, I struggled a bit with the actual techniques he presented to us in this class. It was however entirely based on true metallics rather than the fancy NMM stuff so everything we went over was readily applicable to almost every painter of scale models. Mathieu did a really good job going over painting and color theory and devoted a decent amount of time in each class to these discussions. It was evident that he really wanted to make sure we understood why we were doing things in such a manner. We then got to try out the techniques on a pretty cool warrior elf lady model, focusing in particular on her shield and arm plates for practice doing silvers and then the armor plates covering her shoulders for practice painting gold. Finally we talked about how to apply these techniques when painting any type of blade, although the spearpoint on our elf's weapon was not suitable to this lesson as it had some sculpted details on its surface.

The highlight of this class for me was getting to see in person some examples of Mathieu's painted miniatures. He passed around the room his entry for the historical miniatures category, a 54mm Spaniard which he named El Torres, to show us what we were aiming for with his style of painting metallics. The piece is absolutely stunning, as were all of his other work that I was able to check out, and getting to see it with my own eyes left me speechless. To see more of his work, be sure you check out his painting weblog at akaranseth. I find it to be very inspiring and a great resource as he has information on upcoming classes that he will be teaching in addition to a number of invaluable online tutorials.

Building and Painting Historical Armies
This was my last seminar on Friday, going from 10pm until sometime after midnight. The focus at AdeptiCon is very much on sci-fi and fantasy gaming so I was not too surprised that this was the only one of my seminars that was not well attended, though I'm sure the hour of night had more than a little to do with that. There were only five or six of us students for this one, plus our instructor, Dave Pauwels of Rabid Bat Studio. What did surprise me, however, was that within our group there was only a single Flames of War player as I had assumed this class would draw more people from the multiple FoW tournaments going on that weekend. I'm curious if a class specifically addressing painting smaller scale miniatures like the 15mm guys used in FoW or DBA would have gotten more FoW people.

I was really excited about the inclusion of a seminar specifically geared for historical miniatures and was very happy with how the evening went. This was a discussion-based class with Dave providing miniatures from his collection to illustrate for us some of the concepts about which we talked. The focus was mainly on those areas that distinguish painting historical miniatures from working on other more fanciful projects, in particular the extra challenges and commitment involved in "getting it right." To that end we spent a good amount of time talking about the essential process of researching one's subject matter in order to achieve a realistic appearance. I'm a fairly experienced researcher and have a longtime love of history so none of this was new to me, but it was still a lot of fun in that setting to talk about the myriad joys of looking things up. I love historical gamers... we're a nerdy niche within an already nerdy niche hobby! Funny to think that there was a time when all wargamers were of the historical variety.

After that we moved on from the preliminary planning stages into the actual painting of historical miniatures. Dave talked to us about some specific things that can come up, such as representing camouflage and flags, that might not be encountered as commonly in sci-fi and fantasy games. I thought probably the most useful portion of the night for me was when the discussion turned to the topic of painting horses. I am not a horse person and have little real life experience with them, but they're everywhere in my historical projects. Dave offered a lot of solid advice and some great tips on how to achieve a natural equine appearance. We also touched on realistic weathering and went over some simple techniques which served as a good preview of what I would see in my seminar the next day on weathering. This was one of my favorite classes and it was a great time talking about historical gaming with fellow enthusiasts. Combined with seeing up close Bennet's Celtic army, this class has fired my desire to not only get back to working on my 15mm historical projects but to take the plunge and start a 25mm army for Warhammer Ancient Battles. There are just so many potential armies to choose from, it will be very difficult for me to decide which to collect.

Hirst Arts Terrain and Casting
Saturday began with what I consider to be the most fun and enjoyable of all the seminars that I took, an introduction to the world of Hirst Arts. It reminded me of the type of messy fun we all had as kids in art class, only even better because it's for wargaming. What's not to like about that? Rich Nelson was our instructor for this class which I believe he said he has been doing four or more times a year for the last six or seven years. It was easy to tell that he knew what he was talking about and that he was very practiced in how he conducts his class. He had everything timed out very well which was important for us to each get in two full rounds of casting.

His introduction succinctly covered all the major areas of information needed to go from a complete novice to a reasonably competent caster. Topics included terminology, types of plaster and their suppliers, molds, casting, construction techniques, and a number of online resources related to working with Hirst Arts products. He even spent some time going over more advanced subjects like casting with resin and how to make one's own rubber molds. Next Rich demonstrated the entire process involved in casting one mold of plaster pieces, and then it was our turn to have some fun. Each student was able to do two sessions of casting so that when we were done everyone was able to cast four molds of bricks, pipes, or whatnot. Between casting sessions as our first set dried we were each given a bag full of pieces Rich had previously cast for us and a square section of MDF. We were therefore able to construct our own little bit of usable gaming scenery and, depending on which bag you got, ended up finishing the class with either an area of gothic-looking ruins, big industrial piping, or a small futuristic building. As can be seen in the very first picture of this post, I put together a two story sci-fi bunker thing.

Even if you're not that interested in making a lot of terrain, I would still recommend this seminar to any wargame or modeling hobbyist. I genuinely did have that good of a time. Rich is an excellent instructor and had with him a bunch of really cool finished pieces to help illustrate the potential for casting with Hirst Arts. Although it is not a technically challenging experience, it is a completely unique aspect of this hobby and Rich's class is an excellent introduction to it. Plus you leave with your own personalized bit of plaster terrain and enough extra blocks for another smallish sized terrain piece. At this point I'm not sure if it would make sense for me to invest in buying my own molds and plaster, but I can see how awesome these products would be for either a group of gamers or a dedicated terrain builder.

Painting Monstrous Faces
This was the second of my five seminars taught by Mathieu Fontaine. After the first class with him I was a little frustrated because I knew I just wasn't getting it yet. It's hard for me to explain but I feel as if he more than any of the other instructors truly challenged the conventions of painting miniatures with which I am familiar, especially in his usage of colors for shading and highlights. I started to get this sense during the class on metallics but didn't fully appreciate how much of a departure this was going to be until just before halfway through this class on monstrous faces. It was at times tough to adapt my normal way of painting and more than once I caught myself slipping into my customary ways.

After some discussion of theory we started work on our miniatures. Mathieu did a consistently good job of choosing interesting miniatures for each of his classes and all of them were a real joy to paint. He had us first practice the techniques of this class by painting the torso and arms of our goblins. I finally started to understand what it was that I was trying to achieve, but was still far removed from being able to successfully pull it off. Next we moved on to the real focus of this class which was painting our goblins' gruesome little faces. At this point I felt like I was really tuning in to what Mathieu was pushing us to and I ended up being generally happy with how my guy's mug turned out. Mathieu was great about circulating throughout the room as we worked on our miniatures so that he could offer personal assistance to those of us who needed extra tutelage. This was true for all of his classes and was something I definitely appreciated about his method of instruction.

Weathering with Acrylics, Dry Pigment, and Oil Paint
Up next was another round with Mathieu Fontaine as instructor, this time presenting to us a variety of the more advanced techniques used for realistic weathering. I grew up on military models and so these were effects I have seen and admired for a long time, I've just always been too intimidated to give any of them a try. Even though we weren't able to practice any of these lessons during the seminar itself, Mathieu was very thorough in his demonstration of them and in answering any questions that came up. It's amazing how simple most of these techniques really are and how quickly they can be achieved. After watching him present his live tutorials I feel confident that with the right materials I could now accomplish some nice weathering effects myself without too much trouble.

Once he had finished his introduction to the subject he reviewed with us the variety of materials and products that he would be using during this course. I don't have any type of formal background in art and so these were all new to me and the information he provided was very helpful. He started with normal acrylic paints but his application of them was certainly new to me. He showed us how the standard acrylic paints we use to paint miniatures can also be used to create cool splatter and chipping effects with either a sponge, a stipple brush, or even just your normal paintbrush. I was impressed with how good these looked considering they did not require any of the fancier art-store type of materials. Next he went over how to use pigment powders, something I am very eager to try out as soon as possible. Not only did he show us the more standard ways of using these pigments but also demonstrated how they can be used on bases and was able to produce an amazing urban base using nothing but the pigment powders.

The final major technique he taught to us was how to use oil paints on our miniatures. The ease with which this is done was probably most surprising to me as I had imagined anything with oils would have to be exponentially harder. In reality though there are some things that are actually easier to achieve with oil paint than with acrylics simply because oils stay wet and workable for so much longer, allowing you to really push the paint around and get extremely subtle blending and fading of the colors. As things dried Mathieu quickly presented a couple of other useful methods for weathering. He showed us the basics of airbrushing exhaust, rust and corrosion with pigment powders, chipping with a masking agent, and lining with inks. This was a great class and would be invaluable to treadheads of all skill levels.

Lose the Fear: Working with Greenstuff
Joe Orteza's class on sculpting with greenstuff was initially one of my primary motivations for signing up to go to AdeptiCon. I've been an admirer of his work for years so the opportunity to learn sculpting from him was just too good to pass up. Although I do not harbor any great desire to make sculpting original pieces a major part of my hobby, it would nonetheless be nice to make modifications to miniatures without being limited to whatever bits I happen to scrounge up. I've made a couple of very modest attempts at using greenstuff in the recent past but with significant unease and marginal success. I was therefore particularly excited about this seminar.

Joe is a fantastic teacher and extremely good at what he does. We each were given a large envelope containing Joe's guide to sculpting, a set of four sculpting tools, and a small glass mirror. The sculpting tools alone are probably worth the amount of money it cost to register for this class, making all of his instruction and everything else essentially a bonus... nice! Joe began by discussing the tools we would be using as well as some other more specialized ones that can be helpful in certain situations. There was also some general talk about greenstuff and its properties, planning a project, and model prep. After just minutes we jumped in and were mixing our blue and yellow strips.

Our first project was sculpting a purity seal, but the seemingly simple act of getting the mixed putty to stick to my mirror proved to be my first challenge. The greenstuff felt to me extra sticky so that it took a lot of water to keep it from sticking to my fingers or wrist. But by that point my cone or snake or blob of greenstuff would be so slippery that I kept dropping them onto the floor. I'm sure I stomped more than my share of greenstuff into the hotel's carpet that day. Then when I would manage to hang on to the stuff, there was still so much water that it would slide all over my mirror. Eventually I got my water issues under control but after that it always felt like I was a couple steps behind the rest of the class. It wasn't a problem though as Joe's reference guide is very well illustrated making it easy to follow the instructions while still working on a previous step.

After the purity seal we moved on to sculpting a section of chain, a feather, and a cloak on which we practiced making furry texture. While we were working on our projects Joe described key additional steps involved in numerous other types of common sculpting tasks such as gems, tassels, hair, sashes, and Chapter badges. He also discussed issues of support and layering. He passed around a bunch of incredible samples of his work. It was funny comparing my greenstuff "chain" that more resembled a line of squishy donuts to the flawless ones he sculpted onto his insane Inquisitor-scale Chaos Marine Raptor. Despite my troubles I found the experience extremely helpful as it was informative and really motivational as well. The stuff I sculpted may look silly but I feel like I understand the process, now it's just a matter of practice. That's encouraging, possibly the best thing a beginner like me could get out of a class like this. I'll take his class again if I ever get the chance.

Moving Forward: First Steps to Advanced Painting
My last seminar on Saturday night was a four hour painting class with Mathieu Fontaine. So far I had been in hobby classes for 20 hours since Thursday night but I did not feel nearly as drained as I had thought I would. Sure I was yawning some by the end of class but otherwise I was pleasantly surprised with my painting stamina, not to mention the heroic performance of my eyes in not giving out on me the whole weekend...thanks to my peeps! Armed with caffeine and brushes, I was ready.

By this point I was pretty comfortable with Mathieu and had gotten over my initial intimidation. I therefore really wanted to get as much as I could out of these final hours of painting as my remaining seminars on Sunday were to be entirely discussion and demonstration. Perhaps more importantly I had also become accustomed to the rapidity of his speech and his Quebecois-accented English. He was readily available for personal assistance and I availed myself of his critique frequently as he circled our table of painters. He really pushed me to get out of my painting comfort zone and I appreciated his honest and direct criticism and suggestions. The material for the class was broadly similar to those earlier classes I had with Mathieu, but this seminar offered ample time to really practice these techniques with the opportunity to ask all manner of questions.

It was a real treat getting to meet so many great painters and to get to know the other students in the classes with me. There was a group of us who were in almost all of the same classes together which helped build a friendly atmosphere... always a plus when painting toy soldiers! I think the lateness of hour that Saturday also played its part and it started to feel like a late-night painting session with old friends. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of these seminars and I appreciate AdeptiCon offering so many that this was possible. The picture above is of one of my classmate's miniature which he painted that night. I think this fellow's tunic in particular does a good job showing the application of Mathieu's approach to color and lighting with its bold yet smooth transition of vibrant hues. I want my painting to get better and I believe Mathieu's classes helped accomplish that.

Stepping Up Your Game: Painting to a Competition Level
I had to drag myself around somewhat on Sunday morning after being up so late the night before. Rather than going straight to bed as I should have, I instead hung around the main hall as the final round of open bits trading was wrapping up before playing cards into the wee hours of the monring, catching up with my old buddy DrGabe. I was therefore somewhat relieved that for Chris Borer's seminar all I had to do was sit there and listen. Oh, and of course drool over some of the coolest display pieces I have ever seen. This class was basically entirely theory-based, although referring to Chris's advice and wisdom as theory really is an insult to his body of work. We each received a 12 page reference guide packed full with advice and tips, as well as full-color photos on every page and it is probably one of the most valuable things I received during my entire time at AdeptiCon.

Chris Borer is yet another award winning painter recruited to teach at AdeptiCon and as I began flipping through his booklet I recognized lots of the miniatures from the pages of White Dwarf magazine. It was a particular thrill for me when he began passing his actual models around the room. I thought it was a great idea that Chris brought along each of the miniatures he had used to illustrate his reference guide so that we could see in person how he applied the concepts being discussed. Plus it's just cool to look at awesome models that have been beautifully painted. Also it was fun hearing Chris describe his thought process for the various pieces and explain how certain ideas came about and how he implemented them.

This class covered a tremendous amount of information and there just wasn't enough time to go over all of it. After a brief introduction that included Chris's thoughts on so-called "requirements" necessary to produce winning competition pieces, the first primary topic discussed was a thorough review of all manner of tools, brushes, and materials. Chris fielded a bunch of questions about primers and brushes before moving on to the topics more specifically related to competition-level modeling and painting. He discussed the importance of planning out one's concept and elements of composition, conversions, bases, and the usage of display plinths. He also spent some time giving advice on working with greenstuff and a solid overview of casting techniques.

After that the remainder of the class zeroed in on crucial aspects of painting and the theory on which they rest. The topics discussed included contrast and harmony, lighting, shadow, colors, washing vs. glazing, painted weathering, metallics, eyes and faces, and brushwork. I think this seminar was the most ambitious in its scope and breadth of subjects addressed. The class ran a bit over the scheduled time and I unfortunately had to leave so as to not miss the beginning of my next seminar. It looked like Chris was more than happy to stay as long as necessary, though, to answer more questions and to critique miniatures of those interested. I didn't have anything with me but there were a few painters in the class who wanted to avail themselves of Chris's expert opinion. Chris was one of the primary judges for the Rogue Daemon competition so I thought this was a great opportunity that he offered for people to get insight into how a painting judge looks at actual entries. Once again I was impressed with how accessible and helpful our instructors were at AdeptiCon. So this was yet another quality seminar and was very rewarding, I just wish we had more time to spend. I don't think it would be hard for a group of painters to spend the whole day with someone like Chris and even then still have more to discuss.

Airbrushing for Figurines
And so we have come to my last seminar at AdeptiCon, fitting then that it would be once again with Mathieu Fontaine. My first run at using an airbrush was close to ten years ago and at the time I had felt overwhelmed and really did not know what I was doing... I eventually stopped messing around with it after worrying that my compressor might possibly have been causing my apartment building to collapse. So I was therefore very interested in learning not only about the proper usage and functioning of an airbrush but also whether or not it is even something that I should consider using. I love the realistic appearance and smooth blending of colors that is possible with an airbrush but it is certainly a much more technical craft and demands a sizable investment of money as well. In hope of avoiding another costly series of mistakes as I made with my initial foray into airbrushing, I felt like I needed to know more to make a reasonable decision on this instead of randomly jumping in feet first. This was my main motivation for wanting to take this particular seminar.

I appreciate that Mathieu did not assume anything about our base of knowledge and instead started with a complete breakdown of an airbrush into its various components. He reviewed not only how all of it functions and what all the little pieces are for but he also thoroughly discussed the cleaning and care involved in having a well-maintained airbrush. He also talked about some of the major manufacturers of airbrushes and gave us his opinions regarding their various strengths and weaknesses, as well as his overall preferences. This was all really useful advice since buying a crappy airbrush can be a very expensive mistake. Similarly we also were presented with information concerning air compressors, their usage and maintenance, and the range of psi at which various tasks can be accomplished. Mathieu lastly discussed the types of paints that can be used and the proper method for thinning them so as to ensure everything functions as expected, as well as a few points regarding spray boxes.

Mathieu then kicked his compressor into action and began showing us proper usage of the airbrush and effective painting techniques. He gave a lot of practical advice on how to become comfortable using an airbrush and demonstrated a variety of simple painting exercises as a way of learning how to control the device and the application of paint. Even though it may not be glamourous or a whole lot of fun, I know from my past experience with an airbrush that time spent on this type of practice is invaluable. Seeing Mathieu perform these exercises made it very clear to me what I should be trying to achieve before even picking up a miniature that I would like to paint. He spent the rest of the class painting a rather distinguished looking 28mm fellow, pausing frequently to pass the miniature around the class so that we could each see the various stages of the process. It was neat just being able to watch someone work in an area in which they excel and I really appreciated this opportunity.

At the outset of this seminar I had a rather narrow understanding of the uses of an airbrush and had no idea of its potential for painting just about any type of miniature. I had believed that airbrushing was mainly limited to larger models like tanks and planes so it was stunning for me to see Mathieu working on significantly smaller areas, such as the shadowy areas beneath an outstretched arm or a particularly jutting chin. Having now seen how airbrushing works and gotten a sense of its uses and benefits, I think I will be sticking with my old fashioned brushes for the foreseeable future. I do not think I am ready to invest hundreds of dollars into the equipment necessary for quality airbrushing, at least not until my skill and ambition get to the point at which it becomes warranted. As much as I like the look of an airbrushed tank, it can wait... which means this class has saved me, for the time being at least, a lot of frustration and money. Plus if I do end up getting an airbrush, I'll be sure I follow Mathieu's advice and start by practicing on terrain.

Papa JJ gets a picture with Joe Orteza

So that was my experience at the AdeptiCon seminars. While attending one of the biggest gaming conventions in the country, I still somehow managed to go the whole time without rolling a single die... a little odd for someone calling his weblog "diceRolla," but oh well. I had a really awesome time and had lots of fun. I definitely want to go next year and would happily register for many of the same seminars if they were offered again. Overall I was more than satisfied with the quality and content of the classes and the teachers were of exceptional talent and ability. I truly wish I could have taken more, there just wasn't enough time.

The only consistent problem I saw was the generally poor quality of paints available for use by the students. We were supplied with a few plastic storage containers filled with Vallejo paints, many of which were in bad condition being either watery or else dried out. I saw at least three paint-bottle explosions, one of which splattered a fellow's well-painted Dreadnought in Chaos Black while he was showing it off to his neighbor. In another incident with a clogged Vallejo bottle the unlucky user was blasted with dark blue paint getting all over his shirt, arms, face and hair. It sucked for him but it was funny to see it happen to someone else. I knew there was a reason I stopped using Vallejo.

Fortunately a few of the teachers had brought with them a good selection of P3 paint pots and allowed us to use them during the classes. After getting to use P3 a lot over the weekend I am now a big fan of these paints. I think P3 and the Foundry System will be the way for me to go in the future as they seem to be very similar paints and should work well together. As for the Vallejo, I appreciate the difficulty faced by the organizers with having to provide paint for so many people. I wonder if it would be possible to get someone like Privateer Press to sponsor the hobby seminars in the future and provide paint themselves. Seems like it would be a good chance to make some converts... it would certainly be good exposure as the vast majority of people I talked to had never used P3 before but were all quite impressed with them.

Setting the paints aside as it was mostly a minor issue, the best thing for me about attending the seminars at AdepiCon was getting to meet so many great people and talk to them about our shared passion for painting and modeling. It was really cool to see in person the instructors' amazing models, quite a few of which I recognized as major award winners from years past. DrGabe and I were talking about this on the last day and he mentioned how cool it was for him to see Chris Borer's Slaaneshi marines. Years ago DrGabe was collecting an Emperor's Children army and at the time drew much inspiration from the very same miniatures that were passed around during Chris's seminar. That type of opportunity is unique to events like AdeptiCon and helps make such gatherings so worthwhile.

I am truly grateful that I was able to make the trip this year and to have such kind and talented individuals as my teachers and classmates alike. Everyone genuinely seemed happy to be there and excited to share their knowledge and experience with like-minded enthusiasts. After spending even just a couple of hours with them, I would not feel any hesitancy about contacting my instructors with questions or requests for help. Plus I learned lots of useful tips and new techniques which I look forward to incorporating into my own painting repertoire. Finally, the experience was incredibly inspiring and has ignited a desire to really push my hobby to new levels... not bad for a couple of days spent sitting in a hotel meeting room!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Just Pictures

This week has taken a toll on me... ugh. No time for words, just pictures. AdeptiCon. Have fun.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Resolutions Are Stupid

First off, let me start by saying that I'm done with doing these monthly updates on my resolutions for the year. I'm bored with it and don't have the time to waste. I'm sure I'll mention whatever hobby or gaming stuff I work on, so doing what would basically be a monthly recap seems pointless. I've decided I don't want to squander any precious time documenting my progress on the more personal goals, without which I should no longer be compelled to do these dumb First-of-the-Month posts.

Secondly, I had no idea how large of a project my wife started while I was away for the week. The house is truly in chaos. I'm looking forward to the end product, but right now it seems overwhelming coming immediately after all those days on the road and at AdeptiCon. I'm so enthusiastic and charged up right now about gaming and painting that I want to dig right in. Instead I am going to need to use that as motivation to get the house once again in order. Until that time, however, I do not foresee being able to get much of anything done concerning my favorite little toy soldiers. Even my AdeptiCon review stuff will probably have to wait a while longer, and for that I am sorry. What I will do though is keep posting a few random photos when I get a chance to sort of whet the appetite for eye candy. I know some of these are blurry but I think they're still cool enough to be worth checking out.

And finally, once the house is no longer in such a crazed condition, I probably am going to be throwing out all my old project plans. Even though I don't like constantly starting over, one lesson I've taken from AdeptiCon is that I should only work on those things about which I am passionate. This is a hobby, after all, not a job. I was really inspired by my gaming experiences over the past week or so and I feel like a lot of the mental blocks that were obstructing me have been lifted. All the projects I had going on before I left for AdeptiCon still appeal to me and I hope to get them done as well, it's just that I might be wandering somewhat from my previous notions of how and when they would be accomplished. I certainly have my 40k mojo back, so expect to see some progress once again on that front. Even though it's quite early in the process, to get a sense of the direction I'm going in you can check out a new blog (yes, another one) I started just for this project, which I'm calling the Stonecutters Guild. It will be the dedicated online home for my own Simpsons-themed DIY chapter of Space Marines, the Stonecutters.