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Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures

Putting my USCR squad in the lightbox

Painted roughly three years after the BattleTech mechs I posted yesterday (2010, maybe drifting into 2011), the main difference between these MERCS minis and those mechs is that in between I learned about the Dip Method — which means that these have a wash applied, which the mechs did not.

Getting these guys out again, I have to say that I really like MegaCon’s figure designs here. There are a lot of little details, like the pouches and the variations in the guns, that give them character without making them feel cartoonish.

Unleash the all-seeing eye of the lightbox

Trying out a group shot in my lightbox (USCR squad, minus the tank)

I can definitely see the difference washing (shading) makes. I suspect the Dip Method’s floor varnish (Minwax PolyShades) is thicker than an actual made-for-minis wash, too — which may be why some of the shallower lines and transitions lack depth. There’s some nice warmth to the leather and some decent shading in the “vents” on the armor, though.

I learned from the mechs and their pesky rocks, too: These bases have just a few rocks apiece, and I glued those fuckers down tight. I’m also digging the contrast between the green central portion of the base and the rocks (which is hard to see here because of the angle).

And shit, these do look markedly better than my mechs. Progress!

On to the main event, the Behemoth — and his massive hammer, painted yellow for maximum USSR hammer/sickle vibes.

OSCR Behemoth

I like this guy. All the red adds up to being a bit bland, but some parts of his armor showcase the wash pretty well. He’s the “hero piece” in the squad, and I spent the most time on him. I also did a decent job keeping my base coated sections discrete, too . . . at least from this angle.

Here’s a shot composed so as to be as unflattering as possible, partly as an experiment — I’m still figuring out my lightbox, angles, etc. — and partly to highlight the difference between “good enough for tabletop” and “stands up to scrutiny from six inches away.”

Dat ass, though…

There’s a full-on unpainted spot on the small pouch where his left leg meets his waist (at the bend), and you can also see where I blobbed black on the pipes/cables on his lower black — relying on the Dip to cover my sins — and the Dip did not in fact cover my sins. I’m not sure if it’s glare or if I was overzealous in my application of spray sealant, but that’s something for me to keep in mind in the future.

On the other hand, the row of pouches facing the camera look really good! I also like the warmth in the yellow, and the shading, on his hammer. And the Dip worked its magic on his circular armor vents.

On balance, I’m surprised to say that my takeaway from these MERCS figures is that I’ve been selling myself short as a minis painter. I have a tendency to be overly critical of myself, so that tracks pretty well. Nothing I’ve shared so far makes me — or, I suspect, would make you — recoil in horror. Especially not at arm’s length during a game.

I’m not going to get anywhere by being uncharitable with my own lack of experience as a minis painter: My lifetime total is around 85 painted miniatures. To put that in perspective, Rushputin of Warpstone Pile — who is seriously fucking talented, a real brush-wizard — paints more miniatures than that in a single year. Looking at his 2018 year in review post, he paints an average of roughly 242 minis per year (~450 in 2016!). I can’t expect to be nearly as good as him after what’s basically 33% of one of his average years.

The lightbox is proving quite useful for self-evaluation, and for putting things in perspective; I’m really digging it. (I reviewed this model in my previous lightbox post.) It highlights both positives and negatives much more clearly than just holding up a mini at squinting at it — and it makes the minis look cool!

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Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Space Hulk WIP it good

WIP it good: applying washes to two minis (with comparison photos)

A big part of why I love my lightbox is for how clearly it showcases my paint work — for good and ill. It’s a great learning tool.

To that end, here are a couple of comparison photos of the same two models: first with only a base coat, and then with a wash (Citadel Shades) that I applied in this evening’s painting session. So far I’ve only been putting finished minis in the lightbox, but this seems like a potentially good use of it as well.

For context, I may have attempted a couple washes many years ago (~2007), but I can’t remember for sure. I know that all of my “recent” minis — from around a decade ago — were washed with the Dip Method because applying washes with a brush has always made me nervous. (It seemed so easy to screw up!)

I used an excellent article on Tangible Day as my basic guide to washes. It’s what pointed me to the Citadel Shade Paint Set (paid link) as a good starting point, and to the specific shades I’ve used here.

This is my first time doing a proper wash in something like 13 years — it might as well be my first time, really. I was nervous!

Reikland Fleshshade on throne boy, starting on the Seraphim Sepia on Scipio

Before and after: front

Brother Scipio and throne boy, base coat only
Post-wash

Before and after: rear

Rear view, base coat only (those teardrop gems on the throne were so much fun!)
Rear view with a wash

Side-by-side photos

WordPress makes galleries a breeze now — let’s see how they look in A/B mode.

Colors and shades

Colors are P3 Khador Red and Marrow White; and Citadel Leadbelcher, Lothern Blue, Auric Armor Gold, and Moot Green. Primer is Armory white spray and my brushes are a mix of Citadel and Armory.

I used different shades for each Terminator. Since throne boy is long-dead and basically part of the space hulk, not the Terminator squad, he got Reikland Fleshshade on his gold bits (to make them look a bit more aged) and Agrax Earthshade everywhere else. It’s not like he’s doing regular armor maintenance anymore, right?

Brother Scipio got Nuln Oil on his Leadbelcher elements (for that cool/dark metal look), Seraphim Sepia for his gold (for a more burnished look), and Agrax Earthshade everywhere else — including the base, since it’s rusty decking.

Annnnnd exhale

Compared to using the Dip Method, which is both forgiving — it goes everywhere, you can’t miss any spots — and unforgiving, since you only get one color and it’s pretty thick, applying a wash with a brush (Citadel Shade M) was . . . a lot of fun.

With the Dip, I was outside on my stoop, gripping the base of the mini with needlenose pliers, shaking the everliving fuck out of it while hoping I didn’t a) fling it across the driveway or b) shake off too much varnish.

With a brush, I felt much more in charge. I did a quick pass everywhere, probably too heavy, making sure to brush across details rather than along them. Then I poked all the crevices; and finally I followed up with a shade-free wet brush to get some of the “globs” of wash thinned out a bit.

Not gonna lie: It was a bit nerve-wracking — at first. But after a few strokes I saw that this was going to be almost as forgiving as the Dip, and increased control and the ability to use multiple shades felt like solid trade-offs.

I’ve always been nervous about doing washes. No longer!

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BattleTech Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools

Experimenting with photographing my painted minis in a lightbox

After seeing Warpstone Pile‘s cool setup I bought an inexpensive lightbox to use for photographing my miniatures.

For $20, this DUCLUS lightbox (paid link) — one of dozens of cheap lightboxes on Amazon — offered some features I really liked.

  • Folds up for storage in the included bag
  • Built-in LEDs with a dimmer switch, 95+ CRI, and a button to switch between cool, neutral, and warm light
  • If you turn it off while it’s plugged in, it has setting memory for both brightness and color temperature (it resets when you unplug it)
  • Five fabric backdrops, including black — the one wanted to start with

Here it is with the black backdrop in place, on the lowest light setting, with the LEDs set to neutral white. As a flashlight enthusiast who’s obsessed with high CRI and neutral white in my lights, I’m pretty happy with the light this puppy puts out.

DUCLUS lightbox

I’m just shooting with my phone because it’s easy: shoot, email the pics to myself, and then crop, auto-adjust and -contrast in PhotoScape, and they’re ready to upload. Getting out my Serious Camera would only reduce the likelihood that I do this at all. Pitter patter!

I chose my favorite paint job that I did back in ~2007 for my first victim: this 100-ton Behemoth. I’ve always loved assault mechs and this is a great design; I spent a lot of time painting it back in the day. It’s one of the first minis where I felt like I had my drybrushing down.

Painted Behemoth in the lightbox

But in the lightbox? Oof, that close-up under even lighting is really unforgiving. This mini is absolutely good enough for tabletop, and it looks sharp at arm’s length — my usual painting standard. But here I can see that I over-drybrushed, perhaps to compensate for not doing a wash. I’m pretty sure I didn’t drybrush in a complementary color, instead just using my default white.

Still: not terrible! This post, and my evaluation of my past work, isn’t about tearing myself down. I’m not winning any Golden Demons, but I’m not as bad a painter as I’ve long felt that I was — even under the all-seeing light of the DUCLUS. I’d play proudly with this little Behemoth in my force.

Next up is this Bushwhacker, which I painted with a metallic base coat. Definitely from around the same time as the Behemoth, in terms of when I painted it.

Painted Bushwhacker

Over-drybrushed, not washed, and I can see I wasn’t great at removing mold lines either. The rocks on the base are glued down, but I suspect they needed to be varnished or something to help them stay in place. I like the look, but I don’t plan to base minis this way again — the little rocks fall off quite easily.

But overall, I’m not sad about this little dude either. There’s ample room for improvement, but even in the lightbox I’m pretty happy with how he turned out.

It will be fascinating to compare these to some of my later dipped (washed) minis and see how they stack up.

Anyhoo, I’m quite pleased with this lightbox and I look forward to sticking more minis in it. Being able to shoot photos without worrying about having good exterior lighting (sometimes a challenge in Seattle!), or finding just the right spot in the house, should make it a breeze to keep doing these posts.

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Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools

WarpedMindGames paint racks are awesome

After a bit of airing-out time I got my paint racks from WarpedMindGames assembled. They’re everything I hoped they would be — absolutely fantastic, and for a solid price.

Imperial Paint Rack Linear

I ordered the one that’s set up with 34 mm holes for GW paint pots, of which it holds 45. Assembly took about 5 minutes and was entirely problem-free.

You can see the two brush slots towards the back. Note too the nicely staggered rows, like movie theater seats, which make the labels of partially obscured rows of paint easier to see.

Front view

This rack is full of decorative flourishes that give it character, like the gothic arches in the sides and the eagles on the cross-braces.

Side view, note the little cathedral windows

There are also purely decorative eagles in the back, and the cutouts from whence they emerged are in the largely invisible bottom of the rack.

Back view, with the decorative eagles (and the invisible cutout on the bottom you’ll rarely see — a cute touch)

Here she is fully assembled and stocked with paint and brushes. I’ve got base coats in the front, followed by layers, shades, and dry brush paints marching up towards the top.

Fully stocked and ready to rock

The shop said that these don’t need glue, and I agree. The only fitment that’s even vaguely loose is the very top rack (the skinny one), which has the fewest attachment points. But this entire rack, fully loaded, also isn’t designed to be moved around regularly. I don’t plan to glue any of it.

The paint holes are perfectly sized for my new-style GW pots. They also hold my smattering of Privateer P3 paints just as well. I’m basically out of brush space here, but that’s what the second rack, the Mini, is for; it will also hold some of my overflow paints (duplicates, dodgy ones that don’t have much life left in them) and my hobby knife, basing media, etc.

Imperial Paint Rack Mini

Like the larger one, the Imperial Paint Rack Mini went together beautifully in about 5 minutes. This one is compact and has more structure to it thanks to the large plates above and below the drawer; it’ll do great if I need to tote it around the house (and again, no glue).

My assembled mini

The drawer is quite deep, swallowing up my miscellaneous miniature-related stuff easily. The flat surface in front of the first paint row makes a handy spot for odd-sized bottles (primer, etc.) — and, I suspect, a good work shelf for paints that are on-deck for whatever I’m painting at the moment.

The double-eagle doubles as the drawer pull

Everything else I said about the big one applies here. It’s a thoughtful design, cleverly implemented as a flat-pack DIY solution, and it has character to boot.

It’s eagle time

I also had a great experience with WarpedMindGames as a shop. I messaged the owner, Brian, about a small problem (the fitment of my drawer), he messaged me back in five minutes, and after investigating found that his cutter’s driver was off; I had a new drawer on the way that same day, with some extra goodies in the package as an unexpected surprise.

Laser-cut objective tokens and, I think, an acrylic bottle opener

Here they are side by side on my desk. I have a few paints elsewhere at the moment (the colors I’m using), but taken together these two accommodate my entire collection with ease.

The mini and the linear side by side

Thumbs up all around on the WarpedMindGames, their service, and these two racks!

Update: I’ve been chatting about minis games with Brian of WMG, and he shared this tip: Don’t store brushes vertically, as it can cause them to splay out and/or get junk in the ferrules. Instead, store them horizontally — for me, that’ll be in the drawer of the Mini — and use the vertical slots for other tools (hobby knife, files, etc.).

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Miniature painting Miniatures

One more batch of minis from the vault: MERCS

When I attended Gen Con 2010 (my last one, I think?) the MERCS skirmish wargame had just come out. A friend and I both played a demo, got excited about it, bought core books and a squad apiece, and made plans to paint our squads and then start battling each other.

I painted mine, he never painted his, we never played the game, and now I have a bunch of unused MERCS stuff sitting around in my closet. Ah well.

But that does mean I have one more set of minis from years ago that I can toss in the lightbox and share here on Yore. My friend suggested the USSR color scheme for my squad, which was a fun idea (and apropos, given that USCR is the former Soviet bloc faction). Just looking at this photo I can already see that I wish I’d carried the red/yellow thing further than, uh, one guy’s hammer.

MERCS USCR squad

These should be an interesting contrast to my BattleTech mechs because, unlike those, I used a wash on these (the Dip Method) before drybrushing.

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Miniature painting Miniatures Space Hulk WIP it good

WIP it good: dotting in those eyes

I likely won’t keep this frenzied posting pace up, but when my excitement is high and I’m loving it I tend to post, post, post. So: another quick WIP post before I head out to see Birds of Prey.

I’ve never owned a brush this fine. It’s an Army Painter Wargamer: Detail brush, with an oversized triangular handle for a comfy grip, and I love it.

5-minute painting session, so this month’s White Dwarf is my painting mat

This is the sort of brush I need for eyes!

I love this shade of green

I picked Moot Green, which pops just as much as I’d hoped it would. Why did I struggle to paint things this small without this fine a brush for so long?

Done!

With Scipio off the painting handle, I knocked out a quick Leadbelcher coat on his base (to match my Genestealers; with a brown wash it should come up a treat, just like rusty/weathered metal) — and with that his base coat is done.

Now I’ve got two Terminators ready for shade/wash experimentation.

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Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools Space Hulk WIP it good

WIP it good: trying out the painting handle

For today’s painting progress I queued up my favorite work/create album (shit, one of my overall all-time favorites), Nicolay’s City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya, and sat down with a couple of Terminators.

First up was yesterday’s throne boy, as I noticed I’d missed a couple of spots. I touched those up, then grabbed my new Citadel Painting Handle (paid link), dropped in Brother Scipio, and took it for a spin.

Throne boy and Brother Scipio

I also switched from painting over a paper towel to using my Gunpla cutting mat. Getting paint on that won’t cause any issues, and when I’m ready to start nipping my Deadzone minis off their sprues and trimming them down, it’s what I’ll be using anyway.

A decade ago, I used putty to affix a mini to a paint pot, wine cork, or other suitable object as a painting handle. It was fine, but always a bit of a pain — and sometimes they fell off. Metal minis in particular would work themselves loose over time.

One of the coolest things about this handle is that working upside-down is a breeze.

Turn that grim frown of eternal darkness upside-down

I also like that it has two “layers” of base grips built in. I’m using the top layer for Scipio. The bulbous grip shape is also easier on my fingers, which are a decade older too . . .

Like the Citadel water cup (paid link), the handle is one of those things that sounded unnecessary at first but is proving to be quite nifty.

Scipio, nearly fully base-coated

I need to finish up the base edges (and a couple hard-to-reach spots by his feet), and then go buy a pot of “Terminator visor/eye green” and dot those in — but apart from that, he’s fully base coated as well.

Base coat colors, as ever for these guys: P3 Khador Red and Marrow White, GW Leadbelcher, Lothern Blue, and Auric Armor Gold. TDB: green for the eyes.

Observations

Having gotten off the assembly line for two miniatures now, I’m 100% happier with this approach (as I speculated might be the case). Sure, it’s less efficient — but given that these miniatures have been in my possession for 11 years, is efficiency really my top concern? Completion is satisfying; seeing real progress in one painting session is satisfying.

I also found myself solidly in the mindful, relaxed yet focused state I talked a bit about in my post on realizing I secretly enjoyed miniature painting — that state of “washing the dishes to wash the dishes, not to have clean dishes,” of enjoying painting for the joy of painting.

Case in point: Brother Scipio, who never met a craft store he didn’t walk out with another yard of locally sourced vellum and a jar of decorative glass gems, is covered in scrolls and jewels. I discovered I love painting the little teardrop-shaped jewels, and I enjoyed taking a deep breath and trying to capture the “tails” of his decorative chest scroll. That feels damned good.

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Miniature painting Miniatures Space Hulk WIP it good

WIP it good: finished base coating the throne Termie

After mulling it over I decided to try what I’d been toying with after my first WIP it good post: getting off the assembly line and just base-coating one Terminator to completion.

I figured I’d pick one of the miscellaneous pieces in Space Hulk, the dead Terminator on the throne — who is used in exactly one mission, I believe — rather than a mainline squaddie so that if my experiment in shading went wrong I wouldn’t have destroyed one of the primary models.

There was one small problem . . .

Gehenna’s Gold != whatever gold I used before

I have Gehenna’s Gold on hand, which I think I bought as a replacement for some GW or P3 gold that had dried out — whatever I used on the gold accents on my Genestealers (decking bolts, etc.). But it looked coppery, so I tested it on throne boy and yep, that’s copper.

So I made a quick trip to Mox Boarding House, which has a full selection of Citadel paints, to pick up a replacement. You know where this is going, right?

Three gold options, a gold for drybrushing, and…

I wound up with the gold I figured would be the right one, Auric Armor Gold, but just in case I also picked up Liberator Gold and an Army Painter option, Bright Gold. Plus Golden Griffon for drybrushing . . . and AP Toxic Mist in case whatever I’d used for my Genestealers had dried out, and a painting handle because it looked useful and I wished I’d had one earlier today, and two very fine brushes (something I don’t have in my arsenal).

Then I got properly tucked in and wrapped this guy right up.

My first fully base-coated Terminator!

For Future Martin’s benefit I sat him atop his five base coat colors: P3 Khadar Red, P3 Morrow White, and the GW pots of Auric Armor Gold, Leadbelcher, and Lothern Blue.

I’m pretty sure his wax seals and the gems on the throne aren’t supposed to be blue, but red seemed redundant, yellow seemed too likely to conflict with gold, and I don’t have a light green at the moment. I dig the bright blue.

Next I do some reading up on brush shading, pick a couple washes from my Citadel Shade set, and take throne boy to the next level!

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Miniature painting Miniatures Space Hulk WIP it good

WIP it good: Terminating the weekend

Sharing work-in-progress (WIP) pics seems good for motivation and sounds fun, so here’s today’s WIP: finishing the Leadbelcher base coat on the last of my Space Hulk Terminators.

I paint batches of minis like this assembly line-style, so 100% of my Termies have been primed (with Armory white spray primer) and base-coated in P3 Khador Red. All of them have metallic weapons and other shiny bits, so I moved on to GW Leadbelcher next.

My final four Terminators about to get their Leadbelcher base coat
Three down!
One to go
Today’s foursome complete, about an hour of painting

I realized I’d forgotten to the little vents in the heels of most of them in Leadbelcher, so I fished out the whole squad to hit them all while I still had the pot open.

All the Termies in Space Hulk 3e

That was when I discovered Mister Hammer, who’s in the foreground in the pic above. He’d been tucked into a corner of the Plano box where I’ve been keeping (cough cough mostly storing) these guys and I hadn’t noticed that he still needed a Leadbelcher base coat. Ah well, my eyes are tired now and I’m ready for a break; he’ll have to wait until later, or another day.

Sidebar

I’m also noticing a downside of batch painting vs. completing one model at a time: There are no bursts of accomplishment along the way, as a figure gets finished; instead, it’s one big Tunguska Event of accomplishment all at the end, when 100% of them get wrapped up more or less at the same time. They also look like crap for longer, since every base coat produces a measure of spillover that I won’t fix until I do one final touch-up pass before shading. It still feels more efficient to batch paint, though, but it’s making me wonder if I shouldn’t try switching gears when I get to my Deadzone squads.

One more unrelated observation: This is my first time using this Citadel water cup (paid link), and it’s great. It has a brush rest, a wide base for stability, little striations on the bottom and sides for agitating paint off your brush, and “brush tip-pointing slots” in one side. I wasn’t sure all those bells and whistles would be an improvement over using the giant movie theater cup I’ve used for years (or just grabbing a random mug, etc.), but I used 100% of them in this session and appreciated them all.

Whipping it

Incidentally I think I’m going to preface all my WIP post titles with “WIP it good,” because 1) fuck yeah Devo! and 2) the lyrics to “Whip It” are actually pretty apropos for miniatures painting:

Now whip it
Into shape
Shape it up
Get straight
Go forward
Move ahead
Try to detect it
It’s not too late
To whip it
Whip it good

Devo, “Whip It!”

And in closing, one more stray thought: Today, while holding minis about six inches from my face, I realized it might be time to invest in a magnifier lamp. Another time!

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Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools

Laser-cut MDF paint racks from WarpedMindGames

My previous storage solution for miniature paints, brushes, and supplies was a fishing tackle box. It was nice for transporting my stuff to a friend’s place to paint together, but that didn’t last long and my paint collection has since outgrown the box.

It was time for a new solution, so I did some homework and landed on two racks from WarpedMindGames on Etsy. I bought the Imperial Paint Rack Linear and the Imperial Paint Rack Mini, both with holes sized for GW pots since that accounts for 90% of my paints. From price point to design, with the WH40K-esque eagles and staggered paint slots, these looked fantastic to me.

They arrive unassembled and smelling like burnt wood — which makes sense, given that they’re laser-cut MDF. Oddly, they smell like Christmas to me; it’s not at all unpleasant.

WarpedMindGames MDF paint racks, fresh out of the box

The larger one holds 45 GW paint pots (they offer other sizes, too) and has some slots for brush storage. This will juuuust about hold all of my current paints. I think.

The large rack

The mini includes a storage drawer, and I figured I could probably use it as a “local travel” rack — basically to stock it and set it wherever the best light is at the moment, which isn’t always at my office desk. (I know I should have a proper lighting setup — or, fucking A, a light arch — but one step at a time.)

The mini rack

I’m going to air them out a bit before assembly, so I extracted them from their shipping bags (they were quite nicely packed, with bubble wrap and all of the more fragile bits shielded from harm) to improve air circulation. Sometime in the next day or two I’ll get them assembled and see if they work nicely — which I expect they will.