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Finished miniatures 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.