Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Blood Angel WIPs

Below are some photos showing how my Blood Angels are coming along. I had a bit of a disaster during airbrushing (see my previous post) and ended up having to eschew my usual brush and instead employed an old DeVilbiss. It took longer but gave great results - I'm really pleased at how smooth the transitions are.

The Dreadnought (temporarily dubbed "Dready McDreadface") is the most advanced and is probably only a day or so off being finished. I considered edge-highlighting him but decided the airbrushing did most of the work. He's just had a pin wash around panel lines and rivets which makes them stand out enough. The banner is off for this shot. I think I need to add a further highlight to the red to bring it into line with my existing Death Company squad. I quite like his chubby little red fingers.

The Tactical squad is at the wash stage. I airbrushed on some gloss varnish beforehand as this does two things; decals suffer less from 'silvering', and the line-wash settles better in the recesses. I had a feeling that these guys were a bit too dark, but next to their predecessors they're actually OK. I started using some older decals I had kicking around, but then moved to those from the A4 upgrade sheet. I can't recommend these new decals enough! The varnish is super-tight to the artwork, and they fit like a dream. The yellows really pop too. The next step will be to airbrush some yellow glaze onto these guys which will variously seal the decals, knock back the gloss (GW washes have amazing matting agents) and also glaze the red to make it more vibrant.

The Captain is at the same stage. I've actually applied a decal to a shield he has slung on his back. I must try and get a shot from the back sometime. I was really pleased how the wash has made all the detail on his chest pop. I think the filigree is going to end up gold, and his tabard will be yellow with Blanche-esque sun burst arms on it.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The recent history of the airbrush

I stupidly managed to loose my only cup for my old Badger single action airbrush so was rootling through ebay looking for a replacement. I realised the range and price of these tools had changed dramatically in the last ten years or so. How on earth did these things drop so much in price, and why?

I began using airbrushes as a teenager in the early 90s for illustration. I'd read that some of my favourite artists like John Blanche, Giger and Philip Castle used them habitually so I began reading about the tools and associated techniques. It dawned on me pretty quickly that these were expensive beasts - not only the brushes, but also the compressors too. At this time an OK but low-spec double-action brush would set you back £100, and compressor upwards of £200. And there was little on the market which was cheaper. I saved hard, and bought a DeVilbiss Aerograph Sprite and a load of canned air. I still have the brush today even though it's seized-up and is past the point of using.

This was the pre-digital era, of course, and the brushes were the tools of the elite. In retrospect, companies like Iwata and their ilk had a wealthy, buoyant market of fairly well-paid commercial artists and designers (or the advertising studios they worked for) who could afford their wares. Also, the brushes were precision instruments based on long-established designs and made to last, so manufacturers weren't going to make money from repeat-buys due to obsolescence.

Two things have happened over the past 25 years - the primary market for brushes (commercial art and design) has gone completely digital, and production of the brushes has been moved to places like China which is cheerfully flooding the market with lower-quality but pretty passable models. Today it's only model makers, effects artists and custom-car graphic artists who remain from the original market. They're not willing to pay two or three hundred pounds for some kit, nor are the nail artists or makeup artists who are a new, burgeoning market for airbrushes. We're all pretty happy with lower-spec brushes and are also content, price permitting, if they last a few years. Consequently China is happily churning out very affordable models and selling them by the bucket-load on ebay.

So instead of parting with £13 for a gravity-feed cup for my Badger, I'm retiring it and buying a whole new brush for, I kid you not, £11. I have no idea what the quality will be like, but for laying down base coats and varnish, even if it does only last a year it's still pretty good value. I've seen a similarly cheap model used by a friend and it gives great results.

I just want to end with a note about the Aztek. When I began airbrushing the Aztek had just come on the market and was the bees-knees. Its glossy advertising loudly proclaimed the benefits of its changeable nozzles, and the (what later transpired to be a somewhat spurious) claim that it never clogged. I was totally taken in by the marketing and unique look of the thing and really wanted one. I never did save up the sum required, and the market died shortly thereafter but the Aztek hobbles on. The brand is now owned by Testors and the brushes are sold at a considerably lower prices and marketed to modellers.

I'll post again on this topic when the new brush turns up. In the meantime, if you're at all interested in the history of these equally awesome and infuriating tools, then check out this site. I'm still blown away that the first models were produced at the end of the Victorian era!

The new Testors packaging for the Aztek - note the shape of the brush, which was a massive deviation from the standard design which had been around for decades. Man, how I wanted one of these...

One of Philip Castle's most iconic works. His clean, high impact graphic style and his ability to render the famale form made him a staple of the commercial art scene for much of his career. He also did THE poster for Kubrick's Clockwork Orange and a lot of work for Playboy.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Visions of Castlevania

I don't have a great knowledge of Japanese artists so I'm still discovering the luminaries. I'm blown away by the work of Ayami Kojima, especially her paintings for the Caslevania franchise. I love her beautiful re-imagination of Western gothic tradition filtered though the (female) Japanese lens. Her male protagonists are, to our occidental eyes, etherial genderqueer beings - a fitting interpretation I feel of creatures that essentially a morbid evolution of the human.

No doubt they may have some insidious influence over my current vampiric miniatures project.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Blood Angel WIPs

Having taken possession of a Getting Started! box of Space Marines I got stuck in with gusto. Originally I intended to refrain from converting these too much and concentrate on the painting. Well, as you can see that didn't work out.

The Tactical Squad is only slightly bonkers with nothing too hardcore on the kitbashing. It was mainly a case of adding choice components, with the occasional more overt conversion like the missile launcher muzzle. I tried to choose pieces which lacked surface detail that would allow me to apply the Blanche-an schemes I intend - lots of sun-ray-arms, checks and trompe l'oeil skulls. I will paint the Space Wolf pelts as exotic leopard skins, akin to those sported by the Captain on the Epic 40,000 cover. I love the baroque touch this brings which is exactly where I want these guys to go.

The Venerable Dreadnought was rather more involved. This guy will be painted as a Death Company suit, but will be fielded as a 'default' Blood Angels machine. To wit, I salvaged a Multi Melta arm from an old Black Reach kit, and the front sarcophagus housing is, of course, a Death Company one. My thinking is he's succumbed to the Black Rage, but he's not so far gone they've stripped him of his ranged weapon. The mish mash of components lead to the need to fill quite a few voids, which I chose to cover with accretions of detail rather than fill with putty. The crossed bones are from the old Warhammer Skeletons kit. They're quite bombastic in their scale, but I felt they just about fitted here as the machine is so massive.

The Captain, as you can see, is where I got rather carried away. His whole pose has been altered, as he now faces to the viewer's left. The front is a spare from the aforementioned Venerable Dreadnought kit which I found fitted rather well. This almost pulpit-like 'facade' is clearly very antiquated (and possibly slightly impractical, but let's leave that aside) and is complemented by a momento mori skull pauldron and a ragged cape. The overall effect is one the kind of non-Codex Blanche weirdness I was aiming for.

The banners that the Sergeant, Captain and Dreadnaught sport are all magenetised to aid transport. I also love clicking them on and off in front of opponents as I find this level of hobby voodoo intimidates the enemy.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Scorn, Agony and the decline of the Satanic Panic

Two trailers hit recently for new titles which fully plant their flag in the rotting-offal-soaked ground of something akin to Hell.

I'm going to talk less about Scorn, as it'll probably get its own post soonish, but it tangentially serves to illustrate the point I'm going to make. Agony (confusingly, not the 1992 Psygnosis title) is more relevant as it mines Christian mythology quite unashamedly. It even states off-the-bat that players start their journey as lost souls in Hell, so no metaphors here then.

These games served to reinforce the decline and indeed reversal of the Satanic Panic witnessed in the 80s. In Britain and the US the press got hold of the idea that innumerable children were disappearing or being abused for use in satanic rituals by cults hidden within suburban society. While the finger of blame possibly should probably be pointed at the media's need for apoplectic column inches, churches on both sides of the Atlantic had varying involvement. Let's also not forget that TSR was busy taking references out of its books to evil spirits from Christian lore as pamphlets on the evils of role playing were being printed by church groups. But this pressure from Christian groups and the vilification of anything remotely inverted by the press seems to have receded to the point where games like Agony can be marketed quite freely.

There are, of course, many reasons for this - the rise of secularism, a fear of religious extremism, tolerance as a result of society becoming more multi-faith to name but a few. Nor is Agony even a notable benchmark because it's been preceded by many video games, comics, RPGs and so forth since the 90s. What is interesting is risk appetite on the part of creators and publishers. The climate was so hostile up until the 90s that any project touching on Christian faith was just too risky. Now this seems to be in reversal, but it's still not the polar opposite (due to the spending power of the Christian segment of the market in America). Agony is being made by the Polish studio MadMind but it's interesting to wonder how long it will be before a really big US publisher starts to consider Christian death/apocalyptic mythology 'fair game' for new products. It might even go the way of comic book movies, and perhaps we'll see a whole series of subversive gore-fests set in purgatory with spin-offs, TV shows and so forth?

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Pilgrym

I am shamefully late in blogging about my involvement in the Iron Sleet Pilgrym hobby project. For those of you who follow the INQ28/Blanchitsu trend in the blogosphere, this endeavour will need no introduction so you can skip the next paragraph.

Pilgrym was a 40K miniatures collaboration initiated by the esteemed Iron Sleet blog crew. They invited various friends to participate in an ambitious, audacious and down-right foolhardy adventure. It was an effort to build a narrative that spanned the breadth of the hobby - not just miniatures and terrain, but also worldbuilding, fiction, illustration and even iconography. The project explored the rotting underbelly of Holy Terra itself - a setting rarely talked about and only seen in its idealised form in Imperial propaganda. In this Sisyphean task we had a guiding light - John Blanche himself lead us into the verdigris-stained gloom with bespoke illustrations and, of course, a range of miniatures. Us intrepid explorers followed and in our wake we have left hundreds of miniatures and a gaming board the likes of which has rarely been seen before.

In this post I'm going to talk about my contribution. I also implore you to check out the Iron Sleet blog to see the everyone else's work.

 The Pilgrym crew in Warhammer World on the day of the main event.

In the early stages we discussed our ambitions and the factions which we might render in miniature form. Our Danish friends JRN and First Point of Aries were keen to explore what became known as the 'Bio-Pilgrymme' - a facet of the Magos Biologis with a dubious interest in the flora of Terra. I loved this idea and after a bit of a false start collaborated with a slightly less high-brow cast. I was keen to delve into the antipathy of what Terra stands for - the lowest of the low, the servile class of the dispossessed and oppressed who occupy the very bottom of the Terran artifice (both literally and metaphorically). I did this with two small groups - some toothless Agri Workers who tend the arboretum and Grubs, a set of humans broken and degraded by the machinery of the Imperium to the point of frightful cannibalism.

The Agri Workers are examples of the teeming hoards of illiterate, myopic humans who facilitate the rather more glamorous side of the Imperium we usually see. They have little concept of their own place in the universe, simply tilling the putrid earth of the arboretum and caring nothing for anything outside of their greenhouses. They have a rudimentary sense of the Ecclesiarchy and have conflated this with a certain sort of antediluvian folk-worship of the Green Man. For them the Emperor is the giver-of-life, the world spirit that keeps the greenery alive and must be appeased with rituals both benign and brutal. Alas, they have been infected by some kind of spore which has nestled in their lymph nodes to propagate. The fungus is steadily turning these poor souls mad. The Agri Workers are in the process of becoming blood-flecked frothing puppets to some evil design which not even the Magos Biologis fully understand.

Little is known about the Grubs, other than they were once human. Devoid of sight they are a terrifying pack of sniffing, loping carnivores which haunt the dank cloisters in the Terran underbelly. They are the bane of municipal servitors and have been known to use surprise and sheer numbers to overpower workers. Occasionally the nuisance they cause becomes so great a purge is warranted, and they are hunted by Enforcers. A canny Arbites will find the Grubs' burrow and exterminate a whole nest as they beasts huddle together to sleep. No one has had the stomach to pick through the charred rats-nest of limbs, teeth and hair to find out why these creatures continue to multiply.

I have to confess I wasn't that pleased with the Agri Workers. I was striving to channel a diverse set of references including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, The Wicker Man, mumming plays, hobby horses and foliate heads. While the plan to use a lot of older components from the Empire and Bretonnian ranges was sound, I don't think these fellows really capture the religious or archaeotechnical nature of the 41st millennium. The only one who came close was the piper, who carries a rusting amplifier on his back and is only just able to wedge the mouthpiece of his instrument through the jaws of his jaunty skull mask.

I was much happier with the Grubs. They were simple conversions of Ghouls and very quick to make. I think their crowning feature is their heads, which are the Ghoul ones shaved down and filled-in and made more bulbous with Green Stuff. Clearly Silent Hill, Goya, Hans Bellmer and Gollum are influences here.

I also produced a deck of narrative cards for the game. The development for these was quite drawn-out as I went back to them off and on over the period of some months. I incorporated several elements out of a dense idea-soup: neural networks (relating to the fungal infection of the brain, which also look like roots), obscure gothic sigils and three 'suit' icons based on some objective markers JRN had built. Alas I didn't spend as much time on the associated rules mechanics, and fellow Pilgrym PDH and I agreed in a cheerful discussion that the, frankly half-baked, system I came up with didn't really work out. Nonetheless the cards did foster some experiences and interactions for the players in the real world which I was pleased about. All too often games designers focus on rules mechanics and the strategy and balance associated with them, and not enough on the experience the game encourages amongst the players. My fellow Pilgrym members each took home their card and so I know the deck lives on as a memento of sorts.

I cannot begin to articulate the talent that was brought to bear on Pylgrim. You just have to see the results to believe them.

It's old news now but Warhammer World have kindly organised for the terrain and miniatures collections to be displayed in their halls from December 3rd – February 26th. Click here for all the details.

"The Greene Man Cometh!"

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Samorost 3

Prague-based Amanita Design have released their latest title; Samorost 3. Like their previous titles including the award-winning Mechinarium, it's a puzzle game with absolutely stunning aesthetics and relies a lot on non-verbal communication. I've blogged before about the trend of hand-made imagery in games including amazing titles like Lumino City, Lume by State of Play, The Swapper by Facepalm Games and, to an extent, Limbo and Inside by Playdead. While I love the low-poly 80s look that is dominating at the moment, Samorost does feel like a breath of fresh air.