Wednesday 30 October 2013

Sprue Cutters Union #15: What makes an outstanding model?

What makes an outstanding model?

It's always disheartening to receive lacklustre comments about something you've spent time, effort and money on. CMON ratings of 5 or 6 from modellers who are technically lower down the food chain than you really suck. Let's not even mention the feelings of failing to make the cut at the Golden Demon or similar contest.

Peer reviews are often like family critiques - well-meaning and offence-free, but not usually useful in terms of progression and direction.

I'm starting to look at my work differently - not with just a sense of pride for having completed it to a decent standard - models need to perform well, too.

3 Rules:

1. A display model must be 'on display'
2. A well-painted model will photograph well
3. Any techniques used should be proficiently presented

These can, in part, be translated from musical performance or stagecraft;

1. Don't break character, and be idiomatic.
2. Don't blame the lighting crew for your dull performance.
3. Be well rehearsed - don't practice in front of your audience.

Let's start with this goblin. He's painted to a decent standard. Or is he?

1. He's on display. The base is fitting, if a bit simple.
2. He doesn't photograph well - too dark around the face. Not a lighting issue, but a painting fail.
3. Techniques are okay - he doesn't look like anything had been tried out for the first time.

Gandalf. Very proud of this figure. Let's apply the rules:

1. The display is too simple for subject. Needs to feel more epic.
2. Photographs well enough, but highlights brushwork on horse and clothing.
3. Some techniques, like blending, look like they were rehearsed on this figure.

Everyone's a critic, right? So it's important to think like them when building and painting.

Here's a photo by Dan Quirk (@filmcorai) of a Blood Raven sergeant:

1. The base is good. Doesn't obscure the figure, and the colours contrast nicely.

2. The photo itself isn't great, but the subject photographs very nicely. The face is a clear focal point, and the weathering stands out enough.

3. The range of techniques used were mastered elsewhere- not practiced on this figure!

I like this figure - the model 'performs', and does it well. Do yours?

Here's a different angle from a fellow sprue cutter:

Scale Model Workbench

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Sprue Cutters Union #14: the worst part of the hobby


The worst bit of the hobby.

Worse than drilling, pinning, filling, sanding or gluing.

It's a complicated thing - I love painting, but also dread having to committo colour schemes, trying out new techniques and generally showing off 'me' to everyone online.

I'd like to think I'm pretty good with a brush - air or bristles - and looking at other's work, I'm certainly not at the bottom of the skill roster. But being a perfectionist and a bit of an egoist, I want to be the best! When I'm not, it knocks me for 6 - and that's in anything I'm involved in: music, work, baking - anything.

So you can probably imagine that putting a finished model on show for others to comment on/judge not only brings out the idiotic competitive monster, but also the insecure child. The anticipation of that daft situation is also what stops me from finishing projects, or sometimes even getting past the assembly stage.


I love painting. I hate painting.

I'm currently available for commission work. Contact me below.

Other spruecutters are suffering from 'worst bit of the hobby', too. Check 'em out here:

Fill n Sand

Eternal Wargamer

A scale Canadian

Jay's Scale Model Adventures

Sven Harjacek's blog

Jason Vantroyen's blog

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Spruecutters Union #13 - preparation

A few years ago, a workmate and I joked about having a 'model-off'. We both bought the same 1:48 Tamiya Spitfire mk1 kit, and got cracking.

First thing I did was some web research: I wanted to kick his butt with a super-detailed kit, so I needed to see what inaccuracies would foul this model if built it straight from the box.

The cockpit, the canopy, the prop, the wing-weapons, the wheels, the rudder and all control surfaces were details that could be improved. Resin, etched-brass and vacu-formed plastics from various aftermarket sources soon quadrupled the cost of the build, but would eventually make it look amazing.

A Haynes manual of the Spitfire also found its way onto the hobby shelf: obsessive reading and trawling the web for close up photos, and triple-checking the correctness of the details was how I spent many evenings.

I started the project, and got a decent way into it, but then had to put it on hold for a while, and then shelved it for much later, and then moved house, and now I don't remember what any of the aftermarket bits are for.

When I do start it again, it will be awesome, but I'll have to obsess about it again, and to the same level as before.

My workmate, sadly, got divorced, and I don't think he finished his model, either. If he did, it was probably only an average attempt ;-)

I've had a similar story with a Halcyon Aliens Dropship (detailed, kitbashed, but not finished) and a paintjob on a Suzuki Whizkid - finished for a commission. Hours of checking details and finding methods of getting them scaled down - over the last 10 years I've learned how to make my own decals, how to use an airbrush, how to cast resin, make moulds, and how to make my own etched brass parts.

Bottom line? These days, for the majority of my 40k builds, I'll read backstory for continuity, and check the codex and online sources for reference pics, but rarely will I go totally nuts for super-details.

Which is why my Space Wolves terminators have resin torsos, my Tau have fancier decals, and my tanks will have brass and resin upgrades.

And they're all still WIP.

Here are some other union posts you should read:

Kermit's Bench

Sven Harjacek's Scale models

Fill 'n' Sand

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Tutorial: Decals, in lieu of freehand

We're not all great freehand painters. Model kit makers have known that from the beginning, so they've almost always provided us with water-slide transfers, or decals, so we can super-detail our work. You'll regularly see 'no step' and 'jet exhaust' decals for military planes, and sponsors' logos on race cars.

In our little corner of the hobby world, GW provides us with decals to detail shoulder-pads, armour plating and weapons, depending on the kit, and will sell us special variants for different factions or chapters. Forgeworld, similarly, will sell us super-special versions for little-heard-of units, mostly based on the more popular fluff from novels or video games.

What all transfers/decals have in common is the method of application: soak in water for 30sec/1min, move into desired position and wait to dry.

If only it was that simple.

Decals behave differently depending on the manufacturer. Some are soft; some barely change shape; some tear really easily. Knowing what's what is often a case of experience, 'local knowledge', or a trawl online for answers.

A little help has come from a few companies in the form of transfer solutions: Gunze and Micro Industries are just two of a small handful. The stuff Gunze makes is, by accounts, great for older kits, or Japanese kits, where the transfers are hard and brittle. MicroSet/Sol don't work so well on those - I've read that they react badly. But they do work very well on most other types of decal, which is why they are in my toolbox, at the top.

Fundamental to success

The principle behind these products is two-fold: pull the transfer closer to the model surface, and soften it so it conforms to whatever shape is underneath. MicroSet is a softening adhesive - it's water-soluble, which gives you some repositioning wiggle-time. MicroSol is a conforming solvent. It softens the decal, allows it to take on the underneath shape and texture, and burns off the carrier film around the edge, which would otherwise leave a silvery sheen, thus spoiling the effect.

Basic tools

Tools needed:
X-acto knife
Clean cutting mat
Small bowl of warmish water
Gloss varnish
Paintbrush (nothing fancy)
Matte varnish

The correct way to apply the products is as follows:

1. Prepare the surface- paint it and then gloss-coat it. Decals don't like matte surfaces.
2. Once dry, paint some MicroSet where the transfer will go.
3. Closely cut out the transfer and soak it in tepid water for 30sec or more - until it begins to move freely from the backing card. Use a Q-tip or toothpick to test it.
4. Position the transfer on the model. Carefully move it around if you need - avoid tearing by using the Q-tip or toothpick instead of your brutish mitts. You have little time to do this
5. Use some paper towel to dab off the excess water. Allow to air dry for a couple of minutes.
6. Paint on MicroSol over the transfer. Watch as the decal begins to wrinkle. Panic a bit, but realise that it's the normal reaction, and it will smooth out when it's dry.
7. Wait many hours before touching the transfer. Repeat MicroSol application if you're not happy with the result.
8. Seal with matte varnish before weathering.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the old-skool method with just water, and the more modern, chemically enhanced system.

We'll be using done really old decals from GW, c.1996

£3.50 for all that? Great value now, it was a rip-off then

First, the surface:

GW paints are quite glossy, so let's not gloss varnish the shoulder and see how it goes.

Finished painting.

Cut the transfer

Cut nice and close to the image you need

Soak the transfer

Leave enough space on the card to hold with tweezers

Apply the transfer

Rolling the Q-tip works better than prodding

See how circles don't conform to curves at all well. Rectangles have a similar issue.

Geometry will get you before rhythm.

Try again - cut a triangle out of the bottom of the circle. It'll join up later...

...kinda. The transfer doesn't move well on the shoulder pad, and still doesn't conform perfectly.

Next, the knee pad. This has had gloss first. Better, but not great.

Now the Set/Sol method:

First the gloss

Soak up the excess with paper towel

Then the Set. Soak/apply transfer and position with brush/Q-tip

Wait a little while and paint on the Sol. Wait.

Wait some more.

After 30 mins, the transfer is looking a lot better. Another coat of Sol, as these transfers are ancient.

Sol has conformed decal to all the bumps in the plastic

After the MicroSol has dried and cured - 12-24hrs should do it. - a coat of gloss or matte will seal the transfer on the plastic, allowing you to go nuts with overpainting, freehanding and weathering.

And that's How for now.

Monday 7 October 2013

Sprue Cutters #10 - My Spending Habits

I'm a dad, a stepdad, and a husband. This post is a week late for that reason (excuse).

For the same reasons my hobby spending is limited to essentials - glue, mostly. Sometimes I buy exciting things like Medium…

Looking forward to using these.

Kits happen occasionally, but as neither Mikey nor I are playing much at the minute, we're not keeping up with the latest armies. Space is at a premium, so terrain isn't a priority, either. I have found myself watching and bidding on eBay on classic figures, and things I longed for years ago. Sometimes I buy them. I have a quite healthy collection of Lord of the Rings metal minis that will easily keep me busy (until I find that *one* figure that I really, really like the sculpting).

I'm a tool nut, so if I see a new way of modelling something I've been able to do conventially for years, I'll probably hanker after it until either I've saved up for it, or realised that it's a fools errand. I adore my hot-wire polystyrene cutter, but I don't use it much. Breaking and sawing polystyrene is quicker, and I tend to cover it in Modrok anyway.

I'll buy a new paint once in a while, too. Again, though, if I'm recommended a new type - for airbrushing, for instance, I'll convince myself that I can't manage without it. Minitaire and Badger airbrush paints are next on my obsession list in that way. Similarly, P3 and Reaper are being held at bay for my brush paints collection.

I have a a box of crushed pastels, an unopened bottle of turpentine, and a few artist's oils that I've had nearly ten years, and haven't got around to using them yet for weathering tanks and large armoured areas - although dot filtering is something that looks like a lot of fun.

But wallet-limiting is absolutely not a bad thing - I spent a lot of time and money when I got back into the hobby buying up a decade's-worth of kits and tools, so really, all I need to do now is make the time to finish them!

Sprue Cutters:

The Combat Workshop
Scale Model Workbench
Migrant's Wanderings
The Eternal Wargamer