Monday, January 23, 2012

From the Desk: DominationThroneCheatery Mashup

Another total mash-up desk post here.
Meager progress on the Throne. As you can see, I've gotten everything put together except for the lower teeth and the tentacle claws. The sorceress is on a pin and just set on top rather than glued in yet since I plan to paint her separately. Getting all the tentacles attached to the main body was actually pretty easy. I used the drop-of-paint-to-mark-where-to-drill method, and it worked out very easy. Still though, there's a lot of gaps to putty later. Also the tentacles weren't all even at the bottom so I had to do some leveling with plasticard to get the whole thing attached to the base and level. The scale of this thing is just crazy though, standing over 8" tall.

Played in the Domination release event at my LGS. Rather than some huge battle report, here's a bunch of highlights:
  • 10 players! (4 Legion, 3 Circle, 1 Troll, 1 Khador, 1 Cygnar)
  • Didn't take any pictures. Boo!!!
  • I won the Legion faction coin!
  • I played 6 games total, spanning 6 warlocks, and won every single battle by assassination.
  • The dice gods were throwing their blessings on me left and right throughout all but the first game.
  • Had a seriously fun time overall. The open format is definitely my favorite.
  • Played the Throne in 2 of my 4 games and was very happy with it overall.
  • One other player had a fully painted Throne for the event. I was totally impressed he had it done so fast.
  • The tournament winner coin went to the Khador player. Crazy!
Hats off to our TO and Press Ganger Ray. Even though he said this event was a piece of cake for him to run compared to most other, I brought him a Seether as a gift of thanks. It was sort of a win-win since that Seether had been sitting in my unpainted bucket for ages, and he enjoys playing Cryx from time to time. But seriously, Ray did a great job of running the event and impressed me multiple times during the tournament with his knowledge of the rules. Go Ray!

Ok, that's enough. I really need to be spending my time assembling and painting rather than all this blogging.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

From the Desk: Updates on Throne, Health and Misc

Three different topics tonight! First up, progress on the Legion battle engine. I got a fair amount of assembly done in the last couple days. Just now I finished drilling holes for pinning the tentacles. I gotta say, when they say use a dust mask, they mean it! I'm glad I heeded the warning. I was using the dremel, in the garage, with a dusk mask, and I'm still feeling like it wasn't entirely safe. The amount of very fine dust particles spewed out was pretty crazy. After having taken what some might be a rather liberal stance on paint toxicity, I'm going to go on record saying that being extra cautious with the resin kits is highly advisable. Inhaling the dust particles is seriously bad news. That stuff won't leave your lungs. I highly recommend the wet method for any cutting, filing or drilling, regardless of what tools you use.
Ok, warning past, I am happy with the amount of progress. There's going to be a lot of gap filling to do though, and certainly some final mold line cleanup. The kit overall is pretty good, but the mold lines on the tentacles gets a little out of control. I'm not so surprised though given how wild those things are.

Second update, my push to get this battle engine assembled is because our LGS' Domination event is this Saturday and I wanted to field it. I don't have any solid plan for how to use it, but I want to bring the giant beastie to the table at least once. It won't be painted, and might be missing a few final detail pieces, but it's going to make an appearance. I just need to come up with a good way to transport it...

Third and final, thanks to those that gave me feedback on the health article. I'm still running down some additional information so there will probably be more updates in the future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paint Toxicity

If you're a brush licker, you need to read this post. It could save your health!
There's a lot of discussions out there about whether paints are toxic or not. It's easy to read the side of a bottle of paint and see "non-toxic" and take that at face value. However that labeling may only be applicable to a specific type of exposure based on "expected usage" of the product. For those of us that lick our brushes though, that isn't necessarily part of the expected usage, so the question of toxicity is still on the table. I started off with a curiosity to learn a little more about paints and potential toxicity and, like Alice, found myself quickly falling down the rabbit hole. This post is a summary of what I learned that's relevant to those of us in the miniatures painting community. As a quick note, this post is rather lengthy so I've tried to organize it with headings to help you skip to sections you are most interested in.

First, I am not a toxicologist, government regulator, lawyer, chemist, manufacturer, or any other profession even remotely related to the art industry. I should not be considered an expert and the information presented here is to the best of my understanding. I've done the best I can to validate all the information presented, but I've provided numerous reference URLs for you learn more.
Second, I am not being compensated in any way by any manufacturer for this post. Everything presented here was as a result of my own rigorous investigation and although I dearly love my painting hobby, learning the facts was my chief motivation here.
Third, I am only covering traditional acrylic paints. That is pigment and acrylic polymer emulsion medium. I am not covering other acrylic additives or oil paints. I am also not covering other materials of the hobby such as putties, resins, plastics, metals or spray sealants (or anything else for that matter). If there's enough interest in other materials I will happily do future research and posts on those.

Grades of Acrylic Paints:
For the purposes of my investigation, I broke up acrylic paints into 3 groups:
  • Hobby grade - These are paints use for the miniatures painting hobby and make up 99% of my paint supplies. As examples on my desk, I have P3, RMS, RPP, GW, VMC, VGC, VPA, VMA, and Secret Weapon (see abbreviations in sidebar).
  • Craft grade - These are paints bought in craft stores that come in larger bottles. They are used for a wide variety of projects. I've excluded them from my investigation for a number of reasons. The main reasons are there are a huge array of manufacturers out there and I own almost none of them due to the particle size of the pigments. I will note that in general, I found craft grade paints tend to be even safer (less toxic) than hobby grade paints. On my desk I have Delta Ceramcoat, Folk Art, Craft Smart, DecoArt, and Apple Barrel.
  • Artist grade - This refers to acrylic paints intended for traditional canvas artists. They are purchased in art stores, come in tubes, and tend to be far thicker than traditional miniatures paints. Although I own a few random tubes of artist grade paint (from Winsor & Newton, Golden Acrylic, and Liquitex) I almost never use them. In general, most artist grade paints are non toxic, however there are many notable exceptions and if you are going to use them, make sure to read the labels carefully. On my desk I have W&N Finity, W&N Artisian, Liquitex Professional, and Golden Liquid Acrylics.
Regardless of the grade of paints, they all fall under the same regulatory bodies and the information provided here is applicable to all of them.
Also note that I'm not going to specifically cover inks, washes, dry pigments, metallics, glazes, additives, or other related products. I've added some notes on them at the very end in the glossary. Again though, the guidelines of how to read the labels will apply to them as well.

A Brief History of Acrylic Paints:
Acrylic paints are a relatively recent invention (about 60 years old). Acrylic paints are, very simplistically, plastic in water with pigments added. The plastic is an acrylic polymer emulsion and when applied to a surface, the water evaporates depositing the acrylic polymer. That polymer then hardens and is unable to be re-hydrated. It is these qualities that make them very well suited for the miniatures painting hobby.
The first acrylic paints were made using similar pigments as traditional artist oil-based paints. Many of these pigments were made using heavy metals (more on that below) because of their colorfastness. Today, most pigment are made from various organic or synthetic compounds. Some pigments are even made from normal dirt!

Quick Chemistry and Health Lesson:
Heavy metals (such as As, Cd, Co, Cr, Hg, Pb, Sb, Se) are toxic! If absorbed into the bloodstream (through skin, ingestion, or inhalation) they can cause very serious health problems. Cadmium (Cd) for example can cause liver and kidney failure and cause cancer. So if you're thinking that the small amounts of paint that we're working with can't be dangerous, think again!

A quick note on metallic paints: The "metal" part of metallic paints is actually tiny particles of mica. Mica itself is not particularly toxic, but there are a number of studies out there in the cosmetics field that will indicate dangers about mica. To the best of my research, this is only relevant for the particles being inhaled, and there is no specific toxicity dangers to the mica particles being ingested. In fact I discovered that some toothpastes actually include powdered mica as a whitening agent.

Regulating Bodies
There are three primary regulating bodies in regard to artist material safety.
  • The first, and in my opinion most important, is the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Unfortunately this body oversees a huge variety of things. The relevant standard to know about is D-4236. This is the standard for artist materials and you'll see this referenced on pretty much all of the paints. More on this later.
  • The second is the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) which is a US-based non-profit organization that certifies a variety of artistic materials. Essentially, as far as I can tell, their standards are an implementation of ASTM D-4236, but with simplified labeling. The upside is that the ACMI labeling makes it much quicker to assess the safety of a product. The downside is that relatively few products seem to actually use this standard. Of my own collection of paints, less than a third of them had it, and specifically none of what I classify as hobby grade paints had it.
  • The third is the European Commission which is responsible for the EC symbol you'll see on many paints. There's a lot of details around this on their website. It's essentially meant to be the same as the ASTM D-4236 standard. Obviously I didn't go into the detail to determine how similar those standards are.

Standards and Labeling (or... This is the important part!)
So right about now you might be thinking Ok great, that's all fascinating, but I still don't know if my paints are safe! So let's go over what to look for on the labels.
I'm going to start with this P3 Iosan Green. If you look at the label you'll see the text "Conforms to ASTM D4236". What this means is that the product is labeled according to the D-4236 standard for labeling artist materials. This part does not mean it is entirely non-toxic. It only means that the labeling will include any relevant warnings. If you keep reading you'll see "Nontoxic", "Do not ingest", and "In case of eye contact...". So how do you make sense of all that given it seems a little conflicting? Well the "Nontoxic" part is pretty straightforward, the "Do not ingest" is an indication of intended use, and the directive about contact with eyes is exactly what it is. At first review it may seem like this label is saying that licking your brushes is going to be "bad" in some unspecified way. But, before you panic, let's take a look at another example.

This bottle of Golden Fluid Acrylics is a much more interesting study. Notice how it has the "ASTM D4236" seal on the back. However, in the fine print you'll also see "Warning: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer." That's right boys and girls, this paint is not safe to lick. This is why I said the D-4236 standard was not a seal of non-toxicity in itself. If you go to the Golden Paints website for more detail, you'll discover that this particular paint contains "crystalline silica" and "iron oxide" (and yes, it's also on the front label of the bottle). On the data sheet they have many other heavy metals listed as used in other paints. This bottle is a good example of why it's important to check the labels carefully. If you just looked for the "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" labeling, and didn't read the rest, you could be on your way to the hospital. Ok, enough scare tactics. Let's move on...

Now here we have a RMS bottle with no ASTM labeling on it. You will however notice that it has the "CE" symbol, and the words "non-toxic". Although I am less versed in the details of the CE labeling, if you see these together you can feel fairly safe that the paint is non-toxic.

This is just a quick overview, but you should have learned the importance of reading the labels carefully. Also I have admittedly had a bit more of a US-centric focus in terms of standards, so for those readers in other geographic regions I do apologize. I only had access to paints available in US stores so hopefully your labelings will be similar. Odds are that one or both of the ASTM or CE labeling schemes will appear on your paints. There are other labels (swirling arrows and big "e" to name a couple) which I have not researched here. Also remember that the ACMI labeling functions as a roll-up for approved non-toxic product under the D-4236 standard, so if you see the ACMI AP label, it's safe. For now though, let's cut to the chase on some specific manufacturer's lines...

Guidance for Specific Manufacturer's Lines:
Once again, please take care in noting that this is only my guidance and I am not a qualified toxicologist, doctor, or any other professional of any kind to rely on. I'm only sharing the guidance I am giving myself about paints I commonly use. This is a list of paints immediately found on my desk that I use on a regular basis. If I've noted it as "safe", that means the entire line seems safe for normal painting activity, including brush licking.
  • Reaper Miniatures: Safe! Reaper actually responded to me 2 days after I emailed them. They sent me an entire data sheet of product safety information about their entire line of paints. Unfortunately the sheet is not directly available on their website. If you are interested, you can email them. Please note that the data sheet only covered the Reaper Master Series paints though. The Reaper Pro Paints were replaced by the RMS line. I think in order to be on the safe side, the RPPs are going into my "archives".
  • Games Workshop: Safe! Admittedly I'm relying on the labeling alone here. I attempted to contact GW by email but never heard back from them after 2 weeks.
  • Privateer Press: Safe! Same boat as GW actually (no email response for 2 weeks), but with the caveat that I've seen forum posts by Matt DiPietro and Mike McVey stating the paints are non-toxic and these guys are consummate brush lickers when they use the 2BB technique. Heck, Mike helped formulate the P3 line of paints, so he ought to know what's in them.
  • Secret Weapon Miniatures: Safe! Ok, this needs a significant caveat here. At present the Secret Weapon line is not labeled for safety. Also they have dry pigments and washes only. However Justin McCoy from Secret Weapon went above and beyond in helping me out on this research project. Turns out he is in the process of getting the ACMI certification for the entire line of pigments, washes and scenics. Many thanks to him for the numerous emails we traded!
  • Acrylicos Vallejo: Do not ingest! Vallejo was the one manufacturer that I didn't attempt to contact via email. They have a very comprehensive website in terms of safety standards and ratings and a good FAQ on health questions. Now when I say "mostly safe", it's important to note that most of their paints are fine, but some are of questionable nature. The individual labeling on their dropper bottles is not always clear either. I never found a single bottle in my collection that says "non-toxic" on it. My unfounded suspicion is that there are trace amounts of something bad. I'd love to call it safe, but I think going forward I'm going to avoid any 2BB work with them.

Some Final Thoughts or What I'm Going To Do Differently:
Hopefully you've found something useful in here, and hopefully nothing inaccurate. If you know of any inaccuracies, please post a comment! Completely unlike my normal approach to this blog, I spent a lot of time working on this post. Seriously, probably 30 to 40 hours of reading, emailing, searching, reading more, going to various stores looking for other paints, trolling through forum posts, cross-checking facts where possible, reading even more, and of course writing this post. I've done my best to present accurate information, but I'm only human. In any case, here's my personal take-aways:
  • Red tape on bottles - Any paints that I plan to keep in normal circulation will get a stripe of red tape to remind me of any potential toxicity concerns.
  • Cleaning out my rinse jars more often - This is something I didn't explicitly cover above. Although generally the paint ingredients are inactive, leaving a jar of water out that's gotten all kinds of stuff in it has the potential to turn bad. I had this happen to me once when I left a jar of very dirty rinse water sit for over a month. When I opened it, there was a puff of compressed air released and a noxious odor. As a result of this study and seeing more than a couple posts about rinse water going bad, I'm going to make an effort to dump out my rinse water between each painting session. Btw, the dish soap I put in my rinse to condition my brushes... I check and it's safe.
  • Added caution about inhalation potential - By far the biggest danger presented is inhalation of materials. Although most hobby grade dry pigments and airbrush paints are fairly safe, getting materials into your lungs is a recipe for problems. On of my goals for this year is to use the airbrush and a couple of the VMA paints I have are not entirely clear on their safety. I think I'll make sure to use caution with those and not spray them up my nose.
  • Brush licking is still game on - My wife asked me whether licking my brush was a habit or a conscious practice. Although 2BB work is definitely a conscious act, I had to admit that licking my brush after I rinse it is just a habit now. Fortunately it's a pretty safe one. I'm going to continue to lick my brush, 2BB, and even on occasion lick the back of my hand and use it as a wet palette.

The following are the most significant of the references I used (that weren't already linked above). Obviously there is a lot of information out there on the internet and some of it is of questionable accuracy. It took some digging to figure out what sites had useful and factual material.
  • Wikipedia - Yeah, it's Wikipedia, but much of the information on it I was able to corroborate from other sources, and Wikipedia had lots of information all in one convenient place.
  • ACMI Safety - Although I listed it above, this page in particular is of great use.
  • eHow - Actually just this specific eHow page with a very concise summary of the ASTM D-4236 standard.
  • Earth Pigments - I don't actually use their products at this time, but they have wonderful fact sheets on their site about product and material safety.

Whew! If you've made it this far and you're still reading, great job! I've included a glossary of terms at the end here, more for my own benefit as a course of writing this post. Thanks for your time reading this!
  • Additives - Medium modifiers that change the properties of the paint in terms of drying time, viscosity, or cohesion.
  • Binder - A medium used to bind the pigment to the surface. For acrylic paints, this is the Acrylic Polymer.
  • Cohesion - A measure of a liquid's tendency to cling to itself. Often referred to as surface tension in terms of the application of paint. Flow improvers are used to reduce paint cohesion and allow it to flow from the brush easier.
  • Colorfastness - The ability for a pigment to retain its original hue without fading over time.
  • Dry pigments - Raw pigment material, separate from any sort of liquid medium.
  • Emulsion - A mixture of two liquids that are normally not mixable.
  • Glazes - Generally a formulation designed to extend working time of a paint and cause it to form a thin coating.
  • Inks - Generally formulated with a higher concentration of pigment and a thinner medium. Ink formulations can vary greatly between manufacturers and particularly between paint grades.
  • Medium - Refers to the vehicle of the pigment, typically a water-based liquid of some kind for acrylic paints.
  • Metallics - Paints with a metallic medium (generally flakes of mica) suspended in it. Generally the higher the ratio of mica to pigment, the shinier the paint. Normal "steel" metallics are made using black pigment.
  • Particle Size - Refers to the size of the pigment particles. Generally the smaller the particle, the smoother the look.
  • Pigment - Refers to the color agent specifically.
  • Retarders - An additive that extends the drying time of the paint to allow for more working time. Also referred to as an extender.
  • Viscosity - A measure of a liquid's "thickness" or resistance to being moved.
  • Washes - Generally a formulation intended to spread a thin coat of pigment over an area, but with enough flow to cause the wash to recede into crevasses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

From the Desk: Once Again Unto The Blight Dear Friends

So right about now you're looking at this picture and thinking "Great, another random useless post. So glad I clicked a link to get here." Well, yes, it's another random useless post. I haven't gotten much done since finishing eVayl in terms of painting. I did some trimming, and some prep, and cleaned my desk, and worked on a blog project (which will be unveiled tomorrow sometime). But in terms of painting or assembling, I've gotten a big fat zero done. There's plenty of semi-valid reasons. In fact, let's play a game called Pick the Weakest Excuse...
  1. I was ultra-busy with work for the last week and barely got time to sleep, but took this sweet picture of the view from my hotel room.
  2. I have family visiting so anytime not consumed with work is taken up having fun with them.
  3. The weather here is unseasonably cold an I can't prime anything.
Regardless of which one you picked, they are all true to varying degrees, but feel free to post a comment about what a huge slacker I've been so that I get a bit more motivation. [No really, go ahead and comment] Anyway, where I was going is this big empty base (see above) is also the base for my Throne of Everblight, which I picked up the other day. It's going to be a huge project so I'm going to do a series of posts on it. This will be the largest model project I've tackled yet, so it seems appropriate.

Oh, and I wasn't kidding. Check in tomorrow for a very special blog post.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Vayl, Consul of Everblight

Now this model was a delight to paint. Great sculpt. If I had one complaint it was that the two Oraculi in her right hand look a little odd with the circle of whatever connecting them. I'm not really sure what else they could have done though, so I consider it a minor gripe. The cape took a tricky bit of pinning to do without letting the join show too oddly, but the rest was easy. I decided eVayl needed a slightly more epic base than most of my Warlocks have gotten so I did a little carved glowing rune action. It also served to tie the colors together better.

This was also the first time that I used The Army Painter grass tufts. These particular ones were the highland tufts. I have to say that I really like them. Very easy to work with and they look quite nice.

Overall things went pretty well with this model. I spent an average amount of time on it rather than trying to really pour over it and get everything perfect. I really don't want to get too bogged down at this point and keep my momentum up. There were some details I could have spent more time on like painting some pattern on the cloak, shading the metals a little more deeply, and doing some better pushing of the shadows. The glowing bits could have certainly used a little more work as well, but that's become somewhat of a sore point for me that I'm not going to get into right now.

This base actually made me quite happy too. Overall I'm looking forward to having this model on the battlefield.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Taryn di la Rovissi

I've lost count of how many times I've misspelled this model's name. Nevertheless, she's done. One less merc to paint. It was a pretty pleasant model to paint actually. Simple, easy to get to, and generally a nice sculpt. She's got a lot going on, so I tried to create a color scheme that picked out different functional elements of her outfit without it getting too busy with colors. The blue shades permeate almost the entire model in one way or another.

I can't say I'm going to be playing her anytime soon, but I may get antsy to try out the Ashlynn theme force at some point and this is one more piece of that puzzle.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 Wrap Up, and 2012 Resolutions

[Disclaimer: This post contains fluffy, introspective nonsense... Just like last year's did.]

After 5 years of doing this, it seems pretty rote, but I'm doing it anyway. 2011 overall wasn't a good year for my hobbies.

Last year's goals:
1) Enter KublaCon masterclass painting competition - Success! Not a win, but a valuable experience for sure. I'll definitely enter at the masterclass level again this year. In all fairness, this was my main goal for this year.
2) Close out unpainted factions - Fail! Seriously, too little effort, too late. I'm so close on most of them. Maybe this year.
3) Do a series of speed painting posts - Fail! Well, kinda. I did a couple, but overall my painting time this year was horrible and I just didn't get a lot done.

Models painted last year:
This year was noticeably lighter with a total of 52 models completed, and that's if I generously include the Solar System project for my son. I'm going to count those planets since having a one year old in the house definitely impacted my painting time (joyously I might add). Overall not a gangbusters year. However I spent a ton of time on the War Hog for KublaCon and really found value in doing the Road to Competition series of posts as a part of that effort.
Legion: 32
Minions: 2
Mercs: 1
Khador: 1
Cygnar: 7
Planets: 9

Goals for next year:
1) Enter KublaCon masterclass painting again. This is a no-brainer, and I've got plenty of lead time for it. I've already got a couple models in mind as well. As a part of this I'm going to do another RtC series of posts.
2) Finish reading my books on color theory. I've got two of them sitting around that I started but never finished. This is a pretty straightforward goal. The real trick will be whether I learn and apply something significant from them. I'll commit to chronicling my learnings in more color theory posts.
3) Use my airbrush once. This probably sounds like a dumb goal. I mean seriously, just once? The idea here is simple: If I commit to using it once, odds are it'll get me over the initial hurdle of trying it out and figuring out the logistics and I'll actually start using it more. [I'm doing the same thing with the gym.] Again, I'll plan to record my attempts in a set of airbrush tagged posts.