Monday, November 29, 2010

From the Desk: GW Foundations Review

This week I'm doing a quick review of a relatively well-known product: GW Foundation paints. I'm sure many people out there have used them before, and I've mentioned them several times previously on this blog. However I figured it would be a good idea to give them a quick review here to make sure people knew what they were all about.

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to win a complete set of these foundation paints. But even previous to that I had picked up a few colors after hearing a fellow painter talk about them. The Foundation paints are basically just formulated with a very very high pigment ratio. The intention is to provide excellent coverage in as few coats as possible. However, before I get too far into that, let's look at some actual test results:

For my first test I started with a blue/green-ish color painted over a piece of white plasticard. I should point out that I did not prime the plasticard at all. Each stripe was painted using a quick single stroke, with the intention of applying roughly the same amount of paint for each. My aim was to apply an amount of paint that would attempt to cover, but not diminish details too much. From left to right, the paints used are P3 Coal Black, Vallejo Dark Sea Blue, GW Foundation Orkhide Shade, and Reaper Master Series Green Shadow. As you can see, most of these covered quite well. Blue/green provides a good level of coverage in general, particularly in darker tones. On to test number two...

Red is traditionally a difficult color for a number of reasons, not the least of which is coverage. From left to right we have P3 Sanguine Highlight, Vallejo Burnt Cad, GW Foundation Mechrite Red, and Reaper Master Series Violet Red. Comparing these there is little contest. The only reason the Vallejo color does so well is that it's a darker shade (sorry, I didn't have a lighter shade on hand). The P3 color does an ok job, but a second coat would be necessary. The Reaper color does a pretty abysmal job.

So, were these tests fair? Yes and no. To make for a really fair test I'd need to get matching shades, and unfortunately I couldn't really afford (or want) to go out and buy matching shades of paints, particularly if I have no intention of using them again. However the test is pretty fair in that I didn't thin anything, and the target surface was uniform and the application amounts were fairly even.

Would further tests help? You bet. Sampling more colors and testing on black primed surfaces as well would provide other comparisons. I can vouch that the Foundations perform quite well over black primer where almost all other lines require a couple coats, particularly for lighter colors.

What are the limitations of the Foundations? Two big limitations are the relatively limited color range, and the speed with which the dry. I can't emphasize the latter point enough. They dry fast which means you can't do any meaningful blending and you need to pay attention to the build-up in your brush. It also means you need to pay attention to putting down a smooth coat the first time or you could end up with some added "texture" to your model's surface.

Are they worth buying? Yes and no. Depending on the color they range from little more than convenient to absolutely necessary. I've personally gone through more than one pot of the Mechrite Red, and the range of yellows/tans are extremely helpful. Other colors like the blues get nearly no usage. Honestly it boils down to this: If you have colors you commonly base coat with and have to do more than 2 coats, you might consider getting a Foundation color that matches relatively close to your base coat. Also I wouldn't necessarily recommend these for competition work since you need to be careful in applying the coats due to the thickness of the paint.

Monday, November 22, 2010

From the Desk: Speed Painting the Scrutator

I got a request to explain the painting process for Vindictus, and since I failed to get my latest "review" installment together, I'm replacing this week's normal review article with a quick overview of my speed painting technique for this latest model. First I want to share a little bit of my philosophies on speed painting.

1) Use techniques that bring out details quickly and easily. Washes and drybrushing are the most common. But some smaller controlled shading can go a long ways toward a finished product. And blacklining can really make things pop as well.
2) Make effective use of your time. Washes in particular are very quick to apply, but you have to account for drying time. Either work different areas of the model at the same time, or work multiple projects at the same time (including assembling the next thing to paint).
3) Think of speed painting as practice. I found that practicing speed painting techniques, but pushing myself to do just a little more quality than tabletop really helped develop my speed with more advanced techniques, particularly 2BB. And the reason for this was...
4) The end result still needs to have decent tabletop quality. This model was probably 1.5 hours of basecoating work, and 1.5 hours of detail work. It's definitely not my finest work, but I'm not at all ashamed to put it on the table.

Ok, enough of that. Here's what I actually did.
Step 1: Basecoat BLACK - When painting models with a lot of exposed metalics, I always prime black. The metals pop better when painted over a black base coat. If I prime white, I always end up basecoating black before applying metals.
Step 2: Silver metalics - First I heavy drybrush with GW Boltgun Metal then wash with GW Badab Black wash.
Step 3: Yellow metalics - Next I do a very heavy drybrush of GW Burnished Gold, then wash with VGC Sepia Ink, then a light drybrush of GW Shining Gold. (sometimes I also toss in some P3 Turquoise Ink into this step, but not for this particular model)
Step 4: Final metalics - Very light drybrush of GW Mithril Silver over all the metalics. Where necessary, I apply some specific point highlights using Vallejo Metalic Medium, and some specific point shadows with some thinned VGC Black.
[Note: At this point I'm done with all my drybrushing work.]
Step 5: Blacks - Basecoat P3 Coal Black, 2BB some VGC Black into the recesses, and then some thin highlights of P3 Trollblood Base.
Step 6: Reds - Basecoat GW Foundation Mechrite Red, then 2BB P3 Sanguine Base into the recesses, highlight with P3 Skorne Red, then a final highlight of P3 Khador Red Base.
Step 7: Finish basing and seal. That's all there was to it!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vice Scrutator Vindictus

Nothing fancy. Speed painted Vindictus over the last week. Probably a total of 3 hours or so to whip him out. Work has been trashing my free time lately so I wanted to get something done that would really give me a feeling of accomplishment. Not only did speed painting him get him done during a time that I would normally not get something done, but finishing Vindictus rounds out my remaining unpainted Protectorate models!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Foodmachine Summary

This report is long overdue, but [insert flimsy excuse about work kicking my butt] so I'm just now getting this posted. Overall Foodmachine was a big success at our LGS. I'm not going to do a full overview of the whole tournament since our local PG wrote up a nice post about it as well. 250+ cans! 13 players representing 9 factions! Overall a rousing success! And I have to give props to our player base for how much stuff was painted.

For those of you not familiar with Foodmachine, well, I'd be shocked if you don't know what it is. For our LGS, they exchanged cans for tickets at tournament registration. Then during the course of a tournament you would rip the tickets in half whenever you used them. We used a subset of the full Foodmachine rules pack and just allowed 1 ticket to reroll any one dice roll of your own (not your opponents). This included starting dice rolls, damage locations, deviations, and pretty much any dice roll that could come up. However you could only reroll a single dice roll once, and you rerolled all the dice.

For my first list I brought an Absylonia tier 4 list, which included a Scythean, Typhon, a Harrier, a Stinger, a Shredder, 2 Forsaken, and a Shepherd. I had intended this to be my primary list, but I ended up only playing it once. I have to say, the Stinger's animus is proving to be more and more useful. It was instrumental in letting Typhon blast a bunch of guys and then scurry away to avoid being countercharged. And Absylonia is just a blast to play. I like her because she isn't really a "playbook" caster with a set battle plan. Plus, she's a closer. If she needs to swoop in and finish off an enemy caster, she can do it in most cases. I can see myself playing a lot more of her.

My second list was eLylyth, 2 Ravagores, a Shredder, a Stinger, 2 Forsaken, and a Deathstalker. This was my go-to list when I was facing a primarily melee-based army. It brings a lot of unquenchable strength to the table and I'm becomming more and more comfortable with the eLylyth/2xRavagore configuration. It poses a challenge because of the need to estimate the ranges without having a control area that supports that estimation better. However the combination of really long range and eyeless sight is pretty powerful.

My rounds didn't go so well overall. Round 1 was against my arch-nemesis Henry and his Khador eSorcha Winterguard Deathstar. I was totally beating him and then I blew it and got eLylyth in range of eSorcha's whoosh-assassination and he slayed me.
My second game was against Justin's pDeneghra list which was melee heavy. I rolled out eLylyth and would have won except that my dice totally failed me at the end. I needed to roll an 8 on 3 dice, and even with a reroll I failed.
Then I got the by... POUT!
Then I played Ray's Grissel list using my Absylonia list and we had a good old fashioned face punching time. It was a total blast. I eked out the win at dice down by having gained a control point in the Capture-the-Flag scenario and preventing any points for him.

All things considered I had a good time. My real bummer was that I still had almost 60 tickets left at the end (out of my 82) and just never had enough opportunity to spend them. But still, I had a good time and got to play 3 very fun games. I also won a randomly drawn prize of a gift card, so the tournament paid for my latest issue of NQ, which I can't complain at all about.

Monday, November 15, 2010

From the Desk: Flip Video Review

Originally I had intended to do a demo video of two-brush-blending, however it became obvious to me very quickly that I had no experience with doing any video work. So, this post is going to be part review, part how-to, and very much a demo of my lack of video skills.

Before I get into any of the review or how-to parts, I'll start right off with the results: This video I took of myself doing two-brush-blending on my test model. Note that there is no intentional audio for this video.

What I Used:
The video was taken with my new Flip Video MinoHD. I picked out this model specifically for home video as I have a new son. I did not pick out this model with miniatures filming in mind. I put the Flip on the mini-tripod that I use for my normal miniature photography, and used my normal painting desk lamp for the lighting. The video is posted through Youtube.

Once again I must point out that I am no expert. There are plenty of things that I can improve upon. My goal was simply to do an initial test to see what level of quality I got and what sort of improvements would be next. Comments are of course welcome, but know that I'm already doing research to figure out how to improve my process. That being said...

All I did was put the Flip on the tripod, line up all my equipment, and shoot the video. I think this particular one was the 4th attempt, with minimal differences between them. The real differences were in trying to make sure I framed as much as possible to convey how the two-brush-blending mechanically works but still give enough detail of the paint itself. All things considered, it wasn't that successful. Anyway, once I shot the video, I simply plug the Flip into my computer (via the pop-out USB connector built into the Flip), transferred the video, and then uploaded it to my newly created Youtube account. I did absolutely zero video editing on this video before uploading it, which means that the original HD video is actually on there. I should note that it took forever to upload a 3 minute HD video.

The Flip itself is pretty slick. The built-in USB connector is handy, and the interface is brain-dead-simple to use. However, it has no settings to speak of so you pretty much just get HD all the time, and any editing must be done on a computer. Also there's no macro mode, so the focus in this video is terrible. For taking video of painting it didn't work out so great. However for the price point it's not terrible, and with some additional experience and tweaking there's still potential. For larger projects (like terrain making) it would probably be sweet. Also note that I didn't experiment with the audio at all, so I can't speak to the quality of that, although my experience of shooting other family video has been relatively good thus far.

Well, there you have it. Serious amateur hour from me this week, but it definitely gives you some perspective on the total newbie experience of posting video in the realm of miniature painting.

Monday, November 08, 2010

From the Desk: Brush Care 101

This week I'm going to cover brush care for natural hair brushes and review a product I am particularly fond of. During this post I'll refer to specific parts of a brush, so if you want a quick overview of the anatomy of a brush, check out this link. Also, rather than bore you with extra details, I've included some links out to other sources where some trivia exists.

Choosing a brush is a very personal choice, and I'm not going to tout my own personal choice in this article. However at the very high level is a choice between synthetic and natural hair brushes. The products listed below are meant for natural hair brushes. I make no claims as to their performance on synthetic brushes.

I personally use Winsor & Newton Series 7 round brushes, in sizes varying from 0 to 2. I have multiples of each, and as the quality of one degrades, I buy new ones and rotate the batch down. This allows me to continue to use the degraded ones for base coating and washing work, and preserve the higher quality ones for precision is needed. Series 7 brushes are made from kolinsky fur. There are a variety of other kolinsky or sable hair brushes out there that perform differently. Again, this is a personal preference and I won't get into a comparison here. The important point is that these brushes are using actual natural hair from animals.

Here you can see a couple of my working brushes. You'll notice that there is an obvious deposit of paint where the brush head meets the ferrule. This is a common problem, particularly as a result of using washes and not carefully cleaning a brush after every use. Regardless of how careful you are, paint will very likely build up in the ferrule over time. As paint builds up in the ferrule, this will cause the bristles to splay outward, ruining the brush's point. With the right care however, you can keep a brush clean and like new for quite some time.

The first product tip I have is dish soap, particularly a kind that is good for your hands. I use Palmolive for this myself. The soap quality has the ability to help break down water cohesion and allow the paint to better flow out of the brush. Soaps like Palmolive have moisturizing qualities as well which will help condition the natural hairs of the brush. Note that it takes very little such soap. I use old jam jars for my rinse jars (water I use to clean my brushes during a painting session) which are approximately 12 fluid ounces, and for that I only use 2-3 drops of soap. The effects are not perceptible on an individual use basis, but over time it does make a difference.

Next in the lineup is actual brush soap. This stuff comes in a little plastic screw-top container. The soap itself, when you first get it, is very hard and difficult to work with. However after a few uses it gets more and more wet and works into a sort of thick paste. This works very much like the dish soap, but in a more concentrated effort. When you use it, rub the brush around to work the soap throughout the head of the brush and clean the bristles. This will help to work the small amounts of paint out of the brush head. This product is intended to be used after every painting session. Note however that you should not use this in the middle of a painting session as the soap will dramatically affect any paint you are applying if you haven't washed it all out of the brush head.

Finally on the docket is a product I am particular fond of: W&N Brush Cleaner. This product is specifically designed for the care and restoration of natural hair brushes. I use this every 2-3 months, as the process is relatively inhibiting for getting painting work done. Again, this product will dramatically affect your paints if it is not completely washed out of the brush head before returning to painting. Also, for the brush-lickers out there, it tastes horrible and is detectable if even a tiny bit is still present in the brush.

Using the W&N Brush Cleaner...
This picture probably seems a little insane, so let me explain how to use this cleaner. First, the brush head needs to be completely submerged in the cleaner for several hours. Second, the brush should only be immersed into the cleaner up to the ferrule, but not all the way to the handle. I can speak from personal experience that the cleaner can actually dissolve the lacquer from the brush handle, which will weaken the join between the crimp and the handle and it will, literally, fall apart. Third, obviously the brush should not just be thrown into the container and rest on the brush head, as this will distort the bristles permanently. I have solved for this by drilling holes in my brush handles and using wire to hold them up so that the brush head is immersed in a smaller container of the cleaner (specifically an old paint pot). I make sure that the brush head is not resting against the side of the paint pot as well, for the same bristle distortion reasons mentioned above. I then leave this overnight and clean the brush head out under lukewarm water the next day.

The net result can sometimes be striking, depending on how much paint was built up in the ferrule. The cleaner actually works to "push" paint residue out of the ferrule somehow, and loosen it from the hairs of the brush. Not it is not a miracle working agent. Not everything will come out of the brush. However it does make a noticeable difference, and helps to condition the hairs of the brush for prolonged life. Also, it's safe to say that buying one bottle of this will last you a very very long time. I've had this bottle for at least 3 years now and can't imagine I will ever exhaust it. Definitely worth the price I paid for it.

Well, there you have it, my personal tips on brush care. I will freely admit that I could take better care of my brushes and get even more life out of them. A lot of it is just discipline to clean brushes after every session. In any case, thanks for reading, and please share any other tips floating around out there!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Sorceress on Hellion

This model has been a long time coming. It has been sitting on my desk in various states for probably 5 months now. All things considered, it is a pretty daunting model which is part of what kept me from making much progress. Eventually I had to just muscle through it and know that I could always paint a second one if I was unhappy with the results of this one.

What went well:
* The color for the wings worked out pretty decent. I used flesh tones and then washes of purple over that, which gave it a bit more color range than other wings I've done.
* The Sorceress' cloak has a really nice range of colors. It was one of the last parts I did, and by then I was very much in the mood to experiment, so I tried out using sanguine washes over ochre and green bases. I'm pretty happy with the results.

What could have been better:
* The pose drove me bonkers. I think it's part of what kept me from working on it. First I don't like how it's "sitting". Second, the wings don't have a very dynamic look. Combined together, they don't make sense.
* Overall there was something wrong with all of my washes. I'm not sure if it was something about my primer, my environment, or just bad judgment on my part.

In any case, I'm not unhappy with the results, and honestly I'm glad to have it finished. On to work on more beasts.

Monday, November 01, 2010

From the Desk: Palettes

In what may turn into a weekly sort of review post for me, I'd like to share my thoughts on porcelain palettes. For all of you that have very strong opinions about whatever you happen to believe is the best thing, I have nothing against it. Everyone has their own preferences for palettes, even among the top painters. Jeremie Bonamant swears by a home-made wet palette, Laszlo Jakusovszky uses porcelain spot plates, and Mike McVey reportedly used leftover pieces of plasticard. I've personally used all 3 (and some others), and keep coming back to porcelain palettes. So, let me share a little more about my experience.

First a touch of science, although not too much science. Porcelain is essentially, clay that is fired to fix its shape, and in the process forms some amount of glass. There are many varieties of porcelain, but for the purposes of paint palettes, they are fired at high temperatures and the formation of glass is part of what makes them impermeable to liquids. This makes them idea for using with acrylic paints. Acrylic paints (GW, P3, Vallejo, etc) are basically plastic polymers in a liquid suspension. When the suspension dries, it leaves the polymers deposited on the surface and they form into a hard(er) material. The suspension allows the polymer to easily form to the surface it is being deposited on. This polymer can however lose adhesion to its surface when too much moisture is applied (depending on the particular acrylic paint formula).

What does that have to do with palettes you may ask? Well, the advantage of using porcelain palettes is that the glassy surface makes for less surface texture for the paint to adhere to. I used to use a plastic palette and was always frustrated with trying to clean it. Well duh, the plastic has a zillion irregularities (seriously, I counted them one day) for the paint to adhere to, making it really hard to clean. Furthermore, if I didn't clean it thoroughly, further usage could result in small flakes of previously dried paint in the well to come lose and then show up in my brush or on my model. Porcelain palettes make that much easier to deal with...

To clean my palettes, I simply submerge them in water overnight and then the next day I can easily wipe out all the paint with very little effort. Now strictly speaking it doesn't take overnight to loosen up the paint, but I've got about half a dozen various palettes that I use, so having 2-3 soaking and out of action is no big deal so I'm lazy about it. The porcelain comes clean every time and dries easily. This defining feature is exactly why I use them almost exclusively now.

So what's the downside to porcelain palettes? They cost more than the plastic/metal ones for sure. About 3 times roughly. So if you're on a tight budget you may pass them up. They are also not as readily available, so you may have to order online.
When comparing them to wet palettes, well, it's apples and oranges. Porcelain palettes won't keep your paint wet and workable for hours (or days) like wet palettes can. I certainly won't argue that point here. And depending on how much time you've spent refining your wet palette, you may have the option of not having to thin your paints directly. When I experimented with wet palettes I will admit that I liked that feature about them. I could go from pot to palette and then in seconds my paint was properly thinned to the consistency I needed for painting. However, the trade-off here is maintenance. Wet palettes require more care than traditional palettes and you have to make sure they have plenty of clean water in them, and have a steady supply of parchment paper on hand. Honestly it's just a trade off that each painted must choose for themselves.

When it comes to shapes of porcelain palettes, I have quite a variety. I have two of the traditional 7-well flower shape, one large 12-well one, two 12-well spot plates, and a few plain tiles from a hardware store.
  • 7-well Flowers - I tend to use this for making washes primarily. The well is large enough to mix up plenty of wash and experiment with the consistency as needed. I've owned these for the longest. The ones pictured above I have owned for probably 5 years now.
  • Large 12-well - I rarely use this one anymore. It's handy for jobs where I need to wet-blend a number of colors together, but that's very specialized. In general I find that it just takes up too much space on my desk being approximately 9" in diameter.
  • 12-well Spot Plates - These are getting more and more use. Laszlo turned me on to these last year at KublaCon during one of his classes. Spot plates are typically used in scientific labs. This particular one measure approximately 4"x6". The wells are fairly small which is actually good since I end up wasting less paint.
  • Ceramic Tiles - Not pictured here, I also have plain ceramic tiles used for things like kitchen backsplashes. The tiles come in a variety of sizes. I use plain white 6" square tiles. I'll use these when I want something more like a traditional artist's palette and actively mix paints together on the palette itself. I don't do this very often since the disadvantage of the tile is there's nothing to prevent the paint from just rolling right off the tile and onto my desk. Generally it behaves fine, but like the large palette, this is a more specialized use.

  • If you're still reading this already lengthy post, I'd like to just make one last remark in closing. Palettes are a tool just like paints and brushes, and should never be overlooked. Experimenting with your palette will help you learn more about how you paint. Even though I rarely use a wet palette anymore (cause it annoys me more than it helps me usually), I'm glad that I forced myself to try it out for a couple months. It helped me learn more about my own style and techniques. Hopefully some of the information here was useful for you. Until next time, paint like you have a pair!