Been a while…

…since I wrote a new post, yet that timeframe is dwarfed by how long it took me to revisit what I’ll be talking about. Which, at the time of writing, has already happened over a year ago and… well, maybe that’s enough talk about time. We all know it’s flying by and that feeling of being trapped in a perpetual cycle of trying to catch up. If this blog post does only one thing for you, then I hope it’s reassuring you that it’s never too late to pick something up again, even after putting it down over two decades ago, like I did with this guy here:

A miniature soldier from a tabletop wargame called Warzone, bought in my teens, around mid to end of the 1990ies, when some friends and I thought we’d get into it. We did build a landscape of modular tiles and paint some of the minis, but ended up never playing it and at some point it was all scrapped or put into storage. I kept my minis in a jar, along with a friend’s, which he had left with me to paint for him before the plans to play war fell to the wayside. Sometimes throughout the years I’d stumble on the pile of small warriors, feeling a twitch to get one of them out and dress it up in a suit of glorious colour. I never did though, always thinking that I should rather spend my time on another endeavour, not something so purely a hobby. If I painted something, I might as well make it a study or original art I thought.

Fast forward to the present (last year’s present anyway), someone had just tweeted about getting into the hobby, his first time painting anything. He had acquired some Warhammer 40K minis (Another, much more popular wargame, which quite obviously “inspired” Warzone back in the 90s.) and showed me the colour scheme he had in mind for his Space Marines. He fired me on to join in and after refusing my prior impulses, I was primed to finally give one of the old minis its time in the spotlight.

Since I hadn’t come up with any scheme of my own yet and quite liked the one he presented, I chose to adapt it for my gunner. How fitting that a unit from what really amounted to a knock-off version of Warhammer 40K would be sporting one of their official squad colours. Even more amusing when you consider Warzone went out of production a long time ago.

Though I hadn’t painted a mini in ages, having to re-familiarize myself with brush control on a tiny scale, my progress as artist in other areas and the acquired skills and knowledge since my teens clearly enabled me to produce a much nicer paintjob than I would have been capable of back then. Which was something I expected, but what I did not expect was the amount of fun I had. So much so, that since finishing our little mohawk-wearing tough guy I’ve delved deeper into the hobby, looking at what our modern times have to offer when it comes to advancements in miniature designs and quality. But that will have to wait until another post. Which, if my plans don’t follow those of the olden tabletop wars, shouldn’t take too long this time around.

Doing it wrong to get it right.

After my two recent digital speedpaintings, I started to wonder where to take things next. As fun as doing very time limited studies was, once I’ve proven to myself I can do something successfully, I always begin to feel like trying something new or do it differently.

As coincidence would have it, my trusty Twitter feed was right there, ready to help me out once again. My friend and one of my favorite photographers Cri, tweeted a photo of a Scrub Jay happily displaying a freshly acquired peanut.

It was the perfect image to try something I’ve meant to for a good while now. Consciously use reference in a more loose manner and as a guide, instead of obsessing over getting everything “right”. Without relying on strict time constraints to deliver pressure. Since the source image already has a comical streak, it felt like a good idea to turn that up a little, which led to this:

As you can see I decided to blow up the nut, as well as enlarge the eye considerably to play up the expression, topping it off with a subtle glint flare and some not so subtle !!! The difference in reflection was a sort of happy accident, with the early, rough brush strokes simply looking more appealing than the real thing. The size changes to the peanut and eye ended up working well, not just for the final image and resulting effect, but they also (mostly) prevented me from continuously adjusting shapes for diminishing returns.

Usually when I draw or paint from reference, the main thing I try to get right is the proportions and relations of all the shapes and forms to one another. So I look for landmarks like the beak’s tip, the eye, dents and peaks of any sort and align them as they appear in the image I’m eyeballing. However, since I’ve chosen to exaggerate some features on purpose, a lot of that goes out the window and there is simply not enough space anymore to put all the bits into the right places and in their correct size. So in the end I successfully tricked myself into being content with that, instead of endlessly noodling around to achieve some sort of perfect replica (which I still can’t anyway).

Being able to copy an image is without a doubt a very useful skill to have and practicing to improve it will pay off in several ways. That said, I think no matter how perfectly someone is able to duplicate, there will always be something of themselves left in the result (for better or worse). I see it as the reference being distilled through a person, influenced by two factors named skill and intent. The ultimate goal being a lack of the former never getting into the way of the latter.

My personal goal is to continue doing studies to grow my abilities so I’ll be able to turn anything I fancy into something, I don’t want to say better, but something with just the right bits of me in them.

Recreate & Re-Create

As is too often the case for me, I tend to forget how much I enjoy doing something (or the satisfaction I get from the result) after not having gotten around to it for a while. This time it was painting studies. I had no idea how long it had been since I made my last, but when I saw a photo of cut up, deliciously lit grapefruit in a bowl over on my Twitter feed, I knew I had to paint it.

The gloriously translucent and juicy fruits of motivation.

Now I have to admit that I’d very much prefer to have a go at it with my acrylic paints and get a tangible thing out of it, but at the same time the hassle of preparation and mixing colours would be enough to put me off in those spontaneous moments. Especially when I’m aiming for something as short as 30 minutes to mainly train my eyes, improve my feel for colors and even more so, keep me from noodling on endlessly.

This is where digital painting is a real boon. I don’t use layers or even the undo function most of the time, but the fact that you can instantly jump into it without having to even consider a palette is just perfect for these situations.

The digital fruits of my labour.

Usually I’m not a big fan of value-adjusting statements like “this is my first try” or “it only took me x amount of time”, but as someone who generally takes ages to get anything finished, I really can’t deny that I felt rather content and satisfied I was able to create this in just about 30 minutes. So I mentioned that when showing the painting around…and after hearing “30 minutes? how?!”, I of course started to feel like I should have recorded my process to back up that claim.

Being me, there was no way around it and so I went to pick a new reference image, set up the recording software and off I went to paint another 30 minute study of this Chickadee from Jen Cross.

My second victim for a 30 minute paint-by assault

I’ve not really made videos of my painting process before and amusingly I started to feel a little pressure as soon as I hit that record button. Would I be able to get it done “enough” in 30 minutes again? Here’s the result, so you can judge that yourself and I put the video up on youtube, in case you’d like to follow along the creation in real time as well.

More like Quickadee.

New studies will happen and I’ll definitely try to make any future videos more interesting through narration and editing, maybe try streaming. For now, I’m mostly glad I got the grapefruit rolling.

Of Heart & Sap

With most of my recent work happening on 3d models, woodwork especially has taken a back seat for a long while by now. The want to return to craft a new piece is rising, but in the meantime I’ll use the opportunity to highlight my previous works here, starting with the Marriage Box and how it came about.

One day, I received a surprising letter in my mailbox. A friend of mine from a faraway country had invited me to his wedding. Sadly my lack of funds prevented me from going on a journey to attend their union myself, but at the least I wanted to send a part of me in my stead. 

So started the storm in my brain to float up a set of ideas which would come together in this little box, representing what a joining of two loving souls is meant to be and also keep safe the wedding bands when not worn.

Both of the main parts are made from the same piece of wood, a board of ash. One of heartwood, one of sapwood. While heartwood might be known to some as the strong, better quality wood and sapwood being something to avoid if you can, this really is only true from a very specific (and limited) point of view. So to me, this combination represents the perfect symbolism. All coming from the same root, all needed by the tree, yet each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Neither can stand upright on its own…

…but joined together, supporting one another, they form something more than the sum of their parts. Ready for their purpose, ready to be filled.

In this design, the lid acts as a connecting element as well as one keeping the contents safe from outside influence. Like a protective hand laid upon the loving partners. It is cut from Padauk, polished to a high gloss and features a pair of gilded, stylized rings, (which once again incorporate the theme of leaning on another). Like the rest of the piece, the choice of materials and finish has symbolic meaning as well as visual intent. 

Overall (in spite of my ever present inner perfectionist) I’m still happy with the design and of course that it was very well received and will be treasured for times to come. Satisfaction all around.

Wrapped up snugly for safe shipping

One thing I wish I did, now that I’m writing this post, is take photos along the way of crafting the piece. I’ve done it for other projects, but it seems the deadline on this one made me all but forget. That it consists of two identical parts, which come together through a visible, multi-dovetail joint when facing another pleases me greatly. Alas, there are only a few more photos to share and showing off interesting joints will be left to the future. Maybe it will motivate me to try something extra crazy, who knows!

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