Friday, 9 November 2018

Seeking inspiration and muses by retreading old paths

When it comes to why I paint or draw, it all boils down to an irresistible urge to recreate in art what I've read in books, seen in shows, or even experienced while gaming on my PC. Now this isn't a particularly unique trait by any means. As kids most of us were ever-ready to put graphite on paper, in words or pictures, so as to weave real world experience onto a two dimensional platform. But the older we get, the more we tend to lose such simple joys in life. Even for those of us who've kept the flames of creativity alive, we'll invariably face periods when we don't want to do it anymore.        

A blank canvas seeking muse and inspiration

Faced with just such a hobby malaise that is entering its tenth week, I decided to seek inspiration and muses by retreading old paths that gave me such joy in my younger days. My journey begins with the computer games of old when a severe lack of graphical and processing power meant a lot was left to the imagination. Back then I was a lucky owner of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+, my very first personal computer, which required a cathode ray tube TV as its display monitor. And in what would be a quaint feature in this modern era of computing, the ZX Spectrum stored software in cassette tapes.    

Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ had memory amounting to just 48 KB of RAM

In my early teens I was already a geeky grognard who had an obsessive fascination with military strategy and all things World War II. My childhood fixation with arguably humanity's worst period of suffering was fueled partly by my grandma's grim tales of the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s, partly by an excellent documentary series (e.g. The World at War), and partly by a then ubiquitous presence of WW2-related TV shows (e.g. Combat!) and comics (e.g. Commando). So it was no real surprise I took to ZX Spectrum strategy games such as Arnhem and Battle of the Bulge.

Arnhem: The Market Garden Operation by CCS for the ZX Spectrum
Battle of the Bulge also by CCS for the ZX Spectrum

With only 48 KB of memory on board, the ZX Spectrum served up minimalistic graphics (see above) while sounds weren't much better as MIDI audio wasn't even an option in those days. Yet despite it all, imagination took hold in my mind's eye. So it wasn't just some stick-men or plain squares being moved around in a virtual battlefield. It was fully-fleshed out scenes reimagined using an amalgam of historical wartime footage as well as written accounts. Eventually this would foster an interest with military AFV model kits and a wish to recreate war in a more tangible, scaled form.  

Chaos: The Battle of Wizards by Games Workshop for the ZX Spectrum

In a similar vein, my initial exposure to Games Workshop lore (before Warhammer 40,000 existed) came in the form of a turn-based tactical game comprising stick-like figures i.e. Chaos: Battle of the Wizards on the ZX Spectrum. Designed and written by Julian Gollop, this game too required an active imagination. So foolishly or otherwise, I've sought to overcome my current indifference to the hobby by finding spiritual successors to the above games and letting them fire the unused creative synaptic pathways back up again. While this may be viewed as grasping at straws, I'm willing to give anything a try at this stage. And this segues nicely into what I'm doing with my free time now. 

Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945, developed by 2by3 Games
The Operational Art of War IV, developed by TrickeySoft
Panzer Corps, developed by Flashback Games

After a series of Steam sale purchases, I've amassed a collection of modern day equivalents of the ZX Spectrum games I used to play. These are Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945 (as well as Gary Grigsby's War in the West - not shown here), The Operational Art of War IV, Panzer Corps, Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon (essentially Panzer Corps with Orks and Space Marines) and Chaos Reborn (a direct remake of Chaos: Battle of the Wizards by the original designer). These games form the core of what I'm playing in my free time now.

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, developed by Flashback Games
Chaos Reborn, developed by Snapshot Games with involvement from original designer Julian Gollop

In fact, I was having such a blast playing these type of games again that I couldn't resist adding an old school role playing game (RPG) to my Steam collection. Back in the day, classic first person RPGs such as Might and Magic didn't have the 360° freedom of movement that is the norm for modern day series such as Fallout, The Witcher, Skyrim etc. Your in-game movement was pretty much restricted to the four cardinal points of a compass. That brings us to the 2014 release Legend of Grimrock which itself is based on a 1987 classic called Dungeon Master. Loving that one too, so far.

Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum by New World Computing
Legend of Grimrock by Almost Human

Together with PC gaming, both books and movies form a triumvirate of leisure activities that have helped fire my imagination in the past. Sadly it has been a while since I've read a book purely for pleasure. Despite finding The Forgotten Soldier: War on the Russian Front an excellent read, I had never finished it. But I guess now is as good a time as any for me to reacquaint myself with the true story by Guy Sajer. Perhaps I should also get started on a few others, especially those that revolve around the Eastern Front. It'll make playing Gary Grigsby's War in the East a tad more interesting.    

Some books on the Eastern Front (from left): The Forgotten Soldier, Babarossa and Kursk 1943

And as nostalgia sunk its claws further into me, I found myself checking off the last of my pastime triumvirate by rewatching Audrey Hepburn's most iconic role i.e. that of socialite Holly Golightly in the classic movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's from movies that I garner most inspiration for portrait drawing, and I've always wanted to try my skills at drawing the late Ms. Hepburn's portrait. I may yet do so but I'm also wary of trying to do too much when I haven't even regained my mojo.

Breakfast at Tiffany's stars Audrey Hepburn as New York socialite Holly Golightly
Moon river wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style someday ...
Finding a good picture of Audrey Hepburn to base my portrait drawing on has been surprisingly difficult to find

Nothing like a good bit of nostalgia to drop kick my hobby malaise into oblivion. So is it working? Too soon to say methinks. But enough of the future. Next week I will know soon enough. For now, for me, it's enough to live for the moment and enjoy the present. Que será, será.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

HQ12-02 Race Queen [WIP - Skin Tone Test using Flesh Colored Tamiya Weathering Pastels]

Airbrushed skin tones are great, and I love the results I've gotten so far. But by itself, airbrushed skin tones are incomplete especially around facial features and hands. Such detailed areas require more finesse which is the purview of hand painting. In addition to applying acrylic, enamel or even lacquer colors by hand using the good old paint brush, I am also trying to learn new techniques involving the use of hard and/or soft pastels. This initial test seeks to discover how the pastel colors would look against a general light flesh hue as well as how Tamiya pastels would react to a lacquer varnish.

Tamiya Weathering Master G and H sets for figures

Before delving into the details of this quick test, I would first like to draw your attention to the final results as can be seen in the immediate photo below. From top to bottom, the pastel hues are salmon, caramel, chestnut, pale orange, ivory and lastly peach. All the pastel hues had been sealed onto the light flesh basecoat with a semi-gloss clear coat. These 'quickfire tests' are partly responsible for my lengthy project completion times. Sadly they are also a testament to my idiosyncrasy of trying to perfect techniques before the first drop of paint even hits a miniature figurine. While there is merit in learning as you do, I unfortunately tend to err on the side of caution. Not always but mostly.

Pastels applied on a basecoat of light flesh hue and sealed with semi-gloss clear coat

For the flesh colored weathering pastels test, a piece of Tamiya Pla Plate (essentially a white styrene sheet) was used in lieu of an actual resin figurine. The sheet was first primed with the Mr Hobby Mr Base White 1000 before being basecoated with a fairly light flesh color from Gaianotes. Just a quick note for those of you whom may wish to run similar tests. A recent visit to Gaianotes' website show that this particular flesh color is no longer in production anymore. But its a fairly standard light flesh color whose close equivalent can be easily sourced. In fact the basecoat color used will change depending on the subject matter at hand i.e. the specific skin tone look you are after.  

From left to right: the primer, paint thinner, flesh-colored paint and clear coat used in the skin tone test
Gaia color Ex-Flesh lacquer paint formed the basecoat onto which the pastels were applied

Tamiya Weathering Master sets are more widely known among the AFV scale model community, especially the earlier sets A to E. The flesh colored sets aren't new either but I have yet to see them in use by miniature painters. Instead, I've seen artist grade hard pastels like Primacolor NuPastel being used to create natural skin tone shadow on resin figurines. In running this test, I'm assuming that the Tamiya's weathering pastels work in a similar (or almost similar) fashion.      

Pastels from Tamiya's figure sets comprise salmon, caramel, chestnut, pale orange, ivory and peach colors
Tamiya Weathering Master sets look a lot like wet soft pastels
Latex eyeshadow applicators were used to transfer the pastels onto the paint

Texture is the one clear difference that sets the Tamiya pastels apart from its regular art counterparts. While the former has a consistency closely resembling eyeshadow makeup, the latter is hard and chalky. Both require different application techniques. In Tamiya's case, its just a matter of using any commercially available eyeshadow applicator (see above), preferably latex-based, to transfer the pastel hue from the set onto the intended surface area. Hard pastels require a different application technique akin to dry brushing in parts. Explaining it would require another blog tutorial entirely.

Comparisons of how each pastel flesh color looked against a light flesh basecoat

Due to the hot and humid conditions that I work in, I have a strong preference for lacquer-based varnishes because they tend to provide a better finish overall. This is not always possible as the underlying paint type might be too 'weak' to withstand a lacquer-based clear coat finish. To be sure, an additional test was required. After the pastel hues have had a few days to dry, they were then sealed in using a lacquer-based semi-gloss clear coat. I don't want to jinx it but early results seem to indicate the lacquer-based clear coat did not have any adverse effect on the Tamiya pastel colors.

Pastel colors were sealed in using Mr Hobby's Mr Super Clear lacquer-based varnish

So there you have it, a test to see how Tamiya flesh colored weathering pastels look on a light flesh basecoat after being sealed in with a semi-gloss lacquer clear coat. Now that's quite a mouthful. And before you think it, this is not my comeback to the hobby ... not yet. It's just more chronicling of past work I had done. And it's with little fanfare my hobby malaise enters its ninth week seeing that I didn't post anything at all last week. Alas it's the longest stretch of artistic inactivity I've ever had since I started this hobby. If only the solution as simple as the one provided by a character named Roy in the British comedy The IT Crowd ... "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Hobby malaise drags on into its seventh week

Once a feeling of inertia sets in, it rarely lets go of its ugly grip on me. This path of malaise is winding on and on with seemingly no end in sight. Sure, real life is throwing more than its fair share of issues to deal with which inevitably eats into any free time I've left for the hobby. But then again, even during those rare periods when I do have some free time to play with, they aren't being spent productively on the hobby at all. Therein lies the real problem. I'm starting to set goals of being productive at a hobby I'm supposed to just enjoy doing. Milestones to hit; targets to achieve.       

So what can I do to break out of this funk that I'm in? As with all things mental, thinking too much about it isn't much help. Taking a break from the hobby was the reason I'm in this funk in the first place. A change of scenery isn't an option when there's never any budget for a proper family holiday. Binge watching TV just made me lazier. Play PC games? Check! But as enjoyable as PC gaming can be, it's undeniably a huge time sink. So that leaves me with either doing some menial hobby tasks to get back into the groove or perhaps draw portraits again for a change of pace. Anyway I leave you now with a quote from Eeyore, We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.

Friday, 5 October 2018

MENG Model Sd.Kfz.182 King Tiger with Henschel Turret [WIP - Part 2 of 2: Three-tone camouflage]

To complete the King Tiger's three-tone camouflage (sans weathering), I had to touch up the overspray and paint splatters resulting from a less than ideal masking process. These fixes were carried out using Tamiya acrylic paint color equivalents (i.e. XF-60 Dark Yellow, XF-61 Dark Green and XF-64 Red Brown) of the lacquer spray paints I used earlier. Tamiya had just recently released lacquer paints in bottles (presumably with similar properties as their paint spray cans) but I didn't have the budget to get those so I made do with acrylic equivalents I already had in my possession.

MENG King Tiger work-in-progress: Part 2 of the three-tone camouflage process

Due to the rather fine camouflage patterns on the gun barrel, I decided to hand paint the lines rather than go through the hassle of masking then airbrushing them. Normally I wouldn't hand paint with Tamiya acrylics because they are more suited for airbrushing. But I had made an exception for the touch up process to ensure a better match of colors with the Tamiya lacquer spray paints I had used to paint the three-tone camouflage i.e. TS-1 Red Brown, TS-2 Dark Green and TS-3 Dark Yellow. Even then the acrylic hues came up much lighter in tonal quality versus their lacquer equivalents.     

Finer camouflage patterns on the gun barrel was painted by hand using Tamiya acrylics
Camouflage patterns on the gun barrel were meant to replicate those on Tank 124 of Pz.Abt. 505
Top down view of the camouflage patterns on the King Tiger gun barrel

In hindsight, there were perhaps some steps I could've taken to prevent having to fix the overspray and paint splatters. Chief among them would be to use a quality masking putty instead of a cheap rubber mastic adhesive (essentially a reusable adhesive putty). Coming close behind would be to apply the three-tone camouflage with an airbrush instead of using Tamiya lacquer paint spray cans. In reality though, I can do neither, even going forward. Firstly, a quality masking putty is not within my budget for now. And secondly, I've my existing inventory of Tamiya paint spray cans to clear first.

Imperfect masking resulted in some red brown and dark green paint overspray on the dunkelgelb basecoat
Tamiya acrylics was used to cover up the lacquer paint overspray/splatters

Use of acrylic paint used to fix the lacquer-based overspray and paint splatter gave rise to a slight tonal variation in the camouflage colors. As a rule of thumb, acrylic paints tend to look lighter in tone after drying. Here, the paints already looked lighter during application i.e. when it was still wet. One way to avoid this tonal variation could be to use Tamiya's recently released lacquer paints in a bottle. In the past, hobbyists had supposedly used Tamiya unique acrylics with lacquer thinners to good effect. So that could be the reason it took them so long to release their own bottled lacquer paints. Technically unnecessary perhaps but a good marketing move nonetheless.

Oversprays of dark greens over red browns and vice versa also occurred
Tamiya acrylic equivalents of the lacquer colors had a slightly lighter tonal qualities

However I'm actually not too worried about the differences in color tonal quality for the camouflage colors. Subsequent weathering processes will likely alter and vary the three base camouflage colors anyway. More so when applying weathering techniques such as oil dot filtering.

Certain sections of the hull wasn't painted fully and evenly e.g. dark green over dunkelgelb
Yet more fixes with the Tamiya acrylics over the sprayed on lacquer paints

At this stage the whole tank looks a bit flat. This is accentuated by the fact that tank accessories such as the pioneer tools, tow cables and hooks, exhaust pipes, etc. have yet to be painted. The King Tiger should look much better once all its exterior details are filled in with paint. 

Area with dark green overspray should be pure dunkelgelb as this area is supposes to have been covered by side skirts
Of the three colors, the tonal discrepancy between lacquer and acrylics is least noticeable on the dunkelgelb

Those eagle-eyed among would've noticed that a fair amount of overspray splatter still remain even after the touch up. But I'm not too worried about doing a perfect touch up job as the weathering process should cover up any leftover overspray and paint splatter. My primary aim was to fix the more glaring paint discrepancies which weathering would not be able to conceal.  

Existence of many accessory parts on the King Tiger's rear meant masking was least effective here
Rest of the leftover paint overspray/splatter discrepancies can be easily covered up by weathering
Paint splatters and overspray are still visible in places but all will be well after weathering

There is another reason why I haven't done any painting or assembling these past five weeks. I had surrendered my work table to my son so he could've a place to study for his year-end exams. Now that that's done and dusted, I have my table back and should be able to start painting again ... soon. I would've started already but for a disruption in my water supply. So I'm left twiddling my thumbs for a bit longer. Being a messy guy and cleanliness freak (an oxymoronic psyche?) means I spend a lot of time cleaning up. So no water supply equals hobby time coming to a halt. So soon then.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Pastel and flesh lacquer paint sets from Osaka, Japan

So did I travel to Osaka, Japan? Nah, I wish! But my brother-in-law did. And he was kind enough to ask if I wanted anything while he was checking out the multitude of hobby shops in the area. In that moment, I felt like a kid in a candy store without the monies to buy much of anything. There are so many scale model kits, resin figurines and paints in my wish list that even a cargo plane couldn't fit it all. And if you've seen the hobby shops in Osaka, Japan you would know what I mean. So all I dared ask him to get me was a few sets of paints for my resin figurine airbrushing sessions.

From Osaka, Japan .... two boxes each of four different kinds of Mr Color Special Paint Sets

One long standing weakness of mine is the fact that I can never have enough flesh paints be they acrylic, enamel, pastel, oil or lacquer. I tend to collect skin tone hues like how most modellers would collect scale model kits and resin figurines. Another weakness is my love for pastel hues. So when the opportunity came up for me to obtain paints of this nature that are hard to source locally, I pretty much jumped at it. Now, I finally have the specialized flesh color (found locally but it's twice as expensive) and the full pastel set of lacquer paints (couldn't find any locally) from Mr. Hobby.    

Kaiyodo/Mr Hobby Cutie Girls Figure Fresh Color Set for use primarily on anime figurines
Flesh colors in this paint set were developed with input from BOME, a Japanese sculptor/painter
Flesh colors comprise BC01 Pale Orange, BC02 Carrot Orange, BC03 Milky Peach and BC04 Coral Pink

Read enough of my posts and you would've suffered through my constant waxing lyrical over pastel hues. If ever pastel hues make sense for a project then that's my go-to color scheme over any other. There's something about the soft, light hues that's infinitely pleasing and soothing to my eyes. First in the Mr Hobby pastel series is its green set (see below) which comprises Custard Yellow (CP01), Muscat Green (CP02), Mint Green (CP03) and Turquoise Green (CP04). The first two greens have a strong yellow bias in them while the latter two shifts more towards the blue spectrum. 

Mr Hobby Pastel Color Set Green Version
Green Pastel Set comprises first four pastel hues (CP01 to CP04) in the Mr Color pastel wheel
Mr Hobby's Mr Color Green Pastel Set unboxed
Pamphlet showing how the green pastel hues interact with Primary Color Pigments of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow
Opposite side of the pamphlet shows line drawings of an anime character in turquoise green
Green Pastel Set comprises CP01 Custard Yellow, CP02 Muscat Green, CP03 Mint Green and CP04 Turquoise Green

Properties of the latter two hues of the green set transitions Mr Hobby's pastel series nicely into its blue set (see below). So it's no big surprise that the first color in the blue set has a fair amount of green pigments mixed into it namely the Aqua Green (CP05). Next you have a more pure blue Smalt Blue (CP06) followed by Wisteria Blue (CP07) and Cream Orchid (CP08), both of which presumably have had more red pigments added to them in view of their predominantly purplish hues.

Mr Hobby's Mr Color Pastel Color Set Blue Version
Add captionBlue Pastel Set comprises the second series of pastel hues (CP05 to CP08) in the Mr Color pastel wheel
Mr Hobby Blue Pastel Set unboxed
Pamphlet showing how the blue pastel hues interact with Primary Color Pigments of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow
Opposite side of the pamphlet shows line drawings of an anime character in wisteria blue
Blue Pastel Set comprises CP05 Aqua Green, CP06 Smalt Blue, CP07 Wisteria Blue and CP08 Cream Orchid

Third in the series is the red set which starts off with a pinkish Milky Strawberry (CP09) followed by a redder Cherry Red (CP10). Subsequently more yellow pigments seem to have been added to the last two colors Ruby Orange (CP11) and Honey Orange (CP12). As such this brings the Mr Hobby four set series full circle into what closely resembles a color wheel, albeit a pastel one.

Mr Hobby Pastel Color Set Red Version
Red Pastel Set comprises final four pastel hues (CP09 to CP12) in the Mr Color pastel wheel
Mr Hobby's Mr Color Red Pastel Set unboxed
Pamphlet showing how the red pastel hues interact with Primary Color Pigments of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow
Add captionOpposite side of the pamphlet shows line drawings of an anime character in cherry red
Red Pastel Set comprises CP09 Milky Strawberry, CP10 Cherry Red, CP11 Ruby Orange and CP12 Honey Orange

And so this is how the three different versions look like when combined together into a makeshift color wheel (see below). If required more hue variety could be had by mixing existing color options - CP01 to CP12 - but for most, especially anime-type projects, the colors provided should be sufficient.

On display, the complete set of pastel paints from Mr Hobby Mr Color

Mr Hobby's special paint sets opens up a path for me to complete 'anime-influenced pastel and flesh airbrushing projects' within a shorter period of time. They should also work fine for 'realistic' miniature projects, with the requisite subtle color transitions achieved via airbrush techniques instead of numerous half-tones applied via hand brush. More paints is almost always a good thing. The caveat? Using too many straight-from-the-bottle hues may lessen one's understanding of how colors work. Nothing that a good session with primary colors can't fix but that's a story for another day.

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