Thursday, 29 December 2016

Amidst a sad end to the year ... a new beginning

Just as I was about to upload photos of a recently completed Star Wars project in the wee hours of the morning, news hit of the passing of Carrie Fisher. A sad end to the year indeed. And although most of us cannot claim to know her, we feel a sense of loss nonetheless. A loss entwined with what we've come to associate with her most famous portrayal - a royal princess in a galaxy far, far away.  

In Memoriam - Carrie Fisher 1956 - 2016

Coincidentally, I'm embarking on a new journey in action figure repainting and have earmarked a Hasbro Han Solo/Princess Leia set as the first guinea pigs of this new endeavour. As a result of Fisher's passing, the thought of shelving this repaint attempt did momentarily cross my mind. But in the end, I felt painting a figurine of Leia would be my form of tribute to Fisher, especially to all that her character had come to represent for me - independence, strong-will and determination.

At my age, the passing of the icons of our youth tends to fog up our rose-tinted view of the-good-old-days as well as remind us of our own impending mortality. We are temporarily shocked out of the myth of the character and perhaps reminded that all this is just make-believe. I for one choose to remember the realness of the strengths which she portrayed via Leia and hope to recapture that essence both in the form of miniature painting as well as portrait drawing in the days to come.   

Hasbro Star Wars A New Hope 3.75 inch figure 2-pack: Han Solo and Princess Leia
Both Han and Leia make perfect first subjects for my foray into action figure repainting

Plans for both 3.75 inch action figures comprise a total repaint. They'll both be re-posed with putty and glue before being primed (without removing any existing paint) and then repainted using Vallejo Model Color acrylics. All this for pre-painted action figures ... I have a bad feeling about this

Hasbro action figures of Han and Leia with their assortment of weapons on display
Leia and Han in A New Hope
BEFORE photos: Closeup view of Hasbro action figure, Han Solo
BEFORE photos: Closeup view of Hasbro action figure, Princess Leia

Even as I end this post, news of Debbie Reynolds' death is slowly filtering in. Mum and daughter are together again albeit under the saddest of circumstances. Amidst a sad end to the year, let's take heart in the year to come. On what basis should we to look forward to 2017? What Leia said ... Hope.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Star Wars TIE FIghter [WIP - A New Hope, light grey version]

To prevent witnessing any Star Wars Rogue One spoilers, I had been on an self imposed online hiatus of sorts. As such I haven't been posting updates nor visiting/commenting on my fellow blogger's posts as I usually do. But that's gonna change as I finally caught the movie ... although sadly my first viewing of Rogue One was ruined by a part of it being projected out-of-focus. It's inevitable my comeback post is about Star Wars. And since I haven't gotten my hands on any Rogue One model kits from Bandai, I did the next best thing ... A New Hope version of the TIE Fighter.  

Comparing colour scheme of ANH Tie Fighter against a photo in Sculpting A Galaxy

Working on my second TIE Fighter model kit meant things went a lot smoother. Naturally, things got done a lot faster and better than the first time around. As this version references the TIE Fighters found in A New Hope, it had a light grey colour scheme. Depending on the lighting, the light greys of the hull tends to look either cool or warm. I went with the latter in line with how Darth Vader's TIE Advanced Fighter looks like as shown in an art reference book titled Sculpting A Galaxy (see above). 

TIE Fighter pilot with helmet decals and a simple armour paint job
TIE Fighter pilot, seated before being sealed in his cockpit
Most, if not all of the pilot's flight armour is no longer visible after he's enclosed in the cockpit
After the cockpit is sealed, the most visible part of the pilot is his helmet decals

As a testament to how fun Bandai's model kits are, I was never bored even at the second time of asking. A different colour scheme helped keep things fresh but it would've been enjoyable regardless.

TIE Fighter in the light grey colours of A New Hope, a close approximation anyway
Detailed bits of the Bandai TIE Fighter model kit

For the Death Star base/stand, I made a more subtle approach in that the panel lining applications were visibly softer and less vivid. I did this in order for the base to blend into the background more thus allowing the focus to remain largely on the TIE Fighter model that it supports. 

Bandai TIE Fighter's Death Star base ... this time with more subtlety in the panel lining

To truly appreciate the difference between this version of the TIE Fighter and an earlier blue-grey Return of the Jedi version that I did, it's best to display both of them side-by-side. That I'll do once I have fully completed the assembly and paint job of this New Hope version. Until then, here's wishing a very Merry Christmas to you, dear readers, who are celebrating the festive season.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Big Bad Wolf Book Sale 2016

Oh my! grandma, what big eyes you have. Well, it's that time of the year again for us bookworms in Kuala Lumpur to get our paws on stuff we couldn't afford otherwise - The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale. With up to 75% to 95% discounts off the retail price, books previously looked upon with longing were now within reach of yours truly with his meager stash of Asia's worst performing currency.     

Big Bad Wolf Book Sale 2016 in Kuala Lumpur

Beyond my wildest dreams, this year's sale turned out to be way better than what I could have hoped for. Almost every other book on my geeky wishlist was in attendance at this sale - covering topics ranging from the better known Star Wars and Star Trek universes to art, astronomy, music and fiction.

Loot from this year's book sale ...
... precious finds ...
... and yet more loot

Shown below is a  relatively detailed breakdown of the books I managed to score from the latest Big Bad Wolf book sale, starting with the science fiction and astronomy books. They comprised stuff from the Star Trek and Star Wars universes as well as a couple of huge astronomy books - Mars: A New View of the Red Planet measures roughly 14 by 17 inches while Cosmos came in at a whopping 17 by 20 inches. While each Star Wars/Star Trek find was a gem in its own right, I was particularly happy with Star Trek Costumes - a much wished for book that was finally affordable thanks to the sale.

Star Trek goodies ... Haynes' manuals for the Enterprise and Bird-of-Prey plus the Art of War, Klingon style
Star Trek Costumes, a much wished for book that was finally affordable for a Federation credit-challenged Trekkie
Getting in the mood for Rogue One with a Death Star manual and a Marvel covers art book
My biggest score of the sale was also the largest in size, Cosmos (right, 17 by 20.5 inches)

Art was another genre that was well represented in this book sale. I couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon art books of video games such as Fallout 4, Uncharted Trilogy, Witcher and World of Warcraft. These tomes were fairly new releases and worthy additions to the library of art lovers or artists seeking ideas and inspiration. Another worthy mention is Realms: The Roleplaying Game Art of Tony Diterlizzi. In it are some truly lovely and inspiring fantasy character art.    

My heart skipped a beat when I set my eyes upon this two gorgeous art books
Love the games and books, and now I have the art/lore reference
Always have a soft spot for Blizzard World of Warcraft's art and lore
Fantasy art books make wonderful reference material for my miniature painting projects

Instructional art books were also aplenty. That and Adult Coloring Books which I pretty much expected. A little bit of trivia for you - did you know that sales of Adult Coloring Books rose from 1 million in 2014 to 12 million in 2015. While I don't fancy coloring books per se, the byproduct of this trend is more guide books on colored pencil as an art medium. This dovetailed well with my search for such instructional books to complement my venture into portrait drawing using colored pencils. 

A trio of colored pencil guide books to complement those already in my collection
Some books on color per se and portraits

Bargain fiction novels were a little bit harder to come by this year. Worse still the section on Science Fiction and Fantasy was wholly inadequate to put it mildly. All I got were the 31st Annual Collection of The Year's Best Science Fiction, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Peter Hamilton's first book in his new duology The Abyss Beyond Dreams. But I did get horror hardbacks by Stephen King and books from two other authors whose work I like Neil Gaiman and Murakami.

With a Stephen King bargain to be had every year, I no longer buy his books at retail prices
Science Fiction and Fantasy books were hard to come by this year but I'm still happy with my finds
Adding more titles to my Neil Gaiman and Murakami collections is never a bad thing

Rounding of my loot for this year was some music biographies and a book on my favourite online store. There were so many that I wanted to get but a limited budget meant I limited myself to two and they were on two of my favourite bands namely AC/DC and Metallica. And to round it all off I got a book on my favourite online store Amazon. Either the inefficiencies of the Malaysian economy or the ruthlessness of Amazon's cut-throat pricing means that more often than not, it is much cheaper to buy stuff from the US online store than most shops in my country, including shipping costs. 

Music biographies were aplenty but a limited budget meant choosing just two ... AC/DC and Metallica
And then there's that book about my favourite online store

I'm still pinching myself. Ouch! Nope. It's all real. Those gorgeous art books are still sitting in a pile; their inherent creativity waiting to be read and unleashed. It's sad these trying times make it harder to justify a reading habit. Rant begins. To understand how bad it is for Malaysian readers, here is an apples-to-apples comparison. Average hourly wage in McDonald's is about US$10 in the US and RM6 in Malaysia but a paperback costs about US$9.95 in the US and RM39.95 in Malaysia. And one US dollar is worth about RM4.45. Do the math. Rant over. To not end on a negative note, here's wishing the force is with you as you join Jyn Erso and gang in the hunt for the Death Star's plans. ^_^

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Base Dry Fitted, Wooden Stool & Stone Floor] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum

Work on the individual pieces which make up the Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons figurine's base was mainly spent ensuring three different textures - metal, wood and stone - were recreated as accurately as possible with acrylic paints. My previous post touched on efforts to simulate rusted metal while the one you are reading now focuses on recreating wood and stone textures. All the three separate parts were then dry fitted to observe the effect of the overall colour scheme.   

Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons: Base comprising rusted metal sign, wooden stool and stone floor
Seen from behind, the base now becomes a backdrop for Suicide Squad's Katana courtesy of the skull icon

For the wooden stool, I had in mind softwood hues like yellow cedar or yellow pine. Without proper botanical knowledge, I'm unable to tell if the wood grain sculpted on the stool is that of cedar, pine or a different wood. That level of accuracy isn't needed for a fantasy piece although the obsessive compulsiveness in me keeps tugging at my subconscious to get it right. I'll let it go ... this time.   

Light yellowish hues were used to approximate the textures of yellow cedar/pine wood
A combination of light and dark brown washes helped make the wood grain more prominent
Stool sculpture looks to be a bit too rough for Soum/Katana's delicate rear end

Meanwhile, I decided to do something I had never done before with a stone floor base i.e. not paint it in gradations of dull flat grey. Well almost anyway. I went the bluish grey hues this time. In addition to that, I did two other things differently namely not paint the recessed areas black (they were painted in Vallejo Model Color Dark Seagreen) and spend time painting highlights onto the edges of the stone slabs even though they were flat on the ground. Both helped create contrast and depth to the piece.

Highlights were added to the edges to create contrast and depth
Overhead view of the stone floor, which was painted in blue greys

What colour Katana/Soum's clothes will be, will largely be dictated by the existing colour scheme of the base. It looks like either pastel pink or warm whites on her clothes would be an ideal fit into the existing base colour scheme of orange (rust), green (sign), bluish grey (floor) and yellowish brown (stool), and still perhaps be in sync with Katana (as in the colours the character would wear). 

Overhead view of the base for 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum13 Moons figurine

So the stage is set for Katana (aka Soum) herself to be painted i.e. her clothes, hair, face and improvements to her skin tone in general. There is also her sword, hairpin and if all goes well then a mask too, sculpted to resemble the Suicide Squad character's signature mask. But Katana may have reached the stage where a period of gestation will do her a world of good. Time off would do me good too as I chew on the direction I want to take her. This comes at arguably the best possible time seeing it's Star Wars fever again with Rogue One on the horizon. And that means painting iconic Star Wars characters, droids or vehicles. December is shaping up to be a good month hobby-wise.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Weathered, Rusted Sign] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons

One thing in my painting bucket list had always gnawed at my creative subconscious like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go. That bone, figuratively speaking, is to paint a realistic weathered and rusted effect on metal. While I have occasionally attempted to do some weathering (mainly rust, grime and verdigris using Citadel acrylic and technical paints) on my miniature projects - the results haven't been convincing enough. It has been said that doing something over and over again expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity. So for this latest attempt I opted for a different path.

Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons, base items (upper section of signage)
Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons, base items (lower section of signage)

As far as I know, there are two main ways to weather a miniature. One involves physically chipping paints and/or applying pigments on acrylic paints while the other relies on just paints and washes to achieve the same effect. I went for the latter using only Vallejo paints/washes. What made this a path less travelled for me was the paradigm shift it invoked in me. Previously when using Citadel acrylic and technical paints/washes, I was too preoccupied with the special effects the paints/washes could achieve thus distracting me from truly seeing the colours involved in a weathered, rusty look.    

Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons signage, rusted and weathered side

This is not to say you cannot achieve good weathering effects with Citadel paints/washes. Far from it. It's more to do with the mental approach one takes to the weathering task at hand. Here, I took the time to study the hues present in greenish rusted metal pieces. The end result is an amalgamation of hues found in both reference photos - from the lightest rust stains (on the cafe signage) to the deepest black brown rust (on the corrugated metal) and everything in between (on the metal letter).

Reference photo of a rusted green sign - cafe signage
Photo of a rusted turquoise sign - metal letter/alphabet propped up by a corrugated metal wall

Because this side of the sign has raised surfaces which resemble two eyebrows, two eyes and a mouth, I tried to apply the rust, stains and streaks to create the illusion of depth such as that you would see on an actual human face. This include, among others:
(a) chipped paint effect on the top to resemble hair;
(b) chipped paint effect along the centre circle to resemble the bridge of a nose;
(c) rust stains/streaks on the median area of the circle to resemble highlights of the upper cheek;
(d) chipped paint effect on the raised areas to make the eyebrows, eyes and mouth more prominent;
(e) absence of any rust stains/streaks at the bottom to create a pseudo-chin; and
(f) chipped paint along the 5 and 7 o'clock parts of the circle to resembled shadowed area of cheeks.

Soum 13 Moons signage, angled slightly to its left
Soum 13 Moons signage, angled slightly to its right

Below is a scale comparison of the Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons signage against a standard paperclip and a five sen coin (Malaysian denomination). As you can see, the signage is rather small.

Soum 13 Moons signage as compared to a standard paperclip and a five sen coin

At the end of it all, I'm pretty happy with the weathering job I did on this signage. That being said, I will probably look at it again after a long period of time and go what the hell was I thinking. But that's a problem for another day as I bask in my infrequent successes in this hobby. Bask, bask. bask. Ok, that's over and done with. Now onwards to Soum/Katana's wooden stool and stone floor base.

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