Wednesday, 30 March 2016

300th Post Special: Music to paint & draw to

Do forgive me for this vanity post. I never truly expected to last this long in the blogosphere, so I figured I'm overdue one self-serving piece. Regardless, I hope this post might still do some good by getting you interested in music that on the off chance you may not have heard before. Here then is my Top 10 music to paint/draw to - a list that isn't by all means exhaustive but is a fair representation of the type of music I love - arranged by artist plus two of my favourite songs from each of them.

No.1 - Eric Clapton

Blues has become my undisputed favourite genre/form of music. And Eric Clapton is the main reason why I gravitated towards this genre, either through his original blues rock pieces such as Bell Bottom Blues or from his Robert Johnson covers like Me and the Devil Blues.With the local airwaves devoid of any blues music of note, it took a great album - Eric Clapton Unplugged (1992) - to introduce me to this form of music. Many Clapton albums/songs as above later and I was well and truly hooked.

No.2 - AC/DC

More widely known as a hard rock band, AC/DC is actually also a blues rock band with lots of its music heavily influenced by the blues. While the band's current lead singer Brian Johnson has his moments, I generally prefer AC/DC during their Bon Scott years. His vocals and Angus Young's guitar licks were a match made in heaven. That means my favourite Angus/Bon Scott moments predated the Back in Black album i.e. Highway to Hell and The Jack (the naughty live version).   

No.3 - Elton John

Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) for me, in my humble opinion, is the quintessential song of science fiction. It's the song I would play were I an astronaut out in deep space heading to heaven knows where. And as for Tiny Dancer, it's a song that has come to represent one of my favourite movies of all time - Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. An interesting trivia - like me, the first time David Grohl (lead singer for Foo Fighters) heard the latter song was in the movie.

No.4 - Paramore

Paramore is the music I play when I just want to flash the middle finger at the world. Yes the band has amazing ballads like The Only Exception but lead singer Hayley Williams puts in a lot of attitude into her other songs e.g. the hugely underrated Playing God which is a great in-your-face song. Frenetic beats tend to pseudo-mask what are essentially very melodic songs and it's that strange hybrid that makes me keep coming back for more and more, and more. 

No.5 - Norah Jones

At the most stressful time of my working life, there was Norah Jones. Her debut album Come Away With Me single-handedly took me through some dark times. Her single also titled Come Away With Me just melted all those stress away and mellowed me out like no song ever did. Together with Diana Krall (another jazz singer who didn't make the list), Norah made jazz more mainstream. Another song I like a lot is What Am I To You? from her even better sophomore album Feels Like Home

No.6 - John Mayer

Yet another artist whose work is heavily influenced by the blues. Granted a lot of his early work was pop-rock but then came his third studio album Continuum. It incorporated more blues elements and deservedly won Best Album in the Grammy Awards. For me, Slow Dancing In A Burning Room was the highlight of that album. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate his more commercially driven pop-rock stuff. Music is music and Why Georgia? from his debut album sounds great regardless.

No.7 - Dido

I first heard Dido in an Eminem song featuring a track from her song Thank You. She is one of the very few straight-up pop artists that I follow. Another Dido song that stands out for me is Life For Rent though to be honest it's hard to pick just two out from her entire repertoire.   

No.8 - Adele

In the past decade, no new artists have held my attention for long, except for Adele that is. Her amazing voice punched through my wall of cynicism regarding present day music that seems preoccupied with dances moves and video imagery. For Adele, practically every song is about a simple thing called vocals as it should be. From the live version of her classic Someone Like You to the latest When We Were Young, I am in awe of her ability to sing a story.

No.9 - Abba

What can I say. This was the music of my youth. An the age of four going on five all I ever played on cassette tape was ABBA, ABBA and more ABBA. Oddly enough, 40 years later ABBA's music still sounds great to me. It might be uncool to like ABBA but I don't care. From their breakthrough Waterloo to their most popular song Dancing Queen, ABBA was unquestionably 1970s pop.

No.10 - Foo Fighters

David Grohl must be one of the few singers who can shout out a song and still sound good. Case in point is Best of You and The Pretender from their In Your Honour and Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace albums respectively. Something good did come out of the ashes of Nirvana.

Other great music that didn't make the list
It's impossible to chose a Top Ten. There are so much great music which didn't make it ... where do I even begin: Star Wars Original Trilogy Musical Score (John Williams), Get Back (Beatles), Stay (Sugarland), Man of Constant Sorrow (Alison Krauss & Union Station), Sweet Virginia (Rolling Stone), Muddy Water (Free), Waiting for the Bus (ZZ Top), I Loved Another Woman (Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac), Don't Stop Me Now (Queen), Roll With It (Oasis), Night Moves (Bob Seger), At Last (Etta James), I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), Battery (Metallica), Come As You Are (Nirvana), Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix), Still Got The Blues For You (Gary Moore) ... and the list goes on and on.

Well, enough of  the music I paint and draw to. Normal service resumes in the next post with new updates on my Bandai 1/144 Millennium Falcon project. Until then, stay safe and be happy.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Nurgle Chaos Chosen [Completed]

Frustration doesn't even begin to describe how I feel. Three months into the year and I only have one painted miniature to show for it. Sadly, the Bandai Stormtrooper and Millennium Falcon crew doesn't count - the former was more assembly than paint while the latter is part of a larger model kit. I haven't felt this unproductive hobby-wise in years. For what it's worth, here's a look at the miniature which belatedly kick-starts my 2016 miniature painting programme - the Nurgle Chaos Chosen.  

Nurgle Chaos Chosen, eyes all aglow with hate

What's changed from my last Nurgle Chaos Chosen update? Quite a lot actually - his eyes, marking on the right pauldron, breathing hose, weapons, and base. Also in this set of photographs, I have tried to make minor adjustments to the white balance in order to truly capture the colour scheme that I had painted. If you compare this set with past photos, you will notice the colours here are less saturated. 

Nurgle Chaos Chosen in arguably his best pose
Colours are less saturated in keeping with the sickly diseased hues of Nurgle

Let's begin with the Chosen's eyes. If you know your colour triads then you would know that the orange hues of his eyes practically chose itself. Initially I wanted the rust on his weapons to be the predominant orange hue for the miniature. But things rarely pan out the way you planned so in the end it was the eyes that completed the orange-green-violet triumvirate. Meanwhile for the pauldron marking, I chose a simple Nurgle design to paint freehand (see below). Nothing fancy. More a marking that you would barely glimpse at i.e. one which blends into the overall colour scheme.

A hint of the Nurgle symbool is visible on the right pauldron from this angle
Symbol of Nurgle - a simple design painted freehand

As for weapons, the Chosen had many. His primary one though is presumably the power axe on his right hand. At first I was shooting for an ancient and rusted look but this was not in keeping with how the axe was sculpted. So instead I went with a weapon in the early stages of deterioration. This came in the form of a light rust and verdigris on the power axe. There were even less signs of degradation on the bolter, heavy bolter and blade as perhaps befitting a newly minted chosen of Nurgle who's still subconsciously holding on to his humanity. Or maybe I was just too lazy to do any weathering!  

Nurgle Chaos Chosen's main weapon is his power axe
Closeup of the power axe with the beginnings of verdigris and rust

Funnily enough, the spot with the most detail work was on the Chosen's back. I especially loved how the sculpted spine fused into the jump pack. An equally nice touch was in seeing what I think is the lower lumbar protrude out as a mutated pincer. And then there is the heavy bolter strapped to the pack and incorporated with organic elements. A great sculpt whichever way you look at it.

Back view of the Nurgle Chaos Chosen

As mentioned above, the other weapons carried by the Nurgle Chaos Chosen were a bolter on his left hand and a blade (the knife not the vampire ... ba-dum-ching .... groan) strapped to his waist. Other than the loin cloth, these two weapons had the most purplish violet hues painted on them.

Closeup of the Nurgle Chaos Chosen's bolter and blade

With so much going on in the miniature itself, I kept the base to an absolute minimum - a layer of Citadel's Agrellan Earth and a sepia wash. Nothing else. Zero, zilch, zip, nada, nothing.

Nurgle Chaos Chosen, a custom paint job of the miniature from the Dark Vengeance board game

As part of a visual ode to the Chaos gods, this Nurgle warrior is the first in a set of four. While my next W40K miniature will likely be another Chaos Chosen, a semi-assembled Ork Trukk gathering dust in the corner of my workstation is suddenly looking appealing thanks to a screenshot shot I saw of the Mad Max Fury Road truck called War Rig. Now I haven't seen the movie yet but that truck sure looks cool as hell. So next up might be one or the other or even both. Now that would be cool.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Art / Photography Book Review: Capturing Archetypes, 20 years of Sideshow Collectibles Art

In a rare visit to the National Library, I found a gem in the form of a Sideshow Collectibles art cum photography book - Capturing Archetypes, Twenty Years of Sideshow Collectibles Art. Now I love everything and anything to do with art books and if I had my way I would collect every one ever published, especially ones relating to sculpted figurines and movies. But for us mere mortals, limited budgets afford us the guilty pleasure of only a few a year at best. Priced at USD50, this book was beyond my budget when first released so getting to borrow it was the next best thing for me.

Below is a short video showing a glimpse of the book in a quick flip-through. It gives you a rough idea of the book's overall content. A more detailed review can be read in the following paragraphs. As with my previous YouTube videos, please select the HD option for best viewing.

First the good. Sideshow Collectibles have one of the best, if not the best, set of figurine collectibles in the market. (In my opinion, its closest rival is the Hong Kong-based Hot Toys which focuses on sixth scale figurines.) So the book already had excellent subject matters. It was just a matter of doing the figurines justice. In ways the book did just that. Some photos showcased dynamic closeups of brightly coloured and well detailed figurines while others captured creative poses in a diorama setting. There were also great shots of some of the bigger pieces' facial features with Thor being a prime example. Moreover, there were instances of good usage of space within a two-page spread which displayed both zoomed in closeups of the face and the figure as a whole e.g. Daredevil.   

Dynamic shots of figurines
Creative use of the Sideshow Collectible figurines in a diorama
Superb closeup of Thor's face, showcasing the fantastic sculpt and paint job
Wolverine is captured in a bright enough lighting to show his details in all its glory
Photographs of Daredevil show good use of both sides of the page

But there were a lot of bad photos too, infuriatingly so. My biggest beef was with the extremely dark lighting used, shifting photos from the realms of artistic to just plain bad. Chief candidate for worse photo was that of Gandalf (see below). I get and respect the artistic slant the photographer must have been aiming for. However, in such art/photography books my main wish is to see eye candy in the form of highly detailed figurines. Encasing Gandalf in near total darkness is a no-go for me. Another example was Harley Quinn which in my view should have had brighter lighting. Other complaints I had was the lazy usage of a two page spread which featured a blank page with a quote next to one with a photo of a figurine. At times, this seemed like a missed creative opportunity.   

My least favourite photograph in the book; only Gandalf's back is visible ... oh wait it's too dark to see
I love Sideshow's Harley Quinn but here the lighting is way too dark and ends up obscuring her details
This page arrangement is just plain lazy that does not do justice to the brilliant photograph on the right
Poison Ivy is a slim figure and the blank page on the right just looks like wasted space

That being said, it's worth noting that a black background can still work. When a figurine has many details as in Star Wars Boba Fett, a black background serves to focus ones eye to the figurine as well as highlight its many details. Notice however the figurine is brightly lit in this case. In addition, closeups where the colour scheme is predominantly white (Marvel Black Cat) a black background is the only way to go. Again the figure was brightly lit. And there is also always a case for dark and gloomy lighting depending on the subject matter. In the case of The Lord of the Rings characters such as Gollum and the Black Rider, the dark setting did not in any way take away from the figures. 

A detailed closeup of a figure with many things going on works wonderfully with a black background
A predominantly bright and white colour scheme on Black Cat means only a black background will do
Both Gollum (left) and the Black Rider (right) look suitably great in dark lighting

And then there are the grey areas where a photo borders between art and bad lighting. This was the category in which I felt Mystique's spread fell in. On the right page she looked great artistically while on the left the darkness started to diminish the qualities of the figurine (see below).

Mystique looks mysterious in the dark (right) but at the same time it's too dark to see details on her back (left)

Volume Two was recently released but I have yet to get my hands on it. Hopefully they will address the overall too gloomy look of the photographs. I'm a huge fan of black backgrounds. But when coupled with too many instances of low lighting, it can be a huge turnoff. So in the end it all boils down to whether I would buy a copy of this book for myself. Well, yes and no. As a fan of art books, I would love to have this book in my collection. But only at the right discounted price. There are enough flaws in it that makes the book not worth its retail cover price. For many of us, owning a Sideshow Collectibles figurine is just too expensive so the book becomes the most viable alternative.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Painting on a booger-sized miniature ... Bandai Millennium Falcon's BB8, Finn and Rey at 1/144 scale

With a width of 3 mm and a height that extends an additional millimeter, the Bee-bee Ate 1/144 scale miniature is admittedly larger than most boogers. Nonetheless, painting something this small has been a hobby experience bordering on the insane. That a photo of the resulting paint job was even possible is due solely to a DSLR camera equipped with the Tamron SP AF 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 lens (an entry-level budget macro lens). Alas the use of the macro lens clearly highlighted any painting errors I made, errors which are actually barely visible when viewed with the naked eye.  

Beebee-Ate from the 1/144 scale Bandai Millennium Falcon model kit

While not as small as Beebee-Ate, both Finn and Rey at 1/144 scale were still noticeably smaller than the previously completed pair of Han and Chewie. I should have compensated with slightly more diluted paint and a whole lot more patience when applying the layers of colour. But I did neither. Coupled with an overconfidence borne out of my previous success with Han and Chewie, I didn't - unsurprisingly enough - do as well with the paint job on Finn and Rey.  

Close up front view of Finn (left) and Rey (right)
Close up back view of Finn (left) and Rey (right)

Also as with my experience with Han and Chewie, the sculpted details on the standing figures were much better than the seated ones. This was especially true for the miniatures' facial features. If I had to hazard a guess, this could be a conscious decision on Bandai's part because any eventual view of the seated figures will probably be obstructed by the cockpit and lack of lighting. In contrast, the standing figures would be outside the ship and in clear view hence the need for greater details.   

Finn and Rey at 1/144 scale (front view)
Finn and Rey at 1/144 scale (back view)

Previously I compared the scale of these tiny figures to a 31 mm paperclip and a 28 mm heroic scale miniature from Games Workshop. This time around, I compared them to a five sen coin which is the smallest denomination of the Malaysian currency. As you can see, Beebee-Ate is barely a twinkle in the small coin's eye. Without a doubt the smallest miniature I have ever painted so far.

Bandai Millennium Falcon's crew as compared to the five Malaysian sen coin 

So the gang is now more or less complete with four seated and five standing figures at 1/144 scale. Logically speaking, next up should be the interior of the cockpit. As I won't be lighting up the cockpit with any LEDs, I will have to simulate the panel lights using bright colours instead. Having a background (sans lighting) littered with hues of black/dark grey, the cockpit area is very gloomy and dim when not lighted up. Whether bright colours will suffice in lieu of lighting is a conundrum for another day. For now, I'm just happy to have completed the tiny 1/144 scale figures.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Painting on sprues is a no-no no more ... Bandai Millennium Falcon's Han & Chewie at 1/144 scale

All those years ago when I first started out in the hobby, had you had told me I would be painting miniatures that were still attached to sprues I would've raised an eyebrow and gave you that look. You know, the one that implied you were crazy and stupid in equal measures. Well, look who's the mentally-challenged insane one now. So what's changed? Why did I do now what I wouldn't consider doing before? Simply put, it's due to the 1/144 scale of the miniature figures in question.  

Han Solo and Chewbacca at 1/144 scale (front view)
Han Solo and Chewbacca at 1/144 scale (back view)

At this extremely tiny size, the 1/144 scale figures are better left at the sprue during the painting process. There are multiple reasons for this; with mine chiefly being:

1. Being so small, the miniature must be securely anchored and immobile when its painted on. Why? Any slight vibrations at this scale will cause errors to increase exponentially e.g. a slight unintended slip of the brush could cause a paint smear that wipes out an entire paint job on the face.

2. Unpainted parts still connected to the sprue are so small that they can be touched up easily once majority of the paint job is done. Here, the reasoning is concern No.1 overrides No.2.

3. In certain poses, parts still connected to the sprue would eventually be covered up by other parts so they actually can be left unpainted. For example, in this case Chewie and Han are in seated positions whose sides will be covered by the Millennium Falcon seats. Again, the main concern is in point No.1, that of keeping the tiny piece stable while painting.  

One Piece characters in miniature from a Bandai model kit

Ironically, what actually made me delve into miniature painting in the first place was the intention to paint the tiny miniatures comprising characters from the One Piece anime (see above) that came in a ship model kit. One thing led to another and in the end I started painting miniatures from 2 8mm to 90 mm. Yet I never actually started painting the anime mini-figures. But looking at them now in comparison to Han and Chewie, those Bandai One Piece miniatures don't seem so daunting after all.

1/144 scale miniatures in comparison to a standard 31mm paperclip
Han and Chewie next to Game Workshop's 28-mm heroic scale Chaos Chosen

Capturing Han Solo's iconic grin is arguably my greatest achievement at this scale with Chewie's ammo belt and fur details coming a close second (click on photo immediately below this paragraph). Now at this scale, everything you see is hinted at. As such it requires a combination of very thin paints, dilute washes and light dry brushing to achieve the desired effects. Sculpted details on the tiny standing figures were much better than the seated ones hence a better paint job could be had with the former over the latter (see first two photos at the start of this blog for a comparison).    

Zoomed in front views of Han Solo (left) and Chewbacca (right)
Zoomed in back views of Chewbacca (left) and Han Solo (right)

This feels like a huge milestone in my journey as a miniature painter. Never before had I dared paint at such a small scale before. At the standing position Han is 12 mm tall while Chewie is 16 mm while seated both are only 9 mm and 11 mm in height respectively. Having completed Han and Chewie, I now feel I can tackle (almost) anything that comes my way. Watch out world, here I come!
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