Sunday, 9 December 2018

HQ12-02 Race Queen [WIP - Applying Tamiya Weathering Pastels as Skin Tone Shadows]

In what is my first sustained art session in three and a half months, I finally resumed work on the atelier iT Race Queen. And after doing nothing for so long, I was happy just to do something, anything, even if it's the bare minimum of applying pastel shadow colors to spaces between the fingers of a 1/12 scale figurine. It isn't much physically. But mentally it's a lot. It's a start.     

Work-in-progress of atelier iT HQ12-02 Race Queen: Pastel shadows applied to spaces between the fingers

Now you might be wondering why don't I just airbrush the shadow colors or paint them by hand on the spaces between the fingers. Well, the spaces are too small for accurate airbrushing while applying lacquer paints by hand brush generally isn't a good idea if you're want smooth transitions. Caught between using acrylics and pastels as an alternative, I decided to give the latter a go and learn a new technique in the process. So first and foremost on the comeback agenda was to find out which of the Tamiya Weathering Master flesh hues most closely resembled the airbrushed skin tone shadows.

Tamiya Weathering Master's peach hue was the closest match to the skin tone shadows airbrushed on the leg

Roughly eyeballing the colors (see above), I found Tamiya's peach to most closely resemble the existing shadow colors that had been airbrushed onto the leg. In keeping with my cautious nature, I decided to test out this assumption first. To do this, I painted up some spoons with Gaia Color flesh mid-tones and highlights (see below). These served as the base for the weathering pastels to adhere to. The point of this little exercise was to see how the pastels would fare as the sole shadow color, when compared to a section of the figurine airbrushed with shadows, mid-tones and highlights. 

For the test, first a mix of mid-tones and highlight skin tones were airbrushed on a spoon
Then, the peach pastel was applied to the spoon using an eyeshadow applicator, thin cotton bud and brush
Spoon with mid-tone/highlight skin tone before weathering pastels (left) and after (right)
Comparison between the shadows using pastels (on spoon) and using airbrush of lacquer paint (on leg)

Results (see above) show there is sufficient likeness between the shadow colors created by airbrush (leg) and by pastel (spoon) to warrant its use for shadow areas in this figurine that cannot be reached by the former. I believe this technique would be effective only at larger sizes of 1/12 scale and above e.g. 1/6 scale. More so when one is painting figurines when shadowed areas can be small.

Before weathering pastels: Note the spaces between fingers which lack depth as airbrush can't reach the crevices
After weathering pastels: Spaces between fingers now have shadow hues (courtesy of the peach pastel)
A final matte clear coat varnish was applied to the hands to seal in the pastels

In the final step, I sprayed on a matte clear coat in order to seal in the pastel application. You could also use a semi-gloss clear coating on the flesh areas depending on the look you want the figurine to have. Much more work remains to be done on the Race Queen's body and skin tone such as her facial features, fingernails, hair, etc. That's what I'll likely concentrate on before moving on to her clothes. It's good to be back though I foresee intermittent delays to any progress I may make hobby-wise seeing that it's the year-end holidays and I've only just got back into the groove. But I'm back.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Going oil crazy

With the local art supply store having a 30% discount on Winsor & Newton products, it was a now or never moment for me to finally stock up on oil paints and add this medium to my painting aresenal. Every other item in my hobby-to-buy-list was put on hold and limited funds were channeled into creating a respectable inventory of oil paints for use in my scale model/miniature art. Because the ringgit is weak, the budget oils paints were unfortunately still quite pricey. But at least the sale puts Winton Oil Colour paints into the 'buyable with some belt tightening' rather than 'oh hell no' category.

Winton Oil Color - Winsor & Newton's more affordable range of oil paints

If I could I actually would've preferred to get paints from the Winsor & Newton Artists' Oil Colour range which have a higher proportion of finer pigments. However paints from this range are insanely expensive with certain hues costing up to RM200 per 37 ml tube. That's the price of an average scale model kit and then some. So adding Artists' Oil Colour paints to my collection is a no go, for now.

An excellent medium for oil paints especially for use in scale modelling

Meanwhile, in addition to the Winton oil paints I also bought a one liter tin of Winsor & Newton Artists' White Spirit (see above) which is a medium for oil paints. To give you an idea of the savings involved, the price for this 1000 ml tin - before factoring in the discount - is similar to a 100 ml bottle equivalent being sold under hobby company labels. That's just insanely skewed economics. Anyway, I've used the Artists' White Spirit before for weathering purposes and they seem to work just as fine as the hobby labeled ones if not better. It's a necessary ingredient just like water is to acrylics.         

So many whites and blacks to choose from but only one grey
Variety of yellows is even more impressive ... overkill to all but an avid painter
Going forward it'll be important to know the combination of pigments used for each oil color, red or otherwise

As I rarely see these oil paints on sale in my local art supply store, I went a little bit oil crazy and perhaps purchased more than I may actually need for current projects. Then again, we painters can never have too much colors. While it's good to know how to mix (almost) any hue you want using primary colors, which for Winton oil paints are Cadmium Yellow Hue, French Ultramarine and Permanent Rose, there are times it's far more convenient to just use a per-existing hue. And yet my collection remains incomplete because a lot of blue hues were out of stock during the sale.

Blues in my Winton collection is incomplete as many bluish hues were out of stock during the sale
Winton also has a good range of greens from the natural greens to the turquoise hues
Arguably the most important range of oil colors (apart from blacks, greys and whites) for an AFV modeler

Of course there are oil paints specially formulated for miniature painters and scale modellers such as Abteilung 502. Incidentally I also stocked up on those too quite a while ago when a local hobby store had a clearance sale on all its Abteilung products citing a severe lack of demand. As such I might do a comparison between these oil paints and Winton ones in the future. In terms of hue variety, Winton is better as Abteilung tailors its products primarily to the scale modelling community. In my limited experience of both, I suspect the latter is closer in quality to the Winsor & Newton Artists' Oil Colour range. Regardless, I now have no more excuses to not paint with oil for future projects.

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.
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