lunedì 23 aprile 2018

GW Vampire Counts Skeletons / Skeleton Warriors

The set of 10 Skeletons, a classic from Games Workshop. It used to be named "Vampire Counts Skeletons" and, with the new AoS, was renamed "Skeleton Warriors" and rebased with round bases. I don't know from which year this set dates, nor who designed it, but it's a good set: plenty of options for personalization. Lots of fine details, from the quaintest ones (which I favour: coffins converted to shields, broken weapons, jawless or cracked skulls) to the silly ones (impractically big helms, shields with death symbols, oversized swords).

I quite enjoyed setting the models up and painting them. Here are a few of them:

Sigfried the Cruel was a servant of the Necromancer, his champion. When he got killed, his master brought back his remains, to wield again his weapons. The bastard scimitar could now be wielded with one hand, so the Necromancer fitted a shield with the bones of one of his enemies, also brought back and condemned to be bashed by enemies in order to protect Sigfried. The Necromancer always loved irony.

Eric Wildcharge was a reckless warrior and died the good death on the battlefield. The Necromancer brought him back. Although mindless, Eric still has a tendency to bellow challenges (even without voice) and to point his sword at the enemy champions.

Eleonora di Roccamara was the daughter of a prince and when her puny husband would not ride to war against the enemy, she would. A fearsome warrior, she still fights in undeath.

Gaston the Brave was fearless. So fearless, one day he challenged a giant. With one swoop of his mace, the giant smashed his shield and his head. But still Gaston got up, with a little help from the Necromancer.

This jolly fellowship is going to company the Necromancer is a few games of Skirmish. Will post something soon!

Elrond - Mithril M338 (1994)

In order to recover from last model's disappointmentI picked a Mithril piece from the '90s: simple, elegant and dependable. And here is Elrond, or M338, from 1994. What a great model.

Elrond is probably one of my favourite characters from any book of Tolkien - as a matter of fact, he appears in all of them. A minor character in the Silmarillion, he rises to be one of the Wise in the later books, and take the archetypal role of mentor: the one who provides the main characters with information and advice, and sets them on the right path to victory.

Elrond was first conceived by Tolkien in the Hobbit:
The master of the house was an elf-friend - one of those people whose fathers came into the strange stories before the beginning of History, the wars of the evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North. In those days of our tale there were still some people who had both elves and heroes of the North for ancestors, and Elrond the master of the house was their chief. He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer. He comes into many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo's great adventure is only a small one, though important, as you will see, if we ever get to the end of it. His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley.
Hob, Chapt. 3 - A short rest
Elrond is, since the beginning, the Master of the House in Rivendell: the place and the character are linked and inseparable, one the mirror of the other. They represent safety and hope for the Free People of Northwestern Middle-earth. Rivendell is a place of healing and wisdom, the Last Homely House before the Wilderness, a beacon of civilisation where civilisation is seemingly lost.

"Rivendell" by JRR Tolkien
His description in LotR is similar in tone:
The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars. Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength. He was the Lord of Rivendell and mighty among both Elves and Men.
FotR, Book II, Chapt. I - Many Meetings
While in Hob we are offered but a glimpse of Elrond, it is in LotR that he truly develops as a character, and even more in Sil. He is a character larger than life: noblest of the Eldar in Middle-earth, wisest among them, keeper of one of the Three, protector of the line of Isildur and their heirlooms. Looking at his life, he has been a direct witness to the most important events in history: born of Earendil and Elwing at the Havens of Sirion, after the Nirnaeth, Elrond and his twin Elros are captured by the Sons of Fëanor when only six years old, during the Third Kinslaying. They will never see their parents again, but they will be raised by Maglor.

"And Maglor took pity upon them" by Catherine Karina Chmiel

Elrond is 55 years old, just about an adult among the Elves, when the War of Wrath is over and Maglor disappears. Free at last from his captor and mentor, Elrond is offered a choice by the Valar, whether to be counted among the Mortals or the Immortals. Unlike his brother, Elrond chooses the Eldar, and as Beleriand sinks under the waves, he moved to Lindon in the court of the High King Gil-galad. Here Elrond becomes his Herald.

Elrond is one of the few who is not fooled by Annatar's promises and he meets him at the borders of Lindon forbidding him entrance. When the Maia reveals himself as Sauron and leads his armies against Eregion, Elrond in turn heads the host of the Eldar of Lindon against him. He fails to defeat the Lord of the Rings, but he is able to rescue some inhabitants of Eregion and retreats north, where he reaches the hidden vale of Imladris and there he sets his camp. He spends three years there, besieged by enemies, until Tar Minastir of Númenor lands his forces in Middle-earth and, together with Gil-galad, drives Sauron's forces out of Eriador.

At this point Elrond could go back to Lindon, but he does not. With great foresight, he understands the need to keep an outpost in eastern Eriador to guard the land against the Shadow, and together with the survivors of Eregion and a few of his companions he establishes the Last Homely House, the mansion of Imladris. He will spend the following 4.762 years as its lord and master.

During this time, only once will Elrond ride in arms outside his borders: during the War of the Last Alliance. Summoned by his king Gil-galad, the Lord of Imladris led his forces against Mordor and fought during the siege of Barad-dûr. He was witness to the defeat of Elendil and Gil-galad, felled by Sauron himself, and the victory of Isildir, who cut the One from his Master's hand and took it for himself. He spoke to a dying Gil-galad, and received from him the Ring of Air, Vilya, thus becoming one of the Keepers of the Three.

His time in Middle-earth ended with the Third Age, when he took the Last Ship with the other Ringbearers and joined his wife in Valinor, leaving behind his children, Elladan and Elrohir, who remain in Imladris, and Arwen, who becomes Queen of Gondor and will share with his husband Aragorn the doom of Men and mortality.

Untitled by Pauline Baynes

Elrond is, as we have seen, full of virtues - strength, courage, wisdom, leadership, nobility, compassion - but none of them greater than his humility. In spite of being the best candidate to lead the Eldar in Middle-earth, first in line to succeed Gil-galad as High-king, he never raised any claim, simply content to be the Master of Rivendell, to occupy a small, isolated corner of Eriador and help the Free Peoples with hospitality and advice. And ultimately his choice bore fruit: he surely understood better than others the Doom of Mandos and the futility to try to restore the power and glory of the Light Elves, but instead he was key to ensure the success of many enterprises such as Thorin Oakenshield's quest for Erebor and the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as many others we know not of from the main books - the sapping of Angmar's power in Rhudaur in the middle of the Third Age, among many. By defending Rivendell in the wild lands around the Misty Mountains, he fostered hope for generations of members of the Free Peoples. Few indeed, in all of Middle-earth, contributed more than Elrond in the fight against Sauron, and yet he went mostly uncredited, simply known in other lands as a loremaster and wise scholar.

The representation of Elrond in the visual media varies wildly, but somehow there seems to be a preference for the colour blue associated to him, perhaps because of the sapphire in his ring. As an alternative, grey.
The Hobbit (1977)
R. Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978)
The Hobbit graphic novel (1989)
Bilbo's Last Song by Pauline Baynes (1990)
"Elrond recalls past events" by M. Kaluta (1990s?)
Hugo Weaving playing Elrond in P. Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
So here we go. The sculpt from Chris Tubb is very good: extremely natural and harmonious. Elrond holds a book, pointing at a page and looking up. His simple and wide robes drape elegantly, held at the waist by a long belt of cloth. The sleeves are folded up, manifesting the pragmatism of the character, whose hair are held back by a circlet. This is the fifth time Tubb sculpts Elrond (out of seven) and, in my opinion, this figure is the nicest.

The sculpt is, in itself, very simple, so I decided to experiment a bit with the painting to add complexity. Making use of a liner brush, I drew the letters on the book and added little white points at the bottom of the robes as stars. For a first attempt, the stars came out ok, although I think I can do better. But the book is spot on, isn't it? The circlet is non metallic silver - again, it could have better, but for a first time it's not too abysmal.

Overall, greatly pleased by this piece. One of the best I've painted from Mithril.

sabato 31 marzo 2018

GW Craftworld Eldar Guardians (2017)

After my first venture into Warhammer 40.000 with Space Marines, I decided to give the Eldar a go. After all, I am an Elf-lover, and while Space Elves are remarkably different from the Fantasy ones, they still have their own charm.

Craftworld Eldar, then: the small pack to test paint schemes. I love these small boxes that one can just buy on a whim without making a special commitment to an army. Four figures, four attempts at getting the right colour scheme for my own personal Craftworld, which goes by the working name of Shien'dan. Yes, there is a Chinese flavour to it.

The idea is to have the armour resemble celadon porcelain, and the accessories lacquer. One should be a shiny, light, polished green-blue, the other a deep, dull red.

The first attempt focused on Citadel Gauss Blaster Green, the colour most similar to celadon (as I see it, although celadon can have remarkable variations). This is an Edge colour, so to make it stick I had to dilute it and paint a good number of layers. The wash is Biel Tan Green. Highlights are made with Gauss Blaster Green mixed with Screaming Skull. Armour plates are varnished with 'Ardcoat. I like this hue best, but I’m not really happy with the colour layering: I think I need less wash and a base mix where Gauss Blaster is dulled with some darker colour.
The lacquer is made with Vallejo Game Color Burnt Cadmium Red, washed with Carroburg Crimson and then highlighter again with GC Burnt Cadmium Red.

Attempt No. 2 was more bluish: the armour is painted with Vallejo Model Color Grey Blue, washed in Citadel Drakenhof Nightshade, then again layered with MC Grey Blue + Sky Blue. While there is a higher degree of contrast, this colour looks too dull to me, and it reminds me of Space Wolf power armour. 

Attempt No. 3 was again with green: this time the base was a mix of Vallejo MC Emerald Green and Sky Blue, washed in Biel Tan Green and then layered again with the addition of Screaming Skull. the contrast is good, but it’s too dark for my liking. On the red parts, I always used a base of Vallejo MC Burnt Cadmium Red, washed in Citadel Carroburg Crimson and layered with different degrees of Khorne Red and Wild Rider Red. On this last model I used more Wild Rider Red, and I don’t like the result too much: it doesn’t look like lacquer at all. 

Final attempt No. 4 was again with blue. I started with MC Storm Blue, washed in Drakenhof Nightshade and layered with Storm Blue and Citadel Baharroth Blue, closing it with a mix of Screaming Skull. This is the only model where I didn’t apply the 'Ardcoat varnish. Great contrast, but not looking like a lacquer very much, does it?

Overall my favourite is no. 1, although there's lot to improve in the technique. But it's quite closer to my benchmark.

Photo taken while WIP
It’s fun to do colour tests and there’s a lot to learn with it. My next Eldar will be a Farseer - I’ll try to paint it with similar colours, but change technique, and see what comes out of it. Which colour scheme do you like most? let me know in the comments!

giovedì 15 marzo 2018

Fantasy Visuals: Chris Achilleos

1979 - The Sentinel

Chris Achilleos is another iconic Fantasy artist from the ‘70s/'80s. Somewhat eclectic and independent mind, it is difficult to categorize him and his production. He used a variety of techniques and worked on many different subjects. Still, he is one of the most significant painters from that period, and in this post we’re going to take a look at his works. 

Christos Achilleos was born in 1947 in east Cyprus, in a village near Famagusta. At that time the island was still united as a Crown Territory of the United Kingdom. In the last ‘50s, Christos and his three siblings lost their father, and their mother left Cyprus and emigrated to the UK, where he would remain for all his life. At the time of his arrival in England, Christos was an early teenager and soon became interested in art: in 1966, at 19, he enrolled in the Hornsey College of Arts in London. During this time he experimented with many techniques, and notably with the airbrush, which would become popular in the late ‘70s among Fantasy artists.

After college, Achilleos started looking for commissions: he accepted all kinds of jobs at the beginning, working for advertising and on adult magazines, album and book covers, games. With time, building a reputation, he was able to focus on what he liked most, namely Fantasy art.

Achilleos was fond of drawing the female body, representing it with explicit sensuality - his early style draws obviously from Frazetta and Vallejo, although some elements of monsters and backgrounds seem to connect him with Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews. Here’s a quick look at his early works. 

1974 - Transit to Scorpio
1975 - The Bull and the Spear
1975 - The burning woman
1976 - Of men and beasts
1977 - Assassins of Gor
1977 - Beastmen
1977 - Amazon with zebra cloak, used as cover in the Uriah Heep 1978 album 'Fallen Angel'
Achilleos was consecrated as a famous artist by the commission he received in 1980 from Heavy Metal magazine, to draw the poster for the movie of the same name, released the following year. Achilleos also worked as a concept artist for the movie, especially designing the character of Taarna.
1980 - Taarna, poster for the movie 'Heavy Metal'
In the years to follow, Achilleos would go on working as a concept artists for other Fantasy and historical movies, namely Willow (1988), King Arthur (2004) and the Last Legion (2007).

In the 80s Achilleos continued to work on many book covers:

1983 - Cover for 'Elric at the End of Time' by M. Moorcock
1986 - 'Dragonspell'
1987 - Cover for 'Armies of Death' by I. Livingstone
1989 - 'Enter the Hero'
And also had several collaborations with Games Workshop, and it's not difficult to spot several elements of his style that were shared by other GW artists of the time, especially John Blanche.

1984 - Illustration for the game 'Middle Earth' by Games Workshop
1984 - Cover for the game 'Talisman' by Games Workshop
1987 - Judge Anderson
1990 - Alien War, a piece for Warhammer 40.000
Besides commissions, Achilleos painted for himself, too: most of his personal production focuses on sexy female characters portrayed in Fantasy or Sci-Fi settings, which he calls Amazons. He published as many as four books collecting them: Beauty and the Beast (1978), Sirens (1986), Medusa (1988) and Amazona (2004).

1978 - The Oath, originally published as a cover in Raven magazine
1981 - Boadicea
1984 - Eagle Rider, originally cover of 'War of Powers' pt. 2 by Vardeman and Milàn
1992 - Biker Valkyrie
1992 - Maya
1998 - Brunhilde

While being an independent artist, as we said, his influence on Fantasy art, especially on British artists, is undeniable. Today Chris Achilleos lives and works in London.