lunedì 20 novembre 2017

The Colour of Bones

Bone is a very special material - a material with both organic and mineral composition and a unique texture designed for resistance and lightness. While being indisputably white, bone has a hue of its own, which we will discuss here: bone white.

As this colour is both specific and commonly requested for painters of miniatures, most manufacturers of paints have one in their range, for example Bone White from Game Color (Vallejo) or Citadel Ushabti Bone and Screaming Skull (GW). But judge you not colours by their name.

In fact, the most important thing to know when painting bones, is that bones have no clear colour, and this for three reasons. The first is that the original colour of bones is highly influenced by the mineral composition, which in turn may vary wildly because of diet and environment. As a result, not only different creatures have bones of different colours, but also different people do.

The second element to influence the colour of bones is the situation: freshly scarnificated bones are more yellowish-brown because of the presence of fat, while old bones are whiter. Bones that have been cleaned with a thorough boiling, a practice not only reserved for food but also for important people when - in pre-refrigeration times - they died far from their place of  burial, and the weather was hot and humid. Similarly, bones that have been exposed to extreme heat, like a funeral pyre or dragon breath, tend to be whiter than others.

The third element is the environment to which bones were exposed. Bones buried in the naked ground tend to collect earth and dust into their spongy cavities and cracks, assuming colours that vary from brown to red to yellow. Skeletons abandoned in damp places can be attacked by fungi, moss or algae. Bones exposed to the sun, on the other hand, tend to be bleached by it.

Old bones are just the colour of the earth they were buried in
Bogs preserve bones (and hair) very well even after thousands of years.
Yet mud tends to colour the bone very much
Moss can grow anywhere, including human remains
Skeletons stored in crypts collect dust and soot from candles
Ultimately, the variation of bone colour is so wide that it is impossible to offer a single recipe for painting them: it really depends on how you want them to be.

To exemplify, I tested three recipes on some GW Skeletons.

Here we go - Skeleton No. 1

This model, primed black, was painted with a base of Rakarth Flesh, washed with Agrax Earthshade and then layered first in Rakarth Flesh and then in Pallid Wych Flesh. The result is a very cold figure, an old skeleton illuminated by the light of the moon.

Skeleton No. 2

Warmer tones were obtained with a base of Zandri Dust, washed with Agrax Earthshade and then layered with Zandri Dust, Model Color Dark Sand (but you might as well use Ushabti Bone) and finaly highlighted with Screaming Skull (but you might also use Game Color Bonewhite, which is the same). This is a pretty neutral skeleton which is good for any situation.

Skeleton No. 3

For a yellowish effect, like a skeleton freshly raised from the ground, lighted by torch fire, you can use a base of Zandri Dust and layer it with Model Color Dark Sand. Then wash everything with Seraphim Sepia and layer again with Dark Sand.

And here's a back photo to fully appreciate the difference. These are just three possibilities out of hundreds. In the end, anyone can be free to choose a colour scheme of their own liking.

Which one do you like? Let me know your own recipe for skeletons in the comments.

martedì 7 novembre 2017

The Mugger - Citadel C05 Thief (1986)

In 1986 Citadel issued a C04 range dedicated to Thieves. The selection of shady characters, all sculpted by the Perry twins, was impressive and drew extensively from the stereotypes of heroic fantasy.

Each of the characters is named, and the one I finished painting this week is recorded as Elshender Nightman, a good fantasy name for a cut-throat. The slotta of the miniature simply records him as "Mugger".

The sculpt, as by the standards of the Perry twins, is nice and full of character and detail. The Mugger is in combat stance, dagger drawn and pointed at the enemy, ready to strike. From his shoulder hangs a large bag, and from the belt another smaller one and a short sword. Clearly an adventuring type, our rogue cares to wear a leather jacket over his shirt, and a coif which could well be made of leather. His pants are tucked into boots more suited for a traveller than a small town criminal.

This is great to represent both a PC and any NPC with a criminal background. This is old school at its best. Love it!

martedì 31 ottobre 2017

Fantasy Visuals: Rodney Matthews

After Roger Dean, the next big name in Fantasy Art in UK was without any doubt Rodney Matthews. Just one year younger than Dean, Matthews was born on 6th July 1945 in Paulton, North Somerset. Like many other authors, he attended an art school (West of England College of Art) and after it he proceeded to find a job in advertising.

It was in 1970 that he decided to leave his job to become a freelance and draw what he liked, but it took some time before he made a name of himself. Using acrylic on board, his primary inspiration at this time were Rackham and the other illustrators of his time, whose influence is clear in the sketchy characters, goblins and elves with slanted eyes and pointed hats, and in the gnarled and twisted shapes of trees. Matthews was, at this time, already a fan of fantasy fiction and Tolkien was his main literary inspiration, so that his first paintings are tributes to the Professor's works. The depth of Matthew's knowledge of Tolkien's books is noteworthy: while the Hobbit and the Lord of Rings were popular with artists, few even knew about the Silmarillion, published in 1977: that same year, our author was already drawing scenes from it.
1973 Gollum in the Dead Marshes

1977 The People of the Pines - a reference to the Elves of Dorthonion
1979 A view over Isengard

The Dwarves of Belegost
Soon, however, Matthews' style developed with two, even greater, influences. The first was the work of Roger Dean, which we already mentioned - one year older, Dean was already very famous and at some point Matthews started to draw heavily from his style, setting his scenes in surrealistic landscapes with atmospheric lights. This didn't suit well Dean, who considered Matthews a shameless plagiarist.
1981 Mirador
1987 Stronghold
1970s Inverted Landscapes
1970s Freyja's ca... no wait, this is "Tanelorn"
True or not (you decide), around this time Matthews started to get commissions for album covers, and soon made a name in the industry, at first working for prog bands (including Asia, Dean's best client) but later becoming iconic for heavy metal ones.
1978 No mean city - Nazareth
1981 Time tells no lies - Praying Mantis
1981 Time to turn - Eloy (UK issue)
1995 Arena - Asia

The other inspiration was a writer, Michael Moorcock, who was just at this time receiving his first recognitions. Matthews and Moorcock became friends and actively cooperated, with the first illustrating the second's stories, especially those about Elric of Melniboné.

Chequered Floor
Obsidian Castle
The Dragon Lord
1981 - Encore at the End of Time
From the 80s on, Rodney Matthews became a well established author doing a lot of works also based on other books, and his style became more stable. He did many book covers, calendars and more albums, plus in the 1990s he opened his own web store where he sells art prints, mugs and other merchandising.

1978 Estcarp Five - Matthews illustrated many covers from the Witch World cycle
The Duke to the Rescue - this is from F. Herbert's Dune
The sack of Zodanga - from E. Rice Burrough's Mars cycle
In 1998 Matthews worked with Gerry Anderson on the children animated series Lavender Castle.

In the same year he worked with Psygnosis supplying conceptual designs for the game Shadow Master and again in 2002 for Haven: Call of the King by Midway.

Still active at the time of this post, Rodney Matthews is a difficult artist to frame. On one side, he borrowed extensively (shamelessly, one would say) from other artists both visually and conceptually (but then, also Led Zeppelin did, didn't they?). On the other, he has created outstanding art whose influence on sci-fi, steampunk and fantasy can not be in any way downplayed.

Talking about influences, Matthews's style could be described as Proto-Hammer: all the early artists at Games Workshop were directly or indirectly referencing his works. You can glimpse it in John Blanche's reddish or yellowish landscapes and crooked tree-shapes, or in Tony Ackland's demons with long, flat, skullish heads and overlong claws; in Jes Goodwin's Elves with pointed hats, long, thin faces and slanted eyes, or again in Gary Chalk's exaggerated traits in Goblins and monsters. Perhaps Warhammer as we know it would not exist without Rodney Matthews.

Think of that! And while you do, take a look at a gallery of my favourites:

1978 - Drum Boogie
1979 - Dragon Colony (from Elric at the End of Time)
Ilian of Garathorm

1985 - The Heavy Metal Hero
1992 - Lament for the Weary

2008 - Immortal

lunedì 23 ottobre 2017

Spiros Kanakis - Steve Barber Greek Irregular No. 1 (2014)

I am a man of many interests. Too many, some might say. I am a huge nerd for 10th century Europe. Then I also dig all things Middle-earth. Warhammer (Oldhammer), too. Recently I even started venturing into Warhammer 40K. All of these had (or will have) some degree of space on this blog. 

The thing you didn't know yet is that I'm also a fan of all things Oriental in the Colonial Age. That wonderful time when Europeans were discovering the world was a bigger place than they thought, and were creating a new one by meeting the great civilisations of the East.

I even play an RPG set in 1831 Orient. We started several years ago with the PCs (a young and unscrupulous English gambler, an aging and disenchented Scottish war doctor looking for retirement, an ambitious and manipulative Italian Jesuit priest and an ex Turkish Janissary in hiding) meeting in Istanbul. Through haphazard planning and conning whomever they could, they managed to flee the city for Greece, Rome and then Egypt, where they are currently trying to escape once more a long list of enemies they made along the way. Several of them have died gruesomely and have been replaced by new PCs.

One of these is Spiros Kanakis, Greek merchant, sea captain and adventurer, who met the group in the Hellenic capital of Nauplia and was hired to transport them around the Eastern Mediterranean.

Spiros was naive enough to introduce the other PCs to his friends dealing in politics, high ranking members of the English Party. Soon enough their empty promises and clumsy manipulation forced them to leave and Spiros with them - partly because he does not dare to go back to Nauplia, and partly because he is decided to make as much profit as he can from the other PCs. He is a professional looking for profit but most of the time his efforts are directed at staying alive and not being arrested by the local authorities.

Spiros is currently in Alexandria, trying to book a passage for India, and at the same time trying to rescue the Scottish doctor whom, dressed as a Greek and posing as a Frenchman, was captured by the secret police of the khedivé and accused (quite rightly, I might say) to be a spy.

As far as I know, there is only one company manufacturing models of Greeks during the War of Independence period, and this is Steve Barber Models. They were commissioned to do this range by a generous patron in 2014 and they have, in my opinion, done an excellent job. This figure depicts a Greek or Albanian Irregular, with the traditional clothes of these people during the early 19th century. He is armed with a muzzle-loading rifle, a long straight knife and a curved sabre.

The level of detail is good, and painting it was easy and fun. I look forward to do justice to the rest of the range in the months to come!

sabato 14 ottobre 2017

Citadel Slann and their successors


When you reach the venerable age of 38 and you're still into miniatures, most people will tend to consider you a child who never grew up, but that's not entirely true. Children are children, all right, they are in love with the hobby, but something inside of you is different, and that's the part that proves that you are not child, but in fact an old man. A grumbly old man.

All of us, even those who have the bravery to admit that AoS is actually cool, have succumbed at least once (or more) to the urge to grumble. Italians have a nice word for it: brontolone. Bronto- come from the Greek and means "thunder" (as in brontosaurus, yes) and fittingly calls to mind the image of a distant storm on the horizon, lightning flashing, thunder quietly rolling - all of the evening. There might be even some raindrops on your car, just to make it dirty, but no big actual storm. Just this constant and useless rolling thunder. The French have another word: grognard. That's the word I'm gonna use to tag all posts whose content could be summarized into "back in my time, things were different". Young people rant, we do not: we grumble. Face it, it's in our nature.

This was a very long preamble to introduce the subject of Slann miniatures. We all know who the Slann are (or were, back in my time before the retcon). But where do their concept come from, originally?

I believe the first sketch ever of the Slann might be this piece by John Blanche, titled "Troglodytes", which I found on Ratspike. In spite of the name, these are clearly Slann: the shape of the head, the armour, even the pyramid in the background.

A more mature sketch is the following, also by Blanche. Here the Slann have already developed their name and are drawn in more confident strokes.

After this, GW's staff set themselves to work. Tony Ackland drew Slann for the 2nd Edition of WFB (1983), and also in the later articles Kremlo the Slann (1983) and the Magnificent Sven (1984):

Moreover at the same time, in 1983-1984 - difficult to tell if illustrators influenced sculptors, or it was the other way around - the Perry twins sculpted the first, glorious C32 figures.

These were quite succesful and, in 1986, Citadel issued a new series of Slann, sculpted by Trish Morrison. And these were beautiful, too: it was difficult to spot the difference with the Perry pieces.

Then, for no apparent reason, something terrible happened. The 1987 new Slann relase, designed together by Trish and Aly Morrison, came out, and they looked nothing like the originals:

The new Slann looked more like clumsy toads trying to stand on two feet (with little success). Heads became wide and flat, eyes bulged out and torsos almost disappeared. This was the end of classic Slann: the whole "amphibian master-race from Space" concept was forgotten and, in 1997 they were retconned in favour of the Old Ones and the Lizardmen.

What was left to us, with the name Slann, was this. A bloated, big-headed toad:

And that's the end, as far as GW is concerned. But a lot of people still loved the Slann and independent manufacturers tried to support them with new figures. For some reason, though, most of them were more frogmen than actual Slann as we knew them.

I believe Mirliton's Kermitians were the first. I have a lot of respect for Mirliton, and that's why I will not comment on these figures.

Then it was probably Ral Partha who issued their Bullfrogs. They had way more character than Mirliton's Kermitians, but still looked like anthropomorphic frogs.

Reaper Frogmen are suspiciously similar to the previous, with a bit detail, but with the same inherent flaws.

Otherworld Boglings are less frogs, and more TMNT from the movie (the ugly ones).

Mantic's Frogmen are just more of the same. Good figures, mind me, but nowhere close to the original Slann. These are frogmen, period.

Katsina were the first to give up the "frog on two legs" idea and get closer to the original, with exotic weapons and feathered helms. These are nice, but still only a first step towards the original Perry. To put it clearly: put them on a table next to each other, and you will spot the difference from three metres distance.

And just when everything seemed lost, lo! Tim Prow comes out with the Eru-Kin. And let me say: these are the nicest Slann-like miniatures made after 1986.

Diehard brings out all the old colour (light armour of plates + leather strips, round shields, feathered helms, weird weapons and a meso-American feel) and adds some more in the same tune: this is how you do good Oldhammer in the 2010s. Sure, you say, there is significant difference in the heads:

On one side, a big, tall, bloated head. On the other a more lizard-like, long and flat one. Sure, copyright is still a thing and GW isn't kind to those challenging them. You can't call them Slann. You can't do them exactly the same as John Blanche first drew them. Still, these to me look more "right" than the 1987 Citadel toad-people.

In a perfect world, we would have a second set of heads to replace the lizard-like ones, but in the meantime I must say I am very happy about these. Will probably try to fix them with some greenstuff: I'll let you know how it goes. But even without any fix, this is a huge step in bringing Oldhammer back. Well done, Tim Prow!