Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raveners: Step by Step Oil and Turpenoid Washes

Here's my latest experiment with oil and Turpenoid washes: a trio of Raveners. This started out as an experiment in hot-weather painting, but after an 80-degree weekend of painting (woohoo!) I can say that it works well in cool(er) weather too.

Oil paint has an odd reputation among modelers. Most people think of it as an advanced technique, but once you learn the basics it can be easier than acrylics. I think the toughest part is getting over the intimidation and finding that basic information. So I took a few notes and photographs while I was working, in case you want to try it for yourself.

Tools and supplies:
Turpenoid or High-quality turpentine, the kind you get at an art store
Payne's Gray Oil Paint

At full strength, Payne's Gray is nearly black, but when it's thinned out you can see a lot of blue hues. Several companies make this color. There may be subtle differences, but they're largely interchangeable. If you want a different color, anything significantly darker than your base coats would do.

A large, stiff brush. I used a cheap size 12 round nylon sable brush from the local art store.
Two cups for the Turpenoid. One for dipping and one for rinsing the brush.
A cup or palette for mixing the wash.

Cosmetic sponges, bits of old t-shirts (I like 3"x3" squares) and paper towels to wipe away the extra oil paint.
Rubber/Nitrile gloves.
A spot with good ventilation. I like to work outside.

Brush soap. If you wash and condition your brush when you're done, it'll last for years. Oil paints are much easier on brushes than acrylics are.

Step 1: Apply the base colors
This is the most labor-intensive part of the process, and it's the same as it is for any model. For these 'Nids I used Liquitex Chromium Green, Liquitex Pyrrole Red, P3 Menoth White Base, and Citadel Ice Blue. A single color for each area worked fine. The process does a good job of creating its own highlights.

I also added some texture on the carapace to see how it turns out. The wash knocks down some of the contrast, so I made the spots brighter than I would if I was painting them on a nearly-finished model.

Step 2: Apply the wash
I thinned the paint to a heavy-cream consistency. Here's what it looked like:

 Then I painted it on thick and dark, making sure I reached every crevice.

Step 3: Let it dry

At this point, you gotta walk away. Let the Turpenoid evaporate. You know it's ready when the surface looks a little chalky and all of the shiny spots have vanished. In my experience, 35-45 minutes is ideal.

This is a great time to wash your brush. I've used The Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver for years, and I love it. But I also have friends who swear by ordinary bars of moisturizing soap, like Dove.

Step 4: Wipe away the excess paint
Think of this as "painting in reverse", you're removing paint to get shadows, highlights and gradients. Even though you're using large tools, like rags and sponges, you want to work in small patches, like you're using a small brush. Don't just grab the model and roll it around in a towel. It's mostly a matter of touch, so pictures won't really help. You have to get in there and feel how the different tools work on different parts of the model. Once you've practiced on a couple models, you'll learn how much pressure is required to get different effects.

Before I start with a sponge or bit of t-shirt, I like to dip it in Turpenoid and then wring it out completely (paper towels are too fragile for this). The slight residue of solvent helps lift the paint off the high spots, without dissolving stuff that's in the crevices.

This is the trickiest step, but it isn't too difficult. Work carefully, don't be afraid to experiment and you'll do brilliantly.

It took about 10 minutes to wipe each Ravener clean.You can see that they aren't perfect, but the level and variety of detail is pretty good. If you're a more careful painter than I am, don't worry. the paint will stay workable for hours.

Step 5: Let the oil paint cure
Set the models aside and let the oil paint cure for at least 24 hours. Oil painters like to talk about "working thin to fat". This is an odd way to say that the bottom layers should curebefore the top ones do. If the top layers cure first, they'll crack and peel. so give your oil paint plenty of time to cure before you paint over it with quick-curing acrylics.

Step 6: Finish your models.
Once the paint cures, finish basing and paint in your final details, if you have any.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Zoanthropes: more oil-based washes for really hot weather

After last week's experiments with oil paint and Turpenoid washes, I was eager to try the technique with larger, more detailed models. Enter the brain bugs:

Aside from a few foolish errors, especially in the flash-removal and don't-drop-the-model-on-the-tile-floor departments, I'm ecstatic about this project. If you haven't experienced the frustrations of painting washes in the desert, you may not understand how satisfying splotchless transparent color can be. When I finished wiping away the Payne's Gray, I literally did a little dance of joy (for those of you who know me, I apologize for the mental image, the giggle-fits and the nightmares). Tyranids didn't just find a place on my project list, they climbed all the way to the top.

Here's what I liked
  • I don't have to rush. Because the oil paint dries quickly but cures slowly, there's no time pressure. Once I paint on the wash, I have 2-3 hours (or more) to wipe it down and bring out the details. I don't have to rush to cover everything and wipe away the excess before the heat makes my top layer unworkable.
  • Oil paints are highly  workable. With a little practice, I can get smooth surfaces, sharp edges and even gradients.
  • Layered colors are richer. Variations in the transparent top layer give me a wide range of hues and values. Sure, I can get them with other methods too, but they take more time, mixing and adjustment.
Alas, this causes a few problems too. Here are the things I don't like about oil and Turpenoid washes:
  • It takes a lot of curing time. Out here, it takes just a few minutes for the Turpenoid to evaporate, but several hours for the oil to cure. The same thing that eases my time pressure also makes me wait for 24-36 hours before finishing my models.
  • The finish is very dull. Once it cures, the finish is almost chalky. and chalky colors are generally paler and less vibrant. Before I photographed these models, I actually used matte varnish (aka Dullcoat) to add a little bit of shine. I may go back with some satin varnish to add a little bit more.
  • I have to paint outside. Even though it really is odorless, Turpenoid still has a lot of the same liver-destroying effects as other paint thinners. Since I love my liver, and would rather destroy it with alcohol than solvent, I do all of my oil painting outside.
Next up: Raveners. The good camera's going on vacation. But I'll try to dig up another one and take some step by step photographs of this project.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Test 'gaunts: using oil-based paint to get even washes in hot climates

Around here it gets hot. Cook-an-egg-on-your-forehead hot. During the summer (which feels like it lasts from February through November) the temperature regularly rises above 110 degrees and we set the thermostat to 90. For visitors and new residents, it's oppressive. But once you get used to it, it's livable. As someone who comes from the frozen US Midwest, I'll take an Arizona summer over a Minnesota winter every time.

Unfortunately, my paints aren't so happy. The acrylic ink that dries evenly on a 70-degree day turns splotchy and ragged in hot, dry weather. I tried a few strategies to find a solution: paint only during the night; turn down the air conditioner; use a humidifier; only use washes on messy armies (like Orks);  4-layer painting (abandoning washes almost entirely); and dipping my models in polyurethane stain. But I'm a day person, not a night person; air conditioning is expensive; the humidifier didn't work (even in a small room); I don't want all my armies to be messy (although I do love my Orks); 4-layer painting takes a lot of time (It's rewarding, and the results are good. But I don't want to paint an entire army that way). and polyurethane dries too quickly for me to manage drips and runs.

Last week, as part of my quest to find a washing or dipping method that works in the southwestern heat, I turned my oil paints. They've been boxed up since I left art school, but it was great to smell the linseed oil and play with the old tools again. The results, after a few misfires, were pretty good too.

All three test models have flat acrylic undercoats, with no additional shading or highlighting. I left the bases for later.

On my first try I used mineral spirits from the oil-painting set mixed with polyurethane woodstain (Minwax Polyshades). This was almost the same as "dipping", but I used a much thinner mixture: 1 part woodstain to at least 4 parts mineral spirits. I wanted the mixture to look like a dark wash of acrylic ink when it first hit the model. When the model was covered with a thin layer of wash, I immediately went to work with a cosmetic sponge, wiping paint off the high points. Once the mineral spirits evaporated (which took about 3 minutes) the stain set almost immediately. Here's how it looked:

It has potential, but the areas where the stain set before I could wipe it off look really rough. In the first minute, while the stain mixture was really thin, I also had trouble with the sponge taking away too much of the wash. In the end, I don't think this method looks any better than my usual splotchy acrylic washes.

One positive result of using really thinned-out woodstain: it doesn't ruin your brushes. After all of these trials I was able to clean them off with a quick swish in a small dish of solvent, followed by a thorough washing with warm water and brush soap. My brushes are still in perfect shape, and ready for another round of painting.

On the second try, I used the same mixture. But once the stain set, I started dipping the sponge in mineral spirits to help me lift the dark patches:

The results are much smoother than my first try. I think the darker base colors help too. But I had the same problem with thinned-out woodstain wicking away from the model entirely. After about 10 minutes, the stain had set to a level where it would only come off with a heavily-saturated sponge. But then the stain became so runny that all of the shading jumped off the model and into the sponge.

For the last model, I used oil paint (Payne's Grey) and Turpenoid (aka Grumtine). This is a mixture I used a lot in art school, and it's a great combination for "negative painting", covering a canvas with a dark layer of paint and then lifting it off with a brush, rag and rubber eraser to create the light areas. If you're a fan of the illustrator Bernie Fuchs, you may have seen how he used this technique to get the soft glowing light in the background of his illustrations. Here's how it looks on a hormagaunt:

This time, I put a dark layer of oil paint and Turpenoid (about as thick as a dark acrylic ink wash) on the model and walked away for about 45 minutes. By then the Turpenoid had evaporated, but the oil paint hadn't cured. Then I used a cosmetic sponge and a tiny amount of Turpenoid to wipe the oil paint away from everything but the deepest crevices and I set it aside to cure (which took about 36 hours). I'm happy with the results, so happy that I went to the game store and picked up a couple of Zoanthropes so I can try this out on some larger, more detailed models.

If they go well, I'll add Tyranids to my list of projects. If they don't, look for a couple of badly painted brain bugs on ebay.

Next up: Zoanthropes

Monday, October 11, 2010

Topsy Turvy Boyz

Last night I magnetized all of my Ork Boyz. When they're finished I plan to carry them around in an old tool box. But for now, they're just marching up the side of my desk. For reasons I can't explain, this makes me very, very happy (maybe I need those sanity breaks more than I realized). Unfortunately, the light in my office is terrible for photography so here's an outdoor shot of the ladz storming the BBQ grill in my backyard:

This was my first project with rare earth magnets and I had no idea what size I needed. A quick Google search found this helpful chart at (it's about halfway down the page). Using it as a guide, I chose 1/8"x1/16" cylindrical magnets. For such small magnets, they hold surprisingly well. Once they're attached to a miniature, they stick to a vertical surface about as well as a refrigerator magnet. But I think I'd like them to be just a little bit stronger. For my next order, I may jump up to 3/16" diameter magnets instead.

It took about an hour to magnetize 35 miniatures. To keep the magnets level with the bottom edge of the minis' bases (this is very important to get the strongest grip), I pressed them into a blob of green stuff and then smoothed them off by pressing the miniature down on my desk until everything was even. Here's what it looks like:

The blobs are up against one edge of the base to form a stronger bond between the green stuff and the base. That puts the bond on at least two planes instead of just one.

Before I zeroed in on green stuff, I tried gluing the magnets on with JB Qwik. It was a fascinating failure. There's something ferrous in JB Qwik that causes it to flow up the sides and over the top of each magnet, encasing it in a perfect sphere of epoxy. This wasn't good for sticking models to the sides of a desk, but it was so interesting that I dropped several magnets into the puddle of epoxy just to watch the process. Then I fished them out, cut away the JB Qwik and switched to green stuff.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Orks: they're good for your mental health

This is far from my best work. But it was exactly what I needed.

Between work, research deadlines and the horrible, gutwrenching decisions that come with having seriously ill pet, I've been a little overwhelmed this week. The vicious little monkeys who live in my conscience are working overtime, yelling things like "Why aren't you writing!?!?" and "He's dying! Do something!" at the worst possible moments (like when I'm driving to another vet appointment, or trying to sleep at 3am). With so many distractions, I'm a little surprised that I dress myself successfully each morning, let alone meet all my other obligations.

Last night, I snapped out of a 30 minute "staring at the wall" fugue, and remembered something that Pepe Velasquez, the greatest industrial design instructor in the world, told me a few years ago. He said, "When you're overwhelmed and up against a deadline, slow down. Give yourself room to focus." For someone who thinks the solution to every problem is "MORE EFFORT!!!", it's challenging and very helpful advice. So I turned off my computer, gave the cat a goodnight kiss and spent the rest of the night painting.

I can't say that everything's alright, but I feel a lot better. And I was ready to jump back to work this morning. Thank you Pepe. And thank you Shoota Boyz for being so therapeutic.

Up next: more fun with Orks.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Soothing the savage gamer

Two weeks ago (wow, time really does fly) I wrote about two of my favorite "crazy whisperers", people who are really good at defusing conflicts. Of course, every situation is different and what works for one person may not work for everyone. So this week I want to discuss a few general rules that I've seen work well when tempers start to rise.

But first, who the heck am I? And why am I talking about this? I'm a lifelong gamer and a perpetual game club and event organizer. Most of my gaming experience involves building and maintaining gaming communities. When I'm not rolling dice or shuffling cards, I spend a lot of my time teaching classes or doing research interviews and observations: getting people to talk about their experience with chronic illness or physical rehab. I'm not an expert, but I have a lot of experience helping people get comfortable and enjoy each other.

So here are my all time, desert island, top-five conflict resolution strategies:

1.Know the rules
It's easier for people to behave when they know what's acceptable. You can rely on the "unwritten rules", but nothing beats a short list of simple, easy-to-understand guidelines. Discuss them with your group, write them down and make sure everyone, new and old, gets a copy. Then everyone is literally on the same page.

In my last organized game group, our rules looked like this:
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. If you don't feel respectful or courteous, then fake it.
  • Handle the games and furniture carefully. Ask permission before you handle another player's games and follow his instructions about the right way to handle them. Intentional or careless damage is unacceptable.
  • Everyone plays. If there's a spot at the table when you start a game, then look for someone to fill it.

2. Watch yourself
"Do as I say, not as I do," is not a viable strategy. It's easier to correct someone else's behavior if you're acting well yourself. Besides, if you have a reputation for good humor, fairness and generosity, people are more likely to listen to you when things get serious.

The bummer is that it's a lot easier to lose a good reputation than it is to build it. All it takes is one ill-timed outburst to cause irreparable damage.

3. When it's over, it's really over
Once you've dealt with a problem, move on. Carrying a grudge or rehashing old arguments just adds weight to any new problem that arises. The ability to forgive is a lot like a good reputation, people are more likely to change their behavior if they know you won't punish them for the rest of their lives.

I have a friend who's a master of this strategy. He can be brutal when he's dealing with a problem. I've even seen him tell a virtual stranger to "sit down and shut up!" And it worked! Because as soon as he had the chance, he sat down with her, established a rapport and had a real, heartfelt discussion. When they came back to the group, they each understood the other's perspective. And they had the beginnings of a real friendship.

This doesn't mean that "sit down and shut up!" will work for everyone. If you're going to take the first step, you've got be willing to to take all of the others. Or you're going to make the problem a lot worse than it already is.

4. Don't make it personal
I learned this one from my old boss, Mary. Whenever you can, focus on the behavior instead of the person. It's the difference between "stop being a jerk" and "that behavior is inappropriate." You'll have an easier time convincing someone to behave if they don't have to defend their honor.

5. Adjust Your Expectations
Before you enter a conflict, take a moment to decide what you want to get out of it. Do you want to resolve a bad situation? Or do you want your "enemy" realize his mistakes, fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness? Which one is more likely to actually happen? If your expectations are realistic, there's a much better chance you'll be happy with the results.