Sunday, July 27, 2014

Citadel Monsters III: Painting with a Twist

In the mid-1980's, the sculptors at Citadel hit upon a winning formula for making miniatures that gripped the imagination. In my view, the key to painting these minis is to understand this formula and exploit it. What is this secret sauce? Keep it simple. Add one twist to give the miniature flavour. But one twist is all you need.

For example, take the classic Chaos Hounds by Aly Morrison (1987). Even your grandma knows that Hounds of Chaos must be mutated, and obligingly, these dogs have spines, two heads and ebola. But each dog has only one mutation. Other than that, they are clean models. Absent are the layers of neck flaps, spikes and scales that festooned all the later iterations of chaos hounds. However, there is something else: in addition to each model's single mutation, there is one little twist. All the dogs are thin. Painfully thin. This simple, unifying detail makes the models stand out, and suggests a sinister idea to the viewer... these dogs are very hungry.

In order to paint these dogs properly, it's important to highlight the idea of thinness. So I used a very aggressive highlighting technique without too much blending in order to make their bones stand out as much as possible. I didn't want to distract from the idea of starvation, so I kept other flourishes to a minimum: the skin colour isn't particularly supernatural, the eyes are dark and the teeth modest. It's a simple approach, but it builds on the underlying idea of the miniature.

The "Vampire Attacking" (1986) from the Night Horrors range is another great example of Citadel's approach to sculpting. The vampire itself is clearly modeled on Max Schreck's Nosferatu and so features exactly what you'd expect: an elongated skull, large hands and a feral grimace. But on top of all of this is a beautiful twist: the model is reared into an S-shape, almost like a snake. It's a simple detail, but it gives the monster a haunting silhouette, just like the original Count Orlock

"Is this your wife? What a lovely throat."

I'm not sure why, but I've long harboured the suspicion that Games Workshop held secret sympathies for the American right wing. I'm not sure why.

In any case, I was delighted when I went to paint the male harpy by Iron Claw (Bob Olley, 1990?) and realized that he was the spitting image of Ronald Reagan (or maybe the spitting image of the Spitting Image of Ronald Reagan). Painting him to look like the Gipper wasn't hard - I just gave him luxurious black hair and a vacant stare.

"I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

In sum, a defining characteristic of Oldenhammer miniatures is a simple, clean sculpt. These minis are never cluttered with details, but there is usually one stylistic flare. My philosophy is that painting should highlight this flare, and should otherwise stay simple too. As a last example, I offer up this citadel Fire Elemental (Nick Bibby, 1985). I love the way its stretching arms are entwined in the column of smoke billowing off its head. Simple. Odd. Beautiful.

 "What hand dare seize the fire?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Citadel Monsters Part II: How to get ahead in miniature painting

There'a a point in every man's life when he can finally step back and take the true measure of his own self. As I looked at my pics before pasting them on this post, I realized something important about myself as an artist. My only true specialty is painting acne.

"Nobody in advertising wants to get rid of boils."
He's half troll and half Billy Goat Gruff

At nearly every opportunity, I garnish my miniatures with big, juicy boils. This Cave Troll by Aly Morrison (1987) is a typical example. There's a lot going on in this sculpt. I love the goat horns and tusks emerging from the deeply textured face. I also love the unhealthy slabs of fat that sag from his body. But notwithstanding the other attractions of the miniature, I can't help from highlighting his boils and making them the centre of attention.

My acne painting technique is pretty simple. It's a final touch after the rest of the flesh is fully shaded and highlighted. I then mix a very small amount of red into the mid-tone of the miniature's skin, using this to slightly blush the area around the boil. I gradually increase the proportion of red in a smaller and smaller area, intensifying the circle of infection until it terminates in a bright pink circle. The pink is then crowned with an off-white dot (to create a white-head) or a green splotch (to create a pustule) or some combination of the two.

This Marauder Troll (1989) and Aly Morrison's Warrior Troll (1987) demonstrate the same dermatological issues. I'm particularly fond of the way acne looks on supernatural skin colours. Because they're contrasting colours, the green hues in these minis give the red boils a special glow. They seem to pop right off the skin.

Off they go, in search of Neutrogena!

In my view, these two sculpts exhibit how much Citadel miniatures changed (for the worst) from the mid-1980's to the late 1980's. The Warrior Troll from '87 is packed with energy. His limbs so compressed that he seems to lunge head first off of his base. This directs your eye to his expression (with its fierce under-bite) and his slapdash collection of armoured scraps. His weapon is there, of course, but it is more threatening for being held back.

The green Marauder Troll, on the other hand, presents a much less dynamic miniature. His face is as fantastic as every other Morrison miniature, but his pose is static. All the emphasis falls on his big stone club, which draws the viewer away from the miniature's face. This focus on weapons is a hallmark of most Citadel miniatures from 1990 to the present. But a weapon can never be as interesting as a really fat pimple.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ravening Hordes: Five Sample Armies

One of my favourite parts of buying old Warhammer materials from eBay is that you never know what you're going to find when you tear off the paper from the parcel.  Recently I bought a near-mint boxed set of 2nd edition Warhammer, and to my delight, I discovered that it contained the rare double-sided insert from Ravening Hordes called "Five Sample Armies" (1987).

Ravening Hordes Five Sample Armies I

The sample armies are Orcs ("Blaccug's Butchers"), Dwarfs ("Dorin Delamroth's Dwarf Deathdealers"), Norse ("Audun's Ravens"), Dark Elves ("The Dark Elves of Drakir the Destroyer") and Wood Elves ("The Royal Horde of Gilander Gulino"). Somewhat like the old Marauder Army Deals, or the modern Saga warbands sold by Gripping Beast, this insert allowed you to buy an entire army in one go... imagine a day when you could buy 274 metal minis for £120.

This slender document is special because it exemplifies how a proper army list is made (no matter what edition of Warhammer or Oldenhammer you're going to play). It's not just a ledger. Every leader and every unit in the army is given a colourful name and a spot of history to make them stand out in the imagination of the players. And yet a whole thing reads as quick as a grocery list.

Ravening Hordes Five Sample Armies II

Another rare element in this document is the Norse army list, since this beautiful range of miniatures was largely neglected in subsequent editions of Warhammer.  We have great Viking names ("Halfdan the Chunderer" or "Magnus the Deep-Minded"), and we're treated to the entire war-chant of a berserker unit called "Asegir's Ale Artists":

Kill, kill, kill,
Main, main, main,
Murder, murder, murder,
Drink, drink, drink
Drunk last night,
Drunk the night before
Gonna get drunk tonight
Like we've never been drunk before!

They seem nice.

As usual for this era of Warhammer, there's a truckload of violent alliteration ("Madman Mingo's Mounted Molesters"). I was also pleased to see that the Elven list features Riolta Snow. Oldenhammer fanatics will know her as the elven adventurer who pops up in other scenarios, like the Magnificent Sven and Terror of the Lichemaster.

Anyway, if you'd like a PDF of Five Sample Armies from Ravening Hordes (1987) for Warhammer 2nd Edition, here you are:

Five Sample Armies page 1.pdf - Google Drive

Five Sample Armies page 2.pdf - Google Drive

Riolta Snow

Friday, July 11, 2014

Citadel Monsters: Testicles, Spectacles, Wallet and Watch

During the 1980's, Citadel made some of the best monsters that have been rendered in lead. The reason for their success is simple: they were sculpted to emphasize personality and character. A harpy isn't just a harpy -- it's a harpy that looks like Ronald Reagan. A dragon isn't just a dragon -- it's a potbellied drake with a pocket watch, half lizard and half merchant banker. And a giant isn't just a giant -- it's a knuckle-dragging Scots cyclops.

The Citadel giant (1987) was a lot of fun to paint. I wanted to make him seem old and unhygenic, but also robust, a little like Boris Yeltsin in his sunset years. I tried to achieve this sozzled effect by covering his pink skin with veins, wrinkles and liver spots. To underline his struggles with the bottle, I gave him a bloodshot eye and a nose ravaged by rosacea. I also added a cask of brandy to his belt and another discarded on the ground. The nearby toadstools are greenstuff and wire -- the dead bush is a painted twig from a smokebush tree.

There was one thing that troubled me about this miniature: he was wearing a short kilt, but there was nothing underneath it. This seemed a rare oversight on the part of sculptor Nick Bibby and a slander to Scotsmen everywhere.  And so to remedy this anatomical omission, I fashioned a little set of tackle out of greenstuff, and carefully pared it back with my modelling knife. The key was to achieve a sense that even though time has made this fellow sag, he is still proud of the family tartan.

Perhaps you'd like a close-up?

The Blue Dragon (1987) is another beauty of a miniature. I love the fact that it isn't slithering or rearing or launching into the old claw/claw/bite routine. Rather, this dragon is merely squatting and looking at the viewer through narrow, crafty eyes. The raised claws suggest that perhaps it is getting ready to cast a spell (a truly unusual pose for a dragon). But I prefer to think that this dragon just likes to talk. "Hmmm," he seems to be saying, "You seem to be a smart sort of fellow. I've a real estate opportunity in Florida for your ears only."

"Coffee's for closers only."

I love Jes Goodwin's Manticore (1987) because his face bears a striking resemblance to Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. In order to do justice to this magnificent sculpture, I tried to make him look as much like a hair-metal lead man as possible.  To emphasize his grimace, muscles and feathered hair, I used a very aggressive highlighting technique.

The wings and tail of the manticore display the pleasing effect that can be achieved simply by dry-brushing a carefully sculpted metal miniature. But something is missing... No glam rocker is complete without a spattering of leopard print, so I decided to make this particular manticore a lion in the front and leopard in the back. The leopard pattern isn't difficult to achieve: start with a base of tan brown, highlighted up to a desert yellow. Add some splotches of orange which are are then (very) roughly bordered by dots and curves of medium-dark brown paint. Now he's ready for the Hammersmith Apollo!

"We're not going to take it anymore!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Valley of Fire: Painted Talisman Miniatures

I ended my last post with a plea for some information about the identity of the sculptor of the original Talisman miniatures. Tonight, I found the answer in a tome of eldritch horror chained to a dais in my library. My hair pricked as I read this passage:

"...enslaved artisans labour night and day, their sweated toil and unremitting agony bearing new and glittering works! Yes -- at last! Superb models from the barely sentient Citadel Sculptor Aly Morrison, magically reproduced in shining metal by our myriad slave labourers... a whole range of miniature playing pieces... to compliment  [sic] the Talisman game."

This from the Spring 1986 Citadel Journal. It's good to see that they kept the help in place in those days.

In any case, I painted the range of classic 1980's Citadel Talisman miniatures to play the modern 4th edition of the Talisman game (published by Fantasy Flight Games). Happily, the 4th edition starter set contains the same core characters, which are all featured in my previous post.

But Talisman is not a game to be kept within the confines of the starter set. The whole point of the game is SUPPLEMENTS and lots of 'em, as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sands on the seashore. Although the modern Fantasy Flight supplements draw inspiration from earlier versions, the overlap in characters is not perfect. For reasons best known to Fantasy Flight's in-house anti-discrimination task force, old characters like the Zulu and the Witch Doctor didn't make the cut.

These are my additional Talisman characters. I tried to lend them each a sense of individuality by paying special attention to the skin tones, giving each mini a unique palette.

 Merchant, Rogue and Gladiator

Knight, Ranger and Amazon

Inquisitor (or Dark Cultist), Highlander and Swashbuckler

Sprite, Leprechaun and Gypsy

Vampiress and Dark Elf

To make the new characters, some modifications were necessary: for instance, a magic-using dwarf adventurer was transformed into the Alchemist by converting his crystal ball into a potion (by employing an upside down sword handle as the bottle's neck).

The Gravedigger -- my personal favourite in terms of angry skin conditions -- is also a conversion, receiving his shovel and rat from my hand.
Alchemist and Philosopher          

Vampire Hunter, Gravedigger and Valkyrie

Monday, July 7, 2014

First Post: the Golden Age of Citadel Miniatures

Welcome to my website, showcasing my collection of classic Citadel miniatures from the 1980's, also known as Oldhammer miniatures.

In the mid-1980's, a unique genius descended upon Citadel Miniatures and its parent, Games Workshop. It started with GW's visionary founders, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Subsequently, under the leadership of the mephistophelean Bryan Ansell, this collective inspiration intensified. A dog's breakfast of punks, hippies and hobbyists came together to transform Citadel into the closest thing that the gaming world has to Athens in the age of Pericles.

There were artists like John Blanche and Gary Chalk, who brought the vision of Bruegel the Elder or Albrecht Durer to the gaming table. At the same time, a cohort of precocious sculptors advanced the art of miniature sculpting by leagues in just a few short years. Kevin Adams, Bob Olley, Nick Bibby, Alan Perry, Michael Perry, Aly Morrison, Trish Morrison, and Jes Goodwin not only made remarkable technical progress, but they all found ways of expressing their own unique aesthetic on a canvass of lead only 25mm high.  Then there were the talented and twisted game designers, like Rick Priestly, Jervis Johnson and Graeme Davis, who wove this visual style into a multiverse which was at once so chaotic and yet so unified in its tone of adventure and insolence.

(And there was also Sabbat.)

For my own part, I love the miniatures that come from Citadel's classic period because of their baroque exuberance. They are miniatures as designed by Rembrandt, if Rembrandt illustrated Fighting Fantasy books. These minis are not overly realistic (like many contemporary miniatures from historical ranges). Instead, classic Citadel sculpts enhance the size of faces, hands and feet so that the personality of each figure can take the foreground. At the same time, these miniatures don't adopt the overly "heroic" style of later Warhammer figures (1990 to the present), in which weapons, armour and gear are exaggerated in size and ornament, making the miniatures appear more like anime robots than people. 

Oldenhammer miniatures are about drama. And no range of Citadel miniatures captures this drama in more colour than the Talisman range. Talisman, of course, is the fantasy board game with almost as many lives as a cat. Gary Chalk inked the artwork in the original set, and the Citadel sculptor of the Talisman miniatures perfectly captured Mr. Chalk's style: an etched quality with lots of character, and a whiff of John Tenniel's famous illustrations of Alice in Wonderland. The Wonderland connection is even apparent in the hearts/spades motif in some of his pictures.

Here is the first installment of my version of these great miniatures:

 Druid, Monk (with bloodied mace) and Priest (with boring sermon).

Prophetess, Sorceress and Wizard.

Minstrel, Elf and Dwarf

 Toad (modern version), Troll and Warrior

 Thief, Assassin and Ghoul

If anyone can tell me which sculptor is responsible for these miniatures, I'd be very much obliged.