Monday, December 28, 2015

How many miniatures can you paint in a year?

What is your yearly miniature painting output? I hope you'll let me know in the comments. For the first time, I've kept track of my own production... in 2015, I painted 161 miniatures:

25 miniatures for 1st/2nd Edition Talisman
18 Orc ships for Man O'War
3 Black Orcs sculpted by Bob Olley
2 Citadel Townsfolk
18 Citadel Gothic Horror Miniatures
22 Citadel Lord of the Rings Miniatures (1980's)
73 Star Wars - Imperial Assault Miniatures

Breaking down these numbers, that's about 3 miniatures a week... not bad, I suppose, given how slowly I paint. I can only guess what the average number of hours I spend on each miniature... but I reckon it has to be at least 4 hours per figure. In other words, I've spent about 644 hours painting this year. Since there's about 6000 waking hours in each year, that means I've devoted over 10% of 2015 to brushwork. Is this a good use of time? Let's ask 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Pascal: "God wants you to paint miniatures."

Pascal is famous for writing that all humans wager with their lives that either God exists or he does not exist. Based on the assumption that there is at least a small probability that God exists, Pascal argued that a rational person should live as though God exists. That's because if God does not exist, such a person suffers only marginal losses (such as genuflection related injuries). But on the other hand, a pious person sets himself up for infinite gains if God does indeed exist. Sounds reasonable! And it seems to me that if God exists, there is also a very small chance that He wants us all to devote at least 10% of our lives to painting vintage miniatures (and will punish us with hellfire if we slack off). The logic is iron-clad. And therefore, my life is on the right track.

The accomplishment that gives me the most satisfaction is finishing the complete set of Talisman miniatures. Sometimes, when other aspects of my life depress me, I try to cheer myself up with the thought "yes things may be terrible, but at least I have painted a complete set of vintage Talisman miniatures." Oddly, this mantra works. 

Talisman Samurai, Citadel (1986, sculpted by Aly Morrison)
Talisman Samurai

The most challenging paint-jobs in 2015 have been the Star Wars Imperial Assault. Trying to accurately represent the characters I love so well has been nerve-wracking. The one that took the most effort was R2-D2 -- the geometric patterns of his trunk seem so simple but the details seem to carry so much of his personality.

R2-D2, Imperial Assault FFG (2015, sculpted by B. Maillet)
R2-D2 for Star Wars - Imperial Assault

This has also been my first full year of blogging.  My three favourite posts of 2015 are:

But what has truly brought me pleasure is the wonderful community I've discovered online. I can say with complete sincerity that every follower and (especially) every comment left on this site brightened 2015 for me. And to discover so many other great websites and people has been a revelation... So thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wild Thing! Wookie Warriors for Imperial Assault

One of the best things about miniature painting (unlike, for example, pediatric surgery) is that you get second chances.

A few weeks ago, I painted the Wookie Warriors for Star Wars Imperial Assault. Instead of dry-brushing, I painstakingly highlighted individual hairs. It took forever, and the end result was bland and oddly reminiscent of a cat turd. To make matters worse, when it came to their big swords, I tried to emulate the past success I enjoyed in using non-metallic metals when painting Imperial Assault firearms. But on such a large blade, my NMM technique collapsed entirely, making the Wookie swords look streaky and artificial.

Time for a mulligan! Wookie Warriors are such a useful unit in the Imperial Assault skirmish game, I splurged on another pack, which I painted up a few days ago. I much happier with the result: a simple dry-brushing of the fur, and more (metallic) dry-brushing on the weapons. Each miniature only took me about an hour to paint, and I'm vastly happier with the results. Sometimes, simpler is better.

Wookie Warriors, FFG (2015, sculpted by B. Maillet)
My original Wookie Warrior: like a cat turd

The most important addition, of course, is the warpaint. I think it makes the Wookies look angry and a little crazy, rather than just hungry (which is what my original Wookies seemed to convey). I love putting warpaint on a miniature - it always requires a certain amount of daring, since one false stroke can ruin the whole face. I just had to plunge in, like a Japanese calligrapher... and hope that I didn't need a mulligan on my mulligan.

Wookie Warriors, FFG (2015, sculpted by B. Maillet)
Simple painting: not at all like pediatric surgery

If you're interested Imperial Assault, I recommend you check out Not only do they have the most insightful podcasts and articles about the game, but they are featuring my paint-jobs in their excellent miniature reviews. I'm really honoured.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're looking forward to The Force Awakens as much as I am...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reading along with the Lord of the Rings: Strider

Strider - Citadel Miniatures 1985

Chapter 10 of The Fellowship of the Ring

In this chapter, the hobbits sheltering at the Prancing Pony get some unexpected help from Strider, a grungy ranger. As Strider enters the story, so does one of the great challenges that faced Tolkien as he wrote the trilogy: Strider is more interesting than Frodo Baggins, the hero of the story.

Indeed, The Lord of the Rings is filled with characters more interesting than Frodo; Strider is just the most striking example. Like all good characters, the ranger is marred by contradictions, the most important being his confidence and self-doubt. My own view is that Tolkien himself was more intrigued by Strider than he ever was by Frodo. This idea hit me when I noticed when Tolkien described these characters. The moment Strider comes into the tale, we're given a sketch of him:
Suddenly Forodo noticed that a strange-looking weather-beaten man sitting in the shadows near the wall... His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he waore a hood that overshadowed his face, but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.
It's a vivid description -- both Frodo and the reader instantly want to know more. But what is truly remarkable is that only later in this sequence, Tolkien offers us his first description of what Frodo looks like. And it is not even a direct description... rather Mr. Barley Butterbur is reporting on Gandalf's instructions on how to identify Frodo:
"...I was given a description that fits you well enough, if I may say so... A stout little fellow with red cheeks," said Mr. Butterbur solemly. Pippin chuckled, but Sam looked indignant. "That won't help you much; it goes for most hobbits, Barley, he says to me... But this one is taller than some and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin: perky chap with a bright eye. Begging your pardon, but he said it, not me."
It's not a particularly vivid description (tall, fair and a cleft chin) but it is still news to me. That is to say, Tolkien waited until Chapter 10 to draw us a picture of Frodo. 

Tolkien's decision to withhold a description of Frodo makes a certain amount of sense. First of all, the story (at least up to this point) has chiefly been told from Frodo's perspective, so his own appearance wouldn't be remarkable to him. Second, Frodo is a bit of a cipher -- a character deliberately cast without strong features so that it's easy for the reader to see him or herself in Frodo's shoes.

But the vagueness of Frodo's character sets up a tension that will run through the course of the book -- Frodo is the center of the story but not the center of attention. Indeed, there's a centrifugal force in the book, that diverts the reader's affections to more peripheral characters with deeper histories, more pungent personalities and greater abilities... characters like Strider, Gandalf, Legolas (or even Sam or Eowyen). The challenge for Tolkien is to keep the story coherent while still allowing these characters to shine.

In my view, this centrifugal tension is one of the things that makes The Lord of the Rings so good, since it adds complexity and texture to the structure of the story, qualities that are often missing from books that keep the focus solely on the main character.  And by diverting our attention from Frodo, Tolkien is able to sometimes surprise us with the depth of the hobbit's character. As Gandalf later says about Frodo, "There is more about you than meets the eye." We'll start stumbling upon some of these surprises as Frodo (and Strider) now start their venture into the wilderness.

To read on, here is my commentary on Chapter 11. Or you can find my commentary on Chapter 9 here.

[Image credit: The Brothers Hildebrandt "At the Prancing Pony" Acrylic on Board (1976).]