Friday, June 22, 2012

I Don't Get This Whole Zombie Gaming Thing

Could someone please explain for me the appeal of zombie gaming, other than "because it's fun"? I've really been having a hard time understanding why it is so popular, with many gamers devoted to the subject. There are miniature games, board games, card games, and I think even a zombie dice game. How much strategy and tactics are involved in a zombie miniature game, especially for those playing zombies? All I can see is "mindlessly shuffle towards enemy" as the main strategy. Am I alone in my confusion? Please use the comments section to educate those ignorant of zombies like myself!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Color Theory Tutorials: Why Didn't I Learn This Earlier?

You know, I love those moments when I really learn something I've always wanted to learn but say to myself "How in the world did I get from from where I started to here?" I'm sure this happens often to most of us. We sit down at our computers expecting to do a little hobby research on a topic but soon find ourselves veering off into something totally different because it catches our interest. Last night was no different for me. What started out as an expedition into making and using washes to paint faces on 15mm figures quickly turned into several lessons on color theory. Amazing.

In the past, I've tried to understand color theory but have had a difficult time with it. Sure, I understand all about primary colors, mixing them to make secondary colors, and then putting them on a basic color wheel, but I've never really been able to grasp much beyond that. I've read in How to Paint Citadel Miniatures the book's sparse section on color theory, but never quite understood the bits on complimentary colors, harmonies, discord, and so on. I've never understood how it relates to painting miniatures. Perhaps I'm just a bit dense when it comes to this subject. I don't know.

However, after watching some videos and reading some websites related to the videos, I have a much better understanding about color theory and why it's so important to understand when painting. I finnaly understand how to mix a proper shadow and highlight for any color. I understand warm and cold colors, for example the difference between ultramarine blue and cerulean blue and why that's important. I now understand why simply mixing white does not give us a proper highlight. And so on and so on.

Even if I don't want to mix my own shadows and highlights, which is quite easy it seems, I can at least know which of my 200+ bottles of paint will be a good match. I don't have to rely on Reaper or Foundry. I now am free! Of course, I have to rethink some of my painting habits but that is the fun (and frustration) of learning.

Anyway, that's enough blathering from me. Let's get to the meat of the matter.

The Basics, Shadows, and Greys:
"Mixing Paint with the 6-Colour Colour Wheel"

The fellow in this video, along with his companion website at Paint Basket, helped me understand color theory the best as it applies to creating colors suitable for making shadows and generally mixing colors. He also explains the difference between between the hot and cold version of each primary color and what happens when we mix them to create secondary and tertiary colors. For example, I always wondered about the difference between cadmium red and alizarin red.

He then explains how to create shadows colors for any color, using the various color wheels he creates. For example, I never knew that to create a shadow color for yellow we need to add violet to the yellow. Now when I have a color that I'm not sure what to use for its shadow, I can either mix it myself or take a look at these charts to get a good idea. Great stuff! I wish I had known this years ago.

Just make sure to look over his webpage after watching the video, and replay any bit of the video that may confuse you at first. I know that I had to do this a few times, but I readily admit that I can be a bit dense at times, especially late at night.

Highlighting (Plus Shadows and Color Wheel)
"The Color Wheel"

I also found this video from Paint Basket and its companion webpage to finish the missing pieces of the color theory puzzle. Whereas the video above delves into mixing colors to achieve proper shadow colors as well as proper gray tones, this video simply and clearly explains how to mix colors to achieve proper highlights, as well as how to make black. Simply adding white to a color to create its highlight is not the way to go. All that does is fade out the color. This video explains how to create highlights properly. This also was a major revelation for me. Be sure to check out the other videos at the Paint Basket's YouTube channel. They also discuss how to paint metallics and many other topics that might be of interest. I'm still poking through them, looking for new tips.

In-Depth Color Theory for Miniature Painting
" Colour Theory"

Finally, I want to mention the video series that got me delving into color theory last night. This is a six-part, detailed series of color theory presented by Romain at Beasts of War. Due to time slipping away from me last night, I haven't watched the entire series yet, getting through only the first two episodes. Each episode runs about 16 minutes. Romain has a very "Bob Ross" personality when it comes to explaining things, which I enjoy much more than the short-attention-span head-banging approach that many other hobby videos take on YouTube.

Episode 1 mainly deals with the importance of understanding color theory and why it's so important for miniature gamers to get outside and look at how color works in nature instead of simply slathering paint onto a miniature, something I like to call paint-by-numbers. Of course, this leads to the great divide amongst miniature gamers: those one one hand who enjoy painting the figures to look as artistically nice as possible and those who just want to get the little metal things done so they can play the game.

I'm beginning to think that many mass-combat gamers lean far closer to the latter than the former, at least from what I've seen at conventions and on TMP, whereas small-unit or skirmish gamers tend to want their figures to look more artistic. Of course, I'm generalizing here, brushing over the many possibilities in between. I enjoy the artistry side of miniature painting much more than I enjoy the gaming side, but there are times when I just want to do everything paint-by-numbers and get something done! Being all artsy-fartsy can be very frustrating at times. I guess this is the great dilemma of miniature gaming.

Anyway, Episode 2 gets more into the color wheel, mixing colors, and learning to paint with harmonies. Romain taught me the importance of using no more than three main colors on a figure and how to make the colors work with each other. Ironically, I had learned the same thing decades ago in college when I got into publishing, except there my professor limited me to using only three fonts on a page--anything more he felt created dissonance and was hard to look at.

Well, there you have it. Perhaps these videos and websites will help you understand color theory a bit better and help you select the best colors for your miniatures. As I mentioned, they're making me rethink a lot of what I thought I knew about shadow, base, and highlight colors. Good stuff.

If you know of any additional good painting videos, websites, or books, why not point us to them in the comments section below. Until next time, take care.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Priming Miniatures: Gesso

Gesso used to prime a resin building.
Probably one of the most important questions miniature gamers have after they purchase their miniatures is "What primer do I use?" Several years ago, I heard some fellows on the Warmaster email list singing the praises of gesso, so I decided to try it for myself.

What is Gesso?
For those who don't know, artists for centuries have been making and using gesso to prime and seal their canvases. Today, many manufacturers make acrylic gesso sold in tall bottles or wide-mouth jars. Gesso commonly comes in white, black, gray, and clear. I would imagine one could make other colors by adding dies to the white gesso, though I haven't found a need to try it. I have used only black and gray.

Why Should I Use Gesso?
A quick search on model and miniature painting forums quickly reveals the many reasons for using gesso.

First, you apply gesso using a simple paint brush. This means that you can prime your miniatures at your painting station instead of carting everything outside to spray paint or investing in an expensive spray booth. This is a nice plus for those of use living in Florida during the hot and humid summers.

Since gesso is orderless, this makes painting indoors that much more convenient, especially if you live in an apartment or have a family member who is sensitive to paint fumes.

Since most gesso today seems to be acrylic, it's non-toxic and cleans up easily with water and soap like any acrylic paint.

Gesso is also quite flexible, especially since it's made to seal painting canvases, which are themselves flexible. I accidentally have bent backwards rifles of gesso-primed soft plastic figures without the gesso showing any signs of cracking.

Gesso is very durable, assuming you follow the instructions on the bottle. This means letting the gesso dry at least 24 hours before touching or painting it, even if the figure looks dry. Now, I will be honest here. I've had some problems with gesso. Gesso doesn't like pointy tips, so I tend to apply a second coat to those spots as well as any spots, like hats and rifles, that might get handled or bumped a lot when painting them. Also, gesso can rub off when applied too thinly because there is little gesso between the rubbing finger and the metal figure. I've also had some problems with certain brands of gesso and have gotten confirmation from a certain popular brand about how they changed their formula, causing problems. (More on that below.) Overall, though, gesso can be very durable and rock hard, requiring sharp fingernails or blades to remove.

Gesso doesn't obstruct details because it shrinks as it dries, making it fine for small-scale as well as large-scale figures. Yes, it looks super-thick when it goes on but dries snugly to the model. Below is the now-classic time-lapse of gesso drying on a miniature.

How is Gesso Applied?
Artists use wide, stiff brushes to paint gesso onto a canvas and then work it into the material, filling and sealing the porous holes. They usually apply two or three coats in a cross-hatch pattern. Decades ago, I used to help my sister do this when she was an art major in college. Little did I know back then that one day I would use gesso to prime models! Below is a short video from Dick Blick showing how to prime a canvas using gesso, in case you were wondering how it was done.

While it's nice knowing how to apply gesso to a canvas, knowing how to apply it to a miniature is more important. Ironically, the technique is basically the same! However, I use a large, standard, cheap paint brush to paint on the gesso. Though some manufacturers say their gesso could be diluted slightly, while others on modeling forums insist on thinning everything brushable, I have never thinned gesso, achieving fine results.

Too many people paint gesso like it was a regular acrylic paint, putting on a thin layer. They are dismayed and upset when they find that their figure has many bare and thin spots, resulting from the gesso shrinking while drying. So then on the next miniature they decide to slather the figure in gesso so that the figure looks like a mound of gooey gesso more than a figure. Now they discover a new set of problems: there is so much gesso on the figure that it's beginning to run down the figure and pool into large puddles where it shouldn't be.

The key to painting on gesso is what I like to call "glopping." Not too thin and not too thick. You just have to experiment a bit. Plus, I like to work the gesso into all the nooks and crannies kind of like they do in the Dick Blick video, jabbing my brush as I glop on the paint and working into into the figure. Remember, the gesso will shrink as it dries.

What are the Downsides of Gesso?
While all of the above sounds like I absolutely love gesso and will never consider using anything else, gesso has some serious downsides.

What I have been calling "webbing" is a serious complaint I have about gesso. While brushing gesso onto your miniature, you might notice that a thin web of gesso suddenly forms across a narrow opening. Perhaps this could be an area between the gun and the body, or between the legs of a 10mm figure. I usually blow a bit on that area to open it up, and then try to reapply some gesso where my breath thinned it out too much.

I've also experienced bubbles in my gesso after the figure has dried, leaving all sorts of pock marks on the figures. These marks are impossible to remove or disguise, leading to the only possible solution: stripping the figures in a bucket of Simple Green. I had this happen to me because I shook my bottle of gesso. Sure, I mixed the pigment into the solution really well but added a bazillion little bubbles into the gesso at the same time. So, do as James Bond would not do: "Gesso. Stirred, not shaken." (Good advice when mixing brush-on varnish as well!)

Are All Gesso Brands and Colors Created Equally?
The simple answer is: No. They are not all equal, and people will tell you that, often with a sports fan's fanaticism for their favorite brand. But it just makes sense that, like everything in life, some brands would be better than others. Though I'm far from being a gesso expert, I will pass along some of my own experiences.

When I began using gesso years ago, it seemed that people leaned toward Liquitex being among the best brands. While nominating anything as "the best" can cause a cat fight among even the stoutest and most reserved of men when it comes to hobby related issues, I found Liquitex to be good and reasonably priced. The black applied quite well, once I learned to handle it. Sure, some webbing occurred when I was sloppy but the finish was solid, no rubbing off.

Then I tied their gray gesso, but found their gray to be too thin and runny, causing it to pool too easily, and too shiny, creating less tooth for the paint than black gesso. Plus, Reaper paints can have problems "cracking" when painted on surfaces that are too smooth--I learned this the hard way and even got official confirmation from Reaper, though they can't quite figure out why this happens. So the bottle of gray gesso went in the trash.

Recently, I began having problems with Liquitex black gesso. The gesso seemed to rub off easily and not apply as well as before. I chalked this up to my gesso being a bit old, though it was in their newer label bottle. I was no longer a Liquitex fanboy, and for a while even left gesso for spray primers (which I might write about later).

But a few weeks ago I decided to give gesso another chance. Setting out to discover what "real" artists thought was the best brand of gesso opposed to what gamers thought of gesso, I read that Liquitex has changed their gesso formula, making it weaker. If what people are saying is true, I had one of the newer, weaker bottles. The company assured people that though they are using less pigments or whatever the gesso is still perfectly fine. Many disagree.

So what gesso should I use? Artists kept recommending Golden acrylic gesso as their favorite brand, being much better than the new formula Liquitex is using. A few weeks ago at our local art store, I decided to pick up a jar of Golden black gesso. Ironically, I had little choice because black Liquitex gesso was no where to be found at the local craft and art stores. We'll see how this Golden gesso goes, and I'll report my findings.

So What Do You Think?
Regardless, if you have any experiences--good or bad--or recommendations about gesso or priming miniatures in general, feel free leave a comment. And a big thanks and welcome to the blog's new followers. I hope you enjoy what you see.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Finished Babylon 5: A Great Father-Son Experience!

Last week we finally watched Season 5's last episode, "Sleeping in Light," which was the original end of the series meant to air at the end of Season 4. When the show moved to Turner and was picked up for one more season, JMS and crew filmed a new ending for Season 4, which was actually the first episode the crew shot when they reunited for the fifth season.

We had finished all the shows but the last one a few weeks prior, but had to wait until we were "psychologically ready" to end it all. I know this might sound odd, but it really felt like losing a friend. I'll be honest, I had some mourning symptoms afterward! It really felt different for me the second time around because I knew this ending was final (knowing now that the continuation series, Crusade, would collapse quickly and be a continuity mess). Also, the entire five months we were watching the series, I kept thinking about the cast members who have died and how much the others (including myself) have aged and grown since the pilot was filmed in late 1993. Wow, 19 years have passed since then!

In the end, I was very happy to share with my now-21-year-old son my favorite television series of all time. He also was happy, and will have those memories of us watching one episode a night at 10pm for all those months. What could be better than that?

The real kick is that we now have these little B5 catch-phrases we toss around at each other, and sometimes break out into our really bad impressions of our most annoying villain, Wade (from Season 4), who talks with a bad speech impediment and went on way too much about historical evolution, saying "Mister Garibaldi" way too many times. We mock his death scene, where Garibaldi finds him just barely alive, Wade once again pointing out the obvious while slurring. Instead, we have him say in a Shakespearean manner, "Mister Garibaldi, I'm dead!" Blech, that character was annoying!

To The Future!
Ok, so now we move onto the movies and maybe...maybe...the short-lived Crusade. And some of the episodes with JMS commentary turned on. But we need a bit of a break. Because when those are over, it's really really over. Then we move back to watching Deep Space 9.

And so it begins.

BTW while typing this post I just had to listen to my Best of Babylon 5 soundtrack CD. Jeremy has begun collecting many of the numerous B5 soundtracks. Ok, that's enough for today! Just beware Vorlons bearing gifts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Road to Victory 2012: USS Barb 1:72 Model

I've been extremely busy the last several weeks teaching two 6-week classes during our summer semester, so not much being done on the hobby front. But here are some more photos from this year's Road to Victory Reenactment.

This year, the Central Florida chapter of the US Submarine Veterans set up a display. Several retired submariners were present to talk about working on submarines. The photo to the left is their trailer they take to their events--I thought it was pretty nifty. This past spring semester, I was lucky to have as one of my students a retired Lt. Commander submariner, who had been based out of Saint Marys, GA for many years. My young college students really admired him and worked harder because of him! He really inspired them, and loved telling them stories of working on submarines.

USS Barb (SS-220)

The main draw for me was the 1:72 scale model of a Gato class submarine, the USS Barb (SS-220). From the USS Barb's Wikipedia entry: "During the seven war patrols she conducted in the Pacific between March 1944-August 1945, Barb is officially credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons, including the Japanese aircraft carrier Unyo. In recognition of one outstanding patrol, Commander Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor and Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation. On the sub's 12th and final patrol of the war, Barb landed a party of carefully selected crew members who blew up a railroad train. This is notable as the only ground combat operation that took place on the Japanese home islands." Below are some photos of the model and the fellow who built it. If you ever thought of using a submarine in a game, this is how big it would be in 1:72. If you wanted a sub for 28mm gaming, it would be about 130% larger. Yipes! I hope you enjoy the photos.

The entire 1:72 model of the USS Barb in its display case.

Another shot from the front. You really need to click on these photos to enjoy the model!

The gentleman in the red vest built the model himself. I didn't get his name! Nuts!

A professional painted and weathered the model. He did a great job!

It even comes with a painted crew!

Click on the photo to go to the US Submarine Veteran's homepage. Tons of great info on submarines!