Thursday, January 10, 2019

We All Start Somewhere

My first figurine

We all start somewhere. I've always been artistic. Both my parents are very talented artists with different mediums. Modeling was a hobby passed down to me from my father. He's been modeling since childhood. He builds primarily autos and modern military with exceptional skill. As a child I was often brought along to IPMS club meetings, model shows, and swap-meats. I was given model car and airplane kits as a child and enjoyed building them but never really put that much effort into it. It was something to play with, building the model was a means to an end, enjoyable, but not the focus of my attention.

Then on an outing with my family I came across a little pewter dragon. I thought I'd like to bring this little dragon to life and put some paint on it. Oh did I! That little dragon led to more dragons, and soldiers, orks, daemons, barbarians, so much pewter. On outings to the mall or little boutique stores I'd always be on the lookout for another pewter figurine to spend my allowance on. I loved looking at the sprawling displays of painted tin solders in stores thinking of the endless fun I could have painting them.

There was, unfortunately, one problem... money. Those little pewter figures don't come cheap. I recall the typical figure costing me around $20 a piece. For a tween in the early 90s that was a steep price to pay for anything. As a result many of the figures I purchased during that time were of a fairly low quality. Cheap figures are, well, cheap, lacking in definition and detail.

By the time I reached high school a friend of mine, who was deep into role playing games, and has previously introduced me to Magic The Gathering, gave me a single Space Marine to build and paint. I was hooked. First, the cost per model was far better than the pewter I had been purchasing in gift shops. I could by a whole squad of space marines for what I had been paying for a single figurine.


While accompanying my father to another model show I came across a box full of random 40k models. He got it for me and that box provided countless hours of hobby time. With nothing more than craft paints and dime store brushes I set to work on painting countless Blood Angels as well as many other random models, Tyranids, Imperial Guard, even a few Eldar got in the mix.


There was very little technique to my modeling then. I applied a single thick layer of color to each model as if following a paint by numbers guide. I had a few old White Dwarf and Citadel catalogs to help me along the way but in those days there was no YouTube, no hobby blogs dedicated to teaching painting techniques. But practice makes perfect, or so they say.


So I kept right at it painting everything in that box and occasionally a few more. I received the 2nd Edition box set one year for my birthday and painted that too. I never did learn the game you see. I was just interested in the modeling and lore.


Sometime in the late 90s, when I was in high school, I got my first commission. A kid across the street had heard about my painting from my little brothers and he wanted his Eldar army painted. I accepted the challenge and for a whopping $15 I painted his army. I remember a squad of Windriders, a couple support batteries, a squad of striking scorpions, the OG Wraithlord, Avatar, and Farseer. I put a lot of pride into those models. Even did some wet blending before I knew that was a thing. He was happy, I was happy. That experience definitely encouraged me to keep pushing my skills. 


There was a brief hiatus in college and then I set back to it. By this time ebay was on the scene. I started painting whatever looked cool at the time and turned around and sold them on ebay for a profit. Sure I was making far less than minimum wage, but my hobby was paying for itself. I'd sell each model for at least double retail and that meant for each one I turned out I could buy two more.


My skills definitely developed during this time. Practice right? I painted Daemon Princes, Nightbringers, Confrontation and Warmachine, even got a commission request for Typhus. I tried my hand at different techniques, wet blending, non-metallic metals, conversions, washes. I was making quite a bit of progress. But as life so often does it got in the way and this all to time consuming hobby got put to the back burner. Packed up and boxed away in the closet or garage it was all but forgotten.


To be clear I didn't stop art all together. I've always been an artist, drawing, painting, designing, animating, making in one fashion or another. I even had a comic series published in the local paper when I was 16. I just got burned out on modeling and had to step away for a while. I got heavily into digital art, learning the in's and out's of Illustrator and Photoshop. Made an enormous amount of graphic images and started a DeviantArt page. I started painting on canvas for the first time since high school art class. 


Along the way I learned a valuable lesson. During this same time my father was helping me with some home repairs. While changing out some outlets he inspected my work and noticed that the top and bottom screws in a wall plate did not have the screw heads aligned in the same vertical orientation. He corrected the issue and noted the importance of taking pride in one's work. This would stick with me. How was it that he could produce such detailed lifelike models? His pride in those details was the key.


After a while I felt the need to break out again, to try something different yet familiar. I wanted a hobby that I could interact with. So I decided that it was time to learn how to play 40k. So I broke out my old boxes of miniatures. A lot of them made their way to ebay. And I focused in on an old Catachan boxed army that I had in my possession for at least the last 8 years and I got to painting.


I studied the rules and found a meetup group in which to play. After my first meat up I was surprised to find out that Warhammer 40k was firmly in 6th Edition. Oh well I could learn; and so I did. That became my new motivation to paint. Getting a painted unit on the table was a satisfying feeling and admiring the work of others encouraged me further. I started practicing new techniques, watching tutorials, and reading books. I was painting again. I started this blog as a way to document my journey and share what I'd learned with others. Once again I joined my father in the hobby room and learned from him.


I picked up the Imperial Armour masterclass books and applied the techniques I learned in them to my new models. That practice was invaluable. I ditched my trusty craft paints in favor of Army Painter and Vallejo. In a short period of time I had painted countless models, tried numerous techniques, often screwing them up but not being afraid to try again until I had it mastered. All in an effort to get the best looking army I could out on the table. It was a treat each week to debut a new unit to the group. I took pride in the details. My father bought me an epic model in which to showcase as many skills as I could. A challenge for my first IPMS model contest entry. The Imperial Knight Titan.


I added countless techniques and tools to my modeling tool belt. Airbrush, weathering powders, oil paints, sculpting, scratch building, decal application. I entered that model in the next show and, much to my surprise, walked away with a 3rd place. That build, and it's subsequent success, drove my passion further. 


Looking back at where my skill started and where it is now I can honestly say that practice is important but if it weren't for all the help I had along the way I can't say I'd have progressed nearly this much. The tips and tricks I learned from my father, the techniques I've learned from fellow bloggers and YouTubers, the numerous articles I've read in hobby books and magazines, they've all contributed to the outcome of that practice. 

Malcolm Gladwell covered this in his book Outliers. It isn't just that practice makes perfect. Often sighted as 10000 hours of practice to become an expert. It is, as he noted, deliberate practice that makes perfect. That's what my father was demonstrating when he noted my crooked screw. A deliberate attention to the work at hand. A thoughtfulness in each action, in each detail. Each brush stroke is a deliberate action with a purpose. 


Now please don't interpret this to mean that I think I'm an expert. I know I have areas for improvement. I need much more experience in figure painting, and to that end, it's an area I'm working on. 


In addition to figures, I want to test my skills on different subjects. Automotive, aerospace, military, dioramas, nautical, all of the above in both modern and historical. Regardless of the subject the practice gained in each of those subjects will no doubt lead to new skills, new techniques, new tools in my hobby tool belt. And as I learn from these adventures in modeling I'll continue to share the story here. What I've gotten right, and what I've gotten wrong. Hopefully some of the things I share here will help you on your journey. 

Until next time, happy modeling!