Forward Observer 3

Scales Falling From Eyes

It has been quite a telling few weeks. I will try not to bore you with domestic details, except those pertaining to the story. In short, I have been unpacking at the new house. I have been without much of my hobby stuff for best part of three years and it all recently emerged from storage. Job One was to get the workbench set up, and christen it. A cracking little 1/72nd StuG III emerged some hours later, which made the forced abstinence seem almost worthwhile. I then returned grudgingly to the two hundred or so boxes left to be emptied, many of which were filled with figures and books.

The books almost filled, floor to ceiling, a 12′ x 8′ x 10′ room. As you might imagine, this was somewhat overwhelming, and I certainly don’t think that many left the old house. Perhaps they bred in captivity. Of course I may have purchased a few in the last three years. Just possibly. The scary thing was that I just don’t remember buying some of this stuff, and it is a very weird thing to pick up a book you actually want, and have on your Amazon wishlist, but somehow already own. But what a great feeling to have them back and in one place.

Cut to developments in my head, the virtual hobby arena of the last three years (The Dark Ages). I can sense that I have changed, in many respects. I am a bit better on the colour sense, having read perhaps twenty books on the subject, and have caught up with all the latest modelling ideas – drybrushing?* Who does that any more?! Pigments are where it is at! It reminds me of that Woody Allen skit when in the future all the bad food will be good for you. Times change, people change, techniques change, and sad, slavishly trendy types like me just have to keep up. Seriously, whatever I have done has really helped my previous weak points – colour selection, planning and observation – and even I (Mr Self Critic, 2005) can see that my painting has gone up a level, which is really pleasing.

I am also considerably more focussed. This parallels changes that have happened in my life generally. As I mentioned in issue one my previous rambling and completely unrealistic list of projects, with figures already bought or to buy, is now down to just ten. Okay, perhaps eleven. I am convinced they are what I want to pursue, and I can probably even rank them in order of enthusiasm and execution. I may even have room in the house for the finished figures and models. Stuart Asquith’s and Phil Olley’s articles last time helped me a lot here.

In the end, focussing down became easy. When packing, I had already got to that point where I had a firm sense that I had too much figure related stuff, and seriously considered thinning out (I have already done this in a major way with my boardgame collection). But I have now got to the point where I know I am never going to paint the 2,000 odd figures in my lead mountain. So I am going to take appropriate action. It won’t be easy, but it will happen.

And finally, most damaging of all, I have been bitten by the Old School virus. Or at least badly affected by the vaccine. This has not meant buying plastic trees or affecting a monocle, or drinking even more port (as if I needed more help there). Instead it has lead me, slowly but surely, towards a taste for larger units and, most importantly, Properly Proportioned Figures. Dallas Gavan and Mike MacGillivray sowed the seeds for this realisation years ago. Their superb figure reviews, much missed, kept mentioning anatomy. At first I thought, hmm, what are they on about? These are little men for gaming, and they look great, and the detail and faces are amazing. I was quite happy buying large numbers of them, and filing them away much as one does with CDs and DVDs, knowing with certainty that they will never be improved upon, quality wise**.

Now I look at them and think, oh my, these aren’t that good. Or even close to being good. Sure, time has passed and figure sculpting has moved on, but this is something deeper. It is me seeing some figures for what they actually are, and in some cases what they represent. In a few cases, really, what was I thinking when I bought them? Scales falling from eyes…

But I don’t feel too bad. I made the right call at the time and probably endorsed a good few of them, but now, well, I guess the changes in me have exposed the figures in a different light. Add in the presence of neighbouring boxes of plastic figures, almost all wonderful examples of the sculptor’s art, and I have hit a major crossroads.

So, I now look at figures, and units, in a different way. Oddly, my view of horses has remained quite consistent before and after the watershed, and I am still hard to please. It is just the human body I want to see either in its slender form, in realistic tones and without banana hands. Alternatively, I am happy with enough personality to make it very clear we are talking caricature. I still have plenty of room for characters on my shelves – anyone who collects superheroes has a degree of tolerance. So I will be seeking out figures under the rallying cry of Death to The Chunkies! I am going to call this one man movement the Campaign for Real Anatomy, or CAMRA. These initials seem somehow familiar. I hope they catch on.

Moving Forward

The upshot? I am left feeling that I have a considerable number of figures that I don’t necessarily regret buying, but now definitely don’t want. In some cases, I can’t even bring myself to paint them. I am consoled by the fact they probably have some residual value. I hope I feel better when I have worked my way through all the boxes and sorted out those that still make the grade, and there will be many. It means I will be selling a lot of perfectly good figures, possibly painting them first, to clear the decks. The decks will stay at least 50% clear, hopefully 75% – even 500 figures is a huge number to have in reserve. The rest will either pass muster (I am not looking for perfection, just moving my goalposts) and form the core of my projects, or I can consider swapping; out of nineties standards into modern sculpts and also back into those figures that I have always loved, Connoisseur and Suren.

So that is that. A new Siggins emerges! Scanning the magazines and websites, I am left with just a few likely destinations for my hobby money. I feel a real desire to do some 54mms, a la Mike Blake. I can happily stick with my flats obsession, because they are exemplary in their anatomical detail and, bonus, they take up very little room. Plastics, carefully chosen and without going mad, are going to be a major lure – just look at the recent Tournament set from Italeri, the lovely Samurai and Ancients from Zvezda, and the many Napoleonics now available. As I write Biblicals are starting to appear.

There will also be a handful of metal figure companies in the mix, including Perry Miniatures, AB, Rackham, Eureka, Conquest, Newline, Black Hat, Gripping Beast, Thunderbolt Mountain, Tamiya, Drabant, GW Lord of the Rings, HLBSCo, Mark Fenlon, Copplestone, Pulp, eBob horses and Falcata. That is not a complete list, before the nasty letters start again!

* Oh, the drybrushing? I didn’t do a single bit on the StuG, and it looks great. Quite possibly the best model I have ever made. Thanks to Alex Clark for all the help on this project via his website and his excellent Osprey guides – Modelling the Panzer IV and Modelling the Tiger Tank.

** Until we get High Definition DVD. Didn’t mention those when we were buying Low Definition specimens, did they? Strange, that.

Partizan

I have no doubt that you will read much about the Sittingbad demonstration game at Partizan, but I would just like to add my appreciation of a job done well, and done far better than I had imagined. It was quite a spectacle and was far better, I feel, for being a new century interpretation rather than a strict recreation of the Charles Grant original. It seemed to draw generally positive comments all day, and subsequently on the web. Dare I say this was an important event? Time will tell. It also shows that teamwork, even spread across the whole of Britain, can be a productive method of game staging, perhaps taking some pressure off the one man bands. Congratulations to all involved. It also formed a fitting counterpoint to some excellent new school demos at Partizan, which for me was probably the best ever show for consistently high quality of games.

Black Riders

I have written at length elsewhere about my dislike of black undercoat technique – both in terms of the results from the hands of anyone but the masters, and my simple inability to execute the style. The latter is a matter of technical skill (choosing colours; knowing how and where to highlight; painting sufficient detail and eyes), personal taste (I prefer a much looser, brighter, style), and, most importantly, the fact I cannot easily see what I am painting on a black background. There is also, underpinning this, an ethical disagreement with the approach that is, I admit, largely irrational.

So why would I buy the long awaited book from the High Priest of Ye Dark Artes, Kevin Dallimore? Well partly because I collect books like this, partly because I know there is always something of interest, and because I would like to give Kevin a nod for all his valuable hobby work over the years. Plus, apart from the odd extra overemphasised knuckle, who can argue with these fantastic paintjobs when done properly? How many Foundry and Front Rank figures have sold on the back of those tempting images? The colour depth alone is a marvel.

In that sense, you can’t go wrong here because the 176 colour pages are packed with images, inspiration and, surprisingly, work by other painters – with some notable omissions, given those included – I would love to have seen some examples from Ian Marsh of Fightin’ 15’s who, to my mind, is the best of The Dark Side. And I was right about there being something of interest. There are loads of little tips that make you think, hmmm, yes, that could work for me (even if the process needs reversing). The horse colour page alone at least gives me a start on cracking a Light Bay.

Otherwise, I was disappointed (though not entirely surprised) to see that some of the material has already been published, either on the web or in Wargames Illustrated. Don’t get me wrong, there is an awful lot else besides in this lovely book, but some of the sample figures and much of the text we have seen before. This immediately puts an extra degree of post-payment pain into the price, which at £25 is not bargain basement.

Overall, can you live without it? I guess so. It is a luxury rather than an essential, but this assessment would change to a definite ‘Buy! Now!’ if one used the technique and wanted to improve, in which case it would be a very tempting volume. Stick it on the shelf next to the Citadel guide, and perhaps The Complete Bill Horan for inspiration, and your only obstacle to greatness becomes your talent. You know, I would pay an awful lot for a book filled with Peter Gilder figures.