Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Witch - Dragon Magazine Style

Happy Halloween everyone.  It's probably my favorite holiday of the year...a chance to dress up in a silly costume and act like a kid again, no matter how old we really are.

To help celebrate the night of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, I've been working on a few witch miniatures.  Unfortunately they are not quite finished yet (despite my best efforts) but photos will be coming soon.  But I didn't want to strike out on a Halloween themed post so I thought I'd throw up a photo of one of my favorite Dragon Magazine issues.

The issue is number 114 from October of 1986.  The cover features a scantily clad female witch perched atop a positively evil looking stone monument.  Actually, "skyclad" or nude would be a better description since the only article of clothing is a sheer robe or cape.  The painting for the cover was done by David Martin and titled "Spirit of the Night."  I think his quote from the magazine in describing his work perfectly translates the image to words:  "In a shower of moonlight, a lone figure kneels in supplication to the image of a god worshiped long ago.  Aroused, the elemental nightwind rises up, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the dead city.  It carries the smells of the forest, invisible, yet potent as a prayer in the silence."  Indeed!

Let's see, October of 1986...that would make me around fifteen years old.  No wonder I liked the cover so much.  But in all honesty, I have very fond memories of the cover, not only because I had a mostly nude female on the cover of my favorite magazine but also due to the painting itself.  The "cool" colors used to cover most of the canvas makes me think of a chilly autumn night while the full moon definitely portrays a late October evening.  As I mentioned in my last entry, autumn is a special time for me and anything that reminds me of that time of year is bound to fall into favor.  And maybe it's the use of an old broken statue to represent an ancient being or something else entirely, but the painting simply screams AD&D to me.

The articles inside were just as good as the cover.  (Yes!  I do read it for the articles!  Ha!)  To go along with the Halloween theme, a wonderful rewrite of the Witch NPC class served as the centerpiece while a small section entitled "Grave Encounters" offered several tables to help generate inhabitants of cemeteries, graveyards, and crypts.  I also particularly enjoyed the Elven Cavalier article on page 26.

Although I rank this as one of my top ten Dragon Magazine covers ever, not every subscriber and reader was happy with the issue.  In fact, number 114 caused quite a scandal.  The cover reignited a debate about the depiction of females in the game and in artwork and one reader went as far as to call it "soft-core pornography."  I wonder how many subscriptions were cancelled after that issue?  I also wonder how many new subscriptions were ordered?  After all, a cover like Mr. Martin's could be considered cutting edge at the time.

Though certainly not the intent of this post, I can't help but wonder where the gaming community stands now on such issues as scantily clad females on covers or their general depiction in gaming.  Do you have an opinion?  Is it acceptable in today's media or are females being done an injustice?  I'd like to know what you think......

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Legends of the Fall - part 1

Although a few more months will have to pass before we get any relief from the tropical heat and humidity in the Florida Keys, the calendar indicates that autumn has definitely arrived.  And with the arrival of fall, thoughts of adventure in mythical lands begin to fill my head.  Perhaps this call to adventure comes from the fact that beginning in every September, I reread The Lord of the Rings (this will be my 27th rereading) and get caught up in Tolkien's ability to stir the soul to wander. Or maybe it's nothing more than some residual trait from childhood camping trips.  Whatever the case, the spell has been laid upon me and I think it's even more potent this year since I'm also in the process of rereading the original Dragonlance trilogy, which certainly has a link to the autumn season.

Unfortunately, I live on an island and can't go tramping through the woods and mountains so the adventure must take place in my head and imagination.  And when that happens, another hobby project tends to form.  Such is the case with Legends of the Fall.

The plan for this project is simple.  I'm in the process of creating a fantasy adventuring party in miniature (the first member of which can be seen above).  I envision a well-balanced group of five to eight adventurers representing most of the common fantasy RPG class archetypes.  After painting, they will all be based with a autumn foliage/terrain theme to tie the group together visually and satisfy my current fall-based need for adventure.  More than likely they will all receive some kind of background and back story that will reflect the sculpt of the miniature and connect each individual with the group as well.

As the title of the project suggests, each miniature will be an experienced adventurer and rather legendary in their chosen class.  The sculpts that I choose will have to reflect that trait both in the overall demeanor of the figure along with the equipment and weapons carried.  While painting these minis should be fun, I think the process of picking the individual models to represent the different classes will be one of the best aspects.  I will not limit myself to any one range or brand, so the sky is the limit.  I also plan on seeking suggestions from readers and guests on how to fill those roles and hope to find myself considering models that I would never have found on my own.

As you can see from the photos above and below, the first two slots have already been chosen.  One model has already been completed while the other is waiting for a few more highlights and an appropriate base.

The miniature above is from the Visions in Fantasy line from Dark Sword Miniatures.  Looking through my mountain of unpainted lead, it quickly becomes apparent that I'm a huge fan of DSM and it's only appropriate that a mini from the company fills my first Legend spot.  According to the website, she is titled Female Warrior With Longsword and Shield (DSM7210) but right away I envisioned her as a female paladin. 

The sculpt is quite lovely and exudes an air of strength and leadership while still preserving a feminine aspect.  The color scheme I used was already in my head even before I placed the order - white to symbolize the purity of a paladin with floral shades of pink/purple to emphasize her gender.  I initially thought to give her darker hair however, to create a bit of mystery about her, but a lighter tone fit better with the color of her cloak and the metal of her armor.

Speaking of the armor, I really wanted to go non-metallic but I found the contrast too weak between the robes and the armor.  Plus, to be honest, I'm still learning the whole NMM technique and find myself struggling at times to create realistic effects.  I'm limited to decent looking swords right now and fear that I have some ways to go before I can tackle larger, more complex objects like armor.

As for her background, I only have a name to go along with her class for now.  At some point in the last few years I came across the name Liandra and immediately fell in love with it.  I've used a version of it (Liandrha) in a few other projects and short stories and think the name very appropriate for this character.  I have a few ideas for a surname or epithet, along with a very rough sketch for a background, but those details will have to wait until the next post on the project.

Accompanying Liandrha the paladin in the above photo is my choice for the mage in the group.  With my love of Tolkien, it was very tempting to choose an iconic old wizard with a long beard for the magic-user of the group but I wanted to emphasize the fact that this group of adventurers were a force to be reckoned with and in the prime of their careers.  Also, I think I may have been influenced by visions of Raistlin, the gold-skinned mage from the Dragonlance setting.  I do want to point out however that while he is indeed wearing red robes and has white hair, all resemblance to the much loved/hated character ends there. I have other ideas for this guy once he is finally completed.

The miniature is from Reaper and is called by them, Anirion, Wood Elf Wizard (03491).  The sculpt is very simple but the luxurious flowing robes provides lots of space for shading and highlighting.  Very little of the face can be seen beneath the cowl of his hood but that adds to the air of mystery about him.  I will have more photos of the mage as soon as I finish the final highlight coat and base him.

The next step for me is to chose the cleric/healer of the group.  For this choice I would like to seek some suggestions from you, good readers.  I'm open to any company and gender but the sculpt should be in the 28mm range and reflect a higher level character.  I'm very much looking forward to the possible suggestions and thank participants in advance for the help.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Optivisor - Answering My Own Question

A while back I was doing a bit of research and considering purchasing an Optivisor to help with painting my miniatures.  In doing so, I solicited advice from other painters who use an Optivisor, and though I received several emails stating interest in also purchasing one, actual advice or reviews from current users were lacking.  Well, I did a little more research and purchased one a few weeks ago.  And now that I've had some time to get used to the added magnification and its effect on my painting, I thought I would post a review to help others who may be considering a similar purchase.

A #2 Optivisor
There are several different styles of Optivisors on the market (and other companies make similar devices).  Some are lighted while others have additional attachments, etc...  I really didn't need anything special so I decided to go with the basic model.  The one I purchased consists of a comfortable headband adjustable to any size via a rotating knob on the back and a swivel mounted visor containing the lenses that is easily moved out of the way for normal painting.  Despite a good amount of time on the internet researching the appropriate magnification for painting miniatures, I was unable to find a solid answer.  So basically I just made a slightly educated guess and ordered a model with 1.5 times magnification.  Other flavors include magnification that goes from 1.5 to over 3 times normal size.  My eyes are still in very good shape though and I only needed a bit of help for the tiny details that grace today's intricate models, so I went with the lower power visor.

The Optivisor in action on a Halloween WIP

I have not tried any of the higher power lenses so my review may be biased, but I am quite happy with the purchase.  With the aid of the Optivisor, I've noticed an increase in the detail on my minis and the ability to place paint in the smallest of areas.  I'm also able to make less of a mess when I need to outline or freehand.  The additional magnification has also helped me avoid finding flaws in the metal AFTER I've primed and base coated.  I absolutely hate having to go back and file or fill a spot after I've already started painting.  Note:  I hate prepping miniatures anyhow.  I wish they came ready to paint!

A word of warning though.  Until you get used to the additional magnification, be very careful with brush placement.  I had several accidents where I thought the brush was further from the model than it actually was and ended up putting a blob of paint in random spots.  After a few days of use however, those little incidents vanished.

A privateer WIP seen at 1.5 times magnification

Though the focal length listed for the #2 model is listed at 20", I find that measurement difficult to believe.  Through careful measurements, I've found that the miniatures come into focus around 6 inches from the lens and begin to blur when moved closer than 3 inches.  Now I'm not an optometrist and do not know what other factors may effect focal length, but these are the numbers that work for me.  It's fortunate that the numbers are what they are since that is about where I hold my miniatures when I paint anyhow.

Another WIP seen through the lens

I was concerned about the comfort of wearing the visor while painting but I've adjusted quite easily.  Since I do not use the magnification the entire time I'm painting, I have had no issues with eye strain. I do leave the visor on my head though and just flip the lenses out of the way when not in use.  At first I would get little headaches from the pressure of the headband but either they have loosened a bit or I've simply become used to it because I no longer even feel the unit on my head.

So in conclusion, I'm quite happy with my purchase.  Though I'm certainly not the best painter out there (or even close), I've been able to take my miniatures up a notch with a fairly inexpensive investment and that is always a good thing.  It would be nice to try some of the higher power models though, just to see what they are like, but for now I'll make do with these.  After using them for some time now, I feel good about recommending this particular model to other miniatures painters.  But remember, however, that depending on your eye sight, your mileage may vary.