Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Happy Hobbit Day or A Year Has Come And Gone

I knew it had been a long time.  The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months without me fully comprehending the significance of the gap.  Then one day a few weeks ago I visited both of my poorly tended blogs.  I was shocked to see that my last post was so long ago.  Where had the time gone?

I had been telling myself for months that it was time to get started blogging again; time to return to an aspect of the hobby that I've always enjoyed.  But I kept putting it off due to the demands of daily life.  But seeing that long gap of abandonment made me resolve to finally do something about it.  But not just yet....

I noticed that my last post was made on September 22nd of 2014.  It was a rather short entry wishing my fellow bloggers a happy Hobbit Day.  The post itself was not all that significant but the date was.  Middle-earth fans know that September 22nd is the date traditionally celebrated as Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' birthdays.  They also know that was the date Frodo set out on his epic journey from The Shire to the land of Mordor to destroy the One Ring.  I like Middle-earth and I also like symbolism.  It was perfect!  I thought to myself why not embark on my new adventure of returning to a regular posting schedule on the same date.  I could celebrate Hobbit Day and encourage myself to adhere to the set date.  Patiently I waited a few more weeks until this day.

So here I am once again wishing everyone a happy Hobbit Day the same as I did a year ago.  And here I am reviving a long silent blog in hopes of renewing my enthusiasm for blogging.  Fortunately, though I may have been absent from my blogs, I have not been absent from the hobby.  I do have some fun things to share over the next few weeks (including the obligatory "where have I been?" post).  I hope you will join me on my hobby adventures again.

The road goes ever on and on.....

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy Hobbit Day 2014

Today is Hobbit Day.  It is the day chosen by the fan community to celebrate the works of Professor Tolkien's Middle-earth cycle.  In the books, September 22nd* (of The Shire Reckoning) is the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.  It is also the date Bilbo "disappeared" from his 111th birthday party to leave The Shire forever and the date that Frodo left Bag End seventeen years later to begin his quest to destroy the One Ring of Sauron.

My original from 1984.  The cover is almost detached.  This may be the last year I read this copy.

September 22nd also happens to mark the day on which I begin my yearly rereading of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Every year since I first read the books back in 1984 (I was 13 at the time) I have opened The Fellowship of the Ring and accompanied Frodo and his companions on their long journey through Middle-earth.  I don't always complete all three books and I'm sure I have missed a year here and there.  But there can be no doubt that I have read the books at least 25 times over the years...and counting.  I'm so very thankful that I discovered Tolkien's works so very long ago.  For it was Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, and the others that directly lead to my love of roleplaying, wargaming, and miniatures.

So happy Hobbit Day to you all.  Now it's time for me to open my well-read copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and start my journey anew.

* Note: I am well aware of the differences between our calendar and that of The Shire.  September 22nd has been chosen by consensus as the date to celebrate Bilbo and Frodo's birthday rather than the converted date.  I'd rather not debate the merits of September 13th-ish vs. September 22nd.  To me, it's just not that important.  So have a pint, raise your mug, and drink one with me!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Blunderbuss Pirate

Though it is never far from my mind or from my gaming table, pirates and Legends of the High Seas have taken a backseat to other projects lately.  I absolutely love the ruleset and the genre but I have been unable to give it the attention I would like over the last six months.  The winds of change are ablowin' however.  A scurvy band of pirates have been seen scouting out the Caribbean town of Port Largo in recent weeks.  The townsfolk know that it's only a matter of time before they become brazen enough to take a prize leaving port.  Yep....I feel a LotHS game brewing!

To add to the denizens that call Port Largo home, I painted up this nifty model from Black Scorpion Miniatures.  Black Scorpion has been my "go to" company for miniatures of the piratey nature for years now.  I've always been pleased with the quality of their products and this blunderbuss wielding rogue is no different.  He is one of the four miniatures offered in the Rogues 1 blister pack.  Though I have yet to paint the other three minis, I can say that the quality of the others is as good as this one.

Since I seem to be giving a mini review (pun fully intended) I must add an important detail.  All of the pirate models I own from Black Scorpion (and I own them all except for the Pirate Girls line) are metal.  It should be no secret to regular readers that I absolutely hate resin.  When I found out that Black Scorpion was switching to resin I hurried to complete my collection of pirates by purchasing my missing figures in metal before they disappeared.  So while I'm giving two thumbs up for the metal sculpts, I cannot say the same for the resin versions.

The first parts I painted on this pirate were his hair and scarf.  Before I had decided on a full color scheme, I knew I wanted both to stand out.  I chose a light auburn for the hair and a garishly bright yellow for his scarf.  For the hair I used my standard color palette for red hair:  Auburn Shadow (09241), Carrot Top Red (09242), and Highlight Orange (09242), all from Reaper.  For the scarf, I tried a new technique for shading yellow.  I painted the scarf in Sun Yellow (09008) and let the pure color stand for the highlight.  I then mixed in small amounts of Imperial Purple (09023) for each successive shade.  I was very pleased with the results.  Instead of powdery looking light yellow highlights and dirty shades, I ended up with a very clean color graduation.  I'm currently working on an elf maiden in a yellow dress.  I plan on trying the same technique to see if the results are as good on a larger surface.  Updates to come.....

The green shirt was a huge problem.  For one, I kept getting small dots of green paint on my freshly painted yellow scarf.  Painting over a dark color with such a light translucent one was no easy task.  The main issue was with the highlighting though.  I used the Mossy Green triad from Reaper.  When I began mixing in the highlights the paint turned chalky.  No matter what I tried I could not get the color to play well with the others.  I mostly fixed the issue by glazing a darker green over the highlights but the evidence is still on the shirt if you look closely.  Oh well.  I don't think I'll be using that combination again anytime soon.

So another new pirate is completed.  Now I need to choose a name (something Irish would do nicely I think) then decide which crew I want to add him to.  I'm thinking this weekend would be a great opportunity to field him for the first time and see what that blunderbuss is capable of.  Will he survive his first raid?

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Painting Classes That Never Were, or Hello Miss Jessica?

Life sometimes gets in the way of my hobbies.  I hate it when that happens.  As I described on my other blog, I had to cancel my GenCon 2014 trip at the last minute.  In doing so, I lost out on money, planning, and expectations.  I also lost a chance to take a few miniature painting classes - something I've been wanting to do for a long time now.

Although I'm not a terrible painter, my work definitely leaves open room for improvement.  What I've learned has been mostly from looking at blogs or experimenting on my own.  I've never taken a formal instructional class or even painted with other hobbyists.  I wanted to change that at GenCon.  Amongst some of the activities I scheduled were the two painting classes pictured above: The Art of Painting Skintones and Painting Pretty Faces.  I wanted to sign up for more (so many to choose from!) but I kept encountering timing conflicts with other things I wanted to see and do.  The scheduling issues turned out to be a good thing I guess, since in the end I was unable to attend and would have lost out on even more money.

So while feeling sorry for myself and pouting from having to cancel my GenCon trip, I was cruising the internet to cheer myself up when I stumbled upon a new painting instruction video offered by Dark Sword Miniatures:  Masterworks Miniature Painting with Jessica Rich.  Though the price was a bit steep I decided to buy it.  Damnit, if I can't go to GenCon and take a few miniature painting classes there, I'll just bring the instructor to the comfort of my own home.  And what a choice of instructors:  Jessica Rich!  I have admired her work for some time now, especially her George R. R. Martin miniatures.  So yeah, I made a date with Jessica and asked her to come to my house....kinda.

I really didn't know what to expect when I began watching the DVDs.  I had watched bits and pieces of other videos on YouTube but wasn't all that impressed with them.  Most were just okay as far as video quality goes; nothing to write home about.  And that's unfortunate.  Painting is obviously a visual skill and without being able to see clearly what the instructor is doing, the usefulness of the lesson becomes somewhat dubious.

I'm happy to say that the DVD so far has exceeded my expectations.  The images are not exactly high definition but you can definitely see what's going on.  Jim (the owner of Dark Sword Miniatures) and Jessica seem to go to great lengths to ensure that the camera is positioned perfectly to allow the viewer ultimate access to the miniature being painted.  I would imagine that even in a classroom setting it would be difficult to get any closer than what the DVD shows.

I haven't finished the DVD set yet.  It's over 20 hours of instruction.  What I have completed has been a great help in refining my skill however.  I highly recommend the set to any miniature painter that wants to better their painting skills.  I think it has already helped improve my craft.

Here is a final thought on the DVDs.  They are not cheap at $60.  But after doing the math I found that it's actually an incredible deal.  The two classes that I signed up for at GenCon cost me $46 total.  Assuming that I could have arranged my schedule to include one more class at a similar price, I would have paid $69 for three classes and three hours of instruction.  By purchasing the DVD set, I not only saved $9, but I gained about 17 extra hours of one-on-one instruction on a variety of different topics by one of the industry's best painters.  Even if I group the chapters into like categories, the DVDs offer twenty different classes.  At $20 a pop....well, you can do the math.  I'm thinking that DVD instruction (if done correctly) is a much better bargain than attending a class.  Of course you do lose the interactive aspect of a live instructor.  It's beyond difficult to ask Jessica a question (she never answers).  At least if I need something repeated she's right there waiting for me at the push of a button though!

Here are the topics covered in the DVD set.

Disc 1
*  Introductions
*  Tools
*  Mini Prep
*  Color Theory
*  Base Coating and Blending (highlighting and shading)
*  Female Skin Tones & Features - Fair Skin

Disc 2
*  Female Skin Tones & Faces - Ruddy Skin
*  Female Fair Skin Face
*  Male Skin Tones and Faces
*  Painting Hair - White Hair
*  Painting Hair - Auburn Hair
*  Painting Hair - Black Hair

Disc 3
*  Dark Elf skin Tones & Faces
*  Difficult Colors - Painting Black
*  Difficult Colors - Painting Red
*  Painting Critter Fur
*  Painting Critter Eyes
*  Painting Wood Grain
*  Painting Feathers

Disc 4
*  Painting Sheer Fabric
*  Painting NMM - Gold Armor
*  Painting NMM - Steel Sword
*  Painting Blood and Gore
*  Painting Dingy and Weathered Clothes
*  Painting Flames and Fire
*  Painting Gems

Disc 5
*  Painting OSL and a Magic Sword
*  Painting with a Limited Color Palette
*  Freehand - Tone on Tone Damask
*  Freehand - Brocade Borders

Disc 6
*  Freehand - Painting Tiny Portraits
*  Freehand - Painting Tiny Portraits Slideshow
*  Finishing Touches - Sealers and Basing
*  Jess Conclusion
*  Jess Dark Sword Gallery
*  Jess Other Manufacturer Gallery
*  Dark Sword Gallery

I hope you enjoyed my little DVD review.  Let me close with a few questions:

*  Have you ever taken a live painting class?  Was it worth it?
*  What are your thoughts on video instruction?
*  What (if any) other video courses would you recommend?

Thanks for your comments and most of all, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Peter Jackson's New Movie Poster

Peter Jackson just posted a teaser movie poster for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on his Facebook page.  All I can say is WOW!


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Save vs. a Cold or Suffer 1d6+2 Days of Misery

The title says it all.  I went away for a short mini-vacation and brought home a souvenir I neither wanted nor expected - a summer cold.  For the next week that little cold exploded into a major ailment and brought me to my knees.  Either it had some super secret ingredient to make it more potent or maybe I'm just getting older and unable to recover as quickly.  Either way, I felt terrible and spent my free time resting on the couch or going to bed early.  Needless to say, both of my blogs suffered from my inactivity (apologies for the crosspost if you arrived here from the other blog).  My cold is gone now though and I feel like a new man.  It's time for a blog update.

*  I'm working on a few pirate ships for Legends of the High Seas.  I purchased them as a Christmas gift for myself but I am only now getting around to them.  They are from Laser Dream Works and so far I think they will be quite nice.  I'll write a post in the near future reviewing both of the ships I purchased:  HMS Fly and USS Lee.

*  With the nostalgic resurgence of D&D taking over much of my hobby time, I have found myself spending more time painting various miniatures from Otherworld Miniatures.  I love working on minis with an old school feel without dealing with the poor quality of true old school miniatures.  I am using the elven fighter/magic user to represent my character in a Moldvay Basic D&D campaign I'm currently playing in.  The plan is to finish him first then move on to a group of pig-faced hobgoblins.

*  Finally, though it's not related to D&D, I have another hobby item to share.  I've been interested in photography for a long time and I'm always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy taking photos.  I've wanted to try aerial photography for a while now but the cost has always been too steep for me to justify.  No longer... Prices are now a bit more reasonable so I just dropped some cash on a new quadracopter and have been experiencing an entirely new side of photography.  Allow me to share one of my early practice photos.  Here is a shot of my neighborhood taken from 130 feet of altitude.  We can call it a "dragon's eye view" photo to help tie in this blatantly unrelated photo to D&D.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Meriadoc Brandybuck: Fictional Dioramas & Functional Usage

File this miniature under the 'better late than never' category.  I started this particular Meriadoc Brandybuck mini well over a year ago for a Hobbit Day diorama I was working on at the time.  Hobbit Day 2012 came and went with only Bilbo Baggins complete, so I abandoned Merry and onto the queue shelf he went.  Months later, I picked him up again with the goal of finishing the now near mythical diorama for Hobbit Day 2013.  That day too came and went without a completed miniature. Back on the shelf he went.  Finally, I was able to finish him last week.  Maybe, just maybe, Hobbit Day 2014 will see a completed diorama.

The planned diorama was to depict Merry spying on Bilbo in the Shire.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins approaches Bilbo from a distance.  Not wanting to deal with her antics, Bilbo quietly slips on his magical ring and disappears until Lobelia has safely passed him by.  Bilbo then reappears and goes about his day, oblivious to the extra company hidden beside the road.  According to the text, this event was the downfall of Bilbo's well-kept secret and a catalyst to forming the 'conspiracy' that was finally unmasked years later when Frodo tries to leave Crickhollow without his friends.

When completed (if that ever happens), Lobelia will be positioned near the bottom of a small rise continuing her walk down the lane towards Hobbiton.  Bilbo will be positioned in the lane some distance behind her, holding his trusty ring in the palm of his hand with an obviously pleased look upon his face for having avoided the dreadful creature.  Merry will be off the side of the road hidden amongst the brush and grass, not quite believing what he just witnessed.  If done correctly, I think the diorama will depict the scene from the book quite faithfully.

This version of Merry (from the Merry and Pippin vs. Grishnákh blister) is the perfect mini for the job.  He is already kneeling/hiding so no conversion was necessary.  More importantly, the look upon his face, while originally sculpted to show fear of Grishnákh, seems to show surprise as well....perfect for my project!

I'm a firm believer of double-duty miniatures.  As such, I did not want to paint and base Merry solely on the description of the Shire encounter.  I also wanted to be able to use the model for additional encounters.  I painted Merry in his Fellowship attire, including the Lothlorien cloak.  The look was flexible though.  To me, the color scheme could just as easily fit the well-tended fields of The Shire (for the diorama) as well as the wilds of Middle-earth (for gaming in general).  The main alternate use of the mini would be for its intended purpose.  The encounter that the blister was meant to depict occurred in Rohan near the eves of Fangorn Forest.  It was easy to adopt the imagery Peter Jackson used for Rohan in the movies and tie it in with The Shire with just a little stretch of the imagination.  The base could be cultivated winter wheat or natural grassland, both of which work for either use.  Now, instead of just sitting in a diorama, I can pull him out and use Merry on the game table.

There is one part of the  model that would preclude Merry from being in Rohan (as depicted in the book and movie) but it takes a sharp eye to find it.  I'll leave that one detail open to guesses in the comments section.

Though the time frame of completion may indicate otherwise, I actually enjoyed painting this miniature.  This sculpt predates GW Finecast and represents the good ole' days when GW LotR SBG products were worth the money.  The lines are clean and the details crisp.   If I remember correctly, I had very little prepping to complet before priming and painting.  That's never the case with Finecast miniatures.  Though I have plenty of GW LotR lead still to paint, working on this miniature made me miss the days when I eagerly awaited the next issue of White Dwarf to see what LotR goodies were coming out the following month.

Ending Note:  I apologize for the photos.  I tried a new lens on my camera for this session.  While the lens does a great job in other areas, close-up photography is not one of them.  The photos look very fuzzy and not at all sharp.  I could have retaken the photos but I was feeling much too lazy, just like a fat hobbit!

Don't forget to provide your guesses below.  I wonder how long it will take to spot it.  As always, thanks for reading!