In 2015 I was lucky enough to get myself booked on the Weekend Workshop with Francesco Farabi in Liverpool. John Harrison the founder had struck a deal with a new miniature company, Black Crow Miniatures to provide their first figure, Arinthuil, as the subject of the workshop. I actually reviewed this figure way back in Issue 22 of Figure Painter Magazine.
Isidro Monux the founder and owner of Black Crow, himself a talented figure painter was happy to answer some questions and provide an insight a little bit later in this write up! Indeed for those of you quick of mind and sharp in the eye will notice the banner ath the top of this post, this hasn’t even been released on Black Crow Miniatures site at time of writing and provides a few clues to what’s coming next!!
Firstly lets think about design and appearance. Each piece from Black Crow comes packaged in a cylindrical tin, adorned with their two logos, depicting the conflicting concepts of their miniature range, realism and fantasy. The lid carries a sticker of the concept sketch and inside you find the pieces, contained within zip-lock bags and nestled softly in black, card shavings. You also get a card, one side depicts the stylised design of the release the other, the official box-art painted by Isidro himself. Everything about the packaging screams of high presentation and stunning quality.
After the Arinthuil release we are treated to three busts, each of a vastly different subject matter!
TENZING the Hunter.
First up we have a 1/12 scale bust called Tenzing the Hunter, sculpted by the incredible Lucas Pina Penichet (founder and owner of Spira Mirabilis) based on the wonderful concept artwork by Guillermo Gonzalez.
Tenzing despite looking realistic, perhaps a Mongolian horseman or archer is actually a fantasy piece, he is described as a Mountain Halfling. Straight away we notice his charisma and character and it is instantly recognisable as the work of Luca, due to his distinctive style.
The bust is of the traditional variety consisting of head and shoulders, sculpted to a shaped plinth or bust support. He stands about 45mm to the top of the hat excluding the support and comes with two additional pieces; his quiver of arrows and the plaited section of beard.
This small piece, actually provides a great insight into the consideration that went into the creation of this bust. If this piece was pre-attached during the casting process you can imagine it snapping off during shipping and it could prove particularly frustrating trying to fix. This little section has a hole in the end and fits perfectly to a tiny pin in the chin of our little guy, great attention to detail.
The quiver attaches via a square plug assembly and we are done! Nice and easy. The cast alone by SAGO is very nice indeed, I cant see any defects and it requires no preparation at all. Simply wash the parts, glue the beard and prime. The fit of the quiver is so good I would recommend painting separately and attaching at the end.
The sculpt by Luca is exceptional, full of life, character, details and textures. For a piece that is relatively small it is crammed full of painting opportunities, sharp details, nice undercuts to the straps, ties and teeth. His hooded brow, button nose and set expression give him a somewhat weary look that adds to his charm.
The design and composition is balanced and the textures across the various elements are expertly done. His attires seems grounded in traditional dress worn perhaps by Inuit or Mongol tribes people and is another hint to the characters story, that he is a hardy hunter who lives in the cold mountains.
Jack Morgan the Left Handed.
Next up we have a 1/9 scale bust depicting a swashbuckling pirate named Jack Morgan the Left Handed. Its based once more on the artwork by Guillermo Gonzalez and is sculpted by the incomparable Romain van den Bogaert. The piece stands approximately 75mm to the top of the hat and consists of six parts, torso and head, left and right arms, hat, cutlass blade and hand-guard.
As soon as you remove the pieces from the tin, you cant help but see its a Romain piece. the life, expression, textures, dynamism; Romain has this uncanny ability to breathe life into all his sculpts.
The only thing I am not so keen on is that Romain rarely if ever creates projects with location pins and holes to attach the various parts. There’s no easy, definitive way of building the bust so you will need to take care, pin the various items yourself and fill any gaps, dry fitting suggests this will be needed.
Looking at the main piece (torso and head) you can see all the trademarks of a sculptor at the top of his game: textures, attention to detail, undercuts, volumes, anatomy, precision, natural looking folds and creases, wrinkles, expression and life. Everything is done in such a way to tell us the story of the character depicted. The where is he, who is he and and what is he doing?
The right arm has nice detailing to the forearm leather, straps and buckles and the ruffed cuff of the sleeve, the folds and creases of the material nicely cinched. The hand-guard is attached over the hand and the blade of the cutlass is then attached to the guard. Again though there are no holes, pins or obvious place to do so.
So care will need to be taken to do so accurately and correctly. There is some really nice engraved texturing to the hand-guard. The hat is the rather simple Tricorn design but nevertheless has wonderful texturing and trim, sitting atop the bandanna wrapped head of our pirate.
Morrigan the Shamen Woman.
Finally we have my favourite release to date: Morrigan the Shaman Woman. The bust is once more 1/9 scale and consists of five parts; torso and head, crow skull, feathers and “ear rings”.
As soon as I saw the bust I had an inkling of perhaps the inspiration behind the sculpt. Being a Celt I have quite an interest in Celtic Mythology and for me this piece perfectly represents the Mor-rioghain, a Celtic Goddess, typically associated with Fate.
She was regularly seen flying over the battlefield, foretelling doom and death in battle, in the form of a mighty crow. Her name has many translations and had been referred to as phantom queen or entity that was wreathed in terror and nightmares. She was sometimes referred to as a witch or even a banshee and frequently described as a triple Goddess, one of three sisters, the daughters of Ernmas: Morrigan, Badb and Macha.
Tribal elders would claim premonitions of her in crow form foretelling the doom and destruction of an heroic warrior and she was likened to the myth of the banshee. Anyway I digress, I simply love this bust. However, despite all of this Romain has added his own twist, as the bust also seems influenced by Mayan, Aboriginal or African cultures too.
The crow skull completes the bust perfectly and the textures throughout are incredible. The tribal necklace with beads, strapless tunic, arm bands, feathers and beaded dreadlocks all indicate a primitive figure. Her facial features are powerful and deliberate, with full lips, high cheekbones and strong jawline. Her head is slightly tilted and raised, adding a nice dimension to her pose.
The skulls, feathers and ear rings complement the other elements perfectly. As with most of Romains’ sculpts there are no locator pins or sockets for the parts, so care will need to be taken when assembling. I would definitely recommend full assembly before painting so that any joins can be strengthened and gap filled if necessary prior to painting.
There we have it, three totally different busts and subjects yet somehow all connected, through their personality and vibrant, imaginative sculpts.
Tenzing comes in at just €25 plus shipping, whilst the more complex and larger Jack Morgan and Morrigan come in at €50. In my opinion, all things considered these are good prices.
Black Crow Miniatures are producing figures and busts that are at last blurring the boundaries between the genres of history and fantasy creating a realm of “realistic fantasy”. I took the opportunity to ask Isidro some questions so as to get an insight behind the company, here’s what he had to say:
So question time, ready?
1. Black Crow seems to blur the boundaries between realistic, historical and fantasy genres. Is this a deliberate approach by the company and if so how does it influence your creative processes?
That was exactly the main intention when I created Black Crow Miniatures. I look to develop a miniature range that combines historical or realistic concepts and details with fantasy characters. Sometimes the the line between them will distinguish clearly and others they will be more blurry.
We produce fantasy miniatures at scales 1/10 and 75 mm and we try to give them a serious look, but at the same time we want to develop a more artistic range with our own designs. The painting style is restrained, sober, with few colours and not much intensity, maybe closer to historical miniatures but the characters are always original and clearly those that you could find on fantasy role-playing games, comics, or books.
Our logo has this dual character too, a Black Crow native and the bird itself.
2. As an incredible painter anyway, what made you decide to start Black Crow?
I think that I am a restless soul. All of my life has been influenced and dedicated to the pursuit of artistic related and creative processes, either as drawing or painting. I studied architecture and I am familiar with artistic activities and projects.
When I decided to create Black Crow Miniatures on the one hand I considered that I wanted to go further along my journey as modeller and at the same time I needed to provide what I didn´t find in the market as a hobbyist. On the other hand, this work satisfies me; I think I couldn`t develop a mechanical job and feel free at the same time.
At this moment I am happy doing this and I look forward to develop the whole process (design, illustration, sculpture and painting), although this will be possible only in one or two miniatures per year.
3. Who comes up with the initial ideas for new projects? Is it an organic process between you and the rest of the team?
I assumed the artistic management from the beginning because Black Crow is a personally created project, carried out jointly with different freelance friends and collaborators. Everything starts with a huge amount of sketches and ideas wandering around my head that take shape in pages and pages of different notebooks fulfilled with drawings and notes. Inside of them you can find all that I would like to see converted into miniature, all the models I would like to paint and store in my showcase. Some of these original ideas progress and finally take place to be developed.
Once the concept has been clearly defined, Guillermo works on it and resumes all the small ideas and details on a beautiful illustration that follows the style of the range. At the beginning it´s only a rough work in blue, we need to see if everything works (pose, proportions, details, character) or if it needs to be improved. Once everything is right, it is time to work on the final image.
Depending on the sculptor characteristics, sometimes this whole process is not necessary, because an accurate reproduction of the illustration is not needed. As an example, Romain is, in a few words, a “free” sculptor with strong personal style. I like to give more freedom to those artists that are more creative and do not need a final illustration. In these cases (as with Morrigan) a few drawing made by me and some reference for the equipment, pose, etc are enough.
4. It’s been quiet for a while and you mentioned a new figure release is imminent, can you give us an exclusive sneak peak??
Things go slowly, but some miniatures that are now in progress will be released during the next months. Maybe the next one will be the dwarf that appears on the banner of the webpage since the first day or maybe a second 75mm, but I can´t tell you anymore at this moment.
Lucas Pina and Romain Van den Bogaert will sculpt more miniatures in a near future, but there will be new collaborators, all of them first-line sculptors. Moreover, this year you will be able to see my first sculpture for Black Crow Miniatures.
5. Our hobby is awash with cool figures and busts, a renaissance within our hobby, what are the traits of Black Crow that you feel will enable you to survive in the market, when figure companies seem to come and go??
The main exe of the brand is the design of our own original concepts. We will try to create our personal vision of classic concepts related with epic fantasy (elves, dwarfs, orcs,…). This allows us to avoid copying works made by other artists, but it also involves a risk. We need to connect with hobbyists and their preferences but we want to do things which fill us at the same time, but to reach a balance between these facts is not always possible.
There are four references available at this moment, so Black Crow Miniatures is a brand in evolution, growing day to day. We have been well received, with a very positive acceptance until now. However in my opinion the best is yet to come. We will be there offering more miniatures as long as people want to buy and paint them.
6. Are we likely to see you in the Uk soon, what about Folkestone in September?
Folkestone is, together with MSS, the European reference in miniature shows at this moment. I would like to go this year to both of them but I will only go to MSS as a hobbyist. As explained above, Black Crow Miniatures is in development and we need to settle and create a solid foundation before start going from place to place. We will probably travel to the most important shows at Europe next year, in order to show our products. Undoubtedly Folkestone will be among the selected destinations.
Thanks for reading
So there we have it, hopefully this has given you some food for thought about what your next project may be and I will definitely be looking forward to seeing Isidro at Folkestone in Sepember!
You can check out their releases and special offers HERE!