“Before the Battle” – PRELUDE
A couple of months ago I set out to make a big piece to bring to the Monte san Savino show. I worked with an idea that had been in my head for quite some time that had never been realised. This is not really a step by step but more of a look at my thought process and the transition from thought to realisation of the idea.
With this piece, I wanted to achieve several things; being a painter and modeller of both fantasy and historical subjects, I wanted to bridge the gap between the two. I wanted to approach my hobby in a more artistic way trying to channel some feelings and thoughts -to say something. It was important to me that this piece was more than just another miniature. Finally, it is also an interpretation of the art of Ian Miller, I remember being attracted to the Warhammer hobby years ago by the weird artwork of Ian Miller, John Blanche and Adrian Smith.
There is this special piece by Miller called Spring’s Bane where we see this classical toy soldier standing with all these monsters coming out of his hat. It can easily be seen as all his bad feelings and nightmares taking on physical form, at least in his reality. I always wanted to do something similar in miniature, not copy the work but make my own interpretation, kind of work within the concept.
DEVELOPING MILLERS’ CONCEPT
This physical manifestation of fear, hate and anger was very much my focus for this whole project, the core of the idea so to speak. It led me to ask questions like what does it feel like right before all Hell breaks loose? What is it like to literally fear for your life? To fear for your loved ones?
We have all had these feelings in one form or another several times in our lives but I guess never as much or as extreme as with the soldier when the battle is about to start… I have not had the experience myself of being a soldier on active duty, send out and everything but I have the deepest respect and appreciation for those who are out there risking their lives. I can only say that I personally fear and loathe war and violence more than anything.
Being a bit of a history buff I can’t help but coming back and examining wars and conflict time and time again it’s where most history happens anyway. It can’t stop being fascinating, but it is a little like poking a bruise, it hurts but you keep doing it anyway…
So the scene was set, I chose Life Miniatures bust “On the Edge of no man’s land” -a Russian WWII soldier praying with a cross in his hand at the battle of Kursk. The bust is based on a staged photo of said soldier, his uniform and weapon are historically correct (to my knowledge at least). He is wearing a necklace with a cross may be unlikely, since he is in the Red Army and being a communist but I guess many ordinary soviet citizens retained their faith in various religions though the system banned them, more or less.
The Model just oozes anguish, fear and desperation and imagine how total fear and disillusionment might drive a communist to seek solace in his former religion of Christianity?
I needed a demon to come out of his head and chose LeBen miniatures’ Xezbeth, a beautiful, crisp and a sculpt entrenched in fantasy, by Benoit Menard. The demon looks much like a Tzeench daemon from Warhammer. That would fit nicely into my agenda of merging fantasy with the historical. One could argue that a more diabolical demon would fit the bust better, if it would somehow tie together with the cross that the soldier is kissing and praying to.
A demon more like the devils in church paintings would maybe make an even more powerful image but I would lose the merging of fantasy and historical; it would probably be seen as a historical interpretation. So I stuck with the more fantasy like demon of monsieur Menard; It was the best choice for my idea of making it both fantasy and historical.
Without further ado I set to work on my model.
THE DEVELOPMENT STAGE
Here we can see a very basic mock up where I work a little with my composition and sort of find out where to place the demon in relation to the bust. This part led me to the next big question which I had somewhat postponed until now in my thought process: How do I actually tie the two figures together?
Something must go on between the two to create a transition from one to the other. Of course this was not something I had not thought of at all until now; I thought it could be bubbles, smoke, some sort of energy… many possibilities, all very insubstantial. I waited until I had the two figures together and sort of played around with their placement, to make a decision.
Ectoplasm! The spiritual matter of the bogus clairvoyants of the early 20th century, that would be it! The very matter spirits are made from, it would sort of ooze out of the soldier, rise up in the air and coalesce into the demon’s form. The soldier could easily believe in such a thing as ectoplasm and those clairvoyants and media, many people did. For him, in his belief it could be real, in his anxious state dream, reality and maybe a good bit of superstition could probably make this vision a real tangible experience to him.
What would ectoplasm look like? There are many fake photos from back then where they had put pieces of gauze in their mouths and sort of dragged it out, it didn’t look too dramatic or convincing. I thought it could be a little like smoke, but liquid at the same time.
Maybe like liquid bubbling and flowing upwards in defiance of the laws of nature. In that way I could lift the demon up over the head of the bust and sort of make him part of the ectoplasm, make it coalesce into the demon’s form and maybe even make some of the demon disappear into more of the ectoplasm…
On the right we can see my work on placing the ectoplasm on the bust, making it form a cloud above the soldier’s head, a little like a thought bubble in a cartoon; this is after all a manifestation of his thoughts. At this point I have drilled a hole through the helmet, through the head and into the body, so my armature would make a strong bond so my model wouldn’t be too fragile.
The ectoplasm would have to be sculpted of course, I decided it would look a little like smoke, a little like bubbles and a little like upwards flowing water. I googled high speed pictures of milk and cream being poured into water to get a feeling for what it should be like. First things first; the building of the armature.
It would have to be rather sturdy to support the demon above the head of the bust, ensuring stability, and it should go down into the body of the bust as an anchor. The model was meant to travel to Italy without breaking and I was painfully aware of how the demon created a high centre of gravity which could easily break off during travel.
I am by no means a professional sculptor, it is something I have only dabbled in a little and I have only ever made a couple of armatures before, those looked like match stick men, this is a totally different matter… It is made of 2mm brass rod for strength with a long piece to anchor it to the bust and hold that together.
I made that zig zag section to make it of centre above the head for a more relaxed and random placement. I soldered everything together and ground down defects and burrs with a motor tool so I could sculpt very close to the armature if necessary.
FINALISING THE IDEA
Here we can see the armature in action. Not so much mock up any more but rather actual construction. Note the demon’s right foot has been cut off. The ectoplasm will come up and merge into the demon’s right leg, it is not yet fully formed. Here sculpting is on it’s way. The grey part is beesputty and the green is Uro.
The Uro is a lot harder to sculpt than the beesputty but more flexible after baking, so the areas where the demon were attached were made of Uro so I could push it around a little, in order to place the demon right. I went for these big lumpy swirling smoky shapes in the Beesputty and brushed with a lot of rubbing alcohol to get a smooth finish though with a little texture anyway.
Now the sculpting is done and baked so the putty is hardened. In the end I used Miliput to blend the demon together with the ectoplasm. There is the big, main piece of ectoplasm just oozing out over his head originating from nowhere in particular, just sort of boiling out of his helmet. Then there are secondary pieces coming out of his right ear and out of his clothes.
If you look closely you will see tiny bits of ectoplasm coming out of his right hand, his gun and left shoulder, they are made of Green Stuff. He himself is dissolving a little into ectoplasm, he might even be disappearing given enough time or at least his ego is going. This also serves to tie everything together a little bit more, the man becomes plasm, the plasm becomes demon, the demon becomes plasm, they are now all part of the same.
The submachinegun has been sprayed black because the outer part is assembled around the barrel, a lovely feature of the kit, but it would be hell to paint if you don’t do it before assembly. Two more angles, here we can see how the plasm sort of coalesces into the demon, it is almost formed out of the thin air.
The left thigh is hollow, I ground that out to make it not fully formed, kind of a horrible experience grinding such a nice sculpt to pieces but worthwhile I think. We get this big tail of ectoplasm slowly coalescing into the demon and more of those little swirlies of plasm like the soldier is dissolving and the demon is forming all at the same time.
We can see the ectoplasm coming out of the soldier’s ear and his shoulder, I made sure to repeat the shape and movement of the plasm even down to the tiny ones made of green stuff, they are all moving in the same direction and that movement matches the dynamics of the demon moving the same way that he is gesticulating. I found it important to do everything with a thought to tying these two very different figures together. They were definitely not going to tie themselves together, they needed all the help I could give.
Now the building was done and it was time for painting. Still many thoughts on making the soldier look historically correct and make him somehow interact with that fantasy demon on top of his head. Or at least make the demon part of him and vice versa.
Here we are early in the painting process. We can see the sub-assemblies I chose to work with, a piece like this is impossible to paint fully assembled though that is what I prefer to do. At least I could work simultaneously on all the different parts, that also helps in tying things together.
I started everything out with airbrush so I could get the basic colours and light situation down fast. It’s got a rather ordinary zenithal lighting rather discreetly applied not too much drama here more like the historical realism. At this point I have started to refine things with brush upon the uniform. I have pushed the lighting a little bit, painted in some details in different shades of green and olive drab creating some more definition added some glazes to smooth things out a bit.
Note the hand, the two outer fingers are much lighter than the other two, that is the shadow of the helmet, as soon as the figure is assembled this will make sense. The face has been roughly sketched at this point the basic colours are present, light and shadows reddish at the cheeks and nose, yellowish around the eyes darker and colder at the chin this is normally achieved using blue but I chose to use the olive green of his helmet and other parts of the uniform.
I’ve also used this green colour in all the shadows of the face as well as areas that would reflect it as the surrounding colour. Still a lot of work to do refining the face but the basic features are there.
The demon and the ectoplasm have got a lot of magenta and purple under-painting with the airbrush, after that a pure white spray from above to create a zenithal lighting. This under-painting will show through anything I do on top of it making a colour harmony and giving it a sort of otherworldly magical feel.
I painted the undersides of the ectoplasm in the same olive green as the helmet (well basically just over spray at this point, but deliberate) to further tie it all together. I’ve blocked in some black on the armour because it is to be painted quite differently from the rest and needs framing.
Here it has been fitted together (no glue) I did that often during painting to check my progress and keep an eye on how my efforts would interact. How would the different parts work with each other. By placing it under a light I could also work with shadows cast from the helmet and also see the demon as a little light source on the bust.
The demon has received some glazes making his skin more colourful and a few highlights as well. Starting to show some details and colour variations on the skin.
At this point I have also been refining the hand and face of the bust with glazes and subtle highlights. Something I would return to, many times during the process rather than being bogged down with painting face for days without any progress on other parts. I mostly prefer painting everything a little at a time rather than finishing one part and moving on to the next.
Now it is really getting somewhere. The armour has been painted in this black/turquoise colour; note the orange gem at the chest that was the plan all along to make this complimentary colour contrast within the armour, I painted this first to see how it worked.
Note how I have changed my mind with the codpiece making it a different colour from the rest of the armour, echoing the bronze colour of the staff instead.
I have glazed the skin a little more on both the demon and the soldier. More brushwork on the soldier’s uniform creating a little more contrast and definition.
At this point I have also started to paint in some texture and colour play on the ectoplasm. At first mainly by stippling on some white paint with a piece of sponge. This created a kind of grainy texture and started to blend the different colours together. On top of that more glazes in purple, green and turquoise I made sure to only use colours I had used elsewhere on the figure. There are also white glazes on the top surfaces to soften and almost entirely fade the graininess.
Here the transition between the helmet and the ectoplasm is way too sharp. Even though I have continued the colours of the uniform up into the ectoplasm, it is just not enough. The shapes work together, I have started to fade the small white bits into the uniform but there is still a lot to do to integrate the realistic soldier bust with the unrealistic demon and his cloud of spirit matter. This integration along with some weathering will be the final steps of the bust. On the other hand the demon integrates perfectly with the cloud, one’s colour continues right into the other.
HARMONISING THE PROJECT AND FINAL TOUCHES
Painting done, now they only need to be assembled. The soldier’s uniform has received final highlights, in many places all the way to white. These final highlights have been painted in a cloth like texture, not that such a uniform is made of a very coarse kind of fabric, it is just a hint of the texture, the feel is there. In this way I have highlighted all outside parts more than the areas that are shaded by the helmet, in this way the demon is illuminated somewhat.
All the areas which got this extra highlight have also been glazed purple in their shadows, these two steps work towards a subtle interaction of the models. The face is done, now much smoother thanks to a lot of glazing and blending, he is paler now, more cold and suitable for the conditions experienced at Kursk.
There are many details added, like textures here and there, stubble and tears appearing from the eyes, these are thin lines of water effect. Note the dark forehead, that is the drop shadow of his helmet, I have painted similar shadows from the straps on the sides of his head, also at his shoulder straps and some other features of the uniform.
The demon has had his final details added and the light effect painted on the staff. I have glazed a subtle orange reflection all the way down the demon’s leg, ectoplasm and the soldier’s left shoulder which also helps to tie the two together. Then there is the dappling of ectoplasm upon the helmet, that makes them sort of fade together, makes the spirit matter kind of boil out of the helmet. I think that works really well towards tying the two models together, I also airbrushed white on the helmets surface towards the ectoplasm ooze so the colours kind of blend together and we get a white reflection on top of the helmet.
I also made that bubbly effect on the shoulders. Finally the helmet got a little rust round the edge and the soldier, helmet included was dirtied up with some weathering powder and mud stains, not too much but enough to give a battlefield feel.
I hope you enjoyed the article, this was my first of the kind. I would like to thank Jay for inviting me to this incredible community website, I think it has found a very important place within the community. Thankyou for reading, until the next time!