Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Using Brass Etch - KV-1s Workbench

Hi folks, I was working on the T-70 a little while ago, glueing little bits of carefully bent brass etch into place and realised that I had never actually talked about how to use the stuff! Fortunately I have a Soviet armour addiction at the moment (can quit any time I like, ok? OK?!) and so the beautiful Hobbyboss KV-1s Ehkranami on my workbench would form a nice test bed for a basic tutorial.

Now most brass etch is things like the above, very, very thin components that can't be made strongly enough in injected plastic. Compare the scale thickness of these components and similar things on the Leman Russ. I will confess that that is not a fair comparison as the Russ has been designed to go together easily and withstand the rigours of rough wargaming handling. The KV-1 here has been designed to be an accurate scale model that can also be used for wargaming. If you're careful. But this is what I am really liking about building my Bolt Action collection, there is the option for some really, really nice scale modelling as well as a nifty wargame. Most projects will never need more than the above, but the scale-modelling bug is contagious and the temptation to take things further is very real. I'll caution you that if you are the sort of modeller who rages at a part that doesn't precisely fit (been there) the next products miiiight not be for you...

The part in question is engine intake grills, you see Hobbyboss have helpfully modelled louvres leading into the darkness of the engine. This is odd though as the kit part that covers them is completely opaque plastic. On the T34-85 kit the grills were fairly straightforward and thus included on the etch sprue from the get go. On this tank (the only KV-1 I'm likely to have so wanted to go large on the modelling) I'd need to replace them with aftermarket etch if I wanted them delicate and lovely.

Hauler (along with Eduard and loads of others) make a bewildering array of enhancement products to make the injection kits more accurate, or a different version, or just more characterful. It's easier to do this in scale modelling than in sci-fi/fantasy modelling as no-one owns the design of a 70 year old tank. Anyone can make a KV-1. Parts for a Stormraven are more tricksy. Anyway, lets get on with tutorial flavour stuff rather than musings. There is nothing, nothing in the world that pings off and gets eaten by the carpet monster like brass etch. It's the combination of stiffness, springiness and extraordinary lightness that allows etch components to seemingly defy gravity with a sad little "ping" noise never to be seen again. To prevent this, simply stick some low-tack masking tape to the back of the etch sprues. That way when you cut through the attachment points it can't go anywhere, delicately remove the parts from the tape with the knife and you are good to go. As you can see from the middle image I do this even with the really, really simple components.

Once you've got the parts cut out they often need to be bent into 3D shape. Handily, this kit needed both square bends and rounded shapes so I could show you a lot. There are some magnificent tools designed to assist with this process and if you are working in 1/35 (54mm to us wargamers) I'd really recommend them as trying to get a straight edge bend on a six inch long bit of etch is beyond tricky. For little 1/48 (28mm-ish) scale you don't necessarily need them (I don't own any). I just use two single edge razor blades. These are really, really useful tools anyway and come in massive boxes for not a lot of money so you can always have a sharp one. Lay one razor across the line where the bend will go. Press down and it clamps the part down. Slide the other razor under the part and line them up. Then lift the underneath one and it will neatly bend the part into a perfect angle. Word of warning, measure twice, bend once, if you need to straighten and re-bend it will snap.

If you've never needed tweezers before you will need them for this. You just cannot do this with fingers along. For this project I needed another three semicircular supports gluing on along the frame. The easiest way to do this is tip a little blob of superglue onto a bit of scrap plastic and then holding the part in the tweezers run the edge to be glued through the blob. This controls how much superglue goes on. Get it in place, let it set, then put a dot of thin superglue on the part and give it a sharp puff of air, this will disrupt surface tension and capillary action will distribute the superglue along the stuck edge. Make sure you run a bit of paper underneath before you put the assembly down again to clean any excess otherwise you'll be shaving it off the table with that razor. Once all the supports were glued I turned my attention to the grills.

If you need to get a nice rounded bend, just find a paintbrush with an appropriate diameter and gently smooth down the part over it. Go for slow, smooth gentle bending, don't do it all in one go as you don't want to get a sharp edge in your nice gentle bend. For this kit, the front edge also needed to be pressed flat to fit (this bit was just impossible to photograph). Keeping most of the grill on the paintbrush, press the edge flat against a flat surface with the razor. Once that was taken care of I also needed to flatten the edges along the length of the guard. I put the grill in place so that the supports would keep it in shape and then flattened the edges with the razor. Glue into place and it's a win.

Once in place the difference is clear. Or it might not be. Frankly, this is one of those things that is just for me rather than because I think dozens of people will go "oooh you can see through these!". Most people will never want to do this, plastic is more than enough. I'm just enjoying myself - thus suspecting a slight masochistic edge to my modelling - and thought I'd share what I knew. If you want better info on this kind of thing then you need to plunge in to the pages of magazines like Model Military International (where I learned) and similar publications. There you will find people who want to make sure that there are the right shape, size and number of rivets on a tank. Products that work like a waterslide transfer to make weld seams. It's a magical world with a lot that we wargamers could learn from. Just take it easy on the delicate brass when making a wargaming model, thin brass antennae, while beautiful, will just get destroyed.

And there he (to Russians, vehicles are "he", even ships whereas to us they're "she", just one of those things) is in all his glory. Hobbyboss have knocked this kit out of the park. Do yourself a favour, zoom in at the fenders under the turret, drink in the detail. Can't wait to paint this fella!

Hope you've enjoyed this, I've shied away from work in progress stuff before as I've focussed on the end result of the painting. Do people like this? Do you want to see more like it? Quite happy to do build logs as well as painting. Thoughts? Stick 'em in the comments, I do read them all.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Wyrd innit?

Hi folks, quick update for you today with the latest of the commission stuff to be finished (there's been a lot of assembly and other un-photographable work lately). A feral-world Wyrd:

I can't tell you who sells this (anyone enlighten me?) She is an Impact Miniatures Theja Doris, from their fantasy football range (thanks Christopher Sheets). Client had assigned this to the pool of random imperial agents as a Wyrd psyker. I can see why, it's debatable what else it could be? I sometimes think - and I'm afraid ladies that this is a problem mostly with the female figures - that sculptors just stop thinking on certain figures. This one had clearly been sculpted to be alluring but what else is she? [edit: turns out she has interchangable left arms including one holding a football to throw, how anyone thinks that right arm is "about to throw" is beyond me a little but hey ho!] However, she does make a more than passable psychic, from the passive pose probably a telepath subtly working her puppetry into the mind of an unwilling dupe rather than the more "Blaaagh!*" type of psyker.

But enough about the figure, painting! From the get go I knew I wanted to use Dwartist's lovely skin tone from his Hasslefree 'Giant' piece. Go check it out, you will not be sorry. My version of this boiled down to Vallejo Burnt Umber as a base coat, highlighted with Val Beige Brown, glazed down with Agrax Earthshade and rehighlighted with the Beige Brown. I'm pretty sure that by varying the starting point and shading that between these two colours and the Caucasian flesh tones already available I can do a fairly large array of different skin colours. Exciting! I do now know, however, why Caucasian seems to dominate the painting world, it is really, really hard to photograph subtle dark skin tones. I had to do a lot of jiggery pokery with levels and colour balance in photoshop to get this model looking even halfway as good as it does in real life. I suspect I will improve with practice. For now, tricky.

Shame-faced apologies for the horrible noisy image. Must improve my photography

To emphasise the "I'm totes a psychic" look I decided to paint the eyes in a faint turquoise glow. Usual method of layers of very thin washes for the cast out light with a strong colour on the eyes highlighted to very nearly white. You can also just about see here that the lips have been glazed with Carroberg Crimson in order to give them some definition. All in all a quick, fun figure. The client and I had discussed some Day of the Dead style body paint (google at your peril but some awesome work) for her but looking at images of the style, it's strength is all in the fine details around the large areas of white and this just vanishes at 28mm scale (or needs Golden Demon level chops which ain't me I'm afraid, sadface) so we figured let the clean lines speak for themselves. Until next time folks.


*Blaaargh! evidently refers to any sort of psyker who just fountains energy at people. Definately a legit term. Yup.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Teeny Tiny T-70 (Bolt Action)

Once again: Privet Tovarishchi! The mighty bear of the Soviet army have another tooth with which to grip the throat of the fascist grey wolf! The mighty... what? It's not, in any way mighty? Oh, well... the plucky T-70 light tank!

annoying "shinyness" in all these photos, actual tank much more matte.

The T-70 was one of a whole line of Soviet light tanks, it was first made in 1942 and replaced the T-50 infantry support and T-60 scout tanks. This is actually the T-70M variant because the '70 had a nasty habit of exploding due to it's engine configuration. Not long after the T-70M was replaced with the T-80 the Soviet Union abandoned light tank production all together and replaced their role with armoured cars while focusing on medium and heavy tank production. I think the T-70 was unfortunate in a way because it was developed at the time when the T-34 was king of the battlefield. A medium tank with the performance and speed of the light tank will always draw uncomfortable comparisons and the '70 just wasn't up to the job. It didn't help that the tank could literally only fit 2 crewmen so commanding an engagement was all but impossible for tank commanders who had to focus on gunnery. Anyway, enough history (more here), on with the show!

The first thing to note about this kit (the MikroMir 1:48 T-70) is that it is tiny, it feels like a 1:72 kit in many ways. In the photo above the T34-85 looks enormous compared to the '70 despite it being far from a big tank (wait till I break out the KV-1 or Maisey brings the Tiger). I should confess, at the time of assembling the kit I was ready to turn this article into a symphony of frustration at this kit. I hated assembling it. Lousy instructions of the mislabelled parts, "lets mash 12 steps into one, they'll figure it out" school; soft details on hard brittle plastic; unnecessary brass etch components (every ridge on the turret is a piece of brass you have to fold) and the worst track run I've made to date. All told on and off it took about eight hours to make. Approach this kit with caution, "Made in Ukraine" is unfortunately not a mark of quality it seems. That being said, it is the only (to my knowledge) 1:48 scale T-70 kit on the market so I feel fortunate to have one available at all.

Despite all that grumbling? My hate for this tank vanished under the first spray of primer. The various components were unified and the tank emerged. I had also by then done more research (seriously, to find out where to fit the rear road wheels, the instructions did not show it...) and discovered that some of the features of the kit that looked properly rough were accurately representing the tank! It's build quality is terrible! Not surprisingly, for Soviet armour, painting proceeded in exactly the same way as the T34-85 kit. Vallejo Cam Olive Green, highlighted by adding Green Grey, shaded by adding black. Tracks were painted in Vallejo Track Primer and Ammo Track Rust, the rims of the wheels in Ammo Rubber & Tires. There really isn't much else to the normal painting (Soviet armour is seriously easy to paint, "any colour so long as it's green!"). From then on it's all weathering.

Weathering was - again just like the T34-85 - just Ammo Enamels loaded onto a brush and then blown off onto the model with bursts of air from the airbrush. Starting with the lightest, and the greatest coverage, and working darker and darker for fresher and fresher splashes. I dampened the upper surfaces of the tank with odourless thinner and then ran the lightest earth colour into the creases, panel lines, around the bolts and anywhere else that dust would gather. Did some streaking anywhere that rainmarks would form and that was that. Last two things to mention are markings - again, hand painted by the crew so just a freehand "51" and a "For Stalin!" on the side - and the exhaust system. I decided that the crew had recently had a new unpainted exhaust fitted but the pressure of the conflict led to the tank being thrown back into service with no extra paint (there are stories of the tank factory in Stalingrad literally rolling off the production line, unpainted, covered in welders chalk marks and being crewed and driven straight into the conflict outside). As a result, the exhaust, which are all cheap metal, rusted fast. I wanted to play with the ammo rust colours and they are fantastic. Really good for the "jeffrust" stippling thing. I started from a German Camo Black-Brown basecoat and worked up.

So a fun paint job on a really, really hellish build. Shakes out as a fairly enjoyable tank. No idea how it will fight on the table, but I'll let you know. You see this is the first step of a Tank War army (list above) designed to reflect roughly the proportions of different models of tank in the Soviet Army, i.e. mostly T-34's with a big KV-1 and a little nippy T-70 for scouting. Two lethal squads of SMG armed tank riders to sweep aside the opposing infantry round it out (great help not having to have separate transports for them and it's very Soviet). I know we'll be facing a Tiger at some point... eep.

That's all for today tovarishchi, keep the vodka handy and your gun oiled for winter is over and spring will bring the attack once more!


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Painting for a Living – Part Two

Come here for Part One

This has been rather a long time coming, writing wise. I think mostly because I was trying to do too much with too little. I wanted to write advice for potential fellow travellers on this wonderful road of painting. But truth be told. My business didn't really work (I am back "in business" but only for raising investment for other schemes and a bit of pocket money, it can't support me). I am not really qualified to advise anyone! Instead I thought I would offer my thoughts on one of the reasons PVP never really got off the ground as a full time venture and something that others need to consider. Pricing.

Editor's Note: This article might seem like a whine, it isn't, I've loved my work. Consider it more of a cautionary tale than a complaint. Read to the end and you'll see what I mean. Also, others will have had different experiences. I'd urge them to share them. It's a cool job, be nice to find the formula that works :)

Pricing for painting services is really One Of Those Things. You are trying to sit in the sweet spot of a curve between what people are prepared to pay and what you are worth. I'm afraid to say, with few exceptions, it will have to trend toward the prepared end. There is a good reason for this. The market is kinda split into two halves. The premium end where Golden Demon winners and the like live and the budget end where the basecoat-drybrush-wash brigade dwell. I was trying to operate in a medium ground between these halves. Better quality than the budget but cheaper than the premium. The problem comes when you start doing armies and the costs mount up. Even the boldest customer will baulk when you say you want £400 for 20 models and I suspect, rightly so. Lets consider a case study:

Why Badrukk? Well, one, I love how this model turned out. Two, he's a good example of the character work I do. Three, he was done on a mates-rates basis for a friend so I can talk conceptually about the pricing without making anyone feel uncomfortable (definately not my intention). I used to have characters as £30 a model. That was three times the cost of the model in the first place. It seems like a lot. It's actually nothing at all. Let's work through it. This model took the best part of two days to paint. Lets say 12 man hours. That might be under-selling it but it'll work for the purposes of this exercise. Now lets consider an appropriate hourly wage. Well, lets set aside the concept that it has taken 25 years for me to get to this level of painting. Most jobs with 25 years experience are paying a hell of a lot more than painting (consider a music teacher, something I see as comparable in terms of the creative-with-a-lot-of-time-becoming-expert stakes and check out how much they charge an hour). Instead, let's just take the living wage which in the UK is £7.85 an hour giving you about £15,400 a year. Hardly mega-bucks but better than minimum wage. Feels right. Now multiply that £7.85 by 12.

I'll help you out Mulder: It's £94.20.


That's nuts. I wouldn't pay it. Not for one model. Never mind that it would probably round to an even hundred once postage and materials (the cheap bit of this weirdly) are included. It can get even worse when you do a unit:

That unit took me the best part of four days to finish. They're a pain to do, even the shields alone took a huge amount of time. Four days, that's £251.20 for a unit of 30. £8 per model. Now that seems more fair but when you add it up and it becomes £250 odd... well, that makes people baulk a little. By contrast I can do 50 Night Goblins in about a day and a half. More like £1.88 a goblin and the same £94.20 as Badrukk alone cost. It makes it impossible to offer a consistent part rate so you have to negotiate every commission individually which can make people suspicious that you are trying to rip them off. Worse, sometimes what should have been easy - those Longbeards above - can suddenly turn out to be a horrorshow of ultra detail and finicky brushwork. You quoted the client a price that would pay you for a days work and it took you four. You just quartered your income. 

Don't forget that you are competing for these commissions, almost exclusively online. Out there there is the budget end. People offering flat rates of £4-5 per model (what I started with in order to compete). That is what you are competing with. There's no way you can earn any fair pay painting to a high - but not super-high, Golden Demon prestige-bringing designer-label-pricing-justification  - standard for £5 a model. So you end up in a weird hinterland where you end up with a few customer who like you because of the results they get and a lot of drive by clients that you can't bring in because of pricing. For interest, this blog tracks unique visitors as well as crude page-views. In the time PVP has been open I have received getting on for 35,000 unique visitors (and I love you all) generating an eye-watering 275,000 hits. From this I have generated just three clients who I didn't know before. Granted, they are enthusiastic clients. But I am not overflowing with work. 

So what to do? Honestly my advice would be pick one end of the market and target it. If you have serious Golden Demon/Crystal Brush/Euro Militaire winning cojones then go straight for the Premium end. Estimate carefully with wriggle room for time and just straight up charge what you are worth. If you don't, my advice is to do what I could not. Swallow the pride and pitch for the budget end. If I found spraying a basecoat, doing one drybrushed highlight and a wash satisfying then I could easily make a comfortable part time living. I don't. I can't. That's why PVP doesn't really work. But you could! The only thing I would charge and abdure you with is the following:

Do not, DO NOT bait and switch. I see it all the time. The painting service page is all beautifully painted examples of their premium level work (of course, you want the page to look nice) with just one picture of a unit painted in the basic scheme (and frankly a little more work) on the payments page. I have seen examples of work from some of these services and am really not impressed. I could teach people how to paint to that standard in one hour. Did so, for years (ex-GW staffer). Don't do that. Be up front. Be honest, you are trading people time. You are for the people who can't be bothered to paint and aren't fussed about the quality too much. Don't make people think they're getting one thing and deliver another.

There. Lecture over. No more didactic commands from me ;)

I'll leave you with a few final thoughts, some cross pollinate with blogging:
  • If you are considering painting for a living, consider whether you can afford it. It will be a year or more before clients really notice you. Even when they do you'll be only earning part time salery. Don't do it if you're looking to support family and home on this alone.
  • The first year is networking. Go everywhere. Register for every blogroll, find every directory, drive eyeballs to your site. Offer tutorials, offer advice with a link back to something useful (DON'T spam just the link). Site traffic does come. It just starts slow until eventually something goes what I call "Wargamer viral" as one of the big sites links to you. From this traffic comes your customers.
  • Have your own hobby. It'll generate interesting content for the page but...
  • Do not waste money on things you are not interested in just to show you paint them. I did Flames of War models, Warmachine models, all sorts. Number of commissions generated? Zero.
  • Do not try to predict what the internet will like. I have failed hopelessly. Projects that I thought were winners didn't register, some things I thought were routine went through the roof. Throw everything against the wall without ego or expectation and see what sticks.
 When you do get clients:
  • CONFIRM what they want, how they want it on which models. Take photos of the models as they arrive, tag 'em with numbers and confirm with the client which models need what job. It sounds daft but there is a lot of misunderstanding possible with email. There is nothing more embarrassing for a "pro-painter" than to spend days working on something only to mix up which were supposed to be blue and which brown (real world example).
  • Consider taking daily progress shots and either sending them to the client or posting them on facebook or whathaveyou. It makes the clients feel involved with the process, generates excitement, content and keeps you aware of your rate of progress.
  • Make suggestions. The client is hiring a professional, if you think the colour scheme will clash, mention it and offer an alternative. Make it clear that it is entirely their choice but they may not have realised that there was a more attractive option.
  • Don't do volume discounts, it's tempting because people are used to buying things that way but your costs are your time, you can't make them lower by clever bulk ordering.
  • Enjoy it. This isn't 9-5 in an office.
That having been said:
  • Do not paint from dawn to midnight. You WILL get an RSI. I did. 

Who knows, maybe this will help someone. Otherwise it'll give you a view in to what it is to run one of these things. I'll say again, my business didn't work, there are reasons for it! If you can avoid them then you might well do better. In the mean time

Happy Painting and