Saturday, November 7, 2020

Fairytale Peasants: Levy of Women

 This post is a bit late in coming, but I'd like to share some photos of my most recent addition to the line of fairytale peasants. It's a unit of women who have taken up arms. Perhaps they stormed the local armory and are revolting against a local king? Maybe bread prices are too high? Maybe the forces of darkness and doom are on the march and humanity is desperate and called upon women folk to fight along side their men in defence of their realm. Maybe your town militia is egalitarian and you need some women for its ranks. Without further ado, pictures!

The inspiration for this unit was the storming of the Bastille and the women who marched on Versailles as well as Jeanne Hachette. Hence their ragtag appearance and mismatched weapons. But, they also had to fit into the medieval german aesthetic that I used for my other fairytale peasants. I have also sculpted an ahistoric shield for the unit that matches the fairytale vibe of the range so far. So the poses that are armed with only an axe or sword are intended to also come with a medieval-looking shield. 

Next, a look at coming attractions

My next addition to the range is a set of characters: a witch, wizard, princess, and prince. 

The witch: she will be getting a point with-appropriate hat. She is posed as if casting a curse or sprinkling some ingredient in front of her. 
The wizard has extra long and pointy shoes. He will be getting a feather on his hat too. Otherwise he is a very standard wizard. 

This is the princess. She is posed like Princess Leia. 

The prince is posed as if he is startled and reaching to draw his sword from under his cloak. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

John Pickford Giants

Of all ye wicked creatures, there is none so vile as ye Giant. He lives to grind the bones and tear the flesh of man. As cruel as he is stupid, and as stupid as he is ugly- mayhem and destruction are the one desires of his wicked heart. 


-Monstrous Beasts and How To Avoid Them, By J.C Roaring.  


FEE, FI, FO, FUM! I smell the blood…Ahem. Sorry about that.


These Giants are OLD SCHOOL. Proper, dim and violent thugs who can’t wait to grind your bones to make their bread.


At around 70mm (or 2 ¾ inches), these are GIANT models! (literally in fact.) and will tower over the enemy infantry.   


With 6 heads, 3 bodies and 6 weapons, you can make 108 different combinations! Giving you a varied and characterful force.    


Lovingly cast in solid metal (just like the models of the good old days), these guys will take centre stage in any collection and are perfect as the centrepiece of an army of chaos, orcs or goblins.

Or, maybe even a force of pure giants! They are also perfect for RPGs when you just need a big, boss monster to terrify the party.




For just £45, you get all 3 bodies, 6 heads and 6 weapons. Bargain!

More photos of the greens. The Metal parts are classic GW C28 parts which these giants are part compatible.  The metal parts are copyright Games Workshop 


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Progress on our Fairytale Germans

Brief update from the workbench. Below is a photo of the finished archers. They have 8 poses. 5 in firing line poses and 3 other poses. 

Next, we have the start of the halberdiers. These poses are bit less varied than the archers. The intent is to portray a sense of aggression - so each pose telegraphs advancing. This choice was made for two reasons. First, halberds are less of a defensive weapon compared to pikes or spears. Second, these models will be equipped with armor and plummage to suggest perhaps they are well paid mercenaries or perhaps professional standing troops for a principality. Therefore they would be better motivated or better trained than the spearmen militia.

As always, constructive comments and criticisms are welcome below :)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Material Culture and Sculpting

In this blog post we are getting a bit academic. We're going to dive into the anthropology concept of Material Culture and then look at how this concept might help us be better fantasy miniature sculptors.

Material Culture is a concept from anthropology. To study material culture is to examine the artifacts from a culture with an eye to what those physical items say about a culture. Objects within a given culture can tell us a lot about people in two senses. The first sense is very concrete - how many of an object do we find, in what contexts, geographic distribution, what does it tell us about their production techniques, how they allocate resources, did they trade, were they at war, etc. This first sense is akin to the types of deductions Sherlock Holmes might make. We find many weapons -> they likely put great value on war and security. We find their objects spread very far without evidence of settlement -> they likely traded.

The other thing that material culture can hint at is the worldview of their creators. Physical objects often bear allusions to mythology, theology, social order, or speak to their cosmology and understanding of how the universe functions.

However, most relevant for our consideration as fantasy miniature sculptors is the way that material culture is used to identify cultures. The spread of artifacts of a given type are used by anthropologists and archeologists to describe the movement of cultures over time and the change in cultures over time. An example of this that is perhaps known to our readers in the UK is the spread of the "bell beaker culture."So called because of the spread of stylized pottery beakers sharing similar appearance over much of western Europe. This material culture largely tracked with the spread copper working.

Another example, and perhaps most useful to our discussion, is the La Tène culture. The La Tène culture is most known for its association with celtic culture and the very unique curvilinear patterns. What is most striking about La Tene culture is not only its distinctive aesthetic but also how that aesthetic was applied to every aspect of life. Unlike the bell beaker culture that focuses on a nexus of artifact types around a common type of pottery, La Tene is a material culture that is repeated and embellished on all manner of objects. We see the celtic swirls iterated on the hilt of swords, reflected in leaf shape of the blade.

We see it continued on the boss of the shields
the decoration of helmets,
metal drinking vessels,

 stone statuary, etc etc.

One can look at a La Tene artifact and say "I know what people made this." There are many other material cultures that many people are casually or loosely familiar with like "ancient greek", "egyptian", "ancient chinese" etc. The idea is that there is a kind of unifying aesthetic meme that took hold over a time and place and reproduced iteratively across most of their artifacts. In the modern day we have many coexisting material cultures that swirl together and iterate in different ways. We also have material cultures that come to retrospectively define eras. For example when we portray the "60's" There is a material culture that many of us imagine to reflect the spirit of the times. Our cities are often mosaics of building styles from different eras.

When it comes to sculpting minis most of us are engaged in designing material culture without knowing it. This can lead unintentionally to very cohesive imagined material cultures but also chaotic ones that are harsh and incongruent. A lot of game design, is the creation of material culture. For example many games strive to create clear and distinct material cultures within their games so that factions can be quickly distinguished at a glance. Humans in Halo are characterized by flat surfaces and familiar gray/camo utilitarianism, whereas the covenant are round and curving purple with energetic blues. Similar design choices are made in many games like the command and conquer series, star craft, war craft etc. We also see this being done by successful miniatures companies. Each faction of the 40k universe is a study in material culture. We see use of angles/circles/curves, form, iconography, and textures iterated within each faction.

Consider the Tau faction. [I am not a 40k player, I just think this is very illustrative.] Nearly the entire faction can be derived iteratively from the basic Fire Warrior trooper. There are 4 design elements that we can see throughout the rest of the range: 1. Their helmets, 2. The circle with the line through it on their guns, 3. Their thigh armor, 4. Their shoulder pads. It's very clear how the helmets, the circle element, and the shoulder pads are iterated. [Snips taken from GW's webpage]
The thigh armor, I think, is the most interesting element because it pops up in weird ways. It's very obvious when it also appears on all of the mech warriors in the design of their leg armor. But it also pops up on other vehicles. The Piranha uses the thigh armor design on the nose of the ship.

On the Hammerhead tank, it appears between the cockpit and the turret.

On the razorshark, it appears on the top of the hull behind the cockpit.

The crenulated motif ties the range of miniatures into a shared material culture.

This means when we decide to sculpt a series of miniatures the objects that we sculpt on them form their material culture. What does their clothing look like? Their weapons? What types of weapons? What types of domesticated animals? What do these choices say about the models, collectively. Like computer game factions, we should seek to find unifying uses of form that suggest that our model share aspects of the same material culture. Some factions might even have sub cultures. For example the Skaven in Warhammer have four subfactions. As a whole the Skaven have a uniting material culture of symbols, weapon and armor shapes, and other items. But each subfaction introduces its own permutations of the larger material culture. For example the plague monks wear  robes and are covered in unnamable diseases. The mechanical Skryre have ramshackle devices that are scored with dark runes, have exposed gears and coils.

For my gnomes I consciously try to iterate off of older gnomes I have already sculpted. I try to create common artifact tie-ins or cues that they are part of the same larger gnomish culture. For example most of my gnomes wear tunics with belts that are all done in the same fashion. Most hats fall into a small range of styles but with the shared commonality of being long and pointy. Swords have shared hilt and pommel designs. Woodland animal motifs are used. The goal being that people can look at my gnomes and say "they all belong together."

Material culture gets more interesting though. We, and people who might purchase our miniatures, also exist in a world already inhabited by many overlapping material cultures. This presents an opportunity and a potential pitfall. The opportunity arises in the use of affordances. Affordances are a concept from User Experience or User Interface design for computer programs. An affordance is an non-explicit cue to others of the function of an object. For example in a game we might see a choice between playing a big bulky character and a lithe tall character. Without any words describing their in -game stats one might infer from the character design that the bulky one has many hit points and might be slow, whereas the lithe tall one might be fast with fewer hitpoints. From these details emergent narrative can arise but also implicit direction about how to strategically use the characters. A similar logic can be applied to material culture. As sculptors we can play with existing material cultures our patrons might be familiar with to hint or cue the roll of models or their inclination. For example we know the imperials in Star Wars are baddies because they wear grey angular uniforms with tall shiny boots. We have many different eras to play with that will place our models in time and place. Tricorner hat? American colonial period. Cruciform sword? 1200-1400 AD. Pith hat? mid 1800's to early 1900's in a colonial context. Does your faction like nature? There are a handful of historical material cultures to draw from - celts, Pacific Northwest Tribes, shinto to name a few. Eagle motifs are commonly used to convey authority. Chicken motifs convey a preoccupation with food. Hussar jackets say pomp and romanticized warfare. Bolted metal work says crude mass production. Art Nouveau says bohemian and concerned with aesthetics. But, Baroque says opulence and elitism.  As sculptors we can tap into our audience's familiarity with various real life cultures to communicate what our faction is like and this can let your audience do a lot of interstitial work and fill in blanks and back story with very little effort from you. Just like a vignette or a good pose can cause viewers to imagine the scene and the characters come to life, material culture is another tool to bring life into your models.

Affordances can also be used to tell our audience what material a sculpted object is meant to represent. That is, when our miniatures are cast in metal or resin, all of the surfaces are just bare. The hobbyist must interpret our textures and forms to discern what an object is, and thereby what the represented object is "made of" before they decide to paint it. Often this is easy with textures like wood grain. However, many objects are not clear what material they are "made of." A good example is a mix up between leather, bronze, and iron armor. Material culture cues can indicate to our audience what the armor is meant to be - for example a muscled cuirass says "bronze." Chainmail says "iron." Brigandine says "you thought studded leather armor was a thing, but it's not." Greek Linothorax and Samurai styled armor say "I can be colorful." Alternatively, consider the elves of the LotR films. If one had not seen the movies it would be very unclear what their armor is made of. The metal seems to weave together. Painting one of these miniatures without the cues of the movies, one might reasonably interpret the blank form to be any material - iron, bronze, leather, or even a woven gambeson. These types of material culture considerations can save our audience minor headaches.

All of this comes with a big unseen pitfall warning. The most obvious pitfall is cultural appropriation. This is a big issue, but there are copious articles on the web addressing this issue and as sculptors we have an obligation to be aware of this. But, that's not what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about how the use of existing material cultures can backfire in less obvious ways.

The first and biggest way is when models in a given faction or even a single model present clashing real life material cultures. A prominent example of this are the dwarves produced by Games Workshop over the last 30 years. From Nordic folklore Dwarves are little men in the mountains with renowned metalworking skills. Tolkien expanded on this giving them characterisation that many are familiar with. However, the folks at games workshop pulled these short doughty people in every direction. In the late 80's to mid 90's there were many variants of dwarves. Most centrally there were feudal dwarves, norse dwarves, and imperial dwarves. When these models were arrayed together they formed a mishmash of material cultures that made the armies feel very incoherent. There was a sense of anachronism but also of inconsistent characterisation. The norse dwarves bring images of drinking, ice, longships, raiding, nordic sagas and shield walls. [Snips taken from Stuff of Legends]

Whereas the imperial landschneckt dwarves implied ordered pike and shot, black powder, cannons, and later german folk tales.

These conflicting material cultures made the faction incoherent. We should not be dissuaded from mixing material cultures. Instead we should be very intentional about how our choices interplay and work together.

The next pitfall is when we unintentionally use material culture. For example many people have an inclination to borrow from fantasy tropes and smoosh them together without thinking. Or for example just sculpting a model without thinking about where their material culture comes from. The consequence is that their choices may unintentionally evoke characterizations or anachronisms they simply aren't aware. Another possible pitfall is that your audience is simply ignorant of the culture you are playing off of [however, this ignorance can also be a potent tool, for example the Dark Souls series are known for the mixing of traditional European material culture but interpreted through Japanese designers who inject aspects of their own material culture creating a sense of uncanniness that adds to the games' tension and unease.]

For example the mask on this Chaos Warrior from Games Workshop might inadvertently be interpreted as an old diving suit helmet. More often than not people make simple understandable mistakes.

Okay. I've rambled on long enough. Feel free to comment below and share your own experiences or opinions.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Final Gnome Sculpting Update (for now)

Aaaaaand the villagers are finished! All the gnomes for the KickStarter have been sculpted and neatly tucked away in soap boxes to be shipped to our UK folks. They will be put into the post on Monday. So, for your curiosity I present photos of the gnomes before they were wrapped and boxed. The last time I will see them as greens.

 Here we have the fisherman, mushroom farmer, and shepherd.

 Here we have the knitter, juggler, and cobbler.

The girl, grandpa, and boy with a bucket. 

Finally, the beggar.

All the minis wrapped and snug in soap boxes. Including a handful of non-gnome goodies.

And who's this? Looks like we have an unwelcome and morbid little guest!

For good measure I have sculpted a little gnome plague doctor. He'll get a hat and possibly a backpack. He should get finished by Monday and shipped with the rest. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Villagers 02

I had to take a few days out of town last week. But I am back at it this week. Today we have a quick update on the villager gnomes.

First up, we have a knitting gnome. She makes the hats. I tried to make her hair match the hair of the elder female wizard so that the miniatures across the range have more continuity. 

This is an old man gnome. He's got a long beard, a knobbly cane, and grumpy disposition. 

Goatherd coming along. I'm thinking of giving her a Chullo styled gnome hat. 

This is the mushroom farmer. I am not very happy with how she is turning out. Maybe she will come together in the end :/ It's hard to say when they don't have noses and look like aliens. 

Cobbler is hobbling along. 

Beggar. He's got a bit of work left to do.

I'm not happy with the juggler so far. Maybe he will come together in the end But right now I'm not liking where he's going. 

This one is going to be a fisherman. I am very happy with how he is coming out. His toes are very good. Soon he will get a fishing rod and maybe some other fishing knicknacks. 

This is a little boy gnome. He is holding a water bucket as if trying to help out around the village or camp. I am pleased with how he is turning out. Also! Look how small he is! 

This is a little girl gnome. She is posed as if running. I am also happy with how she is turning out. She isn't quite as small as the boy, but she is certainly diminutive.