September and October have been a couple of busy months at the evil lair that serves as the headquarters of Ice Axe Miniatures, so I’ve been falling behind a little on my writing. However, before it fades too far from memory, I wanted to talk about Sword and Brush 2019.
Sword and Brush is probably my favourite show within driving distance. While it isn’t the largest, it is focused almost completely on the art of painting miniatures and figures. Over the past couple years, they have been incorporating a wargaming tournament aspect, however not much in the way of games I play, so the figure show and the vendors remain pretty much the only draw for me.
And that is more than enough! With over 200 entries, the sheer number and quality of the models on display is over the top. Just about everything on the table is of a high enough quality to at the very least warrant a good, long look, and you could learn a lot just by closely examining some of the models and trying to figure out how the artist accomplished certain techniques or what went into his or her mind with colour choices and light placement.
In fact, I would say that it is almost intimidating going into a show like this and placing your work on the table. I’m not sure what it is – perhaps it is the fact that I have stared at the piece for dozens of hours while painting it, or perhaps it is in knowing exactly what went into it, or perhaps it is just a mix of imposter syndrome and a generic, self-hating artist attitude – but I found myself actually feeling a little out of place with my entries, wondering if I’m not just embarrassing myself by putting my stuff on the table next to some of the amazing models on display.
Some that I would like to give a shout out to are Paul Stockley’s Spitfire Pilot and Soviet female tanker. The Spitfire Pilot won best in show, and between all the straps, clothing, skin and five o’clock shadow, is just an amazing exploration of texture. Kyle Maitland’s “Exit the Actress” showed some cool effects with lighting and setting the stage, plus she had pink hair, which is something I appreciate on miniatures. This pirate shark dude was nice and whimsical, and Philippe Godbout, who I travelled down with, packed a lot of neat lighting and shadow effects into a simple, practically mono-textured subject.
(note: Images taken from the Sword and Brush website, because one thing I learned at this show is that I really suck at photography)
While I had a number of entries in this show, my pièce de résistance (see! All those French classes are paying off already!) was Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni. Boudicca (or Boudica, or Boadicea, or Buddug, or…) is a British folk hero who lived in the 1st century AD who was queen of a Celtic tribe in East Anglia. To make a long story short, the Romans messed with her so naturally she raised an army of over 100,000 Celtic warriors, burned down London, and made Nero consider withdrawing the Romans from Britain before her catastrophic defeat. In short, she’s pretty badass.
The model is a 1/10 scale resin bust from FeR Miniatures, which comes in a few pieces which are not hard to put together for those who are experienced with resin models. The spear and the sword are a little fragile, and while the mold lines are mostly hidden, you may need to do a little work on the one on her right arm. Overall, the model has that great combination of interesting subject, nice sculpt, and wonderful detail on the hair that makes it a great choice.
As for the colour scheme, while I am normally too punk rock to stick to a studio scheme, in this case, I didn’t have much of a choice. Obviously, if one is to paint Boudicca, one has to start with “a great mass of the tawniest hair,” as Cassius Dio put it in her day. Also, since this is a bust, I have to put in some neat textures somewhere, which means some plaid pattern with a lot of green in it would offer both an interesting texture and some nice contrast to the red hair. A bit of blue war paint is, of course, both historically accurate and a good way to make her look tougher. Add an off-white tunic, and you basically have the studio scheme.
Of course, there is more to colour theory and composition than just picking out colours. There is light placement, shadow, and highlight to consider as well. Since she is turning her head off to one side, I chose a primary light source somewhere between the direction of her head and the direction of her body. As for shadow colours, I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately, inspired partly by some pieces I had seen in real life (including a really awesome bust at the Southern Ontario Open that gave me a run for my money for Best in Show), so I tried to incorporate cool, dark colours like Reaper’s Nightshade Purple and Coal Black in the deepest shadows – colours a little more interesting than black.
After assembly, my first step was to give the model a zenithal prime to get a good understanding of shadow and light placement and shoot some washes up into the shadows to tint the shadows blue on most of the model and purple on the cloak. Now, I work best by roughing in all the colours then refining them down into the final product. So, my next step was to lay in some base colours, using my airbrush on the skin and tunic and wet-blending on everything else. The goal here is not to get the smooth, uniform basecoat like Duncan of Games Workshop fame teaches, but to quickly and roughly lay out your colour scheme and work in shadows and highlights.
With the base colours laid in, it was time to take out the nice brushes to paint. I followed my usual procedure of reinforcing highlights, doing blending and glazing to smooth things out, and adding in details such as the eyes, the lips, and the sword. Particularly nerve-wracking was the addition of the blue war paint to the face – the model was so close to completion and I had spent so much time on the skin tones that it was sort of like when you do weathering over detailed freehand; one of those times where you need to get over your fear of ruining something you’ve worked hard on and just paint bravely. So, I’m glad I didn’t let fear get the better of me, because that war paint definitely makes her look tough and badass.
The plaid was a new one for me as well; I started by laying out the pattern, then doing a lot of cross-hatching with a 10/0 liner brush in dark colours to fill in the plaid. Then more cross-hatching. Then some stippling. And some more cross-hatching. And so on. After several layers of cross-hatching and a little stippling, both to get the effect I wanted and to cover up my initial lines to lay out the location of the plaid, I came away with something that I was happy with – something that not only had a plaid pattern, but also had a bit of a rough texture to it. The effect kind of faded out in the back and in the deepest shadows of the cloak which may look like I got lazy, but that was intentional – shadowed areas probably shouldn’t convey as much visual information as highlights. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.
As for that wonderous hair, it was a particular challenge and something that I thought was important to get right. I don’t have a lot of experience painting red hair, especially not at this scale. So, after doing some research, I decided that I would work up from Coal Black in the deepest shadows, into a deep crimson, then a rusty red, then up through some orangey ochres and Reaper’s Blonde hair, and into off-white top highlights. Overtop my wet blend, I layered in some highlights and did some dry brushing and washes to get started. But I was kind of struggling to get it to look right. Even as I went over the dry brushed areas and started painting in the highlights and manually putting them in with the brush, it wasn’t quite looking right. Where I hit the breakthrough was when I decided to kick up the highest highlight using P3’s Frostbite, a very light, desaturated blue which is a go-to colour for certain highly reflective surfaces.
The model was finished with a block of cherry wood for a plinth, and a sign printed off and painted over with inks and washes. So, with her completed, back to the show…
The Judging System
I’ve talked about judging systems before here, so if you want to get some background on this, I have a previous article here. Sword and Brush uses the Open System, where models are awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal based on objective criteria, rather than in comparison to other models on the table.
Sword and Brush only has a few categories, and entrants are required to group all their entries within the same category together. While there is no restriction on the number of entries per category, entrants can only receive one award per category. Generally, this is awarded to your best piece, but if you have multiple entries and there is no standout piece in your collection so the judges can’t decide which of yours is the best, you may simply be awarded a medal for your collection as a whole.
To be honest, I think this is the best way of doing it. The open system fundamentally promotes a healthier attitude towards competition, but it gets critiqued for taking longer to judge and requiring more award purchases. By only judging an entrant’s best work in a category, you can cut down both time and award costs. And, of course, the “best of” awards are done in the traditional competitive style, for people who like the head to head competition.
The Awards Ceremony
So, in the first category, Historical Figures, I sat there, patiently waiting for my name to be called. Last year, I had won a couple silvers and was hoping to repeat that achievement. However, the sense of relief at not hearing my name called for a certificate or a bronze was quickly replaced with shock and excitement when I didn’t hear my name called for a silver either. With Boudicca, I had earned my first gold medal.
The rest of the awards ceremony was a little anti-climactic; I picked up three more silvers in fantasy, vehicles, and fantasy vehicles and a bronze for wargaming unit. I know it’s not good to place too much value on trophies and medals, but seeing all the insanely good models on the tables and taking home a gold made all that imposter syndrome from earlier disappear. While, obviously, I have a lot to learn, it is a nice feeling to know that I can at least mix it up with the best of ‘em and not totally embarrass myself.
Now I just need to figure out how to top that next year…
Bonus Content: Red Haro Ball
I haven’t painted much red. It’s kind of a tricky colour, because it’s so intense it can be hard to fit it into a scheme, and because you need to really master your colour theory to highlight it and make it look good.
So, I decided to rectify that. I had this little Bandai Haro/Ball kit which was kind of cute, however it was a little frustrating because there were a lot of hollow areas that I had to fill and sand. I also added a little greeblification under the one slightly ajar hatch with some styrene and a couple guitar strings. So, after many different colours of primers, paints, and inks, I came up with this little guy, with a primary light source coming from the top front right, a secondary source from the top back left, and some green glow coming from the eyes. Fun little kit, aside from all the hollows on the arms.