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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with a Painter

Earlier this month Drew Olds of Garden Ninja Painting was kind enough to field a series of questions about his experience as a gamer and a professional painter.  Since Drew is the talent behind my Praetorian army I thought that the readers of this blog would be interested in reading about painting from his perspective. As a long time commissioner of paint work I have always been fascinated by those brave souls who pick up a paintbrush for hire.  It is a skill that I admire mainly because I lack the ability to paint quickly and become too attached to my mediocre works to ever part with them (not that too many offers have been made).  It is because of great talents like Drew that I am able to field fully painted armies and enjoy the hobby of miniature war gaming.  Honestly I don't know if I would be as dedicated to collecting and playing with miniatures if it weren't for commission painters breathing life into the bare plastic and metal models.  So, I tip my virtual hat to Drew and the other men and women who so graciously add color to the hobby for those of us who cannot, or will not, do it themselves.

  • How long have you been gaming and what was your “gateway” game that started you down the tabletop/rpg path?
I started out with Space Crusade.  That should date me pretty far back.  For those of you who aren't familiar, it was a joint project between Games Workshop and Milton Bradley featuring marines fighting against "Chaos Forces" which consisted of Chaos Marines, Chaos Orks, Chaos Gretchin, Chaos Genestealers and Chaos Android that looks a lot like a Necron.

About the same time I got the boxed edition of Dungeons and Dragons- the non-advanced version where the core classes included magic user, elf and dwarf.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • Is there a game that you consider “your” game and that you find yourself unable to let go of (even if you no longer play it)?
I met my wife in an Iron Kingdoms RPG group, so I'm very fond of that system and setting.  I'm hoping the new non-D20 version is a fantastic system.  We'll see in August.

Now, if you asked my wife what her favorite game is, I'm pretty sure it would be Orpheus because that is how she was introduced to role playing and gaming in general.  I was glad to see that one come back into print through Drive Through RPG recently.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • What do you enjoy playing right now? 
Well, I've been playing a decent amount of Blood Bowl recently, mostly with a Vampire team.  The game is one of the best simple and elegant rules sets I've played.

I also have been playing a little Malifaux (with a Ramos crew) and Warmachine under the banner of Magnus the traitor.

I have a Movie Space Marines force for 40k -if you know the rules, they're ridiculous.  Oh, and there's Super Dungeon Explore and Space Hulk.

I'm also running a Pathfinder game right now with a "Dawn of Worlds" made setting.

So, I guess that's a lot.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • Are you an “FLGS” player or do you prefer to play at home?
Both.  Now that we have a table and terrain at home, it is starting to make more sense to be lazy and stay here.
  • Do you currently have a regular gaming group?  If so how long have you been playing with that particular group?
Well, the group I have right now I've been playing with for about five or six years.  We tend to have an RPG once a week, an occasional LAN party, and a number of them play tabletop games.
  • Are there any new gaming related projects/studios that you have your eye on?
I'm intently watching the Sedition Wars kickstarter.  Studio McVey has put out some pretty terrific stuff so far, as has Cool Mini or Not.  
I'm also keeping my eye on Relic Knights- I played a demo at GenCon last year and it looked terrific.  But Sodapop has had so much trouble keeping up with their Super Dungeon line that the Relic Knight stuff has been pushed back a little.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • How long have you been painting?
Well, it has been twenty-one years since I first put paint to a mini.  I started out with some lead orks with plastic arms from my local game store and some Monster in My Pockets.  The rubbery plastic of those monsters didn't actually take very well.

At first I was using any kind of paints we had around the house.  I actually used some fabric markers to paint those poor orks.

  • What was the impetus to start Garden Ninja Studios?
When I was in college, I was looking for a job that would work around my classes.  I spoke with someone else who ran a painting studio, but he wanted me to sign a non-competition contract with him that would prevent me from ever working with anything miniatures related again for un undisclosed amount of time.  

The contract wasn't legal (a few other guys took him to court over it about a year later) but I didn't want to get mixed up in that kind of a mess.

The thing was, I wasn't sure what I needed him and his contract for.  So I started my own studio.  I built it up while finishing classes, and by the time I graduated, Garden Ninja Studios was a full time career.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • Is Garden Ninja a full time enterprise or do you juggle another job as well?
This is my full time job.  I schedule eight hours a day for painting commission projects.
  • Based upon the ever expanding gallery on your site it seems that business is good.  How did you set out to differentiate yourself from all of the competition on the internet?
The world of painting studios has a sort of binary to it.  Most studios try to fit into either the low end scale where they'll get paint on the minis for very little, or the high end scale where they'll only paint single miniatures, but at stunningly high quality.

There are only a few that really do high quality work on army projects.  That's really what I set out to do from the start.  Since my schedule started being booked, I stopped taking lower quality projects altogether, and the result has been only more business coming my way.
  • What has been the most difficult aspect of the paint commission business?
The schedule- definitely the schedule.  As the business grew, I went from booking this week to booking months out.  I've had to re-structure the way I schedule my time and projects a few times to keep my sanity.  The current method hasn't had any major problems, though.
  • Are there trends within the commission painting community that bother or worry you?
When I first started up, there were a few clients who contacted me and told me about how some other studio took their minis and then closed shop (keeping their money and minis).  I was really bothered by this because you know for everyone who was burned and willing to try another service, there were ten people who were burned who would never try a painting service again.
  • Have you borne witness to people disparaging the players/hobbyists who contract others to paint their figures?  Any thoughts on why that seems to be a polarizing issue within certain circles of the gaming community?
I haven't seen it personally, although it shows up online.  

To a lot of people, painting is as much a part of gaming as playing the game itself.  I tend to spend longer painting a force than playing it, so I can see how that would work.

The thing is, there are two sides to gaming, and a lot of people want to play the games, and aren't as interested in investing the time it takes to get good at painting.  And that's ok too.

I never try to discourage someone from painting miniatures themselves.  I've seen some studios try to guard their methods like they were trade secrets, but I feel like if you want to paint your own force, more power to you.  If you'd like me to paint it, I'd be happy to help.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • What is a typical work day like for you in the studio?  How many hours a day/week do you dedicate to studio work?
I get to work around nine and start answering emails, updating my blog or posting to forums.  By ten, I'll be at my painting table, where I stay 'til six working on whatever project I have scheduled for the day.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • How do you balance burn out and finding the time/desire to paint and model your own projects?
I don't often get burned out.  My wife makes fun of me because sometimes six o'clock will come around and I'll just swap out the commission project for my own project and keep going.  Sometimes, I'll keep painting through 'til around midnight if the project has me excited enough.

The way I see it, if I want to keep working after hours like that, then I have the best job in the world.

Some days, the projects on my table take a lot of brain space due to complex compositions and such (yeah, John... your titans to that).  So after work on those days I'll play a video game to relax.  I usually won't force myself to do my own projects, so they're never really work.
  • Has there ever been a commission that you have turned down? If so, what were the reasons?
Yes, a number of them actually.  Sometimes a person contacts me and wants a really simple paint job and doesn't want to pay very much for it.  In those cases, I just quote them for the lowest quality that I'm willing to paint (which isn't that low anymore).

Another issue that's come up is the schedule.  I often get requests for cake toppers for people who are getting married in a matter of weeks, and there's just no room in the schedule for it.
  • What would be a dream project that you would like to tackle?
Anything at my highest quality, really.  I just love to see how far I can push a mini.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • Is there a genre or even a specific model type that you prefer painting?  Conversely is there a genre or model type that you dislike?
I really love painting faces and freehand, so the ideal minis let me do at least one or the other.

I think the minis I've liked least have been Battle Fleet Gothic.  Those minis are plenty detailed, but in the end, it is hard to find something interesting to do with them.
  • Your gaming/zombie themed wedding-cake toppers are wonderfully creative and innovative.  Have you been surprised at the response from people regarding that aspect of your painting service?  How did the idea originally come about to create such unique cake decorations?
The idea for them actually came from a client.  He was looking for something special for his wedding, and at first just wanted me to convert a zombie cake topper for him.  In the end, he didn't have much time, and had me paint it as well.

From there, I got a couple more requests for "something like that" and the whole thing just blossomed.  I get quite a few of those now, they could be a business all of their own.

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  •  For any would-be clients interested in setting up a commission, especially for important items like wedding cake toppers, how far in advance do you recommend a client contact you? 
It varies by time of year, but usually four months is about right, but at least two or three.  Because I'm booking my schedule out so far, I can sometimes fit a project into the holes that inevitably appear, but one month is almost never enough time for that.

Photo By: Janci Patterson

Photo By: Janci Patterson
  • Has it ever been difficult to part with a piece of work that you have completed?
Well, whenever I go over to Coolminiornot, the top three pieces in my gallery were all for clients.  Still, it is nice to know they're appreciated.

But in the end, I always figure that if I could paint this once, I could do it again.  Now I just have to get around to painting that Armorcast Warhound Titan that I have in the back room.
  • You have mentioned in the past that your wife is responsible for photographing your work for the website and packing the completed projects for shipment.  Is there anything else she does for the studio? 

Photo By: Janci Patterson
Well, packing and photography are her main duties.  Other than that, she organizes things a lot.  She's the person who created the contracts and royalty statements for the miniatures lines that we've produced (we've done some of characters from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books, Jim Hines' Goblin Quest books, and Howard Taylor's Schlock Mercenary webcomics).
  • As a regular forum browser I notice a rather steady influx of would-be commission painters advertising their services or asking questions about starting up their own painting services.  Since you have successfully run your business for a few years now do you have any advice for aspiring painters? What are some of the major pitfalls you would recommend they avoid?
The most important thing you need to be able to do is paint very well and very quickly.   Those are both very important, and you can't make it without both.

Keep track of how long projects are taking you and make sure you're hourly wage is making sense to you.  If you end up making three dollars an hour, you either need to charge more, or learn to paint faster without dropping the quality.

Photo By: Janci Patterson

To contact Drew and set up a commission please visit his website at:
Drew's line of miniatures based off of Goblin Quest and Schlock Mercenary can be found in his store:
Finally, you can visit his Cool Mini or Not page here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Even Titans Need Hugs

Well, another post in just over a month--I am getting better!

The star of today's posting is a centerpiece model in my Praetorian army and frankly it's inclusion in this blog is entirely overdue.

I am of course referring to my Warhound titan which I have lovingly dubbed "Glory to Sekhmet."   The name continues a theme that I incorporated early on with the super-heavy vehicles in this army all paying homage to the Egyptian warrior goddess.

As is readily apparent, this is not a contemporary Forge World Warhound titan, and instead is the much older Armorcast Warhound which was based upon early artwork for the titan and on the miniature from the Epic scale game Adeptus Titanicus.  Since the Praetorians were released in 1997 on the tail end of 2nd edition 40k, I thought the older titan model was appropriate for the army.  Of course is it much more simplistic than the current Forge World model and lacks even 1/10th of the detail work of a Mars or Lucius pattern Warhound, but what it lacks is detail it makes up for in "old school" charm.  Fun thing about this kit is that the arms are connected by hinged bolts, so the arms actually pivot outward. You can make some funny "arms wide" poses with the model which end up looking like the titan wants a hug.  Plus, the flat open spaces of the hull are perfect for freehand work which Drew at Garden Ninja  skillfully provided.

Between adding chipped and scored paint, 2nd edition style warning stripes as well as murals and army emblems, the titan's normally dull and uninteresting armor was transformed into vibrant eye-candy.

I requested that Drew paint murals on the upper carapace of the titan depicting the titan's battle history.  Since my regular opponent is a Sons of Malice Chaos player, I decided that the titan should have encounters with Chaos.  Of course since it was a titan attached to my beloved Praetorians it's other opponents naturally had to be Orks.  In each mural the titan is represented by Sekhmet herself, the lion-headed goddess of Egyptian myth.  When outlining the details of the murals I drew (horrible) sketches of roughly what I envisioned each mural should look like and Drew filled in the rest with some beautiful artwork.

Here you can see Sekhmet launching firey bolts at an on-coming Ork horde.  In the distance an Ork Squiggoth and Great Gargant brace themselves for the destructive onslaught of the titan's fury.  The style of the mural was intended to be reminiscent of medieval murals which told stories but lacked realism in composition and size of characters, and layout.

On the titan's right carapace the story of battle against the Ruinous Powers can be seen.
On this side the supreme power of the titan's laser blasters are unleashed against the forces of Nurgle.  It is a wonderful scene with the star field interrupted by bolts of lighting as the legions of Nurgle march ponderously to their doom. 

Drew also made a banner for the "Glory of Sekhmet" which is attached to the lower torso.  I requested this because in much of the artwork I have seen of GW's titans there are heraldry banners adorning the great warmachines and I didn't want my own titan to be left out.  Since the hull of the titan displayed the machine's history I opted to have the banner proclaim the titan's name.

 There she is.  The "Glory of Skehmet" stands ready to defend the 77th Praetorian from all manner of nefarious evil.  While I know that the 40k canon places titans under the control of the Adeptus Mechanicus and not in the possession of Space Marine or Imperial Guard forces, I decided to throw the "canon" out and bend the rules in this model's case.  I love how the primary colors of my Guard army make the large Warhound model stand out and since my army is embracing heretical thought with their worship of Sekhmet I thought it only appropriate to go full rebel and make the titan part of the regiment. So, don't hate on me you 40k purists, okay?  These Guardsmen are heretics anyway so let the titan be one too!  Or, I can always fall back on the real-world reasoning of "it's my toy and I'll paint and play with it however I choose to!" ;)

Here are some final shots of the titan to give a sense of scale and some closing comments on the base.

The base is rather simple with the exception of the blown-out Sons of Malice Rhino transport.  Drew and I came up with the idea of the blasted out vehicle on the base and in the interest of thumbing my nose at my friend and main opponent I chose to have the destroyed vehicle painted in his army's colors.  Drew also painted my friend's Sons of Malice army and so he was not only familiar with the army colors but loved the idea of linking the two projects (in fairness my friend's Sons of Malice army also has trophies painted to match a Space Marine army that I own, so this little bit of paint harassment has gone both ways).

Drew did what I imagine is rather simple lighting effects on the turbo laser blaster holes on the Rhino but the effect worked well and is one of my  favorite details on this model.  Look at that metal glow!

And this post wouldn't be complete without some Praetorian shots.  Here are two converted melta troopers probing the downed Rhino for any (unlikely) survivors.

I hope you enjoyed viewing the "Glory of Sekhmet" and as always thank you for reading.  Coming up is an interview that I conducted with Drew from Garden Ninja Studios.  In it he discusses gaming, and more interestingly, the behind the scenes workings of a full time commission paint studio.  I aim to get that posted in the coming week so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lines Overrun!

Where the hell have I been?  The last update on here was well over six months ago!  My apologies, dear reader, I don't have much of an excuse other than the tired cliche' of "real life" getting in the way of my hobby pursuits.  With the usual hubbub surrounding the end of the year holidays I was also in the middle of a master's thesis defense that ate up all of October and November (but, the defense was successful so the time was not entirely wasted) and the beginning of the year was gobbled up by new responsibilities at work, birthdays, of course some minor holidays, and a wedding (not mine). So, while I would have rather been writing up articles for this blog and actually producing some original content like Praetorian fiction long promised in my first posting, I am afraid I was a tad overrun with those other tasks.  

From the looks of things my absence has only helped the traffic of this blog and I am very happy to see some new subscribers.  Perhaps I should stay away longer?  (Joking.)

So, what have the Praetorian 77th been up to all these many months?  Not much actually.  The fine men and women of my beloved Guard have taken a back seat to a budding Dark Eldar army.  But, while in the back seat the 77th was still in the car, moving ever forward to that hazy unknown of being a "completed" army.  The Dark Eldar are also being painted by Drew at Garden Ninja Studios so while I was focusing primarily on the gothy-space pirates I was also sending small batches of new Praetorian recruits to be added to my Guard army's ranks.  One of my favorites from the last few months is featured in the photos below.  She is a female commissar figure produced by Warforge that I am planning on using as a "counts-as" Lord Commissar.  The figure is resin and wonderfully cast that comes with a very lovely (but optional) scenic base.  Seriously, this figure was one of the least troublesome resin figures I have worked with. I typically avoid resin because the dust associated with the clean up is worrisome, but this figure had a tiny bit of excess plastic and the barest of mold lines running along one leg. I think the total clean up time was 5 minutes and that including fiddling with my protective mask.

I sent this figure to Drew and he achieved some more marvelous work (I just love the Praetorian lion emblem on the ammo crate).  The detail on her face is what prompted me to track down this figure in the first place. The icy-calm countenance just embodies the killer resolve of the Imperial Commissariat.

This figure has great natural proportions for the head, hands, and feet, which clash slightly with GW's "heroic" proportions, but considering it is going to be used as a showcase HQ figure I am not worried about her standing out from the normal rank and file.

I haven't had a chance to use her in a game yet, so I am not sure if she will remain a Lord Commissar or just become a regular run-of-the-mill Commissar, but regardless I plan on using her on the game table every chance I get.  

Oddly enough, despite not adding much to the regular elements of my Praetorian army I found the need to acquire three more super-heavy tanks. All of them are Forge World kits and all deserve their own posts so I'll leave this as a teaser for the next few posts I plan to add. However, as a hint regarding one of the designs I'll say this: it is a must have for a Praetorian army.

A while back I mentioned a side-line project I was building and painting myself.  That project was a Blood Axe Ork force.  The Orks are coming along nicely with nearly full squad of Boyz and 3 out of 5 Stormboyz painted.  As a bit of fun I thought I would try a mini-diorama shot of the noble Lord Commissar fending off a Blood Axe assault.  I have quite a few of the Praetorian casualty figures painted up that I plan on using in a few terrain projects I am painting. They really help add character to even basic terrain displays.  I really love the casualty figures for all of GW's armies, and only wish more were available.  There was an Ork casualty sold sometime around 2009 or 2010 on GW's site during the holidays and I am kicking myself for not grabbing a few. If anyone reading has some that they would like to sell or trade please send me an e-mail or contact me through DakkaDakka's forums (user name: DarkTraveler777) or e-mail at:

Anyway, this diorama would be better if I had some Ork dead to throw around, but until I track some of those figures down dead 'umies will have to suffice.

Thanks for reading!

Ork and Forge World terrain painted by me.  Commissar and Praetorian trooper painted by Drew Olds.

You can see why I mainly commission paint work...