Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The first squad thus far

I know, I know...  I'm late with an update and I didn't even have the courtesy to do a "sorry, going to be late" post.  Apologies.  Its end of semester for J Term, and I had two papers due this week.  I've got a ton of pictures of 40k stuff I have been working on between reading passages, taking notes, and putting my papers together, and will get some of those up hopefully this weekend.  In the meantime, here is a picture of what the army that I started painting in the last post looks like at the moment. 

Until next time,

David D.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Enter the Ultramarines. Or, how I learned how to apprecaite brush sizes

You can find us at your local gaming store!  But not at model
shop.  Holy moley, model shop owners take umbrage
at even the question of "do you care 40k minis?"  Or at
least the ones near me do. Learn from our mistakes.
Model shops carry MODELS.  We (despite looking
and seeming a lot like models) are GAMES.  Not
MODELS.  Never make this mistake again.

You know, we just don't get the new Joe action figures up here in Minnesota.  I can see pics and reviews of each new wave of figures on the 'Net a good month or two or more before I ever see any of them in my neck of the woods.  Over the weekend, I did a little run through various Targets, Walmart, and today, even a Toys R Us that was near a place where I had a meeting this morning, and the view everywhere is the same.  Not only do I not see any of the new figures, all I see are piles of the previous wave still sitting on the shelves, holiday toy rush over, probably doomed to be there, like the snow drifts, until the snow thaws in April or may.

That is, if we had any snow in Minnesota this year.

Its kind of freakish- we have had a total of about two or three inches of snow total this winter.  Usually, we'd have about five or six inches on the ground right now, easy.  But hey- I'm not complaining.  Less snow means easier driving and less snow shoveling.

Anyway, the lack of Joe stuff has led my eye to wander, and land it has on the Warhammer 40,000 game franchise.

There is a lot of overlap between 40k and action figure customizing.

1. All 40k figures come unpainted and thus, *require* painting.
2. All 40k figures (and vehicles) come assembled and need to be put together, often with xacto knives, files, rotary tools, clippers, and all the other cool little tools used to customize action figures.
3. Military/fantasy theme going on in both places.
4. Neither hobby is gentle on your wallet.

Yeah.  Anyway, my wife's cousin, his wife, his friend, and a few other folks I know play 40k.  I've seen their stuff and it was cool.  I've always wanted to play, and now I've got the funds (although, not really the time) to do it, but what can I say?  Fools rush in.

My spray paint station in my heated and ventilated porch
full of space marine parts getting their primer coat.
I did my first batch of painting these guys last week.  All I got done was the priming step and the first color blocking step.  The army I plan on playing (and painting) is called the Ultramarines, and their main color is a dark blue. 

The nice thing about 40k miniatures is that you can really focus on your technique, because the company that makes them, Games Workshop, does a lot of the creative work for you.  You don't have to follow their guidelines, and many people don't, but it is nice just to focus on one thing at a time.  What I learned this week on the painting front is the key to the different brushes.

Using the right tool for the job is obvious, but not always so when you are in the moment.  In the picture at the top of this posting there are 3 distinct types of models- 10 space marine figures, a walker called a dreadnought, and parts of a transport vehicle that, when assembled, will be called a rhino.  I was painting the largest sections of the figures this week, and thus, didn't need the tiniest brush I had, although when I started painting, that was exactly the brush I was using.  I have, check this, an 18/0 brush.  (thank you, thank you.) for those of you not in the brush size know, that is a really, really tiny brush.  And I was using it at first to paint my guys.  Needless to say, it was taking me about 15 minutes to paint a single shoulder pad of my guys.

Here is how brush sizes work.  Big brushes have high numbers.  Like 10 or 15. Small brushes have little numbers.  Like 1 or 2.  Really small brushes have 0 numbers.  Like 0, 00, 000, and 5/0.  5/0 would be the same as 00000, but its easier to print "5/0" on a brush then all those zeros.  10/0 brushes are meant for fine detail work like one would do on minis like these, such as work on painting eyes, mouths, etc.  I looked at my brush and thought, 'man, there must be a better way'.  So I worked my way up the brush sizes.

I ended up painting the shoulder pads and most of the other "large" surfaces of the figures with a size 2 brush.  2!  It was about 10 times the size of the 18/0 brush.  I didn't have any problems getting paint anywhere I didn't want it, and it saved a TON of time on going back and forth between my paint tray and the minis as I used up the paint on my brush.  I used a 5 brush to paint my rhino.

I also learned that those tiny jars of Citadel paint that Games Workshop sells for its models actually goes a long, long way.  I did one coat of paint on each of my 10 minis and dreadnought, and two coats of paint on the rhino, and I still have paint left.  You can water the paint down and it makes it go even longer, but going by the advice of my wife's cousin, Abe, who is an artist and a graphic designer, I found out you don't really need to water down the paint that much.  Games Workshop does a really nice job of formulating the stuff so it has a good amount of coverage, coating, and control right out of the bottle. So that's pretty nice.

Next up for the space marines is detail work for the minis and some washes for the rhino and the dreadnought.  I have printed out the digital camo stencils I am going to use for the clipper project, and hopefully, will have something to show you there in the next week or so.

Until next time,

David D.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Mythic Interview

Hey folks.  One of the coolest things about this hobby is the awesome people I have met through it.  One of those people is Mythic, a gifted custom artist over at  He gave me some advice on my last project, and I asked him if he would be willing to let me interview him for the site.  He was cool with that, and with no further ado, here is the transcript of the discussion.

Spec-Ops Scarlett.
Custom and photography by Mystic
David Draper: Thanks for taking time out of your Monday night to chat.
Mythic: sure.
David Draper: So Mythic- how long have you been making or customizing custom action figures? Or anything else?
Mythic: That is something of a two-parter.
David Draper: Ok.
Mythic: When I was little, I used to unscrew my Joes and make new ones by mixing parts.
David Draper: Nice.
Mythic: I made a few I still have today.
Mythic: More recently though I started seriously customizing about two years ago.
David Draper: What got you into it two years ago?
Mythic: To be honest, my dad had just passed away and I needed a distraction. I had bought a lot of VvV Joes and found my paints in a box I unpacked and just started playing around.
David Draper: No kidding. Wow.
David Draper: I'm sorry to hear about your father.
Mythic: Thank you.
David Draper: Were you an artist before that, then?
Mythic: My first customs were using the older construction with the rubber band hip joint.
David Draper: Ok.
Custom PoC Kamakura.
Custom and photography by Mystic
Mythic: I have always been kind of "artsy", but never considered myself an artist. I painted Warhammer and 40k minis and have always painted and such, and then got into Photoshop about 10 years ago.
Mythic: My mom always made sure there were markers, pencils, paints, clay and crayons in the house, so we were all encouraged with art.
David Draper: That's really cool. Did you ever study art, so to speak, or are you pretty much just self taught?
Mythic: My last art class of any sort was somewhere around 7th grade.
David Draper: Gotcha. That's about where I am too.
Mythic: I taught myself Photoshop as well as photography.
David Draper: Did you grow up in Arizona?
Mythic: AZ? Noooooo. I was born and raised in San Diego. I moved to AZ about 7 years ago.
David Draper: Ahh. How did you pick up Photoshop? In school, for a hobby, etc?
Mythic: I have always been a tabletop gamer and wargamer. And I wanted to manipulate some images to suit locations and NPCs in some games I ran so I got photoshop.
Mythic: I have done a lot of digital photorestoration as well for friends and family.
David Draper: Very cool. So you're kind of in that professi-amature creative type.
Mythic: I have always been a better writer than anything else.
POC/Battle-Ready Crimson Guard Immortal.
Custom and photography by Mystic
David Draper: And a writer. no kidding. Do you have a website or blog?
Mythic: Kind of.
David Draper: I am looking at your gallery on Hisstank and its impressive.
Mythic: I used to work in advertising, doing ad layouts, scanning images and so forth.
Mythic: Thanks. A lot of my commissions work is not even on there.
David Draper: Is there a place online where people can see your work besides the hisstank gallery?
Mythic: I look at my [Hisstank] gallery now and really see how I have improved myself. I would be ashamed of some my first customs if I made them today at that level. Hehe.
Mythic: The 'tank is about the only place I post. I will have a Deviant Art page properly functioning soon and I have considered a blog. Right now it is just an issue of time.
David Draper: Ok. When did you start taking commissions?
David Draper: And do you advertise?
Mythic: I have been open to them from the beginning and my first commission was very shortly after I started posting on the 'tank and got some exposure.
Mythic: My posts on the 'tank are my only ads.
Mythic: heh.
David Draper: Very efficient.
David Draper: What has been your favorite project so far?
Mythic: Hmm... That is a tough one. I would have to say the "battle-ready" line of figs I have been doing.
David Draper: I'm flipping through the “battle ready” posts of those right now- what is the inspiration behind them?
David Draper: just making them look badass, or something else?
Mythic: Mostly I just enjoy updating characters while still keeping their classic feel.
POC / Battle-Ready Tomax and Xamot.
Custom and photography by Mystic.
Mythic: Here is my view on it:
Mythic: if you do a custom, people should be able to tell who it is of without an explanation.
Mythic: If people do not recognize the character, then you did too much.
Mythic: The PoC line was a good part of the inspiration behind then battle-ready figs.
Mythic: I saw the more cutting edge tech route they were taking and went with it.
Mythic: i.e. Reactive Impact Armor, Jungle Vipers' optical cammo and so on.
Mythic: PoC has more of a very near future feel to me.
David Draper: Sure.
David Draper: Your are a very skilled painter for someone whose last art class was in 7th grade.
David Draper: Do you have any advice for people who are just getting started painting and customizing their own figures?
Mythic: Aw thank you. That was my last class, but I have painted more than a few Warhammer 40,000 minis in my time.
David Draper: Joes seem to me to be much easier objects to paint than Warhammer figs. What armies did/do you play?
Mythic: ((I'll get back to advice in a sec))
David Draper: Apologies for typing the questions in so fast! No problem.
Mythic: Actually, Joes are harder to me
David Draper: Really?
Nightshade (OC Cobra sniper)
Custom and photography by Mystic.
David Draper: Why is that?
Mythic: You can get away with some things at the smaller scale.
David Draper: Huh. I would have thought the tiny details of Warhammer minis would be a lot tougher. Interesting.
Mythic: Essentially, the bigger the thing it you are painting, the better you have to be.
Mythic: The eye will easily note all the mistakes on a large piece.
Mythic: On a small piece, they are harder to see. Hehe.
David Draper: Gotcha gotcha. Interesting. I'm just getting into 40k, and thought the joes would be easier since they have such larger, smoother surfaces. I guess not.
Mythic: I learned to paint figs through painting 40k armies and Blood Bowl teams.
David Draper: What is Blood Bowl?
Mythic: Blood Bowl is an American football game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting.
David Draper: Cool. So it uses Warhammer figures?
Mythic: It uses figs made by Games Workshop, but made for Blood Bowl.
Mythic: You can adapt figs though.
Mythic: I probably learned the most in painting the treemen for my bother's halfling team.
David Draper: What did they teach you?
Mythic: I have never even used a wash before or drybrushed and the guys at the shop were amazed at what I -did- pull of.
Mythic: then I learned about washing and drybrushing. a way to do the same thing I had done but in a fraction of the time. lol.
Rikka Seferis, Mandalorian Death Watch Member.
Custom and photography by Mystic.
David Draper: Nice.
Mythic: I did the treemen by just layering color and then glued in lichen and such to add a 'living' quality.
Mythic: The funny thing is, before I started customizing, I had not painted a single fig in about 10 years.
David Draper: Wow. no kidding.
David Draper: Your skills really are great- it must be kind of like learning to ride a bike.
Mythic: Kind of, but I still learn all the time.
David Draper: What advice for aspiring painters who would like to be able to paint like you?
Mythic: 1) There are great tutorials and the like out there. Check them out. I always do when I see one because you never know when somebody has a better way of doing something or a technique you had never thought of. I am always learning.
Mythic: 2) THIN YOUR PAINTS! I add a few drops of distilled water to my paints to keep them a little thin. They go on better and allow more control. A few thin coats is better than 1 thick one Mythic: 3) Practice with washes and drybrushing. They are two of the most basic techniques that will get you a lot of return.
Mythic: and 4) Use the right brush for the task.
David Draper: Where do you look for tutorials? All over? on HissTank? on YouTube? Elsewhere?
Mythic: Nowhere in particular. There are a lot of great ones on the 'tank. Some 'tankers post them on youtube as well.
Mythic: That is not to say I agree with every tutorial I see. Some people just find a different way than I do things, that works for them. Hehe.
David Draper: That makes sense.
David Draper: How long does it take you these days to do a custom figure? On average?
Mythic: That I really do not know because I am almost never working on just one.
Custom and photography by Mystic.
David Draper: Ahh. ok.
Mythic: I usually am working on half a dozen at a time.
David Draper: Wow. You are busy.
Mythic: I go back and forth between them, letting things dry and so on.
David Draper: Do you have a favorite custom tool in your collection?
David Draper: er, tool that you use in your customs?
Mythic: My fave is my dremel. It is a tool that you do not need often, but when you do need it, you REALLY it. The tool I use the most often though (aside from paint/brushes) is the xacto knife.
Mythic: A lot of tools in customizing are like the dremel. You do not use it much, but they make certain tasks much easier.
Mythic: My main tools are dremel, xacto, hair dryer, hot glue gun, snadpaper/files, toothpicks and super glue.
David Draper: What kinds of paint do you use? Do you have a favorite brand or line, or do you play the field?
Mythic: I use mostly Citadel paints (mainly because I know them from painting 40k figs). But I still have some Ral Partha and Vallejo that I use from time to time.
Mythic: I also mix a lot of colors myself from Citadel paints.
David Draper: Slick.
Chop Shop.
Custom and photography by Mystic.
David Draper: I want to let you go pretty quick, but before I do, if someone sees some of your work and would like to ask you to do a commission for them, what are your rules? Do you do minis and actions figures? Do you do any other work? How should someone get a hold of you?
Mythic: Anymore I do Joes (including vehicles) mostly. I can do dio stuff too. The best way to get a hold of me is through the Hiss Tank or eBay.
David Draper: Ok. what is your ebay name?
Mythic: akilles626.
Mythic: I usually have links to my auctions in my signature for my posts on the tank as well.
David Draper: Ok- good deal. Well Mythic, thanks very much for your time! I really appreciate you agreeing to this interview.
Mythic: No problem.
Mythic: if you have any more questions, just PM me.
David Draper: will do. Thanks very much!
Mythic: Catch you later!

(interview conducted via Yahoo Messenger on Monday, January 2, 2012 and ran from approximately 8:10 pm CST to 9:00 pm CST. )

Monday, January 2, 2012

First Custom Action Figure Complete

New Year is a time for many things.  Resolutions.  Hangovers.  Actually getting some snow in Minnesota for the first time this winter.  And new beginnings.  Which means its time to be done with the First Custom Action Figure Project.

Applying the clear coat.
As I write this paragraph, I am waiting for the sealant to dry on the figure so I can reassemble it.  While I wait, I'll reflect on what I did well and what I didn't do so well in this project.

What I did well.

1. Got a clue.  I wanted to do some custom painting, but I didn't know jack about how to actually paint.  I read some forums, watched some youtube videos, and found several great tutorials, but the problem with that was that most of them assumed the reader/viewer had at least some background with painting.  I didn't, so I bought some books aimed at beginners.  This was a good move.

2. Fully disassembled the figure before I began painting it.  Yes, it took time and was irritating, but it made painting everything much, much, easier.

3. Rotary Tool down the rub zones.  Again, this took time, but I think it was the right way to go, if all of the folks on the internet who know what they are doing are to be trusted.

4. Priming the figure.  Some people do not prime their work pieces before they paint.  Those people are taking the quick and easy way.  That is the path to the Dark Side.  If want are taking the time to actually customize a toy, take the time to do it right.  Primer makes the paint adhere to the object being painted.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I expect my customs to be family heirlooms that David Draper XXXVCII  hands down to his children.  That means I want them to last.  That means I prime my damn figures.

5. Come up with a color scheme before hand.  This was a very good idea.  I knew what I wanted.  That made it possible for me to not second guess myself when I was painting, which was good, because at my beginner level of painting I need to be able to concentrate completely on the actual painting, not on doubts I have about the choice of paint.

What I didn't do well.

1. I didn't know my paints.  Just because something looks one way in the bottle does not mean its going that way when it is applied to a surface.  That's a grade school mistake.  I ended up making swatches of all my paints, but I should have done this before I started.  It won't happen again.

2. I painted myself into a corner.  By painting details like eyes and ammo onto my figure, I made it impossible to paint a wash onto the figure without screwing that stuff up.  Washes are watered down mixtures of dark paint that fall into the recesses of a model and give the illusion of shadows and depth.  I could repaint, but eh.  Now I know the correct order to paint a model (once it is primed) is:

  1. Apply the base coats.
  2. Apply wash.
  3. Apply details. 
I won't screw that one up next time.

3. I didn't layer my paint.  When I started the project, I incorrectly thought the idea was to paint dark colors onto the object first, then lighter colors because the darker colors would show throw the lighter ones.  Yeah.  Not so much.  Lighter colors are painted on top of darker ones so the lower, more recessed areas of a model look darker, which, like the washes, helps give a sense of depth and and shadow.  I get that now.  I didn't when I started this project.

Ok- I think the clear coat should be dry now.  I'm going to go get everything from the porch and try to reassemble the figure.  Through the magic of blogging, you won't even notice the gap of time between when you read this paragraph and the next, even though the next will will be written minutes to half an hour after this one!


Ok.  This is the project that will not die.

All I had to do was reassemble the figure, right?  How hard could that be?

Ha ha ha!  Funny!  Ha ha ha!

These are the joys of doing something for the first time.  Surprisingly long and rather frustrating story short: the little pegs that go in the joints did not want to go back into the joints.  At all.  No matter how hard I pushed, they only went in about half way.  So I had to come up with a plan.  Here is what I did.

Fire it up! Fire it up! Fire it up!
1. Use a hair dryer to heat up the joints and make the plastic nice and flexible.
2. Insert peg.
3. Use my little desk vice with rubber grabbers to CRUSH THE *&^% JOINTS back together.

And this worked great, except for one thing.

THE *&^%^$^%#$ &$^%$#%^_)(*(*$&# vice rubbed the paint right off the pegs!!!!!

So some touch up work was needed.


Talhk, you Svine!  Vee haav your friends in Astreeah!!

Not so much.

In any case, things are back on track now.  As I type this, the second coat of paint is drying on the ends of the pegs viable from within each joint.  I am very happy that I had my little desk vice here- without it, I would have never been able to get those pegs back into their sockets. If and when this phase of the project is complete, my little desk vice is getting the MVP for this inning of play.

I really was not ready for the pegs to not pretty much slide right back into the joints. Sure, I figured I would need to heat the joints up again, but I thought that they would be soft enough for the peg to fit back in, but it became pretty clear pretty fast that this method was not going to work.  Thank goodness for the vice.  Too bad the paint came off.

Enough stalling... I think the paint should be dry at this point (my paint dries in about 20 minutes, and I only needed a bit, so it should be good now.)  Be right back.


Ladies and gentlemen.  It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, the NEW and IMPROVED Kinji "Rain" Shinto, of The Corps.  First a quick run back down memory lane- here is what he looked like fresh out of the package:

From the front.

From the back.

And here is what he looks like now!

Woo hoo!

Yee ha!!



I'm really happy with how this turned out.  I learned a lot of stuff from this project that I will be able to apply to future work.  And it ended up looking pretty good.  I'm pretty stoked right now.

Yeah baby!

This is a good time to mention I could have never finished this project without the support of many people, including most of all my wife, who was nothing but supportive of me spending so much of my free time here in my workshop putting this together.  I would also like to thank Mystic, Numbers, and all the rest of the folks who had supportive comments and advice here on the blog and in the threads on

I had a great time with this project, but I am also glad to move on to the next one.  It is going to be a vehicle.  Alpha class.  I think you know what project I am talking about.  If not, tune in next week at the latest to see.

Until next time,

David D.