Every year for Christmas, I pick a few people I know and make presents for them. The list of recipients changes every year, with the idea that everyone I know will get something eventually, even if some need to wait a decade before their name comes up. This is primarily a method of suppressing insurrection against my rule of the local community; I tend to treat those around me as poorly as I can get away with, and they tolerate the abuse in the faint hope that it will all be worth it someday when they are gifted with a small clay man that is different from their other plastic and metal men.
Generally speaking, this involves me sculpting something for each of my recipients that can be used in a game they play. I really enjoy doing this, as each person who ends up on my list tends to play different games and different armies within those games, so this practice lets me spread my wings a bit and work on projects that I wouldn’t have a reason to try otherwise.
Two problems do come up, though. First of all, while these are ostensibly “Christmas Presents”, I think that I have maybe a 10% success rate as far as actually handing finished products to people before year’s end. My October through January tend to be insanely busy with these presents as well as Templecon prep and (until recently) production of models for Christmas gift exchanges and Christmas Thunderdome events and… man, seriously, December is just, like, the worst month for me. And invariably, the items that end up not making the cut are the gift models, which take weeks, months, or (in one particularly egregious case that you’ll be seeing soon) up to three years to actually come to fruition. I used to worry about this a lot more, but my associates are used to it by now; when December hits and I have a better idea of which gifts will and won’t be ready, I’ll simply tell people that they’re on the list and that a gift will fall out of the ether in… some amount of time.
The other problem I run into is that while I really enjoy sculpting models for people, I still kinda HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE painting. It’s boring and slow and I’d really rather spend that time making more dudes. But since most people I know aren’t as appreciative of naked Green Stuff and Fimo as I am, finishing each project up with a rudimentary paintjob is kind of necessary in order for the recipient to enjoy it.
Last year, however, I had a brilliant idea. See, the reason that I need to paint the models before handing them off is that some of the people I want to give presents to are painters who range from “average” to “OMG WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIS FACE”; and as much as they might like the models I produce for them, they might not be as happy with the result of their own brushwork.
And then last year I stopped and thought, “Wait a sec. What if I just chose people for whom that isn’t an issue?” Because while I do mostly know people who apply a “tabletop quality or lower” standard to their work, I also happen to know a small handful of people who regularly produce utterly incredible work that makes me want to harm them physically in a fit of jealous rage. If I selected only from among this small group for my 2014 recipients, I could get away with only doing the fun part of the job and leave the horrible part for them to suffer through!
Three names ended up on my list. In order to make sure that each gift would be something they actually wanted to paint, I contacted each lucky recipient last July and asked each of them to pitch me three ideas; I would select the one I liked best to produce for them, ensuring that there was at least some mystery remaining in the process. The first to be completed was handed to its victim last December, and was he finished painting it in time to enter the result in the Crystal Brush competition at Adepticon in April. However, I’m only getting around to writing it up now because April was another fairly busy period for me (who am I kidding– I’m basically booked solid 10 months out of the year), and it’s taken me this long to find a few hours to sit down and crank out a suitable rundown.
The recipient of this first gift was someone whose work you will all naturally recognize, whether because of this space Winnebago:
Or this naked flying baby:
Or this onion:
These are, of course, only a few of the most famous works of the truly talented and very, very, very French Canadian Guillaume Juneau, whom you may know better by his criminal alias and kinky safe word, Yaum la Machine.
I ran into Yaum and the rest of his entourage the first year I traveled down to Templecon, and since then, we have let nothing stand in the way of our strange and terrifying love. I enjoy running into him every year because it gives me great pleasure to speak terrible French at him and watch him relentlessly insist on veering the conversation back to English to avoid the agony I am causing him.
Also he paints reasonably well.
When I contacted Mr. Yaum to ask for his three ideas, he immediately rejected my proposal, arguing me down to two and a meatball sub. Not wanting to lose any more ground than I had already let slip away, I frantically accepted.
His two suggestions were as follows:
- “Something for Cygnar”
- Chibi Yaum
The first suggestion interested me the most because it was something I was already familiar with; however, with him refusing to provide any more guidance, I was having difficulty narrowing it down to specific ideas. The second pitch was much more specific, but I had never made models in a different style or scale before, so I wasn’t sure how much work it would be to make a Chibi model.
Four months later I still had no ideas for “some sort of Cygnar model”, so I just shrugged and made the other thing.
Normally here I would go into the thought process I went through to design the model, but in truth, it came down to the fact that 3 of the 4 times I’ve met him, he was wearing this hat:
So I drew him, in that hat, covered in Steampunk Things.
And it looked exactly like him on the first try, so I sculpted it.
This was my first attempt at a Chibi mini, so I would need to spend some time figuring out the proportions of this very strange art style in order to rig up the model’s skeletal armature. To help me with this task, I borrowed a Super Dungeon Explore model from Gday and user her as a guide to plot out the anatomical landmarks– top of head, top of shoulder, waist, knee, bottom of foot.
Once I had these proportions, I drew a pair of contorted skeletons within the guidelines. These ended up looking approximately correct when held up against the sample model, so I called them “good enough” and dove ahead.
Using the skeletal guides I’d build, I created a skeleton armature with twisted 20ga wire. As always, this is done by holding the wire up against the drawings and bending them at appropriate points with needle-nose pliers. For more details, please refer to literally any sculpting post I’ve ever made.
Once the skeleton was done, I gently bent it into the pose I had illustrated, with the right hand aiming a make-believe gun and the left hand balancing a make-believe sword on the model’s shoulder.
When I was happy with the pose, I started applying Fimo. As usual, this entails first wrapping the wires entirely with Green Stuff, and then pressing Fimo on top while the putty is still wet.
I generally start models at the bottom and work my way up, so here I started adding small Fimo scraps to form his boots, using a metal hoe tool to press the material into shape and create edges.
Chibi models seem to have a bit of a portly build to them (which I suppose is intended to make them look like babies..?), so I dutifully added Chibi Yaum’s Manly Paunch to keep him consistent with his fellow Super Dungeon Explorers.
Continuing the rough forms, I added some material around the waist and chest to create a waistcoat.
I added lapels to the waistcoat, and then started in with Clayshapers to add some basic cloth folds.
And then more cloth folds!
The model would later end up with a coat covering most of its back, but I like to render the full detail of each layer of my models, as this helps me gauge the bulk for each area of the model. So even though you won’t see it later, I still added a somewhat detailed belt on the back.
With the rough body forms looking pretty good, I started working on the head. Here I’ve put a big wad of putty inside the head loop and rounded it with a metal hoe tool.
I then wrapped the still-soft putty blob with Fimo and started comparing it to my sample model to get an idea of where the various facial features needed to go.
The bottom of a person’s eyes is generally situated about halfway up the entire height of the head, but the SDE chibi models use Anime Baby Proportions, which have the giant eyes starting about 1/3 of the way up from the chin. Using this information, I used clayshapers to press a nose and a trench for the eye sockets around where they would need to end up.
While chibis tend to have huge eyes, Chibi Yaum was going to be squinting intently as he aimed down his gun, so the openings ended up only about as large as a normal person’s eyes.
With the basic landmarks of the face more or less where I wanted them, I started working on bulking out the final shapes. Here I’ve added more mass to the chin and cheeks to create a more rounded face.
Into this added mass I pressed a frowning mouth (because Yaum is a very grim and humourless man) and then curled up a small lip underneath.
I added a bit of material to bulk out the chin and Yaum’s soul patch, and then threw on some really simple cartoon ears.
I have to say, it is WAY faster to sculpt a Chibi face than a normal one. I think the entire thing took me like 20 minutes. 😛
Alrighty, time for the hat. Hats can be a bit challenging to sculpt; the main dome area is usually pretty easy, but if there’s any sort of brim, it ends up being quite difficult to shape; brims are very thin, which means that there’s nothing really holding your work up while you poke at it with tools. Usually I work around this by sculpting hats separately from the body and attaching them later, but here, for whatever reason, I decided to sculpt the whole thing in place.
This brim was probably at the absolute extreme of what I could manage to sculpt in place– any wider and it would have sagged under its own weight.
Once the basic forms were on, I started smoothing everything with clayshapers. The edges of the crown were pressed in, and I did what I could to smooth the brim, though it would ultimately need a second cleanup pass after the model’s first trip through the oven.
A smooth band finished up the hat, after which I went back down to the face to add Yaum’s hair and sideburns. I don’t think Yaum has these anymore, but he did the first time I met him, so they will always be there in my mind.
The hair was then continued on the back.
At this point he had a fairly satisfactory shirt and vest, but I wanted to him to have a cool steampunk coat, so I started adding random panels. I didn’t really have a plan here– I was just adding detail wherever the model seemed to need some.
I decided that the model needed lots and lots of buckles, even in places where they served no real purpose.
I mean, this is steampunk, after all.
As such, the back of the coat was left open, with four leather straps binding the two sides together.
Once I had decided to make him as steampunk as possible, it was just a matter of moving down the checklist; after the needless buckles, I decided to give him a piston-powered mechanical arm. As with the coat, there was no real design here– I just put a hinge at the shoulder and the elbow, and then filled in the rest of the space with miscellaneous pistons and plates.
Four buckles on the back doesn’t seem like enough… clearly he needs them running all the way down his arm.
What are they for?
I have no idea.
Just go with it.
The coat was then brought to the front of the model, adding a bit of volume to lift it away from the previously sculpted waistcoat layer.
It looks like I did a general cleanup pass here– ridges on the coat, waves in his hair, a seam down the leg of the pants, and general smoothing anywhere the model needed it.
The model was looking darn close to finished in most respects after only a few hours’ work, but I still had to build him something to hold in his hands. Let’s start with the sword, shall we?
My process for making melee weapons is pretty straightforward– first, Green Stuff a straight length of wire or brass rod to the lid of a metal cookie tin. The surface has to be metal or wood because it’s going to go through an oven several times; it can’t be plastic or even plastic-coated or you’re going to get some pretty nasty melting and fumes.
Over the putty, I add a layer of Fimo and shape the weapon however I want it to look. Here I’ve built a pretty generic sword, with an IK accumulator on the blade just because. 😛
Once I’m happy with the sword, it goes through the oven (250 degrees F for about seven minutes), and then I peel it off the cookie tin with a knife.
The sword is then flipped over, lightly Green Stuffed back to the cookie tin, and I then reproduce the same design on the other side.
This one ended up looking pretty gross after baking; Fimo turns slightly translucent when it tries, so this is the Green Stuff becoming visible through the layers of off-white clay.
Once complete, the sword was Green Stuffed into place, to await the addition of a hand clasped around it.
While I was waiting for the putty to set, I started investigating how to add Yaum’s glasses. Glasses are really challenging to sculpt, because you basically have three options, and all of them kind of suck:
The first method involves sculpting only the rims of the glasses onto the model’s face. This method can look fantastic if done properly, but the challenge is that the rims need to stick to the model’s face, which looks really strange when the model is turned sideways. This method mostly works for static sculptures that will be viewed primarily from a single angle– see Teddy Roosevelt for a good example– but is less well-suited to a mini that will get turned around.
The second method is just impractically difficult. It was suggested to me by a doll-maker who makes glasses for historical miniatures by twisting tiny copper filaments into the required shape with tweezers and a huge-scale magnifying glass. This woman if f***ing insane and I will have none of her madness in my house.
The last method is what you usually see on miniatures with glasses– you basically just sculpt the flat panel of the lenses, and leave it up to the painter to fill in. The problem is here is that there’s just no way to make these look like a proper set of glasses worn in a natural position; they’re often pushed down the nose to let you see the model’s eyes, but this isn’t how most people wear their glasses, so it looks odd. However, putting the glasses in the correct location looks just as odd, as then the painter either has to paint a glass texture with no visible eyes, or try to actually paint the eyes onto the frames, which just looks like the model is wearing cardboard cutouts of eyes over their own eyes.
It’s f***ing creepy, is what I’m saying.
So, yeah. I’ve yet to find a method for glasses that is both feasible and good-looking, so I opted for the last method; it’s what most miniature sculptors end up choosing out of a lack of better options, and I’m certainly not too good to use the time-honoured lazy shortcuts of my forebears. 🙂
So, yeah. With all that said, let’s put some weird-looking panels on Yaum’s face!
I slid them down juuuuuuuuuust a bit to leave just a smidge of his eyes visible; hopefully this gives the impression of them being lifted slightly off of his face without making him look like a librarian.
There are only a few pieces of the model left to add now. The putty holding the sword in place has set, so I start wrapping a hand around it.
I built a cool-looking two-fingered robot hand to complete the mechanical arm, but I apparently forgot to take pictures of it, so you’ll have to take a look at it in one of the later photos. Sorry. 🙁
The last item to build was the gun. I could have built this the same way I’d done the sword, but I had just been reading a blog article that suggested sculpting weapons on a piece of wire held inside a pin vice, so I decided to take a stab at that method to see how I liked it.
I decided to give Yaum an extremely short snub-nosed slug gun to match the stubby chibi proportions of the rest of the model; here I’ve bent a piece of wire into the shape of the handle and barrel.
Wrap in putty, then wrap in Fimo.
The grip and the bit under the barrel are supposed to be a single continuous piece of wood, so I kept them the same width while the barrel was allowed to bulge out to the side.
I didn’t tunnel very deep into the barrel because the wire armature was in the way; I trusted that Yaum could figure out that he was supposed to paint the end black. 😉
Detailing and cleanup!
Overall I’m undecided on this method. It’s a bit easier to make the two sides symmetrical since I can turn the model over as I work, but the lack of support behind the gun made it hard to keep everything still while I worked, resulting in the slightly wobbly detailing you can see in this picture.
I’ll probably try it a few more times before I draw any hard conclusions; for now, I’m calling the results “mixed”.
The gun was attached similarly to the sword– first it was puttied in place, and then a clay hand was sculpted over the handle.
One difference was that I left enough wire protruding from the bottom to let me run it down into the cork I was sculpting the model onto; this held the gun in place while the putty and Fimo were soft. I definitely liked this method better than my usual “try to get a free-standing weapon to somehow adhere to a tiny hand wire for several hours while everything sets”, so I’ll be reusing this technique again for future projects. 😀
I assumed that chibis would have three cartoonish fingers, but the SDE minis I looked at surprisingly had a full set of four.
I gave Yaum a fingerless glove because I think they look cool.
WITH MORE USELESS BUCKLES!
SO MANY BUCKLES!
And that’s… pretty much it, actually.
The only thing that needed any additional cleanup was the brim; as mentioned earlier, it was too flimsy right now to let me do much more work on it, so I baked the entire model to firm it up, and then came back for a second layer.
…which looked much better. 😀
And here he is, ladies and gents: the tiniest Yaum, in all of his minisculity:
I gave the model to Yaum when I was in Montreal last December, and he seemed to like it; after a few months, he gave it an absolutely staggering paintjob, as he tends to do.
Yeah, I know. I kinda hate him too.
So, yeah. My plan to avoid painting my Christmas presents is off to a good start; I got to do some fun sculpting, and then my commitment to the model immediately ended. It is a glorious arrangement, my friends.
The second of last year’s three models was delivered to its recipient about two months ago, but this particular painter is known at my store for two things:
- Producing utterly breathtaking paintjobs
- Producing around two complete paintjobs per decade
So, you may or may not see that one for a while. 😛
As for the third model… well, that one isn’t even started yet. I have some drawings, but haven’t yet found the necessary month to work on it.
I’m thinking… probably October.
…DON’T JUDGE ME