This conversation happens about once a month, generally at work or at family gatherings:
- Person: Do anything interesting this weekend?
- Spud: Not really. Mostly just sat at home and sculpted.
- Person: Oh, you sculpt? Neat!
- Spud: Oh, right. Yeah, I sculpt little dudes about an inch tall.
- Person: That’s so cool! Do you have any that I can see?
- Spud: Uh, no.
- Person: No?
- Spud: Yeah, I kind of end up giving away every single model I sculpt. I can’t think of a single one that I still have in my possession.
- Person: Oh. Hmm.
- Spud: Yeah. It kinda sucks. I have some pictures on my blog, though.
- Person: Ehh, I guess…
And then I show them my pictures, but I can tell that they’re disappointed, because that isn’t quite the same as being able to hold the model in your hand.
After a decade of having this conversation, I decided to finally do something about it. That’s right, kids: I am sculpting some models just to keep for myself. And what’s more, they aren’t going to be models for any particular game– I just want to draw a cool picture, then sculpt the character I drew, and then never paint the model, and have all of that be okay.
Since I was making a model just for me, I decided to make something that appeals to my biases. Some of these biases are things I’ve alluded to on the blog in the past– a preference for costumes and armor that make sense, for one. Character designs that reflect and evoke an actual personality and backstory, for another. But while these principles come up fairly regularly in the work I post on my blog, there’s one bias that is a huge area of interest for me that I’ve simply never gotten around to discussing here:
Badass ladies in badass heavy armor.
I try to avoid getting into political and social commentary on this blog. Not because I’m afraid of alienating readers– you need to have readers first– but simply because I consider most controversial issues to be off-topic and irrelevant to what I do. But this particular issue is extremely relevant to today’s project, so I hope you’ll permit me one brief rant.
The representation of female characters in sci-fi and fantasy art (movies, tv, video games, digital art, miniatures– pretty much everywhere) is an utter embarassment. With a few notable exceptions, female characters are relegated to a truly disgraceful assortment of demeaning tropes and exploitative designs. Female characters…
- are almost invariably a minority presence in most character rosters (“Four dudes, and also the girl”), unless the stated point of the game/show/movie is “a bunch of sexy ladies”
- are pigeonholed into a narrow band of team roles (Female fantasy party member? She’s the healer. Female sci-fi team member? She’s the agile assassin.)
- are always young and pretty (Name me ten old man characters in fantasy and sci-fi. Now name me three old women. The second list was a lot harder, wasn’t it?)
- have almost no diversity of body types (Either skinny supermodels, or curvy supermodels, or “athletic” supermodels, which are skinny supermodels with slightly bigger shoulders. Contrast with male characters, who are allowed to be rail thin and bony, or athletically muscled, or absurdly over-muscled, or spherically obese, or anything in between)
- are generally posed to emphasize weakness (inward-turned feet and knees, “can you help me I’m lost” facial expressions) and/or show off ladyparts (bent down to expose cleavage, twisted at the waist to point both the butt and boobs toward the camera, etc).
- are almost universally dressed in exploitative and demeaning costumes whose primary function is to make them appear attractive (exposed midriffs, exposed cleavage, short shorts, underwear-as-outerwear, combat heels, boob plate armor, and so, so many more), as opposed to outfits designed to protect them and enable them to do their job (which most male characters are allowed to wear)
The entire situation is a travesty, and we should all be humiliated to be a part of it.
Alrighty, that felt good.
I care deeply about this issue, but you’ll all be happy to know that the next thing I’m going to say is not “…and that’s why we need to complain/boycott/never play [X]”. Protest of that variety is pretty pointless as far as I’m concerned. The change I want to see is a long-term, possibly even generational matter, and there are only two effective ways I care to act on it:
- Publicly shit on the people and companies who produce demeaning and exploitative art whenever they come up in conversation (which I do, much to the chagrin of the rest of my friends). If enough people heap scorn on this type of offensive design, eventually it might become less automatically accepted.
- Wherever possible, produce positive counter-examples in my drawing, sculpting, writing, and whatever else I produce.
All of which brings me to my birthday project. I wanted to sculpt a cool model, and for me that pretty much entails “ass-kicking lady”. In this case I sort of felt like doing a fantasy model (as I’m still not totally comfortable with the smooth lines necessary for sci-fi minis), so I spent nearly a month doing concept sketches to come up with something that caught my eye; I iterated through styles of armor, types of weapons, and heraldry/theming designs; at the same time, I spent a lot of time on Google Images looking through awesome drawings and minis I found inspiring, and compiling muscle reference for various body types. As it turned out, it was during my search for muscle reference that I came across a person who short-circuited my brain for a moment:
Source: Fit Grills
This lady’s name is Shay Massey, and she’s some sort of… bodybuilder? Weightlifter? Fitness model? I’m not totally clear on that. When I saw her, my honest reaction was to stop, severely scrunch my brow up in confusion, and comment aloud, “I… did not know that there were people who looked like that.” Specifically, I did not know that it was possible for a woman to develop a bodybuilder’s physique without ending up looking like an overcooked strip of bacon.*
[ *To be clear: yes, I am judging these women based on their appearance. But I am only judging the portion of their appearance that they chose to inflict on themselves. I sort of get the working out part, but WHY ARE YOU ALL SO GODDAMNED TAN?! CUT IT OUT! IT’S FREAKING CREEPY! ]
Source: Fit Grills
Despite my “Ineffectual Internet White Knight” obsession with positive female character design, my brain had mostly ruled out bodybuilder physique for the female characters I drew (with the odd exception of Trollkin, who I couldn’t possibly imagine being anything less than beefy) because all of the examples I had ever seen were freaky to look at. I have historically emphasized badassness mostly through strong posing and logical armor design, but admittedly only significantly diverged from “combat waif” body proportions when making my lady characters fat. Until I came across photos of Miss Massey, it had honestly never occurred to me that there was such a thing as a “badass beefy pretty lady**”. I mean, I’ve seen them here and there in art, but always assumed that they were as fictional as Gaston.
[ ** second “to be clear” item: Despite my earlier list, I’m not AGAINST characters of either gender being pretty. And in fact, I prefer my media to tend toward a prettier standard than real life, because GODDAMNIT ESCAPISM. I just ask that there be a balance: some pretty folks, and some less pretty folks, in roughly equal distribution across the genders. Or in other words, WHERE THE HELL IS OUR FEMALE STEVE BUSCEMI?! ]
So, yeah. Once I rebooted my brain from its several-second-long lockup, I stopped searching around for ideas, because I knew immediately what I was going to sculpt. It still took me another week to teach myself how to draw that type of musculature and to come up with the exact getup I wanted her dressed in as she waded through her foes, but from the instant Google Images inserted Shay Massey into my search results, I knew that I would be spending my birthday arraying her for war.
I did some concept drawings to create a character around my newfound muse, ultimately settling on a design the night before my birthday. My schedule for the next four days was cleared of other engagements up to Sunday night (when I had my Pathfinder campaign), with the idea that I could just start working Thursday morning, then plough ahead through Friday and Saturday and then be as close to completion as possible at quitting time on Sunday afternoon.
Since I was going to be advancing the model fairly quickly, I decided to try something I had never done before: live blogging my sculpting process on Facebook. Spud is a very low-level social media user (one blog article a month is hard enough– I have no idea how I would manage to come up with something worth reading every few hours), and generally posts on The Face Books about once every 3-4 months. So, the 20ish updates I posted that weekend ended up confusing the hell out of a lot of my FB friends, many of whom had actually long ago forgotten that I had an account there. 😉
So, since I already have a bit of writing completed on this project thanks to my unprecedented social media blitz, I figured it might be fun for me to reproduce my Facebook updates throughout today’s article. These only amount to a few periodic snapshots, however, and completely skip the intermediary steps; so in between the reproduced Facebook posts, I’ll post my usual excruciating details to explain how I got from one to the next.
Should be fun. 🙂