Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Bruce's Scots

I'm posting a few more views of my Scots army, which depicts the Bruce's force at the time of the Battle of Bannockburn. Here's a shot of the Bruce's division, containing Western Islemen and lowlanders.

I use one unit of mounted knights.

Here's a unit of borderers...

...And here's Wayne Richards, visiting from the UK and fielding my Scots against Chris Buckley's excellent English at our annual WAB tournament to benefit the American Cancer Society. This was a historical match-up and grudge match. I believe the Scots managed a close win here - not that I had a vested interest in the outcome. ;)

My Scots

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scarab WWI Italians

The project I'm currently running is a company of Scarab's excellent WWI Italian infantry figures. Sculpted by Robi Baker and offered by my friend Rob Broom's company, Scarab Miniatures, these models debuted last year. I got started on them a few months back and I'll show how I started the project and how its progressed. My gifts as a photographer are meagre, so I hope I do the models, and my paintwork, some justice.


I start, as always, with black primer over the figures, which are mounted on their bases and flocked. I prefer black over white because it gives you ready-made shadows to build up from, and although dipping is very popular right now as a means to finish a lot of models quickly, I don't like the effect, and I'm also not very good at it. It always looks like the dip color makes the whole model look brown. Frankly, I prefer to have colors that pop, or at least stand apart from each other, even if they're dull colors.

As you perhaps can see, I use epoxy putty to blend the figure's molded base into the broader plastic or card bases that hold the models, and then use white glue to apply the sand flock over the epoxy putty.


Here's a shot of how I set up my three Fiat Ravelli machine gun teams. The epoxy putty has been molded with a sculpting tool to create the rocks that Italians used to inadequately shield their guns and poor trenches on the Isonzo River front. Austrian shells just turned these rocks into deadly projectiles, but the Italians were never given enough tools or adequate equipment by their high command to dig trenches in the rock of the mountains.


This is how the guns look after priming, and after having applied the first uniform coat, which is a combination of Valejo Wolf Grey, Black and German Camo Green. The flock has been built up through successive layers of scorched brown, dark earth and bonewhite, blended with a brown wash. This base is by no means finished, but its a good spot to stop and to begin to paint the rest of the model. When I finish the models, I go back to the flock with a final drybrush application of dark earth and bonewhite to finish the base. Then, if needed, grass flock will be added as a finishing touch. Also - the barbed wire will be finished, new in some areas, rusted out in others; the weather conditions on this front were horrible, and the fighting was so static, that rust seems to be the order of the day.


The next step is to apply dark flesh to all the skin areas and build the skin up through several layers. I'll update you on my further progress in a few days.


En avant!

Once more into the blogging breach, dear friends.

I'll be using these pages from now on to post on this luddite's progress on gaming the old fashioned way. Whether you call it kriegspiel or tabletop miniature wargaming or - as my wife calls it, with a slight double-entendre "Playing with your little men" - its basically toy soldiers, and its been an obsession of mine for as long as I've been able to paint.

Here's an example of my Bannockburn-era Scots army, using mostly Perry Brothers designed Foundry Medievals with a few E-bob character models and some Essex thrown in to fill out the field. I think this is my favorite looking army and I hope to post a few more, better pictures soon.

Here's Sutherland's division, with a few highlanders thrown in:
My Scots

I've also got a few shots here of my late 15th Century Italian Condotta, with figures from Games Workshop's underrated Dogs of War fantasy range, which with little modification are great historical figures, also designed by the Perrys.

cannon 1

cannon 2

Here are some trouser companies of pikemen:

Pikemen 2

Pikeman 1

Some light infantry


And finally, a company of janissaries from my medieval Ottoman army


Next up - I hope to post a few more pictures of armies that I've finished (or nearly finished - are they every really finished?) over the years, and I'll be updating you on some ongoing projects, including Scarab's excellent WWI Italians designed by Robi Baker, Gripping Beast's Woodbine Design Company WWI Ottoman infantry, and Crusader's excellent WWII French infantry.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Not posting

It's wonderful to not have posted here in awhile. I haven't missed it, and the anxiety I always feel about writing - too much like work except that I don't actually enjoy it the way that I enjoy work - is no longer weighing on me.

I've taken down what I think is every link to my blog. I hope no one can find it.

Blogging, this kind of free-form personal blogging, is dead and thank goodness. Its not interesting to me to read anyone else's; why in the world would you want to read mine?

Even typing these three short paragraphs has given me a little shpilkis; I'll be going now...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Imaginarium of Dr. Gilliam

On Saturday, my wife and I went to the Sunshine Cinema to see "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus". We had a lot of holiday movies to choose from, but most look flat out BAD and we love Terry Gilliam's work.

He's often accused of being excessive, but that's one big reason to go see his movies. I want the excess: with excess, there's a spectacle to be seen, and "Dr. Parnassus" doesn't disappoint. There is an impossibly remote and yet, immense monastery, a tawdry yet fantastic traveling theater that looks centuries old, and extended scenes that take place in the "Imaginarium" - a dreamscape that's set off - though not well-controlled - by the imaginations of the souls who enter it. All this is a visually fascinating treat, and the movie looks and feels unique.

Where Gilliam really IS guilty of excess is in the script department. Scenes take place that set up the action admirably, but the film often returns to expository storytelling. It's totally unnecessary. One reviewer noted that Gilliam throws you into the action with the first scene; he does. Why then does he return to tell you more about the background? We get it.

Once "Imaginarium" gets going, it really goes and pulls you along. With a plot that involves wagers with a derby-wearing devil, an imperiled family, a shady and mysterious stranger, and rich ladies lusting after spiritual fulfillment, Dr. Gilliam is like Dr. Parnassus's storyteller; he has to keep spinning his tale, or the world will collapse. He's a good spinner.

There's a haunted quality to the film that's clearly intended - and one that isn't. Heath Ledger as Tony is the one of the three main characters in the story. He drives the action forward, though we don't know until the climax what his motives are. By that time, Ledger is gone from the movie.

When he lost his young star, Gilliam finished the small number of un-shot sequences - unfortunately, they are key scenes - with different actors. The explanation for why Tony has a different face is plausible - in the Imaginarium, people look the way YOU want them to. The device works, but ultimately it reminds you that Ledger is dead and every mention of mortality - an important theme in this film - has a discomfiting edge.

Christopher Plummer hands in a wonderful performance as a boozy, decrepit Parnassus that put me in the mind of King Lear. He's an actor that seems to truly inhabit his roles more and more. Tom Waits as Mr. Nick is a scrupulously fair scoundrel. Waits is not just underrated - he rarely seems rated at all; but his concert and album work is so character driven, that it never surprises me when he turns in a great performance like he does here. He's understated yet seems to be having more sly fun than anyone. The model Lily Cole as Parnassus's daughter looks like a doll's head sewn on a gawky body, but she's quite good and perfectly cast. Verne Troyer, who'll forever be known as Mini-Me, is the best he's ever been; he understands the style and he keeps the pace up.

Heath Ledger is harder to assess. His arrival on the scene as the victim of a failed murder attempt is unsettling, but his magnetism wins you over. In the scenes where he takes on the role of Parnassus's carnival barker, he's persuasive, appealing, and ultimately, wonderfully insidious. That his performance leaves you wanting more is probably the saddest thing about this meringue of a movie.

Yes, it's flawed. Yes, it's Heath Ledger's last screen work. As long as you go in knowing that, you'll find it's really a touching little story in a huge, fantastical universe spun out of one of the best imaginations to ever work in film.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Apple Circus

We try to hit the Big Apple Circus as often as we can, because its the big local show, its a non-profit that does good work in the community, and it employs great circus acts from around the world. Ringling has always felt too big and impersonal - and I can only take Cirque de Soleil's Espirantu-esque commentary so often.

This years show is a jam-packed two hours that nonetheless feels shorter. Consummate entertainer Eddie Cantor used to say, "Always leave 'em wanting more", and the Big Apple's directors take that advice to heart.

Highlights include a dog act we always look forward to - a little short this year - that finds its actors by rescuing strays at animal shelters (bravo, Big Apple). The act includes Russian cradle aerialist Regina Dobrovitskaya, who in her other turn has nothing but a bolt of purple cloth protecting her from a drop of more than seven stories, and she wows the audience. The Long Twins - contortionists from China - somehow wriggle in and out of tin tubes no wider than a small dinner plate; what they do looks horrendously painful, but they also make it look easy.

Other standouts include the Curatola Brothers (acrobats from Italy), the Aniskin Troupe (a Trapeze family from Russia) and Picasso, Jr. (an AMAZING ping-pong ball and plate juggler from Spain). The rest of Big Apple performers hit the same high-degree of professionalism and polish that just throws you back in your seat and amazes you. Ringmaster Kevin Venardos - whose father and sister I know very well - makes a great successor to founder/ringmaster Paul Binder, and I hope he stays with them for a long time.

Final note - Barry Lubin as Grandma the Clown is just wonderful, as always, and the star of the show is Bello Nock. Bello was called "America's favorite clown" by Ringling for the years he was with them, but he's not a clown so much as a one-man circus. He never gets too obtrusive, but he can do it all, from playing the fluegel horn, to trapeze, to bungee, to trampoline, to a ridiculously scary daredevil act involving two rotating circles - Wheel of Steel - that reach fifty feat up into the big top - he and his partner run inside the circles, outside the circles (!) and fly off them (!!!) weightless into the air up at the top of the tent. Frightening. Seventh generation member of an old Swiss-Italian circus family, Bello's 13-year-old daughter has joined the troupe this year. It almost sounds like one of those circus stories you hear when you're a kid; "But doc, I AM Grimaldi"!

I always loved circuses, there's something miraculous and mysterious about them, and I always feel like I'm being allowed to see something rare, being let in on a world that's a little bit removed from the rest of us.

So go - you'll get in the holiday spirit because you'll feel like a kid within two minutes of the band starting the opening march.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sesame Street

I was one of those kids who was just a *little* too old for Sesame Street when it debuted in 1969. I didn't see it all that often, so when I watched it with my kids a few years ago, I saw a lot of really funny things for the first time.

I always enjoy it when I come across one of the things I missed, like this cameo by Smokey Robinson - which my friend Kateri Hunter posted earlier today.