Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

At JBWID, the new millennium (yeah, yeah...) begins with an exciting picture of my posh new painting "station".


Deja Frickin' Vu!

Relax... Even though new material is scarce, I'm not going to subject you to that article again. Instead of taking a new photo, I decided to reuse this one for illustrative purposes.

While I was waiting for some putty to cure, I decided to look over the ET head I made last year. It's sort of like an archeological thing, where time between completely severs your connection to a past project. The magical Optivisors proved to be a real eye-opener: I figured out that I was pretty wasted when I did the rushed paint job, and just didn't give a damn. The basecoat was pretty uneven, and I hadn't put much time into blending anything. In other words, it looked like crap under magnification.

The Mattel Cleo puts this into perspective. First, as a home-brewer, you shouldn't anguish too much over the fact that you can't duplicate some of the really fine detail that a factory can produce. It's clear that factories can produce crisp lettering finer than any consumer-grade printer (or your paintbrush) can produce. I'm thinking of McFarlane's X-Files FBI badges, but it applies to things like Cleo's eyelashes and the pupil detail. I'd originally used a decal for ET's eyeballs, but have decided that they don't pass muster: They were too muddy and "soulless", whatever that means.

Why fight it? The nature of home-brew is its individuality-- all the imperfections and quirks. That's also its strongest point. Factory mechanical operations have only simulated soul. The machines don't care how something looks overall. They do their pre-programmed job, incapable of stepping back to evaluate how the thing actually looks. The human touch is more impressionistic, responding to the overall effect instead of whether a line is crisp and of uniform density (unless you've got a mechanical mentality).

The "stylization" of factory dolls is the result of the simplification of the factory production process. Just as a bitmap image has far more information-- noise and otherwise -- than a vector image, a home-made item has more "information" than a factory-produced one. Therefore, it's possible (and more natural) to achieve a greater degree of "realism" at home than in a factory.

I'm not saying that ol' ET here is a masterpiece of home-brew realistic impressionism (As usual, I'm not finished-- I stopped to write this article. nyah, nyah ;^) However, to achieve the effect of detailed eyelashes when you can't produce perfectly uniform and microscopic lines requires a bit of fuzzy impressionism. Instead of crisp lines, you rely on blending differing densities to simulate fine detail.

(nb: In the past I've used Pigma Micron pens to try to get some of this detail. When they're working well, they can produce pretty thin and uniform lines, and some people may find them easier to use than brushes. However, if they're not working well, they can be more infuriating than a brush which goes dry as you're painting a stroke. They also lack the tactile responsiveness of a brush, which lets you vary the width of the stroke. So where's the artistry in that?)

When brush painting with acrylic, you've only got a few basic elements to deal with: the pigments themselves, their initial density, the thinning medium (water), and your applicator (brush). You can use other modifiers like retarders and gels if you choose. However, the interplay of these basic elements gives you a really broad palette for producing realistic effects.

The pigments can be blended to achieve gradations of tones to simulate shadows and highlights. The thickness of the paint affects translucency/opacity, and this can be used to blend and simulate detail. (You can even use thick paint to build up texture.) Examine a bitmap photo under magnification and you'll see that there are very few (if any) sharp lines. The point is, you don't need microscopic sharp lines to give the impression of sharp-lined detail.

It all comes together on your brush. While you don't have to have a perfectly maintained sable brush to get good results, it's imperative that you know your brush and the loading qualities of your paint. Depending upon what you're trying to do, you should recognize:

  • when your brush is too loaded with thin paint, before you apply it to the surface. If you don't it will run all over like a 'mofo, going everywhere except where it should be. That is, unless you're trying to do a wash effect.
  • when your brush paint is too dry or too thick to be able to produce the effect you want. Unless you're intentionally drybrushing, skips and streaks are usually not a good thing.

It's generally best to put several thin layers down to build up opacity, rather than to do it all at one time with thick paint (unless you're trying to hide pinholes or other imperfections: It minimizes the chance of leaving a brushstroke texture, and gives a more blended appearance. Also, it helps to have a light basecoat when layering thin paint-- drybrushing is just the opposite.

I usually test the brush right before painting a stroke on the model by doing a test stroke across the back of my thumb (hey, it's the closest thing available). This unloads really thin paint, and gives me an idea of how the next stroke is going to go down. This is perhaps the only part that experience plays-- you have to know how to load your brush to get a desired effect.

The other factors which go into it are having good lighting, a good pair of magnifiers and a steady hand (I always hold my breath while pulling the trigger).

Happy hunting! (The beer's in the back.)


One for the road?

Costuming this figure is a weird problem. Sure, you can use any exotic & random costuming idea that pops out of your mind. Sometimes interest in a particular costuming challenge is the reason the project. In this case though, the focus has centered around the figure's head and the real-world personality it purports to represent. That's some heavy baggage, even if you try to ignore it. It means that she's not going to be decked out in grungy space armor, jungle fur, or stuff like that. She just doesn't look the part and it's hard to reconcile Reality with those images. A modern or historical route would seem more appropriate.

Having gone over and over all of this heady stuff, I came to the conclusion that the translucent accordian pleated scarf looked right on because it shows her nipples (without being too blatant). It would be a shame to mangle the scarf, so it just gets a single closure point in front. Simple, huh? Sometimes simple is better. It's another way to show a lot of skin (vs. another skimpy bikinied figure). As for accessories, I suppose she could use a garterbelt, fishnet hose & heels?