Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2003 5:51 PM

fantasy armor female horse doll valkyrie

VALKYRIE 3 (A Slight Return...)



04/05/03- It's been a long time since I've posted an update, and I'm sorry to disappoint: This one isn't particularly dramatic. I'd just finished assembling her battle axe, so I thought, "What the heck..." and braved the drizzle to photo her amidst the recently reconfigured heap o' rocks, which is one of the things which has kept me from working on 1:6 projects.

Working on the Hammered Metal mounted female knight project rekindled my interest in Marx horses. While horses take up more than the usual amount of display space and really do limit the figure's posing options, there are certain figures which just look right with them, and this is one of them. In my OCD quest to get an adequate supply for the future, I shopped Marx Toys for this one (currently only available with blue armour), and bought a couple more on Ebay. I recommend the Ebay route since they're usually cheaper and the reissued horse seems to have some flawed detail, particularly along the mane's seamline. Perhaps deliberately (and of little importance to me), they obliterated the "Marx Toys" TM that's molded on the rear quarter, leaving a blank raised circle. Next up is to fix that kind of stuff, patch the seamlines, texture and paint the beast. I've decided to keep this one simple and unarmoured so that more of the horse is visible.

Part of the experimental focus of this was directed at the saddle, fabricated in soldered copper and nickel plated. It really wasn't much of a question since I'd already done stuff like that (the Transitional Knight's halberd), but I wanted to reaffirm that soldered copper would play nicely with nickel plate on a larger scale. Soldering the unplated "Hammered Metal" copper had been something of a problem since the two colors definitely don't match. Although it's not terribly noticible in the picture above, it worked well enough; the polished copper plated to a mirror shine, and you can see the reflection of her thigh armour in the saddle's side panel. The duller solder joints aren't a big deal; at least they're the right color. I probably don't need to point out the obvious difference between her chrome-painted armour and the real metal plated stuff. I'm very tempted to try electroforming her armour, but I'm not sure how the metal conductive paint would interact with the chrome paint. I definitely don't want to deal with the hassle of stripping the old chrome paint. Anyway, this clears the way for making other knights out of metal, in a more traditional color; I'm not ready to try hammering steel yet.

I really didn't need to make the battle axe since I thought the original spear-thingie looked good with her, even if a little odd. (It was a piece I'd originally made for the "Demon Lord" figure, and I've tried to keep it on life support instead of trashing it.) But damn, I wanted to make a metal axe. Besides, after watching the History Channel's "Conquest" show, I thought that it seemed a more appropriate weapon for her as a kinda "Bra-serker" (sorry). Her armour is of dubious protective value and the sight of her painfully cradled chest decorations bobbing vigorously as she lunged forth with her double-breasted axe would probably inspire a great degree of shock and awe. (I'm only speculating, for this has never actually happened to me.) As we all know, in fantasy modeling it's terribly important that the designs comply with practical, real-world stuff.


04/06/03 ANOTHER HORSE AGAIN, REVISITED- The model horse customizing hobby is a pretty big thing, as evidenced by the number of web sites, discussion groups, vendors and artists that populate the Internet. 1:6 isn't the preferred scale (1:12 and 1:9, IIRC), but that's not an obstacle to doing it in 1:6, since modeling is modeling. The basic techniques draw from the same source, and the things which characterize the formal community of horse modelers are mainly the scales and the accepted conventions of what constitutes a well-executed model. It's actually more than that-- there's the specialized knowledge of breeds and horse genetics, as well as sculpting, re-posing resin models and airbrush techniques. From my Internet research, I've learned that models are graded as "Show Quality" and "Photo Quality", related to the quality of their finish; this has some bearing on the price they command. I'd done this research to get some ideas and direction, but uncovered very little useful information (other than the usual modeling tips and pitches to buy books) for my purposes, and very few high-quality, close-up pictures of models, showing details like texture.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Lacking a pre-defined roadmap to success forces you to use your "horse-sense" (yuk, yuk) and re-invent the wheel, but basing it on the things which you think are important-- versus just doing it the way you're supposed to. The way we approach things in this hobby is actually open to a lot of personal interpretation. There are a lot of 1:1 things that we can't duplicate exactly at smaller scales, so we find ways to represent or approximate it. These often become the conventions that we accept without a second thought. For example, everyone knows that 1:1 clothes don't have the out-of-scale weave that 1:6 clothes do, but we are rarely bothered by that. Molded-on clothes or molded simulations of cloth articles aren't as readily accepted even though they probably better depict the proper scale appearance of 1:6 cloth. I think this is because we key in on attributes that we think are important. It's the properties of real cloth that we like, and perhaps the oversized weave is a good thing because it's familiar and reassures us that it's real cloth. This digression has a vague purpose; to illustrate that how we represent things is not always based on reality, but upon our perceptions and the qualities that we see as important. When I make female figures, I usually give them big... uh, let's not go there. When I think of depicting horses, I key in on their texture.

This would be my third horse-finishing attempt. The first one (in my "Excalibur" project) was done along fairly traditional lines: I cleaned up the seamlines and imperfections and painted it with an airbrush. In my opinion, it turned out fairly well (being a simple coloration job). The second one (in my "Hammered Metal" project) was concerned with capturing some of the texture of a real horse. In that case, it was more of a necessity since I chose to make a black horse. Black-on-black doesn't present a lot of opportunity for airbrush work, especially when most of the horse is covered by armour. During the course of thinking about how I should do that one, I starting thinking about texture: my main complaint about my first horse was that it looked like a painted model horse. I took a cue from a store-bought flocked toy horse which looked pretty good-- they'd put a layer of very short flocking on it and airbrushed it (then screwed it up with funky brush paint on its face). I don't have the means to do anywhere near as thorough and perfect a flocking job, so I couldn't duplicate that even if I wanted to. Besides, I thought a little less would perhaps be better-- my memory of actual horse texture is that the hairs are very short and lay flat upon the skin. So my solution for horse #2 was to put a sparse bit of black flocking primarily on the legs, just enough to give it the hint of texture so that it didn't look like smooth sanded plastic painted black.

I've spent some time thinking about how I was going to do horse #3. The flocking idea was out for the simple reason that I don't have any light colored flocking. Besides, it's fun to experiment with different ideas: You never know if you might stumble across a useful idea. I'd tentatively planned on sculpting the texture by applying a coat of wood filler and texturing it with a brush; the most important thing being to do it in a very subtle way so that there weren't oversized and exaggerated hair details. When I began sanding down the seams, I noticed that the rotary sander with its coarse drum created patches of very fine, directional scratches. We're conditioned to see scratches as imperfection; the ugly first stage of rough sanding, which we normally follow with finer grades of sandpaper until the surface is smooth and scratch-free. However, if you don't look at it that way and actually revel in it, the resulting texture could be considered somewhat velvety. If you apply that oddball idea deliberately to the whole horse, you get a matte texture which might arguably be considered realistic: If nothing else, it's different. It's just as much work getting the horse to this "anti-finished" state as it is to get it to the normally finished state because instead of looking for and fixing flaws in the finish, you're looking to remove any traces of polished perfection. At least is sounds good on paper. The verdict is still out on this idea since I haven't painted yet, and it may turn out to be a stupid and hideous idea.


04/09/03- (black, gray & white turns yellow under an incandescent light, so I removed the color...)

A B-Grade Modeler's biggest weaknesses are impatience, laziness, and reluctance to devise and follow a plan. Sometimes, it's just puzzlingly dumb. Ferinstance: Say you're sanding away and patching seamlines on a horse. You go all around the model, noting that the sculpted mane will need special work to replace it with a hair one, then encounter the tail-- knowing that you'll probably replace that too... but not chopping it off, so that you don't complete the sanding and patching all the way up to the bunghole. Later, after you've gone through several nasty airbrush wrestling matches and are relatively satisfied... that's when you think that... gee, maybe I should have cut off the tail and finished the sanding and patching before I painted? A conscientious modeler would probably make peace with his stupidity and take it a few steps back. The B-Grade Modeler looks at it and thinks, "Hell, the tail will cover it up. Besides, what kind of pervert inspects the horse's poop chute?"

Having put all the anti-finishing touches on the horse that I could stand, I was curious to see what it would look like when painted. The unpainted texture looked okay, but you can't really tell whether it was a good idea or a bad one until it's painted (not that I was gonna bother taking it back to square one anyway). Hey, I just want a horse for the figure, preferably better than the store-bought look, but I don't have any illusions about creating a show-grade masterpiece. I think I've succeeded in that at least. Interestingly, after painting, the anti-finish texture makes some areas look like wood! Not exactly what I was aiming for...

I wanted to paint this horse similar to the coloration of the original toy-- light colored, somewhere around light gray and white, with a white mane and tail. That would keep most scrapes or rubs from looking really awful. With the anti-finish engraved in the plastic, this might be a little less of a problem since the texture would help to hold the paint to the surface and avoid the problem of planes of smooth plastic being rubbed clean off. Nevertheless, I first put down an all-over coat of gray spray primer. That really didn't produce any dramatic insights. It looked pretty much like it did before, except without the painted eyeballs and white highlights. It maybe made the scratched surface look a little flatter(?), which was not part of the plan. Oh well. Onto the airbrush. The plan was to create lighter and darker shades of gray, all the way up to black, by using black and white paint.

It's no secret that I don't like airbrushes. I love the high-quality shading effect that they create, but I absolutely hate the process of thinning paints, hoping that the brush doesn't clog or spit, and cleaning it between color changes and when you finally retire it. Very messy. Each paint seems to have its own peculiar personality-- Some paints spray well through color changes, but some dry too quickly and require a thorough cleanup with each color change, or even during the process of spraying a single color. Whites and matte colors seem to be particularly bad about this: I suspect that they dry too quickly which causes them to clog and clump the needle really quickly. The Testor's ACRYL white primer I used for this didn't have as bad a clumping problem as I'd had before with other paints, but it required a special cleaner. Attempts to cleanup with water made it cling to the color cup. Windex wouldn't remove it. Alcohol wouldn't remove it. MEK did, but that's an awfully potent solvent of last resort. Of course, the color cup is the easy part to clean-- but it feeds the airbrush's internals, which would also be coated with that goop. It doesn't take much internal goop to muck up the functioning of an airbrush so that you get non-spraying, sputtering or spitting action. Hopefully, that doesn't happen as just you're almost done. But it did to me.

There are a slew of paints out there, but you don't know how well they work until you use them. Airbrush paints need to be very thin and aren't intended to provide single coat coverage; typically, many passes are needed to build up thin layers of coloration. (That's incompatible with people who are unartfully impatient.) You can make acrylic craft paints airbrushable if you thin them enough and thoroughly blend them to make sure you aren't attempting to blow chunks through the nozzle. Be aware that some inks, airbrush colors and thinning mediums (like Golden) dry with a satin or glossy finish, even though that may not be an advertised feature. I know this from personal experience.

Airbrushing adds a wrinkle to the durability issue: it makes the finish more vulnerable and difficult to repair with a bristle brush. An airbrush paint layer is usually pretty thin, so it can get worn off pretty easily. Also, the delicate shading you get from an airbrush usually doesn't produce a solid color that you could repair by brush painting from a paint pot, even if you use the same color. Chances are, the color will be an intermediate color, somewhere along the gradient between the color blends.

For what it's worth, a project like this could probably be done with cans of spray paint. You probably wouldn't get the fine blending unless the paint cans were fully pressurized (new), and getting the shading into small targets (like around the eyes) would be difficult, if not impossible. Just like an airbrush, you'd still have to worry about the can sputtering and spitting. Basically, the convenience comes at the cost of fine control.

fantasy armor female horse doll valkyrie

fantasy armor female horse doll valkyrie

(Shortly after taking this pic, a strong wind blew them into the pond, LOL!)


PART 2    PART 1