Thursday, 12 January 2012

Blog 002 – Materials and tools I use… with a little history thrown in.

The first miniatures I bought were purchased 31 years ago. Each came in a plastic bag with a fold of card stapled to the top of it, each was made of lead and each cost significantly less than 10p (those were the days, eh?). There was a Dwarf skeleton armed with an axe and kite shield (on an integral base – this was years before the plastic slotta-base was even a dream) and a pair of human skeletons laid out as very tidy casualties. The first thing I did was to try and convert the latter figures into hanged skeletons by the addition of nooses and some judicious bending of limbs to show the effects of gravity. This did not go well, but it shows that my first instinct was to try and make these figures my own, to instil in them some measure of my own creativity.
That’s still why I convert. Part of it is so that I can produce something unique that other hobbyists can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over, part of it is to get that perfect representation of this or that character, but mostly it’s small voice inside me saying “If I’d sculpted it I’d have done this…”
And then doing it.
Converting lead was fun. It cut so easily and was wonderfully flexible – too bad that it had to be so toxic.
The new white-metal was less fun to convert, but made for better miniatures. It was hard enough to blunt drills, but retained so much more detail than lead did.
I must admit that I’ve not yet tried converting anything cast in GW’s new fine-cast resin, although I’ve worked with resin from other companies a lot. It used to be almost universally a very fragile material, prone to breaking if even moderate force was applied to it, but it glued like a dream and was easy to carve and remodel. And fine-cast seems to have overcome the breaking problem.
Vinyl is rarely used these days, and almost never on the scale of figures I’ll be talking about (which is good because, apart from cutting and bending easily, it’s an absolute pig to convert).
And then there’s plastic… Yes, the manufacturing process has one main drawback that can affect details – no undercuts – but decent sculptors can work with that and still produce miniatures that seem almost magically detailed. Have you seen the figures in the recent Space-Hulk game? Okay, so one of the Gene-Stealers has only got three arms, but that aside they’re stunning examples of the art. And the Terminators aren’t just at the leading edge they’re at the bleeding edge. After seeing those little beauties I wasn't entirely sure that Alex Hedstrom hadn’t sold his soul to the devil – these are push-fit figures, damnit!
But I’m diverging – back to the topic at hand. Plastic is wonderful to convert. It doesn’t bend very well, but it’s incredibly easy to cut, saw, drill, file, pin, sand, carve and glue. Add to that the range of bits and pieces that GW has produced over the years and you have this mad converter’s dream (but not this mad converter’s fantasy – that would have to involve Tilda Swinton, Heather Graham or Julie Delpy along with an industrial quantity of crisps). I used to have a bits-box but now only a bits-wardrobe is big enough.
My plastics of choice? Glad you asked. Marines. My first decent-sized 40k army was a Red-Corsairs force and I’m a good way through a vaguely pre-Heresy Word Bearers army at the moment (examples of which will be coming soon).
This glut of components means that conversions can be as simple as using a part from another sprue. For example, when I constructed two squads of Space Wolves a few years back I had only a single sprue of five those particular battle-brothers available to me, although I had enough ‘unflavoured’ Marine parts to build a couple of chapters. So what I did was to ‘spread the love’, as it were. Rather than have five Space Wolves creaking under the weight of their iconography I used the dedicated components more sparingly. A couple of pieces of Space Wolf kit on an otherwise generic figure and I had a figure that was recognisably a Space Wolf even before it was painted-up.
With my Word Bearers I’ve used components from most of the Imperial and Chaos aligned Space Marine sprues. Sometimes this has meant removing or remodelling some of the detail work, but on other occasions a part can simply be used ‘as-is’.

This works across the game systems as well. My recent Golden Demon entry is a Nurgle-aligned Chaos Lord on horseback . He’s Warhammer all the way, but his head is the sergeant’s head from the generic Space Marine set while his shoulder armour is cut from a plain Space Marine shoulder pad from the same sprue.
With my Word Bearers army the Imperial Cult fanatics I created as an allied force are predominantly a combination of Empire Flagellants and Cadian Imperial Guard with a few bits and pieces from the Empire and Bretonnian ranges thrown in for flavour and variety. Oh, and I used some Necron components for cybernetic limbs.
Aside from a variety of components and donor-miniatures the most important material is green-stuff. I still use miliput for gross structural changes to a mini (it’s also great for creating a smooth surface on armoured vehicles, mechanical shapes, banners and the like) and various grades of plasticard are used for various thinks, but green-stuff is used for almost all of my conversions and detail-work these days. It’s clean to use, relatively non-toxic and cures with just a touch of flexibility to it, which can be a boon for those little last-minute tweaks of joints (plus it seems to know exactly what shape I want it to end up in, which could mean that it’s the world’s first psychomorphic material). When I sculpt miliput I use an old dental tool I picked up years ago (make that decades ago), but with green-stuff I use an obsolete Sylmaster wax 5. When smoothing and shaping I also use some appropriately tools called clay-shapers, but I do the bulk of my work with steel tools. Add to that a pin-drill with assorted bits, a pair of forceps, a mains-powered multi-tool, a pair of knackered razor-saws, a scalpel or two, some nail-clippers, pin-files and paper-clips and you pretty much have my entire modelling/sculpting kit. Oh, and two types of glue – super-glue and liquid poly plastic-weld.
As you can see from the teaser pics above I’ve now received enough of my camera kit to be able to take some photos (albeit far from the standard I’d like, still that’s what practice is for), so next time I’ll be showing off and dissecting one of my favourite conversions. Hope you’ll be there to enjoy it.

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