29 February 2016

The Lions and the Lady

32" x 40" oil on canvas, 2016

This painting is number 11 of my Tournament of Shadows series and is a companion, in a way, to an earlier Tournament painting called The Lady and the Lions.

The lion is based on a photo a I took of a statue in Montreal many years ago (the same statue –from a different angle– featured in the companion painting), and the tattoo of the royal lion is based on the same design as the other tattoo. This one features a woman named Aisha, and the companion features a woman named Ashley, both of whom I've featured in many other paintings (in fact, Aisha here is in a similar pose as the one she strikes in Corridor). In The Lady and the Lions, Ashley and the lion both face right and the tattoo is in opposition; here, the lions both face left and Aisha is in opposition.

Feel free to draw your own further connections and conclusions.


This painting sat like this, ready to go, for a very long time before I got the lead out and started working on it recently.

Blocking in Aisha.

I've tried various colours as starting points over the past few years, but I still like using Olive Green to block in the shadows, as seen here. This works for me for figurative subjects (regardless of skin colour) as well as non-figurative subjects (see lion blocking below). Of course, using the same colour to block unifies the overall painting.

Aisha nearly done.

I would have to wait until she's completely dry before adding the final pure white highlights here and there. Adding them now would result in the white mixing with the existing colours and not give me the result I want, or I'd have to lay it down thickly, resulting in unwanted texture. Patience is key.

Blocking in the lion.

As with Aisha, I used Olive Green to block in the shadows here. Keeping track of the beautifully sculpted fur was tricky, but essential if I wanted to keep things from looking like a disorganized mess and not looking like much of anything, be it real fur or bronze statue. Same thing goes for drapery and rocks.

Colour blocking.

I blocked in the mid-tones carefully, making sure the lines/forms still read like fur. It's not a perfect copy of that specific statue's sculpt, but it doesn't have to be; it only has to look convincingly enough like a statue of a lion.


The highlights I added helped define the lion's fur, but the groupings were kind of a cacophonic mess of lines (further complicated at this stage by the orange ground which vibrates against the greens). I would have to lighten some of the shadow areas with a glaze of white to unify those areas and "push back" the lion a bit (as though there is atmospheric haze distancing the two subjects).

Now they wait.

Both subjects are now as complete as they can be before the lion gets a light glaze and they both get final pure white highlights.

Prepping for BG.

A few weeks later, confident that the figures were completely dry, I applied a light glaze of white on parts of the lion and then added final pure white highlights to both. The background would be a solid colour similar to, but not exactly matching, the companion painting. The dabs of colour here are Olive Green, Titanium White, and Ultramarine (using brown instead of green would have brought the BG closer to the other painting, but I didn't want that).

Aisha looks at psychedelic forms.

26 February 2016

West Hill Fence Co. Truck, Version 2 (1:25 scale model), Part 1

When I first returned to scale modelling after nearly two decades, I was inspired to do so after watching numerous videos online last winter of modellers building amazing spaceships, cars, train layouts, ships, planes, tanks, and dioramas of all kinds. To name just one of the dozens of inspiring builders I follow on YouTube, check out this fascinating three-hour compilation of Doctor Faust's build of the Millennium Falcon. Another key inspiration was seeing one of my colleagues building a ship (his primary subject, along with classic cars) concurrent with my watching of those videos last year.

Heavily motivated and desperately yearning to build something myself, I first thought about building a Millennium Falcon as well (it seemed like a rite of passage for current modellers), either going for a screen-accurate build or customizing it as though it's another freighter from the same universe. I also thought about adapting existing train scenery kits and making a diorama of Small Pond Arts, with our silo as the key structure.

After some research and quite a lot of thought, I felt making a Falcon (either way) would be fun and educational (all those parts! all that weathering!)...but impersonal. I wanted to make models that had a personal relevance to me in some way. Now, I did build a C-3PO, a Y-Wing, and a Red Barchetta (and if you click the links you can read my reasons for building them), but most of my other builds (Silver Angel and the Puppet Wagon, to start) have had and will have a more quirky and personal motive/connection. I'm not criticizing other motivations or other builders, just explaining why I prefer to go this way with my projects.

One personal thing I tried to find was a model kit of a Volkwagen Jetta from the '90s (I drove a dark blue 1996 Jetta for about six and a half years), but the only VW kits I could find were buses, Beetles, and Golfs.
I then tried to find a 1970 or '71 kit of a Plymouth Duster, my family's first car. I found an AMT kit of a 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 which is very close (I have some photo reference of my dad's car) but I felt I needed some aftermarket parts for better accuracy for that specific car, and these parts, combined with some scratch building, will make it a pretty close representation of that Duster. It'll be a while before I build it as I want to develop my modelling skills a bit more first.

Meanwhile, I've been working on those skills by building the aforementioned models, restoring my 24-year-old Starship Enterprise, and building a couple of other personal projects, this truck being one of them...

My aunt and uncle, Magda and Kiro Milenkovski.

While in high school, during the summers of 1986 and '87, I worked with my uncle Kiro and my cousin Bob (and various others in various combinations) putting up chain link fences all over Toronto. The job was sometimes fun and sometimes challenging, but I have fond memories of driving around all over the city, going to different residences, mixing cement, digging holes, installing the posts, stretching then tying the fencing to the posts, etc.

And I kind of have fond (if incomplete) memories of Kiro's truck, too. I remembered it as a beefy,  blue (a bit lighter than the one on the box below, but not as red), late '70s or early '80s model GMC (I searched online for relative examples and found a real truck that looked close enough, then looked for a model to match it), but when consulting with Bob for details (to maintain accuracy) by showing him the pickup truck kit I'd bought for the build, he informed that there were two trucks: one brown, a standard pickup, and one blue, with a flatbed and a double wheelbase in back. Like I said, my memory is incomplete, but I must have worked on both trucks (at any rate, I'd have certainly seen both during our frequent family visits).

Anyway, my obsession with completeness and accuracy turned into compulsion and this now meant I had to build both, so I picked up another suitable GMC kit that I could convert into the appropriate flatbed: a Revell 1977 GMC Wrecker with the double wheels in the rear I would use as my starting point...

Box art.

For my modelling posts I've been usually shooting a layout of the kit's part frames to show what I'm starting with, but I forgot to do so for this kit...but there's the top and side of the box for your enjoyment. Note that since I'm scratch-building the flatbed –apart from the chassis and wheels, of course– I won't need the back half of the kit at all.

Different scales, Revell? Why?

On the left is the Wrecker that I'm using for the blue cab & black flatbed version, and on the right is the regular pickup (the kit comes with a snow plow I'll eventually be using in my Red Barchetta diorama) that I'm using for the brown version. They're both by Revell but they're different scales! This isn't a problem, as my scale fencing supplies will look okay with both trucks, but it does mean I couldn't swap out any parts if I wanted to (it turns out I didn't want or need to).

Both trucks will be built as "curbside" models, meaning the hood won't open to reveal the engine (which isn't important for these builds so I'm not going to bother).

Slight preliminary weathering.

Both trucks will be pretty weathered as though from extensive use, and this was my first attemp at using chalk pastels for some rusty dust. I've since painted the mufflers and exhaust pipes and I'll be adding more later (even though no one will likely see their bottoms).

Concurrent cabs.

For efficiency and consistency, I decided to build and finish the interiors (and chassis & tires) together –I'm sort of going back and forth on both models anyway. I'm going on only semi-reliable memories, so they may not be entirely historically accurate to my uncle's trucks, but online research provided enough reference for what I remembered as beige/brown interiors. My cousin says the blue truck's interior was blue, and I trust him implicitly, being six years older and also having lived with these trucks on his driveway during those periods, but it's too late now.

It wasn't until I'd finished both and set them up for photography that I realized they were slightly different scales. It doesn't make sense since both kits are by Revell and were released only a year apart (judging by the copyright on the boxes; I'm not certain when the actual molds were originally made/released). It won't cause any problems and may actually work in the end since the flatbed I've built is much bigger than the original back part of the wrecker.

Closing the roof.

The wrecker came with a sunroof option (not accurate) and a covered version with bullet-shaped lights (also not accurate and a little "glam"). I clipped and sanded the lights off and installed that part into the opening. Its raised nature (see below) is still not accurate (the roof should be flat) but I wasn't confident enough in my skills to fill the gap and make a perfectly flat roof. Maybe I should've installed the clear plastic sunroof (it installs from the inside) and filled any gaps until the roof was flat...

You can see on the box art that the four locator holes in the part were meant for chromed horns, but that's not accurate, either, so I filled them with Bondo. All unused parts from all my builds go into a parts bag for future kit bashing possibilities.

Closing the wheel.

The holes in the steering wheel also looked a little too "glam" for my uncle's truck, so I filled them with Bondo.

More filling.

Under the wrecker's original parts, this area wouldn't be seen (this part was hollow and incomplete), but, with the new flatbed, it would be seen, so I filled the trough (and later added a few "structural" elements –see further down).

Test bed.

To get a handle on what I needed to build out of rod and sheet styrene, I made a mockup of the flatbed with cardboard. This helped a lot with sizing and figuring out how to support it on the chassis.

Looking okay.

I built the mockup with a bit of overhang at the back beyond the rear wheels, but my cousin said it should be longer, so I adjusted my (still-improvised) measurements accordingly in the final build.

Some fencing gear.

Just a fun shot with some of the fencing gear that'll go in the back (and be re-used with the other truck for the eventual photoshoots). All the gear (including simulated chain link fence material) still needs to be painted...and I have aluminum rods that I'll cut for posts and post caps.

More cuts.

I nearly left the molded-in sun visor on because I wasn't sure if I could remove it successfully and have it look normal, as though nothing was removed, but it was so wrong (too much glam on this kit!) I felt I had to take that chance. It's not perfect, but it looks better (and more accurate) without it.

More filling.

With the original wrecker back end, these gaps wouldn't be visible, but they will be with the flatbed (see 3/4 view of carboard mockup above), so I had to fill them in. First I glued some scrap styrene to mostly fill the unwanted kit gaps, then used Bondo to smooth any remaining gaps.

Framing prep.

Technically, since I'm building only for, and accountable only to, myself, and building out of lightweight plastic, I can do whatever I want...but what I want to do is build things as accurately (or believably) as possible, limited only, of course, by my skills, memories, budget, and reference.


Going for verisimilitude, based on photo reference, I framed up some rectangular rod styrene as though I were building this flatbed out of metal, with all its structural engineering requirements. Measurements were improvised, based on estimates of what "looked right enough," rather than those based on the real-world examples I used for reference.

Test fit.

Frame completed, I slid it onto a block I installed (there's a better shot of it five pics down) on top of the axle which will help locate the flatbed when it comes time to finally attach it.


This is a clear indication that my skills are improving (nice frame!) but still need sharpening (it sits a little too much to the right!). I've since corrected this imbalance by filing the right side of that locating block so the flatbed now sits, more or less, centered.


My cousin said the flatbed should be longer than my cardboard mockup, but I decided how much (and also made it wider). Interestingly, this scaling difference is roughly comparable to the scaling difference in both truck kits.

Under the bed.

Even though this is a view no one will ever see in the finished model, the rather realistic framing of the flatbed makes me happy to know it's there and that I built it myself.

Kit bash.

I bought a gloriously detailed 1/35 scale Soviet T-64AV MOD 1984 tank kit from Trumpeter a while back to use exclusively as a donor kit for bashing onto various builds (I used a combination of tank and plane parts (I also purchased some planes for use as donor kits) for my twin-prop wind turbine) and found some hatches (or whatever these are) that work very well in this scale as tail lights. I used some other tank bits for the rear side lights as well.

I desperately wanted to use diamond plate sheet styrene for the flatbed's surface, but, after extensive searching online and in hobby shops from Kingston to Toronto, I couldn't find any in the right scale –which turned out to be okay, since my cousin assures me the bed was smooth, which must be true, since I don't remember shovelling sand (to make cement) and scraping and/or catching the shovel against diamond tread bumps. Nonetheless, I took a bit of artistic licence and used thinly-ribbed sheet styrene for the surface, to give it some texture, yet still make it easy for "shovelling," conceptually speaking.

Structural healing.

Again, being made of lightweight plastic, I only really needed to add that rectangular block over the axle so the flatbed would attach firmly later on, but I added a few more "structural" bits (the white rod and sheet styrene) so that, when viewed from the side, everything under the bed looks realistic enough to be believable.

That other parallelogram-shaped block was meant to support a long square rod that would maybe serve as a base for a trailer hitch or general structural support, but I decided not to go with that idea because various other bits didn't line up satisfactorily; the block was already glued down when I changed my mind, so it'll remain (but it'll be rather hidden in the end and just look like it belongs among all that support structure).

Test fitting the walls.

The side walls and tailgate of the actual truck were wooden planks, so I'm using popsicle sticks as they seem realistic enough at this scale. The walls look wobbly, but none of the wood is glued together or installed in this picture: it's a taped-up test fit and I'll be using a soda can for bracketing the thin pieces onto the planks, which will, in turn, fit into slots I'll attach along the sides and back of the bed. I'll lightly stain the wood somehow (tea? watercolours? thinned oils?) for a weathered look before gluing the planks (and the brackets) together.

So far, so good.

Read about the rest of this build in PART TWO.

And work on the Enterprise restoration continues as well.

Oh, and a few paintings, too.