12 June 2019


40" x 30", oil on canvas, 2019

This painting is based on a photo I took at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Fort Macleod, Alberta. I find skeletons and skulls fascinating (we all have at least one, after all) and when I saw this wall display of dozens of buffalo skulls I was mesmerized by the patterns, shapes, shadows, and sheer volume of bones.

Here's how that place got its name. It's a coincidence, of course, but I think it's wonderfully appropriate that this was done over top a failed painting I was calling Gravity Loves to Win (see below). Maybe I should have kept that title for this painting...maybe I still could...


My technique on this painting is different from my normal cross-hatch-style of brushwork, largely because I started blocking in shadows with an older brush, giving me a softer look...and I just kept going like that with very little cross-hatching. I did go back in with some sharply-defined darks and highlights, but having a nice looseness with those older brushes, I wanted to maintain that look. This soft-and-loose approach is most likely a one-off as I don't know if it would lend itself to other paintings I have in mind. We'll see...


At this stage, things were kind of hard to see since I didn't apply a thick enough coat of gesso to cover the previous painting. But with some concentration and patience, I was able to figure out pretty much what was what and blocked-in my forms and shadows accordingly.

Salad days.

While composing this image in Photoshop out of four different elements, I thought this would be an interesting and elaborate –maybe even an improved– version of my original watercolour painting (see below). Although, I couldn't decide which way it should go for a long time, finally settling on this horizontal orientation just before ditching the whole project.

Then the movie Gravity came out (I still haven't seen it, by the way) which apparently featured a woman falling to earth from orbit at some point and I kind of lost interest (even though my image was completely unrelated to that movie and the title is a line from 32, a song by Wild Strawberries (again, see my watercolour painting from 1998). I set aside this painting still in this drawing-and-orange-ground stage for a few years (but only partly because of the movie; other projects took precedence).

I blocked in some shadows in the figure in 2016 during a photoshoot with a local photographer, but then set the painting aside for another long stretch while I again worked on other, more pressing projects.

I admit: I lost track of my printed photo reference (and found it again) a few times over the years after I'd set up the painting, and my computer suffered a catastrophic crash in 2014, leaving me with no digital version. That's no excuse, but I gravitated (no pun intended) to relatively "easier" projects rather than digitally rebuilding that composition. I do have that printed reference now, though.

I resumed painting this last year and it looked like it was going well, what with my new interest in glazing...and I liked those clouds...but it wasn't quite coming together and I was reminded of another failed painting from a few years ago which also featured the same model and also was another oil variation of a previous watercolour painting (which had its own oil variation already). So I started having reservations about this painting...

Then, early this year, I was looking through my photos for ideas and came across my photo of the wall of buffalo skulls I'd shot back in the previous decade and decided to recycle Gravity Loves to Win and do what I'd hoped would be (and did turn out to be) a much better painting. Huzzah.

Gravity Loves to Win
32" x 40", oil on canvas
(2012-2018 –unfinished, recycled)

And here is the watercolour painting I did in 1998:

Gravity Loves to Win
22" x 15", watercolour, 1998

07 June 2019

Knight Industries Twenty-Thousand (1/20 scale model)

Music by Stu Phillips.

What the heck is going on? What is that thing? How did we get here? How is KITT not a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, but a weird-looking humanoid robot?

Well, we started with this:

Box art (front).

I have no idea (and no significant interest in finding out) what a MechatroWeGo is or does (it looks like a robot helper/friend of small children), but that doesn't matter. I really like the design and, seeing as dozens of modelers around the world have made amazing customized versions of these things, I wanted to join in the fun (with my own twists, of course).

Box art (sides).

Like many recent Bandai kits, Hasegawa has designed these figures to be highly poseable and, I suppose, played with. My plan is to have KITT simply standing in a display case, but it was incredibly fun posing him for those shots in the video. 

Assembly instructions.

The build is made easy by instructions, while in Japanese, that are clear and easy to understand, pictorially. Also, like many recent Bandai kits, this one doesn't really need glue, but I used some anyway in key areas to make sure nothing ever comes apart in case of a posing or handling mishap. 

Views of standard completed robot.

These things look great box stock and yet they're almost like a blank slate, as though they're begging for custom paint schemes or other additions (just Google "MechatroWeGo custom" and have a look at the wonderland of amazingness people have created).

Sprue tour.

I used just about all the parts but I didn't bother to model the inside or use the young boy figure provided. I briefly considered painting the interior a tan colour and somehow turning that kid into Michael Knight, but I feel this KITT is better off not having a passenger. Instead, my concept is that this iteration of KITT is a unique, self-contained, differently-mobile, artificially-intelligent crime-fighting unit. Like the car was, but now in humanoid form. No "pilot" needed.

And now, the twist:

Knight Rider TV intro.

Knight Rider premiered on NBC on 26 September 1982, roughly two weeks before my eleventh birthday, which made me pretty much the target audience for a show about a guy who fights crime with the aid of a talking car. The "talking car" angle made the premise silly when they could have stressed more strongly that KITT was a sophisticated artificial intelligence, capable of independent thought and action. That's not to say the show wasn't a bit cheesy in retrospect, but to an eleven-year-old, that awesome car was worth tuning in week after week.

There's plenty of information about the show online for anyone interested or curious, so I won't do any kind of review of it here...just a few thoughts and memories to give context to my model build.

Screen grabs from season one.

I watched the show regularly, mostly on our downstairs black and white TV, and also enjoyed new detective series Remington Steele, which followed it at 9pm. I remained downstairs to watch the intro to Falcon Crest because it had a great theme –but it was a soap, and therefore of no interest to me, so I went to bed right after.

In season two, Patricia McPherson (playing Bonnie) was replaced with Rebecca Holden (playing April), but I preferred McPherson and her character, so I may have watched it less that season. Bonnie returned in season three, but I was watching only sporadically by that time. Still, I have fond memories of watching the show and that Friday night lineup.

Photoshop mock-up.

I made this mock-up using a photo of a mostly-black Mechatro figure as a starting point to figure out my approach. I blocked out the eye lenses, installed the red lights, and simulated the trim around the hubcaps, but I didn't replace the clamps that come with the kit (at the time I made this I hadn't come up with the idea of using surplus Gundam hands).

Also, my first mock-up had the red lights in the slit right between the eyes but that looked weird and cramped, so I lowered their position. These are the benefits of doing digital mock-ups.

Sub-assemblies ready for primer.

I initially was going to paint every single piece individually, but soon realized I could assemble quite a lot of the parts (whole sections of the arms and legs, etc.) before painting.

Seams to address.

These fairings cover the shoulder and hip joints and I almost considered not adding them to the final model, but I liked the finished look they gave it (plus, they provide the perfect "hub cap simulators" to better evoke the look of the car), so I closed up those seams with putty to make them look like one perfect unit. It's a robot, and seams and other artifacts of mechanical construction should be expected, but some parts look better smooth and shiny. The ones with the cream-coloured "hub caps" are for a different robot project (also inspired by a favourite childhood TV show).

First coat.

This is the first coat of gloss black, but some parts like the hands and soles of the feet, as well as some "mechanical" parts that will go beneath the "skin," got a coat of flat dark iron to set them apart and provide slight contrast and interest (see below).


Body and limbs (and hands!).

Here and below you can clearly see the dark iron contrasting against the gloss black (the shoulder and hip joints will get covered up by the fairings). These robots come with clamps as hands but I felt KITT needed something more dexterous, so I ordered some Gundam replacement hands and selected the fists for a more action-y look.

Joints before fairings.

Rear cover with tail lights.

As with my automotive models (and I largely treated this like one) I used Tamiya clear red and clear orange for the tail and turn signal lights over the clear plastic parts from the kit.

The rest of the parts.

Because the headlights of the Trans Am in the TV show were retractable, I painted the "eyes" black to match the almost all-black look of KITT the car.

Lighting rig standing by.

I had to figure out the firing sequence of the LEDs to make sure the scanner went from one side to the other instead of goofy random chaos, then I labeled each wire with masking tape. This model stayed like this for a long time before I figured out the best way to install he lights.

That slit just above the "belly" will have to eventually be addressed so the wiring inside won't be visible (this isn't C-3PO, after all).

Pontiac hubcaps.

Well, this was the intent: I would drill five holes (not all the way through the plastic, though) in the shoulder and hip joints to simulate the look of the hubcaps of a Pontiac Trans Am. My holes didn't line up perfectly and they looked terrible, so I filled them in and went with a smooth finish instead. I did paint the trim silver to evoke the wheels of the car...and that works well enough.

Coming together, now...

Everything is ready now except for the front chest/belly panel because that's where the LEDs will get installed. The smooth "hub caps" look pretty good –I shouldn't have even tried to drill those holes!

The tedious LED process.

It took me a long time to figure out and decide just how to install the LEDs in that little slit just below the eyes on the front panel. My solution was to glue each LED one at a time to a small piece of clear plastic, then install the whole thing into the opening from the inside. I was using canopy glue (which dries clear and is formulated for clear plastic use), but it was taking forever to cure so, after only attaching two lights, I switched to CA glue and used a kicker (to accelerate the drying process). It was a mess but it worked for all six LEDs.

However, when I tried to install this contrivance, it didn't fit...and when I tried to trim the plastic closer to the LEDs, a few of them just popped off the clear plastic. So it was frustration (of assembly) on top of frustration (of not working out).

I had to find another way...

Back to Plan A.

The "other way" I found was actually my initial idea: just install each LED directly into the opening. I used CA glue and kicker again and patiently glued them in one by one. Unfortunately, the space was only big enough to accommodate five of the six lights, but them's the breaks. Six would look better than five, but five is better than the four some lighting kits provide. The car in the show had eight lights.

I've propped the front panel like this so I could pour in some canopy glue onto the lights to make a sort of "lens" to unify them. It sorta worked.

Slit coverage.

This is where I addressed the wide slit just above the belly. The body is very curved, so I used tape to hold the piece of black-painted styrene in place until the glue took hold.


And if the video up top gets muted or taken down for copyright infringement (fair enough, but this isn't a commercial venture and I'm not making any money from this), I've made this second video with music I composed myself using GarageBand:

Music by me.