Friday, October 19, 2012

Miniature Painting Masters: Chris Borer

Welcome to The Miniature Painting Masters Series where we sit down with some of our hobby's most prolific and well known painters. We kick off the series with multiple Golden Demon winner and extremely talented (and extremely humble) hobbyist, Chris Borer.

Games Workshop's 2008 Slayer Sword Challenge

Tyler: How did you first become a member of the miniature wargaming and painting hobby?

Chris: Well, way back in 6th grade (around age 12) a friend handed me some Grenadier Dungeons & Dragons miniatures and asked, “Hey, you’re artsy-craftsy; do you want to try and paint these?” and I gave it a try. I’m sure my first efforts (using Testors enamels and plastic brushes) were just awful. I got moderately better when I found a place that stocked acrylic paints for miniatures, though I’m sure if I still had those figures, I’d be embarrassed to show anyone. I painted lots of minis in those days - whatever caught my eye - and it even became my first-ever paying job; painting example minis for the shelves of a local store. Fast forward a few years and I accidentally encountered miniature wargaming. I had gone to another local game store looking for a copy of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play book, and one of the regulars (who later became one of the first GW Outriders) asked if I played the tabletop version of Warhammer, too. I didn’t even know it existed; I think my exact response was “you can play games with these minis?!” We started talking, and he pointed out that month’s issue of White Dwarf and some GW miniatures. As it happens, [Warhammer] 40K had just come out and that White Dwarf had the chapters of the Badab Rebellion - I was hooked. That was over 20 years ago, and I’ve been in the hobby ever since.

First Captain Iberio, Crimson Fists - 2006

Tyler: Which aspect is more important to you, the wargaming or the hobby and why?

Chris: Like many hobbyists in my age bracket (grizzled veteran), I have limited hobby time these days, and I definitely choose to spend most of that time on the painting/hobby side than the gaming side – but that’s more a function of where I am in my “hobby-life” these days than a dislike of gaming. I’ve played tabletop games for literally decades and have really enjoyed that aspect, but throwing down a 2,000 point game of 40K can be a pretty significant time commitment, and that’s not counting the assembly and painting of a new army.
On the other hand, I can paint or sculpt for an hour before bed or while my wife and I are watching a movie (more listening than watching for me). Painting isn’t dependent on anyone else’s schedule, and I get to work on what I want at my own (extremely slow) pace.

Chorazin, Supreme Grand Master of the Angels of Vengeance
Painted for White Dwarf 327

Tyler: How is your approach to painting a display model and painting a gaming model different (styles, time taken, methodology, etc)

Chris: For many years, I didn’t approach gaming and competition models differently - I simply painted everything to the best of my ability and focused on projects that I could game with. This worked fairly well for a number of years, but there came a time when I was regularly gaming with Golden-Demon-winning miniatures and the more exuberant members of my gaming group were still bouncing dice, tape measures, and even other miniatures off my painstakingly painted figures. There was no malice involved, but it vexed me terribly and it just had to stop. I resolved to divide my work into gaming minis and display projects. So I started a 40K army project (a DIY Astartes chapter) that I referred to as my “Paint to Play” army. I worked up a paint scheme that I thought would look good on the table and would be relatively quick to paint (dry-brushed metallics and weathering). I added sculpted/cast shoulder pads and decals to eliminate time-consuming freehand and magnetized all my vehicle hard points and some of the infantry weapons to avoid painting extra models. Everything was planned to maximize results and minimize time and… it sort of worked. I finished about 2,500 points of marines, but it took three years! Despite my intentions, I still found myself converting and otherwise embellishing models – even the rank and file. It really drove home to me that army painting isn’t for me.

When I start a display or competition piece, it’s actually somewhat easier – I don’t have to concern myself with model durability or wargear effectiveness or poses that might not fit well in terrain; I can just do whatever looks best or makes the most sense for the project. That usually means taking huge swaths of time as I convert every little thing and make sure the paint on every part is as good as I can make it, but that’s what I enjoy doing so it’s not really a chore for me.

Chris' DIY Chapter of Space Marine

Tyler: Since focusing on the painting side of the hobby more, how often do you find time to play games? Is that still important to you?

Chris: I've had a weekly “game night” for ages. Sometimes that’s just hobby time with friends (sculpting, cleaning, converting minis). Sometimes it’s proper wargaming, planned scenarios, skirmish games, board games, or something along those lines. Over the last several years, I’ve really gravitated toward skirmish-sized games and miniature/board game hybrids. 

Gazbag - 2009

Tyler: How long had you been painting at what you would consider a serious level before you won an award (Golden Demon or other)? Can you take us through a little of your thought process on how you prepared that winning model?

Chris: It’s a little difficult to say when I considered myself a serious painter. I suppose it was when I went to my first Golden Demon contest (Baltimore, 1996). I took four entries and placed with three, though let me assure you, the level of competition was much lower than it is today. Looking back at those pieces, I'd probably consider them high quality tabletop paint jobs now.

As for the thought process preparing those entries, it was much simpler back then – just trying to paint every part of the model(s) to the best of my ability. It was probably less of an issue in those days, but now the technical standard for many competitions is so high, you can’t really afford to leave parts of the model at anything less than your best work. There are numerous varieties of contrast that you can use to draw attention to specific focal points on your model, but a contrast of quality – where one part isn’t painted as well as another – isn’t one I’d recommend.

Tyler: What is your favorite model or models that you have painted? This can be the one(s) you enjoyed painting the most, was happiest with the final paint job, or just really appreciated the sculpt.

Chris: That’s a tough call, but I’d probably have to say Fulgrim. That model was a real leap forward for me; the only parts I didn’t sculpt were the face, the hands, and part of the wing on his shoulder pad. It was definitely the most ambitious thing I’d attempted up to that point, and it was one of the first projects that I sought advice on as I worked. There were a number of points in both the sculpt and the paint job where I realized I was going off track and had to be guided back onto the path by my peers. It really opened my eyes to how invaluable constructive criticism can be and how willing people in our hobby can be to offer it.

Golden Demon 2007
Tyler: Can you name one major change in the painting world that has impacted you the most since you started (basing changing from green flock to an integral part of the mini, more subdued colors, source lighting, etc.)?

Chris: I’m not sure about impact, but one of the changes that I definitely enjoy is tied to basing. As you said, if you go back far enough you’ll find a Golden Demon rules set that requires your entry to be mounted on its gaming base and that base to be painted green. I’m not entirely sure when that changed for me, but I really think a miniature can benefit from a base that enhances or reinforces the narrative of a project. A well-considered base can help you set the scene, pose the miniature, add contrast or harmony - for me, a base ignored is an opportunity wasted.

Oatkeeper - July 2005

Tyler: How do you feel the rise of the internet has affected the way people paint their models or the general direction in which miniature painting has gone?

Chris: I think the internet has been wonderful for the miniature painting hobby, especially if you’re looking to learn or to improve in some way. When I started painting, there were precious few resources available to painters, and most of us had to learn through trial and error (and error and error). Now if you want to learn a technique, it might only be as far away as an internet search for tutorials or examples.
And in addition to sharpening our collective learning curve, the web provides us with constantly expanding bodies of work from painters all over the planet. In a way, that makes it harder to be considered original or innovative, but the wealth of examples and ideas more than makes up for it in my opinion.

Golden Demon 2008

Tyler: Which miniature painter(s) inspire you the most?

Chris: I’d be hard pressed to give you an exhaustive list – there are easily dozens of people in the hobby who inspire, impress, or intimidate me for different reasons. Naturally, miniature painters and sculptors would make up the bulk of the list, but also writers, illustrators, and other more traditional artists and craftsmen of all kinds. It sounds a bit corny, but inspiration can be found all around us. You just have to look.

Tyler: What direction do you think miniature painting is going to go in next in terms of style and techniques?

Chris: I think the technical standard will continue to rise in general, due in large part to the ease of sharing information these days, but I wouldn’t presume to predict the next big thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone from another discipline finds a way to import something he or she already does into the miniature hobby – sort of the way non-metallic metal came from 2D painting and realistic weathering came from historical kits.

Gratefull Teddy - 2011

Tyler: You have recently started sculpting and selling several miniatures from scratch such as The Artillerist and Hannah Valerus. Is sculpting miniatures the next area for you after painting? Can we expect more original Chris Borer sculpts?

Chris: Absolutely. My own personal hobby path started with painting stock minis, then converting minis with stock parts, then fabricating or sculpting parts to convert minis and now I’ve sculpted a few complete pieces. I don't think I ever really set out to sculpt whole miniatures; it just seemed to be the next logical step for me.

Sculpting your own pieces, even for conversions, isn't required in any part of the hobby - especially these days when there are so many great minis out there to harvest for parts - but the more you are able to do, the more options are available to your projects.

And since you asked, my next three sculpts will come from my friends' web comic - FreeMars. It’s a sci-fi rock opera following the adventures of a band that goes from struggling dive-bar musicians to symbols of the Martian revolution. It’s written by fellow Golden Demon painter Dave Pauwels and drawn by Nicolas R. Giacondino whom you might know from his 40K fan art under the name Aerion the Faithful.

The Hannah Valerus character on my site was sort of a test of my abilities and synergy with those guys, and it went so well, she ended up in the comic. They published their first graphic novel through Ape and are working on the second book now. They’ll be crowd-funding it through Kickstarter later this month.

They’ll be offering all the usual promotional items you’d expect from a comic looking for backing, but since the writer, artist, and I are all fans of the miniature painting hobby too, they’ll be offering figures of the three main characters from their sci-fi rock opera, sculpted by yours truly. It will be the first place these miniatures will be available, and I believe they’ll be slightly less expensive than retail to encourage folks to back the project.

The first of the three miniatures is done, and I actually used a casting of that miniature in my Golden Demon entry this year. A few minor conversions and she made an excellent Necromunda Escher model, if I do say so myself.

Hannah Valerus from Free Mars

Tyler: The Artillerist was sculpted as part of the Heroes of Armageddon charity which raised $31,657 for Doctors without Borders. Do you think the hobby community is here to stay in the world of raising money for charity? Do you think we will ever be able to create something the equal of Child’s Play? 

Chris: Could the miniature hobby community do something to rival Child’s Play? Yes, theoretically. Will we do something that large? I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m still hugely impressed by the success of the Heroes of Armageddon project. The organizers really knocked it out of the park, and that’s something I think every successful charity needs – committed organizers. Lots of us are willing to chip in here and there - to paint, sculpt, donate, buy, or play in a charity event - but most of us lack the time, skills, and connections to make something like that a success on the level of the Heroes of Armageddon, let alone Child’s Play. 

That said, I do think the miniature gaming community has a lot of generous, socially conscious members, and we’ll continue to see charity events, especially ones that benefit local causes. 

Evolution of the Artillerist
Left: The Governor sculpted as an Adepticon exclusive model 2010.
Center: The same model converted into the Artillerist for the Heroes of Armageddon project.
Right: The Golden Demon winning finished model. 

Tyler: One of your most iconic Golden Demon winning models is your Fulgrim. Can you tell us a bit about it and how that Primarch event that year came about?

Chris: Since its inception dates back to late 2006, it’s a little unclear who actually came up with the idea for the Primarch Project, but the driving force behind it was JoeOrteza. Joe has a highly infectious sense of enthusiasm, and when he calls to pitch you an idea, it’s hard not to get excited. So when he called me and explained the plan to have a group of painters sculpt, convert, fabricate, or otherwise kit-bash a set of subjects no less than the 40K Primarchs, I was duly enthused and more than a little nervous. It was ambitious to the point of audacity. Good or bad, we could hardly help but make an impression at Games Day. 

For the record, our “selection process” for the Primarch Project really just boiled down to “painters we know.” It was in no way intended to be some kind of elitist roster of the “best North American painters” or exclude those we thought didn’t make some arbitrary cut. It was just a group of friends who were enthusiastic about the hobby and perhaps overly susceptible to Orteza-brand persuasion. 

In retrospect, entering a veritable squad of Primarchs in a single category (specifically 40K Single) was not well designed for widespread Golden Demon success. Indeed, the project as a whole didn’t achieve much on the podium, but no one can say we didn’t make an impression. And more importantly in my opinion, it was a massive, multi-painter, collaborative project that pushed all of our skills to a new level. I still count myself lucky to have been included.

In the end, we didn’t manage to cover all the bases, despite having more potential participants than we could have actually used (I believe we were at 22 painters for 18 primarchs). Real life put a massive dent in the project, and I recall about a third of the Legions were unrepresented. On the other hand, Forge World recently announced their new Horus Heresy series, and we’ve already seen Simon Egan’s sculpt of Angron. I’m really looking forward to his version of Fulgrim, despite the nigh-certainty that it will blow mine out of the water.

Fulgrim WIP

Tyler: The Crystal Brush awards recently introduced a $10,000 prize for best overall, which is the largest cash prize for any miniature painting competition in the world. Do you think this will help "legitimize" our hobby or could it have negative effects? 

Chris: Well, I don’t think miniature painting needs to be legitimized per se, but it’s impossible to deny that a cash prize of that magnitude draws attention to the hobby, which I’d consider a good thing. I will say I was a little concerned about the potential for problems when I first heard about this contest. There’s a $10,000 prize for the overall winner, then $2,000 and $1,000 for the runners up. I’ve seen people get worked up over coming in second with nothing more than a ribbon on the line and an $8,000 gap between first place and second place could generate a fair amount of ill feelings. The other big new thing about this contest is that half of each entry’s score is based upon the response of internet viewers, which has its own set of possible issues.

Happily, nothing major seemed to materialize from either point and (from my entirely outside perspective) the organizers at CoolMiniorNot have run a solid event. The first two Crystal Brushes look to have gone off without a hitch; I’m told the giant novelty checks cleared and I didn’t witness any tantrums. I think there’s room to refine the contest a bit in terms of the number of on-site judges and the way the internet voting is handled; but all in all, I think the Crystal Brush has more than proven itself to be a legitimate addition to the competitive painting world.

At this point I think the biggest potential negative may be the perceived level of competition. The prizes are so substantial and the caliber of winners is so high, I wonder if the Crystal Brush will see the number of entries decrease over the next few years. I think we’ll just have to wait and see…

A WIP of Chris' winning entry from this year's Golden Demons

Tyler: There are very few miniature painters who can make a living off of their work and most of us have to keep a "day job". Do you find it difficult to balance life, work, and painting? 

Chris: I suppose everyone finds that difficult to some degree; we all have to balance the different parts our lives. We all have things we have to do and things we want do - probably some things we ought to do – it seems like a constant juggling act to me, and my life is fairly uncomplicated.

I’m not sure I’d do well working in the miniature industry professionally, even assuming I wasn’t so glacially slow. I’ve literally spent decades doing whatever I want in the hobby, so I would be a significant change to have to do what a boss or the market told me to do… But that’s just me. If your dream is to paint for the ‘Eavy Metal team or sculpt for Privateer or design the next breakout game or found the next great studio or whatever, I say go for it.

The finished Clan Escher Ganger - Golden Demon 2012

Tyler: Can you explain a bit what it was like to take part in the Slayer Sword challenge in 2008? 

Chris: It was a great experience, probably one of my favorite projects of all time. The Slayer Sword Challenge was a short-lived series in the US made possible by the fact that at the time we had four Games Days (and by extension four Golden Demon contests) each year. Each participant would use the same plastic kit to create an assigned character. You could convert or fabricate as much or little as you liked, but you could only use parts from that kit and raw materials like sculpting putty, plasticard, brass rod, etc. - no pieces from other models. The “winner” would be determined by voting on the GW site.

The previous year’s challenge had used a Fantasy model, so the year I was eligible was going to be 40K – which suited me just fine. The plastic chaos lord in terminator armor had recently been released and with four participants, it was natural to assign each of us a character devoted to a different chaos power, which also suited me just fine – because I received the chaos patron I’d been hoping for…

One of the big things I did differently with this model was to consult with one of my “competitors” as I worked. Todd Swanson and I had met about a year earlier in a painting class being run by Jeremie Bonamont. We were both there as students - which goes to show you’re never too experienced to learn something. In any case, Todd and I decided to share our works-in-progress and it proved to be a great asset to both of us. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – having fellow hobbyists to offer comments and criticisms on your work is a nearly priceless asset.

In my early competition years, I never showed anyone a project I was working on for fear of tipping my hand or getting overly harsh criticism. But having changed my tune since, I'd encourage anyone to ask fellow painters, sculptors, and hobbyists for feedback, especially if you want to improve. Not everyone will oblige you, and not all the criticism will be constructive (or necessarily polite), but the vast majority of us are in this hobby because we enjoy it. It doesn't require much arm-twisting to get painters to talk about painting…

Balthazar WIP and finished

Tyler: Any final words before we wrap up the interview?

Chris: I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview; rambling on about the hobby is one of my favorite things.

I’d also like to congratulate you on winning your first Golden Demon this year. Your savage orc was one of my favorites in the Fantasy Single category; I’m a huge fan of tattoos and warpaint on minis, and you really nailed those.

And of course I’ll sneak in one more self-promoting plug: check out the Free Mars comic and keep an eye out for their Kickstarter project.   

The Seadrake - Celebrity Dreadfleet Charity Project

Be sure to visit Chris' website for even more insight into his models as well as a chance to buy some of his original sculpts from his store at Full Borer Miniatures.

Next time on Miniature Painting Masters: Dave Taylor

-Tyler M.

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