Monday, August 11, 2014

Miniature Painting Masters: Mathieu Fontaine

Welcome back to The Miniature Painting Masters Series where we sit down with some of our hobby's most prolific and well known painters. In this installment we talk with Mathieu Fontaine, one of our hobby's most prolific and talented Golden Demon winners.

1st Place - 40k Vehicle, UK GD 2013

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

Mathieu: Magic: The Gathering was what brought me to gaming initially. The game had just came out and a friend got me hooked pretty rapidly. It is also what brought me for the first time in a gaming store. I was then in my teens and recently got my first job which meant more financial resources for gaming. 

I still remember the first time I saw people playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Both armies were not painted but the sheer size of it pulled me in automatically. I did not know what it was but I knew I wanted to be part of it. The White Dwarf #200 had just came out with an exclusive limited edition of the White Dwarf. I always loved that model but never painted mine as it had a huge mold line coming across the face. 

The exclusive model

The White Dwarf issue also included the preview of the 5th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It was the arrival of the Bretonnians and since I was really into Medieval history back then, I did not need to look any further. Let simply say that my first few paychecks from the fast food industry were spent on knights, men-at-arms and archers... and paint, a lot of it. 

Tabletop Quality
Tyler: Do you play any of the games at all and if so how do you approach painting a display model and painting a gaming model differently? 

Mathieu: I was initially playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle but quickly moved to 40k as I did not really like manoeuvring large blocks of troops. I got heavily involved with Confrontation when the second edition came around. I loved the models and the game play. After that, I played on and off, tried a few different games but nothing really got me hooked. I had developed a pretty avid taste for wargames in a boardgame format offering a wide array of tactical approaches which I could not find in any miniature games out there until I came across Flames of War. I fell in love with this game for its complexity. The scale also allows for great manoeuvring. You actually have the feeling you are flanking or surrounding your enemy. I have been fielding various US armies since.

The approach to paint a display or a gaming model is really different. I often say that there is a line clearly separating both and that once you cross it, you cannot come back or if you do, you will never go back to display models. I do not have any of my old models around so no pictures. Let simply say that the level was above average for tabletop back then but far from anything serious. 

Tabletop Quality

I have painted a few tabletop lately, either for myself or for commission work. I usually keep them simple but maximize on the various tools and techniques I have acquired throughout the years to make them stand out. In term of my commission work, I do call it "tabletop" as it is what I would field on the table myself but is clearly above the average offered in the industry. I have to remember to keep it simple and efficient. Chose the color effectively to not have to rely too heavily on light contrast and nothing too fancy. Simple and efficient and maximise the use of the airbrush. 

Even though I prefer painting display quality, once in a while, a small tabletop commission is great to relax the mind. When painting for display, there is so much thing to evaluate. Color transitions and schemes, level of light, saturation and contrast are only a few. It definitely keep you on the edge and always make you think and revaluate your choices and decisions. Usually when I paint a display piece, I have a clear idea of where I am initially going but as the project move forward, a lot of variables change and the final product is often quite different than the initial intention. 

2nd Place - Warhammer Large Monster, Canadian GD 2006

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

Mathieu: The first time I ever entered the Golden Demon competition was at the 2004 Canadian event. I remembered assisting the previous year and telling myself that if I entered something, I would definitely not be the worst and that got me going. I was still an army painter back then and experimenting with the various shortcuts that every army painter came to believe at one point was the revolution when in fact it was barely covering our lack of skills.

I entered a Celestine the Living Saint model from the Sisters of Battle range. It was a fairly new model back then and I had to paint it. The internet community of painters were not well developed at the time and the info on techniques were scarce. We had one article, published on the Vallejo website on how to work with acrylic for miniature painting. The techniques were demonstrated on a historical model. I remembered reading and rereading the article several times, constantly understanding something new after each read as I put the knowledge in practice. 

My techniques were still very flawed. I remembered thinning down the paint but not removing the excess. I was battling puddle of pigmented water on the surfaces. The final result was still the best I ever achieved. My main goal was to make first cut. It did not happened. The competition was judged by the Perry Brothers and they kept it at 6 entries per categories for the cut. It was brutal and I was clearly beaten by the other entries. It only fueled my interest to get better. 

Shortly after, I "exiled" myself to the Arctic. I had an opportunity for work there so up I went. With my work schedule, I had two choices for my past time: get drunk or paint. I chose the second but I have to admit the first one did happened a few times. The communities on internet were getting stronger, Coolminiornot was emerging as the dominant but one clearly assembled "la crème de la crème": Creafigs. It was a forum that became the hub of the French painters at the time when they were dominating miniature painting, mainly the fantasy aspect of it. 

It was a place to discuss the various aspect of the hobby with painters from every levels. A great source of knowledge and technique but also a site where you were able to enter in contact directly with the painters and ask your questions. From there, I started to work on various project, perfecting my skills and, most of all, giving me the time to acquire and master the techniques. The goal: win my first Golden Demon. 

3rd Place - LoTR, Canadian GD 2006

The subject was the Ogre Tyrant on Rhinox that Forgeworld had recently came out with. I honestly do not remember how much time I have spent on the model. Countless hours in order to achieve the perfect result, or the closer I could get to it back then. Looking back at it, I see something highly technical but without much style or personality. It is still a milestone for me and is the model on which I perfected my technique. I was to come out with 2 silver awards that day. The second was for an Eowyn model, which to this day, remain my favorite model from the LOTR range. 

1st Place - 40k Vehicle, UK GD 2009

Tyler: What is your favorite model or models that you have painted? 

Mathieu: It is hard to pinpoint one model. Several projects come to mind for various reasons. My Imperial Fist Landspeeder Storm comes to mind since it is my first Gold won in England and, along the same line, my Tauros Venator for being my first Gold in France. There is also the Orc from Metal Modèle. It won the Best of Show at GENCON in 2009 but is also the model on which I truly mastered airbrushing and decided to really start playing with colors. Finally, my Chaos Knight. It is simply an awesome sculpt from Pedro Fernandez and a great pleasure to work on. 

Otherwise, the next personal project is usually my favorite. I do not develop a personal attachment to them. Once they are done I move to the next project and do not look back. 

1st Place - 40k Vehicle, France GD 2010

Tyler: You have won 19 Golden Demon awards over a 6 year span, which is astounding. Can you tell us a bit about the amount of work that most go into preparing that many winning entries each year? 

Mathieu: One thing is sure is that you have to keep painting and painting and painting. In order to do so you have to keep motivated. The best way to achieve that is to always work on something inspiring. I used to have projects planned for the year telling myself that I would enter project "A" to this event and then follow with project "B" for another event and such. Unfortunately it does not really work for me. 

There was always that new miniature coming out which I really wanted to paint. So the planning usually went out the window in favor of the new product. The best way to get better and be productive is to be inspired and motivated. So, like I always tell my students, the best project for you is the one you really want to paint now. Not the one you think will allow you to work on a specific side of your painting. 

The other important aspect is to remember what you are painting for. If you are painting for yourself, great, skip this part. If you are painting in the hope of winning (because you should never paint to win as it is the best way to get disappointed) you have to be aware of the factors involved. So many people complained about the results at various Games Day events when in fact they forgot the number one rule: respect GW ethos. Every time I attended the UK Games Day, three in total, I would see this exquisite squad of highly converted terminators. They were gorgeous but you could not tell which chapter they belong to or even if they were loyalists or heretics. Every company sponsored event is a window for marketing. They will only promote entries respecting their universe. If you are not ready to play along these rules, there are plenty of independent contests out there. 

Otherwise it took a lot of energy drinks, painting until the small hours of the morning often in the bathroom of your hotel room the night before the event. 

2nd Place - 40k Vehicle, Canadian GD 2009

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.)? 

Mathieu: The understanding that miniature painting had a lot to extract from fine arts, in fact everything. When you dissociate the miniature from its gaming aspect or from the purpose of a hobby and understand that every fine arts techniques and theories can be applied to this medium, that is when you will be able to exponentially grow as a painter. 

I have a hard time considering miniature painting as a form of art in itself but I surely preach to take every aspect of the great classical artists and transposing it to miniature painting. Zenithal lighting, NMM, vignetting, the importance of color theory are all things you will need to understand and master in order to achieve great results.

In regards to fantasy miniature painting, I would say the shift happened with the emergence of the Rackham studio and the emergence of what was to be called the "French touch". Cyril Abati, Jacques-Alexandre Gillois, Allan Carrasco and Thomas David, to only name these, are some of the artists I think of in term of this change. All of a sudden, entering the Golden Demon was not about entering a part of your army and hope for the best. It was all about entering one piece, painted to perfection for the purpose of competing, being displayed, not played. 

Shadows did not automatically belong in the cracks nor the highlight on the edges anymore. Highlights and shadows were to be understood in relation to the light. Ink washes were replaced by technical blending of colors to control the effect of the light. Elaborate palettes were not a thing reserved to miniature from Chaos anymore. Colors went beyond the simple basecoat with a darker shade for shadow and lighter shade for highlight. 

This understanding is what brought our entire hobby forward. It is what characterize the standards of a display miniature nowadays.

2nd Place - Diorama, France GD 2011

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? 

Mathieu: It definitely took down barriers. When I originally started, the internet was slowly becoming available in households but it was the good old 16k modem. So downloading a text based apple tart recipe took roughly 30 minutes. We relied on the articles published in the White Dwarf. Most of them were rather basic. If you did not have a strong local painting community, you had no one to exchange with. I remember the first time we heard about pinning to assemble those old clunky metal models. It sounded like an urban myth. 

The internet allowed for a global community. A possibility to exchange and learn from everyone. Suddenly, even if you were alone, like me in the Arctic, all the tools to learn and grow were available. I definitely think it had a positive impact. Obviously, like with every other topics on the web, you have to be able to make the difference between the good and bad info. But overall, you can easily find the answer to your question. 

Victoria Lamb's 

It also allowed for a variety of styles and technique to emerge outside from the style of the majors of the industry. OSL would probably never had picked up if it was not for the images published by Victoria Lamb and Sascha Buczek. Basically, the internet became a global painting club in which everyone is pushing the other to the best of his or her abilities.  

And where would we be without Google Image? Personally, the research part of every projects would take so much longer. 

1st Place - 40k Large Model, Canadian GD 2009 

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

Mathieu: You could list every painters I previously mentioned here for various reasons and probably several others. Nowadays, I must admit that I do not look at other miniature painters' work for inspiration. I still greatly enjoy to see what the others are up to but most of my inspiration is from fine arts painters. Strangely enough, a lot can be grasp from nature as well. Next time you found yourself near the sea, hit the local fish market and take a look at all the colors of the fresh catch. Inspiration is all around you, you simply need to observe it. 

2nd Place - 40k Single Mini, Canadian GD 2007

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

Mathieu: I do not see any major shift. What we are seeing more and more is the increase in the graphic style. Texture is more dominant. Everyone keep pushing the envelope which is great. It means that you cannot take a seat back. You always need to keep pushing to stay in the game. 

Tyler: You have won awards at the US, Canadian, UK and French Golden Demons, what made you want to travel to all of these different competitions? 

Mathieu: Meet new painters, see new styles, compete in harder events. The first Golden Demons I attended outside Canada was in France. It was in fact my first time ever in Europe. I arrived the Saturday morning and was leaving on the Monday. I spent the entire weekend totally jetlagged. I finished 4th in 40k single. Competing at these event is one thing. For me, what I retain the most is all the friendships that have developed from these events. To this day, I have to say that my best friends were met at these events. The world of miniature painting is a great community.

Otherwise I have to admit being a bit of a competition junky. Some would call us the Demon hunters and honestly, I cannot deny being one. Even though I have 19, there's always an extra one missing to the collection. Unfortunately, it seems that the count will not go up in the near future.  

Tyler: Would you say there is a difference between the different country's competitions? Different prevalent painting styles, level of competition, etc. 

Mathieu: Definitely. The main reason I initially went to France was to compete among the best. Back then, the US version was too diluted with 4 events, 5 if you count Canada as painters would easily cross the border, and most of the entries were still gaming pieces. Chicago was the must attend event and the other were lagging behind in term of quality. Los Angeles did emerge with a huge boom in quality in what was to be it last year unfortunately.

I always considered France to be the most difficult GD to win at. For me it was where the best artists were meeting, where there was more place for artistic license, where rules could be slightly bent to the benefit of the narrative. For example, my Tauros Venator that won gold in France, I would never have entered it in the Vehicle category anywhere else for the fear to see it disqualified for its base. I knew that they would let it slide in France. 

England was also really hard to win due to the sheer number of entries and the quality of most of them. It is also the place where you absolutely needed to play by the book. Respect the universe and play along the style of GW to win. My 2 entries that won gold there, the Imperial Fist Landspeeder Storm in 2009 and the Howling Griffon bike in 2013 had simple conversions with paint jobs easily associated to classic Space Marine chapters from the GW universe.  

Italy, even though I never attended also had its specific style. No event was producing more crazy freehand patterns than the Italian one.

Even in the Open format contest, you see a huge difference in quality with the European shows. We have great painters in North America but the best of the best are still across the Atlantic ocean in my opinion. 

Tyler: It appears that the Golden Demon is either gone or in hibernation this year, what impact do you think the loss of the competition would have on the painting community? 

Mathieu: It is still hard to tell. I sincerely hope that contests at GENCON and Crystal Brush will be able to take advantage of the situation. Independent and Open shows such as MMSI in Chicago, MFCA in Philadelphia, AMFS in Atlanta and many others also have a lot to gain from this. 

These last shows are all independent and following an open format. So you can present basically whatever you want without any marketing incentive to follow. Furthermore, awards are given in accordance to your skills and not in comparison to others. Several painters can leave with a gold medal. Basically, you compete against yourself. You try to beat your result from the previous year instead of trying to grab one of the only 3 places available on the podium. 

Furthermore these contest are about one thing and one thing only: miniature painting. Everyone there is truly interested in miniature painting which guarantees great discussion not revolving around the cheesiest army list of all.

I think the community will survive easily the absence of the Golden Demons. It will push painters toward these other shows and maybe they will explore new range of miniatures they did not before. It is also up to us to fill the gap. I am personally heavily involved with a new contest in Québec city, The Northern Defenders Painting Contest. Last year was our first "official" edition. We ended up with a quality of entries beating most of the well established contest in North America and we are only hoping for better next year. We surely hope to see all of you next March.

Tyler: You have mentioned before that lots of times an entry that has unnecessary freehand, banners and other elements that don't really add together to tell a story or reinforce the theme, but are merely there to show off the painter's talents, will beat out an entry that is painted equally as well or better, but is slightly plainer for the sake of theme. Do you feel as though this is a crutch that some painters rely on for competitions and do you think this could be hurting the evolution of miniature painting as people try and show off their 2D painting skills over the 3D that miniatures exemplify? 

Mathieu: I do not think I have ever said that freehands, banners and other similar artifacts would help you win (but god knows I can say a lot of shit in one day so I might have...). I personally never do freehands and I do not think it ever cost me an award. I definitely said more than once that freehand was for cheaters though, in a semi-humoristic tone. So is weathering. Freehands are great to fill out large spaces. Several painters literally panic in front of large flat surfaces. Freehands are their way out. For me it is an excellent occasion to play with colors, nuances and light. Some bad blending on a specific area, time for weathering in order to cover it up. I am not saying that weathering or freehands are always done to cover mistake. We usually plan in advance the placement and use of such things but it never hurts.

All these various techniques are tools you have at your disposal. It is up to you to use your best tools to achieve the best result. Freehands and banners still need to be well balanced, be integrated within the subject to work properly. I often hear people say that airbrushing is cheating and I would never start a project without airbrushing. Again, they are tools at your disposal. 

The main issue here is that we tend to forget that the appreciation of our work is subjective. Yes part of it is objective. Portrayal of light, quality of blend, basic composition, color combinations are all examples of aspect that can be evaluated objectively. It could be debated that some people can evaluate objectively every aspect of arts but for that, you would need and in depth knowledge of the techniques, concepts and periods in arts and unless you have a B.A. in Fine Arts, and even then, you are not the one. 

Judges at various events are often company employees or volunteers from the local clubs. Some of them will have extensive knowledge in miniature painting and others a simple grasp of what is good and not good. The latter tends to be easily impressed by all the "flash". So yes it is entirely possible that projects with banners and/or freehands get the upper hand. Is it always the case? Definitely not. It is highly possible that if two different projects are tied for a position that the inclusion of these artifacts could make the difference. As I said before, you should enter in the hope to win, not to win. There are so many variables in such contest, especially with podium format, that you cannot paint a perfect winning entry. You do your best and you hope for the best. I know, I know, easier said than done.

I do not think that it is hurting the hobby in any way. Are some painters using it as crutches? I doubt it is voluntary. Again, not every good painter has an in depth knowledge of fine arts. It is not because you have the best technical abilities that you automatically have an artistic sense and vice versa. You use the tools you have at your disposition to achieve the best you can. 

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? 

Mathieu: Not sure if the term "legitimize" is appropriate. It is one cash prize which is, let be honest, unavailable to 99.5% of the community. There is nothing negative about it but it is not the event that will allow the creation of a "circuit" of competitions from which painters could live. Of course, the concept of a circuit is farfetched considering the size of the community. I often said that I would rather see a smaller check to the overall winner and see cash prizes awarded to every first place winner of each category. But in the end I am not the one organizing it and even less the one writing the check.

Is it a good thing? Well, it clearly is not a bad thing. After that, it definitely attracts more painters to the event in Chicago but I doubt it does attract anyone new to the community. It has a positive impact for the contest itself but the impact for the community at large is neutral in my own opinion. 

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? 

Mathieu: I have been solely living from my painting for quite a few months now. It was definitely something that needed to be built into. When I finally did the move, I had a good lists of clients with quite a few orders in. A lot of people do not realise the amount of hours per week you spend painting. Several persons have the false fantasy that being self employed means working whenever you want and take breaks whenever you wants. Yes there is some of that but the "breaks" part does not really happen. So basically you end up working 70 hours a week to make a decent salary but since you are doing what you love, you do not really mind. 

Even then, yes I love what I do, but sometime I am sick and tired of a model but I still need to push through and finish it. In term of balancing life with it, well it is like any other person who is self employed. We do our best and we hope that our significant other is comprehensive and supportive of what we do. 

1st Place - Warhammer Single Mini, US GD 2007

Tyler: Any final thoughts?

Mathieu: Thank you for this opportunity and remember, keep painting!

You can see more of Mathieu's work on his blog, Studio Akaranseth and his Facebook Page.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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