Monday, January 26, 2015

Miniature Painting Masters: Jakob Nielsen

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 painting legend Jakob Nielsen, a multiple Golden Demon and Slayer Sword winner. He has been a part of the 'Eavy Metal team and many of his models have been featured in numerous army books and codexes by Games Workshop. I personally remember looking at his mutants he created for the Thirteenth Black Crusade and marveling at his wonderful metallics.

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

Jakob: Getting into the hobby was all my brother's fault. We played a Danish modification of D&D - just basic roleplaying; going on quests and rolling a lot of dice - and then one autumnal Friday evening back in the early 1990s, he bought a bunch of paints and a selection of miniatures. A set by Prince August, complete with warriors, skeletons and goblins. About half a year later, I was introduced to Citadel Miniatures and Warhammer. I won my first prize in a local painting competition a few months after that. The painting aspect really resonated with me, due to my affinity for drawing and painting, but gaming was also a big part of the hobby for me during the early years.

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?

Jakob: As I mentioned, I did play WFB a lot, and I still like to follow the game. In my Golden Demon years, my focus was totally on painting, so I didn't really play. However, I've recently gotten back into gaming, playing some WFB and also doing a Mordheim campaign with a few friends last year. Awesome stuff - simple and fun.

When it comes to painting, I care about gaming and display models just as much - of course, the time investment is rather different! Even a small force of models can take time due to the sheer numbers. When I approach models for an army or a warband, I decide on the goal for the project. For example, a group of Mordheim models; what do I want from the models? When do they need to be finished? To what standard? What techniques should I use on these models?

On the other hand, a competition model is more complex, with a lot more factors to consider. What story can I tell with the miniature? Can I add something by sculpting additional details? Are there any surfaces that could benefit from a freehand design (and what should this design be?) How will the miniature and base work together?

Regardless of the purpose of the figure, my primary aim is the same: I want to have fun doing the project, and I want it to look cool! I want to challenge myself, which can mean many things - trying out a certain style, a cool new technique or new colours.

Tyler: How long had you been painting at what you would consider a serious 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?

Jakob: My first real planned entry was a Black Orc on a palanquin carried along by four Night Goblins. I constructed the palanquin from matchsticks and balsa wood, and added a back banner and a few details. I cannot really remember the process, but back then most models were metal, so conversions were a somewhat complex undertaking. I am glad it is so easy today - some sets seem to come with conversion-ready extra parts. Now that is seriously cool!

If you take into account GD-level stuff, I suppose it was my first entry for GD 1998 - my Elven Chaos Lord of Slaanesh. The model that won me my first Golden Demon! That model was carefully planned and converted. First, sketches; then picking parts for the conversion; and finally, building the miniature and painting it. In particular, I remember getting up on a Saturday morning and starting working on the steed. I painted all day, and got so engrossed that I forgot everything else - even eating!

This model really refined my method of doing metallics - using really deep glazes and also treating metals just like ordinary surfaces. This might sound strange today, but back in the nineties, some of the processes were really simple. Metal was either silver, gold, brass or bronze, and the idea of using glazes was not common knowledge.

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

Jakob: I think my favourite piece is my mercenary captain from GDUK 2000, followed closely by my Crystal Brush entry from 2011: Duchess Death. The mercenary captain was an elaborate conversion that sought to encapsulate the essence of 40k and pay obvious homage to John Blanche. Duchess Death was a major project using all the skills and innovation that I have acquired over the years, so in a sense it is a definitive piece for me.

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.)?

Jakob: Using (and giving up on) a wet palette and starting a family! Both answers deserve an explanation.

I got introduced to the wet palette around 2005, and for several years I used it for subtle blending and layering - something it excels at. Over time though, I found that I spend longer and longer on my miniatures. I abandoned the wet palette to force myself to work faster. When you mix your paints on a standard palette, you're working against time with the paint drying on the palette. You have to plan the amount you mix, so you have enough paint for the base colour and also some left for mixing highlights. A real challenge!

Being a parent moves your focus and steals your time. For me, having children has encouraged me to work much more efficiently - I'm sure most parents who paint would probably agree that the number of models painted prior to having children would probably have doubled if you have the time-planning skills that come with having a family. These days I have three children - aged 11, 8 and 5 - and two of them are interested in the hobby. Passing on the hobby and helping someone else enjoy it is fun and also a good reminder that everyone starts from scratch. They both need to learn by themselves - but I am there with help and advice when it gets difficult.

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?

Jakob: Well, the web has definitely made the hobby into one that is focused on image. Some tricks and techniques really need a lot of neutral lighting for the viewer to appreciate the subtlety of the miniature. I don't consider this a bad thing, but I guess the hobby has become more diverse with a lot of different things going on. New niches within a hobby that is itself a niche. The main thing, however, is the ability to share and learn across all boundaries. Also, the many friendships that have sprung from this hobby is just fantastic.

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

Jakob: These days this is a difficult one, since I have actually very consciously cut down on the amount of time I spend looking at other people's work. I'd rather spend the time painting! However, I really admire the work of strong competition painters like Sebastian Archer, Jeremie Bonamant Teboul, Jen Haley and Marike Reimer. And, of course, the classic masters of present and past 'Eavy Metal painting - Mike McVey, Martin Footitt, Torben Schnoor, Darren Latham... I could go on! Of these, I have met all but Sebastian, and they are all really cool people.

These days, I get a lot of inspiration from some of my fellow painters within the darker areas of the 40k universe: Migsula, Kari and Mikko from the new Iron Sleet blog, PDH from the Ammobunker, and a bunch of other people who have evolved from fellow hobbyists to friends with a hobby in common. At the moment, I find myself inspired by people who innovate and take risks with their work, rather than going for those perfect blends.

Oh, and of course the insane jungle-crew from Massive Voodoo!

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

Jakob: Surface work. I would like to see more differentiation between matt and glossy finishes. Textures are also an interesting area where the classical clean painting style can be challenged.

Tyler: Games Workshop seems to have decided to make the Golden Demons a UK only event this year. Do you think this shrinks the hobby a bit for painters since it limits the number of people able to attend, either geographically or economically?

Jakob: I don't know. When the rumours about all GD events being cancelled surfaced over the summer, I thought that it would be a shame for the event to miss a year, but at the same time I thought it might be good for us all to get our yearly routines shaken up a little.

I have always favoured the UK Golden Demon because it has always seemed the one closest to the GW style and imagery. It is, also, the one with the most staff from the Design Studio on the judging team - which adds a sense of value to the competition. Then again, other GD events have proven to be areas of stylistic experimentation, which has added to the richness of the hobby - even if some don't follow the classic GW style. It'd be a real shame if the competition disappeared altogether, so of course I was happy to see the competition announced as part of the Warhammer Fest. I'd like to see the other GD events return as well, but who knows how things will evolve over 2015.

Tyler: The Crystal Brush awards introduced a $10,000 prize for best overall a few years ago, which is the largest cash prize for any miniature painting competition in the world. How do you think this affects our hobby?

Jakob: While it is great to see such a prize in competition, I am not sure it really affects the hobby too much. Of course it might make the top elite painters put in that extra effort, or encourage some painters to travel the distance to have a go at the big money. But the price of travelling to get to Chicago is quite an investment!

I travelled to the competition in its first year for several reasons. I wanted to take part in the inaugural year - and to have a chance at the money! But I also wanted to get to a competition outside Europe, to meet the American painters and see their work up close. And, most importantly, I had a great idea for the event that I was confident I could do in the time I had available before the competition.

Tyler: Painting to a competitive level is a very time consuming activity. How do you find time to balance life, work and painting?

Jakob: Well, most people will notice that I have had a break from the big competitions since Crystal Brush. I just wanted to do something else for a while. Experimenting, using different media, and building momentum. I feel as though I could approach a competition again within the next year or two. But yes it takes a lot of time and doing big pieces requires a lot of planning as well.

Tyler: Having been a member of the ‘Eavy Metal team for awhile and then participating in almost every Golden Demon through the 2000’s, you are in a unique position to see the evoloution of painting techniques. Would you say that the ‘Eavy Metal painting style has more heavily influenced the rest of the community or the other way around?

Jakob: Tough question. I think what we saw happening during the 2000s was a combination of complex conversions, sculpting and more focus on the imagery and background. Painting expertly is not enough anymore. For GD you need to be able to read and interpret GW art and miniatures and paint exquisitely. 'Eavy Metal's painters have LOTS of experience and practice, but their work has always been about presenting the product, while at competition you can add a mood or a particular style to a model. A competition painter, therefore, has more room to do wild stuff than an 'Eavy Metal painter. However, since the 'Eavy Metal style (not to mention the exaggerated sculpting style of GW) is part of the imagery, the starting point for a competition painter at GD would seem to be the 'Eavy Metal style. From that point we have seem many variations and style changes. But over the years I think most painters have worked with the *Eavy Metal style as a kind of starting point to either adhere to or to break from. Or in most cases a combination of both.

Tyler: For me, one of the aspects of your painting that stands out the most are your metals. There is just something about them that seems so crisp and with a lot of depth. How do you acheive this technique and was it something you actively sought to improve upon or just part of your painting style that was second nature to you?

Jakob: My metallics are something that I revisit from time to time. During my first years at Golden Daemon I worked on a lot of chaos stuff, glazing armour and gold with deep warm hues using inks. When the Citadel metallic paints changed (around 2000) I think we got more control with the basic metallic paints. They had finer-grained pigment and flowed on more easily. That made it easier to work with metallics.

Around 2005, I started using matt paints - the Vallejo Model Colour range - in combination with Humbrol metal 11 colour, which adds a really strong shine to the final highlights.

These days, I am more into quick paint jobs and vary my techniques from model to model -metallic base colours topped with glazes, Windsor & Newton artist inks, the new awesome GW washes, and matt colours mixed up in water. And usually a sharp final highlight of silver to finish things off.

Tyler: Your style evokes a certain John Blanche flavor to it, which is wonderfuly dark and chaotic. What draws you to this style?

Jakob: I always liked the way that John's pieces always seem to be suggestive, rather than explicit in their execution. There is always an element in his art that asks for the spectator to think and use his or her imagination. I love picking out the sinister - but somehow blurry - characters in the foggy backdrops of his work. His strong but limited palette is wonderful and works fantastically in his illustrations as well as on miniatures.

Tyler: It’s rare to see a model from you that’s not converted in some way, is this an important part of the process to you?

Jakob: It is important to me that the model is cool. Sometimes, that means converting. I guess that I like to put my mark on the miniatures. For instance, the Femme Militant Cataphractii model had a small, scary-looking head - an altogether disturbing model. I changed it by adding a bird's head, making it disturbing in an entirely different way. Slightly comical, it also added a historical reference to Ancient Egypt. The head-swap gave the model a more dynamic 3D presence. Lots of heads could have added to the model, but at that particular time, choosing the bird head made perfect sense. It was the right bit in my bitzbox at the time and it added a nice twist to that miniature.

Lately, however, I have actually painted a few plastic miniatures - the Imperial Knight, Tempestus Scions and the Dwarf Runelord - right out of the box. Well, almost...

Tyler: Any final thoughts?

Jakob: Happy painting!

I write it a lot, but I do think that it is the most important aspect of the hobby. To paint and have fun - and that the painting should be fun. Some years back, I was asked if I would ever stop doing competition painting. My answer was that I would stop when I run out of ideas, or if I stop having fun. Thus, for a while I have been focused on painting single miniatures for fun, exploring different styles and different expressions whilst having a break from the competition scene. The ideas, however, are still there, and I have several projects in my sketchbook (and a lot more in my brain!) that would be both fun and challenging to do.

So - happy painting to you, Tyler, to the readers, and also to myself!

You can follow Jakob's work on his blog MiniaTEXTures and see his complete back log of all of his miniatures, tutorials and much more at his main site, jrn-works.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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