A Jem of a Birthday Present

Off the PageI’ve mentioned before that having a creative talent can be a gift and a curse.

During Christmases and birthdays being able to produce some nice creative presents for friends is always better than just buying them a movie or tshirt.

It’s not always a sure thing though and sometimes you decide to do a piece of art for someone and get hit by the creative block freight train that bogs you down…

A friend recently had a birthday and I decided a couple months before to do some artwork for her.  She’s a huge fan of the 80s cartoon show  Jem (as can be seen here and here) and I wanted to do a Jem piece for her.

I had a clear image in my mind of what I wanted it to be…but it took a few swings before I landed on the final…

I wanted to do a “singing” piece, not just a standing there for the poster piece.

My initial idea was a close up using Halestorm vixen Lzzy Hale as a model.

I sketched it out in pencil in my sketchbook before deciding on a medium for the final:

I tried to do it in chalk pastels…but as I progressed through it I didn’t like the look of it.  I definitely wanted the bright pink colors but I wasn’t a fan of the composition…  So I dropped the close up concept and went with a copy of a famous Jem poster…but as I worked through it I considered how senseless it was just to draw a poster…it’s just a copy of existing art.  And scrapped that too…

So I scrapped it and thought, “Well I haven’t done any straight up pencil work in a while.  I can add a touch of color to the pink like I did for my World’s End piece.”  So I started on pencils…

I thought I could do a punk rock or metal Jem…  The issue is Jem’s look is kind of iconic.  If you take her gaudy pink dresses, teased hair, and make up away she isn’t Jem anymore (as the producers of that awful film found out).  So even though I thought the art was better it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  So I scrapped that one.

With the birthday rapidly approaching I was starting to regret painting myself into the “creative” corner for the present.  I couldn’t muster the creativity to do a piece I liked and ended up regretting the choice to try it.

Then one morning I was lounging in bed one Saturday morning scrolling through Facebook and I came across a an ad for a Rick and Morty tshirt showing Rick in the iconic Scott Pilgrim pose.  As soon as I saw it I had the idea, Jem in Scott Pilgrim style.

I thought about the piece while I was at work that day.  I initially struggled with the composition, Pilgrim had his famous Rickenbacker bass.  Rick was holding a cartoon guitar.  I briefly considered just giving Jem a guitar or an 80s keytar, but I know fandoms enough to know you want to stick with accuracy.  I couldn’t give her either of those because canonically Jem doesn’t play either of those instruments in the show…  I eventually landed on having her still singing, but holding the mic cable in the same pose as a guitar player.  Once I had it nailed down I produced this:

The first one of these I was actually happy with.

It was done just in time for the birthday and now hangs in her house.  Always the best part of making art for someone is seeing how the recipient decides to display it!


The Grand Glory of Galavant

Galavant was one of those shows that came on TV and everyone I know told me I needed to watch it.  Unfortunately for both me (and the show if I represent its target audience) I’m not the kind of person to watch programmed TV.  I’m in the streaming video generation.

Luckily for people like me, the show is now on Netflix and even though it represents essentially everything I don’t like in a show…I can honestly say it’s one of the best new IPs I’ve seen in years.

What don’t I normally like that this show somehow masters?  Well…

  • It’s a Musical: I’ll just say it: I don’t like musicals. Sometimes the music is ok, but mixed into the story I’m often too much of a realist to suspend disbelief long enough to understand why all these characters are suddenly singing.  I can count the number of musicals I like on essentially one hand and not even use most of the fingers…but Galavant somehow makes musical work.  Partially (like one of the musicals I do like, Candide) it works because it knows it’s ridiculous and embraces it.  It keeps the premise simple but makes the details absurd but unlike a lot of absurdist storytelling it doesn’t just behave like the dodo from Loony Tunes and sticks to its narrative.  Also the songs are quite excellent and remarkably in character.  They remind me of the songs from Futurama or David Brent: Life on the Road.  The joke isn’t that the songs are bad, but the characters singing the songs sing them from their own perspective without snarky irony.  One of my favorites is when meat-headed henchman Gareth (portrayed by tough-guy Vinnie Jones) sings the most stereotypical love song in the most literal way possible and it’s lyrics and performance are entirely in character.  It’s the kind of show that can have a comedy king sing about self-esteem to a bearded dragon and make you cheer.

  • Fourth Wall Breaks: For those who don’t know, a fourth wall break is when the characters in the show break the reality of the narrative to acknowledge they are fictional characters in a fictional world. It can be as simple as a classic wink to camera, or as blatant as mentioning production details of their show.  The classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon used to do it all the time to get a quick laugh (often inaccurately spouting off incorrect show titles or details).  The character of Deadpool is essentially based around fourth wall breaks and I’m one of the few people in the world who can’t stand the character.  I think of this kind of snark as “internet storytelling” where storytellers have the chance to do everything as a cliché then make fun of it for being a cliché…while still doing the cliché.  Breaking the fourth wall is often a cheap way to get a joke.  And Galavant does it and gets some cheap jokes, but it is done less for snarky cheap reasons than it is just to point out absurdity in an absurd story.  It’s hard to fully explain why it works in the show to have the narrator sing of the cliffhanger, to hear a character chime in that they can’t die because there’s one more episode left, or have someone comment that it’s awfully early in the season for a main character to almost die.  But it does.  It works  because of the production and delivery.  It’s not done as a wink to camera or a “ha-ha look at us pointing this out” with the comedy pause.  Essentially all of the characters are anachronistic for the supposed 13th Century vaguely European setting.  And when one of them says something equally anachronistic or out-of-narrative it fits.  The jokes are often also subtle and not dwelt upon.  They are usually just part of the dialogue thrown in casually and quickly passed over.  It’s the kind of narrative treatment that so many have tried and failed to do…and Galavant does so well.

  • Network TV: When was the last time I saw something on network TV worth watching? Call it a prejudice but I can’t think of a show I tuned into on the big networks in the last decade.  Most of what I watched have been cable shows or smaller network shows (Monk, Psych, Supernatural, River Monsters) and syndicated shows re-run on cable networks (Futurama, The Simpsons, etc)  To think a Network produced this show for TWO seasons is SHOCKING.  They found some budget in between reality TV, contest shows, and legal dramas to make something unique, risky, and entertaining.  The entire first show of the second season is dedicated to the idea that they can’t believe they’re back for a second season.  If  networks would take more risks to produce more content like this maybe they’d win back some of the viewers who have defected to other forms of entertainment…like me.

Those are the main reasons the show shouldn’t have worked but did.  The straight positives are far too numerous to list.  The ENTIRE cast is brilliant.  Stand outs for me are Timothy Omundson as King Richard (he is legitimately show-stealing…), Mallory Jansen as Queen Madalena (who is both hilariously evil and remarkably sympathetic…and who has joined the list of fictional characters I want to marry), and Vinnie Jones as Gareth (who somehow creates a character who is a self-described “horrible person” but isn’t “entirely evil.”)  Add to that all the cameos from amazing guest stars just kind of thrown in (Weird Al AND Ricky Gervais?!  Yes please) and you get one hell of a show gone far too soon.

Who knows maybe it’ll gain traction from viewers like me who missed it the first time and we’ll get an even more unexpected THIRD season!

Right now its episodes are 18 perfect little jewels and definitely not to be missed.

The Next Warhammer Scenery Painting Challenge!

Off The Top of My Head

It may be patently obvious from my Sector Imperialis post I love Citadel Scenery.

Being a narrative player the world building portion of the game is my favorite, and nothing builds a story better than creating an interesting environment for your battles.

Over the years I’ve acquired a lot of Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy battles scenery.  I’ve painted a few pieces but never got around to painting the vasst majority.  Completing my cityscape got the painting bug back in me and I decided to start doing the rest.  It’s no small task but even the small progress I’ve made makes a huge difference!

Craters, earthshaker cannon craters, a crashed Aquila Lander, a Citadel Hill, two Citadel woods, fantasy walls and fences, Magewrath Throne, Eternity Stair, Temple of Skulls, Firestorm Redoubt, some quad guns and Icarus Lascannons, a Wall of Martyrs Bunker, a Haemotrope Reactor, and some Promethium Relay pipes.

A lot of the craters and the hill I hand painted with what was left over from my Realm of Battle board.  Everything was spray painted with GW or Army Painter sprays.  Mournfang Brown, Desert Yellow, and Khorne Red making of the majority with some Fang spray on the Wall of Martyrs details.

Here you can see more Wall of Martyrs defensive lines, a Plasma Obliterator, a Balewind Vortex, the Honored Imperium set, and two Bastions.

The Skyshield landing pad, Fortress of Redemption, armored shipping containers (behind the towers) Witchfate Tor, Dreadstone Blight, The Garden of Morr, a watch tower and chapel from the fortified manor set (where my walls and fences came from too), Arcane Ruins, and the Dreadfire Portal.

Here’s the lot!

My Basilica Adminstratum, Manufactorum, Shrine of the Aquila, And Sanctum Imperialis ses are actually primered too, but they didn’t fit on my table!

Here’s hoping in the next few weeks I can provide updates on the progress of these sets too.  Getting all of this done will be a major accomplishment for me!

Making Easy Wargaming Smoldering Wrecked Vehicle Markers!

Off The Top of My Head

While trying to re-learn the intricacies of Warhammer 40k again I remembered what a pain it is to show a vehicle as being “wrecked.”  Many makers, including Citadel/Games Workshop, make “wrecked” markers, but none of these ever seem to have the gravitas necessary to show the drama of an exploded tank or burning transport.

While re-learning the game I found myself watching a lot of battle reports on YouTube.  By far the best have been by StrikingScorpion82 whose games are both narrative and competitive.  They are also filled with great personalities and cinematic moments.  Scorpion also has a number of reviews and “how to” videos, my favorite being how he makes his wrecked vehicle markers.  His are durable, well-built works of art.  You can see his technique here:

After seeing this I wanted to make some of my own, but wanted to add a bit of effect and admittedly wanted to spend twenty dollars or less…  They aren’t as dynamic as his but are MUCH better than turning a tank of its side!  here’s what I did:

I started with some red flickering LED tea lights.  I got mine from Amazon for $8.59:


I went for red to give it the internal smoldering look I wanted.  They come in packs of twelve to give you plenty to work with.

I added some bent paper clips, which won’t be anywhere near as durable as the copper wire Scorpion uses but I had them on hand.  I used Gorilla Glue white to attach them to the candles.  I used two different version; one bent in half the other bent to stand all the way up with a folded hook at the top. The latter proved to be FAR easier to work with:

20170226_174935I masked off the bottoms of the candles (where the batteries, electronics, and switches are) and prepped the “smoke” portion.

Scorpion started with cotton wool, but I only had access to polyfill, which I got at Walmart for around $4.  I used copious amounts of PVA glue on the sides of the candles and shaped some polyfill around the base.  I then took various portions of the polyfill and shaped different “smoke” shapes around and on the paperclip bases:

You can see the polyfill around the basses in the back. The rubber bands weren’t actually too hard to take off, but also weren’t really needed. I just held each piece for a few seconds and they usually stayed. Ignore Konrad cat seated in the background…
Like Scorpion I made various sizes, based around two basic heights.


I followed the instructions on the tutorial and spray based them all gray.

20170226_200437Then added the black spray around the lower portions of each marker.

You can see the finished videos of them below!

Realm of Battle Sector Imperialis COMPLETED!

Off The Top of My Head

So it finally happened.  Over the weekend I took two days and completed the Sector Imperialis Realm of Battle board I started 2+ years ago!

Again following on from our lord and savior, Duncan Rhodes, I used the techniques he detailed to complete the painting!


Using pre-printed gaming mats is easy and fast, but for drama and detail it’s hard to beat this board.  Tt’s flexibility (six tiles that can arranged in various ways) and aesthetic are hard to beat.

20170219_185348You can see the tiny bit of Nurgle’s Rot I added to the open sewers for effect.

20170219_185514In Rhodes’ terrific tutorial he suggested using washes of varying colors to add character to the road.  This worked VERY well.  Here you can see the colors he recommended, Nuln Oil, Agrax Earthshade, and Athonian Camoshade with Dawnstone drybrushed over it.  You can also see the gutters.  They have also been washed with all three and finished with some Typhus Corrosion.  A bit of Typhus Corrosion was also added to the detritus in the gutters to unify the look.


Other than Skavenblight Dinge, which was used for all the road and stone sections, my Leadbelcher stock took a big hit.  All this metal…  Here the metal floows and mechanical components are displayed.  All were washed in Nuln and drybrushed with Necron Compound.


These bronze sections are some of my favorite pieces.  They were based in Balthasar Gold, washed in Nuln Oil, drybrushed with Necron Compound, and detailed with Nihilakh Oxide.


One of the crypt sections and one of the eagles I wanted a marble effect.  They were based in Ceramite White, washed in Drakenhof Nightshade, and drybrushed with Prixati White.

If you’re thinking of painting one of these beware…you’ll get through some paint, this handful got me through about half of it:


This was a great project and one I may be detailing and changing periodically as I use it.  It’s a great central piece and if you have one a fun project!

Die Hard: Yes it IS a Christmas Movie

Well it’s Christmas again and what does that mean?  It means it’s a time of stress (some fun), greed (some generosity), and food (some gluttony.)  It also means it is the time of year for the eternal debate.  A debate that has raged for nearly thirty years and still can stop a conversation cold whenever it comes up.

But fear not, I have the solution supported by incontrovertible evidence and will finally put this debate to bed forever.

What topic could be so important and cause so much consternation in the supposed season of joy?  There is of course only one topic it could be:

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

I have the answer.  It is without a doubt “YES IT IS A CHRISTMAS MOVIE.”  And here’s why:

  • Christmas is INTEGRAL to the plot: Unlike other less-debated films (such as Lethal Weapon) which take place around Christmas time but the season isn’t integral to the plot, the fact that it is Christmas in Die Hard is the reason behind all of the events of the film. This theory is proven as the answer to a single question: WHY was John McClane in Los Angeles to begin with?  He wasn’t there to win his estranged wife back.  He wasn’t there just to visit his kids, not even to visit them on the holidays.  No he specifically states he was “invited to the [Nakatomi] Christmas party by mistake.”  So not only is he there to celebrate the holidays with his family he’s specifically at Nakatomi  Plaza because he was invited to the office Christmas party.  Simple as that.  No Christmas.  No John McClane there for the heist.  If he’s not there there’s no story.  Some might argue that this doesn’t make it specifically a Christmas movie and that this is more just set up.  I’d respond that the same could be true for my favorite Christmas movie of all time, A Lion in Winter.  Henry II lets Eleanor out for Christmas.  Some gifts are seen, some food is eaten, but it’s more about the interactions and machinations of the characters.  But it is undoubtedly a Christmas movie.  And so is Die Hard.

  • Music: Love it or hate it Christmas music is iconic and has a very specific sound and feel.  From bells to choruses, Christmas music makes for a holiday atmosphere.  And Die Hard is loaded with Christmas musical queues. What’s the first song you hear? Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” (Argyle wasn’t bullshitting, it IS Christmas music.)  Even outside of the licensed music, the score is often accompanied by holiday bells, often used either ironically or to demonstrate how the holiday has influenced the events.  One fine example is the musical queue when it is revealed McClane has taped his gun to his back using Christmas themed wrapping tape.  Even the last musical queue is Christmas music.  “Let it Snow” plays while millions of dollars of negotiable bearer bonds and office paper drift down from the ruined façade of the plaza.

  • Themes: Imagery and commentary is all about the holidays. This is muted somewhat by the fact that the film takes place in Los Angeles.  So there’s no snow or wintry scenes.  Since the action is set within the confines of the building.  But there are Christmas trees, presents, and decorations.  Even the characters acknowledge the connection (such as Holly’s rebuke of Ellis’ advances, as she reminds him it is Christmas Eve).  Or when Hans Gruber tells techie terrorist Theo not to worry because “it’s Christmas… It’s a time for miracles.” Even more obvious is McLane’s use of the holiday tape mentioned above, and, perhaps one of the most famous sequences of the film, when he “decorates” a dead “terrorist” with a Santa hat and the iconic phrase (scrawled in seasonally appropriate red writing) “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.”  You couldn’t have these memorable scenes or references in a movie set any other time of year and they make Die Hard the movie it as much as Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman do.

So there you have it.  Case closed.  Die Hard IS a Christmas movie and one of my favorite Christmas movies.  I say that without the least bit of generational snark or anti-establishment sentiment.  Christmas movies are always more than about buying presents, getting home for the holidays, or dealing with family.  Home Alone is a Christmas movie, but it climaxes as a film about a couple burglars who get hurt by a kid while they try to break in.  The Ref is a Christmas movie about a thief hiding out with a dysfunctional family while he’s on the run.  While you were Sleeping?  Christmas movie sure, but it’s more about a woman faking her way into a family (at first…).  Hell even It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas movie about the impact one individual can have on the community.  So every great Christmas movie is about something other than JUST the holidays.

Just like Die Hard…which is not just DEFINITELY a Christmas movie, but one of the best Christmas movies around!