Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wild Bill Hickok

Of all the western characters I've sculpted, I keep coming back to Wild Bill Hickok. I've sculpted him in three different scales. If you are an artist, perhaps you can see why; the windswept and interesting hair, the dramatic clothes, the unique face, and his uniquely Victorian notion of manhood, expressed plainly in everything from his posture to his dispassionate, but not unpleasant visage.

Here's my 40mm Wild Bill, seen from four angles.

This figure is from KOW48-012, Heroes I. The base is a simple metal washer, and the basing was done by sprinkling sand over white glue, and dry-brushing from medium brown to tan. A tuft of static grass is the one patch of weeds growing in Abilene's street at didn't managed to get eaten by a cow or trampled by a horse.

Wild Bill is interesting to paint because of his penchant for fancy duds. I set off his Prince Albert frock coat with a faint line of gray piping which is not actually sculpted onto the figure. In one famous photo he's shown with plaid trousers, which I did my best to paint (although I chose a slightly different plaid than the one in his photo). His hat is a popular style known at the time as the "Boss of the Plains," or "Boss of the Prairie." It features a low crown but a wide brim, and was usually tan, gray, or white. It pre-dates the Stetson.

His hair was auburn. I began with a dark brown undercoat, a burnt-sienna medium tone, and for highlights mixed burnt-sienna with yellow ochre.

Wild Bill's most famous post was Abilene, the summer of 1871. Cowtowns were dusty, except when they were muddy. His shoes, trousers, and the bottom edges of his coat were dry-brushed with a very faint mix of medium brown and yellow ochre to depict the  ever-present filth which was impossible to avoid, regardless of how dapper you tried to be.

His guns are nickel-plated Navy revolvers, with ivory grips. He fastidiously maintained these weapons, making sure they worked when called upon. I have fired a replica Colt's Navy 1851 revolver, the model he used, and I managed a misfire rate of about 50%! He took great pains to clean, shoot, clean again, and reload his pistols every morning to be sure the cap popped, the spark reached the chamber, and the powder ignited.

All the best,
Knuckleduster Miniatures 

The Lincoln County War

From 1878 to '81, gang warfare raged across central and southern New Mexico. Billy the Kid, enraged by the murder of his mentor, John Tunstall, formed a posse (of dubious legality) and exacted revenge on Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan's faction, which included not only local cattlemen, but the county Sheriff's department and others in positions of power. The movie Young Guns contains many historical innacuracies, but captures the essence of the conflict and characters pretty well.
Knuckleduster's latest figure set pays tribute to the conflict in 40mm scale.

First we have Billy, himself. He has been depicted in the movies many ways, however the only evidence we have of his appearance is a photo which shows a small, ugly young man with a rumpled hat and over-sized cardigan. (If you ever see this photo, be sure to keep in mind that some versions of it are reversed left to right; he was right-handed). He had buck teeth, so pronounced, he "could eat corn through a picket fence," as the saying goes. 

The challenge in sculpting Billy was making the cardigan look like a sweater and not a jacket. I accomplished this by giving it a ridged texture that can be dry-brushed to achieve a cable-knit look. I've sculpted several different types of chaps on my figures. The most dramatic are batwing chaps (see KOW48-02, Cowboys), which require conchose and rawhide ties down the side. Some folk like their chaps with fringe down the side as well. I'm currently putting highly ornamented Vaquero chaps on some Banditos. Billy's are simple, workmanlike shotgun chaps, belonging to a lowly cowhand. One of these days, I'll try my hand at wooly chaps, and the knee-length "chinks" (coincidental resemblence to the racial slur of the same name), rarely depicted in the movies, but used often.

Another challenging part of this sculpt is the awkward backward draw he's doing with his right hand. This comes from a contemporary illustration, which I altered only in making the hand anatomically correct; the Police Gazette illustrator had given him two left hands. This type of draw was more popular than you might imagine, but for the life of me I can't imagine why.

Next, we have one of Billy so-called "Regulators," Jose Chavez Y Chavez. He met his end on account of having borrowed Billy's hat, reportedly a sombrero with a green band. What was known as a sombrero then and now are slightly different, and any cowboy hat might be called a sombrero in those days. In any case, Jose was mistaken for Billy and shot on sight.  His last words were, "I wish . . . I wish . . . " Historians have mused that he meant, "I wish I hadn't borrowed that damn hat." He's wearing no hat at all in this interpretation; it's not too late for him to avoid his fateful decision. His jacket is probably an old Mexican or French military coat.

Finally, we have Pat Garrett, the lawmen that cornered Billy and shot him in his hotel room in 1881. Garret was a tall man who suffered from an inflated ego and unbridled ambition. Dee Harkey, a lawmen from a nearby county, considered him a "mankiller," who was too quick to resort to the use of lethal force. In the case of Billy, however, Garrett's instincts may have been right on the money. Billy was unpredictable, reckless, and had killed several lawmen already. Pat is depicted shooting Billy in his bed, giving him the "coup de grace," so to speak.
One of these days, I'll post painted examples of these fellers in action!

Adios, amigos
Forrest Harris

Friday, April 17, 2009

Monetize Your Miniatures; Commercial Clutter on Front Street

I want my Western Town to look like someone lives there. A western town's Front Street (a.k.a. The Row) was no different than Main Street, or "The Strip" is today in a town like Ruidoso, Laramie, or Durango. Advertising is and was rampant, and the thing missing from my town until recently has been the commercial clutter that is the inevitable result of economic activity. In short, I have begun to "monetize" my buildings.

Of course you must have a sign on any commercial buildings. Most lettering in those towns was simple, but examples of fancy brushwork can be found easily enough. Time-Life books and internet image searches should give you plenty of examples to paint your own signs from. If you don't have a steady hand, make your own signs in Photoshop and print them on cardstock. 

Smaller signs were everywhere on commercial buildings in the Old West. It seems that everyone sold cigars or tobacco and advertised the fact. Saloons might have signs proclaiming their Faro (card game), Billiards, Whiskey, or Dancing. 

My latest addition to the mining town of Knuckleduster is poster art. Large posters were "pasted" up by circus or theater promoters in advance of a show. 

Wanted posters certainly deserve a prominent place. It takes a bit of inestinal fortitude to permanently glue a piece of paper to the side of a model you just spent a week building, but the results are worth it and besides, life now or in the Old West is not tidy. 

Forrest Harris
Ol' Knuckleduster

Piebald Horse and Rider

This here's what's called a Piebald horse. Piebald isn't a breed; it's any horse with black and white coloring. White with any other color is called a Skewbald (for instance, white and brown, or white and bay). In the Old West, your Piebalds would  likely be a quarter horse or Indian pony.

When painting horses, I'm careful not to leave the shadows too dark. I used to dry-brush my mid-tones directly over my dark undercoat, leaving all shadows the very darkest value. This approach worked just fine with bays, browns, or blacks, but not so well with white, palomino, or dappled greys. The extremely dark creases looked less like shadows and more like mistakes. 

This piebald has large white patches, to which I applied a grey first coat, being sure to completely paint over the underlying dark undercoat. Next, I painted a lighter shade of grey on all but the deepest recesses, and finished off with bright white on the higest spots.

The black part of the horse was done with a black undercoat and two shades of grey, the final shade being a mere dusting with a dry brush over the tips of the mane and tail. The hooves were done with two shades of a greenish-grey, starting with a fairly dark shade. Horseshoes were painted on because I'm using 40mm figures, and the figure wouldn't look finished without them.

The figure is from the pack KOW48M-031, Outlaw With Pistol. His matching dismounted pose is from KOW48-3, Outlaws (the raggety white edge is because I clipped him out of a photo with two other figures).

I gave him a striped vest. I like to add some kind of pattern to an item of clothing on every figure, even if it's only a bandanna. Many people can do this well on a 28mm figure; I just don't happen to be one of them. 40mm gives me a bit more elbow room. It's also fun to run a fine line around the edges of the fabric as if it were piped or trimmed out "extry fancy." 

His boots are called "Napoleon" boots, and are characterized by the high front peak and high heel, small in size and set back on the shoe fairly far. They were a popular style during and after the Civil War. The boots worn during the 1870's and 80's more closely resembled cavalry boots than what we call "cowboy boots" today.

Until next time,
Forrest Harris
Ol' Knuckleduster

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Greens

Howdy one and all,
I've been busy sculpting more 40mm figures. Here are three upcoming releases. I received a request to show more longarms being fired from the shoulder, so I've put together this set, which includes a big old ranch hand in a ten-gallon hat (let's call him Hoss),  a character with a sawed-off shotgun and a Mississippi riverboat gambler's hat, and Teddy Roosevelt. I went with the instantly identifiable Rough Rider hat, although when he made his famous outlaw capture in the badlands, he was wearing a fur cap, which is far less comfortable in an Arizona gunfight.

If you like my 28s, fear not; I will be sculpting more of them eventually. I haven't given up on them. I will say, however, that I'm learning a lot in 40mm, and I'm sure my 28s will benefit.

Here's one of the figures from an upcoming "Lincoln County War" set. I've included a photo of his green, and on of the finished painted sample (pardon the unpainted base).

Next up, I'm sculpting 40mm banditos, vaqueros, haciendos, and Villestas. Rumor has it, I'll be putting out a line of 40mm buildings. I'm constructing them with cost containment in mind, and my goal is to provide them at  a price lower than comparable 28mm buildings.

Ol' Knuckleduster