Friday, November 4, 2011

Freehanding 15mm shields

One of my favorite books of the last couple years is Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers: The Story of Success."  In it, Gladwell dispels the myth that people are born to greatness.  He demonstrates time after time that greatness is earned with practice-about 10,000 hours worth.  That's 20 hours a week for 10 years. Before you panic, 10,000 hours is what it takes to put you at the very top of your sport, hobby or passion. Think Bill Gates, the Beatles or Lebron James.  If you are willing to settle for merely "good," you can invest much less time.  For those of us time and interest challenged, a minimal investment of practice in your craft will vault you to the hallowed status of "just good enough."

"Just good enough" described my skill in painting horses a year ago.  Back then, I'd put off painting cavalry because I didn't enjoy painting the horses. Maybe it was the musculature, maybe it was the reins and tethers or maybe it was the horse at the stable that bit me.  Whatever it was, I struggled when I got to these figures.  If you're going to paint ancients, there's no way around the fact that you're going to paint horses over and over again. By the time I painted my Turkish army, I'd painted so many of horses that I'd forgotten I didn't like them. I'd reached the point where horses were no longer a mystery to me. I knew I'd  conquered my Equinophobia when the first figures I painted in my Hungarian army were 72 figures of cavalry.  

My current painting phobia is freehanding shields.  When I see a shield, my first reaction is to look for a shield transfer. Or slap a geometric shape down and call it good.  I might do a little drybrushing or a wash but I've never painted an object on a shield.  This is a problem in my Medieval Hungarian army because the Cliperati and Armati battlegroups have 64 shields and the 50+ knights each have a shield ...ugh!  

For this project, I made a rule that even if I wasn't happy with the results, I'd move on. There were 64 shields and I couldn't sweat over each one.   I turned to the Internet for inspiration and found excellent Hungarian heraldry sites here and  here.   I loved the picture below so I decided to give it a try. 
I stripped out the fancy bits and concentrated on the motif of an eagle's head rising out of a crown.  It took a while but I achieved passable results.  I  reminded myself that these shields will be bunched up in units of 32 and then viewed from 3 feet or more. The camera is quite unforgiving this close up but here it goes...

Geese figure prominently in Hungarian heraldry so I gave them a try. As it turns out, painting geese was the easiest of the many items I tried. It starts with the S and then you fatten out the bottom of the letter.  If only every item I painted could be shaped via the letters of the alphabet, my shields would be so much the better!

I tried painting a 2 toned goat.  Unfortunately, there's not a lot of room on these shields and the horns should have been longer. And the snout on one looked more like a jackalope than a goat. 
Wheat is featured prominently in Hungarian heraldry. I'm not sure if bundles of wheat are effective at instilling fear in the enemy.  Maybe the wheat was accompanied with text that said, "I'm in your fields, eating all of your wheat!" 
Black crows appear frequently in Hungarian heraldry, often holding a golden ring in or around the beak. To be honest, painting a crow was tough because they aren't shaped like any letter of the alphabet. 
I really liked the image of a mailed arm coming out of a cloud holding a sword. The Hand of God is a much more frightening image that a bundle of wheat or a ring stealing crow!

These results are decent enough to build on.  I'd love to find a tutorial on the finer points of painting shields. My attempts here were built off of a black base.  I probably should experiment with other colors for the base. Also, once the image is done, I could spend a little time bringing in more detail, like laurels and trim and the such.  With 50 more shields to paint, I'll put these ideas to the test. 

7 hours down, 9,993 hours to go until I achieve greatness!


  1. That is some excellent work, and I look forward to seeing what you can produce after a further 9993 hours.

    Maybe try some geometric patterns next? Most heraldry seems to be pretty plain in terms of motif.

  2. !!!!! Those are freehand!!!! Lovely´s to the next 9993 hours

  3. Thanks guys! I do want to try some fancier geometric patterns after I round up some advice on TMP.

    And as for the hours, perhaps I should not have waited until my late 40s for this lofty goal.

  4. Great works, I'm not so brave like you. I prefer customize my shields by using white decal papers and a generic graphic software

  5. Hey Luca:

    Brave? No, it was just that there weren't any shield transfers for Medieval Hungarians! I love shield transfers and I'll use them again when I can.

    I've heard of printing your own decals but I have no idea how to do it. Hmm, I may have to post that question!

  6. btw, just popped over to your son's site - another wow - your family makes me sick - you paint great, your son creates music...

    seriously, very cool - I hope he does well

  7. I have a laugh a little because my son has great talent and well, painting is the best way I can relate to him about composing. For example, we once talked about how when you're new at something, you can progress fairly quickly. Then at some point, it levels off and then it gets harder to get better.

    If I never had any feedback or comments, blogging would be dull so THANKS for your kind words!

  8. great work Monty,

    15mm is tough, for black, silver and gold get yourself some fine liner pens, they work wonders otherwise de neefe 10 and 20 0 brushes and lots of patience!!!!

    for 28mm I mount my shields on popsicle sticks so I can do them attached to my multi vice to get the corect height for free hand.

    I have a huge medieval project coming up this year so I will do some how too's then.

    keep up the great work