Sunday, June 16, 2019

Some Drawing

I will be the first one in a long line of people who say that my drawing skills are somewhat less than optimal. 2D has never been something I do very well. That doesn't stop me from trying. If anything working on a skill that is difficult makes the successes that much more important to me.

I'm signed up for a half day calligraphy workshop next month. That has little to nothing to do with the rest of this blog entry but it does tie in. My fascination with medieval manuscripts has been kicked into gear again by some of the accounts I follow on Twitter. Since those manuscripts are illuminated and decorated that means drawing.

Add in the interest in drawing RPG maps and it's inevitable that I would be pulling out the pencils and fighting my lack of innate talent.

I was cruising YouTube when I found a set of instructional videos on knotwork where it finally 'clicked' for me. I'd tried drawing that off and on for years but never really got the hang of it. I can grasp the theory behind it and even some of the design structure. I just couldn't (or wouldn't) get them on paper.

If you're interested this is the first of the series of videos that made sense to me. I started with his method of drawing grids but quickly moved to graph paper to cut out a level of complexity.

Here's some of the things I've done. There's failures in there, especially as I work with break lines. I tend to mess those up about twenty percent of the time. But it's better than it was!

You can see some of the progression as I keep trying different things. You can also see where I stopped filling in the negative space. 

Let's face it. These are easy designs. And I haven't worked towards the thinner lines yet or adding color. I'm working on the core concepts and until I'm happy with that I'm going to stay right where I am.

Break lines take more work both in placement and remembering not to get too close and/or cross them. I'm still working on that. I'm staying with graph paper until then.

After I'm comfortable with my ability to do slightly more complex designs then I'll probably move down to thinner lines. These are nice but not really practical when used in layouts. They're too chunky. Chunky helps with learning so I'm not complaining.

For those of you who do this regularly or can just doodle them out then I salute you. For me this is a real work of effort and concentration. I've got more pages I've been filling up with various sizes, shapes, and patterns as I practice. On every page there's a couple of failures and I refer back to them to find out what did wrong.

I know I can scan these and clean up things like lines I accidentally crossed. But that's not the point. I want to not cross those lines in the first place. The way to do that is understand the mistake.

Not too long ago the mistakes would have made me frustrated and upset. They would have given me pause about continuing. I've mellowed out about that in the last few years and can accept mistakes for what they are. Mistakes and learning opportunities.

The work I want to do in the future will only hit the scanner once it's complete. Nothing will be done to clean it up or change it. I like the little inconsistencies of hand drawn work. Looking at historical documents they're not perfect. That's part of their appeal.

In my opinion we're spoiled by perfection. Computers are a part of that. But somehow that looks 'dead' to me. The hand drawn works with all their little oddities make for a piece with life. It's more work and mistakes mean fixing or even starting over. Or changing the design. Hand drawn is certainly more demanding. That suits my personality very well.

I do plan on using these designs for freehand on miniatures and on terrain painting. The techniques will be adapted for those, of course. But the very first step is knowing I can be sitting in a boring meeting and do a fabulous corner doodle while someone is reading off the PowerPoint slides that were emailed to us days earlier. It's a personal thing and a way to keep myself amused.

As I said. Things that are difficult for me give me more satisfaction when I can do them. If it's something that is easy then the achievements are expected. These achievements are work.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

How to Start Painting Minis

It's been ages since I posted anything on painting minis. This post happened because one of the Facebook groups I'm in had someone brand new asking how to get started. They were overwhelmed with the number of YouTube videos and was looking for help with the basics.

Note - they had already bought a paint set that comes with paints, washes, and brushes. I don't advertise here so I'm not giving the brand name but it's very popular for that exact reason - their sets come with what's needed to paint armies. They do also work for individual minis so don't be turned off by the name.

Years ago I used to teach beginning painting at a local convention. We had two hour class slots. My intention was that everyone who took my class would take home a finished mini. Maybe not varnished but at least fully painted and ready for the table. That's quite a goal to achieve with people who have never painted a mini before.

Everyone in my class - regardless of age - left with a mini they had painted and were proud to show off. It literally brought a tear to my eye when they were all excited about what they had done and doing more of it in the future. I had accomplished my goal!

A little bit of snark. One other person really wanted to teach beginning painting as well. He got one of the three classes. I had one of the people who took it at a game I ran later. They got about halfway through their minis and would have to go back to finish them. It's obvious he and I took different approaches in our teaching.

If I don't already have a post about the higher level painters and their issues with teaching low level painters I will be writing one. It's not a slam on those painters at all. It's about being able to 'reach down' to the level of the students and not do things that are second nature once you reach levels of skill.

Anyway. To continue.

My class included a handout going over everything we did, some basic color theory, and additional reading at the end that went into more detail about things I knew I couldn't to justice to in two hours while trying to teach. I had pre-painted my minis to each step so I had an example but wasn't painting and teaching at the same time. I wrote the handout as I progressed through the steps.

The resulting mini is just fine for tabletop. There's no fancy eyes or attempts to layer colors. There's no fine detail work. It's a nice mini and has the people learning the very foundations of painting - color choice, brushwork, shadows and highlights, etc. The extra material goes a bit more into choosing colors, painting the five difficult colors (red, black, white, yellow, and purple), choosing and caring for brushes, and basing. Not bad in seven pages, I admit.

Here's a link to that document. There's no pictures since it was designed to be used in combination with in-person teaching and without knowing what minis I would get for my classes. At the time I was teaching I could request minis and I chose carefully for ones that weren't cluttered up with junk. Without knowing what people are trying to paint it's safer to leave those out.

The link!

Beginner Mini Painting

I've revised it slightly to remove references to the local paint group and add YouTube as a resource. I also cleaned up some typos and generally revised it to be more generic. It had been a while since I looked at it and I hadn't made it public before.

So please. Enjoy the reference if you're looking to get into mini painting or know people who want to do it but think they don't have the skill. I had kids under age ten finish their minis as well as their parents. It can be done. It's not anything to use in a painting competition. But they look darn nice on the gaming table.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Very Productive Weekend

It wasn't as productive as I hoped but I'm very happy with what I got done.

First off - basing sand for miniatures. Long, long ago I bought a pound of something called 'decor sand' at a garden store. It was sand with a mixed grade of granules so there was some really nice variety in there. I used it on my minis to much success. But then I ran out. I couldn't find anything local and made a make-do mix of sand and talus.

When I went back to the Midwest for a friend's wedding a few years ago I went back to the store with the intention of bringing home several pounds of it. Sadly they no longer carried it.

I continued to limp along until I saw one of DM Scotty's videos where he recommends construction sand for that exact thing - far more irregular mix of sand for basing. I was happy!

Construction sand only comes in forty pound tubes. That's a lot of sand. I did get a broken one at a seventy percent discount and it sat in the trunk of my car for months. Mostly because I literally had no way to carry it to the apartment. It was very precariously bagged.

Finally this weekend I used the sifter I printed (I checked the manufacturer's description and found that the largest grit was far larger than I liked for minis and printed a sieve of appropriate size) and separated all the sand. I had to do it over two days because I ran out of storage containers and because it was getting dark on Saturday.

On the left, basing sand. On the right, rocks. Underneath, sixteen inch paving stones to go under the upgraded 3D printers and a broken cut-off wheel from the next listed project.

Yeah. I'm going to have to find a home for a lot of this sand. Because I have way too much of it even with the number of minis I need to paint. I'm still debating about that. There were a surprisingly small amount of rocks in the mix which makes me happy. It still leaves a lot of sand.

Next up was shelf support. The shelves I put in the craft/sewing/office room didn't have enough dividers. I used an extra set to add a level above what the intended size was so I really can't blame them. The top shelves were always intended to hold army transports both empty and full so that was going to need to be fixed.

I bought a four inch diameter pipe from Home Depot and needed to cut it down to the correct size. That pipe sat in the room for months. The shelves sagged more and more. This weekend it was remedied. The pipe was cut (combination of Dremel and hand saw) and the cut edge smoothed and chamfered. With only moderate profanity it was wedged into place and the shelving unit is now complete.


Scary sag gone. I made sure the size would be enough to span all of the shelves and support them equally. No more worries about the top layer collapsing and the shelves breaking, much less what would happen to what was on them.

Next up was 3D printer related. One of the fans died and the replacement fan I had didn't have the correct connector. Correct fan, not correct connector. The solution is to solder the new fan onto the old cable. It's a known solution and not something that bothers most people. You can buy fans from 3D printer stores with the correct connector in place but I got mine from Amazon. I'd been putting off the project because I just didn't want to do it. That and my soldering skills are somewhat rusty.

Solder and heat shrink tube later and I have the new fan ready to be put into the printer. This is the one thing I didn't get done that I had planned. I was going to reassemble the printer and yes, I could have done it instead of writing this very long blog post. But I know my state of mind and would rather not have tried to reassemble it tonight. I know my limits. I'll do it this week after work one day.

Those are various and sundry 18mm miniatures I've printed along with a very handy nipper for cutting filament at the right angle to load into the printer. I printed that too - except the razor blade inside. It's also darn good at nipping incautious fingers.

Last but not least was something for me to do while I had all the stuff out to cut the support pipe. A future as of yet not disclosed project needs a rubber squeegee. It needs a small rubber squeegee. Shopping for the correct kind of rubber squeegee (I like the word 'squeegee' it seems) had me asking if I was in the wrong line of work.

Ingenuity to the rescue.

This is 3 squeegees cut down from a dollar store bathroom shower squeegee. They will work exactly the same and cost significantly less. Even better is that I can replace them very quickly.

So that was my productive weekend. I also made a trip to the not-so-local but much friendlier game store to buy the new Chessex dice that were released last week. As I warned them I ended up not buying two of the styles because they weren't attractive enough for me. These dice have swirls of color and it's very subjective. I did get two sets of another style (one to leave as-is for the collection, one to repaint the numbers a more pleasing color) and two sets from the case. One set is trade/sale fodder, the other is a nicer version of one I already have.

It might not sound like much but I did more this weekend than I've done in a very long time. I even spent a little time on the stationary bike in the apartment complex fitness room to try to make my knee feel better after standing at the trunk of my car sifting sand for far too long. It worked, along with the heating pad after.

I'm very proud of what I accomplished and the tasks I finished. I didn't just do things - I finished them. All the sand is sifted and my car trunk has been emptied. The support piece has been properly cut and finished then wedged into the shelves. Actually finishing tasks is something I'm not great at  so doing so many of them in one block of time is something I'm going to put in the win column.

And during all that I had an idea for the blog to make more content that wasn't 3D printer related. I'll have to polish up the idea and see how it flies. Stay tuned. Better yet, follow.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Organized Memories

I've got a lot of Hirst Arts molds. I've had them for quite a while. Since making the modular dungeon back in 2010 I haven't done much of anything with them. I'm in the process of cleaning and organizing the hobby stuff - a never-ending process by the way - I decided to finally put them away properly.

These are photo storage containers from Michaels but work excellently for storing molds. Most molds. Some are a bit tight in there but not enough to worry me. They have squish points. Luckily I had exactly the right number of containers for my molds. I didn't count them first. Typical of me, I know.

It took me some time since I wanted to do it once, do it right. That meant pulling up my old page which had all my molds so I knew which ones were there and then correlating them back to the Hirst Arts store to get their names. My page only had their numbers since that's what is on the images I took.

But first they needed to have the excess plaster scraped off (I probably should have washed them thoroughly but they're lucky they got this much attention) and then powder them. The powder is just one of those extra steps that is more of a precaution than a necessity. It's on the site to do it, I was going to do it.

Then it was a matter of going out on the patio and working slowly through each mold. Finding the next numeric one, cleaning it off, dusting it, making the label, putting it away. Mold by mold.

To make it more interesting I have a number of molds that are no longer in production. I do have a printout of them so those were easy enough to sort out. I also have some third party molds that I pretty much guessed the names at.

Two of my molds are on loan. I know who and when. I left open spots for them where they'll go when they're returned.

And I seem to be missing one mold. I'll have a better look at where they were since it's a thinner one but if I can't find it I'll put out a message to the old group to see if anyone borrowed it and didn't return it. I'm not very fond of it but it was on my list so I might as well see about getting it back if I can.

For a bit of eye candy here's the modular dungeon set up for a convention game.

Several of the fancy floors are A&K molds that aren't on the market any more. They were fun to paint if slightly too small to fit in with the Hirst ones properly. The rest of the fancy floors are painted by me to be fancy. Mostly.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Some Days...

Honestly some days I feel like I'm too stupid to 3D print.

I'm currently printing some upgrade parts for my printer. One of my printers. If I like it I'll print them for the other printer. They'll also work on the upgrades (hopefully) so they're not a waste of time and filament.

Since these parts are near where the molten plastic comes out they need to be a type that withstands high temperatures. You really should use one that's got a higher melting point than what you print with most of the time. That's common sense. People try to fudge it and pretty much always end up with sagging parts. That's not good.

So I pulled out the barely used roll of this stuff and started.

A quick run of the numbers. Skip this if numbers aren't your thing. Even worse they're in metric but I'll be nice and put the conversions in here too. 3D printers are pretty much all metric which is just fine for most of the world.

PLA - My main go-to plastic. Nozzle temp 220C (430F), bed temp 60C (140F).
PET-G - More flexible than PLA and handles higher temps better. Nozzle temp 240C (465F), bed temp 80C (175F).
ABS - The common high-temp plastic. Nozzle temp 255C (490F), bed temp 100C (212F).

The piece that wraps around the nozzle and blows air on the parts to cool them has to be printed out of at least ABS if not one with a higher nozzle temperature. Looking at the numbers you can see why. ABS has it's issues - it stinks, it doesn't like ANY kind of draft, and it prints hot. Literally you can boil water on the print bed when using this stuff. But sometimes it's what you use.

Fun fact. PLA will warp in a hot car. PET-G won't. Many is the person who has found out the hard way about leaving PLA pieces in their cars.


There's a glitch in the standard profile for ABS that ups the bed temperature to 110C after the first layer. It's not a glitch so much as a way to try keep the darn stuff from warping. However for some reason as soon as my printer bed goes over 100C it gets cranky the safety measures say it's too hot and shuts down the print. Sigh. And those are the temps that are in the vendor provided profiles.

It's common for bed temperatures to change after the first layer. Typically they drop by 5C but in this case it went up. Oh well.

I updated the profiles not to bump the bed temperature and went on my merry printing way. Except that it turns out I didn't redo all my files that I had created using the old profile.

This morning I was printing a small piece to check that it was getting smooshed onto the print bed enough without getting too smooshed. Fractions of millimeters count here. If it's too smooshed it leaves a ridge called an elephant's foot. Not only does it look bad it has an impact when you're doing things like printing parts for your printer. If it's not smooshed enough your bottom layers can look bad and the print can come loose from the print bed. So you dial that one in.

I forgot to redo that test piece with the change to the bed temperature. Bzzt. Print shuts down.

Grumble, grumble, mutter, mutter. Redo the part and copy it to the print server. Fine.

From what did get printed I decided what was in place would work. I knew this piece was done right since I did it this morning. What the heck. I have lots of this stuff and if they have a ridge I can fix it and print another set, right?

What I did was choose something with a very similar name but created for PLA. Obviously it isn't going to print well at all if you're using the wrong temperatures. Sigh. Luckily I caught it early since I was watching to make sure the temperature didn't bump up and wondered why the bed temperature was so low. Then I looked at the file name - they have the type of plastic in them.


Cleaned it up. Decided to print the test piece since I was starting over. Very slight elephant's foot so I'll be playing with that to get it better.

It will all work out but so many mistakes right at the beginning of my day makes me tired. You can only adjust the first layer height while it's printing the first layer (of course) so that's time sensitive and easy to miss on a small piece. But it's fine if you catch it at the right time.

These are my test pieces. They're meant to make sure that you're extruding the right amount of plastic. If they fit together nicely then you're fine. If they're loose you're not extruding enough. If they don't fit you're extruding too much. There's a modifier in the software that makes the files where you can adjust that. The green ones are PET-G and the color of all the parts for my upgraded printer. The black ones are ABS and the color for the fan shroud.

And another piece of eye candy is a good first layer. That's actually called "First Layer Pron" but spelled correctly (I changed it here to make sure any filters wouldn't catch it and consider this an adult content blog). Seeing a good first layer is always a wonderful thing, if you're a 3D printer.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Quick Update

Things have been happening but I've been short on time to take pictures. Since I was waiting on pictures to do a full blog entry you get a quick update with teasers for what's in store.

I have a pretty good way to print miniatures on my 3D printers so I've got a variety of those to show off.

I've been working on modifying the base for a 3D printed dragon to hold a set of dice, making it a dice dragon. That's CAD work and I'm not great at it but I'm getting better.

I've been finishing more Printable Scenery buildings for my friend so pictures of those will be forthcoming as well.

My printers will be undergoing a significant upgrade and I hope to take pictures of the process. At least I'll have a before and after set. It should be a sweet set of upgrades.

I have some tutorials for Octoprint, which is the software that's on my print servers. They're detailed and I have some preliminary ones I want to get done before the meaty ones.

I've been working very long days which makes me too worn out to do a lot of things in the evenings. That's not an excuse. It's telling you why the blog has been neglected recently. My housework has been just as neglected. I'm fixing some of that tonight since my kitchen had been overrun and I couldn't stand it any more. That and I wanted clean dishes.

So that's what's in store for the near future. Leave me a comment if there's something you want me to write about since you're the ones reading this.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Miniature Storage

Bwahahhaa! I have deboned the bag of t-shirts a friend gave me!

Wait - no calling the local PD for a wellness check on me. Hear me out.

A friend was moving and per my request gave me a bag full of old cotton t-shirts he wasn't going to wear any more and/or didn't want to move. I have a use for those kinds of shirts.

But before I get into that here's the end result.

Shirt carcasses on the left, shirt bones on the right.

Seriously. No wellness check.

What I did was cut out all the seams and hems from the shirts. That leaves me large amounts of plain t-shirt fabric, if you use the side that doesn't have a design on it. Why would I need large amounts of plain t-shirt fabric?

This! This is why!

Those are foam transport trays for miniatures. The vast majority of minis I part are army miniatures and don't go on display. I store them in the transport trays so if I ever get the chance to play I can grab the necessary trays, put them in a transport case, and off I go. Yes. I will label the edges of the trays so I know what's in them.

These things are great but almost everyone forgets something. The foam is a mild abrasive. The sticky-out bits of minis can and do get the paint worn off them from being moved around in transport trays. Sad but true. The very thing that's supposed to protect them is doing them harm....

Still no wellness check needed.

What I do is use pieces of the t-shirt fabric to protect the minis. It's more work when taking them out of the trays and putting them back but in the long run it means far less work repairing the paint jobs on them. When you have seventeen armies that can add up.

If you're going to do this yourself make sure you're using 100% cotton shirts. Polyester may feel soft but it's not. Go for the cotton.

The well washed ones work best because they're nice and soft. That's why we always keep them around far past their lifespan. Here's a use for them that will keep them in the game, as it were.

For those who aren't as familiar with deboning t-shirts here's how I do it. All cuts are done next to seams so I won't put that in the instructions.

  1. Cut one sleeve up to the shoulder
  2. Cut the sleeve off the shirt completely
  3. Cut the seam off the sleeve
  4. Cut the hem off the sleeve
  5. Repeat on any remaining sleeves (there should only be one more but I don't judge)
  6. Cut from the shoulder seam to the neck
  7. Cut around the neck to the other shoulder seam
  8. Cut down the shoulder seam to the remaining sleeve seam
  9. Cut around the sleeve seam back to the shoulder seam
  10. Cut around the neck back to the original shoulder seam
  11. Cut around the sleeve seam
  12. Cut the hem off the shirt body

Here's the fun bit. At least I consider it fun because it's a bit of a challenge and if you have a lot of shirts to cut up you can get into the routine.

Steps 1 through 5 can be done and leave one bone for each sleeve.
Steps 6 through 11 can be done to leave one bone from the body.
Step 12 will always be a separate one since there's no seams from top to bottom.

You don't have to try to keep them as single pieces. That's my thing. As long as you get rid of ALL the seams you'll have nothing but nice, smooth, soft fabric to swaddle your troops.

Even if you don't have a lot of minis or fancy transport trays this is a way to safely store your special minis. Wrap them up and put them in a plastic shoebox. The shirt fabric will pad them and keep them from rubbing on each other and as long as you don't jam too many in there it will also keep swords unbent.

Yes. It works for transporting a single mini to a game as well. Drop it in a sandwich bag and you're golden.

Remember - 100% cotton is the way to go!