Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Art of Gaming

I’m not sure what grew first, my interest in miniature gaming or my interest in the miniatures themselves as pieces of true art.  Many people will walk by them in the stores or may see them on my table and think of them as ‘toys’, but one needs to take a deeper look at the artistry behind the piece itself to get a full appreciation for this hobby.

Back in the early 1980’s I had an interest in sculpting.  The medium varied between plaster, wood, clay, and metal but none of my pieces became famous enough to keep myself on an artistic career.  I’m thinking that the names of my pieces: ‘The Black Bubble Family’, ‘Tooth Decay’, and the ‘The Abbot’ didn’t help either.  At the same time, I was just starting to get into gaming, and since I had many of the sharp and pointy tools needed, I tried my hand at things of a much smaller scale to make pieces for our RPG sessions.  I recall sculpting a couple of dragons and some nasty dungeon dwellers, but just could not capture the skills needed to make ‘standard scale’ miniatures… Heritage Miniatures and Ral Partha was the primary miniature companies of the day and ranged between 20mm-25mm in size.  There is certainly a deeper skill to making things in miniature, something I've never been able to master...or even become a fair apprentice. 

Some of the masters that I’ve become fans of Tom Meier, Michael and Alan Perry, and a few others.  I am a fan of certain types of miniatures, so, like any art work, you have have a feel for it or not.  There are just certain sculptors that just don't catch my eye while others will jump all over them.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is always true.  However, to me, it goes beyond just the beauty and into the intricacy, realism, positioning and imagination.  I've always liked Tom Meier’s works and have followed him from Heritage to Ral Partha to Thunderbolt Mountain Miniatures.  Certain pieces still hold a special interest for me, and as I cruise across Ebay, I tend to try to snag some of them from time to time.  My opinion is that Tom captures what I like best.  His historical pieces are simply striking and it is fun to watch his works in progress.

In the early 1990’s I had the opportunity to meet Alan and Michael Perry and I feel quite lucky that I was able to have a long talk with Michael about sculpting.  Some of the things he talked about stuck with me when looking at figures from an artistic standpoint.  Proportionality is an important aspect as well as the technical nature of the figure itself.  By that, I mean, how difficult was the item to cast without losing the detail necessary.  Other things like realism of the figure are important…even in regards to fantasy, which might seem a contradiction.  Movement of both body and nature should be reflected in any piece of art, including sculpting.  Mike and Alan combine brilliant imagination with these facets of artistry to come out with the essence of fantasy that seem to materialize from their imagination. 

Over the years, I keep an eye out on the artwork of the miniatures more than anything else.  I must say that there clearly are fluctuations in the marketplace even within the same company.  Sculptors come and go, finances change within the company, and cost cutting exercises change the casting material.  All of these things impact the artistry of the gaming table.  I find myself drawn towards some of the earlier works of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, but on occasion I still find some great pieces of art that I decide to put on the gaming table or in a little box in my desk drawer.  Certain companies still hold my attention (and my extra coins) because they tend to look for certain skills in their sculptors.   Pay attention to the sculptors moreso than the companies, because it is their art and not the label of who they work for that should matter.

Directly related to gaming, I enjoy playing all kinds of miniature games, but find that I have most fun playing against opponents who take pride in their pieces.  Painting is all well and good, but to me, that is simply the icing on the cake.  About a decade ago, I used to field my armies completely unpainted but lightly stained to make the details of the sculpting 'pop'.  Mounted on oak and cherry bases, these unpainted miniatures seem to get as much respect as a prize-winning paint job.  I have to say that it is very unlikely that they would have received much attention if they were not of one of a master sculptor.  In competition, there seems to be a difference among players who view their gaming pieces as pieces of art vs those who don’t give it much thought and who would be just as happy to play with monopoly building pieces if they could get away with it.  If there is a high quality collection (regardless of paint job), keep your guard!  It seems that those who hold their miniatures important are likely to make sure they aren't embarrsed on the table!

I’d be interested in what others think on the topic.  Please post your comments or thoughts on your favorite pieces.

-Maze


There was an error in this gadget