Wednesday, July 6, 2016

On Miniatures - Essay The Third (Continued) - What Color Is That?

Some of Phil's Mu'uglavyani, in their original cigar box

So, now that we have some of the underbrush cut away, let's move a little deeper into the forest. Phil and Bill Murray of Old Guard did a lot of letter-writing back and forth about the new line of 25mm miniatures that Old Guard would be producing, and one of the things that got done was a long and detailed list of what Phil would have liked to have seen as a line of miniatures. Phil did very detailed descriptions, with lots of notes on colors, and both he and Dave Sutherland did a series of drawings of the proposed figures. Some got made; some didn't; decades later, Howard Fielding of The Tekumel Project is doing them, using the same information - and doing a fine job of it, if you ask me!

This information was later published in "The Dragon" magazine - #4, I think, the 'Tekumel Issue' - and even later on in a little booklet I did, cleverly entitled "Miniatures for Tekumel". I pulled together the drawings we had on file and the descriptions, and this was a useful adjunct to the painting guides being published in the backs of the "Armies of Tekumel" series.

The army lists' guides were an artifact of gaming at The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe, here in Minneapolis; the house rule was that figures appearing on the game tables there had to have three colors of paint applied to them, over and above the coat of primer. This had an influence on the guys who wrote the army lists - it's a big reason why the colors are grouped in threes, in the guides. One anomaly - until I started painting figures for Phil, nobody did any 'test shots' of what the specified colors looked like painted o actual figures; when I started doing these, a number of oddities were revealed - and it's also why I have a lot of single four-figure cohorts of troops in my collection.

The second anomaly - and a much more significant one, in my opinion - is that Phil didn't paint his own miniatures according to his own notes a lot of the time. He tended to do units of about thirty to fifty figures, and did them as the mood took him; he also painted so that he could see the miniatures on the game table. Phil's eyesight was never that good - he was legally blind, for most of the latter part of his life - and used one of those magnifying lens visors when painting. He also used a pair of binoculars at the game table, to see what was going on down at the other end; we all used to think this was sort of an affectation - that is, until I got to be Phil's age, and I started doing the same thing so I could see to the end of my own table. (Which is why I now have a 48" x 48" table, but we digress.) It did not help matters that all we had in his game room for light was a single 100-watt incandescent in a central ceiling fixture - the shadows were deep and dark, I tell you.

(All of this, if you'll pardon a slight diversion, is why when people asked "What unit is that?" the answer was "Whatever unit I need it to be..." from Phil. When I started painting figures for both him and myself, we agreed that we'd do a lot more 'standardization', but there's still a lot more individuality in Phil's figures then some folks are comfortable with. Generally, my figures are painted in the 'standard' schemes, as my figures were the 'demo army' for conventions; as time went on, we tended to use my figures out at Phil's, to save wear and tear on his figures.)

One of my on-going projects is to take the photo inventory I did of Phil's miniatures in 2012 and list all of the units he had, with breakdowns of what figures that he used and what colors he painted them with. It'll be a while before I get that done, so I'll try to provide some useful information as we go along in this series of essays.

At this point, I should introduce acrylic paints. Back in those far-off days, acrylics were a deep mystery, as you got them in artist's supply stores - these were very mysterious places, full of gaunt young men and hollow-eyed young women - art students! To say that us gamers looked out of place in such establishments was an understatement of titanic proportions. Phil would always casually offer greetings to the denizens of these places with a cheery "Hi! I'm Professor Barker; where do you have your paints?" - and he looked like a professor, too! - which got their instant attention and reverence. A full tenured Professor! In our shop!!! Wow!!!

This was my introduction to the Liquitex line of artists' paints, the ancestor of all the paints we see on the racks at our game and hobby shops today. I took to arcylics like the proverbial duck to water, and have been using them since the late 1980s. As we go forward, in our next essay, I'll try to give lists of the old and new, with suggestions on how to get that 'vintage look' to our miniatures.


  1. Thanks very much for all this fascinating information. I've been thinking about Tékumel miniatures more recently, and this series of articles comes at the right moment.
    Also, according to my documents, the painting guide you mention in your second paragraph seems to have appeared in Issue 6 of The Dragon magazine (not issue 4), from page 8 to page 11.

    1. Yep; that's it! I republished all of it with additional illustrations in the middle 1980s, and that's the version I use as a reference. Great catch; thank you!