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Interview with Sebastian Archer


  • Interview with Sebastian Archer

    The next person in the Hotseat is Sebastian Archer, also known as Automaton. He is probably one of the best known painters around widely respected in the community and multi award winner. Here he answers some questions for us:

    I'll go ahead and begSebastianin with a brief bio. Well my name is Sebastian, of course! I'm 25, I'm an aussie and I live in Sydney. I've got a uni degree in social science but at the moment, I'm having a go at making a living painting and sculpting fantasy figures, which is a real dream for me.

    I've been into minis for a long time... ever since I got the old Warhammer boxed set - the one with the plastic high elves and goblins - for Christmas when I was 10 years old I've had a passion for fantasy ever since I can remember, whether it be books, films, artwork or figures. And it goes without saying that I'm a Tolkien devotee!

    I have really enjoyed the painting side of the hobby ever since I started, and have always been drawn more to that side of things, rather than gaming. I used to cling onto the idea of 'painting an army' as a sort of overall purpose driving my painting, despite the fact that I hardly (if ever) actually played - but towards the end of 2005, when I started to take painting more seriously, I realised that I enjoyed it so much that for me, painting was an end in itself, and I really didn't want to game at all! From that point on I felt a new freedom with the hobby, and my enthusiasm for it has grown steadily since.

    As one of the highest rated painters do you still get excited by other peoples work, and if so, anyone in particular?
    Of course I still get excited! There are so many different styles and 'tastes' out there, that there is always something new and exciting to look at, no matter who you are...and I love seeing figures that are totally different to my own style. It's very difficult to name specific people, because there are so many, and I hate to leave anyone out! But here are a few that spring immediately to mind, as being inspirational in different ways.

    I love Remy Tremblay's (Darkeden) work – he is both extremely talented, and very creative, making all sorts of interesting figures that often 'break the boundaries' of what we usually do with fantasy figures. Take his turtle head or chameleon for example, or the wrecked car he did recently – amazing stuff, and different from the norm.

    Raul Latorre is of course a supreme master of painting and sculpting, and also a nice bridge with the world of historical figures, in which he is very renowned. His sculpting (see the Enigma minis, or his historical Latorre models!) is such a pleasure to paint – somehow the figures he sculpts just seem to paint themselves, and always give a brilliant result! I think this is a special talent, to create figures like this.

    Matt Cexwish is doing brilliant things in the fantasy painting world with his dioramas. It's become his real speciality over the past couple of years, with amazing entry after amazing entry at the various European GDs. I really admire such large projects, because I am usually afraid to embark on something so crazy and time consuming! But I will have to follow his lead one day, because the result is really inspiring and special...each diorama becomes more than the sum of its parts.

    Roman (jarhead) I really admire because of his painting spirit! He is absurdly productive – he must be some sort of painting machine, the rate he churns out new work. But more than that, he has a really great creative feeling – he isn't so worried about making everything perfect, but rather tries to explore new ground with colours and ideas, and just paint for the pure enjoyment I think.

    What's your favourite figure you've painted to date? Lathiam by Sebastian Archer
    Well, I thought this would be tricky, but it's not really – my favourite is Lathiem, which I painted for World Expo last year. Everything just seemed to click when I painted that one – it was a very pleasurable experience. Not every mini is a pleasure; there is usually an annoying or frustrating stage in the painting process, which can be brief, or not so brief! But every so often you achieve a state of peace when painting, where everything you've learnt works's something like what they call 'flow' in psychology. I think this concept comes from Ancient Greece actually, Aristotle or someone! If you're interested, check it out in Wikipedia – basically, it's a state of mind where you are completely focussed and immersed in a task, and you lose contact with the outside world, all the other things which normally churn around in your mind – and you achieve a state of mind where you're not happy or sad, but just 'being' – it's like losing yourself in a mental or physical process. And it's meant to be the key to happiness and fulfilment in life.

    Okay, sorry for going off on a psychological tangent! Probably sounds ridiculous to some of you. But I'm trying to be honest and open up my thoughts. My second favourite would probably be the 'chevalier des baronnies', mostly because it was almost effortless, and very fast – another mini where everything just seemed to work, very little frustration.

    Looking at what I have just written, I suppose you could say that my feelings about my own figures are based more on the way I feel in the process of painting, rather than the end result.

    What areas do you consider to be your particular weaknesses?
    Definitely the fact that I am not creative enough – I need to break away from my own 'comfort zone' of painting single minis, and take on some more ambitious projects like dioramas or scenes. Just do something different.

    Also, I have tended to be too focussed on pure technique over the past few years. The painters I admired when I first started painting seriously were what I would call 'technique' painters, people like Allan C with the perfect blending, or Fernando (nano). So this is what I concerned myself with most, when I was trying to push myself and learn. But being a technical painter, whilst perhaps good in some ways, can also mean that you end up lacking a bit of impact – a sort or 'rawness' in style that can give a mini, and a whole painting style, much more character and personality. People like my friend Fabrizio (rusto) and Alfonso (banshee) are people I would put in this second category. They have a more raw a 'human' style, which gives their figures a great personality and individuality.

    Are there any painting ambitions you have yet to achieve ?
    Well, I don't know really! I don't really think of it that way, in terms of goals or ambitions. Right now I guess I am more focussed on improving my sculpting – I suppose that's my main ambition at the moment, getting my sculpting to a level where I am a bit more satisfied or happy with my work

    I wouldn't mind trying my hand at some historical figures one day, and competing in a historical competition – that might be fun, to try a different style, and see if I could be successful.

    Your style and technique is quite 'painterly': do you have a more conventional (2D painting) art background?
    I'm afraid not – the last time I had any traditional art education was in year 8 at school, when I was 14, and we were forced to have a 45 minute art class every 7 school days or something! But looking back now, I really regret not having studied art at school, or doing some sort of artistic study at university. I just didn't realise back then that I had a real interest in the artistic side of life. It was only when I was getting towards the end of my uni degree that I started to take figure painting seriously...that was in late 2005. However, I would love to have a go at some 'traditional' painting at some time in the future – it would be great to take some art classes and try my hand at canvas painting.

    How much planning of your ideas do you do? Sketches, detailed drawings, practice pieces etc.?
    Not much, I have to admit. I tend to plunge in and see where the brush takes me with a figure. Having said that though, I do think it's important to have a solid idea of the colours you're going to use before you begin, and how they are going to work together to balance and complement each other. I actually find that the shower is the best place for planning colour schemes! Even so, I often change my mind a little once I've started to apply paint and see how things look...but it's good to have a solid idea to begin with, from which you can work.

    As far as concrete, physical planning goes, well if I'm going to do some sort of freehand pattern or border or something, I always draw it out in pencil first – I think it helps a lot of you are completely clear on what you will be painting, before you take up the brush. Other than that, sometimes I take inspiration for colour schemes from artwork, although the colours often move in a different direction once I have the brush in hand!

    ]Do you think people should build up their skill level before attempting certain techniques or do you think they should just 'give anything a go' and learn from their mistakes?
    Well, I think painters get carried away with 'inferiority' feelings sometimes...I often hear statements by people suggesting that they are 'not good enough' to paint a certain figure, or to attempt a certain technique, or even to offer feedback on a painted figure by someone else – and these sort of statements always make me cringe a little. I understand the feelings behind them, of course – I've been there myself. But I really feel that it is the wrong way to think about painting. Figure painting, at its most fundamental, should be about enjoyment, right? So in my opinion, if there is a certain effect you enjoy, and want to emulate or experiment with, then you should never feel held back by some sort of invisible skill barrier. If everyone did this, then nobody would ever do anything new! I think it's much more beneficial to plunge in and give things a go. Of course, it may not work out the way you want – but speaking personally, that is true of almost everything I paint also! I'm very rarely completely satisfied with anything I paint – I can always see a lot of room for improvement, things I don't like, and things I would like to do better in the future. But if you have a decent attempt at something, then I think you will only get better at your next attempt – so why not start sooner rather than later! The best way to get 'better' at painting is to be very ambitious. If you really put in some solid time painting a figure, and try your hardest to paint to the best of your ability, you will improve very rapidly. Too many people get stuck in a sort of 'comfort zone' with painting – and that is fine, if you're happy with the way you paint and are having fun. But if you're serious about wanting to get better, then the best way is to really go for it, throw caution to the wind, and try your hardest with each figure.

    I'm trying at the moment to paint from a mid-tone, working up and down from there. Do you always shade or highlight first or do you tend to do both at the same time?
    I personally always start with a mid-to-light tone, and work up and down from there, as you say. In general, I usually shade first, then highlight, but it's a bit more fluid than this. If a surface is being a bit frustrating or problematic, and the blends are looking a bit rough, I find it can often help to go through a few stages of the 'shade and highlight' process. In the first round, you can be a bit more 'strong' or rough with the application of paint – the important thing is to get the basic tones in the right place, and you can afford to use slightly thicker paint and more of a loose style. Then a series of glazes over the whole surface using a mid-tone can help to smooth out the rough areas of the surface. Afterwards, you can go back to shading and highlighting again, concentrating more on technique to further refine and smooth the surface, and add more colours or tones to make the painting more complex, subtle or interesting. You can keep going through this process as many times as you feel necessary – don't feel like you need to do it all in one perfect round of shades and highlights.

    You're famous for your flesh tones and the colour you put into them. Do you use a strict approach for this, or is it more that you alter it as you go along?

    I don't know if I would say that I'm particularly 'famous' for painting flesh haha, but no, I don't have a strict approach – in fact I think it's very important to avoid this sort of 'formulaic' painting. I don't really believe in painting 'recipes' or the like. Why tie yourself in to painting all flesh with the same process, or the same colours...? Real skin comes in all colours – but more than that, we are painting in the world of fantasy, so I think it's fun to leave realism behind and try to incorporate all sorts of interesting colours or effects in flesh, to reflect the overall atmosphere, mood or general colour scheme of a figure. In the article I wrote about painting Urmuth, I tried to give a bit of a sense of the approach I take when painting flesh. It's not about a series of concrete or pre-determined steps or colours, but much more fluid in approach...I mix a heap of colours on my palette at each stage, and just try to work with them all at once, keeping an eye on the overall look as I go.

    Click image for larger version

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    You use an arrangement of colours for your metallics in your shading and highlights, as I have read repeatedly from your metallics article. How do you decide on which colours would work? to me some of the colours you've used as additives seem really random but do add to give an amazing effect. The colours are mainly based on the overall colour scheme I am using for the figure. It's important to think about the colours you are using already, and how they will be balanced or complemented by the colours you use in the metals. There's no 'rule' – every figure is different, and has a different relationship between its colours, determined by the overall scheme, and the atmosphere or mood you are trying to achieve.

    Aside from that, I usually try to use contrasting colours between the highlights and shadows of the metals, to increase the contrast even further. So for example, on Kelian Durak in the metallics article, I used some purple-blue tints on the metals in the highlighted areas, versus dark yellow-orange in the shadows. This extra layer of contrast enhances the 'shining' effect of the metals even further.

    Another technique I often use is to follow a colour through the colour wheel, as I shade or highlight. So If I want to use, say, a dark blue in the shadows, I might move this colour through turquoise, green, yellow, and orange as the surface of the metal becomes lighter, towards the highlights. And then maybe some subtle tints of red or red-purple for the extreme highlights, to provide maximum contrast against the green of the shadows.

    NMM or metallics?
    I love metallics...I respect NMM, and use it sometimes – but for me, there are just more possibilities with real metallics.

    I'm currently thinking about my GD entries for later this year and wondered if you had any advice on how to approach this, i.e.: choice of model, colour schemes etc.

    It's a common question, and always a difficult one! There are various theories floating around concerning success at GD...but who can say for sure? And besides, every GD has different judges, with different tastes, and different methods of picking the I don't think there is any specific formula for success.
    However, I think there are certain things to keep in mind, that apply to any figure painting competition, if you really want to to be successful. First of all, choice of figure is very important. You need to choose a figure that is large/complex enough to show off your skills. It's a matter of choosing an appropriate canvas – you need enough room (and the right sort of room) to show off your painting. No use choosing a tiny figure, covered with small need a figure that is open enough to have some fairly blank surfaces, to show off your technical skill, balanced by some interesting details to make the figure individual, original and eye-catching.

    Colour choice is important too. I think the most successful figures are the ones with a harmonious colour scheme that is well balanced and visually appealing to the judges. It's also important to create an eye-catching figure that will stand out on the shelf amongst all the others. This doesn't necessarily mean it has to be super-colourful – in fact, too many strong colours on a figure can ruin the effect, as they all fight for attention, causing clashes between each other as they compete for attention; as a result the impact of the colours becomes lost. It's much more effective to have a balance between fairly neutral parts of a figure, and one or two very strong colours – this way, the strong colour will stand out much more dramatically in contrast to the rest of the figure.

    Top tip for people looking to improve that you feel is widely overlooked in mini painting?
    As I said earlier, I think the key to improvement is simply trying your hardest! It sounds like a throwaway comment, but I don't think it really is, if given a little thought. In my experience, there are a lot of painters who seem to be a bit stuck in their way of painting, and reluctant – whether subconsciously or not – to push themselves further. They keep churning out similar-looking minis time and again. If you're serious about wanting to improve, you need to put some real time and effort into your figures, and push yourself as hard as possible. Don't be satisfied – always look at ways you could do better. Pretend you're going for the gold or the sword at GD with every mini - that's the fastest way to improve.

    Is it true Australia will lose The Ashes this summer?
    Not a chance! 2005 was clearly an aberration – this year things will be back to normal Although I must admit, I really enjoyed the 2005 series...I love a bit of test cricket, and it was very exciting to see such an unexpectedly close series! Plus, what other team sport has matches that go for 5 days?! haha

    How is the Guild of Harmony going and what does the future hold for you?
    It's going pretty well – I wouldn't say that the sales have been spectacular, but they're pretty good considering I haven't pushed them a lot with advertising etc., and am just starting out. I'd say it's had a pretty solid start – a good foundation which I can hopefully build on in the future. Up till now, the range has been a sort of side project for me, to work on my sculpting, and learn about casting and so on. In the future, I could probably think about tying the range together more, to create a more solid feeling and coherency. Maybe even hiring some other sculptors to create a few more figures – that would be a lot of fun I think!

    I've been doing some freelance sculpting work for a few upcoming ranges recently, and it's been great training for my sculpting, even if it means that my attention has been a bit diverted from my own range. It's something I would like to continue doing in the future though, and it also means I'm a bit more confident of being able to produce figures of a better standard for my own Guild of Harmony range in the future.

    I guess you could say that I'm moving towards more of a focus on sculpting, in the future! But I don't think I'll be giving up painting any time soon – I'll make sure to keep up that side of things too.

    What a totally sound, patient and generous guy you are (like in the way you've chosen to conduct this 'interview'). You still love this hobby, rather than getting all big headed and jaded with all the rubbish that always goes on near the top of pretty much anything. Have you made any conscious choices to retain these things and avoid certain things or are you just naturally so sound that this can't be eroded? [Sounds a bit gushing, but credit where credit's due....]
    Well answering this is a bit embarrassing, actually! I'm not sure I deserve such praise – I have an impatient, annoyed and selfish side too, as does everyone! But I do try not to let it affect my relationship with the fantasy figures community, because I owe the community so much. It's really changed my life – being able to talk and make friends with so many people around the world, thanks to painting, has been such a rewarding part of my life over the last few years. It means a great deal to me, and I don't think it would be right to turn around with some sort of arrogant or elitist attitude, just because I've had some sort of small success with my painting. The community only exists because people are willing to put some time and effort into maintaining it, and the more that people put in, the better it becomes – and in a lot of ways, it's also true that the more you put in yourself, the more you receive in return. So it only makes sense to treat everyone out there with respect. Of course disagreements spring up from time to time, but that is completely natural – the world would be a boring place if we agreed with each other all the time! And besides, often such disagreements can provoke the most interesting discussions, as long as everyone remains civil and approaches things in a respectful and rational way.

    Here's a pic of me in Girona for World Expo last year, to finish (I'm the one in the purple shirt). Such a fantastic event, a real celebration of modelling, but the real highlight was the people. It's a real privilege to be able to travel halfway around the world, and instantly be friends with people from all over the globe - all because of our figurines

    The less hair, the better the painter

    Well, thanks for reading guys! Sorry it turned into such an epistle (again!). I hope there were some interesting bits in there somewhere. And again, I'll reply to posts in this thread, so if there's anything you want to talk about further, I'm willing to have a go at elaborating (even more)!

    A big thankyou to Sebastian for answering our questions even though his cricket analysis turned out to be wrong!
    Sebastian is part of
    Guild of Harmony

    Sentinel - Gold GD Australia 2008
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    About the Author


    Darklord Wamp creator, painter (when I find time) Find out more about Darklord

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