Do you mind offensive miniatures?

I am not a person to be easily offended, especially by artistic creations. Some might say I am not sensitive enough. But a recent situation made me wonder what people think about potentially offensive miniatures.

So how did I come to think about this subject?

Virgin Vengine Mary

It was like several weeks ago that I was working on updating and moving our website, transferring all the content, etc., when my attention was caught by a discussion on one miniature created by our friend and former team-member, Demi_morgana. I paused for a moment, saw this thing:

Offensive or not? Vengine Mary by Demi_morgana
Offensive or not? Vengine Mary by Demi_morgana

The author says: “I wanted to create contrast between nice, innocent base and evil, rotting pregnant fiend floating above”

The model depicts some kind of a semi-cybernetic monster, called “Vengine Mary”. The reference seems to be pretty obvious, and can make the model feel uncomfortable for some…

Regardless of the reason, some people felt the model crossed the line of good/bad taste.

Some may mind the religious reference, some may dislike the deformed naked body of an apparently pregnant female, especially when you add all the mechanical parts to it.  Or maybe what seems to be a dead foetus on the base… Regardless of the  reason, be it for offense of religious feelings or for one’s respect for pregnant females, some people felt the model crossed the line of good/bad taste.

But wait, isn’t the line something that artistic creations tend to cross or at least push a bit? Shouldn’t be already be used to provocative aspect of some art forms?

Not only miniatures cross the line!

Sure, we already accepted (or at least acknowledged) the fact that artists sometimes shock, provoke or attempt to push us from our comfort zone with their creations. If it broadens our minds or makes us think about new concepts or assume new points of view, we may say it serves some purpose.

La maja desnuda, by Francisco Goya
La maja desnuda, by Francisco Goya

Believe it or not, but this painting was so shocking at its time, that the Spanish Inquisition wanted to punish the author of works “so indecent and prejudicial to the public good”.

Sometimes it’s done only to shock people though, just to attract attention, which would otherwise be beyond the artist’s reach. Now what do we think about it? Isn’t it a bit low, despicable?

Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano [source]
Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano

It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. Artistic value or just a shocker?

And while we already acknowledge that shocking is a part of artistic licence, or maybe even has been an inherent part of art as such from its very beginning (even ancient artists sometimes used the shock factor to achieve the catharsis for their audience), we also experience it in creative activities which haven’t yet earned the honor of being considered art.

Isn’t shocking just to attract attention a bit low, despicable?

To bring one well-known reference, which many of you may be familiar with, let me use an example from Spec Ops: The Line, a video game loosely inspired by J. Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and F. Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”.  I am referring to it because of this particular image:

Offensive or not? reference to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line
Offensive or not? reference to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line

And then this one:

Offensive or not? Refererence to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line
Offensive or not? Refererence to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line

Just like painted miniatures, video games are not widely considered art. Does it lower our tolerance for crossing the line of good and bad taste?

You surely see that it touches a nearly identical subject as Demi’s “Vengine Mary”. No, it’s not the best example maybe, as I think the reference here is a bit forced and cheap. Of course, there are thousands of more shocking creations in other artistic media, like film, literature or visual arts. I picked a video game for the very reason that – just like painted miniatures, they’re still not widely considered art.

Does it make our tolerance for shock and crossing the line between good and bad taste lower than in case of acknowledged art forms?

If it wasn’t for artists pushing the limits and opening our minds to new styles and perspectives, where would we be?

While many people would say that painting (and creating) miniatures is just a hobby, a craft, and has nothing to do with art, after seeing some creations of miniature artists from the last few years I disagree. Miniatures used to be toys, but now they often carry as much creative and thought-provoking load, that I feel they crossed the boundary and now they can hardly be considered merely toys any more. Of course, I am not trying to generalize, some miniatures are only fun, but so are some books, paintings or films. Yet some are something more. They’re more than a display of technical mastery, they move us on the emotional and aesthetic levels.

But does it give  them the right to shock? And is every kind of shock good, or can it be only offensive without the positive value?

Just move a few paragraphs up, to the Maja painting by Goya. If it wasn’t for artists pushing the limits and opening our minds to new styles and perspectives, where would we be?

Examples of offensive miniatures

Now that we discussed the subject in general, let’s move to some more miniatures-oriented part of the post.

I am sure most of you still remember the Wet Nurse from Kingdom Death, right.

Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?

It’s obviously a shocker, no way to deny it. Of course it remains faithful to the overall imagery and style of Kingdom Death, and these a love-it-or-hate-it thing, difficult to remain indifferent to.

I remember this one often coming up in discussions about the best and worse miniatures ever. Some may like it, some may say it’s a bad sculpt or a bad concept maybe… But is it offensive?
Well, then somebody brought up this photo:

Wet nurse – offensive or goofy?
Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?

Wait, isn’t this “thing” raping the woman? Even if it’s not what the artist intended, the overall form and context suggesting it? Well, it seems at least to some people it did…

Using a depiction of rape, or even suggesting it, just for its shock value, is not in good taste.

And one thing we can be sure of – using a depiction of rape, even if it’s only suggesting it, just for its shock value, is not in good taste.

Of course, many may disagree about what is done to the woman next to the monster. I am not sure what is going on there, but I suspect that the idea was to create something shocking, as it would surely attract attention to the new range of miniatures. Was it a good marketing decision?

There are more miniatures in the Kingdom Death range, which could make some people feel uncomfortable, uneasy or offended. I am not going to show all of them, as you can explore the subject, too. Let me show just two more:

Forge God - offensive or not?
Forge God – offensive or not?

Some people are easily offended by mutated babies. Are you?

Gorm - offensive or not?
Gorm – offensive or not?

Weren’t these Kingdom Death models just a perfect depiction of what some may consider offensive miniatures? And if you like them, well, consider it free advertisement for the Kingdom Death range. 🙂

But generally, why are these models so controversial?

Offensive or just controversial?

I guess it comes down to everybody’s individual sensitivity and tolerance. Some people can take more, some less. Some need stronger stimuli to be emotionally moved, while others react even to slighter pushes.

Then there’s everybody’s individual experience and values.  People with traumatic experiences will be more susceptible to being shocked with related imagery.

Then there’s everybody’s individual experience and values. Religious people will be easier offended by religious symbols or figures being used. (Doesn’t the Charlie Hebdo case come to mind?) Patriots will object to humiliating presentation of national symbols or their compatriots.  People with traumatic experiences, like being victims of violence or sexual abuse will be more susceptible to being shocked with related imagery.

Now imagine a model touching a sensitive subject – your religion, your nationality, race, cultural background, history, family or something you personally relate to. Would you mind it? Would you feel offended?

Is every subject suitable for a miniature? Or are some better left untouched? And is safer always better?

Is every subject suitable for a miniature? Or are some better left untouched?
How far can a miniature sculptor or painter go?
Is fantasy and sci-fi safer? And is safer always better?

I am really curious what you think about it. Would you mind seeing miniatures of, let’s say, crucifixion of the Christ or the Last Supper.  And if somebody added a twist to the scene? That’s what many modern writers and film-makers do, so would you mind seeing it done by a miniature artist?

Star Wars Last Supper, by Eric Deschamps Would it make offensive miniatures?
Star Wars Last Supper, by Eric Deschamps
Would you consider models in such a diorama offensive miniatures?

And you? Are YOU easily offended?

Now, what is your take on the subject? What do you think – can miniatures be offensive? Should they be allowed to be? What can make a miniature offensive? And what are your examples of offensive miniatures – if there is anything like that at all?

Incredible example of well painted skin

While browsing the website of our friends from the Massive Voodoo jungle crew, I stumbled upon this example of incredibly well painted human skin. It was done by Luis Méndez Juanola, and it looks more or less like this:

Example of well-painted skin
Example of well-painted skin. [source]
Isn’t it impressive with all the decolorations, changes in hue, and very realistic lighting? It looks even more impressive on the photos which show it next to a real hand!

If you want to read the whole interview with Juan and see more photos,  visit Massive Voodoo.

About driving and contrasts in miniature painting

What can driving teach you about painting miniatures and improving contrast in your paintjobs? Let me tell you about an interesting experiment that I read about:

The experiment

Drivers were asked to drive at a constant speed of, let’s say, 60 km/h. Then they were supposed to speed up quite much – to 150 km/h, and then to slow down to 60 km/h again but without looking at the dashboard. Now what was the result?

About driving and contrast

Most drivers slowed down only to 80-90 km/h, yet they felt they were driving at 60 km/h already. Their senses got so accustomed to higher speeds, that their perceived level of “normal speed” increased.

I had a very similar feeling today. After driving fast for some time I had to slow down to 50 km/h and when I checked the dials of my car, I noticed it was not 50 but 70 km/h. You must know the feeling too…

But how to apply it to miniature painting?

The common complaint

When you browse dozens and hundreds of miniatures presented by painters looking for feedback, you will surely notice that a common problem is that their paintjobs look boring, monotoneous. So the commonly offered piece of advice is “more contrast!”. But what you hear in return is “the paintjob is contrasted enough already”.

So what’s the deal? Is it that the painter doesn’t want to hear criticism and advice, or maybe they cannot see what’s wrong?
Usually it’s the latter. But there’s an easy trick to make them see!

Pandadosmares’ story

You surely recognize Pandadosmares from our miniature painting forum. This Portuguese painter kept receiving the same advice and no matter how he tried, he couldn’t get it right. And then he came to Poland to Hussar 2010. This gave him a chance to see works of other miniature painters and what he realized was that regardless of his previous convictions, the contrast of his works was still insufficient.

This live demonstration allowed him to make progress in his hobby again, after some time of experiencing a problem with making any improvements. One of his repeating comments after the contest was that he was surprised how strong contrasts were used by better painters. And the kind of contrast we mean here is not using contrasting colors, but strong chiaroscuro – deep shadows and strong highlights. And no, the contrast doesn’t have to be abrupt, it can be smooth – it just helps emphasize the sculpt.

Sculpting with light

One phrase I picked up from Ana is that painting is a lot like sculpting with light. And this is true: miniatures are small, so natural chiaroscuro is not very intense. If you exaggerate it a bit with your painting of lights and shadows, you will make the miniature more dramatic, more interesting and more eye catching.

Now think, which version of this paintjob looks more eye catching? Not realistic, but more interesting:

How to increase contrast
No, these are not to different paintjobs on the same model. It’s a digital simulation only, but it gives some idea, doesn’t it?

I used a picture of one of my older works. Now imagine you see them both on a gaming tabletop or in a display cabinet. Which one catches your attention easier? And on the second look, you pay attention for quality of the paintjob, but that’s another story…

So you want to do a little exercise?

Speed up and then slow down!

Remember the experiment from the beginning of this article? After driving at high speed for some time, drivers had altered perception of what normal speed was. When they slowed down, they thought they were actually driving slower than they really did. Why not try it with miniature painting?

So do it in a few simple steps:

  1. Assume that the level of contrast you actually use is your normal contrast level.
  2. Take a new miniature. Not necessarily a valuable one, it can be something as common as a simple plastic goblin. It’s just a subject for the exercise.
  3. Now paint it with extreme contrast, and by saying extreme I really mean it. When shading – shade to black. When highlighting – go up to white. As I said before, no need to do it abruptly – if you enjoy smooth blending, keep your style. Just be extreme with your highlighting and shading.
  4. The miniature is painted. It looks exaggerated and cartoonish, doesn’t it? Probably not very realistic, but when placed in a display cabinet it would attract attention, at least from distance, wouldn’t it? Now you’re driving at high speed, so to say…
  5. Do you feel comfortable with the “speed” already? If you do, move on to the next step. If not – maybe you should practise a bit more, paint another miniature this way? You’re not doing this exercise for us, but for yourself!
  6. Now slow down and return to your normal speed. Oh wait, I didn’t really mean driving but painting 😉 I meant returning to your normal level of contrast. Paint a miniature with your normal level of contrast now.

And what do you think? Did your perceived level of contrast you were comfortable with shift, just like the level of speed shifted for the drivers?

How to increase contrast
And again I used my old paintjob to depict what the whole exercise is about…

The exercise can be repeated once in a while. Whenever you feel you would like to push yourself a bit further – give it another go.

Results? Shifted “normal” contrast level

I am curious if this method worked for you. Why don’t you share your results with us and discuss the method in the comments or on our forum?

No, we’re not saying you should be only painting exaggerated highly contrasted paintjobs now, not really. It was only a tool to solve the situation of being unable to push your contrast that one step further and becoming comfortable with it. Just another tool in your miniature painting toolbox.

I hope this post was helpful or at least inspiring for you. 🙂

— Mahon