Last week I raved about Helen Grant's amazing fantasy dioramas. This week I contacted HobbyCo hoping that Helen might answer a few questions...and she agreed! So here's our Q&A. Helen was very forthcoming and gives lots of insight into her method as well as some juicy details about diorama projects still in the workshop.
"1. Do you enjoy reading fantasy?
If you were to look at my book shelf you would only find *How to….* books, mostly relating to timber work, specifically for wooden ships. If you can build a wooden ship you can pretty much build anything… or at least have the patience and creativeness to finish it. Somewhere tucked in a dusty corner would be a collection of Mary Stewart and Marion Bradley novels. To be honest, I have not read a fantasy novel since school and they did not influence me.
2. How did you get into painting fantasy miniatures?
When I was a youngen’ I saw a movie on TV called Jason and the Argonauts and I thought that was the most amazing thing my virgin eyes had ever seen. I was glued to that screen. When the movie finished my creativeness kicked in. Being poor as a church mouse, my only option was to create from rubbish the things I'd seen. But I must tell you, I was hammering nails in wood and making little things since before school.
3. Who or what influenced your technique in the beginning? (e.g. any specific Games Workshop painters?)
From the time I saw Jason and the Argonauts, my inventiveness skyrocketed. I had no direction, all I was doing at that time was creating things to make my cowboys and Indians look real. I was making buildings from pop sticks then small towns. My cowboys and Indians lived in style. However, after seeing that movie, my game swapped to Greeks and Romans. Timpo toys and everything I needed. I painted my large Captain Action Bronze, then made a decent looking Argo *boat* and my game centered around these little guys escaping Talos.
I was painting miniatures and making dioramas long before Games Workshop appeared. From 1965 to 1982 I was creating anything and everything, so no one was an influence, until Citadel appeared. Not long after I started work at Hobbyco, we got in a brand of miniatures called Citadel and Ral Partha... and I think REM?. I thought these were magnificent. I looked at the figure and could see straight away what it was meant to be doing. I think they were about .95c to $1.50 each! Quite expensive for someone only getting $80.00 a week. I remember the Perry Twins had some beautiful miniatures… which I still have.
4. Where did you get your ideas? Do you have many diorama ideas that never got made? What were they (so we can imagine them!)?
If we are talking about my dioramas only, then the ideas came from the pose of the figurine first. I have never built a diorama and tried to put the figures into it. I do the reverse; I studied the figurine and imagined it could be doing this or that. After massing quite a collection, I started with an idea, then grouped the *guys* into idea piles. In a way, my finished dioramas were made up of smaller story telling dioramas.
The Dwarf Galleon was the last huge diorama. Yes, I have 3 unfinished dioramas. Perhaps my enthusiasm towards this topic has faded? It never mattered how big or complex the diorama was, if I was enthusiastic, I would always finish it.
As for unfinished dioramas? Yes, I had made a beautiful cross section base, typical of an ant farm and had the idea of creating an Orks Nest. The little guys lived underground in a beautifully self-contained *nest* with a sub-basement with a lighted generator. The lights would snake their way all through the tunnels to the hatches leading to the surface. I had planned to include lunchrooms and other day to day activities for them to be doing. The hatches were to be decorated with glass and glam that would attract thieves. The Orks would trap these poor things and drag them to their deaths below. It was never finished and I gave it away to a youngster who thought he could finish it.
The second diorama was going to be a huge dilapidated castle on the verge of collapsing into the sea. It was to stand on a rickety tall island almost eroded away. I wanted to make it look as though one puff of wind would topple it. The island entrance at sea level was to be guarded by a sleeping dragon laying on a hoard of gold…a temptation for would be pirates to visit. One figure was to be on it, a lonely silhouette standing in the lighted window at the very top over looking freedom and what he could not have while the world under his feet was unstable….I wanted this whole diorama to depict loneliness and hopelessness for the single occupant. I had cast 10,000 tiny sand stone style bricks to make this epic, but it never got off the ground.
My third unfinished diorama was to be a dwarf slave ship. The ship was going to be a meter long. Each deck held cages filled with all sorts of scum and villainy. The ship was to be grand, such as the era of Henry the VIII vessels, grand decadent and over opulent…. It is still on the back burner today with the hull built but the stern became over visioned and reached a non functional impasse.
5. How long did it take you to design, build and paint a diorama?
For me, designing a diorama happens during building. I never have the finished work in my mind…only the fever pitch to get it done. Fever pitch normally last 2 months, so I achieve my best results in this time. I am possibly not giving good advice to model makers, however this is my technique …or bad habit. When the diorama is cluttered and the flag goes up… it is finished. My painting would not win awards, although I tried to stay neat and colorful. It was never meant to be a single figurine focus. The diorama was the result.
6. Do you do other fantasy-related hobbies like roleplaying or wargaming? Have you ever painted a whole army? (why not?)
I have never painted a whole army. I don’t find this skillful…mind grabbing or creative.
The most I have painted repetitively was 10 Warhammer 40k figures… and I don’t even know where they are now... possibly laying scratched and broken in my *bitz* box..
My role playing consists of waking up and going to work…. My wargaming is catching the train.
7. What do you think of the new "layering" techniques vs old school blending? (which do you prefer?)
If a model requires both techniques, then I do both. I am not a one eyed believer that one is any better than the other. A good model maker uses both techniques and ALL brands of paint… hey!! I just called myself a good model maker… but here is good advice guys and girls… never be satisfied because you will lose your creativity.
8. In your opinion who is designing the best minis out there today?
I couldn’t tag any manufacturer these days but from what I have seen; Games Workshop still holds the banner for fantasy miniatures... that I like. For more realistic figurines, I’d say whatever is coming out of Europe in either white metal or resin.. no one can afford to produce cr*p anymore. Bandai make some wonderful resin models.
9. Why did you stop building dioramas?
Stop?! Never! I still have my Dwarf slave ship on the back burner. However, I did make a few small dioramas as presents for my friends. But the Dwarf Galleon was my last completed diorama in 1999 and won a Golden Demon award.
The dioramas I had built have been scattered to the four winds. I only kept 3 of the best. If a friend took a shine to a particular diorama, then I gave it to them. My joy only comes from making the thing… not dusting it.
10. Is there a particular scene from Game of Thrones you would like to recreate as a diorama? The Red Wedding perhaps?
Umm….errr…… I have not seen one episode of the series….sorry. In fact my television has not been turned on since 2014 and the batteries in the remote are flat.
11. Are there any new dioramas on the horizon?
ALWAYS… but I never know what until I am bitten by some ideas bug. My latest creation is a SteamPunk Blunderbuss. It is on show on Hobbyco’s Facebook page. As of November 2014 I never knew this style had a name. When I discovered its name I searched google for sites and like-minded groups. With this fire in my veins, I raced off and created my Blunderbuss. I have entered it in the Easter Show. I built the thing from scratch and soldered the brass. I cut the metal and my fingers….it is a labor of love.
I am now building SteamPunk dueling pistols. At this stage I have only carved the wood.
I have enough *scrap* in reserve to build anything. All I require is an idea and motivation and I can rule the world……but I have lawns to mow and weeds to pull.
Real life SUX!!"
How good was that?! I've got to admit I was surprised when Helen said she didn't read fantasy, but I guess it shows how broad this hobby is- how else are you going to classify adventures set in mythical Greece? (which is where half the monsters in the D&D Monster Manual come from anyway)
And just in case you didn't get enough Jason and the Argonauts yet,
Until next time,