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Zest-it brush cleaner – a review

August 13, 2015

I have a confession to make: I’m rubbish at cleaning my brushes. I never wash them with anything more than water and if they start drying up, I’m quick to relegate them to drybrushing, basecoating or glue spreading. I’m sure I’m not the only guilty one – you probably have a few of those brushes that you really, really used to like, but which are all but useless as they’re clogged up with old paint. Every now and then (once every six years or so) I get the idea of trying to revive my old brushes, dunk them in turpentine for very little result, gag at the stench and eventually chuck the old brushes in the bin.

On one forum or another I ran into a product called Zest-it. It was labeled “Acrylic Brush Cleaner and Reviver”, and piqued my interest, especially as a lot of positive things were said about it. Why not, I thought, and put in an order for a small, 125ml bottle.

zestit

In a week or so, a plastic bottle filled with clear, yellowish liquid arrived, and a trip to our summer cottage (hence the phone camera photos) provided me with some extra time to try it out. I chose an em-4 synthetic brush, that I had been using for a year or two, subjecting it to some pretty harsh conditions as it has been my go-to brush for basecoating, inking/washing large surfaces and painting sandy bases. As a result of this loving treatment, the brush was clogged with dry paint from the ferrule up, leaving only a few millimetres at the very end pliable. In other words, it had one foot in the brush grave already.

I poured out some Zest-it into a glass jar, and was surprised with its fairly pleasant odour. Zest-it is made out of orange terpenes, making it basically a sort of orange turpentine. While it’s not something you’d want to spread around your room as a refresher, it’s far more pleasant than turpentine or mineral spirits.

I started by simply sloshing the brush around in the liquid for a while. Sadly, this did nothing – either more time was needed or I’d bought something completely useless. Hoping for the former, I built a high-tech brush cleaning setup from masking tape, allowing me to submerge the whole of the bristles in Zest-it without crushing them against the bottom of the jar:

jar2

An hour or so later, I removed the brush and wiped it on a piece of tissue paper. I was happily surprised to see streaks of black paint left behind, so proceeded to wash the brush with shampoo and warm water. There was significant progress, as half of the brush had gone from stiff-dry to soft and pliable. Encouraged by this, I left it in Zest-it overnight. Here’s the result:

brush2

Click for a larger version

As you can see, the difference is huge. While any semblance of a sharp tip is long lost, 24 hours ago this was a brush on the verge of being thrown out, basically a lump of dry paint, and now it looks like it will serve for another year or two. Based on this small sample, I can say with conviction that Zest-it works and is well worth its price, especially if you have a lot of old dead and nearly dead brushes. As a disclaimer, I haven’t yet tried it on non-synthetic brushes, and will amend this review if there’s a big difference.

I bought mine through Amazon UK, and the 125ml bottle which should last me a while was a little under £7. Larger quantities are much cheaper per litre, but I wanted a small bottle to test the product. Do note that there are several different Zest-it products, so be sure to choose the one for acrylic paints.

Overall verdict: Zest-it Acrylic Brush Cleaner and Reviver is very useful for the miniature painter and you get good value for your money. It revived a brush that I thought was long gone, and I assume it will save me plenty of money in the future in terms of getting more service out of my brushes.

For more information, you can visit the manufacturer’s site.

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From the painting desk #34 – Weary old pirate

August 4, 2015

Another painted pirate! I wanted a change from painting to ship, so went for something smaller. He’s a Black Scorpion miniature, and very Long John Silver-ish with his missing leg and crutch. I painted him as a weather-beaten, wiry older pirate. I think the end result is suitably nasty looking individual, definitely up to no good.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

For the base I used a grass tuft from Army Painter. It was my first time using basing tufts, and I’m in love! Expect plenty of tufts in the future, and give them a go if you haven’t already.

This was the 19th mini I’ve painted in 2015, so better speed it up a little. Comments welcome!

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Bless those Swedes #3

July 21, 2015

I’ve noted in previous posts that IKEA is often a very nice place for a wargamer to visit, so here’s my third instalment of Bless those Swedes (see here and here for the previous ones).

Recently the photo quality on the blog has deteriorated, mainly due to me not focusing that much on lighting. As I like quality photography as much as the next person, I wanted to do something about this, and the solution was quite simple. I just bought one of these TJENA boxes:

tjena

Photo © IKEA

Combined it with a set of these DIODER led strips:

dioder

Photo © IKEA

And ended up with this (with an added A4 sheet):

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Now as you can see, the light is fairly yellow in tone, and the brightness isn’t the best possible – which was a bit of a letdown. However, this was easily remedied by using my desktop lamp with a daylight bulb:

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

As a result I can shoot fairly nice pictures using my old pocket camera, spending very little time on colour correction and achieving lovely, even lighting. The shade at the lower edge was caused by the camera itself due to poor positioning.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

The wires are neatly hidden behind the separate bottom plate of the box, and there’s a convenient hole in the back for the power cord. All in all this cost me 25 euros, which isn’t a bad price. If you’re looking for a lightbox on the cheap, this might be a way to go. Of course if you can pick up brighter, whiter led lights, all the better! While the difference in photo quality may not appear to be huge, the amount of time saved in post processing is very significant – a lot of my photos have needed a lot of tweaking in Photoshop to make them presentable.

There you go, a lightbox on the cheap which took all of 15 minutes or so to make. Good enough for me!

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18th century comparison

July 17, 2015

I love miniature size comparisons. With plenty of manufacturers out there, it’s useful to know which manufacturers fit together size and style wise. I’m not too fussy with what lines I use together (as you can see from my Colonial Marines), but I know a lot of people are very particular about it. As I’ve amassed a lot of pirate/18th century miniatures in 28-ish mm recently for my small project, I figured I’d do a quick comparison for the benefit of everyone out there. Posts like this are something I tend to google a lot, so this is just paying it forward. This isn’t a review as such, more a quick comparison.

The ranges compared are 18th century sailors by Galloping Major, pirates by Black Scorpion and Foundry and FIW civilians by Redoubt. Here they are side to side:

Click for a larger version

L to R: Black Scorpion, Galloping Major, Foundry, Redoubt

In my opinion all these can be used together, but as said above, I’m not fussy. If you want matches, here are my suggestions:

Black Scorpion has a different style from the others. They also have a fairly large range, so you could just use them exclusively. If the height difference is the thing bothering you, Galloping Major matches up nicely. Style wise Redoubt’s weapons are thinner than Foundry’s or Galloping Major’s and match up quite well with Black Scorpion.

Redoubt can easily be mixed with both Galloping Major and Foundry.

Galloping Major matches Black Scorpion in height but not style. They’re a good match with Redoubt and Foundry style wise, but in general chunkier and taller. However, you could circumvent the height difference by removing the integral base from the Galloping Major minis.

Foundry are short, but style wise match Redoubt and Galloping Major. You could remedy this by giving them a boost under their integral base using putty or a washer.

So that’s my take! As a disclaimer, note that these are single samples from larger ranges which in themselves have internal variation and and..oh heck, I’ll just leave it to Captain Barbossa:

As I like all of these minis and don’t want to unnecessarily put you off from buying them, shown below is a picture of two Foundry pirates and a Black Scorpion one. As you can see, you can do wonders with matching basing and I think they go together just great, even with the height difference.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Hope this post proves useful! If it does, I’d love to hear about it.

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Fear the Walking Dead trailer

July 11, 2015

Now, the zombie genre experienced a massive growth in popularity in the early 2000s. While it has been on the decline – or rather become a staple of pop culture – every now and then something really interesting pops up. As you may or may not know, this blog used to focus a lot more on zombies when I started out in 2009, but the focus has shifted almost exclusively to miniatures. I’m a big zombie fan, but I must admit even my interest has wavered with the over-saturation of the zombie market. This means my interest is nowadays not easily piqued when it comes to zombies.

This goes double for The Walking Dead. I used to love the comics, but they got boring. I used to love the series, but haven’t watched it much since season 3. The adventure game I love, but in general the franchise has gotten pretty boring. Then I saw this:

It’s the trailer for the new Fear the Walking Dead series. It’s a prequel and a “sister story” to the main series. Apparently it details what is to me the most exciting piece of any zombie story: the rise of the epidemic and the collapse of society. Interestingly, and probably because of budget constraints as well, few movies ever show this.

Night of the Living Dead stops before it happens. In Day of the Dead28 Days Later and many others it has already happened.

In Shaun of the Dead it’s flirted with hilariously throughout the film, but never happens:

Dawn of the Dead shows little snippets of it at the start of the film…

while its remake condenses it into one of the best sequences ever in zombie cinema:

At the very first post of this blog, I wrote the following:

I’ve always been fascinated (in a very sane, rational and normal sense) by catastrophes, what-if fantasies, tales of desperate struggle and the end of the world. The sinking of Titanic, alternative history, Helm’s deep, Alamo, Chernobyl,  The Book of Revelation, global epidemics, thermonuclear war…you name it. The zombie genre combines all of this. Simple as that.

This is exactly what Fear the Walking Dead appears to showcase. No wonder I’m pretty hyped.

Fear the Walking Dead launches August 23 on AMC with a 1½ hour special episode.

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Holding it up

July 10, 2015

I’ve been working hard on the ship in the past few weeks, and it’s almost ready to paint. Here are the latest updates. I sadly forgot to take a lot of photos, but this should give you a fair idea.

I got to work on the ship’s hold. The key elements were stairs and something that I think was meant to represent a chest.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

There was also a large, barred gate leading to another part of the hold. I decided to remove the door, leaving a very large doorway. The hole in the background is one of the ship’s toy functionalities, as there’s a matching piece that blows out when a button is pressed – a mechanism I left intact.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

I went to work on the stairs and what I’ll now call the chest. I wanted the stairs to be usable in games, so I used plasticard and build a platform halfway down the stairs to allow me to place minis. The chest was given a very rough treatment, as my plans only involved covering it with planks.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Sadly, there are WIP pictures missing here, and I’ll just skip ahead to where the stairs and the chest are finished. You can see I also chopped down the pegs that were originally holding the ship’s toy cannon. As you can see I added some details to the stairs to make them look a bit nicer. I also added planking around the battery case for the same reason. As you can see, the whole thing has already been sprayed a glorious brown.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

I gave the doorway a frame, but left it otherwise untouched. I figured the size makes it look like the ship is capable of taking in loads of cargo.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

As you can see, the stairs can nicely accommodate a few pirates.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Apologies for the unusually poor quality of the photos, they’ve been hit with a fair amount of blur and excess lighting. The uneven, bleached look in some of the brown areas isn’t only due to lighting, however. I spray painted part of the ship during really humid weather, i.e. Finnish summer, so I got some of the lovely frosting that tends to happen. Luckily the brown paint it there primarily to serve as a basecoat, so no real harm done.

Here’s a final photo of the ship in its present state.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

As crazy as it sounds, all I need to do is rough up the mizzenmast, add some planking to the forecastle and basecoat both, and I’m actually ready to start painting this thing. For the paint job I’m thinking of something similar to the one on this model of Bartholomew Roberts’ Royal Fortune, so burnt umber with a dash of red. Of course I want to throw in something a bit more extravagant, so you can be sure you’ll be seeing a lot of gilding as well. Getting there!

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Unleash the Cagafuego!

July 4, 2015

In my previous post I lamented too small cannon, so I wanted something bigger. Remembering I had just the thing in my bits box, I got to work. Said “thing” is a WHFB cannon from the 6th edition boxed set, now 15 years old. It’s not in the best shape, having had bits glued, removed, re-glued and so on, as well as fairly haphazard filing and smoothing of mould lines and such.

Courtesy of me 15 years ago

Courtesy of me 15 years ago

The cannon itself is a big, ornamental beast as fits the gothic fantasy look of WHFB. This led me to thinking that obviously such an ornamental piece on a pirate ship must be looted from the Spanish. Seriously, is there another explanation? I think not. This also gave me the chance of using one of my favourite words ever, as I named it…

Cagafuego!

Impressive name, isn’t it? Of course, it has a historical background, as it was the nickname of a Spanish ship captured by Sir Francis Drake. As Wikipedia will tell you:

Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (Spanish: “Our Lady of the (Immaculate) Conception”) was a 120-ton Spanish galleon that sailed the Peru – Panama trading route during the 16th century. This ship has earned a place in maritime history not only by virtue of being Sir Francis Drake’s most famous prize, but also because of her colourful nickname, Cagafuego (“fireshitter”).

Seriously, is there a better name for a massive Spanish cannon than “Fireshitter”? I think not. It appeals both to my love of history and 10 year old’s sense of humour.

Cagafuego is a huge piece, and I’m thinking that its role on the ship is that it’s a piece mainly for intimidation. Due to the build of the ship and for practical reasons, it’s only going to carry some seven cannon altogether – much fewer than a ship of this size historically would have. Of these seven, six will be normal sized and Cagafuego much larger, so I’m thinking that it’s always a bit of a spectacle when it’s utilised. You know:

– Captain, they’re not striking their colours.

– Very well then. ROLL OUT CAGAFUEGO!

The only problem was that I didn’t have a carriage for the gun as the original mount was a field one, not suitable for ships. Having grown more accustomed to working with plasticard and coffee stirrers, I figured I’d try my hand at building the carriage from scratch, resulting in this:

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

It turned out alright, I think! Sure, anyone into things like history and realism will probably find plenty of things wrong with it, and there are some irregularities here and there, but to my fantasy pirate eye it looks as it should. The core structure is plasticard with an old Warmaster base underneath. The wooden bits are coffee stirrers, the wheels are cut from 10mm diameter dowel rod and the axles are decorative studs meant for clothing.  The smaller iron rings are plastic pieces from the original cannon set and the bigger ones are from WHFB orc weapons. As with a lot of my woodwork, this one also relies a lot on the “it’ll look nicer once painted” factor, but I have high hopes!

To cap off the post, here’s a comparison shot of Cagafuego and my existing Ainsty cannon as well as a Foundry pirate. Neat, right?

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

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