Sunday, 6 October 2013

"Still, that is not the point.”

Whenever we try to decide whether to accept a new idea, we must ask ourselves some very serious questions.

1 – Does it make me look good?
2 – Is it like something I already half-believe but better phrased?
3 – Can I get away with it?
4 – Has someone already done most of the heavy lifting?

Exactly one week ago I went to the library to look for books on sculpture. Of the two I picked up, one was chosen mainly on the basis of size. It was large and brown and looked official. The dewey decimal number was embossed onto the spine, which is how you know someone means business with their book. There were also lots of pictures.

And by pure chance I pick up the one book I absolutely need. What a surprise is Herbert Read.

He died in 68’ I think and never saw large-scale miniature production. Let alone Warhammer. But I think he would have liked it. Here are some things I learnt from Herbert

Read believes that the ‘Painterly’ and the ‘Plastic’ are in conflict all through the history of sculpture. What this means is a little complex. I hope I have under stood well enough to summarise without saying anything too stupid.

This is ‘Painterly’ 

The simplest way to say it is that it is sculpture made to be seen, made to create an image first. To do the same thing that painting does, but with different materials.

I think Herbert would probably think that Elves are Painterly as well.

They are kind of an illusion. The material is not being itself, it is being transformed, with skill, to create the pretence of another kind of matter. To float. The problem Herbert has with this is that, while not bad in itself, and requiring a high level of ability, it separates sculpture from its core. He thinks sculpture can do something that images can never do and that when sculptures become too painterly and feed on each other they, over time, become absent of this core quality.

“but it is perhaps still necessary to expose the weaknesses that, present in the painterly conception at its best, lead with logical inevitability to the horrors of academic sculpture at its worst.”

So what is this quality?

Sculpture can shape mass. It can occupy space in a particular way. It holds and contains weight and depth and projects or embodies this in the world. The spatial presence comes first, the visuals are just a consequence of that.

“The mind, said Rodin, only with difficulty familiarizes itself with the notion of depths, it always tends to play over surfaces.”

“Henceforth, when you carve, never see the form in length, but always in thickness. Never consider a surface except as the extremity of a volume, as the point, more or less large, which it directs toward you. In that way you will acquire the ­science of modelling.” – some guy advising Rodin

Read would say that this did that well

“Michelangelo, whose work had this compactness, said that only those works were good that could be rolled from the top to the bottom of the mountain without breaking.”

Now Dwarves.

Dwarves embody mass. They occupy space. You could roll them downhill and nothing would snap off. If they are interesting to look at it is probably a secondary effect of the way they occupy the space they are in.

(Now we have a problem here in that we can only look at these pictures. We have only the visual sense in this case. So we are trying to reach behind or through one sense to reach another. The way I think of this;- I imagine feeling it in my body, beginning with my hands I pretend the sculpture is life size, I press my palms against it, I move my body forward until I can feel my weight move against it's. I imagine trying to rock it gently back and forth, moving around it and pushing it from every side. If I can feel the sculpture, then I would say it has this quality. 

It's possible that I am being a little mad. But maybe not.)

“It is very difficult to convey the nature of the sensations by descriptive words or even by photographic illustrations. Ideally each reader of this volume should be provided, at this stage, with a piece of sculpture to hug, cuddle, fondle – primitive verbs that indicate a desire to treat an object with plastic sensibility.”

“I know that we can get on quite well with a life  of visual sensations, with perhaps an merely subcutaneous or subconscious life of tactile sensations. Still, that is not the point.”


Goblins, on the other hand, are Haptic. They are shaped by touch. They are a primitive sense feeding straight back into itself without interacting much with sight.

This is the haptic homunculus. You may be familiar with it.

The human body with the sizes and proportions relative to the density of nerve endings. he body as you touch it and as it is touched. Absent of sight. Congenitally blind children often sculpt the body with these proportions.

And here is a goblin.

Goblins are haptic homonlculi. I think that's why I enjoyed painting them so much.

We cannot actually stroke or cuddle out mini's much. Our main points of contact with their surfaces is firstly when we assemble them, but mainly when we paint them. We feel then virtually through the tip of a very soft, and carefully observed paintbrush. Though we do not have perfect tactile feedback on the brush tip, we observe the paint being applied and the exact nature of the touch affects that very clearly. I always loved painting goblins (and Orcs somewhat) more than anything else. The hugeness and crudeness of their features was a delight, quite a different feeling to a normally proportioned model.)

It is possible that a combination of the limited means of lead casting and the, kind of, artistic 'moment' of the times meant that early citadel miniatures were better sculptures in this way. Less perfect as pictured things, and maybe not as skilled. But they occupied space and held mass in a different way and in that sense, were more pure sculptures because they did that thing that only sculpture can do.

And they were made of lead, which weighs differently in the hand. And people might say why does it matter if the shape is better and I would reply why wouldn't it. It is a tactile form. it is a haptic form. The weight is part of what it is. It's not just what the material can do it is also what the material is.

Touch is the most shat-upon sense. Along with smell. How do we tell if someone is low status or mentally ill? If they smell, if they try to smell other people. If they touch things. Children touch things. All the time. Grabbing twisting biting licking. But when you hit twelve you are expected to have all the haptic information you will ever need. Better remember it.

You might say that any mini in your hand is better than any mini on the screen because it is in your hand.

Other things I have thought about but that have no actual place in this post. Probably they will come up in a later one.

Any Warhammer culture that could possibly dance upon the battle field will dance upon the battlefield. 

Even Fulgrim has a bit of a go, and he’s the size of a shed.


A good mini carries it’s story energy forward and its tactical information back towards the player.

If GW built truly three dimensional kits they could make multi use models that orient differently rather than swapping parts.

"you may succeed however, if you are able to divest yourself of your ‘I’ by projecting it into the object so that the object can begin to speak in your stead.”
Hermann Broch

“Plasticity develops not through observation, but through identification.”
Hugo von Hofmannsthal

A huge part of what a mini has to do is to fake mass.

“confirms the hypothesis that the free placing of sculpture in space had not been achieved by the end of the sixteenth century, not even by Michelangelo. Again, as in Greece and Egypt, it was only in and through ‘Kleinplastik’, small objects that can actually be handled, that sculpture became emancipated from all architectonic and utilitarian purposes and conceived as an independent plastic art.” - Read




  1. I haven't read Read, so I'm not familiar with his project, but it seems like that last assertion does not take into consideration arts like jewelry,scrimshaw, and jade carving, which have an exceeding long history (people have been carving small objects of mass for a long time).

    1. Well, Read does think that the small sculptures that people make for each other are consistently more 'sculptural', that is, they occupy space in a fuller and more three dimensional way, than the large sculptures of the elite which are usually attached to buildings.

      He goes back to egypt. He mentions neolithing fertility figures. He seems to have a division in his head between sculpture and what he calls 'amulets' though I am not sure exactly where that division lies. I will have to keep reading and then go back and check.

  2. this is really damn good reading.

    Yes, IIRC Read was only concerned with statuary and, to a lesser extent, big gallery sculpture as practised in the early decades of the 20th century. Naum Gabo, Henry Moore etc.

  3. You DIY RPGers make me feel like a rock-eating savage with how well-read ya'll are.

    1. Richard actually has my house bugged and my library card monitored so he can be consistently ahead of me on every topic.