Friday, 12 April 2019

Life-Affirming Kevin Chin

Games Workshop has its in-house podcast/Youtube videos for 40K and Age of Sigmar (watch John Blanche draw a witch!)

A recent one had their artist Kevin Chin for what I thought was a really exceptional interview that goes over a great deal of ground fascinating to me.

I don't really think this got enough attention so I spent, a long time, transcribing it, and have some essential quotes below.

(Also, sorry Games Workshop. I'll take this down if you ask. Not trying to steal clicks but I thought it better so ask forgiveness than permission.)

Becoming an Artist

WAID PRICE - When do you decide you wanted to be an artist or an illustrator? When did you turn art from a pastime or a hobby into something that you thought, “I’m going to make money doing this”?


KEVIN CHIN - Well, since I was young, I always wanted, like to draw. So I remember I was more excited getting, I was really, so you know how it is as kids, you've got a box, a box of toys, but I'm that kid that looks at the box cover.


KEVIN CHIN - And just go “that's really cool”. You know, it's like that art piece that you paint back then. So usually Japanese robot toys. But I was quite lucky, my uncle works in a toy store. So he gets some kind of discount usually for those. And when he gives them to me, I remember I spent so much time just looking at the covers and “how did they do this?”, “How did they do that?”

I grew up watching lots of movies, action movies, and so, these things, stick with me and just say “okay, I just want to draw that” and that, that drive to draw something and doodle something has never left.

I never really thought about, say, making a career out of it. But I do remember very clearly that I was pretty young when I said “I want to be in”, “I want to draw for a living”, you know, I want to be, either a comics artist or I know what I want to do. You know, and I will put all my effort into that, that direction.


KEVIN CHIN – It’s like I said, it's not the most you know, it's not the most lucrative career, or people don't really know, like my parents don't understand it. My, most of my friends, they’re kind of like, they know I can draw very well. They say “Hey can you draw this for me, can you draw this dragon for me?” Like “yeah sure”, you know as for me drawing a dragon is cool Yeah. I can draw dragon you know, and that's why my “don’t do this at home kids”, my textbooks are full of doodles, I was like, (laughs) just started doodling so it never really um. Never end, it’s never really stopped for me.

My mind is always wondering in places. And yeah, just drawing is just a form of expression.

For me as I, it's almost like a instinct, I just do it you know, it's not really something that I have to force myself to do. Nowadays is different from back then, I just draw cool stuff. And it's just changed when I went to art college. That's why I went to art school. And going into art school in Singapore, there’s only a few schools, not a lot, there's probably two or three of them back then. Or maybe actually just two.

So I just picked one and just went for it. I made sure I got the grades and the appropriate portfolio that I required to get in. And I know when I got in and say “there's no way they’ll let me do comic artists” as my you know, my final year, you present a final year project. So I have to be a bit more realistic. My brother kind of told me “Dude you can't do comics art  at art school. So you have to try to use whatever they're telling you to do, and present it in your own way. So it's. you’re kind of still practising it.”

So that's what I did, I looked for the subject that gave me an opportunity to draw the most. So I’,m; “I’ll do that, because I get to do a lot of drawing.” So even though some of the drawings are, you know, a bit over the top, like not really the other requirement, but it's still there, I'm still practising my drawing. So I came up with a graduate of graphic design, for example. I still had to learn everything else like advertising, graphic design, typography and the usual stuff.

But all these knowledge comes back to me, like I, I'm using some of them right now. So it's that point, when you kind of in life, you go through a journey, and along the journey, you learn and pick up a lot of stuff. And you never know what you've experienced along the way, will come back and help you in some way or one way or another.

And that's why I realised that maybe back then, when you're doing it and not really feeling, like “why am I doing this, this is so boring” but when you're further in life, you go like, “Hey, I'm actually actively using the things that I've been taught”, subconsciously, or not know it. But you you become aware that “hang on, I didn't do this for a long time. But yeah, I still have that basic fundamental knowledge of of all these things that I've picked up along the way.”

So I don't what's the best way to explain it, but it's just, you, as maybe as for me, you go around gathering information. And everything that you see is information. And you try to accumulate them, sometimes you forget them, but sometimes it just comes back around just before you realise it. So all these things are really useful for me. So that develops your, what everybody says, your style, but I kind of prefer it as more of like a visual preference. Like “I prefer doing this, I have this preference towards these things” “I have a preference to this aesthetic, sometimes they are static. Might change, your preferences might change, but you are changing mostly based on some… as for me, my personally, I change it based on how I feel at that point. It’s like I want to do this. So I'm gonna try this.

And all these knowledge they've accumulated starts, you know, points, because they kind of direct you one way or another, subconsciously “this way, this way”. So then “oh”, and then you can let it go in a certain direction that you never really expected. So it's a journey, like I said. So you pick things up. So don't really disregard the things that you pick up. That's what might be fair, anyone has any good, you know, wants some good tips; don't disregard them, as it's all information that you will need, or you eventually use.

Because you, if you are really serious about creating something unique or you know, something that purely belongs to you, all these parts of you will express itself one way or another. And learning how to have a paintbrush or be it traditionally or digitally, all these counts as a form of expression. These are tools. And these tools will help you express what you think of, what you were trying to, you know, bring out into life. Or not into life, into a piece of white paper, or digital canvas. Even though what you're doing may not be the most exciting thing to you right now.

But you use that opportunity to learn, to pick up things. And one day you will be eventually, for me personally, I always felt that you'll eventually be rewarded, that these things don't just resolve to nothing. These things give you something, and it's up to you. What kind of expression do you want to use? Do you want to opt out of traditional medium, digital medium, sculpting, you know, even traditional sculpting or woodcarving or anything. So is everything art is mostly like a form of expression. So yes.


WAID PRICE - There's some great life advice in this podcast. Doodle in your textbooks. Make sure you get great grades to go and study what you want to go and study in college.

I've been struck when I as I've grown older, because I'm old as well. But there are times, there were times when I was younger, I thought “I'm never going to need to know this”. And the amount of times where that knowledge comes back, a lot of maths particularly maths, I think, remember at school people saying “you need to know maths”, and then you start trying to work out army list in your head probability of dice scores during a game you think yes, that's actually quite useful, isn't it?


KEVIN CHIN - Yes. That's that's, the most, that's the best use or the most consistent use of maths in my life how to, you know, added plus and minus the subtraction. But these things come back to you.

WAID PRICE - So, keep hold of all the bits of information, because you never know when you might,

KEVIN CHIN – “Yeah, and to be honest, you, I mean, for me right now, it's like, if you don't go out and really live it, live in that moment and look at things around you and truly absorb them. I think it's almost like you're, you're not fully exploiting a potential. Because what you see and what you live around you is an experience that you take with you. And the more experiences you have, the more rich your expression will become. I mean, that is if you choose to express yourself in terms of art.

And I always, I always find that certain things touch me or you know, just grabs me a lot more than others. Because when you when you see them when you're young, you kind of laugh at it. But when you grow older, you kind of realise oh, is actually very different, its the same thing, but you're looking at it at different ages, different time. You kind of realise that hang on, that's a different message. And those works are to me, the classics, you know, “this guy really knows what he's doing” he makes you laugh when you're a kid and makes you cry when you're an adult.

So it's, say "wow" are these works, you tend to realise that, grow older and "wow, this guy's amazing", and you kind of go back. But you can't really, you have to see it, you have to live through it in order to get that information. And it's only later in life that you when you look at it again, sometimes you look at it through nostalgia, and then you see differently, you see completely differently. I think that happened almost way too many times already when I grew up, as I just realised, okay, these things are actually all this information is very useful. It helps me grow not only as a person but also as an artist as well.

Anything that just gives you that, mental go, “wow”, you know, and that spark in your head, and all it takes is just one spark. And lots of things will gush out, you'll be, almost overwhelmed, by that amount of information. Sometimes it's a trickle. But you need to build on that momentum. If you feel like there's something there. No harm trying, seriously. I mean, the only harm is, you spend time trying to express yourself, the final form of expression in what you do. And for me, my choices are, you know, drawing and painting.

And those things will, whatever your expression is, your chosen form of expression is, was almost irrelevant at that point. It’s more like I'm trying to bring out something that's part of me. I think that that kind of those works are more personal, you know, you feel like, Okay this.  I think that those works usually to me when people have (???) reaction to, some of the works. So they really like this work that I've done, I was like “ohh Okay” and I felt good one is the work that I feel like I put a lot of thought or a lot of expression into it. And those are really satisfactory to me.

Hobby Shivers

WAID PRICE - I remember when we were talking before this recording, we talked about the sorts of things we'd say, you have a turn of phrase, you talk about hobby shivers.


WAID PRICE - Sometimes you see things and you read something, and it gives you the hobby shivers.


WAID PRICE - I think I have a sense of what that means. I think how would you describe that for anyone who maybe hasn't ever felt a hobby shiver of their own?




KEVIN CHIN – Let me introduce you. Well, hobby shivers to me is, when you read about something in the background and the narrative, maybe Black Library novel, or in the army books. The codecies, the  battle tomes. You read about it, and you go, that's cool. I mean, for me, my moment was I had a few very good ones. First one, the most deepest impression that I had was of course War of the Beard, or War of Vengeance, and when I'm playing Si, I was like hmmm. But you feel good. No matter at the end of the day, you win or you lose, you felt that you participated in that narrative. And that the visual of you of two fully painted armies on the table. Just slugging it out. Exactly. Well not exactly but like how you feel like you've read it. You read it and then you play it and you kind of live in it at that moment. And that to me at the end of the game or the moment when you when you do something really cool that's described in the book and you really feel that [BREATHS IN DEEPLY] Oh, yes, that's that's good. That's good. and how you get that good vibe coming in and that was the first one.

The second one was, Space Marines have always been called Angels of Death. I think that was the one of the key phrases I always associate Space Marines with. And one of the key tactics was, why are they called angels of death -  because they from the sky. Come in drop pods you know, and they smash into the ground and just unload from drop pods and just start killing everything. And that to me, that that visual is amazing because well you know how in real life its more that paratroopers that does this but in Space Marines big giant machine, they just drop them into from atmosphere, down onto the onto the ground, I was like “wow”. And that drive me to make a 10 drop pod army, I collected ten drop pods. I want to do that. They will I do that. I don't care how it works, but I want to do that. So I did. And I played an Apocalypse game and for the first time I used 10 drop pods on to the table. And I tell you at the moment 10 of them dropped, I was like “yeah [BREATHS IN DEEPLY] hggggnn”.

Yeah, you get a sense of achievement. I mean to me that's how I get it, I get that vibe that you got back. So that's exactly how they write it in the book and I understand why we're so deadly, you know. It's it just feels good that you have a responsive feedback from a hobby that says “accomplish something” And I was like “yes! Ten drop pods at the same time!”

It does feel really cool when I do it, especially, because that's how I envisioned it. And it's not too far from it as well. So win or lose at that point the job is done, the hobby has given you the feedback that you need. And that to me is the best kicker. It was “That's good. That's good.”

And of course the latest one so Dan Abnetts ‘The Emperors Gift’ [EDIT – its by Aaron Dembski Bowden].  a part in it, the highlight of the novel for me was when they had to fight Angron in the first war of Armageddon, and had 100 Terminator Grey Knights teleporting down at the exact same time forming a circle that surrounds Angron and his Bloodthirsters. And the feedback blew out all the all the windows in the Leman Russes. I was like “THAT’S AWESOME. I WANT TO DO THAT” I want to collect a hundred terminators, I know realistically will never be able to play 100 Terminators in a 1500 point game. But it's when I play another Apocalypse. Yes, I want to do that. I want to fulfil that that visual.


WAID PRICE - Yeah, you have something historical, something momentous, that has taken place.

KEVIN CHIN - It's the same as, I think is probably the similar as people play historical wargames. You participate in something that's been written before. You feel like you're engaged in that. And I think the more engaged you are, especially for me, when I feel engaged in a game, I say, “Well, this is good.” You know, you're immersing yourself into your hobby. How many hours and how much time and money that you put into, and this is the best, this is almost like the best thing that can happen to you. Yeah, you get a reward back to it.

Most people won't understand because they never really, people from outside the hobby, will understand, but to you. And that's for you a personal achievement, that you've done this. And to me that that gives me the hobby shivers, I was like “yess”, you know, you feel you feel it, you feel it from your spine. Seriously, you will feel it. Because you…

WAID PRICE - You'll know when you…

KEVIN CHIN - Know, yeah, you know, because you've done it. And it doesn't really matter, you win or lose at the end, as you've done some really good cool things. How many people can actually say that with their hobby. I mean, it's your personal hobby. You've achieved it.

To me, that's the highest point of that, high colour that you you can push your hobby to. Most people get it from many other things. So some people can go for a smaller scale and get a good vibe from it back. But for me personally, you know, the bigger it is the more gratifying it is when you achieve it. So it's good things. I was saying those are the ones that gives me the motivation to, and I want to try this, I want to do this, that will be great when it happens. That you just get it, you just know it and you understand its just gonna be cool when it happens. Right? 


WAID PRICE - So how you practising? Or how are you going to get more proficient at conversions? If you've not really done that much before. Any tips for anyone in the studio? You must have a bunch of people to call on.

KEVIN CHIN - Yeah, yeah, definitely. So many people that come with models like (unclear) like he's just sit right next to me every day I see him converting his Orks I was like “wow”. It’s the admiration not only of his work but his hobby as well. His dedication to his hobby. I was like “this is so cool”. You get inspiration from people that you work around with. And then, of course, Phil Kelly, he converts his own models, he does quite heavy conversions as well.

And of course, John, can’t ever forget John Blanche. Every time he brings in a model its like (…..). You just stop breathing for a while like “what have you done?” “What is this?”

WAID PRICE – Just copy John Blanche.

KEVIN CHIN – Easier said than done. But yes, you get inspired by all these things. And and because it's social media, there's so much more groups that showing up that does converted models, and you look at it “wow it's so cool”.  I really enjoy seeing people doing conversions. So when I do it is quite ham fisted to be honest, as “uughhh, I’m like an Ork when it comes to converting. It’s not a good thing.

So I try to be a bit more subtle with my conversions now. And I know that the ironclad I’m, planning to do is going to be a lot of work. But I but I guess that's what's rewarding about it, as well. “Yeah its a lot of work. But I think I'm going to enjoy it.”


KEVIN CHIN - As long as I understand exactly what I'm trying to do and trying to achieve. I think just need to have that. That courage to say, “Okay, let's let's try this out. Let's play with this and see how this works.” Or if it doesn't, there's always ways to patch up. Just one thing I’ve realised about conversions is that there's always some way to patch it up. You can patch it up with paint job as well, if you think that will keep as a big problem there. But you can actually cover it up with Paint or even sometimes it's just a purity seal. Very handy. “Yeah, that's you, you seal that hole over there. Thank you very much.”

So it's a very organic process. It's about discovery like that, that form of expression that we talked about in the beginning, is that you express yourself through converting models and John Blanche is great at that.

And his drawings are like his models. His models are like his drawings. You can’t almost pull them apart. Like, that's him. That's his language. That's his expression. And people get really attracted to it, I get attracted to him. Again, this is his signature its his own hobby thumbprint. So that's why I always very much appreciate people who take the time convert their own models. That’s your hobby thumb print. It's a good way to express yourself.

And to me it's always good to be in a hobby to be able to to express what you're what you're going through, or you know, certain aspects of what you think,  your sense of aesthetic, what do you like about a model and what  you're trying to achieve with the model. I think that when you look at the model, and you go “Wow, that's really cool”. You can already tell stories behind it. I think that's good. That's a good conversion. Okay, I get what you're trying to do there and that's really cool.

So sometimes I get people come to me with, it’s always very rewarding when its one of the pictures I've done. Came up to me and he showed me the conclusion they did of the pictures I’ve done I was like “Whoa”. “Ok that’s really cool. But I was pleasantly surprised. But it gives me a good good vibes as well. I was like “cool” my pictures gave you inspiration to do something, is really nice. I mean that that, to me is part of the reward of the job as well that people interact with the (???).

They get inspired and they try to make one. I wouldn't make one because I don't know how to express myself, through drawings and paintings that convergence is a completely different skill set. But they just did a good job of it, it was a water. It's really cool. Thank you so much. Oh, thank you. Thank you guys, for those. I mean, that to me is very rewarding to see.


WAID PRICE – Congratulations.

KEVIN CHIN -  Thank you.

WAID PRICE -  Have you been practising different artistic styles through your time in the studio? As you've been talking about adding another string to your hobby bow with conversions? Do you practice with the artistic style still already established your favourites and you stick with them all?

KEVIN CHIN - No, I find that I can't stick with one for too long. I always want to, I think that's almost like a slow and very agonising deterioration for me, say, to do the same thing over and over and over again.

The good thing about working in studio is that you get the opportunity to do everything in the book.  Everything. Even from the little graphic that surrounds the page number. That needs to be painted as well. A lot of people don't realise that that needs to be drawn and painted. So from the smallest of details to the largest of pictures, there's so much things that you can do, and I enjoy switching around. I find that gives me better, it gives me more inspiration, more creativity as well. Because I need to switch. Different jobs have different requirements. I need to switch here to quickly understand what this is supposed to do and achieve the best result within a given time. And that that fosters my brain to work differently.

And I find that switch much more useful than rather than constantly doing “okay, have you got four double page spread, spread out over the next six months.. Go".  Oh boy, of course I’ll still find ways to have fun with it to express the different expressions of it. Otherwise, you be doing the same picture over again. And that's not good.

I find the advantage of working in studio is that you do everything. And you have the opportunity to do just about everything, from even designing tokens as well like gaming tokens. And you can do that, you can design it as well, you think about “Okay, well what do people interact, how do they interact with a token”? All of a sudden you're evolving a bit of engineering and know-how being a gamer. So how do they use the tokens? What's the best way to design it in a way that's intuitive for them that's useful for them? And these things, again, it clicks to buttons.

And I think I find that experience a lot more rewarding because you're learning new things and you're forcing your brains, your mind to think creatively in a different aspect, you find a solution differently. And sometimes you’re not even given a lot of time. But that's the kind of pressure that forces you to be creative at times. It's not the most ideal situation but you force, as your brain just goes overdrive. And sometimes the results that you have can be surprising.

Some of the most rewarding projects that I've done is when I was when I was almost a given very little time. And I had to find a solution quickly for it. But it came out really well, as I think I've handled the situation well enough to actually own “it was actually quite fun”. Actually enjoying myself in the stress as well.

Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm not enjoying myself when I'm doing it, I'm just thinking that, “gotta get this done, but how” you know, but “ah, got it” and just do this. And that process of it. I mean, you just “Okay, now I can go back to normal again”, because not every day to kind of do everything.

But it's, it's, it's good to have that challenge. Because you force again, that you just force yourself to think differently, and apply different stuff, different knowledge, a technical knowledge to achieve the end result. Like sometimes, because what we do now most days is digital illustration. My free time, whenever possible, I will paint and watercolours, sometimes I just walk out in lunchtime, just with watercolours in my hand at a sit down to start painting whatever's in front of me. Because that's life drawing is you're just looking at it. And you don't have to think about a toy soldier anymore. And trying to make it work. You just paint whatever's in front of you just do the end, sometimes very liberating, because you don't want to think about it too much. Just trying to accurately as much as possible, paint whatever you see in front of you, and use your unique expression to capture that, whatever you're trying to achieve.

So that again, it's an exercise, because you have no Undo button, you can’t save it, so you’re kind of like “I'm stuck with this mistake now”. But again, it's Don't be afraid to make mistakes. That's the thing that I always tell people. A lot of people come to me and ask what is the key thing that you must have, in order to be a good illustrator? I would say from my experiences, never be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are there so that you can learn. And if you're a really committed illustrator or really committed to a craft, you will find a way, and those mistakes was just a stepping stone to help you get to higher places. Or not to say higher places, a different place. And that different place might be your own language, your next question. And I think that's very rewarding.

Out of a mistake, you gradually created something that actually it's not a mistake, it's a reflection of yourself, you're just exploring it, just removing the fog. And putting other things together make it more interesting. I think that's much more interesting. You won't do it until you've made mistakes. I would saying made by famous Bob Ross; “there are never any mistake, they're just happy accidents”. Which I think is actually quite relevant, or you don't think of them as you make them. It's inevitable. You just have to make the best of it. And move on with that learn from it. So that you have no fear of making those mistakes.

Those are not mistakes anymore. They're stepping stones You switch your mindset into thinking, “Okay, I've done this now, I'm going to learn from this”, take that to the next picture. And that's why traditional drawing and painting it's good because there's less forgiving, you don't have an unsafe, you don't have an undo button. So you are forced to make, sometimes, errors or even foster explores and aspects that you never you never think of. So by doing that you learn.


And that process is very important for me. Because if you're trying to learn something about something, learn something new, you actually that process is almost not only learning something new, but also taking a part of yourself along with it, and come up with something completely on your own of your own vision. I think that's very exciting. But you need to take that step to try different thing, Don't get stuck in one thing, try many things. Because I think that's the best way to really find and have a very rich vocabulary. So that you can pick and choose, “I like this one like this one, let's try put them together and make something” it may not be what exactly you're thinking about, if you persist through it, you'll find that silver lining, it is something most of the time is a very, it can be very, you can get very insulated because you're always doing some stuff on your on your own. But there are friends and communities out there that does it together. And some year for me to discover the aspect can be sometimes quite….


It's your own personal discovery. But you're sitting down. Think of it as you're trying to find an expression for yourself. And don't really think about risk. Just look at that, do some painting. And you'd be surprised how much you can do once you, when you get into the practice.

You know more or less how to handle the medium, you can “Oh ok, I can try this and do that”. Just try to have fun. and not worry about “oh its gotta to be a masterpiece”. No it doesn’t have to be. It is a process. The more you do, the more you look at things differently your information about light about depth comes in and you know we've talked about and we’ve talked about anatomy, you gotta go for life drawing to learn all these things. Or if you can’t go for life drawing, just sit down the cafe and just start sketching people around your people walking on the streets.

And sometimes you, you force yourself to think differently as because they’re moving so fast, you have to draw them quicker. So you your gestures become more expressive, because you're not really thinking about the technical aspects anymore, just trying to capture relevance of what your impression of what you're trying, you're trying to catch.

So that you have your own language as well, you kind of developing in your own way because you learn this from books, all the facts are in books, all the instruction books there are all there, all the information is there but how you express it is completely on your own. You have to, either looking for self expression that's completely on your own little journey that you have to take.


  1. This is a really good reading, especially right now. Thank you very much for posting this, Patrick. I hope it won't be taken down.

    1. I'm just glad at least one other person liked it as much as I did.