Friday, November 28, 2014

Dinner with Jim Wappel

Several months ago I was reading posts in the blogsphere and one in particular caught my eye.  Clicked on the link and looked at some paintings then learned a fellow blogger might be attending the same gala I was at the beginning of July.

JJ typing, it started out innocently enough.  Jim made comment about convergence over July 4th weekend in one of his blog posts.  Asked him if he was referring to CONvergence in Bloomington, MN.  He said yes.  Boy was I excited.

Jim and I emailed back and forth to see if dinner would be possible.  We set up a time that might work.  We'd talk more when he arrived at CON.  As he said he'll be doing some work in the dealers room.  Wow!, something magical happened.  I was one of the co-heads, volunteer, in charge of the dealers room.  We were definitely going to see each other.

My other co-head, good friend and brother Bryan, was in the room also.  Told him the story and that he's going to be working one of the tables in the dealers room.  Not an hour later strolling through the doors was James Wappel.  A living legend, someone who I've been reading his blog for over a year was walking before my very eyes.  Immediately introduced myself.  He said he was looking all around wondering where I was and if he'd see me.  Showed him where his tables were located in the room and instantly went into fan-boy mode.  Bryan was sitting nearby.  Started hoping up and down like an excited little girl, covering my mouth, tremebling with awe by being in the very presence of James Wappel.  Must have introduced him to Bryan like five times.  Was in constant euphoria just by being near him.  Suddenly realized what I must have looked like and knocked that behaviour off.  Apologized for my excitement and said that I was really looking forward to having dinner with him and asking him tons of questions.  Jim chatted with his partner Cathy about dinner and plans were set.  We'd do TGI Friday's across the parking lot around 6:45pm.  Told him the dealers room could keep me a little bit longer, because things at conventions never go according to anyone's time table.  If you've volunteered at a con you know exactly what that means.

Bryan told me later that he warned Jim that I might be going all fan-boy on him.  Bryan said Jim just nodded his head and said "Yeah."

It was getting close to 6:45 and time for dinner with Cathy and Jim.  Of course ended up locking up the dealers room later than I wanted and rushed to Fridays.  Fortunately there was Cathy and Jim going down the escalator.  Quickly caught up to them and started chatting across the parking lot.

A table of three it was.  While I'll admit to being selfish wanting to have dinner alone with Jim, it was awesome that Cathy joined us.  They were an excellent couple to break bread with.  Topic of conversation at the table, painting. Not one word about anything else.  It was fantastic.  Almost two and half hours of asking Cathy and Jim questions about painting, techniques, what they do, how they do it and tips for other painters.  Planned ahead and brought a piece of paper and pen.  Remembered what happened with Andrew at last Renegade.  The classroom was set and I ever the eager student with large ears and empty pitcher ready to be filled with the painting wisdom from Jim.  Didn't expect to also be filled with the painting wisdom of Cathy too.  This was great.

Twice during the conversation one of the servers Julian stopped by.  He's one of the great servers at Fridays that serves the CON group after one of the meetings.  I was rarely speaking not daring to cut off the infinite wisdom of either Cathy or Jim.  However Julian seemed more than ready to say something obligatory.  Trying to add onto what Jim said.  From what Julian was saying you can tell he wasn't a painter and just wanted to be part of the conversation.  It didn't take him long to realize that dinner was about learning things from Cathy and Jim.  He ended up leaving quickly and I went back to figuring out their painting world.

Seeing Jim in person was a bit surprising.  Thought he would be much older, found him to be surprisingly youthful.  Sharp eyes, which always seemed to be looking for something unknown.  His style of dress is carefully developed by someone who clearly knows themself.  He has to be the only person I've ever met that is truly comfortable in their own skin.  There's an air about his style that is cut from his experiences that kind of boarders on uncomfortableness, because he is so comfortable with himself.  He puts people at ease with skill unseen before.  Never saw someone listen to others the way he does.  There's something about the tilt of his head, the lean of his ear and his eyes creating the words you say with his eye brows pulled together letting you know his complete concentration is on you.  When you're speaking you sort of got the feeling that you're the centre of his world.  Which, if you can imagine having someone's talent like Jim intently listening to you, can be a bit scary.  There's a kind of craziness or madness to Jim that frankly is disarming.  Some would use words like nerd, dork or geek.  I'd say he's transcended beyond any of those nouns.  Dare I say fanatical.  His fanaticism is intoxicating.  His answers to questions are so easy to follow and depth of the explanation is astounding.  One could consider him to be a bodhissatva.  He's truly enlightened and instead of taking his place outside this world he has chosen to stay and help others to learn the way of enlightenment.  Another way of putting it, he is so complex and such a rounded individual it is simple.  Very much the way a worn and experienced black belt frays with age thus becoming white again.

During the course of our dinner I asked many questions.  Only told one story.  Rest of the evening was listening to Cathy and Jim talk about painting.  Here are a several things I wrote down during the dinner.  Mostly to remember them for future use.

  • When you're working with sculpting material, grey stuff, green stuff, apoxy sculpt (Jim's stuff), and making a stone pillar use two rocks, one in each hand.  That way you don't get fingerprints on it.  Cathy floored me with this bit of information.  First thing I wrote down.
  • When baking sculpey sample bits at different levels in the oven to find out where it bakes the best.
  • Cathy and Jim don't use expensive sable brushes.  Forgot the type they mentioned.  We actually talked in great length regarding brushes, types of brushes and what a brush is used for after its tip is dulled.  Cathy mentioned rubbing alcohol to clean brushes.  Works best for her.
  • (This is something I've already done on the blog, after the advice) Use the fault of the miniature for highlights.  Example: Some metal, plastic or resin didn't get completely filled and there's a flaw.  Use that flaw for highlights or battle damage.
  • (I've been studying Jim's marble for quite sometime and want to give it a go.  Since I had his ear asked him how he paints his marble.)  He says he uses multiple colours on a filbert brush.  His example: Put one hue of red on one side and another hue on the other side.  As your pulling the brush twist it, press harder, lighter, twist it again.  This mixes the different reds together and separates them.  Also gets those thicker and thinner veins in the marble.  (Was absolutely besides myself how simple it is.)  That's when I asked him how many times he rinses his brush, he held up a single finger and said once.
  • (Talking about commissions and how often he paints) Asked him how many hours a day he paints.  He said 16.  Started talking about how long it would take him to paint a tank and the cost.  Then chatted about the investment of time to become a successful artist.  Topping it off appropriately "That's what separates the men from the boys."  He spoke with such conviction and the reality of commission painting, it made me question my own devotion.  Sort of humbling.  Also made me want to step up to the plate and perform better.
  • The basecoat for many of Jim's models are shaded so the majourity of the work is already done.  Instead of doing a base coat of one colour then shading.  His shading is included in his base coat.  Helps cut down time and makes it more efficient when painting a model.
  • (This was possibly the best piece of information the entire dinner)  Cathy mentioned that all the work you put into the model isn't noticed.  Only the last fifteen minutes of what you paint is what people see.  Thought on that for a long time regarding my models and others.  Several times I'll be painting and the model is somewhat in focus, still a bit blurring.  It isn't til the last highlights and details are finished that the model comes into chrystal clear focus.  Damn!
  • Value pattern.  Balancing light and dark.  This leads right into the next tip I wrote down.  Jim pulled out his phone and showed me a pic of a dog he painted and put on his blog.  As he described (going back to his days of painting in school): You need to balance the colours on the model.  There has to be light and dark throughout the model.  Where its dark on one side there needs to be light on the other.  Where there is darkness next to light on the left side of the model, there has to be light next to darkness on the right side of the model.  He went on to explain how rust, corrosion, damage on dark vehicles doesn't pop and aren't noticed easily.  That is why those effects stand out and look great when on yellow or white models.  Remembered someone on the blogsphere doing battle damage on an Imperial Knight of the Crimson Fist with streaks of rust.
  • Continuing from the tip above.  You can't look at the model the same way.  Flip the mini upside down to get a better idea of the value pattern.  He mentioned his painting teacher would flip paintings upside down on his students forcing them to look at their painting in a different way.  To better grasp exactly what they are painting.  He then flipped his phone upside down showing the picture of the dog on his blog.  Value pattern, balancing the light and dark remained the same regardless which way the pic was flipped.  This gave depth to the painting and made it look more real.
  • In closing of that tip he said to never look at your mini one way.  Flip upside down, sideways.  Don't keep the mini in the same position the entire time.
  • (This was possibly the toughest point in the conversation, don't blame Cathy and Jim at all)  When asking about the percentages of how he creates glazes, wondering about formulas, 1:1 or 1:3 etc.  He said he doesn't use formulas.  Cathy agreed.  Ultimately as they said there's a feel for what they want in the paint their using and keep adding water or paint until you get the effect you want.  Guess I'm still stuck in the portions part of painting.  Where Cathy and Jim clearly have transcended to another painting level and they know what they are looking for in a paint and know how to get the effect without thinking about it.  I envy them.
  • Wrote this one down but don't remember the relevance.  Sometimes paint a mini with a cleaning (not sure what word I wrote down, think its cleaning) brush.
  • What automatic better way to blend colour if its already in the brush.  When going from one colour to another for highlighting or object source lighting.  (recently used this painting an orc for a friend)
  • (This was a funny story) Jim's at ReaperCon teaching a painting class.  One of the guys there pulls out his paints.  Some 200 colours.  Jim sees this and takes the 200 paints away and gives him five.  Tells him that all the colours he'll need can be made with those five paints.  Later as he's watching his class use their paints he saw the guy mixing paints getting colours Jim has never seen before.  (Wonder if the painter went back to using his 200 paints after the class)  Asked Jim about what five paints he normally uses.  Mentioned red, a yellow, grey and perhaps one or two special paints if he's looking for a specific colour.  We talked about mixtures and asked about blue not being one of his five.  He mentioned Grey can be used as blue.  Green & red = brown.  He often mixes grey and yellow.  As Cathy and he mentioned, more often you play with your paints, more you know what colours you can make.
  • In wrapping up our dinner and continuing to absorb painting wisdom from Cathy and Jim I was somewhat running out of questions.  Asked him about primer, if he uses it and how he applies it.  He said he brushes primer paint on.  He spoke briefly about having a really expensive airbrush, one with the needle on the side and its bent 90 degrees.  That he hadn't touched it for so long.  One day he sat down to use it and the hose had broken apart due to lack of use.  It was just laying on the floor in pieces.

We finished our meal long ago and continued chatting about painting and techniques.  Jim even had some advice and stories about commission painting for companies.  Those are his stories to tell.  Some funny, frustrating and eye opening stuff in my opinion.  Walking across the parking lot back to the Doubletree Cathy, Jim and I parted ways.  They were in another hotel for CONvergence.  Had a great time chatting with him before the dealers room opened and after it closed during the rest of CON.  Even spoke with him several times when I was making my rounds.  He said he participated in a sculpting class in the garden court Sat morning and learned about colour shapers and made a pretty cool dinosaur, which he posted on his blog.  Cathy mentioned that the dinner was fun and it was great talking about painting with another painter and that she had a blast.  One funny thing they mentioned at dinner is people at conventions like Adepticon will play 'Guess the Wappel' whether Cathy or Jim painted the army, because their painting style is so similar.  Jim mentioned he'd watch Cathy paint and pick up a lot of techniques from her and how she did something.  A lot of people who play the game think that Cathy's Deathwing are painting by Jim and Jim's army is painted by Cathy.  One way they told me you can tell who painted what is by the colours they use.  If I remember correctly Cathy tends to use a lot of greens, Jim a lot of purples and blues.

Hope this has a been an entertaining read.  I emailed this to Jim for his approval.  He enjoyed the read and said that I helped make it a memorable weekend.

In his reply he mentioned he may have forgot to talk about "painting DNA."  That is something he mentioned and I agreed.  As he said "painting DNA" is the passing down of painting techniques and passion from one person to another.  You can see the inspiration of artists and the evolution of the painting style.  I agreed and talked about it in different terms.  The information I provide will be a generation better because the person who used that information will learn what does and doesn't work for them.  They in turn will share that information with another.  Who will learn from the collected wisdom of those before and try it their way, and will share that growing information with someone that I'll never meet.

If you ever get the chance to have dinner with Cathy and Jim please do yourself a favour and do it.  They are some of the finest and best people I've ever met.  You'll learn a lot and have excellent company chatting with fellow artists.

Thank you, Cathy and Jim!

slainte mhath


  1. Dude you are so lucky :)

    1. Yeah, it was awesome!

      Also have a post I'm making of a conversation with two other bigwigs. One is with a guy who is part of the top staff of Adepticon, other is a Slayer Sword and eight Golden Daemon winner for painting.


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