Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Even 'Eavier Metal: (Aurumina Demonicus) - David Soper Interview -Golden Demon Slayer Sword WInner 1990 and 2013!

Well, as you are probably aware if you have read earlier posts or my excitement on the Oldhammer Facebook page, David Soper recently won the Games Day UK Golden Demon Slayer Sword. To say that I got a little excited that night is a little understatement, as here we are trying to bring back a little of the Oldhammer magic, especially here in the states, and one of the venerable painters extraordinaire of that special era has duplicated his feat again! 
In my excitement I sent a congratulatory message to him on Facebook, and wrote my earlier blog post here.
Imagine my surprise when he replied and agreed to answer a few questions for me about his history and the Gold Demons. I tried to write some good questions, but I'm a bit far removed from those old journalism classes, so if there is anything uncovered, it is entirely my fault and not Mr. Soper's! Also for a lot more information and to visit his personal blog please go here : Sproket's Small World

On David's Blog he has some incredible photos of all of his new entries, so make sure to go there and check them out!
 David highlights his current winning models with great photos on his blog.His impressive haul included a Silver for the Lizardmen Skink Priest in Warhammer Single Miniature. Gold for his Dark Eldar Hellion in Warhammer 40,000 Single Figure. And Gold and The Slayer Sword for his Dark Eldar Diorama. Quite an impressive haul for an entire career (and a dream for a painter of my meager abilities). But this, as you'll see is not the only time he has taken home multiple awards. So on to the interview!

[OITNW]: From reading your blog, you left the hobby for a while and rediscovered your passion. Your Nurgle Predator tank was the highlight of the last of the old school Fantasy Miniatures books. How did you get into miniatures originally? What was the timeline, and how long were you out of the hobby? And what allowed you to rediscover that passion?

[DS]: I became aware of miniature painting through playing fantasy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. It must have been some time around 1980 after a group of my school friends came back from a trip to London where they’d visited the (one and only) Games Workshop store in Dalling Road. Amidst all the goodies they bought back was a small collection of metal miniatures, a mix of Citadel and Ral Partha as best I can recall. From the moment I clapped eyes on those tiny dull grey figures I was hooked! I absolutely knew that this hobby was for me.

I’d already developed a strong aptitude for art but my work had a tendency to get bogged down in lots of tiny tight detail. I sensed that here was a hobby where I could direct all that obsessiveness to good effect. It would also have the unexpected benefit helping to free up my painting and drawing style enough so that I could progress with my studies and work towards a place at art college.
I sent off for a Citadel miniatures catalogue and in due course received my first ever minis. A mixture of fantasy tribe orcs and trolls. Over the following years, as I left school and went to art college, I would spent my spare time painting minis, and I began to develop and refine my technique. At first there was no guidance out there at all, and I learned by trial and error. I can still remember the day when I quite accidentally discovered dry brushing – that was a revelation! It was through the pages of White Dwarf magazine that I gained exposure to a wider world of miniature painting, and an awareness of just how much there was to learn.

Then we come to 1987 and the first Golden Demon Competition. I thought I was quite good; but I had no contact with any other painter or their work, so I had no objective way of gauging the standard of my minis. That year I didn’t get past the regional heats! It gave me a kick in the pants and fired up the drive to prove that I too could make it to the finals.

By GD 1988 Southampton had it’s own Games Workshop store and I was getting to connect with other painters. I made it through to the finals, held at the Victoria Leisure Centre in Nottingham, and I really could not have been happier. I didn’t expect anything more so when I won gold in two categories I was genuinely shocked. This made me reappraise myself as a figure painter. From this point on I focused my efforts on improving my painting with success at the Golden Demons my goal.

I managed to repeat my success in 1989 and it was during the award ceremony that I decided to see of I could take it further and win the sword. All my painting and sculpting efforts over the next year were focused on that goal. The Nurgle Predator was the result of six months of intensive work, it was by far the biggest and most ambitious project I had attempted to date.

At the 1990 finals I was a mess of nerves, I’d put everything I had into this one model. I’ve little clear memory of the awards ceremony itself. When my Predator won the Sword the world seemed to explode around me. I found myself standing on the stage with the sword held up over my head and no memory of how I got up there!

Winning the Sword in 1990 was a huge deal for me and remains one of my proudest achievements. But now I’d done that I had to consider my next move. I came to realize that I really wanted was to simply get back to painting minis for my own pleasure. Over the following years that’s exactly what I did. I’ve never been a fast painter and as I focused my efforts on refining my technique and finish, my output slowed. As time passed, and other interests developed, that pattern continued until it wasn’t unusual for me to have only one mini finished in a year. Looking back I can also see that, although my technique developed, my painting style remained pretty much the same.

The period where I dropped right out of the hobby is probably no longer than three or four years. I remember quite clearly that, by 2002, I no longer considered myself a mini painter. I tried to paint some of the new Fellowship of the Rings minis and failed abysmally.  Through lack of practice I had lost my technique and confidence. I was surprised by how much of a sense of loss that gave me.

Although I was no longer painting I kept an eye on the hobby through the occasional copy of White Dwarf and increasingly through the Internet. It was around this time I discovered cool mini or not. The hobby had evolved and I was blown away by the realism and sophistication of technique now being employed by many painters. It was inspiring but very daunting.

What followed was a process of being drawn gently back into the hobby through some of my other interests. Around 2006 I started painting minis with an Egyptian theme and then in 2011 I painted some Dr Who minis that I made into a diorama. I found that I was hooked all over again.

My technique didn’t return overnight and I really had to work very hard at regaining it. Knowing that I could once do this was a double-edged sword feeding both my frustration and my drive to do it again! As I regained lost experience my confidence grew and I finally got to the point where I felt my skill was back to where it had been. It was a great feeling and served as a jumping off point for a new era. I was back up to speed but I was not up to date!

Through blogs and forums the online painting community has been the thing that has really made the difference. I’m able to see other painter’s work and get my work seen by them. There is a sharing of ideas and experience, and an exposure to other ways of working that’s had a wholly positive affect on my work.

I struggled for a while with the feeling that I was that guy basking in the glory of a twenty three year old success. I really wanted my painting to be up to date and relevant to the modern scene. Unfortunately I’ve often (but not always) had the term ‘old school’ used as a negative criticism of my work. That’s a shame and, I think, rather narrow-minded.

The big thing that enabled me to develop my ‘modern’ style as a painter was acknowledging and embracing my old school roots. This came together for me when I painted the Hellion that won the 40k single mini gold. To me that mini feels like a fusion of old and new, and it sparked off a period of experimentation that resulted in the Dark Eldar diorama. 
[OITNW]: Your blog has some incredible work in progress shots, and some great views of your models. So for examples and direction of technique, readers can go to your blog, but are there many differences in the techniques that you used in 1990 and the ones you used on your amazing diorama? What do you think of some of the “modern” things like Non-Metallic Metals, Point Source Lighting and others?

[DS]: I think it’s important to differentiate between techniques and effects. Techniques is a term I’d use to describe a method of application. For example dry brushing, layering, washes, airbrushing or stippling. Effects like Non-Metallic Metals or Point Source Lighting are something you use the techniques to achieve.

For the most part my basic toolkit of painting techniques hasn’t really changed. All of the techniques I used on the Predator can be seen on my Dark Eldar diorama. I think the big difference between now and then is in how painting techniques are applied and combined. The ‘modern’ challenged is to use painting techniques with greater control, sophistication and subtlety to create a wider range of effects and greater realism.

The range of effects and materials being used has widened beyond recognition. This is in no small part due the sharing of information and experience through the Internet. I also think that exposure to other traditions - like military and historical model painting and even fine art - have had an influence, especially in the pursuit of greater realism.

I’m a big fan of all the new effects and how they are put to use in mini painting. There are so many shiny new toys to play with! There’s always something new to experiment with and unlimited opportunities to learn and develop. 

[OITNW]: You’ve proven that an incredible artist can win not only multiple awards, but awards over vastly different competition. Having climbed the mountain twice, what do you think of the general level of competition?

[DS]: I’d say that the level is very high and it’s made all the more challenging by the diversity of painting styles that are around now. There really isn’t one universal gold standard as to what makes a great painted mini. Different competitions will have very different criteria.  Added to this there are many fashions and trends in mini painting that present a competitive painter with a whole range of challenges and opportunities, depending upon the arena they are competing in.

[OITNW]: I know the models that you have had displayed and your recent winner tend to be dioramas or incredibly detailed models with display bases. But do you also game? If so, what are your favorites?

[DS]: I’m a painter rather than a gamer, although I did use to enjoy the odd game of Warhammer with my brother back in my school days.

[OITNW]: Obviously you’ve been kind enough to answer my questions, but were you familiar with the Oldhammer movement before you got my request? Have you visited any of the blogs?

[DS]: I stumbled across the Realm of Chaos 80s blog and so discovered the Oldhammer movement just a couple of days before going up to Games Day this year. It was a joy to see some love being given to the ‘Golden Years’ and gave me a nice little boost in the face of pre competition nerves.

[OITNW]: One of my drives for this is the passion I find in the incredibly varied and detailed models of old. As an artist, you are able to imbue passion and individuality into just about any model. But do you have a favorite period of models, and or which type of miniature do you prefer to work with (metal, plastic, etc)?

Do you remember the ideas and reasons behind your original Nurgle Predator tank? The text back then was pretty small, but did not go into your choices and thoughts. We’ve all seen others inspired by it, but what was yours?

[DS]: I’d have to say that my favourite period is now because I’m always looking forward to my next project. I definitely prefer plastic and resin miniatures over metal. This is because I can get them prepped for painting more quickly, and the lighter/softer plastic material is well suited to conversion work. Having said that there is something special about the weight and feel of a finished metal miniature.

The idea for my Nurgle Predator tank wasn’t an original one and it’s great to finally be able to give credit to the model that inspired mine. I remember seeing a Nurglesqe tank at the 1989 finals and that planted the seed of an idea. What would happen to the slimy and diseased tank over time if a Demon possessed it? What if the tank itself began to warp and mutate into a Greater Demon of Nurgle?

[OITNW]: Which artists were the ones who inspired you? What models or painters at the older Games Days were your favorites?

[DS]: Without a doubt Mike McVey was the biggest influence and inspiration on my work. I’ve always admired John Blanche’s minis which have such a distinctive painterly quality, and are totally different to anything I could do. From older Games Days, Ivan Bartlet’s minis really stood out and set the standard.

[OITNW]: Some of the Oldhammer Painters (like Andy Craig and Tim Prow) are excited about your win. He and others have been a bit surprised to find out how many people still find their work so special. Are you surprised by the numbers of people who still pour over the pictures from the Fantasy Miniatures book or old White Dwarf pictures for inspiration?

[DS]: I’d become used to Games Workshop staff who hadn’t even been born in 1990, so I’m stunned by it! I thought my past success was forgotten and that I could sneak out and start entering competitions again with no one being aware of my history. 

I'd like to thank David so much for answering my questions. I know it has been a busy and incredible time for him, so his effort is really appreciated. I am also struck by his finding Orlygg's great blog, and how stunned he is we still drool over the photos of his old winners. David was incredibly kind enough to take some additional photos of some of his old winning models. Unfortunately it seems his film was eaten by his camera for his sword winning moment, so he does not have any photos from 88-90 Games Days. But here are some great images of those incredible models from our memories!
1990 Golden Demon Gold 40,000 Vehicle and Slayer Sword Winner

That incredible model that we all remember from the book. Thanks to David for the new images, and the story above. Still one of the coolest models from the Fantasy Miniatures Hardbacks.

This is probably one of the 4 most memorable RT vehicles ever! (Guy Carpenter's, The Spartan, and the Deodorant ones from RT itself!) Just incredible detail and gribbly bits!

Very neat and cool view that highlights how his tone and choices just draw your eyes continually to that Daemon's face

The muted and vibrant colors that David uses are even evident on his current crop of winners (that almost translucent color with a tone of white breaking through is just incredible). That ethereal color is matched by all of the detail. Grimdark is not just washes or grubby realism. Incredible paint and incredible art!
The Troll Warhammer Single Figure
This was just so cool when I saw this model. As I said, if I had ever tried this it would have come off as some deranged crying clown. The contrasting and complementing colors used in just incredible ways to add, not detract from each other. One of those things that David as an artist can truly pull off. I can just drool....

Just love that we now have the backside of this one too. Look at that hair and the hidden skull. Passion and story, some of the things that help set David's work apart (not to mention the incredible techniques and effects!)
The Chimera Warhammer Monster
Just wow - Just a great model and incredibly subtle palette make this one stand out!

 Eldar Figure Warhammer 40,000 Single Figure


Once again, tonal choices set the stage then the incredible detail work make this one great. He even has the colors of the Good Ol' USA ;)!

You know I just have to say one little thing - I am often struck how great painters talk about painting. They seem to think differently than most of us. I am often struck by this when I talk or read Facebook posts by Andy Craig  or Tim Prow or Trent Nighman or Russell Swanson (those last two were incredible painters that worked at GW with me). They are not alone, and this happens whenever I talk with talented artists that paint these figures. I have always wanted to be able to paint better, and readily admit that patience, life and time have always tried to stand against me. This is some of what I wanted to break through on my new Orc army for Oldhammer. I may not win a Golden Demon, or even win a best painted award of any sort, but I want my painting to improve....

David's discussion on how he had to build back his skills has me excited for this challenge. I may not be an incredible artist, but I have learned enough that I am fairly confident that I can paint one figure to a standard that most regular gamers can not match. Doing that to an entire army is a challenge. Improving my skills so that I can feel confident to actually have Blue or Andy actually look at my model.....that is my goal.

Thanks Again David - Really appreciate it, and a reminder that all of the images on this post are David's and are used with his kind permission.


  1. Hi Kaleb, great article and i finally found you thanks to Orlygg. I'll be back and check out the OitNW links. We need to have a chat about trying to do our own blog-con or bring out you lead style event.

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