Painting Miniatures

So, when I asked the very fine personages of the Chaosium Discord for writing ideas, the inEffable Effy suggested, ‘Do a recursive post about the painting of miniature figurines of popular heroes and demigods.’ I blinked a lot, and decided that was awkward. Then she added something.

‘If you actually take me up on this, feel free to start a running tab of “drinks Effy owes me”.’ Now, I’m not going to say I’m cheap, but free beer is free beer, even if I have to do some admin to keep track. So, let’s talk about Wilmskirk. And maybe, let’s focus in on one person. (Note, Effy! This is our first zoom. We’re not observers any more. We’re in the room. We have to start at the one-person level, after all.)

Wilmskirk, where our person lives, is a city of art. Wilm, a friend of Sartar, planned the first Sartarite city. It’s a place of art and beauty, with an open-air Temple of Orlanth, and fine works of art. Our person, whom I’ve randomly generated as female, is an artist. She paints, amongst other things, votive offerings for the temples, and art for the streets. She is best at painting the human and godly form, in 3D, and she buys those from the people who make them. Each stroke of paint is a prayer. She works in green and orange and blue, not usually at the same time, for the Ernalda and Orlanth temples, but she can do white for Chalana Arroy. She’s no good at Death cults. Her ranks and rows of figures match nicely, and then the bigger, more expensive ones have details picked out. Flags and banners and wheat sheaves and all the symbols of the person – sorry, the god – being represented are picked out on her best work. Sometimes they are larger, always more detailed.

Let’s detour for a moment, rather than zooming out, and think about a story we know. Pygmalion never loved women, because none were perfect, until he made one out of, depending on what you read, stone or ivory. He loved her, because she was made in his image, out of his imagination. An unmoving reflection. (As an artist, I fall in love with what I paint, sometimes. Stare at an image long enough, and it becomes familiar. If it’s a person, you can talk to it, even. So maybe he didn’t just imagine her coldly. Maybe he surprised himself with the arch of her brow, the curl of her hair, the way she would not meet his eyes.) And he prayed to Aphrodite, most powerful of goddesses, and she was moved to help him. After all, if you’ve won, why not be magnanimous? So the woman, Galatea, was created. Ovid says he named the statue, not the woman. It’s not weird. I’ve got a clay head called David within arms’ reach while I’m writing this. (Arms plural. He’s heavy.)

This isn’t that story, but it’s a nice place to have visited. Our story has to be recursive, meaning we can’t keep branching off. Somehow, we have to zoom in. So our person, let’s called her Pygma, because we can, is painting in her studio, a votive of the artist Wilm. She uses hair bound to sticks for her brushes, but this is ivory, so she starts by rubbing the colour right, using oil and pigments. They stick in the grain of it, announcing that this is art. She leaves the face untouched, greys the hair with carbon and chalk, picks out the clothes with tempera, which is made of egg yolk mulled with her colours. She mulls over the face a while, and then chooses ochre for the olive skin, and a secret of Wilm that lets her paint very thin, because ochre is strong. That secret? Egg tempera goes on in thin layers. She knows a lot of secrets like that.

Wilm has the olive complexion of Sartar. We paint what we know, and so does Pygma, and she doesn’t know what he used to look like. His eyes are blue, but they are already inlaid lapiz lazuli. All Pygma has to do is ensure the pupils are positioned. His earrings are gold paint. That is mulled with honey, and uses a resin from beyond Esrolia for the binding, because gilding is not right for this. Making gold leaf into gold paint takes at least four hours, and it is while meditating as her hand moves on the flat plate that Pygma realises she is Wilm.

He takes his brush, adds green to her dress, tiny Runes of Earth on the stone engraving. No longer than the last joint of his thumb, she grows real under his patience. He paints his muse, again and again. Seried figures have no joy to him. He will give this all the reality he can, and when he does, he will place her (or him, sometimes he paints other people. Galast is one of his favourites too) in the diorama of Wilmskirk, his model. That is his greatest, fiercest joy. (See, Effy? We’re still Pygma, just thinking of painting Pygma. But the city is a model too. Did you think of that?)

He can paint any scene in a hundred strokes of paint, but there is no call for that skill here. This is about realism. As he finishes, the figure of Pygma seems to glow. Only what she works on is unfinished. Wilm puts aside the model, changes his mind about finishing it later, puts it lovingly into the diorama that will sit in the holiest of places in the temple of art, a model of the city as complex and beautiful as the city is, and goes to find the gold leaf for the tiny pool of light that Pygma is mixing.

Zoom in. City and model. Zoom in, artist creates herself. Zoom in. Artist in city.

Pygma wakes from her vision, the same one as every artist must one day have, with a new understanding, and lights another lamp so that the lighting is better to be painted by.

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