Citadel Harpies (#paintabob)

“Grimmer than these scarce any prodigy, nor any plague e’er rose at the wrath of the gods from the Stygian waves: a winged thing with maiden’s face, belly o’erflowing and most foul, a hooked hand, and face hunger-pale forever.”
— Virgil, The Aeneid, Book III, ll. 253-257… assuming that TVTropes, where I copied it from, is correct, cos I’m not that literary by a looong shot.

Corvids, Greek myth, eighties political satire, Contrast paint and Bob Olley = profit.

After the success of the #paintatrish event on a Facebook group that I am in, Asslessman organised another similar event: #paintabob, with Bob Olley being the ex-Citadel/GW sculptor in question this time.  I dont think that I ever posted my #paintatrish entry on the blog, so I will try to get on that soon.

Bob has a very distinctive, idiosyncratic sculpting style with unusual folds and textures on his models that can look quite peculiar, but tend to make the models very pleasant to paint.  Some people don’t like his style, which I understand, and it is entirely their prerogative to be completely wrong if that’s what they want.

I have been experimenting with Citadel Contrast paints a bit recently and my current gaming interest is in “Warcry”, so when it occurred to me to use the old Olley harpies as furies in Warcry games, the rest of the project fell into place.

L to R: Spitting Image puppets of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan

These three miniatures are parodies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and, although I never heard this until very recently and I am correspondingly sceptical, Nancy Reagan.

L to R: Bob Olley sculpts of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan

There is something 100% zeigeist, slap-bang trapped in amber about a set of figures like this being based on the politicians of the day.  It ages the figures in a very specific fashion, and even though I prefer to keep politics out of my toy soldiers as much as possible, these all look so extra absurd from a 2019 point of view that I am amused enough by it to ignore its archaic political aspects and enjoy it’s connection to what many consider a classic era for Citadel miniatures.

L to R: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan and Margaret Thatcher attend an official function in the 1980s.

From a colour scheme point of view, I had a few ideas.  My mental image of harpies is some sort birdperson with magpie hoarding and stealing tendencies.  I also found that there is something in the etymology of the word “harpy” that means “snatchers”, “swift robbers”, which fits nicely with corvids and magpies in particular.

A Raven.  Totes smarter than your boss.

Corvids are amazing creatures that I find very interesting, even as interesting as cats, although my penchant for cats precludes having a rookery or similar at my house: it would be bedlam.
So corvid interest led me to go for magpie or raven style plumage on these figures, rather than a brown or more brightly coloured plumage regularly seen in harpies.

I think that this image is from a D&D source, but I dont know for sure. I got it from TV Tropes. If you know the source then please let me know and I will credit it properly.

Brown plumage on a harpy image dug up during my research. I went with an oily, bluey black for the plumage, but the idea of toning the hands similarly to the feet came from this image.

I experimented with a few ways of suggesting some slightly iridescent colours in the plumage (magpies and jays can be quite a lot more interesting in plumage array than you might expect) but as I wanted to make sure that the finished models didn’t have predominantly blue or green or purple feathers, I ended up with something very close to a dark grey in the end.

I’m not 100% happy with the plumage – even though experimenting with those colours used up a large amount of the time that I spent painting these figures.  I could have got away with a brighter, more oily aspect to the feathers easily, but I wanted them dark and corvid-like, so after some experimentation, I left it at it was.

The annual Harryhausen  Fancy Dress Ball brought unexpected results from the Classics Department senior staff.

The painting was, as is common with me at the moment, an effort in getting figures that I own painted and on the table as fast as I can, while keeping them above a certain base quality line.  I painted them over two evenings and frankly, I could have cut it down to one if I had been more certain on how to approach the wings.  Its all part of my experimentation with Citadel Contrast paint and how to integrate it with my usual approach.  I think that it worked out.  I expect that this odd slice of the eighties in miniature with be helping and haranguing toy soldiers on a table near me soon.

Thanks for looking!


33 Responses

  1. The term ‘trickle-down’ takes on a whole new, excruciating meaning when I look at wrinkly old Reagan-bird and those two harridans. You’ve done a great job realising this bizarre trio, and I especially like the sophisticated grey streaks in Reagan’s hair – I can almost hear the glib jokes about communist Russia adrift on the foul winds emanating from them. Well done!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Captain. They were a really rapid paint job, but I think that I will get a disproportionate amount of fun from them, simply because of the general madness of the concept and execution.

      Olley is brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ick, they look so dirty! I like your paint job, and even if you feel that the feathers were not quite what you were looking for, I sympathize. It’s almost impossible to pull off that iridescent look in paint… Probably because it’s not a pigment effect in real life. I’ve tried a few times and never quite came out looking right.

    The “spitting image” aspect of these sculpts is very strange, but it does give them up wonderful historic aspect that hopefully anyone of a certain age could appreciate.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m like many people I suspect – back in the late 1980s I really didn’t like Bob’s sculpts. Now I find them fantastically characterful, and among my favourite sculpts to paint. I really like these harpies- they have a really visious edge and look like they’d eviscerate you to feed their hatchlings without a second thought.

    The corvid scheme works a treat, and fits on many mythological levels. Excellent new figures!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Axiom!

      Turnover on these was rapid too, making them all the sweeter 🙂

      I have duplicates of the two female models above, but I might try to get some of the later non Citadel Harpies that Olley sculpted in the same style instead. Two more would satisfy most of my needs I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Those are brilliant (as is your paintjob), never knew about the political satire bit! How did you use contrast paints on these? I’m still on the fence on whether to give them a try or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mikko!

      I wasn’t aware of these miniatures until many years after they were released, maybe five to ten years ago or so. I ended up getting an opportunity to pick up a few, and simply because they are so weird (and because Olleys are fun to paint) I grabbed them, not knowing what I would do with them. Now they will feature as “Furies” in Warcry from time to time.

      I tried a contrast approach on the wings, but my experiment didn’t work out as planned, so I learned something, but I wont go into details there.

      The flesh is the obvious Contrast win here. Over a light bone coloured basecoat, I slopped on a mix of Gulliman Flesh with a little bit of Apothecary White. I nearly just left the flesh at that, but in the end gave it a quick, watery layer highlight. I could have avoided that entirely and they would still be nearly as good.

      The female nipples are a straight coat of Contrast over the flesh tone, no highlights. That illustrates the contrast effect well.

      If you want to try Contrast at bare minimum expense, then do the following:

      Undercoat a largely naked miniature (a barbarian or sky clad celt or witch elf or something) in a light bone colour.
      Paint a heavy coat of Gulliman flesh either all over the model or just on the flesh. Don’t let it drain down and pool on the lower areas like ankles, but don’t mop it all up either or the nice contrast surface tension effect wont work.
      Paint the rest of the model with regular paints and methods.
      Decide if you think that the flesh needs a highlight or not and if you think that it does then highlight it.
      You will then know if Contrast if of use to you or not.

      There is experimentation to be done with it to get the results that you want, but its worth it. Some of the figures that I have worked on with Contrast dont look as good as if I had used my traditional methods, but the time spent was tiny and I learned from the process. A hybrid approach of old and new techniques is the future I think.

      If you want to experiement further with Contrast after that, then make sure to buy Contrast Medium. The opacity of the various colours vary a lot and the medium has numerous uses.

      Hope that helps Mikko!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d never paid much attention to these harpies before, but seeing the topical connection to them now makes me wish I had. You did a great job on the paint job Paul, as per usual I might add.

    I’ve been experimenting with those contrasts too, quite tricky to get the hang of at the moment. I kinda feel like going back to inks really, but I’ll persist coz I bought them 😀

    Well done on the trio once again Paul 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the feedback Mr P!

      I have made a number of wrong turns when trying different things with Contrast, leading to some results that are less than what I had hoped. Experimentation is good though, and while turning out some iffy models is an annoying part of the apprentice period, it’s also inevitable when learning a technique, and its good to push oneself. You will find some effects that you like soon, and build from there I expect. That’s what I am doing anyway 🙂

      As for the sculpts, they are all sorts of fun and weird, for all sort s of reasons. I like them, glad that you do too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Citadel is just full of these semi hidden pokes at politicians of the time. After pointing it out I can’t unsee Reagans face on the harpy…..I was thinking it a bit odd to see a male harpy but it makes so much sense now. Thanks for sharing some more of the ‘secret history’ of old figs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron is easily the most recognisable, and makes the reference work really. Reagans face sort of suits Olleys style anyway (a bit like Dan Goodman was perfect for playing Fred Flintstone).

      It’s an odd bit of old school 80s UK attitude rolled up into some toy soldiers, but fun for all that.

      Im glad that you enjoyed the post Daveb, thanks for the feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice work here, and as you’ve said, the references really give them a dated, time capsule look. As for Bob’s work, his stuff is pretty much the epitome of when people talk about “Oldhammer” models “having character”. Unfortunately, in Bob’s case, it’s all too often a terrible character with only the occasional flash of brilliance like those Ogres/Ogryns.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Azazel, thanks for the feedback! This is a lengthy reply, be warned 🙂

      I like old miniatures and I like modern miniatures, I certainly don’t pin my flag to one camp or the other. I don’t subscribe to the idea that one type is better than the other either. I try to judge miniatures on their own merits. Nostalgia is inevitably a factor, but while I am happy to jump on that train from time to time to get pleasure from my hobby, I try to see it for what it is, rather than become some sort of zealot.

      Bob Olley’s work definitely has an “ugly” character that is off-putting for some. As a kid, I didn’t quite like it either, although the Ogryns that you mention were instant classics to me and remain so. Same for the Ad-Mech.

      I don’t quite agree with you about the “having character” aspect of Olley sculpts being the main argument in their favour though (regardless of whether it is a meaningless point made by many who try to justify why era X < era Y. I'm not suggesting that you are either, just to be clear 🙂 ). While that "having character" statement is used to justify all sorts of nonsense, I think that the appeal of Bob's sculpts is slightly different.

      Due largely to the 1:1 sculpting nature of classically manufactured and designed miniatures, I find them a little easier to paint than modern miniatures which are sculpted at a fine level on a screen: I often struggle painting that sort of detail in hand. This does not mean that I dislike digitally designed miniatures, just that the painting experience feels different to me. I see this as being a big part of the "has character" argument, whether it is acknowledged by the arguers or not. Olley sculpts have that 1:1 detail appeal, but also something else I think.

      Hold on to your beret, I'm about to go a bit art school 😉

      Bob Olleys work reminds me of jazz music that generally only jazz musicians enjoy: casual listeners don't enjoy/register the technical aspects that the hardcore fan/artist likes.

      Olley sculpts are weird and unique in style to the sculptor. That style is also very well suited to painting, and makes those figures particularly enjoyable to paint I find, with simple techniques like washing and drybrushing giving very rapid, very satisfying results.

      Success breeds passion (it isn't always just the inverse that is true) and so, the more that I paint Olley figures and get pleasant results, the more that my tastes skew towards the lovably odd and often ugly nature of the sculpts. In the end I look at Olley sculpts with a slightly perverse satisfaction, reveling slightly in their ugliness, and looking forward to painting them as a result.

      In short, the technical side of their design has given me lots of pleasure, which in turn has coloured my opinions of their aesthetic. It's a little like favouring painting certain colours, simply because the paints used have qualities that make them more pleasant to get good results with.

      If I was really going to go fully pretentious about why I like Olley sculpts and why they transcend some of the usual crappy pro-Oldhammer arguments, I would say that their ugliness gives them added value, like the work of Picasso, Gaudi, Bosch and even some Van Gogh. But that would be outrageously grandiose, so I wont say that 😉

      A bit of a ramble, but I hope that it makes sense. Again, thanks for the feedback Azazel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, I cannot unsee Reagan too 😀
    Funny sculpts, I had never heard of these in particular, and they give me the shivers at many levels, haha. I wonder what will we think of current minis of Trump in twenty or thirty years…
    Gorgeous paintjobs!

    Liked by 2 people

    • They are unusual miniatures for sure Suber. As I mentioned above, I try not to get very political in my toy soldiers, but considering the age of the references in this case, I made an exception for Ron, Maggie and Nancy.
      As for the current lot… I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think that they will be judged harshly indeed, by whatever and whoever is left.

      Thanks for the feedback Suber, I’m glad that you like the figs 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. These are very fine. For two evenings that’s a great return. Ronald in particular looks the business, thought they are all pretty grotesque. They’ve never been on my rader, but after seeing these examples I’ll have a weather eye out for a set.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In some ways, these could nearly be the ultimate Olley sculpts, in their glorious weirdness. That said, Bob has a number of different styles, usually each as weird as the next, as illustrated by your King Slough 😊

      Modern depictions of harpies tend to oversexualise them I reckon. Nobody could accuse Bob of that really, which is appropriate: harpies are supposed to be monstrous, hideous and terrifying. Bob nailed it.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Aw, excellent Bobs mate, great choice of minis & nicely painted to boot! Shame about the politics though… no room for that sort of thing in toy soldiers… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Alex, it’s a fun trio of weirdness isn’t it?

      As for politics… I like my toy soldiers to be escapist, and most of us are getting a large daily dose of POLITICS at the moment… but I made an exception in this case.

      I’ll stick to religion, identity politics and environmental issues in all future posts, I promise (I don’t promise).

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Nice work–I’ve always wanted to paint these figures, they are real classics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Warburton.

      I wasn’t aware that they existed for years, and then a set fell into my lap a couple of years ago. It was all very painless 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Nicely done paint job and am enjoying the discussion here. Olley is one of my faves, as is the late Steve Lortz and Nevile Stocken for some of the same reasons. Going to avoid the political stuff except to say that we can all get along, right?

    As for the contrast paints I just did a project that had a number of these contrast paints except flesh (well, there was zombie flesh), so your descriptions were helpful. On the other side, I’m not quite sure how to differentiate among the various flesh tones?

    Lastly, for iridescence, I have often gone to a strange place paint-wise that you might consider. I like using pearlized paints that would be used on muscle car models – though I always airbrush those.

    Very good post dude!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark, I’m glad that you liked it!

      Yes, best to avoid politics in polite conversation, but a little more difficult in the context of these three figures 😀

      I picked up some colour shift/iridescent paints the other day actually. I’m planning to do some experiments with them soon (although it will be brush-on, rather than airbrush).

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. These turned out great, and very evocative of the time. I am still trying to figure out how to effectively use contrast myself as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sean!

      Olley figs are particularly good subjects for Contrast, because of his sculpting style. I’m at about a 65% satisfaction level with my Contrast experiments to date, but when they work – as in the flesh here, IMO – they show that their potential is huge, for how I paint/strive to paint anyway.


  14. Nice painting, as usual. I don’t see any particular difference in your output using contrast paints – do you see an improvement in the time spent per miniature?

    I would have to admit that I wouldn’t have spotted the 80s political references without your mentioning it. Even with that I would say that Mrs Reagan seems a bit of a stretch. It does rather bring a different meaning to ‘these miniatures have dated a bit’ though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Contrast turned painting pale flesh from something that I found laborious and offputting into something rapid and enjoyable, so that’s a huge win for me, making some projects far more achievable.

      I think that Ron is immediately recognisable, with Thatcher being just about the hairstyle, and Nancy being tenuous. The range is a curio, as well as being fun gaming pieces to paint.

      Thanks for the feedback Argentbadger!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Leading with a cracking photo there! This is a marvellous entry that deserves a lot of attention.

    You have, however, put Margaret Thatcher in the same part of my brain as sex. You’ve ruined my enjoyment of boobs. Thanks Paul. Not.

    Would have been fun to put a skull wearing a miner’s hat on Thatcher’s base! I’m not au fait enough with the Reagans to think of a similar thematic detail.

    Do you have to paint any more Harpies in order to get these into games of Warcry?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kind of you to say Curis, thanks!

      Austin Powers confirmed most people’s carnal interest or lack of in that woman, not that she should be measured by that exclusively.The repercussions of her policies can be felt today.

      There are positive and negative aspects of Ronald Reagan’s career that could be turned into political gags I think, but l’m happier to leave the figures as an odd time capsule in themselves, than add to the oddness of them as satirical pieces.

      Regarding Warcry, if Harpies are swapped in to games on a 1:1 basis with Furies (which is a weird, zero-sum switching around of Greek mythological flying monsters) then there are multiple ways that 1+ Harpies can be used in games, as wandering packs or sneaky allies for warbands.

      Three is enough. I’ll paint my Furies before I consider painting more Harpies.

      Liked by 1 person

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