After each commission I take some time to reflect back on the techniques, tactics, and thoughts I collected through the experience. I intended to highlight a few thoughts in this article, but I’m just going to do one because this ran oddly long. I may do another article on the other subject, but it was me contributing to the image of an emo art crowd bemoaning how artists treat themselves, but I’m sure that horse has been beaten to death already.

deathwing_champion_frontI hate the way everyone does power swords. Including mine. I have yet to find a truly satisfactory technique.

To the left you can see the way I did them on this last commission. I imagined that the blade would glow from the energy coursing through it and the edges would be white to indicate extreme heat for cutting. This was an effective and simple technique to accomplish, but, personally I don’t like it. Because of several factors this was the optimal solution at the time and I’ll keep it in my bag of tricks, but I want to develop something better.

You can reference power swords here if you aren’t familiar with the subject. But, the name says 80% of what it’s all about. Essentially a field of energy surrounds the sword, enabling it to cut through things it normally couldn’t. But, my thinking is, if you can surround a sword with a field of energy and that energy does all the work, why does that energy need to be surrounding a sword? In Warhammer they use this technique for axes, swords, hammers, claws, and gauntlets. Can the power surround a lawn gnome and be wielded to the dismay of all those who would stand in the way of the Space Marine bearing the gnome to battle?

With that in mind, the weapon must reflect the purpose of its use. The sword is to cut, the hammer is to smash, the claws are to tear, and the gauntlet/ fist is to rip, obviously, but the power field allows these to function more efficiently, making them much more damaging. Meaning that the weapon is essential to the equation. To me that would mean, like a lightsaber, heat would do most of the work, right?

I believe the original designers wanted a form of lightsabers in the story (because cool!), but with a distinctly medieval gothic feel, hence the power sword was born.

Sm_power_sword_heroThe image to the left illustrates how power swords look and feel in visual media. This particular media being a video game. I think this is from Space Marine (a great game by the way and probably the best expression of the Warhammer universe thus far in all forms of visual media). The power sword is crackling with blue energy.

99120101105_VanguardVeteranSquadNEW02The original thinking with painting power swords was to paint the lightning bolts all over the blade to simulate energy coursing over the surface.  You can see this technique in the image to the right from the Games Workshops website. The effect is subtle and I think this is somewhat closer to the original idea of the power sword than more recent interpretations.

More modern interpretations from the hobby community have painted the swords to resemble what looks, to me, like glass.

f33b76ae7ccb0fcd1dc8df52b5cdad29I think this glass interpretation, as seen on the left, looks terrible for representing what is “going on.” I understand the purpose is to highlight the reflectivity of the sword and its interaction with the energy but outside of saying “i can work an airbrush and tape” this technique doesn’t really show us what the purpose of the sword being blue is.

To me, the painting should display what is actually trying to be represented so when the audience sees the piece it clearly illustrates what is going on.

That is where I went wrong in my interpretation. The blade in my piece is blue. I offset that with the hot, white edges, but why is the sword blue? We use it to symbolize the energy and that “lightning” we see in our minds, but the painting doesn’t illustrate that. We know what it is because we know what it is. But, does my wife? Anyone who views that piece should know exactly what is going on.

We need to know that the sword is being charged with energy. The sword is a literal sword, not fantastical, or mystical, or alien, or imbued with magic. The sword is metal (albeit the fanciest of metals). There is a power source that charges the sword (albeit a powerful source). The energy is not “on” the sword, but “around” it. We need to convey all these things “at a glance” for the viewer.

Unfortunately, the surface of the model cannot “crackle” with energy that is arcing out and surrounding the surface of the sword. All of this has to be presented on the surface itself. We can try and fake it with the lightning technique summarized above, but I’m not going to freehand a bunch of lightning all over my swords. Frankly, it can look ridiculous if hastily done and doesn’t give the right “feel” to me. I think that should be left for the Golden Demon and Crystal Brush artists. I’m not interested in all that. So we’ve already compromised one of the three components.

I think the interpretation I’m envisioning is a slightly upgraded version of what I did, but I want to remove the abundance of blue and have the metal show through. I think showing the metal is important. Surrounding that core of metal that gradually transitions to blue near the edge, and finally to white at the cutting edge will convey the proper effect, to show the heat and power. I think to show that the sword is being charged, the wire that runs from the hilt to the blade needs to be done in white or similar to show the transition of power from source to blade. If executed correctly, I think this will convey all the information needed, even to the uninitiated, and give the illusion that the sword is receiving power and glowing from that power at the cutting edges best representing the “surrounding” energy field.

Although this is about “power swords” I think the larger lesson here is to seriously evaluate your subjects in light of what you are trying to accomplish. My goal is to deliver models that look like they are from reality, but represented in this medium. I look at my all my miniature painting from that light. Games Workshop has a Disney-esqe vibe, colorful and consistent. Competition level painting has a tendency to look “hyperreal” to over emphasize technique. All the goals of the project must be taken into account.

An 1100+ word treatise on power sword glow. Feel free to hate me.

1 Comment »

  1. Dude your models are superbly painted but my head is hurting with all the possible details I need to take into account next time I paint a power sword lol. On a serious note I agree that power swords never look like what they are described as in 40K books and what my mind imagines them to be like. For me the only solution is to model into the sword via flames leaping off if for example a sense of movement, thus a life of its own. No easy task 😦


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