"Sculpting: A Q&A with Christian Cuello"

An Interview by Craig Andrews

Ludwig van Barkhoven Sculpted and Painted by Christian Cuello

Christian Cuello, one of the sculptors for Alternative Armies, answers some questions about himself and his work.


Q. Before we start with the sculpting questions, tell us a little about yourself; where you're from, what you do for a living?

A. Thanks for the opportunity to take part in this year’s advent calendar. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from sculpting and miniatures in general, so it’s nice to look back on the year. As for me, I was born and live in Sydney, Australia. I currently work at a nearby university as a Project Officer, as well as a Research Assistant in numismatics. This year I’ve mostly been studying and preparing for a research degree next year.

It’s a bit of a balancing act, but you could say I have a lot going on!

Q. When did you first start sculpting and what led you to start?

A. Hmm… I think it has always interested me, I have a fairly creative background and am a qualified Art Teacher but it took me a while to get beyond conversions and experimenting to more serious attempts. I guess it was mostly an urge to add more character to the (mostly) mono-pose plastic figures I started off with.

What really tipped me over the edge was needing a figure I couldn’t quite find a match for. At that point it was an old gypsy woman, which I guess was my first full sculpt. I then went on to make a couple of dwarf figures which were all kindly reproduced for me by Nic at Eureka Miniatures. That was a good experience as it allowed me to see my own work in metal, pick out any faults and to “think” in terms of the moulding process instead of just the sculpting.

Fortunately it just kind of evolved naturally for me.

By the time I was introduced to Flintloque I had enough confidence to sculpt a complete miniature, and I must thank Gavin and the team for taking my Barkhoven sculpt into the main line of figures. I consider that to be my first proper sculpt and I’m surprised where he pops up. It’s such a wonderful, fictional world – I’m glad I’ve been able to contribute a few permanent residents!

barkhoven green 1

Q. Where do you do your sculpting?

A. Anywhere I can! I used to travel on the train a lot to get to work, so I put together a travel kit with putty, Vaseline, and some tools. I think the hardest part was being a little shy about sculpting in public, but most people are usually sleeping or on their phones so you don’t really have to worry so much about what they might think or say – they rarely notice!

Otherwise it’s just at home with a good light source and a stable surface to work on. I used to work on a kitchen bench sample I glued a cutting board to, it was about 30 x 30cm, very practical and easy to pack away.

Q. What materials and tools do you find you use most often?

A. Well, I have the usual assortment of sculpting tools, nothing too special there but a dentist’s tool has been my most reliable tool. I use green stuff, typically, but I have to say the “secret weapon” in my tools is a small tub of Vaseline.

Q. A lot of wargamers modify their miniatures; swapping heads, arms, weapons etc. But a lot of people find the idea of even basic modifications a bit daunting do you have any hints or tips to help them?

A. It can be daunting, that’s true. I think the best thing to do is start small (no pun intended). My fondest conversions are on the beautiful Princess Juliana set, which was a series of eye-patches, facial hair, and pipes which helped give them a bit of variety, and individuality. Hopefully that’s something that comes out in my sculpting, too. I like to think of them, and my conversions, as a little character all of their own.

The rest just kind of comes to life as you work on it.

Don’t worry too much about what it looks like at first. You can always pick off any dried putty and try again later, but the best thing to do is to set your intention, imagine what it looks like, and just try it out until you’ve finished. Leave it for a day or two and come back to it.

I think most people hate their own work at first, so give it a bit of time to let it grow on you.

Q. What would you say to them if they are considering a full sculpt?

A. Building on the previous question, I think there’s nothing more important that making incremental steps, and working on it until it’s done.

Drawings help, too. If you can hold the image in your mind of what you want it to look like, and get a few sketches done, you can always refer back to it.

To start with, have an armature and “sculpt out”. Get your proportions and the overall shape right, first. The details and stuff can come later. I’ve shared a few in progress shots over on the Alternative Armies Facebook page some time ago which can give you an idea of what I mean.

Don’t try to do it all at once, either. A decent sculpt can take a few days to do as you let it dry, come back to it, hack some bits off, start over.

Overall, I think it’s also important to sculpt for yourself. Don’t get hung up on whether it looks like what someone else did. What makes Flintloque so enjoyable for me is seeing my fellow sculptors in the minis, even if you don’t know precisely who they are you can see it in their sculpts: that’s very important to me.

If you have fun with it, chances are someone else is going to like it. And if you’re ready to sculpt an entire miniature, you’re streets ahead of most people anyway!

Q. What inspires you and have you a sculptor or a sculpting style that you try to follow?

A. Hmm… I think I really came into my own as a sculptor when I let go of trying to copy other people’s work. It’s good to pick up tips and tricks, but the real inspiration came from being able to populate a little part of Valon with my own creations. It was really satisfying when I read some of the back stories people were suggesting for Barkhoven (yours included, Craig!)

(I had forgotten that Gavin ran it as a competition of sorts on The Notables Group, I've dug out my short piece and included it at the end of this article. Craig, Editor).

I think my overall style is consistent with the rest of the range, which most people describe as “cartoony”. It tends to exaggeration, which is fun, but it has its own aesthetic – I can’t think of anything quite like it . You either love it or hate it, and I happen to love it.

It probably won’t surprise you that I’m not particularly fond of the wave of CAD and 3D sculpts, but that’s just personal preference.

Q. Who is your favourite sculptor, past and present?

A. As far as the sculpts I personally like and have collected, I’d say Bob Olley is right up there. I have a vehicle he converted, and a variety of his more obscure sculpts (although nothing from his Ion Age stuff, come to think of it). I don’t think my work holds a candle to anything Mr. Olley has ever done, but he is certainly an influence.

Q: Is there a particular range of figures that you would like to work on?

A. I mentioned earlier I’m on something of a wargaming hiatus at the moment, but my next favourite range is the 15mm Ion Age. I’m not sure I’m up to sculpting in that scale but I think that would be really cool.

Q. What is your favourite race found in miniatures?

A. I have to say, I’m always fond of anything anthropomorphic, so Flintloque was always on the radar although it took me a little while to get around to really getting into it. But I’ve evnjoyed it and the setting for some time now.

Any creature fluffy, furry, scaly or slimy dressed up in people clothes gets a big tick from me. I happen to really like the Darksword range, and just about any other minis from Reaper and Eureka along those lines.

Q. Can you tell us anything about any sculpting work you may be doing at the moment?

A. There’s nothing on the boil at the moment!

Q. Is there a website where people can see all the sculpts you've worked on?

A. I’ve only really shared my sculpts to my personal Facebook page, but the only commercially available sculpts I’ve done are all on the AA store.

Q. Some people listen to the radio whilst sculpting. Do you listen to the radio or have music in the background? If so what is your favourite music to listen to when sculpting?

A. Nothing in particular to get me in the mood, come to think of it I might have had the TV going in the background a few times… but no, no magic ingredient here, just whatever works for you. Having said that I’m plugged into my phone listening to music most of the day!

Q. Which do you enjoy the most sculpting, painting or gaming?

A. It would have to be a tie between sculpting and painting, as I haven’t really ever been much into gaming. I think this is okay, though.

Q. When did you first start wargaming and what attracted you to it in the first place?

A. I have really fond memories of walking into a wargaming store in the city called the Tin Soldier (it moved a few times before closing completely) and not having ever seen anything like it. There was a very large couple of dioramas in the window, one with a pirate ship covered in fantasy models, and another one was a Blood Bowl game underway. I would have been about 10 or 12 then, very impressionable as it’s now more than 20 years later and I can still remember it. There was the inevitable visit to a GW store which was a much different experience back then. Some friends from school and I all got Warhammer for Christmas and birthdays one year, we played one or two games, and it was left at that.

Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever actually played more than one or two games in that time, but it was a good creative outlet. For me, I think, it served a purpose but it’s easy to get caught up in the “collecting” (i.e. impulse buying) as a bit of a quick fix and you end up with loads of stuff you’ll never really enjoy. I saw that becoming something of a problem as it turned into clutter and, well, frustration… mostly self-imposed! My collection these days is very much limited to Flintloque, some Ion Age, and a few classic figures. Not all of them are painted, but I hope it’s something I can share with my son when he gets a bit older (and if he likes it, that is).

There’s just something fascinating about miniature worlds and works for me, my graduation artwork from my Art teaching degree was a series of Stations of the Cross painted on fake nails. I have a few dioramas I’ve made on commission inside jewellery boxes which were lots of fun to make – there’s a whole world inside. I also made a diorama and framed it as a Christmas present to my mum (it’s hanging on the wall at their place).

Q. What is your favourite book and why?

A. This is a difficult one, I don’t think I have just one favourite book. I really enjoyed the Flashman series, it’s very funny, a bit naughty, but it also engages some controversial historical questions which makes for an enjoyable read. I’m also a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s work, and have to say his Arthurian trilogy are amongst my favourites in historical fiction. He cops a bit of criticism despite being so popular, but it has quite a lot of depth in the characters and the timelessness of the themes. It’s quite a lovely series, which reminds me I might just go back and read it again! I also really like Gothic horror, and have a few compilations and collections that I often dip into.

I do enjoy poetry, which I am making a bit more time for these days (although I haven’t written any for quite some time). I especially like the work of Robert Frost which I was introduced to in high school. I find as I get older I can appreciate it a lot more, which goes to show just how good his works are. Part of my recent studies in Latin has introduced me to the work of Catullus and his poem 85 is really quite beautiful.

One of the books that I’ve enjoyed recently was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, the first few pages brought a couple of tears to my eyes, it’s quite a beautiful reflection on how important your values are and the kind of person you want to be in this life.

Q. Have you ever been inspired to create something only described in written form?

A. Well, my civilians pack in the AA catalogue was inspired by the General Nudd scenario (is that even the right name?).

It’s an interesting question, though. As I tend to visualise quite clearly in my imagination anything I read, so I almost see a picture of it before I make it. I’m not sure if that answers the question, but it’s an interesting thing to think about!

Q. Have you any 'other' interests that take up your time and if so what are they?

A. These days wargaming has definitely taken a back seat. A few years ago I took up studies in Ancient History which turned into a research position, and ancient coins in particular are an area of interest for me. Specifically the Late Antique period (the Dark Ages as known to most), not just coins but the literature of the period I find quite interesting. I hope to do more research into that area next year, and I also have an article being submitted for publishing next year – a catalogue of unpublished Visigothic coins in the museum’s collection here. That has been a wonderful opportunity for me to explore what I hope will be the next step in my career. I’ve also enjoyed learning Latin and look forward to translating unpublished texts as part of my research. I’m getting there, slowly, but it’s definitely a dream for me – one that I really didn’t think was possible!

I have a deep interest in philosophy and spirituality which goes a little deeper than just a cursory interest. I’ve had a keen interest from a very early age in the Tarot (something of a family legacy), and I’ve been able to reconnect with that after a very long time exploring and applying logic and reason to life and being generally dissatisfied with the answers I was coming up with. So, keeping a good balance between the two is an ongoing interest of mine as a way to help myself and others understand the world, as it can get a little hard to deal with at times. You have to be pragmatic with this kind of thing, I think.

I also really enjoy listening to music and discovering new artists, I have a very broad range I listen to and my phone’s playlist is quite eclectic and always seems to come up with something good. I used Shazam a lot as I get out and about and hear songs I like.

Aside from that, I try to spend as much quality time as I can with my son. We often go out on walks when I go to visit him, which I enjoy very much – I think we both do, as he’s often fast asleep a few minutes later. We go to parks and enjoy the wildlife, go out into town and talk to people, have a nice meal and coffee or tea (and his mushy baby food). We have a good time, though, and that’s the main thing.

Q. Thanks for taking the time out for these questions, do you have any final words for readers of OITW?

I’ve been involved with OITW for a few years now, it’s such a wonderful collection of work from around the world which brings some really wonderful games to life. So, keep contributing and growing these fantasy worlds through your stories.

I also wanted to say thanks for the opportunity to share a little bit about me, and hopefully share some of my insights as a not-quite-amateur-but-not-really-professional sculptor.

Enjoy this year’s Advent Calendar, and have a wonderful festive season – whichever way you celebrate it, may it be joyous.


Webmaster's Notes

The above interview is an Orcs in the Webbe exclusive and was first published on December 9th 2017 as part of its 2017 Advent Calendar.

I'd like to thank Tony Harwood for first suggesting this series of sculpting interviews and coming up with most of the original questions.

You can order Ludwig von Barkhoven from Alternative Armies by clicking here or on the big AA graphic below as well as downloading the official Barkhoven PDF.

aa logo frameClick to Visit Alternative Armies Online Store

And as promised here is my submission for the background of Ludwig von Barkhoven from the 16th March 2014, it's quite different to what AA went with:

The young pup Barkhoven loved music. In an age when violence was on the rise and civilizations were beginning to change, his music enlightened all that heard it. Many people said, and believed, that he was special and the music he wrote had the potential to change to world. This later became known as his early period. However, when Mordred overthrew his mother, the rightful ruler of the Peacock Throne, Magicke was banished from the world. Seemingly without reason Barkhoven fell deaf overnight and all, including himself, thought his ability to create music was lost forever.

His loss was too hard to bear and he withdrew from society, isolating himself in a simple shack in the woods (the whereabouts of which are debated to this day, some say it existed in more than one place). He still wrote music but his increasingly tumultuous temper (not to mention the sparsely documented 'Wylde' effects of the music) meant most of this work from what became known as his Middle Period, is still undiscovered.

Then, one day, it came to him in an Opus of perfect clarity (now entitled Opus 73). Barkhoven's mind was actually a conduit to the Weave, the realm of Wylde Magicke. Like the Seal of Rominus in Dresda, deep under Londinium, he was a living portal, an entry way for magicke to seep into the world. Like others touched by Magicke in this so-called 'Age of Reason' his powers seemed like madness to those that looked upon him. As his Late Period began little did they know, his mind was the key, the key to everything.