Few prizes in the world of competitive art are quite as sharp as the Slayer Sword — the distinctive prize awarded each year, once in the United States and again in the United Kingdom, by Games Workshop. Given every year since 1987 by the miniature-maker at its Golden Demon painting events, the 5-foot-long weapon is the dream of many an aspiring miniature painter. Vanishingly few have held the blade. The latest is a veteran hobbyist named Chris Clayton.
Thirty-five years ago, Clayton had a couple of early wins in painting competitions around the U.K., back when Games Workshop only had eight stores to its name. Clayton was just 14 years old when the inaugural Slayer Sword was awarded. This year, it was Clayton’s sword to lift, for a monstrous duel he plucked out of time.
“For me personally, miniature painting was an escape from the everyday,” Clayton told Polygon recently in an email. “Back then [in 1987], miniature painting was in its infancy and there was very little in the way of instruction or technique let alone materials or community. […] Even pictures of painted miniatures were rare.”
After 38 years of painting, today Clayton works out of what he labels a “modest studio,” where the windows are wrapped in light-diffusing film; where pots of Citadel paint share space with acrylic lacquers, oil paints, airbrushes, and sable-hair brushes; and where music can always be heard “to evoke or enhance memory,” Clayton wrote.
This was where this year’s Slayer Sword-winning entry was born, and this is where the sword now rests.
“I love monsters and the bigger the better,” Clayton wrote. “They lend a sense of scale and if anything, reinforce the fragility of being a human in these worlds. As I built the piece I started to create a story to fit the visual narrative of the sculpt.”
“I envisaged a sailor being strung up, cursed and set adrift by his crew for some superstitious nautical misdemeanour. Our Kraken Eater had happened across this sailor […] the sailor, now undead, had bargained with the giant to travel with him in order to seek revenge on his former crew.”
After the story came “exhaustive” structural diagrams to create “a convincing notion of movement, tension and realism,” to pluck that moment out of time. Part of that planning laid the groundwork for the intricate base of the duel. ”It was essential to the success of the realization of the whole piece,” Clayton wrote. “I had seen some wonderful examples of ship modeling where submarines were breaking through the surface of seas and thought that it would be really cool to incorporate this type of effect into a fantasy piece.”
The main components of the model came from the 8-inch-tall Kraken-eater Mega-Gargant ($210) and the Kharibdyss ($70), a model originally designed for the Dark Elves faction in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. A great deal of resculpting, rethinking, chopping, hacking, and gluing later, Clayton had the bones of the duel — giant, hydra, and all the details of the shallow sea floor beneath them.
Over the next 360 hours — 8-hour days for 10 weeks as the English spring slid into summer last year — Clayton labored. “I always like to work with a limited palette especially on something so large and detailed,” Clayton wrote. “It would be easy for this piece to become fussy, so by keeping to a few key colours and then using tints and shades around those choices I could keep the colours consistent and homogeneous.”
With a nautical-themed palette, “the first part of the piece to be painted were the giant’s feet and the terrain of the seabed. This way, if the resin water effect wasn’t successful, I hadn’t wasted time and effort painting an entire giant,” Clayton wrote.
Assembly had been all about capturing this instance between two lumbering creatures, but how could he capture moving water with the same acuity?
“I wanted something more dramatic and stormy where optical clarity was paramount as there was going to be a lot of details going on below the waves,” Clayton wrote. By sculpting the waves in clay, Clayton created a silicone mold of the roiling sea’s surface, and “once the base had been completely painted, detailed and finished … I then poured clear resin into the mould completely encapsulating the base.”
Silk strands and clear micro beads “drenched in clear varnish and carefully positioned” formed the mid-air foam and the dripping water, Clayton wrote. Once the base was settled, Clayton moved upward, toiling over the fine lines of white underbelly showing between the hydra’s scales, washing purples and reds into the folds of the giant’s skin.
After 15 full days of work and one drive to Nottingham later, Clayton had the sword in his hands.
When asked, Clayton said he doesn’t think of himself as an artist, but closer to a woodworker or ceramicist. “I treat miniatures […] as three-dimensional illustrations and as a result these are the mediums through which I feel I can express myself fully.
“I am in such a fortunate position to be able to have miniature painting form an important part of a wider holistic creative lifestyle. If you had told me in 1987 that I would still be painting miniatures 35 years later, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I would have secretly hoped for it,” Clayton wrote. “Now it is easy to forget how lucky we really are to live in a time where what used to be the preserve of a niche hobby is now part of mainstream popular culture.”
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