For the Love of Teaching (Miniature Painting)

Nothing in my life was more rewarding then teaching miniature painting to my classes in Monterey and Santa Cruz, California, and private lessons here in my recent move to San Diego.

 Some day, you will get there, I promise you. (I'm on the right)

Some day, you will get there, I promise you. (I'm on the right)

As a preface: To all my students... you have changed my life for the better, and I truly wish, wherever you ended up, that you still paint. Building the community with you, and watching you grow was the best thing that ever happened to me <3

 Regular Sunday class at Mythic Games, Monterey, CA.

Regular Sunday class at Mythic Games, Monterey, CA.

Miniature painting was not something in which I was born gifted. In fact, here's a crazy story: when I first walked into a game store in Newark, Delaware (where I am from, originally) and saw the rack of Games Workshop miniatures, and opened my first White Dwarf, I actually saw the paintjobs in a very unusual light. I didn't think they were painted, they looked so contrasty and 3D that I genuinely thought they were made out of Sculpey clay. 

 Happy smiles :)

Happy smiles :)

So one day I asked my mom to take me to A.C. Moore (or a Hobby Lobby, or Michael's for those who don't know A.C. Moore) and I picked up about $30 of Sculpey clay. I kneaded and snaked my way to horrible abominations and terrible acts of creation-turned-wrong. So when the oven door opened, and I pulled out my cookie sheet to googly-eyed monstrosities, I realized I may have had this whole thing wrong. Turns out, minis aren't made of Sculpey clay.

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That's when I got a chance to visit my first Games Workshop flagship store. My mom was going shoe shopping (Franklin Mills is a big mall for relatively poor people), and in that mall, as we were walking past stores, I stopped dead in my tracks.

 Student work

Student work

I smashed my face against the window at my first Games Workshop store and one of the guys inside had to peel my face off the glass, and proceed to wipe my drool away. Think: sucker fish.

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I was hooked. I was more then hooked. I became obsessed. I became obsessed with not only the idea of figuring out how those painters that painted the display miniatures in that store made the magic happen, but I was obsessed in making that magic happen for myself, no matter WHAT.

So I stumbled into the shop with a dazed, zombie-like gait and asked the poor salesperson about ten thousand questions about paint, brushes, assembly, glue, hell I even asked him if he would teach me, and that I would offer him my Wolverine issue #2 comic book (my prized possession) in exchange, which went over comically considering the salesperson was just some kid trying to pay his way through college and never touched a paintbrush before in his life. But he was tempted to say yes, because... I mean c'mon... Wolverine issue #2.

 Student work

Student work

My mom, God rest her soul, saw the fire in my eyes and though we didn't have a lot of money at the time, let me buy over $100 worth of stuff. And the ride home was quiet, deadly quiet. I exhibited the intense focus of a crackfiend hoarding over all my ill-gotten gain as we drove home. Before the car even got into the driveway my door was open and I was off, racing for the door.

I slaved over the paint table for hours and hours and hours every day, after finishing my homework. And my miniatures were terrible. But my mother, she always saw the brilliance in my work, and the fire in my soul to get better, and praised me. And when I didn't paint miniatures, I got into set design and terrain building. And I remember the one time I found out I could use a hot glue gun to make slime by painting it neon green when it was dry, and made a little set out of posterboard, cut drinking straws, and slime... I took it up to the bedroom and showed her, and she said:

"That looks like a Hollywood set. You are incredible! You need to make things for movies!"

 One student's private lesson. This was painted from start-to-finish in 2 hours after 1 lesson.

One student's private lesson. This was painted from start-to-finish in 2 hours after 1 lesson.

And from that point on, I worked and worked and worked and read everything I could. At this time, there was no YouTube, so I didn't have any online guidance at all, it was just listening to people at my local game store, and reading White Dwarf. 

 Commission Work

Commission Work

Now I could continue to tell my story, but that is a different article. Here I am, in "Hollywood", painting "Hollywood" sets and miniatures, and even featured as a media personality and 'master painter' for a painting show at Geek & Sundry. I worked on puppets seen on Comedy Central. And the only damn thing I can say as to how that all came to fruition is that you need to persist even when you are bad at something. 10 of my miniatures were featured in the Best of the World Coolminiornot.com annual hardcover over back-to-back years. Do NOT stop. Lean into failure, and keep trucking, keep pushing, and seek mentors.

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Teaching is simply my way to pass the torch of my internal fire to the next person. Teaching is my way to watch others find that passion that I found. Teaching is watching children finding a lifelong hobby that saved my life both emotionally, and financially more times then I can count.

 Commission Work

Commission Work

Painting is everything to me.

 Commission Work and Award-Winning Miniature

Commission Work and Award-Winning Miniature

It is the symbol of health, of self-care, of financial stability during hard times, and in sharing and building community. Never stop, and some day you will look at a figure you just finished painting, and you will realize that you are now a master painter. It's just like that.

The 'Real' Ratings of a Boardgame: Making Unconventional (and Polarizing) Games

Cutthroat Kingdoms is anything but a conventional game. And when the ratings for the game started to show up on BGG, I was terrified, stressed myself into a stomach ulcer, burped, then puked, lost sleep, and then... suddenly... came to a blissful peace. 

CK features the nearly rule-devoid nature of open discussion and decision-making found in a tabletop RPG, and worst of all, it features a group political discussion that must end in an unanimous decision regarding any semantics question regarding a deal, a trade, an agreement, or a rules question. THIS WAS ON PURPOSE. No I'm not a masochist. People actually called me that. But I did learn something in the process...

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The nature of the game features an extensive amount of open-for-interpretation situations, especially revolving around rules and the semantics of a deal between two or more parties. As a philosophy student (one of my majors), I understood that law and the politics of law comes down to:

  1. Semantics
  2. Precedence
  3. Votes

As my vision and consideration widened after watching Game of Thrones, I decided that in the medieval era, law also came down to power. In Cutthroat Kingdoms, power can be attained either through pure wealth (the ability to wager higher on deals), military might, or even just the willingness to go on a vendetta if someone doesn't agree with you. This was explicitly clear to me during an episode of Game of Thrones, where all those factors came to be the overriding factor in terms of the law of the land.

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What I dreamed of was a game where even the rules could be changed, if put to a vote. And, coupled with the open deal-making, votes can be bought, or decisions can be vetoed. Almost like a perfect democracy, the fact that the voting has to be unanimous means that even the weakest player can simply abstain, or veto a major plot-twist in the game. And, as a good ruler, their pockets must be lined if they are to be entertained otherwise, unless they're a spiteful twit (which is fun, like, really fun, try it, I promise it's fun, and no this isn't sarcasm).

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The BGG ratings of Cutthroat Kingdoms have been wildly polarizing. Some people herald the game as the worst thing they ever played. They say that it takes too long, it feels incomplete, etc... and I LOVE these critics because they highlight an area where the game fails. I admit it! It fails because it is NOT what people expect (and probably needed more development time).

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But then there is the other half of the critics that really get it. My GOD they GET IT! And they have the time of their lives. And after weathering the hail of gunfire from both sides, I came out relatively the better for it.

I cannot even begin to tell you what it means when I see a review for my game where the player on the other side has really gotten what I had to offer. And I can only make games for those players. I will not please everyone, and I will make mistakes. Pipelines close fast, last minute changes are made, mistakes are made, and we could have taken more time to do more development. All these things make us better designers, and better humans.

But cheers to the lovely you out there who gets what Cutthroat has to offer. And cheers even more to those who don't. You make me a better game designer for every negative review. I read every, single, one. And I take the bad comments, and I formulate them into a plan for next time.

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So three cheers for the critics, both good and bad! I raise my goblets to you! Through good, we grow more confident, and through bad, we grow more wise.

Ringing in 2018 Geek and Sundry style!

2017 was the year I officially became a cliffjumper. Firing a gun into the mouth of doubt, I jumped off a cliff into the complete uncertain oblivion of the entertainment industry. From a nice, cushy full-time job at Westmarine, to southern California, with abject terror I leaped off the cliff and prayed for a safe landing. 

My friend Kelly's reaction at the Geek and Sundry 2017/2018 NYE party to the man-kissing.

And here's my 2017 in review:

  1. Marketing manager at IDW
  2. Marketing manager on a temporary contract with AEG
  3. Making and painting puppets for Seth Green's Stoopid Buddy Stoodios working on puppets for Comedy Central
  4. The big release (and birthing) of my 1st boardgame, Cutthroat Kingdoms
  5. The nomination and winning of Cutthroat Kingdoms as Dice Tower's top 49th best game of ALL TIME!
  6. Picked up by Geek and Sundry for numerous guest talent slots
  7. Becoming a mainstay on Geek and Sundry's new Painters Guild show
  8. Being on a zombie photoshoot for Outbreak: Undead
  9. Founding my immersive game and experience studio: Deep Dark Studios

...mostly I belly-flopped into warm water and clear skies, but I did swan-dive into rocks on a few occasions, miraculously living after the physical therapist reoriented my spine and made sure my head faced forwards instead of backwards.

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And then, to ring out 2017, and to ring in 2018, I somehow ended up at a Geek and Sundry party hosted by the illustrious Erika Ishii (of voice-acting legend), an event that was live streamed on Twitch to raise money, and awareness, for LGBTQ youth in need. I mankissed my way to helping them achieve their charity goal as the clock struck midnight! What a wonderful opportunity to meet new fellow nerds, geeks, and puppet animators!

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The uncertainty of 2017 was palpable. How am I going to pay my rent? Why am I making puppets? How am I going to pay my rent making puppets? I had left a cushy job at Westmarine headquarters in Santa Cruz for the uncertainty of the entertainment industry with terror in my eyes, sweatsoaked bedsheets, and, a little kicking and screaming. And what happened?

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I'm here in southern California, happier then ever, but not without a new mantra for 2018. My new mantra is: DISCIPLINE. Not only discipline with my time, my energy, finances, and my diet, but most important of all: discipline with my focus. Discipline is my new friend in 2018, and I cannot say all this, and be here, if it wasn't for my impulsive and wild rabbit hunt that defined 2017. But let 2018 be the year of laser focus, and further commitments to myself to unlock my dreams. 

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The entertainment industry IS the place of sparkles, unicorns, glitter, and daydreams-turned-reality, but it does not come without a cost. Being an self-employed and independent contractor does not mean a day can go by without working. The hustle, and the grind of this life takes its toll, and is not for the feint of heart, or those who think things come easy. Life lesson 1005: things don't come easy, they come, and then you feel like it was easy, but it wasn't. 

Stay bright. 

Keep your nose to the grindstone, and welcome me in celebrating 2018! Cheers to your new mantra, and cheers to your success (in whatever it is you do). May you be able to pay your rent, and have fun doing it. My biggest note to mention: DREAMS COME TRUE!

Be kind to yourself, and others. Nothing is more rewarding, both professionally, or personally, then the kindness and compassion you give to others.

NOTE: Here is the link to the FULL NYE ERIKA ISHII charity party live stream!!!
https://m.twitch.tv/videos/214338283

 

ESSEN SPIEL 2017 - SOLD OUT! AGAIN!

Cutthroat Kingdoms sold out in 8 hours on Thursday at Essen Spiel in Essen, Germany. 8... hours... From a marketing perspective, this was interesting, as I only ran about five demos that day.

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What does this mean?

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What that must mean is that some of the social media / influencer marketing that I've been doing has started to penetrate. Actualol, a big British media personality, marked it as the 15th 'Most Anticipated" game of Essen on on of his YouTube videos. On BoardGameGeek, Cutthroat Kingdoms began appearing on a number of 'Must See at Essen' lists. Further still, Cutthroat Kingdoms was nominated the 49th best game OF ALL TIME by The Dice Tower, a major influencer in the boardgame industry, and a major win for Cutthroat Kingdoms and my publisher, AEG.

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This tells me that word-of-mouth has started, that people are watching influencer videos and reading influencer articles. What it also tells me is that the game is good, people are walking away from demos, away from purchasing the game with a good feeling. So far it's achieved a 7.7 / 10 rating on BoardGameGeek, which is a triumph considering the punishing difficulty of that scale, and the proneness to trolls.

 Special thanks to Sam Healey, of The Dice Tower for his early enthusiasm for the game, and his help to set Cutthroat Kingdoms at the 49th best game (of all time)!

Special thanks to Sam Healey, of The Dice Tower for his early enthusiasm for the game, and his help to set Cutthroat Kingdoms at the 49th best game (of all time)!

It appears as though the long-term marketing work that began years ago is now starting to come to bear its fruits, which, as a marketer, has me quite excited! Sure, as a game designer, I'm ecstatic, but the marketer in me was dancing a jig at Essen. While so completely difficult to measure, the high demand prior to even playing the game from my international fans was yielding great results, and even more: great insights.

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And what's Germany without a little fun? I will return, next year, with a new game, a new expansion to Cutthroat Kingdoms, and a list of new friends from Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Sweden, Ireland, and more... 

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Die Welt ist ein sehr großer Ort. Vergiss das nicht.

 

 

In the Media

For as long as I can remember, I've been painting miniatures as a hobby. And then seven years ago, I decided to open my painting studio and do it professionally after winning a few international awards.

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Who would have thought I'd end up on internet TV as a spokesperson for Geek and Sundry's (a subset of Legendary Pictures) Painters Guild--a show dedicated to painting miniatures with host Will Friedle from Boy Meets World. And further still, now featured in their commercials.

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Painting the miniatures themselves anymore does not bring me nearly as much joy as watching others get the results they've always dreamed about day and night. After painting for money, I decided to start teaching to groups and individuals. Below is a photograph of a miniature that took a student two hours to paint, having ZERO prior experience to painting a miniature. 

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Simply, incredible.

Dreams come true. Never stop believing in fairy-tales.

 

GEN CON 2017 - SOLD OUT!

Cutthroat Kingdoms has been on tour for four years. In that time, I have met friends I now regard as family. The journey of this game is not only one of self-discovery, but of a spiritual awakening of sorts. If the best friends in my life have come from this game, then I consider myself the luckiest man alive.

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Fear. Fear is the biggest obstacle that stood in my way. When the call of a steady paycheck and security came, I chose not to listen to it. That phone rang, and rang. So many times I wanted to run and pick up that phone, and answer that call. The sleepless nights, the uncertainty, the pain of even one negative response to the game--all of it contributed to the madness of fear. But I did not, ever, even once, let fear win.

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Every major convention, I was there. I was there, alone, supporting my publisher with 12 hours of demos. Through airsickness to sore throats, to poor travel diet and high financial cost of travel, I could not let go, like a dog's maw attached to an attacker. I simply, could not, let go.

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And what happened? Every convention we've been to, the game has completely sold out. I cannot even begin to describe why, as there are myriad causes. Could it be the social media activism? My grassroots outreach to friends, families and convention-goers? Guerrilla marketing tactics like provocative t-shirts, keychains and hand-outs? Could it be the quality of the game itself and word-of-mouth? The positive influencer reviews? The blood, sweat and tears? It is, my friend, all of the above.

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Gen Con in Indianpolis saw the pre-release of the game. My family, bless them, flew out never having ever attended a game convention, nor having any idea what they may offer. And after three days, they vowed to come to every single convention I was attending, not because of their love for me, mind you, but because they were overwhelmed with just how magical boardgame conventions can be! They saw my diehard friends supporting me in costume, running demos at AEG's BIG GAME NIGHT on Saturday evening. Saw people gush over how incredible my game was, how it impacted them, formed memories they would never forget. They even got a chance to tour the halls and see all the wonderful experiences to be had! I couldn't believe it, but they even bought games! This was proof to me that gaming can change the world.

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Cutthroat Kingdoms is on the warpath yet again to Essen in Germany for Spiel 2017. What will the future hold? I have no idea, but I know one thing: that phone will ring, fear will be on the other end asking me if I've paid my debt yet, and I won't answer.

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SDCC - 2017 - MAJOR SUCCESS!

San Diego, Ca (July 31, 2017) Cutthroat Kingdoms drove a dagger into the heart of San Diego ComicCon! With full tables throughout the convention, we had so many happy faces gushing at how much they loved the politics and negotiations of the game.

 Whomever wears the crown shall make, or break any decree...

Whomever wears the crown shall make, or break any decree...

 Happy Cutthroaters!

Happy Cutthroaters!

Check out a video of how one player attempted to negotiate a two-way peace treaty between warring neighbors so that he could focus on his more dangerous opponent.

A player attempts to negotiate a two-way peace treaty with his neighbors.

And player reactions to their first time playing Cutthroat Kingdoms:

First-time players react to Cutthroat Kingdoms