Golden Demon winner Chris Clayton on his jaw-dropping giant diorama
Few awards in the world of competitive art are quite as sharp as the Slayer Sword – the distinctive award presented each year, once in the US and again in the UK, by Games Workshop. Given every year since 1987 by the miniatures manufacturer at its Golden Demon painting events, the 5-foot weapon is the dream of many an aspiring miniatures painter. Disappearing few have kept the magazine. The latest is a veteran hobbyist named Chris Clayton.
35 years ago Clayton had a couple of early wins in painting competitions around the UK, back when Games Workshop had just eight shops. Clayton was only 14 years old when the first 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 everyday life,” Clayton recently told Polygon in an email. “That time [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 images of painted miniatures were rare.”
After 38 years of painting, Clayton now works from what he calls a “modest studio”, where the windows are wrapped in light-diffusing film; where pots of Citadel paint share space with acrylic lacquer, oil paint, airbrush and sable hair brushes; and where music can always be heard “to evoke or enhance memory,” Clayton wrote.
This is where this year’s Slayer Sword winning entry was born, and where the sword now rests.
“I love monsters and the bigger the better,” Clayton wrote. “They give a sense of scale and, if anything, reinforce the fragility of being human in these worlds. As I built the piece, I began to create a story that fit the visual narrative of the sculpture.”
“I imagined a sailor being hauled up, cursed and put to flight by his crew for a superstitious nautical offence. Our Kraken Eater had hit this sailor […] the sailor, now undead, had bargained with the giant to travel with him to seek revenge on his former crew.”
After the story came “exhaustive” structural diagrams to create “a compelling notion of movement, tension and realism,” to pluck that moment out of time. Part of that planning laid the foundation for the duel’s intricate base. “It was essential to the successful realization of the whole play,” Clayton wrote. “I had seen some amazing examples of ship modeling where submarines broke through the surface of the ocean and thought it would be really cool to incorporate this kind of effect into a fantasy piece.”
The main components of the model came from the 8-inch tall Kraken-eater Mega-Gargant ($210) and Kharibdyss ($70), a model originally designed for the Dark Elves faction in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. A good deal of resculpting, re-thinking, chopping, hacking and gluing later, Clayton had the bones for the duel – giant, hydra and all the details of the shallow seabed beneath them.
For the next 360 hours – 8-hour days for 10 weeks as the English spring slipped into summer last year – Clayton worked. “I always enjoy working 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 sticking to a few key colors and then using tints and shades around those choices, I was able to keep the colors consistent and homogenous.”
With a nautical themed palette, “the first part of the piece to be painted was the giant’s feet and the terrain on the sea floor. This way, if the resin water effect wasn’t successful, I wouldn’t have wasted time and effort painting an entire giant,” Clayton wrote.
Assembly had been about capturing this instance between two lumbering creatures, but how could he capture moving water with the same sharpness?
“I wanted something more dramatic and stormy where optical clarity was essential, as there was going to be a lot of detail going on under the waves,” Clayton wrote. Sculpting the waves in clay, Clayton created a silicone mold of the undulating ocean surface, and “once the base was fully painted, detailed and finished … I poured clear resin into the mold and completely encapsulated the base.”
Silk threads and clear microbeads “soaked in clear lacquer and carefully placed” formed the air foam and dripping water, Clayton wrote. Once the base was settled, Clayton moved upwards, 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 a 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 more like a woodworker or potter. “I process miniatures […] as three-dimensional illustrations, and as a result these are the mediums through which I feel I can fully express myself.
“I am in such a fortunate position to be able to have miniature painting as an important part of a wider overall creative lifestyle. If you had told me in 1987 that I would still be painting miniatures 35 years later, I would not have believed you, but I would have secretly hoped so,” Clayton wrote. “Now it’s easy to forget how lucky we really are to live in an age where what used to be reserved for a niche hobby is now part of mainstream popular culture.”