Few prizes in the world of competitive art are quite as poignant as the Slayer Sword – the signature prize awarded annually, once in the United States and again in the UK, by Games Workshop. Given away by the miniaturist every year since 1987 at his Golden Demon painting events, the 5-foot long weapon is the dream of many an aspiring miniaturist. Vanishingly few held the blade. The latest is a veteran hobbyist named Chris Clayton.
Thirty-five years ago, Clayton had some early wins in painting competitions across the UK, when Games Workshop had just eight shops to its name. 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 from time.
“For me personally, miniature painting was an escape from the everyday,” Clayton recently told Polygon in an email. “Then [in 1987]miniature painting was in its infancy and there was very little in the way of instruction or technique let alone material or community. […] Even pictures of painted miniatures were rare.”
After 38 years of painting, Clayton today works out of what he calls a “modest studio,” where the windows are wrapped in light-diffusing film; where pots of Citadel paint share space with acrylics, oils, airbrushes and sables; and where music can always be heard “to evoke or enhance memory,” Clayton wrote.
It was where this year’s Slayer Sword award-winning entry was born, and it’s 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 to match the visual narrative of the image.”
“I envisioned a sailor being strung up, cursed, and driven away by his crew for some superstitious nautical offense. Our Kraken Eater happened upon this sailor […] the sailor, now dead, negotiated with the giant to travel with him to take revenge on his former crew.”
After the story came “exhaustive” structure diagrams to create “a convincing sense of movement, tension and realism” to pluck that moment from time. Part of that planning laid the foundation for the complicated basis of the duel. “It was essential to the success of the realization of the whole piece,” Clayton wrote. “I saw some great examples of ship modeling where submarines broke through the surface of the ocean and thought 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 sculpting, rethinking, hacking, hacking, and pasting later, Clayton had the bones of the duel—giant, hydra, and all the details of the shallow seabed beneath them.
Over the next 360 hours — 8-hour days for 10 weeks as the English spring turned into summer last year — Clayton labored. “I always like to work with a limited palette, especially on something this large and detailed,” Clayton wrote. “It would be easy for this piece to become fussy, so by keeping a few key colors and then using tints and shades around those choices, I can 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 of the seabed. That way, if the resin water effect wasn’t successful, I didn’t waste time and effort painting an entire giant,” Clayton wrote.
Assembly was all about capturing this instance between two ferocious creatures, but how could he capture moving water with the same sharpness?
“I wanted something more dramatic and stormy where optical clarity was paramount as there would be a lot of detail going on under the waves,” Clayton wrote. Sculpting the waves in clay, Clayton created a silicone mold of the rolling sea’s surface, and “once the base was completely painted, detailed and finished…I then poured clear resin into the mold that completely enveloped the base .”
Silk strands and clear micro-beads “soaked in clear varnish and carefully positioned” formed the foam in the air and the dripping water, Clayton wrote. Once the base was established, Clayton moved upwards, toiling over the fine lines of white underbelly appearing between the hydra’s scales, washing purple and red into the folds of the giant’s skin.
After 15 full days of work and one trip 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 because of this, 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 broader holistic creative lifestyle. If you had told me in 1987 that 35 years later I would still be painting miniatures, 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 a time where what used to be the preserve of a niche hobby is now part of mainstream popular culture.”