Review: The Art of ... Volume 03 Ana Polanšćak

by Hansrainer

Hello and welcome back dear jungle readers,

This is Hansrainer and I welcome you to the review of the third Volume in the Series "The Art of..." - by Dave Taylor Miniatures. This book is all about the Croatian artist Ana Polanšćak, a household name in the grim dark scene. In contrast to many other sucessful miniature artists, Ana has no professional background in the worlds of arts and crafts and is wholly self-educated in her impressive skill-set of illustration, painting, photography etc. Before she authored this book, she had already a prolific output in her blogging activities, that culminates in her current website and older entries can still be found on her now inactive blog.

Ana has what I would call a profoundly integrated approach to painting miniatures, crafting her art and illustrations, gaming and telling stories. This approach and her very unique style are what makes this book very special. Again, before I go into the nitty-gritty details of the review, I need to disclose, that the book was lent to me by my friend Maren, who herself enjoyed the book tremendously. 

The basics are completely in line with the other books of the series: Silver embossed writing on the matte hardcover, it is well bound with a thread binding and includes a cloth ribbon page marker. The pages are high quality paper and the print quality is excellent. As mentioned in the past, the layout could be a tad more adventurous and the slightly marbled and speckled page background can at times be a tad irritating.

As with previous books of the series, Volume 03 has a certain biographical touch, the author providing us with a good insight where she is coming from and where here interests and focus lies. The first section "where I come from and where I'm going" gives a brief overlook and mentions many points and steps that will be covered more in depth later in the book.

 "World building" is the title of the second section and takes up roughly a third of the book. Ana gives us a good insight into her work processes and the factors and motivators that drive her. It becomes absolutely clear that pretty much everything she creates is embedded in one of many rich and flavorful settings she has and keeps crafting as a major part of her work, sometimes collaborating with other artists following a similar approach. The second very interesting thing is her strong tie into narrative gaming - and the emphasis is on narrative here. She introduces us to a series of small projects and warbands, created to fit seamless into worlds, locations, and stories. The pictures that illustrate that part of her work make that particularly obvious: They are all about telling a story, conveying atnosphere, generating a feeling - nearly not at all about showing off the painterly prowess of her work. In fact, the painterly aspect seems very subdued and relegated to serving the narrative. Unfortunately that impedes the photos a bit - for my taste they tend to be quite dark and it's hard to make out much of the painted models, unless it serves a narrative purpose.

The third section, "Gardens of Hecate" introduces Ana's own world, where the work on several warbands and concepts lead to the creation of compelling fictional world. Atmospherically, I would compare her work to what we see in games like Diablo, but with a clear focus on the small world: counties instead of countries - the scale stays relatable. I have to admit, that at this point I realised that the book was not at all what I expected, but that I enjoyed it reading it, nonetheless. Ana does a great job laying out her creative and thought-processes, which approaches proved to be successful and which lead to problems in the settings consistency further down the road.

"Dark Age of Sigmar" is the fourth section of the book, where we see where her journey took Ana past the Gardens. Again we are introduced to new Warbands and Factions and several small settings she created. But here the focus lies more on how she created multiplayer narrative events in these settings, the challenges she encountered and the tools she used to overcome them.

The last ten pages are dedicated to Ana's journey into sculpting miniatures and unique pieces. Again its interesting to follow her, and her depictions of mummifyed saints and reliquiae are terrifying to behold (at least to me).


The Good: This book is special - it's weird in a good way. If you like grim dark fantasy art, strong concepts with a lot of follow through - this is the book for you. If you like narrative gaming, maybe even Inquisitor or similar games - this book is likely for you. Even though I am personally into neither, I did enjoy reading it. Its the kind of "hm, interesting" book that opens a new world for some. On top of that it contains a chunk of good starting points and pages where one could start to look if you want to got deeper down that well. 

The Bad: The image quality varies - quite a bit. I was really intrigued by the scenic and narrative pictures and everything thats "within the narrative" so to speak. I was, however, not so happy with the "this is just the model" photos. I found them all very dark on the brink of underexposure - and from a painterly view, I'd have enjoyed to see more. I'd particularly have loved a bit more detailed, high level resolution views of the heavily converted models.

The ugly personal view on the book: For me its a mixed bag - I actually almost always enjoy books that deviate from the step-by-step, "this is how my model evolved"-template many authors seem to follow. I am really happy for a book and a perspective that basically doesn't really care that much about how different models where done and even the "why" is only circumstancial. It was actually a good read. On the other hand - I usually expect some reuse value from a book like that (and that might be a misguided expectation) in the way that I see myself go back there for advice "how to" or inspiration or such. In this case this is not likely for me, because its honestly not my cup of tea. Overall the style is a bit too dark, to sullen and gloomy for me. But as the header says: That's personal taste. 

Overall, had I bought the book for the full cover price of ca. 32€ I would not regret it. If you're into that art-style, its amazing. If you're into narrative wargaming its a really good read too. If you enjoy reading the views and woes of other artists - this is another valuable perspective.

I hope the review could interest you in the book or resolve some questions - I'll be back with volume 4 in a few weeks!




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