Golden Demon winner Chris Clayton on his jaw-dropping giant diorama

Few prizes in the world of competitive art are as sharp as the Slayer Sword — the distinctive prize awarded every year, once in the United States and again in the United Kingdom, by Games Workshop. Featured every year since 1987 by the miniatures manufacturer at its Golden Demon painting events, the 5-foot-long weapon is the dream of many aspiring miniature painters. Few vanish who have held the blade. The latest is a veteran hobbyist named Chris Clayton.

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Thirty-five years ago, Clayton had a few early wins in painting competitions around the UK, back when Games Workshop only had eight shops to its name. Clayton was only 14 when he was awarded the first Slayer Sword. This year, Clayton’s sword was to be lifted, for a gruesome duel that dragged out of time.

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“For me personally, small painting was an escape from everyday things,” Clayton told Polygon in a recent email. “Back then [in 1987]small painting was only in its infancy and there was very little instruction or technique available 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 brushes; and where music can always be heard “to evoke or enhance the memory,” Clayton wrote.

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This is where this year’s Slayer Sword-winning entry was born, and this is where the sword now rests.

Figure of a giant, standing in the surf with his feet visible under the waves, holding a crab by the neck.  The kraken's hydralike heads leap and thrash.  This close up shows the clear resin in the base as well as the details on the front of the torso.

Photo: Games Workshop

A rear view of the massive and craggy statue shows details of the floats and jetsam hanging from its centre.  The waves seem to rush.

Photo: Games Workshop

A view from the right side of the huge and crabbed statue shows the drops of water rolling off the hydra and the freehand tattoo on the giant.

Photo: Games Workshop

“I love monsters and the more 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 accompany the visual narrative of the sculpture.”

“I envisioned a sailor being fired, cursed and let down by his crew because of some superstitious maritime misconduct. Our Kraken Eater had happened across this sailor […] the sailor, now undead, had made a bargain with the giant to travel with him in order to seek revenge on his former crew.”

After the story came “absolute” structural diagrams to create a “convincing sense of movement, tension and realism,” to pull that moment out of time. Part of that planning laid the foundation for the complex foundation of the contest. “It was essential to the success of the whole piece,” wrote Clayton. “I had seen some great examples of ship modeling where submarines were breaking through the surface of seas and I 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-eating Mega Gargant ($210) and the Kharibdyss ($70), a model originally designed for the Dark Elves faction in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. After a lot of rethinking, rethinking, cutting, hacking, and gluing later, Clayton got the bones of the showdown—a giant, a hydra, and all the details of the shallow seabed beneath them.

Figure of a giant fighting a kraken.  This photo is taken before painting and shows where the model has been modified with clippers, saws and putty.

Photo courtesy of Chris Clayton

Figure of a giant fighting a kraken.  This front view taken before painting shows how Chris Clayton has sculpted the textures on the joints between the kit based plastic components.

Photo courtesy of Chris Clayton

Over the next 360 hours — 8-hour days for 10 weeks as the English spring slipped into summer last year — Clayton toiled. “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 sticking to a few key colors and then using tones and shades around those choices we can keep the colors consistent and homogenous.”

With a marine themed palette, “the first part of the piece to be painted was the giant’s feet and the seabed landscape. That way, if the water-resin effect wasn’t successful, I hadn’t wasted time and effort painting an entire giant,” Clayton wrote.

An assembly had been about catching this example between two lumbering creatures, but how could it catch moving water with the same acumen?

“I wanted something more dramatic and stormy where optical clarity was critical as there would be a lot of detail going on under the waves,” Clayton wrote. By sculpting the waves in clay, Clayton created a silicone mold of the surface of the wandering sea, and “once the base was completely painted, detailed and finished … I then poured clear resin into the mold completely enclosing the bottom.”

An extreme close-up of the water - resin poured on the bottom - of two large figures in a diorama fight.  Waves are carefully sculpted, and the water is clear yet foamy on top.

Photo courtesy of Chris Clayton

Silk strings and clear microbeads “covered in clear varnish and carefully positioned” formed the mid-air foam and dripping water, Clayton wrote. Once the bottom had settled, Clayton moved upwards, laboring over the fine lines of white underbelly showing between the hydra’s scales, washing purple and red in 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 handle thumbnails […] like three dimensional drawings 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 small painting as an important part of a wider holistic creative way. 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 for it,” Clayton wrote. “Now it’s easy to forget how lucky we really are to live in a time where what used to be a niche hobby is now part of mainstream popular culture.”

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