Thursday 28 July 2011

Skin Deep - Empress Maoris

I’ve been desperate to start the new Empress, Maori range for some time having picked up a couple of sets of the mighty warriors themselves at ‘Salute 2011’ earlier this year.  A combination of my inability to remain on one task and the shear terror at trying to achieve a facial tattoo on a 28mm miniature has seen them slip further down the paint queue.  “Enough is enough!” I have now declared and it’s time to give them a go and instantly I am struck with difficult decisions! The most pressing is a workable palette for the skin tone, which at the moment is veering towards a Native American Indian.

On the ready line!

First attempt.
These first three were all based Vallejo 'Red Leather', which seemed to be an encouraging base but I then added Foundry 'Oriental Flesh', highlighted with Vallejo 'Rose Brown'.  This gave a somewhat jaundiced appearance and need to be saved with a sepia wash before I was happy.  Plan 'B' saw the original base but this time a Foundry 'Flesh Shade' was added before a final highlight with Vallejo 'Brown Rose'.  In the end this is palette I'll think I'm going with just need a little tinkering with the highlight mix.

Plan 'B'
Final mix.

The tattoos themselves or Ta Moko, to give the process its traditional name, are absolutely fascinating.  Unlike a modern tattoo, the traditional Maori permanent marking of the body and face is different in that the skin is actually carved by uhi (chisels) instead of being punctured with needles. This apparently leaves the skin with textured grooves, rather than the smooth surface of a normal tattoo.

Traditional Uhi
The process, Ta Moko is a fundamental element of the Maori culture representing commitment and respect; the practice itself is considered a tapu or sacred ritual. It is customary for men to wear Moko on their faces, buttocks, thighs and arms, whereas women usually wear a Moko on the chin and lips only.

The design of each Moko is unique to the wearer and conveys information as to their genealogy, tribal affiliations, status, and achievements.  Now clearly I’m not about to try to replicate this at such a small scale but do feel that it is important to acknowledge them in some way.

Two of the gentlemen's whose blogs I follow were a wonderful starting point and I must extend my thanks to both Arteis over at 'Dressing the Lines'  and Giles at 'Tarleton's Quarter'. Their examples have been very inspirational as too has been the wonderful online  'Tattoo Museum', definitely worth a look.  In the end I identified various repeating examples of geometric patterns and simplified them to one or two marks using blue ink as this seemed to be closest to the colours portrayed in contemporary paintings.

The results to date:

I think I've got to the stage where I feel confident enough to go on a finish the small unit that I have prepared.

Moko - is generally divided into eight sections:

Ngakaipikirau (rank). The centre forehead area
Ngunga (position). Around the brows
Uirere (hapu rank). The eyes and nose area
Uma (first or second marriage). The temples
Raurau (signature). The area under the nose
Taiohou (work). The cheek area
Wairua (mana). The chin
Taitoto (birth status). The jaw


  1. Maoris!? They are a new one for me..I never would have imagined that they are even available.
    They look bloody good...that one with the raised club sticking his tongue out.classic.
    The Dodo hunt...LOL :-D

  2. Thanks Paul, great new range from Empress Miniatures. Looking forward to finishing them off.

  3. Nice work indeed, top work on the tattoo I can't imagine how fiddly that must have been.

  4. Mum grew up in Taranaki in the late '40s early '50s and remembers an old Maori neighbour who sported a Moko on her chin and lower lip.

    Excellent work on these figs, Michael!

  5. Thank you both, I feel terribly nervous as I attempt to paint the tattoo on having just spent a good while achieving a standard that I'm happy with on the face!

  6. very impressive love the paint work on those maoris

  7. That is absolutely fantastic work on those moko! You've gone a whole stage further than I dared to go past with my figures, and it looks amazing! I especially love the expression you've got on the charging Maori with the rolling eyes! Fantastic!

  8. Thank you both, Arteis you are very kind I just hope the rest of the paint job goes as well. Kind regards, Michael

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