An Interview with John Keys


JK - Misc1

John Keys is fast becoming one of the most recognised painters in the UK. A quick look at his Putty & Paint page shows some extremely high standard work, with a style focussing on extremely natural looking, atmospheric, and somewhat bleak dioramas. I met John about a year back at a Weekend Workshop painting weekend. We hit it off straight away, and I was struck by the standard of his work, which seemed a good few notches above most of the other painters there, myself included. So, being the parasite that I am, I latched on to him, and have yet to let him free from my grasp. Over the last 12 months the work John has chosen to share on forums such as WAMP and Platoon Britannica has shown considerable improvements from the already high standard I witnessed last year. As the level of his work continues to move forwards, his name starts to reach further and further afield.

First off. Give us a little bit of background. Who are you?

I’m John Keys, aka Megazord_man, I’m in my early 40’s and a very proud single father of one. I live near St.Albans in the UK, and have been painting for almost 4 years. For a living I’m a rocket scientist, well more correctly, head of mechanical design at a company that designs and builds spacecraft and satellites. Rather than turning on the tv after a day at work, I paint to relax. I love it!

I know we only met last year but I get the impression that 2013/2014 has been a big 12 months for you, with your work starting to earn more and more recognition. Would that be a fair assumption?

To be honest, I’ve not really thought about it in those terms, I guess it has. Looking back, it strikes me that since I’ve not been painting long, each year feels a little bit like that. But you’re right, in the last year I do feel like I’m starting to paint how I want to paint, rather than painting by numbers, or doing things to please other people’s tastes. Maybe it’s that confidence is starting to show through? Having the opportunity to travel has helped a great deal too, seeing and meeting the best in the world helps to open your mind to what’s possible. I think my ambition has grown with my painting skills because of this. That’s me in the middle with the checked shirt, with my good friends John (Dark Messiah) and Rafa (Volomir) at Monte San Savino.


John (middle) with Spanish painter Volomir (left) and Liverpool’s own John Harrison (right)

What got you in to painting? Would I be correct in my assumption that you did not come from the traditional Games Workshop / ‘Eavy Metal style background that most painters do? How do you feel this has affected your progression and growth? Have you ever painted a Space Marine?


An early example of John’s work


One of John’s earlier pieces

Actually, the very first thing I ever painted was a Space Marine. In August 2010, my son and I visited some friends (they were members of the Xbox 360 Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 clan I was a member of – as you can see, geek runs through my veins) and as it turns out they were also into 40k. It didn’t interest me particularly, but my lad wanted some, so a week later I bought the Space Marine paint set.
Within hours I was hooked, whereas within hours my son was onto the next thing. At that time, I didn’t know anything of the great companies out there, so I painted a few marines and a Necromunda squad. I quickly found myself on the Wamp forum, and was opened up to a world of miniatures. I quickly moved on to other companies, hence my exposure to GW was for around 6 months at most. Hence their influence is minimal at most. I never really liked the look of the GW stuff, and seeing the more European style of light dark was a revelation.

You’ve won a number of awards this year. We saw you at Salute and your entries were excellent. Talk us through your accolades to date.

Most recently I managed to get second at Salute in the large scale category, which was a huge thing for me. In previous years I haven’t even got into the finals there, going one step on from this was a high moment for sure. Last year I picked up €50 worth of meat for the first place in the Monte San Savino Cow category, very funny stuff to be award a voucher for a local butcher! Otherwise I picked up a first in a Wamp completion for Hasslefree, given 18 months earlier I didn’t get a single vote in a Wamp competition I was totally made up to win this one. Ah, there was a highly commended at Euro Militare too.

For me, I love competitions. They give me the focus of a deadline, the reason to push myself harder a further than I ever normally would (I can tell a different in my mind set between painting for a competition and painting for fun). It’s also a great feeling either winning, losing and even entering.

JK8 Do you have a favourite piece, or one which you are most proud of?

For me that would be the pair of Infamy Miniatures – Frank Hyde and Mr Toad. With both pieces, they were technically difficult for me at the time, I was playing with colours and I tried to bring them together whilst allowing them to work independently.


A truescale sculpt of Corehammer’s own Mark Boardman


Jk11Tell us what you have in the pipeline.

I’m currently working on a 75mm Scale 75 Operator 79. After a number of gritty, dirty paint jobs I’ve decided to go to the opposite extreme for a clean, superior dude that’s look down his nose at us. I’m finding it very challenging, due to both the size and the amount of contrast I’m aiming for in the reds, whilst trying not to dip into the pinks.

You strike me as a guy who is somewhat choosy with his projects. Tell me what a miniature has to have to pique your interest and make you interested in embarking on a project. 

I do have a certain type of thing that interests me; nice defined volumes, more often than not dirty and gritty but above all it has to be full of character. Pretty much anything from Hasslefree and JMD hit the spot for me too. Here are my favourites (I’m still waiting to paint them but these cover art pictures are beautiful)


“To my eye this fisherman by JMD is No1!” – John


Talk me through your set up. Paints, brushes, airbrush, compressor, auxiliaries, palettes, tools etc.

I use a wet pallet and Windsor and Newton No. 7 brushes (pretty much only size 1), GW paints – old and new, a few Vallejo paints, the Andrea flesh set and some Scale 75 paints (more so the recent inks than the rest). The two best things though are a comfortable chair and a good light, I use a triple bright. As I paint, I’ll have music on in the background, anything from hip hop to metal.

JK14This is a picture whilst airbrushing (which doesn’t happen too often) where I use the extractor fan, generic compressor with airtank and Harder Steenbeck airbrush (Evolution Sliverline – which is really excellent and very easy to clean too).

What kind of resources do you tend to make use of when you’re looking to improve? Online tutorials, books, workshops, forums etc.

For me, it’s really practice and being super critical of my own work completely underpinned with knowledge gained from workshops. We’re very lucky in the UK that the resources available to us are fantastic, not least with the workshops run and organised by John Harrison (Dark Messiah). I’ve been on quite a number of these and other workshops now, and with a hand on heart, I can say that after each one I’ve taken a step forward in my skills. Forums have played a huge roll too, particularly with the feedback aspect that I find extremely helpful. I’ve really not looked at many online tutorials or books, occasionally they help but it’s not the way for me.

Of course the workshops are great fun too – where else would I have met Kev!

JK15When you hit a snag with a project, what is your standard response. Mine for example, is to never look at that project again and pretend it never happened. I appreciate though that this is far from ideal, so how do you push through when you’re having trouble finding the right colour combination, or struggling to mix a colour to the shade you require.

For me it’s always the same – I sleep on it! If, and when, I’m having trouble I’ll leave it alone for the evening, play some COD, or more recently Wolfenstein, and come back to it the next day. It gives me the time and space to process what’s going wrong, and what I should do to put it right. I’ve learnt that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is not going to work. I need to analyse what’s going wrong, and then change something. Most recently this was the case with the red on Operator 79. I just couldn’t get it to work, so over a few evenings I slept on it, tried a few things, and have finally found something that works for me (in this case paint the light under the red with a flash tone and glaze red over the top – this is a little strange for me, as I typically wet blend the final colours, and maybe a little glazing to add extra depth or tones).

What current painters do you look up to? 

To name a few I’m following at the moment – Elias Alonso Herranz/Morsi (from Scale 75), Alfonso Giraldes/Banshee, Both Rafa’s – Rafa Garcia and Raffa Picca and Roman Lappat. I keep an eye out for many others too, but these show me something that speaks to me. From a sculpting point of view Romain Van den Bogaert, Allan Carrasco and Raul Garcia Latorre.

Are there any colours or schemes you tend to shy away from, or techniques that you struggle with? Similarly are there any particular schemes that you’re drawn to? What are your favourite colours to work with. 

Without doubt, freehand freaks me out! I’ve done a couple of tiny things, I just cant get my head around the whole freehand thing. I think it’s because I just want to paint rather than plan, and I certainly don’t feel confident with it, so I typically don’t go there. Here’s the pinnacle of my freehand! Otherwise I tend towards the gritty but in a cleanly painted kind of way – it’s hard to describe hahaha. Oh, teal seems to find a way in there too!


We are 138

You seem to have a penchant for vehicles, most notably Mad Max style post-apocalyptic vehicles. Where does this love come from? Are you a fan of films in such genres, or do you just like making cars look cooler?

One of the first workshops I did was with the Forge World crew, in which we were weathering a tank. It was the first time I felt comfortable with a technique, and as such, it’s my go to method if I want to work on auto pilot. Actually, it’s also a method where often less is more. 


I am a petrol head too, mixing that with a love of zombie films helps my mind run rampant when it comes to vehicles. Somehow, I managed not to paint the number 3 on the door of one, it can only be a matter of time before that happens though. How many Zombie fans would get the reference I wonder?

Jk - Misc2

Do you have a preference between machines or humans / more organic projects or is I just how the mood takes you?

I am a big robot fan in general, but I find myself enjoying painting the organic much more. I like the curves and organic shapes a great deal more. The nuances available in the skin tone seem to be really nice to play with.


How do you go about converting your vehicles to such a degree? What kind of vehicle kits do you prefer?

Most of what you see in the pictures comes straight from conversion kits from Dark World Creations, so it’s more about sticking them together than conversion. However, the VW Camper was a proper kit bash, using the body from one kit, and the chassis/interior & front end from another. It’s one of those times where you can have fun sticking random stuff together without worrying too much.


Cheers for the interview mate. Any last words?

Yes mate, really I need to say thanks to John (Dark Messiah) and Chris (Apa/Monkeyman7x) for really showing me the way and giving help whenever I’ve asked. Particularly to John for the work he’s putting into the UK community and for being my travel buddy too! 

2 thoughts on “An Interview with John Keys

  1. I am trying to get my head around a 2010 starting point, 4 years, his work in phonomenal! Someone who enjoys flesh tones also blows my mind.

  2. Echoing what Paulo said, 4 years is an astonishingly short amount of time to achieve such results – some rad stuff featured in the pics, love the Mad Max-esque vehicles!

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