Vol. 2
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 2

November 2014

Painter, writer, bassist. Luke Yates is a big man in a world of miniatures.

The Sound of Machines Commission Painting began as a means to help founder Luke Yates support his decision to go back to university after years in the corporate world. The demand was through the roof, so we ask him how and why he feels he's been able to create a successful business in such a niche market. Luke's story is interesting and inspiring, told by the man himself with a unique and refreshing world view.

Luke Yates--- 22 September 2014

By Lorenzo Princi

You have one of the most interesting and difficult jobs to explain I’ve ever come across, what is it you do exactly?

Really what I do, is I deliver a product, so my product to me is almost-- to me, it’s almost irrelevant. It could be shoes, it could be pants, it could be anything. I deliver what the client wants, so that both parties are happy. I get some money, they get what they need, a finished thing. Just so happens the product I deliver is painted miniatures. So that’s how that operates. So people have a budget concern, they have finished look issue they want to deal with, whatever it is that they need, that’s what I deliver. And as I say, just so happens they are paying for me to colour in toys. This is what it is you know?

"There is no point getting a hundred and fifty likes if it doesn't actually mean anything to anybody."
Luke Yates

Before this though, you were pretty much at the top of your game in the insurance industry, being head-hunted by some of the larger corporations in Australia. It already sounded like a dream career, why leave that world? I assume it hurt the back pocket?

Yeah, yeah, I-- you earn money when you do that, that’s the kind of job they pay you because you don’t want to do it anyway. I got into it by accident, I was working in a warehouse for trophies, shifting marble, I was the marble guy. So when they’d get a forty foot container full of marble I’d have to empty it. It’d be me and a couple of other guys but I was the guy who did all the work because I was the youngest and the tallest or whatever so they just sort of gave it to me. Got out of that and I was a typist at HIH before they went into liquidation, so I was a Dictaphone typist. Within about two months someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “hey, we know you’re not a typist.” I mean I could type but I was moving boxes and stuff as well-- I was the only guy in the admin pool, there were like twenty girls so it was a bit of a novelty but what it was, was they realised I could actually do a bit more than what I was being given so they gave me a whole bunch of extra stuff. I ended up on the path to be a claims officer. If it wasn’t for the fact that they went under I was ready to start my legal degree and actually become a lawyer. But they decided to go into liquidation instead. So I worked for a lot of companies doing that.

The reason I got out of it was-- really because it was a very depressing job, for a lot of reasons. The people that I was working with were absolutely the Muppet show. You did not need any qualifications to do my job, you did not need to, do a good job, you didn’t need to understand how the law operated, even though you were instructing barristers and solicitors; constructing defences, making claims against other companies. Like it was pretty heavy duty and I got depression, I got really severe depression and I had a few years where it was like, I don’t even really remember. It was pretty full on, I ended up after-- I did the job for about, about eleven years and started off doing the small stuff but I ended up doing what they call total permanent disability and death, T.P.D.D claims. So spinal injuries, amputations, facial injuries, you know that kind of stuff, as well as people dying. We had some pretty high profile cases that, that were just horrendous. The fire on the HMAS West Australia where three people died-- three sailors died, massive deal. Little girls getting run over by cars, just horrible stuff. I also ended up doing prison claims for, you know, all the stuff that goes on in there which was heavy duty. Then I did claims for the Catholic Church where they were the defendant, in the claims they’re the defendant for and we had to construct an argument as to why we didn’t have to pay money and that was it, I just went, “fuck this I can’t, I can’t be this guy anymore”. It just killed me man.

It wasn’t good, you go into work and it’s like, “you’re a dickhead”, “you’re a dickhead” [pointing] “and look at my files, there’s dead kids, there’s issues with kids and the Catholic Church”. Like, it was just horrendous-- and can’t get a good sandwich. Like there’s a few reasons, fuck man, I had to get out. So I went in at seven o’clock one morning, packed my desk and walked out. That was it. I had some contract issues and stuff like that at the end. They were paying me and wanted me to stay but just wouldn’t sign the paper so I thought, you know, after all I’ve done to get into the position and I’ve been with the company for two years as a contractor, if you’re not going to do the right thing by me, I’m just going because I just couldn’t do it any more, for myself.

It’s a very taking job, you take the money, you take other people’s problems and you distil it into numbers and legal clauses. “So, I don’t care that you’ve had an accident and you can’t walk and you got three kids and a house and your wife can’t work for whatever reason, all I care about is what it’s going to cost me.” And it was-- it’s just brutal man, it’s a really tough way to look at the world. So I walked out, went and saw Zombieland and then put up a shingle so to speak on-line, “commission painter”.

The goal was always to go to uni and it was to earn like, I think it was-- we set a thing for like fifty dollars a week just to get my train tickets and my lunch. That was basically all it was, then within the first week I had a month’s worth of work and within the first month, I had six months worth of work and literally since then, for nearly five full years-- four years and ten months, we’ve never been out of work and we’ve currently got a backlog of seven hundred hours.

Starting a degree and committing to commission painting work for income. I imagine it’s a lot different from clock-on, clock-off, part-time work and seems you were making two life changing decisions at once, studying and starting your own business. Was it hard to balance the two?

Yeah look, I always wanted to go to uni, and as I said the legal thing was all but going ahead except for that issue that occurred with the liquidation (of HIH). I knew I’d been accepted into uni before I left my job, it was just that I left it early. I had already been signed on to go and work nights or be there on the weekends or whatever. They really wanted me to stay, they really didn’t want me to go. They got me back from another company, so they definitely wanted me to hang around but I had enough of it and then I thought, well I can do this.

There were a lot of discussions at home, is it going to be worthwhile, is it going to work whatever and you-- at the end of the day I said, “you can only give it a go and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work and if it does it does.” It was a big change, I really thought I would have been stacking shelves at Woolies or digging holes in the ground or something else, just doing something easy while I was doing the degree.

I started off doing maths for two years or eighteen months. I did mathematics and it was really difficult, like really hard-- train-- like it was two trains, two buses to get from where I lived down to Wollongong-- it was two and a half hours, each way. I’d get there at eight-thirty (a.m.) and then-- so I’d leave a six (a.m.). I’d had to catch a cab because there was no bus to get me to the station that early, whatever. Get there at eight-thirty (in the morning) and then I’d be getting home at eleven-thirty at night and it would be no-- In between, apart from the travel it was just mathematics, it was a computer programming course that just slaughtered me but it was mathematics.

What happened was, I found it really difficult, I was getting average marks, I was getting-- I was getting credits which is okay but I knew that I could do better but the business started taking off and I didn’t have the time to do both. So, I was spending fifty hours a week doing uni and I was spending maybe, you know, maybe fifteen to twenty on the business. So it was a lot of time, a lot of awake time was just doing stuff.

Because I was working from home at that stage but I was on campus for uni there was a very clear delineation between being at uni, doing uni work and being at home, doing work, work. So that was okay. The real confusing part came when I transferred and did off-campus study. So I had the business at home in the same room as I had all the university stuff. Uni stuff is not-- it’s not what a lot of people think. You know it’s-- it’s books, it’s five hundred pages a week of reading per subject, if you do four, that’s twenty, thirty hours of reading alone. It’s proper-- you need physical things: books and folders and texts and stuff. Having that all in the one room was a bit-- especially as we were living in a fairly small place.

Finding the balance was really hard, what I found was everything was either uni or work and nothing else. So it wouldn’t be, ‘we’re going out to dinner’, it wouldn’t be taking Sunday off. It wouldn’t be, ‘I’m going to bed before midnight’. No, there was work to do, there’s uni to study for and it was all about that. Having both those things at home and not knowing which hat to put on every morning was a bit confusing at first but all I knew was: Don’t turn on the Playstation. You know what I mean like-- and metaphorically, like, don’t watch Dr. Phil, don’t make plans to go out and have lunch, don’t get stuck into a Game of Thrones binge, like, you know what I mean? Don’t open any of those doors and I haven’t, you know what I mean?

Now uni’s coming to an end and it’s gone very well and I’ve obviously-- we are sitting in the new site for The Sound of Machines (Commission Painting) and that makes it a lot easier. When I’m here I’m working, when I’m at home I’m doing uni and there’s not a lot of crossover any more.

"Don't Turn on The PlayStation"
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 6

During my time at Games Workshop, we were always on the lookout for keen hobbyist to contribute content for out monthly magazine, White Dwarf. With copy-writing, photography, design and print schedules being tight, it meant that we relied on these contributors to get things done on time. Whenever you were involved we’d know you’d have the miniatures ready and in perfect condition. I imagine this ability to “get it done” has helped the success of your business?

Yeah look, at the end of the day, I don’t want to be the guy who says “yes” to everything and delivers nothing. We all know those people and, and-- “yeah, I’ll come and help you move house, yeah I’ll come to your birthday dinner, yeah I’ll do that thing that I know how to do for you, I’ll fix your computer-” is a common one. I’ve never wanted to be that dude who says yes I’ll do it and then never does it and like, I’ve done some stupid-- I’ve said yes to some really dumb things, like, proper inconvenient things of like-- like now I literally can’t go home for two days because now I’m doing this and I have work Monday. You know what I mean, like recording bass tracks or moving warehouses or like, I was doing ad shoots-- I said I was going to do it, so I did it and you know people need a hand, and if they need a hand, you give them a hand. It sounds, it sounds, it sounds-- you know whatever-- but it’s not me being-- I just thought that’s what people did. Really, that’s all it comes down to.

You guys (Games Workshop) approached me and I was so stoked to be involved. The fact we did it like seven times or six times or whatever it was, I got a lot of flak for that, I got a lot of trouble. Even up until recently-- I’m mean we are talking ten years ago now, we go way back. Even up until a few months ago, people would say, “I don’t know why you were always in it (White Dwarf Magazine) you never worked there.”

Well, the reason you and others were always asked back was because we needed people who we could trust to meet deadlines. We picked different people for different things, depending on the article, to make sure we weren’t going to have to shuffle things around too much when someone couldn’t or didn’t deliver on time.

Even when-- in the insurance thing, I was getting the extra work and I would do it but I wasn’t standing around talking about Big Brother or television or fuckin’ whatever, I was doing my job and then “oh, because he’s done his job and didn’t go out for a three hour lunch were going give him more”-- and it’s like “oh, do you need a hand?”-- It wasn’t until the end I realised no one was going to step up and give me a hand, because I never needed it. You’re given your eight, nine hours a day to do your work, if it takes any longer than that, you’re not doing it right. It was just one of those kinds of situations.

So I was really keen to do it and I really wanted to deliver (for White Dwarf) and I wanted to be asked back because I enjoyed it and it was helping out friends of mine and without that stuff, without the White Dwarf stuff that we did, the magazine stuff we did, I probably wouldn’t be as kitted out here now because I can rely on that and say, “look what I did, I got it done, it took me this many hours, it cost this much money, whatever”. I can rely on it, it’s in print, it’s-- and people remember. People remember that stuff man. They don’t, you know-- the postman, literally the postman who comes here to collect the boxes, they rotate every couple of months, I don’t know why. One of the guys comes in and saw the army and recognised it from when he was ten and he-- he dead-set bought some stuff. He went “oh I remember this, this is amazing, you’re that guy, I remember you, you said this and you said that, hahaha, this issue and that page number.” I was like “whoa, whoa, whoa”. He’s the postman, no word of a lie and thought, fuck that’s pretty cool, that’s really weird. I like that.

The Sound of Machine Commission Painting Facebook page has been crucial in driving business but also boosting your profile within the community. What do you feel is important in order to achieve a thriving social-media presence like yours?

Honestly, I literally have no idea, like really, if you want me to write it down in point form or draw a diagram-- I have no idea. I’ve been running that Facebook page for three years and in that time we’ve garnered quite a lot of traffic, we’ve got people who are very avid followers which I’m really thankful for, really, really thankful for. It was really-- it started off for me as a catalogue of painted stuff, because obviously you paint it, you give it back, you paint it you give it back, so you never have a big collection of things sitting around. So it’s quite hard to then show other people what you can do. So it really just started off as a big fancy photo album but what I realised, like within the first six months was you know five hundred people had liked the page and-- like, I didn’t know there was five hundred people who did this, you know what I mean and it’s, it’s gone from there and it’s gone really well.

The thing that I think, “what do I want to see.” Well, I don’t want to see a photo of this-- I won’t get technical about the, you know, the miniatures of whatever, but you don’t want to see the boring stuff. You want to see-- or I want to see, something different, something interesting, something cool, like just something that’s going to-- something that’s going to make people stop and go, “hang on a second that actually looks alright or I see what they’re going for there. Or, what is this all about, like what’s going on here?”

You don’t-- you don’t post fifteen photos of the same thing, in a row. You spread it out if you’ve got work in progress or if you’ve got different angles or whatever. You sort of let people-- you keep it interesting for them, you know what I mean? It’s-- and you just keep it constant-- you just-- like today I put up five photos in six hours, I don’t normally do that but I’m sitting on a massive back catalogue of photographs and I want them out there and I want engagement. So I thought, you know what, I’m sitting at the computer every hour and I’ll check the numbers and I just watch the numbers go up and up and up and by the end of when I left home, the first photo had got, you know, five-x likes, the second last had got four-x and as it went down you could see the most recent from the amount of traffic and people who viewed it and stuff like that.

I just watch the numbers and I realise from looking at patterns of what I do and what I post and when even, like, the timing matters, because there is no point doing it at 3:00 a.m. because you’re just going to get swamped with updates about, you know, whatever people follow. You gotta time it so that-- So I try to do a photo in the morning when people are on their way to work because generally people are on public transport and they’ve got their phones out. So I’ll put a photo up at 7:30 (a.m.) and most people that I know, will see that. Then I do one, roughly lunch time if I’m at home, if I’m here I don’t post but if I’m home I do-- and then when I get home, generally, like after dinner, I’ll post a photo because to me there is no point doing it at 9:30 a.m. when everyone is right in the thick of their job, most people are nine to five, Monday to Friday. There is no point doing it at 3:30 (p.m.), when most people are winding up to try and get out on time. You may as well do it when your audience is going to be there. And that’s all it is, it’s really just looking at the statistics of the page for me and working out-- like recognising the patterns and you know, doing some statistics courses and stuff helped me out to-- to be able to run the formulas and see what I needed to see but it wasn’t anything-- it’s like as far as social-media goes, I got no idea, you just do it.

Lorenzo: Well it sounds like you do, you’ve basically given a text-book answer.

Right, well, I don’t know. There’s a text-book?

Lorenzo: It’s actually interesting to hear that from someone who’s not in marketing.

Oh, I’ve got no fuckin’ idea, seriously and you know what, I don’t even really-- you have to have a personal thing (Facebook account) to run a business thing, I really don’t use my personal thing. Like, I’ll make smart-arse comments or I’ll make a quip that I think is funny but it’s not like, here’s my lunch, here’s my cat, here’s my nan, it’s just not like that for me.

The only thing that I can think-- this might be a bit left of centre but when the Sopranos was on Channel Nine, it was ramshackled, it was all over the week, they’d put in on Monday, then it was Wednesday, then the next week back on Monday and Thursday. It was on at eleven o’clock, one o’clock, 9:30, like it was all over the place and I thought, why don’t you just put it on consistently at the times that the people who want to watch it can watch it which would be 9:30, maybe 10:30 every Tuesday, bang done.

To me-- that’s just how I do the Facebook page, that’s all it is. It’s like, when are people going to want to see this stuff, when are they available to see it and what is it that they want to see. They don’t want to see a million photos of the same thing, they don’t want to see something they’ve seen a hundred times before. They want to see something different, in my opinion. And that’s-- that’s what I try and do.

It’s not all social-media though, you’ve been asked to judge painting competitions and are a respected figure within the wargaming community. I assume you’re not afraid to get out there and talk to people face to face?

Yeah, yeah, I was in on Saturday and at the moment we are busy, proper busy, busy. I got in and I spent the first three hours talking to people. Now that I’m here with a public frontage, people travel to see me here, they come here specifically to ask questions. Be it about their own painting that they are working on or something I’m working on or a new product or a new technique or even do I know this guy, is he a good guy to have a game with or to-- to get something painted by or whatever.

Just chatting away, generally it’s people asking questions, they’ve seen something and they want to know more about it which is the idea of the Facebook page, to engender that engagement with people. There is no point getting a hundred and fifty likes if it doesn’t actually mean anything to anybody. It’s a sandwich photo then, it’s nothing, you know what I mean? It’s one of those kinds of deals.

So being here now, you’ve got to put your happy face on, which for me is easy because this is a great job but you’ve got to be here and be willing to talk to people. I can’t just say sorry I’m actually working. I love when people come and talk to me. I went to Townsville and spent six days on an army barracks for a charity event and just watched six days worth of army activities, even though it was a gaming thing that I was there for I had two days at the beginning and one day at the end where I was able to just watch army life. In Townsville where it’s forty eight degrees at six in the morning and it was just like this is an incredible-- I’d have never thought doing this would have brought me here and at the end of that convention-- At the start it was really funny because no one up there really knew who I was. People knew The Sound of Machines (Commission Painting) business and they knew that I was there but they didn’t really didn’t put it together.

One of the first guys to arrive at like ten o’clock, eleven o’clock at night on the first night, saw my shirt and yelled it out across the barracks “Sound of Machines! Sound of Machines! Whoa!” and he was-- and he was-- obviously had a couple of beers or whatever and I was like, that’s fuckin’ awesome man. There’s like three hundred people sleeping in that, they call it a lines which is just a big dorm type thing, multi-story and he’s yelling out, he’s keen to see me here and I’m like fuck, that’s really cool.

And it wasn’t until the end of the weekend they realised who I was and that they had all followed my page at point or another. Some of them had emailed me about work or asked me questions about painting. It wasn’t-- because I didn’t walk up and say me, me, me, I, I, I. I’m here-- I’m on your turf, I’m in your house I’m just going to keep my mouth closed and just sort of watch, which I did.

So on the Sunday night before everybody left, I got hammered like, hammered. I was sitting on a bunk bed with literally twenty people around me, like, you know, two hundred and seventy degrees worth of army people, putting their hands up and asking me questions and I just thought, this is fuckin’ incredible. “Oh when you did this, how did you do that? Why did you do this? What was your thought process there? I like what you did there but I don’t like what you did there?” And I was happy-- mate, I’m more than happy to have positive, negative, critique face to face, no dramas. Not a big fan of it when you get an email from some guy you’ve never heard of or a comment you’ve never-- from someone who’s not engaged, who just sees one photograph and has a stab. That’s not cool, because one photograph doesn’t give you the full picture, you know what I mean? The only person who knows the full picture of The Sound of Machines is me, maybe Kate, my girlfriend, maybe a couple of friends, but really, you can’t know what-- you don’t know that it took me fifteen minutes to do that or it took me three hours and there was a problem with the electricity that day, you just don’t know.

But once they realised who I was all these guys were asking a lot of questions and it was awesome and I thought, I’ll answer every single question that anyone ever asks me because it’s not my knowledge to hold on to just because I do this for a job and I’m lucky enough to do something I enjoy. Anything I pick up along the way, I feel, I don’t want to say it’s my duty because that sounds a bit silly but I feel it’s my-- my-- it would be rude of me to say, I found this out because I do it for a job and you don’t so I’m keeping this info to myself. It would be-- that would not be okay by me. So when people ask me a question they get the answer that they want, they might ask me a two second question and I’ll be talking forty-five minutes because I really-- I do know this stuff, I do like-- I really do and I really do enjoy it and there is so much people can learn if they ask questions and that’s why when they do, I’m very, very keen, so...

You pride yourself on innovation and is one of the key differentiators between The Sound of Machines and other commission painters. You don’t conform to just doing things the way they’ve always been done, I believe you even used you girlfriend’s nail polish on a set of miniatures once. How or why do you think you’ve been able to get away with this type of thing, especially when you’re experimenting on other people property?

Well, it’s funny, I bought that nail polish to use, I went out and bought it. I found exactly what I wanted, it was a deliberate attempt by me to do something different. I wanted to re-create the effect of a car with that chameleon paint when it drives past it changes colours. And I thought really long and hard, long and hard and I tried a couple of things and they really didn’t work. I tried-- I won’t go into the details because it’ll get really boring but I tried a few things and they didn’t work and it came to me that nail polish would work. Why not? You use nail polish to paint a small surface area, okay, albeit it’s flat but, it’s a small surface area, I’m painting a small surface area. In theory it’s going to work. I did one and it was amazing and I thought, Okay I’m-- I’ve really hit something here, like really have. And that’s just one of the things that, that I’ve been able to find out. The reason I always try and do different things is because no two jobs are the same. Even if its the same, army, I don’t want to use my terms-- even if it’s the same group of models.

Lorenzo: Colour scheme?

Yeah, same colours and the same thing that they want to do, you know? The jobs different, the person’s different, their expectations are different. Their budget’s different. My life at that time is different. You know what I mean? I’ve only got ten hours this week not fifty to do this, I’ve got my university to worry about, so they’re all different.

So I try to come up with-- every time I do a job, I’ll try and do it in a new way or incorporate some new techniques. Something-- when I did my own stuff, that I deliberately did. I would pick the exact opposite of what I had just done for myself and then I would think of a new way to do that and it worked well, I mean, there’s no-- there’s no style to my stuff. People can’t look at it and recognise it which for me is actually really good because I’m not here to have my own style. My style is that I can do it all in that regard, maybe saying “do it all” makes me sound a bit funny but I can do what they want and the day I can’t deliver what they want I actually won’t take the job on. If they want an extremely complicated thing that I can’t deliver I’ll say, “No, I’m not able to do that.” What I can do, is I can go to an art shop and I can re-purpose fifteen products. I can go to a hardware shop and buy five things no one has ever thought of to use in this realm and put it to work, you know what I mean?

I’m going to do some experiments this week using-- I mean oil and water don’t mix, I use oil paints and I use acrylic paints, which are water based paints-- I’m wondering what effect you can get when you mix those together and how that will actually look. Won’t work well on everything but on a building or a rooftop or the side of a vehicle, a tank or what have you, it might end up coming up looking really good. As far as I know, hasn’t been done before, no one’s done it.

There is very much a set method to this and I really don’t understand why and it’s not that I woke up and went, “I’m deliberately going to be iconoclastic and make my own--” it’s like no, isn’t it just what you do? Okay so the book tells me to do it this way but why would I do it that way because then I’m going to end up with a hundred of those, they’ll be different colours and different things. One’ll be an alien, one’ll be a guy, one’ll be a this, one’ll be a that but at the end of the day, they’re all going to look exactly the same. Why do you want to do that? This is not the sphere to do that in, you-- this is to be creative and interesting and innovative if you can and you can! I mean there’s so many products, there’s so many methods, there’s so many options and still a lot of people chose to keep it very, very insular instead of breaking out.

Lorenzo: If you can’t be innovative with twenty-five millimetre zombies...

When can you be? Yeah, if you can’t make them look interesting-- like I’ve got a job at the moment and it’s a board game, but it’s a series of board games and it works out that-- I think there’s something around two hundred and thirty, maybe two hundred and fifty zombie models. They need to be re-painted but they’re already a colour, grey, brown, green, whatever because they represent different things in the game, in the board game. I need to think of a way to make that representation of their brown, grey and green without-- while still painting them in an interesting fashion.

I’ve had the idea, and I’ve got the okay and I just need to-- it’s just one of the jobs that’s coming up-- of spraying them, essentially black and white but it’ll be a bit sepia in tone, like a nineteen-forties, nineteen-fifties original style horror movie, you know, whatever year they came out and instead of using the brown, grey and green paint, I’ll actually do, green slime, brown goo and grey-- or red blood for the grey guys or whatever.

So they’ll actually look fairly classic zombie image but they’ll have a big splatter of blood on them or green slime on them to represent that. And the client was like, that’s exactly what I wanted without even knowing what I wanted. It’s like awesome, because it needs to be functional in the sense they need to represent the colour still, for the playability for the game but they also need to look good. So how do you do that? How do you keep both of those Tenets happy? What’s the conclusion that you come up with? That’s what I came up with-- there’s a hundred different things you could do but what you can’t do is just ignore one of those two requirements. You need to keep both of those in mind.

So-- Oh wait! The question was how do I do it on other people stuff? Don’t fuck it up! [laughs] Just don’t fuck it up, that’s all it comes down to. If you make a mistake, be prepared to fix it and don’t be upset if you make a mistake. I literally read a quote today from George Eliot from the... olden times and it was-- I’ll paraphrase it because I’m not even going to try and do it justice but it was, “you can’t be great and do good things, without doing bad things” and it’s not in the sense of being a bad person but it’s in the sense of you can’t always be correct. You do have to make some mistakes and I’ve made some mistakes definitely with this painting stuff. And I mean, you gotta fix it. I mean I’ve only had one real issue with a client who wasn’t happy and I fixed it within a week it wasn’t a thing. It was miscommunication, I didn’t understand-- again, if I’d sent him the wrong size pair of shoes, I would have had to deal with that, if I’d have booked him a holiday to the wrong place I would have had to deal with that. It just so happens that I colour in toy soldiers. So I had to deal with it, you know.

I’ve got a lot of confidence in my abilities now after doing it for so long and I know that if it does go wrong, I can fix it and so when it comes to like you say being innovative on someone else’s models-- I always say, I’m learning on someone else’s dollar because they are paying me to figure new things out. What a great position to be in.

You know, the next client might like it, I might like it for myself later, that client may love it and get some more stuff done you know what I mean? It’s all good but if I keep handing over the same, same, same it’s not really going to be really interesting for very long. So I’d much rather do new things and take the chance and really impress somebody than just deliver a seventy-five percent something they’ve seen before. The other thing is that it makes it interesting for me. I get to go to such and such and buy a two part epoxy resin and give it a go and if it doesn’t work, I’ll sort it out.

"It's not my knowledge to hold on to."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 6

Wargaming miniatures are your bread and butter, but you have transitioned to other industries such as architectural models. How have you found the difference between clients?

We’ve done some really good stuff actually, we did-- the Islamic Council of Melbourne had an exhibition and we did two Mosques that were-- they would have been I think eight by six total, eight by six feet. There was two of them, so they were massive and they were individual. It was a 3D printed model and this is way, you know two years ago or three years ago now when 3D printing was still a bit sketchy and it was paper, it was layers of shredded paper, whatever the technology was and it would absorb the paint and it was a real pain in the arse. But this guy had just found us, gave us a call, bought this stuff around, we painted it and it’s as far as I know, still on display at their council centre, down in Victoria.

You know what I mean and it’s like okay, that’s pretty cool and it was an interesting job to deal with because the requirements were very different. It was no detail, it was no shading and tricky fancy stuff. It was just base colours, get the image across, this is the photograph and the guy gave us hundreds of photographs, he actually went there as part of his contract to do research and then gave all that information to us.

We also did a television ad which was for a book publishing company which was cool for me because I’d rather it was that then some of the other things I guess… [some] gambling fucking thing or whatever-- “Oh is he going to roll a six!” Yeah it was great, they got me in and it was really funny and I’ll tell you this-- it sounds a bit weird but everything-- every suggestion-- because I was there for basically thirty-six hours, because I wanted to be. Every suggestion that I had they took in, they listened to, they discussed it and they implemented, every single thing I said ended up in that final commercial.

I was, I was really impressed, not with myself, but with those guys because their attitude was totally different to what I have become accustomed to. They were very welcoming, they didn’t treat me as an outsider-- and there was a team, twenty-five people, like they were-- that team was made up of executives, people from the client company, the film crew, some additional people that the film crew had hired. So there-- it was a mix-match of people, it wasn’t just one group of guys and me, it was all a big you know, a big shambles of people from all over the place and every single thing ended up-- when I saw the final ad I was so stoked. I was absolutely wrapped and it was a lot of fun. It was really a lot of fun.

And then there was a guy who lives close who does fibreglass work. Special effects kind of stuff, I won’t go into too many details but he’s working on some films and I sent him an email, said, “I walk past your warehouse every day, twice a day sometimes, I’ve always looked in the door, I’ve never seen you out the front otherwise I would have come and said hello but I’d really like to come and check it out and see what you do, this is what you do. What do you think you know?”

He was really nice, he said, “Yeah we are kind of in a similar thing, we’re very niche and we are very particular and we are doing for ourselves.” Which is a big bond when you are a small business or slightly you know, out of the majority. These people kind of gravitate towards each other. He was really cool and really supportive. Nothing that we discussed eventuated as yet but that’s a circumstance, you know, I’m not waiting on a phone call to pay my electricity bill or whatever, you know, like I’ve got other stuff that I’ve gotta do, he’s got other stuff to do, eventually we’ll get together and do something.

The director for that commercial wants to do a video clip for a band using miniatures and nothing might come of it but the chance that that’s going to happen is pretty cool. No one asked me to be in a video clip when I was sitting behind my desk in insurance. You know what I mean? No one asked me to do a file on camera for a band whereas what I do now with miniatures. It’s interesting to people that you wouldn’t think are interested.

Lorenzo: It’s opened doors?

Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of cool and I mean, the biggest door for me is sitting here being legitimised by an actual business, you know what I mean, like a proper business. That to me is like, wow, the hard work-- sort of doing it the way that I do it has really been the right way to do it. Not that I doubted that but okay-- it’s nice to have that recognition just so that I know I’m not completely off the track.

Lorenzo: It’s been validated.

Yeah, yeah-- okay dad didn’t hug me enough when I was a kid-- but it’s not about that, it’s a little bit of-- I’ve made a good decision because leaving insurance as you said, like the question said, was a big call, it was a big paying job and going into a really uncertain future with this, this thing-- no one thought it was going to-- I didn’t think it was going to do this five years later, in the warehouse.

What’s next for The Sound of Machines? Does it end now that your degree is nearly complete? I imagine it would be hard to walk away from this now as it’s no longer just the part-time job you needed to fund your studies?

Yeah, yeah, it was just meant to be a few hours a week just to contribute in my own small way to the running of the household kind of thing but-- as it stands, I’ve tried to finish up and not accept new work so that I can concentrate on postgraduate studies next year. As it stands now, I’m getting enquiries daily, like literally daily and have for the last x number of months, might be the last six months of people just asking-- not all that leads to actual work but we did some statistics, analysis for the first half this year to see how many enquires actually led to paid work and it was seventy-six percent. Like it was actually pretty sweet, I was really happy with that, like if your car sales were like that they’d be over the moon.

So, so I was really impressed. So it is something that can keep going. I’d really like to expand and get some people in but that’s something that I’ll have to deal with when I’ve got a bit more head space to deal with that but that’s a whole other thing. There’s no reason this can’t keep going-- I’ve had offers to buy the name, people want to buy the business. Take over and do the thing but I don’t think that’s worthwhile for them or for me or for the customers. So even though even though it might be a quick pay day for myself of a few bucks or whatever-- I am the business. It’s not a pizza shop, even then, the guy does it the right way and the new guy doesn’t, you know what I mean? With this, it’s really, really particular. So without me here, it’s just whoever steps in.

Lorenzo: May as well be another name...

May as well be another name, the guy may as well save his money and start his own thing. I’m happy we’ve got a good reputation, I’m happy that people want to pay me money for the thing but I think I’ll just keep going until-- until I have to make a decision about further study or career work like, I’m happy to do this forever and certainly my partner and I have discussed this-- doing this for as long as I can and really just enjoying my life which is great but I do have a good thing going with this degree, the possibilities that are being presented to me now, close to graduation are pretty, pretty extreme, after graduation will be even more so, if I continue to do post-grad studies will then again be-- a whole other set of doors opens up.

While I’d like to keep doing this, I think it would be foolish of me to ignore these other options and the one thing that I can say with certainty is, whatever I do, it’s both feet all the way, there’s no toes in first, there’s no half-arsed.

So whatever I end up doing I’ll be giving it a really good go and if it doesn’t work it’s because of other reasons, it’s not because I walked in a didn’t give it a bash you know? So I’m really excited in the sense to leave this behind eventually and do something else to see if I can do it again. Oh, I’ve done well here, I’ve done well here, I’ve done well here, now I’ve moved on into this sphere of things and I’m doing well in there and maybe it’s a challenge or it’s something I didn’t expect. It’s exciting to have that option and as much as I love painting-- I’ll keep painting anyway, I’ll probably keep being here anyway, it’s in everyone’s best interest for me to be here so I’ll probably be invited to stick around whether the business continues or not. But I think it would be short-sighted to ignore-- I really want to be a professor, so if I-- that’s the goal, that’s where I’m aiming, that looks to be more and more of a possibility as the thing (uni) goes on. I’d hate to let that go-- let that opportunity go, when I can do this on the side, you can’t be a professor on the side.

Find Luke on Facebook at The Sound of Machines Commission Painting.

Proofreading by Cinzia Forby. Photography by Lorenzo Princi.