There seems to be some interest in knowing more about how I painted Ziba the Efreeti for Reaper Miniatures.
My painted version of the Efreeti figure from Reaper Miniatures. This is a resin master copy, as the figure was not yet available in the Bones Black material at the time I was assigned to paint it.
Every miniature (with the possible exception of completely scratch sculpted figures) is a collaborative process, and that is certainly true of this one. It started with Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier’s fantastic concept art, which sculptor Bobby Jackson did a wonderful job of bringing to three dimensional life. Before I began painting, Reaper’s art director Ron Hawkins and I talked about his vision for the colours of the character. While I have played role-playing games for many years, I’ve played in a lot of low level and custom world campaigns, so I’m not as familiar with some of the classic creatures and characters of the RPG world as you might expect. As a result, I always like to collaborate with Ron to make sure I’m painting the classics in a classic way!.
This was my colour brief – red skin on the darker side, hair with flame-like colours, and yellow metals for armour and accessories. So yellow, orange, and red, both in fully saturated form for hair and skin, and less saturated form for the metals. That sounded like a classic analogous colour scheme. An analogous scheme is one that uses 3-5 colours that are side by side to one another on the colour wheel. Because the colours are adjacent, they work very harmoniously with one another, and you can be confident that everything ‘goes’. What you lose in that colour scheme is the punch and pop you can achieve by pairing complementary colours – colours which are opposite one another on the colour wheel. Analogous colour schemes can be very effective in graphic design, and with certain subjects/approaches in traditional art forms. But when it comes to portraying something of any complexity, to me they seem a bit gimmicky or limited in the situations in which they work effectively.
A colour wheel can be a handy tool to help you choose colours for painting a figure, and quick reference for useful concepts like complementary colours. I like that this one shows tones and tints as well as pure hues. There are also a lot of great pages and programs available online related to colour schemes and selection.
I was excited about the prospect of being able to try a true analogous scheme on a figure since I had never done it before. Neutral colours are generally considered apart from the colours that make up a colour scheme, so I added black to the colour options both for mixing shades and as a minor colour for leather straps, horns, and claws. This was also a departure – I very rarely use plain black to darken colours. I far prefer to use a dark blue, brown, purple, even green or red depending on what I’m shading. White was added to make the hottest part of the fire and for the top highlights on the metals.
I had a firm deadline for completing this figure, but a whole lot of outside life issues kept getting in the way (flu followed by literal flood, and that was after some other issues even getting started!) While I enjoy colour mixing in my traditional art studies, for miniatures I often prefer to use as many pre-mixed convenience colours as I can, supplemented with custom mixes of my own as necessary. This allows me to quickly get paint on my palette and refill as necessary if I start to run low on a mix. This figure is almost three times the size of a standard gaming miniature, which is a BIG figure for me. I definitely ran out of mixes as I was painting! (You can read a little more about paint choices, colour mixing, and convenience mixes in a previous blog post.)
The bottom row on the palette shows the value range and the intermediary mixes I used to paint the skin. After I had paint on everything I added one slightly brighter final highlight to a few small areas on the face. You can also see the corner of my reference photo over on the right, and some colour scheme test figures behind the Efreeti.
Before starting to paint, I did a little testing to pick my colours. I chose to go with a cooler red rather than a warmer red mix for the skin, and I also had my colours set for the hair from the outset. (A cooler red has a touch of blue, a warmer red is more orangey.) I did some Google searches for bronze items and picked out a few I liked the look of, then picked out some colours paint colours that matched. Since I was trying for the analogous scheme, I didn’t want to use colours that appeared to have green in them. I also didn’t want colours that were too yellow, since I wanted the bronze to look as distinct as possible from the gold. For that same reason, I picked out strong yellows and reddish browns for the gold areas. I will list the names of the paint colours I used at the bottom of this post for those who are interested.
I tested several different versions of the red skin on a few of these Bones figures, which I love for testing! Once I had a skin colour I liked, I tested a hair colour. Then I began to paint on the Efreeti itself. I kept the test figure available to use to check on my choices for other areas of the figure, such as the cloth and bronze. Even very rough tests of a basecoat for the cloth and just roughing in highlights and shadows on the bracer for the bronze were useful to help me see if the colours worked together. You don’t have to know every colour you’ll use before you start painting, and you don’t have to have an ‘instinctive’ sense about colour to make successful colour choices. But it definitely helps a lot to be willing to test and play around!
Colour choices are just one part of the puzzle for why the skin of the figure looks like it does. I think the way that the skin seems to glow a little is strongly impacted by the depth of the shadows, and the degree to which I painted in the shadows. I didn’t want the skin to be much lighter in value than a bright red/dark orange. Using white and yellow only in the hair would separate the two areas visually more effectively and help the hair read better as fire-like. The shadows of the skin are nearly black in the darkest areas, and there is a fairly large proportion of shadow. The lightest areas are in a circle on the right side that includes most of the face, the right arm and hand, and the right unarmoured hip. The highlights on the armoured leg are almost, but not quite as bright as those. Throughout the skin there are strong areas of shadow next to areas of light – light on the cheekbones, very dark in the hollows under the cheeks and the chin and neck. Very light at the top of the right hip, shading down to near black above the knee. Even darker on the opposite leg, so although the highlight there is not as bright in value as the face and hip, it looks pretty bright.
The background you use to photograph miniatures can have a surprisingly significant effect on the end result, both in terms of how your camera may perceive colours, and the mood that is created for the viewer. This photo on a grey background is less dramatic, but the colours are probably a little more accurate.
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, it is increasingly my preference to try to separate out some of the steps or considerations of painting as much as I can. To ask yourself to think mentally about where the shadows/lights should go based on your light source, at the same time as placing them on the actual figure with paint, while at the same time trying to achieve a smooth blend or create a texture is like juggling a bunch of balls in the air at the same time. It can be done with a lot of practice and/or luck, but more often than not you’re likely to be dropping balls all over the place. You’ll have a much easier time with just two balls, or even just bouncing one ball back and forth against a wall.
My first step was to take a photograph of the figure under a strong light. I chose to make the direction of my light source above and to the right from the orientation of this photograph, and I took pictures with this lighting from several angles. (I think I’d like to get a lazy Susan type thing to make this easier to do!) This showed me where my main areas of light and shadow would fall on the figure. If you compare the reference photo below to how I painted the skin, you’ll see that I followed the placement shown in my reference photos pretty closely. Skin has a sheen but is not a strongly reflective surface, so a photograph of a resin figure seemed a pretty good guide to how skin would work, and likewise a good guideline for this type of non-shiny fabric. For the shiny metal surfaces, I had to extrapolate and use my imagination a lot more. In all areas I fudged or exaggerated whenever it seemed like it would look more visually interesting or effective to do so. As an example – the light falling on the right foot is about as light in value as that falling on the right hip in my reference photo. I chose to paint the foot darker because it is not a strong area of interest and should not be competing with the hip and the face for attention. The skin of the left arm is more heavily shadowed in my lighting reference photo, and I initially painted it that way, but I lightened it up a little because that area seemed too dull and indistinct when looking at the figure.
The unprimed resin figure illuminated by a single small light source placed above and to the right. The soft transition from light grey to near black on the right thigh is an example of a form shadow (see below). The sharp line across the right arm under the shoulder pad or the diagonal line of shadow on the left sword are examples of cast shadows.
For the past few months I’ve been studying shadows in traditional art. In particular, I’ve studied cast versus form shadows. Shadows occur where light is occluded from falling on a surface. When you stand out in the sun your body blocks the light of the sun from falling on the area where your shadow appears. That is a cast shadow, and there is a noticeable line around its edge that separates it from the area where the light is illuminating the surrounding surfaces. If you hold your arm out in the sun or a room with a ceiling light, you’ll see that your arm appears lighter on the top where it faces the light, and the skin that slopes down towards the underside of your arm appears to darken gradually. That transition from lit area to dark shadow area is a form shadow, and it is generally very soft and gradual, rather than having the sharper line or edge that defines a cast shadow.
As I was starting to paint this figure, I got to thinking that in miniature painting, we generally emphasize painting form shadows – those gradual transitions that show rounded forms sloping away from the light. But unless we’re painting figures that depict and emphasize the light source within the scene, we rarely paint cast shadows. I suspect this is because we look at miniatures in the round in a variety of lighting conditions. Cast shadows define the imagined light source more strongly and may look odd from certain angles or if the viewer has light coming from other angles. Also cast shadows tend to have hard edges, which require more precise placement to appear correct to the viewer. One of the exceptions to this is lining. One of the reasons lining often looks more natural than you might imagine is because there often is a ‘dividing line’ between overlapping surfaces that is created by cast shadows. If you look at a sleeve overhanging an arm, you’ll see the sleeve casts a thin line of shadow just below itself – a cast shadow that we paint as a line. You can even see this on the reference photo above – the thin dark line between the bracer on her right arm and the hand below it.
This is a reference diagram from my study of shadows and edges in traditional art that hopefully demonstrates a form shadow versus a cast shadow. The light is coming from above and to the left.
Important note! There are definitely miniature painters that paint cast shadows! Even apart from the example of the many painters who have painted shadows on the ground/basing when painting source light scenes. Alphonso Giraldes (Banshee) has done it, Aythami Alonso Torrent (NotOriginalMinis) has a short video demonstrating it, and I’m sure there are many, many, many others. I’m not under any illusion that I’ve invented anything unique here! I’m just exploring the idea that I think we emphasize form shadows and smooth transitions in miniature painting, and rarely paint the more sharply defined cast shadows.
Because yellows, oranges, and reds are not the best coverage paints, I decided against doing a grisaille primer approach or something similar. Instead I blocked in the main shadows and lights with the colours I intended to use on the skin and armour. For this figure, I decided I wanted to more actively paint in cast shadows. If you compare the figure to the reference photo, you’ll likely spot areas where I did this. It is most noticeable on the right arm, where I painted both the shadow cast by the large overhanging shoulder plate, and another area of shadow cast by the contour of the bracer.
In this photo you can see the block in version of the bronze armour and swords. Blends are rough, and I haven’t added the brightest highlights or darkest shadows, or done any lining between the scale plates, nor any other kind of detailing. The goal is just to lay in an idea of where the big areas of dark, light, and midtones go.
This is further along in the process. I’ve completed the gold non-metallic metal, and I’m starting to work on refining the bronze. I’ve finished the scale armour section on the bracer and her right breast. I’ve increased the contrast on the swords, but will do a bit more work on that as well as refining the blends. The placement of highlights and shadows on the metal areas is a little less straightforward than just following the reference photo, since super shiny surfaces behave differently than matte ones. You may find this video helpful.
In general I suspect that the shadows on the skin look natural enough that people might be (consciously or subconsciously) reading them as being partly paint, partly naturally occurring from an overhead light source. I have set up my photo area to cast as flat of light as possible so as to create as few shadows on the figure as possible. If you look around the area of the base in the finished photos near the top of this post (or scroll down a little), you’ll see only faint shadow cast around the base of the figure. The very dark areas next to the skirt are painted shadows, and my willingness to go down to near black there (and to follow a reference photo to help me visualize where things should be placed) is what makes the lighter areas of the skin appear to glow or pop. Committing to the cast shadows only enhanced the effect of that I think.
So how did an analogous colour scheme work out for me? In the end, I’m not entirely sure whether or not this piece qualifies as one. The purple colour on the skirt was mixed by adding gray to my darkest red (and then using a very close match pre-bottled colour for simplicity.) But in the final stages of painting I added a glaze of a true purple colour in the shadows of the skin, cloth, and gold NMM. It is hard for me to paint without using purple! Although I was attempting to avoid using any paints that seemed to have any blue or green in them, I didn’t mix the NMM colours from my basic colour set, so I can’t guarantee they could all be achieved from my analogous colours plus black and white. Perhaps I will try an analogous scheme again in the future and conform to it more strictly, but in this case it was more important to me to make the piece as interesting and well done as I could manage given my time limitations.
Special thanks to Jen Greenwald for her suggestion for a way to paint glowing eyes that I’m quite happy with. If you like work in progress pictures and frequent updates, you’ll enjoy her blog a lot more than mine. :->
One more picture, this one indicating the scale of the figure. She’s big! But Sir Forescale doesn’t mind dating a taller woman, he’s secure in his masculinity.
All colours used are Reaper Master Series Paints unless otherwise noted.
Colours in italics are out of production or special edition colours not currently for sale. You can approximate Bruished Purple by adding Stormy Grey to Crimson Red. Garnet Red is a cool red with a value between Crimson and Brilliant, and several MSP colours should work in its place.
Colours marked * are currently unavailable and were previously part of the MSP HD line. They will be available in the near future as part of the Bones HD line.
Colours are listed from darkest to lightest. Bolded colour is the closest approximate midtone. Note that there may be intermediary steps of colours mixed together to create smoother blends.
Skin: Solid Black* + Crimson Red*, Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Red Neon Glow (pre-release colour, will be available soon), touch of Lava Orange + Linen White, glaze in the shadow areas with Imperial Purple
Bronze Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Woodstain Brown, Woodstain Brown, Tanned Leather, Blond Hair, Blond Highlight, Linen White
Gold Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Chestnut Brown, Chestnut Gold, Palomino Gold, NMM Gold Highlight, Blond Highlight, Linen White
Skirt: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Linen White + Bruised Purple
Hair: Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Lava Orange, Fire Orange, Lantern Yellow, Candlelight Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Pure White
Horns: Solid Black*, Dusky Shadow, Dusky Skin, Dusky Highlight, Vampiric Shadow, Vampiric Skin, Vampiric Highlight
Bone carved skulls: Same mixes as the horns, but emphasizing the lighter end of the colours. Glaze with Bone Shadow
Base: Grays mixed from Solid Black* and Pure White, glazed with colours used elsewhere on the figure