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Oftentimes I talk about painting figures in terms of planning in advance – working out the direction of your light source with reference photos of value painting, for example. But that’s not always how we paint, and even for those who do plan a lot in advance, sometimes the plan doesn’t work as anticipated and you encounter problems along the waythat you need to figure out how to solve.
I think the ability to critically analyze the issues with your painting of a figure and come up with possible ways to address those is one of the things that separates intermediate level painters from top level painters. It’s a similar skill to what you would use to try to create a new effect like a particular kind of cloth texture or something along those lines – analyze a particular visual effect, try a method to try to reproduce it, analyze the result, and adjust. A critical eye and problem solving are useful skills to develop for a number of different purposes in miniature painting or any other art form.
So I thought it might be helpful for me to try to share some of my own experiences doing this. To really help people learn to paint, I think we need to learn to help them have more insight into the thought process behind decisions and corrections. That kind of information can be just as useful as step by step information on techniques or colour schemes. It’s the paint equivalent of teaching you how to fish rather than giving you a fish. ;->
Tara the Silent is an iconic Reaper Miniatures character that there have been a few different sculpts of over the years. I’ve even painted one before! (And then I painted her again, where she provided a good example of ways to paint with more contrast.) Reaper has reproduced the classic Werner Klocke version in their new Bones Black plastic material as the promotional miniature for the month of May 2019, and I was asked to paint the catalogue version of that figure.
My initial concept idea was to paint her up as more of a scout type rogue than a classic thief sort of rogue. I also wanted to paint her skin tone using some of the colours that paint maven Anne Foerster talked about on a recent episode of Reaper Toolbox. (Jump to minute 11 if you want to get straight to the paint talk.) In this case a somewhat darker skin tone, using Ruddy Flesh as the midtone. To work with that, my first thought was to paint the cloth khaki green, and the main leather a dark reddish brown, with a very dark brown for the hair and other leather accents. My idea was to paint her as more of an army scout type rogue than the classic skulk in the dark type thief. When I sat down to begin painting her, I quickly roughed in that colour scheme.
A cell phone pic of my initial quick colour scheme idea. I don’t know the trick of taking nice cell phone WIP pics.
I wasn’t that happy with this test colour scheme, and the art director at Reaper wasn’t, either. One issue is that, as it stands, it has much more of a ranger than a rogue feel. It’s always a bit hard to tell for me on plain mid-tone basecoats, but I don’t think there was a large enough value difference between the main areas of the figure, and the colours weren’t dark enough to convey more of a rogue vibe.
Since I was on a deadline, I went forward with my plan for the skin and painted that up while pondering another direction for the overall colour scheme.
So I stuck with my plan for the skin, but switched to a dull darkish blue colour for the main cloth areas. (The art director also preferred that the figure be painted as if wearing a sleeveless top. As sculpted, I think you could paint it as either sleeved or sleeveless, whichever fits the painter’s taste.)
I settled on a somewhat desaturated blue for more of a classic rogue feel.
We both felt much happier with where that was going. So that is one example of problem solving. If you try something and you don’t love it, study and try to figure out what you don’t love. A lot of these kinds of things, there’s not going to be one perfect correct answer. I think I could have made tweaks to the original colour scheme to make it work better. For example, I think I might have been able to rescue my original scout concept by making both the khaki clothing and the red-brown leather darker value versions of those colours. Or I could have evoked more of a classic rogue feel with black, dark brown, dark purple, or several other ‘shadowy’ colours on the cloth, blue isn’t the only colour that would have worked. (And ideally I might have done the step of working out the colour scheme on paper or on a test figure, but sometimes the real world is far from ideal.)
A better quality picture of the change to blue cloth for the colour scheme.
And what the blue looked like on the back view. At this point only the skin and cloth are the new colour scheme.
While I was happier with the main colour choice, when I came back to look at the figure the next day, I felt that something was a little off about the execution of the painting. Since it’s often easier to do this kind of analysis on someone else’s work, I’m going to end this post at this stage of the painting process and give you a chance to study the photos for a while and see if anything seems off to you. It’s always harder to tell when the painting is mid-process and doesn’t have all the main values laid in. But it’s still a useful opportunity to give you a chance to build your eye a little. It may also be helpful to note that I wasn’t using a reference photo, but my visualization for the light source is that it is coming from above and to the right in the front view pictures. I’m also not locked in to any of the other colour choices, so this relates only to the finished areas of the skin and/or the cloth.
I suspect that many of you will find additional issues to the one that was bothering me, so this is not necessarily a one right answer question!