Dark Sword Miniatures has just released a new set of figures, and I was happy to be able to paint a couple of them for their studio collection. One of the figures I painted was this female ranger sculpted by Tom Meier.
The completed figure. But this post is about the journey of how I got here.
I enjoyed painting this figure a great deal. It was not a project I approached by planning everything out in advance in terms of creating an elaborate diorama, nor even in terms of choosing all my colours in advance. However, as I worked on it I realized it was a good example of the kinds of planning new and intermediate painters often ask me about. New painters want to know how we figure out what to paint first, and how to build off of a few initial colour choices. Intermediate (and advanced) painters benefit from thinking about what materials and textures make up areas of the figure and how to represent those with paint. Those of us painting figures on commission also need to think about the preferences and needs of our client. So I’m going to run through my thought process related to those elements for this figure.
Colour Scheme Thoughts
My first impulse for a colour scheme was to base it on the gorgeous reds and yellows of a Japanese maple. But on further consideration, I was not sure that idea fit this particular figure. If you take the tree out of that colour scheme, it doesn’t really scream ‘ranger’. So I put that idea aside. I decided to stick with an autumn inspired colour scheme, but use less saturated reds and yellows. That idea fit in well with the lovely leaves sculpted on the base.
While I was getting the figure ready to paint, it struck me that she was a good representation of a character type I often play in computer games. I’m not the most original person, so I reuse a few names and concepts for characters in various games. One of them in a bow wielder. I usually create her as being fair skinned, with blonde or light red hair worn in a ponytail or bun. I have never painted a character to match, and doing so seemed like it might be fun. That gave me enough of a colour plan and character concept to get started on painting.
Order of Operations for Painting
My general advice for what order to paint elements of a figure is roughly to work from the inside out. Some people suggest a guideline of painting in the order you would get dressed (skin, underclothes, clothing, accessories, hair, etc.) For example, on most figures the face, neck, and upper chest are all under other parts – hair frames the face and neck, and clothes sit on top of the chest.
The basic idea behind these guidelines is to first paint areas that would be harder to reach with your brush at a later time. For example, if you paint a belt first, chances are pretty good that you are going to slop paint onto it when you paint the shirt that sits beneath it. So it makes a lot more sense to paint the shirt first, and then the belt.
When I first looked at this figure, it seemed like the face and neck would be the place to start, but when I sat down to paint it, I realized the dynamic pose made the hard to reach considerations a little different than with many figures. The recesses of the cloak behind the arms would be very difficult to paint once the arms and torso were painted. This was equally true of the hem area of the inner side of the cloak if I waited to paint it until after the pants and jerkin.
I started with the inside of the cloak, then the area of jerkin touching the cloak, and then the pants.
It is pretty common for figures to have recesses and overhangs from cloaks or skirts or similar items. I recommend you look for these before you begin painting. Even if you don’t know exactly what colours you want to use, pick a shadow colour like a very dark blue or brown and paint it into these recesses. If they do end up being very hard to reach, you’ll have set them into deep shadow and there won’t be obvious unpainted spots.
So my order of painting was:
Inner side of the cloak
The area of the jerkin touching the cloak
The parts of the chainmail on the sides of the torso
The rest of the chainmail
Jerkin, boots, bracers (these had slightly different but related colours and were in separate areas)
It seems more convenient to paint all of an item at the same time, but sometimes it makes your life easier to paint parts at different stages. That was how I had to approach the chainmail and several other areas on this figure.
Then I started doing some basecoats to figure out the best order for the rest, which was a little different than I had assumed it might be.
Outer side of the cloak
Belt and straps
NMM – buckles and trim on bracers
A brief digression to talk about contrast, because we always need to think about contrast. “More contrast” doesn’t always mean a huge or harsh level of contrast. It just means you almost always need more contrast than you initially think you do. These pants are matte cloth, and they are not an area of major interest. So they shouldn’t be hugely contrasted or draw the eye away from more interesting focal points. But when I came back to look at this figure after initially painting the pants, I realized they were a little too flat, even given those considerations. I deepened the shadows just under the folds slightly by adding more dark blue to my shadow green. I made the top level highlights a little lighter in value, but I also added a little more yellow to make them brighter in saturation. That creates additional contrast so the peaks of the folds stand out a little more even though the highlights aren’t super light in value.
Other Planning Considerations
This figure was sculpted by Tom Meier, and that was a fact I took into consideration when planning how to paint it. Tom Meier sculpts at as realistic a scale as is possible for a gaming scale figure. What he can accomplish at gaming scale is a marvel, but it does mean that some areas and textures are finer or shallower than they would be on many figures. For this ranger, the eyes are quite small, and the chainmail texture is fairly fine.
I took this into account from the very start. Rather than using aerosol primer (which I tend to spray pretty liberally), I decided to brush prime by hand, being very careful to apply only the minimum amount of primer necessary, particularly on the chainmail and the face.
Prior to painting this ranger I had painted a few figures to practice the approach I learned a few months ago in a workshop with Sergio Calvo. This includes starting with your darkest shadow colour painted on all areas, and working up from there. I’ve also been increasingly using other methods of pre-painting, like doing a grisaille or notan style primer undercoat, or sketching and then refining in colour. Although I think those methods are effective and highly recommend that people experiment with them, I decided against using them on this figure for several reasons.
1. The Dark Sword studio miniatures have a cohesive style. I was not sure I could achieve that style with the Sergio Calvo approach. I try to push my skills and improve with figures I paint for clients, and I generally only accept commissions for figures that I know I will find interesting and fun to paint. But when you’re painting for a client, the primary consideration is to paint what the client wants and needs.
2. As mentioned, above, I attempted to minimize the amount of paint applied to the figure so that I did not obscure any of the fine details or textures. (Generally this is much less of a concern than people worry about as long as you’re not using super gloppy paint.) Colour sketching and grisaille approaches do not add so much more paint to a figure that I would normally think about it as an issue, but based on previous experience with delicate Tom Meier textures, I wanted as little extraneous paint as possible.
3. I had to remove the figure from its holder to effectively paint the initial recessed areas of the inner side of the cloak, underside of the jerkin, and the pants. Usually a holder makes it easier to reach all the areas of a figure, but in this case I had to come at a lot of areas from directly below. Numerous small spots of primer rubbed off of the face, hair, cloak, and other areas due to the way I had to hold the figure in my hand to paint the recesses. This is the other reason to use a holder whenever possible – your primer and paint will adhere much more sturdily! So had I used a pre-painting method, I’d have had more complex repairs to make than simply repainting some primer.
My last consideration before painting was to think about the textures of the various surfaces of the figure. Some of these are determined by the sculpt – skin, hair, and chainmail are all pretty obvious, likewise a fantasy character’s bow and arrow shafts are going to be made from wood. But what material is the clothing? Tom Meier is a master of sculpting drapery, and I really love his sculpting of that on this figure. To me the thickness and weight, and the types of folds on the jerkin and cloak felt like heavy leather, which would be logical attire for a ranger.
I had so much fun painting the leather jerkin that I was impatient to get to the stage of painting the leather cloak. But first I had to pass over some bumps on the road…
I recently watched an episode of a marvellous BBC series where they recreate apparel from famous paintings using traditional tailoring methods. One of these featured a leather outfit worn by a hedge cutter, and they tested the leather and found it very effective against thorny vegetation. So leather is a solid choice for ranger gear!
Having a lot of leather to paint was exciting because it gave me an opportunity to practice techniques I studied in another workshop I took this year, with Fernando Ruiz. He opened my eyes to the idea that washes can be used for advanced painting techniques as well as tabletop. In the workshop, we used a variety of coloured washes over a light leather colour to create something that looked worn and well-used. This is a different look to the worn leather you get using stipple and dash brush strokes. (Though the two approaches can also be used in concert.) I am very happy with the result, I like the richness and complexity of the shadows a lot.
Fernando Ruiz is giving more workshops this month. If you can get to the Atlanta area between October 25 to October 27, try to make it to one of these!
Bumps in the Road
Apart from having to put more thought than usual into the best order to paint items, the painting of this figure went pretty smoothly and enjoyably. Right up until I reached the face. Painting the face and skin in general is usually one of my favourite parts of painting a miniature. I love seeing a figure ‘come to life’ under the brush. But pale skin is tricky. I wanted to try using a bit more of a reddish shade tone than I normally would, to tie in with colours used elsewhere on the figure. I could tell when I started painting that it wasn’t working as I had hoped. So I mixed a second shade series using a little more of a purple shadow tone, using a colour I’ve successfully used to shade skin before. It was better, but the shadows got too dark and harsh pretty quickly.
I debated trying to work with my midtones to see if I could get it closer to what I was hoping for. But then I thought about the fact that I needed to get this figure finished up quickly, that being a delicate sculpt it is not an optimal candidate for a lot of paint application, and that my mood in the moment was more frustration and less feeling invigorated by the idea of a challenge. So I instead decided to repaint the midtone colour and use an old reliable colour for the shadows. (That colour is Ashen Brown. Reaper had canceled this colour, but it and some other colours of the past are returning to us via the latest Reaper Bones Kickstarter, which is running right now! Saddle Brown in the Bones HD paint line also works well to shade pale skin tones.)
I’m happy with the end result. Sometimes you have to just try and try again.
Unfortunately I had already finished repainting the base coat midtone of the skin before it occurred to me that I should take a picture to share here. Sorry about that! I still worked in a little red to the skin by use of a soft overall glaze, and a glaze to create a blush in the cheeks.
Finally I got to paint more fun leather on that cloak! The picture below is from my ‘final check’ series of photos, which I have talked about doing before. (Final check stage for Tara, and then a second post listing the issues found in the final check.) In the case of this ranger, I found a pretty big oversight in the final check photos. It saved me a lot of time and annoyance to find it at this point rather than not noticing until I was taking the final photos. Or even worse, having the client find the problem for me!
Job one when painting a miniature is to paint the whole miniature. I had forgotten the bottom and top trim areas on the quiver. Very easy kind of thing to do, and one reason a final check step can be worth the effort.
Here are some additional views of the completed figure.