Updated 4/15/2020: Reaper’s relief fund for animals impacted by the Australian bush fires was a rousing success and raised over $30,000 for the RSPCA of South Australia. The fund raiser has now concluded. The figures are still available for purchase.
I’m going to talk about painting the kangaroo, and also provide links to videos and at the bottom of this post I’ll information links to videos and other information for painting the other cool critters.
The male koala with the fireman’s axe is named Courage. I had hoped to paint him and do a bit of a step-by-step, but life has intervened such that I’ve barely been able to do any painting for the past couple of months. One issue has been a back spasm. Finally it’s improved to the point where I thought I might be able to paint for a few hours. With only a few days left I didn’t think a mini requiring assembly was a good idea, but I thought I could manage to finish the kangaroo.
I’m going to share some tips and work in progress photos for how I painted this kangaroo in case anyone would like to paint theirs in a similar way. Working last minute also reminded me of some of the issues that can crop up when you’re doing rush last minute painting. (As is very common with painting contest entries!) So I’ll also talk a bit about that.
Photo by Paul Copeland, from Morguefile.
When painting real life animals, or even fantastical creatures that incorporate elements of real life animals, I find it very helpful to study some reference of real creatures. A simple Google search will suffice unless you want to share the photos like on this blog. Then you should look at sites like Morguefile that have pictures available for public use. Since I was tired and in a rush, of course that is not what I did. :-> So I actually used a couple of photos I found on Google, but the kangaroo pictured above has the same general colouration.
Looking at the above photo I can see that I made a more important research error. I thought about but did not take the time to look for photos that showed the back of this kind of kangaroo’s head. I assumed the ears would mainly be the reddish colour. It turns out I was very wrong! Painting the back of the ears like in the picture above would have added some points of interest to my kangaroo figure when viewed from the back.
Next I assembled a selection of paints I thought would work to paint the main colours of the kangaroo – dull oranges and orange-browns for the darker fur with some red-brown for shading, and cream and blond colours for the light fur. You can also see areas of ‘black’ and ‘grey’ in the reference photo. Natural objects are very rarely true neutral black, grey, or white, so using true neutrals won’t look very natural. I picked a very dark brown, Walnut Brown, for my black, and mixed ‘greys’ by mixing it with one of my cream colours.
You can see the palette I used above to get an idea of the colours. The card at the top of the picture is a grayscale card. It is true grey, with sections of true white and true black. So you can use it to colour balance photos in a photo editing program (which I have done with this one). I left it in the shot as I think it might help you judge the values (darkness vs lightness) of the colours I used. I don’t think you need the exact paints I used to get a similar result or match a reference, although I will list the paint colours I used in the work-in-progress steps below. What is more important is to use paints of similar value for similar functions.
Now I’ll run through some work in progress shots for the main body of the kangaroo. All paints I reference are produced by Reaper.
Step 1: Block In
I roughly blocked in the main colours on the body. You can see that this is indeed rough. I don’t care that I’m slopping paint on areas I haven’t painted yet. This photo also shows that this first coat was not enough coverage as you can see my grey primer showing through in several areas.
Colours used: 9144 Creamy Ivory, 9110 Oiled Leather, 9136 Walnut Brown.
Step 2: Block In Better
I did a second coat blocking in my colours. With this coat I also took a second look at my reference and was more exact with the position of each the colour areas. So this next photo is not wildly different than the first other than exactly where one colour ends and the other begins has shifted slightly, and now the coats of colour are solid with no grey peeking through.
I did some rough wet blending and layering to blur the lines where the colours meet. This is imperfect. I tend to be the kind of painter who overcomplicates their life, and in the past I would have agonized over this for another hour or so. I reminded myself of a few things: this is fur, which is textured, and I still had to paint highlights and shadows. Both of those would mean the blends would change. They might look better as I added in fur texture and more colours, or there might be new poor transitions created that I’d have to fix. So why go too nuts on it at this stage? All I needed to do now was get rid of sharp looking transition lines.
Colours used: I mixed the two colours to either side of a line to create a transition colour to aid in the wetblending. For the Walnut to Creamy Ivory blend I used 2-3 transition mixes.
Step 4: The Light Fur
Now I added shadows and highlights to the light fur areas. Adding shading to the areas that curve downwards or away from the viewer on cylinders like the arms and tail, and highlighting on the plane facing up helps the viewer see those areas more as rounded cylinders. The shading brings out the musculature that Andy Pieper sculpted on the legs, much of which is not visible at all with the flat cream basecoat. Shading the stomach and inner legs pushes those areas back so they appear to be in shadow (as they would be) and don’t jump out and steal the viewer’s attention from looking at more interesting areas of the animal.
Apart from the tail these areas were sculpted fairly smoothly, as they have finer fur than the main body of the kangaroo. You can see the difference between the body fur and the limb fur in the reference photo. But since it is still fur I did a lot of my blending with small parallel strokes and I didn’t stress about getting super smooth results. It looks more like fur being less super smooth.
Colours used: Midtone of 9144 Creamy Ivory. Shadow of 9142 Stained Ivory, and then some 9199 Russet Brown mixed in.
Step 5: The Brown Fur
The brown fur was a little trickier as I wanted to capture some of the notes of oranges, browns, and deeper reds from my reference photo. So there was a little more working back and forth and adding hints of colour here and there. But the basic process was the same idea – place darker colours where areas curve away from the light and place lighter ones where they are facing the light to help bring out the forms and make it look more three dimensional. I used short parallel brushstrokes in the direction that the fur was sculpted.
Colours used: Midtone of 9110 Oiled Leather. Shadows mixed with the midtone and 9070 Mahogany Brown with a tiny bit of Walnut Brown for darkest shadows. Highlights mixed with midtone and a mix of 9201 Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then 9256 Blond Shadow, which was lightened with 9061 Linen White for top highlights. I went over some of the highlight areas with thinned Orange Brown to keep the colour more saturated. This sounds fussier to paint than it was.
Step 6: Painting the Head and Base
I did not paint the head at the same time as the body. One issue is that colouration on the head was a little different. The other is that although the process would be pretty similar (block in, rough transitions, add shadows and highlights, clean up transitions), it would be taking place on a smaller space. Also a more important space, since the face is the focal point of the miniature. I decided to paint it at the end when I’d have all my colours mixed and on my palette, and focus on it completely. I also used a smaller brush for this smaller space.
I painted the base with mixtures of colours used on the main figure. This helps everything look as if it is in the same kind of lighting. My aim was to mix colours a little darker and duller than those used on the main figure. The brown has a little grey mixed in, and the grey has a little brown mixed in. (Or glazed over or just dotted over, it doesn’t have to be super complicated and annoying to do this kind of thing!)
Colours used: Rock greys were mixes of 9136 Walnut Brown and 9144 Creamy Ivory, with touches of 9010 Mahogany Brown in the shadows and 9256 Blond Shadow in the highlights. The earth was Russet Brown, with Walnut added to darken it and Blond Shadow added to lighten it.
Unfortunately the time was growing late, and I was not able to keep taking work-in-progress pictures. I finished up here. I wasn’t really happy with the face, but it was very late and I had to get to sleep.
When I woke up, I was still pretty unhappy with the face. I wrestled with whether to change it. I wanted to work as fast as I could to get this finished and published while the fund raiser is still going. It was decently true to the reference. So what is the problem, and was it worth changing?
The problem is that the head as painted does not act well as a focal point for the miniature. Your eyes are much more likely to go to the contrast between the dark paws and light arms or the bright spot at the end of the tail. This is one of the issues we have to wrestle with between making something realistic and making something viewers enjoy looking at, and why the answer isn’t always to be as realistic as possible. I had tried to fudge a little when I painted the head originally, but it didn’t work that well.
Unplanned Step 7: Fixing the Head
I decided it was worth taking a little extra time to fix the head. Since this wasn’t a contest I didn’t have a hard deadline where I just had to live with it, and I thought it would also help improve this blog post to take the effort. I studied the head and decided it would be more effective to paint the center area of the head in the brighter more saturated colours of the main body, even if that wasn’t 100% true to the reference. Further, I decided to try the same approach I used when painting a Hydra and make the head a little more saturated as well as lighter than the main body area.
Colours used: Midtone 9110 Oiled Leather + 9201 Orange Brown. Shadows in small areas with just Oiled Leather. Highlights mixed with the midtone and up with mixes of Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then add 9061 Linen White and a touch of 9095 Clear Yellow.
The head still isn’t grabbing quite as much attention as I’d like, but I think it’s an improvement, and now time really is growing too late to fiddle much more!
Lessons for Deadline Painting
My experience with this offers some parallels for the risks of painting contest entries right up until a deadline. If you start contest entries well in advance of a deadline, you have a lot more time to do research and discover things like what the back of the ears should actually look like. If you are mostly finished some time before a deadline, you have time to sit with the figure a while and study it. You need both time to spot areas you might not like, and time to figure out how to improve them. You might end up making changes like I did with the face of this kangaroo. Or find areas where you need more contrast, or left stray brushstrokes you need to clean up, or any other number of things.
More than once I have taken an entry I slaved over up til the deadline to a contest thinking it was really quite well done and addressed the major flaws people have with my work. Some of those entries did not make much of a splash, and when I looked at them again a few weeks or months later, I could see all kinds of issues with them I didn’t realize were there in the frenzy of trying to get something finished by deadline.
So if you want to get a kangaroo of your own or just help Australian wildlife relief efforts, what can you do?
Reaper’s fund raiser has ended. You can still donate to the RSPCA of South Australia directly.
The figures are still available for purchase.
If you buy Hope, pictured above, you can enjoy a video series for how to paint her by Reaper’s talented Anne Foerster.
Koala fur and face video
Hope’s cloth painting video
Painting the accessories and some detailing
More accessories and detailing
Finishing up Hope the Koala
The two figures pictured above are available in a pack that also includes an aardvark. One of Reaper’s paint mixers, Sadie, is brand new to painting. She’s been working her way through the Learn to Paint Kit: Core Skills in her videos, but she took a break from the kit to paint up the koala from this pack.
I’m not aware of any learn to paint articles or videos for Courage the koala, but there’s a great version you can look at for inspiration painted by Mini Wizard Studios.