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I recently painted the goblins from the Dungeon Dwellers expansion in the Bones 5 Kickstarter. (Late pledge here.) The first half of this article is a discussion of my colour scheme choices and paint process for painting the figures, with some work-in-progress pictures. The second half discusses making paint choices based on paint properties other than colour alone, and why just adding white to your midtone colour isn’t always the best way to make great highlight colours.
If you just want to see closer up views of the finished figures, scroll down until you see more pictures on blue backgrounds. Members of the Fill the Feeder level on my Patreon receive PDF copies of my articles that include larger high quality photos than I can provide here.
Also let me know which side you take in the great goblin colour debate!
Typically I paint one figure at a time, and approach each as an individual character. This painting project required working on a group of similar characters, while still trying to give each a bit of individuality. I have tremendous respect for all of you who paint armies and units, or just paint high volume to get a lot of cool looking figures on the table. It is not easy to do! You have to balance time investment and colour and technique choices to get the best result possible in the shortest amount of time.
Size comparison shot with a standard heroic gaming scale figure in the centre.
I used the start of the project as an opportunity to practice with the Vex airbrush. I primed the figures black with the airbrush, and also did the initial lay-in of the skin colours with the airbrush. Since I am not very practiced yet with airbrushing, I started with the two figures that are already available in metal. Anne Foerster had already painted up great versions of those, so if my initial attempts went very wrong or I ended up not having time to finish all of them, Reaper would still have painted versions of those two.
Doing a test figure or two can be very helpful before working on a group like a unit or army. It gives you a chance to discover non-optimal choices at a stage where they will take much less time to change or redo. With these figures I learned that I preferred true metallics to non-metallic metal at an earlier stage than having to repaint the whole group. This is also the stage when you might discover that a particular colour is more challenging or time-consuming to work with than suits this kind of project.
These were the figures after my initial skin airbrushing session. The complete set of paints used on these two was: 9492 Wyvern Leather, 9457 Goblin Skin, 9247 Saffron Sunset, 9234 Bright Skin Highlight (discontinued), and then a light spray of 9417 Void Blue in the shadows. (Skin colours used on all the goblins are discussed later in the article.)
I wasn’t sure I was 100% happy with them. When I posted them for feedback in the airbrush class channel, Aaron Lovejoy suggested that I work up the rest of the figures at least with base coat colours to be able to better judge the skin. This is very good advice. It’s often hard to judge things in isolation. So I worked on them a little more.
I still wasn’t sure these were working out, or if they were a little too dark and murky. It can be challenging to paint figures that both stand out on the table, but also look suitably dungeon dweller disheveled. I thought it would be a good next step to paint in the metal areas, since those would be among the brightest spots on the figures. Trying to judge whether colours are working before at least some of the lightest and some of the darkest colours are in place can be difficult. I initially chose to use the non-metallic technique, which is my usual choice for figures with smaller metal areas and those primarily intended for photography. I did some work on the base stones as well.
These two goblins were largely done apart from a few details, but I still wasn’t quite feeling it. I now knew for sure that I needed to go back and work on the skin a little more, but I wasn’t sure if they were working overall apart from that. I decided to start on the rest of the group and circle back to these two if time permitted. I don’t have many WIP shots of those, but I do have one I took to test my new phone’s camera.
I took a slightly different approach with the skin of these. I again laid in the foundation of light and shadow with the airbrush. Though I forgot about using Void Blue in the shadows like I had on the previous pair! Then I went back over them with my standard brush. They’re small figures and my airbrush skills are nascent, so I wasn’t able to be as precise as I needed to be to establish all the shadows and highlights. I used slightly browner shadows on half of them and redder shadows on the other half, but I’m not sure that the subtle difference is noticeable after the final stages of reworking and adding glazes.
I also worked on detailing the eyes and teeth at this early stage, instead of leaving them for later as I had on the initial two. Partly this was because a few of the figures had bows near their faces that would make the details more challenging to paint if I waited until the end. Partly it was because I enjoy painting figures more once the faces are at least somewhat detailed and and they have a little personality.
Then I worked on getting the bulk of the other areas on the figures painted so I could decide whether I wanted to stick with non-metallic metal and add more contrast, or whether I wanted to switch to metallics. The picture above was a comparison of the new batch with the original two before I enhanced the skin of the first two.
I wanted the skin to be the focus on these. Most of them aren’t wearing a lot of gear, so they have large areas of skin. Bobby Jackson sculpted some fun anatomy on them. They have wiry ropy muscles and little pot bellies and man boobs. I also love how much individuality there is in their faces. One is battle berserker crazy, another is world-weary, a couple look kind of derpy, etc.
To play up the orange of the skin, I used a complementary colour scheme on the first two goblins with the chest armour. Complementary colours sit opposite one another on the colour wheel. So their cloth is blue, and there’s a little bit of green in their leather straps to complement the red in their shadows. The goblin with the shield in the image below has this complementary colour scheme.
With the rest of the goblins, I used more of a split complementary colour scheme. In a split complementary scheme you use the two colours to either side of the complementary colour. So in the case of these goblins, rather than blue, I used blue-green and blue-violet. Each of the goblins had cloth painted in medium values of one of those colours, and then highlights on their dark leather accessories painted with the other colour. So the fellow on the far right of the top row above has a blue-green loin cloth and blue-violet highlights on his black leather, and the goblin on the far left bottom row is the opposite.
Base colour wheel by Karen Arnold.
Since these are goblins and not wealthy nobles, I didn’t want the blue-green and blue-violet to be too saturated and rich looking. I added grey to my mixes when doing the initial painting. My final stage of painting was to add some earth tone glazes to deepen or unify shadows and add weathering. Then I used some weathering pigments to add a little more weathering and colour variation. Both of these tools further desaturated the richer colours. I was aiming to strike a balance between being true to the character and nature of the figures, but keeping them interesting to look at. I used earth tone colours lower in saturation for their for wood, rope, and leather accessories. Too much colour can be overpowering, especially for this type of character.
A quick note on the wolves two of the goblins are riding. In game terms these are wargs, and I wanted them to look suitably fierce and unpleasant. I also wanted them to be mounts/companions, not become the main characters in their pairings. I chose to paint them with an overall dark value for those reasons – it fit the characterization, and it complemented rather than distracted from the more vivid goblin skins. I did want to give them some visual interest and personality, though. To do that, I variegated the fur colour a little. I used orange-browns on the heads and manes to echo the goblin colours and frame their faces. I used warm greys on the rest of the fur. I put my focus in detailing on the faces, and used more saturated colours in the noses, lips, and eyes. (The eyes are also a little nod to one of my high school French teachers who had creepy pale blue wolf eyes, and was well aware of it.) I used the weathering powders on their fur as well as their bases to add some additional colour variation and grunginess.
I have written a previous article where I talked about the properties of paint, and another discussing properties of colours. Some of the choices I made on these goblins create an opportunity for me to discuss a real world example of choosing to use paints based on their properties as much as their colours. Miniature painters, particularly those newer to the hobby, often want paints that are as uniformly matte and opaque as possible. You’ll hear reviews that emphasize the importance of uniformity in a paint line or suggestions that a paint company must be ‘cheating’ their customers if this colour or that doesn’t cover opaquely in just a coat or two.
However, in watching videos and reading articles from some of the most talented miniature painters working in the hobby, it is clear that many take advantage of the differences between paint brands or pigment colours in opacity, sheen, or other elements in their painting. I make no claim to that level of ability, but I used that idea in two ways on these figures.
First, prior to working on the weathering steps, I had to make a decision about how to handle the metal items on these figures. I decided to switch over to using true metallics. I did not feel that the NMM was providing enough contrast and visual interest. These figures are fairly small, and the smaller a figure, the more contrast it needs to read well to the viewer and pop on the table/shelf. I had painted the NMM on my test pair somewhat lower contrast to try to keep them looking like gritty dungeon monsters. It did not pop enough, but I was concerned that adding more highlights would result in a type of NMM that wouldn’t fit the character type. Plus metallics just seemed like the right choice for some old school Dungeon Dweller figures! The unique properties of the sparkle and sheen of metallic paints contrasted with the matte paints on the rest of the figures seemed like the answer to what I needed here. (Note that I used the shaded metallic technique and applied shadows with matte paints.)
My second decision based on paint/colour properties was using a somewhat transparent colour to highlight the skin – Saffron Sunset. Saffron Sunset is a yellow-orange colour. Burnt Orange was another colour I considered. I could also have just have mixed a warm white like Linen White or Mold Yellow into the Goblin Skin orange to make highlights. All of these share the properties of being lighter value colours in the same colour family as Goblin Skin with the potential to work as highlights for that colour. But they differ in certain properties that made me more inclined to choose one than another.
9247 Saffron Sunset is a rich colour without being a fully saturated true yellow-orange. It is also a slightly transparent colour. 9111 Burnt Orange is similar in hue, but duller in saturation and a little more opaque. 9201Orange Brown is a nice rich colour, but it’s darker in value. It’s too close in value to 9457 Goblin Skin to really work as a highlight. Mixing in a near-white colour to make my own highlight creates a much more opaque colour, but also a much duller colour. (If you look back at the Saturation section here you can see that adding in white, grey, or black desaturates colours.) The skin of these goblins would look much duller if I had highlighted their skin with either of the examples below that were mixed with near-whites. The Goblin Skin paint colour mixed with near-whites actually created colours that are pretty close to normal human skin tones.
The following are painted swatches of these colours to help you visualize what I’m talking about. The black line was drawn on the paper with a Sharpie prior to applying any paint. This is a common technique in traditional painting to be able to easily assess colour opacity from painted swatches. The larger squares were decent amounts of paint applied with a large brush. Since that isn’t really how we paint miniatures, I also added smaller stripes of paint with a miniature painting size brush loaded with a more moderate amount of paint. The small stripes give you a much more accurate impression of the coverage levels of each of the paints.
I added a couple of other swatches at the end. Second from the right is a mix of Goblin Skin with Candlelight Yellow, which is the rightmost square. This mix is very similar to Saffron Sunset in both property and colour. It’s a much brighter and more transparent highlight colour than the ones mixed with near whites, and it’s a little more transparent than the Burnt Orange. If I had mixed my own highlights, using Candlelight Yellow would have been a much better choice than white. Using yellows to mix highlights can also be more effective for red and green colours. (Experiment with your yellows. Candlelight Yellow here probably wouldn’t work as well with greens as with reds.) Premixed colours help me paint more quickly and easily, so it’s worth it to me to have the Saffron Sunset in my collection. If you enjoy colour mixing or prefer to keep your collection of paint compact, make sure you have a yellow or two in your collection for flexibility when mixing highlights.
The colours from my sample test swatches above. See picture below for the paints actually used on the figures.
Where the transparency comes in is that I was using this for highlights. People who get frustrated about transition lines in the layering technique typically have more trouble with highlights than with shadows. This is partly because many dark colours are not super opaque. Lighter colours often contain white, which is a very opaque pigment. Colours containing white often look streaky or show a lot of transition lines when used for painting in the layering technique. It can be challenging to thin them down to the correct opacity for layering. So using a slightly transparent colour like Saffron Sunset made things a little easier and quicker, and well as creating a more vibrant look that I liked. For the top highlights I did mix in a little white, and those lighter highlights did have a few transition lines I had to clean up at the end of painting.
(Fun fact – red is the first practice colour in the Layer Up! learn to paint kit for precisely this reason. Reds and oranges are somewhat transparent, so they’re easier to blend via layering than many more opaque colours.)
Saffron Sunset is also a great colour for glazes to enrich or shift colour. Sometimes when I paint blond hair or non-metallic metal gold it comes out looking a little too cool and lifeless. It needs a touch of yellow, but just a touch. I thin Saffron Sunset down to a glaze consistency and apply it over the area and it adds a little warmth and richness to the colour. Colours that are highly saturated and at least somewhat transparent are the easiest to work with for glazes used in this fashion.
The goblin painted green is from the Goblin Skirmishers pack.
Great Goblin Colour Debate and the Bones 5 Goblin Skin Paint Colours
My first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons was back in the early 80s via the red box set. Either I didn’t pay attention at the time or forgot in the intervening years that Dungeons and Dragons goblins are described as red-orange-yellow in colouration. Thanks to the influences of World of Warcraft and Warhammer, goblins are now often thought of as being green. Let me know in the comments which you prefer and why!
Below is a photo with the complete list of colours I used to paint the skin on these goblin figures. (I forgot to add the bottle of 9417 Void Blue that I used in the shadows of the two with breast plates.) If you don’t have Goblin Skin or Saffron Sunset, I think you’d get something close with Orange Brown and Candlelight Yellow. For shadows any warm reddish-brown should give a similar effect to the Minotaur Hide or Wyvern Leather. Options include 9071 Chestnut Brown or 9241 Auburn Shadow.
Patron Spotlight: Brian Reichert
This blog is made possible thanks to the generous support of my patrons. The Patron Spotlight is an opportunity for me to share their work and philosophy with the world! From Brian:
About 2 years ago my wife and I were gifted a game called Mansions of Madness. It’s a Lovecraft horror based co-op game and it came with a bunch of models. After a few months of playing grey I got tired of the bland models and decided to try my hand at this “miniature painting thing”.
After a bunch of research I eventually discovered the Learn to Paint kits and worked my way through them both. That along with tons of help from the Reaper community and I’ve managed to paint all of Mansions of Madness plus several expansions, totalling about 100 figures and I’ve got more games to go.
My goal isn’t to be a competition level painter. At this point I just want to paint my games and have them look OK on the table. To that end I’ve been keeping a photo gallery of things I’ve painted so I can look back and see how I’ve progressed.
Feel free to skim if you want, there’s some stuff I’m proud of in there and some I’m not so excited about but it’s there. Warts and all.
To contrast, I painted the running girl in February of 2019. She was the very first thing I painted on my own after the Learn to Paint kits. The others are just some of the ones I’m most proud of.
Thanks to you and the Reaper Community for all the help so far. I’m proud of my progress but I’m also humbled to know there is no end game in this and will be learning for years to come.