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I was eager to paint this figure as soon as I saw it. In addition to liking the graceful flow of the sculpt, I was also excited about the opportunity to paint unusual skin and hair colours, and to work with a saturated palette of some of my favourite colours.
The Hellborn Dancer was sculpted by Bobby Jackson. She is included in the core set pledge of Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter. The Kickstarter has concluded, but people will be able to pledge late or add to their pledges via this address.
I began thinking about what colours to use by doing some Google image browsing of how other artists have depicted this type of character, both in paintings and miniatures. I quickly decided I wanted to do a reddish skin tone. My initial thought was to paint the clothing in a light teal colour, and the hair as dark blue with cerulean highlights, but I wasn’t sure there would be enough difference between the cloth and hair to make for a visually effective figure. I shifted the blue to violet for the hair, and thought that would work better.
I spent a little time testing colours on paper. I have on occasion done this kind of testing on a spare figure, or colouring in a digital photo. This may feel like wasted time when you’re in a hurry to get something painted. In my experience the choice of colours and where to place these on a miniature has an enormous impact on how visually effective it is. Taking the time to do some testing is worth it if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on a figure, or paint an entire army with those colours, and at least thinking a bit in advance about your colours can help you paint better, faster, as well.
I also spent a fair bit of time picking out the exact paints I wanted to use for the skin. I wanted to use the Hellborn Skin paint and I also liked Kobold Scale, but I was having trouble finding highlight colours I liked. I wanted them more saturated versions than I was seeing in the paints on my shelf. I remembered that I had a set of N-Paints from their Kickstarter that I had barely looked at since receiving my pledge. I dug those out, and found not only a couple of highlight colours that were just what I wanted, but also a few shade colours.
I painted the skin in one long session. I tried to paint as if the light were coming from above and a little bit to to left (in the front view), and to keep my brightest highlights on the focus area of the figure.
I found myself a bit flummoxed when it came to the stockings. A physical mix of the teal I planned for the cloth and the red of the skin greyed out quite a bit. You can see that in the big dull swatch on my test paper above. I was also concerned that because the teal colour for the clothing was the most saturated colour in my scheme, it would draw attention away from the face and skin, and dilute the focus area I was trying to create. I consulted my painting buddies, Jen Greenwald and Michael Proctor, to see what they thought. They agreed with my concerns, and advised me to swap the teal to the hair and use the softer violet on the clothing.
I recommend painting buddies. These do not need to be painters who are more skilled at painting than you are! I think buddies who are roughly at the same level are very helpful, and that is what I have had in my various painting buddy groups over the years. I do think it’s helpful to have buddies who like different subjects or styles of painting than you do, or who paint for different purposes (war games, RPGs, contests, just for fun), as it gives you alternative points of view to consider. The most important thing is that everyone in the group feel comfortable taking and giving both positive and negative feedback from one another. Good paint buddies lift you up when you’re feeling down about your painting, but you need to be willing to hear about flaws in your work if you want to improve.
I originally planned to mix the colours to paint the stockings, and got as far as mixing paint. Then it occurred to me that this particular colour combination might work well with glazing. I tested the idea, and it seemed to work well. You can see a rough gradient of the skin tone and the glaze over it at the bottom of my colour scheme test paper above. Then before I could actually paint the stockings, I was disappointed to have to put this miniature aside for several weeks to work on some rush deadline work!
When I came back to work on the stockings, I ended up doing a combination of mixing paint and glazing. I mixed a dark purple (Kraken Ink) into the darkest of the skin shadows. Kraken Ink was the same colour I had tested as a glaze. For the more transparent areas of the stockings, I mostly used the skin colour paints. However, I swapped the more saturated highlight colours out for less saturated versions, since the purple stockings would desaturate the appearance of the skin beneath them. I also painted more shadows and fewer highlights. Although the cloth is transparent, it is also a little darker in colour than the skin. I also used less highlighting on the legs because they were outside of the main focus area zone I was trying to create.
I had a little time left at the end of my painting session, and I thought I would put a foundation coat on the hair. Since I intend it to be dark, painting it with the darker colour would help me see the colour composition of the whole piece better. I started with a very dark teal (Indigo Black), but it just felt a little off to me. I switched to using the Kraken Ink dark purple instead. I still plan to use teal for the highlights, but mixing up from the dark purple.
Then came another hiatus where I had to put this figure aside for several months to work on more rush deadline work. And I was sad to do it, because I was having fun! And also because I generally prefer to work on one figure at a time when I can. One of the challenges of a long hiatus for me is that I might not remember all the decisions and impressions I’d made about the figure. In this case, I didn’t pay as much attention to the direction of the light and creating a focus area after the hiatus as I did in the initial stages.
When I finally returned to it, I worked on the cloth. Given the type of figure, I pondered whether to paint the cloth of her outfit as opaque or somewhat transparent. I quickly decided on opaque. Partly this was because she was part of a Kickstarter aimed at a wide audience of people. But my assessment of the way the cloth was sculpted also argued against transparent material. In my opinion transparent cloth effects look more effective when the fabric sculpting includes certain elements:
* The cloth looks draped over the skin in at least a few small areas. You don’t have to be able to see every bit of anatomy under the cloth, but the transparency effect is more convincing if there are areas where the cloth is close enough to the body that you can see the shapes of some limbs or muscles. There also needs to be enough surface area where the cloth is directly next to the skin to create the illusion. On this figure the cloth of the top is close to the body, but only a very small area of the skirt panels is directly adjacent to the body.
* Transparent cloth is thin and flimsy. It does not have enough structure to fall into deep folds and valleys, nor can it easily be formed into more structured pieces like stiff collars, cuffs, or lapels. This dancer sculpt has a few areas where the cloth looks like it has more structure. There are small lapels on the top, and crisp points of cloth on the waist band.
* Areas of cloth that are away from the body are sculpted with a quality of floating or drifting. The skirt panels have a great sense of movement, but they also convey the impression that they are made from a sturdier cloth.
* The edges of the cloth are not very thick. Transparent cloth is a thin, filmy material. Thick edges suggest sturdier types of cloth like cotton and wool. The cloth edges on the shoulders of this dancer are fairly thick, and the lower band of the top looks thicker and as if it is pulling away from the body in the way a more structured cloth might.
Compare the two pictures below for an example of a thinner and more filmy cloth compared to a thicker cloth, though of course there are many variations of both types of fabric.
Photos from Unsplash. Left: Kamran Ch. Right: Airam Dato-on.
Overall the cloth of this sculpt appears to me as a somewhat thicker and stiffer material, like satin or a thicker type of silk. You can see an example of another figure that I painted with transparent cloth. After my initial painting of the cloth I considered whether to go back and paint it as a shinier material, but I was concerned that might divert attention from the focus area.
I was a little rushed in the final stages of painting as I needed to complete the figure before I travelled to the Reaper Miniatures factory to participate in the Bones 6 end of Kickstarter party. So rushed, in fact, that I forgot to paint the lips before taking my final photographs! (This is the kind of thing a final check photo can prevent.) I was tempted to just leave them as they were, but when I looked at the figure the next day, I was also unhappy with the eyes. I first painted the eyes golden yellow. As a warm and light value colour, I thought it would make them stand out well. I didn’t add a light enough hotspot in the centre, but even with that I don’t think these eyes would be very eye-catching.
Finding a few moments to repaint the eyes and finish the lips wasn’t challenging. It was a bit more time to retake the photographs, but it was worth it to me to add those little details after all of that time thinking about and painting the figure. I decided glowing blue eyes would work better, and I think I was right.
Below you will find some additional photos of the completed figure, and at the end of the article is a list of the paint colours I used for all areas of the figure.