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I recently painted Lars Ragnarson for Reaper. I know there’s a lot of interest in painting techniques for texture effects, so I’ve included step-by-step photos for how I painted the leather armour in this article, and some general tips for painting textures.
Sculpted by Bob Ridolfi.
I’ve been painting in a pretty smooth style lately, and after I posted the adventuring party and the Hellborn dancer, I received a few comments/queries from people wondering if I always paint in such a cartoony or stylized way, or if I sometimes paint in a more realistic or gritty way. I think it’s true to say that I am known for a fairly clean and smooth style of painting. But for several years now I have been working to learn or develop methods for painting different kinds of textured surfaces, and I have found painting textures can be a lot of fun. When Reaper asked me to paint Lars, he seemed like a great figure to use some textures on.
What do I mean by Texture?
Miniature painters sometimes use the term ‘texture’ to refer only to specific painted effects, like the woven cloth and worn leather I painted on Lars. The term texture refers to both the visual and tactile qualities of a surface. Every material has a texture, which is partly a function of how it feels, and how it reflects and absorbs light.
Sculptors apply all kinds of wonderful tactile textures to our figures. Bob Ridolfi sculpted fur texture on Lars’ boots, hair strands on his hair, and texture on his base. I used paint to accentuate those, I didn’t create them with paint. Sculpted textures usually paint up well, even with quicker techniques like drybrushing and washes. Note that smooth is also a tactile texture! The visual qualities of smooth surfaces can vary widely – shiny silk cloth versus matte wool cloth. We can aim to paint smooth-sculpted surfaces on figures like cloth, skin, or metal to mimic the visual qualities of those real world materials.
A lot of textures around us are somewhere in between those two extremes – these are materials that don’t have a smoothly blended visual quality, but whose texture is not really tactile enough to be sculpted onto a mini (at least at smaller scales.) It is more reasonable to try to create the appearance of those textures with paint and brushwork.
Lars is clearly a strong and dangerous fighting type of character. His gear is simple, even somewhat primitive. He is not a wealthy character, a magic user, or a cosmopolitan city dweller. I thought that using painted textures to make his clothes look roughly woven clothing and his leather armour battle-worn would partner well with the character of the sculpt.
I want to note that Bob Ridolfi sculpted texture on the bracers of the Lars figure. This is less obvious in my painted version because I painted the rest of the leather with a similar texture. I think the texture Bob sculpted would look good as hammered bronze or copper, too.
Sculpted by Bob Ridolfi
In the past I have used washes to create a subtle leather texture effect. That’s turned out well with cloaks and other larger pieces of leather, but I wasn’t sure it would work as well with the plate shapes of Lars’ armour. I’ve also made a few attempts at painting worn and battle-scarred armour by layering on increasingly lighter values of paint with rough brushstrokes. One of my first attempts at doing this was on Caerindra Thistledown. It’s okay, but I don’t think it’s an ideal result. I’m not sure if I was too random or not random enough. ;->
I think my final attempt with Anushka’s leather skirt looks a bit more convincing. As you can read here, my journey to that end result was a bit of a winding road! The peak of Anushka’s hat was painted just with brushstrokes. I like how it turned out, but can’t quite remember what I did to achieve that appearance as opposed to Caerindra’s.
So my goal for Lars’ leather armour was to sort of reverse-engineer what I did with Anushka’s skirt. I was also hoping to simplify that process a little, as well as figure out how to get a similar effect, but in an overall darker colour. This is not the first time I’ve been in the position of trying to remember how I did something, and I suspect some of you reading may have ended up in this position once or twice too. When we talk about studying work by painters to try to figure it out, sometimes what we mean is trying to rediscovering something we did previously!
If you try a new technique or effect once or twice and then do not use it for quite a while, you will likely not remember exactly what you did. Or maybe any of what you did. I recommend practicing with something multiple times. Try it with different colours and values. Try it on different shaped areas on figures. Repetition will help you learn something more thoroughly, and experimentation will help you discover situations where it might work better or not as well. I wish I had worked on leather variations more soon after I finished painting Anushka to cement the process better in my mind.
One of the unexpected benefits of writing articles for this blog for me is that it creates a record of many of my experiences painting. It gives me something to refer back to if I want to borrow from an effect or colour that I’ve used on a previous figure. You don’t need to start a blog to get the same benefit, you can instead keep a painting journal. Jot down the paints you used in that colour mix you really like. Make notes of sessions of study and experimentation. Be sure to track what works as well as what doesn’t. Try to take some WIP pictures when you’re trying new things to create a visual record, as well. If your journal is digital, include relevant pictures with the notes from that session. There is a section on Reaper’s forums where people post WIP notes for projects they’re working on. I imagine other sites and communities have similar features, too.
Looking at the above WIP pictures of Anushka jogged my memory for some of what I did, and suggested some ideas for streamlining. My first try on the left was not contrasted enough. It was too detailed, with a focus on small texture strokes without having established more of an overall texture. It was all texture, with no use of value to create shadows and highlights to bring out the shapes of the skirt folds. My second attempt had both large and detailed textures, and had more shading and highlighting, though still not enough. If anything this was too much texture for my purposes. To achieve the final effect on the right, I applied glazes of lighter and darker colours over the middle stage. It helped better bring out the shapes of the skirt, and made the texture look more organic and suitable to the character type.
I mention ‘my purposes’, because I think it’s important to keep that in mind. I painted both of these figures with the idea that they’re more display quality, and for Lars in particular, intended to be seen in photographs. Display figures are closely scrutinized, and web photos often appear much larger than the actual figure. In that context, the middle attempt of Anushka’s armour would look too heavily weathered and worn, as if it has not been cared for for years. It might be great for an undead or other monster type, but not for a humanoid whose taking any care of their gear.
Figures viewed on the tabletop are viewed at arm’s length, and often in poor lighting. A more exaggerated texture like the middle version of Anushka map be very effective on a figure meant to be used in that way. How you approach painting something should relate to your time investment goal, as well. Aiming for an end result that basically works or looks good but not great is a more efficient answer if your goal is to paint more figures more quickly. A lot of miniature painting involves small details, but sometimes achieving your painting goals is about knowing when not to sweat the details and look more at the big picture.
Leather Armour Painting Process
Guided by my experiences painting Anushka, I decided to try using two stages to paint Lars’ leather. First, apply rough texture strokes to try to create random shapes of wear patterns. Although I wanted a dark leather look in the end, I realized that I would have to paint in texture using much lighter value paints for it to be apparent after the second stage. For the second stage, I would apply glazes of darker and lighter colours to integrate the texture to more of a distressed than a completely worn out type of look. I also wanted to use the glazes to add some colours into the armour to fit with the colour scheme I had chosen, but I will get into more detail about that in another article.
The following is a series of step by step photos of the main painting stages for the armour plates on the hips and legs.
The Patron PDF version of this article includes larger high res photos, and a second series of step-by-step photos from a different angle.
I started with a fairly dark value basecoat. I mixed up several values of lighter mixes to paint on the texture. Since I wanted transition edges and brushstrokes to show, my paint was fairly opaque, and the jump in value between each mix was notable. I used a worn sable brush for this step. I wanted to create random, messy strokes. It can be surprisingly challenging to paint random patterns using a precision brush. We have a natural drive to be more systematic, or to jump straight to smaller details like I did with the first try on Anushka’s skirt.
A softer bristled worn synthetic brush might work even better. I think you need a softer bristle brush so the bristles shift position with different brushstrokes. A stiffer bristle brush might act more like a stamp and apply brushstrokes in a repeating pattern, but I haven’t tried that out yet, so I could be wrong. I think a brush with shorter and/or densely packed bristles might also make marks that look too regular, but again, I haven’t tested yet. If you want to try this, experiment on a test figure with some different brush options and see which you like!
You want to use a brush you have at least some control with as you start applying the lighter values of texture. I started to choose where to place the brushstrokes more deliberately in steps three through five. My goal from this point was both to create textures, and to try to bring out the forms of the objects. I used the random patterns from the first two steps to help make decisions for where to add additional smaller strokes of lighter colours.
In step four, I started to apply some edge highlights, and also some wear and tear. If there was an area that kind of looked like a rip or tear, I used very light and very dark lines of paint to reinforce that impression. If you look at the plates on the leg on the right photo above, you can see faint lines on those areas in the left photo that I used as guidelines for where to paint deeper cuts. To paint a cut, you paint a dark line to create the depression of the cut. But you also need to paint a light line directly next to it to simulate the edge of the cut. Locate this light line opposite your light source to simulate where the edge of the cut is receiving more light. For the light source I painted on Lars, generally that meant I painted the light line beneath the dark line.
In terms of application, I found it easier to apply the light line first, and then the dark line. Lighter value paint colours are often a bit thicker and don’t flow off the brush quite as easily, so it can be harder to paint thin clean brushstrokes with them. I was using Blue Liner for my dark lines. All Reaper paints include some flow improver in the mix, but the Liner paints are designed to glide off your brush to make lining easier. You can also buy Flow Improver separately so you can increase the flow of any paint colour you have if you’re having trouble painting detail. There are art store brands of this type of product as well. Look for products called flow aid, flow release, or flow improver.
I added additional layers of texture with my lighter mixes in step five. I was trying to make the highlight areas more noticeably lighter in value than the midtone and shadow areas.
Step six was the glazing stage. I used several colours of thinned down paint. The paint needed to be fairly transparent – I didn’t want to cover up all of that texture! For a project like this it’s better to think your paint down more than you think you need to and apply multiple coats, rather than one not very transparent coat that dries and covers up all your previous work. I applied lighter glazes to the highlight areas, and darker glazes to the shadow areas. I also used a few somewhat vibrant colours in different places to add some visual complexity and hints of colour. (In my colour scheme article I’ll talk about how this colour was the red-violet portion of my colour scheme.) If the glazes toned down the damage cuts and tears I had painted too much, I added some back in with my previous paint mixes.
You can see that the texture looks pretty rough and fairly light in value in all of the steps prior to step six. This is one of those techniques where you have to get pretty close to the end to see whether everything comes together and works, or whether you might need to tweak anything, or even start over as I did with Anushka’s skirt.
The painting process was not quite as linear as the step by step implies. I did work that way, but I also ended up working back and forth over the last two steps a little bit – adding another glaze or two to shift the colour or try to create more volume, and then adding back a little texture, which I would then have to glaze back down a little.
It’s subtle, but you can see a comparison of the leather almost done and then after a little more tweaking in the following picture. Notice how you can see the triangular shape of the top of the helmet a bit more in the final version because I added more highlighting to the lightest areas and more shadow to the darkest areas. The shoulder plates look a little less textured in the final version, but they have a richer depth of colour from the additional glazing.
I’ll talk about the changes to the horns in the colour scheme article.
Below are some painted swatches of colours I used on the leather.
The large square near the middle was the basecoat colour. The long thinner swatches to either side of it were mixes I used to paint the texture. The very light yellow was used only for the light line on some of the painted cuts. The darkest colour small square near the bottom was used to paint the dark line of the cuts and lining in between the armour plates and around the rivets.
The thin paint mixes along the top and right sides are samples of the glazes I painted over the texture to integrate it and build up more shadows and highlights. The blue-grey was added after the step-by-step photos and was used to add shadow depth and tie the armour colour in with the NMM colour a little more.
Painting is not Always Linear
A lot of painting techniques and effects can involve some back and forth like I painted on Lars. Sometimes it happens because you’re figuring stuff out. Having to figure stuff out does not mean you suck at painting! It’s how we learn and get ideas for how we might do cool new stuff, as well as getting ideas of what doesn’t work so great. Often the process of going back and forth at some stages ends up adding more depth and visual interest to something. That kind of visual interest may be part of what makes the work of painters you admire look richer and more complex than what you might be achieving with a more linear process. The expectation that everything you paint should look better after every incremental step will hold you back more than it helps. (Ask me how I know!)
Going back and forth a bit in painting the armour didn’t really add a lot of extra time to the process. It was just a few brushstrokes of glaze there, or a few brushstrokes of texture mixes here. I think I achieved my goal of streamlining and somewhat speeding up the process I had used on Anushka. While it might sound like a lot of mixes and steps, I suspect I could paint a tabletop version of this more quickly than I could paint blends with smooth transitions, especially if I was okay with a result that looked like steps four or five.
I haven’t come up with a way to do a speedier version of the woven cloth texture effect that I painted on Lars’ loincloth. Or rather, the cloth I painted on Lars is the speedier version, it’s just not speed painting speedy. Currently the only way I know how to paint cloth like this is to use a brush with a fine tip and paint a lot of cross-hatch strokes, though I have an idea of something to try for a tabletop version. When I paint this kind of cloth texture, I’m applying the shadows and highlights at the same time as the texture. It’s like layering, but I’m using tiny hatch strokes instead of smooth strokes.
I used the same process, same types of brush, and same brand and consistency of paint to paint Tristan’s cloth, which you can compare to Lars’ in the photo below. The main difference between the two is just the number of tiny hatch marks I painted one over the other to build up the highlights and shadows. It took a lot more time to build up the more subtle effect of Tristan’s cloth, but the process was otherwise pretty much the same. I suspect it’s true of a lot of texture techniques that once you have the basic approach down you can tweak it to different effects with different brushes, paint mixes, or time investments.
The photo below shows swatches of the colours I used to paint the cloth texture on Lars’ kilt. I later added some of the blue-grey glaze from the leather colour swatch picture to the shadow areas of the kilt.
Miniatures in this Article
Lars Ragnarson is available in Bones USA plastic.
Caerindra Thistlemoor is available in metal.
Anushka is available in metal.