Help this Bardic Bird Sing

In this article I’m going to talk about the sculpting and painting inspirations for this figure, and how you could help the Ukraine by winning this figure (and a bunch of paints) or buying a copy of your own to paint.

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I’ll start with the links for those who just want to jump straight to the Ukraine relief, and then get into the paint process, the colours I used, and the story behind this figure. Head to Reaper’s page if you want to buy your own copy of Kobzar Soloveiko the nightingale bard. For a limited time, Reaper is donating $7.50 of each sale to UNICEF relief efforts for children in the Ukraine.

If you’d like to win the figure I painted, check out the NOVA raffles! The NOVA Charitable Foundation is running a special raffle for Ukraine aid. Proceeds from all raffles go to Nova Ukraine. The raffle for my painted copy of Kobzar includes the painted figure, new bottles of each colour I used to paint him, an unpainted copy signed by the sculptor Jason Wiebe, and an hour of personalized video instruction with me. (Or email if you’d prefer.) If my painted Kobzar figure is not to your taste, there are lots of other prizes to buy tickets for! These include units, large figures, busts, and more – all painted by some of the best miniature painters in the world. There is also a very special prize of the complete set of Marvel United, with a majority of the figures painted to a jaw-dropping standard. Plus a custom case to carry them in!

Prize packageYou could win all this stuff and an hour of video consultation with me.

When Reaper wanted to produce a figure to raise funds for the Ukraine, sculptor Jason Wiebe came up with the idea for Kobzar Soloveiko, the nightingale bard. Jason describes his inspiration for the figure:


When we first discussed a Ukraine relief project, the word Kobzar came immediately to mind.  Historically, a bard known for pointed opinions, and colloquially is used for various eastern European street musicians.  A bard seemed a good choice, but what kind of bard?

The European Nightingale is taken by some as a national bird of Ukraine, Soloveyka along with other common spellings.  We settled on Soloveiko for the ease and western phonetic shorthand.  A nightingale is a rather unassuming bird with a legendary song.

Sunflowers are somewhat of a more recent symbol, due to their economic status in Ukraine.  Now it all came together, as if it had to be; a small but proud character, singing its song with strength and love. I am happy to present the Nightingale Bard, Kobzar Soloveiko!

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When the figure released, I bought several copies to support the cause. And because it’s the kind of fun character I love to paint!

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He looked so fun to paint that I decided to start on him right away, on my Reaper stream, Beyond the Kit. My paints are not stored near the desk where I paint (and stream), so I needed to have some ideas for colours I wanted to use in advance. I started by looking for pictures of the nightingale found in the Ukrainian region. I expected to find a dull bird that wouldn’t help much with my colour choices, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a bird with some interesting colouration. If you do an image search on the term ‘bluethroat’, you should find some great pictures. The bird in the picture below isn’t as vividly coloured as some of the images I saw on a general search, but it is the one I could find that I am permitted to use publicly.

Hans veth XBHZSlEA0lo unsplashPhoto by Hans Veth on Unsplash.

The appearance of the nightingale gave me some good ideas for colours, but I thought it would be a good idea to explore the possibilities for various ways to use those colours, the way I did when I painted Fathom, my character from our artist D&D game. I ended up liking the first version I tested enough that I didn’t really keep on with the testing, and decided to just go with the first idea. It’s not visible in the photo above, but the real nightingale has a rusty orange stripe on its chest beneath the blue throat, so I decided to use the orange for the clothing of this anthropomorphic version. 

Kobzar colour testRead the Fathom article for tips on how to do this kind of digital colour test with your own figures.

I painted the bulk of the figure on stream. The videos are now posted on YouTube, so you can see exactly how I did the painting if you’re interested. I painted the feathers and his jerkin on the first video. I did darklining and painted the leather areas during a second video. The rest of the figure was painted and revised off-stream. Many regular viewers of Beyond the Kit prefer a variety of content topics rather than seeing me paint a figure from start to finish, so it is rare for me to do that. Anne Foerster’s RTB stream on the Reaper channel is a great place to watch the full painting process for a number of figures. I painted the lute, feet, and some of the other details off stream. Since I was donating the figure, I later spent some time making small improvements to the painting overall. I also revised the patterning on the head to better match the reference photo of the bird I was using.

IMG 2755A work in progress picture following my first painting stream.

When I was finished the second stream, I thought the painting was going well enough that I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to raise more money for charity with the painted figure. My initial thought was to see whether eBay had a Ukraine charity option I could use for an auction. When I heard that NOVA Charities was planning a Ukraine raffle, I contacted the organizers to see if I could contribute Kobzar, and we worked out a prize package for this figure. Reaper Miniatures very generously donated a fresh bottle of each of the paint colours I had used in the painting, even though some of them were used in only tiny amounts!

IMG 2756A work in progress picture taken after my first video stream.

Some Notes on Miniature Photography

I thought it might be interesting to compare the differences in some of the photos I got with different cameras and different lighting setups. If you find this interesting, let me know and I’ll try to include more information like this in future articles.

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The photo on the left was taken with my cellphone under my painting lights. I placed a sheet of grey drawing paper behind the figure to help the camera focus. I also held the figure in my hand and tilted it figure until it had the best lighting possible on the front. If I sit a figure down on my desk and try to take a head on photo, it will look a lot shadowed and darker than this, like the pictures with paint bottles below. If you can’t move the light to the figure, move the figure to the light. I then edited the photo to crop away boring stuff on the sides, but I also did use the magic wand option in the editor on my phone. My cellphone is an iPhone 12 Pro (currently one generation behind.)

The pictures on the centre and right were both taken with my ‘good’ camera in a well-lit setting. For the blue background photo, I manually adjusted the levels of grey and white by using a grayscale reference card that I put include in frame with the figure to take the photo, and then crop out later. I occasionally adjust the brightness of a photo up or down if that seems out of whack, but that’s about all the editing I do on my miniature photos. The photo on the right was taken with the same camera and same lighting setup, but with a black background. I also have to alter the exposure compensation on my camera depending on whether it’s a lighter background or the black background. I haven’t had great luck manually editing levels with photos on black backgrounds, so I just choose the auto levels for those. To me there’s always a notable difference in colours between the photos taken on the lighter vs the black backgrounds. Figures really pop on the black background, but I think the photos with the lighter backgrounds have more accurate and nuanced colour.

The ‘good’ camera I use was specifically purchased to take photos of miniatures, though it does take pretty nice pictures of other things when I bother to drag it out for that purpose! It’s one of the first few generations of mirrorless cameras, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3, which released in early 2012. I bought it because it combines many of the full DSLR features that are useful for taking pictures of miniatures, but also has plenty of auto settings for non-miniature photography. I am very much not a photographer and I also can’t afford a full DSLR and good lenses and so on. Mirrorless cameras have larger sensors than standard digital cameras, though smaller than a full DSLR, and that makes a lot more difference than super huge megapixel picture sizes. Sure I’d love a newer camera, but this one continues to produce photos that clients like Reaper are willing to use for print quality, so I don’t feel like I have to have a new one. If you’re looking to buy a camera to improve photos of your miniatures, I recommend looking at older but higher quality cameras you can usually purchase for a similar price to a new mid-range camera. I have found the site Digital Photography Review to be invaluable for researching the last few cameras I’ve bought, and their detailed reviews include photo examples of stuff similar to what we do. (Coins, figurines, and objects with detailed text in huge closeup photos.)

The main thing I recommend to someone frustrated with photos of their miniatures is to play around with lighting and backgrounds before assuming the problem is your camera. There’s no one answer for this. Some cameras like loads of light, some phone cam software brightens stuff up so much you might need less lighting to get a better picture. As a general rule keep the lights brighter and further away from the figure, or diffused, if you want to avoid glare. Use a background. It looks nicer to the viewer than a clutter of paint and brushes. It also helps your camera know what to focus on. Pure white and pure black backgrounds are challenging to photograph against. The ideal is a mid to light blue or grey matte surface. Grey toned drawing paper is what I used in the cellphone pic above, and what I use for my streaming camera background. I use Strathmore, but I’m sure there are similar grey paper options available from a variety of sources. The mottled blue background sheet I use is no longer available. For plain colours like the black background, I like to use sheets of fun foam. It’s very matte, soft and safe for figures, and makes a nice sweep, though on the downside it gets marked up pretty easily. I’ve bought my sheets from local craft stores, but this item on Amazon seems similar. (I have found grey the hardest colour to find weirdly!)

Paint Colours Used on Kobzar Soloveiko

I am rarely able to keep track of the colours I’m using in the way I usually do when I am video streaming. I used a lot of wet blending on Kobzar’s head, and that is also much less systematic to outline the colours for than when I use layering. The colours listed below are the ones I recall to my best ability, but I do not consider these colour recipes to be as precise as what I often list in these articles.

Head, Hands, and Wings

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Blue Throat, Blue Leather Bag

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Orange-Brown Jerkin

I later used a bit of more saturated orange to punch up the highlights a little more.

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Mouth and Tongue

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Wood areas of Lute

The paint that is cut off on the left is Blue Liner, SKU 9066.

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Gold Trim and Buckles

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Hellborn Dancer Paint Process and Colours

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

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.

Hd bk front

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.

Hd bk back

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cloth compxcfPhotos 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.

Dancer front

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.

Hd bl face

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.

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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.

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Paint Colours


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How to Choose, Convert, and Sculpt Balanced Figures

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes high res photographs and better formatting. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

I’ve been working to finish up painting this figure, and it got me thinking about symmetry versus balance in figure design.

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This Hellborn Dancer is part of the core set in the Reaper Bones 6 Kickstarter.

On initial consideration, the differences between symmetry and balance can seem pretty subtle. Understanding the difference between the two can help people design more effective conversions, and sculpt more attractive figures. It is also useful for painters to better understand figure composition, especially those who enter contests. The figure you choose is the foundation of your painting, and it factors in to the opinion of judges/voters. You can only improve your chances of positive consideration by choosing a figure that is designed and sculpted well. Better understanding symmetry versus balance is also helpful for designing dioramas and scenic bases, and can even be applied to painting.

Hd bl back
She was sculpted by Bobby Jackson. I will share the colours I used in a future post.

If you draw a line down the centre of something, symmetry occurs when both sides are mirror images, or very similar. Humans appreciate symmetry, especially in form. The typical design of a human is symmetrical – head, torso, and hips in the middle of the body, and an arm and a leg to each side. That symmetry is repeated in the details of the face – nose and mouth in the centre, with one eye and one ear on either side. Biologists believe that a large component of what we consider beauty relates to symmetry. People with more symmetrical bodies and faces are believed to have healthier gene expression and development, which makes them fitter reproductive partners, which we define as beauty that attracts us to those people. Many of the objects we construct are also made to be symmetrical in form, regardless of whether it is necessary for their function.

While we like symmetry in the design of objects, we also prefer variation in things we look at. Symmetrical compositions are often less engaging and interesting to viewers. Instead of symmetry, what you need is balance. If you draw a line down the centre of a composition, we feel it has balance when the visual weight of the elements on each side are equal or similar. The elements on each side may be completely asymmetrical, different shapes, different sizes, etc. But if the overall volume of the elements on each side is roughly equal in and they well composed, the viewer will perceive the whole as balanced.

The classic balancing scale is a simple illustration of these ideas:

Balance scalesPhotos from Wikimedia commons: left, centre, right

The image on the left is both symmetrical and balanced. It is also not especially interesting to look at. It feels stiff and static.

The centre image is asymmetrical, but still balanced. The pans of the scale are located at different vertical levels, but they are visually equal in weight. This image appears more dynamic and interesting to look at because there is more happening in the scene, but it’s still balanced and visually pleasing.

The diagram on the right is neither symmetrical nor balanced. The scales themselves are symmetrical and balanced in form, but all of the other objects in the image are on the left of the centre line. The left side of this image appears much heavier and busier than the right, which looks empty and almost insubstantial. It may function well as a diagram that illustrates a point, but it is not pleasing to the viewer to look at. A small amount of imbalance can add a little tension and dynamism to a figure, but too much will strike most viewers as jarring and displeasing.

Great, so what has that got to do with miniatures?

Extremely dynamic figure poses usually require sculptors to make creative use of cloak cloth or other objects to support the figure mid jump/run/flight but also ensure that the miniature is feasible to produce and can withstand gameplay. It’s just not reasonable to do with every miniature. Sculptors more often use asymmetrical and balanced composition to add dynamism to other types of poses. These are useful principles to keep in mind when you are converting or sculpting figures, or designing scenic bases and dioramas. We can compare some historical statues and contemporary miniatures for examples.

Ancient Egyptian art conformed to particular composition and poses. These appear quite stiff and static to our modern eyes. They convey a sense of solidity and stasis, but aren’t that interesting to look at. The current Reaper Kickstarter is aiming to unlock a set of Egyptian themed figures that includes avatars of several classic deities. These modern sculpts look much more alive and dynamic than the historical statues.


I found numerous historical depictions of Tawaret in very similar symmetrical poses. The human interpretation in the centre breaks the symmetry up a little by having one arm folded across her chest. So dynamic!! Compare that to the Tawaret avatar in the Reaper Kickstarter on the far right. The figure is in a simple standing position, but the less symmetrical posing makes it much more interesting to look at. The legs are in slightly different positions, the hips are tilted, the head is turned to one side a little, and the arms are angled. The shapes of the skirt and loincloth piece suggest cloth in motion and add a bit of dynamism. It’s still visually balanced, though.

Tawaret comboPhotos: The Met Museum, The Met Museum, Reaper Bones 6 Kickstarter Egyptian expansion


The seated depiction of Wadjet is almost completely symmetrical, and thus pretty static and dull. The standing statue is in a less symmetrical pose, with one foot and one arm forward, but the straight spine and weight placed equally on both feet makes the pose look stiff and unnatural. Compare that to the Reaper version of Wadjet. The weight is on the rear leg as the other foot steps forward. That tilts the hips, which curves the spine, resulting in a more fluid and natural pose. The head looks to one side, and the arms are in different positions. As with the Tawaret avatar, the way the cloth is sculpted contributes to the impression that the figure is in motion.

Wadget comboPhotos: Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons, Reaper Bones 6 Kickstarter Egyptian expansion


The green statuette of Anubis has one leg forward, but is otherwise symmetrical and very stiff and unnatural looking. The pose of the centre historical Anubis is a little more dynamic from some angles, but is still fairly symmetrical. As with Wadjet, both historical versions have ramrod straight spines and weight distributed equally on both legs, which adds to the static feeling of the figures. The Reaper Anubis avatar on the right is much more dynamic, The entire body is posed asymmetrically, and appears caught in the midst of movement. It is still pleasingly balanced, however. The extension of the staff to the right is balanced by the opposite arm being raised and the head looking in the opposite direction.

Anubis comboPhotos: Wikimedia Commons, Met Museum, Reaper Bones 6 Kickstarter Egyptian expansion

If we instead study historical Greek and Roman statuary, we find much less of a difference between ancient and contemporary figure sculpts. In Western art, the Greeks and Romans pioneered of the idea of depicting the human figure more naturalistically. Contemporary artists are still using the same techniques for the same reasons. One method introduced in classic sculpture is the idea of the contrapposto pose. A contrapposto, or counter-poised, pose is a standing pose in which the weight of the body rests primarily on one leg. This cants the weight-bearing hip up, which as a consequence of our anatomy, tilts the opposite shoulder down, creating a graceful curve in the spine. It is a visually pleasing way to arrange the symmetrical human form into a more asymmetrical pose. It appears more dynamic, but still pleasingly balanced. 

Michelangelo’s David is perhaps the most well-known example of the contrapposto pose. You can see at a glance that all of the weight of the figure is bearing down on that left foot, and the right foot is just lightly resting on the ground. Note the way the hips and shoulders tilt as a result, and how that curves the spine. One side of the torso is compressed, and the other side is stretched. David is an idealized figure and his pose may look a little studied, but next time you see a group of people standing talking or waiting in line, study them for a minute. You’ll probably find that the majority stand with more weight on one foot, which tilts the lines of their hips and shoulders away from horizontal.

IMG 0106Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


The contrapposto pose is very strong in the statue of Hera on the left. It’s a little less so in the middle one, but you can just make up the relaxed bend of the non-weight-bearing leg under her drapery. Both have head tilts and arms at different levels. They’re not symmetrically posed, but the overall result is an equal amount of visual content on each side, so they appear visually balanced. The Reaper version is sculpted to appear as a stone column rather than a person, so it is a slightly stiff pose. However, notice how much more naturalistic and varied it appears in comparison to the historic Egyptian sculptures thanks to the contrapposto leg, head tilt, and asymmetrically posed arms.

Hera comboPhotos: Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, Reaper Bones 5 Kickstarter (soon to be released in retail)


First we have two historical depictions of Zeus. The one on the left looks naturalistic thanks to the wonderfully contrapposto legs, and asymmetrical poses of the arms. The folds of cloth sculpted on the lowered arm act as a counterweight to the lightning in the raised fist, so the overall composition remains balanced. Even the ancients didn’t get it perfect every time. The Zeus on the right doesn’t appear quite as natural, or as balanced. The legs are a the contrapposto position, but tilt of the hips is slight, and the shoulders look almost even, so the spine looks kind of stiff. There is a bird and a stump on the left. The visual weight of these is not quite balanced by the upraised arm, so the composition isn’t as pleasing. (Likely the raised arm once held lightning and did look more balanced in its original form.)

Zeus historicalPhotos: Wikimedia Commons, National Museums Liverpool

As with Hera, Reaper’s Zeus column is designed to look more like a statue than a naturalistic figure. It nonetheless has a contrapposto leg pose and a nice curve on the spine that makes it look much more natural than the stiff Egyptian figure poses. On the right is a Zeus-inspired giant. He is in a more active pose than the other figures we’ve studied so far, caught in the midst of hurling a lightning bolt. The body in motion often exhibits elements of the contrapposto standing pose, with tilts to the shoulders and hips and bends in the spine that compress one side of the torso and stretch the other. Likely this is one reason we perceive contrapposto standing poses as more lively. There are more elements to the Zeus giant sculpt than the other figures shown so far, but these have also been composed in a balanced way.

Zeus reaperBoth figures are from Reaper’s Bones 5 Kickstarter, soon to be released in retail.

In discussing balance and centre line symmetry, I’ve shown figures angles from the front or slightly to one side. Sculptors create three dimensional pieces that can be viewed in the round. An ideal composition looks pleasing when the sculpt is viewed at any angle. This can be challenging to do when your subject is the human form. There are often one or two angles that don’t look as interesting in a given pose. The constraints of miniature production add an additional wrinkle for mass market miniature sculpts. It’s not always possible to make every angle balanced and interesting, but It is very important for sculptors (and converters) to work on good composition for the main viewing angles. For many figures the main viewing angles are the front and the back, but there may be additional ones. The Zeus-inspired giant would have at least one additional angle. I think many viewers would turn it to place each arm to one side and view it from that angle.

Additional Figures

Below are photos of some of the other figures I’ve painted that are included in the Reaper Bones 6 Kickstarter. I’ll share my comments after each photo, so you have the opportunity to look at the photos to make your own assessment of their balance and symmetry before reading mine.

Sophie18 face fullMasquerade Ball Sophie is currently available in metal, and in plastic via the Bones 6 core set. I have an article on the painting process, the challenges of matching it to the concept art, and the freehand.

Unlike many monstrous or martial themed miniatures, Masquerade Ball Sophie is pretty symmetrical in design. She has flowers on only one side of her hair, and a bracelet and skirt tassel on the other. Her pose, on the other hand, is balanced, but not at all symmetrical. Bob Ridolfi has sculpted her with a very pleasing C curve gesture. I would say there is a little more ‘weight’ of objects on the right, but I feel like it is balanced by the more active hand gesture and upraised wing on the left. (If you don’t love the wings, you can leave them off and use her as a noble or wealthy character.)

Bsoph face fullBourbon Street Sophie is currently available in metal, and in plastic via the Bones 6 core set. I have an article explaining how to paint source lighting (OSL).

If you consider just the Bourbon Street Sophie figure alone, the aspects of symmetry in design and balance in pose are pretty similar to the Masquerade Sophie. The figure itself is largely symmetrical in form. It has a C pose that is asymmetrical, but balanced and graceful. With this figure, the large flare of the skirts to the right is quite prominent, but Bob Ridolfi used the mask and a flower decoration on the left to balance it. (I think you could also expand the game play uses of this figure by leaving off the wings.)

Marchb front fullThis version of Tara the Silent was a special edition for Reaper’s 25th anniversary, and is no longer available in metal. She is available in plastic via the Bones 6 core set. I painted this before beginning this site, but you can see photos with additional angles on my Facebook page.

25th Anniversary Tara the Silent is fairly symmetrical. While the pose is not one of dynamic action, Bobby Jackson adds visual interest with subtle deviations from the symmetry. She is in a contrapposto pose, with her weight on the back leg, which leads to a pleasing S curve spine. The face is looking to the right, and the poised dagger and belt pouch are also on that side. These are balanced by objects on the left – the larger curl of cloak fold, the hand holding the pouch, the dagger hilt, and the strong shapes of the armour plates on the left hip.

Mayb frontThis version of Eli Quickknife was a special edition for Reaper’s 25th anniversary, and is no longer available in metal. He is available in plastic via the Bones 6 core set. Eli also predates this site, but I have additional photos available on my Facebook page. I have some notes on how I painted the leather available on one of the photos.

Bobby Jackson’s sculpt of 25th Anniversary Eli Quickknife is interesting to consider. It’s actually a fairly symmetrical pose, with both arms and both legs in similar positions. Despite this, it does not appear static. The deep bend and slight asymmetry of the legs is kind of like a coiled spring. There is also a lot of tension in the arms. The opposing orientation of the two daggers is just different enough from true symmetry to keep our interest. The turned head and pointed fold of the hood on the right are balanced by the corner of cloak sweeping out on the bottom left.

July blue front fullAsandris Nightbloom is currently available in metal, and in plastic via the Bones 6 core set. I have an article with information on the colour scheme and freehand used on this figure.

Asandris Nightbloom here might seem a little trickier to assess. There’s not a lot to balance that large tall staff on the left, but the figure doesn’t really feel unbalanced, does it? What makes this one a little different than the others is that the centre line of the character is not the same as the centre line of the composition of the whole scene. The centre line of a person is the centre of the body from between the eyes down through the centre of the torso. The centre line of this composition is to the left side of the head. Bob Ridolfi has also added a bit more weight to the right via the book and the larger weapon. In the diagram below the centre line of the character is in orange, and the centre line of the overall composition is in green. Note that this figure also has slight contrapposto pose – the weight is on the back leg, which tilts the hips and shoulders in opposite angles.

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I hope that gives you a few ideas for how to create visually pleasing compositions when you’re converting and sculpting figures. And tips for some things to look out for when choosing a figure to invest a lot of time in painting. These ideas of symmetry and balance are extremely important for scene and diorama composition as well, and can be something to consider in painting, but those will have to be topics for future articles.


There are multiple kinds of symmetry in nature. Humans and many other creatures exhibit bilateral symmetry. Some creatures, like starfish, have radial symmetry.

The historical Egyptian, Greek, and Roman periods cover large spans of time, and areas of geography. I’ve spoken in generalities here, but these cultures and their art is much more complex.

How to Paint OSL Better than Me

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes high res photos and better formatting. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

What’s up with the clickbait title? I know that not every painter can (nor wants) to duplicate my smooth blending approach. But the key to successful source light (OSL) is not brushwork, it’s choosing the right colours and putting them in the right places. OSL is one of the few paint effects that is more about knowledge than dexterity – you can paint OSL with drybrushing! And you can paint source light effects more striking than what I painted on these two figures.

9party osl chars

I made compromises (and mistakes) in how effectively I painted the source light on the adventuring party. If you read through this guide, you should have the tools you need to paint these or other characters with better OSL than I did. I have written other articles with more information about other aspects of painting the adventure party, including the colour recipes used on each character: overview, halfling fighter, human rogue, dwarf cleric, elf wizard.

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How to Paint Great Source Lighting (OSL)

The art director of Reaper (Ron Hawkins) was excited about the possibilities for painted light effects with this set of figures. The human thief is carrying a torch, and the elf wizard is casting a spell effect. However, since people would first be acquiring these figures as random selections of the individual characters, it was also important that each figure be painted in such a way as to look great on its own. Both of those ideas make sense, so why would painting them be a challenge?

To answer that question, and to understand the keys to painting great OSL, we need to consider how we normally use (or should use) contrast. Contrast is a critical tool in our painter toolbox. We use contrast between different values (light, medium, dark) in highlights and shadows to make figures look more three dimensional. Contrast of values is also a major element to successfully simulating different textures. Shiny objects like metal often have shadows as dark as black and as light as white, while a more matte surface like wool cloth has a smaller range of contrast between its darkest shadows and lightest highlights. Contrasts of different hues of colour and the saturation level of those colours are also useful tools to help define the different areas of the figure, and make it more interesting to look at. These are just a few of the reasons we constantly harp on the need for more contrast in miniature painting.

Let’s look at the following figure as an example. The version on the right has additional value and saturation contrast between the shadows and highlights. The lighter highlights on the hair of the more contrasted version help create the texture of strands and give it a little shine. Lighter highlights on the green material help you better see the shapes – there are wrinkles and folds all along the arms, and a zipper down the front that are not very apparent in the version on the left. Lighter highlights and darker shadows on the red material also definite the shapes of the cloth, but more importantly, better help you see the shapes under the cloth – her legs and stomach look more rounded in the version with more contrast. The more saturated colours in the highlights of the red and the green create stronger contrast between those two complimentary colours and help move your eye around the scene and keep things more interesting to look at.

Dionne before after cr

I have several more examples of figures with less and more contrast that you can study: Victorian lady, tabletop blacksmith, beach beauty digital edit, backwards contrast thief.

The challenge in painting light effects (OSL) is caused by the limitations of paint colour. In life, when we’re looking at something like a candle in a dark room or a blazing sunset, the light has properties beyond its colour. It’s not just colour, it’s… light. Light can be so bright it hurts our eyes. There is no paint that duplicates this effect. All we can do is use the properties of paint to simulate that effect. The best way to create the illusion of light is to do the following:

* Paint the brightest areas of the light itself white, regardless of its overall colour, and do not use pure white elsewhere on the figure.

* Paint areas directly illuminated by the light source with lighter value and higher saturation colours.

* Paint areas in shadow (not directly illuminated by the light) with darker value and duller saturation colours.

But remember what I said earlier? We usually use the colour properties of value, saturation, and hue for lots of other purposes in our painting, including breaking up areas of the figure, simulating textures and surfaces, creating a focal point for the viewer, and making the figure look more three dimensional. The challenge is that it’s difficult to use paint colours for all of that and also create the illusion of light.

When rendering a scene with light effects, whether in two dimensions or three, we have to make decisions about what is more important – the strength of the light effect, or the other needs of the piece. The more you use value and saturation in the same way you would when painting under general lighting, the less powerful your light source will appear. If you want to paint a strong light effect, you need to limit the overall value contrast range used on shadows and highlights to emphasize the contrast between lit and shadowed areas. You also need to reduce the saturation of colours used in the shadowed areas.

To put it another way – when painting areas that are well lit, don’t paint shadows as dark as you should in general lighting, and use higher saturation colours. When painting shadowed areas, don’t paint highlights as light as you should in general lighting, and use lower saturation colours. The end result of painting this way is quite visually striking when the piece is viewed as a whole. However, depending on the location of the light source, it is likely that there will be view angles or portions of the figure that look kind of dull or are less visually distinct because they don’t have the same level of contrast as they normally would.

Here’s a figure painted with source lighting that demonstrates the effect of the constraints. To make it look as though areas of the figure are being lit by the candle, I had to paint those areas mostly with light values, and paint areas that are in shadow mostly with dark values. If you look just at the shadow areas on the back, there’s a very small range of contrast, with the darkest areas being effectively black, and the lightest areas being dark grey. On its own this would be way too little contrast. But put this adjacent to the areas painted in light colours, and it is the key to creating the illusion that the candle is casting light.

Xm past combo cr

Note that these colour choices have reduced the definition of some of the shapes on the figure. Look at the dress. There are a few folds on the sleeves where the light colour is on the top of the fold and the dark colour is underneath, and those are very well defined in shape, as well as dramatic to look at. Compare those with the folds only in the light areas, or only in the dark areas. In the bright light area, you can’t really see that Bob Ridolfi has sculpted the cloth to drape over the arm holding the candle in such a way that you can ‘see’ the shape of the arm underneath the cloth. In the back view, the folds of the skirt and shadowed sleeve don’t look nearly as large or dramatic as they are on the sculpt, because I have painted so little contrast between the shadows in the depths and the highlights on the peaks.

It is also very helpful to pose source lighting figures against a dark background for maximum effect. I used a photo taken on a more neutral background for the explanation above because I think the colours and values are more accurate to the painted figure, and I want you to be able to see those as well as possible for the purpose of this article. In the picture below, you can see the same figure posed on a black background. The other two figures in the picture were painted using the more typical soft light from above lighting scenario. If you study these figures you can compare the differences in how I used value and saturation in the typical lighting scenario versus the source light scenario. The light effect is very eye catching, but you see less information overall about the various areas and colours of the figure than with the other two.

Xm ghosts bk full

If you want to paint OSL with a really strong light effect, I think it’s helpful to think of the areas in light and those in shadow of as two different distinct things. For example, rather than thinking of ’the shirt’, think of the area of the shirt in light, and the area of the shirt in shadow as two distinct areas. Paint each section with a compressed value range compared to what you would (and should) use when painting a figure to appear as if lit by normal diffuse/from above lighting. You can enhance the effect even more by choosing more intensely saturated colours for the light areas, and making the shadow area colours duller as well as darker. Often I will use the same paints for both areas, but mix a dark dull blue or purple colour into each colour I use on the light side to create the shadow side colour mixes.

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Note that the OSL colours on the bottom vary in saturation, not just in value. The colours for the light side are more intense blues, and those for the dark side are duller blues.

You can see an example of this in practice in my article used on how I painted the figure holding a candle, which includes a picture of the palette colours used to paint the dress.

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Adventure Party Source Light

Okay great, so how does all of that theory relate to that adventuring party I painted? Ron wanted OSL. Two of the figures have light sources, and I just told you the ‘secret’ to painting effective OSL. So what’s the problem? Ron also told me he wanted each figure to look good on its own. When the figures are in group formation, the dwarf cleric is somewhat illuminated by the light sources, but there is not much light light falling on the natural focus of the figure – her face. There also isn’t much light on the front of the figure in general. There is even less light falling on the halfling fighter. All of the light sources are behind him. If I painted the figures to achieve the most dramatic OSL effect, the fighter’s face and the front of his body would be dark and dull. In addition to looking kind of boring, there would be no context as to why he looked like that in the pictures of him as a standalone figure.

2party prime2

As I described in my first post about these figures, I used primer to create a reference for the areas that would be lit by the in-scene light sources. I primed all of the figures black. For the last step of priming, I arranged the figures together in their tableau. I sprayed bright white ink through my airbrush from the direction of the two light sources. This allowed me to see which areas would be receiving a lot of light from the light sources. This is all I would have done if I wanted to paint a very dramatic light effect.

Note that you don’t have to have an airbrush to do this type of thing! You can instead use a single small bulb light to take similar reference photos. This is the first lighting effect I’ve painted with figures primed in this manner, usually I use lighting reference photos. I did find that the primer helped me avoid the cognitive dissonance I experienced when painting the figure holding a candle.

2party prime1

Since these figures also needed to look good viewed individually, I needed to paint the figures as if there were a decent amount of ambient light in addition to the in-scene light sources. So I added a step between the black primer and bright white paint. After the black, I used the airbrush to apply dark grey primer from above on each figure, in the zenithal priming fashion. This gave me the information I would need for where the ambient light would create areas with more or less light. Then I assembled the group and applied the white paint to identify the areas lit by the in-scene light sources.

2party prime5

Below is a series of photos where you can compare the primed figures to the final painted versions. I’ve converted the photos to black and white to make it easier to see differences in value between the two.

9party prime face bw cw

Note that while this priming technique provides an excellent overall feeling for the location of light and shadow, it does not take into account the way different textures and materials appear, and how they react to light – matte cloth versus somewhat shiny leather versus reflective metal. To best evoke the qualities of those materials requires the painter to use the primer (or lighting reference photos) as a guide, but to then extrapolate and tweak value ranges and value placement to match various types of materials. For example, if you compare the areas I painted as metal on the figures to the photos of the primer stage, you’ll see a number of differences in where the lightest and darkest colours are placed because I was trying to simulate the reflective appearance of metal.

These photos also demonstrate that I missed some opportunities to enhance the light effect. I could have used much stronger highlighting on the back of the helmet and backpack flap of the halfling fighter. I should have had much stronger highlights on the lit portion of the human rogue’s hair. It’s can be challenging to see value correctly in many colours, and the orange and red glazes added on top to create the colour of the light also darkened everything a little, which is important to keep in mind if you use glazes to add hints of the colour of the light to the lit areas.

9party prime right bw cw

Using your own judgement as a painter is also important. Even had I been painting this scene as a much stronger light effect, I would still make judgements about making some parts a little lighter or darker. In this case, I would have painted the sides of the faces pointed towards the light in a lighter value on both the wizard and the rogue, even though they don’t show a lot of light in the primer reference photos. There may also be areas that should be receiving light that may not have received much white paint due to being awkward to reach with the airbrush. One example is the arm of the rogue that is holding the torch. Her arm is the closest object to the torchlight, and would appear lighter than it ended up in the primer photos, so I painted it accordingly.

9party prime back bw cw

To make these figures look more interesting when viewed apart from the group, I extended the contrast value range of the areas that were not receiving much light from the in-scene light sources. This is particularly true on the halfling fighter and the dward cleric. Compare the cleric sabatons and the halfling’s green clothing in the primer photos above.  You can see details in the final versions that you cannot in the primer versions. Painting those areas darker and less distinct would have strengthened the light effect, but made those individual figures less interesting to look at.

I digitally edited one of my photos to help give you an idea of how the tableau might look if I had painted it with a stronger light effect. I increased the saturation in the areas receiving light. I decreased both the value and the saturation of areas that should appear in shadow. My digital editing skills are pretty rudimentary, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how the scene might look if only the torch and the spell effect were illuminating the gloomy dungeon scene.

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Here’s a comparison with the original:

9party dig edit comp cw

And converted to greyscale:

9party dig edit comp bw cw

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I Need Your Support

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More Examples of Painting Light

I’m going to compare some 2D paintings to further illustration how colour use differs in well-lit versus source lit scenarios, and then show you some terrific examples of OSL miniatures.

Judith Leyster was a Dutch Golden Age painter. Many painters of this time period focused on painting scenes with dramatic lighting, a continuation of the interest in chiaroscuro that began in the Renaissance. These painters also lived in a time when interiors were lit only by daylight, candles, and lamps, so I think their paintings are a good example of the kind of pre-Industrial lighting that would be seen in a fantasy/steampunk world. I’m going to compare the value range of two of Leyster’s paintings that depict bright daylight lighting (top), and two painted with with interior source light style lighting (bottom).

Leyster combo

These images are from Wikipedia, and you can see large scale copies of them on Leyster’s paintings page.

The scene of the Jolly Topper is well lit, suggesting that the figure is facing one or more windows. The skin overall is a lighter skin tone, but as you can see in the colour samples from the painting, the darkest shadows are close to black. These are sparingly applied in areas where the face turns away from the light. Likewise, the clothing of the figure is a somewhat dark grey in value overall, but in a few spots the highlights on wrinkles of cloth are close to white. (This painting is also a good example of why you should use more contrast in highlights and shadows in regular lighting than miniature painters often think we need!)

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The painting Two Children with a Cat depicts a scene of even brighter daylight. Perhaps the children are sitting outside in front of a building on a bright sunny day. The child holding the cat has very pale skin and is facing directly into the light, but note that areas of his skin facing away from the light still have strong dark shadows. The child wears a jacket of a golden brown colour. Although it is a fairly matte cloth, the shadows are close to black, and there are a few spots of fairly pale highlights. 

IMG 0050(For the sake of my sanity I’m going to assume a supervising adult rescued the cat soon after the moment depicted in this painting…)

In both of the daylight paintings, Leyster has used a fairly broad value range from light to dark to paint the various materials in the painting. Let’s compare those to the paintings with interior light sources.

In The Proposition, Leyster has used two different value ranges for each material depending on whether it is being lit by the lamp or is on the shadow side. Although the wrinkles in the white shirt appear to have fairly deep peaks and valleys, the value range of the material is compressed – it is painted with mostly light values on the lit side, and mostly dark values on the shadow side. Combined together they create the overall impression of light coming from the lamp. The contrast is even more apparent on the skirt. The fabric falling across her lap is being lit by the lamp, and is painted mostly light in value. (There is a dark shadow line in this area next to a particularly tall fold of cloth.) The side of the skirt that is in shadow is painted in variations of dark grey, with very little detail of wrinkles and folds apparent. Leyster creates the strong sense of light by sacrificing some details in the most well lit and the most deeply shadowed areas. (Which is also accurate to how our eyes perceive objects in super strong and very dim lighting.)

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The last painting is The Serenade. Here the light source is ‘off screen’, and the overall dimness of the lighting suggests the musician is sitting a little further away from the light source than the figures above. Compare the two cuffs. If you were not seeing those within the context of the painting, you would say the sets of colours used to paint them depict two completely different objects. The viewer might not perceive it consciously, but within the context of the painting, the viewer understands that both of the cuffs are white or cream in colour, but one appears much darker because it is further away from the light. To paint light effects successfully, we need to be conscious of this. We have the impression that there is light coming from the left side of the painting because objects on the left are painted with lighter colours, and objects on the right are painted with a smaller value range of darker colours.

Study the collar for a similar example. There’s no actual white used on any of it, and the side of the collar furthest from the light is painted in dark greys, but you as a viewer understand it to be white from the overall context of the painting.

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The values and saturation of the colours Leyster uses in all of these paintings are what create the impression of the different kinds of lighting, And we can do the exact same thing on miniatures.

David Colwell is a highly skilled painter who regularly explores painting light. I recommend following him if you’re interested in OSL or just more dramatic lighting of miniatures in general. Below is one of his pieces, Seeking Refuge. The light source isn’t part of the scene, but she’s been painted as if there is a light just off screen above and to one side. This is also a great example of a light source that is cool and not strongly coloured compared to the warmer orange/red light often used for OSL. Cool light colours work too!

David colwell seeking refuge frontPainted by David Colwell.
Observe how the light appears brightest in the upper left, and much softer further down and to the right. David is using values of paint to convey this impression.

David colwell seeking refuge backPainted by David Colwell.
Note how dark the back view is! It takes courage as well as skill to be willing to paint like this in the dark areas in order to make the light areas appear lit.

Mephiston: Revenant Crusade was painted by the very talented Erik Swinson, and if you look at his page you’ll see he’s explored light on others of his painted figures. Mephiston was sculpted by Joaquin Palacios, based on concept art  by Lie Setiawan. This piece was an entry in the Golden Demon Chicago 2022 contest, and placed Gold in the Open category. I’d love to see the back view, but judging from the front alone, Erik intended to paint a slightly less extreme version of light than in the David Colwell piece above. Mephiston’s sword appears on fire and if it is casting light, but Erik has used a little more value contrast in the areas receiving less light so you can still see a lot of detail and form. Note that there is still a wide level of contrast between the darks and lights, however! And Erik has painted very dark shadows, even on objects that are meant to be perceived as lighter in value. Look at the shadowed areas of the hair and skin. Both are very dark, but because of Erik’s overall use of value, hue, and saturation, we still read the hair and face as suitably pale and deathly.

Erik swinson revenant crusadePainted by Erik Swinson.
Winner of Gold in Open category at Golden Demon Chicago 2022.

At the beginning of this article, I said that painting OSL is more about colour use than super fancy brushwork. These next two examples were painted in 2001 and 2003, a somewhat simpler time in the hobby of miniature painting. Also, in contrast to the two pieces shown above, these scenes use gaming scale figures. Both were painted by talented painter and sculptor Victoria Lamb, of Victoria Miniatures. I don’t know if she was the first person to paint OSL on miniatures, but I’m not alone in considering The Rescue of Saint Joan one of the first really iconic OSL figures in the miniature world. Victoria’s work blew our minds back then, and it still demonstrates of how deft use of value and saturation can create the illusion of light! It is not really a surprise to learn that Victoria Lamb is a skilled theatre set designer.

Victoria rescue of sister joanPainted by Victoria Lamb.

The Rescue of Sister Joan won the Slayer Sword (best in show) of Golden Demon Australia 2001. The background is the key element to conveying the OSL in this scene. The area of the wall reflecting light from the torch is more saturated and lighter in value than areas further away from it. That OSL effect is not really carried through to the figures, but the scene and action are so strong that it still works. And Victoria was just getting started. She painted the duel scene Fiery Angel for Golden Demon Australia 2003.

Victoria fiery angelPainted by Victoria Lamb.
Winner of Bronze demon in the Duel category at Golden Demon Australia 2003.

Here’s a look at Fiery Angel on a grey background.

Victoria lamb fiery angel greyPainted by Victoria Lamb.

Victoria also painted this diorama scene for George R. R. Martin’s extensive miniature collection. I do not know the year this one was painted.

Victoria lamb grrPainted by Victoria Lamb.

And here is another one of my much more humble efforts. I think the way I contrasted saturation of the shadow versus the light areas is effective, but I could have pushed the value contrast even more and gone darker in the shadow areas for a more dramatic light effect.

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Miniatures Featured in this Article

Dionne is available in metal from Hasslefree Miniatures.

The three Christmas Ghosts are special edition holiday miniatures. They sometimes made available are to purchase or as a gift with purchase in late November and/or early December from the Reaper website

The adventure party figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is running until the end of April. A random selection of one of the five figures is still being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five was included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they are included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I expect that they will go into retail sales channels at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.

Seeking Refuge is a larger scale resin bust available from Robot Rocket Miniatures.

Mephiston: Revenant Crusade is a scratch sculpted figure and not available for purchase. Other versions of Mephiston are sold by Games Workshop.

The figures in the first two Victoria Lamb scenes are out of production Games Workshop figures. I’m not very familiar with the line so I don’t know the exact names, sorry.

The figures in the diorama for George R. R. Martin are from Dark Sword MiniaturesGeorge R. R. Martin Masterworks line – Stannis Baratheon, and a converted Melisandre.

Bourbon Street Sophie is currently available in metal. A Bones plastic version is available in the Core pledge of the Bones 6 Kickstarter, and should come to retail within a few years of Kickstarter fulfillment.

Elf Wizard: Adventure Party

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

In a previous post I discussed the preparation and planning that went into painting Reaper’s promotional dungeon delving adventurer party, and I shared pictures of the group. In this post I want to share my process for painting the elf wizard figure, as well as the colours I used to paint him. Articles about the human rogue, the halfling fighter, and the dwarf cleric are also available. The final article about this group of figures will be a look at some of the factors that go into painting source lighting effects, and how you can paint them to look much more dramatic than I did with these figures.

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Elf Wizard Process

I had decided on the colour for the spell effect and had considered desaturated blue as a main colour for the wizard before I began painting any of the figures. However, once it came time to actually paint the wizard, I realized I was going to need other colours! If it weren’t for the lighting effect, using different values and/or slightly different hues of blue for the robe and the cloak might have worked. To paint a lighting effect requires using a full value range of a colour, concentrating the lighter values in the areas being hit by the light, and darker values in shadowed areas. Had I tried something like a darker blue robe and lighter blue cloak, it would have been challenging to distinguish those two values while also showing the range of values between lit and shadowed parts. For me, at least. (Value is how light or dark a colour is.)

9wizard bl back

So I had to come up with some additional colours! I think all of the decisions I made for the wizard work well for that figure on its own. Magenta is a complementary colour to the green of the spell effect, and magenta and purple colours are often used for magical and mysterious things in painting, so it works with his characterization, as well. The reflected green light effect works really well on the grey leather accessories and blue-black hair. However, as I mentioned in the previous article, the wizard’s colour scheme does not completely mesh with the colours used on the other three figures. The blue works, as it’s similar to my universal shadow colour. One thing I could have done to tie him in better with the other figures would be using some of the tan or cream colours on the other figures for his leather accessories instead of introducing a new colour. The magenta colour appears only on this figure, it might also help to use the darker magenta in some of the shadow areas on colours of the other characters.

9wizard bl face

Contrast levels can be a bit of a tightrope on an OSL figure. The typical push for strong shadows versus highlights contrast has to take a bit of a backseat to the need for strong contrast between lit areas versus shadowed areas. When I reassessed my first pass on the cloak of the wizard, I felt it needed at least a little more shadow-highlight contrast to bring out the shapes of the cloth. This change is pretty subtle, but if you look at specific areas of the cloak, you should be able to see it. Look at the wrinkles around the gem on the front view, and the shoulders on the rear view. Had this not been a light effect figure I would have bumped the contrast up even more significantly.

3wizard contrast front

I painted the face later in the process, which is unusual for me. I usually like to paint the skin first. It helps me engage more with the character during the painting process. Once I did paint his skin, something about it nagged at me. It just didn’t seem like it fit in with the rest of the colours on the rest of the figures, nor the light effect. I thought it was too light in value, but I wasn’t sure if that was the issue, or the only issue. I kept working on the rest of the figure, and let my background thoughts simmer on identifying the problem and possible solutions. As I was finishing up the last parts of the painting, I decided that the skin definitely was too light, but also that the skin colour was too warm. His face isn’t receiving much light from either light source, and all of the other colours on the figure are cool.

8wizard face comp

When I realized what I didn’t like about the skin, I didn’t just immediately repaint it! In situations like these I usually start by trying to use glazes to shift the colour and only repaint everything as a last resort. Once you’re comfortable with the technique, glazes do not take a lot of time to mix or apply. So if you can fix an issue with glazes, it can save you a lot of time reworking, even if you need to touch up highlights or shadows a little. In this case, I was much happier with the skin after the glazes. Even had the problem been only that the skin was too light, I would have first tried painting in more shadows rather than repainting everything and starting from scratch.

8wizard face comp bwI desaturated the comparison photo so you can see that the revised version is is a little darker, it’s not just a colour shift.

9wizard bl back right

Since I was already dealing with light effects and deadlines, I did not want to add on the challenge of trying to figure out how to paint a large free-standing gem to appear as transparent. But the stone in the wizard’s staff was large and prominent enough that I felt like it needed a little something. I settled on the idea of painting it as a star sapphire. While sapphires are generally thought of as blue, they occur in a range of colours. Green star sapphires are quite rare, which seemed perfect for a wizard. I used a smaller finely pointed brush and began by painting the lines in a slightly lighter green. Once I was confident about the positioning, I added lighter and lighter mixes of green to the centre of the lines, and then a bit of white at the intersection where they meet. I used a medium value but highly saturated green to add more colour around the star and soften the edges of the lines a little, to help the star look more like it’s incorporated into the gem rather than being painted on top.

9wizard bl right

Elf Wizard WIP Photos

I explained how I used primer to create a roadmap for the lighting in the overall process post. I took photos of the primed figures individually and as a group so I could use them as a lighting reference if I painted over an area but then later needed to check my lighting placement. I took pictures from numerous angles, I’m just showing a few of them here. When it comes to reference photos, it’s better to take too many than too few!

2wizard front

This priming technique provides an excellent overall feeling for the location of light and shadow. However, it does not take into account the way different textures and materials appear, and how they react to light – matte cloth versus somewhat shiny leather versus reflective metal. To best evoke the qualities of those materials requires the painter to use the primer (or lighting reference photos) as a guide, but to then extrapolate and tweak value ranges and value placement to match various types of materials. For example, if you compare the areas I painted as metal on the figures to the photos of the primer stage, you’ll see a number of differences in where the lightest and darkest colours are placed because I was trying to simulate the reflective appearance of metal.

2wizard back

3wizard front

3wizard back

4wizard right

4wizard back

5wizard front

5wizard back

9wizard gr front

9wizard gr back

Elf Wizard Paint Colours

Wizard blue robe colours:

IMG 2656

Wizard magenta cloak colours:

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Wizard staff colours:
These include colours used on the weapon handles of the dwarf cleric.

IMG 2658

Wizard initial skin colours:
As described in the process section above, I later mixed a glaze of some cooler colours and painted that over this first skin colour to make it cooler and darker.

IMG 2663

Wizard spell effect and star sapphire colours:
These colours were also used to paint the gem in the cleric’s necklace.

IMG 2667

Wizard hair colours:
These colours were also used to paint straps on the cleric’s sabatons.

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Wizard grey leather accessories colours:

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How to Get this Figure

The adventure party figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is running until the end of April! A random selection of one of the five figures is still being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five was included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they are included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I expect that they will go into retail sales channels at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.