Lessons Learned from 2D Art: Part Two

Recently I took a two day workshop on portrait painting in oils. With only four students, it was an intimate and intensive class. It was also an opportunity to make some observations about teaching, learning, and various types of students that are relevant to miniature painters, too.

Knowing is only HALF the Battle

Those of us who are more left-brain learners tend to overemphasize the value of study type learning. We figure if we just watch enough videos and read enough tutorials, we’ll grasp the concept and understand the techniques needed to execute it, and then we should be able to sit down and just get ‘er done. So when we feel nervous or doubtful about trying the new thing, we may tend to seek out more and more videos and tutorials and forum posts in an attempt to feel we’ve mentally mastered the topic. Or if we sit down and try the new thing and the attempt goes poorly, we get very frustrated and beat ourselves up for not learning well.

A study approach might work pretty well for learning history or science or other fact-based subjects, but when you’re learning a skill that has a physical component, intellectual study can only get you so far. And where it gets you probably isn’t even fully half of the battle. There’s no substitute for hands on practice. There is no way to avoid the fact that you are going to make mistakes and it’s going to be slow going working on something new. You will get further and get there faster the better you are able to accept that reality.

Desk area 800Step 1: Apply butt to chair.
Step 2: Learn

Watching videos and reading about painting is great fun when you’re not in a position to sit down and paint. If you’re in a situation where you have a choice between sitting down to practice and watching another video, push yourself to sit down and paint. You will learn a lot more from the butt in the chair practice. Even if the attempt goes very poorly, it gives you experience to draw on the next time you do study a video or text tutorial.

That’s not to say that your left brain analytical skills can’t help you learn something artistic like miniature painting! Put those skills to work analyzing and comparing your work to examples of the technique or effect that you’re trying to master. Figure out the differences between them, and you’ll have a map to follow to try to get closer to where you want to be Look at work you like and figure out what about it you like. Look at more intermediate level work and try to identify specific flaws and successes. The more you train your eye in this way, the better you’ll become at analyzing your own work for issues and potential solutions.

I’ve been watching videos and studying art related topics for three years now, but I learned more about oil painting in those two days of hands-on guided experience than I have from any video. My general art study was a great foundation, but I had to struggle with mixing the paint and goofing up the brushstrokes to start learning those skills on a physical level. And I had to be patient and kind with myself and accept that I was going to be a lot slower than instructor OR the students who were more familiar with the materials.

Portraits combo3These pictures were not drawn in the order you imagine. I didn’t just figure out how to draw a face a bit better and never goof up again.

Knowing is only half the battle in another way, as well. You might intellectually know you need to paint with more contrast, or maybe you’re trying to improve your ability to do smooth blending. Sometimes you’ll finish a miniature and see that you’ve made progress towards your goal. Then the very next figure you paint might feel like a big step backwards. Remember that your hand and your eye have to learn how to do the thing as well as your brain. And you have to stay very conscious about it when you’re working on something new or trying to change a habitual way of painting. If you zone out listening to a movie or talking to friends, you will more likely than not slip back into your comfortable old painting habits. You can’t expect to paint one miniature ‘right’ and then you’ve just gotten it and you can go into auto-pilot mode and get those same results.

Multipass… er Multitask

Trying to do a bunch of new things at once is hard! Trying to do a bunch of anything at the same time is hard. If you can find ways to split something up into separate tasks, it can be very helpful to increasing your chance of success. On the first day of the workshop, we did something similar to what I discuss in my hands-on how to paint contrast post – we used a limited palette of colours and concentrated on blocking in the main areas of light and dark, and then refining from there. We started with a series of quick lighting exercises in the morning, and then working on one longer pose painting in the afternoon. I’m new to oil painting, so I was still juggling a few things as well as trying to deal with painting slower, but for the most part I felt like I had a handle on things and was grasping the idea.

Value exerciseThe quick lighting exercise from day one of the oil painting workshop. It was challenging but manageable. (Though because I was concentrating on a number of things at the same time, I repeated a common error of make of the nose/center of the face being too long.)

On the second day, we repeated the quick lighting exercises in the morning, but with the addition of trying to see and incorporate as much colour into our painting as possible. I’m still working to see the kind of subtle colour variations practiced artists can see in surfaces. I’m still working on colour mixing on the fly, and on how best to apply a lot of colour to a canvas. Trying to do all of that at speed and while still maintaining the light/dark value system we worked on the day before, and having a completely new angle of the model… that was a lot going on at the same time, and I had moments of feeling like I was drowning. (I flashed back a little to the workshop I took with Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes, and what I learned there was an additional resource to draw on for these colour studies.)

Colour studyWait, now I have to do the same thing but with lots of colours I can barely see?! The quick lighting exercise on day two was much more challenging for me.

As we started working on the long pose in the afternoon, I made the conscious choice to narrow my focus. I decided to concentrate on the ‘drawing’ (getting the shapes and proportions correct) and the values while I had an experienced instructor available to correct me. Colour is something that can be layered over a value scale painting. There are ways to do this on miniatures, and it’s an even more accessible approach in oil painting on canvas. Colour and mixing it better is something I could work on learning later.

My point in mentioning that is that sometimes when you take a class or workshop, you may not be at a level or mindset to incorporate all of the information being presented. Try to make note of what you can for future use, but it’s okay to focus on the parts that are clicking and sparking your interest. It’s probably better to do that than to try to do everything and barely learn anything.

Colour longMy long pose painting from day two is not very colourful. I chose to continue concentrating on value and drawing.

 

The Challenge of Experience

In addition to learning more about oil painting, the class was also an opportunity to observe different types of students and learning methods, and to reflect on some approaches that might make it easier to learn a skill. Each of the four students, myself included, represented a different level of knowledge and approach to study.

Student A was quite expert, both in general and in this instructor’s method, having studied with him extensively. Their results were very similar to the instructor’s, and the feedback and guidance they needed was much more nuanced and refined. Some people might have wondered how much value they could get from receiving more instruction, but as I recently opined, there’s always something to learn, regardless of your level!

Student B had not painted in decades, and my guess would be that they did not receive extensive art training at that time. But they were very open to diving in and trying things out, and were very willing to follow the guidance offered by the instructor.

Student C was clearly an accomplished artist with a good deal of training. I suspect they also practice their art frequently. So frequently, in fact, that their issue was that their usual approach and technique was so ingrained that they very easily went into autopilot and did what they always do. Student C’s paintings were well-executed and demonstrated a pleasing style. But at the same time, they also diverged from the method used in the workshop, and they frequently jumped ahead of where the instructor was guiding us. It was clear that Student C wasn’’t really following the instruction all of the time, and thus they probably did not get the full value out of taking the workshop.

Sergio Calvo Rubio teachingBeing a good teacher means doing your best to reach students with different learning styles. Picture from workshop with Sergio Calvo Rubio in Denton, Texas.

I have taken and taught miniature classes with students like Student C pretty frequently. Once some people have a miniature in hand and paint on the palette, they jump in painting just as they would at home. They’ll often be two or three steps ahead of where the instructor has directed. And if the technique or effect of the class is different from their usual method, that causes problems. They end up confused about why they aren’t getting the same results as others, or fall behind as they scramble to redo things.

The tendency of people to jump in and start painting at the first opportunity has affected the way I teach classes. There are some steps where I do not pass paint around to the class until after I have both explained and demonstrated the technique. One example is glazing. I explain it as just enough paint to make coloured water, and then I make a glaze to show the exact consistency. And walk around and show the class. If people have access to the paints, there will be at least one person who will start mixing their own glaze while I’m explaining, they’ll mix it too thick, and they’ll paint over all their hard work from the last hour before I can go through all the information they need to prevent that from happening.

If you’ve been attending classes or trying video/text tutorials with this kind of approach, I recommend you reconsider. Don’t worry about losing your style, and don’t stress about it being uncomfortable. As you continue to practice with it at home, you’ll either get more comfortable with the new methods/tools/approach, or you’ll figure out how to incorporate the bits that work for you into how you usually work. And in the same way, you’ll incorporate the new approach into your style.

A Better Way to Learn

So how should you approach study in a class or workshop, or when you’re trying to learn from an online video or text tutorial? Here are some tips to get into the right mindset and get the most value from your effort.

Ready to learnBeing a good student sometimes means being willing to put aside what you already know and being open to trying new things in new ways. Photo from Fernando Ruiz workshop in Atlanta.

Like a Virgin
No matter how skilled you are, you are working on learning something new. You need to approach it as a new thing. There’s a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. You can’t expect to do things the way you normally do AND learn something new.

Try as much as possible to put aside your current methods and habits. If the tutorial says X brush, get something as close to X brush as possible, don’t use your usual. If it says paint highlights first, paint highlights first, even if you usually paint shadows first.

Slow Hand
One of the challenges I have found as an intermediate/advanced miniature painter is expecting myself to pick something up quickly. I know how to paint, I should be able to get up and running with a new technique pretty quickly, right? If anything it’s the opposite, because my usual way of doing things is so ingrained. I haven’t even spent a full 50 hours oil painting yet. I don’t have muscle memory for handling the brush or mixing the paint or anything else. So it was easy-peasy for me to shift to do something the way the instructor suggested. It was much, much more difficult for Student C to do the same.

Slow is important for another reason. When you’re learning, the best kind of practice is focused, deliberate practice. The auto-pilot of how you usually paint teaches you nothing. You need to slow down, and be very conscious and focused on the task at hand when trying something new to get the full benefit from it. When I’m doing my everyday commission painting, I need to have YouTube videos or an audiobook running. When I’m learning and practicing something new, I need to NOT have those things distracting me so that I stay focused on doing the thing the new way rather than fall back into my usual habits.

Value long comboStep by step pictures from the long value pose on day one of the workshop. This is the same sort of thing people talk about with sketching or blocking in on miniatures. First you work on the correct placement for the broad areas of light and shadow. Then you refine those and working blending. And only as a last step work on details.

Forgive Me
Learning and trying is going to mean failing. No matter how well you focus and follow instructions, there are going to be times where you misunderstand an element or need time to train your hand to paint that way. That’s how learning works! Keep your expectations for yourself realistic. Congratulate yourself for the hard work and effort – it really is as much about the process as the result.

I was very results focused when learning to paint miniatures, and as a result I experienced a lot of mental turmoil if I didn’t do well. This was discouraging and sometimes kept me away from practicing. (Who wants to do something that makes them feel bad about themselves?!) When I started to learn 2D art, I initially had a similar approach. It was frustrating, and I was not learning consistently. Eventually I came to a realization – I enjoyed being in the moment and drawing and painting, even if I hated what the picture looked like at the end of it. I was happier overall when I was drawing and painting regularly than when I wasn’t because of the zen moments of the process. I got value, even from the ‘failures’. I redefined success to be regular practice and sincere attempts to learn rather than what I thought of the end results on the paper. I have been able to study much more regularly and with a lot more pleasure than the results-focused approach I took to miniature painting. 

Take a Look at Me Now
During your study, pause to periodically look closely at what you’re doing. This is best done after taking a brief break where you leave your desk and then return to it. Does your work on the whole look like the example you’re following at this stage of the process? Likewise, once you finish your practice, put it aside for a few days and come back and look at it with fresh eyes. Do you feel like you successfully executed the technique or effect you were attempting?

Value long pose finalIt’s far from perfect, or done, but I’m pretty happy with the result considering my current knowledge and experience level!

If the answer is no, the correct response is not despair! Do not just paint everything over, or start again immediately on another practice piece. Instead, stop and analyze your work and compare it to the example you were following. Try to identify what exactly is different about your work. THIS is where you really start to learn and build your skills. This type of ‘failure’ might ultimately be more instructive than getting it right your first go out of the gate, because it will give you a much more conscious understanding of how to execute the technique/effect.

Key elements to consider are the contrast range (the darkest value compared to the lightest value); where the dark, mid, and light values are placed on the figure; the proportion and size of the dark, mid, and light values; the texture of the surface (clean smooth blending vs large patchy strokes vs fine stipple and/or dash strokes, etc.).

Elements of colour can play into some techniques/effects, but on the whole try not to get too caught up in worrying about colour. If your version is much more vivid or dull in colour than the example, that’s not as important as did you manage smooth blending or creating the illusion of reflected light, or whatever technique/effect you were practicing.

It is unfortunately quite difficult to perform this kind of analysis on our own work. Our hobby in general does not emphasize training of critique skills, and even with those skills it is always easier to critique work by someone else that you have no emotional attachment to or knowledge of. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and it remains the best way to practice and study.

Here are some tips to help you see your work differently:

Take a photo of it. For best comparison, manipulate a photo of your example in the same ways described below.
Convert your photo to black and white.
Shrink your photo down until it’s the size of a miniature on your screen.
Flip your photo (or look at your miniature in a mirror).

Dds sorceress mirroredIt’s not a whole new view, but it can jog your brain into seeing your miniature a bit differently. The figure is Andriessa, also available in Bones.

I hope that some of you will share your tips for successful learning in the comments! The better we can get at learning, the better we can get at painting!

How to Paint Hair

My first ever how to paint video is now available! You can watch my Reaper Toolbox segment on how to paint hair on miniature figures on YouTube. I thought it might be helpful if I posted some pictures of the figures from the video for people to reference as they practice painting hair. I’m also going to include the paints used and links to more Reaper Toolbox how to paint goodness. I’ll post the pictures roughly in the order they were presented in the video, with the colour recipe and links at the end.

At the beginning of the video I shared a couple of miniatures I’d painted from the Reaper collection. These demonstrate two very different approaches to sculpting hair, but I used the same basic approach for painting both of them. Unfortunately both of these were limited edition figures and are not currently for sale. The shirt featuring Sophie (which I am wearing in the video) is still available though!

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie hair exampleI visualized the light coming from the upper left in the front view picture. The figure has wings, so the back of the head is quite shadowed. 

Tristan hair exampleOn this figure I visualized the light as coming from the upper right in the front view.

Hair is sculpted with a strongly defined texture. Washing and drybrushing techniques work well to bring out sculpted texture, and can look pretty good used on surfaces like woodgrain, chainmail, and feathers. These techniques do not tend to look as good when painting hair, however.

Example of drybrushed hairI started with the same basecoat colour as for the rest of the demonstrations, and made a wash out of the same shadow colour. I drybrushed the strands by starting with the basecoat colour and moving up through the highlight colours. (I demonstrated this on only half the head, and have blocked out the other half.)

The fact that hair is made up of thousands of strands does not strongly affect how the surface of hair appears to us visually. Individual strands are barely visible if you’re standing even a foot or two away from someone. Do an image search on the word ‘hair’, and look at some examples. You’ll see that the way light and shadow falls on the hair is not vertical like the strands, but rather appears more in horizontal bands based on the shape of the head/body that it is draped over, and the shapes of large waves and curls.

Hair example from pexels.comThis photo from pexels.com illustrates how you perceive the horizontal bands of light and shadow on curves and curls more strongly than the strand texture of hair.

Example of painting blonde hairThis is an example of painting hair focusing on the larger shapes of the waves and curls and visualizing the light as coming from above – the shadow colours appear most on the underside of the curls, and the highlight colours are strongest on the tops of the curls.

Since it can be hard to get a good look at where people have placed various levels of shadow and highlight mixes if the blending between layers is fairly smooth, I also created a black and white example to help you more easily see where to place the highlights and shadows. This is just one interpretation based on a light source coming from above. Deciding where your light source is and which areas of your figure are more strongly lit or more darkly shadowed is where miniature painting gets more artistic, personal, and fun!

Black and white example of shadow and highlight placementI think some of the highlights are a little too far down the curve of the upper curls, but hopefully it helps you see the general idea.

On the video I demonstrated an alternative to drybrushing that is still quicker for tabletop use, but which follows the principles of where to apply the lights and shadows that I described above. This alternative is something many people call ‘dampbrushing’. When dampbrushing, you remove excess paint from the brush, but still leave it moist. Apply the brush perpendicular to the hair texture pulling it down or up the texture to pull paint off the brush on the raised areas, but leave the depressions shadowed. 

In the video I mention that I normally wear a magnifier and hold the figure a lot closer to paint, and you’re about to see an example of why I have to do that!

Dampbrushing example of painting hairThis example shows the basic idea of dampbrushing, but I could definitely have done a better job with this. The principles I describe work, what I needed to do was another layer or two of the original basecoat colour, and then I think I did need to use an additional transition mixes and work up a little more slowly. This looks choppy because the jump to the top two highlight colours is very sudden. I needed to build up more midtones with the Blond Hair colour and a mix between Blond Hair and Blond Highlight. 

This is a picture of the figure I painted on camera in the video. Once again you can see why I use a visual aid when I’m painting! If you are having difficulty getting the brush where you want it when you’re painting, sometimes the issue is as much to do with your eyes as your hands. Make sure you’re painting in good lighting. Some people use two or even three lamps in addition to the ceiling lights of their painting area! You can also use magnifying lenses. I recommend dual lenses rather than a single magnifying plate. Viewing objects through both eyes helps us best visualize their location in space. With just one magnifier, you will have more trouble getting the brush in the correct place on the miniature. If you don’t wear glasses, all you need is a pair of cheap reading glasses from a drugstore. If you do wear glasses, I highly recommend the OptiVisor brand of magnifying visors.

Comparison of reference example and on camera versionHere’s a comparison of my reference example and the one I painted on camera. This quick version painted without my magnifier doesn’t look as polished as the finished example, but I think it looks a lot more interesting and more like hair than the drybrushed example!

These are the colours used to paint the hair examples in the video. You can buy all of these from Reaper Miniatures online as well as in many retail locations. But as hair comes in a lot of different colours, you should be able to find some similar paints in your collection that you can practice with if you don’t want to buy more paint. The key to a natural blond hair look is to not use a lot of strong yellow colours.

IMG 8299

I’m including some additional angles of both the full colour and black and white versions of the figure in case anyone wants to reference these while practicing. The figure used in all of the examples from the video is Sarah the Seeress. She is available in both Bones plastic and in metal, and she is a terrific figure to practice painting hair on.

Colour example back view

Colour example back side and front view

Colour example top views

B&W example back view

B&W examples front and back side views

B&W examples top views

Reaper now has a playlist for all the Toolbox videos so they’re easier to find.

Reaper’s paint maven is doing live stream videos on Wednesday afternoons on Twitch. These are also posted on YouTube once completed. Anne is starting off by painting a black dragon. Watch episode one, or episode two here.

And in case you missed it, Reaper has announced that Bones V is coming – September 5, 2019.

Lessons Learned from 2D Art: Part One

If you look at the home page of this website, you’ll see a subtitle of ‘Art in many forms’. My wonderful husband wrote that when he was helping me set up the page. Our expectation was that I was going to be talking about my adventures trying to learn traditional art forms as well as miniature painting. In practice I’ve only talked about traditional art a couple of times. One was a post about measuring your progress at learning a skill by more than just your end result. The other was about artist challenges and prompts.

Random Encounter bust face viewIf you need a miniature fix right now, I posted additional photos of the first bust I ever painted over on my Facebook page.

I have wrestled with whether to include more information about my traditional art study in my blog. I was concerned that it would disinterest people primarily interested in miniature painting. But the reality is that my study of traditional art is having a lot of impact in both how I paint miniatures,  and in how I teach others about miniature painting. Experiencing the struggles of a student again is very helpful to me in learning to be a better teacher. And reflecting on my journey through miniature painting is helping me become a better student of both traditional art and miniature painting.

A week ago I attended an afternoon workshop for alla prima oil painting. Alla prima means to paint all in one go while all the paint is wet, rather than painting in layers or stages. Wetblending vs layering/glazing in miniature terms I guess. ;-> 

Photo by Clemens Schmillen courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsPhoto of a cave painting by Clemens Schmillen courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Early humans used ochres as pigments, and we still do today.

But first the class started with learning a bit more about the paints we were using, and some general colour theory information to help us mix the colours we would need to paint the subjects of our paintings. We used a split primary palette, with some additional earth tone colours. Earth tones are reds, yellows, and browns that were originally mixed from minerals and were the first paints. 

Split Primary Palette

The split primary palette we used in the workshop is shown above. On the top row are the primary colours, with a cool version of each on the left, and a warm version of each on the right. Down the left hand side are the three earth tones we had on our palette. You can match earth tones by mixing from primaries, but many artists find it convenient to include a few in their palettes for various reasons. Our palette also included white, but we mixed our own black rather than using a pigment black paint. You can see the mix on the right edge of the paper – ultramarine blue and burnt umber (or burnt Sienna) make a great chromatic black. (A chromatic black is something that mostly looks black or can function as black but is made from colour pigments and might have some colour undertones to it when thinned down. They are less dull than true pigment blacks, but may behave differently in mixes.)

You can experiment with painting miniatures with a similar palette by picking out colours like these from your paint collection. They won’t mix exactly the same way these single pigment artist colours would, but you can do more with them than you might realize. (I’ve written an article with a lot of information about paint and pigments for miniature painters.)

Split primary palette used to paint PromenadeThis is a split primary palette (plus a few extras) that I used to paint the award winning figure Promenade. My very scientific method of colour selection was to pull a warm and cool version of each primary colour from a box full of convention paints. 

I will confess that I got a little impatient with this segment of the workshop. I have been studying colour theory for years. I’ve got a ways to go in mastering the application of the knowledge, but my understanding of the key terms and basic theory is pretty solid at this point. I would far rather have had more time painting, and chafed a bit when student questions caused this segment to go longer than the instructor had planned. 

And yet at the same time, I did learn something – I learned that I really have learned a lot about colour theory! I mention this to give any of you struggling out there some hope. In the early days of study, I struggled to keep terms like hue and value straight in my mind. I had trouble deciding whether a colour was warmer or cooler. It was very difficult for me to determine whether a given brown was really more orange or green or what. I still have plenty of struggles with colours, and more struggles will come in the future, I’m sure. But I was stoked to realize just how much I have learned, and that I am beginning to be able to apply that knowledge in practice. (When we got down to mixing, I had fewer difficulties getting the colours I wanted than I had with my first attempts!)

This moment goes back to stuff I mentioned in that measuring progress post. We have a tendency to focus on what we’re struggling with and what we feel we have not yet learned. We tend to minimize or completely overlook moments of mastery in things that we have successfully learned. If you’ve been painting for more than a few months, I guarantee that there are things you do with ease or even unconsciously now that were a struggle or required immense concentration for you when you first started. You have learned, and you have succeeded. Give yourself credit for that!

Colour wheelThere is a lot of useful colour theory reference material on a simple Pocket Color Wheel!

I also learned something that will be useful to trying to teach people about colour in the future. The instructor had a simple and effective way to think about which primary colours to use to mix the most vivid secondary colours. When using a split primary system, you have a cool and a warm version of each of the primaries. So you have a greenish yellow and an orangish yellow, an oranger red and one that’s more violet/magenta, and a warmer blue that has a touch of yellow in it, and one that is more purple and has a touch of red in it. To mix the most saturated version of each secondary, choose the primary closest to it on the colour wheel. So for orange, you would want your warm red rather than one which is more magenta/violet, and your warm yellow rather than one that has a hint of green.

Finally we got down to painting! And then I was fully a student, struggling to learn and apply each of the stages in a very short amount of time. I think we had maybe an hour and a half of painting time. That’s not a lot of time to mix colours, draw out the subject, and slap paint on everything. Though plenty of the people in the workshop got further along than I did, so I guess I’m just as slow in other forms of painting as I am at miniature painting! A lot of the issue is that I’m still learning to draw, so getting things remotely in proportion and correctly placed and so on takes time and concentration on top of the issue of learning to manipulate paint. Things go slower when you’re learning and when you’re focused. But you learn more when you slow down enough to focus and really concentrate on what you’re doing. So take it easy on yourself if you find that’s what you need to do with new miniature painting skills.

Painting from alla prima workshop with Heather Hartman FolksThis is as much of the painting as I was able to complete during the workshop. Thanks to the miracles of science, this painting was made with water-soluble oils, which were applied onto paper treated to accept oil paints. Science so fun it’s magic!

This experience has also given me a renewed sympathy for students of my miniature painting classes who are racing to get through the hands on portion in 45 minutes while I’m continuing to spew more information in the background. :->

I really enjoyed the approach, and I hope that I’ll have the time (and more importantly the focus) to sit down and practice with it. I’m debating finishing up the painting since I took a reference photo. I’m okay if I don’t do that, though. It’s okay to do some things for practice. We don’t have to make a finished piece out of every single thing we work on to get value out of the piece and the time we put into it.

Study Guide for Painting Tutorials: Sketching in Highlight and Shadow Placement on a Face

I just watched a terrific video I think many people would find it very useful to view. In addition to linking to the video so you can go watch it too, I’m also going to share some information related to the topics of the video, and suggest a sort of study guide for how you might put the material from the demonstration into practice.

Still from Miniature Painting Masterclass videoA still from the video on how to paint a face by starting with a sketch of highlights and shadows. Painted by Jaume Ortiz.

The video is called Painting a Face in 75mm Part 1: Creating a Sketch of Highlights and Shadows, and it is a painting demonstration by Jaume Ortiz. It is produced by Miniature Painting Masterclass in partnership with Vallejo paints and FeR Miniatures, but the principles demonstrated are applicable to most figures, painted using any kind of paints. There are several points in the video that I think people may find useful to consider in their own painting.

Mixing Layers and Paint Transparency (Consistency)

How to mix layers, how many, and how much to dilute the paint to use the layering techniques are all very common questions among miniature painters. At the start of the video Jaume demonstrates the paint mixes he will use to paint the highlight and shadow layers. He mixes these onscreen. All paint colours used are clearly listed, but he does not detail the precise ratios of one paint colour to another for the layer mixes beyond what you can see him place on his palette. Since paint colours are unique in strength, transparency, etc., you can’t use a universal guide of X to Y drops for all mixes. You need to judge by the visual results with your specific paint colours. If you look at Jaume’s palette once the paints are mixed, you can use that as a tool to get an idea of the appropriate steps between the highlight and shadow mixes.

Likewise, Jaume indicates that he’s added a little water to his mixes, but he’s not specific about how much. Some paint colours are much more transparent than others, so the amount of dilution you need to add to a paint to make it the right transparency for a particular function varies from paint colour to paint colour. Instead, take a look at the way the edges of the paint look on his palette. You can see some of the palette through the paint, but it’s also still opaque enough to make noticeable strokes when he layers one paint over another.

Sketching (also known as Roughing In or Blocking In)

Caerindra sketch NMM and finished NMMI used the sketch approach to paint the non-metallic metal on Caerindra. On the left, you can see that I roughed in the main shadows and highlights only on the armour I ignored blending, and I also ignored details like the rivets and lining between panels. My goal was to establish the key areas of light and shadow. In the finished version on the right, I refined the blending and added details. I wrote a blog post about painting Caerindra, and my post about painting an Efreeti includes another example of blocking in highlights and shadows on NMM.  

Roughing in colour or doing a sketch is basically what you see in the above pictures – the highlights and shadows are painted in with no concern for blending smooth transitions. This accomplishes several goals:

* Quick application of highlight and shadow colours allows the painter to verify that the colours they’ve selected work well and provide enough contrast without investing a lot of time in painting everything to a high standard and THEN discovering you need to change your choices.

* The painter can concentrate their focus on precise placement of where areas should appear darker or lighter. (More on that below.) Breaking a task down into separate elements increases the chance of you performing each of those elements well. (In contrast to the challenge of trying to manage placement and blending simultaneously, which is more challenging and thus more likely to run into issues.)

* The painter can customize their vision of where light and shadow appears based on different types of lighting. The video demonstrates placement in a zenithal lighting scenario. You can photograph a figure under a small bright light to customize your light direction and know where to place lights and shadows. I’ve got an example of such photo reference here and here

* The painter can use this approach to push themselves to create a more dramatic level of contrast. It’s easier to do that using a completely different method of paint application than you usually do. It’s easy to vow to push your usual approach, but easier to fall back into usual habits and do what you always do.

Ingrid sketched in different lightingThe sketch on the left was painted with the light imagined as coming from above (zenithal lighting). The sketch on the right imagines the light coming from the upper right angle.

Placement of Highlight and Shadow Layers

Even you aren’t interested in learning more about the sketching approach, the way it is applied in this video provides valuable information for painters. When you look at something painted with smoothly blended transitions, it is quite difficult to deconstruct it to determine where the painter applied each of the specific levels of highlight and shadow mixes. When you watch this sketch approach video, it is very easy to see exactly where Jaume is putting each of the highlight and shadow mixes.

The demonstration figure in the video is 75mm scale. The general location of highlights and shadows under zenithal light is the same on gaming scale figures, but there may be cases where the highlights and/or shadows need to be simplified a little to read well at scale. (Or you may need to simplify if you have trouble applying them to some of the more detailed elements at smaller scale.) Jaume’s knowledge of anatomy is impressive, and encourages me to hurry and get to that point in my study of drawing!

Barbarian finished in colour vs black and white sketchCan you tell where I placed the third level highlight in the finished version? It’s a lot easier to see where the various layers are placed in the black and white sketch version on the right.

Suggestions for Practice and Study

These suggestions for how to practice and study miniature painting pertain to this video specifically, but also instructional tutorials in general.

Following a step by step example using the same figure and paints as in the demonstration can be very helpful for many people. It allows you to just focus on following the steps, rather than having to improvise to work around differences. You can find the figure from this video at FeR Miniatures, and the specified Vallejo paints through many local and online merchants. (The Face Painting Set used in the video is available from US Amazon, and likely international Amazons as well.)

If you don’t have access to the same figure and paints (or you want to jump in practicing while waiting for supplies to arrive), search through your figures for a male figure with a head similar in size, pose, and expression. If possible, you want a larger than gaming scale figure – a giant or ogre or something else with a larger than 32mm face for your first time practicing. The closer your supplies are to those used by Jaume, the easier you’ll find it to obtain results similar to his. You also want a figure with the head facing forward and not tilted to one side or the other. (If the head is tilted, you can remove the head from your figure and place it on a holder so you can paint it as if it is posed straight up and facing forward like the demonstration figure.) The location of highlights and shadows would be different if the head were tilted in a different position.

For paints, it is most important to match the value – the relative lightness or darkness of the colour. If your colour choices are a little more yellow or a little less red or whatnot, that will present far less of an issue than using paint which is much lighter or darker than the paints Jaume uses to mix his layers. Once you understand the principles of mixing and applying layers in this fashion you can use crazy colours to paint fantastical skin tones, but I do recommend practicing with natural human skin tones the first few times. The fewer variables you have that differ from the example you’re following, the more likely you are to obtain similar results and come to a better understanding of the principles. And if your results do differ, fewer variables make it easier for you to try to isolate and resolve the problems you might be having.

Still from Miniature Painting Masterclass video of paletteThis is a still from the video isolating the highlight, mid-tone, and shadow paint colours. (On the mid-tone, look at the edges of the pool for the best look at the colour, the centre of the pool looks lighter due to paint separation and/or reflection of the studio lights.)

B&W still of the palette from Miniature Painting Masterclass video.I converted the palette image to black and white to give you a better view of the values of the paint colours. You can lay out drops of your own colours and then take a black and white picture of them to check how well the values match. Notice how dark that shadow colour really is! Reddish colours are often much darker than we perceive them to be.

Once you have your supplies in hand, I recommend that you start by watching the video all the way through at least once. When you’re ready to paint, it is handy if you can put the video up on  a tablet or PC near where you paint so you can pause the video and restart it as necessary for you to follow along completing each step. You may also find it helpful to take screen shots to reference where to place each highlight or shadow layer as you paint.

After you finish each step, stop and compare your work with the example. Do they look roughly similar? If not, spend some time studying your work against the reference to try to identify what’s different – do you have a layer in the wrong place? Did you make a highlight too wide or too narrow? If you don’t get it correct straight away, don’t beat yourself up! The purpose of practice is to learn. Think of an error as an opportunity to build your eye’s ability to identify issues, and your brain’s ability to come up with potential solutions for them. Both are very helpful skills to improving as a painter.

After you’ve finished painting through the tutorial, put your work aside for a day or two. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and compare again. You may find that your level of contrast is much less than you thought it was while painting, or you might spot new errors in layer placement. This is a very common experience! I often walk away from a session of painting with an impression of what I did, and when I come back to look at the miniature find that my impression was pretty off and I need to adjust the very thing I thought I was doing well while I was painting.

Once you’ve practiced the demonstrated technique as closely as possible to how it’s demonstrated, spend some time thinking about the experience. Did the method seem to work well for you and you might like it better than your current approach? It can take more than once practicing something to get a good sense for whether or not the technique or approach works for you.

However it’s also the case that instead of adopting a new technique or approach whole cloth, you might find that it works better for you to incorporate it into the way you work. I normally paint the shadows first, and I normally work down from my lightest shadow to my darkest. In this video, Jaume Ortiz paints the highlights first, and then begins painting the shadows with his darkest shadow, then a step lighter, and then a step lighter again. If I try this approach, I might find that it works very well for me. If it does not, I can still incorporate valuable lessons about where to place the shadows and highlights and how to use a sketch approach into my normal approach to painting shadows and then highlights.

Coming Soon

I haven’t always worked to improve my miniature painting with this kind of study and deliberate practice. I wish I had, as I think it would have helped me learn things much easier and more quickly than I have. But I still have a lot to learn, so I am trying to take more of this kind of approach now. I’ll have a few experiments and experiences of my own to share in upcoming posts.

And I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how Jaume Ortiz turns his sketch of a face into a beautifully painted face when part 2 of this video series comes out!

Additional Resources

Follow Miniature Painting Masterclass on Facebook for links to more great videos, and also galleries of step-by-step picture and text instruction.

I included some information about how I sketched in initial highlights on a black cloak in this PDF.

I sketched in both black and white and then colour on this Christmas dragon figure.

Figures Referenced in this Post

Officer of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment 1862 by FeR Miniatures
Caerindra Thistlemore by Reaper Miniatures
Ingrid the Gnome by Reaper Miniatures is available in metal or Bones plastic
Tyrea Bronzelocks by Reaper Miniatures is available in metal or Bones plastic

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 4 – A Sisterly Comparison

Please check the bottom of this post for information on where to buy these figure or receive a copy of the woman with the crossbow as a gift with purchase (during the month of May 2019).

In the previous instalments of this series (links later in the article), I walked through my work-in-progress steps of painting the figure Tara the Silent. My aim was to share the way I try to identify and solve issues during the process of painting a miniature. Progressing your painting skills has as much or more to do with improving your critical eye as it does with improving your brush and paint use skills. I think many people do not understand just how valuable it is to improve your ability to really see and analyze a figure (or other types of visual arts)! I know that I would have improved much more quickly and consistently had I been working on that as much as I focused on blending and other brush tricks.

It occurred to me that I could use Tara for one more exercise to try to help others build their critical eye. This exercise is one of comparison between two figures. Comparison can be as instructive as assessing a single work, whether that is a comparison of more recent work against older work, or comparing one artist’s interpretation of a figure against another’s. This exercise could also give you some insight to the challenges that contest judges face. You can imagine that these two figures are the final cut for a contest award, and determine which which you would choose and why. I will not share my analysis/thoughts until the section after the last picture. So if you want you can test your eye first, and then read my thoughts.

Anwyn and Tara, face viewsAnwyn the Bard is on the left, Tara the silent on the right. 

Although I have never before painted Tara, I have painted her ‘sister’, Anwyn the Bard. Reaper sculptors occasionally take a figure and do a significant conversion of it to create a different character. Werner Klocke first sculpted Tara, and then did a resculpt of the miniature to create the character of Anwyn. Even apart from the fact that the figures aren’t identical, this is more of a lemons to oranges comparison than an apples to oranges one. The colour schemes are quite different, even the cameras used to take the photos aren’t the same. But comparing like to like is pretty rare in comparison critique, and definitely rare in contest judging, so while the exercise is a little more challenging than a direct like to like comparison, it is an opportunity to practice the type of thing you’re likely to do more often.

If you’d like to review the previous instalments in this series, here are links:
Part 1: Colour scheme creation (and correction) on the fly.
Part 2: Spotting and solving conundrums of contrast.
Part 3: Giving the figure a thorough once over before calling it done.

Tara and Anwyn, front views

So what kind of factors could you look at when making a comparison? Likely the first elements that will jump out to many people relate to the colour scheme. We are very responsive to colour, and our initial reactions to colour tend to be visceral and subconscious. Building your eye requires a more conscious and critical assessment in addition to that emotional response. As a judge, I have often been a position of awarding high honours to something I might not personally ‘like’ in terms of colour selection or subject, but which is very skillfully done.

* Do the colours work together in a pleasing and effective fashion? (Depending on the subject and the intended scene, ‘effective’ may mean garish or gross colours that aren’t ‘pleasing’ in the traditional sense!)

* Does the colour scheme fit the character and the story/mood that the painter is aiming for with the figure/scene?

* What is the level of contrast between the colours of different areas, and within the shading and highlighting of individual areas? Is the level of contrast sufficient to visually separate different areas of the model and help the viewer identify what the various items on the figure are?

* What is the level of nuance and complexity in the colours? Are there subtle variations of hue within areas? Is there harmony in the shadow and highlight colours over the whole of the piece? Do the colours of the main figure(s) and the scenic element(s) work together and look like parts of a consistent whole?

Tara and Anwyn, right views

Brush skills are another key area to compare. 

* Precision of paint application, both in larger areas, and within areas for placement of sharp highlights and darklining as appropriate.

* The success of execution of details like eyes, small sculpted details, or pure painted details like freehand.

* Rendering of different surface textures – skin vs cloth vs leather vs metal vs wood vs dirt vs stone, etc. Is everything painted in a pretty similar way, or do these different textures stand out from one another in realistic and/or interesting ways?

* Consistency of rendering – is the overall level of the painting on the figure uniform? If you’ve ever wondered why something that looks fairly ‘plain’ scored higher in a contest than something with really great freehand or source lighting, consistency is often the reason. Doing an area or effect on a miniature spectacularly can fall short if the rest of the miniature is not up to a similar standard. That doesn’t mean that everything needs to have the exact same level of contrast or be super detailed! That is usually counter productive. You want to have areas of interest where the viewer focuses, and have areas that are less important fade into the background a little. But a miniature covered in detailed freehand standing on a base that’s had a quick wash and sloppy drybrush treatment isn’t as consistent as one with high quality but less flashy brushwork throughout the whole piece. 

(I will admit that consistency is an area where highly skilled artists can and have gotten away with doing things I just stated should not be done. Figures with errant brushstrokes, or areas that are barely base coated. Those of us of more modest talents are still well advised to aim for consistency as much as possible! I’ve also heard stories of people scoring lower or missing out on awards for having bits they ran out of time to paint to the standard of the rest of the figure.)

Tara and Anwyn, back views

Quality of preparation and the treatment scenic elements can make a bigger difference to a figure than it might seem. They might not jump out at first viewing the way colour and brush skills do, but they’re a critical foundation to those elements.

* Prep work – the figure itself is your ‘canvas’. No amount of brush skill can completely overcome a poorly prepared canvas. Removing mould lines is just the beginning. You may also need to fill in pock marks on surfaces meant to be smooth, accentuate textures, file or carve weapons to look a little more sharp or pointed, etc. 

* Assembly is also important. Gaps between limbs will break the illusion pretty quickly! A common issue is the attachment of the figure to the base. If the feet look like they’re floating slightly above the surface rather than firmly planted, the miniature does not look like it’s part of the scene and doesn’t look like it has weight and substance.

* It is important to paint basing materials and most vegetation type flock. It seems like you should be able to put small rocks or sand or whatever on a base and have it look like rocks and sand, right? But unpainted basing materials do not look in scale to a painted figure. They also don’t look like they’re part of the same scene lit by the same light source. Painting the elements of the base, and using colours you used on the figure in those elements makes everything look unified and more realistic.

The last comparison picture is below, so don’t scroll past it if you don’t want to read my analysis yet!

Tara and Anwyn, left views

I’ll be honest – I hesitated to post these comparison pictures. I painted Anwyn in 2006! I’ve improved in the last dozen years, but not nearly so much as I might have hoped or expected. I wish I had understood the concepts of deliberate practice and focused self-critique so much earlier than I did! (And truthfully I’m still struggling with incorporating those ideas completely into my painting process.) I worked hard to ‘get better’, but in such an unfocused and haphazard way. 

In the end I have decided to take my lumps and share this in hopes that it may help some of you get where you want to be faster and more efficiently. I know the lure of chasing the right brush, painting, blending technique, etc. is hard to resist. But it really is only half the puzzle. Training your eye to see better so you can identify specific issues in your work and iterate through working to improve them is immensely important.

The Photos!

I can’t help but be struck by the difference in the photo quality. My camera in 2006 was a $400-500 mid-range digital camera. The one I used to take photos of Tara is just a little better in quality (it’s a new technology class of camera, but it was also in the $500 range at time of purchase, so fairly comparable.) It’s now six years old and I am considering replacing it. Partly due to mechanical issues, partly in hopes of being able to add video to my repertoire. Both cameras allowed for setting white balance, f/stop, and other features useful to taking pictures of miniatures. Some of the difference is also down to my improving my photo taking set up with more lights, and use of a tripod, as well as using a grayscale card to help with editing the colours to look truer to life. I did re-edit the pictures from 2006 to try to make the comparison between photos a little fairer.

Colour Comparison

I quite like the colour scheme on Anwyn, and suspect many people will prefer it to that used on Tara. I’ve been thinking about having another go of that colour scheme for a while now, and I hope a figure it will suit presents itself soon. Tara’s colour scheme is fairly well suited to the character, but lacks a little oomph from an artistic point of view.

Although there are some nice areas of highlight on Anwyn, I think I have improved my level of contrast over time. There are much deeper shadows on Tara than on Anwyn, as well as stronger contrast between some colour areas. I think the contrast difference is most noticeable in the hair and the non-metallic metal. That said, Tara has some contrast issues and needs stronger and more small top level highlights throughout most of the figure. The level of contrast isn’t that noticeably problematic in a photo, but viewed at tabletop distance she lacks the desired level of ‘pop’.

When it comes to nuance and complexity in colour, there I feel I have made noticeable improvement. Anwyn’s colours play it straight, and that results in a bit of a plastic, artificial look. Shadows and highlights are just darker and lighter variations of the midtones. There is no added complexity of colour in the face like blush or interesting shadow colours. The lack of colour complexity/variation is particularly noticeable in the difference between the two bases. Both are pretty simple, but Tara’s seems much more ‘real’ and related to the figure, largely because of the way it’s painted more than the types of scenic elements used.

Brush Skills Comparison

I don’t think it’s particularly evident in the areas of detail in these two figures (eyes, darklining, and so on), but I am confident that my brush skills overall have improved. The end result may not be strikingly different, but at least the level of frustration and effort required to achieve it has changed!

I am much more conscious of painting different types of textures and surfaces now, and I think that is pretty evident in comparing these two figures. Every area on Anwyn is painted in the same smoothly blended fashion, with the possible exception of her hair. I was obsessed with achieving smooth blends, and I think that shows. Tara demonstrates a lot more of an understanding of different materials having different textures – rough stone, worn leather, wood grain, shiny hair, etc. The transitions on the NMM are a little more varied and better represent the way reflected light can appear than the perfect smoothness on Anwyn’s NMM.

Preparation and Scene Setting

Both of these figures are presented on very simple bases, so there’s not a huge amount to assess there. I do think that my ability to make a decent looking simple base has improved, though that may not be saying much. ;-> Anwyn’s base is very simple, and lacks a bit of variety that would make it more pleasing to look at. The flowers very much look stuck on instead of being a bit more naturally part of the rest of the foliage.

I’ve always been a bit fussy about prep, so there’s not a bit change to look at as far as that goes, either.

Conclusion

The end of the month crept up on me, so I’ve had to write this a bit more quickly than I usually prefer to do. Likely many of you will have spotted lots of issues with both of the figures or differences between them that I did not see. Feel free to share those in the comments. I am putting these figures out there to give people a chance to exercise their critique skills, so I have no problem with you tearing them apart. :->

NOTE: I thought I had set these pictures to display at a larger size. Clearly I’m still working out some blog technology. I will see if my IT department can help me post the pictures I intended.

You can purchase the Bones Black plastic version of Tara the Silent during the month of May 2019 (while supplies last). Orders made on the Reaper website during the month of May will receive one free Tara for every $40 (or other accepted currency) worth of pre-tax/shipping order. So if your order totals 82.99, you would receive two free Taras. A metal version of Tara is also available. Or you can buy a version of Tara sculpted by Sandra Garrity in metal. Anwyn the Bard is available in metal, or in classic Bones plastic.

IMPS – Models (and Miniatures) Closer to Home

Please see this Facebook gallery for many more pictures from the Smoky Mountain Model Convention of 2019!

I’ve posted a fair amount about large national figure shows and conventions, but I do understand that many people face constraints that make them unable to attend such events. This weekend I was able to attend a local event by a chapter of an international organization that has chapters and events all over the world, and it is my hope that this will offer hobby options to some of the people that aren’t able to make it to other events.

In case you’re not very interested in my personal experiences at my local show, I’ll just go ahead and share the information to help you find the closest group to you. The International Plastic Modellers’ Society started in the United Kingdom, and now has chapters all over the world. While the emphasis of chapter meetings and local and national contests is on plastic model kits (including Gundam and other mecha style), models of metal or resin and figures of all materials are included, including busts and dioramas. (By at least some chapters and shows, I don’t have encyclopaedic knowledge of the organization by any means!)  

KSMA figure displayThe historical figure subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Convention in 2019.

While the audience may not be laser focused on miniature figures or gaming with figures, there’s a lot in common in terms of skills and interests between the two groups. If you aren’t able to make it out to a gaming convention or miniature figure show, it seems worth the effort to do a bit of digging to find out if you have a nearby IMPS show or chapter. You might be surprised to find more recognition of and interest in figures that you were expecting – I was!

The Wikipedia page for the IMPS links to the websites for the branches of various countries. The site for the United States branch has a map and a chapter listing for all of the US chapters. And they aren’t all in the most populous states or near big cities.

If any readers have more experience with the IMPS and any of its chapters and shows, I hope that you will share your thoughts in the comments for others to learn from!

VW Bug at Smoky Mountain Model ConventionI believe this one won first place in its subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Convention in 2019.

I first heard of the Smoky Mountain Model Convention held in Knoxville, Tennessee three years ago via a flyer at my local Hobby Town store, but for the past two years it conflicted with the dates of another event I attend. This year I was finally available to attend on the date of the show. I don’t know a lot about the organization, or model kit making, so I wasn’t sure what I would find at the event. But the website had detailed information on the categories and rules for entering the show, so I figured I should overcome my introversion and go check it out.

Frost Giantess front viewThis seemed like a good choice to bring both because it was larger in scale, and because I had painted it to a high display level. It ended up being an opportunity to talk with other attendees about Secret Weapon snow, as well.

I picked out three figures from my collection to enter into the show. It seemed likely that the group was more accustomed to seeing larger figures and model kits, so I selected my giantess and the Random Encounter bust as entries. I don’t have a huge collection of dioramas. I probably should have picked one that was a big larger or showier, but warm weather was in the forecast and it amused me to bring a Christmas-themed piece. (Not that I have a huge array of dioramas of any size/scale!) 

Seeing Red front viewI was sort of stunned to realize that I painted this as long ago as 2007! While the painting could certainly use more contrast, and the base has some issues, I am still proud of this and find it amusing.

The check in process was inexpensive and simple, particularly since I had printed out and completed my registration forms at home. I was excited to see that the entries were displayed as they are in the show format events that I’ve attended previously – out on raised tables where it is easy to get a good view of them from multiple angles. It is so much nicer for viewing than when entries are trapped behind glass and located on shelves too low or too high to be visible to the eye line of many viewers.

Registration at Smoky Mountain Model ConA view of the registration desk, awards ceremony seating area, and the table way at the back overflowing with raffle prizes.

The tables were well marked with their respective categories. I got my entries set up and then started to wander around to look at what everyone else had brought. The entries were divided into four rows of tables of overall categories, with various subcategories within those. The main categories were Aircraft, Armour, Automotive, and Miscellaneous. Subcategories might be based on scale, time period, or other factors, with all including a Junior subcategory for younger modellers. Entries with figures as the main subject all fell into Miscellaneous subcategories, including specific categories for science fiction/fantasy figures. 

Show display and judgesAs you can see, the tables are raised up slightly, which makes it very easy to get a good look at the entries for most viewers. I believe this is the judging team conferring over one of the award decisions.

There was also a table for entries to the special show theme category. This year’s show theme was Wild and Dangerous Creatures, and I enjoyed the diversity of the interpretation of the theme. Entries included Godzilla (the eventual winner), Rommel, a pair of War Toon tanks, and an Arab fighter on a camel. There was also an area where the Knoxville Scale Modelers Association members could display their work outside of the contest entry area, and there was some very nice work on display. 

Godzilla in Wild and Dangerous Creatures categoryThis Godzilla was the winner of the Wild and Dangerous special show theme category. There was another Godzilla entered in the SF/Fantasy figure subcategory.

The selection of figures as an overall portion of the show was low compared to vehicles and armour and such, but there were definitely figures there. And some very interesting ones, like a life-size furry werewolf head! The KSMA member area included a small display of busts, and a nice display of historical figures. I spent some time talking with the painter of the figures, David. I found that people in general were quite appreciative and complimentary of my work, and welcoming and friendly. 

Werewolf Head - life sizeThis enormous entry was very popular with viewers.

David's figure displayDavid’s figure display on the Knoxville Scale Modeller Association club table.

I enjoyed looking at the entries in the other categories, as well. I know I lack the historical and modelling knowledge to have fully appreciated them, but I enjoyed what I did understand. The vehicles were especially fun. Other shows I’ve attended have featured armour, aircraft, and nautical vessels, but I haven’t seen a lot of automotive vehicles elsewhere. Modellers use some terrific looking paints and finishes on those cars. There were also some fun examples of weathered old junkers with lots of little Easter egg tidbits to look for in and around the vehicle. There were two very fun automotive dioramas, as well. One was a recreation of a classic 50s ice cream stand. The other was commentary on the features and bugs of Ford vehicles.

Old truck from Smoky Mountain Model ConSo many little details to enjoy on this old truck, as well as the weathering.

There was a small vendor area that I only perused briefly, and that did seem to be completely focused on model kits. I imagine there is a bit of variation in the vendors that attend in different regions and countries, however. The club also ran a raffle for a table full of prizes. 

Ice cream stand at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis ice cream stand diorama won in its subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Con 2019.

Ford diorama at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis Ford diorama was also a very fun entry in the automotive diorama subcategory.

When it came time for the awards ceremony, I was very honoured by the recognition my work received. I was awarded first place in each of the three subcategories I entered, overall Best of Miscellaneous category, and Best of Show! I had not expected anything like that when I decided to go to the show. But even had I not won anything at all, it still would have been very worthwhile for me to attend as an opportunity to meet local enthusiasts of my hobby.

Hobby woes diorama at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis was one of my favourite entries in the show. Those of us with a hobby and a spouse/partner have all been there, I imagine! The subtitle reads “You are not bringing anymore model kits into this house.”

During the awards ceremony I realized that I had gotten sidetracked on my rounds of picture taking and completely failed to take pictures of the armour category row. You would think that at a smaller show I’d be able to finally get pictures of everything, but alas, I have once again failed! You can see all of the pictures I did take over in a gallery on my Facebook artist page.

AwardsI did not expect to be awarded to this degree. I am very honoured, though I think my cat is unimpressed.

Figures from this Post

I sadly lack knowledge of the many model kits featured in these pictures to be able to help you find them. I am also not familiar with most of the historical miniatures that were shown at the convention.

Frost Giant Queen, Reaper Bones plastic.
Random Encounter bust, resin, gift with purchase from FeR Miniatures.
Mrs. Claus is a Hasslefree miniature. I thought she was still available, but I could not find on the site. Perhaps she is only sold at Christmas.
The naughty creatures is a Waggamaeph, produced by Crunch-Waffle Enterprises, which is now out of business. Noble Knight has some Waggamaephs on resale, but not this figure by the look of it.

Classes and Workshops – Who ‘Should’ Take Them?

I’ve been taking miniature painting classes for more than 15 years, and teaching them for more than 10. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend several weekend workshops taught by talented painters in the past few years. I’ve heard some common and diametrically opposed reactions to who should or shouldn’t be taking classes and workshops, and I wanted to write a post to share my general experiences and recommendations.

The reactions I hear tend to break down into these types of comments –

I’d love to go to a weekend workshop, but those are only for advanced level painters and I’m not a good enough yet.

But you’re a pro/advanced painter, why are you even in this class/workshop? (I sometimes get this from the instructor!)

How do I know if I’m the right level for this class/workshop?

The answer to the question of why would I attend a class or workshop if I’m already an advanced level painter is easy. At least it’s easy for me. Because there’s always something to learn! Maybe there’s a more efficient or quicker way to do something than the way I usually do. (There’s bound to be, I’m a pretty slow painter, and have a tendency to do things the hardest way possible.) Maybe it’s a different approach to lighting, or colour, or some other philosophy behind how we choose to put paint on miniatures.

Random Encounter bustThe bust I painted in the Fernando Ruiz workshop. This featured several techniques used in different ways than I usually use them. That included lots of washes on the skin to bring out the textures and add different colours, and a kind of ‘cheat blending’ on the cloth.

So now let’s look at the question of whether weekend workshops are appropriate for beginners, and whether they offer enough material for quite advanced students.

I’ve now attended four weekend workshops. They were with the painters Kirill Kanaev (aka Yellow One), Alphonso Giraldes (aka Banshee), Fernando Ruiz (aka FeR), and Sergio Calvo Rubio. Alphonso’s workshop was a little bit different as the focus was use of colour theory rather than specific painting techniques. In the others, the students all worked on the same figure(s). The instructor would explain an element of theory and/or technique, often with diagrams and/or photos for examples, and demonstrate his painting of it. Then the students would have a period of time to practice that same element, which was followed by some critique of their execution. Then the instructor would explain and demonstrate a new element, and so on. 

Two days of learning a lot of information like this can be pretty intense. You might have moments where you get a bit of a headache, or feel quite tired. But I also think that it’s very accessible to a wide range of experience levels. There is a lot more time to digest information than there is in a short class. The instructor can spend a bit of extra time with someone who is having trouble while the other students practice, without that extra attention to one person sacrificing learning opportunities for everyone else. A beginner may find that one or two elements that are demonstrated are beyond their current skills/comprehension (Kirill’s texture painting method demands a high level of brush control, for example), but beginners should still get plenty of useful information out of other elements. Likewise an experienced painter may find some of the segments of the instruction kind of basic, but is going to profit from others, as well as from the opportunity to see another painter’s process, philosophy, and overall approach to painting a figure.

Each of the figure painting tutorial workshops that I’ve attended has included a mix of student levels. All of them were attended by at least one person who felt that their skills were more on the basic side, or and/or who lacked confidence in their painting ability, and those people felt like they got a lot out of the workshops. To my knowledge, so did the experienced painters who attended. In some ways being newer to miniature painting can be an advantage! Sometimes an experienced painter can get frustrated with the effort it takes to put aside the way they usually do things to follow someone else’s approach.

Tsukigoro front viewWe painted this larger scale formidable orc warrior in the Sergio Calvo Rubio workshop. Lots of emphasis on texture and making highlights really pop in key areas.

So my advice is to do what you can to attend a weekend workshop! It is an unparalleled opportunity to learn not just one specific technique or effect, but to get a real insight into how a skilled painter approaches the overall painting of a figure. If you are in doubt from the description of the workshop as to whether it is too basic or advanced for you, contact the painter or organizer of the workshop to request more information. Ask if there are specific techniques or skills you need to already know to get full value out of the class. Check whether the teacher feels there is enough material to interest a painter of your level. Most instructors teach workshops on a regular basis. They prefer that the people who attend feel like they got a lot out of the experience, so they’ll recommend it and create more interest in future workshops by word of mouth recommendation. 

Miniature painting classes are also very valuable learning experiences, but are are a bit of a different thing. They most often occur at conventions. The two conventions that I particularly recommend for painting classes in the United States are AdeptiCon and ReaperCon. Both have literally dozens of instructors and topics to choose from. There are several other conventions with great painting classes. I’ll add links to the ones I know of at the bottom of this post. If you know of additional conventions with miniature painting classes to recommend, please let me know so I can add those as well! (Worldwide or US based.)

Classes are often categorized as being geared towards or appropriate for levels of beginner, intermediate, and advanced, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition of those terms. So it occasionally happens that someone ends up in a class that is too advanced for them and they feel overwhelmed, or which has little new information to offer them.

The typical convention class is an hour and a half to two hours long. Occasionally a convention will offer longer format classes. Because of the short time frame, classes tend to focus on a very specific topic – painting faces, using the metallic or non-metallic technique for arms and armour, or two brush blending are all examples. Hands-on classes, which are overwhelmingly preferred by attendees, need to be particularly focused in scope, in order to provide enough time for attendees to practice, and for the instructor to give everyone feedback on their attempts.

Depending on the topic, the short time frame and tight focus of a convention class can mean that an instructor has to teach the class assuming that the students have certain prerequisite skills and knowledge. As an example, there are a lot of effects that feature smooth transitions from light to dark or from one colour to another. In a class on one of those effects, the teacher needs to concentrate class discussion, demonstration, and feedback on the specific theory and approach related to creating that effect. To try to teach blending on top of that is essentially trying to teach a class within a class. Or a class may reference a concept like colour theory or the rule of thirds in composition, but there may not be time to give a comprehensive explanation of the concepts. (Happily that kind of knowledge can generally be researched after a class if it is not well known before.)

Angel Face bust front viewThe bust I worked on in the workshop with Kirill Kanaev. The practice with textured cloth is on the back, shown in the title image of this post.

Here’s where there can be a disconnect between people using terms like beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I tend to think of knowing how to use a blending technique to create smooth transitions as intermediate level. You start with drybrushing and washing as a beginner, and then learn blending and start to transfer to intermediate level. So I designate my classes that assume knowledge of blending as intermediate. A student attending their first convention decides to sign up for my class. They’ve been painting for years using drybrushing and washing. They’re the best painter in their circle and at their local store. So it’s natural to for them to assume they must be at least intermediate in level. We’ve each made a logical but incompatible assumption about what the term intermediate means.

This disconnect can occasionally occur in the other direction, too. People tend to assume that OSL (object source lighting) is an advanced level technique, and they need to be able to paint to a certain level to attend. Maybe that is true for some instructors’ classes. In my mind, OSL is primarily about understanding where to place areas of light and dark, and which kinds of colours to use for each. Although the most refined versions may require blending, the basic ideas I teach can be executed successfully with drybrushing and careful washing. 

I don’t think there’s a perfect solution to these misunderstandings of terminology. I think it helps a lot if instructors include any necessary prerequisite skills (and materials/tools, like certain kinds of brushes) in the descriptions for their classes. Give people as much information as possible to determine whether the class is appropriate to their skill level. It is also incumbent upon students to take the time to carefully read the descriptions for classes to determine whether they have the necessary skills and knowledge. (And to try to remember to acquire and bring along any necessary tools and materials.) 

If a class description does not provide enough information for you to determine the appropriate skill level, I encourage you to contact the instructor directly. Even if the convention events system does not offer a way to do that, you will likely be able to find the instructor on social media or one or another miniature enthusiast site. Take the effort to reach out to get the information you need. This is something you will be paying to do, after all!

Rurik front 400This is the second figure we worked on in the Fernando Ruiz workshop. The buckskin leather cape featured more of Fernando’s magic with washes. I did already know the trick to highlighting red that he showed us, but I still got a lot out of the workshop overall.

An additional note on tools. Convention room lighting is not the best. Rooms are often unevenly lit, with what lights there are way up on a tall ceiling. If you typically paint with magnification (reading glasses or a magnifying visor) and strong lighting, I highly recommend you bring a light and magnifier along to improve your class experience. LED battery lamps are fairly compact, lightweight, and inexpensive. Even if you don’t normally paint with magnification, you might consider it for a miniature painting class to help counteract the poor lighting. Almost every class I teach there is at least one person who ends up struggling due to feeling like they can’t see as well as they need to, and that’s not really something I can help with. :-< (I do loan out my lamp and magnifier if I can without compromising what I need to do to teach the class, but it is not always possible for me to do that, and sometimes more than one student is struggling.)

When you’re teaching a class and discover one of the students does not have the prerequisite knowledge you assumed, you have a few ways to handle the situation. Unfortunately none are optimal. One is to stop the class and try to teach the missing skill(s). This can consume a lot of class time, and leaves the student in the position of trying to learn a lot of new material at once. I also think this option is irresponsible to the rest of the people in the class, as it deprives them of everything you would otherwise have been teaching them in that time span, and they will be getting a smaller share of your feedback time. (This is particularly unfair to the other students if the class description was clear about prerequisite skills.) Another option is to teach for the majority of the students, running the class as you originally designed, and then trying to spend extra time with the student(s) who needs extra help while other students are practicing painting. This is a workable solution if someone is only a little bit lost, and particularly if they’re seated near others who are also willing to give them a little extra help. The last approach I’m aware of is to refund their ticket price. Depending on how the convention is run, this may be direct from my pocket, or with a note/accompaniment to a registration area. 

Figures Featured in this Post

The Random Encounter bust and Rurik, Prince of Holmgard are available as gifts with purchase from FeR Miniatures, or through some workshops taught by Fernando Ruiz.

Tsukigoro, Orc Warrior was part of Sergio Calvo’s Kickstarter for Hirelings of Asura. Late pledges are available. He will eventually sell the figures online, but the webpage is not yet up.

The Angel Face bust was sculpted by Kirill Kanaev. I’m not aware of his having a web store. You may be able to contact him online to see if he has any available for purchase.

Upcoming Workshops

San Diego CA, May 25-26 2019: Army Painting 101 with Aaron Lovejoy and Allan Pyle
Osseo MN, June 29-30 2019: Army Painting 101 with Aaron Lovejoy
Mountain View CA, August 17-18: Skin Tones Masterclass with Anthony Rodriguez
Various US and a few UK locations, various dates: Airbrushing, Large Figure, and Heavy Metal workshops taught by members of CK Studios (Caleb Wissenback, Vince Venturella, Sam Lenz, Justin Keefer)

If you know of any others, please let me know!

Conventions that Offer Painting Classes

KublaCon, San Francisco CA: May 23 – 27, 2019 – register for classes now!
Historicon, Lancaster PA: July 10 – 14, 2019
Gen Con, Indianapolis IN: August 1 – 4, 2019 – event registration opens soon!
ReaperCon, Dallas TX: August 29 – September 1, 2019 – event registration opens soon!
Nova Open, Arlington VA: August 29 – September 1, 2019
Sword and Brush, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: September 7 – 8, 2019 (And their Facebook group)
Las Vegas Open, Las Vegas NV: January 24 – 26, 2020
CanCon, Canberra Australia: January 24 – 26, 2020
Cold Wars, Lancaster PA: March 12 – 15, 2020
AdeptiCon, Chicago IL: March 22 – 29, 2020

If you know of any others, please let me know!