Miniature Paint Care and Maintenance

It’s paint maintenance time for me, and that is a good opportunity for me to share some pictures and tips to help you maintain your own stash of miniature paints.

The most important tip is: Never let your paint freeze! Miniature paint will ‘curdle’ if it freezes. There is no way to restore paint that has been frozen to a correct and useable consistency.

Helpful tip: If you have hard water or any other water issues, use distilled water rather than tap water to add to paint bottles.

Helpful tip: This is the messiest job in miniature painting! Wear old clothes and protect surfaces with table cloths and drop cloths. Trust me on this! You will need much more paper towel or cloth than usual to clean brushes and wipe up spills.

Paint maintenance day setup

Two common issues that paint experiences over time are thickening up as water evaporates from inside the bottle, and paint separating into thick gloppy pigment at the bottom of the bottle, with watery components of the mix floating on top. Both of these issues can be remedied if caught quickly enough. Note that metallic, satin, and other texture effect paints are more likely to experience these issues, and to experience them after shorter periods of disuse.

To best preserve the quality of your miniature paints, do a maintenance check every 1-2 years. Shake the paint as you would for normal use. Dispense a drop of the paint and check its consistency. I use index cards for my paint drop tests. After dispensing the drop, I run an old paint brush through the drop to check consistency. Remove dropper bottle nipples to observe the paint within the container if you have any doubts. Add distilled water to paint that is thickening and shake. You will have to STIR, and then shake paint that is separating or is very thick in consistency. I’ll go over the method and possible issues in more detail below.

Examples of separated paint

Paint stored in containers that are not moved or shaken for long periods of time can start to separate. The heavier pigments and binder elements sink to the bottom and lighter elements of the binder float to the top. You can see an extreme example of the issue very clearly above in a screw top paint bottle that doesn’t have a label on the side. It can be much harder to spot in containers made of more opaque plastic or which have large obscuring labels.

Example of binder separated from paint

One reason I suggest dispensing a sample drop of paint for dropper bottle maintenance is to detect paint separation issues. You will see something like the above – a very watery mix of paint. Usually the colour looks quite pale or faint as well. If I see this, I pop off the nipple of the dropper bottle. I try to pick up this watery mix with a brush and add it back to the bottle, but it’s not a big issue if you lose a drop or two. 

Clumpy paint

If paint has separated to this degree, you will need to STIR it to repair the issue. You cannot guarantee redistributing the watery binder elements and chunkier pigment bits with any amount of shaking alone. Not even with a vortex mixer, not even with agitators in the bottle. I took the picture above AFTER agitating the paint pot (which contains a pewter agitator) on a vortex mixer. The paint looked mixed, but when I checked it with a toothpick, there was sludge stuck to the bottom and sides of the container. Also note the number of bubbles, which is another sign that the fluid portion is still more binder than pigment.

Click to see the vortex mixer in action on a couple of paints. Note that paint in the second half of the video is the same one in the previous picture. I had to stir well and then mix to return it to useable condition.

You will need to use a tool long enough to reach the bottom and sides of the container to get the sludge moving. With squat jars a toothpick works. You’ll need a plastic swizzle stick or old paint brush for taller dropper bottles. Once you’ve got the sludge moving, shaking should work to finish mixing everything back together. Then check the consistency again and add some additional water if needed. Eventually you should reach a consistency like the picture below. Note that there are far fewer bubbles now.

Mixed paint

Paint can thicken up over time due to water evaporation, without experiencing separation issues. Few containers are completely air tight. It can take years, but water does evaporate through plastic bottles and jars. Sometimes this happens more quickly than you would expect. You can have a set of paints that you purchased at the same time where some bottles are fine and some have experienced more evaporation, so you need to check each paint individually. Below you can see an example of what paint that has thickened up but not separated looks like. Kind of like frosting. (Don’t eat the paint-frosting!)

Thickened paint example

This can happen with dropper bottles, as well. Dropper bottles also often exhibit a similar but slightly different problem. When you dispense a drop of paint and find that it is very thick, you need to pull out the dropper nipple to check on the paint. You will often find thickening paint clogged up in the nipple tip and/or neck of the bottle, as in the examples below.

Paint thickening in bottle necks

Usually there is a separate pool of paint at the bottom of the bottle that may or may not be experiencing thickening as well. Use a toothpick or paint brush to poke the paint down into the bottle, moving it from the nipple to the main area of the bottle. I recommend stirring this bottle neck paint into the paint in the body of the bottle. Shaking may not be enough to intermix the thicker paint into the rest of the paint. Add a few drops of water, and mix thoroughly. Then check the consistency again. If it is still a bit on the thick side, add more water and shake again.

I have been experimenting with something I think helps reduce the incidence of paint getting trapped in the neck of the bottles. Before I recap a paint, I check to make sure that the dropper hole is clear of paint. Paint bubbling or oozing up through the dropper hole when a bottle is opened or after you poke the dropper hole open is another sign that some paint may be stuck in the nipple or neck of the bottle. I use a pokey tool to open up the dropper hole until it stays clear. Other options to open clogged dropper holes are a T-pin, hat pin, or unfolded paper clip. 

Dropper tip

The paints in the following picture were all discontinued in 2010, so I can verify that they’re old paints. Because I’ve taken the trouble to maintain them every few years, they’re all still in useable condition so I can continue enjoying these no-longer-made colours.

Old paints

Metallic and Silk/Satin Paints

Paints with metallic flake and similar agents seem more prone to experiencing issues with separation and thickening more quickly than standard paints. They also seem to reach the point of no return more quickly. I recommend doing maintenance on those kinds of paints at least yearly. If you do not maintain these well, accept that they will become unusable more quickly than standard paints.

Mixing Machines and Agitators

Some paints are harder to mix than others. The more viscous a paint, the more it will need an agitator and heavy shaking or even stirring to mix well. Different binder mixes may also affect how much mixing a brand or colour of paint needs. Some paint brands ship with an agitator in the bottle. All paints produced by Reaper Miniatures do. If you wish to add agitators to your paints, keep in mind that you need to use a non-reactive material. Many materials can rust or oxidize when stored in a liquid paint for long periods of time, even if they would not in other circumstances. Safe materials include pewter and glass beads. Although you will often see them recommended in online chats/forums, I do not recommend adding lead or stainless steel agitators to paint pots.

There are a few paint mixer gadgets on the market, and you may also come across ideas for homemade versions on various social media platforms and forums. I’ve seen electric stirrers, and single bottle shakers. Some people have adapted nail polish shakers to this purpose. Many people purchase second-hand laboratory vortex mixers on eBay and other sites to use for mixing paint. (Do a search for ‘vortex mixer’.) Artis Opus has developed a similar product specifically for miniature painters. (It’s more aesthetically pleasing and new, but I think the concept is pretty much the same.)

If you have a small collection of paint that hand-mixes fairly easily, like Reaper paints, you may not need any such tools. I purchased a used Vortex Genie 2 lab mixer on eBay a few years ago. Although it was a fairly expensive purchase, I have never regretted it, and it gets more use than many of my other bespoke hobby tools do. I have hand and wrist issues, and a pretty sizeable collection of paint. Paint maintenance was very tough on my hands, even spread over several days. Paint maintenance and day-to-day mixing are much less annoying for me with the mixer. 

Convention Schedule: From 60 to 0

A few weeks back I posted my convention schedule for the year. Since then I have been frantically preparing for those conventions. Developing new painting class subjects or significantly updating older ones is always a time-intensive process. In addition to prepping paints and figures for my classes, I was also getting things ready for the miniature painting activities at my local charity fund raiser con, including organizing volunteers, supplies, and donations. (Please consider helping Second Harvest of East Tennessee or your local food bank. Their mission is more important than ever, and they are deeply affected by isolation measures.)

Phone boothsTraveling to Amish country is kind of like going back in time…

A week ago last Wednesday (March 11, 2020) I got on a plane to go to Cold Wars in Lancaster PA. While much of the world was already in the grip of Covid-19, In the USA awareness of our lack of preparedness for it was just starting to build in early March. My husband and I made some ‘just in case’ preparations so we had that taken care of before I traveled. The night before I left I started to have some misgivings about the trip, but it still seemed a reasonable decision to make, and my travel experience was fairly normal apart from easily finding a parking spot at the airport.

With each passing day, things became less and less normal. A pandemic was declared, and the USA finally started to take action to mitigate the speed of disease spread. Even in the ‘con bubble’ (how I feel when I’m at a convention and separate from not only my workaday life, but the rest of the world in general), changes were felt. I washed hands, sanitized, sprayed my belonging with isopropyl alcohol, and worked hard not to touch my face. IHOP removed condiments from the tables and instead brought them pre-packaged with your order. My flight home included a safety briefing about Covid-19 as well as instructions on how to operate my seatbelt, and the flight attendant wore gloves the entire trip.

IHOP CondimentsBye-bye sticky syrup pourers.

Oh, and everything I had been frantically planning for got canceled. (Except ReaperCon!) I started joking that we were at the #lastconinamerica. Now I’m back home. Since I was traveling and socializing much more than is currently advised, I’m sequestering myself as much as I can for a full 14 days. Which at this point is pretty much following the recommendations for everyone in the country (and most others). I don’t work outside the house, so it’s not a huge change in my day-to-day lifestyle, and yet somehow everything is changed.

A lot of you are probably feeling the same way. It’s hard to do much other than scroll Facebook, new sites, and discuss it with friends (in messaging programs at an appropriate distance). It’s hard not to worry if you’ll be able to get toilet paper, or food, or keep your job. It’s impossible not to fret for the health of our friends and families and ourselves, and I know a lot of people are already affected by many of those those things. But if you’re still healthy, and your job is secure and you’re pretty sure you’ll have food on your plate, I’d like to make a suggestion: don’t let anxiety eat you up.

Michegan Toy Soldier booth at Cold Wars 2020One of the last times I was within 10 feet of humans other than my spouse. The Michigan Toy Soldier booth is always a treat! It won’t be at AdeptiCon because none of us are, but you can also check out their cool wares online.

If you follow this blog you are probably a miniature painter, or a traditional artist, or both. If not, I bet you have some solitary hobby or interest you don’t get to enjoy nearly enough. Stay informed, but also take time to turn off the TV or the computer and make use of this unexpected time to do that thing you love that you don’t normally have enough time for. Artists and teachers are responding to this an amazing way and freely making available resources you’d normally have to pay to enjoy. 

Dirty RatsYesterday I finally got to finish up these rats that I started at the Reaper Kickstarter party!

If you were planning to travel to AdeptiCon, check out the AdeptiCan’t 2020 Facebook group. A lot of hobby instructors and teachers are putting together some online together separately activities. There is a stream schedule set up that you can check. Vendors are even giving out swag!

Matt Cexwish is putting a number of his Joy of Basing Patreon videos on YouTube.

There are already a ton of great free miniature painting/sculpting resources available on YouTube that you probably haven’t had time to enjoy. (I know my ‘Watch Later’ list on YouTube is…not short.) And if you are financially secure, now would be a great time to jump into that Patreon or other online class you’ve been eyeing. You could learn a lot and help an artist.

NMM and RMMAaron Lovejoy taught us about real metallics and Elizabeth Beckley about non-metallics at Cold Wars. If you join the Miniature Monthly Patreon, they’ll teach you, too.

We are social animals and we need contact with one another. Yes even the most introverted among us. I don’t have links as readily to hand for how to ‘gather’, but I encourage you to spend some time on social media and figure out methods that might work for you to take care of your social animal needs. That might be phoning a friend/relations, or popping onto a stream chat or Discord. There are programs that allow you to game online with friends, whether you like video games, board games, or role-playing games. There are apps like Zoom that allow you to use your phone or computer to get a group of people together that you can see as well as hear. I’m one of those most introverted among us, so I don’t yet have all the technical intel on how exactly to do all of that stuff to link to, but just hop on your social media of choice and ask friends, and I bet you’ll get plenty of info. And while I am introverted, I am going to be working to figure some of it out to reach out to my more extroverted friends that I think are finding this time much more trying.

If you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, phone meetings are an option at this time. If you would prefer a more secular recovery group, there’s a Discord for that – With Out a Prayer. I imagine there are similar resources for other meeting groups sprouting up. Contact other members of your community to see what your options are. Don’t suffer alone in silence, you need your community more than ever at a time like this!

Lizard LampMy friend Liz gave me this little guy. He’s going to be my lamp buddy and remind me of my great friends in the painting community that I will see again.

Here are some other options to enjoy your unexpected free time inside:

Ever wanted to draw your own comic or teach your kids to? How to Think When You Draw released a great PDF.

The Virtual Instructor has made available several traditional art classes that use minimal supplies.

Audit a course at an Ivy League university and tell everyone how you studied at Harvard/Yale/etc.

Watch a Broadway musical. (Not all of these are freely available, but some are.)

Enjoy the best art in the world from dozens of museums. And unlike viewing it live, you can zoom in!

Watch a live concert from the comfort of your own home.

Take a virtual field trip to a zoo, the Louvre, or even Mars!

The list of institutions, zoos, small businesses, and individuals who are working to provide material to educate, amuse, and distract us is almost too much to keep up with. If you’re having trouble finding something to suit you, check with friends who have similar tastes and I’ll be you find something to do.

Here are a few more memories from my trip to #lastconinamerica. I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at whichever event ends up (safely) being #postapocalypticon.

Cold Wars swagMy Cold Wars swag and souvenirs.

IMG 0619In addition to my lizard friend I have this mug from the Atlanta Military Figure Society (which is not military figures only if you’re in the area!) and now my nifty Cold Wars brush rest to remind me that we may often paint in isolation, but we are a community, and we will come together as a community again.

I hope that you will stay well and take care of yourself as best you can!

Source Lighting and Other Cold Wars Classes

I will be attending the Cold Wars convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on the weekend of March 13 through March 16 2020. Aaron Lovejoy and Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford of Miniature Monthly fame will also be there, and all of us are in addition to the great Hobby University team. That’s a lot of people teaching a lot of different classes on a lot of cool miniature painting related topics! (Scroll to the end for links to buy convention passes and class tickets.)

My four classes take place on Saturday, March 14. I hope some of you will be able to make it out, but for those who can’t, I hope these photos and tidbits of info are helpful! 

Or if you can make it to AdeptiCon in Chicago on March 27, I still have seats available for my Critique Clinique class. Tickets are no longer available online, but feel free to show up at the door. Or if you can’t come, enjoy this online excerpt.

Source Lighting: March 13 at noon

OSL ComboThe Yeti Shaman is available in plastic or metal. Ghost of Christmas Past is not currently for sale.

I have long said that one of the interesting things about source lighting is that the effect is much less about brush skills than many ‘advanced’ effects. It’s far more about understanding principles of where to place light and shadow and colour choices. I used the techniques of washing and drybrushing to paint the Yeti Shaman on the left. I followed the same principles I used to paint the Christmas Past figure on the right, which was painted with layering and glazing techniques.

Useful blog post:
How I painted the source light on Christmas Past

Non-Metallic Metal Blades: March 13 at 4pm

Streak weapons editThese weapon sprues are not currently available for sale, but hopefully will be soon.

If you admire gorgeous smoothly blended non-metallic metal (NMM), it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that blending (or lack of it) is the key to whether or not it works. This is actually not true, and more and more I am seeing fantastically painted pieces that use a lot more texture in painting NMM. What is more important than brushwork is an understanding of the light and dark values of colour and where to place these on various shapes to create the illusion of shiny metal. My NMM blades class uses a quick streak method of paint application to practice during class so we can spend a good chunk of time trying to understand those key principles. 

Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked: March 14 at 2pm

Cheat blend ex cu 1000Sir Malcom is available in plastic or metal.

Speaking of smooth blending, do you wish there were a quick and easy way to make something like the cloak on the left look more like the cloak on the right? Last year in a workshop with Fernando Ruiz (highly recommend if you get the chance!), I learned a technique to float acrylic extender and paint on top of a painted foundation like the lefthand cloak that allows you to create a blended result to end up like the cloak on the right. I think it’s so nifty I want to share the knowledge!

Useful blog posts:
Example of block-in with standard blending via layering.
Who ‘should’ attend classes and workshops?

Feathers, Fur, and Scales: March 14 at 10am

Fake fur examples 800Dire rats are available in plastic or metal.

There are a lot of different techniques you can use to paint animals and components of animals (fur cloaks, etc.) Which is ‘best’ depends on the nature of the sculpt, the level of result you’re after, and the amount of time you have available. This class includes a survey of several techniques, as well as some tips for how to paint more accurate and interesting looking critters.

Useful blog posts:
Step by step paint of a kangaroo.
How to paint patterns on fur.
Some additional ways to paint fur patterns.
Painting a scaled hydra to display standard.

Cold Wars Registration and Event Signup

You can buy a pass to the convention and reserve tickets for classes here until March 15, 2020.

Check this link for descriptions of all the classes being offered by the Hobby University for Cold Wars 2020.

Paint a Kangaroo, Help a Kangaroo

Reaper’s relief fund for animals impacted by the Australian bush fires is coming to a close at the end of February. I suspect it will end around midnight Texas time on February 29, 2020, though I’m not 100% sure of the end time. It’s not too late to order one of the three pack options to support the fund! Each of the following packs costs $10, and $7.50 of that price goes to the RSPCA of South Australia. 

I’m going to talk about painting the kangaroo, and also provide links to videos and at the bottom of this post I’ll information links to videos and other information for painting the other cool critters.

Fund raiser pack options

The male koala with the fireman’s axe is named Courage. I had hoped to paint him and do a bit of a step-by-step, but life has intervened such that I’ve barely been able to do any painting for the past couple of months. One issue has been a back spasm. Finally it’s improved to the point where I thought I might be able to paint for a few hours. With only a few days left I didn’t think a mini requiring assembly was a good idea, but I thought I could manage to finish the kangaroo. 

I’m going to share some tips and work in progress photos for how I painted this kangaroo in case anyone would like to paint theirs in a similar way. Working last minute also reminded me of some of the issues that can crop up when you’re doing rush last minute painting. (As is very common with painting contest entries!) So I’ll also talk a bit about that.

Kangaroo photo by Paul Copeland from the Morguefile sitePhoto by Paul Copeland, from Morguefile.

When painting real life animals, or even fantastical creatures that incorporate elements of real life animals, I find it very helpful to study some reference of real creatures. A simple Google search will suffice unless you want to share the photos like on this blog. Then you should look at sites like Morguefile that have pictures available for public use. Since I was tired and in a rush, of course that is not what I did. :-> So I actually used a couple of photos I found on Google, but the kangaroo pictured above has the same general colouration.

Looking at the above photo I can see that I made a more important research error. I thought about but did not take the time to look for photos that showed the back of this kind of kangaroo’s head. I assumed the ears would mainly be the reddish colour. It turns out I was very wrong! Painting the back of the ears like in the picture above would have added some points of interest to my kangaroo figure when viewed from the back.

Next I assembled a selection of paints I thought would work to paint the main colours of the kangaroo – dull oranges and orange-browns for the darker fur with some red-brown for shading, and cream and blond colours for the light fur. You can also see areas of ‘black’ and ‘grey’ in the reference  photo. Natural objects are very rarely true neutral black, grey, or white, so using true neutrals won’t look very natural. I picked a very dark brown, Walnut Brown, for my black, and mixed ‘greys’ by mixing it with one of my cream colours.

Kanga palette

You can see the palette I used above to get an idea of the colours. The card at the top of the picture is a grayscale card. It is true grey, with sections of true white and true black. So you can use it to colour balance photos in a photo editing program (which I have done with this one). I left it in the shot as I think it might help you judge the values (darkness vs lightness) of the colours I used. I don’t think you need the exact paints I used to get a similar result or match a reference, although I will list the paint colours I used in the work-in-progress steps below. What is more important is to use paints of similar value for similar functions.

Now I’ll run through some work in progress shots for the main body of the kangaroo. All paints I reference are produced by Reaper.

Step 1: Block In
I roughly blocked in the main colours on the body. You can see that this is indeed rough. I don’t care that I’m slopping paint on areas I haven’t painted yet. This photo also shows that this first coat was not enough coverage as you can see my grey primer showing through in several areas.

Colours used: 9144 Creamy Ivory, 9110 Oiled Leather, 9136 Walnut Brown.

Kanga wip1

Step 2: Block In Better
I did a second coat blocking in my colours. With this coat I also took a second look at my reference and was more exact with the position of each the colour areas. So this next photo is not wildly different than the first other than exactly where one colour ends and the other begins has shifted slightly, and now the coats of colour are solid with no grey peeking through.

Kanga wip2

Step 3: 
I did some rough wet blending and layering to blur the lines where the colours meet. This is imperfect. I tend to be the kind of painter who overcomplicates their life, and in the past I would have agonized over this for another hour or so. I reminded myself of a few things: this is fur, which is textured, and I still had to paint highlights and shadows. Both of those would mean the blends would change. They might look better as I added in fur texture and more colours, or there might be new poor transitions created that I’d have to fix. So why go too nuts on it at this stage? All I needed to do now was get rid of sharp looking transition lines.

Colours used: I mixed the two colours to either side of a line to create a transition colour to aid in the wetblending. For the Walnut to Creamy Ivory blend I used 2-3 transition mixes.

Kanga wip3

Step 4: The Light Fur
Now I added shadows and highlights to the light fur areas. Adding shading to the areas that curve downwards or away from the viewer on cylinders like the arms and tail, and highlighting on the plane facing up helps the viewer see those areas more as rounded cylinders. The shading brings out the musculature that Andy Pieper sculpted on the legs, much of which is not visible at all with the flat cream basecoat. Shading the stomach and inner legs pushes those areas back so they appear to be in shadow (as they would be) and don’t jump out and steal the viewer’s attention from looking at more interesting areas of the animal.

Apart from the tail these areas were sculpted fairly smoothly, as they have finer fur than the main body of the kangaroo. You can see the difference between the body fur and the limb fur in the reference photo. But since it is still fur I did a lot of my blending with small parallel strokes and I didn’t stress about getting super smooth results. It looks more like fur being less super smooth.

Colours used: Midtone of 9144 Creamy Ivory. Shadow of 9142 Stained Ivory, and then some 9199 Russet Brown mixed in.

Kanga wip4

Step 5: The Brown Fur
The brown fur was a little trickier as I wanted to capture some of the notes of oranges, browns, and deeper reds from my reference photo. So there was a little more working back and forth and adding hints of colour here and there. But the basic process was the same idea – place darker colours where areas curve away from the light and place lighter ones where they are facing the light to help bring out the forms and make it look more three dimensional. I used short parallel brushstrokes in the direction that the fur was sculpted.

Colours used: Midtone of 9110 Oiled Leather. Shadows mixed with the midtone and 9070 Mahogany Brown with a tiny bit of Walnut Brown for darkest shadows. Highlights mixed with midtone and a mix of 9201 Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then 9256 Blond Shadow, which was lightened with 9061 Linen White for top highlights. I went over some of the highlight areas with thinned Orange Brown to keep the colour more saturated. This sounds fussier to paint than it was.

Kanga wip5

Step 6: Painting the Head and Base
I did not paint the head at the same time as the body. One issue is that colouration on the head was a little different. The other is that although the process would be pretty similar (block in, rough transitions, add shadows and highlights, clean up transitions), it would be taking place on a smaller space. Also a more important space, since the face is the focal point of the miniature. I decided to paint it at the end when I’d have all my colours mixed and on my palette, and focus on it completely. I also used a smaller brush for this smaller space.

I painted the base with mixtures of colours used on the main figure. This helps everything look as if it is in the same kind of lighting. My aim was to mix colours a little darker and duller than those used on the main figure. The brown has a little grey mixed in, and the grey has a little brown mixed in. (Or glazed over or just dotted over, it doesn’t have to be super complicated and annoying to do this kind of thing!)

Colours used: Rock greys were mixes of 9136 Walnut Brown and 9144 Creamy Ivory, with touches of 9010 Mahogany Brown in the shadows and 9256 Blond Shadow in the highlights. The earth was Russet Brown, with Walnut added to darken it and Blond Shadow added to lighten it.

Unfortunately the time was growing late, and I was not able to keep taking work-in-progress pictures. I finished up here. I wasn’t really happy with the face, but it was very late and I had to get to sleep. 

Kanga wip6

When I woke up, I was still pretty unhappy with the face. I wrestled with whether to change it. I wanted to work as fast as I could to get this finished and published while the fund raiser is still going. It was decently true to the reference. So what is the problem, and was it worth changing? 

The problem is that the head as painted does not act well as a focal point for the miniature. Your eyes are much more likely to go to the contrast between the dark paws and light arms or the bright spot at the end of the tail. This is one of the issues we have to wrestle with between making something realistic and making something viewers enjoy looking at, and why the answer isn’t always to be as realistic as possible. I had tried to fudge a little when I painted the head originally, but it didn’t work that well.

Unplanned Step 7: Fixing the Head
I decided it was worth taking a little extra time to fix the head. Since this wasn’t a contest I didn’t have a hard deadline where I just had to live with it, and I thought it would also help improve this blog post to take the effort. I studied the head and decided it would be more effective to paint the center area of the head in the brighter more saturated colours of the main body, even if that wasn’t 100% true to the reference. Further, I decided to try the same approach I used when painting a Hydra and make the head a little more saturated as well as lighter than the main body area.

Colours used: Midtone 9110 Oiled Leather + 9201 Orange Brown. Shadows in small areas with just Oiled Leather. Highlights mixed with the midtone and up with mixes of Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then add 9061 Linen White and a touch of 9095 Clear Yellow.

The head still isn’t grabbing quite as much attention as I’d like, but I think it’s an improvement, and now time really is growing too late to fiddle much more!

Kanga left full

Kanga face full

Kanga right full

 

Lessons for Deadline Painting 

My experience with this offers some parallels for the risks of painting contest entries right up until a deadline. If you start contest entries well in advance of a deadline, you have a lot more time to do research and discover things like what the back of the ears should actually look like. If you are mostly finished some time before a deadline, you have time to sit with the figure a while and study it. You need both time to spot areas you might not like, and time to figure out how to improve them. You might end up making changes like I did with the face of this kangaroo. Or find areas where you need more contrast, or left stray brushstrokes you need to clean up, or any other number of things.

More than once I have taken an entry I slaved over up til the deadline to a contest thinking it was really quite well done and addressed the major flaws people have with my work. Some of those entries did not make much of a splash, and when I looked at them again a few weeks or months later, I could see all kinds of issues with them I didn’t realize were there in the frenzy of trying to get something finished by deadline.

So if you want to get a kangaroo of your own or just help Australian wildlife relief efforts, what can you do?

You’ll find Reaper’s fund raising page here. It has links to buy each of the three qualifying packs, and more information on the amount of money that has already been raised (more than $30,000 USD!) and about the RSPCA of South Australia. 

Hope

If you buy Hope, pictured above, you can enjoy a video series for how to paint her by Reaper’s talented Anne Foerster.
Koala fur and face video
Hope’s cloth painting video
Painting the accessories and some detailing
More accessories and detailing
Finishing up Hope the Koala

Kanga pack full

If you buy the Australian Wildlife Pack that includes the kangaroo I painted, you aren’t on your own with the koala if you don’t want to be. One of Reaper’s paint mixers, Sadie, is brand new to painting. She’s been working her way through the Learn to Paint Kit: Core Skills in her videos, but she took a break from the kit to paint up this little guy

Courage

I’m not aware of any learn to paint articles or videos for Courage, but there’s a great version you can look at for inspiration painted by Mini Wizard Studios.

Understanding Critique: a Visualization of Lining and More Contrast

This is a kind of excerpt from a class I’m giving at AdeptiCon 2020. I’ll be critiquing miniatures I’ve painted throughout my career from beginner to advanced, terrible to award winning. I want to give people a better understanding of the terms we often use in critique, and to explore common issues in miniature painting with the aim of helping painters of all levels better assess and determine how to improve their own miniatures. If you’re attending AdeptiCon and are interested in attending this class, advance tickets are on sale until February 28, or you can show up at the class with ticket price in hand. I hope this also helps to illustrate some of the issues I outlined in my previous post Suggestions for Contest Entries, as I know people are already painting entries for this years ReaperCon MSP Open!

Libby vs Eriu original paint

On the left side of the above picture is my painted version of Beach Babe Libby. On the right is Eriu, Champion with Greatsword. They have a lot in common apart from wearing bikinis. Both are sculpted by the talented Kev White. I used a similar colour scheme on both – pale skin, and a triadic colour scheme of red-orange, green, and blue-violet. I painted both of them in 2003, only a few months in time apart. Both were painted with the same stock of paints and brushes. Whatever they have in common, I think most viewers would agree that Eriu is the better painted figure. But why is that?

Some might look at Eriu and think it’s a superior paint job because it features bells and whistles like NMM (non-metallic metal) and a bit of freehand. Many would likely note that Eriu is painted with better contrast between darker shadows and brighter highlights. Those are definitely factors, but I think there’s a more fundamental difference than that between these two paint jobs. I digitally edited the photograph of Eriu to remove a lot of the contrast, dull down the NMM, and soften the lining, to in effect ‘paint’ Eriu in a manner more like Libby. Let’s compare this edited version of Eriu with Libby.

Libby vs low contrast Eriu

Even though her NMM is flat looking and her hair is dull, I would argue that this version of Eriu is still a better paint job than Libby. If you walked past the two of them on a contest shelf or game table, the Eriu figure would catch your eye more than the Libby figure. This is because Eriu is a better application of another type of value contrast – contrast between different areas of the miniature. If you squint your eyes (or shrink the pictures) and look at Libby, the figure kind of blends together visually. You can’t see a strong separation between the areas like her hat versus her face, her skin versus her bikini, or her feet versus the sand. The midtone colours used for the various areas of the miniature are very similar in value. (Value is a measure of how light, medium, or dark a colour is.)

The Eriu figure stands out better visually because the midtone colours of adjacent areas are different values. She has very pale skin and very dark hair. The green boots and bikini bottom and the copper armour top are middle values. So the skin, hair, and clothing all stand out from one another and help the viewer quickly spot what and where each area on the figure is. Giving the viewer that kind of information is the most fundamental job of a miniature painter (IMHO at least). Using value contrast in the midtones of adjacent areas on your figures is a simple and very effective tool you can use to make them much more interesting to look at!

Edit to add: I have received a few comments from people who don’t feel like they see any difference in the quality between these two, or who prefer the Libby figure. Part of the reason I chose these figures is because they’re so similar. Not just the figures, but the tools and general skill level used to paint them. We get very caught up in having the ‘right’ tools, or developing skills like blending and the ability to paint precise details. Those are important, but they are only half of the equation of creating visual impact. The other half is more to do with our perception and our judgement. Seeing subtle differences like this. Making judgements about which colours to use, in what values, and where to put those. It is just as important to build those skills as it is to work on your skills of handling brush and paint. It took me a long time to understand that and start working on it, but it is something that can be improved. At a certain point it becomes the critical skill that you’ll need to work on to improve your work.

If you are having trouble seeing much difference in some of these images, try this – step back from your screen or shrink the images down until you’re looking at them closer to the size of a miniature (a little over an inch or 30mm or so, these are fairly small.) This is the way most viewers will experience your work, you need to grab their attention and give them as much information about the miniature as you can at small scale/at a distance. This is just as important for display/contest miniatures as it is for gaming figures! You need to grab a judge’s attention at arm’s length to make them want to pick your figure up to look closer. (Or to put it another way – we know it’s tough to paint high contrast and subtle blends and details. That is why minis that pull off both score better!) 

Libby vs Eriu in black and white

Another tip is to look at your work and make comparisons in black and white. We love colour, and it’s very easy for us to get distracted by it. But value usually has the most impact on whether a piece is visually effective, whether it’s using different values between regions of the figure, or using stronger contrast in highlights and shadows. I’ve added a comparison of the two figures in grayscale above. Hopefully it should be easier to see that the midtone colours of most of the Libby figure kind of blend together, whereas the various areas of the Eriu figure stand out more distinctly from one another.

There are times when it is not possible to use strong value contrast between areas. In those situations it is all the more important to use other tools like lining and stronger contrast between shadows and highlights. To add (or increase) lining and contrast are two of the most common pieces of feedback I find myself giving to painters after judging contests like the ReaperCon MSP Open. When possible, I show painters who receive that feedback an example of what I mean by comparing a figure like Eriu to one like Libby. But I think it might help people if they were able to compare what adding contrast and more lining looks like on the same figure. I have digitally edited this photo of Libby to provide an example of that.

Libby original and revised.

Let’s convert this one to grayscale, too. I think it helps us see how the lining and additional contrast make the figure ‘read’ more clearly.

Libby original vs edit in grayscale

The revised version of Libby isn’t a gold medal paint job, and it would still benefit from stronger midtone value contrast between the different areas of the figure. But it does stand out more visually than the original. If you squint you’ll have an easier time seeing where one part of the figure ends and another begins. But which is more important, lining or contrast?

Libby lining vs contrast

I made my digital edits of the lining and the contrast on separate layers so I could show each of the elements individually. The only change between the original paint job and the picture on the above left is that I added strong lining to separate areas like the skin and the bikini. The figure on the right has only the faint original lining I painted, but I digitally painted in additional highlights and shadows. Both at the lining and additional contrast improve the figure, but I think if you could do only one that the lining is most effective.

I know a lot of people who feel like blacklining/darklining is ‘unnatural’, but it is very helpful to the viewer on gaming scale figures. I would also argue that it is more natural than people often think since clothing or other items that overhang other items create a small line of dark shadow, but that’s an argument for another day. Thick black lines will have a cartoony or graphic novel feel. For a more natural and less obtrusive look, choose a dark value of one of the colours on either side of the area and use that for your lining.

I don’t as yet have a tutorial about executing the technique, but you will find plenty of lining tutorials on YouTube. One thing that helped me a lot was to paint the lining in after I did my basecoat, but before other steps. Then I could easily clean it up with the basecoat colour if I got sloppy in spots. If you do this, you will need to come back at the end and touch up a few spots where you lost some lining doing other stages of painting, but that tends to be a lot less nerve-racking than painting all of the lining at the end. 

In case you’re curious, here’s is a picture of what the edits I made to Libby look like with the original photograph removed, so you can see only the parts I altered. Anything that appears grey is untouched. This might also help you get a better picture of the value range between the highlights and the shadows. My intent with the digital edit was to create something that was a better version of the original figure, not something painted in the style I would paint today. My digital talents are too limited to alter the picture to that degree! In case anyone’s curious, I made these edited versions on an iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil and the Procreate program.

Libby edits only edit cr

I also did a digital edit of improvements to Eriu, but if you want to see more about that you’ll need to come out to my class at AdeptiCon!

Eriu original revised

I’ve written a fair bit in past posts about how and why to paint with more contrast. Below are some links you may find helpful. You’ll also find pictures of a few miniatures I ‘edited’ the old fashioned way if you’d like additional examples of what more and less contrast look like on the same figure.

First, an example of what more contrast actually looks like on the same figure.

Let’s talk about the issue of contrast vs. realism.

The way we think as we paint can make it harder to paint more contrast (includes additional examples of what more and less contrast look like on the same figures.)


And finally some hands on tips for painting with more contrast.


2020 Convention Schedule

Every year I mean to do something like this fairly early. I’m remembering to do it this year, though not exactly early. ;->

2020 schedule graphic

 

Cold Wars, March 12-15

Registration is currently open for Cold Wars. Check back occasionally for scheduling of and tickets to classes. Look in the Hobby University section under Games/Events. I am planning to teach the following topics:

Object Source Lighting (OSL)

Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked

Non-Metallic Blades

Fur, Feather, and Scales

The Hobby University classes at Cold Wars are small so you get lots of access to the instructor. Aaron Lovejoy is also a guest this year, and the Hobby University staff offers a great suite of classes. 

AdeptiCon, March 25-29

Registration is open for AdeptiCon, and you can sign up for classes until February 28, 2020. 

Of the classes I am teaching, I still have tickets available for my Critique Clinque class. The aim of this class is to help you better understand critique you receive on your miniatures, and to improve your skills in assessing figures yourself. Both of these should help you discover ways to improve your own figure painting. We will definitely be talking about how ‘needs more contrast’ is a statement a lot more complex (and interesting to solve) than just higher highlights and deeper shadows.

Tickets for my other classes have sold out. However, it is surprisingly common for one or two people to fail to show up to classes. If you are interested in one of these (or a class taught by any of the many, many fine painters who will be attending), you can show up at class time with the fee for the class in cash, and if we have room, we will be happy to add you to the class! If I have an extra mini or two (and I usually do), I will sneak one or two extra people in even if all the registered attendees sign up.

Object Source Lighting (OSL)

Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked (two sessions)

I have written a general overview of AdeptiCon in the past. If you want to learn more about painting miniatures, this is one of your best options in the United States. Dozens of amazing painters teach classes at this convention. Note that the Crystal Brush competition ended as of last year. This year the focus is on manufacturer hosted painting contests, including the United States return of Golden Demon, and Creature Caster’s competition. 

Save versus Hunger

Save vs Hunger is a small convention local to me. It is a fundraiser for one of my favourite charities – Second Harvest of East Tennessee. The focus of the convention is on role-playing game sessions, but there is also a board game library, and a few other activities. I host a paint and take table. People are welcome to bring their own figures (and other supplies) to work on as well. David Cecil has kindly donated his time to run a couple of painting for tabletop classes (times TBD), and he and I will both be available to answer questions, do short demos, and offer critiques.

ReaperCon

Registration for ReaperCon opens on February 14, 2020. Class tickets are not yet on sale. 

I have not yet submitted what I will teach at ReaperCon. I am thinking about teaching OSL and Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked. That class features a method for achieving smooth blends that involves starting off with layering, and then using acrylic retarder to refine the blends as you would with oil paint. (Sort of a way to do wet blending where the paint stays workable for a much longer period of time.)

If you are attending ReaperCon and there is a class topic you would be interested to see me teach, please let me know and I’ll see whether it’s feasible for this year!

ReaperCon is an amazing convention for anyone interested in learning more about painting miniatures. There are dozens of instructors teaching hundreds of classes of all levels and topics. When they aren’t in class, the instructors hang out in the artist area at tables with name plates, so you can seek them out to get some feedback, or ask about their tools and techniques, or just say hi and admire their work up close and personal. ReaperCon is not just for painters, either. It offers the largest slate of sculpting classes and access to sculptors that I know of, both digital and traditional.

You do not have to be a Reaper fanboy to attend. Miniatures by any manufacturer (or that you sculpted yourself) are welcomed into the MSP open contest. You can talk about and use other company’s products. Plenty of other companies are on-site in the dealer hall! 

If you or your friend/relative/partner enjoy something other than miniature painting and sculpting (what, why?), there are also sessions of RPG games, miniatures games, a board game library, and a small video game/pinball arcade. Costumes are welcome – this year’s theme is piratey.

Fool’s Gold

I’m still working on the post about my personal adventures in failure. In other news, the hotel block for ReaperCon 2020 is now open for reservations. If you’re not familiar with ReaperCon, it’s a great place for miniature fans of all companies to learn more about mini painting and sculpting, enter an all brands welcome contest, enjoy gaming, and much more.

And now, let us travel back in time to 2010. My title for this little diorama is Fool’s Gold.

Fool's Gold main angle

A few days ago Reaper Miniatures reached out to me to ask if I could send pictures of a diorama I did some years ago. The main figure in the diorama is Crazy Pete the Prospector. Crazy Pete is available for purchase, but he is also being featured as one of the gift with purchase options on the Reaper site.

Fool's Gold face view

I did have pictures, but they were from 2010, taken with an older camera with lower resolution. And colour corrected before I had a proper greyscale card. Taking new pictures was complicated by the fact that Crazy Pete had become detached from the base.

Fools left 800

I dug him out of my case and discovered that the damage wasn’t bad at all. Some glue and a few minutes touching up a little paint were all that was required to get the piece in shape for new pictures. I did a little bit of touching up, which I’ll go into more detail on below.

Fool's Gold vulture view

The vulture is also a Reaper miniature. If one vulture is not enough to meet your scavenger needs, Reaper now has a six pack of different vultures!

Fool's Gold mole view

The mole is not available for sale. I started off sculpting it on top of an armature made from a Reaper squirrel familiar. But I am pretty bad at sculpting, and was even worse in 2010. Luckily Jason Wiebe of Pariah Artworks came to my rescue and sculpted this great mole figure for me! The mole was very important to my vision for the scene, so I’m grateful he took pity on me. 

Fool's Gold

One of the things that makes this piece dear to my heart is that it was a collaborative effort with a lot of support from my friends on top of Jason’s sculpting addition. Clever Crow Michael Proctor shared the piece of bark to make the mountain/cave, and a lot of great tips for painting scenery and true metallics. Ali Liu and other artists gave me great feedback and advice on ways to make the story stronger, and helped push me to try the freehand and texturing. (Way back before that became such a thing as it is today!) I would probably have chickened out if not for all of the support.

Fool's Gold Original picture

Above is a copy of one of my original photos. The touch ups I did included making the lining stronger in a number of places, adding a few more highlights on the vulture, more gloss sealer on the spilled water, and increased shading on Crazy Pete, mostly his skin and boots. 

There are definitely some things I would do differently if I painted this piece today, but I’m still proud of it, and it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I finished this one!