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!

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 3

Please check the bottom of this post for information on where to buy this figure or receive one as a gift with purchase.

At the end of Part 2  I explained how I try to take photos of a figure when I’m nearly done so I can check for issues to fix. I included my photos of this stage for Tara, inviting you to spot problems in my painting. I’ll share the two main views again now so you don’t have to flip between two blog posts.

Tara WIP final check front

Tara WIP final check backAlmost but not quite done…

Here’s the list I made of things I needed to add, alter, or fix. I just jotted things down in the order I spotted them, I didn’t go through an exhaustive checklist or anything. I will expand on/translate things from exactly as I wrote them down so they’re understandable to people who are not me, however. :-> 

* Soften the edges of the highlight on the nose, and broaden it to a wider area.

* Smooth the transitions on the cheek highlights.

* Tidy the edge of the shirt trim on the left collar point.

* Clean up the bottom edge of the top buckle.

* Glaze the leather texture.

* Smooth the highlight transitions on the arrowhead.

* Soften or increase gradation on the transition from the upper lip highlight to cheek area on both sides.

* Paint the base rim. (Hey, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious!)

* Check the murky look to the shadow under the rib on the bow side.

* Darken the skin? (The question mark was in my notes. I had intended to paint a skin on the darker side of the mid range and wasn’t sure I had succeeded.)

* Paint the lips. Add pink/red glaze to cheeks.

* Add additional bright hair highlights in small areas.

* Clean up overly-wide strand line on the back of the head.

* Tidy up chin highlight.

* Check/improve brightest highlight on the quiver.

* Clean up edge of the bottom of the quiver.

* Add dirt glaze to steel areas.

* Glaze purple into shadows of most areas, particularly skin, blue.

* Clean up the shirt trim near the neck on the shoulder pad side, looks like blue got swiped on some areas of it.

* Increase highlight on waistband of pants.

* Smooth transitions on the steel of the shoulder pad spikes.

How many did you spot? I look at these pictures full size; there may be issues that weren’t too apparent at blog-friendly size, so don’t feel too bad if you missed some.

ADDENDUM: I was asked on my Facebook page to give more detail about the glazes I used on the leather and the steel. This was my reply.

By glaze, I mean heavily thinned paint. Closer to coloured water than thin paint, really. With Reaper paints you can use just water. I often use a mix of Brush-On Sealer and water. I almost always will test a glaze to make sure it is indeed super thin and transparent, since if I get it wrong on something like the leather texture, I’ll be covering over minutes or hours of work with a couple of brushstrokes I can’t remove once they dry. I test it by painting it on to a piece of paper and checking that it just barely tints the paper once it dries.

I also use the term glaze to mean paint applied in a deliberate, controlled manner. So while it’s thin like a wash (or thinner really), I do not slop it all over like you would with a wash. I dip my brush in the paint, and then wick a lot of it off on to a paper towel. Then I apply a thin coat only where I want it to be. In the case of the steel, in crevices and other areas that aren’t going to get rubbed with use or are harder to polish. In the case of the leather, I was using it to shift the colour and tone down the appearance of the texture, so I applied it all over the leather areas.

The glaze did not texture the leather. If you look back at the previous pictures in Part 2, there was plenty of texture on the leather long before I got to the end stage touch ups. The texture was built up in layers with unthinned or only slightly thinned paint. The point of the glaze was to tone the texture down just a little, since she’s a well-kept adventurer and not a half-wild orc or something. I also used it to shift the colour to a little more orange to play up the colour complement contrast with the blue.

On the steel areas, I used a similarly thinned glaze of a dark brown colour. I keep this away from the lighter highlights. Partly because these areas are likely to be well polished and maintained, and partly because even super thin paint like a glaze painted over while will make it darker, and that’ll make the NMM less shiny.

I didn’t use the term, but some of the other places I used glazes were to add purple in the shadows of the skin and blue cloth, and to add a little bit of a blush to her cheeks.

How many did you spot? I look at these pictures full size; there may be issues that weren’t too apparent at blog-friendly size, so don’t feel too bad if you missed some.

More importantly, how many things did you spot that I missed?! On later reflection, I think I may have missed some big picture type stuff. And probably some small stuff, too. Feel free to let me have it with your critique!

Here are the pictures of the finished paint job, after I addressed the issues I outlined above.

Tara - final face

Tara - final front

Tara - final right

Tara - final back right

Tara - final back

Tara - final left

If this piece had been intended for competition, my ideal would have been to finish it some time before the deadline. I’d put it somewhere I see often so I could look at it over time. Or perhaps not look at it all for a few weeks, and then bring it out again. After some time had passed and I’d been working on other things, I’d be able to come back to this with fresh eyes. That would be especially helpful to getting a view of the overall effect of the figure, the big picture. When you’re in the thick of painting something it can be easy to spot something fiddly like improving the nose highlight, but a lot harder to step back and see the big picture effect to judge how the overall colours, values, and other contrasts are working. It is very important for a competition piece to ‘pop’ on the shelf/table, not just look amazing when you stare at details close up. Popping out viewed at a distance is what makes the judges and other viewers want to look closer to see and appreciate all the detail work. (And also what looks most effective for tabletop play!)

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.

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 2

Please check the bottom of this post for information on where to buy this figure or receive one as a gift with purchase.

In my last post, I outlined some of my thoughts as I started to paint the classic Werner Clock figure Tara the Silent, with the aim of sharing how how I spot problems during the painting process and try to come up with possible solutions.

I ended the painting session with the figure as seen below. The light is imagined to be coming from above and to the right in the front view photo. I had settled on the colours for the skin and cloth areas and finished painting those areas, but when I looked it over the next day, there was something I wasn’t quite happy about with how I had painted it. This issue relates just to the skin and/or cloth, the other areas of the figure are just flat basecoats, and are going to be changed to different colours.

Tara - WIP blue clothAt the end of the paint session where I switched the cloth colour from green to blue.

When I looked at the figure the next day, I felt like the highlighting on the front of the legs stood out more strongly in comparison to the other areas of the cloth or the skin. I was unhappy with that for two reasons. One is that I was not intending the thigh/knee area of the figure to be a major focal point for the viewer. The other is that it does not evoke the imagined light source very well. If the light is coming from above and to the right, the right side of the face and torso should be more strongly lit than lower areas of the body. 

I debated whether to just leave things as they were until I was further along in the painting process. It is always challenging to accurately judge elements like value contrast while areas of the figure are incomplete. Our perception of colours and values is heavily influenced by the colours and values around them. (This is particularly true when you use a strong value primer like white or black.) I find I always need to tweak a few things at the end, so often it’s more efficient to wait to address things like this until that stage. If you scroll down and look at a later stage picture, you can see that in fact the value contrast on the cloth overall seems much more muted once the lighter value areas like the trim on the shirt and the non-metallic metal areas are added.

But the lighting being off nagged at me, so I decided to address it before I continued painting other areas. I reduced the brighter highlights on the legs to confine them to a smaller area, and also painted in more midtones and shadows in the front of the legs. I then increased the brightness and the overall area of the highlights on the chest and shoulder.

Tara - WIP blue cloth with adjusted highlights and shadowsNot perfect, but I like it better.

Finally it was time to move on to making more colour choices. Since I was going with an overall darker colour scheme, I decided to go for a somewhat worn leather texture. I’ll be going over this type of contrast in a lot more detail in the future, but it is usually most visually effective to have a strong value difference between adjacent areas on a figure. (An example would be dark skin next to a light value shirt, next to a medium value skirt.) Sometimes that isn’t possible to do, whether because of your concept for the figure, or just having too many areas that are adjacent to one another. When adjacent areas are similar in value, it is important to create contrast between them in other ways. Colour contrast is usually what people will think of first, and I did use that here, picking orangey browns to contrast with the blue cloth. But using different kinds of textures is also a handy tool in that situation. (Note that smoothness like cloth is also a texture, and that there are different kinds of smooth – from dull like wool to shiny like satin.) 

Tara front WIP - main colour scheme establishedMuch more of a classic rogue look now. But maybe she blends into the background a little TOO much for a visually striking miniature paint job?

Tara back WIP - main colour scheme establishedAnd what the colour choices look like on the back view. This is a Klockenbooty figure, the back view is important. ;->

I definitely felt like she was looking like more of a classic blend into the background type of rogue. Almost a little too much so in the sense that I felt my paint job was very dull to look at. That was another problem to work out – what was missing or not quite working? One feeling I had was that it lacked colour complexity. In this case, I decided I would leave making a judgement on that until the end stage clean up. My touch up phase always includes some glazing and colour shifting to add interest and depth. 

Based on conversations I’ve had with people who are frustrated with their painting, I think this is one of those points where frustrated painters would have given up – just stopped painting, or even stripped the paint off the figure and started again. The thing about miniature painting is that you can’t always assess whether everything is working in the middle of the process. Expecting the areas you think you’ve finished AND the miniature as a whole to look good throughout the entire painting process is unrealistic. If you’re thinking like that, your mindset is more the cause of your frustration than your painting skills. What you need to do is push yourself to paint through these points and get several miniatures to the point of completion and THEN critique those figures as overall pieces to get a sense of areas where you’re weaker and need to work to improve. This is also true of many effects within the process – a lot of things don’t look good until you’re done or at least 90% done. (Examples include non-metallic metal, transparent cloth, and numerous others.)

So even though I wasn’t super enthused about the figure at this point, I proceeded onwards with the details – the trim and lacing on the top, the string on the crossbow, the arrow fletching, some decorative gold NMM, and some steel NMM areas, and then of course the hair. The hair is a fairly sizeable area of the figure, not a smaller detail, but I generally prefer to leave painting hair until a later stage as the top of the head is more likely than other parts of the figure to experience paint getting rubbed off while holding it in order to reach to paint other areas. I usually paint weapons extended in hands near the end for a similar reason. Affixing the miniature to a holder really helps minimize these kinds of rub-off issues, but I’m just in the habit of painting hair near the end now.

Tara front WIP - details and hair paintedSince many of the detail areas include lighter value colours, adding them in helps move the eye around and breaks up the dullness of the main colour scheme choices.

As I started to paint in the details, I felt the figure was already looking less dull. Why is that? I think it’s because the major areas of the figure that I had worked on (skin, cloth, leather) are all in the dark to mid sections of the value range. They are also fairly matte textures, so the range from highlights to shadows doesn’t include very many areas of light values. The trim is a lighter value, and so are the midtone and highlight colours of the non-metallic steel and gold areas. Those small pops of lighter value colours help keep your eye more engaged and moving around the figure.

Although I was resolved to leave addressing most problems until the final touch up stage, that doesn’t mean I didn’t touch anything already painted. If I have paint on my palette that fits in with other areas of the figure, I’ll often add some glazes or do other touchups. During this phase of painting Tara, I added a bit more texture and highlighting to the leather, touched up the highlights on the face a little, and added some touches of brown to the rock she’s standing on.

When I reached the point of feeling I was pretty much finished, I took a few quick photos and edited those the same way I would my final photos. I find it is helpful to check photos before I go to the final touch up stage. It usually saves time. There is almost always at least one thing that looks odd in the photos that I don’t notice looking at it in person, even wearing a magnifying visor. As another opportunity for you to exercise your artist’s eye, I’m going to share my final check stage photos here. I’m sharing at a decent size. In practice I actually look at the photos heavily magnified so I can see all the issues and goofs as well as possible. Though it is also important to look at them at a smaller size to get more of a sense of how the colours and values work on the figure as a whole. I do want to find the problems with details, but I don’t want to get lost in the details and miss the big picture!

I tend to find my touch up issues fall into a few main categories. I write out the issues I spot on a piece of paper I can take with me to my painting so I don’t forget anything while I’m doing my touch up painting.

Final details: There are a few details I often leave until this stage so I can use the paint colours from those in my touch-ups.

Neatness: stray brush strokes, lining that has gotten fuzzy, or edges that need more highlights.

Blending issues: places that should look smooth but where I see transition lines, or perhaps areas of texture that don’t look as textured as they should.

Value problems: Areas that need stronger contrast between highlights and shadows.

Colour: colours that look a little dull, areas where colour is more uniform than it should be. (Skin is not uniform in colour tone, metal reflects surrounding colours, etc.)

In addition to these pictures, you can also study the face view shown above, it was taken at the same time as these final check photos.

Tara front WIP final check

Tara right WIP final check

Tara back WIP final check

Tara left WIP final check

Did you spot where I went wrong in the first set of photos? Are you ready to scour my final check photos above for errors and issues? I’ll share my checklist of issues to fix in the final chapter of this series on problem solving in a few days. I’ll also share the completed photos, and some thoughts and critique of the paint job as a whole now that I’ve had some time to reflect on it.

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.

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent – Part One

Please check the bottom of this post for information on where to buy this figure or receive one as a gift with purchase.

Oftentimes I talk about painting figures in terms of planning in advance – working out the direction of your light source with reference photos of value painting, for example. But that’s not always how we paint, and even for those who do plan a lot in advance, sometimes the plan doesn’t work as anticipated and you encounter problems along the waythat you need to figure out how to solve.

I think the ability to critically analyze the issues with your painting of a figure and come up with possible ways to address those is one of the things that separates intermediate level painters from top level painters. It’s a similar skill to what you would use to try to create a new effect like a particular kind of cloth texture or something along those lines –  analyze a particular visual effect,  try a method to try to reproduce it, analyze the result, and adjust. A critical eye and problem solving are useful skills to develop for a number of different purposes in miniature painting or any other art form.

So I thought it might be helpful for me to try to share some of my own experiences doing this. To really help people learn to paint, I think we need to learn to help them have more insight into the thought process behind decisions and corrections. That kind of information can be just as useful as step by step information on techniques or colour schemes. It’s the paint equivalent of teaching you how to fish rather than giving you a fish. ;->

Tara the Silent is an iconic Reaper Miniatures character that there have been a few different sculpts of over the years. I’ve even painted one before! (And then I painted her again, where she provided a good example of ways to paint with more contrast.) Reaper has reproduced the classic Werner Klocke version in their new Bones Black plastic material as the promotional miniature for the month of May 2019, and I was asked to paint the catalogue version of that figure. 

My initial concept idea was to paint her up as more of a scout type rogue than a classic thief sort of rogue. I also wanted to paint her skin tone using some of the colours that paint maven Anne Foerster talked about on a recent episode of Reaper Toolbox. (Jump to minute 11 if you want to get straight to the paint talk.) In this case a somewhat darker skin tone, using Ruddy Flesh as the midtone. To work with that, my first thought was to paint the cloth khaki green, and the main leather a dark reddish brown, with a very dark brown for the hair and other leather accents. My idea was to paint her as more of an army scout type rogue than the classic skulk in the dark type thief. When I sat down to begin painting her, I quickly roughed in that colour scheme.

Tara - block in of green colour schemeA cell phone pic of my initial quick colour scheme idea. I don’t know the trick of taking nice cell phone WIP pics. 

I wasn’t that happy with this test colour scheme, and the art director at Reaper wasn’t, either. One issue is that, as it stands, it has much more of a ranger than a rogue feel. It’s always a bit hard to tell for me on plain mid-tone basecoats, but I don’t think there was a large enough value difference between the main areas of the figure, and the colours weren’t dark enough to convey more of a rogue vibe.

Tara - green colour scheme, painted skinSince I was on a deadline, I went forward with my plan for the skin and painted that up while pondering another direction for the overall colour scheme.

So I stuck with my plan for the skin, but switched to a dull darkish blue colour for the main cloth areas. (The art director also preferred that the figure be painted as if wearing a sleeveless top. As sculpted, I think you could paint it as either sleeved or sleeveless, whichever fits the painter’s taste.)

Tara - cell phone pic of blue colour schemeI settled on a somewhat desaturated blue for more of a classic rogue feel.

We both felt much happier with where that was going. So that is one example of problem solving. If you try something and you don’t love it, study and try to figure out what you don’t love. A lot of these kinds of things, there’s not going to be one perfect correct answer. I think I could have made tweaks to the original colour scheme to make it work better. For example, I think I might have been able to rescue my original scout concept by making both the khaki clothing and the red-brown leather darker value versions of those colours. Or I could have evoked more of a classic rogue feel with black, dark brown, dark purple, or several other ‘shadowy’ colours on the cloth, blue isn’t the only colour that would have worked. (And ideally I might have done the step of working out the colour scheme on paper or on a test figure, but sometimes the real world is far from ideal.)

Tara - work in progress 2 frontA better quality picture of the change to blue cloth for the colour scheme.

Tara WIP 2 back viewAnd what the blue looked like on the back view. At this point only the skin and cloth are the new colour scheme.

While I was happier with the main colour choice, when I came back to look at the figure the next day, I felt that something was a little off about the execution of the painting. Since it’s often easier to do this kind of analysis on someone else’s work, I’m going to end this post at this stage of the painting process and give you a chance to study the photos for a while and see if anything seems off to you. It’s always harder to tell when the painting is mid-process and doesn’t have all the main values laid in. But it’s still a useful opportunity to give you a chance to build your eye a little. It may also be helpful to note that I wasn’t using a reference photo, but my visualization for the light source is that it is coming from above and to the right in the front view pictures. I’m also not locked in to any of the other colour choices, so this relates only to the finished areas of the skin and/or the cloth.

I suspect that many of you will find additional issues to the one that was bothering me, so this is not necessarily a one right answer question!

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. 

Sprout von Harvest II – Limited Quantities Available

I travel to several conventions and shows each year, but one of the most unique conventions I take part in happens in my own backyard. All of the proceeds from the Save versus Hunger convention are donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. The convention even takes place at their facility! Thanks to some very special people, this year we had a unique miniature available for sale at the convention – Sprout von Harvest II. There are a few copies of the figure left, so if you’re a Bobby Jackson fan or want to support a good cause, you can get your own copy of Sprout von Harvest II right here!*

Sprout front 600Front view of Sprout von Harvest II.

My colour choices for the figure were guided by the logo artwork of the convention. This is a classic triadic colour scheme using the primary colours – red, yellow, and blue. Since Sprout is a warrior figure, I went with a slightly muted, more military blue. I also aimed for a slightly muted yellow, with some yellow ochre tones rather than pure sunny yellow. I finished the colours off with a rich red. Typically when you use a colour scheme like this, you should not use the colours in equal proportions to one another. For this figure, blue is the dominant colour (blues were also used in the shading of the metal armour), red is secondary, and the yellow is an accent colour.

Sprout shield 500Sprout’s shield is the logo for the Save versus Harvest convention.

I painted up a copy of Sprout partly to be able to take pictures for promotional purposes, but also with the intention of including it as a prize on the Save versus Hunger raffle table. This is a big table of cool geeky prizes like board games and role-playing books, and cool handcrafted geeky decor and such. Since I wanted Sprout to make an impact in person and to appeal to an audience of role-players, I chose to paint the figure with metallic flake paints. 

The majority of figures I paint need to photograph well, so I usually choose to paint non-metallic metals. Figures painted with NMM tend to be much easier to photograph. Real metallics require a lot more fiddling with the light and repositioning of the figure to try to catch a picture that matches what you see in real life. I had a lot of fun painting metallics on Sprout, and I hope I am able to do it more often! I used the same principles that I used when I paint NMM in terms of determining where to place shadows and highlights. I used layers of thinned matte paint to paint in the shadows, so that the areas that are darker also reflect less light. I used a slightly thinned brighter metallic silver paint to paint on highlights. Since metallic flake falls out of suspension really easily, I thinned down the silver with Reaper’s Wash Medium instead of plain water. Wash Medium is largely the binder part of paint and has a higher viscosity than water, so it keeps the metallic flake floating in suspension. You can use Reaper’s Brush-On Sealer in a similar way.

Sprout back 600You can see what I mean about photographing metallics in this view. If you compare it to the other angles, the shading on the sword looks both rougher and less apparent here. The helm doesn’t look great, either. 

I wanted Sprout to have a noble warrior in shining armour type of vibe, but when I finished the main painting, the figure seemed a little TOO fresh and newly-minted. So I added some glazes of a dark dirty brown to the recesses of the metal areas. (By a glaze, I mean paint thinned down to being pretty much coloured water, which was applied in thin controlled coats to the desired areas.) I also painted in scratches and damage on the shield and armour.

I aadded some dirt and mud along the hem and in a few other places on the cloak, since that fit in with the environment of the base. I started with the lighter brown, thinned down until it was semi-transparent, and applied it by brushing and dabbing it on over the area of the hem, and a few dabs higher up the cloak. I went over that with a few coats until I thought the coverage and placement of the older dried dirt looked good. Then I used a darker brown for fresher dirt. This was also thinned to be somewhat transparent, and dabbed on just along the bottom edge of the hem.

Sprout face 400You can only just barely see them, but Sprout does have some facial features hiding in that helmet! Also another example of the challenge of photographing metallic paints – the sword shading looks better in this picture, but the light reflection off the facing edge of the shield is far too bright!

One lone figure on a big table of cool looking raffle prizes wasn’t likely to stand out, so I was excited when Sean Fulton generously offered to paint some opponents up for Sprout to battle. We agreed that ghouls worked well as a metaphor for hunger. He did a fantastic job on these gross and creepy monsters for Sprout to vanquish. Sean additionally donated a great set of painted resin bases that the winner can use for whichever miniatures she likes!

Ghouls frontI’m not great at gore, so I’m glad Sean Fulton painted these as they look much creepier than if I had!

Sprout v ghouls front 1000I don’t think Sprout will find this an easy fight…

These figures are a lot smaller and more fragile than the items usually displayed on the convention raffle table. I pondered for a while about how to present the figures to best advantage as well as keep them safe. I settled on the idea of a plastic display case, which I purchased from a hobby store. I made a black backdrop from foam core board, which doubled as a a sign where I could included enlarged photographs for people to better see the figures.

Sprout and ghouls in display boxI stuck the slotta bases down with poster tack, and the flat base with double sided mounting tape. I brought bubble wrap and a box along to the convention to be able to pack everything up safely for the winner to safely transport home.

Sprout von Harvest had a very limited production run. If you’re a collector of cool Bobby Jackson figures, stalwart knights, or just want to help a good cause, you can get one for yourself while supplies last at this site: Save versus Hunger store.* All proceeds from sales of the figure and the other items on this store page will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.

Sprouts front 1000

Sprouts back 1000Sprout is a pewter metal miniature in standard gaming scale. In these pictures you can see the bare metal, and a primed and black washed version.

*NOTE: I’m not sure if the Save versus Hunger store admins have figured out shipping rates as yet. There’s an email address on that site you can contact if you have questions about the shipping.

A Very Special Miniature (and I Have Awesome Friends)

This is going to be a bit of a departure from my usual blog post topics. I’m going to mention some miniature related stuff, and a convention, but I’m also going share my personal thoughts about some pretty special people. I try not to go on about it too much online (or even in person), but I’m not always the most positive of people. Sometimes it seems like every day brings another piece of news that shakes my faith in humanity a little bit more. But recently I have found my crumbled faith being built back up by the altruism of a number of people I know. Some are good friends, others I don’t yet know very well, but all have shown impressive compassion towards myself or other people in a way that has profoundly touched me. (And in many cases in ways that relate to miniatures or general geekery, so this a little related to my usual topics. A little. ;->)

Convention season continued for me this past weekend, but this one is a little different than the others. For one, the convention is local to my home town of Knoxville, Tennessee and I didn’t have to travel. But what really makes Save versus Hunger stand out is that all of the proceeds of the convention apart from operating costs are donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. The convention is even held at their facility! (Which is a former furniture showroom/warehouse they rent out for banquets and such, so it’s actually a pretty nice environment.) The convention is primarily for role-players, but my husband and I help out to provide some other activities people can enjoy. I run a miniatures paint and take table, and he sets up a library of board games for people to play.

Save vs Hunger convention miniature Sprout von Harvest IIMeet Sprout von Harvest II, brave hero and wielder of the Save vs Hunger shield. Sculpted by Bobby Jackson.

Last year one of the convention organizers suggested that it would be pretty nifty to have a custom miniature for the con. Although I do know some people in the miniatures industry, it seemed like quite a long shot to ever get a figure made. And yet, it happened! Bobby Jackson did a fantastic job sculpting this piece, which turned out exactly as we all had hoped. And Ron Hawkins from Reaper Miniatures helped me to get it cast, even though Reaper no longer does contract casting work. I’ll share a little bit about the painting of this figure in a future post, including the front view. :->

SvH logo on Sprout's chest armourBobby Jackson didn’t just sculpt the shield to look like the Save vs Hunger logo, he included a teeny tiny version on the chest plate of the armour!

While a collectible unpainted miniature is a new addition to the convention, traditionally Save vs Hunger also has a show stopper painted miniature available as a prize on the raffle table. The raffle table is full of geeky delights like games and dice bags, and ticket sales are a big donation generator at the con. Usually Cera Smith (who also does cool Magic card repaints) contributes a giant painted dragon that drives a lot of raffle ticket sales. Unfortunately she was not able to do so this year. I wasn’t up to painting a dragon, but I thought a painted version of Sprout ought to be in the raffle. And since that wasn’t much of an offer compared to a whole dragon, Sean Fulton stepped in to help beef up the prize offer. He contributed two wonderfully gory ghouls for Sprout to fight, AND a pack of very well painted resin bases! And he also donated some new brushes to the paint table! That’s on top of all the charitable work he does with the Nova Open Charitable Foundation. (And if you’d like a chance to buy raffle tickets for charity where you can  win some amazing painted miniatures, you will want to check out NOCF!)

Ghouls frontSean Fulton did a fantastic job painting these ghouls up to be super creepy and gross.

With a special con miniature lined up, I thought that the paint table at Save vs Hunger would be even busier than usual. And I worried about that, because most of the local friends I was hoping could help me out were unavailable. Even some of the non-locals who’ve come in the past had other commitments. Once again some wonderful people stepped up. Erin Hartwell (Corporea in the miniature world) drove all the way over from North Carolina, as she has done several years in the past. And this year we were able to offer miniature painting classes for the first time ever thanks to David Cecil (LordDave) coming in from Louisville, Kentucky. (If you’re into mini painting and near Louisville, check out the great painting group they have in the area – Llama!)

IMG 7099Here’s a pic of David Cecil reaching into his literal bag of tricks during one of the painting classes.

I also put out a call for help to our local Knoxville painting group (Knoxville Area Miniature Painters, aka KAMP), and I got a great response. Thank you so much Kristen, James, Brad, and Tammi. It was wonderful to get to know you all, and I really appreciate your help this past weekend. And a big thank you to all of the people who came out to paint, play, eat, and buy raffle tickets in support of the cause. My husband and I have a variety of charitable interests, but being able to use our personal passions and knowledge to help raise money to feed people in our local community is very meaningful to us. I am deeply moved by the friends both near and far who contributed to the effort this year. (And in years past, of course!) Thank you!

The final total raised this year was announced a few days after the end of the convention. $19,311! I believe that exceeds last year’s total by more than $1000.

My husband and I have been very fortunate to have been helped by friends on a more personal level lately, as well. One of the distractions that’s been keeping me from getting back to making meaty blog posts is that our home suffered some damage in the flood rains that hit the South a few months back. Our damage was pretty minor compared to what many suffered, but more than our feeble non-handy abilities could deal with on our own.

Just after the floodOur rec room flooded along one wall. Everything had to be moved to pull out rotted shelves and rip up the carpet. Which was made more difficult by the fact that planned house repairs meant we had even more stuff in the room than usual.

We have been very fortunate to have friends who do know what to do who have generously shared their knowledge, tools, and most of all, precious time to helping us not only damage control, but even upgrade and improve the room. (Begone horrible 70s decor!) I want to shout out our thanks to Trip, Norm, Nathan, and Astra. It means a lot to have you use some of your precious non-work hours doing such hard and tedious work to help us!

Improved rec roomIt’s not quite done, but what an improvement already! New paint, new floor, new doors. Same old cranky cat, though. This flooring is waterproof. Just in case…