AdeptiCon 2019 – Registration Opens Monday November 18

I’ve written before about why I recommend that miniature painters and enthusiasts attend conventions. I’ve also previously talked about ReaperCon in particular. It remains my favourite miniature-focused convention, but AdeptiCon runs a close second, and it offers some features I have not found elsewhere. (See the bottom of this post for links to previous articles and other sites/companies/people mentioned in this post.)

Registration for AdeptiCon passes, events, and hobby classes opens on Monday, November 18 at 1pm Central time. For more information on the convention in general, start with the following below. To see a preview of classes and events, select the Register option at the top of that page. I’ll share some information about the classes that I am teaching here, but for full details, check out the events on AdeptiCon’s site. There are a wealth of classes with lots of different instructors.

Hobby Classes – Painting, Sculpting, Scenics

AdeptiCon offers an impressive array of hobby class topics and instructors. The focus is on painting topics, but there are also classes for sculpting, and for scenics like terrain and bases. One interesting feature of AdeptiCon classes that started just last year is they have variable length classes. The short class this year is 1.5 hours long. There’s a medium length of 3.5 hours, and a long format of 5.5 hours. As both an instructor and a student of miniature painting classes, I love this idea! Some topics just can’t easily be squeezed down to 90-120 minutes, especially if you want to teach them as hands-on classes where people get a chance to practice concepts and techniques during the class.

Painting class with Raffaele PiccaTaken during a class with Raffaele Picca at AdeptiCon 2016.

Another notable thing about AdeptiCon’s class schedule is that it typically features sessions with international painters. Every year several international artists travel to AdeptiCon to participate in the Crystal Brush painting contest (more on that below). Most of them also take the opportunity to share their wisdom in painting classes. I don’t think there is another convention in North America with as much access to international artists.

As if all of that weren’t enough, the AdeptiCon hobby team works very hard to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone involved. The class rooms are large and decently lit. Each holds only one class at a time and doors can be closed, so it’s a quiet, focused environment. Where instructors request it, access to airbrushes or computer projection screens and the like is provided. Classrooms are also furnished with basic paints, brushes, and related supplies. Damon Drescher is the current lead of the hobby team, and he and all of the other volunteers do a wonderful job with the coordination, logistics, and on-site help with this event.

If you do want to take a class, I recommend that you consider bringing a few supplies of your own, however. In particular, bring your own brushes, and bring good quality ones if you’re taking intermediate or advanced classes. You will need a quality sable brush with a good point to be able to execute most techniques taught in anything other than basics classes. Hotel/convention center lighting isn’t always the best, so if you use magnification at home, bring your visor or reading glasses with you. In a similar vein, if you can squeeze a small battery powered lamp into your travel kit, I highly recommend that. Every class I teach I have at least one person frustrated about not being able to see as well as they’d like. It’s not feasible to expect the convention or instructors to be able to provide lighting (or magnification) for every student in every class. A variety of cheap battery operated or rechargeable lamp options is available via avenues like Amazon.

Rhonda Bender’s Classes for AdeptiCon 2019

This year I am teaching one shorter lecture/discussion class, and two mid-length hands-on classes.

Level Up Your Painting From Intermediate to Advanced
Thursday, March 28 from 2:30pm to 4pm CET
A survey of a lot of topics aside from technique that can help painters progress from intermediate to advanced level painting – understanding critique and assessing your figures with a more critical eye, improving contrast, improving use of colour, composition, referencing real life, balancing visual interest with realism, and many more. Includes a 12 page handout, but I recommend you bring paper and pen to take additional notes.

Painted Ladies
Friday March 29 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
What characteristics make a person look more feminine or more masculine, and how can we apply that to small miniature figures? We’ll start with the body and howto  place shadows and highlights on those tricky curves. Then we’ll work on how to render a face and its features in a way that appears more feminine, even at gaming scale. This longer class format will allow us plenty of time to both discuss the theories and practice hands-on.

Transparent Cloth
Saturday, March 30 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
How do you make a solid material like metal or resin look like filmy transparent cloth? I’m excited to have this longer class format to show people. It will give us time to discuss the theory and then practice hands-on with the various areas of a miniature that need to come together to create this illusion. 

I would like to thank Dark Sword Miniatures and Reaper Miniatures for their support of my classes, at both this event and over many long years. I couldn’t offer what I do without their generousity and assistance!

James Wappel in the Hobby lounge at AdeptiConThe legendarily speedy and creative painter James Wappel is a prominent fixture in the hobby lounge. He is always very generous with his time in explaining and demonstrating his unique techniques, use of oil paints, and his general creativity. His wife Cathy is also a great painter and often found nearby. A lot of the luminaries of miniature painting who attend AdeptiCon will spend some time painting here and may be willing to share some tips and information.

The Hobby Lounge

The hobby team sets up the the lobby of the classrooms area as an open painting area. Tables are provided so that people have a place to sit down and paint. Which many do! Many people hang out here to swap tips and tricks, meet new friends or catch up with old, so don’t be shy. Some people just stop by for a moment to touch up their armies before heading to a tournament. And there are always some frantically trying to finish up their Crystal Brush entries! (In fact if you find the hobby lounge too crowded the first day or two of the convention, check back after the contest entry deadline and you should have much less trouble getting a seat.)

The hobby lounge may make a few lights available, but apart from that you will need to bring your own supplies.

Vendor Area

If you’re interested in miniatures, the vendor area of AdeptiCon is tough to beat. Many miniatures companies set up booths, of course, but there is much more than that. There are companies selling brushes, paints, and other hobby paraphernalia. There are booths filled with amazing buildings, terrain, and other scenic elements. It’s a great place to try out a new game or pick up some dice. And there are always a few non-miniature cool geek booths that might sell jewelry or drinking horns, or who knows what else?!

Games Workshop fans will also want to check out the bitz vendors in the hallways near the vendor hall. There are additional scheduled bitz exchanges for players.

A vendor selling cool Western buildingsBuildings, ships, terrain, I’ve seen just so many cool things for sale at booths at AdeptiCon!

Vendor selling diceIt’s not a geek convention without dice, is it?

Happy AdeptiCon shoppersSave up your pennies and then spend them at AdeptiCon, and you too can be as happy as Rex Grange and Jen Greenwald!

Reper Miniatures paint and take tablesReaper Miniatures is one of the vendors at AdeptiCon. Every year they set up tables where you can sit down and paint one of their Bones figures. They supply the paint, brushes, and other materials, and you keep the figure. The placemats on the tables also have a small preview of the material I wrote for Reaper’s Learn to Paint: Core Skills kit.


While the hobby offerings have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, AdeptiCon has always been a convention for gamers. The primary gaming focus is on miniatures war games, of course. These include casual play events and tournaments for a wide variety of game systems. Check out the events preview for more information.

Board Game library at AdeptiConApologies for the blurry picture! This is the board game library for AdeptiCon. There are more games than in the photo. See a link to a complete list of games in the library at the bottom of this post.

If you’d like a break from miniatures games, there is also a small variety of scheduled role-playing and board game events. And a board game library where you can borrow one of the provided games to play with your friends in between scheduled events.

Other Activities

AdeptiCon is a pretty focused convention, so there aren’t a ton of other activities, but there is some costuming. There is also a contest for army board displays that is separate from the Crystal Brush. These are huge displays that often feature light and sound effects in addition to amazing scenics. I am impressed by the creativity on display every year. In previous years these army displays get set up in the main hallway on Saturday evening. To see them at other times you will need to wander the various gaming areas where the armies are being put to use and not just on display. (It’s worth a little side trip to see!)

A costumer at AdeptiCon 2018.Costuming isn’t a big focus at AdeptiCon but at the same time, there are always at least a few really amazing costumes at the show.

Army display board at AdeptiCon.This is just a small part of one of the fantastic display boards that I have seen at AdeptiCon. Some of them take all the year between one con and the next for their builders to complete!

The Crystal Brush Painting Contest

The Crystal Brush is pretty legendary in the miniature painting hobby. The prize for the best in show figure is $8,000, with prizes of $3,000 and $2,000 for second and third. There are also Gold, Silver, and Bronze prizes for the best three miniatures in each category. These receive smaller cash prizes of $200, $100, and $50. There may also be additional manufacturer prizes awarded.

Given the purse, you can imagine that some pretty top talent throws a hat into the ring each year. It is definitely a very competitive contest. If that type of environment spurs you to greater heights, this is the contest for you! If you prefer more of an open show environment, you might find that you’d get more enjoyment as a viewer than as an entrant. I myself have gone one way some years, and the other direction in other years. 

Crystal Brush contest cases at AdeptiConThe cases fill up with entries as the contest deadline draws closer. Painters submit their entries at the white table to the far right.

One other thing that is unique about the Crystal Brush is how the winners are selected. There is an on-site judging team coordinated by the fantastic painter Jennifer Haley. The guest judges each year are well-known painters and hobbyists. But they decide only a half of the score for an entry. The top 10-12 first cut entries are posted on the CMON site for live voting during the convention. The scores they receive make up the other half of the voting. So an entrant needs to paint to appeal to both a team of highly skilled judges, but also consider the popular tastes of voters and making an entry that photographs well to succeed. If you do want to enter, make sure that you read all of the rules and guidelines on the page linked below. You don’t want to accidentally disqualify yourself for having the wrong size of base or having shown pictures in advance in the wrong venue. (This is a far more common occurrence at contests than you might imagine.)

Even if you don’t want to enter the contest yourself, it is definitely worth taking some time to look at the entries. The level of craftsmanship and creativity on display is always impressive. Unfortunately the miniatures are displayed in cases in the vendor hall, so you can only access them during vendor hall hours, and there can be small crowds of viewers at times, but it is well worth the effort. The miniatures being in cases also makes them a little tricky to photograph, so the pictures below definitely do not capture the pieces to best advantage.

Bust entries at Crystal BrushBust is an increasingly popular category at Crystal Brush.

Chibi entries at Crystal BrushChibi style figures are one of the categories, and often the most fun and creative one!

Large size entries at Crystal BrushOther categories include large figure, monster/vehicle, and more And of course single gaming scale figures in a couple of different themes. There are also generally some nice historical themed entries, too.

Links and Information

I hope you’ll consider coming out to AdeptiCon 2019! If you are thinking of coming and have any questions about my classes, please just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Some Prose on Cons – why I think miniature painters should attend conventions:
ReaperCon – not Just for Reapers (my description of ReaperCon specifically. Not too early to plan!):
AdeptiCon main page:
AdeptiCon events page:
AdeptiCon vendor list:
AdeptiCon board game library game list:
Reaper Miniatures:
Dark Sword Miniatures:
Crystal Brush main page:
Raffaele Picca web page:
Damon Drescher’s Instagram:
James Wappel’s blog:
Jen Greenwald’s blog:

Measuring Progress – More than “Better”

I think many of us tend to judge our progress of improvement in miniature painting by indicators like making first cut or placing in a contest, going from a bronze to silver then silver to gold medals in open shows, scores on sites like CMON or Putty & Paint, or even just getting a lot of likes and comments posting to social media sites like Facebook or Instagram.

Portraits combo1You probably think that the portrait on the right was drawn after the portrait on the left. (And some time after, at that!) You would be wrong. I drew them both last month, and the poorly drawn one was drawn after the better one. Yet overall I still feel pretty positive about my progress in learning to draw, and I think that I am improving. How can that be so? Read on to find out!

Contest placements and viewer responses absolutely can be valid markers of progress, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competitive spirit pushing you to strive and try new things! But when we rely only on those kinds of external judgments, we risk getting discouraged if they don’t come when we expect or when we feel like we need a little boost.  It’s also possible to plateau for a while in terms of the objective ‘quality’ of your paint job, but still be improving by other measures. It’s not necessarily that we don’t value these other measures, but often other types of improvement are subtle enough that we overlook them, or dismiss their value.

So today let’s talk about how ‘getting better’ at an artistic skill encompasses a lot more than just generating a more attractive looking end result.


Speed is definitely an area to consider. If you can paint a figure of the same quality today in half the time or 75% of the time, or even 90% of the time that it used to take you, then that is definitely getting better. Faster means you’re can paint more figures within your allotted hobby time, or that you have some additional time to spend on each figure to work on pushing your skills with techniques and effects that eventually will drive your quality up a notch.

For my fellow super slow painters, the reverse is also true! If you are still taking 10 or 20 or however many hours to paint a figure, but you’re also gradually improving the quality of each, that still means you’re getting better and making progress. Do not despair!

And an important note – I’m talking about improving your speed using techniques/paints/tools with which you are familiar. When you try new things, you have to accept that it’s going to take you longer with them than with your usual methods and materials! I mention this because I’ve definitely been in the position of feeling like I should be able to just pick up something new and run with it because I’ve been painting for X amount of time or at Y level. There’s always a learning curve. If anything, the more practiced you are with one method and set of tools, the more of an initial hurdle of time and discomfort that you might have when trying something new.

6m man better stronger fasterThey didn’t just rebuild Steve Austin to be BETTER. They also rebuilt him FASTER and STRONGER.

Stronger (or Easier)

When you first started to paint, almost everything seemed like a challenge and required a lot of focused concentration. Just figuring out how to hold the brush and the miniature and then getting the paint to go close to where you wanted it (and not on top of something else you just painted.) Then you start learning next steps like making washes or applying drybrushing, or maybe painting layers or wetblending. If you’ve been painting a while, likely you then tried your hand at trickier effects, like non-metallic metal or source lighting or whatever else.

Whatever stage of the miniature paining journey that you’re on, the elements you’re trying to master right now are challenging and often it may often seem like you take one step forward and two steps back. But very likely you’re forgetting how much you’ve learned in previous stages.

When you first started painting everything was challenging and required concentration. But if you stop and think about it, I bet there are skills that you’ve mastered so well that you now perform them almost unconsciously. Think back to the first few miniatures you painted or tasks that you really struggled with when you first started painting. Maybe you still struggle with lining or freehand, but isn’t it easier overall to get the brush where you want it than it was at first? Is it as tough to choose wash or shadow colours as it was before? Do you need to go back over sections making as many corrections for brush slips as much as you used to?

Whatever you’re working on now might still feel really difficult, but give yourself credit for all the skills that you’ve already mastered. That genuinely does count as ‘getting better’! If you really hadn’t improved at all, you’d still have to concentrate and work hard at every single element of prepping and painting a figure.

Hand versus Eye

You may not have a bionic hand and eye like Steve Austin, but the concept of the hand and the eye, or sometimes, the hand versus the eye, is very pertinent to building art related skills.

The ‘hand’ refers to the mechanical type skills related to painting – methods of manipulating the brush and the paint and similar things. People learning art skills tend to get really hung up on this aspect of it. We spend the majority of our learning efforts concentrating on elements related to the hand.

We spend much less time thinking or talking about the ‘eye’ part of the equation, which is unfortunate, because it’s a lot more important than we often think. The ‘eye’ element encompasses the idea of being able to look at something and really see it. This is a more complex concept that it might seem, and I imagine I’ll make future blog posts that delve into this in more detail in the future.

One example of being able to truly see things is referencing life. If you want to paint leather or hair or metal that looks convincing, you need to study those things in the real world. You have to assess where they look darker or lighter, the proportion of darker to lighter, what the natural colours of those things are in different lighting circumstances, and a number of other factors, and then try to figure out how to apply that information to a figure in a way that looks both pleasing and somewhat realistic.

Looking at something and really seeing it also applies to looking at our work and the work of others and assessing its strengths and weaknesses, as well as making comparisons. A person newer to painting can look at a really world class figure and a fairly good figure and genuinely not see major differences between them. Or they might see some differences, but not really be able to identify what those are.

The ability of your artistic eye grows just as your manual dexterity skills do. One of the things that can throw us is that they don’t always level up at the same time. If you are going through a period where you feel like everything you paint looks worse than usual, it’s very likely that your eye has improved. You are able to assess your figures more critically and see your weaknesses more clearly. This very likely does not feel like positive progress! But it can be, if you use your improved eye to try to identify specific weaknesses in your work and then put together a plan of action for ways to possibly address them.

Conversely, if you go through a period where you think everything you paint looks pretty fantastic, it’s possible that your abilities to manipulate brush and paint have improved, but your critical eye is lagging a little behind.

Portraits combo2I was pretty unhappy with the drawing on the left. I do feel like I should know better at this stage of practice and training. But rather than beat myself up about it, I decided to just try again and push myself to do better. It is definitely pretty mortifying to be sharing something I consider a failure publicly, but it if helps other people learn or be kinder to themselves, then it is well worth a little public embarassment.

So if I know how to draw a decent portrait, how did I end up drawing a bad one like the above? Unconscious mastery and the importance of the eye are two of the pieces of that puzzle. The poor portrait was drawn at an art store demo. I knew I had limited time with the materials and was eager to try them out. I am still learning to draw, and getting proper proportions and correct shapes as well as placing the features of the face in the right places takes a lot of concentration and effort for me. In other words, I need to consciously put my eye (observation skills) into artist mode and check and recheck my work. With the poor portrait, I rushed through the steps of forcing my eye to do its job to get to the fun hands-on stuff of doing the shading and colouring in the drawing.

The better version of this same face was drawn with the opposite focus. I spent about the same amount of time overall, but a lot more of the time was spent on the basic drawing and checking proportions and placements. So it’s not rendered to the same degree, but it’s overall a much better drawing. But even the poor portrait isn’t cause to beat myself up as a total failure. I was a lot more comfortable with the tools and doing the shading and rendering than I was the first few times I did those things. I was a lot less phased by the limited colour selection of the tools offered in the demo than I would have been years ago before learning general colour theory. (In the event that anyone is curious, the pencil portrait up at the top is more finely rendered, and probably took 2-3 times as long to do as each of the colour portraits.)

The Big Picture

When assessing your progress, try not to focus on a single event or metric. And try to make note of improvements in your process and comfort level, rather than looking only to external markers like positive feedback or contest results. There are going to be moments when you try something new and don’t succeed as well as you’d like, or even at all. There are even going to be moments where you backslide on things you thought you mastered. Those are just individual points on a graph. If your overall graph line is moving upwards, you’re still making progress!

Have you had any moments where you heard a ding! and you felt like you’d leveled up? Or moments when you stepped back and realized that you were getting better in ways you hadn’t thought about before? I hope you’ll share your experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear!

Link Ups – November 8

I want to share some of the videos and information that help me learn or get me excited to work on projects, as well as general hobby news, so I’ve decided to do a periodic news/links round-up post.

Also I know my posting schedule has gotten to be a little erratic, but I’m working hard to get back on track!

In Praise of Mediocrity

I love the message of this short essay. The author theorizes that a lot of people don’t have hobbies because we increasingly feel that we need to perform something at an expert or professional level, or not at all. I think there are other people who do have hobbies, like miniature painting, but who torture themselves about whether they’re ‘good enough’. It’s okay to do something just to enjoy it, and to do it in the way you enjoy rather than some way you think you’re ’supposed’ to do it! I think that is actually what a hobby is meant to be. If you do it to an expert/professional level, it’s a calling/career/work/whatever you want to call it. (Which is more long the lines of what miniature painting is for me at this point, but my general artistic pursuits definitely fall more into the hobby category.)

Blogger Shout Out

Jen Greenwald is my blogging consultant. She is also an inspiration to me in how she doggedly and consistently pursues her miniature hobby goals. She takes classes and studies tutorials and seeks out feedback, but she also gets that butt in the chair time is really the key to improving. Which she very much has in the time that I’ve known her! If you enjoy regular work-in-progress updates, check out her blog. I always find it helpful to see WIP stages of what people work on as well as the end result.

Sculpting link

If you are at all interested in the sculpting side of miniatures, whether to do conversions, sculpt full figures, or just gain some insight into how the figures we paint come to be, you’ll enjoy this very thorough look at the process and tools that is chock full of excellent advice and fantastic pictures.

ReaperCon News

The dates and location for ReaperCon are set until 2023! The time – Labor Day weekend. The place – the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center. (Which I loved, so bright and clean and friendly!) If you need a reminder of why you should come to ReaperCon, here’s my previous blog post on the subject.

And my post about why you should go to one or another miniature convention:

Reaper Paint Lines Info

Last week’s episode of Reaper Live on YouTube features Reaper’s paint guru, Anne Foerster, briefly explaining the different paint lines and products that Reaper offers. And she’s working on a Toolbox show, so there will be a lot more info about paint in the future!

Art Book Submissions

ArtOrder is soliciting submissions to a shared world fantasy art book. They fund their books via Kickstarter, and share 50% of the profits amongst the contributing artists. I’ve been enjoying their previous project, Tiny Dragons. Read more about the shared world and the project at this link. I figure this will be more of interest to two dimensional artists, but I’m sure there’s a creative way to create a diorama or other three dimensional work to photograph for inclusion!

Please let me know in the comments if you found any of that useful, or if there are other types of information and links you’d like me to share in future installments of Link Ups.

Compressed Air – Quick Tip Tuesday

I’m sure in the future that I’ll be talking a lot more about brushes, and paints, and all the usual suspects of paint desk supplies, but today I thought it might be fun to talk about the unusual suspects. What are some tools and materials you use that you suspect not many other miniature painters use?

One that comes to mind for me is compressed air. Oh, I’m pretty sure that lots of painters use it to dust off figures in their display cases. And certainly I use it for that, too. Or if I’ve let a partially painted miniature languish on my work-in-progress shelf for a while, I definitely like to give it a thorough spritzing before I start painting it again. It’s also helpful for dusting figures off when taking photographs, since putting a miniature in my light cube attracts dust to it like moth to a flame. I find the compressed air isn’t even enough in that situation, I usually need to have a paint brush with somewhat stiff bristles available to dust off the really clingy lint and fibers that don’t show up until I check the photo preview.

Cans of compressed airI do use these for the obvious uses. But also for another purpose…

The other way I use compressed air is for a purpose I haven’t heard other painters mention, and I figured it was high time I share this useful tip! Do you ever get bubbles in paint that you are applying to a miniature? I find this is particularly likely to happen on areas that are highly textured with a lot of nooks and crannies, like groundwork for bases. It also happens to me when I’m trying to quickly brush prime or paint basecoats on large areas using a large brush. If you get bubbles like this and don’t pop them, they will dry into little ridged circles like the suckers on an octopus tentacle. 

Popping the bubbles by blowing on them or tapping them with the tip of your brush works, but can be tedious and inefficient. If you hit wet paint with a jet of compressed air in the regular fashion, it will absolutely blow paint all over the place! But if you depress the trigger on a can of compressed air gently and only part way, you’ll get a soft puff of air that is perfect for popping all those little bubbles. You do need to do this while the paint is still as fresh and wet as possible, and I recommend practicing a few times on a figure that is less important to you.

Have you got any helpful hints or weird tools that you use to help you paint? Let’s talk about them in the comments!

Workshops and Bootcamps

Miniature painting and sculpting classes at conventions are a wonderful resource. Typically they are an hour and a half to two hours long, though occasionally you will find three or four hour classes. That is enough time to get some insight into a particular technique or effect, like wet blending or non-metallic metal, and it is invaluable to see how other painters handle their paint and tools in person. Many classes are hands-on, which gives you the opportunity to get direct feedback on your efforts with the subject of the class. But convention painting classes also have their limitations. If you think of painting like a puzzle, you get an in-depth look at one piece or section of the puzzle, but you may not get a good sense of how that piece relates to the whole picture. And generally you only have 40 minutes or so to practice before you go on to the next class or convention activity, which may not be enough time to fully internalize the new information.

There is another type of in-person miniature painting (and sometimes sculpting) instruction that you might not be as familiar with – workshops and bootcamps. These are all-day intensive instruction from a single painter that might run for one, two, or occasionally even three days. The instructor has a lot more time to go over their general painting process, as well as their approach to specific techniques or effects. Students have more time to practice, and more opportunities to get feedback. You still might not completely finish a figure in a workshop, but you tend to get much more of a sense of how that painter approaches painting a figure as a whole. 

Alfonso In April 2018 I attended a workshop on colour theory with Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes. He has toured the United States several times giving workshops.

The challenge with workshops is that they tend to take place only in large cities, as a minimum number of attendees is necessary to make it feasible for the instructor to do. So unless you are fortunate enough to live in the cities where they are often organized, you will likely need to travel to attend one. That is an added expense on top of the cost of the workshop itself. (Though I will note that these events in the miniature painting world tend to be less expensive than similar ones in the traditional art realm.)

If you live in the United States, you have the opportunity to attend a workshop next year with the fantastic Spanish painter Sergio Calvo Rubio. Not only is he an excellent painter, he has also worked to develop a process for painting quickly. I took a couple of classes with him at AdeptiCon 2017, and just those few hours really jumpstarted me on finding a way to paint with more directional lighting. I am very excited about what I might be able to learn from him in a full two day workshop!

You can look at Sergio’s lovely miniatures here:

Below is a list of the dates and locations for the Sergio Calvo workshops in the United States in 2019. 

Sergio Flyer Spring 2019 FINALIf you can find a way to get to one of these events, I highly recommend that you do it! Contact for more information or to sign up.

I have previously attended two weekend workshops. The first was with renowned Russian painter Kirill Kaneav in 2017. I highly recommend taking a workshop with him if you ever have the opportunity. He really opened my eyes to the value of using photo reference in miniature painting, and showed us some fantastic techniques for creating shadows and highlights to build three dimensional form with texture strokes instead of just smooth blending, and showed us several other things in addition.

Bust I painted in Kirill Kanaev workshopThis is the bust I worked on in the Kirill Kanaev workshop. The cloth texture work is on the back. 

Below is a pair of figures I painted after the workshop to practice with the texture techniques. I also used photo references for the faces, as we had in the workshop. I referenced a picture of Helen Mirren for the woman, and one of Sean Connery for the man. These sculpts are pretty rough, particularly given that they are 54mm scale. Smooth blending looked awful on them, but building highlights and shadows with textures looked much more attractive.

Textured cloth examples on male and female dancersI maybe went a little nuts with the textures…

This year I took a workshop with Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes, a Spanish painter and sculptor. He is well-known for his bold use of colour. He is a strong champion for a more painterly style to be used in miniature painting. (In a painterly style, the aim isn’t necessarily a perfectly smooth or photo realistic finish, but rather one where the hand and intent of the artist are visible through brushstrokes and colour transitions.) The workshop I took was specifically focused on colour theory and colour use. So it was less focused on painting an entire miniature, and more about exercises and experiments with colour. (Although we did also work on a miniature bust.) I recommend this workshop to people who would like to learn more about colour theory and how to apply it to miniatures, and who would like to mix colours from a small set rather than using a huge collection of pre-mixed paints. 

My painted figure: PromenadeI painted this figure to practice colour mixing after taking the Banshee workshop. You can read more about my painting process here:

The best way to hear about upcoming workshops is to participate in the miniature painting community via Facebook groups and website forums. It is also pretty common for the historical painting shows to be preceded by a one or two day workshop with a renowned painter. So it might be worth finding out if there is an historical painting show near enough to you to attend. I’ve listed the shows I know of near the bottom of this post:

Have you ever attended a workshop? Are you thinking of going to one of Sergio’s next year? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments!

Links to figures and people mentioned in this blog post:

Miniature Monthly Patreon (organizers of the Sergio Calvo workshop tour in the US):
Sergio Calvo Putty and Paint gallery:
Sergio Calvo Miniatures page on Facebook:
Sergio Calvo Patreon page:
Alfonso Giraldes Putty and Paint gallery:
Banshee page on Facebook:
Banshee Miniature Art Academy on Patreon:
Kirill Kanaev Putty and Paint gallery:
Angelface bust – sculpted by Kirill Kanaev and used in his workshops, but I can’t find a link to buy it, sorry.
54mm dancing couple – these were a commission for a client. I’m pretty sure you can buy these, but I don’t know where, sorry.
Dark Sword Shaman figure:

Dungeon Dwellers Bones HD Paint – New Paint!!

I think we all need a little bit more to digest all that information about contrast that I’ve been spewing lately, so today’s post is something a little lighter. (You are hopefully out there practicing painting with more contrast, right?)

This week Reaper released the first expansions to the Bones HD paint lines. These are two boxed sets of six paints each, which are thematically tied into their new Dungeon Dwellers miniature line. Since online store swatches are notoriously unreliable (I WILL be posting more to demonstrate how this is so), I swatched out the paints on paper to give people an idea of the colours. And as individual camera and scanner colour corrections vary, I both scanned and photographed the swatches. Screen display colours also differ, so what you see on your screen isn’t going to be 100% exact, but it should give you a decent idea of the colours.

I haven’t used these colours on a miniature yet, but I’m hoping I get the opportunity to do so soon as these are some great looking colours!

Note that as of writing these are expected to be available only in the boxed sets, and not for individual bottle purchase. MSRP is $21.99 per box.

The first boxed set is designed to help you paint the monstrous denizens of your dungeon. These are also a great addition to the Bones HD line as more desaturated colours that will be handy for painting leather, wood, red hair, and a variety of other things.

Dungeon Dwellers Monster paint box - front

Dungeon Dwellers Monster paint box - back


Dd monster paintsDd monster paints picThe swatches on the top are from my scanner, those on the bottom are a photograph. The paper they’re painted on is ivory not pure white.

The Dungeon box is an interesting mix of colours, and includes two new metallic colours. I have really been liking the Bones HD metallic paints a lot. They’re my go-to paints when using metallics from the Reaper line now. (I do primarily use Reaper paints, but sometimes use the Vallejo Air line for metallics. Steel/silver primarily, the colour selection of their golds is kind of odd unfortunately.)

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box - front

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box - back

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box paints - scan

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box paints - picThe swatches on top are scanned, those on the bottom are a photograph. The two rightmost swatches are metallics, which are hard to photograph at the best of times, but especially as swatches.

I had previously swatched out the core Bones HD line and posted that on my Facebook page, and will include those photos here. Again, these are painted on an ivory drawing paper. I hadn’t realized that I’d included the grayscale card in the photographs and scans of the first images. I used that card to colour correct the scans/pics of the new paints above, I just didn’t include it in the images.

Bones HD Blues - scan

Bones HD Blues - photoThe selection of blues in the core Bones HD line. I like these a lot, and I am often annoyed by blue paints. (It’s just not my favourite colour, and I find it a pain to blend.)

Bones HD Browns and Purples - scan

Bones HD Browns and Purples - photo

The browns and purples in the Bones HD line. I also like these a lot, some really great colours that I’ve been using a fair amount.

Bones HD Flesh tones - scan

Bones HD Flesh Tones - photoThe flesh tone assortment of the Bones HD paint line. I haven’t really used pale flesh much as it’s just so, well, pale, but I’ve used the others pretty regularly. I particularly like the Ebony and Ruddy colours as offering something not found as often in paint lines.

Bones HD Greens - scan

Bones HD Greens - photoI’ve used these, but not as extensively as some of the other Bones HD colour families. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but they just don’t float my boat. I think it’s at least partly that I often use less saturated greens.

Bones HD Reds and Yellows - scan

Bones HD Reds and Yellows - photoThe Bones HD reds have higher coverage than most of the reds in the Core Master Series Paint line. I always grab an HD red unless I’m being very particular about just what shade of red I need. I don’t paint with orange or yellow that often, so I haven’t used these as much as some of the other colours.

Bones HD Neutrals - scan

Bones HD Neutrals - photoNever enough neutrals is what I say! ;->

Bones HD Metallics - scan

Bones HD Metallics - photo dark lighting

Bones HD Metallics - photo lighter lightingI took two photos of the metallic colours in slightly different lighting to try to give you an idea of the shimmer effect. I love these metallics! Great colours and shine.

Official promo
And this is the official colour chart. Note that this is from the date of the line first releasing. As of time of writing, current MSRP on Reaper paints is $3.69.

How to Paint Contrast – Hands On

In this post about how to paint miniatures with more contrast, I’m going to discuss technique and paint application ideas for how to increase the level of contrast that you paint into the shadows and highlights of your miniature figures. 

If you haven’t read the previous post about how to paint with more contrast, you will find it here:

The blog reader stats tell me that a lot of you haven’t read that post. I would like to strongly encourage you to do so. The mental goal to push contrast is as important or more so as anything you will find here. One of the things you’ll find over in that other post is larger pictures of the following figures. The before/after pictures on the left date from 2008-2009. Those on the right date from 2015. I didn’t just try to paint with more contrast once or even over the span of a year or two and then it just clicked and I started to be able to paint that wayon every figure. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have photos to show from such a span of years. Painting with more contrast doesn’t have that much to do with tools – I was using the same set of quality tools throughout that timespan. It doesn’t even have much to do with specific techniques or brush skills. My painting ability did improve over that span – I would not have been able to paint the freehand details on the 2015 figure in 2008. But there I was making the same old lack of contrast mistake in 2015 as in 2008. 

The root causes have more to do with my failure to stay focused on the necessity of contrast, and the need to better train my artist’s eye to judge whether or not something has enough contrast. I’m a slow learner sometimes! One of the reasons I’m sharing these kinds of things on this blog is that I am hoping to spare other people some of the time and annoyance I’ve spent along the path of learning. And the previous post has a lot of helpful tips on this topic!

More contrastSeeing these at this smaller size is a good reminder of why we need to paint with contrast – gaming figures are small! We need to add dramatic shadows and highlights for their details to be visible to the viewer, and to make them more interesting to look at. Click over to this post for larger versions of these pictures:

NOTE: I am going to use the word value a lot. When talking about colour, value refers to the lightness or darkness of the colour. White is the lightest value, and black is the darkest value. Pale pink is a light value of red, brick is a midtone value of red, and a deep wine colour is a dark value of red.

Check and Reflect

A simple but important thing that leads us astray with contrast is that you can’t accurately judge the level of contrast on the various areas of your figure until you have mostly finished painting it. Both black and white primers are extremes of contrast that will throw off your perception of the contrast as long as any primer remains in view. (For example, try painting the same midtone colour like a tanned Caucasian skin colour onto a black primed and a white primed figure. It will look pretty pale on one, and fairly dark on the other.)  Even after you put in all your base coats and cover up all the primer, the contrast level on the miniature will look different with shadows and highlights painted into all areas. So my first tip is to  paint to the point where you’re finished or almost finished and then take a final look at the figure. And be willing to do touchups and adjustments as necessary.

It can be helpful to leave the figure to sit for a day or three before making that final assessment. It can also help to take photos, and then look at those scaled to a smaller size as well as a larger size so you can check both contrast and look for stray paint strokes or other detail level mistakes. This is a big part of what went wrong with the figures above. I declared them done and didn’t really take a moment away from them and then come back for a close look to assess the overall effect. When I did take a close look some time later, it became obvious to me that the level of contrast was far too weak.

Now let’s discuss some methods you can use earlier in the painting process in order to try to minimize how much you need to adjust at the end. These are going to be a quick overview – each of these tips could be expanded to be a blog post in their own right!

Make a Photo Reference

If you have trouble visualizing where to place the shadows and highlights, take a picture for reference. If possible, take it in a dimly lit room. Position a small bright light close to the figure in the direction you’d like to have your imagined light source. I use a small and inexpensive LED light. Experiment with different sizes and brightness of lights for different effects. Remember to take pictures from a few different angles so you’ll have something to refer to as you paint all the areas of the figure. Keep the light in the same orientation to the miniature when taking the photos from different angles – if you turn or move the figure, you’ll need to turn or move the light. If the miniature is metal or a very light or dark coloured plastic, you might want to prime it in a more neutral gray colour before taking your reference photos. These kinds of pictures make an excellent guide, but remember that different materials reflect light in different ways, so some will have higher levels of contrast than what appears in your pictures. Metal or hair, for example, are very shiny, so you will need to exaggerate the lights and shadows even more on areas you want to have look as if made of those materials.

Lighting on primed figure compared to painted figure.Photos like these are a helpful helpful reference. They can help you keep areas of light and dark in mind even while you’re distracted by other concerns like blending, and thus help you paint with more contrast. Notice the difference between the leg nearer the light and the one further back. Also note that there is less contrast in a more matte material like the leather, but I painted a higher degree of contrast on the shiny metal armor plates and dagger.

Zenithal Priming

Zenithal priming is a way to apply a reference to the location of your light source directly to the miniature itself. With this method you prime or paint the entire figure black. Then you spray white primer/paint ONLY from the direction of your light source. (Some people do an intermediary step of spraying gray paint/primer to add the midtone values.) The result allows you to easily see where light hits the figure strongly (white areas), or doesn’t hit the figure much at all (black areas), as well as the in between sections that should be midtone values . You can use this as a ‘map’ for where to apply colour by applying opaque layers of paint in the correct value over the zenithal prime. Or you can glaze transparent colours over the established values to add colour to the figure. (A glaze is paint heavily thinned down with water, but applied in a controlled fashion rather than allowed to pool as with a wash.)

Miniatures painted with glazes over zenithal priming have good contrast within each area, but can lack contrast between each of the areas. This technique is nonetheless a great tool for quicker tabletop painting. And you can compensate slightly by adding other types of contrast, like using complementary colours on adjacent areas. (I’ll cover colour contrast in future posts.) If you try this technique, you may find that you need to apply some opaque highlights in the brightest areas to get maximum pop and contrast. (Note that you can also take pictures of the miniature after zenithal priming but before applying paint so you still have a reference in case you lose track of where the shadows and highlights should be while painting.

If you’d like to know more about methods of zenithal priming using spray primer, airbrush, or brushing by hand, check out this excellent video by Metalhead Minis: NOTE to painters of Bones miniatures: I do not recommend using spray primer on Bones. It often fails to cure and remains tacky to the touch. Applying paint via an airbrush is the best way to zenithal spray ‘prime’ Bones figures.

Example of glaze painted over zenithal priming.This figure was zenithal primed with spray primers. Use of spray cans creates a speckled appearance of the white over black in the midtone areas. You can reduce that appearance a little by adding grey in the middle step, or smooth it out by touching up the figure by hand with some thinned white and thinned black. Spraying with an airbrush has a smoother look. For the next step, layers of transparent paint were glazed over the underlying values on the cloak – dark reddish-purple in the shadows, red in the midtones, and a little orange in the highlight areas. Then a more opaque highlight was added in just a few spots that would be receive a lot of light. This figure is from a painting class I took with Eric Louchard many years ago.

Underpainting: Value Mapping

Zenithal priming is a method of underpainting, but there are other options for underpainting. Sometimes I roughly block in the midtone, shadow, and highlight values of the major areas on my figure using black, white, and grey brush-on primer. I do this to create a ‘value map’ for myself to follow when I start applying the colour. During the value mapping stage I am just concentrating on contrast and value – trying to make the midtones of adjacent areas different enough from one another, and blocking in the appropriate shadow and highlight contrast based on the location of the light and the texture of the material in each area. Then I apply opaque colour directly over the map, matching the placement of my shadow, midtone, and highlight colours to the locations I picked out for them in the value map stage. Once the primary values are placed where they should be, then I can concentrate on blending, and after that worry about the fine details.

Value map and fully painted version of a figure.In the value map version on the left, you can see that I am not very worried about blending, and I’m completely ignoring details. My goal is to establish the midtone, shadow, and highlight values on the large areas of the figure. This method does rely on you following the map, which I can see now that I failed to do on the bodice area. But it also leaves you the freedom to adjust and embellish as you see fit – I altered the midtone colour on the skirt from my original map, as well as painting it as more of a gauzy textured material.

For more details on my value mapping method, please see my post on painting ReaperCon Sophie 2018:

I also have written a PDF that will be released by Reaper that goes into a little more detail on the process I used with Sophie and a few other figures. I’ll link it here once it’s available, as well as mention it in the comments and likely in a future post.

In the traditional art world, what I’m doing is equivalent to a value study. A value study is a quick sketch or painting of a subject or scene that concentrates on the values (the darks and lights) of the subject. This is done as a way to familiarize yourself with the subject and to assess if the composition is eye-catching. The artist can refer to the value study during the drawing/painting process of the final work to ensure that they are capturing the full range of shadow and light they saw on their subject. It forces the artist to look at the big picture of the contrast before they get lost in painting colour and details. My use of brush-on primer to map values is a similar thing, I’m just doing it on the same surface that I will do my final painting over. (Again, taking photos of the value map stage is probably a good idea since I’ll be painting over the reference on my miniature. You could also have two copies of the figure and paint the value study on one and the full colour paint on the other.)

Here is a site with a good visual example of a simple value study:

This site demonstrates how even something that looks super sketchy and rough can be valuable to a well-executed end result:

Underpainting: Notan

Notan is a Japanese word meaning ‘light-dark balance’. (Supposedly, honestly I have no idea how much of the interpretation I’m discussing of the concept is appropriation by the Western art world, but there is certainly a strong tradition of black and white traditional art and graphic elements in Japan.) In its purest form, Notan interprets a scene or subject in black and white only. This Blues Brothers graphic is an excellent example: 

The Blues Brothers in black and whiteClassic Notan – everything in the image is either black, or white.

For me, at least, that idea is a little challenging to apply to miniatures. Luckily people also create Notan using three or four values. So if using only two values seems to challenging, consider using white, black, and one or two values of gray to create a Notan on your figures. This is very similar to the idea of value mapping, but you don’t worry about blending in even a rudimentary way. You just make notes on the figure with paint about where you want to apply highlights, shadows, and midtones. I put my the lighting reference photo shown earlier into a Notan app and applied a three value filter to give you an example of what that would look like.

Reference photo of Tara the Silent with three value Notan applied by Notanizer app Note that I did not have the app at the time of painting this figure, I just wanted to give you an example of what using the app on a reference lighting photo might look like.

The following is an example of my attempt to apply Notan underpainting to a miniature figure. After taking pictures illuminating the figure with an in-scale light, I applied areas of black and white over the gray primer to block in a Notan value map. Notice that there is no attempt to blend whatsoever. I’m just trying to establish where I want things much lighter and much darker. After that I applied blocks of opaque colours over those maps, placing my highlight colours over the white, midtone colours over the gray, and shadow colours over the black. Then I worked on blending the edges where each section met.

Photo of Tara the Silent with Notan value mappingThis was my attempt to apply the Notan concept to a figure. This was my interpretation of the placement of light and shadow based on my lighting reference photo, I did not have an app that could apply Notan filters at the time. Notice that there is no blending in this kind of value map, just a very clear indication of where things should be lighter, darker, or somewhere in the middle.

A discussion of classic Notan:

Using three and four value Notan:

There is an app for that! The app that I mentioned, Notanizer, is available for various operating systems. This site shows you how the app works and includes links. Try it out on some photos of miniatures painted by painters you admire to give you a better idea of how to apply better contrast to your miniatures:

Underpainting: Grisaille

It is also possible to apply the idea of zenithal priming/value mapping in a much more finished way. With this method you use a wide range of grays as well as black and white to paint the figure to a high level of polish and detail, and then apply thin coats of transparent paint over that to introduce colour. Given the nature of acrylic paint and how pigment colours behave, you would likely also need to apply some more opaque layers of paint, particularly for the top level highlights, but also possibly in other areas. 

Noir detective front 450This figure was painted as a black and white noir detective, but you could also use this approach as a grisaille under painting. After completing this step, I could add transparent layers of paint to introduce skin tone, hair colour, etc. 

Grisaille is also a well-established technique in the traditional art world, particularly for oil painting. Again, the purpose is exactly the same as what we’re trying to do with our figures – ensure that the contrast level range between the darkest and lightest values is large enough enough and pleasing to look at. 

For a quick visual example of grisaille underpainting covered over with colour, click here:

And another example here:

If you’re interested in studying more about how this is used in the traditional art world, here are some search terms: underpainting, grisaille, brunaille, verdaccio, verdaille. (Grisaille is when it’s done with grayscale, brunaille with brown colours, and verdaccio/verdaille with greens, which can be quite effective under skin tones.

Underpainting: Sketching and Sketch Style

In the miniature painting world painters have recently begun using terms like sketching or sketch style to describe variations of underpainting applied to miniatures. Alfonso Giraldes (Banshee) often paints with a sketch approach, and Matt DiPietro has adapted that approach into what he calls sketch style. For tabletop painting I believe Matt uses zenithal priming or something very similar. For display level work, I think Alfonso and Matt more often sketch in colour, something more like a colour block in or ebauche. (Discussed more below.) 

Block in Values with Colour

I recommend trying some of the monochrome underpainting methods out because separating the stage where you work on values out from working on colour and blending helps to make it much easier to keep your focus on building higher contrast in your values. But it is possible to do something similar with colour. The idea with this is to rough in your values similarly to the value mapping or Notan methods above, but using mixes of various values of your colours. At this stage you do NOT worry about blending or details. Just try to get the shadows, midtones, and highlights roughed in to their correct locations on the major areas of the figure. Then you can get a better idea of how things work as a whole and whether you need to tweak some areas to be lighter or darker before you put a lot of work into blending and detail painting. This is a way around the issue I mentioned up at the top in the Check and Reflect section – you can’t really judge whether the contrast range of your values is correct until you get the majority of them painted on your figure. 

This kind of blocking in is the idea behind the technique called sketching that Alfonso Giraldes, Matt DiPietro, and other miniature painters often employ, particularly the European painters. Get an overview of your big picture blocked in quickly to make sure the colour and value choices work before investing a lot of time into the work. This can also be a useful method for speed painting or tabletop painting. You work on the big picture, then start to refine blending and details, stopping at any point where you’ve invested as much time into that miniature as you can afford.

EDIT TO ADD: I have an example of blocking in that I did in this PDF from Reaper, which also includes more information on painting lights and shadows to match a directional light source:

Life Miniatures has some excellent tutorials demonstrating one kind of block in approach for major shadows and highlights followed by blending the transitions. (This particular approach is called planar painting, where each plane of the three dimensional object is painted the appropriate value based on the direction of the light source.) I recommend scanning through all of the tutorials, as each demonstrates some of the points better than the others in some respects. Each of the tutorials has a ton of photos.

And at this point it probably won’t come as a shock to learn that this is something else practiced in traditional painting. You can get an overview with some nice examples of block in compared to finished painting here:

You can also read about a traditional art technique of underpainting with colour called the ébauche here: (The videos linked from that page seem to have been taken down unfortunately.)

Additional Resources

Whew, that is a lot of information to parse! So I think that I should bring this post to a close. I have had some questions in response to my first post about contrast that were really more related to blending. It is definitely more challenging to create smooth transitions when you have a more extreme range between your darkest shadow and lightest highlight. So you aren’t necessarily doing anything ‘wrong’ if you find that happening! I am considering whether to write a post with some tips for blending. I generally reserve extensive discussion of blending for convention painting classes where I can easily demonstrate the techniques and brush handling that I use. In the meantime, here are some additional resources you might find useful.

I have written two Learn to Paint kits for Reaper Miniatures. The first covers the core skills of drybrushing and washing. The second is an overview of my methods for blending – layering and glazing.  You can find that kit at this link, from your local retailer, or numerous online shops:

Layering is not the only method for blending, though for a variety of reasons I do think it is useful for every painter to learn. Anthony Rodriguez (Pirate Monkey Painting) has a good overview of the major blending techniques (including layering) on this site. His full length videos have been lost (he’s recreating these on Patreon I believe), but the text articles under the Brushwork Technique Articles heading include animated gifs that are great illustrations of the techniques:

Remember – ultimately the contrast is more important than the blending!

Figures Appearing in this Post:

Dionne, Werewolf Hunter by Hasslefree Miniatures:
Wood Elf Goddess Avatar Form by Dark Sword Miniatures:
Tara the Silent by Reaper Miniatures, special edition figure not currently available:
Unknown figure by Sandra Garrity (possibly an Adiken figure)
Camille from the Barglemore and Camille pack, special edition figure currently available for a limited time by Reaper Miniatures:
Deadlands Noir Occult Detective by Reaper: