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Display Painting versus Tabletop Painting

I’m still working on a bit more of an overview post of my experience painting the hydra I showed in my last post. In the meantime, I was thinking about the conversations I had with people about painting at the countdown party. 

Hydra side viewLate pledges are available if you missed the Kickstarter campaign.

I was very happy to talk with people about painting and try to share some tips. My painting knowledge is built on a foundation of generosity of other artists taking time to share what they know, and I want to give back to the community in the same way. I also genuinely enjoy geeking out about one of my favourite things with other fans! But there were times when I felt like the information I shared was disappointing to people since a lot of it summed up to the big ‘trick’ in painting this was time and patience.

When you’re learning a new skill, you tend to assume that as you get better at it, you’ll be able to do things in a similar amount of time and with similar techniques, just better and quicker. Certainly there are skills or areas in which this may be true. I’m not a great cook. I could follow a recipe to make a pie crust, but it would take me a lot more time and effort than a professional baker or even a practiced and enthusiastic home cook. And my results would likely neither look nor taste as good as theirs. They have a lot more experience and possibly access to better tools than I do. However, there are also areas where neither expertise nor tools are the limiting factor. My pie is going to take about as long to cook as the expert’s, and there’s not much either of us can do about that.

Cmon speed paints - frontA group of pro painters including myself, Jen Haley, Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford, and Clay Williams painted these Robb Stark models in a 90 minute speed painting challenge at CMON Expo 2018. The figures benefit from our painting expertise, but display models they are not.

Now I’m going to look at a more art based example. Someone who is in the earlier stages of learning to draw can produce an accurate and realistic drawing, whether through use of tools like grid drawing or just sheer effort. I did some decent drawings in my early days of starting my learning traditional art journey. But just like my attempt to make a pie crust, they took a lot of time and effort on my part. And they weren’t the norm. There were a lot more terrible drawings than decent ones. That stands in stark contrast with the work of a skilled artist, who can do quick sketches that look attractive and realistic in a few minutes. That is the value of practice and repetition, but also a lot of knowledge and experience that the artist draws upon.

I think people look at something I’ve painted like the hydra and parallel it to the example of the two artists above. They assume it’s the ‘pro’ version of their tabletop or speed painted miniatures. But it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. It’s more like comparing a pencil sketch to a high rendered photo realistic drawing. There’s a foundation of knowledge that applies to both, and there are some similar tools and techniques. But one is not the evolution of the other. It’s more like siblings or cousins.

Cmon speed paints - back viewMy figure is the second from the right, and is the weakest of the bunch. The painters who are more successful at balancing speed and end result than I am picked colour schemes with much more contrast, and enhanced those with painting techniques that enhanced the pop of the figure, and then sprinkled a dash of an extra like weathering and/or freehand on top. I spent too much time worrying about blending.

A professional painter, particularly one who paints armies or other tabletop figures regularly for commission, is like the professional baker making the pie crust. They have good tools and materials, but also a wealth of experience to draw on to create a great looking result in less time than a beginner or casual painter. Something they speed paint might be to a standard a beginner is aspiring to do as a display painted piece. But a lot of high level display painting techniques we use are more like the baking time in the oven for the pie, or the time it takes to render a quick sketch into a fully painted picture – there’s no quick trick or tool that does the job for you, it just takes time and patience.

Hydra - pre scale liningA work-in-progress picture of the hydra before I painted in the lining between the scales.

The lining between the scales of my hydra is a good example. Using quick painting techniques, most people would line between the scales by using a wash of a darker colour. Or maybe they would start by painting a dark coat of paint and then drybrush or sidebrush lighter colours on top of the scales, leaving the lines in between them dark. This figure is sculpted with a lot of great definition, and those techniques should work well to paint it. But that’s not how I painted mine, and I don’t think you could use those techniques and get a result that looks like what I got.

Hydra - after scale liningThe same view of the hydra with the lining painted between the scales. It adds a lot of impact and texture!

The way I painted the lines between the scales of the hydra was… to paint the lines between the scales of the hydra. I used a fine tipped brush, patience, and a little over two hours of my life. The only ‘tip’ type thing I did that might not be obvious to the viewers is something that made the process even more fiddly, not less! I did not use a single colour of lining over the whole figure. If you compare the value (lightness/darkness) of an area of scales to the lining around it, you’ll see that it’s fairly constant over the whole figure. It looks that way because I used a lighter brown colour to line between the lightest colour scales, a blue-black to line between the darkest colour scales, and a couple of mixes in between. In total I used five values of lining. Possibly I could have gotten a similar effect with four or perhaps even three value mixes, but in for a penny, in for a pound is how I tend to paint. ;->

Hydra scale lining paletteThe dried liner mixes in my welled palette.

My analogies are to an extent a simplification. There is a gray area between tabletop painting and high level display painting. High tabletop, basic level display painting, I’m not sure what you’d call it, but the basic gist is something both fast and good. There are some limits to how fast you can paint like this, and just how good of a result you can get with this. It uses techniques from both ends of the spectrum, so if this kind of painting is your goal, it is worth studying information from display level painters. Most people who paint miniatures for a living probably paint to this level as much as they can – as good as you can get it to look, in the least time possible. But when they paint a very high level commission piece or a contest entry that pulls out all the stops, they use techniques that take a lot of time and skill, like individually lining every scale on the hydra.

That balancing act between end result and time commitment is one of the ways I am not very good at my job. I’m working at getting a little better at it, but through my entire miniature painting experience I have tended to use time and brute force and focused on the quality of end result, and done a poor job of learning increased efficiency and good planning to improve on time. Or even just learned to accept that a lot of the time 80% of the best I can do is good enough.

As a result, those who are seeking information on how to better balance high quality result and speed are probably better off consulting other painters. :-> Two of the best painters I know for this both share their experience on Patreon if you’d like to learn a lot more tips and tricks than you could from a quick convention conversation. (And they also teach full classes at conventions.) Look up James Wappel and Aaron Lovejoy.

A Change of Pace

I’ll try to post some info on the painting process for this figure next week. Right now I only have time to share a few quick thoughts before I head out on a trip to Reaper for the Bones 5 Kickstarter countdown party. (It’s not too late to join us if you can get to Denton, Texas by Saturday afternoon!)

Hydra - view 1

I think a lot of us tend to get into a pattern of what we paint. Whether it’s because we’re painting for a particular army/game, or for our own preferences of subject, scale, and/or colour schemes, it’s not unusual to look at your painted miniature collection and see some trends. 

The fact that a lot of what I painted is on commission means that my painted output is a little more varied than it might be if I was choosing only for myself. But even then, people tend to ask you to do more of what they perceive you to be good at doing, or my clients have a lot of things they need painting and letting me choose from a selection means I’ll tend to gravitate towards what I like (or think I’m okay at doing.) 

Hydra view2

For me this has tended to mean a lot of gaming scale human figures, female more often than not, and with a lot of non-metallic metal or elaborate cloth. I usually, though certainly not always, paint with a fairly saturated colour scheme.

Hydra view 3

While I have painted animals and humanoid type monsters on occasion, I’ve never really done a genuine large monster type figure. So when the art director at Reaper (Ron Hawkins) suggested that I paint this hydra, I thought that would be an interesting challenge. The sculpt, by the very talented Julie Guthrie, was certainly very appealing to me. One of the elements I love about it is the way that the main body seems to sink towards the ground and has a real feel of solidity and weight to it.

It definitely was a challenge for me to paint! The size and repetitive nature of some elements required a whole other kind of patience than fiddly freehand or never-ending non-metallic metal. And I found on several occasions that it was surprisingly easy to lose track of which head/neck I was working on at the time!

But despite a few bumps in the road (mostly related to choosing colours and the patience thing), I had fun, and I think it was a valuable experience to break away from the scale and subjects I normally paint to try something quite different. I recommend it to any painter, particularly if you’re feeling a bit in a rut or aren’t very excited to get to your painting table.

Hydra view 4

This Hydra will one day be available in retail, but for now the only way to get one is to pledge to the Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign and add on for the Greek Odyssey expansion.

Have you had a positive (or negative) experience trying to paint something that was a big change from what you usually paint? I’d love to hear some stories (though may have some technical issues accessing comments while on the road, but will do my best!)

We Must Increase our Bust*

Reaper Miniatures has announced an add-on level for a set of busts in their current Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign. To some people this may seem like an odd or even undesirable turn of events. I’ve been lobbying them to produce some Bones busts for years. I’d like to share my thinking behind that, and why I hope inexpensive Bones busts may help the Kickstarter and even the hobby as a whole.

Busts in Bones 5 KickstarterA set of busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie available in the Bones 5 Kickstarter.

There is a large and active segment of Reaper’s fan base, and the miniature hobby as a whole, who evaluate miniatures solely from their value as playing pieces in various role-playing and miniature war games. Apart from potential use as terrain and objective markers, the busts have little appeal as playing pieces, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone in this group to buy them.

In the miniature hobby as a whole, there are also a large number of people who only paint figures and do not play with them. This segment of the audience has a strong preference for figures in larger scale than gaming miniatures, and many of them also enjoy or even prefer busts to full figures. If you haven’t been much exposed to the painting side of the hobby you might feel like people who only paint are just a small number of people who paint at a very high display level. This is not at all the case. There are enough people who enjoy painting that there are clubs and large shows devoted to this side of the hobby all over the world. And those painters encompass the same range of beginner to expert quality of output as the painters on the gaming side.

World expo show roomWorld Expo 2017. Miniature enthusiasts from around the world traveled to Chicago to show their work. This large ballroom contained only a portion of the total entries and attendees.

Members of this side of the hobby have traditionally focused on historical miniatures, but many also enjoy fantasy and science fiction figures as well. In fact, the number of people participating in this area of the hobby who are interested in fantasy/SF has only been increasing over the years. Just as with gaming miniatures, there are a few larger companies with big catalogs that offer a mix of historical and fantasy/SF figures, and a lot of boutique companies with more select offerings. Two of the bigger companies are Andrea and Pegaso. If you take a quick look at the number and variety of figures they offer, you will be able to see that there might be a larger audience of people who just like to paint miniatures than you might have imagined.

That painter only audience currently has very little knowledge of or interest in the offerings of Reaper Miniatures. I am hoping that the addition of these busts to the Reaper catalog will inspire some of them to take a second look at Reaper’s product line, as they might also enjoy figures like the giants and dragons. If we can spread the word and get some of these folks participating in the Kickstarter, that will add more backers to help reach the backer goal unlock as well as adding more funds to unlock other goals, which will benefit also benefit the miniatures as playing pieces backers of the Kickstarter.

Dragon bust Julie Guthrie also sculpted this dragon bust that is available in the Kickstarter.

There is a third group of people who enjoy miniatures both for their use in games, and as artistic pieces to paint for display. Over the past 10 years, the interest this group has in busts and larger scale figures has ballooned. Once they were rarities to see as contest entries at conventions or in online galleries like Cool Mini or Not. Now they are much more common. But I think there are a lot more people who would like to paint figures like this than currently do. Busts are typically produced in resin, and resin production is expensive. Looking over the Andrea catalog, the busts seem to start at $60. I’ve seen a few boutique companies who offer them priced as low as $20, but $40 and up is pretty typical. 

I suspect there are a lot of people out there who are interested in painting a bust, but find the price point of $40+ to be too much to pay for something they aren’t sure they’ll enjoy or be able to paint a level they find satisfactory. In the Kickstarter, they can get three cool busts to try for a mere $12! And even when these hit retail, the price is still going to be much more palatable for an experiment.

Bust combo 600I did some quick B&W painting on this resin copy of one of the new Reaper busts to demonstrate how you can use paint to alter a sculpted expression. I was trying to make her look sad and grieving. The sculpted expression is much more neutral. Unfortunately my year of chaos means I haven’t had time to properly paint this wonderful bust yet!

Another great value of these is for teaching demonstration and study of how to paint miniatures, both for tabletop game use and display. There has been an explosion of great video resources online. As much as camera technology has improved in the past few years, it is still often difficult to make out exactly what someone is demonstrating on a gaming scale miniature. Reaper’s gotten in the game with their Reaper Toolbox videos, which you can find on their YouTube channel, and their staff painter has mentioned that she tends to prefer painting bigger figures on camera because it’s much easier for people to see what she’s doing.

I teach and take a lot of classes in person, and suffer the same issue. Reasonably priced busts and larger scale figures are a boon to teaching miniature painting. I could much more easily demonstrate the texture technique I used to paint Delia on a larger figure, and students would have a much easier time practicing that technique on a larger figure. I have never taught painting eyes at a convention because the iffy lighting would make it too frustrating to see the demonstration or attempt to practice. The larger eyes of a bust would be a different prospect! Busts are common subjects for one or two day workshops, but have been too expensive to be practical for use two hour classes. Inexpensive Bones busts offer exciting possibilities for new subjects and improvements in miniature painting instruction.

Figures on a shelfWhich would viewers see best on a mantle or curio shelf?

One final value for busts is as gifts. A lot of people who paint miniatures like to give these as gifts to friends and family. A typical gaming scale miniature is too small to work well displayed on a mantlepiece or curio cabinet shelf. You’d need to build up an elaborate base or create a diorama to make them stand out. The picture above gives you an idea of what I mean. The Reaper mousling and Dark Sword woman in the middle of my sample display are painted to a high standard, but it’s challenging to even see what they are unless you’re quite close to them. The two busts and the Reaper Efreeti are much more suitable for display of that nature.

I suspect that part of the popularity of the Reaper Kickstarter dragons and giants is how well they work in this capacity. Busts also make great display piece gifts, are sturdy, and do not require time-consuming or fragile basing. They also fit into a type of art object more easily understood by non-miniature enthusiasts, so are more likely to be appreciated by recipients and viewers of that nature.

If you are interested in buying the busts in the Kickstarter but aren’t familiar with the Reaper Kickstarter format, you might find it a bit overwhelming at first. Begin by going to the Reaper campaign webpage. You will need to set up an account if you aren’t already a member of Kickstarter. Take note of which email address you use. This is the address where you will receive information after the Kickstarter concludes about how to let Reaper know which specific products you want and where to send your items.

Select the $1 level that matches the area where you live. You will see a box that says Pledge amount set to the amount of $1. If you would like to buy the three humanoid busts, you need to add $12 to that, for a total of $13. If you would like to buy just the dragon bust, add $6 for a total of $7. If you would like all of the currently available busts, set your total to $19. 

Figures in this Post

The three humanoid and one dragon head busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie are currently only available via the Reaper Kickstarter. Read the paragraphs above for how to pledge to receive these. They will release into retail channels some time in the second half of 2021 or first half of 2022.

The Random Encounter dwarf bust is available as a gift with purchase from FeR Miniatures, which also sells some other terrific busts (and full figures).

The mousling pirate is available in metal from Reaper Miniatures.

The female shaman is based on artwork by Larry Elmore and is available from Dark Sword Miniatures.

The efreeti was briefly available as a promotional figure from Reaper Miniatures. She should go on regular sale early in 2020.

*If the title of this blog post is lost on you…

Madame Delia

Reaper Miniatures released the Madame Delia figure in metal just this week. She is also going to be made into a Bones figure as part of the core set of the Bones 5 Kickstarter that is currently running. So I thought this would be a good time to share my paint job on this terrific figure.

Madame Delia - face viewI do hope to add a base to her some time soon!

I jumped at the chance to paint this figure. I’m a fat woman, and it’s nice to every now and then paint a figure that looks a little like me. But much more importantly – look at her outfit! I often implore Reaper’s art director, Ron Hawkins, to include more figures in fancy dress or historical costume, and this certainly fits the bill, so how could I resist? I’ll talk a little more about my approach to painting the clothing below.

Madame Delia - back view

Madame Delia is based on fantastic concept art by Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier, which you can enjoy below. She was brought to three dimensional life by the talented sculptor, Bobby Jackson. Although I expect that she will see game use as a noble, a merchant, a mayor, and many other ideas, she was designed as a specific character in Reaper’s Dreadmere setting, and has a backstory by Ron Hawkins and Joseph Wolf. I painted her to match the sketch and the character notes. 

Madame Delia Sketch  1Concept art for Madame Delia by Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier.

In the world of Dreadmere, Madame Delia runs a punchhouse called the Drowned Waif. The brothel caters to exotic tastes and employs performers of diverse background and appearance who have a great range of talents. Its proprietor has a fondness for excessively elegant gowns and accessories. She also has a predilection for the drug hagshair, smoked from a long ivory pipe. (Such habits are an unfortunate consequence of living in the tumultuous area of Dreadmere!)

Delia right 400

My vision for Delia’s appearance was one that was dramatic, but not too over the top into garish. Taking a cue from the feather fan, I went with a peacock colour scheme and motif. Since Delia is a lot of woman wearing a lot of fabric, I wanted to paint at least two noticeably different types of cloth to prevent it from feeling like too much of the same thing. I picked a dark blue-green for the cloth of the main dress. Years ago I experimented with a colour and texture like this with a very quickly painted test figure. This seemed like an opportunity to try to execute the idea to more of a display level style of painting.

Test cloth elf cloakThis quick test figure was done in ~15 minutes using a synthetic brush.

To paint the cloth, I started with a fairly dark basecoat colour over the entire area. Then I highlighted up by stippling tiny dots of various shades of blue, green, and teal. To paint these, I used a smaller than usual sable hair brush with a very fine tip. I painted one value level of dark shadow with a very dark blue and dark green, then three or so value levels of highlights. For each level I used two to three paints of roughly the same value (how dark or light the colour is), but different shades of blue/green/teal. Then I glazed over the cloth with a thinned down and very transparent coat of a dark blue-green in the crevices, and a lighter one on the peaks of the folds. The level of contrast between the darkest values and the lightest ones is noticeable, because contrast is important to make things look three dimensional, but it’s not super extreme. Rather I’m using the texture to add some visual interest and create the appearance of a rich velvet or something with a little shimmer.

Madame Delia - back left viewI love those slashed sleeves so much!

By comparison, the lighter green cloth draped on top of the main dress has much more extreme contrast between shadows and highlights. Here I was aiming for a shiny silk type of look, so the crevices shade down to almost black, and the highlights are a yellowy off-white. To add further depth and richness to the shadows, I painted a thin coat of one of the deep red colours from her hair into the darkest shadows. Since green and red are colour complements, this adds a bit of additional contrast even though it isn’t immediately obvious to the viewer’s eye. Whether steel or cloth, materials require a large range of contrast between the darkest and lightest values to appear shiny. The overall midtone value of the draped fabric is lighter than the main dress, so it is set apart from it in terms of colour, texture, and value. There is a third cloth material, as well. I painted the cloth seen through the slashed sleeves and lacing to appear as a pale linen type of fabric, which is pretty matte and so has a much smaller range of contrast between the shadows and the highlights.

Madame Delia - Front view

There is a lot of green (and blue) on the figure, so I tried to balance that out with my other colour choices. Delia seems like someone who would dye her hair, and I decided on a not-natural burgundy type of redhead choice as that seemed like something that would look good with the green, and also fit someone who enjoys looking dramatic. I used similar colours for the gems and her makeup. Green or blue eyeshadow seemed clearly over the line into garish, but a little bit of a deep pink for her eyeshadow and some matching lipstick and blush seemed like they would fit. I used a touch of reddish-purple in the shadows of the gold and ivory to help tie those into the main colour choices, as well. And of course peacock feathers for her fan!

Madame Delia - back right view

Madame Delia is available for purchase in metal right now. Or you can get a copy in Bones by supporting the Bones 5 Kickstarter that is running currently. It is my understanding that the figures in the core set, which Madame Delia is part of, will be made in the newer Bones Black material that is a bit stiffer and nicer for detail than classic Bones.

Dark Sword Female Ranger

Dark Sword Miniatures has just released a new set of figures, and I was happy to be able to paint a couple of them for their studio collection. One of the figures I painted was this female ranger sculpted by Tom Meier.

Fr low profile 450The completed figure. But this post is about the journey of how I got here.

I enjoyed painting this figure a great deal. It was not a project I approached by planning everything out in advance in terms of creating an elaborate diorama, nor even in terms of choosing all my colours in advance. However, as I worked on it I realized it was a good example of the kinds of planning new and intermediate painters often ask me about. New painters want to know how we figure out what to paint first, and how to build off of a few initial colour choices. Intermediate (and advanced) painters benefit from thinking about what materials and textures make up areas of the figure and how to represent those with paint. Those of us painting figures on commission also need to think about the preferences and needs of our client. So I’m going to run through my thought process related to those elements for this figure.

Colour Scheme Thoughts

My first impulse for a colour scheme was to base it on the gorgeous reds and yellows of a Japanese maple. But on further consideration, I was not sure that idea fit this particular figure. If you take the tree out of that colour scheme, it doesn’t really scream ‘ranger’. So I put that idea aside. I decided to stick with an autumn inspired colour scheme, but use less saturated reds and yellows. That idea fit in well with the lovely leaves sculpted on the base.

While I was getting the figure ready to paint, it struck me that she was a good representation of a character type I often play in computer games. I’m not the most original person, so I reuse a few names and concepts for characters in various games. One of them in a bow wielder. I usually create her as being fair skinned, with blonde or light red hair worn in a ponytail or bun. I have never painted a character to match, and doing so seemed like it might be fun. That gave me enough of a colour plan and character concept to get started on painting.

Order of Operations for Painting

My general advice for what order to paint elements of a figure is roughly to work from the inside out. Some people suggest a guideline of painting in the order you would get dressed (skin, underclothes, clothing, accessories, hair, etc.) For example, on most figures the face, neck, and upper chest are all under other parts – hair frames the face and neck, and clothes sit on top of the chest.

The basic idea behind these guidelines is to first paint areas that would be harder to reach with your brush at a later time. For example, if you paint a belt first, chances are pretty good that you are going to slop paint onto it when you paint the shirt that sits beneath it. So it makes a lot more sense to paint the shirt first, and then the belt.

When I first looked at this figure, it seemed like the face and neck would be the place to start, but when I sat down to paint it, I realized the dynamic pose made the hard to reach considerations a little different than with many figures. The recesses of the cloak behind the arms would be very difficult to paint once the arms and torso were painted. This was equally true of the hem area of the inner side of the cloak if I waited to paint it until after the pants and jerkin.

Range wip1 left 600I started with the inside of the cloak, then the area of jerkin touching the cloak, and then the pants.

It is pretty common for figures to have recesses and overhangs from cloaks or skirts or similar items. I recommend you look for these before you begin painting. Even if you don’t know exactly what colours you want to use, pick a shadow colour like a very dark blue or brown and paint it into these recesses. If they do end up being very hard to reach, you’ll have set them into deep shadow and there won’t be obvious unpainted spots.

So my order of painting was:

Inner side of the cloak
The area of the jerkin touching the cloak
Pants
The parts of the chainmail on the sides of the torso
Shirt
The rest of the chainmail
Jerkin, boots, bracers (these had slightly different but related colours and were in separate areas)

Range wip2 front 600It seems more convenient to paint all of an item at the same time, but sometimes it makes your life easier to paint parts at different stages. That was how I had to approach the chainmail and several other areas on this figure.

Then I started doing some basecoats to figure out the best order for the rest, which was a little different than I had assumed it might be.

Arrow shafts
Fletching
Face
Outer side of the cloak
Bow
Hair
Belt and straps
NMM – buckles and trim on bracers
Base

Pants contrast compA brief digression to talk about contrast, because we always need to think about contrast. “More contrast” doesn’t always mean a huge or harsh level of contrast. It just means you almost always need more contrast than you initially think you do. These pants are matte cloth, and they are not an area of major interest. So they shouldn’t be hugely contrasted or draw the eye away from more interesting focal points. But when I came back to look at this figure after initially painting the pants, I realized they were a little too flat, even given those considerations. I deepened the shadows just under the folds slightly by adding more dark blue to my shadow green. I made the top level highlights a little lighter in value, but I also added a little more yellow to make them brighter in saturation. That creates additional contrast so the peaks of the folds stand out a little more even though the highlights aren’t super light in value.

Other Planning Considerations

This figure was sculpted by Tom Meier, and that was a fact I took into consideration when planning how to paint it. Tom Meier sculpts at as realistic a scale as is possible for a gaming scale figure. What he can accomplish at gaming scale is a marvel, but it does mean that some areas and textures are finer or shallower than they would be on many figures. For this ranger, the eyes are quite small, and the chainmail texture is fairly fine.

I took this into account from the very start. Rather than using aerosol primer (which I tend to spray pretty liberally), I decided to brush prime by hand, being very careful to apply only the minimum amount of primer necessary, particularly on the chainmail and the face.

Prior to painting this ranger I had painted a few figures to practice the approach I learned a few months ago in a workshop with Sergio Calvo. This includes starting with your darkest shadow colour painted on all areas, and working up from there. I’ve also been increasingly using other methods of pre-painting, like doing a grisaille or notan style primer undercoat, or sketching and then refining in colour. Although I think those methods are effective and highly recommend that people experiment with them, I decided against using them on this figure for several reasons.

1. The Dark Sword studio miniatures have a cohesive style. I was not sure I could achieve that style with the Sergio Calvo approach. I try to push my skills and improve with figures I paint for clients, and I generally only accept commissions for figures that I know I will find interesting and fun to paint. But when you’re painting for a client, the primary consideration is to paint what the client wants and needs.

2. As mentioned, above, I attempted to minimize the amount of paint applied to the figure so that I did not obscure any of the fine details or textures. (Generally this is much less of a concern than people worry about as long as you’re not using super gloppy paint.) Colour sketching and grisaille approaches do not add so much more paint to a figure that I would normally think about it as an issue, but based on previous experience with delicate Tom Meier textures, I wanted as little extraneous paint as possible.

3. I had to remove the figure from its holder to effectively paint the initial recessed areas of the inner side of the cloak, underside of the jerkin, and the pants. Usually a holder makes it easier to reach all the areas of a figure, but in this case I had to come at a lot of areas from directly below. Numerous small spots of primer rubbed off of the face, hair, cloak, and other areas due to the way I had to hold the figure in my hand to paint the recesses. This is the other reason to use a holder whenever possible – your primer and paint will adhere much more sturdily! So had I used a pre-painting method, I’d have had more complex repairs to make than simply repainting some primer.

My last consideration before painting was to think about the textures of the various surfaces of the figure. Some of these are determined by the sculpt – skin, hair, and chainmail are all pretty obvious, likewise a fantasy character’s bow and arrow shafts are going to be made from wood. But what material is the clothing? Tom Meier is a master of sculpting drapery, and I really love his sculpting of that on this figure. To me the thickness and weight, and the types of folds on the jerkin and cloak felt like heavy leather, which would be logical attire for a ranger. 

Range wip3 face 600I had so much fun painting the leather jerkin that I was impatient to get to the stage of painting the leather cloak. But first I had to pass over some bumps on the road…

I recently watched an episode of a marvellous BBC series where they recreate apparel from famous paintings using traditional tailoring methods. One of these featured a leather outfit worn by a hedge cutter, and they tested the leather and found it very effective against thorny vegetation. So leather is a solid choice for ranger gear!

Having a lot of leather to paint was exciting because it gave me an opportunity to practice techniques I studied in another workshop I took this year, with Fernando Ruiz. He opened my eyes to the idea that washes can be used for advanced painting techniques as well as tabletop. In the workshop, we used a variety of coloured washes over a light leather colour to create something that looked worn and well-used. This is a different look to the worn leather you get using stipple and dash brush strokes. (Though the two approaches can also be used in concert.) I am very happy with the result, I like the richness and complexity of the shadows a lot.

Fernando Ruiz is giving more workshops this month. If you can get to the Atlanta area between October 25 to October 27, try to make it to one of these!

Bumps in the Road

Apart from having to put more thought than usual into the best order to paint items, the painting of this figure went pretty smoothly and enjoyably. Right up until I reached the face. Painting the face and skin in general is usually one of my favourite parts of painting a miniature. I love seeing a figure ‘come to life’ under the brush. But pale skin is tricky. I wanted to try using a bit more of a reddish shade tone than I normally would, to tie in with colours used elsewhere on the figure. I could tell when I started painting that it wasn’t working as I had hoped. So I mixed a second shade series using a little more of a purple shadow tone, using a colour I’ve successfully used to shade skin before. It was better, but the shadows got too dark and harsh pretty quickly. 

I debated trying to work with my midtones to see if I could get it closer to what I was hoping for. But then I thought about the fact that I needed to get this figure finished up quickly, that being a delicate sculpt it is not an optimal candidate for a lot of paint application, and that my mood in the moment was more frustration and less feeling invigorated by the idea of a challenge. So I instead decided to repaint the midtone colour and use an old reliable colour for the shadows. (That colour is Ashen Brown. Reaper had canceled this colour, but it and some other colours of the past are returning to us via the latest Reaper Bones Kickstarter, which is running right now! Saddle Brown in the Bones HD paint line also works well to shade pale skin tones.)

Range wip4 face1 600I’m happy with the end result. Sometimes you have to just try and try again.

Unfortunately I had already finished repainting the base coat midtone of the skin before it occurred to me that I should take a picture to share here. Sorry about that! I still worked in a little red to the skin by use of a soft overall glaze, and a glaze to create a blush in the cheeks.

Finally I got to paint more fun leather on that cloak! The picture below is from my ‘final check’ series of photos, which I have talked about doing before. (Final check stage for Tara, and then a second post listing the issues found in the final check.) In the case of this ranger, I found a pretty big oversight in the final check photos. It saved me a lot of time and annoyance to find it at this point rather than not noticing until I was taking the final photos. Or even worse, having the client find the problem for me!

Range wip5 back 600Job one when painting a miniature is to paint the whole miniature. I had forgotten the bottom and top trim areas on the quiver. Very easy kind of thing to do, and one reason a final check step can be worth the effort.

Here are some additional views of the completed figure.

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Fr back high 450

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Bones V Kickstarter Preview

Reaper Miniatures is back on Kickstarter, this time with Bones V! The pledge total is already up to $1M! They started streaming on Twitch when the Kickstarter was live expecting to stream for an hour or so, and ended up live for seven hours

I was able to take pictures of some of the preview miniatures while I was at ReaperCon last month, and it looks like there are some pretty amazing figures coming our way. I hope to get a brush on some of these sooner or later…

Here are a few highlights, but you can see all of the pictures I took in an album on my Facebook page.

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Goofs and Gaffes

When you look at the work of artists you like, it’s easy to see only the parts you admire – the technical skill you feel you could never match, or the expressive use of colour and brushstroke that seems beyond your understanding. But even professionals and experts goof up and goof around. I certainly do, at any rate! So today I thought I would share an example of a goof and a gaffe with a figure I recently finished. If you have any goofs and/or gaffes related to figures you’ve painted, please add them to the comments!

RC19 Mousling - front view

RC19 Mousling - back viewThis limited edition figure is currently available for purchase online.

First up is the goofing around story. Sometimes colour schemes for miniatures I’m asked to paint are based on a piece of 2D artwork I need to match as well as I can. Sometimes they come about as an attempt to marry elements of colour theory with character archetypes, or in hopes of evoking certain moods or themes. And sometimes colour schemes are chosen on a dare from your boss.

Text conversation screenshotYes, I checked with Ron before posting this!

Although the colours purple and teal may initially sound like cheery pastels that wouldn’t fit a grizzled witch hunter type of mousling, it really only took a little tweaking to make them work. For the purple, I chose a colour a little on the darker side, and with more blue in it. I also painted a lot of texture and scratches on the purple leather coat and hat to help keep the figure feeling gritty. I used the teal almost as more of a highlight to black leather components than straight teal. I kept both the purple and the teal a little muted to help the more vivid red-orange of the fur stand out, in an effort to keep the focus on the character rather than his gear. While it started as a bit of a joke, I’m pretty happy with the colour scheme in the end.

But alas this same figure had a huge gaffe that is very embarrassing. This is the figure as I originally painted it:

RC19 Mousling goof - right viewCan you see the problem? It’s so loud you can almost hear it…

After I finished him and took pictures, I packed him up to bring to ReaperCon and hand over to Ron. I wasn’t able to paint a lot this year, so I included him in my display with my other two entries into the MSP Open show. (Which I appear to have forgotten to take pictures of. Oops!)

I am also one of the judges of the MSP Open. On Friday night, my team was working through our section of the wonderful (and this year, quite voluminous) entries, when I came upon the display of another painter who had entered this figure. (If you’d like to take a look at photos of all of the more than 1000 entries, they’re available online at the ReaperCon site.)

RC 19 Mousling painted by Jacob BoltonThis  fun take on the figure was painted by Jacob Bolton, who also got much fancier with the basing than I did. Photo by MSP Open photo team.

And as I was looking it over, I realized what I had gotten very wrong when I painted the miniature – the ears! For some reason I interpreted the shapes on the top of the hat as feathers. (I guess I see stuff on a hat brim, I think feathers.) Looking at the other entry, I realized how badly wrong I was – the shapes are the mousling‘s ears poking up through the hat brim!

My only consolation is that plenty of other people seem not to have noticed, since no one asked me about it. I sent my boss a WIP picture as well as the final pics, and he didn’t spot it. No one mentioned it at ReaperCon. It’s been posted as the store image for the figure for a few weeks, and I haven’t had any queries about it. Either I have a lot of very polite friends, or a lot of other people have missed spotting this booboo. Probably a bit of both. :->

Once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it, so I took this guy back home to fix up the ears and take new pictures.

I’d love to hear if you have any goof-ups you’d like to share, or if you’ve ever painted anything on a dare or for a joke. Please share your stories in the comments!

RC19 Mousling - left view

RC19 Mousling - right view