Blog

Efreeti Paint Process and Colours

There seems to be some interest in knowing more about how I painted the Efreeti figure for Reaper Miniatures March promotion. The promotion – for every $40 you spend at the Reaper site during the month of March, you will receive a free copy of this miniature, which can also be purchased separately. It is provided in Reaper’s new Bones Black plastic, and was also available as a selection in their fourth Kickstarter, which will be shipping out to backers soon. (So it’s available now during March, then will ship to Kickstarter backers, and then will be available on the website again at some point in the future.)

(NOTE: I will be attending the Cold Wars convention to teach classes until next week. I will try to approve comments and answer questions as best I can, but if my schedule or tech access doesn’t permit, I will catch up on them next week, promise!)

Efreeti front on black backgroundMy painted version of the Efreeti figure from Reaper Miniatures. This is a resin master copy, as the figure was not yet available in the Bones Black material at the time I was assigned to paint it.

Every miniature (with the possible exception of completely scratch sculpted figures) is a collaborative process, and that is certainly true of this one. It started with Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier’s fantastic concept art, which sculptor Bobby Jackson did a wonderful job of bringing to three dimensional life. Before I began painting, Reaper’s art director Ron Hawkins and I talked about his vision for the colours of the character. While I have played role-playing games for many years, I’ve played in a lot of low level and custom world campaigns, so I’m not as familiar with some of the classic creatures and characters of the RPG world as you might expect. As a result, I always like to collaborate with Ron to make sure I’m painting the classics in a classic way!. 

This was my colour brief – red skin on the darker side, hair with flame-like colours, and yellow metals for armour and accessories. So yellow, orange, and red, both in fully saturated form for hair and skin, and less saturated form for the metals. That sounded like a classic analogous colour scheme. An analogous scheme is one that uses 3-5 colours that are side by side to one another on the colour wheel. Because the colours are adjacent, they work very harmoniously with one another, and you can be confident that everything ‘goes’. What you lose in that colour scheme is the punch and pop you can achieve by pairing complementary colours – colours which are opposite one another on the colour wheel. Analogous colour schemes can be very effective in graphic design, and with certain subjects/approaches in traditional art forms. But when it comes to portraying something of any complexity, to me they seem a bit gimmicky or limited in the situations in which they work effectively.

Colour wheel showing red through yellow analogous colour schemeA colour wheel can be a handy tool to help you choose colours for painting a figure, and quick reference for useful concepts like complementary colours. I like that this one shows tones and tints as well as pure hues. There are also a lot of great pages and programs available online related to colour schemes and selection.

I was excited about the prospect of being able to try a true analogous scheme on a figure since I had never done it before. Neutral colours are generally considered apart from the colours that make up a colour scheme, so I added black to the colour options both for mixing shades and as a minor colour for leather straps, horns, and claws. This was also a departure – I very rarely use plain black to darken colours. I far prefer to use a dark blue, brown, purple, even green or red depending on what I’m shading. White was added to make the hottest part of the fire and for the top highlights on the metals.

I had a firm deadline for completing this figure, but a whole lot of outside life issues kept getting in the way (flu followed by literal flood, and that was after some other issues even getting started!) While I enjoy colour mixing in my traditional art studies, for miniatures I often prefer to use as many pre-mixed convenience colours as I can, supplemented with custom mixes of my own as necessary. This allows me to quickly get paint on my palette and refill as necessary if I start to run low on a mix. This figure is almost three times the size of a standard gaming miniature, which is a BIG figure for me. I definitely ran out of mixes as I was painting! (You can read a little more about paint choices, colour mixing, and convenience mixes in a previous blog post.)

IMG 5727The bottom row on the palette shows the value range and the intermediary mixes I used to paint the skin. After I had paint on everything I added one slightly brighter final highlight to a few small areas on the face. You can also see the corner of my reference photo over on the right, and some colour scheme test figures behind the Efreeti.

Before starting to paint, I did a little testing to pick my colours. I chose to go with a cooler red rather than a warmer red mix for the skin, and I also had my colours set for the hair from the outset. (A cooler red has a touch of blue, a warmer red is more orangey.) I did some Google searches for bronze items and picked out a few I liked the look of, then picked out some colours paint colours that matched. Since I was trying for the analogous scheme, I didn’t want to use colours that appeared to have green in them. I also didn’t want colours that were too yellow, since I wanted the bronze to look as distinct as possible from the gold. For that same reason, I picked out strong yellows and reddish browns for the gold areas. I will list the names of the paint colours I used at the bottom of this post for those who are interested.

Efreet test paintI tested several different versions of the red skin on a few of these Bones figures, which I love for testing! Once I had a skin colour I liked, I tested a hair colour. Then I began to paint on the Efreeti itself. I kept the test figure available to use to check on my choices for other areas of the figure, such as the cloth and bronze. Even very rough tests of a basecoat for the cloth and just roughing in highlights and shadows on the bracer for the bronze were useful to help me see if the colours worked together. You don’t have to know every colour you’ll use before you start painting, and you don’t have to have an ‘instinctive’ sense about colour to make successful colour choices. But it definitely helps a lot to be willing to test and play around!

Colour choices are just one part of the puzzle for why the skin of the figure looks like it does. I think the way that the skin seems to glow a little is strongly impacted by the depth of the shadows, and the degree to which I painted in the shadows. I didn’t want the skin to be much lighter in value than a bright red/dark orange. Using white and yellow only in the hair would separate the two areas visually more effectively and help the hair read better as fire-like. The shadows of the skin are nearly black in the darkest areas, and there is a fairly large proportion of shadow. The lightest areas are in a circle on the right side that includes most of the face, the right arm and hand, and the right unarmoured hip. The highlights on the armoured leg are almost, but not quite as bright as those. Throughout the skin there are strong areas of shadow next to areas of light – light on the cheekbones, very dark in the hollows under the cheeks and the chin and neck. Very light at the top of the right hip, shading down to near black above the knee. Even darker on the opposite leg, so although the highlight there is not as bright in value as the face and hip, it looks pretty bright. 

Efreeti front on gray backgroundThe background you use to photograph miniatures can have a surprisingly significant effect on the end result, both in terms of how your camera may perceive colours, and the mood that is created for the viewer. This photo on a grey background is less dramatic, but the colours are probably a little more accurate.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, it is increasingly my preference to try to separate out some of the steps or considerations of painting as much as I can. To ask yourself to think mentally about where the shadows/lights should go based on your light source, at the same time as placing them on the actual figure with paint, while at the same time trying to achieve a smooth blend or create a texture is like juggling a bunch of balls in the air at the same time. It can be done with a lot of practice and/or luck, but more often than not you’re likely to be dropping balls all over the place. You’ll have a much easier time with just two balls, or even just bouncing one ball back and forth against a wall.

My first step was to take a photograph of the figure under a strong light. I chose to make the direction of my light source above and to the right from the orientation of this photograph, and I took pictures with this lighting from several angles. (I think I’d like to get a lazy Susan type thing to make this easier to do!) This showed me where my main areas of light and shadow would fall on the figure. If you compare the reference photo below to how I painted the skin, you’ll see that I followed the placement shown in my reference photos pretty closely. Skin has a sheen but is not a strongly reflective surface, so a photograph of a resin figure seemed a pretty good guide to how skin would work, and likewise a good guideline for this type of non-shiny fabric. For the shiny metal surfaces, I had to extrapolate and use my imagination a lot more. In all areas I fudged or exaggerated whenever it seemed like it would look more visually interesting or effective to do so. As an example – the light falling on the right foot is about as light in value as that falling on the right hip in my reference photo. I chose to paint the foot darker because it is not a strong area of interest and should not be competing with the hip and the face for attention. The skin of the left arm is more heavily shadowed in my lighting reference photo, and I initially painted it that way, but I lightened it up a little because that area seemed too dull and indistinct when looking at the figure.

Efreeti front light refence photoThe unprimed resin figure illuminated by a single small light source placed above and to the right. The soft transition from light grey to near black on the right thigh is an example of a form shadow (see below). The sharp line across the right arm under the shoulder pad or the diagonal line of shadow on the left sword are examples of cast shadows.

For the past few months I’ve been studying shadows in traditional art. In particular, I’ve studied cast versus form shadows. Shadows occur where light is occluded from falling on a surface. When you stand out in the sun your body blocks the light of the sun from falling on the area where your shadow appears. That is a cast shadow, and there is a noticeable line around its edge that separates it from the area where the light is illuminating the surrounding surfaces. If you hold your arm out in the sun or a room with a ceiling light, you’ll see that your arm appears lighter on the top where it faces the light, and the skin that slopes down towards the underside of your arm appears to darken gradually. That transition from lit area to dark shadow area is a form shadow, and it is generally very soft and gradual, rather than having the sharper line or edge that defines a cast shadow.

As I was starting to paint this figure, I got to thinking that in miniature painting, we generally emphasize painting form shadows – those gradual transitions that show rounded forms sloping away from the light. But unless we’re painting figures that depict and emphasize the light source within the scene, we rarely paint cast shadows. I suspect this is because we look at miniatures in the round in a variety of lighting conditions. Cast shadows define the imagined light source more strongly and may look odd from certain angles or if the viewer has light coming from other angles. Also cast shadows tend to have hard edges, which require more precise placement to appear correct to the viewer. One of the exceptions to this is lining. One of the reasons lining often looks more natural than you might imagine is because there often is a ‘dividing line’ between overlapping surfaces that is created by cast shadows. If you look at a sleeve overhanging an arm, you’ll see the sleeve casts a thin line of shadow just below itself – a cast shadow that we paint as a line. You can even see this on the reference photo above – the thin dark line between the bracer on her right arm and the hand below it.

Drawing demonstrating different types of shadows and edgesThis is a reference diagram from my study of shadows and edges in traditional art that hopefully demonstrates a form shadow versus a cast shadow. The light is coming from above and to the left.

Important note! There are definitely miniature painters that paint cast shadows! Even apart from the example of the many painters who have painted shadows on the ground/basing when painting source light scenes. Alphonso Giraldes (Banshee) has done it, Aythami Alonso Torrent (NotOriginalMinis) has a short video demonstrating it, and I’m sure there are many, many, many others. I’m not under any illusion that I’ve invented anything unique here! I’m just exploring the idea that I think we emphasize form shadows and smooth transitions in miniature painting, and rarely paint the more sharply defined cast shadows.

Because yellows, oranges, and reds are not the best coverage paints, I decided against doing a grisaille primer approach or something similar. Instead I blocked in the main shadows and lights with the colours I intended to use on the skin and armour. For this figure, I decided I wanted to more actively paint in cast shadows. If you compare the figure to the reference photo, you’ll likely spot areas where I did this. It is most noticeable on the right arm, where I painted both the shadow cast by the large overhanging shoulder plate, and another area of shadow cast by the contour of the bracer. 

Efreeti WIP pictureIn this photo you can see the block in version of the bronze armour and swords. Blends are rough, and I haven’t added the brightest highlights or darkest shadows, or done any lining between the scale plates, nor any other kind of detailing. The goal is just to lay in an idea of where the big areas of dark, light, and midtones go.

Efreeti WIP pciture 2This is further along in the process. I’ve completed the gold non-metallic metal, and I’m starting to work on refining the bronze. I’ve finished the scale armour section on the bracer and her right breast. I’ve increased the contrast on the swords, but will do a bit more work on that as well as refining the blends. The placement of highlights and shadows on the metal areas is a little less straightforward than just following the reference photo, since super shiny surfaces behave differently than matte ones. You may find this video helpful.

In general I suspect that the shadows on the skin look natural enough that people might be (consciously or subconsciously) reading them as being partly paint, partly naturally occurring from an overhead light source. I have set up my photo area to cast as flat of light as possible so as to create as few shadows on the figure as possible. If you look around the area of the base in the finished photos near the top of this post (or scroll down a little), you’ll see only faint shadow cast around the base of the figure. The very dark areas next to the skirt are painted shadows, and my willingness to go down to near black there (and to follow a reference photo to help me visualize where things should be placed) is what makes the lighter areas of the skin appear to glow or pop. Committing to the cast shadows only enhanced the effect of that I think.

So how did an analogous colour scheme work out for me? In the end, I’m not entirely sure whether or not this piece qualifies as one. The purple colour on the skirt was mixed by adding gray to my darkest red (and then using a very close match pre-bottled colour for simplicity.) But in the final stages of painting I added a glaze of a true purple colour in the shadows of the skin, cloth, and gold NMM. It is hard for me to paint without using purple! Although I was attempting to avoid using any paints that seemed to have any blue or green in them,  I didn’t mix the NMM colours from my basic colour set, so I can’t guarantee they could all be achieved from my analogous colours plus black and white. Perhaps I will try an analogous scheme again in the future and conform to it more strictly, but in this case it was more important to me to make the piece as interesting and well done as I could manage given my time limitations.

Special thanks to Jen Greenwald for her suggestion for a way to paint glowing eyes that I’m quite happy with. If you like work in progress pictures and frequent updates, you’ll enjoy her blog a lot more than mine. :->

Scale picture of EfreetiOne more picture, this one indicating the scale of the figure. She’s big! But Sir Forescale doesn’t mind dating a taller woman, he’s secure in his masculinity. 

Paint Colours

All colours used are Reaper Master Series Paints unless otherwise noted.

Colours in italics are out of production or special edition colours not currently for sale. You can approximate Bruished Purple by adding Stormy Grey to Crimson Red. Garnet Red is a cool red with a value between Crimson and Brilliant, and several MSP colours should work in its place.

Colours marked * are currently unavailable and were previously part of the MSP HD line. They will be available in the near future as part of the Bones HD line.

Colours are listed from darkest to lightest. Bolded colour is the closest approximate midtone. Note that there may be intermediary steps of colours mixed together to create smoother blends.

Skin: Solid Black* + Crimson Red*, Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Red Neon Glow (pre-release colour, will be available soon), touch of Lava Orange + Linen White, glaze in the shadow areas with Imperial Purple

Bronze Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Woodstain Brown, Woodstain Brown, Tanned Leather, Blond Hair, Blond Highlight, Linen White

Gold Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Chestnut Brown, Chestnut Gold, Palomino Gold, NMM Gold Highlight, Blond Highlight, Linen White

Skirt: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Linen White + Bruised Purple

Hair: Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Lava Orange, Fire Orange, Lantern Yellow, Candlelight Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Pure White

Horns: Solid Black*, Dusky Shadow, Dusky Skin, Dusky Highlight, Vampiric Shadow, Vampiric Skin, Vampiric Highlight

Bone carved skulls: Same mixes as the horns, but emphasizing the lighter end of the colours. Glaze with Bone Shadow

Base: Grays mixed from Solid Black* and Pure White, glazed with colours used elsewhere on the figure

Classes at Cold Wars 2019

I am very pleased to be the special guest and a painting class instructor for the Cold Wars convention, which takes place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on March 14-17!

I have not had the opportunity to attend this convention previously, so I can’t share any personal experience with it and I don’t have any past photos. Though I hope to report back with both of those after (or during) the event! But I have known several of the people involved in the Hobby University activities for some time, and they’re a great bunch. They work hard to organize and run classes related to painting, sculpting, and terrain for the several conventions run by the HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society.)

I know this is late notice for trying to attend Cold Wars, but the good news is that the HMGS offers three conventions each year, and the Hobby University provides classes at each of them, so you can start planning right now to attend the next one that works with your schedule! Even if you aren’t particularly into historical miniature gaming, if you’re at all interested in miniature painting and in the region of Lancaster Pennsylvania, you should definitely check them out. Here’s the link for the main HMGS website, which links to each of the three yearly conventions: https://www.hmgs.org

There are a lot of interesting classes on the Cold Wars schedule this year. And the cost couldn’t be more reasonable – free with your convention badge! This is the schedule of classes that I’ll be teaching. I believe registration is available online through the website linked above.

Friday, March 15, noon to 1:30pm: Smooth Blending via Layering and Glazing

Friday, March 15, 2pm to 3:30pm: Next Level Faces

Saturday, March 16, noon to 1:30pm: Next Level Flesh

Saturday March 16, 2pm to 3:30pm: Level Up from Intermediate to Advanced

Below are the rest of my scheduled convention appearances for the rest of 2019. It’s always possible I’ll add another or two, but these are the ones I know of right now.

March 27 – 30: AdeptiCon – Schaumburg (Chicago), Illinois
Information about AdeptiCon from a previous blog post. My classes are sold out, but if you’re really interested in one (of mine or any other sold out class), you can show up at the time of the class with the class fee in hand. If not all of the people who bought tickets show up (and that happens more often than you’d imagine), you will be able purchase a ticket on the spot and join the class. More information on the AdeptiCon website

April 12 -14: Save vs. Hunger – Knoxville, Tennessee
My hometown convention to raise money for Second Harvest of East Tennessee. I run a paint & take table, where I’m happy to offer painting advice as time permits. Other events include lots of role-playing games, fantastic raffle prizes, cheap food, and a board game library with experienced gamers available to teach. I’ll write more about this convention soon, but for now, you can visit their website or check out their Facebook page.

August 29 – September 1: ReaperCon – Denton (Dallas), Texas
I have a blog post with an overview of all of the fun things you can do at ReaperCon. Classes and other activities have not yet been scheduled, but I will try to put up a blog post once I know what classes I’m teaching. You can already book a hotel room via this webpage, which will be updated with additional information as it becomes available. In the meantime, you can find lots of general information and helpful tips on the ReaperCon forums.

Links and Information

Cold Wars 2019 information: https://www.hmgs.org/page/CWHome
Cold Wars Hobby University class schedule 2019: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.hmgs.org/resource/resmgr/cold_wars/2019/hu_cw_2019_final.pdf
Historical Miniatures Gaming Society – three conventions per year!: https://www.hmgs.org
Hobby University Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HMGSHobbyU/
My AdeptiCon overview: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/11/16/adepticon-2019-registration-opens-monday-november-18/
AdeptiCon webpage: https://www.adepticon.org
Save vs. Hunger Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/saveversushunger/
Save vs. Hunger webpage: http://www.savevshunger.org
My ReaperCon overview: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/15/reapercon-not-just-for-reapers/
ReaperCon webpage: https://reapercon.com/
ReaperCon forums: http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/forum/23-reapercon/

So Many Paints…

If you follow conversations on miniature painting forums and groups, likely you’ve seen a lot more talk about different paint options of late. Everything from the debates of which commonly available miniature paint brand is ‘best’, to announcements of this or that completely new option for miniature painters, to counter-arguments about how you should just be mixing all your own colours from a handful of art store paints. Some art store brands are further complicating the discussion by coopting the names of other kinds of paints/products in an effort to convey the characteristics of their formulations to consumers.

Paints and tools

How paint is formulated and the characteristics of various paints is a complex topic. Probably too long and involved to do justice to in a single blog post. Instead I’m going to aim for an overview of information helpful to making good choices in a sea of options. I may write some posts diving deeper into certain topics in the future. 

Important note: I am not a paint chemist nor any other sort of official expert. I have a certain enthusiasm for paint, and I’ve spent a little time studying up on it to guide my own purchases both for miniature painting use, and traditional canvas and paper painting. Any errors in this article are my own.

What is Paint?

Paint is a pigment suspended in a binder. Paint may also contain additives designed to alter the properties of either the pigment or the binder. Explanations of each of those elements will help you understand what makes a given paint different from or similar to another.

What is Binder?

The binder determines the overall ‘family’ to which the paint belongs, and determines several basic properties of how the paint behaves. Different brands of paints within a family can generally be mixed and used together without difficulty. So any paint with oil as a binder is an oil paint, and whether it is made with linseed oil or walnut oil, it has more in common with any other oil paint than another type of paint. 

The acrylic in acrylic paints is a type of plastic derived from petrochemicals, which makes it one of the newest families of paint. Most of the properties of acrylic paints make them very well suited to miniature painting:

– Acrylic paints dry to the touch in minutes, and are fully cured within a couple of days.
– The cured paint film is sturdy and flexible.
– You need only water as a solvent – as long as the paint is wet, you can clean brushes or spills with only water.
– You can also use water as a dilutant, though there is some controversy about how much to thin with water alone.
– Once cured, the paint is no longer soluble to water, so what you put there, stays there.

This plastic binders developed to make acrylic paints can be very… plastic in their properties. There is a wide consistency of paints, from those which are thicker than toothpaste to those fluid enough to use as inks. Despite this superficial difference, virtually all of them should be able to intermix and be used with one another.

What is Pigment?

The pigment provides the colour of the paint. The same pigments are used with the different binders to produce the different families of paint. Some are natural materials such as minerals or biological materials from plants and animals. Others are synthetic products that are chemically produced. There are hundreds of pigments, and the history and development of pigments is full of fascinating tales.  

To help people judge apples against oranges in a sea of confusing consumer options, each pigment has been assigned a pigment number. For example, PR102 stands for Pigment Red #102, PB29 is Pigment Blue #29. The majority of fine art brand paints list the pigment number(s) used in the paint on the paint container. This allows the user to research the general properties of the ingredients in their paint, and to find their favourite pigments easily among different brands. Note that the colour expressed by the same pigment number can vary depending on how it is prepared and mixed. Some pigments tend to look pretty similar between brands, while others can vary so widely in appearance that one brand might have multiple paints made from that pigment that appear fairly different in colour. 

Paints mixed with PBr7 from Daniel SmithThese paints are all mixed from PBr7. These are watercolours from Daniel Smith (which I love), and this picture is taken from the Daniel Smith website. 

I think one thing that is not commonly understood is the degree to which the pigment affects the behaviour of a given paint. The properties of pigments vary widely and have a significant impact on the properties of paints which are made from them. A lot of elements that you might like or dislike about a given paint colour or paint line are created by the nature of the pigments used to mix it. Some of the properties heavily affected by pigment:

– Finish: pigments vary in finish from very shiny to vary matte.
– Transparency: some pigments are by nature transparent. Surprisingly, these are often very intense colours, like reds, yellows, and bright blues. Others are very opaque, such as black, white, and earth colours.
– Lightfastness: some pigment colours fade very quickly with exposure to light, others are much more durable.
– Tinting strength: the weakness or strength of a colour when mixed with other colours. You generally need a lot of yellow and just a little bit of blue to mix a green, because most yellows have low tinting strength and many blues have high tinting strength.
– Staining: some pigments also act as stains or dyes. If you’ve ever noticed that a white nylon brush looks blue or green after you’ve painted with it, it’s not that the brush is poor quality or you didn’t rinse out all the paint, it’s because you used a paint colour mixed from high staining pigments.
– Toxicity: some pigments are toxic to produce, and some even have risk of toxicity to painters. 
– Cost: pigments vary wildly in cost. If you look at art store paint brands, you’ll notice that not every bottle/tube of a given paint line is the same price. Rather, the paints are divided up into series. A series 1 paint might cost $10 per tube, and a series 5 could cost $22 per tube. The expense relates to the availability of the pigment and the cost to produce it. Note that it’s not necessarily the case that the most expensive pigments are going to be the ‘best’ colours. Some of the most popular and useful colours are lower cost pigments, and some of the most expensive pigments are non-optimal one one way or another.

So if you think about those properties, you can see a few things that are likely true of the formulations of miniature hobby paints. The paints have a uniform price per bottle, so they are likely mixed from the less expensive pigment options. Dealing with toxicity in production would increase costs, and toxicity that could affect the end user is undesirable in a hobby product, so that limits use of other pigments. Pigment properties also explain why you might need seven coats of that yellow to get coverage, but only two coats of this brown.

What is a Dye (or a Liquid Pigment)?

Like a pigment, a dye is also a colorant. The difference is that dyes are chemicals that completely dissolve in water/binder, whereas pigments remain discrete particles suspended in water/binder. So there is no such thing as a ‘liquid pigment’. The idea that dyes dissolve may make them seem like the superior colorant, but there is a lot more to it than that. Dyes work by chemically binding to porous substrates like paper or cloth. Paint sits on top of the substrate. Miniatures are made of non-porous materials like metal and resin, so they cannot easily be dyed. Another issue with dyes is that the majority of them fade with exposure to light, and fade fairly quickly (weeks to months for some). Pigments range in their lightfastness, but there are many pigments that are much more resistant to light and should keep their true colour appearance for decades, if not centuries. Lastly, dyes are almost universally transparent, and so are ill-suited to applications where opaque coverage is desired. 

If you’re interested in more information in dyes versus pigments, check this article: https://thebluebottletree.com/pigments-vs-dyes-difference/

What are Additives?

An additive is anything other than pigment and binder that is added to a paint. Additives are often used to alter the properties of a paint or binder. You can purchase some types of additives separately to add to your own paint mixes. Some examples of additives:

– Slow dry agent: increases the amount of time the paint takes to dry to the touch. (There are additives to speed drying, too, particularly for oil paints.)
– Flow aid/improver/surfactant: decreases the surface tension of the paint to increase the way it flows off the brush and reduce the appearance of rings in drying.
– Matting agent: reduces the shine of a glossy pigment and/or binder.
– Opacifier: Makes a pigment less transparent. Largely these are actually other pigments or substances like chalk or marble dust, so the intensity of the original colour is usually affected by the use of opacifiers..
– Filler: These may just be opacifiers, or other elements which are used with the aim of using less of the expensive pigment to make up a given volume of paint. Very common in inexpensive paints like craft or student brands (Ceramcoat, Apple Barrel, etc.).

Miniature painters have historically had a strong preference for paints that are as uniformly opaque as possible, and matte to very matte in finish. So paint producers for miniature paints try to mix opaque colours with transparent ones to improve opacity, and/or add opacifiers, as well as adding matting agents to shiny colours.

If you think of pigments and binders as the basic ingredients of a dish, additives are the spice and flavouring options that really make one line stand out as behaving differently than another. A given paint line might add a little slow drying agent to increase workability for wet on wet techniques, where another paint brand might add flow aid to improve how well the paint behaves when thinned down for glazes and washes. Both brands are likely pretty equivalent in overall quality, but just as some people prefer Coke to Pepsi or one fast food burger to another, some people are going to prefer the properties of one line to those of another. This is why you’ll see such varied reviews of the same brands of paints. A lot of a given person’s preference comes down to personal taste and familiarity as much or more as the objective ‘quality’ of the product.

Paint additivesA selection of paint additives/mediums that I have used at various times over the years. Mostly I use the Reaper products. I do like to add some airbrush medium when airbrushing. This brand has slow drying agent in it, which helps keep the airbrush flowing well.

What are Mediums?

Mediums are products that the user can choose to add to paint to change its properties or consistency. Many are essentially either binders or additives, or a mix of the two. So you can buy a heavy gel to add to a soft body paint to make it thicker, or a more fluid glaze medium to add to a heavy body paint to make it more liquid. Or you can add your own flow aid, matting agent, or gloss, etc. The majority of these products are clear. Adding them will increase the transparency of a paint (since you’ve changed the binder/additive to pigment ratio), but should not affect the colour.

Another type of medium is a texture medium. These might be made with pumice, lava, fibres, or other materials suspended in an acrylic medium. Often these are white based rather than clear, so they will lighten a paint if it is added to them. These products offer fun possibilities for basing construction materials, but few if any are suitable as additives for actual painting on miniatures. (When used for basing, you’ll likely use less paint if you paint over them once dried rather than trying to colour them by mixing paint into the medium before applying it.)

Choosing a Paint Consistency

The advice I’ve consistently heard from paint experts is to choose a paint with a starting consistency that is as close as possible to what you want to use. Figure painters, particularly those working at smaller scales, tend to prefer paint of a fairly fluid consistency. Thicker paint is much more likely to fill in fine details of a miniature sculpt. It is possible to thin thick tube paints with water to a consistency you can use on miniature figures. In doing so you may weaken the paint film, and you will lose opacity and may reduce other characteristics of the paint. To my mind it makes more sense (and saves a lot of time) to buy a paint that is formulated with a more fluid binder, whether this be a miniature brand paint like Reaper Master Series or Vallejo Model Color, or an art store line like Golden Fluid or Liquitex Acrylic Gouache, or maybe Liquitex Soft Body if you want slightly thicker paint on occasion and are okay with doing some thinning on other occasions. I suspect the new Scale75 tube paints are close to Soft Body in consistency. (Elizabeth Beckley has a great review here, which includes a visual comparison between several different lines of paint consistency.)

Golden High Flow paintsGolden’s High Flow paint line is very fluid, more similar to an ink. It works well to mix in to increase colour intensity, but is probably too thin and transparent to work as a stand alone paint. (The swatches on the black diagonal lines on each bottle are actual samples of the paint painted over a part of the label to indicate opacity.)

For some time I have heard that it is actually dangerous to mix a ratio of more than 25-30% of water to acrylic paint. The thinking is that when you mix too much water into the paint, the acrylic polymers that make up the binder become too far and few between to create a solid paint film. I’ve heard stories of thin glazes being wiped off canvases during dusting and cleaning. That argument makes sense, but so does the counterargument that many miniature painters have used water thinned glazes for years without detecting any issue. Golden recently released the results of some tests they performed with heavily thinned paints. While this is one brand of paint on a particular surface, it fared much better than might have been expected.

However, I do think it is helpful to use a mix of medium and water for heavily thinned applications like glazes or washes. Glazes apply a little more smoothly, and washes are less likely to dry with rings. I like to use Reaper’s Wash Medium. Vallejo Glaze Medium and any art store product that’s fluid in consistency and has medium in the name is likely to be a similar thing. (I also like Golden Air Brush Medium, but it must have a lot of slow dry additive in it, because it takes a really long time to dry.) Use of this kind of medium is especially helpful to dilute metallic paints because it keeps the metallic flakes in suspension much more than water does.

Miniature paintsCall me crazy, but I like to paint miniatures with paint designed for painting miniatures.

Painters of busts and large scale figures like Banshee (Alfonso Giraldes) and others are embracing texture and brush strokes in their painting. Texture and opacity are additional elements of contrast we can play with. Because thicker texture and more opaque paint can work particularly well in highlights, a painter wanting to experiment with this style can begin with a single tube of heavy body acrylic white paint and mix other colours in to create highlights. You need not have a full spectrum of colours in tube paint consistency to try out this style of painting!

 

Single Pigment versus Convenience Mixes

I am increasingly seeing arguments in favour of people mixing their own colours from a limited palette of paints. This is most easily and predictably done with single pigment paints, but you can get a lot of mileage out of mixing with any paints. 

A single pigment paint is one formulated with only one pigment. For example, a paint mixed with only the pigment PB29 is a classic ultramarine blue paint. Though it is important to note that while the use of pigment numbers is regulated, the use of names is not. A company is free to call a given colour ultramarine blue or alizarin crimson or whatever else it wants whether or not the paint so named contains the traditional ingredient(s) associated with that colour. This is why people who seek to buy single pigment paints look for the pigment numbers on the paint containers, particularly if they’re looking to try the same colour from a different brand than they usually use. (Although as mentioned above, the end colour appearance of some pigments can vary widely depending on preparation and formulation.)

Convenience mixes are colours you can buy that the paint company has premixed from multiple pigments. There are relatively few green single pigment colours, but a lot of things in the world that people want to paint are coloured green, so you’ll find a lot of different green paints available for purchase that are mixes of multiple pigments. Miniature paints don’t list the pigments they use on the bottles, but it is likely that the vast majority of the colours are convenience mixes. 

Note that not every ‘art store’ paint is a single pigment! A good brand of art store paints should have a solid selection of single pigment paint colours, but it will likely have plenty of convenience mixes, too. Canvas artists like ease and convenience and pretty colours as much as miniature painters do. You can also buy cheap student brand paints that are single pigment, but are full of fillers and not as rich and highly pigmented to use. Single pigment is not a code word for higher quality.

The advantage of a single pigment colour is that it is as intense as that colour can get, and that it will mix in a more predictable way. For example, let’s say you want to mix a yellow and a blue to create a green. A single pigment yellow and a single pigment blue will mix a brighter green. They will also always behave in the same way mixed together. You might find a convenience mix blue and convenience mix yellow that look like pretty much the same colours as the single pigment to your eye. But when you mix them together, you find you get more of a khaki green. This happens because you didn’t realize the blue was formulated with a little bit of black, and the yellow was formulated with a little bit of white, so when you mix them together you’re really getting blue + yellow + grey, not just blue + yellow.

To my knowledge the new Kimera paint line is the only miniature paint line that lists pigment information on the bottle for consumers. All of the paints appear to be single pigment, though I think it is possible to use opacifiers and still consider a paint single pigment. The new Scale75 tube paints do not list the pigments used on the tube, but they have made the pigments used available online.

Other Acrylic Products

If you’ve ever poked around a good art store, you may have noticed products like ‘acrylic gouache’, or ‘acrylic ink’. Or you may have seen some of the artists you admire recommending adding Liquitex or FW inks to your repertoire. Some brands are Liquitex Acrylic Gouache, Liquitex Acrylic Ink, and Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic Ink, but there are several others. In general, if it includes the word acrylic on it, it is essentially an acrylic paint. It should mix with your other acrylic paints. Based on the consistency, it may or may not work as a paint in itself – the inks are very fluid and tend to be transparent, for instance. They’ll work well to tint paints or as washes and glazes, but you likely can’t paint opaque base coats with them.

The use of the other terms is meant to convey the properties of those media. Traditional gouache paint is matte and opaque. When Liquitex created a new line of paints that are matte and opaque, they called it ‘acrylic gouache’ to convey those properties. (It is also a more fluid consistency than tube gouache, so very similar to miniature paints.) The term ‘ink’ suggests a media that is fluid and intense in colour/pigment, so several companies use the term ‘acrylic ink’ for their acrylic products that are watery and intensely pigmented. 

Liquitex Acrylic GouacheI have some of the new Liquitex Acrylic Gouache which I think should work pretty well to paint miniatures, but I haven’t as yet had a chance to try it! The same life issues that are keeping me from writing blog posts as regularly as I’d like are interfering with my painting fun.

Traditional inks have also been used in miniature painting, typically for washes and glazes. Occasionally I have heard of some people having issues with these reactivating under additional layers of paint, though plenty of people have used them with no issues. They do tend to be quite shiny. Acrylic inks will work more reliably with other acrylic products, but may not have all of the same properties as traditional inks. Traditional inks may be formulated with dyes or pigments. I believe acrylic inks are formulated only with pigments.

Traditional gouache is essentially opaque watercolour, and is permanently water-soluble. (You can lift up a previous layer with a damp brush.) It also tends to crack when applied thickly or if the surface it is on flexes significantly, and is in other ways unsuited for general miniature painting. There are ways to use them as components of painting, but on the whole these are not tools for the majority of figure painters.

Colour Mixing Conundrums

In the land of colour theory, you need a single perfect red, yellow, and blue in addition to white and black to be able to mix any colour you can imagine. One reason we all it colour theory is that in the real world, there aren’t really perfect pigments. (There’s even some debate about whether primary red is red or magenta.) So what most artists actually use is a split primary system. In a split primary you have a highly saturated warm and cool version of each colour.  So a magenta and a warm, slightly orange red; a cool blue and one that is slightly purple; and a yellow that’s a little more green and one that’s a little more orange. Those combined with white and black should allow you to mix almost everything. You can find lots of books and online resources that will help you learn mixes in addition to what you can discover by just playing around by yourself. In the ideal you would want to do this with single pigment colours, but you can also just grab versions of paints that you have and start playing around to see how this works.

Many traditional artists tend to add a few other paints to their palettes on top of those eight. An earth colour or three, or a single pigment purple and green – just a few other colours that they like a lot or  which make achieving certain mixes easier. It’s also the case that not every paint on their palette shows up in every painting. You might use only one each of the reds, yellows, and blues and a couple of other colours for a given painting, which is an excellent way to create a lot of colour harmony in your work.

Kimera paintsThe new Kimera paint line is a palette similar to the split primary plus a few extras system that I described above. It has a total of 11 paints, plus a bottle of medium.

This is a great way to paint! As I’ve been learning watercolour and oil painting, this is how I’ve been doing it. I’m not sure I’m excited about seeing this pushed as The One True Way for miniature painting. It’s certainly A way, and if someone is budget conscious or wants to improve their use of colour, I think this is a great tool to look at. But I also think it’s fine if people want to go on using convenience mixes in miniature painting. Some people want to approach miniature painting from more of a fine art angle or enjoy the puzzle of creating their own colours. But some people want to save time, or find mixing tedious, or just want to get some gaming pieces on the table. If convenience mixes make that more fun for them, have at it is what I say! Honestly, I’m in more of that camp myself when it comes to miniature painting. I’m always looking to improve speed, and make it easier to quickly start and stop painting, and convenience mixtures help me with both of those things. Not all fine artists mix everything, either. Those who use coloured pencils, pastels, or alcohol ink markers work the same way most miniature painters do, with 50-100+ colours at hand, if not more. And there are plenty of skilled professional traditional media painters who don’t care a fig if they’re using single pigment colours or convenience mixes.

Some additional considerations for choices when buying paints: 

Tools Matter

I am a firm believer that quality tools matter. You don’t necessarily need the absolute best of everything, but good quality makes a difference. I’ve seen people do decent work with craft brand paints (Apple Barrel, Folk Art, Ceramcoat, and similar.) And I am just left to wonder how much more they could do with paint actually designed to use on miniatures! In the past 15 years I’ve seen dozens of threads from people who previously painted with craft paint, tried purpose made paint, and found it was significantly easier and more efficient to use – it takes fewer coats, it’s easier to replicate the techniques and effects they’ve seen others do, etc. If you’re using these paints due to severe budgetary constraints, I’d recommend that you reduce your miniature buying budget for a little while and divert some funds to paint. Start with colours that frustrate you in the craft paints – reds and yellows are likely candidates, but perhaps purples and greens. In my own experience with traditional painting, I have certainly noticed a difference between cheap or ‘student’ level art materials and ‘artist’ level materials, and I have a strong preference for having a few good quality materials over having a plethora of poor quality ones 

But Tools Aren’t EVERYTHING ( there is no magic paint/brush/etc.)

It’s pretty easy to equate the results someone gets with the tools they use. If you have chunky basecoats or streaky blends, it’s easy to look at the more polished work of a painter you admire and assume that if you just get the same paints and brushes they do, your work will look much closer to theirs. Sure fancy freehand designs or perfect eyes might be a matter purely of skill, but basic painting techniques have a lot to do with tools, right? I don’t think I’m alone in having tried multiple brands of paint, types of palettes, kinds of brushes, and several other things in the quest for that thing that just clicks in and you get it and then you stop sucking. ;->

I’ve even fallen into this trap with multiple hobbies! Even after having done it with miniature painting, I did it again with other art materials when I started to study traditional art a few years ago. I’d see a YouTube video or read an article and think maybe THAT pen/pencil/paint/brush is the one that would ‘work’. There are better and worse tools for different functions, but I have a lot of art materials that sit dormant. And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve done the most learning by spending a lot of time practicing with a few simple tools. If you’d like to see a whole lot of proof of that, type ‘cheap art supplies challenge’ into YouTube and get ready to watch some videos of people who are able to get a whole lot of value out of limited quality materials because of the years of skill and knowledge they’ve developed as artists. 

I do think there are tools that will work better for certain people or techniques, and that there can be a certain amount of searching and experimenting you might have to do to find that. But you might also have just as much success sitting your butt in your chair and spending some focused time getting to know the tools you have better and working in a targeted way to improve your use of techniques that work with those tools you already have. 

Companies selling a product are always going to try to convince you it’s a great product! Limited purchase window Kickstarrters add an additional element of pressure. Pre-order hype of testimonials from professionals you admire will get you fired up about something. If you have a generous hobby budget and you enjoy trying new things, go nuts and experiment away! If your budget is limited and you’re still struggling with the tools you have, it’s okay to walk away and not feel bad about it. If the products are good, they’ll be there later when you and your budget are ready for them. 

Atlanta Model Figure Show Photos Coming Soon

The Atlanta Model Figure Show takes place Friday February 15 to Sunday February 17. Prior to the show I will be attending a workshop by the Spanish painter Fernando Ruiz. I had been hoping to figure out how to blog on the road prior to this convention (to practice for the many conventions I have coming up), but sadly an ill-timed bout of the flu has prevented both that and the completion of the miniature I had hoped to bring as my main entry. But at least I’m getting better just in time to still attend the events!

Rather than the originally planned blogging live on the scene, I will instead try to post some pictures to my Facebook artist page, and then hopefully  do a highlights blog post once I return home. Though I’ve got another topic I’ve been working on that’ll probably jump the queue. I just need to work up some photos to add and give it a once over.

My Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/wrenthebard/

Colour Link Ups – January 28

Life continues to leave me much less time for blogging than I’d like. I’ve got some additional thoughts on why we need to paint strong shadow/light contrast that I want to talk about, but that’s going to take a little while to work up. In the meantime, here are some link-ups to helpful information on working with colour!

Video: Colour Theory 101

If you aren’t very comfortable with choosing colours, colour theory can seem a bit of a daunting topic. But it’s worth studying because it can provide great guidelines precisely for those moments when you aren’t sure what colours to use. This introductory video covers the basic concepts of colour theory. The demonstrator uses canvas acrylic paint, but the principles apply to miniature paint, too. She’s working on a follow-up video, which I will try to link to when it releases.

https://youtu.be/XrROq7Qoxok

Text: Colour Theory Basics

No time for videos? Prefer to learn via reading? No problem! There’s a wealth of information on colour theory out there, and this guide from the Metropolitan art museum is a good place to start.

https://mymodernmet.com/basic-color-theory/

Video: 8 Tips for Choosing Colours

Theory, smeory. What if you just want to some hands-on practical tips for colour choices? You might like this video, better. The artist uses markers for her examples, but don’t be dismayed by that. Marker artists work the same way many miniature painters do, choosing from a wide selection of pre-mixed colours rather than mixing colours from a small pool of paints (or markers).

https://youtu.be/Qp2oQnsZ-Ac

Video: Painting True Metallics

Shiny metallic paints have different properties than standard colours, and can benefit from use of some different techniques. Join Reaper Miniature’s paint maven, Anne Foerster, for a great technique to use painting with metallic paints. Anne demonstrates on a bust, so you can get a good view of what she’s doing. This is the first in the Reaper Toolbox video series. This is a different technique than what I’ve used in the past with metallic paints, and I’m looking forward to trying it out soon myself!

https://youtu.be/csnzlcKruBo

Video: Me (Awkward!)

I was interviewed for the Reaper Live program a while ago, and the video is now up on YouTube. Topics include how I got into painting miniatures, and some sneak peek info on upcoming paint collections and the next learn to paint kit.

https://youtu.be/uyXDS9F_fTE

Photo by Treimerh, from Morguefile.

Show up to a Show – in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and…

I’ve written before about why I think it’s valuable for miniature painting enthusiasts to attend a convention or show, and I’ve gone into detail about a couple of specific conventions (ReaperCon – hotel now available for booking, and Adepticon – coming up soon!) Now I’d like to write a little more about shows. I’m going to focus on a show in Atlanta, the Atlanta Model Figure Show, which takes place February 15 – 17, 2019 but this information is also generally applicable to shows in other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Long Island, Tulsa, and Folkestone UK. Links to those shows are available at the end of this post. I know there are others in the United States, and hope that readers who might know more about those will share links and information in the comments. The show format is popular in Europe, and some marvelous large scale events are held there. Sadly I cannot as yet offer any personal experience with these, but I would love if people with more information on them shared their experiences in the comments!

A figure show tends to be a smaller and more focused event than a convention. That focus is on showing off, viewing, and assessing painted miniature figures, although there are also seminars, vendors, and opportunities to hang out and make friends with fellow miniature fans. The focused nature of these events offer a lot of advantages, though it may not appeal to those whose primary interest in gaming over painting and modeling.

The Show at a Show

The entries in a show are all displayed together in a room (or multiple rooms for large shows) on tables that are roughly chest height. If you’ve only ever seen miniatures in photographs or behind glass at a convention contest, this is a wonderful revolution in viewing experiences! You can see every figure at close to eye level. You can move your head to see figures from the side, or even from the back from the other side of the table. It’s far easier to get good photographs without having to deal with the glare and reflection of glass. There’s a whole room full of tables, so if you run into a traffic jam, you can just move to another section and come back to the jammed area later. Granted the high tables are less ideal for very short people or those in wheelchairs, but traditional convention display cases are also going to present some difficulties for those folks, as well as those of us with back issues who can’t easily bend down to see the lowest shelves.

Entries display at Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018This is just a small section of the display area at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. You can see how easy it is to view the pieces displayed up on tables with lots of open walkway space. A far cry from trying to peer at figures crowded together in glass cabinets at a convention contest!

People who wish to display at a figure show enter their work into a few broad categories. An entrant can enter as many figures that conform to the rules as they like into each category. (Generally the rule is something you haven’t displayed in that show previously, and which fits the category guidelines, but always check the specific rules of any contest before you enter it!) There are helpful people at the registration desk if you have questions or concerns about which category is the right one for your work.

Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford's entry to Fantasy Painters in 2018 An example of a display of entries in the Fantasy Painters category at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. These figures were painted by Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford.

 Whether entering one piece of a dozen, each entrant creates a display for their entries in the category area. This display can include small risers and/or a backdrop. These elements might be used to make it easier to focus on the figure for viewing (and photography), or to create a more pleasing composition for the selection of figures in the display as a whole.  A card with information about each figure is placed next to it, so people can see what it is, and who painted it.

Horror entries from Atlanta Military Figure ShowIf you like horror, whether modern or traditional, you’re bound to see something you’ll like at a figure show.

Entrants are also welcome to display additional information alongside their figures. This might include work in progress pictures that detail the customizations and conversions, research related to a particular time period or historical person that informed your work, or anything else you might like to share with viewers. Getting the chance to read/view a little more about the background of how a piece came together is one of the very fun features of a show!

Scratch built interpretation of a panel of a Mayan engraving.Entry in the Open category at the AMFS Show 2012. This is a scratch built interpretation of a panel of Mayan art. The entry becomes much more interesting to view because of the inclusion of a reproduction of the Mayan engraving that inspired it and an explanation into the thought process behind the piece.

At the Atlanta show the main categories are Fantasy Painters, Fantasy Open, Historical Painters, and Historical Open. Fantasy incorporates traditional fantasy, but also science fiction and horror. Historical focuses on both specific individuals from history, or figures sculpted and painted to reflect relatively accurate historic uniforms and dress. In Painter categories, the focus is primarily on the skill of techniques used in the painting process. The figures may be lightly converted or customized, and the piece may be a diorama, but by entering it into a Painter category, the entrant is requesting that the skills which will be judged will be primarily painting related. (The overall presentation and preparation of figures is considered as a small component of Painter categories.) The Open categories are for figures which have been significantly converted or sculpted from scratch. This can range from a scratch sculpted bust or figure with simple presentation, to complex diorama displays with a lot of base work as well conversions to the figures. It is particularly helpful to include WIP photos demonstrating the sculpting process or level of conversions with Open entries. Painting is also judged, but as a smaller component of the overall score than in the Painter categories.

Example of a Fantasy Open entryIn this Fantasy Open entry, Laura Dandridge went beyond WIP photos and included an unpainted copy of the bust that she sculpted and cast as well as the finished entry!

Additional categories at the Atlanta Model Figure Show include Models, Junior, Basic, and Toy Soldier. Many shows will have similar categories, but may not have all of these, or may have additional ones. Junior is for entrants aged 15 years or less. The Models category includes tanks and other types of historical ordinance, but also science fiction ships, and other types of aircraft/vehicles/etc. Basically entries where the focus is on a mechanical contrivance, though there may also be figures included in the scene with it. Weathering and other concerns specific to this type of figure are the focus of judging for this category. Toy Soldiers are a specific type of figure that may have been sold pre-painted so it’s more about the display and arrangement of the figures, which can become quite elaborate or sizable. Basically if you know what it is you might enter this category, and if you don’t, don’t worry about it. :->

There’s a whole type of figure that you are unlikely to see at a convention that you will see multiple wonderful examples of at most shows – the flat. Traditionally termed Zinnfiguren in Europe, a flat is a sort of cross between a full round figure, and a flat drawing. It’s a sort of bas-relief. These are a great way to push yourself to paint with more contrast, since you can’t rely on the sculpted contours of the figure at all! Flat figures are available in a great diversity of subjects, and in different scales. Flats based on classic artwork are very common, as are flats of holiday and cartoon characters, and subjects like angels and fairies. (Which makes them great gift ideas for your non-gaming friends and relatives that you’ve been wanting to paint something for!) They are often displayed in picture frames on dark velvet backgrounds, though some are sculpted on small stands with both a back and front side, so they can also be posed in dioramas or displays. 

The subjects of flats are as diverse as figuresThe subjects and painting styles of flat figures are as diverse as those of figures in the round. They are not judged as a separate category from figures in the round. Stock flats are judged in Painters, and scratch or heavily converted flats in Open.

The Show is also a Contest

Although it is possible to enter one’s work for display only, the majority of entrants also enter the contest. If you are only familiar with traditional podium style contests where only the top three (or five) entries are awarded prizes, the way an Open format contest is run is a completely different thing. In essence, each entrant competes against his/herself. The team of judges selects the best work from an entrant’s display to consider. (It is also possible for the judges to decide the work in the display is all of the same quality standard and to judge the entire display as a group instead.) So you don’t have to wrestle with deciding whether this one that you’ve done is the best you have right now, or is it that one? Then they judge that work against an overall standard, taking into account the criteria of the category. So in a Painter’s category, the quality of the paint work and the challenge factor of the techniques attempted are considered, with an additional smaller consideration given to the quality of the prep work and general presentation. In the open category, the technique demonstrated in sculpting and conversions is a significant factor, plus some consideration of the painting, and the prep and general presentation.  

Awards at AMFS 2018In addition to the medals awarded to the different standard levels, there are also special awards for particular subjects of figures. Awards at the Atlanta show include Best Horror, and Best Mounted figure, as well as several others.

Each judge awards the assessed piece a score, and the scores of the team are totaled and then averaged to find the score for that entry. Based on that score the entry might be awarded a Certificate of Merit, Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal, with each level becoming progressively more difficult to attain. As many medals of each level are given out as are achieved by the entrants. So one entrant’s success never takes anything away from someone else in the general show awards. Most shows also have additional prizes, like those pictured above. These might include the figure that best exemplifies the theme of that year’s show, or the best Napoleonic figure, or a number of other things. Many special awards are sponsored and selected by members of the figure painting club that hosts the show, so they can vary widely from show to show.

Award winnersFantasy/SF painters might recognize some of these proud award winners from the AMFS 2017 – Sabrina Ferguson, Aaron Lovejoy, a cute little creeper, and Liz Hunt.

I love this Open format for miniature figure judging and awards. It gives all entrants feedback on their current level and what they might yet have to strive for. There is no reason not to enter this kind of show. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been painting a few months or a few years. Prior to attending a show hosted by a model figure club, I had gotten the impression that all of the work of military figure painters was top level. I probably came to this erroneous conclusion because those of us more interested in fantasy and SF generally see only the best of the best from the military side of the hobby, if we see anything. I was very encouraged to discover that of course they have the same range of experience levels in painting as we do on the fantasy/SF side of things! But in the Open format, even those painters who are newer or more casual in the hobby can still have their work considered for medals and appreciated in the display of the show. 

A range of levels is welcomed in the Open show formatYou may see work of world-class quality at a figure show, such as the piece from Mike Blank on the left that won Best of Show at the AMFS in 2017. But work from less experienced painters is also very welcome and will be assessed with just as much care and concern, and awarded a prize as appropriate. (Unfortunately I did not record the name of the painter of the swashbuckling pirate on the right.)

Seminars

In the United States at least, you are not likely to find the kind of miniature painting/modeling classes at a figure show that you might find at a convention like AdeptiCon, ReaperCon, or Gen Con. It is common for there to be a 1-3 day workshop in the days preceding the start of the show. This is a more expensive cost to attend than a two hour class, and requires arriving and staying at the venue for a few days ahead of when the show starts. (I do recommend attending a workshop if you can, it’s a terrific learning experience!) But this doesn’t mean there are no learning opportunities at a figure show! There are usually a handful of free seminars on various topics given by top painters and modelers. While you may not get hands-on opportunities with these, they are well worth attending if there is a topic that interests you on the schedule.

Vendors

One of the fun things about a figure show is that the pool of vendors and what they have for sale tends to be much different than what you’ll find at a convention! Busts, and larger scale figures, great reference books on painting and historical time periods, wonderful scenic bits for dioramas, and speciality products like brass etch plants are some of my favourites. You are also likely to find at least one booth offering those high quality wood plinths and blocks you’ve likely seen on some of the busts and displays from your favourite painters online. And of course there should be at least one vendor of the flats I talked about above.

Vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showBoxes of busts and larger scale figures at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

More vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showModel kits on the near table and a view of one section of the vendor hall at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

Hospitality Suite

Another fun feature of many shows is the hospitality suite. This is a hotel room open to attendees staying at the hotel to gather and hang out and enjoy snacks and possibly adult libations. This is a great opportunity to get to know people a little better and find out more about how they approach their hobby. I was nervous to attend my first model show in Atlanta in 2012, but everyone I talked to was super friendly and welcoming. Many even remembered me from that one meeting when I finally made it back again in 2017!

Hospitality suite at AMFS 2017Enjoying snacks with fellow figure enthusiasts in the hospitality suite at the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2017.

A Few Notes

The atmosphere of a figure show is a little more casual than most conventions, including in the vendor area. A vendor might choose to close up early to go out to dinner, for example. Also while the schedule will generally list the vendor hall as being open on Sunday morning, my experience has been that a lot of the vendors will use that time to pack up, and some may already have left by 10 or 11am. So if you spot something you really want to buy on Saturday, don’t assume you can dither all Saturday night and be certain to pick it up the next morning. 

Magic cards come to lifeI love the creativity of this entry! Sady I did not keep track of the name of its creator.

The societies that organize these shows tend to have a lot of members who are a fair bit older than folks from the gaming side of the hobby. While they’re making an effort to embrace new technology you may find that they’re a little slow to update webpages, or more likely to communicate by email or even require snail mail advanced registration. Also these events are completely volunteer run, unlike a large gaming convention that has a core professional staff in addition to its numerous volunteers. If you can’t find all the information you need to decide whether to attend on their website or Facebook page, reach out to a contact address and ask what you need to know.

It is also important to note that many of these societies are eager to welcome new members of any age to their organizations, and many are very welcoming of fantasy and SF painters! If you live near enough to one of these groups to attend the regular monthly meetings, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn from some fantastic painters and modelers that you should not pass up just because their first interest is history and some of them are a little older than the people you normally talk to about painting. I wish I lived a lot closer to the Atlanta club than I do.

Scan of schedule for AMFS 2018

Scan of AMFS schedule 2018Scan of the schedule from the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2018.

The Atlanta Model Figure Show

This year the Atlanta Military Figure Show takes place on February 15 to 17, 2019. It will be located at the Atlanta Hilton/Marietta Conference Center. If you want to attend but not enter any of your figures, the cost is $10 for the entire weekend. The fee to attend and display your work is $25 if you pre-register, and $30 at the door. For more information, check this website. You can get to the gallery pages from there to enjoy work submitted in 2017 and 2018 as well.

Atlanta Miniature Figure Show homepage: https://atlantafigures.org/amfs-show-2019/

Other Figure Shows

I have only had the opportunity to attend a few shows. In addition to Atlanta, I attended the World Expo in Chicago in 2017. This was hosted by the same group that puts on the MMSI show. MMSI also includes the participation of several members of the fantasy/SF community, so I have no qualms about recommending it, and I’m hoping to get there one day! I also have heard good things about the Miniature Figure Collectors of American show in Philadelphia. I’ve heard of shows in the past in Southern California, but was not able to find any information about upcoming shows. I did find a show in Long Island and another in Tulsa, but I have no personal experience or information about either. I also found one UK show to share. My guess would be that there are others out there as well. If you know of any, please let me and other readers know about them in the comments!

The Miniature Figure Collectors of America Show, April 12-13 2019: http://www.mfcashow.com/upcoming.html

The Military Miniature Society of Illinois Show in Chicago, October 11-13 2019: http://www.military-miniature-society-of-illinois.com/2018-chicago-show/

Euro Miniature Expo in Folkestone UK, May 11-12 2019: https://www.facebook.com/EuroMiniatureExpo/

The Long Island Miniature Collectors Show: http://www.longislandmodelsoldiers.com/limcs_model_soldier_show.htm

The Tulsa Show by the Historical Miniatures Society of Northeastern Oklahoma: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Historical-Miniatures-Society-of-Northeastern-Oklahoma-HMSNEO-211702852223535/events/

Note on the Lateness of this Blog Post…

Clearly my resolution/good intention of trying to blog a bit more regularly has not been going that well. My aim of painting more has hit similar snags. We’re trying to organize a bunch of work on our house and prepare for that, and I’m also attempting to move all my data and my computer use from an eight year old PC to a new Mac. Which is wonderful, of course, but also I’m a human who doesn’t like change, so it’s also kind of ACK and fraught with time-consuming technical snags. It was my aim to get this information out earlier, but hopefully it’s still early enough for making plans. I’ll be at the Atlanta Show, and if you can attend, I highly recommend it, and I’d love to see you there!

I normally try to provide links to figures shown in these blog posts, but I’m not sure where to start on this! If you’re particularly interested in one mention it in the comments and we’ll see if I can find it or another reader can.

Hands on How To with Paint Resolutions

We’re a few days into the new year, and I imagine the reality that resolutions are a lot easier to make than they are to keep is coming clear for a lot of us. (I certainly have not been a brand new me…) So as promised in the last post, I want to discuss some concrete strategies for how to put resolutions like ‘paint more’ into place amidst the reality of busy lives and crowded homes. Many thanks to the people who posted ideas and experiences on my Facebook posts to help contribute to this post If some of the issues you’re having or some successful strategies you have tried aren’t mentioned below, I hope you’ll share them in the comments and continue the discussion!

My New Year's photoHey, it’s the photo I’ve been using at New Year’s since 2017! In my last post I promised to share what happened with these figures. Read through the comments on photos in this post to find out. I have to admit that sharing this photo and realizing how long some of these had been mouldering did push me to do some work in Januarys past.

Time Constraints

It’s easy to feel like you need a block of several hours to sit down and paint or it’s just not worth the bother. But with work, school, family, friends, and other demands on our time, it can end up pretty hard to find blocks of several free hours. If you’ve been waiting and waiting to paint until you have some free time like that, you might want to try painting in shorter blocks of time. If you can get an hour to yourself every few days, or even 30 minutes every day, you might be able to get more done than you think. It might not be the way you want to do it, it might not be ideal, but it might also beat the alternative of not getting in any paint time at all. So if this is your issue, give shorter sessions a shot! Maybe it’s a perfect time to try speed painting, or work on grunt type figures for your game. I recommend some speed painting practice even to those who primarily paint display. I found that working this way really did end up helping my painting in general. Partly in terms of time, and partly just to help me loosen up a little and discover that a lot of things can be corrected or improved later. You don’t have to get every step right along the way or it’s all doomed.

If you are able to set up a painting area in your home, that will help a lot. Try to create a system of logical (to you) storage for your materials, as well. If you keep your paints jumbled up loose in a box, you’ll lose a lot of time searching for particular colours. Store paints and other tools in a more systematic way. Put a drop of paint on the lid of each bottle and/or paint a swatch of paint onto the label to help you find colours more quickly. Have a drawer for brushes and paper towels, and another for basing materials, etc. I’m not saying you have to be a super organized neat freak. That would be very hypocritical of me as my painting area is generally pretty messy. :-> But it’s a chaos organized in a way that my brain understands. Every paint has its place, and I can usually find my commonly used paints and tools very quickly. (Finding the less commonly used stuff can be a bit more of a trick, granted.)

Tillie, Fighter PilotTillie, Fighter Pilot by Bombshell figures was the first of the miniatures in the New Year’s photo that I finished painting. She was awarded a silver medal at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018, and first place Bombshell Babe at ReaperCon 2017. I had a lot of fun making her leather suit look well-worn but still army tiptop.

Even just storing the paints and tools for your current project on a tray you can safely store on top of a bookshelf can help speed things up. If keeping things out of the way of others isn’t an issue, fit setting up and putting things away in around other tasks (while cooking or doing laundry, say), so that when you’re ready to sit down for your 30-60 minutes you can spend the whole time actually painting (or prepping or basing.) Another thing that is helpful with this approach is to try to map out your next session before your last has ended. While you’re working, try to identify one or two things to work on next time, so you will be able to just sit down and get started. Write down your ideas if you’re a forgetful person. It is also helpful to be working on two or three figures at a time. Then if a wash is drying on one, you can pick up another and work on it while you wait. A hairdryer is a useful tool to speed paint drying. 

Space Constraints

It is very helpful to have a dedicated area of your home set up for you to paint in. As outlined above, this makes it easier to keep your tools tidy and to-hand, and to jump in and get to work on projects and then stop as needed. Unfortunately that kind of space is not a luxury that everyone will have. But there are definitely ways to manage with less space, or even to make a portable painting kit that you can travel with to paint wherever you find yourself.

This is an area where I don’t have a lot of personal experience to offer, but I have seen discussions with many creative answers to the problem in forum discussions and Facebook groups. So if you need more ideas, try starting a conversation in a venue like that. If you aren’t currently a member of a group like this, two I can recommend as helpful and lively discussion areas are the forums at Reaper Miniatures (http://forum.reapermini.com/) and the Hobby Hangout group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thehobbyhangout/).

Portable Paint StationThis portable paint station was part of a Kickstarter and is available for preorder. I have no experience with the company or the product. The Kickstarter page with pre-order link is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/695455704/portable-paint-station-take-paints-minis-and-tools/comments

Start by trying to condense your tools and materials down to just what you need for your current project. Pick out a small selection of paints and brushes. Find a container with a watertight lid to keep your water in. You will also need to find a palette solution that works for the way you paint. This could be as simple as a plastic plate, or a low profile food storage container if you like to use a wet palette. Include a small box with bubble wrap or other method to secure your miniature(s) while your hobby supplies container is in storage or transit. You can buy small brush holders to protect your brushes, or try using poster tac to stick them to the inside lid of your storage box. If lighting is an issue, you can buy small and inexpensive LED lamps off Amazon. For a storage box you can consider solutions as diverse as craft organizer tubs, large gun cases or brief cases, and many other options. I have seen some very creative solutions that people have built for themselves if you happen to be handy. There’s a link to some great pictures on this Pinterest collection: https://www.pinterest.com/captainfatnasty/portable-paint-stations/. For more commercially available options and inspiration ideas, try doing a Google search for ‘portable paint station’.

Mental Constraints

I’m going to discuss some dilemmas that are purely of the mind, but I think a lot of issues like the space and time constraints also have a mental component. If you feel like you don’t have enough time and/or space to paint, there’s no way around the fact that it is going to take some shifts of thought as well as process to make it happen, and that’s uncomfortable. You’re going to have to identify issues and come up with solutions, and you’re going to have to accept that these solutions might not look like what want or how you think things should be. I think sometimes it can be helpful to be very mindful about your alternatives. Is it better for you to not paint at all if you can’t do it the way you want, or is painting an activity that you get enough out of that it’s worth pursuing some alternatives to see if you can make it work after all?

For example, you might be someone who likes to have a collection of 100 or 200 paints. Maybe you find mixing paint to be time consuming and inconvenient, or maybe you just aren’t very confident about colour. But if you just don’t have space to keep out that amount of paint right now, or if all your paint dried up and you can’t afford to replace that many, you just can’t paint the way you prefer. So why not try the idea of putting together a small set of paints and mixing? It’s a pretty great way to learn a lot more about colour. It might take more time to mix, but at least it’s time spent at an activity you enjoy. Or maybe you try it for a while and you learn that you just cannot handle painting that way, and you choose not to pursue this hobby at this time. That is you making an active choice then, not feeling like life is keeping you from what you want to do.

Burgundy Wine MageThe second time I posted the New Years photo I figured I really needed to finish up this figure. It was just so close to done, needing only some gold NMM and to paint up the pages of the book, plus a few touch-ups. Seeing the photo again pushed me to finally get those parts finished! It’s not the best mini ever but it was a fun test of unifying colours. (Every area of the figure incorporates the dark pink seen on her boots, including shadows of hair and skin.)

For some of us, the main issues holding us back in our pursuit of our hobby right now might be primarily mental. Perfectionism is one that several people mentioned in our discussions on Facebook. I think there are a few different varieties of that – avoiding doing anything cause if you don’t try you can’t fail; spending a lot of time and/or stress on something trying to get it just right; starting off with the intention of trying freehand or another technique/effect but then wimping out because the figure is going well so far and you don’t want to ‘ruin’ it, and many, many other scripts that our brains recite that knock us off track.

Unfortunately there are not quick or simple solutions for this like swatching your paint or finding a storage container, or even better time management. You’re going to have to spend some time trying to dig into your mind scripts and figure out root causes and ways to soothe or sidetrack your mind. 

One suggestion I’ll make is to have a conversation with yourself about the alternatives and consequences. What’s the worst thing that happens if you try something and you fail? You don’t even have to show it to anyone else! You can paint over it, or strip it and paint over it. Or just call it done, figure out what you’ve learned, and move on to the next figure. And on the other side of the equation, what’s the worst thing that happens if you keep not painting at all? You’re just as guaranteed not to succeed as you are not to fail if you don’t do anything. It’s also a great way to make sure you never learn anything and never improve at all. And most of all, it’s a way to deprive yourself of the enjoyment you get from painting.

Along those lines, it might also be helpful to figure out what you enjoy about the process of painting miniatures. What do you get out of it apart from the figure at the end? Make sure to include those things regularly in your painting process. If you need to, write the list of benefits down so that when you start roadblocking yourself, you can remind yourself that it doesn’t matter if what you paint ‘sucks’, you will still have gotten to relax/play with colour/whatever your personal joys of painting are. 

Consider adopting the goal of ‘finished not perfect’, at least for a while. Most of the time it’s better to finish something that’s just good or okay or even not amazing than it is to never complete something that might be awesome. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes just from completing a project, and never finishing things can be very discouraging. We don’t only learn from striving for perfection. In fact if you’re working on a particular skill, you are likely to learn more challenging yourself to work on it to a competent level repeatedly rather than trying to render it perfectly once. You’ll gain experience using it on different shaped surfaces, with different colours, for different moods, etc. I recommend following the artist page of Jessica Bathory if you want a great example of someone who practices finished not perfect, and who has also forged ahead with her own style of painting miniatures when she found attempts to conform to the more generally practiced styles frustrating. (https://www.facebook.com/Blood-Busts-Booze-the-painted-miniatures-of-Jessica-Bathory-329890724470632/)

A far as ‘ruining’ a figure that is going well, which was certainly a fear of mine for many years, and one that held me back considerably… Getting something that looks great can be a fluke, but if you’re really learning, success starts to become repeatable. One of my big fears was freehand. Looking back at it, I had reached the point where I was pretty competent at blending. So if my freehand sucked and I had to paint the blends back over the cloak, I would be able to paint it back to pretty much the same standard. So it was silly of me to be afraid to do that.

I was also over concerned about ‘wasting time’ in this same time period. I was (and still am, really) a pretty slow painter. So the idea of having to repaint that cloak from a time point of view was not appealing. Looking back, that also seems sort of silly. Yeah, sometimes I was on a deadline to enter a contest or for some other reason. But overall, I think I would have learned more, and more quickly, if I had paid the price in time of taking risks and failing. I think I would also have learned a lot more if I’d done more speed painting or half-assed areas that weren’t the focus of that figure. Being super persnickety and perfectionist about figure painting has had some benefits, but there are things definitely have regrets about, and I know I’ve held myself back in several ways.

Victorian Lady - contrast shiftI’ve got a blog post about this Victorian Lady, who had been sitting on my desk for upwards of three years before I put brush to hear again earlier this year. She ended up being a great example of what more and less contrast look like. I’ve since repainted her handbag. She’s still not quite done, but largely this is because I have four of these Victorians that are all on similar bases so I figure it’ll be quicker and easier to paint all the bases at once. I might give up on this notion just to get the three that are almost done to be truly done. (Blog post on this figure here: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/09/27/compare-and-contrast/.)

Roadblock: Burnout

If you paint because you’re trying to fill your table (particularly on a deadline), paint for commission, or constantly paint to enter contests, chances are good you’ve experienced burnout. You’ll reach a point where you drag your feet and avoid sitting down to work because it feels like all of it is just work and you’re just plain tired of it. Sometimes taking a break and not painting is the correct answer. But if painting is something you love and you don’t want to stop forever, try to reconnect with what it is about it that you love. Sometimes just shaking things up is enough – painting something just for you or a friend, painting a different subject matter/scale/colour than you usually do just because you want to, not because you have to.

If you’ve been suffering with burnout for a while or find that too often your painting sessions are mired in negative feelings, it might take a little more work. You’ll have to do some detective work to reconstruct or rediscover things you find fun about the process and develop ways to fit those into doing your work. Some of the tips in the next session might also be helpful for that. You might also do some work to identify which aspects are most stressful and if there are ways you can ameliorate those.

Roadblock: Boredom and/or Discomfort

Sometimes the problem isn’t getting yourself into the painting chair, it’s keeping yourself there. It’s all too easy to take a five minute break to check Facebook that turns into an hour. Or get up for a drink and forget to go sit back down. As fun as painting miniatures can be, there are likely to be parts of the process you find tedious, like painting basecoats or cleaning mouldlines. 

My first tip is to minimize discomfort. For years I painted on a chair with no back. I lean forward to paint, so why not just use the broken chair instead of wasting money on a new one? Because yeah, I lean forward to do most of my painting, but it’s also good to be able to lean back to take a break and generally shift position. My back was a lot happier once my husband forced me to buy a better chair. In a similar vein, having a desk at a good height for you, good lighting, magnification if you need it, an insulated cup to keep a drink cold/hot, whatever simple things that add to your comfort and ease – why not figure out what they are and do them so simple discomfort isn’t making you want to stop painting? 

Noir detective front 450I’ll be honest – this is not the same figure as in the photo. I painted this one years ago. The one in my New Year’s photo was from a class on painting in monochrome. And for subsequent sessions of that class, I think it’s useful to have a WIP figure to show various stages of work, so I don’t really plan on finishing the other.

The second issue I would have is that many painting tasks do not really occupy my mind that much, so I would get bored. And then I’d notice how much my back hurt on my bad chair, and then I’d definitely not want to paint for too long. My painting area was in a different room than my computer. Once tablets became a thing and I got one, that was a whole new world for me. I could put TV shows or YouTube videos on in the background! I could listen to audiobooks! Likely you’re already doing something like that, but my suggestion would be to use something like that as a lure to get you into your paint chair. Have a TV series or an audiobook that you only consume while you’re painting, and make it something really engaging. Then even if you aren’t excited to sit down and paint, you might head for your chair because you’re excited to watch the next episode and find out what happens.

Many of us are introverts who are happy to enjoy our peaceful alone time painting and listening to audiobooks. But not every geek and painter is, and even introverts need some human contact sometimes. Sharing our hobby frustrations and triumphs, having people to ask for opinions, those are very helpful things. For some it may be enough to visit hobby forums or discussion groups online, or to form a small critique circle with some friends in email or message. Others might benefit by having friends to paint with. There are people who use technology like Twitch and other chat channels to gather to paint with others. Check the Hobby Hangout group linked above for people who do this, or ask on your favourite forums or groups if people have suggestions for how to meet up with others to paint. I know a lot of pro painters and sculptors who ‘get together’ with other friends and colleagues via digital applications like this to keep their workdays from being so lonely.

I hope you’ve found some of these suggestions helpful! If you’re running into different roadblocks or you’ve been successful with other strategies, I hope you’ll share in the comments so others can benefit from them. Thanks for reading!

Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post

Tillie the Fighter Pilot by Bombshell Miniatures – http://store.bombshellminis.com/10024-tillie-fighter-pilot/
Victorian Lady (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/50327
Victorian Lady (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/80068
Female Mage by Dark Sword Miniatures – https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/visions-in-fantasy/female-mage.html
Noir Occult Detective (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/91013
Noir Occult Detective (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/59039
Reaper Miniatures forums – http://forum.reapermini.com
Hobby Hangout Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/thehobbyhangout/
Jessica Bathory artist page – https://www.facebook.com/Blood-Busts-Booze-the-painted-miniatures-of-Jessica-Bathory-329890724470632/