Link Ups – November 8

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

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

In Praise of Mediocrity

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

Blogger Shout Out

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

Sculpting link

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

ReaperCon News

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

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

Reaper Paint Lines Info

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

Art Book Submissions

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

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

Compressed Air – Quick Tip Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workshops and Bootcamps

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

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

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

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

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

You can look at Sergio’s lovely miniatures here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to figures and people mentioned in this blog post:

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

Dungeon Dwellers Bones HD Paint – New Paint!!

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

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

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

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

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

Dungeon Dwellers Monster paint box - front

Dungeon Dwellers Monster paint box - back


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

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

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box - front

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box - back

Dungeon Dwellers Dungeon box paints - scan

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

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

Bones HD Blues - scan

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

Bones HD Browns and Purples - scan

Bones HD Browns and Purples - photo

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

Bones HD Flesh tones - scan

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

Bones HD Greens - scan

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

Bones HD Reds and Yellows - scan

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

Bones HD Neutrals - scan

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

Bones HD Metallics - scan

Bones HD Metallics - photo dark lighting

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

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

How to Paint Contrast – Hands On

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check and Reflect

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

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

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

Make a Photo Reference

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

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

Zenithal Priming

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

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

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

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

Underpainting: Value Mapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underpainting: Notan

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

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

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

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

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

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

A discussion of classic Notan:

Using three and four value Notan:

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

Underpainting: Grisaille

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

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

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

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

And another example here:

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

Underpainting: Sketching and Sketch Style

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

Block in Values with Colour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

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

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

Figures Appearing in this Post:

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

Inktober – Should I Keep Going?

NOTE: This is a digression that has nothing to do with my recent series of posts about contrast. I will return to that soon! This is a spur of the moment post because I had something on my mind. For added entertainment, I have sprinkled trivia questions into the captions of some of the pictures.

So I haven’t really talked about it much yet, but the reason the subtitle of the blog is ‘art in many forms’ is because I am also interested in more traditional forms of art. I’ve been painting miniatures for something like 14 years now. A little over three years ago, I decided to try to learn to draw and pursue more traditional forms of art. This wasn’t a completely new thing, I had long had an interest in art in my youth and took art class in high school, though I was never one of those young people who is constantly drawing and painting by any means.

Although it was not my primary intent in making the decision, studying more traditional forms of art has absolutely had an impact on my miniature painting, and also on my teaching of miniature painting. As far as my personal painting goes, I went through a few years of feeling like I was kind of stagnating and not really improving. Studying and striving to improve are two of the things I enjoyed about the hobby, so that had an impact on my interest and frequency of painting as well as making me feel I was falling behind my peers. There are times when studying traditional art takes time away from my miniature painting (there are only so many hours in a day!), but I think it has also helped me push to find new things to try and reawakened my excitement and feeling that I can still find ways to improve and get closer to where I want to be.

ChickenHm, I don’t think that’s a miniature… Nope, it’s a drawing I did for the Inktober challenge of 2018.

The other impact that becoming a student of traditional art has had is that I don’t have to struggle to remember the difficulties of my early years in learning to paint miniatures. I’m reliving a lot of those frustrations right now! So I can very much relate to the feelings you might have of tearing your hair out trying to figure out why a paint or brush or palette or whatever doesn’t seem to be behaving for you in the way that it does so many others, and the difficulty of wrapping your head around certain concepts and pushing to learn new things. (And then also I learn more technical stuff about colour and whatnot so I can share concepts about underpainting and terms like brunaille and verdaccio as I did in my last post.)

Anyway, that’s just a preamble to explain why surprise! this post isn’t about miniature painting directly. 

October is a big month for a lot of traditional artists because it is a month when a lot of us undertake challenges. A challenge is a commitment to do a certain thing a certain way, often within a particular time period. Often this takes the form of drawing/painting something every day for a certain length of time, usually a month, though there are variations like filling a sketchbook within a month or drawing 100 faces within a certain time period. One of the October challenges is Drawlloween, which is a set of daily prompt topics/themes for the month, all of which are in the spirit of Hallowe’en. Another October challenge is Inktober. For this challenge, you need to do a piece incorporating ink each day. There are also daily theme words, but the critical thing is to work in ink and work daily. There are other months with challenges, and lots of personal challenge ideas that people can set for themselves. Some time ago I participated in a challenge with some friends to do some kind of art every day for a month. And I thought it was such a great idea that I have kept going with it for almost two years now. Some days it’s two or three hours on a card for a friend or some  hardcore study practice. And a lot of days it’s a five minute sketch while I’m waiting for lunch at a restaurant. And sometimes it’s even a miniature! (Though since I’m already supposed to be painting miniatures as much as possible, I only ‘count’ miniature painting  as my art for the day when it’s not for work or if I’m doing whatever I’m painting for work as a practice study of a technique or something along those lines.)

Oct1 ghost 400I think this was my first drawing for my first Drawlloween challenge in 2015. It’s a ghost. And it’s somewhat awful. (Bonus movie trivia: the central figure is based on a still shot from a famous movie. Name that movie.)

I undertook the Drawlloween challenge the first year I started to learn traditional art, and again the next year. And I lasted maybe two weeks both times, because ReaperCon was scheduled in October both of those years and it jumped up and smacked me in the head with a giant to-do list of prep, and that’s on top of how busy I am once I’m actually at the convention. Last year I decided to do Inktober instead. Rather than following the prompts, I elected to do an ink drawing of a cat each day. I have a few of those lazy creatures around to act as live models, plus lots of pictures. That worked better. There’s a ‘Saturday night’ cat amongst the drawings that was done at the end of a long day at ReaperCon (and after a tall glass of wine), and it is pretty awful, but I completed the challenge on the terms I had set, so go team me. ;->

Oct16 grave 500I did some drawings that weren’t so awful for Drawlloween 2015. (Bonus trivia – I used a piece from a miniature figure as my model to draw from. Name that figure.)

This year I was excited when ReaperCon got moved to Labour Day weekend because maybe I could finally do Drawlloween or Inktober for real! But then I looked at my long to do list of things, including working on this blog, and I thought it might be just as well to not. Except for some reason on October 1st, I looked up the prompt and did a drawing. And I’ve kept doing that up until today, October 6th. But now, while I’m waiting for what I worked on today to dry well enough to take pictures of it, I’m kind of wondering why. That long to do list still looms. There is a mountain of miniatures that I need to paint for work. I’ve got several writing projects on the go related to miniatures, including this blog. I have a laundry list of things I’m supposed to study for traditional art. We’re getting some work done our house right now that requires a lot of time spent tidying up or being unable to work on much due to meetings, noise, and distraction. The holidays loom, with their joyous and yet stressful obligations of socializing and cards and presents. 

Oct12 foggy bog editDrawlloween 2016. Still doing some less than amazing work.

I’m still wrestling with the should I or shouldn’t I a day at a time. So I must be getting something out of this challenge that I’m willing to stay up late or sacrifice what little leisure time I could be using to play my cool new game (Little Dragon Cafe!) One thing I get out of it is the creativity that gets sparked by trying to evoke the daily theme. Some days I’m not to excited about, others I think hey, here’s a nifty idea that might work, or something I’d love to draw. Today is one where I think I’m a little outside the box of what a lot of the other artists are doing and it’s a bit of a joke, and that tickles me. (Remind me to tell you all about Iron Painter some time. It’s not exactly the same, but that is a mini painting take on this challenge idea. And boy is it a challenge!)

Oct4 tentacle tuesday editBut I also some work that wasn’t so bad. This was the Tacoctopus for Tentacle Tuesday, which also happened to be National Taco Day.

I think the other thing I’m getting out of it is making some actual art. Since I’m a student, right now what I do is a lot of boring sketches of fruit or bottles or other things intended to be for practice. The point of them is the learning, and the end results definitely aren’t very thrilling to look at. This is a chance to put all of that study into practice and see if I actually have learned anything. Which I am kind of feeling like I have, so that’s exciting.

Saturday catRemember the tired and tipsy Saturday night cat I mentioned for Inktober 2017? Yeah, it’s at least as bad as I told you it was!

I have seen a few challenges related to painting miniatures from time to time on Facebook or forum groups, though I haven’t participated in any other than Iron Painter. One was a month where the challenge was to work on projects you’d previously started and then let languish. Another was just to paint or do something hobby related daily. Other challenges are based on something other than a time period. I know some people who require themselves to finish painting one miniature before they can buy another new one. Or to complete a unit/squad/board game worth of figures by a particular convention or play date. I don’t think I’ve seen it done as a group challenge, but doing a speed paint miniature a day might be an interesting challenge for mini painters.

Sketchy elaI did several drawings I quite liked for Inktober 2017, including this one of my cat Elasund. (Bonus trivia: What is my named after?) I called the cats I drew last year #SketchyCats.

One of the reasons I went ahead and included some of the best and worst art I’ve done through these challenges is to help illustrate a situation that is a lot more universal than we often feel like it is. When you’re working to improve on something like contrast, or better blending, or whatever else your miniature painting goals are, it’s a great feeling to finally get one ‘right’ and feel like you must have learned the thing and leveled up, achievement unlocked. But then you paint a few more miniatures, and some of them don’t look that great, and some of them look almost good, and did you learn the thing or didn’t you? Most of the time learning a skill as complex as painting miniatures isn’t as linear as learning skills in a video game. It’s not at all unusual to take a leap and then slide back a bit. Or to still have to struggle through a lot more practice than getting just one right. Don’t beat yourself up about it, that’s just how it works The great thing about a challenge like Drawlloween or Inktober is that there’s no time to get too down about one bad Saturday cat, cause now it’s Sunday and it’s time to draw another cat, and maybe this one will be a step in the right direction. 

If you have a lot of Reaper Bones miniatures, you might enjoy the quarterly challenges on the Facebook page Paint My Bones! Here’s a link to the current challenge:

Have you participated in any art or miniature painting challenges? Do you have ideas for challenges related to painting miniatures? Do you think I should keep going with Inktober or let it drop so I can write blog posts about contrast more quickly? ;-> Do you know the answers to any of my trivia questions? Let me know in the comments!

How to Paint Contrast – Mind Games

My previous blog post was an argument for why we need to paint miniatures with a lot of contrast, and for why painting in a more contrasted fashion is not only more artistically interesting (and better for game play use), but also more realistic than you might think. Assuming you were persuaded by my argument, you might now be wondering just how to go about doing that in practical terms. (If you’d like to catch up on that previous post, you’ll find it here:

When we think about working to learn a new technique or effect, or working on getting to the next level with the techniques we already use, we tend to focus on how to handle the brush and dilute the paint, and other practical matters of that nature. No doubt those are issues that can hold us back or cause frustration. But our mindset and expectations can also hold us back, and we don’t always think about how important the mental aspect of striving to improve is. 

Change is Hard

If you’d like to paint with more contrast, begin by thinking of that as a technique or effect. You are going to need to focus on it as an end goal and practice with it just as you would with learning a method of blending or trying non-metallic metal or painting hair or whatever else. It is also helpful when you are learning or aiming to improve to put most of your focus on just one or two areas at a time. Starting to paint a miniature with the expectation that you’ll paint it with a lot of contrast, perfect blending, a fantastic colour scheme, etc. is putting too much pressure yourself. It will be more effective if you keep contrast as your main goal until you feel comfortable painting with a higher level of contrast. Achieving your goal on just one or two figures isn’t really enough, it’ll be easy to slide back into old habits unless you’ve made your new approach into a new habit.

To help you keep the focus on pushing your contrast, I recommend that you choose figures you like and find easy to paint. Pick paint colours you enjoy and find easier to work with. Accept that your blending might look a little worse than usual because you’re painting it over a greater range of contrast than you usually use, which makes it more likely that you’ll see rough spots. Work on getting the contrast for a few minis, then work on the blending, then contrast, and then back to blending, and hopefully you’ll get the two working in harmony before too long.

Dionne front beforeI painted this in 2008. I was aiming for a shiny leather/rubber look. I thought I had painted it with plenty of contrast.

Our minds tend to resist change. You are going to be sitting there painting the figure and your brain will start to scream at you that the contrast looks ridiculous. You should pull it back, glaze it down, do something to make it look like what you’re familiar with seeing when you paint. Resist that urge! Remember that what you’re familiar seeing while you work is a miniature painted with insufficient contrast. You’re trying to paint the opposite of that. If you start feeling uncomfortable, chances are that means you’re doing something right, because if nothing else, you’re trying something new. Never make a sudden decision right after you’ve painted something new like that. Paint until the end of your session then walk away from the miniature. (Or stop right then and walk away if it’s just tempting you too much to ’tone it down’.) Come back the next day and give it a good look (using some tricks I’ll outline below). Think about it for a while. If you still think it’s too much, then go ahead and make some adjustments.  (Though it doesn’t hurt to wait until you get closer to finished and look over the figure as a whole when considering whether certain areas have too much or too little contrast.) This approach gives you time to get used to the new thing that you’re trying and to assess it with fresh eyes. If you ‘fix’ it right after you’ve painted it, you risk covering up a lot of hard work that actually achieved some of the goals you set for yourself.

Dionne before afterI took a second look at it in 2009. Nope, not remotely enough contrast for a shiny leather/rubber suit look. Also not enough contrast on the hair. And note how the deep shadows under the stomach and between the legs make the shapes look like they have more volume and are more rounded. This is what I meant in the last post when I said we need to use contrast to make miniature figures look fully three dimensional. If I were to paint this today or touch it up again I would probably add very small even brighter highlights to areas of the suit.

I’m definitely speaking from experience with that one. I’ve been working on painting something like contrast, or an animal pattern or whatever. It’s late, and I’m tired, and it just seems way too exaggerated and ridiculous looking. I’ve given into the impulse and painted over it, and regretted it the next day. I’ve also put the figure down and walked away, and come back the next day to realize that no, it doesn’t look so bad after all. 

Real Time

Remember that the viewer approaches your miniature in a much different way than you do. First the viewer gives your figure a quick look. You have a few moments to capture their attention to make them want to look closer. Even when people love a figure and want to study it for a while, I think few people are likely to look at a miniature for more than five, maybe ten minutes. As the painter, you spend a lot longer on it than that. Even a speed painted miniature takes 30-60 minutes to paint. Many of us spend hours looking at a figure. We come to know every fold of the cloth, every curve of the muscle and so on. Because of that, what you do will always look more extreme to you than it does to other viewers. If you want to see what I mean, go back and have a good look at figures that you painted a few months ago, or even better, a few years ago. Do they look as highly contrasted and exaggerated as you felt like they were when you were painting them?

Another thing to remember is that this is art. You want it to feel real, sure. But you want it to feel real in a way that emphasizes the drama and character of the figure/scene. You are like the producer of a play or a movie. You need to try to keep some elements as real as possible, but you also need to take some dramatic license to tell your story to the audience. (If you aren’t buying this argument, go read the previous blog post, I go into a lot more detail about this issue there.

Here’s another way to look at the realism concern – if you aren’t regularly referring to reference photos, you’re not painting in a truly realistic fashion anyway. You’re trying to match your imagined idea of reality, which is generally a lot more inaccurate than you think it is. And if people keep giving you feedback that your ‘realistic’ painting lacks contrast, your imagined reality isn’t seeing you very well. You and your audience will likely be much happier if you either just paint to look cool, or start studying the real world and using reference photos a lot more often for what you paint. If you do that, you’ll find that shadows and highlights look a lot more dramatic than you think they are under a lot of lighting conditions.

Hb front cu beforeI painted this in 2015. I was pretty sure I painted with loads of contrast.

Leaps and Bounds not Baby Steps

I think when a lot of us get feedback to do something like paint with more contrast, we go back to our paint table and push a little, then seek out more feedback, get told we need to push more, etc. It can take years to make notable progress that way. At least I’ve gone through periods where that is the case. I would like to suggest considering a different approach. Exaggerate. Go nuts. Push it and then push it some more, way past where you think you can stand it. Keep pushing until you get consistent feedback that it’s too much. (By consistent I mean more than one person saying it, and in response to more than one figure.) I think that might be a quicker and more efficient method than the tiny increments method. It’s worth a shot at any rate!

Harvest before afterI took a second look a few months later. Um, I guess there really wasn’t that much contrast after all! When I went back in to rework the figure, I think I overdid it with the hair. Keeping the overall hair darker and having brighter highlights in small areas would probably look better. But I think it’s safe to say that  the dress and non-metallic metal and even the peppers look much better with more contrast.

Everything Old is New Again

If you’re afraid of ‘messing up’ some of your favourite new figures, go back into your archives. Grab a miniature that you didn’t really like how it turned out or something else you don’t have much attachment to, and work on touching it up to push the contrast. This is also a great way to get more comfortable with doing final touch ups and editing a miniature. For a long time I was very reluctant to fiddle with something on a figure once I’d completed that section. But my skills improved a lot once I became more willing to do that. And it wasn’t as difficult to do from a technical standpoint as I had feared. The figures shown earlier in this blog post are a good example of what I mean by touching up a figure once it’s completed and you’ve had a little time and distance to take  a hard second look at it.

If you like all your old miniatures, paint some quick tabletop figures for your role-playing game. Or grab the figures out of a board game and paint those. Because we often play games in less than ideal lighting conditions, gaming figures in particular benefit from high contrast paint jobs. And any paint on a game miniature is cooler than playing with unpainted pieces, so you don’t have to get too stressed out about getting the blending perfect while you work on that high contrast. 

Fresh Eyes

The fact that we get so familiar with a figure while painting it is what makes it hard to see that it needs more contrast. Here are some tips you can use to try to jolt your eyes into seeing it like something less familiar.

When you’re painting and you get up to get a drink and take a break, turn off your painting lights. Take off any magnifiers you might use. Then when you come back from your break, pick up your miniature and study it under the regular room lighting. Try looking at it in different rooms of your house to see what it looks like in different lighting. In between painting sessions, store your miniature in a place in your home with moderate to low lighting. Ideally this is a location where you’ll have an opportunity to see it a few times a day. As you pass by, stop and take a look at your figure. Start by looking at it from a distance of two feet away, and then pick it up and look at it more closely. Ask yourself whether it has nice visual contrast and holds your interest both at arm’s length and closer view. Another way to get a fresh look at a figure is to take a picture of it and then flip the figure to a mirror image orientation. Or hold it up to a mirror and look at the mirror image. 

Dds sorceress mirroredWhoa, it’s a completely new view! (Okay it’s maybe not that dramatic, but this can be a helpful trick to jolt your brain into seeing stuff you might otherwise not notice.)

Angle of Attack

When you paint, you turn the figure around to a lot of different angles to be able to reach various spots that need paint. I think these are often moments when we notice a crevice that looks super dark or a highlight spot that looks ridiculously bright and then we feel like we must have painted those badly and need to fix it. Do not judge the contrast (or any other effect) by what it looks like at a weird angle and fix it to look good at that angle! Always stop for a moment and hold the figure in the orientation in which it will be viewed. It needs to look good and correct from that angle only. If you’re painting the shadows and highlights with enough contrast and in the right locations for your viewing angle, it should look weird if you look at it upside down or turned sideways. If you get the opportunity at a convention or similar event, try to look at the figures of skilled painters you admire from odd angles. You will likely find all sorts of super dark shadows and crazy color placement and other elements that feel very awkward to paint, but which can look great on a miniature from the intended viewpoint.


Technical How To Tips Coming Soon

I know there are at least some readers who are hoping for some more practical tips in terms of techniques and the like. When I jotted down notes for this topic it became clear it was too long for one post. I’m also hoping to be able to take a little time to do a few visual examples. So please stay tuned for more!

Do you have any tips for pushing yourself to try new things? Tricks to get a fresh look at something you’ve been working on for a long time? Let’s help each other out and share some ideas!

Links to figures featured in this post:
Dionne, metal miniature by Hasslefree:
Wood Elf Goddess Avatar by Dark Sword:
Andriessa, Wizard in Bones plastic by Reaper:
Andriessa, Wizard in metal by Reaper: