Saturated Wash Colour Experiments

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Recently I have been experimenting with washes. With my skeleton bone wash experiment, I learned that different colours of washes could be used to quickly add a little individuality to batch painted figures without too much extra time or effort. The experiments also suggested that variations in shade colour choices could help tie colour/light schemes together, or be a useful tool to convey different effects or moods, if some of the other colours were adjusted a little.  

Btk1 figsThe skeleton bone has different wash colours, but the same basecoat and drybrush colours. The bases were painted Naga Green in preparation for today’s experiment.

In the case of the skeletons, I applied washes of somewhat saturated colour over an fairly neutral ivory basecoat colour. I didn’t have time in the initial wash testing stream, but I also wanted to study the effect of applying saturated colours on top of a saturated colour. In a follow-up stream, I used the bases of the skeletons for this experiment. Each was painted with the steps outlined in the Core Skills Learn to Paint Kit, other than changing up the wash colours. The starting basecoat for the bases was Naga Green.

You can also watch the video version of this if you prefer.

I picked out a selection of colours to use for the washes. Since the Naga Green was a darker starting point than the Desert Sand of the skeleton bone, I chose darker value colours for the washes than I had on the skeletons. Regardless of colour, the washes still need to function as shades that shadow the recesses.

Base wash paintsThe paint colours used for the washes.

As with the skeletons, I had some ideas of how these paints might or might not work. Some of my ideas are based on years of study and practice with colour. I know colour is a confusing and scary prospect for a lot of people, but I think that some elements of colour use are areas of art well suited to more left brain thinking painters. There is colour theory you can study, and practical experiments like this that you can perform. You don’t have to have an innate sense of colour to be able to paint with it successfully! You just have to accept that you might not be successful with colour every time. (And I don’t think those with a more innate sense of colour use get it right every time, either!)

Pine Green: This seemed like a pretty safe wash choice. Similar green to the basecoat, just darker. Not too exciting, but very unlikely to ‘fail’.

Rotting Wood: I thought this less saturated green would dull down the base a little, and fit the atmosphere of a skeletal figure better.

Ritterlich Blue: Blue can be a very effective shade colour for more saturated greens, so I expected this to work as a shade, but I wasn’t sure if it would look like convincing grass.

Coal Black: With its touches of teal, I thought this would strike a nice balance between creating good contrast and adding a little colour variation.

Gothic Crimson: Green and red are contrasting colours. (Magenta/pink is considered red in colour theory.) Mixed together they create brown. I expected this to dull down the green to the point where it might not even look grasslike anymore.

Styx Purple:  Purples work well to shade a surprising number of colours, including green, so I thought this could be interesting.

Mahogany Brown: Mahogany is a red-brown. Since it’s less saturated than the Gothic Crimson, I thought it would work better as a wash colour for green, dulling it down a little but not turning everything brown.

Basic Dirt: This is more of a true brown. I expected it to dull the bright green to more of a muddy grass type of look.

Base wash paletteThe washes (and drybrushing colours) on my palette at the end of the stream.

I had three additional skeletons at hand, but these were posed on rock bases. They are sculpts that used to be used as a substitute for the other skeleton figure in the Learn to Paint kits when it ran out of stock. Now the kit skeletons are manufactured at the Reaper facility using the Bones USA material and should always be in stock for kits, but those of you who bought kits in the past may have received this different Skeleton Warrior Archer instead. I painted the rocks as described in the Core Skills kit, starting with a basecoat of Mountain Stone. Then I used these washes:

Goggler Green + touch of Pure Black (Rock): I thought this might create a moss or algae covered rock look.

Coal Black (Rock): I thought this would make a nice shade colour for cool grey rock.

Ritterlich Blue (Rock): While touches of blue might simulate some kinds of coloured rock, I thought a blue this saturated would look ridiculous.

Below you can see pictures of what the bases look like after completing the drybrushing steps. The drybrushing steps started with the original Naga Green, and then a couple of steps of lighter greens achieved by mixing in Candlelight Yellow, as outlined in the Core Skills learn to paint kit. Below each figure is a swatch of the wash colour I painted on its base during the stream. The figure on the far left of each picture is painted according to the kit directions, using thinned Pure Black for a wash, and is there for comparison purposes. The stone bases were highlighted with mixes of Mountain Stone and Dragon White.

Base washes1 cr

Base washes2 cr

Drybrushing with the original green (or grey for the stone) altered the appearance of the washes. Brushing on additional highlights of the green mixed with yellow further altered the appearance by introducing touches of a third colour, yellow. The difference in impression between the green with just a wash and the green with both wash and drybrush steps complete was significant, as you’ll see in an example photo below. These are my impressions of each base to compare with my guesses for what might happen with the colours.

Pine Green: The general effect is harmonious, though possibly a bit bland. The green I chose wasn’t quite dark enough and/or I added too much water. The crevices need a bit more shading.

Rotting Wood: The effect is more natural than the black wash, and the slightly duller green fits the skeleton figure better.

Ritterlich Blue: This is a gorgeous shade on a saturated green highlighted with a yellow-green. This colour mix might not be well-suited for simulating grass, but I definitely want to keep it in mind for other types of materials like cloth.

Coal Black: I mixed too much water into this wash, so it didn’t effectively shade the recesses and provide enough contrast. I think the colour works well, I just would have applied a second coat if I’d been painting in my own time.

Gothic Crimson: At the wash stage this looked very jarring, but once the drybrushing was added what remained was a brown created by the visual mixing of the green and magenta. I think it actually ended up working a little more harmoniously than the red-brown Mahogany Brown version.

Styx Purple:  I chose a somewhat blue-violet purple. It was interesting to see how much more apparent the pink/red component of the purple became when the wash was applied over the green. The purple gives a really nice sense of depth to the crevices, but I think it needs to be just a little darker to bring out the sculpted details well.

Mahogany Brown: The contrast between the complementary colours was very jarring after just the wash phase. In the end it is less contrasted than it initially looked, but the red and green do fight a little. 

Basic Dirt: This gave a look of ground made up of mixed dirt patches and grass patches that fit well with the skeleton figure. The effect is less jarring than with the Mahogany Brown. 

The wash on the rock bases wasn’t dry enough to paint over by the end of the stream, but I finished them up later.

Goggler Green + touch of Pure Black (Rock): The colour works well as a shade, but if I really want to convey the idea of algae or moss, I would need to apply some additional drybrushing or glazing in green colours.

Coal Black (Rock): I used a less transparent mix of this for the wash on the stone, and it works well for shading the recesses and creating a cooler grey look.

Ritterlich Blue (Rock): This has great contrast and ended up being my favourite of the stone versions! I might use a slightly duller and darker blue for stone going forward though.

Since I performed this experiment on a live stream, I don’t have any WIP pictures. I did add a wash to a single base so you could compare the difference between the wash stage and the final result stage though. In the picture below the base on the left and the one in the centre were both painted with the Mahogany Brown wash. The base on the right was painted with the Gothic Crimson wash. The centre and left figures demonstrate the differences between wash stage and final stage on the skeleton bone. Both were painted with a wash of Naga Green.

Base wash demo cr

I think these experiments make a good argument for breaking away from using just black or a darker version of a colour to do a wash. You can get additional depth and richness or add little touches of variation by using more coloured washes.

I was somewhat surprised that the majority of these experiments worked pretty well. I had previously had an experience of combining a more saturated wash with less saturated base and drybrush colours where I did not like the end result at all. Perhaps that might partly be related to the texture and the type of figure? If nothing else, that experience demonstrates that even people who well practiced at doing something can have instances where things don’t turn out as expected. Results we don’t love happen regardless of our skills. They aren’t a reason to beat ourselves up or get down on our hobby pastimes, and often we can learn from them. 

Products Mentioned in this Post

Core Skills Learn to Paint Kit
Skeleton Archer in plastic or in metal
Skeleton Warrior Archer in plastic
Mountain Stone
Pure Black
Naga Green
Pine Green
Rotting Wood
Ritterlich Blue
Styx Purple
Mahogany Brown
Basic Dirt
Gothic Crimson was a special release colour at a convention.
Coal Black has been seasonally available in the Holiday paint set, which is currently on sale for people who don’t like to order paint in the colder weather. This set is being retired after this run sells out. Below is a swatch of all the Holiday paints.

Swatch rm holiday2020The Holiday paint set is on sale right now. Sparkling Snow is a metallic colour.

Go Beyond the Kit

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Beyond the Kit is the name of my new video live stream show on the Reaper Miniatures Twitch channel! Episodes will also be archived on Reaper Miniature’s YouTube channel. Beyond the Kit airs live on Mondays from 2-4pm Central time starting on May 24, 2021. Episodes are available for Twitch on demand viewing for two weeks, and are uploaded to YouTube a few days after airing.

Paint case openCome with me beyond the kit!

Part of the inspiration for the name is that I am the author of the current generation of Reaper Learn to Paint kits. I crammed as much information as I could fit into the kits, but there wasn’t a lot of space to talk about how to take the techniques or paint recipes from a kit or a class and make them your own. That’s the thread that will weave through many of my episode topics – how do you go beyond the kit, or the video tutorial, or beyond the tips you’ve read online and start learn how to figure things out for yourself?

The medium of video allows me to explore some of these ideas in a hands-on visual way. I’m also excited about the immediacy of exchanging ideas with viewers via the chat. I hope you’ll check out the show and see if it’s something you might enjoy. My interests in miniature painting and teaching are pretty diverse, so I expect episodes will encompass a wide range of topics of interest to different levels and types of painters.

Please be assured that there is still a lot in this vein that I want to continue to discuss right here with words, and pictures, and ideas. In fact, let’s talk about some ideas for how to move beyond the kit right now, with a few examples from my own painting experience. I’m also working on a more detailed article with an example of how to ask yourself the right questions and perform tests to get the information you need to improve your painting experience.

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I think many of us approach miniature painting in a similar way to something like cooking. We start with some basic instruction and simple recipes, like one of the Learn to Paint kits or similar instructions from a friend/video. As time goes by, we see something that looks tasty, and we try to get our hands on the recipe to try it ourselves. What technique did the artist use? What exact paint colours and brushes? We gather up as much of that information as we can, and try to replicate their results. We memorize the recipes we like the most or find the easiest to make, perhaps customizing a little by swapping an ingredient or two.

There’s another level of cooking. The kind that generates new recipes or reverse engineers how to make your favourite restaurant dishes. These cooks learn general principles of how best to prepare various ingredients, and which flavour profiles pair together nicely. They have a foundation of knowledge to help guide their efforts, but they still have to experiment to successfully recombine ingredients together and create new recipes. Undoubtedly a lot of those experiments fail. Some spectacularly, some in more mundane ways. Those that seem promising require iteration and refinement to perfect into a successful replicable recipe.

Miniature painting is kind of like cooking in this regard. Many painters look online for techniques to paint wood or marble or whatever other texture. They look for colour recipes for blond hair or red cloth. They ask for advice about the best colour to use to wash or shade this particular paint. You can learn a lot this way! I’ve looked for a lot of information like this, and I try to repay the miniature community’s knowledge bank by sharing my colour choices and other information. If you’re happy painting in this manner, that is great! That is absolutely how I cook. (At best!)

However, if you sometimes get frustrated with this approach to painting, you might want to pursuing learning a little more in depth and shifting how you think about your tools and techniques.You might want to learn more about the properties of colours and principles of colour theory instead of following the recipe of other people’s colour schemes. You might want to try to figure out for yourself how to simulate a particular kind of fabric or plastic, or explore effects from the real world or other art forms. Maybe you just want feel more confident making your own decisions about what colours to use for washes. In ways small or large, there may be ways that you want to be figure things out for yourself.

Velvet research crA few years ago I wanted to paint the texture of crushed velvet on a figure. I began by studying reference pictures of the fabric both worn as clothing and plain fabric swatches. I came up with a paint approach I thought would work, and tested it on a figure.

I think the most important step you can take to move beyond the kit is simple. And free! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That step is to reconsider your attitudes about failure and success. It’s also very helpful to try to find ways to reframe the questions you ask and figure out how to explore those answers on your own.

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Idea #1: You Can’t Out-Study Failure or Risk

Most of us spent a lot of time in school learning facts and knowledge. We may have a very study-based approach to learning. Our experience has been that if you read/watch/think about the subject enough, you’ll memorize enough facts and internalize enough ideas  to be able to pass a test, or write a great essay.

That is not how skills with a physical component work. You can’t watch videos or read articles and learn how to throw a perfect pass or handle the steering wheel of a car. You have to get out on the field or in the driver’s seat and practice. The same thing is true of miniature painting. Studying what other artists do can be very helpful, but you will make a lot more progress with a little study and a lot of painting than you will with a lot of study and a little painting.

Velvet painted crThe next step in my crushed velvet experiment was to try it on my intended figure. My first attempt is on the left, and represents several hours of applying paint. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t look quite right. I had to compare to my references and identify what was different, and then think about how to better represent what I saw in my painted version. My revised attempt is on the right. The fact that I am an experienced painter who knows how to paint textures was helpful, but it did not mean instant automatic success.

You will never be able to watch enough videos or read enough articles to ensure that the first time you try something you will get a fantastic result and know how to do that thing well every future time you try. It just doesn’t work that way. Beating yourself up for getting a poor result when you do try something new or try to push the boundaries of something you know how to do does not make you more likely to succeed in the future. It only makes you less likely to want to even try.

The way to learn a skill like miniature painting is to sit down and do it. Sometimes you’ll get great results, sometimes not so great. Success is not the outcome. Success is doing the work and trying to learn from your experiences.

I have written some additional tips about embracing failure, and also about unhelpful attitudes to try to root out of your hobby.

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Idea #2: Think Like a Scientist

Although I said you can’t study your way out of failure, be assured that the left-brain analytical skills you may have learned in school are not useless to miniature painting! They can be immensely helpful. Often you just need to reframe the way you’re thinking about things. That can involve figuring out the right questions to ask, and/or conducting tests and experiments.

One way to think like a scientist is recalibrate your mindset about trying new things and experimenting. Experiments are not pop quizzes where you pass or you fail. The results of experiments may be surprising. Often they may not be the desired results. But the nature of the results doesn’t make the scientist a success or a failure.

Whether it was a wild success or a dismal failure, the results of an experiment are always useful information. If you study the results and what you did, you will get ideas for ways to adjust the experiment and try again. Sometimes the failures can be more instructive than the successes. Sometimes the failures can even give you ideas for how to do something completely different than what you were trying to do! Viagra was initially developed as a drug to treat angina. The man who invented acrylic paint was trying to invent a glue. Your attempt to try a certain technique for smoother blending may not work well for you for that function, but maybe those streaky results would be a great technique to use apply to weathering and mud stains! 

IMG 0915Left: Some of the colour tests I did to choose the paint colours for the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit.
Right: Colour tests made during painting of the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit figures.

Even though I had been painting and teaching for a while when I wrote the first learn to paint kit, I didn’t create it by grabbing a handful of colours and slapping on paint on some randomly selected miniatures. I did test mixes of colours to see if I could get the range of colours I wanted. I carefully considered whether the figures I chose were good options for practicing the skills taught in the kit. I painted a test version of each figure to make sure that my overall colour scheme ideas worked. I did tests with paint mixes to see if the black wash for this area worked better thinned with three drops of water or with four.

I also do tests like that all the time in my own painting. I get stuff wrong and need to tweak it all the time in my own painting. It helps a lot to think of that as just part of the process. Sure, sometimes it gets annoying or takes time I don’t have. The fact that I don’t intuitively know all the answers doesn’t make me a bad artist, or a bad person, or bad in any other way. It’s just a challenge to me to find ways to figure out the answers.

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Idea #3: Ask More Questions to Find More Answers

When you work to solve problems or figure things out on your own, I think it is helpful to ask a lot of questions that are specific and detailed.

For example, say you try to paint something to match a reference photo or following someone else’s tutorial and your results don’t look the same. It’s not helpful to say ‘I hate it it looks terrible, I’m an awful painter’. It is much more helpful to look at it and say what are the differences? Where did I place light parts and dark parts in comparison to the reference? Is there a difference in the proportion of the sizes between the dark and parts and the light parts. Are my darkest areas as dark as the reference or are they darker or lighter? Is there a texture that is noticeable?

Perez nmm attempts crAfter watching the tutorial video from his Patreon, I attempted to copy the style of non-metallic metal on Arkaitz Pérez’s Uther bust. My first version (left) wasn’t terrible, but it also didn’t look quite right. I analyzed and compared my results, got some opinions from a few painting friends, and then tried again. The second version (right) is a lot closer. Feel free to test your eye and try to spot the differences.

A couple of years ago I spent some time doing some experiments and following tutorials of a couple of Spanish painters – Sergio Calvo Rubio, and Arkaitz Pérez. I am an experienced painter conversant with several different painting techniques. My first attempts in both cases were not successes. It wasn’t necessarily that my results looked terrible, but they were different from my inspiration material in ways that demonstrated I had not grasped some of the main points of the instruction. I want to emphasize this point – my goal wasn’t to get an attractive result. My goal was to understand and internalize an approach. So even though I got an attractive result with practice on the following figure, I painted that section completely over to practice again with the approach I was trying to learn.

Anushka comp crI painted this figure after taking a weekend workshop with Sergio Calvo Rubio. I wanted to practice the approach he had shown us. My first attempt (left) had an interesting worn leather look. But I had not really painted in the style from the workshop. I painted it over completely again to get the roughed in sketch version (centre), and then once I was happy with that refined it for the final version (right).

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Keep your eye on this blog and on my Twitch show Beyond the Kit for more information now how to ask questions and do experiments and tests to answer questions and expand your techniques. In the meantime, you might enjoy this suggestion for how to study a face painting tutorial. Or my video analysis of something I painted that I didn’t like.

BWAB OpenScreen Black

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Miniatures in this Post

Two of the Learn to Paint kits I’ve written are available.
The Castle of Deception Female Mage is available in metal.
I believe the medieval dancing woman is out of production.
The Battleguard Golem is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Anushka, Female Fighter is available in metal. 

Many thanks to Gene Van Horne for the Bird with a Brush character and Ron Hawkins for the Beyond the Kit graphics.

Photo of woman wearing crushed velvet by Tiffany Combs on Unsplash.