The Succubi Finally Spread their Wings

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Way back in April through June, I was working on a set of three succubi from the Bones 5 Kickstarter. And then I wasn’t. And now I’m done! These succubi figures are available through the Bones 5 Kickstarter late pledge manager in the Demonic Temptation add-on. The add-on includes three incubi. I haven’t yet received those to paint, but I’m including pictures of the incubi sculpts near the end of this article)

Succ blue front

These are links to the previous articles I’ve written about the painting process for these figures, including lists of paints used for various areas. When I finish my current painting crunch I’ll be assembling all the succubi painting articles into a single PDF for patrons at the Fill the Feeder level on my Patreon.

Article on the skin for the kneeling succubus.
Article on the skin of the seated succubus.
Thoughts on freehand and painting the pillow.
Article on the skin of the standing succubus and a bit about painting the transparent cloth.

I had a few people ask me if I planned to write an article about painting the wings. Now that I’ve finally finished the painting, here is that article! I will also be writing a little bit about the experience of getting side-tracked and roadblocked on projects and trying to get back on course.

Succ blue back

My overall painting vision for the succubi figures was to paint them as individuals, but also as members of a set of related figures. Partly I worked on those ideas by using a set of colours, but incorporating the same colours into different sections on each of the figures, as I’ve discussed in the previous articles. But I also planned to paint the wings on each in a similar way to help tie them together even more.

My first challenge with the wings was figuring out which colours to paint them. I’m going to run through some of the factors I considered as examples of things you might consider when you’re wrestling with choosing colours, which can often feel as if it gets harder to do the further into painting a figure you get. I’ll include additional pictures of the completed figures to break up the text a little.

Succ kneel front

My initial considerations related to the nature of the characters. These are succubi. They’re seductive, yet also demonic and a little creepy. Demon wings are typically patterned on bat wings. Even those few characteristics of the sculpts and character type suggest or argue against a lot of colours or types of colours. Lizardy skin green would fit the style of wing sculpt, but not the seductive demon qualities (at least not with the colour palette I already had in use). Brightly saturated, cheery, pastel – most colours with those kinds of characteristics are going to be unlikely to fit well. 

NOTE: It is totally possibly and okay and cool and creative to choose atypical colours for things. I’m not saying to always fall into stereotypes! But it is a reality that we associate colours with certain emotions and activities, and it’s not weird to be working with your viewer’s expectations and assumptions a lot of the time. Making atypical choices is something that is best done consciously and as part of an overall vision for the work. It’s going to be tricky if you have typical colours on a lot of the miniature to then introduce atypical colours on just one or two areas unless you’ve planned for that in advance to create a particular mood or effect. I’m making the suggestion to think of the character type when choosing colours because some of us don’t. I personally am sometimes really bad about not always thinking about character and story enough!

Succ stand face

With those ideas in mind, I considered the choices from the perspective of trying to paint something that was visually effective. The main focus of these figures is their faces and bodies/skin. Secondary areas of interest include the complex jewelry and their hair. Everything else is more background. If you think of it in terms of a movie or a play, the face and skin are the main characters, the jewelry and hair are supporting characters, and the wings, clothing, bases, etc. are background scenery and bit parts. 

We have to paint everything on a figure. It took me a long time to understand that we do not have to paint everything on a figure in exactly the same way and to exactly the same level. And indeed we should not paint everything on a figure in the same way and to the same level. Some areas should stand out to the viewer as the most interesting thing(s) to look at. If everything is painted the same way, it’s like standing in a room with a bunch of screens all showing something different – it’ll be hard for you to decide which thing you should be watching and even harder for you to keep your focus on it.

Succ sit front

So how does that work in practice when painting a miniature? I talked about some choices related to this in the article on painting the freehand on the pillow. The colours I chose and the decision to use a simple pattern were made with the idea that it is a piece of background scenery. Does that make that choice the right answer for every figure every time? Alas it does not, or figuring this stuff out would be a lot simpler. ;-> If the character with the pillow were some kind of noblewoman, a more elaborately decorated pillow might be the right answer to help illustrate her rank.

Consider the figure below, which is from the George R. R. Martin collection at Darksword Miniatures. She is a handmaiden, a servant waiting on someone of higher rank. If I wanted to emphasize that characterization I could paint her clothing and accessories in more subdued colours and as plain, simple fabric. And then also paint the piece of clothing she is waiting to hand the noble with rich bold colours and/or an elaborate pattern. (This would be a good approach particularly if this were used as part of a scene that included the noble being attended.)

Handmaiden

In the case of the succubi, their wings are also more background character than starring role. They are important to establishing the type of character these are. But they already demand a certain amount of viewer attention by virtue of being a large area in proportion to the figure. They are not small details that might need to be a light or bright colour to stand out and be visible. What I really want is for them to act as a sort of frame around the part(s) that I have painted as the focus. Two of the succubi have medium to fair skin. Using a darker value for the wings would literally work well as a frame. The third succubus has darker skin, but it stands out by virtue of being more saturated than most of the colours used on the figures. So in a similar way, using a darker but less saturated colour on the wings would likely work well to frame her, as well.

Succ stand frontExample of what I mean about the wings acting as a ‘frame’ for the skin and faces of the figures.

Since there were already a fair number of paint colours in use on the figures, a logical third consideration was to choose or mix a colour from the paints I was already using on the figures. Once you have colour on a number of areas on a figure, it is often a better idea to work within the set of paints you’re already using than to introduce new colours. It helps things look like part of a cohesive whole. It can help avoid a look that is too busy or confusing. For example, when doing highlights on stone or earth on a base, you can use the same light colour you used to highlight the skin (or horns, or bone). You can mix darker colours you used elsewhere on the figure into your shadows for other middle value or pale value objects. Colours will appear a little differently if blended from darkest up to lightest than they do blended midtone down to shadow and up to highlight, so you can vary the appearance of colours by the way you apply them as well as the ways you mix them. Or you can mix slightly different colours that are still harmonious by using the highlight from one area and the shadow from another.

There are a variety of ways to mix and shift colours from a small set so you can get more mileage out of them on a figure and not have to add a new colour into your set. Working with a smaller palette of colours in this way tends to create a visually attractive result. It’s also more realistic than you might think. When light bounces around it absorbs and reflects colour from surrounding objects. 

IMG 0811The reflection of the green shirt in the shadows of my husband’s skin is very apparent. It isn’t always as immediately obvious to your eye, but this kind of colour reflection is happening to everything around you all the time.

When looking through the paints I had used on the succubi, I wanted to stay in the same colour family as I had used on the skin tones. I came up with two main possibilities for wing colours. I decided it was worth a little time to do a test of both of those colours before painting the wings. I found another figure with wings and painted one in each proposed colour scheme.

IMG 0131I had already used this figure for some skin tests at the start of the project.

Once I had the wing tests complete, I could hold them up behind each of the succubi to get an idea for whether one of the colour schemes worked better than the others. (And I also took pictures for you to see how that test worked.)

Succ1 wingtest 500

Succ2 wingtest 500

Succ3 wingtest 500

With all three cases, when I look at the test wings, the more pinkish wing on the right is the one that draws my eye as being more vibrant and more interesting to look at. That’s a good thing, right? We want our work to pop, we want to paint things that are visually interesting. I picked the colour scheme on the left precisely because it didn’t draw my eye as much. The pinkish one draws my eye, but it draws my eye away from the main areas of the figure that I’ve decided are the focus. It’s a less extreme version of costuming one of the extras in a movie scene in bright red when all of the main characters are wearing grey and blue. Viewers are going to look more at the red background character than you want them to.

Succ kneel wing2 cu

That doesn’t mean I was sloppy or quick about the painting process. I had hoped it would take a night of painting to finish all three sets of wings. It ended up taking more than three times as long as I had estimated. Since the wing sails were sculpted with a few striations to help give them a leathery look, I chose to emphasize that by painting the highlights on with vertical brush strokes. The subtle texture would be a lesser element of contrast with the super smooth painting on the skin that I hoped help emphasize its smoothness. My primary goal was to bring out the three dimensional form (shape) of the wings with placement of lighter and darker areas, but I applied these with a lot of overlapping brush strokes. To do that I used a Kolinsky sable brush with a fine point. (In this case a Winsor & Newton size 0, but there are lots of similar brands that would work.)

Succ sit wing1 cuTo add a little variation and match the pinker skin tone on this succubus, I used a pink glaze to tint her wing sails.

I did the colour selection test back in June before I stopped working on these figures. When I got back to them, I realized there was an additional colour/approach decision that I hadn’t initially considered. Like bat wings, these wings have well defined wing bones. On bats these often appear a different colour than the membrane area, usually paler. I didn’t like that idea on the succubi for a couple of reasons.

One was practical expediency – I didn’t want to have to paint it. A lighter colour would be more fiddly to paint. That would add time when I was trying to crunch and get these finished ASAP. It would also be challenging to do since I had glued the wings to the figures on by the time I thought about this. It would be tricky to get my brush everywhere it would need to be for precision painting.

Succ stand wing2 cu

The second reason I didn’t like the idea of a much lighter colour on the wing bones goes back to pulling focus. Lighter sections on areas darker wings would create a fair amount of contrast and more visual complexity, making them likely to draw the eye more than I wanted. I did an image search of succubus art, and I didn’t see very many pieces of art that depicted them with pale wing bones, so I guess a lot of other artists have come to similar conclusions. I saw many artists use darker wing bones rather than lighter. (Even on a bat’s wing, if the wing is viewed with a light source behind it, the thin membrane will appear lighter and the wing bones will look darker silhouetted against the light.) I chose to paint the sections of skin stretched over the wing bones as a slightly darker value, and with a smoother texture, though not quite as smooth as the skin. The wings are the demonic creepy part of the figures, not the attractive woman part. 

Succ kneel face

One final colour consideration related to how to apply my colour choices in light of the shape of the wings. We paint shadows and highlights on miniature figures to bring out the three dimensional form of objects. The wings of all three tended to be a little (or a lot) curled over to be concave when viewed from the front and convex when viewed from the back. The wings overhang themselves so that their front sides are largely in shadow. For this reason, in a typical overhead/diffuse lighting scenario, the fronts of the wings should appear darker in value than the backs of the wings, particularly on the seated and kneeling succubi. This ends up working pretty well with the idea of focus. It was most important for the wings not to compete with the face/skin in the front views of the figures. There’s no face on the back views. In the back view angles, the wings take up more real estate and even partially obscure other areas of the figure. So the wings actually need to be a little more interesting and attention-drawing viewed from the back. To accomplish that I used a higher range of value between shadow and highlight colours, and emphasized the streaky striation texture a little more than on the front.

Succ kneel back

Finally I was down to one last bit that needed painting – the horns and wing talons. Typically I would paint these in a bone/horn colour. I considered using some of the colours I had used on the non-metallic metal areas. But in light of all the similar considerations I made on the wings themselves, I decided to go with a dark colour instead. Certainly there are animals with black or dark horns, so it’s reasonable enough on that front. I wrestle with whether I think the horns on the finished figures fade from view a little too much, but overall I think it works more than the alternatives would have.

Succ sit face

One thing I want to make clear is that I do not always think through my colour/technique selections in such a rational and deliberate way as what I’ve described here! In fact I would say that I very often do put enough conscious thought into these kinds of choices. It took a long time to type it out and for you to read it, but this kind of thought process is not necessarily time consuming. I think it has been helpful for me to think through this process to describe it to you so I can try to be more conscious of it as I make choices for painting figures. I’ve also made a note to myself to work on a more general colour/technique choice article at some point in the future.

Succ sit back

Apart from these figures, the bulk of the painting that I have done this year has been more tabletop or tabletop plus. I’ve been painting for class examples, quick turnaround projects, or just to try to get the dust off my brush before going back to working on something like these. I haven’t done a lot of high pressure competition/display level painting for a while. And I found myself just not very in the mood for it when working on these. I’m happy with the results, and there are parts I enjoyed painting. But often I found it tedious or a little stressful, and it seemed to take forever. I think a lot of that is because these are difficult times of stress and strain. (Aka 2020!) I have more trouble than usual keeping focused, and it’s particularly difficult to work on projects that require sustained focus over a series of days or weeks. (And I wouldn’t say I’m great at these things in usual times!)

Succ stand back

I put aside working on the succubi in early June to work on the Reaper figure of the month for July. (Asandris Nightbloom.) It was a nice change of pace. But somehow I just never got back to the succubi. I got distracted by preparing for online ReaperCon, working on traditional art studies and challenges, designing a mini learn to paint holiday kit for Reaper, and just trying to get though another day of bad news.

There was one additional mental roadblock in getting back to painting the succubi, something that might have been an issue for me in any year. I had stopped at exactly the wrong moment for me. I have had my share of bad luck in gluing and assembling figures.  Enough bad luck that I dread these tasks and often put them off. (The wings of this one fell off almost immediately after I took the picture. Here’s a link to buy.) This happens to me even though I usually use five minute epoxy, not just superglue, and I use pins, thoroughly clean joins, etc., etc. I put the date on my glues after I purchase them and buy new every two years or so. In my early days of painting I had a figure I tried to glue the arm on three times – with a pin, epoxy glue, and filling the gaps with greenstuff, and after the third time it fell off I gave up painting it and turned it into my sealer spray test figure. Maybe it’s just a personal curse. ;->

Succ sit left2

When I put the succubi aside I was pretty much done apart from gluing on and painting the wings. I would think about doing getting back to them, then get nervous or superstitious and just put it off some more. Believe me, I know how lame that sounds! I also know that I’m not alone in getting in my head that way, and hopefully it will help some of you to hear that you’re not alone, either. My one consolation is at least I heard about a better superglue than I had been using in the meantime. (Loctite Ultra Gel.)

I am very happy that I finally got back to these and finished them up in time for people to see painted versions before the Bones 5 pledge manager closes. I definitely recommend grabbing a set of the Demonic Temptations! Gluing will be much simpler on Bones compared to the metal masters that I was working with, and the metal figures keyed together very well. Here are what the incubi that come in the set look like. I hope to have a chance to paint these one day, too. I think I would use similar muted tones for their skin colours but with more bluish colours.

Incubi Standing

Incubi Reclining

Incubi Sitting

 

Below is a picture of the paint colours I used for the wings. I used the Gothic Crimson as a glaze on the wing bones of all three sets of wings. The Cactus Flower was glazed over the wings of the seated succubus. Regrettably all of these are discontinued or special edition colours except for 9066 Blue Liner. I believe Drow Nipple Pink and Cactus Flower will go on sale on Black Friday from the Reaper Miniatures website as part of a special edition paint set.

Wing paints

Here’s a look at the colours I used on the wings swatched out. The top bluish row are the mixes I used on the horns and talons, which were mixed from 9066 Blue Liner and 6118 GREL Flesh. This gives you an idea of the value and saturation levels of the paints.

Succibi wing paints

 

The articles linked at the top of the page include information on the paint colours used for each of the different succubi skin tones. I’m going to finish up with a few more view angles of the finished figures. If anyone has read this far, thanks for sticking this out with me!

Succ kneel right

Succ sit right

Succ kneel left

Succ stand wing1

Succ grey forescale front fullOne last picture with Sir Forscale. Note that the standing and seated succubi both have additional levels on their bases. Sir Forscale is not sure where he can safely look and stay a gentleman.

Flesh (Tones) for Fantasy

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In choosing colours for the third succubus, I wanted to includes elements from the other two to help draw them together as a group. My aim was to paint her skin as sort of a middle ground between the other two. The colour selections were darker and a little pinker than the kneeling succubus, but lighter in value than the seated succubus. The golds and blues used for clothing and accessories were used in various areas of the other figures as well.

Since I would also be painting a transparent cloth effect on this figure, I decided it was worth the time to test the colours I proposed to use, and I painted a quick experiment on one of the figures I previously used in a hair painting demonstration. The blond hair colours wern’t exactly the same recipe I used for the jewelry of the succubi, but they’re in the ballpark.

Succ3 test fullTest of skin and cloth colours for the standing succubus.

This was the easiest of the three skin tones for me to paint. I imagine that was largely due to being well in practice at that point after having painted two other similar figures. But I suspect that the fact that the midtone value of the skin was more of a middle value colour also made it easier. It’s tricky to judge highlights and keep them small enough on a very dark colour. Shadows painted on to very light value colours can easily look sloppy or unnatural, or be very challenging to achieve smooth blends with. 

Succ3 wip1 face 600 cropIn doing a rough block in the main concern is where lighter and darker values are placed. It’s not meant to look smooth or perfect at this stage.

I once again decide to start with a rough block-in for the major highlights and shadows on the flesh. I do mean rough, as is probably more apparent in the close-up below. During this stage I was regularly holding the figure out at arm’s length and looking at it without magnification. I wanted to see whether the various masses of the body standing out as identifiable and looking three dimensional from a distance. I was not particularly concerned about how it looked up close at this stage. 

Succ3 wip1 front 600 crop cu

The next stage was to go back in and refine the placement and the blending. For me this refinement step includes three elements, but it’s certainly possible to break these down into sequential steps instead of combining them if that makes it easier to manage.

Firstly, I was fine-tuning the initial block in by making a highlight a little brighter here, or shifting the placement location of a shadow, that sort of thing.  If you compare the two stages, you can see that the highlights are shifted a little lower on the breasts in the refinement stage.

Secondly, I was making sure I had addressed smaller or subtler areas. This includes checking that I addressed all of the smaller shapes within a bigger one, like on the knee, which is this case is sculpted in such a way that some of the complexity of the knee bones are apparent. You can also see that the area of the bellybutton is more refined in the second stage.

Thirdly, I was smoothing out rough blending transitions by taking half-step mixes between colours and stippling them along the edges until I got the blends as smooth as I possibly could.

Succ3 wip2 front 600 crop cu

The face, hands, and feet are areas with a lot more detail. I worked on those after I had completed the main body areas. Partly this was just a question of time management. I knew I would be working on this over multiple painting sessions, so I concentrated on the body the first day, and the other areas the second. (The hand on the chest would also be most easily painted after the neck and upper chest area were completed) For these more detailed areas I painted a little more precisely. There was still a small amount of roughing in and refining, but I didn’t want to cake up any detail with paint or make my life too difficult, so I painted up a little more cleanly than I had on the body block in. 

Succ3 wip3 face 600 crop

I had thought I would paint the transparent cloth immediately after finishing the skin, but it occurred to me it would be very tricky to paint the jewelry without getting paint on the cloth. You can just barely see it in the picture above, but she has jewelry on both ankles, and the inner leg is quite inset behind the cloth. For the non-metallic metal on this figure, I decided to use the colours I used to paint the freehanded pillow on the second succubus, which were adapted from the jewelry colours on the first succubus.

Succ3 wip3 front 600 crop

The blue cloth incorporated colours that I had used on the other figures, but I also added more of a teal blue. I had a similar issue with saturation as came up with the freehand pillow on the second succubus. I liked the value and general colour tone of several teal blues, but they all looked garish when placed next to the more subdued colours used on the figure. There are a number of different ways to desaturate colours. If you only have the budget or room for a small number of paints it is better to buy highly saturated ones and learn how to use colour mixing and colour theory to adapt them as necessary. In this situation, I chose to add one of the purplish colours used on the skin to the teal. 

Succ3 cloth nmm cu 600

The photo above shows the palette of colours I used to paint the gold NMM and the teal cloth. You can see that there is not a true saturated yellow in the colours I used to paint the gold up towards the top. The teal that I picked to paint the cloth with is the blob in the far upper right. You can see how bright it looks next to everything else on the palette. Had I painted that directly on the miniature the cloth would have stood out in a way that wouldn’t look natural. It would have looked as if it existed under different lighting than the rest. The row of less saturated teal paints near the bottom are the colours I mixed using that teal that were used to paint the cloth.

The two pools at the very bottom left are glazes that I used. These were small amounts of paint to which I added a lot of medium (in this case Reaper’s brush-on sealer) to make them very transparent. I painted the heavily thinned down blue over the areas of flesh seen through the cloth to create the impression of the cloth colour acting as a filter on the skin colour. After I finished painting the blue cloth it still seemed a little more saturated than I wanted, so I painted a thin glaze of the purplish skin colour I had mixed into the pools over the whole surface to tone it down even more. That did fix the colour, but it also subdued the value of the highlights, so I painted some of those back on.

Succ3 wip3 back 600 crop

Following the picture above, I painted her hair and also did some work on the figures’ bases. I thought it would be good to take pictures of the three together to see how they work as a group.

Wip1 succubi front 1000

Wip1 succubi back 1000

When I took a look at the group pictures, and then compared the figures on the shelf, I felt I wasn’t sure if the standing figure ‘matched’ the other two in terms of contrast. I had painted her hair with a softer sort of texture and wanted the robe to look filmy, but overall she seemed to have less oomph than the other two. I shared the pictures with a friend who recommend that I bump up the highlights in the hair and the focal area of the skin, and also on the robe. (My helpful friend was Jen Greenwald, who also has a blog!) The other change in the later photos is that I added some glazes of colours used on the figures to the base stones to help tie those in a bit more and give them a bit more variation and visual interest.

Wip2 succ front 1000

Wip2 succ back 1000

And a look at the changes on just the standing succubus figure alone:

Succ3 wip5 front 600

Succ3 wip5 back 600

Below is a picture of the layer mixes I used to paint the skin of the standing succubus. The darkest two colours on the middle row were only used for lining. (I line fingers and toes with a slightly lighter value than the main lining.) The three lightest colours (including the pale green-white in the upper right) were not really used in my initial pass. I did use a tiny amount of those light values when I went back in to add in some additional highlights in the focal area. IIRC the midtone was the center pool on the bottom row.

Succ3 palette 600 cu

Paint Recipes

Skin base colour: 9679 Drow Nipple Pink 
Skin shadow colours: 9602 Bruised Purple, 9307 Red Liner
Skin highlight colours: 89503 Sinspawn Pink, 9282 Maggot White

Cloth base colour: 89522 Grindylow Blue desaturated by mixing in 9679 Drow Nipple Pink
Cloth shadow colour: 61127 Waveform Aquamarine desaturated by mixing in 9602 Bruised Purple (using 9077 Marine Teal would also work, or just mixing Blue Liner into the base colour), 9066 Blue Liner
Cloth highlight colour: 9282 Maggot White, 9039 Pure White

The paint colours in italics are not currently available for purchase. Waveform Aquamarine was from a licensed line of paint and thus very unlikely to be reissued. Bruised Purple is coming back, and is currently available for preorder in a Bones 5 pledge. Drow Nipple Pink was a special event colour available at a few ReaperCons. I have heard rumours it might make a reappearance someday…

Figures in this Post

The work-in-progress succubus figures are not currently for sale. They are available for preorder as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter late pledge. Look for the Demonic Temptations add-on.

The spellcaster holding up an orb is available in plastic or in metal. She was repurposed from my article/video on how to paint hair.

Some Thoughts on Freehand

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Freehand refers to patterns, pictures, text, or similar elements that are painted on a flat surface, as opposed to decorative elements that are sculpted into a figure and enhanced by paint techniques like washes. Freehand is a way to individualize your interpretation of a sculpt, and reflects the universal human urge to decorate ourselves and our surroundings.

Freehand vs sculpted exampleThe top shield is an example of sculpted detail. the design and letters are sculpted in strong relief on the shield. The quarters are sculpted into the bottom shield, but the trees were added with freehand – flat paint painted over flat paint.

Many types of freehand can be quite challenging to do on a miniature figure since it involves both drawing and doing it at a very small scale. As a result, miniature painters understandably tend to focus on the technical aspects of executing freehand. But sometimes that focus distracts us from taking more general artistic considerations into account. (These same considerations also apply to use of decals.)

What do I mean by artistic considerations? Your figure/scene should work together as a whole to illustrate a character or tell a story. This means choosing colours, textures, and elements like freehand that work together, and applying them in a way that enhances the whole. I think a lot of us don’t think of the figure as a whole that way. We want the whole thing to look cool, but we might start by thinking we want to paint the cloak this colour and the hair in that way without a lot of consideration into whether all of that would come together to a pleasing whole. Even when we do think more holistically, it is very easy to forget that big picture when you start working on the individual elements. Freehand is definitely something that can end up being a distraction or looking showy or unnatural.

Dancers front 800The sculpture/castings of these 54mm figures is a little rough. I chose to use a lot of freehand partly to distract from the rough spots, and also because it was germane to the character types. But to keep it from being too noisy I painted most of the freehand/texture as tone-on-tone. Although the silver trim on the man’s tunic is sculpted, it is an example of a distracting element. It is painted with a high level of contrast and in a colour much different than its surroundings so it draws the eye too much and becomes a bit of a distraction. Compare it with the more subdued gold trim on the woman’s sleeves and belt that better fits in with that figure overall.

Detail tends to draw the eye. On a simple humanoid figure that often works to our advantage. You have larger plain areas like clothing, armour, and weapons for the bulk of the figure. The face with its features becomes an area of detail that focuses the eye in the correct place for appreciating a character’s personality. (We also have a part of our brain that specifically looks for faces, so we’re naturally drawn to look for and at them and the effect is magnified.)

Freehand is detail, and outside of an occasional face tattoo, it tends to be applied to areas outside of the face. It takes one of the plainer areas like a piece of cloth and adds a lot of detail to it. That detail can draw the eye quite a bit. It can even compete with the face. I have talked to contest judges who dislike freehand that seems applied just to demonstrate the brush skills of the painter that ended up detracting from the piece being appreciated as a whole.

Rivani front 450The freehand detail on the sash and its bright white and red colours are both elements that draw the eye away from the face or appreciating the miniature more as a whole. I painted this to match artwork, but the artwork does not suffer from this issue. One reason is because Wayne Reynolds dulled the white down to more of a grey in his drawing, which kept the pattern lower contrast. Also because he’s Wayne Reynolds and pretty awesome at this art thing.

This was my dilemma painting the second succubus. She is seated on a cushion. It seemed like it would be visually interesting and appropriate to the character to have that be a decorated cushion. But how could I be sure to add freehand that would accent but not overpower the character?

One way is to give careful consideration to the question of colour, and this is a reason to spend a little time learning colour theory. Warmer colours draw the eye. More saturated colours draw the eye. The figure has warm reddish-pink skin. It is somewhat saturated but not a pure strong saturated colour. There is a touch of blue in the non-metallic metal jewelry. It is both less saturated and cooler. Since I already have red and blue, yellow would make a logical third main colour to add for a red-blue-yellow triadic colour scheme. I also have the loincloth to paint, so I need to figure out colours for that and the cushion. Golden yellow and a bit more blue seem like good choices, but I have to be careful. Yellow is warm colour, and in context to the figure a lot of yellows, even duller, darker yellows, would look very saturated.

Freehand practice and testsI often do tests and practice for trickier work like freehand. I practice first on a flat surface, and then on something similar to the surface I’ll be painting on the miniature. (Blog post on painting this figure.)

Here’s where relying on recipes can get you into trouble. I do have a gold non-metallic metal ‘recipe’ I use quite often. A satin or brocade cloth is also shiny so similar paints to NMM would seem to suit. My standard recipe is Mahogany Brown, Chestnut Gold, Palomino Gold, Buckskin, Linen White. Chestnut Gold and Palomino Gold are both less saturated than pure yellow. But they are also both as or more saturated than the colours I have on the main figure. In context they would look more intense and more yellow than they do in a general context. (I did not use this recipe as the gold for the jewelry on the first succubus for a similar reason.) If I don’t want the pillow to draw all the attention, it would be advisable to choose colours that are more brown with a touch of yellow than yellows that are a little muted. 

I might also want to keep the freehand subtle. Choosing a colour/value for the freehand that strongly contrasts to the fabric of the pillow will make the freehand stand out more. Letters, numerals, and identifiable symbols also strongly attract the viewer’s eye, and will distract them with wanting to read/interpret any symbols. Pictorial representations of faces, human(oid) figures, or even objects that are human made also tend to draw the eye.

Succ2 wip freehand1 600On the left is the initial stage of laying in the freehand pattern. Stage two is cleaning up the curving patterns. Stage three on the right is adding some dots to make the pattern look more complex and interesting.

Keeping all of that in mind, if I want to add a freehand element in this situation I might do well to use a more abstract design, and to make colour choices that are lower in contrast within the freehand, and/or lower in contrast to the main figure. I went with a tone-on-tone gold, using the same mixes of paints to paint both the cushion background fabric and the decorative design.

Succ2 wip freehand2 600While I didn’t want the pillow too saturated or bright a gold, it was a little dull as initially painted. For a final step I glazed with a yellow-brown colour to add richness and a bit more colour.

It helps to have in mind your purpose in adding freehand to a figure. Sometimes it might be required to fully expression your ideas for a character or scene – insignia or text on military and sci-fi characters, richly decorated clothing or scenic elements for a noble character. Sometimes we might wish to add it as a way of demonstrating our skills to the viewer, like for a contest entry. Occasionally we may even use it to obscure an area that is poorly sculpted or where we missed some divots or mould lines. Some of these purposes require specific types of freehand in specific areas of the figure, which we may need to balance by making other kinds of choices for the figure elsewhere.

Punk pattern comboExamples of freehand added to areas where it would have looked odd and more distracting to leave it off!

Colour Scheme for the Pillow:

Midtone basecoat: 9200 Harvest Brown
Shadow: 9137 Blackened Brown
Highlights: 29826 Desert Tan (out of production, 9256 Blond Shadow would likely work as well), 9257 Blond Hair, 9258 Blond Highlight
Glaze: 9314 Heartwood Brown

Figures in this Post and Where to Get Them

Sprout von Harvest II (metal) – Charity fundraiser figure for Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee
Baran Blacktree, Veteran Warrior (metal) – there’s a painting guide for this figure
Dancing couple – I do not know the manufacturer of these figures or if they are currently available for purchase
Rivani, Iconic Psychi (metal)
Masquerade Ball Sophie (metal) – Painting to Match Artwork, general Painting Process
Sir Malcolm, available in metal or in plastic.
The seated succubus is available for preorder in plastic by adding the Demonic Temptations add-on to your Bones 5 late pledge. The add-on includes three succubi and three incubi. Previous post on painting her skin.
Inspector #3 – Camille Van Towe
Inspector #2 – Johnson
Sid the Rockstar

Succubus Too Skin Too

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I’ve been working on the skin of a second succubus from the Infernal Desires add-on of Bones 5. I asked myself what I might write about that, and two very different lines of thought came up. So I’m dividing this into two different posts.

One line of thought was a reflection on the differences in the experience between painting the skin of the first succubus and the second. You might imagine that those experiences would be pretty similar, and in a lot of ways they were. But there were also a lot of differences both in the process and in my feelings of success or frustration at various points during the process. (Pictured below are two of three succubi you can order by adding the Demonic Temptations add-on to your Bones 5 pledge. Also includes three incubi.)

Succ1 2 wip1 front 600Paint desk WIP pictures – good camera, meh lighting.

If I were writing an essay or a scholarly paper, that would be the introduction of my thesis. Then I would run through evidence and citations, and finish by summing up my conclusions. I assume blog readers are more interested in getting straight to the punch. :-> So I’m going to start with my general thoughts and then get more into the specific work-in-progress experiences that lead to them.

Here’s the TL:DR – sometimes you will find it challenging to do tasks you think you should be able to do easily. It is not helpful to beat yourself up for ‘failing’ to get the drybrushing or whatever correct in this instance. No technique, tool, or artist performs exactly the same all of the time. Instead of giving up or trying to force things, it is much more productive to try to adjust what you’re doing to increase your chance of getting a good result and/or to better enjoy the experience.

There are scores of variables that go into a painting experience – specific shapes of that figure, the brushes and paints, the weather and climate, the physical and emotional condition of the painter, I could go on and on. The main point I want to make is – we don’t consciously think about how much some of those factors can vary. We spend a lot of effort on finding the ‘right’ tools, but apart from an occasional bad brush or weird pot of paint, once we select our tools we assume they’re always pretty much the same and focus our attention on the process. If we find a process that works for us for how to put the paint on the figure, whether for a result like smooth blending or an effect like non-metallic metal (NMM), then we have learned how to do that thing and should be able to do it with relatively the same level of difficulty every time. (Or in fact believe it should get easier over time because we’re practicing so we should be getting better at it.)

Succ2 wip1 front 600Started with the legs again. But I felt like I couldn’t really judge whether the location and brightness of the highlights was correct.

In practice we find that is not always the case. Sometimes we sit down to paint and the process seems smooth and easy and the end result comes out well. Other times are a mire of failure and frustration. Most of the time is somewhere in the middle. But we’re doing everything the same! So the only variable we see is ourselves. Somehow we’re bad at this – bad at learning it, bad at doing it, just bad in some way or other. If you give a good painter their preferred tools and methods they surely have a much more uniform experience when working on familiar techniques or effects, right?

I think the only ‘bad’ thing you’re doing in this scenario is setting up a false expectation of how learning and performing a complex skill works. Absolutely the painter is a variable! But that’s not just about your ability to have learned the thing. How well rested and fed are you? Are your muscles sore from moving furniture yesterday? How much caffeine have you had lately? How’s your mood? Are you distracted with excitement over a happy event or frayed with worry over an unfortunate one? All of those things may or may not affect the end result of how what you paint looks that day, but they definitely will affect how you feel about the experience of painting.

Succ2 wip2 faceComing together a little more, but still having trouble judging value and placement of those highlights.

Then you have the question of variations in your environment. Some days the paint takes more or less time to dry. On those days you may have challenges with layering or wet blending or other techniques that require the paint to be at a certain level of wet or dry to work most successfully. People who travel to out-of-town conventions often notice the paint behaving differently since it’s a big change in environment, but there are smaller changes happening at home all the time, too.

The difference in shapes on miniatures is also not an inconsiderable variable. Painting a large relatively flat area with a smooth blending technique is going to be a lot more challenging than painting an area that is small and/or has more jagged shapes. If you’ve successfully painting NMM on jewelry, small weapons, and small armour plates but found it challenging on large flat swords or big armour plates, you’ll have experienced this. (Or the reverse with metallic paints, where they often look great on larger surfaces but don’t bring out fine detail of jewelry or filigree and such well.) The same is true for a lot of techniques and effects – some work better or worse on different kinds of texture and different sizes of area.

Succ2 wip3 face 600Blocking in all the areas and painting the hair dark helped make it much easier to see what range of values I needed and where to put them. Compare how much brighter and broader the highlights are between this and the preceding photo.

People tend to think of a line of paint as being very uniform in its properties, but paint can vary widely in how it feels, acts, and looks based on the pigments used to mix it. It’s not your imagination that it feels different to paint red versus white versus blue or whatever. (And there are many pigments of various hues, so it’s also not your imagination if this blue is easier to paint than that one.)

Succ2 wip3 front 600Different angle of the stage with blocked in values.

To me the takeaway from this is that the goal in learning should not be to expect to learn a process for something like painting skin and expect to be able to apply it the exact same way and obtain the exact same results every time. As you learn a process, learn it with the expectation that it is something that can be tweaked to adapt to conditions or the desired result. If you start painting and something about the process isn’t going well, don’t berate yourself for being ‘bad’ or grit your teeth that you have to accept it’s just going to suck this time.

Instead, think about ways to tweak and adapt the process. I think I was particularly aware of this idea in this situation because of the similarities. I was painting the same area of two very similar figures one after another. It seemed like it should have been a very similar experience. And in many ways, it was. In many other ways, it was interesting how many differences I noticed.

Succ2 wip3 top 600Bit of a closer view of the blocked in values. It’s not super rough, but it’s also not the level of smoothness I would want as an end result for this project.

One difference was how I felt about my paint colour recipe/choices. (More specifics about how I arrived at those are the other line of thought that will be in a different post.) I loved the skin colour I came up with for the first succubus. I was much less sure about the colour choices for the second. I kept going back and forth liking this but disliking that, not being sure if the value range went bright enough, etc.

Succ2 wip4 front 600For comparison, this is what it looked like after I smoothed out the transitions. (And added lining.)

My experience with how easy it was to paint those two skin colours was the reverse. While I loved the look of the first succubus skin, it felt annoying to paint those blends. Looking back on it, I’m not sure if there really was a big difference in the paint colour mixes. I’d have to paint the two them again the same day to really know I guess. It may just have been the case that I was out of practice with fiddly detail blending and not in the mood for it. It can be sort of zen if I get in the right frame of mind, but it’s slow and somewhat tedious and I suspect I would have been happier doing a quicker but more imperfect kind of painting on those days. (So switching to a different project or task is another way to adapt to circumstances!)

The experience of painting the skin on the second succubus felt much less onerous. But just the act of painting at all was a little challenging. I have been very fortunate in a lot of ways during this time of isolation, but I have days where I have a lot of trouble focusing on anything to any depth and for any length of time. I had a couple of days like that while working on the second succubus. I had to figure out what kind of video/audio I could listen to that would work to keep the unfocused part of my mind distracted enough to keep my butt in the chair.

Succ2 wip4 face 600Another view of the skin finished and with lining.

I’m taking the time to comment on my emotional response to painting the figures because it can help to remember that our feelings about the process of creating something can have a big impact in our feelings about that thing overall. You might feel more attached to something you’ve struggled over and judge it with a kinder eye. Or you might be so frustrated by something that felt like a chore to paint that nothing about it seems right to you. A viewer with no emotional attachment might look at those two figures and see not a great deal of difference in the painting skill demonstrated on them, but to you they can look very different. (This is one reason why it is so hard to accurately critique our own work!)

I used a pretty similar process to paint both – the layering technique using a lot of small steps between values of shadows and highlights with paint only slightly thinned from out of the bottle consistency. I used similar brush handling to make the smooth blends – stippling tiny amounts of paint of intervening values along visible transition lines. But I found myself making changes to how and where I applied that paint with those brushstrokes between the two figures. There were enough variables between them that it made sense to make some changes to my process to maximize my chances of success.

Succ2 wip4 back 600Finished skin, back view.

I started off painting the darker skin succubus in a similar way to the pale one. I started with the legs. Legs (and arms) are fairly simple structures, so they’re often a simpler surface to paint in terms of figuring out where the highlight and shadow areas would be located. They’re also less detailed, so if I had the colours wrong and needed to paint several more coats until I was happy with the colour selection, there was no danger of filling in detail as there might be with a face or hands. 

But I found myself feeling like I was unable to make good judgements of the paint on the first leg. Darker colours, including darker skin, generally require smaller and sharper highlights to keep the surface appearing dark overall. I started that way with the first leg, and I felt like the small highlights did not convey the form very well. An additional problem is that I was having trouble judging my value range. Were the highlights bright enough? It’s always hard to be completely sure on a partially painted miniature (another argument in favour of the sketching approach to painting), but I felt much less sure than I had with the pale skin version.

Succ2 wip4 left 600Finished skin, left view.

What form is and what we do with paint to create/enhance it is very much a topic for its own post. For now here’s a brief definition: Form is the three dimensional shape of an object. So in the case of the thigh, the general form is a cylinder. Bringing out the form of a cylinder involves painting shadow where it recedes (or you want it to appear to recede) from the viewer, and highlights where you want it to appear closest to the viewer. (As well as in a way that reflects the imagined lighting scenario.) And then within that general concept bringing out the forms of smaller muscle groups that are part of the thigh in a similar fashion. Basically I felt like the way I was painting didn’t really show the viewer the shape the thigh had been sculpted.

When I sat down to paint again I thought it might be helpful to shift my approach a little. I would take more of a sketch approach. I applied shadows and highlights over the entire body, but painted them in a looser way. The aim was to get the values placed approximately where I wanted them, but not stress the blending. (Which was the complete opposite to the pale skin succubus where I stressed the blending through the entire skin painting process!) I found that the lighter area of primer on the hair was a distraction so I painted it over with a dark value of paint. I might end up changing my mind on the actual colour of the hair, but having the intended dark value painted there was very helpful to being better able to assess the shadows and highlights on the skin.

Succ2 wip4 right 600Finished skin, right view.

Once everything was roughed in I could take a step back and assess the overall effect. Did the value range of dark to light seem sufficient and attractive? Did the placement of areas of light and areas of dark look good? Only once I could answer yes to those questions did it seem reasonable to spend the time and effort to create super smooth blends.

Since I would be working over a few days I once again used the palette and paint keeping process described in the previous succubus post. I used a similar number of layer step mixes. With this figure, I did use all of the shadow mixes, with only the very darkest being for lining.

Succ2 skin palettePalette of layer mixes used to paint the skin. Brightest pink in the top row used very sparingly. 

Skin base colour: 9602 Bruised Purple (this colour is not currently available, but can be ordered through a Bones 5 late pledge)
Skin shadow colours: 9307 Red Liner, 9066 Blue Liner
Skin highlight colours: 9283 Old West Rose, 9503 Sinspawn Pink

Now I just have to figure out how to paint the skin of the third succubus…

If you’d like to try your hand at these figures, join in the Bones 5 pledge manager and pick the Demonic Temptations add-on, which includes three succubi and a trio of incubi.

Problem Solving: Succubus Skin

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

I’m working on painting the succubi and incubi in the Demonic Temptations add-on from the Bones 5 Kickstarter (late pledges available). Since painting great looking skin can be a challenge in miniature painting, I thought I’d share some of my progress and process.

Succ1 wip camcomp face full wm

The photos above are of the same figure at the same stage of painting. Each picture was taken with a different camera. I’m experimenting with ways to take progress photos at my paint desk as it’s not always possible to use my photo station. These photos are using just my painting lamp. The one on the left is with my good quality camera, the one on the right is with an iPhone X. I will probably write a later post about taking WIP paint desk photos and share more camera comparison pics.

I consulted with Reaper’s art director and the sculptor of these figures (the wonderful Gene Van Horne) for how to approach the skin on these figures. We agreed on more supernatural colour choices. Which is fun, but also covers a lot of ground! I had in mind to do different skin tones for each, incorporating sunset colours like peaches, magentas, and purples, at least for the succubi. I tested several different options, as you can see from the photo below. (The pirate’s vest and head kerchief are two more options. I’d worked on him a bit as a warm-up and decided he could handle being a more colourful pirate.)

Succ skin tests 1000 wm

Vibrant orange and magenta paint colours are often transparent. It’s just a property of the pigments that create those colours. I’m getting a later start on this project than I had hoped, so part of my testing was to try to eliminate colour schemes that would be unforgiving to touch up or would take a really long time to paint. 

Pirate test

In the end I decided to start with a fair skin option and went with the colours I tested on the pirate’s vest. (The black leather is a colour I tested to use on the succubus’ skirt.) These were fairly opaque (and just the purples rather than oranges and magentas), but the colours turned out to be a little fussy to blend. On the palette below you can see the colour steps I mixed to paint the skin with the layering technique. The darkest two or three were really only used for lining the edges where an area of skin meets another limb or a different object, and for lining in between toes and fingers. I’ve discussed a bit about why lining is a powerful technique and how I paint lining in previous posts. Insufficient lining is a common issue for contest entries that I judge at ReaperCon.

Succ1 palette 1000 wm

You can see from the above colour mixes that there is a wide range of contrast within the skin. Although I was aiming for something on the paler side, there are areas of the body that would appear to be in deep shadow. So that’s an example of what teachers and judges mean when we talk about needing more contrast or going deeper with shadows! (Go to the Home page and scroll down to the Painting Contrast on Miniature Figures section for links to all my previous articles about contrast.)

Just a quick note on my palette and the sponges before I get to more work-in-progress pictures. That is a ceramic palette, the same one that Anne Foerster (designer of the Reaper paint lines) uses on her free Reaper Toolbox Pro Tips videos. I bought several of these from Cheap Joe’s. I have seen a similar palette (and another similar palette) on Amazon for a higher cost. The wells are fairly small, so pools of paint evaporate more slowly than on a flat surface (or a shallow pool of paint in a larger well). When using a welled palette, I am able to control the dilution of the paint pretty precisely. Some water evaporates over time as I’m painting, so I occasionally need to stop and add a drop of water to the paint, or add paint if the pool is getting shallow. I use the sponges to keep the paint workable over several days. I add water to the sponges once or twice a day until they are not quite dripping wet. In between painting sessions I cover the paint wells with the sponges. While I’m painting, if I’m working primarily with shadows, I’ll cover the highlights area with a sponge and vice versa to minimize evaporation.

I usually need to add a little water before I begin to paint the next day, but this method keeps the paint better for me than a wet palette. I do use often use a wet palette for easy mixing and to keep paint in good shape during a painting session, but I rarely use paint on it the next day for anything other than small touch ups. The welled palette approach does use more paint than the wet palette approach, even with conserving paint over several days, but that can be an acceptable trade-off if you need to control the mix colour and/or dilution of the paint very precisely. Welled palettes are also great to have around to mix watery washes and glazes that can make a mess on a wet palette.

Succ1 wip1 face 600

The first day I painted in the afternoon and evening. I started with one of the legs. I’m a little bit out of the habit of serious painting. The face is the focal point of the figure, so I wanted to paint a section that was less important first to shake off the dust. I noticed straight away that the blending was much fiddlier than I had expected, but I entertained myself with Google friend chats and audiobooks and just settled into it.

Later in the evening I finished the legs and thought to myself why don’t I paint the face and chest while the paint mixes are still on the fresher side? I finished those areas and took the above picture. So in my mind as I cleaned up following my paint session, I had painted the face and the chest area and just had the arms and torso to go in another paint session. I looked at the figure now and then the rest of the night and the next morning in regular lighting, and I realized wasn’t happy with it. The legs looked good, but the face did not at all stand out on the shelf, and the facial expression wasn’t what I had hoped to achieve. 

This is not an unusual experience for me. At least it’s pretty common now. Time was, when I called something done, it was done, and I wouldn’t really study it or return to it unless I had an errant paint stroke or something else like that to fix. Sometimes we do have to call things done and move on rather than fussing over something forever, but a key element to improving in our work is also to look at an in-progress piece when we’re not seated at a brightly-lit desk working on it and see how we think it’s going. You have to give your eyes and your critical judgement skills time to see if there’s a problem, and then do the work of figuring out a solution. It’s very helpful to do that assessment when you’re not in the middle of working on it and in different lighting, and to do that looking at the figure as a whole, not just the part you’re working on at the moment.

Succ1 wip2 face 600

After a little thought I realized that the issue with the face as originally painted is that it was overall much too dark. The lighter areas that had a bit of a ‘glow’ were what I liked about the test paint of the vest on the pirate. I had a bit of that effect going on the legs, but very little on the chest and face. And that’s in addition to the fact that it’s usually very visually effective to paint the face and upper portion of the torso lighter than lower areas of the body on a figure. It helps draw the viewer’s eye to focus on the face. I will often start the skin of a face a step or two lighter than the rest of the figure for that reason, and I would have saved myself a little trouble if I had done that here.

I started my next painting session by painting over all the non-shadowed areas of the face with a colour two steps lighter in value and redoing the highlights and shadows on those areas. I went lighter in value and wider in surface area with my highlights and softer with the shadows on the lit areas of both the face and chest. I de-emphasized the nasolabial fold and emphasized the eyelids to shift the expression to fit the character of the sculpt better as well. 

Succ1 wip comp face full wmHere’s a side by side in case that makes the differences easier to see.

So why did I mess up in the first place? As I mentioned, I haven’t been painting very regularly for a fair while now. I did a bit of painting warm up before starting on these figures, but it was mostly on animal miniatures, so maybe not that great of a choice for a warm-up to painting a lot of skin! I also worked on the face later at night after I’d been painting for hours. I was tired, and I wasn’t putting a lot of deliberate thought into my choices, I was just focused on perfecting all those touchy blends. I should either have called it a night before working on the face, or found a less critical task to work on if I wanted to get more work time in. Either way, it’s nothing to beat myself up about. The important thing is that I listened to the voice telling me something wasn’t quite right and I tried something to fix the problem. Whatever level you’re painting at, you have a lot to remember and try to perform well when painting a figure. It’s not helpful to feel down about yourself if you goof something up!

Succ1 wip comp left full wm

Here’s a view from another angle. There’s a bit of lighting difference between the photos. I didn’t repaint anything on the legs, I think the light was just in a different location for the second photo. You can see that the revised face is a lot more visible and expressive even from this partially obscured side angle.

About the paint colours… I’m happy to share the recipe, but unfortunately the key paints are all out of production/special promotion paint colours. Sorry about that! These are all Reaper paints. The ones in italics are not currently available for purchase.

Midtone/base colour: 1:1 9679 Drow Nipple Pink : 61118 GREL Flesh
Shadows: Drow Nipple Pink, then 9602 Bruised Purple, mixed with 9307 Red Shadow for deepest shadows
Highlights: GREL Flesh, then 9282 Maggot White, with a bit of Pure White for the brightest highlights on the face

Figures in this Post

The work-in-progress succubus figure is not currently for sale. It’s available for preorder as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter late pledge. Look for the Demonic Temptations add-on.

The hellborn or tiefilng spellcaster in the test colours photo is available in plastic or in metal.

The pirate is part of the Rum & Bones game from CMON.

The spellcaster holding up an orb is available in plastic or in metal. These were repurposed from my article/video on how to paint hair.

The demoness was part of Bones Kickstarter 4. She has delivered to backers, and will be available for retail sale in late Summer or early Fall.