Vex Airbrush Impressions and October Airbrush Class Signups

I got my hands on a Reaper Vex airbrush! This was part of a preview sale release at ReaperCon, but they will go back on sale on Monday, September 28, 2020. Check this page after that date.

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I gotta admit, it’s a sexy looking gadget. But can it possibly work as well for me as Aaron Lovejoy has claimed and demonstrated in his recent videos?

I took it for a spin to find out. I’m not a total airbrush novice, but I am the next thing to. My current airbrush is a GREX Tritium. It is a very well-made airbrush, and after an initial session or two of struggling to figure it out, I haven’t really had any problems with it. But I also haven’t really loved it enough to catch the airbrushing bug. Unless I’m painting a lot of smaller things in the same colours or painting something larger, it doesn’t seem worth dragging it out or, more particularly, cleaning it up after (and between colours). I don’t do either of those things very often.

One issue the Tritium has is I think it is more of a 1.5 action than true dual action. I’m going to have to give it a thorough cleaning and try again, but on previous attempts I was not able to get a spray of just air alone.

Mystics baddies 1000Villains from the Mice and Mystics board game. Painted in 2013. I really haven’t used my airbrush enough…

The last time I tried airbrushing with my Tritium, my compressor overheated and then I ended up not liking the colours I had picked. I started fixing it with standard brushes instead of dragging out the airbrush again. (My GREX airbrush is high quality, but I’m not so sure about my compressor… Though I have my water trap on my compressor, not on my hose as Aaron recommends, so maybe that would help.)

Rocky group 800My GREX definitely came in useful for doing base coats and initial highlights on chonky baby dragons though!

Although I’m not very practiced with airbrushes, I have learned one tip to pass along. You need to know your brush well. You need to feel comfortable taking it apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together, because that’s how you fix most problems. So for my first session trying out the new Reaper Vex, I rewatched Aaron’s demo video and sat down to do only that. I had to go back and watch a section of video again because I didn’t remember how to reassemble the trigger parts after the first watching. I shot some water through it and called it a night. Whatever brand of airbrush you have, I recommend looking for some videos of people breaking it down and putting it back together again to have for handy reference.

I had a group of figures to prime, so for my next session with the Vex I started there. Just basic grey brush-on primer. (The figures are for a project I can’t yet reveal, so no picture, sorry. Also because of the nature of the project, I couldn’t try the zenithal prime method from Aaron’s videos.) It did not go well at first. I’m not sure what I had done wrong, but it was sputtering and reluctant to spray. I poured out the primer and cleaned out the brush.

IMG 1371At the end of my first airbrushing session with the Reaper Vex. The grey blob is primer that got spilled when I knocked over one of those mixing cups.

For my second attempt I decided to try some spraying some regular paint on a Bones figure since that’s easier to clean up than primer. This went much better! I gave the primer another shot, and that went well too! The Vex is light and sleek, so it seemed less cumbersome to put down and pick up and so on for the frequent tip cleaning (required with any airbrush when using acrylic paint), moving the minis around, refilling the cup, etc. I used the last of my grey primer to do a sort of zenithal prime on the Bones mini I had practiced with earlier to practice my aim with the Vex a little more. (That figure, which is in the picture, has a darker grey overall spray and then a light grey zenithal spray, so not really true zenithal prime. I was going to paint over it anyway so it didn’t much matter about the colours.)

I only used the larger needle since I was spraying primer, I didn’t switch to the fine needle and try that. The larger needle seemed to do pretty well with more targeted spraying, as well. I will need a lot more practice before I can do the sort of detail work Aaron shows off in his video, though! Tools are only one part of that equation. I’d have to do a more thorough comparison, but I felt like it was a little easier to aim for where I was spraying than I have found it with the Tritium.

VexThe silver end needle is larger for priming and base coats, the black end needle is smaller for more detail work.

I’m excited about the possibilities for airbrushing more often and more comfortably in the future. I had expected to have more problems with the dual action trigger, because I’m not very coordinated at doing multiple things at the same time. I was also concerned about whether the classic airbrush style of trigger would be an issue with my hands. The reason I bought the pistol trigger style GREX is I have some issues with pain in my hands and fingers. (I don’t know the exact issue, my doctor poked around a bit and gave up on it.) Using this traditional trigger style airbrush was more comfortable than I had expected! I suspect I’ll have days when it will hurt my hands, but being able to use it for a few hours on a good hand day is honestly more than I had expected. 

IMG 1358The pouch is more convenient for easy access home storage than the larger Reaper case or the plastic case of my GREX. Those plastic cases are great to have for safer travel and long term storage though.

I finished up the session by taking the brush apart to clean it. I’m not fanatical, I don’t typically use airbrush cleaner, but I like to be thorough in rinsing everything out with water and wiping/scrubbing it down before putting an airbrush away if I’m not sure how long it’s going to be until I next use it. If only I had such good habits with my wet palette. ;->

There are some features I miss from my GREX. The Vex paint cup is built-in, you have to choose small or large size at purchase. The GREX paint cups screw on and I can swap between three sizes depending on the needs of my project. The chrome of the GREX is very easy to wipe paint off of, though the plastic is decidedly less so. The Vex finish is in-between. Both come with a crown cap to protect the needle. The GREX came with two styles of crown. (The bit on the front that protects the needle tip but also makes it a little harder to see when aiming for precise application.) Both attach magnetically, which is very convenient. They also magnetically attach to the back of the airbrush to store when you aren’t using them. The Vex has a reversible cap, but in both orientations you have to screw it on. The GREX also has a magnetic cap for the paint cup. The Vex has a plastic cap. The paint cup caps on either get pretty messy if you use them (and many people do not), but it’s less messy than tilting your brush and spilling paint all over. The GREX came with a printed instruction booklet that lists the part numbers of replacement parts and is very thorough in instructions for cleaning. It was still super helpful to watch videos of someone breaking down and reassembling the brush, but it’s handy to have that printed reference.

IMG 1380My GREX Tritium. A wealth of paint cups. The fitted case is nice, but only the bottom is fitted. The top is clear plastic and not snug to the contents. So for travel and storage I have to add bubble wrap padding.

Both the Vex and the GREX have a nice feature for those of us who are newer to airbrushing. You can set a ‘brake’ that limits the maximum volume/pressure of spray. If you twist the knob at the back of the brush, it limits how far you can pull back on the trigger. So if you’re doing delicate detail work you can set that to ensure you don’t shoot a really strong spray by accident. 

IMG 1359The soft case has a main pocket for the airbrush, and a second pocket for the other needle. The Vex ships with both needles. My GREX can accept multiple needle sizes, but I would have to swap out the nozzle as well as the needle every time I wanted to switch. (And buy the other size nozzle and needle.) With the Vex you just need to clean out the paint and swap the needles and you’re good to go.

Although my initial attempts went pretty well, I’m also well aware that I don’t really know what I’m doing. How do I actually get good at this? What can I use it for apart from priming and base coats? I decided the most effective way for me to learn would be to sign up for the Miniature Monthly airbrush classes in October. That will give me four sessions of instruction with a master of the airbrush and regular practice sessions that should leave me feeling a lot more comfortable using this nifty new tool. Reaper has put together packages to buy the paints and figures Aaron will use in the classes, but you can use your own paint and supplies, and any brand of airbrush.

Has anyone else picked up a Vex airbrush? How are you liking it so far? Or are any of you signed up for the Miniature Monthly classes? (They also have a cool Patreon with information on lots of different painting techniques.)

NOTE: My information about both the Vex and the GREX should be considered first impressions rather than in-depth reviews. I am not an experienced enough airbrush user right now to write quality in-depth reviews, and even if I were, I haven’t used either enough to do a true review.

Flotsam and Jetsam

As the tidal wave of work for ReaperCon 2020 recedes, it leaves in its wake a few pieces of flotsam and jetsam I’d like to share.

If you attended either of my Bones FAQ seminar sessions, here’s a link to the reference PDF. If you weren’t able to attend or you’d like to watch it again, the Twitch stream is available on Reaper’s Twitch channel. I will edit this post to add a link to the YouTube archive of the video once it becomes available. The PDF is written as a useful reference even if you don’t watch the video, and includes information for tools and materials that work well with Reaper Bones and Bones Black miniatures. (And probably lots of other plastic figures like those in many board games.)

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And now some news: I have a Patreon!
I’ll make a blog post in a couple of days with some more information about why and where it’s going from here, but I figured why not share the link in the meantime?

Thank you so much to the people who have already signed up. I’m blown away by your support, and excited about the community we’re starting together! I really cannot express how grateful I am to you all!

Special thanks to Miniature Monthly for their shoutout on Facebook. Their Patreon is great, I’ve been a member for years. They also host classes outside of that. Right now Aaron Lovejoy is taking signups for some online airbrush classes, which will be handy for anyone who’s got an airbrush they aren’t quite sure how to use, or who just bought the new Reaper Vex airbrush. (Still need to get one myself!)

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ReaperCon left some more flotsam behind it bobbing in the digital seas. The Zoom classes were not recorded (many instructors are not comfortable with that for a variety of reasons), but several classes and a couple of panels aired on the Reaper Twitch stream. These will also be added to Reaper’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks, and are already available to watch in the archives on the Twitch channel. Twitch class topics include skin tones, freehand, airbrushing, shaded metallics, and more! Instructors include Michael Proctor of Clever Crow Studio, Anne Foerster of Painting Big, Michal Shultz of Mocha Miniatures, Josh Davis of Mini Painting Studio, David Diamondstone of Light Miniatures, Jimmy the Brush, Dan Holmes, and more. 

There were also a couple of panels. I was part of a painters’ panel where we discussed what makes a quality paint job. (Starts around minute 38 on the Twitch recording.) The sculptors’ panel starts around minute 45 on this recording. Lots of great insights in both.

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I’d originally planned one additional Pirate Parade post to share another couple of pirate figures. They’re topless female figures, and I started feeling that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to post them during ReaperCon when a larger audience including younger people might check out the blog. So I think for right now maybe it’s best to just link to photos of them and let you decide whether or not you want to check them out:

Treasure Chest is a miniature by Dark Sword based on class Clyde Caldwell artwork.

Cyndria Wavecaller isn’t topless, but I painted her shirt with a transparent cloth effect. 

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Are you also interested in traditional art, illustration, or animation? Like every other convention this year, Lightbox Expo is happening online next weekend – September 11 to September 13. You can register for as little as $1 US. You can’t access the schedule page without registering, but I think you can see the list of artists and companies involved to see if any of them interest you. (If you do register you’ll see the schedule in your timezone, which is very helpful!) There are dozens of names, and the people I know and am excited to see content from might be very different than yours, so I’ll just leave you to head over and check it out if it sounds at all interesting to you.

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If you saw my unboxing videos for the ReaperCon swag boxes and you’d like any of the figures, paints, or remaining stock of promotional con items, those are now up for sale individually. As of writing, the boxes are also still available. As are some copies of the Brinewind pirate setting guide that I mentioned that I was helping to edit a while back. At the time I said it was going to be 36 pages, but it grew to 48 pages in the end!

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And now a random nautical fun fact!

While editing the Brinewind guide I discovered that flotsam and jetsam have a brother no one ever seems to talk about – lagan. Flotsam refers to items left floating in the water due to a wreck or accident. Jetsam refers to items floating in the water that were intentionally discarded. Jetsam legally belongs to whoever discovers it first, but flotsam can be claimed by the original owner. So what’s lagan? Items that are cast overboard, but are heavy enough to sink rather than float, and the location of which is marked by a floating buoy or cork for later retrieval. Lagan is considered to remain property of the owner who jettisoned it and cannot legally be claimed by anyone who happens upon it. Wikipedia has a bit more detail for those who are interested.

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Figures mentioned in this post:

Treasure Chest is a metal figure available from Dark Sword Miniatures.
Cyndria Stormcaller is a metal miniature available from Reaper Miniatures.

Bones FAQs Live Video Classes and Other Events

ReaperCon 2020 is fast approaching! Two of my classes are live paint alongs for the learn to paint kits. I am also hosting two seminars about working with Bones miniatures, as well as participating in some other fun events, and I wanted to let you know a bit more about those. Or you can just hop over to the schedule and browse through all the fun ReaperCon 2020 events  and find something to your taste.

Bones FAQs Live Video Classes

When Bones miniatures first released, there were a lot of questions about how to work with them. What glue to use? How to get rid of the mould lines? If they didn’t need primer, why did the paint sometimes bead up and fail to cover areas when painting directly on the material? I decided to do some testing and find out what might work well or not with this flexible plastic material. After conducting my tests and studying the results, I wrote a series of unofficial FAQ documents for the Reaper forums.

Short FAQs – no pictures or testing information

Preparation: Glues, Putties, Mould Lines – includes photos and summaries of all relevant tests

The First Coat is the Difference – Primer or not, doing washes directly on Bones, paint durability tests

Bones painted 1000Some of the Bones I’ve painted for gaming and to practice speed painting and airbrushing.

The Reaper forums are no longer the only gathering place for Reaper fans, and there are a lot of people who prefer information via video format. So I’m going to run two online seminars for the Bones FAQs. I’ll demonstrate the products and methods I find most effective for working with the Bones material, including a few tools that I’ve added to my arsenal since writing the original FAQs.

Zoom: Thursday, September 3, 2020 from 19:00 to 21:00 Central time
Twitch: Sunday, September 6, 202 from 14:00 to 1600 Central time

The Twitch stream will appear on the Reaper channel, so I’m pretty sure they will record and archive it on both their Twitch channel and YouTube channel. It will also likely be a little shorter since I’ll have to finish up a little early so that the Reaper stream team and the next instructor can get set up and running.

You can register for classes (and will need to for the Zoom one to receive the link information).

Bones demo 1000I love Bones to test colours and for lightweight and sturdy demo pieces to hand around at convention classes.

Reaper Errant D&D Game Presented by Knightheart Gaming

I get together with several of the Reaper artists to play in a Dungeons and Dragons game on Twitch every other Friday. The game is hosted by Frank and Ann at Knightheart Gaming. The game plays out on an epic tabletop display of terrain and painted miniatures, with camera angles that reveal what’s going on only as our party discovers it.  We had just stepped into hell in the last episode, so it should be pretty interesting!

I finally painted my character, Fathom, and shipped her off to Frank. Hopefully arrive in time to make her debut at the ReaperCon session. We’ve had hints we should expect to see a pretty special table for this game, so I thought I’d better get off my butt and get my character mini painted finally! I will have a blog up about that after ReaperCon with some tips on choosing colours.

We normally play from 7pm to 10pm or so Central time, but our time slot for the ReaperCon session is a little different to accommodate special convention events. Frank does a great job of making each episode work both as a stand-alone story and as part of a larger campaign, so don’t feel you need to watch any of the previous episodes to be able to hop in and laugh at my bad dice rolling in this one. You can also read a very fun summary of the past few episodes from the perspective of the character Kay Nimblewit (played by Jen Greenwald.)

Twitch: Friday September 4 2020, from 17:30 to 20:00 Central time

The other Reaper artists who play in this game are:

Bobby Jackson: Pujol, the fortunate gnome bard with the unfortunate name
Gene Van Horne: Gooseneck, the barbarian lizard-man who bites back
Jason Wiebe: Corncob Thunderbludgeon, the cleric trying to keep us all alive
Jen Greenwald: Kay Nimblewit the rogue –  “It beats being a door”
Michael Proctor: Abran, the elf rager/ranger and keeper of the abs
Rhonda Bender: Fathom, the tiefling “magic user” whose patron just told us all to go to hell

Screen Shot 2020 08 26 at 5 01 50 PMScreenshot from the inside a witch’s hut, featured in last month’s Better Lairs and Dungeons.

You can also watch a stream of Reaper peeps playing in a special convention game set in the pirate city of Brinewind. The dungeon master is Joseph Wolf, and scheduled players include Ed and Dave Pugh (Reaper founders and owners), Ron Hawkins (art director), Jon Overton (social media relations, casting, and more), Michael Collins (man about Reaper). It will stream on Twitch Saturday, September 5 starting at 5pm Central.

If you’d rather play than watch, check out the Games page on the ReaperCon 2020 site.

Crow’s Nest Panel and Sculptors’ Panel

People have requested panels for years at previous ReaperCons. They’re difficult to manage in that environment because the demand for classes is so high that the schedules of painters and sculptors are already pretty demanding, and space is an issue as well. While we’re losing some of what we love in this online no contact ReaperCon, we are also gaining new opportunities, like being able to have some panels!

I will be participating in the Crow’s Nest panel hosted by Michael Proctor. The other scheduled guests are Jen Greenwald and Derek Schubert. We’re going to talk about what makes a quality paint job.

Crow’s Nest is a show that Michael hosts on Twitch. Each week he paints, but he also talks to a guest in the miniatures industry. He’s interviewed painters, sculptors, art directors, and Frank from Knightheart Gaming so far. I can say from experience that listening to his show is a little snippet of what it’s like to sit around and paint/sculpt in a room with these fine folks. A lot of us lurk in the audience when it isn’t our turn in the hotseat. You can catch Crow’s Nest on Twitch Tuesdays at 4pm Central, and an archive of the previous streams is available on YouTube.

Painters’ Panel
Twitch: Saturday, September 5, 2020 from 10:00 to 11:30 Central time

The sculptors also have a panel, hosted by Reaper’s art director, Ron Hawkins. 

Sculptors’ Panel
Twitch: Sunday, September 6, 2020 from 18:30 to 20:30 Central time

As these are twitch events I imagine they will be archived on to Reaper’s YouTube channel.

Let’s Get Together… Separately

I’m a little later than I planned making my next blog post. I’ve got a few topics that I’m working on, but I keep having to put them aside to work on projects for ReaperCon, which is fast approaching! But wait, I hear you think, ReaperCon was cancelled. Gen Con was cancelled. This is 2020, everything is cancelled.*

They were, and it sucks that we can’t get together in person. But the people who work so hard to bring us that in-person fun have switched gears to working on ways for use to get together via technology so we can still game, shop, and share cool hobby tips and tricks.**

Here are some great upcoming events that I’m aware of to help you get back to having some good geek fun, and some of them are happening right now or in the next few months.

Cyberwarsgraphic croppedTechnology gives me ulcers too, sometimes, but Napolean and I still both recommend it over the alternatives. 

You can enjoy a virtual convention this weekend (July 25 to July 26) even! HMGS, which puts on the conventions Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In, had to cancel their July in person gathering, but instead offers us the fun of CYBËR WÅRS! It features panel discussions, virtual gaming, and paint class videos. And a paint contest!

Main information page: https://www.hmgs.org/page/CyberWarsSTD01
Links to the round table panels and the virtual gaming events are near the top of that page.

But also check out the Virtual Hobby Room on Facebook! Already posted are links to videos on weathering, painting black, and painting white. 

Or enter something you’ve painted in the Virtual Painting Competition. (Click the discussion tab and look for the pinned post for rules. There are SF/Fantasy categories, never fear!)

Aces 2020Atomic Mass Games has generous donated the figure for the Aces contest.

No need to be sad once Monday rolls around. You can start planning for Gen Con Online, occurring from July 30 to August 2. There are all kinds of events, including games, and even miniature painting, sculpting, and terrain classes!

And put a note on your calendar for July 31 to attend the Ace of Aces Painting event. This event pits a number of pro painters head to head in a speed painting competition. Once the winners are declared, the complete set of figures will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity. (Usually Gen Con’s chosen charity of the year, and I assume that will still be the case this year.) There is a lot of heckling and joking between the competitors and from the emcee and audience. I suspect this will be a very unique version of this event since the fact that the painters will be painting individually via camera streams likely means you’ll get a much better view of how they work their magic than if you were viewing in person at Gen Con. I have enjoyed this event tremendously as both an audience member and a competitor, I highly recommend it.

RC2020Events will occur on Twitch, Zoom, and Discord, and probably other online places too!

The virtual fun doesn’t end there. ReaperCon Online takes place September 3 to September 7. Classes, games, and other activities are not yet open for registration, but expect that soon. 

Preorder for a selection of swag boxes is up already. These boxes and the individual contents will also go up for sale on the main Reaper store during ReaperCon. Some items are pre-printed by third party vendors so are only available while supplies last. (So pre-order folks guarantee getting all contents of the box they order and will receive them sooner in the mail.) Note that you do not need any of the contents of the swag boxes to participate in and enjoy activities at ReaperCon live. Any classes with required materials will note that in their descriptions or via another avenue.

I can tell you that the 36 page guide to the pirate city of Brinewind is pretty darn cool, because one of the things that’s been keeping me too busy for blog posts has been working as the editor for that. So I’ve read it and I know. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I still think it’s pretty darn cool! (Unrelated side note: it was pretty weird to actually use my college degree and do some editing! ;->)

Brinewind bookCover art by the immensely talented Izzy “Talin” Collier, written by the imaginative Joseph Wolf.

*If you are reading this some years from now – Hello visitor from the future! I hope we have once again returned to a life where people safely mix and mingle and attend fun activities like conventions again and this all seems like a bad dream we barely remember. 

**I know people interested in ReaperCon online are frustrated about how long it’s taking for event information to go up, and I’d guess that there are hitches and glitches with all the other online events, too. Please be kind and have some patience with the people working on these. Even the most experienced coordinator of an in-person convention is having to put aside years and decades of established procedure and systems to figure out how to do something new and create an online event instead. There’s no precedent for these things and a lot to figure out. My husband and I run sections of a local convention and our own tiny private convention, and none of us had clue one for how to replace planned in person events with virtual ones, so we just had to cancel those. 

Title image by Lucrezia Carnelos from Unsplash.

Understanding Critique: a Visualization of Lining and More Contrast

This is an excerpt from a class I’ve been working on. In the class I critique miniatures I’ve painted throughout my career from beginner to advanced, terrible to award winning. I want to give people a better understanding of the terms we often use in critique, and to explore common issues in miniature painting with the aim of helping painters of all levels better assess and determine how to improve their own miniatures. I hope this also helps to illustrate some of the issues I outlined in my previous post Suggestions for Contest Entries, as I know people are already painting entries for this years ReaperCon MSP Open!

Libby vs Eriu original paint

On the left side of the above picture is my painted version of Beach Babe Libby. On the right is Eriu, Champion with Greatsword. They have a lot in common apart from wearing bikinis. Both are sculpted by the talented Kev White. I used a similar colour scheme on both – pale skin, and a triadic colour scheme of red-orange, green, and blue-violet. I painted both of them in 2003, only a few months in time apart. Both were painted with the same stock of paints and brushes. Whatever they have in common, I think most viewers would agree that Eriu is the better painted figure. But why is that?

Some might look at Eriu and think it’s a superior paint job because it features bells and whistles like NMM (non-metallic metal) and a bit of freehand. Many would likely note that Eriu is painted with better contrast between darker shadows and brighter highlights. Those are definitely factors, but I think there’s a more fundamental difference than that between these two paint jobs. I digitally edited the photograph of Eriu to remove a lot of the contrast, dull down the NMM, and soften the lining, to in effect ‘paint’ Eriu in a manner more like Libby. Let’s compare this edited version of Eriu with Libby.

Libby vs low contrast Eriu

Even though her NMM is flat looking and her hair is dull, I would argue that this version of Eriu is still a better paint job than Libby. If you walked past the two of them on a contest shelf or game table, the Eriu figure would catch your eye more than the Libby figure. This is because Eriu is a better application of another type of value contrast – contrast between different areas of the miniature. If you squint your eyes (or shrink the pictures) and look at Libby, the figure kind of blends together visually. You can’t see a strong separation between the areas like her hat versus her face, her skin versus her bikini, or her feet versus the sand. The midtone colours used for the various areas of the miniature are very similar in value. (Value is a measure of how light, medium, or dark a colour is.)

The Eriu figure stands out better visually because the midtone colours of adjacent areas are different values. She has very pale skin and very dark hair. The green boots and bikini bottom and the copper armour top are middle values. So the skin, hair, and clothing all stand out from one another and help the viewer quickly spot what and where each area on the figure is. Giving the viewer that kind of information is the most fundamental job of a miniature painter (IMHO at least). Using value contrast in the midtones of adjacent areas on your figures is a simple and very effective tool you can use to make them much more interesting to look at!

Edit to add: I have received a few comments from people who don’t feel like they see any difference in the quality between these two, or who prefer the Libby figure. Part of the reason I chose these figures is because they’re so similar. Not just the figures, but the tools and general skill level used to paint them. We get very caught up in having the ‘right’ tools, or developing skills like blending and the ability to paint precise details. Those are important, but they are only half of the equation of creating visual impact. The other half is more to do with our perception and our judgement. Seeing subtle differences like this. Making judgements about which colours to use, in what values, and where to put those. It is just as important to build those skills as it is to work on your skills of handling brush and paint. It took me a long time to understand that and start working on it, but it is something that can be improved. At a certain point it becomes the critical skill that you’ll need to work on to improve your work.

If you are having trouble seeing much difference in some of these images, try this – step back from your screen or shrink the images down until you’re looking at them closer to the size of a miniature (a little over an inch or 30mm or so, these are fairly small.) This is the way most viewers will experience your work, you need to grab their attention and give them as much information about the miniature as you can at small scale/at a distance. This is just as important for display/contest miniatures as it is for gaming figures! You need to grab a judge’s attention at arm’s length to make them want to pick your figure up to look closer. (Or to put it another way – we know it’s tough to paint high contrast and subtle blends and details. That is why minis that pull off both score better!) 

Libby vs Eriu in black and white

Another tip is to look at your work and make comparisons in black and white. We love colour, and it’s very easy for us to get distracted by it. But value usually has the most impact on whether a piece is visually effective, whether it’s using different values between regions of the figure, or using stronger contrast in highlights and shadows. I’ve added a comparison of the two figures in grayscale above. Hopefully it should be easier to see that the midtone colours of most of the Libby figure kind of blend together, whereas the various areas of the Eriu figure stand out more distinctly from one another.

There are times when it is not possible to use strong value contrast between areas. In those situations it is all the more important to use other tools like lining and stronger contrast between shadows and highlights. To add (or increase) lining and contrast are two of the most common pieces of feedback I find myself giving to painters after judging contests like the ReaperCon MSP Open. When possible, I show painters who receive that feedback an example of what I mean by comparing a figure like Eriu to one like Libby. But I think it might help people if they were able to compare what adding contrast and more lining looks like on the same figure. I have digitally edited this photo of Libby to provide an example of that.

Libby original and revised.

Let’s convert this one to grayscale, too. I think it helps us see how the lining and additional contrast make the figure ‘read’ more clearly.

Libby original vs edit in grayscale

The revised version of Libby isn’t a gold medal paint job, and it would still benefit from stronger midtone value contrast between the different areas of the figure. But it does stand out more visually than the original. If you squint you’ll have an easier time seeing where one part of the figure ends and another begins. But which is more important, lining or contrast?

Libby lining vs contrast

I made my digital edits of the lining and the contrast on separate layers so I could show each of the elements individually. The only change between the original paint job and the picture on the above left is that I added strong lining to separate areas like the skin and the bikini. The figure on the right has only the faint original lining I painted, but I digitally painted in additional highlights and shadows. Both at the lining and additional contrast improve the figure, but I think if you could do only one that the lining is most effective.

I know a lot of people who feel like blacklining/darklining is ‘unnatural’, but it is very helpful to the viewer on gaming scale figures. I would also argue that it is more natural than people often think since clothing or other items that overhang other items create a small line of dark shadow, but that’s an argument for another day. Thick black lines will have a cartoony or graphic novel feel. For a more natural and less obtrusive look, choose a dark value of one of the colours on either side of the area and use that for your lining.

I don’t as yet have a tutorial about executing the technique, but you will find plenty of lining tutorials on YouTube. One thing that helped me a lot was to paint the lining in after I did my basecoat, but before other steps. Then I could easily clean it up with the basecoat colour if I got sloppy in spots. If you do this, you will need to come back at the end and touch up a few spots where you lost some lining doing other stages of painting, but that tends to be a lot less nerve-racking than painting all of the lining at the end. 

In case you’re curious, here’s is a picture of what the edits I made to Libby look like with the original photograph removed, so you can see only the parts I altered. Anything that appears grey is untouched. This might also help you get a better picture of the value range between the highlights and the shadows. My intent with the digital edit was to create something that was a better version of the original figure, not something painted in the style I would paint today. My digital talents are too limited to alter the picture to that degree! In case anyone’s curious, I made these edited versions on an iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil and the Procreate program.

Libby edits only edit cr

I also did a digital edit of improvements to Eriu, but if you want to see more about that you’ll need to come out to my class at AdeptiCon!

Eriu original revised

I’ve written a fair bit in past posts about how and why to paint with more contrast. Below are some links you may find helpful. You’ll also find pictures of a few miniatures I ‘edited’ the old fashioned way if you’d like additional examples of what more and less contrast look like on the same figure.

First, an example of what more contrast actually looks like on the same figure.

Let’s talk about the issue of contrast vs. realism.

The way we think as we paint can make it harder to paint more contrast (includes additional examples of what more and less contrast look like on the same figures.)


And finally some hands on tips for painting with more contrast.