Hellborn Dancer Paint Process and Colours

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I was eager to paint this figure as soon as I saw it. In addition to liking the graceful flow of the sculpt, I was also excited about the opportunity to paint unusual skin and hair colours, and to work with a saturated palette of some of my favourite colours.

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The Hellborn Dancer was sculpted by Bobby Jackson. She is included in the core set pledge of Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter. The Kickstarter has concluded, but people will be able to pledge late or add to their pledges via this address.

I began thinking about what colours to use by doing some Google image browsing of how other artists have depicted this type of character, both in paintings and miniatures. I quickly decided I wanted to do a reddish skin tone. My initial thought was to paint the clothing in a light teal colour, and the hair as dark blue with cerulean highlights, but I wasn’t sure there would be enough difference between the cloth and hair to make for a visually effective figure. I shifted the blue to violet for the hair, and thought that would work better.

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I spent a little time testing colours on paper. I have on occasion done this kind of testing on a spare figure, or colouring in a digital photo. This may feel like wasted time when you’re in a hurry to get something painted. In my experience the choice of colours and where to place these on a miniature has an enormous impact on how visually effective it is. Taking the time to do some testing is worth it if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on a figure, or paint an entire army with those colours, and at least thinking a bit in advance about your colours can help you paint better, faster, as well.

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I also spent a fair bit of time picking out the exact paints I wanted to use for the skin. I wanted to use the Hellborn Skin paint and I also liked Kobold Scale, but I was having trouble finding highlight colours I liked. I wanted them more saturated versions than I was seeing in the paints on my shelf. I remembered that I had a set of N-Paints from their Kickstarter that I had barely looked at since receiving my pledge. I dug those out, and found not only a couple of highlight colours that were just what I wanted, but also a few shade colours.

I painted the skin in one long session. I tried to paint as if the light were coming from above and a little bit to to left (in the front view), and to keep my brightest highlights on the focus area of the figure.

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I found myself a bit flummoxed when it came to the stockings. A physical mix of the teal I planned for the cloth and the red of the skin greyed out quite a bit. You can see that in the big dull swatch on my test paper above. I was also concerned that because the teal colour for the clothing was the most saturated colour in my scheme, it would draw attention away from the face and skin, and dilute the focus area I was trying to create. I consulted my painting buddies, Jen Greenwald and Michael Proctor, to see what they thought. They agreed with my concerns, and advised me to swap the teal to the hair and use the softer violet on the clothing.

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I recommend painting buddies. These do not need to be painters who are more skilled at painting than you are! I think buddies who are roughly at the same level are very helpful, and that is what I have had in my various painting buddy groups over the years. I do think it’s helpful to have buddies who like different subjects or styles of painting than you do, or who paint for different purposes (war games, RPGs, contests, just for fun), as it gives you alternative points of view to consider. The most important thing is that everyone in the group feel comfortable taking and giving both positive and negative feedback from one another. Good paint buddies lift you up when you’re feeling down about your painting, but you need to be willing to hear about flaws in your work if you want to improve.

I originally planned to mix the colours to paint the stockings, and got as far as mixing paint. Then it occurred to me that this particular colour combination might work well with glazing. I tested the idea, and it seemed to work well. You can see a rough gradient of the skin tone and the glaze over it at the bottom of my colour scheme test paper above. Then before I could actually paint the stockings, I was disappointed to have to put this miniature aside for several weeks to work on some rush deadline work!

When I came back to work on the stockings, I ended up doing a combination of mixing paint and glazing. I mixed a dark purple (Kraken Ink) into the darkest of the skin shadows. Kraken Ink was the same colour I had tested as a glaze. For the more transparent areas of the stockings, I mostly used the skin colour paints. However, I swapped the more saturated highlight colours out for less saturated versions, since the purple stockings would desaturate the appearance of the skin beneath them. I also painted more shadows and fewer highlights. Although the cloth is transparent, it is also a little darker in colour than the skin. I also used less highlighting on the legs because they were outside of the main focus area zone I was trying to create.

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I had a little time left at the end of my painting session, and I thought I would put a foundation coat on the hair. Since I intend it to be dark, painting it with the darker colour would help me see the colour composition of the whole piece better. I started with a very dark teal (Indigo Black), but it just felt a little off to me. I switched to using the Kraken Ink dark purple instead. I still plan to use teal for the highlights, but mixing up from the dark purple.

Then came another hiatus where I had to put this figure aside for several months to work on more rush deadline work. And I was sad to do it, because I was having fun! And also because I generally prefer to work on one figure at a time when I can. One of the challenges of a long hiatus for me is that I might not remember all the decisions and impressions I’d made about the figure. In this case, I didn’t pay as much attention to the direction of the light and creating a focus area after the hiatus as I did in the initial stages. 

When I finally returned to it, I worked on the cloth. Given the type of figure, I pondered whether to paint the cloth of her outfit as opaque or somewhat transparent. I quickly decided on opaque. Partly this was because she was part of a Kickstarter aimed at a wide audience of people. But my assessment of the way the cloth was sculpted also argued against transparent material. In my opinion transparent cloth effects look more effective when the fabric sculpting includes certain elements:

* The cloth looks draped over the skin in at least a few small areas. You don’t have to be able to see every bit of anatomy under the cloth, but the transparency effect is more convincing if there are areas where the cloth is close enough to the body that you can see the shapes of some limbs or muscles. There also needs to be enough surface area where the cloth is directly next to the skin to create the illusion. On this figure the cloth of the top is close to the body, but only a very small area of the skirt panels is directly adjacent to the body.

* Transparent cloth is thin and flimsy. It does not have enough structure to fall into deep folds and valleys, nor can it easily be formed into more structured pieces like stiff collars, cuffs, or lapels. This dancer sculpt has a few areas where the cloth looks like it has more structure. There are small lapels on the top, and crisp points of cloth on the waist band.

* Areas of cloth that are away from the body are sculpted with a quality of floating or drifting. The skirt panels have a great sense of movement, but they also convey the impression that they are made from a sturdier cloth. 

* The edges of the cloth are not very thick. Transparent cloth is a thin, filmy material. Thick edges suggest sturdier types of cloth like cotton and wool. The cloth edges on the shoulders of this dancer are fairly thick, and the lower band of the top looks thicker and as if it is pulling away from the body in the way a more structured cloth might.

Compare the two pictures below for an example of a thinner and more filmy cloth compared to a thicker cloth, though of course there are many variations of both types of fabric.

Cloth compxcfPhotos from Unsplash. Left: Kamran Ch. Right: Airam Dato-on.

Overall the cloth of this sculpt appears to me as a somewhat thicker and stiffer material, like satin or a thicker type of silk. You can see an example of another figure that I painted with transparent cloth. After my initial painting of the cloth I considered whether to go back and paint it as a shinier material, but I was concerned that might divert attention from the focus area.

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I was a little rushed in the final stages of painting as I needed to complete the figure before I travelled to the Reaper Miniatures factory to participate in the Bones 6 end of Kickstarter party. So rushed, in fact, that I forgot to paint the lips before taking my final photographs! (This is the kind of thing a final check photo can prevent.) I was tempted to just leave them as they were, but when I looked at the figure the next day, I was also unhappy with the eyes. I first painted the eyes golden yellow. As a warm and light value colour, I thought it would make them stand out well. I didn’t add a light enough hotspot in the centre, but even with that I don’t think these eyes would be very eye-catching.

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Finding a few moments to repaint the eyes and finish the lips wasn’t challenging. It was a bit more time to retake the photographs, but it was worth it to me to add those little details after all of that time thinking about and painting the figure. I decided glowing blue eyes would work better, and I think I was right.

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Below you will find some additional photos of the completed figure, and at the end of the article is a list of the paint colours I used for all areas of the figure.

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Paint Colours


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We’re Going on an Adventure!

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips also help keep this content free.

Each of these figures is a classic character type that would easily fit into most fantasy role-playing games, and some skirmish games, as well. However, they are also designed to be displayed as a group, with poses and bases that key together to depict an adventuring party bravely exploring a dungeon corridor! Bobby Jackson was the clever sculptor on this project, and I was asked to paint the set. 

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In this article I will outline the decisions and process I used to paint this group. Articles with more details on how I painted each of the individual figures, including the specific paint colours I used, are also available:. Human RogueHalfling FighterDwarf Cleric, Elf Wizard. I’m also working on an article that explores what I could have done to make the source lighting effect more dramatic, with plenty of tips you will be able to use to paint your own figures with more convincing OSL effects.

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The Figures

I think these figures are super fun. They’re sculpted and produced with modern quality sensibilities, but have a bit of a nostalgic vibe to them. They call to mind those exciting first few levels of playing a new tabletop or computer role-playing game – your gear isn’t very exotic, but your character looks good, and everything you do and see is new and exciting. Each of the figures has personalized details and logical equipment, but they are sleek sculpts that are more accessible than many to less seasoned painters and people who need to quickly get figures painted and on the table. The detail is nice and crisp, which should allow them to paint up well regardless of the techniques you use.

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These figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin (pictures further down in this article) are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is happening right now! A random selection of one of the five figures is still being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five was included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they are included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I expect that they will go into retail sales channels at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.

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The copies of the figures I painted are master prints from a 3D printer, since the production figures hadn’t arrived by the time I was sent these to start painting. The prints were very clean, with just a few small marks from support struts to shave off. The only serious issue I faced is that the cleric’s hammer had broken off in transit. I gave the figures a quick dip in isopropyl alcohol to remove any finger grease, and then used superglue to reattach the cleric’s hammer.

The wide release figures are produced in Bones Black plastic. It has a little flexibility, so is much less likely to experience the kind of breakage I had to deal with on the 3d prints, but it is still solid (not bendy) plastic with crisp details. If the copies I painted had been Bones Black, I would have cleaned them the same way: a dip in isopropyl alcohol. You can use a toothbrush and dish soap instead of alcohol if you prefer. Recently I received production copies of the figures, and I’ve taken photographs of them. You can see a picture of the goblin below, and I am including pictures of the other figures at the end of this article, so you can assess the appearance of the Bones Black material for yourself.

P goblin frontA Bones Black production copy of the promo goblin.


It has increasingly been my experience that it is more than worth the time to spend some time planning out colours and making a few other decisions prior to applying any paint. Even with speedily painted tabletop miniatures. Actually especially with tabletop miniatures! It has also been my experience that I’m not always consistent at doing what I know I should do. My regular bedtime is ‘way too late’, for example. But I do keep trying, and I recommend that you do, as well!

In the case of these figures, I did make some decisions upfront. But there was other planning I probably should have done, but didn’t. My first decision to make was about the nature of the source lighting effects. I’ll discuss the options and the reasoning behind my choice in a future article. For now I’ll just share the final decision. The first priority for the paint schemes was for each of these figures to look good viewed individually, and then generally as the group. The oomph level of the OSL effect was a secondary priority.

My second decision was about the style of painting to use. As I mentioned, these reminded me of computer RPG games, and I felt like they had a bit of an old school vibe. The style of painting that was in vogue when I started miniature painting was smooth and clean, and that’s always kind of been my comfort zone. Nowadays I regularly paint figures with more complex colour schemes, and I enjoy exploring ways to simulate textures with paint and colour, but I decided to go back to my roots with these figures.

I picked out the main colours for each of the individual figures prior to painting them, but I did not work out my choices for all of the main colours prior to painting anything. My idea was for each character to have a colour (or two colour combo) that would set them apart a little, but I didn’t think about choosing all of the colours in advance to ensure everything meshed together well. The characters are positioned quite closely together when assembled as a group, and I thought having a signature colour would help make each easier to see, as well as being a way to enhance their individual personalities. I think that my choices achieved those goals.

1party printsThe figures as I received them. NOTE: my copies are 3D prints, the production figures are in sturdy Bones Black plastic and shouldn’t break very easily.

However, I’m not sure that I was as successful in terms of creating the overall colour palette for the figures as a group. There are some elements that tie multiple figures together, and for the most part I think the cleric, rogue, and fighter look like they fit together in the same scene. I don’t think the wizard’s colours mesh in as well. The gold NMM and his staff handle are the same colours used for gold and wood on the rest of the group. The rest of his colour scheme uses different colours. The blue of his robe is different than the teal blue on the rogue’s shirt. The green of his spell effect and gems are different than the rogue’s green clothing. The only violet-purple colour used on the figures is on the wizard’s cloak. His leather is also a new colour, a cool grey.

Overall the wizard has a much cooler colour scheme than the others. In some ways that fits, as he is primarily lit by the cooler green of his spell effect and is at the furthest distance from the torch. I think he would visually mesh a little more with the others if his leather accessories were painted using at least some of the colours in the rogue’s pants (or cleric’s hair, or some other brown/tan on another of the figures). It would also have created more colour unity if I had worked some of the violet-purple into the other figures. It would clash with their red and orangish colours if used too obviously, but I think using some in the shadows of the leather on the other figures would work. The rogue’s gem could also have been magenta rather than red. These are the kinds of issues I might have avoided had I spent more time working out the main colours of the group prior to doing any painting.

Although I didn’t do everything I could have, I did take some steps to share colours between the figures to help them appear as if they are part of the same world under the same lighting conditions. You can easily do similar things to help tie a non-uniform wearing unit or band of RPG foes together.

* I used the same colours on the gold and steel non-metallic metal on all of the figures.
* The colours of some of the accessories like leather straps, pouches, and wooden weapon handles are repeated across figures.
* The rogue’s hair and the cleric’s leather armour share colours in common.
* The rogue’s boots and the warrior’s leather gear share a few colours in common.

The primary thing that I did to tie the colour schemes together was to use the same dark colour to mix the shadows for all of the figures. In this case I used Black Indigo, but I’ve used Blue Liner and other colours in the past. You can also do this with highlight colours, though I find sometimes you need to have a couple of different light colours to successfully mix highlights from a variety of colours.

I painted out swatches of some of the colours I used on the figures, and you can see photos of those below. Notice how the darker squares look fairly similar to one another regardless of the colour. This is the effect you get when you use the same shadow mix colour, and it is what helps make the figures look as if existing in the same scene and lighting.

3party colours1Paint colours used on the rogue. If I recall correctly, the colours from top to bottom are shirt, hair, boots, pants, and skin. (But not painted in that order!)

3party colours2The rows on the top left are colours from the cleric (skin, hair, leather armour I think). Bottom right are the fighter’s skin and green clothing.

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Working out in advance where to place the lighter areas and the shadow areas is helpful regardless of the lighting scenario. It’s particularly helpful when you’re fairly new to painting or you’re working on an important piece like a contest entry. Once you’ve had some experience painting diffuse lighting from above, you can generally imagine where to place lighter and darker areas on the figure without too much difficulty. However, it is always useful to use some reference, particularly if you’re trying to push your contrast. Reference can be as simple as holding your figure beneath a single bulb lamp now and then to check where areas appear lighter and darker.

Determining where to place lights and shadows can be a little trickier when you have directional lighting or source lighting. I’ll go into more detail on ways to create reference for that in the upcoming article about the source lighting on these figures, but for now I’ll keep it brief. I used my Vex airbrush to apply black primer to the entire surface area of each figure. Then I sprayed dark grey from a 30-40 degree angle to create a low contrast zenithal prime to represent the ambient light. I used grey primer mixed from white and black primer, but since there was primer on the entire surface already using grey paint would also be fine. My last step was to fit the puzzle bases together and then spray bright white ink from the direction of the two light sources.

I used an airbrush in this case, but I have used a brush and brush-on primer to paint a roadmap on other figures. Drybrushing up from a black primer base would also work.

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How to Use Underpainting

Often I apply painted shadows and highlights to a figure by starting with the midtone value of an area, and then painting in shadows and highlights. The tabletop or terrain equivalent would be applying shadows with a dark wash, and then adding highlights by drybrushing with successively lighter colours. Occasionally I paint by starting with the darkest shadow colour of an area and then layering up through the midtones to the brightest highlights. With both of these methods I might refine blends a little as I paint, and/or refine a little once I get the values layered on to the figure, but for the most part the blending (or texturing) is developed at the same time as I apply the shadows and highlights.

I often change my method for applying paint when I am using an underpainting foundation. I treat it as a roadmap or guideline for where to place the values of my colours. I used that approach to paint the larger areas of these figures. I mix up a range of values on my palette like these examples below:

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Then I apply those mixes on top of the roadmap of my underpainting. So for these figures, I painted the darker shadows where the underpainting was black, midtone mixes over grey areas, and the lighter mixes over the light grey or white areas. I don’t worry about making smooth and pretty blends. I’m just thinking about where should areas look lighter, darker, or something in between. I apply the paint in patches, kind of like tiles of colour, or like patches on a quilt. You can see this in the pictures further below. The pictures on the left demonstrate the patchwork painting process on the boots. The photos show a first pass. I missed some spots, and since some colours are more transparent, there are areas where I’ll need to apply two or three coats to make sure that all my colours are painted on opaquely.

During the patch painting stage, I’m just worried about the larger areas and the big picture. Note that in the initial pass on the left, I haven’t added any definition to the wrinkles on the boots. I just want to make sure I put a slight highlight on the forward foot overall, and a fairly dark shadow on the rear downturned shin and foot. Both boots just have big patches of lighter or darker colours, with no attention paid to wrinkles in the leather or other nuances.

2rogue faceAfter I finish underpainting I take photos so I can double check something even if I’ve already painted over that bit.

As I continue to add paint, I begin refining. My first focus is to refine the placement of the various values. You can see an example of that below. In referring to my reference photos I decided that the shadow on the left side of the forward leg was placed too high up on the leg, so I moved it lower down. If you compare the final version on the right to the starting point on the left, you’ll see that the areas of midtones and highlights are larger on the thigh of the forward leg in the final version. How can I check my work and see whether I need to make changes like that if I’ve covered over the underpainting? After I complete the underpainting, I find it helpful to take pictures from a few different angles so I can reference it later, like the example above.

I don’t worry much about blending until the refinement stage. Imagine that I had painted that thigh with standard layering, and after I finished most of the painting, then I realized the shadow was in the wrong place. I’d have had to do a lot of painting over again. It usually saves time and effort to work out the major value placements in a quick rough way, and then only blend once I’m confident about placements. To blend, I apply intermediary mixes of the values along the transition lines. I usually use stippling, or short brushstrokes to smooth the transition lines. If I’m working on a display piece like this, I keep working until I don’t really see any transition lines. This is also the stage where I add details and pick out small folds or wrinkles, add edging, or paint in some extra shadows, etc. I have all the colour mixes on my palette, so refining details is easy and fairly quick to do.

This can be an effective tabletop technique, as well, and a great way to push yourself to paint the high level of contrast that really makes a piece stand out on a game board. Apply the tiles as I’ve described above, and then just smooth out the roughest of the transitions to get it to the point where it looks good at arm’s length.

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The Patreon PDF copy of this article includes more photos of the rogue, and an additional set of photos illustrating the process on the non-metallic sabatons of the cleric, as a thank you to my Patrons for the generous support that allows me to make the majority of my content freely available.

Underpainting (or any other kind of reference like a photo) is a useful guideline, but it is not a shackle. Part of my role as the painter is to make judgements and changes. Maybe I need to cheat a little more highlighting into an area to help tell the story, help define the character, or just help the viewer see what’s going on. Maybe I add a little more shadow into an area for more drama. Maybe I push the overall value range a little lighter or darker in places. The final decisions are up to me, but it’s immensely helpful to start with the guideline of a photo or other resource like underpainting, especially when tackling unusual lighting direction.

Note that there can be challenges with the technique of starting rough and then refining. Just like any other method for applying paint, it’s not perfect. Some colours are trickier to work with than others, and this technique can take a bit of time if you’re working with transparent colours. It takes more time to shift shadows around like in my example of the thigh because you have to paint a lot of coats of brighter red over the shadow to remove it. Some colours are also easier to finesse into smooth blending than others. I used the method of painting on tiles of the correct value of paint to paint Ziba the Efreeti. I misplaced some of the shadows on the legs, and it took a lot of time to tweak things because I was working with reds. In Ziba’s case I did not use underpainting, I used reference photos taken in a specific lighting set up. You can see an example of one of the photos in the article

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Group Paint Process and Notes

Anne Foerster of Painting Big often recommends that you start painting with the part that you dislike or dread the most, and that’s pretty good advice. This was going to be an extensive project, so in this case, I felt like I needed to ease my way in, to try to start with a win. I chose to begin painting with the rogue. She was one of the figures with a light source right on the figure, and I also had a pretty good idea of the colours I wanted to use. I had the least idea of what I wanted to do with the fighter, so I painted him next, and then the dwarf.

5fight rogueWIP picture taken during the stage where I was painting everything but the NMM.

As I progressed through the first three figures, I painted pretty much everything but the non-metallic metal and their bases. My thought was to leave those areas until the end, since I would use similar colours for them on all of the figures. As the painting continued, I started to rethink that idea. It was highly unlikely that I would be able to paint the steel or gold NMM on all of the figures in one sitting, which reduced the value of batch painting it. Painting NMM in the smooth clean style I was using on these figures can be pretty tedious, so I decided that maybe I should start working on that now, and leave the more enjoyable painting tasks on the wizard to look forward to. 

5fight rogue clericStill painting everything but the NMM.

That lead to several days of smoothing grey blends tedium. During one of those sessions my thumb twitched a bit and knocked against the glue repaired war hammer on the cleric, and it popped it right off again. I called my husband in to help me look, and we had a tense 10 minutes of searching for the piece while trying to be very careful not to inadvertently step on it. We found it, and I tucked it away for safekeeping. I decided to complete the painting on the rest of the figure before gluing it back to touch it little as possible! Resin figures and 3D prints like this glue back together well, and often the join isn’t even visible. But given my general glue curse, I don’t want to take too many chances. 

7party rightA picture of the group as it appeared after my stay up late and finish as much as possible paint session.

NOTE: My copies of these figures are more brittle 3D prints. The preview copies being sent out and the ones available in the Kickstarter are Bones Black plastic, which is sturdier, but still holds detail well. Pictures of the production copies are at the end of this article.

I got a call from the Reaper art director on a Tuesday during the endless NMM painting. Was there any chance the figures were finished? Or were any of the figures close enough to finish in the next day or so? It turned out that the deadline for Reaper to submit an ad to the AdeptiCon program book was noon the next day. The rogue and the fighter were very close to done, and I thought the cleric might be possible as well, and I pushed to paint as much as I could. Between the painting and taking pictures, I stayed up until 5am. It’s been a long time since I did a stay up late painting crush! I had to rush a couple of things more than I would have liked, but overall I’m pretty happy with them, and pleased that I managed to get at least three of them finished in time to go in the ad.

7party face lowI think this is the picture that was used in the AdeptiCon program guide ad. Let me know if you see the ad!

I do regret not being able to paint all of the bases at once. Since that could easily have been finished in a single painting session, it would have been quicker that way, and also easier to ensure that the colours and values on all of them matched.

If you’re curious about attending AdeptiCon in the future, I have an article with some information about it.

9party gr front hammerFinally, aveng… I mean adventurers assembled.

After a day off to recover, I got back to painting the wizard, and then touched up a few things and called it done.

Coming soon are articles with more information on the paint process for the individual figures and the paint colours used on each of them, and tips for painting OSL.

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Paint Colours Used on all Party Members

Gold NMM:

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Steel NMM:

I used neutral greys and then added glazes of colours appearing elsewhere on the figures. Any neutral greys would work. The specific ones I used were:

9328 Black Indigo, 9289 Noir Black, 9088 Story Grey, 9089 Cloudy Grey, 9038 Rainy Grey, 9090 Misty Grey, and 9039 Pure White.


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An article on the Human Rogue painting process and paint colours is available, and the same information for the other characters is coming soon.

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Photos of the Production Copies of the Miniatures

These figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin (look for a picture at the bottom of this article) are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is scheduled to start on March 31 2022. A random selection of one of the five figures is being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five will be included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they will be included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I also expect that they will also go into retail sales at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.

I recently received production copies of the figures. I have taken photos of them so you can assess the production quality, level of detail and so on for yourself. These are produced in China in the Bones Black plastic material. Bones Black is more rigid than the original Bones formula. As a result it is just a little less sturdy (I probably wouldn’t drive over these), but it holds detail very well and avoids the issues with wavy or warped weapons. These were shipped to me in standard blister packs.

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P mage front

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How to Test Colour Schemes: Fathom

Ko-fi tips help keep this content free. Patreon supporters receive a PDF with high res photos and a few work-in-progress pictures.

Working out the colours to paint a miniature can be tough! I want to share the process I used to choose the colour scheme for the figure below, as well as a few other ideas you could try for testing colours. Fathom is my character in a Dungeons and Dragons game on Twitch with some of the other Reaper artists. I wanted to try to choose a colour scheme that reflected the character well, and which would also look good on the fantastic terrain boards Knight Heart Gaming puts together for our streams.

Fathom front 600Fathom the Tiefling warlo… magic user with a mysterious patron.

I know a lot of us find colour to be very challenging to use. You’ve surely had a situation where you pick out a colour to paint on your miniature that looks one way when first applied, and a different way once you’ve finished painting the figure. If you use white primer, a colour you use in the early stages may seem fairly dark when you first apply it over the white primer, but once you paint the rest of the figure it looks more medium in value or even too light. The reverse is true with black primer, where something might seem too light until the whole piece comes together and you discover it’s not. You might notice something similar with some of your favourite colour recipes. You might use a set of colours for wood or gold non-metallic metal that looks good on most of the miniatures you paint, but find that there is a miniature or two where the colours look more washed out or more garish than usual. This happens because the way that we perceive colours is always relative to the other colours around them.

If the way colours appear is always relative, how are you ever supposed to know how to pick successful colour combinations?! I think it helps to be aware that this is just how colours work. You can still paint using on the fly colour choices and recipes, but you have to accept that there might be times when colours don’t jibe as you hoped, or they need to be tweaked a little. It can also help to study colour properties and colour theory and use tools like a colour wheel.

For more important figures that you’re willing to spend a little more time on, it can be very helpful to do some colour studies or tests before you begin painting. Making this effort now and then will also help you improve your overall understanding of how to use colour. When you do colour tests, you can test your colours overall, or start by working out a few colours and building from there with trial and error on the miniature. 

IMG 7361

The photo above includes examples of a number of different kinds and methods for colour testing that I’ve used over the years. Some are tests of an overall colour scheme. Others test shadow/wash colours, or colours and brush strokes used to create textures. Some are on paper, others on figures. Some are just colours placed in proximity to one another in the approximate proportions in which they’d appear on the figure. You don’t have to paint a complete test figure or a detailed drawing on paper. Even playing around with some paints on your palette or on a piece of paper before you start painting can give you a lot of useful information! 

Reaper whiteThe Reaper catalogue photo of Churrusina.

There are digital tools you can use, as well. These vary in levels of sophistication and complexity, as well as cost. I decided to use a digital painting method to test colours for my character Fathom, pictured below. I used the Procreate app on my iPad, but as I mentioned, there are a lot of other options for different platforms and budgets. I loaded the unpainted catalog picture of the figure, seen above, into my digital program. I found the photo on the Reaper Miniatures site. Many manufacturers have similar pictures you can use as a starting point for colour tests. I reduced the transparency of the layer with the photograph on it to less than 20%. This gave me a faint image to use as a sort of colouring book outline I could use to test different colours. For Fathom, I went to the extent of painting in some shadow and highlight colours, but even doing some basic block colouring on the main areas would help you get a sense for how your proposed colour scheme works.

Another option would be to print out a catalogue photo like the above and paint colours onto the paper. This has the advantage of allowing you to test the exact paints you’re thinking about using rather than approximating colours in a digital program. If you don’t have access to a good catalogue photo for your figure, you could prime/paint it in grey or white, place an overhead lamp over it, and make your own reference photo. You can see an example of a colour test with physical paint in Marike Reimer’s slideshow of the steps to paint her Crystal Brush winning Kraken Priestess. I used a rough drawing on paper to test an autumn colour scheme for a bard character.

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The photo above shows the colour schemes I tested out for my character Fathom. I ended up painting the figure mostly like the one on the bottom left, but swapped to the shirt colour of the one on the bottom right. It had a touch of green in it, so I felt it would look more harmonious with the reddish skin and red of the cloak. I think the figure on the upper left works really well in terms of being an eye-catching colour scheme, but it did not fit the concept of my character. Fathom has decided to lean in to the stereotypes about tieflings instead of trying to fight them. The upper left colour scheme would have been a great choice if her patron had been more of a fey type.

Here are a couple of more views of the completed paint job on the character. Since this figure was intended for game play, after I took the photos I brushed on gloss sealer for some additional protection, and then sprayed that over with matte sealer for my preferred matte finish. Note that sealer works best if you also take other steps during prep and painting to create a sturdy paint job.

Fathom face

Fathom back 600

Once I finished painting, I sent Fathom off to Frank and Ann of Knight Heart Gaming. They host a Dungeons & Dragons game for some of the Reaper artists on Reaper Miniature’s Twitch channel every other Friday. Frank is a wonderful DM, adept at dealing with the parameters of running an entertaining game in a streaming environment and time limit, and also at dealing with our crazy artist nonsense. I often forget to take screenshots in the midst of the fun role-playing, but here are a couple of shots of Fathom and her compatriots adventuring in the fantastic Knight Heart scenic setups. You can catch up with past episodes on Reaper’s YouTube channel, or via the droll musings of Kay Nimblewit (played by Jen Greenwald on the far right below. Jen also has a great painting oriented blog.)

Fathom ss2

Fathom ss


Figures in this Post

Churrusina is available in metal.
Anirion, Elf Wizard is available in Bones USA plastic, clear plastic, or metal.
Isabeau Laroche, Paladin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Geisha Assassin (colour tested on Isabeau) is available in metal.
Seoni, Iconic Sorceress  is available in Bones plastic.
Male Bard with Lute is available in metal. (Colour scheme on paper.)
Arran Rabin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Children of the Zodiac, Cancer is available in metal.
Wing from Griffon, available in Bones plastic or metal.

Show Off! Have Fun! Win Prizes!

(Hello! I just started a Patreon to support the blog and expand my teaching options! Right now it’s in ‘early access mode’, but I’ll be focusing on it a lot more after ReaperCon.) 

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Pirate Parade with this important message from our sponsor, ReaperCon 2020

Would you like to show off some miniatures that you’ve painted? Would you like to try your hand at an interesting colour challenge? This is a great opportunity to do one or both of those things AND win prizes!

To join in the ReaperCon Showcase, post your work to any or all of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the ReaperCon Discord using the appropriate hashtag. You can find the complete instructions here. Note that you can post work by any manufacturer. We want to enjoy all your cool figures and scenes! A number of Reaper reviewers will be picking their favourites as Reaper Choice selections. The painter of every piece selected as a Reaper Choice will receive a $20 US gift certificate to be used on the Reaper store. Entries must be posted by Sunday, September 6, 2020 at noon Central time to be considered.

Pg gob bottles 1000

The other painting event is the Quad Color Clash. For this one you must use Reaper paints and Reaper miniatures to be considered for prizes. There are also some steps to follow with the photographs, so please read the complete instructions here. (Note there is a typo in the hashtag on the page currently, use #quadcolorclash.)  You can post entries on any or all of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the ReaperCon Discord. And as with the showcase, Reaper reviewers will be selecting QCC Favorites that will win $20 US gift certificates to the Reaper Store. The deadline for this is also Sunday, September 6, 2020 by noon Central time.

Pg gob front 300

Even if you don’t care at all about gift certificates or ReaperCon, I hope you’ll consider trying out the idea of selecting four paint colours and painting a figure using only those. Art challenges and exercises that limit our options can spur new creativity. You might find this helps you learn a lot about how to use your colours for more than you imagined. Or some elements you absolutely need to include to successfully paint a miniature, and others that might be less necessary than you thought. 

Pg gob back 300

As soon as I finished this I thought had some thoughts about slightly different colours I could have used that might have given a bit of a different effect. Not to mention some other ideas entirely. I’m itching to try this some more. I’m hoping I’ll get to try a few more schemes in the next week or two so I can write a blog post and we can have a discussion about this exercise and why it’s worth doing. I encourage you to mess around with it over the next week or two so I can hear your thoughts as well!

Pg gob face 300

This figure is one of three sculpts in a Goblin Skirmishers pack. There’s a pack of similarly sculpted Goblin Warriors, as well. Bobby Jackson sculpted these, and I think he packed quite a lot of personality in these small packages. I’ve been planning to get back to doing some speed paint practice, and I think these will be great vict… subjects for that exercise. I painted this guy in about 65 minutes while I was trying to practice working with my new video set up. And they won’t be too tough to fight the next time we get together for in-person role-playing. Whenever that might be…

I think I might try something a little larger for future quad colour attempts, if only so it’s easier to see on video and in photographs. 

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

Quick Tips: Eyes, Triadic Colour Scheme, Cloth Patterns

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon or a Ko-fi tip.

Painting the Asandris Nightbloom figure sculpted by Bob Ridolfi appealed to me because she is a great representation of a low to mid level character, the type of character I’ve played most often in role-playing games! Asandris is available as one of the free bonus selections with $40 US (or equivalent) purchase from the Reaper site, or you can purchase her directly. I’m going to share a few work-in-progress pictures and some tips that would be useful to painting her or many other figures.

July blue front2 600Other views of the finished paint job are found at the end of this article.

The Base

I used a mixture of materials to make the base. I have some base texture press moulds, like those produced by Basius. When I have left over epoxy putty, I use it in a press mould. I cut off some of the integral base of the miniature with a pair of flush cutting shears and glued the remainder to the plastic base. I glueed pieces of cobblestone texture from a press mould around it. Then I applied superglue and dipped the base into a mixed-size gravel mixture. I built up a few areas with additional applications of glue and gravel. To add a little more variation, I applied some fine sand texture paste in a few spots. I over-did the glue and gravel stage a bit for my original intention of having it look like an overgrown road, but at least it looks like a nice mix of earth and rock textures.

July metal baseThe grey parts are the epoxy putty cobblestone pieces, brown is the gravel, and white is the fine sand texture paste.

Colour Scheme

I decided a simple, classic colour scheme would be a good fit for a simple, classic character archetype like this. I chose to use the red-blue-yellow primary triad. Any decent colour wheel should generate triadic colour schemes. One of the challenges with getting familiar with colour schemes and using a colour wheel is that they generally refer to very bold saturated colours – cherry red, royal blue, sun yellow, would be examples of a red-blue-yellow triad scheme with saturated colours. But bright colours like those didn’t really fit my vision for the character. When a colour wheel/scheme talks about a colour like ‘red’, it means the entire family of red – brick, blush pink, terracotta, red-brown, all of those would be considered ‘red’ colours for the purpose of fitting into a colour scheme. So I picked colours that were weathered and worn examples of blues, yellows, and reds to use. I used slightly more intense versions of those colours on her hair, lips, and her jerkin to try to focus attention to the main area of interest – her face. The belts, scabbards, and wood staff are desaturated yellow browns to keep them from drawing too much visual interest.

July wip7 front 600You can see that the base echoes colours used on the main figure to tie everything together and help it appear lit by the same light source.

Don’t leave out the base in your colour schemes! I dabbed colours used on the miniature or mixed from those main colours on various sections of the base to tie it in with the figure as a whole. I used red browns from the jerkin shadows, yellow browns from the wood and belts, and mixed a green from the yellow and one of the blue colours to use on the base. I also glazed some dull blue colours and a bit of yellow here and there on the stone sections. You can also use one colour from your colour scheme within other colours. There’s a little bit of red brown shading on the staff to give the wood a little more depth.

The Eyes

Painting eyes on gaming scale figures can be a real challenge! One thing that can make it a little easier is to paint the eyes looking off to one side instead of aiming for a straight ahead gaze. This can also add a bit of interest or personality to a figure. Here I think it helps give her a little sense of being in motion, as if she had been looking off to the side and has just shifted her gaze before turning her head to look back in front of her.

July blue face cuClose up view of the eyes painted off to one side.

The Cloth Pattern

I wanted to do a little something with her dress. Sure she’s an adventurer, and a low level one at that, but she can still enjoy a little personal decoration as most of us do! I had the inspiration for the pattern from character clothing in the Lord of the Rings Online game.

355px Dot LeafbottomI wanted to try to create an effect like the pattern on the skirt above.

I started off by using a stipple brush stroke to add the highlighting and shading to the dress. The stippling technique can be used to create a range of results. I have used in the past with a very small brush, uniform application, and a LOT OF DOTS to create textures like this. With a more dynamic range of colours and applying a lot of dots I you can get something like Madame Delia’s dress. You can apply it more loosely with a larger brush to get hammered metal or scuffed leather effects that work particularly well on larger figures like giants or busts. I used a brush stroke along these lines for the leather on Asandris’ jerkin and boots. In the case of the dress, I was going for a rougher woven look, so I used a smaller but not super small brush and applied the stipples somewhat haphazardly. This is one of the techniques that is I find challenging to explain with words and pictures, maybe some day I’ll be able to show it on a video. There is a bit of a WIP example on the Madame Delia link above.

July dress test combo 600Dress pattern tests.

The underlying fabric look was just one element of the pattern. I also had to create the diamond shapes or criss-crossing lines. Here I was on less familiar ground, so I did a couple of tests on another figure. Painting flat lines with the tip of the brush as on the above left did not result in the look I was after. It might work well for more of an embroidered decoration look, or a strongly woven pattern like a tartan, but it didn’t fit with the soft woven pattern I was aiming for. So I experimented with doing lines of stipple strokes on the above right. That looked like more of a woven effect to me, so I used that technique on the figure.

July wip4 front cu 600In this picture you can see the base fabric texture stage on the sleeves, and the addition of the diamond pattern on the skirt.

Additional Views

July blue face 600

July blue back full

July blue right 600


Paint Colours Used

For the most part I painted from darkest colour to lightest, though there were a few areas where I added additional shadows such as the hair and the staff. To save time I use paints straight from the bottle as pre-mixed layer steps whenever I can. So it would be entirely possible get similar colours using a smaller set of paints and more mixing. I am not suggesting you need to have all these paints to paint a simple colour scheme like this!

NOTE: Colours in italics are out of production. Colours in bolded italics are currently out of production but are available for preorder in the ReaperCon HobbyBox. (And will be available for sale outside of the boxes on the main Reaper website closer to ReaperCon 2020.) Turkey Brown will likely be available to purchase again during the next Winter holiday season.

Skin: 9224 Redstone, 89542 Shoanti Sienna, 9494 Gnome Flesh, 89540 Taldan Pink, 9487 Yellow Mold

Jerkin and boots: 9307 Red Liner, 9235 Red Shadow, 9223 Redstone Shadow, 9224 Redstone, 9225 Redstone Highlight, 9494 Gnome Flesh. Glaze with 9663 Big Top Red.

Blue cloth: 9229 Worn Navy, 9230 Soft Blue, 9056 Templar Blue, 9231 Heather Blue, 9057 Ashen Blue, 89529 Hobgoblin Blue. Diamond pattern: 9317 Moonstone Blue, plus a little white.

Belts and scabbards: 9199 Russet Brown, 29829 Golden Brown, 9429 Rich Leather, 9075 Buckskin Pale. Glaze 9691 Turkey Brown on belts and scabbards. Glaze 9074 Palomino Gold on side pouch.

Staff: 9429 Rich Leather with a dab of 9231 Heather Blue to dull it down. Then add 9075 Buckskin Pale for highlights. Added a bit of 9199 Russet Brown for shadows.

Cloak: Base of 9109 Ruddy Leather. Washes of 9307 Red Liner, 9685 Corporeal Shadow, and a little 9066 Blue Liner in the deep crevices. Then highlight up with 9109 Ruddy Leather, 9305 Tarnished Copper, 9232 Bright Skin Shadow, and a touch of 9306 New Copper. 

Hair: 9429 Rich Leather, then 9199 Russet Brown for shadows. Highlight up with 61101 Terra Nova Tundra, 9074 Palomino Gold, 9075 Buckskin Pale, 9039 Pure White. Glaze with 9095 Clear Yellow mixed with 9247 Saffron Sunset.

The greys of the non-metallic metal steel and stones on the base were mixed from colours used on the figure. Mixing a little bit of colour used elsewhere on the figure into standard neutral grey paints would work as well.