Flesh (Tones) for Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Succ3 wip1 front 600 crop cu

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

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

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

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

Succ3 wip2 front 600 crop cu

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

Succ3 wip3 face 600 crop

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

Succ3 wip3 front 600 crop

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

Succ3 cloth nmm cu 600

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

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

Succ3 wip3 back 600 crop

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

Wip1 succubi front 1000

Wip1 succubi back 1000

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

Wip2 succ front 1000

Wip2 succ back 1000

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

Succ3 wip5 front 600

Succ3 wip5 back 600

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

Succ3 palette 600 cu

Paint Recipes

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

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

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

Figures in this Post

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

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

Contrast: The Power of Light

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I’ve talked about contrast a lot in the past. Recently I woke up to a great example of contrast in the real world that I thought might be helpful to share. (I’ll link to the previous contrast articles at the end of this post.)

Window light 1 crop 600Look closer and you might also see the power of cat hair in action.

The picture above is of a wall in my bedroom. The black shape on the right is a blackout curtain. The picture was taken on an overcast day, but you can still see the light sneaking through the curtain to shine on the wall. My bedroom wall is a dark green colour. I’m including the official paint company swatch below, but I’d say it’s even slightly darker than that in real life. Close to the colour of Reaper Paint’s Forest Green if you have that one. (It’s called Night Watch. We didn’t pick it for the nerdy name, but it’s a nice bonus. ;->)

Night watch ppg timeless paint colors ppg1145 7tsg 16 64 1000

So that’s the midtone colour of my wall. If you look at my room picture above, you’ll see that the shadows go down to pure black, and the highlights are much lighter green in colour. You may think they appear almost white right next to the edge of the curtain. We’ll take a look at the exact colours in a minute, but for now just take a minute to appreciate how large that range of contrast is. Probably a lot stronger than the contrast you’re painting on your figures, particularly if you’re a painter who worries that too much contrast will look cartoonish and not realistic.

This contrast is created because light is powerful stuff (and the absence of light is likewise powerful in creating dark shadows.) The effect of the light is particularly dramatic in this scenario because there’s a small bright area of light penetrating into a dark room. 

So if this effect of dramatic contrast actually is realistic, Why do we seem not to be able to ’see’ this dramatic effect in the colour and value (lightness vs darkness) of objects around us?

One answer is that often the appearance of highlights and shadows is not quite as dramatic as this. If there are numerous or larger sources of light, the light bounces around and creates a more diffused lighting effect. Very diffuse light may be a lot easier to paint, but it is not very exciting to look at. If you study movie making or photography at all, you know that photographers and movie makers choose to shoot at certain times of day or use lights and reflectors to light their scenes in very specific ways. They do this to help convey emotion and story, but also just to make their scenes more interesting to look at. Our miniature figures will benefit a lot if we paint them with more interesting and dramatic lighting. If you know anything about movie making or photography, I recommend that you apply everything you know about dramatic lighting in those fields to how you approach painting shadows and highlights on your miniature figures, and you’ll improve your handling of contrast immensely!

The following is a picture in the same room taken with the overhead light turned on and sunlight coming through the window. It is less dramatic, and probably a little less interesting. There is also still a wider range between the value of the lightest colour on the wall and the darkest colour of the wall than many people feel comfortable painting.

Overhead light 600

This next picture is the same scene but using the flash on the camera, which is an additional light source. So it has three light sources – the overhead light, the sun coming through the window, and the flash from the camera. The flash is bright enough that it overpowers the effect of the light coming in from under the curtain so that’s not really visible in this photo. It also creates a pretty dramatic range in value between the brightest highlights and darkest shadows on the wall.

Flash light 600

The other reason we have trouble seeing the level of contrast around us in every day life helps explain why we often fail when we attempt to paint stronger contrast. We are literally ‘of two minds’ about the things we see. (At least two.) Part of our mind looks at things exactly as they are. There’s another part of our mind that adds our general knowledge and experience in to our view of what we see. It interprets the things we see with or into information it thinks we will find useful to performing various activities. That information is useful for a lot of areas of life, but it can be actively unhelpful when trying to create art.

Let’s return to my wall to see what I mean. The paint swatch shown above is the midtone colour. I know that’s the colour of the wall – I went to a bit of effort to pick it out! ;-> So when I look at the wall, part of my mind can see how light the colour of green is next to the window, and how dark the green is next to the corner of the wall. But the other part of my mind that knows what colour the wall is. That part is going to give me second doubts and pull me back from trying to paint highlights that stray too far away from that midtone colour by making me feel that they look ‘wrong’. That part of my mind is also the part that tends to be in charge for many day to day activities, so it’s really hard for the part of my brain that accurately sees the correct highlight colour to override the part that knows what colour the wall is. Or to put it in a different way, we spend so much time listening to the part of our mind that knows how things are that we have trouble trusting the part of our mind that more accurately sees things and using that in our art.

I don’t know if I’m explaining it very well, but this is why you have to fight yourself sometimes when you’re painting. First you have to push out of your current comfort zone and be willing to paint with more contrast. And as you do that, you also have to fight the part of your brain that is telling you what you’re painting looks wrong.

This is a similar idea to the principles and exercises of the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Many of the same issues affect our ability to use colour and value to best effect in our art, it’s not just about literal drawing. I mention that book because I suspect many will have at least some experience with it, but a book I would recommend as much or more is Your Artist’s Brain: Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see – not what you think you see by Carl Purcell. Both of these books help explain what’s going on in our minds that can lead to things like the very common situation that we like miniatures other people paint that use quite a lot of contrast, but we have a lot of difficulty using that level of contrast on our own figures.

If you are already familiar with this idea and successfully pushing your contrast, keep reading for the advanced credit version of this post. Or skip to the bottom for a photo that isolates the main colours and values in the picture, and also links to more information on why you need to paint with more contrast, and some methods to actually do it.

Window light 3 cropSame view, but with some additional objects.

Once you start to get more comfortable with painting a more dramatic effect of lighting, the next step is to consider how different types of surfaces and textures are affected by the light, and attempt to render more of that in your painting.

Above is a view of the room scene that includes additional objects. The wall paint is an eggshell finish. The lampshade is a smooth shiny plastic, and the neck of the lamp is a dull metal. Notice that each of these surfaces reacts to the light in a much different way. The bright areas of highlight are smaller and much more sharply delineated from the midtones and shadows on the lamp than they are on the wall. There is a gentle transition from light to dark on the wall, whereas the light and dark areas appear in sharper bands on the lampshade and lamp neck.

The water sprayer and the fabric piece at the bottom of the photo appear much more evenly lit than either the lamp or the wall. They are made up of more matte materials than the wall paint or the lamp. You can see a subtle edge highlight on the fabric piece, and shadows on the white head of the sprayer, but the effect of light and shadow is not as dramatic.

Two things to note about the water bottle and fabric piece. One is that I would exaggerate the light and shadow on those objects if I were painting this scene on a miniature scale. It would be necessary to do so simply because of the smaller scale. Two, this is also an example of how photographs do not exactly capture real life. (And that I’m no great photographer or photo editor.) I adjusted the exposure and it’s a lot better than what I started with, but both objects appear much lighter in the photograph than they do looking at this scene in person. 

In the final photo below I have isolated the colours from several areas of the photograph so you can see their exact values. It is very likely that you interpreted some of these values as darker or lighter than they actually appear. This is another thing our eyes/brains do that can lead us astray in creating art! Note that the only true white in the following photo is on the captions for what each of the arrows point to. The background behind the text is neutral gray. So both of those give you points of comparison in judging the value of the isolated colour squares.

Window light labels cr 600

Links to Previous Articles on Contrast

More and less contrast demonstrated on the same figure.

Visual comparison of more and less contrast and lining on the same figure and between two figures.

Contrast versus Realism, and Why You Should Choose Contrast.

How to Paint with More Contrast Part I: Mindset.

How to Paint with More Contrast Part II: Visualizing Light and Methods of Paint Application.

Example of using lighting reference photo, then rough colour block-in, then details and refining on Caerindra Thistlemoore.

Example of using value mapping/grayscale (and freehand practice) on Sophie 2018.

Example of using value mapping/greyscale, then rough colour block-in, then details and refining on Dragon and Stocking.

Using a lighting reference photo, and the difference between cast and form shadows.

NOTE: Links are provided solely for the convenience of readers, I don’t have any affiliate links or anything like that.

Understanding Critique: a Visualization of Lining and More Contrast

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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.


Study Guide for Painting Tutorials: Sketching in Highlight and Shadow Placement on a Face

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I just watched a terrific video I think many people would find it very useful to view. In addition to linking to the video so you can go watch it too, I’m also going to share some information related to the topics of the video, and suggest a sort of study guide for how you might put the material from the demonstration into practice.

Still from Miniature Painting Masterclass videoA still from the video on how to paint a face by starting with a sketch of highlights and shadows. Painted by Jaume Ortiz.

The video is called Painting a Face in 75mm Part 1: Creating a Sketch of Highlights and Shadows, and it is a painting demonstration by Jaume Ortiz. It is produced by Miniature Painting Masterclass in partnership with Vallejo paints and FeR Miniatures, but the principles demonstrated are applicable to most figures, painted using any kind of paints. There are several points in the video that I think people may find useful to consider in their own painting.

Mixing Layers and Paint Transparency (Consistency)

How to mix layers, how many, and how much to dilute the paint to use the layering techniques are all very common questions among miniature painters. At the start of the video Jaume demonstrates the paint mixes he will use to paint the highlight and shadow layers. He mixes these onscreen. All paint colours used are clearly listed, but he does not detail the precise ratios of one paint colour to another for the layer mixes beyond what you can see him place on his palette. Since paint colours are unique in strength, transparency, etc., you can’t use a universal guide of X to Y drops for all mixes. You need to judge by the visual results with your specific paint colours. If you look at Jaume’s palette once the paints are mixed, you can use that as a tool to get an idea of the appropriate steps between the highlight and shadow mixes.

Likewise, Jaume indicates that he’s added a little water to his mixes, but he’s not specific about how much. Some paint colours are much more transparent than others, so the amount of dilution you need to add to a paint to make it the right transparency for a particular function varies from paint colour to paint colour. Instead, take a look at the way the edges of the paint look on his palette. You can see some of the palette through the paint, but it’s also still opaque enough to make noticeable strokes when he layers one paint over another.

Sketching (also known as Roughing In or Blocking In)

Caerindra sketch NMM and finished NMMI used the sketch approach to paint the non-metallic metal on Caerindra. On the left, you can see that I roughed in the main shadows and highlights only on the armour I ignored blending, and I also ignored details like the rivets and lining between panels. My goal was to establish the key areas of light and shadow. In the finished version on the right, I refined the blending and added details. I wrote a blog post about painting Caerindra, and my post about painting an Efreeti includes another example of blocking in highlights and shadows on NMM.  

Roughing in colour or doing a sketch is basically what you see in the above pictures – the highlights and shadows are painted in with no concern for blending smooth transitions. This accomplishes several goals:

* Quick application of highlight and shadow colours allows the painter to verify that the colours they’ve selected work well and provide enough contrast without investing a lot of time in painting everything to a high standard and THEN discovering you need to change your choices.

* The painter can concentrate their focus on precise placement of where areas should appear darker or lighter. (More on that below.) Breaking a task down into separate elements increases the chance of you performing each of those elements well. (In contrast to the challenge of trying to manage placement and blending simultaneously, which is more challenging and thus more likely to run into issues.)

* The painter can customize their vision of where light and shadow appears based on different types of lighting. The video demonstrates placement in a zenithal lighting scenario. You can photograph a figure under a small bright light to customize your light direction and know where to place lights and shadows. I’ve got an example of such photo reference here and here

* The painter can use this approach to push themselves to create a more dramatic level of contrast. It’s easier to do that using a completely different method of paint application than you usually do. It’s easy to vow to push your usual approach, but easier to fall back into usual habits and do what you always do.

Ingrid sketched in different lightingThe sketch on the left was painted with the light imagined as coming from above (zenithal lighting). The sketch on the right imagines the light coming from the upper right angle.

Placement of Highlight and Shadow Layers

Even you aren’t interested in learning more about the sketching approach, the way it is applied in this video provides valuable information for painters. When you look at something painted with smoothly blended transitions, it is quite difficult to deconstruct it to determine where the painter applied each of the specific levels of highlight and shadow mixes. When you watch this sketch approach video, it is very easy to see exactly where Jaume is putting each of the highlight and shadow mixes.

The demonstration figure in the video is 75mm scale. The general location of highlights and shadows under zenithal light is the same on gaming scale figures, but there may be cases where the highlights and/or shadows need to be simplified a little to read well at scale. (Or you may need to simplify if you have trouble applying them to some of the more detailed elements at smaller scale.) Jaume’s knowledge of anatomy is impressive, and encourages me to hurry and get to that point in my study of drawing!

Barbarian finished in colour vs black and white sketchCan you tell where I placed the third level highlight in the finished version? It’s a lot easier to see where the various layers are placed in the black and white sketch version on the right.

Suggestions for Practice and Study

These suggestions for how to practice and study miniature painting pertain to this video specifically, but also instructional tutorials in general.

Following a step by step example using the same figure and paints as in the demonstration can be very helpful for many people. It allows you to just focus on following the steps, rather than having to improvise to work around differences. You can find the figure from this video at FeR Miniatures, and the specified Vallejo paints through many local and online merchants. (The Face Painting Set used in the video is available from US Amazon, and likely international Amazons as well.)

If you don’t have access to the same figure and paints (or you want to jump in practicing while waiting for supplies to arrive), search through your figures for a male figure with a head similar in size, pose, and expression. If possible, you want a larger than gaming scale figure – a giant or ogre or something else with a larger than 32mm face for your first time practicing. The closer your supplies are to those used by Jaume, the easier you’ll find it to obtain results similar to his. You also want a figure with the head facing forward and not tilted to one side or the other. (If the head is tilted, you can remove the head from your figure and place it on a holder so you can paint it as if it is posed straight up and facing forward like the demonstration figure.) The location of highlights and shadows would be different if the head were tilted in a different position.

For paints, it is most important to match the value – the relative lightness or darkness of the colour. If your colour choices are a little more yellow or a little less red or whatnot, that will present far less of an issue than using paint which is much lighter or darker than the paints Jaume uses to mix his layers. Once you understand the principles of mixing and applying layers in this fashion you can use crazy colours to paint fantastical skin tones, but I do recommend practicing with natural human skin tones the first few times. The fewer variables you have that differ from the example you’re following, the more likely you are to obtain similar results and come to a better understanding of the principles. And if your results do differ, fewer variables make it easier for you to try to isolate and resolve the problems you might be having.

Still from Miniature Painting Masterclass video of paletteThis is a still from the video isolating the highlight, mid-tone, and shadow paint colours. (On the mid-tone, look at the edges of the pool for the best look at the colour, the centre of the pool looks lighter due to paint separation and/or reflection of the studio lights.)

B&W still of the palette from Miniature Painting Masterclass video.I converted the palette image to black and white to give you a better view of the values of the paint colours. You can lay out drops of your own colours and then take a black and white picture of them to check how well the values match. Notice how dark that shadow colour really is! Reddish colours are often much darker than we perceive them to be.

Once you have your supplies in hand, I recommend that you start by watching the video all the way through at least once. When you’re ready to paint, it is handy if you can put the video up on  a tablet or PC near where you paint so you can pause the video and restart it as necessary for you to follow along completing each step. You may also find it helpful to take screen shots to reference where to place each highlight or shadow layer as you paint.

After you finish each step, stop and compare your work with the example. Do they look roughly similar? If not, spend some time studying your work against the reference to try to identify what’s different – do you have a layer in the wrong place? Did you make a highlight too wide or too narrow? If you don’t get it correct straight away, don’t beat yourself up! The purpose of practice is to learn. Think of an error as an opportunity to build your eye’s ability to identify issues, and your brain’s ability to come up with potential solutions for them. Both are very helpful skills to improving as a painter.

After you’ve finished painting through the tutorial, put your work aside for a day or two. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and compare again. You may find that your level of contrast is much less than you thought it was while painting, or you might spot new errors in layer placement. This is a very common experience! I often walk away from a session of painting with an impression of what I did, and when I come back to look at the miniature find that my impression was pretty off and I need to adjust the very thing I thought I was doing well while I was painting.

Once you’ve practiced the demonstrated technique as closely as possible to how it’s demonstrated, spend some time thinking about the experience. Did the method seem to work well for you and you might like it better than your current approach? It can take more than once practicing something to get a good sense for whether or not the technique or approach works for you.

However it’s also the case that instead of adopting a new technique or approach whole cloth, you might find that it works better for you to incorporate it into the way you work. I normally paint the shadows first, and I normally work down from my lightest shadow to my darkest. In this video, Jaume Ortiz paints the highlights first, and then begins painting the shadows with his darkest shadow, then a step lighter, and then a step lighter again. If I try this approach, I might find that it works very well for me. If it does not, I can still incorporate valuable lessons about where to place the shadows and highlights and how to use a sketch approach into my normal approach to painting shadows and then highlights.

Coming Soon

I haven’t always worked to improve my miniature painting with this kind of study and deliberate practice. I wish I had, as I think it would have helped me learn things much easier and more quickly than I have. But I still have a lot to learn, so I am trying to take more of this kind of approach now. I’ll have a few experiments and experiences of my own to share in upcoming posts.

If you want to see how Jaume Ortiz turns his sketch into a beautifully painted face, part 2 of this video series is available.

Additional Resources

Follow Miniature Painting Masterclass on Facebook for links to more great videos, and also galleries of step-by-step picture and text instruction.

I included some information about how I sketched in initial highlights on a black cloak in this PDF.

I sketched in both black and white and then colour on this Christmas dragon figure.

Figures Referenced in this Post

Officer of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment 1862 by FeR Miniatures
Caerindra Thistlemore by Reaper Miniatures
Ingrid the Gnome by Reaper Miniatures is available in metal or Bones plastic
Tyrea Bronzelocks by Reaper Miniatures is available in metal or Bones plastic

Caerindra Thistlemoor – Roughing In Lights and Shadows

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

Throughout 2018 Reaper Miniatures has been running a monthly promotion. For each $40 spent through their webstore, the buyer receives one free Dungeon Dweller figure of the month. These figures are also available for purchase throughout the month and going forward. They’re not limited edition, just a bonus for buying through the site. For me, one of the coolest things about this promotion is that each of these figures has been painted by a different painter, and each has a free PDF painting guide available via Reaper’s site. This gives you the opportunities to have insights into the working process of a wide variety of painters. There’s even a free dungeon adventure available!

http://www.reapermini.com/DungeonDwellers

There is one double-up of painters throughout the dozen figures –  I painted the February figure, and just recently I also finished the December figure. I’m still putting the finishing touches on the painting guide to go with it, but in the meantime thought I would share a little bit of the painting process here. First here, are some pictures of the completed figure.

Caerindra front view

Caerindra face

Caerindra back view

I chose not to use any of the pre-painting techniques to build contrast that I talked about in my contrast series. I did, however, pose the miniature under a strong light source to take photos I could reference while painting. (Here’s a link to the contrast painting techniques post: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/10/16/how-to-paint-contrast-hands-on/)

Photo of front of primed figure under a strong light.

Photo of back of primed figure under a strong light.

When applying paint to the various areas of the figure, I began by roughing in the main highlights, shadows, and midtones. I did not worry about small details like rivets or finer folds, or things like pulling out the edges. My goal was to the capture the big picture areas of light and shadow as depicted in the reference photos. However, I was also conscious of the fact that not every material reflects light in the same way. The figure in the reference photo is one single material – primed metal. But in painting the figure I was trying to create the appearance of several different materials – metal, leather, cloth, skin, hair, etc. So I had to consider the nature of each of those materials and factor that in to the appearance of light and shadow upon them.

Here are some work-in-progress pictures to illustrate how I approached this process when painting the non-metallic metal areas of the figure.

Rough in of NMM from side view.You can see that I’ve ignored details such as the rivets and the dark shadow lines between the plates. I’ve done some rudimentary wet blending while applying the paint, but I’m not overly concerned about a smooth finish at this point, either. My goal is correct and effective placement of the main shadows, highlights, and midtones.

Blended stage of NMM from side viewOnce I establish the placement of the main shadows, highlights, and midtones, then I can start to refine. First I work on cleaning up the blending and refining the shadow and highlight placement. Then I pick out the details like the rivets and the shadow lines between plates.

Rough in of NMM from front view.Another view of the process. You can see how the placement of the shadows and highlights is influenced by the shape of the objects. The highlights appear to one edge of flat planes like armour plates, but as more of a bullseye circle on the round form of the helmet. Some kneepads are sculpted with a rounded form and would be painted more like the helmet. The kneepads on this figure have a ridge down the middle turning each into two different faces. Placing the shadow and highlight in opposition on planes that meet like that helps create the illusion of shininess. If you scroll back up to the finished figure, you can see that I did the same thing with the sword. This was particularly helpful on the kneepads. I kept those relatively dark so as not to compete with the main areas of interest on the figure (and due to their position), but I still wanted them to ‘read’ as shiny metal. Juxtaposing very dark shadows with lighter areas helps create that illusion.

Blended version of NMM from front view.Smoothness and detail can seem like the important elements, but they won’t have any substance if the choices for placement of highlights, shadows, and midtones is incorrect, or if they lack sufficient contrast to represent the depicted material. 

Hopefully that peek into the painting process was useful. I’ll be detailing the exact colours I used and talking about painting red hair and freckles in the painting guide that will go up on the Reaper site. If you’d like to grab a copy of Caerindra Thistlemoor of your own, you’ll find her at the link below. Though Reaper is about to unveil their 12 Days of Reaper special promotion, so you might want to wait a day or three…

https://www.reapermini.com/search/caerindra