How to Practice Painting

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Is the way you look at your work when you’re trying to study or practice something new different than when you assess your work generally? Should it be? I think the answer is yes! It can be challenging to make that mind shift, but failing to use different metrics to judge our study results means we may not be learning as much or as well as we could.

Banner fullTara the Silent at different stages in the painting process.

In a previous Problem Solving series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), I talked through my mental assessments of my work throughout the process of painting a miniature where I was making colour and lighting choices on the fly. My goal for the Tara the Silent figure was to paint a miniature that was as attractive and successful a paint job as I could manage after a bit of a rough start.

When I was painting Anushka, my aim was to practice a new painting approach and demonstrate to myself that I had successfully learned and implemented new information. It may not seem like it on the surface, but that is actually a very different goal than trying to paint a good looking miniature! In both cases I repeatedly reviewed and then revised my paint work. But in each case I was working towards a different goal, and I was using different criteria to judge my success in reaching the goal. 

Anushka comp crAnushka at different stages in the painting process.

I’d like to talk about why it’s useful to approach a study piece differently than general painting, using my experiences painting the Anushka figure as an example. I also want to remind myself about this! I don’t think I do enough focused study like this.

I actually painted Anushka as a study piece in Spring 2019. I edited the WIP pictures and wrote a first draft of this article soon after the painting, but for various reasons it got put aside for a while.

Tsukigoro front 500My painting of Tsukigoro, a larger scale resin figure that we worked on in the workshop I took with Sergio Calvo Rubio.

In the Spring of 2019 I took a weekend workshop with Sergio Calvo Rubio, a fantastic Spanish painter. In addition to his feedback on my figure throughout the workshop, he kindly shared his thoughts on a few other miniatures I had painted. He felt I was a technically proficient painter, but that I wasn’t painting with enough contrast. In particular, I wasn’t painting enough of the small, bright highlights that really help a paint job pop. I have been receiving similar criticism from painters I admire for years! I do try to push for more pop, but in the struggle between a refined result and pop, I find it very challenging to not go overboard refining or smoothing the highlights, which usually dilutes the effect of the pop.

After the workshop, I painted a few practice figures to try to cement what I learned, and to try to figure out how best to apply his approach to the gaming scale figures I paint most often.

Important Note: I will be referencing some of the principles and techniques Sergio teaches in this series, but only insofar as is necessary for readers to understand the gist of what I’m saying. It is not my goal to share all of the material from Sergio’s workshop, and I will not answer questions about his techniques or methods. If you’re interested in learning more about how Sergio paints, I highly recommend checking out his Patreon or his YouTube channel, or attending one of his workshops if you have the opportunity. 

My reference materials when practicing included my notes and practice figures from the workshop and a couple of previous classes I had taken with Sergio at AdeptiCon. I also have the good fortune to have in my possession a couple of demo figures that Sergio painted as examples for classes. This allowed me to take comparison photos of Sergio’s examples and my practice figure, which will also allow you to compare my attempt to his demos so you can make your own assessment of how well my study went.

You can see a few steps of Sergio’s process to paint the figure on the right. There is a video demonstration of how Sergio painted the non-metallic sword on the figure on the left.

Sergio figures fullThese two figures were painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio for class demonstrations.

When I painted Tara the Silent, my goal was to paint as good looking a figure as I could in a fairly tight deadline (for me). My initial colour selection didn’t work, so I got off to a bit of a rough start. Some of painting process involved trying to salvage as much of my previous work as I could, and tweaking things to look as good as possible. So my analysis concentrated on this question: does this look good, or do I need to change or tweak something? I think many of us paint day-to-day with that kind of mindset.

However, I don’t think assessing our work with the question does this look good is a helpful approach to take when to studying something new. Maybe you’re studying a new method, like I was with this figure. Maybe you’re trying to learn a new technique like wet blending or layering. Maybe you want to simulate a texture like worn leather or woven cloth. Maybe you’ve seen a particular colour or overall look on another figure that you like and you want to figure out how the artist did it. In all of those cases, you’re trying to model your work after a specific reference point.

I think the question you need to ask yourself when judging your success with that kind of study is not whether your work looks good, but rather: Does this look like my reference? If not, what are the differences?

If the answer is your work doesn’t really look much like your reference, you need to try to do a deeper comparison between your reference and your practice paint to try to analyze exactly what the differences are. You will likely find differences in the level of darkness and lightness, or in the location and size of the darkest and lightest areas. You might notice differences in shapes and patterns of texture. You might discover that the instructor you’re studying uses paint that is more or less fluid than yours for blending, or uses a different size or shape of brush. Training your eye to spot those differences and training your brain to analyze them more deeply can help you make bigger leaps in your skills than any specific technique.

We are so used to assessing our work by the standard of whether something looks good (enough) and whether we like it (or at least can we live with it) that it can be really challenging to shift how we analyze our work. It’s really easy to fall back into just painting as we always do instead of pushing ourselves to be sure we’re actively learning and experimenting and studying. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time learning, and teaching, I experienced exactly that problem while painting Anushka!

I think it’s entirely possible to paint a study piece that successfully demonstrates your understanding and application of something, but which doesn’t look super attractive, polished, or finished. It really is two different metrics.

An easy example of that is contrast. If you’ve been told you need to push your shadow/highlight contrast, you will likely find that when you try to practice doing that, your work may not look as good to you. The transitions may look rough, or even stark. If you are only looking at your practice piece(s) with the question does this look good in mind, you will feel as if you failed. If you painted darker shadows than usual and lighter highlights than usual, you did not fail, you achieved your stated goal! You might need to continue practicing painting with higher contrast for a while to accustom your eye to it, and then set your next goal to be painting higher contrast with more attractive transitions between values. To ask yourself to apply higher contrast values of paint AND do so with flawless transitions on the first few miniatures you try it with is unrealistic! When you study and work to learn something new, make sure you’re assessing your progress in understanding and applying the something new, not judging every single thing about the figure.

The flip side of that is that you can paint something that does look good but which does not demonstrate that you have understood and applied the thing you’re trying to learn. This is what happened to me while painting Anushka.

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In the workshop, Sergio had us paint from dark to light. I have very rarely painted this way. Just a few times in other classes I’ve taken, with certain colours like black, and when painting areas that are recessed and hard to reach. The advantage of starting with the darkest colour is that you create your deep shadows and lining with your basecoat. (Assuming you have the brush control to not slop into the crevices, which I have not always had.)

Most of the time when I paint I start with the midtone, then paint the shadows, and then paint highlights. I have found that it is easier for me to identify the correct placement for shadows and highlights with this method. It also makes it easier for me make sure I leave enough of the midtone colour apparent, which is important to establishing the texture and overall colour of the material, and can also help create more contrast.

Another reason I prefer starting with the midtone colour is that I worry that if I start with the darkest shadow colour, I will be more more likely to paint most of the areas in a similar midtone value instead of separating sections of the miniature by starting with different value midtones for each. Even when using the method I’m used to I don’t always get this right, as you can see in the example below.

Erli original cr 1000

One of the reasons the paint scheme on the right is more effective than that on the left is that adjacent areas of the figure differ in the value of their midtones. You can see that more clearly when the picture is converted to black and white as below. A deeper analysis of the differences between these two figures is available.

Erli original cr bw

To better understand and study Sergio’s method, I followed his approach and started with the darkest colours for each area of the figure. I forgot to take the photo until after I had painted the green pantaloons, but it should still show the overall idea.

Anushka wip1a basecoat front fullAnushka painted with the darkest shadow colours for each area.

One of the things that distinguishes many high level paint jobs is a strongly painted light source. Often these are painted with the common light from above direction, but with stronger contrast between deepest shadows and brightest highlights. Others may be painted with a more directional light source shining more brightly on one side of the figure, which creates darker shadows on the other side. Sergio’s usual approach is less fussed about painting a precise light source direction than some high level painters. He aims for more of a stage light effect, as if the figure is standing on stage with a spotlight aimed at them. He paints stronger light and brighter saturation on the figure’s head and the centre of its torso, and uses duller, darker colours on the sides and extremities. He prioritizes creating a strong focal point and making the figure interesting to look at, rather than aiming for a super realistic rendition of the light and shadow.

I mention this because it is a great example of how there is not only one style or approach to painting that is recognized and rewarded in the miniature world. I often see comments from people complaining that only one painting approach gets recognition, particularly after the results of a painting contest are announced. There have been times or specific contests when there may have been a grain of truth to that, but for years now I’ve seen a very diverse range of styles recognized both by contests and miniature enthusiasts. In most contests I’ve seen, the elements that factor into top level recognition include the obvious factor of advanced paint manipulation skills, but also a well developed artistic eye, and the courage to commit to one’s vision. In the case of light, whether a painter is trying to replicate real light source reference pictures or aiming for more of a ‘make it look cool’ illustrative approach, they need to commit to their vision for the light and create a high level of contrast. Painting a high level of contrast while also painting smooth blends, or cool textures (including comic book style), or cel shading or whatever other approach challenges both your hand and your courage.

Please note that I am definitely not saying that there is no point to exploring more creative styles of paint application and/or lighting approach if a painter’s skills are more beginner or intermediate level, or if working on a quicker tabletop piece! I just think it’s helpful to understand that the competition side of our hobby rewards skill of execution as much or more as creativity of concept. The highest level painters have literally spent years studying traditional art and/or learning through experience. It’s not really reasonable to expect that the first few pieces someone tries to paint with an advanced lighting technique or textures or whatever is going to instantly catapult them to gold level.

In the year or two preceding the workshop, I had spent a lot of time practicing painting more directional light. I also focused on portraying my light source both more correctly and more evocatively. One example of that is the way I painted Ziba the Efreeti. I created lighting reference photos and I followed them to the extent of painting the cast shadows on her. What I had been focused on prior to the workshop was in many ways a completely different approach to what Sergio was teaching us, so it was a bit of a mind shift for me.

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First Study Session

Regardless of your approach to the light, when working on a textured surface (or one you’re painting to appear textured) the goal is to build up both the appearance of the texture AND the placement of lighter and darker areas that will evoke your imaginary light source. I painted the green pantaloons as a smooth cloth texture with a moderate level of contrast. They’re in a low interest area and mostly to the sides of the body, so with Sergio’s approach they shouldn’t stand out particularly. Next up was the top and overskirt. I decided to paint these areas as one piece of clothing, and with a worn leather texture. I decided that, but that’s not what I painted…

Anushka wip2b front full

Anushka wip2 back full

The top ended up looking like a different colour and material than the skirt. That did not have a lot of bearing on the lessons I was trying to learn, so I decided not to worry about it. Sergio’s main critique of my work was that it was technically very proficient, but it did not have enough contrast. In particular, it completely lacked the strong edge and spot highlights that help a figure pop off the shelf/tabletop and grab the viewer’s attention. These are also an important tool a painter uses to draw the viewer’s eye to the key focal points the painter wants them to zero in on.

So how well did I do with the study goals of painting strong texture and using strong contrast to make the figure pop? I did not make this assessment immediately after painting. I waited until the next day. I think it is very helpful to step away from something you’re working on overnight, or at least for several hours. It allows your eyes to reset, and gives your brain a chance to shift from creation mode to editing mode. As you’ll see below, my impressions of my work while I was painting versus my impressions of it the next day were very different!

The top, while painting: I felt like I was really pushing the highlights and going quite bright, and doing a good job concentrating the brightest areas in the centre of the figure’s cylinder as Sergio does. 

The top, next day: Huh, where did those bright pops of highlight go? I swear I worked on them! (And as a side point, I realized that if the back of something is armour, so is the front, so I needed to paint the chest plate area to match the armour sections, not the skirt or the sleeves.)

The skirt, while painting: I think I’m getting a texture that is less fiddly and small than I usually paint for leather. It’s a little darker overall than the top, but since the skirt is on the bottom half of the figure and attention should be focused on the face and upper torso, that should work out well.

The skirt, next day: This texture part looks pretty good. But I almost completely failed to create any overall sense of light or bring out the forms of the different skirt folds.

My assessment of the skirt is an example of the difference in analyzing success in studying something versus success in achieving an attractive result. If this were something I was painting on deadline, I would probably leave the skirt basically as it is and just build up a few more highlights on it to create a little more form. The texture looks pretty good, it photographs well, and it fits the character and colour scheme.

For a piece that was intended a practice of a specific approach, I needed to assess whether I demonstrated that learned and understood the lesson. The way I painted the skirt at this stage did not demonstrate that, so I needed to try again, possibly even repainting the area to start from scratch. (If you are incorporating practice into a project like painting an army, another option is to call it good on this figure and then try again with the next one.)

I also took a moment to ask myself how did I go so wrong with this attempt, and I think those thoughts are worth sharing with you as well.

Fuzzy Goal/Intention
I just sat down and started painting. It would have been a good idea to study my reference figures and photos right before and even while I was painting, so the result I was aiming for was fresh in my mind.

Distractions
I had an episode of a TV show running in the background while I was painting. When I’m doing routine tasks and things I’m proficient at, it is helpful to listen to a video or audiobook. It distracts me if my back is sore or I’m getting bored, and keeps me painting longer. But if I’m trying something new or working on a technique I find challenging, I need to minimize distractions so I can keep my brain actively focused and concentrating on the task at hand.

The combination of those two factors made it very easy to go into autopilot and just paint the way I usually do. Painting on autopilot is useful for routine tasks, but it’s a dangerous trap if you’re trying to learn something new.

For those who might be having difficulty seeing what I’m talking about, here’s the figure I’m working on next to a couple of Sergio’s WIP figures from classes he’s given.

Anushka wip2d comps front full

My practice figure is in the centre. Class demo figures painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio are to the left and right.

Anushka wip2c comps back full

Don’t despair if you’re having trouble seeing everything I’m pointing out. It takes time, practice, and concerted effort to start building your critical eye. There is very little material related to training critique ability in our hobby. I did not have a strong eye at all when I started out, and I know that there is a lot that I still miss. Being conscious of the importance of an artist’s eye and trying to cultivate it has immensely helped me in my quest to improve my painting level, and I am confident it will continue to help me. I wish I had been more deliberate about practicing things I’d learned in classes and workshops and aiming to build up my eye much earlier in my painting career.

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Second Study Session

For my second attempt, I set my intention and reviewed my examples before beginning to paint, and minimized distractions while painting.

I think I was much closer to goal this second time. I don’t know if it’s perfect by any means. It might even be overly textured, and there is still more emphasis on texture over value and form, but I think it’s better. The form of the skirt in the back view particularly is much more apparent.

Anushka wip3 back full

I thought I should go in and glaze in some more contrast and/or tone down the texture on the skirt, but I decided that it would be best to work on more of the figure and see how it came together as a whole before making that decision. Sometimes one of the hardest things for me in painting is to just let something be until the figure is almost finished and I can assess how the colours, values, and other decisions work together before trying to tweak anything. I find it can save a lot of time if I can resist that temptation! If I am painting one section at a time and trying to make each individual section ‘perfect’ while I working on it, I may end up fixing something that doesn’t need it or applying the wrong fix and end up having to spend more time at the end making tweaks than I would have otherwise.

This is one of the reasons that many artists start with an initial quick sketch of the main areas of the figure before preceding to refining individual areas. That is the approach that Sergio took in his class demonstration goblin figure. He started with the basic colours of the figure, then roughed in some highlights, and then continued to refine them. This approach allows painters to assess the success of their colour choices and overall approach for the miniature after a relatively short investment of time, so they aren’t losing a lot of work if they have to make adjustments.

In the workshop and with Sergio’s demonstration figure on the right in the picture below, he painted section by section, but I suspect this was for teaching reasons, and that it is not his usual approach. It’s easier to talk about the specifics of how to paint non-metallic leather, worn leather, and so on if you paint each section individually.

Anushka wip3 comps front full

My practice figure is in the centre. Class demo figures painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio are to the left and right.

Anushka wip3 comps back full

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Third Study Session

After finishing up the non-metallic metal and the hat (still trying to adhere to Sergio’s principles), I decided to revisit the skirt yet again. I painted a number of glazes on the skirt. Some of the glazes were lighter colours, intended to bump up the overall contrast in the highlight areas. I also added some orange tones to saturate the colour a little more, and I used some of the same blues I used in the hair in to glaze in more shadows. The overall intent was to build up the value contrast a little more, and tone down the texture. I think it has a bit more of a buckskin hide look now, and the level of texturing is more appropriate to the character.

Anushka wip4 back full

Anushka wip4 comps front full

My practice figure is in the centre. Class demo figures painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio are to the left and right.

Anushka wip4 comps back full

Here’s a compilation photo of the three phases I went through trying to work out how to do the skirt.

Anushka comp cr

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The Finished Figure

So did I accomplish my goals and successfully study Sergio Calvo’s approach? Let’s take a look at the completed miniature.

Anushka front

I think I did focus attention in the centre of the figure and put a lot of light around the face. I painted a different sort of leather texture than Sergio had, but my practice was focused on how Sergio approaches painting light overall, not that specific leather texture. (That might be a good subject for another practice session, though!

I achieved more pop highlights than I usually do, but still probably not enough.  Also some of the pop is coming from the non-metallic filigree. I’m generally comfortable going up to white on NMM, so that might not be a true test. To be thorough, it would be good for me to paint some additional miniatures with different materials and review how I did with those. In my opinion Anushka is a reasonable success, but I still have work to do to internalize and consistently apply the approach. What do you think?

Anushka back

Here are some comparison pictures with the reference figures. Note that in some ways this comparison isn’t fair to either of us. My figure is completed and has been worked on for several hours, while Sergio’s demo figures are quick demonstration pieces.

Anushka done comps front light edit

My practice figure is in the centre. Class demo figures painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio are to the left and right.

Anushka done comps back light edit

So that’s where I was after a couple of study pieces. Did I go on to incorporate principles of what I learned into my working process? Did anything stick? I’ve been thinking about that as I finish this article, and I think I’ll be working on a followup…

Figures Appearing in this Post

Tara the Silent is currently available in metal. She will be released in Bones Black plastic in the near future.
Tsukigoro is a 75mm scale (or 100mm?) figure from the Hirelings of Asura Kickstarter. I am unsure if the Hireling figures are currently for sale.
The goblin is Bocanegra the Little Tyrant.
Anushka Female Fighter is available in metal.
Mavaro, Iconic Occultist is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Beach Babe Libby is available in metal.
Eriu Champion with Greatsword is available in metal.

MSP Open and Medals FAQ

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When the judges were giving feedback at the 2021 edition of the MSP Open at ReaperCon, I realized that a number of the questions being asked were specific to the structure of the contest and the judging of medals. I love the open show format of the MSP Open, but how it’s structured isn’t especially intuitive to grasp in some respects. There are also some nuances to the medal placements that we have not been able to make as clear as we might like. I want to try to answer some of the questions people have.

If you are interested in more information on the feedback about your miniature(s) you may have received, I have written articles going over the most common issues that we see when giving feedback. There are several, but one important one covers presentation and general issues, and another other discusses purely paint related concerns

If you’re not very familiar with the open show format and/or painting contests in general, I recommend that you read this overview of contest terminology article first. I also want to note that while some of the points I am discussing in this article may pertain to other open show events, many of my answers here are specific to the format of the MSP Open at ReaperCon.

IMG 1868The awards table just before the MSP Opens award ceremony began at ReaperCon 2021. Winners had to supply their own water and clipboards though. ;->

Q: Bonze X entry is notably better/worse than Bronze Y entry.

A: For this first answer, I’m assuming that you’re comparing figures within the same category, like two figures from Painters, I’ll address comparisons between categories in another FAQ below. First off, you’re not wrong! In the Bronze medal grouping in particular, there is a decent range of variation. People tend to think of the Bronze – Silver – Gold standards as being like steps in a staircase, or evenly spaced like measurements on a ruler. That is actually not the case. Bronze is a gentle slope that covers an array of experience levels, painting knowledge, and approaches. The level of standards required to place at the Silver level is much more stringent, and the standard to place at the Gold level is quite challenging. Note that there are also sub-levels within each medal category as outlined in the next FAQ.

The diagram below shows the rough proportion of the standards for each medal level. IMG 1162

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Q: I get the same medal award every time, I don’t feel like I’m improving.

A: You may be improving more than you realize. Each medal level actually has sub-levels. This is why we recommend that you look at the judges’ scores if you want more information about your placement. 

The judged figure for each entrant is assessed by a team of three judges who award it a numerical score – 1 for Certificate, 2 for Bronze, 3 for Silver, 4 for Gold. If all three judges assess a figure at 2, that is a solid placement at the Bronze level. But sometimes one judge awards a different medal level than the others. This can give you information about whether you’re trending upwards, especially if you keep track of it over multiple years of entering.

Here’s a chart to break that breaks down the sub-levels within each medal type.

Screen Shot 2021 09 19 at 3 42 08 PM

Another thing to consider is that the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is a bit misleading. Continuing to spend years painting in the same way you always have is rarely enough to propel a painter at the Bronze level to the Silver or especially Gold level, regardless of how often you paint. Significant improvement generally requires focused study (in person classes, video tutorials, books, personal feedback, etc.) and then deliberate and extensive practice of the techniques and ideas you’ve studied. In particular, it is helpful to identify one or two of your weaker areas and focus on improving those for a time, and then switch to another one, and so on. It is pretty much impossible to successfully work on getting good at everything at once. It’s also exhausting. Another helpful tool for improving your painting is to improve your skills at assessing and critiquing the work of other people, both those you admire and those more similar to your own level. Doing so can help you identify how to better apply techniques and colours, and also helps you improve your ability to evaluate your own work. Painting and sculpting are half craft, and half developing a better eye and understanding of how best to apply that craft.

On the other hand, keep in mind that you aren’t obligated to take classes, or work to improve, or do anything other than what you most enjoy doing. Some people genuinely enjoy learning and constantly striving to improve their work, although even those who choose this path suffer periods of frustration and disappointment. Other people get more satisfaction out of painting in a more relaxing way after work/school, or creating fun, but not necessarily amazing, figures to populate their game tables or share as gifts for friends. Neither approach to the hobby is superior to the other, and I know very happy hobbyists in both camps. However, you do need to be aware of what you really enjoy doing in your hobby time. If you’re someone who prefers to paint/sculpt in a casual, more relaxed manner, but you are also expecting to steadily move up in the medal ranks, you are creating some frustration for yourself by not matching your actions to your goals (or vice versa).

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Q: The painting of a Bronze/Silver/Gold in Open or Diorama seems like a different level than a Bronze/Silver/Gold in Painters.

A: Again, good eye, this is absolutely true! All of the categories in the MSP Open are assessed using the same five criteria: Difficulty, Creativity, Workmanship, Painting Skill, and Presentation. But each of those criteria are weighted differently in in each of the categories. There is a numerical breakdown on the MSP Open rules site, and the judges also reference this breakdown when making their decisions. The ReaperCon website includes an archive of photos of every entry since 2012, so you can scan through entries in a category for the past few years to get examples of what was entered into which, and how that entry placed. (Look for the Painting Contest drop down menu at the top of the page. This may not work on mobile.)

Painters: Painting Skill is the primary criteria considered, and is weighted at 70% of the overall assessment of the piece. Painting skill is only 30% of the consideration in both Open and Diorama. A figure can be be awarded Silver or even Gold in those categories with a more modest level of paint job than the standard expected in Painters. (There is more information on the role of a figure’s base in Painters in another FAQ towards the bottom of this article.)

EXAMPLE: The stock figure has a wand in one hand. I replaced this with a familiar, which also required removing the original base of the familiar. This is a very minor conversion. I constructed a larger base which included mushrooms I sculpted and the addition of some rocks and brass etched ferns on the back. Those construction elements are also pretty minor. This piece is not in the spirit of the Open category, and would best be entered in Painters.

Tristan combo open

Diorama: Story and characterization are as important to this category as paint or sculpting. The stronger the story, the better. Creatively compressing the characters and action into a tight scene is better than aiming for something strictly realistic in size dimensions or overwhelming the viewer with a ton of characters and scenic elements. Think of it as making a 3D movie poster or book cover, or a major story panel in a comic book. You need the viewer to grasp your story/vignette after a few seconds of looking at the piece. Achieving the higher medal levels also requires strong workmanship and presentation skills. (Most open format shows do not include a Diorama category. It was added to the MSP Open to reflect the unique interests and focus of the audience at the MSP Open.)

EXAMPLE: For the piece below I had to swap in a hand from another figure (because I lost the original), and I sculpted some rubble. As you can see in the finished pictures below, I later added a second skeleton, and some ground work to mesh everything together. While this involved more sculpting, conversion, and construction work than in my Painters example, this is a fairly minimal amount of sculpting and construction compared to the standard expected in Open. Since it’s painted to a high standard I might receive a Bronze medal, but the piece is not really in the spirit of the category. However, this piece does tell a story, so it would be suitable to enter in Diorama. If I already had a more elaborate entry for Diorama, this would also be appropriate to enter in Painters.

Minx wip combo

Minx closeup combo

Open: Workmanship is worth 30% of the assessment, and Painting Skill is worth 30%. The Gold standard here is a competently painted entry of a figure that is either completely scratch sculpted/heavily converted on a simple base, and/or a significantly converted figure on a more complex base. Open is usually the best choice for non-miniature OOAK (one of a kind) entries. Over the years we have had some wonderfully creative entries including a pendant, a constructed/sculpted abstract sculpture, stuffed animals/puppets, a figure set into a pocket watch, and more. The category is intended to showcase sculpting and construction skills more than painting skills. (Although the first two criteria are equally weighted, much of the assessment for Difficulty, Creativity, and Presentation involves more sculpting/construction than painting.) A head/weapon swap or a simple sculpted addition of a few pouches or similar is not really in the spirit of the Open category, even if such a figure is on a somewhat elaborate base. If you would like your basing skills to be considered more highly, we recommend that you construct your base and paint your figure(s) as a story or vignette and enter your piece into the Diorama category.

NOTE: The judges are not familiar with every miniature that exists, nor even all of the Reaper line. It is very helpful to include a WIP picture of the piece after you’ve finished sculpting and construction but before you’ve primed or painted. Or at the very least to list the figure(s) you used and the changes you’ve made to them on your entry card. If your work is of such high quality that we can’t tell what you added/changed, we may not be able to detect all of the work you’ve done to give you credit for it!

EXAMPLE: For the piece below, I did a head swap for the groom, using the head of the figure on the top left and the body of the lower left. I also had to chisel away the hat and repair the suit. I sculpted a yarmulke onto the groom. For the bride, I removed the belt from the original sculpt and sculpted on a sash. I modified her empty hand to appear as if clutching a bouquet of flowers. Both figures had one hand removed and resculpted to better appear as if they were interacting together. I used stamps to create the texture patterns on the floor. The canopy was constructed from beads, skewers, plasticard/styrene and mesh cloth coated in white glue to form it into my desired shape.

This level of conversion and construction makes this piece appropriate to enter into the Open category. Neither the sculpting/construction nor the painting is top notch, so I wouldn’t expect a Gold, but it’s suitable for Open. Since the piece tells a story, it would also be well-suited for entry in Diorama.  I would likely choose to enter it in Open as this is the most extensive conversion/construction I have ever done.

The picture below that shows the original figure and the piece before painting is the kind of thing that is super helpful to the Open judges. (And it also helps viewers appreciate your work more too!) You can include multiple pictures that reveal your components and sculpting/modifications in more detail, or you can write out the changes and additions like I did in the previous paragraph, but something like this is what we need to be able to identify all the work you’ve done.

Ns wip 800

The mesh cloth did not paint up the way I expected, so I later went in and replaced it with tissue paper soaked in white glue instead. After painting I added flowers to the bride’s hair and gave her a bouquet, and the crushed glass under the groom’s foot, which are also elements of construction compatible with the spirit of the Open category.

Next step front full

Here’s another example. On this figure, I sculpted straps on the dress and shoes on her feet, and added an additional hair decoration. I sculpted the candle and wax drips, and constructed the table from wood. To finish the piece after painting I added a bouquet of flowers and a distressed paper flyer. This would be suitable to enter into Open, ideally with a before painting picture like the one on the left, since this is an older figure that many people might not be familiar with. This piece was designed as a vignette of a scene from The Colour Purple movie. It would also be possible to enter this into Diorama, but since the scene somewhat depends on the viewer recognizing the film scene, I might prefer to enter it into Open. If I did enter it in Diorama and I included the photos, the judges would have enough information to decide to move it to Open if they feel I would score better there.

Purple combo

Ordinance: Painting Skill, and the Workmanship involved in assembling complex kits and depicting the vehicle/weapon within an appropriate environment (including weathering and similar) are significant criteria in this category. Note that any figures or creatures included on the piece are essentially considered as scenic elements would be in another category. Even the most skillfully painted of these has a very minor contribution to the assessment of the piece as a whole.

EXAMPLE: The piece below includes a cannon, which makes it suitable for entry into the Ordinance category. My work on the skeleton would not have a lot of bearing on my placement level, the ordinance figure is the main portion assessed. While the way I painted it isn’t terrible (I used reference photos for the cannon itself), I would probably get dinged pretty hard on the Workmanship criteria since I assembled the cannon the wrong way around on the wagon. (I haven’t painted any true Ordinance entries to have a better example, sorry!)

Spirit cannon face

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Q: I couldn’t get feedback from my specific judges because they weren’t at their desk when I was looking for them or they had long lines of people. Or I couldn’t get feedback at all because I had to leave soon after the awards.

A: The judges do our best to give feedback to everyone we can, but as the attendance of the convention grows, and the number of entries into the contest grows,, that can sometimes be a little more challenging. The judges also have classes to teach or other events they may be involved in, and they’re humans who get tired and need meals. Serving as a judge adds between 5-10 hours of additional duties at the convention.

But it’s important to note that consulting the people who judged your entry is not the only way to get feedback on your work! You also don’t have to wait until after the contest results have been announced to get feedback. Part of the role of all of the artists in Artist Alley is to give people feedback on their pieces. You can start requesting feedback from people as soon as the convention opens on Thursday morning. Don’t be worried that it will affect the judging of your entries if you get feedback from an artist who ends up on the team judging your piece. If someone has given you such extensive feedback that they feel they can’t assess your piece without bias, they will recuse themselves from judging it. We have alternate judges available to step in as necessary for just this kind of reason. Asking for feedback in advance is the best answer for those who plan to leave Saturday night or early Sunday morning, but it’s a great idea for everyone.

If you do wait until after the contest to request feedback, you don’t have to ask only your specific judges. If one of them has a long line, look around Artist Alley for someone else who isn’t busy right now. You can continue to try to connect with your chosen judge, but if you aren’t able to, you’ll at least have some feedback to work with. There tends to be a lot of commonality with the issues we see at the Certificate and Bronze level. If you place at those levels, any of the judges or the artists as a whole are likely to identify and discuss with you the same elements that your judges would.

Whoever or whenever you ask, it is helpful to consult at least two or three people if you can. Even if each identifies the same strengths and weaknesses in your piece, they may each have different different ideas of how best to address those or different ways of explaining the kinds of things you can do to improve in the future. Everyone explains things a little differently, and everyone understands things a little differently, so it’s helpful to get multiple viewpoints.

Artist alleyI took this picture on a Saturday morning when many artists were teaching classes, but there are still several artists available to answer questions and give feedback. This is just one of four rows of artists, and in 2021 when we had fewer than usual. 

 

Q: I had one piece I really wanted feedback on so I entered only that one and showed the rest of my pieces as “Display Only”.

A: I think this is the first year we’ve had people do this, and it was a bit perplexing to the contest administration and judges. For me, the fact that you can enter several pieces in one category instead of feeling like you have to try to game the system and figure out which figure or painting style is likely to get you the best placement is one of the biggest appeals of the Open show system! Which piece is chosen for judging is often surprising to entrants, and something we get a lot of questions about. (The answers to which I’ll cover in a separate FAQ below.)

As I outlined above, you can ask for feedback from any of the instructors in Artist Alley at any time during the show. That includes asking your judges why they chose the piece they did, and asking for feedback on any of your pieces, not just a judged entry. You can get the feedback you want and still enter multiple figures to give yourself a better chance for the best possible medal placement.

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Q: Why did the judges pick this piece to assess? I don’t think it is my best work.

A: This is a very common question. And I get it! I have several times been surprised at the figure an Open show judge team picks to assess from my display. There are two aspects to consider here. One is how and why the judges make their choices, and the other is additional factors that affect how artists might feel about their entries. (Remember, if you want feedback on a piece that wasn’t judged, feel free to head to Artist Alley to get some!)

On the judges end, we are always working to make the choice in your favour. We pick the piece from your entries that we will score the highest. That choice isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always immediately universal to all the members of a judging team. Discussions about which piece to choose are often more contentious than any other aspect of judging. When judges like different pieces, we discuss it, with each judge pointing out the merits of their favourite and issues that might make them a little less enthusiastic about another judge’s preference.

After a few minutes of spirited discussion, we stop and ask ourselves this question: would I give piece X a different score than piece Y. Most of the time the answer is no. Whatever level an artist paints/sculpts at tends to apply to most of the work they do, or at least the work that they choose to bring to enter into a contest. If we are in agreement that all of the pieces from an entrant are of equal merit for the judging criteria in that category, we try to choose one that showcases your work best to viewers, has a great title, or in some other way stands out a little. We try to pick the one we think you would have liked us to pick, but we don’t always get it right.

Occasionally one of the judges does feel that they would give a more positive score to piece X than piece Y. When that happens the other two judges agree to judge that figure too. On the rare occasion that multiple judges on a team have strong opinions about different pieces, we keep talking it out until we come to an agreement.

If that seems like we’re being cavalier or off-handed, I assure you that is not the case. Remember that we are judging not just your entries, but upwards of a thousand entries from hundreds of artists. We have a limited number of judges and deadlines to meet. We would rather spend less of our limited time deciding which of your figures to judge and more time actually looking at the piece we choose to judge in detail!

So that is why the judges do what they do. But it’s also worth thinking about why you may have feelings about their choice. Often people who feel disappointed expected a particular piece to be chosen because they were trying out more complex and challenging techniques on it – you’re trying to push your non-metallic metal or paint source lighting or something like that. We artists often tend to place less value on work we’ve done that didn’t feel difficult to make. If it felt easy, then we can’t have been using our very best effort making it, right? However, sometimes something feels easier to do because we’re using skills we’ve already mastered. It’s not necessarily that the task really is easy, it’s that we’re more practiced and comfortable performing that task. Whereas if we’re trying out new skills and techniques, the first few times we do them we’re beginners again. The skill may be considered ‘higher level’, but maybe our current mastery of it isn’t quite yet.

Occasionally you may also produce what I call a ‘happy marriage’ piece. This is one where your style, the techniques you used, the subject matter, and your colour choices all come together to make something that just really works, regardless of how easy or hard it felt to make it. If you post a piece online and it gets a lot more likes and shares than your usual work and you’re a bit puzzled by that, chances are it’s a happy marriage miniature, and it’s happened to all of us occasionally!

I think the other reason people are surprised or upset about which piece was judged is the difference in experience between being the maker of something and being the viewer of something. Viewers see only the piece before them. They may bring some emotions and preferences along with that, like maybe you used their favourite colour or the figure is a subject they really love. (Contest judges are trained put those kinds of feelings aside to the best of our ability and assess the pieces as neutrally as we can.)

As the maker of something, you can never really look at it through other people’s eyes. You’ve looked at your piece too long, too hard, and through all different stages to ever be able to view it with a purely neutral eye. In addition, your experiences and emotions are wrapped up into your assessment of it. Maybe you feel very excited about this piece because it’s the first thing you’ve finished after an art block. Maybe you feel protective of this figure because it was made as a gift for someone you deeply care about, or during a very emotional period of your life. Maybe you think the piece that was chosen didn’t deserve it for similar emotional reasons – it didn’t come out the way you wanted, or it was painted during a tough time in your life. The judges, and viewers in general, can’t know what you know or feel what you feel about the piece or your life circumstances. There often is emotion in our work, and viewers respond to that, but the complex tapestry of feelings and life experiences that goes into the making of a contest level piece (or anything you’ve spent a lot of time on) isn’t readily apparent to the outside viewer.

I imagine most people who’ve entered an open style contest or who post their work on social media have had this experience. I certainly have! I’ve painted pieces where I felt throughout the process that I was levelling up and addressing the most common critiques of my work, only to have those pieces receive the same old feedback. I’ve had pieces I thought were quite skillfully done that neither judges nor viewers much cared for. And there are other figures where I believe I failed to achieve basic principles that have gotten tons more likes and shares than pieces I’ve done that I like the most or feel have more artistic merit.

Below is a picture of my display at the World Expo open show in 2017. I originally only intended to bring the four pieces to the right, but a friend suggested I add another to have an odd number of figures in my display, and I picked the one on the left. The giantess is covered in freehand and has a much more elaborate base than any of the others. I had expected that one to be judged, partly because the viewers and judges of many open shows are accustomed to figures of a larger scale. The figure on the lower left is still the most popular of anything I’ve posted online. The figure on the bottom right won a previous contest that it was entered into. The judges chose to assess the one on the far left, which I had painted eight years previous and hadn’t even planned to bring originally. I did have some feelings about that for a bit. Had I really not improved at all in eight years? But I decided not to dwell on it. The judges chose what they did in my favour. Now that some years have gone by and I’ve continued to study and learn, I understand that there are areas where the older piece succeeds over the others.

World expo 2017

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Q: I was told the base of the figure didn’t matter in Painters, but the feedback from my judges included a lot of commentary about improving my bases, what gives?

A: Painting skill assessment is 70% of what is considered in the Painters category. Workmanship and Creativity are each worth 10%. Difficulty and Presentation are each worth 5%. The base of your figure can factor into the consideration in those four latter criteria, and even give you more scope to show off your painting skills. These are some likely scenarios:

Base Factors that can Negatively Affect Scoring

* The figure is visibly floating on a pin or has one leg not firmly glued down – lowers Workmanship and Presentation

* Basing materials like sand, gravel, or stones are unpainted – lowers Workmanship and Presentation, also reflects a little on Painting Skill since this is an area where you could be using to demonstrate the ability to paint different kinds of materials and textures

Base Factors that are Neutral to Scoring

* Figure is on a plain black base, clear flying stand, wood plinth or similar with no basing elements added

* Figure is on its integral base or a simple stone/wood/sand texture base that is competently painted

* There are some more complex basing elements and everything is competently painted, but maybe it’s not the most seamless or perfect base construction

Base Factors that can Positively Affect Scoring

* The base is well-constructed and competently painted

* The elements present on the base add additional opportunities for the painter to demonstrate skill painting different materials and textures, or to demonstrate different kinds of painting techniques or effects. This is particularly helpful if the figure itself is very limited in materials/textures, like an elemental or statue that is made up of only one or two kinds of material.

Neutral or even negative scoring on a base occasionally affects placement at Certificate or Bronze level. If your judges scored you 2 2 1 or 2 2 2, it is very unlikely that you would have earned a Silver Medal if your figure had had a different base. If your judges scored you 2 2 3 and your base had elements that I listed as negatively affecting scoring, it is possible that you might have been able to earn a Silver with a neutral or more elaborate base.

Hr group fullI entered these as a single entry in 2017. The figures are sculpted with those bases, I just painted them. I was awarded Gold. Many of the figures I’ve won Gold with have been on integral or simple bases.

I have won multiple Gold medals with figures that just had standard Reaper integral bases, or minimal scratch sculpted basing. I even won enough votes for Best in Show votes in 2014 to place second with a stock base. I’m well-known for simple or even kind of bad bases, but I do paint them up as well as I can! ;->

Sophie2014 faceI won second place Best in Show with this figure in 2014. It is also an example of a piece that other people gave me more credit for than I thought I merited (Largely this is because I just followed the colour scheme in Izzy’s design art and there wasn’t any particularly fancy painting other than the base being a lot of NMM. I think its popularity was due as much or more to Bobby Jackson’s sculpting and Izzy “Talin” Collier’s fine design work.)  The judges chose to assess another piece in my display, which is something that I had put a lot of care and thought into painting and that I really loved, but the voters chose this one

I can’t speak to all judges, but I am very unlikely award a Silver score to a base with unpainted basing elements, regardless of the quality of painting on the figure. I consider painting the stone/sand/wood/etc. on the base to be in scale with the rest of the figure to fall under the umbrella of the Painting Skill criteria. I would have no problem awarding a Silver score to a figure on a plain/clear/wood plinth or base. Your judges are mentioning basing factors to you because a competently constructed base and one which offers you additional painting opportunities can help push you into the Silver level, and is pretty much required to place at the Gold level.

Cersei by marikeThis Cersei figure from Darksword Miniatures was painted by Marike Reimer. It demonstrates how even a fairly simple base can expand your painting options. Marike sculpted the back of the skirt to flow over the stones, which allowed her to paint the transparency effect on the dress over an additional material. She also added regal pillows that contributed to the characterization of the figure and the composition of the piece as a whole.

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Q: Why do some people’s entry displays have photos and/or documents next to them?

A: Entrants are welcome to submit related material with an entry. Some share WIP pictures, some talk about their inspirations, and some may share historical or other facts related to their entry. Entrants are also welcome to jot some information like that down on their entry card. We particularly encourage entrants in the Open category to give us more information about what sculpting changes and additions they’ve made, with before/after pictures if possible. When entrants are very skilled we might miss the changes you’ve made and give you less credit than you deserve! It’s impossible for the judges to know every miniature and what it looks like stock out of the catalog, or even just to be that familiar with the Reaper ones. We try to do some research if we have something to go on to do it, but we just don’t have a lot of time to spend trying to remember the names of figures and looking for catalog pictures of them online.

BessieAt the Atlanta AMFS open show, I included this card with my entry, to give more information on the historical figure Bessie Coleman. (I forgot to take a picture of my display at the show, I took this photo later at home.)

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Q: What is ‘Display Only’?

A: When you set up a display for your entries, you can also include pieces designated Display Only. These figures are available for everyone to enjoy viewing, but they are not assessed by the judges. They may be figures you’ve entered previously or work you want to safely show off to people. It’s a way for everyone to put out their work to be appreciated similar to the way the instructors in Artist Alley do. If you have a commission service or a miniature-related social media show/page, it’s a way to display more of your work and include a business card with your contact information.

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Figures in this Post

Tristan the Loremistress is available in metal.
The Sorceress was a Kickstarter exclusive from Minx Miniatures and long out of production.
I believe the scenic base was produced by Reaper and is also out of production.
The RPG Geek is available as part of a pack of Townsfolk: Geeks in metal.
Tasker, Henchman is available in metal.
Tinley, Female Wizard is available in metal.
The African Queen is available in metal.
The Soul Cannon is available in metal.
The Frost Giant Queen is available in Bones plastic.
Bourbon Street Sophie is available in metal.
Treasure Rocky is available in Bones plastic.
This version of Tara the Silent was a special addition and is out of production.
Ar-Fienel was a limited edition figure and is out of production.
The High Rollers are available in Bones plastic.
Sheriff Sophie is available in metal.
Cersei Lannister is available in metal.
Tillie Fighter Pilot is available in metal.

Bugbear: Before and After Touchup

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Most of us actively seek out feedback on our miniatures to discover what people like about them and what we could do to improve our work. But often we are reluctant to repaint or do touchups on the figure that receives feedback, which makes it difficult to visualize what our figure might look like if we addressed the feedback issues. To help encourage people to give it a try, and to provide an apples to apples comparison, I did a critique and then touchup on this bugbear miniature to provide a visual example of feedback in action. I have previously done a similar exercise with a human blacksmith figure, and also a digital touchup comparison.

Bugbear ba front crLeft: The miniature I critiqued.
Right: The same figure revised to address some of the critique issues.

If you prefer video, you’re in luck! I did the critique and paint touchups on a couple of live streams of my Beyond the Kit show on the Reaper Twitch channel. During the streams I also used some other figures to show examples of common issues with contest entries, and I have additional blog entries on that topic as well. (Currently the video links are to Twitch, I will update these to YouTube links when they become available.) This article includes a summary of the critique and what I revised, as well as before and after pictures for you to compare.

As with the blacksmith, one of my goals with this exercise is to encourage people to be less afraid of doing touchups and revisions to completed figures. If you are nervous about trying it on an important figure you’ve received feedback on, you can still take the general ideas from that feedback and try to apply them to an older figure or something you painted quickly for a game to get more comfortable with the process. 

Bugbear ba back crLeft: The miniature I critiqued.
Right: The same figure revised to address some of the critique issues.

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 The Critique

My first step was to critique the original miniature. I identified several common issues that experienced instructors or contest judges see when they assess a figure. Bear in mind that this is actually a more thorough review than you are likely to receive in social media comments or after a contest. I had plenty of time to assess the miniature carefully and consider how best the issues might be addressed, whereas a busy contest judge or instructor might have only a few moments to spend talking with you about your figure. This is one of the reasons I encourage you to work to improve your visual eye and critical thinking skills. You are the person in the best position and with the most time to help you improve.

Bugbear before crThe before version.

Below is a summary of the main issues I found with the bugbear. If you prefer, you can watch the video to see the figure in the round and watch me point at the specific areas in question for each topic.

Paint Job Damage
It’s hard to see in the photo, but there are a few chips on the leather straps and kilt. I can’t speak for all judges, but I tend to assume a one or two isolated areas of damage could have happened during the trip to the event, and I don’t penalize entrants for that. 

Unfinished!
Areas that are unpainted or partially painted or extensive damage are a different issue than minor damage, however. That kind of issue reflects on the general workmanship of the figure, which is definitely a factor that contest judges consider! Although this bugbear was stored in my completed game figures case, when I started to look at it I saw several incomplete or outright unpainted areas: the strap on the shield, the rivets on the leg guard and shoulder strap, the claws/nails, and the facial details like eyes and teeth. This is an extreme example, but it’s actually pretty common to forget to finish (or even start) a part of a figure. I often take a couple of photographs before I’m completely done with something and make a checklist of issues to address while I’m doing the final touches on a figure. (I have an example of doing that in this article on Tara the Silent.)

Assembly and Presentation
Paint is not the only element that affects how viewers (and particularly contest judges) assess your figure. Assembly, basing, mould line removal, and other hobby skills are also important. On this bugbear, the straps and hand are a separate piece from the shield. They were not attached well at the factory. This breaks the illusion that the bugbear is really holding the shield. My Tips for Contest Entries Part 1 article has examples of other common hobby skill issues.

Definition
This miniature has a pretty solid foundation of colour and value choices. Those give it a good level of definition and make it readable to the viewer – it’s easy to tell at a glance and from a distance what the various areas of the figure are, and the general nature of the character. The shiny metallic areas stand out well from the more matte skin, cloth, and leather areas. The lighter skin stands out from the darker leather, fur, and cloth. The skin, cloth, and the bags are more saturated colours than the rest of the gear. This contrast between areas is a different kind of contrast than miniature painters usually talk about, but one which is just as important. You can read more about the importance of definition and the arm’s length view in Tips for Contest Entries Part 2

I scaled the photos down to simulate seeing the figure from a distance or in a thumbnail. Try to view these photos about 2” or 5cm tall. You can see that the stronger contrast between areas, the increased shadow/highlight contrast, and the added lining make the revised figure more ‘legible’ to the viewer at a smaller size/from a greater distance.

Bugbear before smBefore

Bugbear after smAfter

Face and Skin
The main issue with the face is that it lacks detail and interest. The eyes and teeth aren’t really painted as separate areas. If a figure has a visible face, that is a very important part of the miniature, and should be painted as the main focal point unless the story of your piece dictates otherwise. The skin overall is pretty good and has a decent level of contrast. But it could have more contrast, and more importantly, more depth and interest.

Contrast
The shadow/highlight contrast level isn’t bad, but there are areas that would benefit from more – the fur of the figure, the fur trim on the weapon, and the kilt are the primary ones.

Colour Cohesion
While the overall colour choices work in terms of visual definition, it doesn’t quite gel together as a coherent colour scheme. It also lacks some  cohesion. In particular, the blue and green bags on the back are a little random. Those colours are not present elsewhere on the figure, and they don’t really fit the type of character. The base colours don’t conflict with the rest of the figure, but they also doesn’t mesh with it, either.

Detail and Visual Interest
Apart from the unfinished bits everything is painted to a decent standard, but there’s not much detail or visual interest. This kind of figure provides opportunities for weathering and wear and tear that could help with that.

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Prepping the Figure

I did this part prior to the stream. I dusted the figure off with canned air and brushed it with a large brush. Then I mixed a solution of water with 91% isopropyl alcohol and brushed that over the figure. My goal was to remove any dust and also skin oils that might be on it from handling in game play. Acrylic paint adheres well to acrylic paint, but not as well to grease floating on top of acrylic paint. Painting over dusty miniatures could result in a rough bumpy looking surface.

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The Touchups

I used to be very nervous to do touchups on a miniature, or even just to go back over an area I had thought was finished to increase the contrast or make other tweaks. Eventually I found that if I kept notes of the colours I used used and if I kept mixes to only two colours I wasn’t likely to have problems. Now I don’t even worry about that. If you stay even roughly in the same colour family, the key is to try to match value. Value is how dark or light a colour is. If you’re working on adding more highlights, aim to start  by beginning with a paint colour that is roughly the same value as your current highlights. Then lighten it up and add a bit more and paint on some more highlights to create additional contrast. Or the reverse with shadows – start close to the current shadow level and then add darker colours.

That is what I did on the figure below. I matched the actual colours pretty well on the skin and the teal part. I did not match the colour as well on the purple part, but because the colour I did use was in the same colour family and I started with similar values, the end result is a slightly different colour, but nothing looks ‘messed up’. (An article with larger pictures is available.)

Vic1 wip combo crFrom left to right: 
The starting point
Added contrast to the skin.
Added contrast to the dress.
Added contrast to the teal areas (cloak, underskirt, and ribbons).

It might be best to start experimenting with some older figures you wouldn’t be upset to mess up a little. It can take time to improve your eye for matching value, and improving your eye will help your overall painting, not just this kind of revision. Also keep in mind that acrylic paint doesn’t really dry immediately. If you make a mistake, just grab a damp brush and scrub it off. Then let it dry, adjust your paint mix, and try again. I cut the bristles short on an old worn out flat brush and it works particularly well as an ‘eraser’ on recently applied paint. And even if you don’t see the mistake right away or you have trouble scrubbing it off, remember that you can paint over mistakes with fresh paint.

To demonstrate my belief that you don’t need to use the exact same colours to do touchups, most of the paints I used were brand new colours that weren’t on the market when I first painted the bugbear. I used colours from the ReaperCon 2020 and 2021 swag boxes, and those that had just released as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter fulfillment. I added a few additional colours because that collection of paints didn’t include any standard steel and gold metallics or a dark brown. I didn’t keep track of the colours as I was painting, but I think I mention them as I use them in the videos.

Bugbear after frontFront view of the revised version.

Below is an outline of my changes. 

Construction
I used a thin strip of plastic to apply glue between the straps and the shield and held the two parts together until the superglue set. It would be ideal to do this before starting to paint, but sometimes we don’t notice things or we have to make repairs to damaged painted figures. There was one strap that didn’t want to stay glued, and for the fix to really look seamless I would have needed to fill some gaps. Painting the straps dark and using dark shading on that section of the shield helps divert the eye from looking around there much. You can see a little spot of light colour in the above photo where the strap pulled away that I should have covered with darker paint to conceal.

Finish
The most important paint task was to get paint on the parts I missed the first time! I painted the shield straps, the rivets on the shoulder strap and leg guard, the eyes, the teeth and tongue, and the claws. The eyes are fairly small, so I went with a simple all black eye and a small light reflection dot of white.

Colour Cohesion
I wanted to tweak the colours a little to be more visually interesting and to work together a little more. I decided to paint over the blue bag on the back. I kept the green bag, and worked it into the colour scheme by introducing green into other areas of the figure. I wanted to focus on a colour scheme of red and green. I glazed some additional red into his skin with very transparent paint. I added more saturated red into the midtone of the red kilt, and also added more highlights with a bit more saturated orange and yellow. I thinned down a dark green colour (Goggler Green) and painted it into the shadow areas of the skin and the red kilt. I also added some to the shadow areas of the weapon and shield, though that was offscreen. I repainted the base with browns and greens used on the figure to suggest either an outdoor setting or a dirt and moss covered cave floor, as that was another way to add some additional green and tie things together.

Bugbear after backBack view of the revised version.

Lining and Definition
I had done some lining when I first painted this, but there were areas where I needed to make it stronger or clean it up. I lined around the belt and shoulder rivets, and the design on the belt buckle. I darkened the lining at the base of the claws where they meet the fingers. I increased the lining between the various elements on the weapon and I think it looks more defined now. I added definition with both darker and lighter paint on some of the wood areas on the shield.

Increased Contrast
I deepened shadows and increased highlights on many areas of the figure. The fur was one I paid particular attention to. The fur on his body didn’t have enough contrast to fully indicate the shapes of his muscles on the back view. Increasing the highlights on the fur around the face also helps draw the viewer’s eye there a bit more. The fur trim on the weapon was defined, but was kind of boring to look at. I gave it some additional highlights to make it appear a little shinier and more interesting to look at. I increased the shading on many of the metal areas, and touched up highlights there as necessary as well. The gold in particular needed more highlights. Although I was pretty happy with the original painting on the green bag, I added a bit more contrast to that as well.

Wear and Tear
In addition to slightly increasing the contrast on the straps, I also tried to make the leather look a little more worn, though I didn’t go crazy with that. I accented the rips sculpted into the kilt fabric by applying darker paint to the depressions, and highlighting around the edges of holes and rips. I used reddish brown and orange colours to apply rust all over the metal areas. He is sculpted as someone who takes great care of his equipment, but to really make that apparent to the viewer requires reinforcing the damaged areas with paint.

Bugbear after faceFace angle of the revised version.

Off Stream
Much of the changes were painted during the two streams, but I did do some of it off-stream. I wasn’t sure I could paint the small details on stream. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to position the figure so I could see it and also keep it in frame so viewers could see it. I didn’t think about repainting the base until the end of the second stream. The initial layers of paint were still wet, so I worked on that more later. I also did a bit more work on the shading of the metallics and enhancing the texture of the shield off stream. I hadn’t really thought too much about the rust previously, but as I was working on finishing the changes to the metallics it seemed like a way to tie in some more orange and yellow, add some visual interest, and reflect the nature of the character.

It has been my experience that looking at painted figures in black and white can help people (including me) more easily see the effects of added contrast and lining, so I’ve converted the bugbear pictures to grayscale. While hue and saturation can add valuable contrast to our figures, they tend to look most visually effective if there is also some solid value contrast, both between the shadows and highlights, and between different areas of the figure. Taking a black and white picture of something you’re working on is a great way to get a different view of it. Looking at black and white pictures is also a great way to see if you really have as much contrast between your highlights and shadows as you think you do. Most cellphone cameras have a black and white mode or editing feature that allows you to convert photos to black and white so you can check your own figures while you’re painting.

If you’re having trouble spotting the specific differences that add up to the overall difference, another thing you can try is to compare individual parts. For example, look at the ear on the two figures below. The updated ear has a darker line of shadow under the upper ear ridge, and that helps you more clearly see the individual parts of the ear. If you compare the belt buckle, the darker lining in the crevices of the design and the additional highlights on the relief of the design help you better see the design, and make the belt buckle stand out more from the belt. Added highlights on the rivets on the belt also help those stand out more distinctly, even when viewed at smaller size. 

Both of these techniques are also useful if you’re doing some practice painting to try to match someone else’s work. For example, if you’re following a tutorial, pause after each major step and compare your work to what the demonstrator has painted at that stage. Convert pictures to black and white to better compare the values. Look at individual sections or areas within sections. Where have they made things darker/lighter, or put the texture, etc. 

Bugbear ba front cr bw

Bugbear ba back cr bw

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Other Comparison Studies

If you would like to see another comparison with a different figure (and also a comparison between two similar figures), I wrote an article with a digital repaint of the figure below.

Blibby before after cr

I also did a similar project with a human blacksmith.

Smith ba front cr

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Figures in this Post

The Bugbear is available in Bones plastic or metal.
The Blacksmith is available in Bones plastic or metal in a pack with two other townsfolk. The copy I’ve shown here is Bones.
The Victorian lady is available in a pack with a second Victorian lady in metal.
Beach Babe Libby is available in metal.

Blacksmith: Before and After Touchup

Patreon supporters receive a PDF copy with high res photos!

Most of us love to get feedback on our miniatures. What did we do that worked well? What could we do to improve? When we get that feedback we are often reluctant to alter the original figure, for a variety of reasons. But without taking that step, many of us find it difficult to visualize what the figure would look like if it were tweaked to adopt some of the suggestions. I did a critique and repaint of a figure to provide a visual example.

Smith ba front crLeft: The before miniature that I critiqued.
Right: The miniature touched up to respond to some of the critique issues.

Conventions and shows are back on the calendar, and people are preparing miniatures to enter at ReaperCon and other events. I want to spend some time over the next few months addressing some common issues that come up in post-contest critiques to give people an opportunity to try to catch and address some of those before they enter their figures into a contest.

On the third episode of my Beyond the Kit Stream on Twitch, I talked about common issues in contest entries, gave critique on a miniature, and then did touchups to that miniature based on the issues mentioned in the critique. I used a blacksmith miniature I had painted for use in our home role-playing games. I’ve written this article as a summary of what I did in the video, and to share the before and after pictures for direct comparison.

My secondary goal with this project is to encourage you to try doing some touchups on your figures. You don’t have to begin experimenting with touchups on your entry or a special figure that you previously received feedback on. You can take the general ideas from that feedback and try them out on an older figure or something you painted quickly for game use to get more comfortable with the idea and the process. If you are working on an entry for a contest, I encourage you to work on it well in advance of the deadline. Once you think you’re finished, put it aside for a few weeks. Then come back and look at it with a critical eye. Is there as much contrast as you thought there was while painting? Do you need to tidy anything up? You will often be able to assess your figure more clearly if you take a break and return to it with fresh eyes.

The ReaperCon MSP Open (and most other contests that are organized under the show system) is open to painters (and sculptors/converters) of all levels and experience, as well as to figures from any manufacturer and in a variety of sizes and scales. Entries are judged against standard established for their category, and awarded Certificate, Bronze, Silver, or Gold accordingly. The number of awards at each level is not limited in any way, and entrants are competing only against the standard and their own previous placements, not against each other. Many of our entrants are newer to the hobby or people who prefer to paint for gaming, and those entrants are as interested in feedback as seasoned competitive painters. This figure was selected to demonstrate some of the issues that are often identified on Certificate and Bronze level entries. I often see these types of issues in online contest entries as well.

Smith ba back crLeft: The before miniature that I critiqued and then repainted.
Right: The miniature touched up to respond to some of the critique issues.

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The Critique

First I gave the figure a critique. I went over the issues that would likely come up if an experienced painter or contest judge were to review this figure. One of the best parts of ReaperCon is that painters and judges are available to give people feedback on their work, although this is certainly not the only venue for feedback!

Note that this is a very thorough review. I had more time to assess and consider the figure than most people offering critique will have. And since it was my own figure, I didn’t mind tearing into it a little! I wanted to try to cover as many of the more common feedback notes as I could so people who have received that note on their work in the past can get a better understanding of what it means than they might have been able to in a busy convention setting or a short comment on an Facebook/Instagram photo.

Smith before combo crThe before version.

I’m going to run over the main feedback topics here. You may also find it helpful to watch the video to get a view of the figure in the round. In the video you can also see me pointing to the specific parts I’m discussing.

Paint Job Damage
It’s hard to see in the photo, but there are a few chips on the bracer. I can’t speak for all judges, but if I see one or two isolated chips or scratches on a figure entered at a convention, I tend to assume those could have happened in transportation to the event, and I don’t ding entrants at all for that.

Metallic Paint on Apron
If you look just above the pocket, you can see a light line of paint. It’s actually metallic paint, so it’s even more noticeable when you’re moving the figure around because it looks shiny. Judges do prefer to see a clean and finished paint job where the painter has gone back and corrected and tidied up issues like this.

Visual Impact/Colour Scheme
These issues are more obvious if you look at the figure from a distance or scale down the size of the photographs. And if you think about it, scaled down is how a lot of people will first encounter your miniature – on a shelf or table at a distance, or in a thumbnail on a webpage. You need to catch their eye there to make them want to look closer and see all the detail work you’ve done. This figure reads decently from the back due to the red-green colour contrast and better alteration of lighter – darker areas on the figure. In the front view the apron and skin kind of blend together. The face doesn’t stand out much. The viewer’s eye is more likely to go to the higher contrast, saturation, and texture detail of the anvil and/or stump area. This is partly related to shadow/highlight contrast, but is more affected by colour and value choices for the main areas of the figure.

Smith before combo crI scaled the figure down to simulate seeing it from a distance or as a thumbnail.

You can review the Catalog of Contrast for an overview of the different kinds of contrast we can use to make our figures easier to ‘read’ and draw attention where we want it.

Head Poorly Defined
The face and head area do not command the attention they should. People are drawn to look at faces, so painters need to make them clear and interesting to look at. 

Contrast
Of course it doesn’t have enough contrast! It’s the eternal struggle for all of us.

Generic not Specific
The apron and anvil on the figure are probably the best painted areas in terms of paint application technique. At the same time, they are also kind of generic and dull. We think we know what a lot of things look like, such as leather. But our mental images for objects are often amalgamations of all the individual examples we’ve seen, which tends to make them generic or symbolic. When you think of an apple, you probably think of something like a Red Delicious apple – uniformly red, fairly symmetrical in shape, etc. If you look at some individual apples next time you’re at the grocery store, you’ll find very few of them actually look like that! They’re all kinds of weird shapes and a mix of colours. When I looked up images of working blacksmiths to see what their aprons and tools looked like, they had details of texture and wear that my painted blacksmith did not.

Blacksmith working on the anvil 2000Look at that cool texture on the apron! And the anvil has some light rust with brown and orange in it. Photo from goodfreephotos.com.

Reality versus Exaggeration
This is a thorny issue for many miniature painters. We want to paint something that looks realistic. One issue is that we often don’t check in on reality before we make painting decisions. Like with the blacksmith’s apron. Rough and damaged is how a working blacksmith’s apron looks in reality, not the nice smooth blends I originally painted. The second issue is that we tend to be restrained in our depictions of textures and effects to try to be more realistic. I’ll come back to this in future articles, but during the stream we talked about the idea of going big and exaggerating effects – make OSL so bright viewers will need shades, contrast so extreme no one could ever say you need more, wet t-shirt rather than slightly transparent cloth etc. Partly I suggest this because the small size of miniatures means we need to exaggerate for people to see and understand the effect at all, and this is more important than super strict realism. I also suggest going to the extreme because even when it feels like you’re doing that, you probably aren’t. But you’re more likely to get to where you need to be more quickly if you push for the extreme than if you hesitantly increment up your level of contrast.

The Base
Entries in the Painters category at the MSP Open at ReaperCon are judged primarily on painting. Basing work and general construction and prep are a smaller part of what is considered. So the base on this figure would be judged for how it is painted, but would not be penalized for being an integral base glued on top of a round base without any additional groundwork. If I were entering this in a different style of contest I would definitely want to flesh out the base, however.

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Prepping the Figure

I did this part prior to the stream. I dusted the figure off with canned air and brushed it with a large brush. Then I mixed a solution of water with 91% isopropyl alcohol and brushed that over the figure. My goal was to remove any dust and also skin oils that might be on it from handling in game play. Acrylic paint adheres well to acrylic paint, but not as well to grease floating on top of acrylic paint. Painting over dusty miniatures could result in a rough bumpy looking surface.

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The Touchups

One of the things I wanted to demonstrate in the stream is that doing touchups might be less scary than you think. I was hesitant to do them for a long time in my earlier days of painting, and I regret that. I encourage you to learn from my mistakes and give it a try! You don’t have to try it on a cherished contest miniature, you can start to experiment on an older or speed painted figure that you don’t have a strong emotional attachment to.

It is less important to match exact colours than you would think. When I did contrast touchups on the figure below, I did not correctly remember the colours I had used on the dress. While I prefer the purples I originally used to the pinks of the revised version, the slight shift in colour did not ruin the underlying paint blending and the contrast is definitely much more effective in the revised version.

Vic1 combo face cr

The key to making this work is to concentrate on value. Value is how light or dark something is. So if you get a skin tone that is kinda sorta similar to your original one and you paint a shadow mix into the shadow area and the value of those shadows is pretty close, it should work fine. Then you add in some darker shadows and increase the contrast from there. 

If you put some paint down and the value is way off (it’s much lighter or darker than the area where you placed it), just grab a damp brush and scrub it off. Then tweak your mix and try again. Doing this value matching will get easier the more you practice like this, and practicing it will help your overall painting considerably, it’s not just useful for doing touchups. 

Vic1 wip combo back cr

If you study the teal areas in the above photo, I think you can get an idea of the process. If you look at the side of her hood to the right side of her head, it’s the same before and after. That was essentially the midtone, and I didn’t touch that area with new paint. I added darker shadows under the fold of the hood, and lighter highlights on the peaks of the folds and the top of the hood.

To prove the courage of my convictions about not needing to match colour, I used brand new paint colours to touch up the blacksmith. These colours had not been released when I first painted the figure. These included colours from the swag boxes for the upcoming ReaperCon 2021 (currently on preorder) and colours that are releasing as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter fulfillment. I was sent preview copies of these. I’ll list the exact colours I used to touch up the blacksmith and include scans of swatches at the end of this post.

Contrast
I added more contrast to the blacksmith in a similar way as to that Victorian lady above. I took the shadows of areas down a step or three darker than they started, and applied highlights a step or three lighter than where those started. So when working on the highlights, I started with a value pretty similar to what was there and applied that. Then I mixed a lighter value and applied that on top in a smaller area, and then a lighter value again in a smaller area on top of that. The areas I applied contrast with standard layering include the skin, the pants, the leather (boots and bracer) and the hair. With the hair and beard I used the side of the brush held perpendicular to the texture to keep paint out of the recesses between the strands.

Note that I did not push the contrast on the blacksmith to the extreme of what I personally would paint at this point in my hobby journey. I was trying to simulate what someone at an earlier stage of their painting journey might do if attempting to push to what they would feel is extreme contrast.

Texture
I wanted to add both contrast and texture to the apron and anvil. I used brushes designed for stippling to do this. These have stiffer bristles. One was cut flat, the other was more of a teardrop shape. As with drybrushing I used more opaque paint to keep the stipple texture visible.

Based on my reference photos I added stronger texture to the apron and more subtle texture and colour variation to the anvil. Adding texture to the anvil at all goes back to the point about exaggeration versus realism that I discussed above. If you scaled my blacksmith reference photos down to the size of a miniature, you probably would not detect much texture or even colour variation on the anvil. We had a couple of people with smithing experience on the stream who pointed out that a good smith would take good enough care of their tools to not have much visible rust. Adding a bit more visible rust to the miniature anyway makes the miniature more specific, more interesting, and more readable, and it doesn’t stretch reality to a ridiculous point.

Kovář při práci Velikonoční trhy na Václavském náměstí 055 2000This photo of a blacksmith shows a different colour of apron with similar wear, and more of the subtle variation of colours on an anvil. Photo by Matěj “Dědek” Baťha from Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Colour Variation and Unity
It is helpful to add some colour variation to miniatures to add visual interest so people enjoy looking at them more. Among other things, this mimics the effect of reflected light and colour casts in light that happens in reality. Using the same couple of colours to mix the deepest shadows and lightest highlights is another way to trying to create some colour unity and give the impression that everything is being lit by the same light source.

For the blacksmith, I thinned down Carnival Purple and added it into the shadows of most of the items on the figure. Even a little bit in his hair! I applied it to the darker areas of the apron, and the shadow areas of the skin and pants. Purple often works well applied over the shadows of many colours, or even mixed into your shadow colours. Adding some hints of rust colours on the anvil is another example of adding colour variation. I applied a thin glaze of red to the blacksmith’s cheeks and the tip of his nose.

Definition: Lining and Edging
There was a bit of definition on this miniature, but I added more. Definition is an issue that comes up a lot in ReaperCon critiques, and just in general critique. Techniques like lining and edging help define the different surfaces that make up a miniature and allow the viewer to more easily see what is what on the figure. It helps it stand out and get noticed on the table/shelf/thumbnail. I applied lining in several areas of the figure, and did edging around the edges of the apron.

Adding lining is probably the number one tip I would give a newer painter to improve their work. People often feel like it is unrealistic. And again I would say look at reality. You will often see a shadow line where one part of the body or an item of clothing overhangs another. Lining is based on that principle. So it’s not just something from cartoons and comics, it’s something from real life. Edging involves applying a lighter colour to the edge of a surface, like the hem of a cloak. These areas often do catch the eye a little more or look lighter due to greater wear and tear. 

For a more extensive discussion of the importance of definition and lining and for another before and after example, see this article.

Details
I was not able to work on them on stream (they’re very small and inset), but after the stream I did try to improve the eyes over what I had originally painted. I also tried to add some additional shadows and highlights on the metallic areas after the stream, but I don’t feel like these made a lot of difference. 

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Arm’s Length View and Black and White Study

Compare the scaled down images of the before and after pictures. You can see more information in the small view of the touched up figure than you could on the original. That is due to having increased the contrast and adding definition through lining and edging. You can’t really see all  the sculpted texture of the stump and hair, or the painted texture on the apron from a distance. Nor can you see all of the subtle colour variations. The same is true of freehand or other details we often add to figures. But you need the effect of contrast and definition to make a figure readable at a distance and draw the viewer in to take a closer look at all of the details and subtlety you’ve added.

Smith ba front cr small

Smith ba back cr small

If you are viewing this on a mobile device, try to scale the above pictures down to the size of a miniature viewed at arm’s length to better compare the before and after. Areas where you can most strongly see the effect of contrast are the muscles of the back, the hair and beard, and the folds on the pants.

The last time I posted a before and after like this, some people commented that they couldn’t see much difference between the before and after. It can take some time and effort to develop our critical/artistic eye, just like it does to develop our brush handling dexterity. It may help to view the image converted to black and white so you can concentrate solely on the contrast and definition differences. Another trick you can try is comparing one small area at a time. Compare just the before left boot to the after right boot, and so on. Think of it like one of those spot the difference picture games.   You can also consider this an argument for why almost all critique includes the comment to increase contrast. The viewer always sees less of it than the painter does!

Smith ba front cr bw

Smith ba back cr bw

If you would like to see another comparison with a different figure (and also a comparison between two similar figures), I wrote an article with a digital repaint of the figure below.

Blibby before after cr

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The Colours

On episode two of Beyond the Kit I did a lot of colour swatching. Depending on the surface you use and the way you apply your swatches, swatching out colour can help you see some important and helpful information about a paint, including opacity, mass tone (the colour at full strength once dried), and undertone (what the colour looks like thinned down or with white added).

I used cheap watercolour paper to paint my example swatches. It’s possible to paint swatches on even printer paper, but thinner paper or paper that isn’t designed for wet media application is likely to curve and buckle a little, and very thin paper might be damaged by paint mixes with a lot of water. I’ve had decent results with index cards and drawing paper as well. I scanned the swatches as I think the colour reproduction of my scanner is pretty good. Though of course actual colours may vary slightly given that you’re seeing this on a different screen and so on!

One set of swatches below are colours included in the various pre-order swag boxes for ReaperCon 2021. There are an additional three colours that will be included in the onsite VIP swag bags. I was sent preview copies of many, though not all, of the ReaperCon preview colours. I’ll be adding the additional colours to my swatch sheets next week and will update these scans after that.

Swatch rm rc2021

The other set of paints that I swatched are the upcoming Kickstarter 5 paints. One pack of these are colours that are already part of the line, but were available at a discount via the Kickstarter. These are the Anne’s Favourites colours below. Anne Foerster recently shared some information about these colours and tips for using them on her Patreon

The other pack is a mix of colours that were previously available via special edition and brand new colours. Reaper adds a few new colours to the line in each Kickstarter. These will first be available to the Kickstarter backers, but eventually they will go into standard retail and be available for purchase to all.

I’m particularly excited about the Oxide Yellow, Oxide Red, and Oxide Brown. These are similar to earth colours like yellow ochre and burnt Sienna that are common in traditional painting and are very useful for mixing. I’ve been playing around with some of the other new colours as well and enjoying those. 

Swatch rm bones5

The specific paints I used to paint the touchups on the blacksmith, in no particular order:

9444 Tawny Flesh
9494 Gnome Flesh
9487 Yellow Mold
9333 Brown Oxide
29139 Grave Glome
29128 Goggler Green
29129 Drow Skin
9039 Pure White
9328 Black Indigo
29150 Rusted Anchor
9332 Oxide Red
9505 Chum Red
9331 Oxide Yellow
9507 Kraken Ink
9325 Carnival Purple
9452 Blade Steel
9673 Bright Silver

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Figures in this Post

The Blacksmith is available in Bones plastic or metal in a pack with two other townsfolk. The copy I’ve shown here is Bones.
The Victorian lady is available in a pack with a second Victorian lady in metal.
Beach Babe Libby is available in metal.

The Contrast Series Guide

Patreon supporters receive a PDF copy with high res photos!

The most common advice miniature painters receive is to paint with stronger contrast between their shadow and highlight areas. I’ve written several articles over the years on this topic. This post collects those articles together for easier reference, and for the benefit of those who missed reading them as they first released.

More contrast

One article in that series is far and away the most popular page on this site: How to Paint Contrast – Hands On*. I’m pleased so many people like it and find it useful! But I think you will find it most useful if you also read the articles that explain more of the theory and psychology behind why we like looking at contrast (more than we realize we do), but nonetheless still find it difficult to paint.

I also took this opportunity to add additional links to the older articles, clean up the formatting on them, and add additional examples.

Defining Contrast

The Catalog of Contrast
There are actually many different kinds of contrast you can use in miniature painting. This is an overview with some suggested tips for use.

Understanding Shadow/Highlight Contrast

Compare and Contrast
A visual comparison of a miniature painted with fairly low contrast, and the same figure painted with much higher contrast. This introduction to the subject gives a detailed look at the difference between various areas of that figure with more and less contrast.

Before and After Feedback Example
What would implementing feedback look like? I critique a figure, and then touch it up using value, colour, and texture to address the issues. This example uses less complex painting techniques and a lower contrast level than the above. A video version is also available.

Contrast versus Realism
Miniature painters receiving the criticism that they need to paint with more contrast often object because they feel that high contrast isn’t realistic. Take a look at the real world a little more closely and you’ll see there’s often more contrast than you think. And even when there isn’t, there are reasons we need to exaggerate it on our figures.

Painting Shadow/Highlight Contrast

Prepare your Mind and your Eye
Understanding why it’s so hard for you to paint with more contrast can help you push yourself to do it more successfully. This article also includes additional before and after examples of figures I have revised to add more contrast.

Paint Methods
This is an overview of several methods of applying primer and/or paint that you can use to help you push the contrast between your shadows and highlights. Several of these methods can also help you figure out where you want to put those shadows and highlights.

Vic1 wip combo 800

Supplemental Information

The Constraints of Miniature Painting
These articles aren’t about contrast specifically, but they can help you better understand why miniature figures need it. We don’t control the background of our figure. We also have much more limited tools to use to direct viewer attention than illustrators, movie makers, or photographers. Part I includes a comparison of two painted versions of a Death Dealer figure with higher and lower amounts of contrast. Part II discusses additional issues.

Visualizing Contrast and Lining
I compare two similar figures I painted to one another, and explain why one is a stronger figure. I also compare the painted figures to digitally edited photos of what they would look like with stronger contrast and darklining between sections.

Before and After Blacksmith Touchup
I critique a miniature to highlight common issues you might receive as feedback, and then do paint touchups to address those issues so you can visualize what they look like. Includes link to the video where I paint the touchups live.

The Power of Light
I observed strong contrast in an everyday scene in my home. In this article I have photo examples that demonstrate the powerful effect light can have in creating strong value differences between dark shadows and light highlights.

More Contrast can be Subtle
This article includes a more subtle comparison of painting more contrast. I revised an area I had painted to have slightly darker shadows and slightly lighter highlights. 

Character/Story versus Visual Impact
How can we approach the conflict between a character concept or story of a figure that is dark or blends into the background, but also create a miniature that attracts the viewer’s eye to look at it? Here are some ideas for handling this issue that often holds people back from painting with more contrast.

Study Guide for a Video Example
I wrote a guide for how you might study and practice from a great video that demonstrates how to apply highlights and shadows to a face. In the article (and the video) you can see the level of contrast between shadows and highlights.

Use Your Primer to Add Contrast
For Sophie 2018, I used grayscale brush-on primer mixes to rough in the shadows and highlights on the miniature. I applied paint to the figure using the primer values as a guide to where to place darker and lighter areas.

Lighting Reference Photo and Colour Block In
To paint Caerindra Thistlemoor I took lighting reference photos of the primed figure. I first roughly blocked in the areas of light and shadow, and then refined the blends and added details.

Lighting Reference Photo and the Types of Shadows
I angled a light into position and took photos of Ziba the Efreeti to have a guide for where to paint areas of shadow and light. This article also include information about cast vs form shadows and how we approach those in miniature painting.

Primer Contrast and Colour Block In
For this Dragon and Stocking figure, I started by using greyscale primer to rough in the location of shadows and highlights on the figure. Then I applied the main colour paint in a similar way using the primer as a guide. Includes WIP photos from the rough block in to finished figure.

Erli original cr

* At time of writing the Hands On Contrast page has had almost 9000 hits.