Hellborn Dancer Paint Process and Colours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancer front

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

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

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

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Paint Colours

Skin:

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Stockings:

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Cloth:

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Gold:

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Hair:

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Horns:

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Base:

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Black Art History

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In this article I’ve assembled a selection of artworks that depict people of African heritage dating from Greek and Roman antiquity to the end of the 19th Century. I find these artworks inspiring for miniature painting, sculpting, and world building, and I hope you will too.

Louvre paris maure dit le moro 3This statue is on display in the Louvre. It’s known as Maure or Il Mauro. It is composed partly of a classical Roman statue fragments (the torso clothing), and partly of elements sculpted by Nicolas Cordier in 1611 (the head). A thesis with a great deal more information on this statue and its artist is available, and includes more images of art that depicts people of colour at the end. 

If you find painting dark skin challenging, I have written an article about how to paint darker skin tones on miniature figures that includes helpful tips and specific paint colour suggestions.

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Articles and Sites with More Information

People of Color in European Art History
I am heavily indebted to this site for discovering many of the images included here. This site includes artworks depicting any people of colour, not only those of African heritage.

Black Africans in Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art
I discovered several of the Antiquity era images through this site, which also discusses issues related to cataloguing and display of historical art.

Dutch Golden Age Art Wasn’t All About White People
This New York Times article was a real eye opener about how much Renaissance artwork depicted people of African descent! This overview of a Rembrandt Museum exhibit includes some additional information and pictures of more artwork.

Africans in Greek and Roman Art

The Outrageous Neglect of African Figures in Art History
Includes several additional portraits and other interesting art pieces from the 1500s through 1800s.

Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin ponders the paucity of black people in fantasy or futuristic fiction.

African romanThe date when this was created is disputed. It may be from Second Century CE, or it may be from the 17th Century, similar to the above statue. From the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome. The eyes are white marble, not painted. Statues were painted, however, and there is a lot more information on that in the next section.

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Antiquity

This section includes artworks from Ancient Greece, Rome, or its territories.

The sculpture of antiquity is an interesting subject for figure painters since current research suggests that Greek and Roman sculptures, and even carvings on buildings, were painted very colourfully. Scholars use the term polychromy to describe statues or decorations that are made of materials in or painted with multiple colours. So what we do can be considered part of a long tradition! Traces of the pigments remain, and some of the reconstructions based on them would have no problem competing with a Harlequin army for most colourful. I’m linking to some articles with more information, photos, and videos.

True Colors of the Classical World

True Colors from the Smithsonian

Ancient Sculptures Reveal their True Colors

The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture from The New Yorker

Alabastron croppedAthenian perfume jar, circa 480 BCE.

Roman fresco fragmentDetail from a Roman fresco.

Portrait croppedPortrait of a child, circa 150. From the Getty collection.

Rh j fayum montage 1Examples of three Fayum mummy paintings. These panel portraits were a part of funerary practices in Egypt during the Imperial Roman era. An encaustic (wax) or tempera portrait was painted on a panel placed over the face of a mummy. Many of these are strikingly beautiful and haunting paintings.

Ht mummy2 jef 121026 wblogScientists have made facial reconstructions from some of the mummies found with the portraits to compare the physical characteristics of the person with the painted portrayal.

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7th Century

Hadrian manuscriptPortion of a manuscript describing Abbot Hadrian/Adrian, who traveled from Africa (likely Libya) to Anglo-Saxon England and helped spread the Christian faith there.

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13th Century

Saint Maurice MagdeburgSaint Maurice, from the Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice in Magdeburg, Germany. Artist Unknown. (More on Saint Maurice. Click images on this search to see a lot of depictions of Saint Maurice!)

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14th Century

Gluttony detailDetail from Gluttony at a Feast in a treatise on the Seven Vices. The full painting depicts a Tartar Khan at a lavish banquet. At the bottom of the drawing are a number of musicians entertaining the diners, including these.

Marco polo detailDetail from a travelogue based on the stories of Marco Polo. It is known alternately as the Travels of Marco Polo, Livre de Merveilles du Monde, le Secret de l’Histoire Naturelle, and other titles. You can see a better resolution version of this image.

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15th Century

Aurora consurgens zurich 060 f 29v 60 darkangelAngel from the Aurora Consurgens, an alchemical treatise. The entire book is scanned and available to peruse.

Cat318 ov detailDetail from The Crucifixion, believed to be by Simon Marmion. 

Folio 193r The Exaltation of the Cross detailDetail from The Exaltation of the Cross in the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

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16th Century

Mathis Gothart Grünewald 011The Meeting of Saint Erasm and Saint Maurice. Artist: Matthias Grunewald. (More on Saint Maurice. Click images on this search to see a lot of depictions of Saint Maurice!)

Master of alkmaarDetail from the Adoration of the Magi triptych by the Master of Alkmaar. There are numerous medieval and Renaissance paintings that depict one of the Magi as African in origin.

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17th Century

Merlin 168835980 1052b8aa 6f2b 4c41 9665 50792015e5cb superJumboBust of a Woman with a Pearl Necklace by Cornelis van Dalen II. 

50090727681 7482684525 bPortrait of a Young Black Man by Gerrit Dou, also known as Gerard Dow. He was a student of Rembrandt’s and painted several beautiful portraits of black people.

Four studies rubensFour Studies of a Head of a Moor by Peter Paul Rubens. Here are some terrific close-up photos (click to enlarge) that let you get a look at the brushwork.

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18th Century

By andrea brustolonCarved ebony from Italy c. 1715. Artist: Andrea Brustolon

Dido belleDetail from Painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. A Stitch in Time has an episode recreating Belle’s dress, and which includes a discussion of the depiction of black people in art of the time. Fake or Fortune had an episode on this painting, but it does not seem to be available on YouTube currently. You can see a clip. There has been a movie dramatization of Belle’s story.

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19th Century

Alexandre Dumas par Achille Devéria 1829Portrait of Alexander Dumas (Sr) by by Achille Deveria. Dumas Sr. was the author of The Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo. His mother was an enslaved African. His son, Alexander Dumas Jr. wrote Camille (La Dame aux Camelias), which was adapted into the opera La Traviata, and the movie Camille starring Greta Garbo.

Black victoria 11The rise of photography made portraiture much more accessible. If you’re looking for steampunk inspiration or are as obsessed with The Gilded Age HBO show as I am, check out these photos (which span the range of the Victorian Era, not just the Gilded Age period.) This photo gallery includes photos of men and children.

Simon Maris 001Just as today, the rise of photography did not supplant traditional art. This is Young Girl Holding a Fan by Simon Maris.

Face Highlights and Darker Skin Tones

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 In this article I outline where to place highlights when painting faces on miniature figures. This information is applicable to all skin tones, but since highlights are the key to painting great looking faces with darker skin tones, my examples focus on those. I am also including recipes and suggested paint colours you can use to paint darker skin tones. I discussed where to paint shadows on faces, and the importance of shadows to faces, particularly with lighter skin tones, in a previous article. I recommend reading that article first, as it has additional information on lighting and contrast that is relevant to painting all faces.

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There are videos that accompany this article, since I did the bulk of the painting on some demonstration figures on my Beyond the Kit stream on the Reaper Miniatures Twitch channel. In this video, I discuss the specific challenges of painting darker skin tones and demonstrate a cool and a warm dark skin tone recipe on female faces. I painted an example of a slightly cool dark skin tone on a male face in this earlier video, but there were some technical difficulties.

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Highlights on Faces

The typical lighting scenario for a painted miniature is that the light is coming from above (the sun, ceiling lights) or from above and to one side (the sun, gas lights on walls, street lights). The locations where shadows fall on faces are pretty consistent. While shadow location is affected by the location of the light and the position of the head, the overall placement guidelines hold true unless either the light direction or head position is shifted to a fairly extreme degree. 

As an overall guide for where to paint highlights, areas appear lighter in value (have highlights) where the light shines more brightly on them. This includes areas that are located higher on the face and thus closer to the light, like the forehead and the tops of the cheekbones. Areas which protrude outwards from the main mass of the face also receive more light, like the nose, the lower lip, and often the top of the chin.

That guideline is all you need as a beginner or for quick paints of gaming scale figures. If you are aiming to paint a display quality figure or are painting a larger scale figure, there is a bit more nuance to highlights, because our skin is a little shiny. Human skin has a natural sheen to it due to our skin oils. Strong emotion and physical activity make us sweat and adds to that sheen, which is particularly apparent on the face.

We can visually distinguish the matte appearance of wool cloth from the sheen of human skin from the extreme reflectivity of chrome. Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, we identify these surface textures based on the appearance of shadows, midtones, and highlights on the surface of items The way the highlights on a surface look influences whether we perceive it as shiny or matte. The value range between the darkest shadows and the lightest highlights on a shiny surface is much more dramatic than on a matte surface. A shiny surface also has a lighter highlight/reflection. The transition area between the shadow/midtone on a shiny surface is more abrupt, and the bright highlight/reflection appears in a smaller area.

Hardesty skin texturesThese texture exercises were painted by Jonathan Hardesty. Compare the two skin examples in the middle to the other two spheres. The skin spheres are not as shiny as the material on the right, but they have elements in common, including a bright highlight of reflected light. Jonathan Hardest has made a study of textures. He has several skin texture study videos on YouTube. He teaches a textures class on Schoolism, and occasionally paints live on Twitch.

For a variety of reasons, this is a very brief overview of the properties of shiny materials. The reason I’m mentioning it at all is because the shininess of a surface affects where the highlights are located as well as how bright they are. If your imagined light source is coming from a different direction than above, the location of the highlights shifts towards the direction of the light. If the head is tilted to one side, the highlights also shift towards the direction of the light. Shadows are affected by both of these factors as well, but to a lesser degree.

Lighting combo crThe direction of the light changes which areas appear shadowed or well-lit. Notice how the shift in the location of the highlights is more dramatic. There are some areas that remain shadowed in all three lighting scenarios.

If your lighting situation or the position of your model is more complex, remember that you can create your own reference photos to identify the location of shadows and highlights on your figure! Use a single bulb lamp to simulate larger light sources like the sun or distant lights, or a small single point light source to simulate something like a candle or torch.

To sum up, here are some short guidelines for painting highlights on faces:

1. Don’t be afraid of painting strong highlights on faces, it looks natural because our skin is a little shiny.

2. Confine the brightest highlights to very small areas if you can.

3. Start with the guidelines for highlight placement outlined below. If your light source is coming from a direction other than above, shift the highlights on the specific miniature you’re painting towards the direction of where the light is coming from.

Faces angles crThe figure on the left is looking straight forward as if standing under light from above, like sunlight. The light is coming from above and to the left of the centre figure, and she has her head tilted, so one side of her face is lit and one side is shadowed. The light is coming from above and to the right of the figure on the right, and her head is slightly tilted, so one side of her face has a lot more highlights than the other.

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Guidelines for Highlights Placement

Forehead

If you ignore the features, the human head is shaped like an egg. Or you can think of the upper half of the head as a sphere. Either way, the top of the head is the dome of a spherical object. In standard lighting you will see a circular highlight in the centre and near the top of the forehead. If the head is bald, the circle may appear a little higher. (A similar circle will be visible on the back of a bald head.) If the head is tilted, or if half of the forehead is obscured by hair/hat/hood, the circular highlight will appear shifted towards the direction of the light.

Faces forehead crBoth of these figures have hair hanging over their foreheads on the right side, so the placement of the highlight is shifted to the left.

Brow Ridge

The brow ridge can be fairly prominent, especially on male characters. Often the brow ridge is covered by sculpted eyebrows, but depending on the severity of the slope and location of the eyebrows, there may be some highlights above the brow ridge.

Quinn face 300This figure has prominent brow ridge, so I added highlights above his eyebrows. I painted this several years ago, if I were to paint it today I would have added small and lighter value highlights on the bulb of his nose and on top of his cheekbones.

Cheekbones

The cheekbones protrude slightly from the face and are located higher up on the face, so the tops of the cheekbones often catch a lot of light and appear strongly highlighted. If the light is directional or the face is tilted, one cheekbone may receive more light than the other. (You can see a few examples in the photos in the previous section.) For gaming scale characters I place the highlight just under the character’s eyes. The strong contrast between the dark eye lining and light cheekbone highlights draws the viewer’s eye to the face, which is almost always an important focal point of the figure or scene. If you are painting a larger scale figure or a bust, study some high quality reference photos of faces like those included below – the placement of areas of light under the eyes and on top of the cheekbones is more nuanced than that.

Nose

The nose protrudes out from the egg shape of the face, so it catches quite a bit of light. I use moderate highlights on the upper plane of the nose slope. I apply bright highlights in a circle on the bulb at the end of the nose. If the sculpt accommodates, I highlight the wings over the nostrils, but not with the lightest highlights. If the nose is tilted, the line of highlight along the slope of the nose shifts towards the direction of the light, and the wing over the nostril further away from the light is less highlighted.

Mouth

Humans do not have the prominent muzzle of many animals, but the overall area of the mouth protrudes slightly from the face. On many people the area of skin between the nose and the upper lip slants outward from the face, and receives more light. However this area is lower down the face, and it does not protrude significantly, so I use moderate highlights at most. Occasionally highlighting the area between the nose and lip on a female figure can kind of look weird and give a bit of a moustache effect. If you have painted this area on a female gaming scale figure and find that something looks a little off, try painting the midtone of the face over it and see if that helps.

The lower lip protrudes outwards. Because the lips are often a little moist, there can be a fairly strong reflection highlight on the lower lip. For a natural lip, paint the highlight a little lighter than the brightest highlights on the rest of the face. If the person is wearing shiny lipstick, the highlights can be close to white.

Tara face full cu2This figure is representative of the typical highlight locations. She is looking straight ahead and was painted as if standing under an overhead diffuse light source. She has a highlight on the top of her forehead bulge, on top of her cheekbones, tip of her nose, and just a little bit of highlighting on the upper lip and chin.

Chin

The chin is often a sphere or egg shape that protrudes out from the face. The top of the chin usually has a highlight. If the light is directional or the face is tilted to the side, the location of the highlight will shift towards the light. However, look at a face in profile. The chin extends roughly as far out as the forehead, but it is lower down on the face, and so receives less light. I usually paint some highlights on the top of the chin, but I do not paint these with as light a value as I will use on the forehead, tops of the cheekbones, or the end of the nose. The chin can vary with the sculpt, so if the sculpt has a prominent chin I may add more highlights, or less if the chin appears inset, as is the case with the female face I painted for dark skin demonstrations below. The chin also needs less highlighting if the face is tilted downwards.

Jawline

The jawline is the line of bone from the chin to the side of the face. A prominent jawbone is considered a masculine characteristic. I rarely highlight this area on female faces. If the face is tilted to one side the jawline on the side facing the light might need a little bit of highlighting. Even on male characters I generally only apply a little highlighting to this area. The jawline is surrounded by the shadow of the cheek hollow above, and the under chin area below. It should appear lighter than both of these, but often just the midtone skin value or slightly lighter in value is all that is required to make it appear so. It may appear more highlighted in reference photos or miniatures you study than it actually is because of the darkness of the areas around it.

In the Where to Shade Faces article I shared some examples of repainted dolls heads to demonstrate the effectiveness of adding shadows. I found a photo of dolls heads taken with fairly flat lighting, and digitally edited them to add highlights. The top photo is the original. The middle has a modest amount of highlights, and the bottom one has a higher level of highlight/shadow contrast. The bottom edit is the minimum level of highlight/shadow contrast I would recommend for a dark skin tone. There are reference photos of real people further in this article. I have isolated colours of various values and hues beside each picture so can see just how much contrast there is between the lightest highlights and darkest shadows.

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Colour Variation, Makeup, and Features

Detailed information on painting the eyes and mouth is beyond the scope of this article. For the demonstration figures, I painted the lips with the same colours used on the rest of the skin. Most people have more colour variation than that in their lips, but using the same colours as the rest of the skin often works well for gaming scale masculine figures. For a more feminine lip, add some red or pink and use more contrast, even if you’re not going for a shiny lipstick appearance. Other areas of the body may have colour variations, like the ears, the palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. Hopefully I’ll be able to delve into skin variation in more detail at some point in the future, but you should be able to look at reference photos of people to get ideas. For gaming scale figures it will likely not look odd if you use one overall skin tone for all of the figure.

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Dark Skin: Highlights are the Key

Highlights are the key to painting faces with dark skin that look vibrant, realistic, and interesting. Strong highlight/shadow contrast is always desirable in miniature painting. Even in fairly even lighting conditions, the range of contrast on a face with dark skin between the darkest shadows and the brightest reflection highlights is quite large, due to the natural sheen of skin. You can see examples of that in the following reference photos.

IMG 1338Photo by Ema Studios on Unsplash.

IMG 1340Photo by Naeim Jafari on Unsplash.

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Technical Challenges of Painting Dark Skin

Painting an attractive and realistic looking dark skin tone can be challenging. To maintain the overall dark tone of the skin you need to confine the light highlights to small surface areas. If they expand over too wide an area, as often happens when we are working on the technical challenge of painting smooth blends, the overall colour of the skin tone becomes lighter than you intended. To appear dark, at least 60-70% of the area of the surface needs to be painted with the midtone or shadow colours. Gaming scale miniatures are small objects. To paint bright highlights, blend them out smoothly, and also keep them confined to as small a surface area as possible can be quite challenging! The good news is that you will get better and better the more you practice challenging tasks like this.

The photos below are the demonstration figures I painted on stream. This first one shows how the faces appeared at the end of my streaming sessions. You can see that the blending is a little rough, and the highlights aren’t quite light enough. I find it very challenging to paint fine detail on stream. Attempting to keep the miniature in the viewing area, describe what I’m doing, do it well, and keep an eye on the chat for questions taxes the limits of both my eyes and brain!

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After the stream concluded I did some touch ups on these faces. I used the same colour mixes, and I focused on two tasks: confining the highlights to small areas of the face, and trying to blend everything out as smoothly as possible. I stippled dots and fine lines over the transition lines to soften them. I painted basic lips and eyes and painted the hair black so you can get an idea of how the faces would look in the context of an overall figure.

Ds group after crThe highlights of the warmer skin tone on the left cover a little too much area, and it has lightened up the overall value of her skin compared to the version from right after the stream above.

I often paint dark colours in a similar way – I start with the darkest colour and work up through my lighter colour layer mixes applying highlights. I concentrate on trying to place these in the correct places and with an appropriate amount of contrast. Then I work back down though the layer mixes from lightest to darkest. As I paint back down through the value mixes I’m trying to tighten up the size of the highlights and smooth out the blending. 

I chose figures with larger faces in hopes of making it easier for people to see what I was doing on the video, but you may also find it easier to practice on larger faces. The male is a halfling character, but has a larger face. This is true of many gnome, dwarf, and halfling characters. You can see a comparison with some human gaming scale figures below.

Face practice

In the photo below, I’ve painted out swatches of the value mixes I used on each of the demonstration faces. Note that other painters who use the layering method might use fewer steps but thin their paint more, and there are other methods to apply paint than layering. Regardless of how you apply the paint, the key is to keep those highlights small but high contrast! I have more paint colour suggestions for dark faces in the next section of this article.

Ds recipes full crThe recipe for the cool female face is on the left, the male face in the centre, and the warm female face on the right. I’ve added the product numbers of the Reaper paints I used next to the appropriate swatches.

I’m not sure there’s a feasible way to paint something that looks similar with quick paint techniques like drybrushing and washes. It is difficult to apply these techniques with the kind of precision you need to keep the highlights confined to small areas. Using drybrushing to apply highlights will likely mean that the highlights are applied to a larger surface area and the face overall will appear lighter in value. If you’re comfortable applying washes in targeted areas (which is essentially the layering technique but using more transparent glaze consistency paint), you could start with the light value of your highlights and then use layers of semi-transparent paint to darken the midtone and shadow areas considerably. Applying an overall wash will either not be dark enough for the shadows, or would darken the highlights too much.

You can see some of these issues with these figures I painted for the Bones 5 Learn to Paint Kit. I used only three drybrush steps to keep my instructions accessible to novice painters. The value difference between the deepest shadows and lightest highlights is too low to bring out the features of the face, so these faces don’t stand out well at arm’s length view or on the tabletop. Had I drybrushed a few additional lighter value steps, the faces overall would look lighter in value than I wanted since I wouldn’t be able to confine those light highlights to very small areas. 

Faces ltpk

Faces db vs layer crThe version on the left was painted with layering, and the one on the right with drybrushing and washes. (While I aimed for a similar value skin tone, these skin tones are also different colour palettes.)

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Dark Skin Paint Colour Choices

If we look at the reference photos of people with dark skin in this article, you can see a wide range of skin tones. And this is just a small sample of what you might see on real world people! You should be able to find many more examples through a web search or via the photo sites I use to find reference photos for these articles. (Unsplash, Pexels, Morguefile)

One variation in skin tones will be in the value range of colour. Dark skin tones can range from very dark in overall value to moderate or even fairly light in overall value. Another variation is the overall colour temperature of the skin. Some people might have a very warm colour skin tone with a lot of orange or yellow apparent in the highlights of their skin. Others may have a much cooler skin tone with highlights that appear a little grey, purple, or pink. The colour cast of photographs/light temperature also factors into this.

IMG 1342 2Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash.

IMG 1343 2Photo by Olawale Munna on Unsplash.

IMG 1344 2Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash.

One of the strengths of the Reaper Miniatures paint lines is the wide variety of skin tone paints available. Reaper has paints specifically designed to emulate the appearance of real world skin tones, and I used several of these on my demonstration figures. If you have not yet tried their paints and you’re wondering what to try, some skin tones would be a great place to start.

If you use other brands that do not have paints that are obviously intended to be used to paint darker skin tones, do not despair. Human skin tones are basically variations of browns and tans, and every miniature paint line has some of those! They won’t all be suitable to paint human skin, but many will.  You can also try mixing a little of a middle value skin tone into a darker brown paint colour to create your own custom mixes.

I painted swatches of some paints suitable to paint dark skin into a chart that I have included below. The chart is organized in two different ways. The darkest paints are on the left, moderately dark paints in the middle, and the paints for the lightest highlights (or that you can use to mix lighter highlights) are on the right.

The paints are organized top to bottom to reflect their colour temperature. The cooler colours are at the top, and the warmest colours are at the bottom. You can pick a spot on the chart and use colours to the left of it to shade and those to the right of it to highlight. You can use the furthest left paints as a starting midtone for a very dark skin, and then use black for the darkest shadows. (Or a contrasting colour, which I’ll discuss more below.)

Since I recently reorganized my paints, I am including colours from two brands in addition to Reaper. Paint numbers that start with P are Privateer Press P3 paints. Those that start with N are Nocturna N-Paints. If you don’t have any of the brands on the chart, you can print it out and test swatches of paints that you do have (or custom mixes) against the colours to find the closest colours in your collection.

Ds paints full cr

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Adding Creative Colours to Dark Skin Tones

One of the really fun things about painting darker colour skin tones is that you can really get creative with colours.Scroll back up through this article and look at the colours I isolated from the reference photos. Some of them are pretty saturated oranges and pinks! I often paint slightly thinned down glazes of bold colours into the shadows of dark skin. I used a rich purple colour in the shadow areas of my cool temperature dark skin demonstration. I used a saturated teal colour in the shadows of the warm temperature skin example. Using a contrasting colour/temperature in the shadows can add depth to the shadows and pop the highlights even more. I often add thin glazes of other colours (purple or green most commonly) to medium or somewhat fair skin tones as well, but it’s a little trickier to do than with darker skin tones. I have to thin the colour down a lot more and proceed carefully.

Faces with dark skin tones usually look great with saturated makeup colours, as well, which can be very fun! I’ve seen rich greens, bright oranges, and even yellows for both eye makeup and lipstick that look terrific on dark skin tones, as well as the more typical reds and browns. Adding some saturated colour to a face will help draw the viewer’s eye to this important focal point of your figure. You can see fun examples of bright eye makeup and bold lipstick on these links, and many more with image searches.

Note that the general principles for where to paint highlights (and shadows) apply to fantastic skin colours as well. You can see an example with a pinkish-red skin tone below.

Succ sit front2

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Figures Featured in this Article

Elmore Female Sorcerer is available in metal.
Tillie, Fighter Pilot is available in metal
Quinn, Rogue is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Tara the Silent is available in Bones Black plastic or metal.
Brand, Barbarian is available in Bones plastic.
Masquerade Ball Sophie is available in metal.
Elmore Female Shaman is available in metal.
The Drunken Mermaid is available in Bones USA plastic.
Frost Giant Queen is available in Bones plastic.
Chop, Halfling Cook is available in Bones USA plastic.
Ogana, Ranger is currently available in metal, and will also be released in Bones Black plastic sometime in 2021.
Ingrid, Gnome Rogue is available in Bones USA plastic, Bones plastic, and metal.
Gisele, Sorcerer is available in Bones USA plastic.
Thregan, Fighter is currently available in metal, and will also be released in Bones Black plastic sometime in 2021.
Noblewoman is currently available in metal, and will also be released in Bones Black plastic sometime in 2021.
The Succubus will be released in Bones Black plastic sometime in 2021.