Worn Leather and Woven Cloth – Lars Ragnarson

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I recently painted Lars Ragnarson for Reaper. I know there’s a lot of interest in painting techniques for texture effects, so I’ve included step-by-step photos for how I painted the leather armour in this article, and some general tips for painting textures.

Lars bl frontSculpted by Bob Ridolfi.

I’ve been painting in a pretty smooth style lately, and after I posted the adventuring party and the Hellborn dancer, I received a few comments/queries from people wondering if I always paint in such a cartoony or stylized way, or if I sometimes paint in a more realistic or gritty way. I think it’s true to say that I am known for a fairly clean and smooth style of painting. But for several years now I have been working to learn or develop methods for painting different kinds of textured surfaces, and I have found painting textures can be a lot of fun. When Reaper asked me to paint Lars, he seemed like a great figure to use some textures on.

Lars bl back

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What do I mean by Texture?

Miniature painters sometimes use the term ‘texture’ to refer only to specific painted effects, like the woven cloth and worn leather I painted on Lars. The term texture refers to both the visual and tactile qualities of a surface. Every material has a texture, which is partly a function of how it feels, and how it reflects and absorbs light.

Sculptors apply all kinds of wonderful tactile textures to our figures. Bob Ridolfi sculpted fur texture on Lars’ boots, hair strands on his hair, and texture on his base. I used paint to accentuate those, I didn’t create them with paint. Sculpted textures usually paint up well, even with quicker techniques like drybrushing and washes. Note that smooth is also a tactile texture! The visual qualities of smooth surfaces can vary widely – shiny silk cloth versus matte wool cloth. We can aim to paint smooth-sculpted surfaces on figures like cloth, skin, or metal to mimic the visual qualities of those real world materials.

Lars bl front2

A lot of textures around us are somewhere in between those two extremes – these are materials that don’t have a smoothly blended visual quality, but whose texture is not really tactile enough to be sculpted onto a mini (at least at smaller scales.) It is more reasonable to try to create the appearance of those textures with paint and brushwork.

Lars is clearly a strong and dangerous fighting type of character. His gear is simple, even somewhat primitive. He is not a wealthy character, a magic user, or a cosmopolitan city dweller. I thought that using painted textures to make his clothes look roughly woven clothing and his leather armour battle-worn would partner well with the character of the sculpt.

Lars bl back right

I want to note that Bob Ridolfi sculpted texture on the bracers of the Lars figure. This is less obvious in my painted version because I painted the rest of the leather with a similar texture. I think the texture Bob sculpted would look good as hammered bronze or copper, too.

Lars greenSculpted by Bob Ridolfi

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Leather Armour

In the past I have used washes to create a subtle leather texture effect. That’s turned out well with cloaks and other larger pieces of leather, but I wasn’t sure it would work as well with the plate shapes of Lars’ armour. I’ve also made a few attempts at painting worn and battle-scarred armour by layering on increasingly lighter values of paint with rough brushstrokes. One of my first attempts at doing this was on Caerindra Thistledown. It’s okay, but I don’t think it’s an ideal result. I’m not sure if I was too random or not random enough. ;->

Caerindra leather

I think my final attempt with Anushka’s leather skirt looks a bit more convincing. As you can read here, my journey to that end result was a bit of a winding road! The peak of Anushka’s hat was painted just with brushstrokes. I like how it turned out, but can’t quite remember what I did to achieve that appearance as opposed to Caerindra’s.

Anushka left

So my goal for Lars’ leather armour was to sort of reverse-engineer what I did with Anushka’s skirt. I was also hoping to simplify that process a little, as well as figure out how to get a similar effect, but in an overall darker colour. This is not the first time I’ve been in the position of trying to remember how I did something, and I suspect some of you reading may have ended up in this position once or twice too. When we talk about studying work by painters to try to figure it out, sometimes what we mean is trying to rediscovering something we did previously!

If you try a new technique or effect once or twice and then do not use it for quite a while, you will likely not remember exactly what you did. Or maybe any of what you did. I recommend practicing with something multiple times. Try it with different colours and values. Try it on different shaped areas on figures. Repetition will help you learn something more thoroughly, and experimentation will help you discover situations where it might work better or not as well. I wish I had worked on leather variations more soon after I finished painting Anushka to cement the process better in my mind.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing articles for this blog for me is that it creates a record of many of my experiences painting. It gives me something to refer back to if I want to borrow from an effect or colour that I’ve used on a previous figure. You don’t need to start a blog to get the same benefit, you can instead keep a painting journal. Jot down the paints you used in that colour mix you really like. Make notes of sessions of study and experimentation. Be sure to track what works as well as what doesn’t. Try to take some WIP pictures when you’re trying new things to create a visual record, as well. If your journal is digital, include relevant pictures with the notes from that session. There is a section on Reaper’s forums where people post WIP notes for projects they’re working on. I imagine other sites and communities have similar features, too.

Anushka comp cr banner

Looking at the above WIP pictures of Anushka jogged my memory for some of what I did, and suggested some ideas for streamlining. My first try on the left was not contrasted enough. It was too detailed, with a focus on small texture strokes without having established more of an overall texture. It was all texture, with no use of value to create shadows and highlights to bring out the shapes of the skirt folds. My second attempt had both large and detailed textures, and had more shading and highlighting, though still not enough. If anything this was too much texture for my purposes. To achieve the final effect on the right, I applied glazes of lighter and darker colours over the middle stage. It helped better bring out the shapes of the skirt, and made the texture look more organic and suitable to the character type.

I mention ‘my purposes’, because I think it’s important to keep that in mind. I painted both of these figures with the idea that they’re more display quality, and for Lars in particular, intended to be seen in photographs. Display figures are closely scrutinized, and web photos often appear much larger than the actual figure. In that context, the middle attempt of Anushka’s armour would look too heavily weathered and worn, as if it has not been cared for for years. It might be great for an undead or other monster type, but not for a humanoid whose taking any care of their gear.

Figures viewed on the tabletop are viewed at arm’s length, and often in poor lighting. A more exaggerated texture like the middle version of Anushka map be very effective on a figure meant to be used in that way. How you approach painting something should relate to your time investment goal, as well. Aiming for an end result that basically works or looks good but not great is a more efficient answer if your goal is to paint more figures more quickly. A lot of miniature painting involves small details, but sometimes achieving your painting goals is about knowing when not to sweat the details and look more at the big picture.

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Leather Armour Painting Process

Guided by my experiences painting Anushka, I decided to try using two stages to paint Lars’ leather. First, apply rough texture strokes to try to create random shapes of wear patterns. Although I wanted a dark leather look in the end, I realized that I would have to paint in texture using much lighter value paints for it to be apparent after the second stage. For the second stage, I would apply glazes of darker and lighter colours to integrate the texture to more of a distressed than a completely worn out type of look. I also wanted to use the glazes to add some colours into the armour to fit with the colour scheme I had chosen, but I will get into more detail about that in another article.

The following is a series of step by step photos of the main painting stages for the armour plates on the hips and legs.

The Patron PDF version of this article includes larger high res photos, and a second series of step-by-step photos from a different angle.

Lars leatherA steps1 2 cr

I started with a fairly dark value basecoat. I mixed up several values of lighter mixes to paint on the texture. Since I wanted transition edges and brushstrokes to show, my paint was fairly opaque, and the jump in value between each mix was notable. I used a worn sable brush for this step. I wanted to create random, messy strokes. It can be surprisingly challenging to paint random patterns using a precision brush. We have a natural drive to be more systematic, or to jump straight to smaller details like I did with the first try on Anushka’s skirt.

A softer bristled worn synthetic brush might work even better. I think you need a softer bristle brush so the bristles shift position with different brushstrokes. A stiffer bristle brush might act more like a stamp and apply brushstrokes in a repeating pattern, but I haven’t tried that out yet, so I could be wrong. I think a brush with shorter and/or densely packed bristles might also make marks that look too regular, but again, I haven’t tested yet. If you want to try this, experiment on a test figure with some different brush options and see which you like!

Lars leatherA steps3 4 cr

You want to use a brush you have at least some control with as you start applying the lighter values of texture. I started to choose where to place the brushstrokes more deliberately in steps three through five. My goal from this point was both to create textures, and to try to bring out the forms of the objects. I used the random patterns from the first two steps to help make decisions for where to add additional smaller strokes of lighter colours.

In step four, I started to apply some edge highlights, and also some wear and tear. If there was an area that kind of looked like a rip or tear, I used very light and very dark lines of paint to reinforce that impression. If you look at the plates on the leg on the right photo above, you can see faint lines on those areas in the left photo that I used as guidelines for where to paint deeper cuts. To paint a cut, you paint a dark line to create the depression of the cut. But you also need to paint a light line directly next to it to simulate the edge of the cut. Locate this light line opposite your light source to simulate where the edge of the cut is receiving more light. For the light source I painted on Lars, generally that meant I painted the light line beneath the dark line.

In terms of application, I found it easier to apply the light line first, and then the dark line. Lighter value paint colours are often a bit thicker and don’t flow off the brush quite as easily, so it can be harder to paint thin clean brushstrokes with them. I was using Blue Liner for my dark lines. All Reaper paints include some flow improver in the mix, but the Liner paints are designed to glide off your brush to make lining easier. You can also buy Flow Improver separately so you can increase the flow of any paint colour you have if you’re having trouble painting detail. There are art store brands of this type of product as well. Look for products called flow aid, flow release, or flow improver.

Lars leatherA steps5 6 cr

I added additional layers of texture with my lighter mixes in step five. I was trying to make the highlight areas more noticeably lighter in value than the midtone and shadow areas.

Step six was the glazing stage. I used several colours of thinned down paint. The paint needed to be fairly transparent – I didn’t want to cover up all of that texture! For a project like this it’s better to think your paint down more than you think you need to and apply multiple coats, rather than one not very transparent coat that dries and covers up all your previous work. I applied lighter glazes to the highlight areas, and darker glazes to the shadow areas. I also used a few somewhat vibrant colours in different places to add some visual complexity and hints of colour. (In my colour scheme article I’ll talk about how this colour was the red-violet portion of my colour scheme.) If the glazes toned down the damage cuts and tears I had painted too much, I added some back in with my previous paint mixes.

You can see that the texture looks pretty rough and fairly light in value in all of the steps prior to step six. This is one of those techniques where you have to get pretty close to the end to see whether everything comes together and works, or whether you might need to tweak anything, or even start over as I did with Anushka’s skirt.

The painting process was not quite as linear as the step by step implies. I did work that way, but I also ended up working back and forth over the last two steps a little bit – adding another glaze or two to shift the colour or try to create more volume, and then adding back a little texture, which I would then have to glaze back down a little.

It’s subtle, but you can see a comparison of the leather almost done and then after a little more tweaking in the following picture. Notice how you can see the triangular shape of the top of the helmet a bit more in the final version because I added more highlighting to the lightest areas and more shadow to the darkest areas. The shoulder plates look a little less textured in the final version, but they have a richer depth of colour from the additional glazing.

Lars leather chest compI’ll talk about the changes to the horns in the colour scheme article.

Below are some painted swatches of colours I used on the leather.

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The large square near the middle was the basecoat colour. The long thinner swatches to either side of it were mixes I used to paint the texture. The very light yellow was used only for the light line on some of the painted cuts. The darkest colour small square near the bottom was used to paint the dark line of the cuts and lining in between the armour plates and around the rivets.

The thin paint mixes along the top and right sides are samples of the glazes I painted over the texture to integrate it and build up more shadows and highlights. The blue-grey was added after the step-by-step photos and was used to add shadow depth and tie the armour colour in with the NMM colour a little more.

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Painting is not Always Linear

A lot of painting techniques and effects can involve some back and forth like I painted on Lars. Sometimes it happens because you’re figuring stuff out. Having to figure stuff out does not mean you suck at painting! It’s how we learn and get ideas for how we might do cool new stuff, as well as getting ideas of what doesn’t work so great. Often the process of going back and forth at some stages ends up adding more depth and visual interest to something. That kind of visual interest may be part of what makes the work of painters you admire look richer and more complex than what you might be achieving with a more linear process. The expectation that everything you paint should look better after every incremental step will hold you back more than it helps. (Ask me how I know!)

Going back and forth a bit in painting the armour didn’t really add a lot of extra time to the process. It was just a few brushstrokes of glaze there, or a few brushstrokes of texture mixes here. I think I achieved my goal of streamlining and somewhat speeding up the process I had used on Anushka. While it might sound like a lot of mixes and steps, I suspect I could paint a tabletop version of this more quickly than I could paint blends with smooth transitions, especially if I was okay with a result that looked like steps four or five.

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Cloth Texture

I haven’t come up with a way to do a speedier version of the woven cloth texture effect that I painted on Lars’ loincloth. Or rather, the cloth I painted on Lars is the speedier version, it’s just not speed painting speedy. Currently the only way I know how to paint cloth like this is to use a brush with a fine tip and paint a lot of cross-hatch strokes, though I have an idea of something to try for a tabletop version. When I paint this kind of cloth texture, I’m applying the shadows and highlights at the same time as the texture. It’s like layering, but I’m using tiny hatch strokes instead of smooth strokes.

I used the same process, same types of brush, and same brand and consistency of paint to paint Tristan’s cloth, which you can compare to Lars’ in the photo below. The main difference between the two is just the number of tiny hatch marks I painted one over the other to build up the highlights and shadows. It took a lot more time to build up the more subtle effect of Tristan’s cloth, but the process was otherwise pretty much the same. I suspect it’s true of a lot of texture techniques that once you have the basic approach down you can tweak it to different effects with different brushes, paint mixes, or time investments.

Lars tristan cloth

The photo below shows swatches of the colours I used to paint the cloth texture on Lars’ kilt. I later added some of the blue-grey glaze from the leather colour swatch picture to the shadow areas of the kilt.

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Miniatures in this Article

Lars Ragnarson is available in Bones USA plastic.

Caerindra Thistlemoor is available in metal.

Anushka is available in metal.

How to Paint Baran Blacktree – Extended Edition

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Throughout 2018 Reaper released a special Dungeon Dwellers figure each month, and these continue to be available. The figures were sculpted and painted by a variety of talented people. Each is accompanied by a free painting guide PDF, and there is also a fun role-playing adventure you can download. All these documents are available on the Dungeon Dwellers page at Reaper Miniatures.

Baran front full

I painted the February figure, Baran Blacktree, and wrote the accompanying PDF painting guide, which includes information on painting black fabric, non-metallic metal, and scratches. Since I knew I would be writing a painting guide for him, I took a lot of work-in-progress pictures as I painted him. I ended up with more pictures (and more tips) than could reasonably be included in the painting guide. So I thought I’d dig up some of the ‘deleted scenes’ and share them with you now.

Members of my Patreon will be getting additional bonus content some time soon, as I will be sending them a copy of my draft for the PDF that includes my full resolution photos.

Preparing to Paint

In the PDF I discuss how I used a mix of primer colours to block in the major value areas on the figure. (If you’re unclear on terms like value and saturation used in this article, here is a handy guide to colour terms.) This gave me a chance to consider the composition of values across the figure. It also gave me the chance to create my own lighting reference photos. I positioned a small LED desk lamp where I wanted to have the light appear to fall on the figure, and took pictures.

If you struggle to figure out where to put your shadows and highlights, this is something you might try. You can do this with the base coats of your major colours, not just in black and white. Here you can see the lighting reference photo of my primed figure next to the final version of the figure. There are areas where I added some nuances to the lighting (the reference photo lighting is pretty blown out), and the NMM is handled a little differently to try to evoke the appearance of metal. But you can also see that I followed the reference photo pretty closely, and it was very helpful to me to have.

Baran light comp

My article on painting Caerindra Thistlemoor has another reference lighting example, and so does my article on painting Ziba the Efreeti. It’s an effective tool to help you push the level of contrast on your figures.

Weathering Metal Areas

In the non-metallic metal section of the PDF I talk about general principles of painting NMM, and painting the scratches. I also share the colours and materials used for the general weathering. Unfortunately there wasn’t really space to talk about the process of the weathering apart from the scratches.

The way I paint NMM and my general blending approach can result in a sterile or boring appearance for NMM. A little too ‘factory fresh’, if you will, especially for a battled-wearied character like Baran, who has damage sculpted into his equipment. In addition to painting on scratches and damage as appropriate, I also like to use glazes to add wear and tear and visual complexity to NMM. (I use pretty much the same techniques to add interest to true metallics, too, this idea is definitely not limited to NMM.) 

I often apply a dull dark brown like Reaper’s Woodstain Brown or Blackened Brown to areas that are more recessed and less likely to be cleaned thoroughly, like the bottom quarter or so of the sword where it meets the hilt and crevices in armour. I also added hints of rust to areas of scratches and damage on Baran. Applying thin glazes of colours used elsewhere on the figure is a simple way to create the impression of surrounding items reflecting on the metal areas. Baran’s colour scheme was fairly subdued, so I didn’t really do that here, but it’s a trick to keep in mind. 

Baran front fullYou can see light rust in the sword cracks, dirt on the armour, and dust on the floor stones.

Sometimes I use paint glazes alone for this kind of wear and tear and colour interest. In this instance I also used pigment powders. These are finely ground powders that you rub on to areas of a figure with a dry old brush. They can be applied with a damp brush, as well, but this gives a different appearance. You may need to use fixative on them for gaming figures that will be handled frequently. Several companies produce these products. I bought my set years ago at my local HobbyTown, and I’m not finding the producing company online to link to. You should be able to find recommendations for pigment powders from other miniature hobbyists in your favourite discussion venue.

For Baran, I applied dirt and rust coloured pigments in various areas of the figure, with a concentration on the NMM to add interest to it. Some lighter dirt coloured powders were also used on the base. In the picture below you can see a comparison of some of the NMM areas before and after weathering glazes and powders. Although the effect is subtle, it’s quick to do and I think adds a lot of visual interest to the figure, even if the viewer isn’t always consciously aware of it. You can also use these powders on areas depicted as cloth and lots of other materials.

Nmm glaze comp

Contrast of Hue and Temperature

One of the biggest challenges in painting Baran is that the overall colour scheme was dark and the colours used were fairly low in saturation. Strong differences in value and hue are very effective tools for creating contrast. Most miniature painters rely heavily on one, if not both of those tools. 

I think Baran is an interesting example of how colour elements always need to be considered in the context of the overall figure. A strong colour like bright blue or vivid red would stand out too much and look weird on this figure. In this kind of somber colour scheme, even subtle differences in colour saturation and temperature can create some contrast.

Color v bw

As an example, look at the lighter brown leather accessories of Baran’s bags, pouches, and straps in the photo above left. These stand out pretty well against the metal armour plates and the darker leather armour and boots. Looking at the colour picture you may feel this is because the colours are lighter in value than the surrounding colours. But if you look at the picture converted to greyscale on the right, you can see that the value of the leather accessories and even the face is close to or even darker than the value of the metal areas. Those areas do not stand out much at all in the black and white photo, so they definitely do not have much value contrast with the surrounding areas. (Differences in temperature and saturation are only apparent in full colour. Looking at something in black and white is a great way to assess its level of value contrast.)

Instead, those areas stand out due to contrasts in temperature and colour. In isolation, I would classify the colours I used on the NMM as warm greys – they are grey paints with a little bit of brown in them, not true neutral greys. There is some dull blue (Blue Liner) and neutral grey (Grey Liner) in the shadows that makes them cooler there, but this is a much warmer NMM colour than one painted with neutral or blued greys. However, in the context of this figure, if you compare the armour colours to the leather and skin colours, the armour colours by comparison are both cooler and less intense in colour saturation.

This is an example of what we mean when we say colour is relative, and why it can understandably feel a little frustrating to try to figure out sometimes! Below is a photograph with some additional figures that show more colour relativity. These are all NMM figures, but you can get similar contrasts of temperature on true metallics depending on the colours you use in the shadows.

There’s no one right answer as to which way to go with your colour use. But one other thing you can see in comparing the figures as a group is that stronger contrast makes it easier to delineate a smaller scale figure and make it more readable to the viewer. The hue contrasts on the left figure make it pretty readable. The centre figure has strong value and texture contrasts that would help it stand out on a tabletop or shelf. Keeping Baran dark and moody and limiting both the colour contrast and the value contrast means he doesn’t quite have the same visual oomph when you look at him in a group of figures, nor when you look at him at the smaller size he would appear on a table or shelf rather than larger photos online. I should have pushed the saturation and value contrasts just a little bit more than I did. (The white/black contrast on his shield definitely makes that area stand out though!)

Nmm contrast

The metal colour of the figure on the left is quite cool. The blues in the shadows are not strongly saturated, but they’re obviously blue. It is also cool in the context of the figure, since the skin and leather colours all incorporate warm yellows and oranges, even though they are likewise fairly low saturation versions of those colours. (Speaking of weathering, the dried mud on the bottom of her skirt was applied with paint glazes, but you could also use weathering powders for this kind of effect. You can also see some light glazes of dark brown in the crevices of her swords and armour plates, similar to what I described painting on Baran above.)

The figure in the centre has fairly neutral colour metal. The paints are true greys with touches of weathering and reflected colour added through glazes. The colour looks pretty neutral in the context of the figure, as well, since she has warm colours in her skin and leather and a cool colour on the pants, so it keeps the steel metal colour between the two and feeling neutral. However, if you transplanted that same metal colour NMM to either of the other figures, it would look cool in contrast to their colour schemes. Neither of the other figures has cool blues or greens or even purples used in their overall colour scheme. All of their colours other than their metal areas are warm. In colour schemes with warm colours and no cool colours, neutral greys would look cool by contrast. The reverse is also true – if you placed that same NMM colour scheme on a figure painted completely in cool blues and greens, it would look a little warm in contrast.

Then we have Baran on the right. His overall colour scheme is warm, though dull in saturation. But the skin and leather areas are a little warmer in colour than the armour, so in the context of the figure’s overall colour scheme, the armour is a cool colour.

Additional Photos

Here are some additional angles and uncropped photos. I’ll have one more behind the scenes article on Baran coming up, with step-by-step photos and tips for painting freehand like that on his shield.

Baran s face 500

Baran s shield 500

Baran s back2 500

Baran back right 500

Paints Used

Please see the PDF Paint Guide available from the Reaper site for a complete list of all paints used on the Baran Blacktree figure, as well as additional information on how I painted him!

Figures in this Article

The Female Dual Wield Fighter is based on a Larry Elmore drawing.
The Female Demonkin Warrior with Sword is also available from Dark Sword Miniatures.
Baran Blacktree is available in metal from Reaper Miniatures. 

NMM Gold and Painting Patience

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I had some thoughts about painting patience while I was painting the non-metallic metal gold on the Christmas Hugs figure that I wanted to share, along with my colour choices and some tips for painting NMM. Also if you’re trying to paint your own copy of Christmas Hugs and finding it challenging to identify all the gift items on the base, I’ve included a guide to what and where things are are near the bottom of this post.

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The Patience of Painting

If you’ve been painting miniatures for any length of time, you’ve probably had non-painter friends and family look at your work in amazement and declare something like “I’d never have the patience to paint something small like that.” I’ve never really understood that remark. While the tools and techniques may differ between different art forms, the kind of patience it takes to sit quietly at a desk seems similar whether you’re painting a tiny dragon or a large canvas, and similar to lots of other creative hobbies, as well. 

Xdrag back

However, I definitely have found that different painting tasks require different kinds of patience. I’ve also found that it’s helpful to be aware of that and try to keep it in mind as you work. I think patience and expectations can get us into trouble with certain kinds of techniques. With many kinds of painting tasks, things start to look better pretty quickly. If you apply a wash and/or drybrushing to an area of texture, you can immediately see more detail and depth and it looks better. When you start layering or wetblending shadows and highlights onto matte materials like cloth and skin, you see results pretty quickly. A given area might look even better if you added more contrast or detailing or something else, but doing anything is an improvement over leaving it a flat coat of colour.

Xdrag faceI love this adorable little dragon! Julie captured so much joy and personality.

This is not the case for all types of miniature painting tasks and painting effects. Some effects do not look very good until you’ve done a lot of painting. I talked about this last Christmas with my experience of painting the source lighting effect on the Ghost of Christmas Past (below). I was painting the illusion of light being cast from a candle to the side of the figure, while I was looking at the figure under light falling from my ceiling lamp above. The figure looked wrong when it was only half painted because the appearance of the painted light on some areas contradicted the appearance of the room light falling on the unpainted parts. The contradiction prompted my brain to tell me to make changes to what I had painted. That would have been a mistake. I needed to resist that urge until I had painted most of the figure and could assess the appearance of the painted light over the figure as a whole. Once I got to that stage I was able to see that my mistake was in not having painted the effect of the light strongly enough. Giving in to the urge to tone things down in the early stages would have been a mistake on multiple levels.

Xm past bk front full

The Mental Challenges of Non-Metallic Metal

Non-metallic metal is a similar sort of effect. You cannot really tell how well it’s working until you get enough painted that you have some quite dark sections and some very light sections. The main visual properties that set metal apart from other textures/materials are that it appears shiny and reflective. Extremes of dark and light, particularly in proximity to one another, are a large part of what creates the illusion of a shiny surface. 

If you’re used to painting textures and effects that start to look better as soon as you apply paint, it can be very difficult to make the mental shift when you start to work on effects that don’t come together until after you’ve put on a lot of paint. It can be difficult to force yourself to be patient when you start to experiment with more advanced effects like source lighting and non-metallic metal. After all, if you don’t have a lot of experience painting NMM, how can you tell if you’re doing it ‘right’ but you just need to get more paint on it, or if you’re doing something wrong that you need to change? The answer is that you don’t. So my advice is go through the process you’ve decided to follow at least once without making major changes while you paint. Then assess the end result and see what you think. If you identify problems, consider what changes you might make to the process to resolve those on your next attempt.

I sometimes find it challenging even as an experienced painter who has been painting NMM for years. As I mentioned in my recent article on painting succubi wings, my patience has taken a hit in this unusual year. I have had fun painting things that are relatively quick and simple, and have found some high level display stuff to be a mentally exhausting slog.

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With Christmas Hugs, I started by painting the gifts on the base. Some people might look at all that detail and not be too excited about the prospect of painting it. I found it perfectly suited to my current state of mind. It was a lot of little things I could break down into easily achievable goals. It didn’t require fiddly blending that takes forever. I have good light, good brushes, and a lot of practice painting details. I’m not saying that there weren’t parts where I had to position carefully or control my breathing to paint precisely. But painting the details went fairly quickly and I could see tangible progress hour by hour to have a sense of completion and accomplishment. 

That all came to a screeching halt when it was time to paint the dragon. The Reaper Christmas dragon collection already has two red dragons and one green. Given the amount of red and green I’d used on the base, I didn’t think either was a good choice to make sure the Christmas Hugs dragon stood out against her base. I often use warm gold as an accent colour for the Christmas colour schemes, so I thought that would be a good choice for the dragon, and I busted out my favourite warm gold NMM paints. 

Xdrag front

Knowing it might take a few sessions to paint, I also busted out my ceramic welled palette and sponges. I often use a wet palette during a session of painting, but I don’t find that it preserves the paint in good condition to paint over several sessions. I know lots of people use it that way, but it just hasn’t worked well for me. I can use it for small touch ups, but not for extended painting. When I want to use paint over an extended period of time, I use this porcelain palette with small wells. (Small wells reduce evaporation speed.) I fill the wells at least three quarters full. I add water to the paint as necessary for the opacity that I want, usually a drop or two. If it’s very dry, I might add a little drying retarder. I add water to sponges to the point where they’re not literally dripping wet, but they will expel water with any squeezing. When I’m not painting I put the sponges over the wells of the palette, creating a sort of ‘reverse’ wet palette. Even while painting I will often put a sponge over one side of the palette if I’m not using those colours to help slow evaporation. I tend to put shadows on one side of the palette and highlights on the other partly for this reason. Every now and then I check on the consistency of the paint and add a drop of water as necessary, and I reload the sponges with water once a day.

Succ2 skin paletteI bought mine at Cheap Joe’s, but sometimes I see similar palettes for reasonable prices on Amazon. Lab spot plates are similar.

Painting the hide of the dragon felt like much more of a slog than painting the tiny details. I had hoped to finish the dragon up in a relatively short amount of time, but as I started the second session, it became clear it was going to take me longer. I don’t know if that was a question of being out of practice with fiddly blending, the knowledge of the looming deadline, or just not being in the frame of mind to want to do it. All I can say is that it was aggravating. I spent a lot of time feeling like it just didn’t look very good at all. I questioned whether I should have started with a lighter midtone, or did I need to change something else I was doing? Luckily I have had enough experience painting NMM to know that sometimes it doesn’t start looking right until pretty close to the end of the process. I was able to refrain from making sudden poor choices during painting and instead convince myself to just push through and see how it looked at the end.

There are two suggestions I can make to help with the patience part of painting NMM. One is to paint a small area completely. This gives you an idea of how your colours are working with one another and what it looks like when it all comes together. Once you have that small part looking good, you can refer back to it to remind you what the end result will look like! I did this with Christmas Hugs. I started painting the dragon’s hide late in the evening, so I just mixed my paint, painted the end of the tail, and then headed to sleep. I had that end of the tail to look back at when I was questioning whether my colours were off or if the overall effect would work. While this trick works for NMM, note that it doesn’t work as well for all effects, like source lighting.

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The second approach is to quickly sketch in the light and dark areas with your paint. You can do this with rough layering, quick wetblending – whatever works for you. The idea is to paint in the major shadow and highlight areas where they need to be. The transitions between shadows and highlights might look rough, but placing them this way should allow you to get a good idea of whether you are getting a ‘shine’ effect and if your colour choices are working well. It gives you a quick way to judge whether you’re putting things in the right place, and to determine whether you’re using enough contrast between your darkest shadows and brightest highlights. This approach helps you avoid getting something that looks like stone instead of metal! I definitely recommend trying this approach if you’re newer to painting NMM and have been finding it frustrating. You can see an example of me using this technique to paint Caerindra Thistlemoor. This approach works well for a wide variety of effects, like source lighting, though often you’ll need to sketch in all the large areas of the figure not just one section like I did on Caerindra’s metal.

In this approach the second step is to refine the transitions and rough application, and then add smaller detail elements. This can still require patience, but you at least know you got things right in the big picture, which makes it easier to avoid the temptation to change something that doesn’t need changing because you’re afraid it isn’t working. In this approach, as you can see in the pictures of Caerindra, I don’t bother with small details like rivets until the refining stage of the process.

Xdrag nmm comboThe middle picture has shadows and the first few levels of highlight on the back plates, but it doesn’t look right because the lighter layers of highlights aren’t painted on yet. So for 80% or so of the time I was painting, things looked not great to me. I had to have faith about where I was going in the end to keep on with it.

The main point I want to make is that as you stretch your painting wings and move into painting intermediate and advanced techniques, your relationship with your inner critic might need to become a little more complex. Your inner critic is that little voice in your head urging you to tweak something a little lighter, add some of this colour over here, that kind of thing. It can you make decisions while you paint. But sometimes, particularly when trying something new and different, it can lead you astray.

It’s important to understand that your inner critic is calibrated to assess how your work is going based on your usual techniques and approach. It can be actively unhelpful when you’re trying to stretch to paint new effects or try new techniques. If you usually paint fairly matte textures with a low range of contrast (which is how most of us paint in beginner and early intermediate stages of painting), your inner critic makes suggestions based on how your work should look using that approach. It’s going to tell you that painting NMM with high contrast looks wrong and urge you to tone down your shadows or highlights. If you’re trying a new paint application technique, it will make suggestions based on your experiences with familiar techniques that could hamper you learning and understanding the new one. So if you’re used to drybrushing and trying to practice layering, it might prompt you to use types of brushstrokes or thicker paint or something that works better for drybrushing but isn’t great with layering.

It’s kind of like that saying about if you only have a hammer, you treat everything like a nail. Your inner critic is used to using a hammer. It can fight you when you’re trying to acquire and learn how to use a wrench. Sometimes it will tell you to use the wrench just to hit everything, like you do with the hammer. 

The ability to look critically at your work and be willing to make changes as you paint is an indispensable tool for improving! But sometimes what you need to do most to learn is figure out how to mute or ignore your inner critic while you’re trying something new. Try to just follow the tutorial or the process or your new idea through to the end as you originally planned, and resist the impulses to deviate that spring to mind while you’re painting. Then once you’re done, go back and look at your result and review the process you used to get it, and consider how you feel about both. Actually, I recommend that you wait a few hours or even until the next day to do the assessment. You can usually see things much more clearly once you’ve had a break from painting. Then you are in a good position to make decisions about whether you didn’t get it quite right and how you might need to shift or change things.

Non-Metallic Gold Recipe

People often get quite caught up in trying to find the ‘perfect’ colour recipes for NMM colours. I think that’s a bit of a red herring. I recommend you not get too distracted by colour recipes. The perfect colour for something can vary quite a bit depending on the colours used elsewhere on the figure. The gold I painted on this dragon has a lot of reddish tones in the shadows. It looks good with the rich green and red colour scheme of Christmas colours. It would look overpowering next to the muted colours I used on the succubi. The colours on the pillow in this post are similar to the colours used for the NMM on the succubi. The pillow has more brown tones in the shadows, and weaker yellow colours than the dragon. I used some of these same paints in the gold NMM I painted on the Christmas dragon and on Ziba the Efreet, but the gold recipe for Ziba used purple in the darker shadows to tie into shadows used on the rest of the figure, as well as some different paints in the highlights. 

IMG 0201The gold on the dragon is more vibrant. It would draw attention away from the faces and skin if I had used this recipe on the succubi.

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Usually any issues with non-metallic metal not looking correct has to do with values and colour placement. In theory, you should be able to use neon pinks and paint something that looks shiny and reflective like metal, though it might not make you think of a knight’s armour. ;-> Successful NMM requires a large range of value, with areas of dark shadow and bright highlights. Where you place those values is also very important to the effect. Our eyes are more likely to perceive something as shiny if we see dark shadows adjacent or near to light highlights. Not all shapes reflect light in that way, of course. Rounded areas like the dragons wings and knees (or round helms and shoulder plates) reflect light differently than sharper planes like the scales on its back (or swords or armour plates). Shiny surfaces reflect light differently than less shiny ones, so to really pull off the effect well requires studying the light reflection and understanding how it works on different shapes. But you can get a pretty convincing and attractive look even without that understanding if you use value extremes and judgement about where you place those values.

IMG 0192The paint colours I used. I didn’t use the 9256 Blond Shadow on the dragon. The 9071 Chestnut Gold paint I used was recently discontinued. 9256 mixed with 9071 Chestnut Brown would work as a substitute for 9073 Chestnut Gold.

Gold nmm paintsThe paint mixes I used. Unnumbered mixes are a combination of the colours to their right and left. 9073 Chestnut Gold is discontinued. Beneath that section you can see a swatch of 9256 Blond Shadow and a mix of Blond Shadow and 9071 Chestnut Brown that I think would work as a substitute.

One of the paints I used in this recipe (and on Ziba) was recently discontinued. I just did a test with another colour that is still available. It’s not quite as rich, but I think it should give a pretty similar end result used in combination with the other colours, as you can see in the photos above.

Identifying the Gifts on the Base

Julie Guthrie did an amazing job cramming a lot of fantastic geek-approved gifts into a small space on this base! When I first started prepping the metal figure and even after priming, I had trouble identifying what some of the objects are. Certain things can look a little confusing if you’re looking at the wrong angle. To help you avoid that frustration, I’m including some pictures with a guide to what each object is to help you out when you’re painting your copy of this fun figure.

There are several toy animals on the base. I chose to paint the bat and the dragon as if they were pewter miniatures to go with the brushes and paints, but you could paint them in any number of ways. There were a few small things that I weren’t entirely sure what they were and chose to paint as holly leaves.

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1. A pair of socks, a very traditional Christmas gift.
2. A toy bat. I painted this one to look like a pewter miniature.
3. 3d6 (or toy blocks if you’d prefer, the numeral is painted not sculpted.)
4. A toy cat.
5. Several paint brushes in a box.
6. A sock monkey.

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1. 3d6, or toy blocks if you prefer.
2. Three paint bottles.
3. Two more paint brushes.

IMG 0461

1. The tops of the paint bottles.
2. A large sack. For dice, maybe?
3. A small sack. For smaller dice!
4. A Thingmaker Mini Dragon. This was one of Julie and Bob’s favourite toys when they were children. I painted it as a pewter dragon though.
5. A Mr. Bones stuffy!
6. Delicious candy canes.
7. The top of the sock monkey’s head.

Miniatures Shown in this Post

The Christmas Hugs dragon and the Ghost of Christmas Past are both limited availability holiday miniatures. They are part of Reaper Miniatures 12 Days of Reaper promotion, which is running until December 8, 2020. For each $40USD (or equivalent) you spend at the Reaper store, you can choose one of 12 different holiday figures, or a Reaper ornament. So if you spend $80 you can pick out two, and so on. This stacks with the usual monthly promotion, so you also pick out one of the monthly figures per $40 you spend, so you’re getting two free metal figures with every $40 purchase.

I shared a post with larger images and links to painting info for the 10 options I painted. After December 8th, the remaining stock of figures will go up for sale individually.

12Days 2020 2 copy

Starting December 1st, if you spend $60USD or more, you will also receive a Paint Your Krampus kit that I wrote, while supplies last. The kit includes four paints, detailed instructions, and a Bones USA Krampus figure produced in Texas.

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