How to Paint Fur Patterns – Again

One of my first posts on this blog was a look at how to paint animal fur patterns. This is helpful to know not only for painting animal figures, but also for painting clothing or scenic elements made from fur. I recently finished painting another personified tabby cat figure, and I took some in progress pictures to talk a little more about the process I used for painting the fur.

Korben front view

Korben back view

The warrior cat above is an anthropomorphic imagining of one of my own cats, Korben. It is one of a line of terrific anthropomorphic animal figures from Dark Sword Miniatures. Korben is a large and beefy cat and a deadly hunter, so he was envisioned as a burly, but mischievous, fighter character. Once the concept artist and sculptor finished their fantastic work, it became my job to bring my orange tabby goofball to life. One important part of that was to study photos of the real Korben to determine good colours to use, where there were variations in his fur colour, and where to place the stripes.

Korben looking innocent. He's not.

One thing that’s apparent from these photographs is that the lighting conditions can have a significant appearance on the colour of objects. The fur appears more red/auburn in the first picture than the one below. I aimed for something in between the two in the painted version of Korben.

Korben profile2

I tend to start by painting the lighter colour(s) on an animal with patterning. It’s usually easier to paint a darker colour over a lighter colour than vice versa. Let’s study the lighter areas of the fur on my reference cat. One important element to note is that the lighter areas of fur are not uniform in colour. The variations are affected by several factors:

Natural Variation
The fur is a lighter colour in some areas than others. Most notably, the lower jaw, the tip of the tail, and narrow stripes under the eyes. The fur is almost white in places. It is very common for animals to have lighter coloured fur on their bellies than they do on their sides and backs.

Skin Showing Through
The number of fur strands is much less dense in the areas in front of the ears and above the eyes. More white skin shows through, which makes the fur appear lighter in colour here.

Light and Shadow
The way that light falls on the animal creates shadows depending on the shape of its body and limbs. Areas of fur will appear lighter where they are facing towards the light, and darker where the forms of the animal curve away from the light and create shadows. On the full body picture of Korben, you can see a dark ridge of shadow on the lower side of his flank above the tail, and quite a dark shadow under his jaw. 

His chest fur appears darker where it curves down towards his belly. This can create one of the challenges of painting animals. As mentioned above, fur is often lighter coloured on the underside of an animal. But in most poses this is also an area that is facing away from the light and thus shadowed. Where this occurs you need to paint the fur the shadow colour of your lighter belly fur colour. You might have belly fur that would appear pure white if it were viewed in good lighting, but you will need to paint it more of a tan or grey because it should appear as if it’s in shadow.

It can be difficult to depict both the natural variation of fur AND the play of light and shadow over the fur simultaneously in a way that makes sense on a small miniature figure. Sometimes you need to make choices about which aspect is most important to your vision for that figure.

In the case of Korben the miniature, my thinking was along the following lines. The lighter areas of fur on his face are part of what makes Korben look like Korben, so they are important to include to capture the likeness, even if I have to sacrifice creating the three dimensional form a little. Luckily those areas are mostly in the light, apart from the lower jaw. The colour shift of his tail from light to near white is interesting and also a distinctive feature of his appearance, so I wanted to capture that, but still add some shading throughout the tail to make it look round.

On the arms, the emphasis of the sculpt is on Korben’s muscular strength. (He is a mighty hunter!) In terms of capturing the vision for the figure, accuracy of the fur patterning or even whether the stripes are very visually apparent is less important than bringing out the rounded curves of the muscles so those are very visible to the viewer.

For the purposes of painting a more effective miniature, I increased the level of contrast between his light and dark colours of fur. Miniatures are small (even though this one is super sized compared to the other anthropomorphic cats in the Dark Sword line!), and a lot more of the body area is covered than in an unclothed cat. So it seemed like a good idea to exaggerate the contrast a little to ensure that the tabby patterning would be easy for the viewer to see in the display case at a busy convention, since that will be the function of this miniature.

I did a quick test of some colour options on another figure. Doing tests like these might seem like wasted time. But it is more efficient to spend a few minutes working out my colour choices on a test figure than to it would be to try something, discover it doesn’t work, and then have to spend a lot more time repainting the main figure. If I were not already practiced at painting stripes from painting anthropomorphic Archer and Ella, I might also have spent a little time practicing the techniques I planned to use to make the stripes look less painted on. The one downside of this test is that now I’m trying to resist the urge to paint this as a Pippi Longstocking wolf…

Korb wolf test photoI love the Bones figures from Reaper for quick tests like this. No prep or primer needed, just grab the fig and start testing. 

The following is a picture of what the Korben figure looked like after I finished painting the areas of light coloured fur, including the shading and highlighting as well as the areas that appear lighter due to other factors. Normally I would have finished painting all of the fur areas before painting his gear and weapons. In this instance I circled back to the fur later when I had time to take photos for this article.

Korben light fur before patterning

Now it was time for the stripes. How did I approach painting those, and how did I make them look more like natural fur stripes rather than painted on? I discussed some of this in the previous fur post, but it’s worth talking about again with some additional examples.

Manmade pattern examplesExamples of painting insignia and other manmade patterns.

If you think of the symbols on traffic signs, or many clothing designs, or other examples of patterns of that type, the edges of the elements are crisp and well-defined. (There are a few softer spots on the punk rocker’s t-shirt above, but I was trying to create the impression that it was stained and worn.) These symbols and designs are painted with hard edges in traditional drawing terminology. In your mind you might think of the stripes of a tiger or spots of a leopard as being pretty similar, since the patterns are well-defined, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see that is not the case.

Tiger and Leopard larger viewTiger photo by William Low. Leopard photo by Uriel Soberanes. Both courtesy of Unsplash.

In the photographs of a lion and a leopard above, you can see that their stripe and spot markings are very clearly defined. But even at this distant size/scale, the edges do not have the same kind of sharp definition as you would see on most printed or painted designs like signs and logos. Let’s take an even closer look at these animal markings.

Tiger and leopard markings close upTiger photo by William Low. Leopard photo by Uriel Soberanes. Both courtesy of Unsplash.

In a close up, it’s easy to see that the edges of the markings are not really sharply defined. There are light hairs that poke into the areas of dark fur, and dark hairs that push into the light fur sections. The overall shape of the stripe or spot is well established, but the edges of them are more diffuse. In traditional art terminology this is a firm rather than a sharp edge. That’s the end result we want in a miniature, but how do we get there?

I think sometimes we can make our lives as painters more difficult by trying to accomplish the end result immediately in as few steps as possible. A lot of effects and techniques actually benefit from breaking things up into steps, and that is what I did with the fur pattern here. 

My first step was to start laying in the darker stripes. My goal here was to focus on the placement of the stripes. I studied photos of his face very closely to determine where to place the stripes, and the same with his tail. I got a little more creative with placement on the arms since the anatomical structure of the limbs between the actual cat and the anthropomorphic cat is fairly different. When I say my focus was on placement I mean that my aim was to paint a stripe of roughly the correct width and length in the correct location. I didn’t worry if I had excessively sharp edges or even if the paint was streaky, I didn’t worry about highlights and shadows. Step one was just looking at my reference and placing stripes as accurately as I could. Mostly I used one colour of paint for this stage, but there were a few shadow areas where I used a slightly darker mix to make sure I could see where I put the stripes.

Korben stripes layin frontInitial lay-in of the stripes.

Korb back wip2 700h

You can see from the above photos that my stripes are a little rough. Some have edges that are way too defined. Some are wobbly. Some don’t have full coverage of colour. My next step was to correct any placement issues, clean up the wobbly lines, and make sure that the centres of the stripes have a solid coat of colour. I also added some shading and highlighting to the stripes, and made them a little darker in the centres. 

The next step in my process was to work on softening and diffusing the edges of the stripes so they looked more like natural fur and less like something I painted on. I mixed a colour in between the light fur colour and the darker stripe colour. Using a small brush with a very fine point, I painted tiny lines and dots along the edge transition to blur it. In essence, I’m making strokes to create the light bits of fur on the close-up photo of the tiger stripes above. There were times when I overdid it and needed to tidy a little with either the darker stripe colour or lighter background fur colour, so I kept both those paint colours to hand on my palette.

Striped tail painting process

The above photos demonstrate the three stages of the process I used to paint the stripes. The top photo is what the tail looked like after the initial stripe lay-in. In the middle of the tail on the bottom, you can see where I painted in some extra coats of paint on the stripes to build up the colour coverage. I have started the process of diffusing the harsh edges of the stripes on both ends of the tail in the bottom photo so you can see what that looks like in areas of higher and lower contrast between stripes and background colour. 

Korben face stripes work in progress

The photos above give you an idea of how the process worked on the smaller stripes on the face. The picture of the face on the left is the initial lay-in of the stripes. In the picture on the right, I have corrected the placement of the stripes on top of the head. I also realized that I had made the area of lightness above his eyes too large and dramatic, and I toned that down a bit, as well as painting the ears to better match my reference photos. The picture on the right was taken mid-way through the process – I still had a bit of work to do on softening the stripes on the cheeks and chin. 

This is just one method for painting fur patterns! If you’re not painting a larger figure or one intended for display, you might be more interested in one of the other methods I described in my original post about painting fur patterns.

Thank You Dark Sword Miniatures!

I would like to say thank you very much to Dark Sword Miniatures for adding our third furry goofball to the anthropomorphic critters line up! Now he definitely feels like he’s a part of the family. We only planned to have two cats, but when we realized that the friendly orange cat that had been hanging around the neighbourhood was a stray, how could we resist? Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into!

Archer bl front 500Our tyrannical overlord, Archer, depicted as a grumpy warlock. He’s a lot skinner now that he’s quite an old man cat. We think he’s working on becoming a lich.

Ella front 450Our second cat, sweet Elasund or Ella, depicted as a rogue. She could also have made a good cleric, she’s the only creature in the house with a high Wisdom score. (But very low Int.)

Korben family 1000The whole furry family. You can see that Dark Sword went the extra mile to capture the true scale of Korben the Warrior.

Korben v archer1Real life size comparison of Korben and Archer.

Figures Featured in this Post

Korben the Fighter is available from Dark Sword Miniatures

The test warg is available in Bones plastic, or in metal

Inspector #3 from Heresy Miniatures

Inspector #2 from Heresy Miniatures

Sid the Rock Star from Reaper Miniatures

How to Paint Hair

My first ever how to paint video is now available! You can watch my Reaper Toolbox segment on how to paint hair on miniature figures on YouTube. I thought it might be helpful if I posted some pictures of the figures from the video for people to reference as they practice painting hair. I’m also going to include the paints used and links to more Reaper Toolbox how to paint goodness. I’ll post the pictures roughly in the order they were presented in the video, with the colour recipe and links at the end.

At the beginning of the video I shared a couple of miniatures I’d painted from the Reaper collection. These demonstrate two very different approaches to sculpting hair, but I used the same basic approach for painting both of them. Unfortunately both of these were limited edition figures and are not currently for sale. The shirt featuring Sophie (which I am wearing in the video) is still available though!

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie hair exampleI visualized the light coming from the upper left in the front view picture. The figure has wings, so the back of the head is quite shadowed. 

Tristan hair exampleOn this figure I visualized the light as coming from the upper right in the front view.

Hair is sculpted with a strongly defined texture. Washing and drybrushing techniques work well to bring out sculpted texture, and can look pretty good used on surfaces like woodgrain, chainmail, and feathers. These techniques do not tend to look as good when painting hair, however.

Example of drybrushed hairI started with the same basecoat colour as for the rest of the demonstrations, and made a wash out of the same shadow colour. I drybrushed the strands by starting with the basecoat colour and moving up through the highlight colours. (I demonstrated this on only half the head, and have blocked out the other half.)

The fact that hair is made up of thousands of strands does not strongly affect how the surface of hair appears to us visually. Individual strands are barely visible if you’re standing even a foot or two away from someone. Do an image search on the word ‘hair’, and look at some examples. You’ll see that the way light and shadow falls on the hair is not vertical like the strands, but rather appears more in horizontal bands based on the shape of the head/body that it is draped over, and the shapes of large waves and curls.

Hair example from pexels.comThis photo from pexels.com illustrates how you perceive the horizontal bands of light and shadow on curves and curls more strongly than the strand texture of hair.

Example of painting blonde hairThis is an example of painting hair focusing on the larger shapes of the waves and curls and visualizing the light as coming from above – the shadow colours appear most on the underside of the curls, and the highlight colours are strongest on the tops of the curls.

Since it can be hard to get a good look at where people have placed various levels of shadow and highlight mixes if the blending between layers is fairly smooth, I also created a black and white example to help you more easily see where to place the highlights and shadows. This is just one interpretation based on a light source coming from above. Deciding where your light source is and which areas of your figure are more strongly lit or more darkly shadowed is where miniature painting gets more artistic, personal, and fun!

Black and white example of shadow and highlight placementI think some of the highlights are a little too far down the curve of the upper curls, but hopefully it helps you see the general idea.

On the video I demonstrated an alternative to drybrushing that is still quicker for tabletop use, but which follows the principles of where to apply the lights and shadows that I described above. This alternative is something many people call ‘dampbrushing’. When dampbrushing, you remove excess paint from the brush, but still leave it moist. Apply the brush perpendicular to the hair texture pulling it down or up the texture to pull paint off the brush on the raised areas, but leave the depressions shadowed. 

In the video I mention that I normally wear a magnifier and hold the figure a lot closer to paint, and you’re about to see an example of why I have to do that!

Dampbrushing example of painting hairThis example shows the basic idea of dampbrushing, but I could definitely have done a better job with this. The principles I describe work, what I needed to do was another layer or two of the original basecoat colour, and then I think I did need to use an additional transition mixes and work up a little more slowly. This looks choppy because the jump to the top two highlight colours is very sudden. I needed to build up more midtones with the Blond Hair colour and a mix between Blond Hair and Blond Highlight. 

This is a picture of the figure I painted on camera in the video. Once again you can see why I use a visual aid when I’m painting! If you are having difficulty getting the brush where you want it when you’re painting, sometimes the issue is as much to do with your eyes as your hands. Make sure you’re painting in good lighting. Some people use two or even three lamps in addition to the ceiling lights of their painting area! You can also use magnifying lenses. I recommend dual lenses rather than a single magnifying plate. Viewing objects through both eyes helps us best visualize their location in space. With just one magnifier, you will have more trouble getting the brush in the correct place on the miniature. If you don’t wear glasses, all you need is a pair of cheap reading glasses from a drugstore. If you do wear glasses, I highly recommend the OptiVisor brand of magnifying visors.

Comparison of reference example and on camera versionHere’s a comparison of my reference example and the one I painted on camera. This quick version painted without my magnifier doesn’t look as polished as the finished example, but I think it looks a lot more interesting and more like hair than the drybrushed example!

These are the colours used to paint the hair examples in the video. You can buy all of these from Reaper Miniatures online as well as in many retail locations. But as hair comes in a lot of different colours, you should be able to find some similar paints in your collection that you can practice with if you don’t want to buy more paint. The key to a natural blond hair look is to not use a lot of strong yellow colours.

IMG 8299

I’m including some additional angles of both the full colour and black and white versions of the figure in case anyone wants to reference these while practicing. The figure used in all of the examples from the video is Sarah the Seeress. She is available in both Bones plastic and in metal, and she is a terrific figure to practice painting hair on.

Colour example back view

Colour example back side and front view

Colour example top views

B&W example back view

B&W examples front and back side views

B&W examples top views

Reaper now has a playlist for all the Toolbox videos so they’re easier to find.

Reaper’s paint maven is doing live stream videos on Wednesday afternoons on Twitch. These are also posted on YouTube once completed. Anne is starting off by painting a black dragon. Watch episode one, or episode two here.

And in case you missed it, Reaper has announced that Bones V is coming – September 5, 2019.

Mylk and Cookies – 12 Days of Reaper

Reaper Miniatures has always gone in for holidays in a big way, which is probably why frantic deadline painting has now become one of the ways I celebrate Hallowe’en and Christmas. :-> So to help me get more in the holiday spirit, I’m going to share some pictures of the figures I’ve painted, and some work-in-progress insights.

This year they are once again running their 12 Days of Reaper promotion from December 5 (yesterday as of writing, I missed a day, sorry!) through December 16. During the promo, one special holiday figure of the day is included free with every purchase of $40 or more from the online Reaper site. And for the first time ever, they are making the 12 Days figures available for purchase separately, for two weeks following December 16.

The 12 Days promotion stacks with the promotion to include a free Dungeon Dweller of the month with each $40+ worth of order. So for every $40+ you order at this time, you’ll receive two free metal figures. And if your order totals more than $65, you also receive a Christmas Sampler package that includes Bones miniatures, candy, a postcard with cool art by Talin, and a naughty or nice surprise. There are a fixed amount of Samplers, so those are while supplies last.

Here is the schedule of figures for each of the 12 Days of Reaper. 

12 days promoI painted a number of these figures, and will be trying to upload pictures to my blog on the appropriate days so you can get a better view.

The figure for December 6th is Mylk and Cookies. Mylk is an adorable baby yeti who is just too excited about all these yummy cookies that she’s found. I had a lot of fun painting this, it’s a cute and creative twist on traditional Christmas motifs, sculpted by the incomparable Julie Guthrie.

Mylk and Cookies front

Mylk and Cookies back

I started my experiments with underpainting and grisaille some time last year, and I used that approach with this figure. As usual, my emphasis was on figuring out where to make things lighter and darker. As you can see below, I didn’t worry about details like the eyes or mouth, or shadow lines between each individual cookie or anything like that.

Yeti grisaille front

Yeti grisaille back

The cookie decorations are textures, not just paint. After I painted the cookies plain, I went back and added acrylic medium products to create the decorations. Though if you plan on trying this yourself, it might be just as well to add these touches after or even before priming.

For the poured icing on the stars and trees, I used acrylic modeling paste. Thick acrylic gel medium would also probably work. Experiment with a toothpick and a damp brush and see which you like better. You might use the toothpick to apply and the damp brush to smooth things out. For the decorations on the gingerbread men, I used an even thicker product, Woodland Scenics Water effects. If you get a glob on the end of a toothpick, you can usually pull out a small string of gel. I used these pointed gel strings to ‘draw’ on the stripes and dab on the circular buttons and eyes. Once the acrylic medium product fully cured (which doesn’t take long at all for small things like this), I painted over it with the appropriate colours. I had been dreading painting the decorations, but it was easier and more fun than I had expected. And far less sticky than decorating real cookies!

Unfortunately I do not have any photos of the process of applying or painting the decorations as the deadline was looming by that point. I do have some pictures from before I added the decorations, though, so you can see how much it adds to the final look of the figure. 

Yeti pre front 450

Yeti pre back 450

If you aren’t sure what to buy to get to the minimums for free promotion products, Reaper also has a selection of holiday figures available for sale only at this time of the year, as well as a set of holiday themed paints only available in the set. Some of the colours in that set are definite fan favourites, and others are fairly new, having only been introduced last year.

2018HolidayPromoMarquee960x480

I’ll see you back here in a couple of days with some pictures of an adorable dragon hoard!

Link to Reaper Miniatures: http://www.reapermini.com

AdeptiCon 2019 – Registration Opens Monday November 18

I’ve written before about why I recommend that miniature painters and enthusiasts attend conventions. I’ve also previously talked about ReaperCon in particular. It remains my favourite miniature-focused convention, but AdeptiCon runs a close second, and it offers some features I have not found elsewhere. (See the bottom of this post for links to previous articles and other sites/companies/people mentioned in this post.)

Registration for AdeptiCon passes, events, and hobby classes opens on Monday, November 18 at 1pm Central time. For more information on the convention in general, start with the following below. To see a preview of classes and events, select the Register option at the top of that page. I’ll share some information about the classes that I am teaching here, but for full details, check out the events on AdeptiCon’s site. There are a wealth of classes with lots of different instructors.

https://www.adepticon.org

Hobby Classes – Painting, Sculpting, Scenics

AdeptiCon offers an impressive array of hobby class topics and instructors. The focus is on painting topics, but there are also classes for sculpting, and for scenics like terrain and bases. One interesting feature of AdeptiCon classes that started just last year is they have variable length classes. The short class this year is 1.5 hours long. There’s a medium length of 3.5 hours, and a long format of 5.5 hours. As both an instructor and a student of miniature painting classes, I love this idea! Some topics just can’t easily be squeezed down to 90-120 minutes, especially if you want to teach them as hands-on classes where people get a chance to practice concepts and techniques during the class.

Painting class with Raffaele PiccaTaken during a class with Raffaele Picca at AdeptiCon 2016.

Another notable thing about AdeptiCon’s class schedule is that it typically features sessions with international painters. Every year several international artists travel to AdeptiCon to participate in the Crystal Brush painting contest (more on that below). Most of them also take the opportunity to share their wisdom in painting classes. I don’t think there is another convention in North America with as much access to international artists.

As if all of that weren’t enough, the AdeptiCon hobby team works very hard to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone involved. The class rooms are large and decently lit. Each holds only one class at a time and doors can be closed, so it’s a quiet, focused environment. Where instructors request it, access to airbrushes or computer projection screens and the like is provided. Classrooms are also furnished with basic paints, brushes, and related supplies. Damon Drescher is the current lead of the hobby team, and he and all of the other volunteers do a wonderful job with the coordination, logistics, and on-site help with this event.

If you do want to take a class, I recommend that you consider bringing a few supplies of your own, however. In particular, bring your own brushes, and bring good quality ones if you’re taking intermediate or advanced classes. You will need a quality sable brush with a good point to be able to execute most techniques taught in anything other than basics classes. Hotel/convention center lighting isn’t always the best, so if you use magnification at home, bring your visor or reading glasses with you. In a similar vein, if you can squeeze a small battery powered lamp into your travel kit, I highly recommend that. Every class I teach I have at least one person frustrated about not being able to see as well as they’d like. It’s not feasible to expect the convention or instructors to be able to provide lighting (or magnification) for every student in every class. A variety of cheap battery operated or rechargeable lamp options is available via avenues like Amazon.

Rhonda Bender’s Classes for AdeptiCon 2019

This year I am teaching one shorter lecture/discussion class, and two mid-length hands-on classes.

Level Up Your Painting From Intermediate to Advanced
Thursday, March 28 from 2:30pm to 4pm CET
A survey of a lot of topics aside from technique that can help painters progress from intermediate to advanced level painting – understanding critique and assessing your figures with a more critical eye, improving contrast, improving use of colour, composition, referencing real life, balancing visual interest with realism, and many more. Includes a 12 page handout, but I recommend you bring paper and pen to take additional notes.

Painted Ladies
Friday March 29 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
What characteristics make a person look more feminine or more masculine, and how can we apply that to small miniature figures? We’ll start with the body and howto  place shadows and highlights on those tricky curves. Then we’ll work on how to render a face and its features in a way that appears more feminine, even at gaming scale. This longer class format will allow us plenty of time to both discuss the theories and practice hands-on.

Transparent Cloth
Saturday, March 30 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
How do you make a solid material like metal or resin look like filmy transparent cloth? I’m excited to have this longer class format to show people. It will give us time to discuss the theory and then practice hands-on with the various areas of a miniature that need to come together to create this illusion. 

I would like to thank Dark Sword Miniatures and Reaper Miniatures for their support of my classes, at both this event and over many long years. I couldn’t offer what I do without their generousity and assistance!

James Wappel in the Hobby lounge at AdeptiConThe legendarily speedy and creative painter James Wappel is a prominent fixture in the hobby lounge. He is always very generous with his time in explaining and demonstrating his unique techniques, use of oil paints, and his general creativity. His wife Cathy is also a great painter and often found nearby. A lot of the luminaries of miniature painting who attend AdeptiCon will spend some time painting here and may be willing to share some tips and information.

The Hobby Lounge

The hobby team sets up the the lobby of the classrooms area as an open painting area. Tables are provided so that people have a place to sit down and paint. Which many do! Many people hang out here to swap tips and tricks, meet new friends or catch up with old, so don’t be shy. Some people just stop by for a moment to touch up their armies before heading to a tournament. And there are always some frantically trying to finish up their Crystal Brush entries! (In fact if you find the hobby lounge too crowded the first day or two of the convention, check back after the contest entry deadline and you should have much less trouble getting a seat.)

The hobby lounge may make a few lights available, but apart from that you will need to bring your own supplies.

Vendor Area

If you’re interested in miniatures, the vendor area of AdeptiCon is tough to beat. Many miniatures companies set up booths, of course, but there is much more than that. There are companies selling brushes, paints, and other hobby paraphernalia. There are booths filled with amazing buildings, terrain, and other scenic elements. It’s a great place to try out a new game or pick up some dice. And there are always a few non-miniature cool geek booths that might sell jewelry or drinking horns, or who knows what else?!

Games Workshop fans will also want to check out the bitz vendors in the hallways near the vendor hall. There are additional scheduled bitz exchanges for players.

A vendor selling cool Western buildingsBuildings, ships, terrain, I’ve seen just so many cool things for sale at booths at AdeptiCon!

Vendor selling diceIt’s not a geek convention without dice, is it?

Happy AdeptiCon shoppersSave up your pennies and then spend them at AdeptiCon, and you too can be as happy as Rex Grange and Jen Greenwald!

Reper Miniatures paint and take tablesReaper Miniatures is one of the vendors at AdeptiCon. Every year they set up tables where you can sit down and paint one of their Bones figures. They supply the paint, brushes, and other materials, and you keep the figure. The placemats on the tables also have a small preview of the material I wrote for Reaper’s Learn to Paint: Core Skills kit.

Gaming!

While the hobby offerings have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, AdeptiCon has always been a convention for gamers. The primary gaming focus is on miniatures war games, of course. These include casual play events and tournaments for a wide variety of game systems. Check out the events preview for more information.

Board Game library at AdeptiConApologies for the blurry picture! This is the board game library for AdeptiCon. There are more games than in the photo. See a link to a complete list of games in the library at the bottom of this post.

If you’d like a break from miniatures games, there is also a small variety of scheduled role-playing and board game events. And a board game library where you can borrow one of the provided games to play with your friends in between scheduled events.

Other Activities

AdeptiCon is a pretty focused convention, so there aren’t a ton of other activities, but there is some costuming. There is also a contest for army board displays that is separate from the Crystal Brush. These are huge displays that often feature light and sound effects in addition to amazing scenics. I am impressed by the creativity on display every year. In previous years these army displays get set up in the main hallway on Saturday evening. To see them at other times you will need to wander the various gaming areas where the armies are being put to use and not just on display. (It’s worth a little side trip to see!)

A costumer at AdeptiCon 2018.Costuming isn’t a big focus at AdeptiCon but at the same time, there are always at least a few really amazing costumes at the show.

Army display board at AdeptiCon.This is just a small part of one of the fantastic display boards that I have seen at AdeptiCon. Some of them take all the year between one con and the next for their builders to complete!

The Crystal Brush Painting Contest

The Crystal Brush is pretty legendary in the miniature painting hobby. The prize for the best in show figure is $8,000, with prizes of $3,000 and $2,000 for second and third. There are also Gold, Silver, and Bronze prizes for the best three miniatures in each category. These receive smaller cash prizes of $200, $100, and $50. There may also be additional manufacturer prizes awarded.

Given the purse, you can imagine that some pretty top talent throws a hat into the ring each year. It is definitely a very competitive contest. If that type of environment spurs you to greater heights, this is the contest for you! If you prefer more of an open show environment, you might find that you’d get more enjoyment as a viewer than as an entrant. I myself have gone one way some years, and the other direction in other years. 

Crystal Brush contest cases at AdeptiConThe cases fill up with entries as the contest deadline draws closer. Painters submit their entries at the white table to the far right.

One other thing that is unique about the Crystal Brush is how the winners are selected. There is an on-site judging team coordinated by the fantastic painter Jennifer Haley. The guest judges each year are well-known painters and hobbyists. But they decide only a half of the score for an entry. The top 10-12 first cut entries are posted on the CMON site for live voting during the convention. The scores they receive make up the other half of the voting. So an entrant needs to paint to appeal to both a team of highly skilled judges, but also consider the popular tastes of voters and making an entry that photographs well to succeed. If you do want to enter, make sure that you read all of the rules and guidelines on the page linked below. You don’t want to accidentally disqualify yourself for having the wrong size of base or having shown pictures in advance in the wrong venue. (This is a far more common occurrence at contests than you might imagine.)

http://www.crystalbrush.com

Even if you don’t want to enter the contest yourself, it is definitely worth taking some time to look at the entries. The level of craftsmanship and creativity on display is always impressive. Unfortunately the miniatures are displayed in cases in the vendor hall, so you can only access them during vendor hall hours, and there can be small crowds of viewers at times, but it is well worth the effort. The miniatures being in cases also makes them a little tricky to photograph, so the pictures below definitely do not capture the pieces to best advantage.

Bust entries at Crystal BrushBust is an increasingly popular category at Crystal Brush.

Chibi entries at Crystal BrushChibi style figures are one of the categories, and often the most fun and creative one!

Large size entries at Crystal BrushOther categories include large figure, monster/vehicle, and more And of course single gaming scale figures in a couple of different themes. There are also generally some nice historical themed entries, too.

Links and Information

I hope you’ll consider coming out to AdeptiCon 2019! If you are thinking of coming and have any questions about my classes, please just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Some Prose on Cons – why I think miniature painters should attend conventions: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/09/some-prose-on-cons-conventions-and-shows/
ReaperCon – not Just for Reapers (my description of ReaperCon specifically. Not too early to plan!): https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/15/reapercon-not-just-for-reapers/
AdeptiCon main page: https://www.adepticon.org
AdeptiCon events page: http://www.cvent.com/events/adepticon-2019/agenda-7822dab492fa4ed0bde10d960366d97c.aspx
AdeptiCon vendor list: https://www.adepticon.org/sponsors/
AdeptiCon board game library game list: https://www.adepticon.org/librarium/
Reaper Miniatures: http://www.reapermini.com
Dark Sword Miniatures: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/
Crystal Brush main page: http://www.crystalbrush.com/
Raffaele Picca web page: http://www.raffaelepicca.com
Damon Drescher’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/damon_drescher/?hl=en
James Wappel’s blog: https://wappellious.blogspot.com
Jen Greenwald’s blog: https://minipainterjen.blogspot.com

Measuring Progress – More than “Better”

I think many of us tend to judge our progress of improvement in miniature painting by indicators like making first cut or placing in a contest, going from a bronze to silver then silver to gold medals in open shows, scores on sites like CMON or Putty & Paint, or even just getting a lot of likes and comments posting to social media sites like Facebook or Instagram.

Portraits combo1You probably think that the portrait on the right was drawn after the portrait on the left. (And some time after, at that!) You would be wrong. I drew them both last month, and the poorly drawn one was drawn after the better one. Yet overall I still feel pretty positive about my progress in learning to draw, and I think that I am improving. How can that be so? Read on to find out!

Contest placements and viewer responses absolutely can be valid markers of progress, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competitive spirit pushing you to strive and try new things! But when we rely only on those kinds of external judgments, we risk getting discouraged if they don’t come when we expect or when we feel like we need a little boost.  It’s also possible to plateau for a while in terms of the objective ‘quality’ of your paint job, but still be improving by other measures. It’s not necessarily that we don’t value these other measures, but often other types of improvement are subtle enough that we overlook them, or dismiss their value.

So today let’s talk about how ‘getting better’ at an artistic skill encompasses a lot more than just generating a more attractive looking end result.

Faster

Speed is definitely an area to consider. If you can paint a figure of the same quality today in half the time or 75% of the time, or even 90% of the time that it used to take you, then that is definitely getting better. Faster means you’re can paint more figures within your allotted hobby time, or that you have some additional time to spend on each figure to work on pushing your skills with techniques and effects that eventually will drive your quality up a notch.

For my fellow super slow painters, the reverse is also true! If you are still taking 10 or 20 or however many hours to paint a figure, but you’re also gradually improving the quality of each, that still means you’re getting better and making progress. Do not despair!

And an important note – I’m talking about improving your speed using techniques/paints/tools with which you are familiar. When you try new things, you have to accept that it’s going to take you longer with them than with your usual methods and materials! I mention this because I’ve definitely been in the position of feeling like I should be able to just pick up something new and run with it because I’ve been painting for X amount of time or at Y level. There’s always a learning curve. If anything, the more practiced you are with one method and set of tools, the more of an initial hurdle of time and discomfort that you might have when trying something new.

6m man better stronger fasterThey didn’t just rebuild Steve Austin to be BETTER. They also rebuilt him FASTER and STRONGER.

Stronger (or Easier)

When you first started to paint, almost everything seemed like a challenge and required a lot of focused concentration. Just figuring out how to hold the brush and the miniature and then getting the paint to go close to where you wanted it (and not on top of something else you just painted.) Then you start learning next steps like making washes or applying drybrushing, or maybe painting layers or wetblending. If you’ve been painting a while, likely you then tried your hand at trickier effects, like non-metallic metal or source lighting or whatever else.

Whatever stage of the miniature painting journey that you’re on, the elements you’re trying to master right now are challenging and often it may often seem like you take one step forward and two steps back. But very likely you’re forgetting how much you’ve learned in previous stages.

When you first started painting everything was challenging and required concentration. But if you stop and think about it, I bet there are skills that you’ve mastered so well that you now perform them almost unconsciously. Think back to the first few miniatures you painted or tasks that you really struggled with when you first started painting. Maybe you still struggle with lining or freehand, but isn’t it easier overall to get the brush where you want it than it was at first? Is it as tough to choose wash or shadow colours as it was before? Do you need to go back over sections making as many corrections for brush slips as much as you used to?

Whatever you’re working on now might still feel really difficult, but give yourself credit for all the skills that you’ve already mastered. That genuinely does count as ‘getting better’! If you really hadn’t improved at all, you’d still have to concentrate and work hard at every single element of prepping and painting a figure.

Hand versus Eye

You may not have a bionic hand and eye like Steve Austin, but the concept of the hand and the eye, or sometimes, the hand versus the eye, is very pertinent to building art related skills.

The ‘hand’ refers to the mechanical type skills related to painting – methods of manipulating the brush and the paint and similar things. People learning art skills tend to get really hung up on this aspect of it. We spend the majority of our learning efforts concentrating on elements related to the hand.

We spend much less time thinking or talking about the ‘eye’ part of the equation, which is unfortunate, because it’s a lot more important than we often think. The ‘eye’ element encompasses the idea of being able to look at something and really see it. This is a more complex concept that it might seem, and I imagine I’ll make blog posts that delve into this in more detail in the future.

One example of being able to truly see things is referencing life. If you want to paint leather or hair or metal that looks convincing, you need to study those things in the real world. You have to assess where they look darker or lighter, the proportion of darker to lighter, what the natural colours of those things are in different lighting circumstances, and a number of other factors, and then try to figure out how to apply that information to a figure in a way that looks both pleasing and somewhat realistic.

Looking at something and really seeing it also applies to looking at our work and the work of others and assessing its strengths and weaknesses, as well as making comparisons. A person newer to painting can look at a really world class figure and a fairly good figure and genuinely not see major differences between them. Or they might see some differences, but not really be able to identify what those are.

The ability of your artistic eye grows just as your manual dexterity skills do. One of the things that can throw us is that they don’t always level up at the same time. If you are going through a period where you feel like everything you paint looks worse than usual, it’s very likely that your eye has improved. You are able to assess your figures more critically and see your weaknesses more clearly. This very likely does not feel like positive progress! But it can be, if you use your improved eye to try to identify specific weaknesses in your work and then put together a plan of action for ways to possibly address them.

Conversely, if you go through a period where you think everything you paint looks pretty fantastic, it’s possible that your abilities to manipulate brush and paint have improved, but your critical eye is lagging a little behind.

Portraits combo2I was pretty unhappy with the drawing on the left. I do feel like I should know better at this stage of practice and training. But rather than beat myself up about it, I decided to just try again and push myself to do better. It is definitely pretty mortifying to be sharing something I consider a failure publicly, but it if helps other people learn or be kinder to themselves, then it is well worth a little public embarassment.

So if I know how to draw a decent portrait, how did I end up drawing a bad one like the above? Unconscious mastery and the importance of the eye are two of the pieces of that puzzle. The poor portrait was drawn at an art store demo. I knew I had limited time with the materials and was eager to try them out. I am still learning to draw, and getting proper proportions and correct shapes as well as placing the features of the face in the right places takes a lot of concentration and effort for me. In other words, I need to consciously put my eye (observation skills) into artist mode and check and recheck my work. With the poor portrait, I rushed through the steps of forcing my eye to do its job to get to the fun hands-on stuff of doing the shading and colouring in the drawing.

The better version of this same face was drawn with the opposite focus. I spent about the same amount of time overall, but a lot more of the time was spent on the basic drawing and checking proportions and placements. So it’s not rendered to the same degree, but it’s overall a much better drawing. But even the poor portrait isn’t cause to beat myself up as a total failure. I was a lot more comfortable with the tools and doing the shading and rendering than I was the first few times I did those things. I was a lot less phased by the limited colour selection of the tools offered in the demo than I would have been years ago before learning general colour theory. (In the event that anyone is curious, the pencil portrait up at the top is more finely rendered, and probably took 2-3 times as long to do as each of the colour portraits.)

The Big Picture

When assessing your progress, try not to focus on a single event or metric. And try to make note of improvements in your process and comfort level, rather than looking only to external markers like positive feedback or contest results. There are going to be moments when you try something new and don’t succeed as well as you’d like, or even at all. There are even going to be moments where you backslide on things you thought you mastered. Those are just individual points on a graph. If your overall graph line is moving upwards, you’re still making progress!

Have you had any moments where you heard a ding! and you felt like you’d leveled up? Or moments when you stepped back and realized that you were getting better in ways you hadn’t thought about before? I hope you’ll share your experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear!