How to Steal a Colour Scheme

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

Choosing colours is hard. So don’t choose – steal! This article offers tips for how to find, adapt, and apply an inspirational colour scheme to your figures, with links to videos demonstrating how I stole the colour scheme for this figure and painted it. 

Elanter front

It’s valuable to study colour theory and become more confident choosing colours on your own. However, studying and applying the colour schemes that other artists choose is a great way to practice hands-on with colour theory.

I worked out the colour scheme and painted Elanter the Lost Prince on my stream show, Beyond the Kit. Part of my aim on that show, and with many of these articles, is to share the thought process behind what I paint. We tend to put most of our focus on the technique aspect of miniature painting – learning to wetblend or paint non-metallic metal, for example. And we can alway work to improve our technique, of course!

Elanter back

However, once painters have a certain level of competence with a brush, their technique is not holding them back as much as they may think. Often what is needed to improve has more to do with colour choices and use of value (contrast!) than with how they’re applying the paint. A better understanding of how to make those choices is critical to improving as a display painter. Those thought processes are also pretty helpful to tabletop painting. Effective colour choices and clever use of contrast can allow you to streamline some steps, while still painting figures that have great visual impact on the table.

Elanter face

Below you will find some tips for how to find and apply colour scheme inspiration to your miniatures. I am not suggesting that you need to do all of these steps for every figure, but if you’re having trouble identifying and matching colours to an inspiration source, these steps should help make it a little easier.

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Video Version

If you want to skip straight to the videos of choosing the colour scheme and painting Elanter, you’ll find the links below.

Part 1: Stealing the colour scheme, painting the green cloak. I spend some time on a question about mixing colour in the middle of the video, then return to working on Elanter.

Part 2: Blocking in the main colours

Part 3: Painting the scabbard, arrows, robe, quiver, and finishing up the cloak

Part 4: Painting the front of the cloak, leather (boots, belt, straps), faux woodgrain on weapon haft, bow, hair, and checking the value contrast level

Part 5: Painting the base, metallic weapon and trim, a simple method for painting gems, and hands

I think I painted the face off-stream, but you can watch the recording of another stream where I focused on painting faces.

The only WIP shot I took is of the back of the cloak after the first session of streaming. The middle fold shows what it looked like after some initial wetblending. The rightmost fold is what it looked like after I did some smoothing and enhancing of the initial wetblending. The rough layers on the left are an example of a paint method you can use to push your level of contrast, which I talk about in the Part 1 video.

Elanter wip cloak comp

The photograph on the left was taken with an iPhone 12 Pro, the one on the right with my usual miniature photography camera, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3. Both are of the same stage of painting, the differences are due to the photography alone. You can read more about how I take pictures of miniatures in this post.

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Where to Steal Colour Schemes

Where might you find colour schemes to steal? The colour scheme of a miniature you admire is one option. So is your favourite fantasy and sci-fi art. But you don’t need to look at only the type or genre of thing you like to paint for inspiration. We are surrounded by colour schemes that talented and and trained colour experts have designed to attract our attention and be visual pleasing. Anything that attracts the eye or where the colours just seems to work can be inspiration for a great colour scheme. This includes all kinds of artwork, but also movie scenes, photography, home decor advice, product packaging, and advertisements. We generally find natural colour scenes visually pleasing – a flowering bush on a sunny day, a vivid sunset or other scenic vista.

IMG 3006Miniatures and fantasy art are great inspiration, but so are the colours of clothing patterns, home decor suggestions, and many more!

It is often easier to decode and put into use a colour scheme drawn from design or decor than it is to figure out and adapt the colour complexities of a detailed painting. There are also a lot of books and webpages designed to help people choose colours, and those aimed at web page and print designers, home decorators and the like, can be very useful.

Most of us always have a camera on our person thanks to our smartphones. When you see a colour combination you like – take a picture! Then favourite it or sort it into a specific directory you keep for colour inspiration so you can easily find your colour scheme inspirations later. Sunsets, flower beds – you’ll run across all sorts of colour inspiration out in the real world as well.

The colour scheme for Elanter comes from a World Market flyer. I was looking through mail for paper to recycle, and the pile of pillows on the corner of one page of the flyer caught my eye. The colour palette struck me as having a very autumnal feeling while not being the typical fall colour scheme. (Not that I don’t also love a typical fall colour palette!) I really like this colour scheme, but I don’t think I would ever have come up with it on my own.

IMG 2149My colour scheme inspiration.

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Steal the Right Colour Schemes

There are some instances where colour schemes that work for one function, like home decor or a webpage, will probably not work as well for a miniature. When assessing a colour scheme, consider whether there is a mixture of colour values. Is there at least one pretty dark colour, one pretty light colour, and one moderate value colour? Variation in values between areas on a figure makes it easier for viewers to read and identify what’s skin, clothing, armour, etc.

The pillow colour scheme had a dark green and light cream colour, with the flesh tone, orange, and silver in values in between those two extremes, so I was pretty confident it would work well for a figure.

Analogous colour schemes are common in design, but I think they’re pretty tricky to use on miniatures. An analogous colour scheme is 2-5 colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. Yellow, orange, and red would be one example, and blue, teal, and green is another.

The reasons analogous colours are challenging on a figure is that analogous colour schemes remove or constrain your options for contrast. We generally use analogous colours for shading and highlighting our miniatures. Even if you vary the values of the colours to help define your areas, you’ll be using similar colours for highlights on your mid value areas as you use on your lightest area, and similar colours for highlights on your darkest area as you use on your mid value areas. This can work well on a simple figure like a fire elemental, but would be more challenging on a humanoid with more complex gear.

Mono cowboy front fullSpeed painted with an analogous/monochromatic colour scheme. Since human hair and skin are shades of browns and tans, this colour palette looks pretty natural, but it would be more visually striking with even a bit of subtle colour variation. Note the way it pops a bit off of the cool blue background due to the hue and temperature contrast between the warm browns on the figure and the cool blues of the background.

Analogous colours also minimize temperature contrast. Generally speaking all of the colours will lean more to the cool or the warm side. Depending on which colours you pick, there may be a pair where one is somewhat warmer and one is somewhat cooler in comparison to each other, but this is much less contrasted than choosing complementary colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Mono cowboy mixes horThe palette I used to paint the cowboy – desaturated reds, oranges, and yellows (aka shades of brown).

I’m sure it’s possible to successfully use complementary colour schemes on a miniature! But if you’re stealing colour schemes because you’re struggling with colour, an analogous colour scheme is going to be more challenging than something with a wider mix of colours.

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Steal ALL the Colours

Colour is relative: our perception of a colour is strongly affected by the colours that are near it. That is not always obvious. We may look at a miniature and admire the vivid blue that the person used, or we might love the look of a purple in a sunset sky. But if we try to take the colour we like from here, and another we like from there and combine them, we often find they don’t look great together. If we’re struggling with colour, we will have more success if we borrow the whole of a colour scheme.

When we want to borrow the colour scheme of another figure, or fantasy art or photograph with a person in it, we tend to just look at the character and the colours are on it. It’s easy to overlook the background of a movie scene or the base of a figure, but the soft blue of a sky or pale green grass on a base might be part of what is making the colours on the figure itself pop.

Excluding some of the colours won’t necessarily result in an unattractive figure, but it can have a significant impact on the overall mood and tone of the finished paint job. My painted version of Masquerade Sophie incorporates only the colours on the figure. It does not have the black or red from the background and accents of the colour art. As a result, the lighter and more pastel colours are more visually dominant on the figure compared to the art. The painted figure works in terms of colour, and it is an attractive figure to look at, but it doesn’t have any of the ominous tone of the art. If that had been part of what I was trying to capture in the colour scheme, I would be disappointed by my end result.

Sophie18 color versionsArtwork by Izzy ‘Talon’ Collier.

This example is a figure I painted in 2008 for Dark Sword Miniatures. It is based on the DragonCon 2006 poster painted by Larry Elmore. I followed the colours for the figure itself fairly closely. In Elmore’s artwork, there are several other colours that are prominent in the colour scheme that are not represented on the figure, including the red of the dragon and the soft yellows and oranges of the sky. The colour scheme on the figure works (everything goes with black, after all), but the colour interaction in Elmore’s art is much more complex.

Goth poster comboPoster art by Larry Elmore.

Compare the miniature above as painted with the digital edit below. The red behind the figure helps make the skin really pop, and the lighter sky and base colours do the same with the black boots. I did not edit anything on the figure itself, just added the background and base colours.

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Steal the Right Colours

Because colour is relative, the colours surrounding a colour may make it appear darker or lighter, more saturated or duller than it is when viewed in isolation. This is the basis of many common optical illusions. You need to take this effect into account when you’re trying to mix or match the colours in your chosen scheme to your paints to get the best effect from your inspiration.

Dale purves value illusionYou perceive the top square as darker than the bottom square. Hold your finger over the middle and discover that they’re the same shade of grey. Your eye is fooled because the colours that surround and separate the two squares influence how you perceive their colours. Picture by Dale Purves.

The following is an example of how even in general art and photographs, our perception of a colour is affected by the surrounding colours. One of my paint buddies, Jen Greenwald, was using a painting for colour inspiration, but finding that it wasn’t quite coming out as she expected on the miniature. I sampled the colours and discovered that the reds the artist used in the auburn hair were actually much less intense colours than Jen had supposed when picking out her paints. The proximity and the large volume of greens and teals in the inspiration image make the reddish-brown appear more saturated than it is. Jen chose brighter reds for her paints, and found they looked too intense on her figure. She matched the teals well (using brighter highlights, which will often be necessary on a figure), but was a bit off on the red-browns.

IMG 0139Fantasy painting by Anna Dittmann. Miniature painted by Jen Greenwald.

There are a few different tools you can  use to isolate colours to see them more accurately.

Digital Colour Sampling

If you have a digital version of your inspirational colour scheme, you can use a variety of different programs to isolate and sample colours. You need a program with an eyedropper sample tool and a brush that you can use to make a swatch of colour. You sample the colour you want, and then paint a large swatch of it, ideally on a plain white background.

On my desktop, I use GIMP, which is a free alternative to Photoshop that is available on Mac and PC. On my iPad I use the Procreate program. It is not free, but I have found it well worth the one-time $10 fee. There is a Procreate Pocket for iPhone that costs $5 that has the sample and paint features.

Don’t try to find one single overall colour in a complex image. Even on something like my ad flyer, the pillows are being affected by the light and have areas where they appear lighter and darker. I will find it much easier to match colours and create highlights and shadows for my miniature painting if I sample from light, midtone, and dark areas of my image. It also helps me identify the range of contrast between the lightest areas and the darkest areas, which is often much more dramatic than we think, even in fairly flat, bright light like like that used in my ad flyer.

Below is an example of the areas I would sample to see the colours on my flyer colour inspiration.

Pillow samples

If you compare the image and the swatches, you may find at least one of the pillow samples is a different colour than it might appear to your eye. The second pillow from the top looks yellowy-cream coloured to me, but when I colour sample on it, many of the colours have a green cast to them. The photo above is intended to demonstrate how to sample from various value areas. I recommend that you make the colour samples larger than that. Then you can print the page out to test colours against.

Pillow digital cr

I printed out a page with my sample colours on it, and then tested potential colours against it, as you can see in the following photo.

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Physical Colour Sampling

My flyer was a printed object, so I could try to match colours directly against it. This is just an ad, so I might not mind painting directly on it to test colours. If it were something I could not paint on, I could paint samples on the edges of another paper and hold those next to the image to see if the colours match. Let your paint dry before assessing the match. Wet paint is shiny, which makes it harder to compare to dry paint, and which can make it look a little darker or more saturated. In the picture below I’m comparing some of the paints I chose against my example colour scheme.

Pillow paint cr

When comparing against a physical sample, I might still run into the issue of not being able to accurately see all of the colours. You can isolate colours on a physical item by cutting a small hole into a piece of paper. Using midtone grey paper will make it easiest to judge value and saturation, but even using a little hole in a piece of white paper can help. I cut a hole into a piece of index card to isolate an area on the dark green pillow in the picture below.

Pillow mask cr

Colour Shifting with Image Source

For my colour scheme, I started with a physical advertisement. I took a photograph and then scanned the source to be able to digitally sample it.  Then I had to print those digital samples to be able to test paints against them. If you compare each of these steps to one another, the colours shift slightly. Every camera processes colour a little differently. Each screen displays colour a little differently. Every printer prints colour images a little differently. Doesn’t that matter? I don’t think that the slight shifts between sources matter because the entire image gets shifted from source to source. Whatever colour cast your camera/screen/printer may have, it alters the entire image in the same way, so the colour scheme remains unified and effective.

In the image below, the colour samples on the left side are from the photo taken with my camera, and those on the right are from the image made with my scanner. There are slight differences, and I might prefer one to the other, but each functions as a cohesive colour scheme within itself. 

Phone vs scanner

Testing a Colour Scheme

Testing your colours is the most important step. Regardless of how much effort you spent on the preceding tips, it’s always worth a few minutes to do a quick test of how well your colour choices work together. This is especially important if you did just eyeball matching the colours to your inspiration. 

When using inspiration to find colour schemes, the important question is not how well did you match your inspiration, it’s do these colours go well together? Learning to match and mix colour matches is a great way to improve your eye for colour, of course, but exact colour matching is not necessary to be able to find some great colours to paint on a mini! (Whether the colours go together is also the important question about your chosen colours when you chose them with a colour wheel or your imagination or some other source.)

I painted the following colour swatches while testing the colours for Elanter on stream. I used a piece of tan toned paper. Grey works even better, but white is fine if that’s all you have.

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My goal here is to check if the colours all seem like they’re playing nice together. I tested prospective highlight and shadow colours as well as the main colours, since I find it hard to assess using just flat midtone colours. There are lots of ways to test colours! You can test on a quick speed painted figure, just a part of a figure, swatches on paper, or bad drawings on paper, as you can see in the examples below. (Not pictured is a digital method for testing colours.)

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Paint Colours Used on Elanter the Lost Prince

These are the colours I used to paint Elanter. I didn’t plan in advance to use a number of the Pathfinder colours (the 89xxx paints), they just happened to be the ones that fit in well with my colour inspiration! I can’t follow all of my usual process when I’m painting on stream, so this colour recipe information may not be as accurate as that I usually provide.


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Light wood bow:

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Dark wood staff (faux wood grain):

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Green cloak:

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Rust overdress:

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Figures in this Post

Elanter the Lost Prince is available in Bones USA.
Tywin Lannister is available in metal.
Deadeye Slim is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Masquerade Ball Sophie is currently available in metal, and in plastic via the Bones 6 core set.
Goth Warrior with Sword is available in metal.
Callie Ranger/Rogue is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Anirion, Elf Wizard is available in Bones USA plastic, clear plastic, or metal.
Isabeau Laroche, Paladin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Geisha Assassin (colour tested on Isabeau) is available in metal.
Seoni, Iconic Sorceress  is available in Bones plastic.
Male Bard with Lute is available in metal. (Colour scheme on paper.)
Arran Rabin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Children of the Zodiac, Cancer is available in metal.
Wing from Griffon, available in Bones plastic or metal.

Help this Bardic Bird Sing

In this article I’m going to talk about the sculpting and painting inspirations for this figure, and how you could help the Ukraine by winning this figure (and a bunch of paints) or buying a copy of your own to paint.

Kobzar bl front

I’ll start with the links for those who just want to jump straight to the Ukraine relief, and then get into the paint process, the colours I used, and the story behind this figure. Head to Reaper’s page if you want to buy your own copy of Kobzar Soloveiko the nightingale bard. For a limited time, Reaper is donating $7.50 of each sale to UNICEF relief efforts for children in the Ukraine.

If you’d like to win the figure I painted, check out the NOVA raffles! The NOVA Charitable Foundation is running a special raffle for Ukraine aid. Proceeds from all raffles go to Nova Ukraine. The raffle for my painted copy of Kobzar includes the painted figure, new bottles of each colour I used to paint him, an unpainted copy signed by the sculptor Jason Wiebe, and an hour of personalized video instruction with me. (Or email if you’d prefer.) If my painted Kobzar figure is not to your taste, there are lots of other prizes to buy tickets for! These include units, large figures, busts, and more – all painted by some of the best miniature painters in the world. There is also a very special prize of the complete set of Marvel United, with a majority of the figures painted to a jaw-dropping standard. Plus a custom case to carry them in!

Prize packageYou could win all this stuff and an hour of video consultation with me.

When Reaper wanted to produce a figure to raise funds for the Ukraine, sculptor Jason Wiebe came up with the idea for Kobzar Soloveiko, the nightingale bard. Jason describes his inspiration for the figure:


When we first discussed a Ukraine relief project, the word Kobzar came immediately to mind.  Historically, a bard known for pointed opinions, and colloquially is used for various eastern European street musicians.  A bard seemed a good choice, but what kind of bard?

The European Nightingale is taken by some as a national bird of Ukraine, Soloveyka along with other common spellings.  We settled on Soloveiko for the ease and western phonetic shorthand.  A nightingale is a rather unassuming bird with a legendary song.

Sunflowers are somewhat of a more recent symbol, due to their economic status in Ukraine.  Now it all came together, as if it had to be; a small but proud character, singing its song with strength and love. I am happy to present the Nightingale Bard, Kobzar Soloveiko!

Kobzar bl back

When the figure released, I bought several copies to support the cause. And because it’s the kind of fun character I love to paint!

IMG 2738

He looked so fun to paint that I decided to start on him right away, on my Reaper stream, Beyond the Kit. My paints are not stored near the desk where I paint (and stream), so I needed to have some ideas for colours I wanted to use in advance. I started by looking for pictures of the nightingale found in the Ukrainian region. I expected to find a dull bird that wouldn’t help much with my colour choices, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a bird with some interesting colouration. If you do an image search on the term ‘bluethroat’, you should find some great pictures. The bird in the picture below isn’t as vividly coloured as some of the images I saw on a general search, but it is the one I could find that I am permitted to use publicly.

Hans veth XBHZSlEA0lo unsplashPhoto by Hans Veth on Unsplash.

The appearance of the nightingale gave me some good ideas for colours, but I thought it would be a good idea to explore the possibilities for various ways to use those colours, the way I did when I painted Fathom, my character from our artist D&D game. I ended up liking the first version I tested enough that I didn’t really keep on with the testing, and decided to just go with the first idea. It’s not visible in the photo above, but the real nightingale has a rusty orange stripe on its chest beneath the blue throat, so I decided to use the orange for the clothing of this anthropomorphic version. 

Kobzar colour testRead the Fathom article for tips on how to do this kind of digital colour test with your own figures.

I painted the bulk of the figure on stream. The videos are now posted on YouTube, so you can see exactly how I did the painting if you’re interested. I painted the feathers and his jerkin on the first video. I did darklining and painted the leather areas during a second video. The rest of the figure was painted and revised off-stream. Many regular viewers of Beyond the Kit prefer a variety of content topics rather than seeing me paint a figure from start to finish, so it is rare for me to do that. Anne Foerster’s RTB stream on the Reaper channel is a great place to watch the full painting process for a number of figures. I painted the lute, feet, and some of the other details off stream. Since I was donating the figure, I later spent some time making small improvements to the painting overall. I also revised the patterning on the head to better match the reference photo of the bird I was using.

IMG 2755A work in progress picture following my first painting stream.

When I was finished the second stream, I thought the painting was going well enough that I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to raise more money for charity with the painted figure. My initial thought was to see whether eBay had a Ukraine charity option I could use for an auction. When I heard that NOVA Charities was planning a Ukraine raffle, I contacted the organizers to see if I could contribute Kobzar, and we worked out a prize package for this figure. Reaper Miniatures very generously donated a fresh bottle of each of the paint colours I had used in the painting, even though some of them were used in only tiny amounts!

IMG 2756A work in progress picture taken after my first video stream.

Some Notes on Miniature Photography

I thought it might be interesting to compare the differences in some of the photos I got with different cameras and different lighting setups. If you find this interesting, let me know and I’ll try to include more information like this in future articles.

Kob wip fin comp

The photo on the left was taken with my cellphone under my painting lights. I placed a sheet of grey drawing paper behind the figure to help the camera focus. I also held the figure in my hand and tilted it figure until it had the best lighting possible on the front. If I sit a figure down on my desk and try to take a head on photo, it will look a lot shadowed and darker than this, like the pictures with paint bottles below. If you can’t move the light to the figure, move the figure to the light. I then edited the photo to crop away boring stuff on the sides, but I also did use the magic wand option in the editor on my phone. My cellphone is an iPhone 12 Pro (currently one generation behind.)

The pictures on the centre and right were both taken with my ‘good’ camera in a well-lit setting. For the blue background photo, I manually adjusted the levels of grey and white by using a grayscale reference card that I put include in frame with the figure to take the photo, and then crop out later. I occasionally adjust the brightness of a photo up or down if that seems out of whack, but that’s about all the editing I do on my miniature photos. The photo on the right was taken with the same camera and same lighting setup, but with a black background. I also have to alter the exposure compensation on my camera depending on whether it’s a lighter background or the black background. I haven’t had great luck manually editing levels with photos on black backgrounds, so I just choose the auto levels for those. To me there’s always a notable difference in colours between the photos taken on the lighter vs the black backgrounds. Figures really pop on the black background, but I think the photos with the lighter backgrounds have more accurate and nuanced colour.

The ‘good’ camera I use was specifically purchased to take photos of miniatures, though it does take pretty nice pictures of other things when I bother to drag it out for that purpose! It’s one of the first few generations of mirrorless cameras, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3, which released in early 2012. I bought it because it combines many of the full DSLR features that are useful for taking pictures of miniatures, but also has plenty of auto settings for non-miniature photography. I am very much not a photographer and I also can’t afford a full DSLR and good lenses and so on. Mirrorless cameras have larger sensors than standard digital cameras, though smaller than a full DSLR, and that makes a lot more difference than super huge megapixel picture sizes. Sure I’d love a newer camera, but this one continues to produce photos that clients like Reaper are willing to use for print quality, so I don’t feel like I have to have a new one. If you’re looking to buy a camera to improve photos of your miniatures, I recommend looking at older but higher quality cameras you can usually purchase for a similar price to a new mid-range camera. I have found the site Digital Photography Review to be invaluable for researching the last few cameras I’ve bought, and their detailed reviews include photo examples of stuff similar to what we do. (Coins, figurines, and objects with detailed text in huge closeup photos.)

The main thing I recommend to someone frustrated with photos of their miniatures is to play around with lighting and backgrounds before assuming the problem is your camera. There’s no one answer for this. Some cameras like loads of light, some phone cam software brightens stuff up so much you might need less lighting to get a better picture. As a general rule keep the lights brighter and further away from the figure, or diffused, if you want to avoid glare. Use a background. It looks nicer to the viewer than a clutter of paint and brushes. It also helps your camera know what to focus on. Pure white and pure black backgrounds are challenging to photograph against. The ideal is a mid to light blue or grey matte surface. Grey toned drawing paper is what I used in the cellphone pic above, and what I use for my streaming camera background. I use Strathmore, but I’m sure there are similar grey paper options available from a variety of sources. The mottled blue background sheet I use is no longer available. For plain colours like the black background, I like to use sheets of fun foam. It’s very matte, soft and safe for figures, and makes a nice sweep, though on the downside it gets marked up pretty easily. I’ve bought my sheets from local craft stores, but this item on Amazon seems similar. (I have found grey the hardest colour to find weirdly!)

Paint Colours Used on Kobzar Soloveiko

I am rarely able to keep track of the colours I’m using in the way I usually do when I am video streaming. I used a lot of wet blending on Kobzar’s head, and that is also much less systematic to outline the colours for than when I use layering. The colours listed below are the ones I recall to my best ability, but I do not consider these colour recipes to be as precise as what I often list in these articles.

Head, Hands, and Wings

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Blue Throat, Blue Leather Bag

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Orange-Brown Jerkin

I later used a bit of more saturated orange to punch up the highlights a little more.

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Mouth and Tongue

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Wood areas of Lute

The paint that is cut off on the left is Blue Liner, SKU 9066.

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Gold Trim and Buckles

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Hellborn Dancer Paint Process and Colours

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

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

Hd bk front

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

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

Hd bk back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancer front

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

Hd bl face

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

Hd bl face

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

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Hd bl back

Paint Colours


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How to Paint Bases like a Boss

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Recently Reaper Miniatures sent me samples of one of the base texture inserts in their Base Boss 2 Kickstarter, and I took it as an opportunity to explore the variety it is possible to achieve with painting base textures and simple base construction/conversion. I used only paint and a few simple materials to create the different types of landscapes pictured below.

Base boss combo

I converted and painted most of these bases on my Beyond the Kit stream show, so you can watch video one or video two if you’d like more in-depth information about how I converted and painted the bases.

I customized one of the bases by cutting a piece out of another and gluing it on top of a section to create some variation in the height of the base parts. I used pumice paste to blend the seam where the edges met into the rest of the base. The same material is very handy to use on bases constructed from layers of cork. If you have some rough spots on a base you sculpted, it works well to hide those, or add a bit of dirt and texture on top of something like a cobblestone or pavement texture. 

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For the unpainted base to the above right, I also used some modeling/moulding paste. This has the same kind of thick consistency as the sandy texture/pumice paste, but it’s smooth. It’s a great material to fill small assembly gaps in miniatures, like the gap you often have when you glue a miniature’s feet to a base. You can’t truly sculpt either of these materials, but you can shape them a little with a toothpick and smooth them out with a damp brush. The modeling paste is the white substance on the left of the base, and the pumice paste is the beige one on the right. I demonstrate these and several other basing products in my Additives, Mediums, and Texture Pastes video.

IMG 2690You don’t need to look for these specific products only! Most larger artist acrylic paint lines include various kinds of texture pastes that are similar. (The product on the left is by Vallejo. I think they have changed their packaging and some of the options for their base texture pastes since I purchased this jar, but they still sell something similar to this.)

I customized a few of the bases with other basing construction products that are useful to have in your arsenal. You can make your own natural texture bases with products like fine gravel/sand and rocks. Combine them with the pastes above for even more variety! You can find the gravel mixtures sold by some miniature accessories companies. You’ll find an even bigger selection if you explore the offerings from model train supply vendors, like Woodland Scenics. These are often sold in much larger quantities than miniature painters need unless you’re making terrain boards. If you have local friends, you could go in as a group to buy a variety of items you split up amongst the group. For small rocks and shells, also look at hobby products in stores like Michaels and Joann.

IMG 2691The small rocks are from the flower arranging section of a hobby store. The rock and sand mix on the left was purchased as a miniatures product. The gravel mix on the right is a mixture of Woodland Scenic products.

Another way to enhance bases is by adding additional items on top. I used dried flowers on the two bases on the below left. I was aiming for the look of seaweed on the centre one. I used flowers and grass tufts on Finn Greenwell’s base for another example. I added a twig to the base on the below right to create the look of a fallen log. Sapling tree roots are another interesting option. Next time you’re out in the garden, pull a few up and dry them for basing. Dried tea leaves make a nice forest floor scatter. Herbal teas can contain even more interesting plant materials. Many of these natural products appear a little differently if primed and painted than when added to a base at the end, so I recommend experimenting to maximize your options.

Base flowersYou can purchase tiny dried flowers like these most easily by looking for those sold to nail polish artists. Bring along a miniature to check scale if you want to shop the dried flower section of a hobby store. If you don’t want to bother looking for twigs and roots to dry out, Woodland Scenics sells stumps and deadfall, which is what I used on the base to the right.

Now let’s talk about what you can do just with paint! When I first looked at the base insert, it put me in mind of various types of possible landscapes – desert, swamp, flat areas of badlands, even the surface of the moon! I studied some pictures of various landscapes for ideas and colour possibilities. Referencing real life scenery can be very helpful to better base construction and painting!

Cole freeman HoPZEG5jDA4 unsplashThis swamp picture by Cole Freeman on Unsplash is an example of the kind of reference I looked at.

Soon after I received the base inserts I saw that some other painters had painted them as lava, so I gave that a try.

It was super easy and fun to paint. I just started with white, and moved up through yellow, orange, red, dark red, and dark brown. I used drybrushing on the raised texture areas of drying lava, and layering on the molten lava.

Lava 400

For several of the bases I primarily used the basic techniques of washes and drybrushing. I added some additional shading along some of the edges.

Base drybrushLunar surface, Martian surface, snow and ice.

On other bases, I used a lot of wet in wet painting. I used the properties of wet paint to get some of the swirls and whorls on the two swamp bases. First I applied a layer of undiluted paint fairly thickly. Then I heavily loaded a brush with a different value and/or hue of undiluted paint and gently touched it to the surface of the first layer of still-wet paint. I did this in a line along the water on the base with the log, and touched it to various points on the base with the flowers. I added a little drybrushing and extra shading as necessary to bring out details.

Traditional wetblending can also work well for painting many kinds of base textures. Textured surfaces like bases are ideal for wet blending experimentation and practice. The texture helps break up transition lines and oopses. If you’re frustrated with wetblending, grab some bases and give it a shot!

Base swampI painted the log. It’s a good rule of thumb to paint just above everything on a base. You can even add washes and/or drybrush the tips of static and clump grass to help add detail and unify it with your paint job. I thickly painted two coats of gloss sealer over areas painted as water to add to the illusion of the texture.

I think the one below ended up being my favourite. Which is kind of funny, since when I first started painting it, I was not optimistic about how the paint job would end up. I had used a very dark wash, and it looked like a dark brown lump. I went back in and lightened it up, and used it as an example on stream of methods you can use to add some colour variation to bases. Even subtle colour variation can add a lot to a base. Using a single colour to paint a base, then another single colour to wash the whole base, and then the same colours to drybrush the entire surface of a base makes everything very uniform, which can end up kind of dull to look at.

One way to add colour variation is to use a few different colours to lay down your initial paint layer. You can drop a little wet into wet like I did on the swamp bases, or paint patches of different colours next to each other and use the tip of your paint brush to blend the edges of them a little while the paint is still wet. Don’t be too worried if it looks kind of patchy at this stage. Use a wash of a darker values of one of your colours, and then drybrush up with lighter values of one of your colours. The wash and drybrushing help unify everything as well as bringing out the textures, but touches of the original colours peek through and add variation. Another way to add variation is by adding touches of another colour in a few places with a glaze/wash, or drybrushing/scrubbing in another colour in a few spots with slightly thinned paint. I think I used pretty much all of these techniques on this base, and you can see me put them to use in the video. (Go to minute 44:20.)

Dry earth wip finI started with an even darker version of the base on the left, and ended up with the base on the right. This base also ended up being a reminder to me of the necessity to persevere through an ugly phase and being willing to work on something and experiment to try to improve it!

If you’re interested in more information about the base inserts, they’re part of the Base Boss 2 Kickstarter that is ending soon. The focus of the Kickstarter is to fill in missing sizes of Reaper’s black plastic base offerings, but they are also testing the waters for interest in pre-sculpted base textures. I love pre-sculpted bases! They are a great option if you’re pressed for time, don’t have a lot of sculpting/base construction materials, or want a simple way to base a number of figures in a uniform texture. The bases I used on Baran Blacktree and Caerindra are resin texture bases I bought years ago.

The base topper textures in the Kickstarter include Lowlands/Lava, Sci-Fi, Skull, and Wood Plank. You can also see the cool ways several other painters painted the same insert I worked on the Kickstarter page. The base we received is number 75101 on the Lowlands chart. 

The Reaper texture bases are two part. One part is an insert that is designed to fit into a lipped black plastic base, as you can see in the photo below.

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This is handy for a couple of reasons. One is that you can do all the messy stuff with the insert, and then just glue it into a clean black base that you don’t need to paint. In playing with the bases I was sent, I discovered that because the topper is thinner than an all-in-one base, it’s easy to cut it up to customize it. I used clippers and a hobby knife to cut up and shave the bases.

IMG 2686In the photo above, I cut a section out from one of the base toppers and glued it on top of another one to add additional height to a section. Then I used the pumice texture paste to blend the join, as I shown in a picture near the beginning of the article.

Painting Naus, Waghalter

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Naus the Waghalter is the February 2022 promotional miniature from Reaper Miniatures. When I sat down to paint him, I decided spur of the moment to try some experiments. This article includes the colour recipes I used and WIP photos, and it also describes my experience with the experimentation, since I think others may have had similar experiences. I think you could use the main colour recipes I share here and end up with a figure pretty similar in look if you don’t want to bother with the underpainting step.

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The Brief

The Reaper art director, Ron Hawkins, was emphatic that this character appear like a dark and dirty a street level thug type. (Waghalter translates to ‘gallows bait’, so that gives you a pretty good idea of the character type Ron was thinking of!) Ron’s initial colour choicer was brown. I pointed out that I had hit the browns pretty heavily with Romag Davl, so he agreed with my suggestion to incorporate other dark neutrals like greys and blacks.

I had a pretty tight deadline for this figure, basically ASAP.

Wag blue back

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The (Poorly Designed) Experiments

I’ve painted this character type before, and it presents a thorny puzzle. How do you paint a figure so people are drawn to look at it when the character it depicts is a person doing their utmost not to be seen? In the past I’ve tried using freehand and texture. I’ve tried careful and restrained use of contrast. I’ve tried directional light. When I sat down to paint this version of that conundrum, I got the idea to try using colour underpainting. And hey, why not also experiment with painting warm shadows and cool highlights, when I almost always use cool shadows and warm highlights?

My inspiration for the colour underpainting was largely the work of Craftworld Studio. I have been fascinated by the amount and variety of colour in their work, and have watched a couple of videos where Marko demonstrated his colour underpainting. (Craftworld is a partnership of two painters, Aleksandra Cvetanovski and Marko Miladinović.) Their painting approach seems to have some elements in common with how James Wappel works, though each very much also has their own style. Both styles heavily incorporate elements of underpainting in their approach, using colour and value to establish elements of composition or characterization, though my impression is that James focuses a bit more on value and Craftworld a bit more on colour.

Craftworld Studio links: Facebook, Patreon, YouTube, Instagram, webpage, blog
James Wappel links: Twitch, Patreon, Facebook, YouTube, Instagramblog (currently inactive, but tons of great info in the archives)

I’m not afraid of colour. I’ve experimented with it non-miniature art as well. I do find it a little tougher to go nuts in miniature painting because of the constraints of working with acrylic paint, and the many years of ingrained habits I’ve developed to work with it. In my miniature painting I occasionally use it during the painting process by mixing some non-local colours into the shadows. More often I add colour complexity after the bulk of the painting is completed by using glazes.

IMG 1103I’m not afraid of colour! This is also an example of using warmer shadows (reds and purples), and cool highlights (pale greens).

While I am fascinated by the approaches of both James Wappel and Craftworld Studios, I would not say that I feel like I deeply understand what they’re doing. I’ve watched a few videos from both, and the way that they work pretty much feels like ‘hey presto’ magic to me. I do not mean that either is a poor teacher or trying to withhold aspects of their process! Both have legions of happy Patrons. I’ve spoken to painter friends who rave about how much Wappel has helped them improve. I definitely recommend studying with either or both of these painters. I particularly recommend James Wappel to people looking to paint game figures quickly that also look great. Wappel’s rate of output is astonishing and he paints and plays for games, not to enter contests and win awards. (Though he has also done plenty of that!) Both James and the Craftworld team describe what they’re doing in the videos, and the thought process behind it. The words make sense, but I don’t think I really grok the concepts behind them on a deeper level. I think the issue is that the way they work is so very different from my approach and how I think about painting that I can’t quite get my head around it.

I’ll review the reasons why I say the experiments with my figure were poorly designed in the conclusion of this article, but there are definitely some hints in everything I’ve written above as to the nature of the problems I ran into. I think it’s worth talking about because I suspect that plenty of painters will have had a similar experience of trying to follow the techniques or approaches of other painters, and feeling that it did not turn out as hoped.

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The Underpainting

As mentioned, I had a tight deadline, and my decisions to experiment were spur of the moment when I sat down to begin painting the mini. I decided that  experimenting with underpainting was pretty low risk since I could always paint over with more opaque paint if things did not seem to be working out. My gamble was to take an evening and try something out, and my deadline wasn’t so tight as to rule that out.

I wanted to focus on a colour underpainting for this figure. More of a Craftworld Studio approach, which sometimes kind of looks like madly slapping some colours on the mini to me because I can’t seem to grok all of the thought process behind the decisions. (I have used value underpainting techniques several times in the past, and will have a new example for you in the near future.)

I pulled out a small selection of artist grade paints. I wanted to be sure to use paints that are intense in colour and fairly opaque, and I knew these fit the bill. It would certainly be possible to do a similar experiment with vivid colours of miniature paint, like the Reaper Clears or Kimera Kolors, or whatever most highly saturated colour paints that you have on hand. Then I started madly slapping colours on the figure. Well, somewhat madly. I didn’t worry about the values of the underpainting colours themselves, but where I placed those colours was based on where I should place different values on the figure based on my lighting scenario. To put it another way, for the most part what I did was paint magenta where I would paint shadows, green where I would paint midtones, and blue where I would paint highlights.

The secondary part of my experiment was to paint with warmer shadows and cooler highlights. I chose my colour underpainting paint colours with the idea that magenta, as a variant of red, would add warmth in the shadows. The blue was a cool colour for the areas of that would get cool highlights. Green is usually considered to be a cooler colour. This green has some yellow in it it. It’s warmer than the blue, so it seemed like a good choice for the intermediate midtone areas. I’m not sure I did choose the correct colours, but I’ll come back to that in the analysis at the end. (Information on colour terminology.)

As I worked on this stage I became concerned about whether areas of crevices and indented lines and so on would be as dark as they should be at the end of painting. I planned to paint over the underpainting with somewhat transparent paint rather than my usual opaque basecoats. To insure crevices and depressions were dark in value, I mixed up a wash with magenta mixed with black and applied it all over the figure. Then before it dried I wiped it off the high points of the figure with a makeup sponge. I have seen James Wappel do something like this in several videos.

I took pictures, but I foolishly did not remember to take a photo after the initial colour application. In the pictures below, you can see what the underpainting stage looked like on the base of the figure. The figure portion is what things looked like after the wash and wipe, which definitely did dull down the colours.

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I wasn’t kidding when I said I slapped on the paint. ;->

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If I try this method of underpainting again, and I think that I will, I am wondering if it would be more effective to start with a wash that I wipe off the high points and then work with the pure colour.

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The Painting

I planned to paint with slightly transparent paint. I also planned to mix my shadow, midtone, and highlight colours, and then apply each in the appropriate location of the figure. The goal with both of these choices would be to allow the colour underpainting to subtly show through and create some visual interest and complexity by hiding a little colour within the overall drabness of the colour scheme.

I typically start painting with a completely opaque foundation of paint. This might be the darkest colour, and then I paint layers of lighter colours over it to create the midtones and highlights. More often I start with the midtone colour, and then paint layers of darker paint over it in the shadow areas and layers of lighter paint over it in the highlight areas. The video of painting Ghost Bride Betty demonstrates the former process. The Layer Up! kit that I created for Reaper teaches the latter process.

These different approaches are examples of why variations in paint opacity in various paints aren’t inherently good or bad. A given paint is just better or worse for some applications than others. Super opaque colours are great when you’re trying to quickly paint basecoats onto black primer. They are more challenging for the layering technique, do not work as well for glazing, and weren’t what I wanted for the type of painting I was doing here. 

Skin, Cloth, and Brown Leather Armour

The best order in which to paint areas of a figure is a common question, so I always like to explain how I make those decisions in these process articles. Naus is not completely armoured. He has small areas of clothing visible on his legs and arms. These are located under armour and straps, so it’ll be much easier to paint them before painting the armour and straps! However, the hood sits somewhat on top of other objects, so it would make more sense to paint later in the process.

There is a similar issue with the skin. The skin of the face is inset underneath both a hood and a mask. The skin of the fingers (he’s wearing fingerless gloves) is on top of some objects and beneath the gloves.

If I want to paint all the cloth the same colours and the skin the same colours, I have to make a decision. If I paint everything at the same time to use the same colour mixes, which is faster and easier, then I have to accept that it will require some fiddly brushwork at points to avoid getting paint on completed areas. Or I can paint areas in the most logical order for easy painting, and accept that I will have to mix the same colours at two separate times. (Unless I’m painting quickly enough to finish in one session, of course.)

With Naus, I decided to paint the face first, and leave the fingers for later. I also chose to paint all of the cloth at the same time. I decided to paint the cloth grey and a little lighter than the armour and accessories would be. Even though the overall intent was a very dark figure, there needs to be some contrast of values to define areas and bring out volumes.

I used a mix of magenta + black for the shadows, a warmer grey for the midtones, and a cooler grey for the highlights. I know that some of the midtone greys I have are a bit more on the transparent side, so having some underpainting colour peek through the midtones and shadows was possible. Many colours that we use for highlights are mixed with white paint, which is more opaque, so I needed to thin those with water to make them a little more transparent. To try to keep the highlight areas cooler even if the underpainting didn’t show through there, I used a light blue to mix most of my highlights.

IMG 2494The grey cloth colours. LAG stands for Liquitex Acrylic Gouache. I am 99% certain that Reaper’s Clear Magenta is the same pigment.

Next I started on the banded leather chest armour and the knee pads. I decided to use the colours Bruised Purple and Ashen Brown. In part this was because Reaper recently rereleased those paints and I wanted to have a painted example with these great colours to show viewers on my Twitch show. I used my magenta + black mix for the darkest areas, and Ashen Brown for the lighter areas, mixing in a little light blue for the lightest areas. I planned to use the Bruised Purple in the midtone areas.

I quickly rediscovered that Bruised Purple is a fairly transparent paint colour. This can make it frustrating to use to layer over a darker/stronger colour, or to paint visible texture. I had experienced that when painting Ziba the Efreeti. I used a limited colour palette on Ziba. I chose to use a mix of red and black created a colour similar to Bruised Purple for her skirt, which I aimed to paint with a woven cloth texture. The colour mix was too transparent to work well to create visible texture strokes until I mixed it with a little white.

IMG 2500Torso and kneepad armour colours. LAG stands for Liquitex Acrylic Gouache. I’m 99% certain that Reaper’s Clear Magenta is the same pigment.

The colours for Naus’ armour didn’t really work to paint in the same way I painted on the grey cloth. The Bruised Purple was too transparent to layer over the midtones and create blends with the layer shadow and highlight colours. So I tweaked my process a little. I painted the highlight colours over some of the midtone areas and then painted the Bruised Purple over it to tweak the colour and smooth the transitions. The Ashen Brown is a more opaque paint, and I thinned it down in hopes of allowing the underpainting to show through a bit. I think you can see a bit of the green peeking through in spots, though it’s certainly pretty subtle. While the colour isn’t obvious, I think the painting approach resulted in a more visually complex surface than the smoother and more uniform appearance my painting often has.

I began to run into another problem here. You can see Blue Liner in the paint picture above. That is a cool dark colour, it doesn’t really fit into my warn shadows plan. It’s also just about the darkest paint I have. Because it’s a dull cool blue it usually appears even a little darker than black. (Most blues appear to recede from our view, while warm colours like red and orange appear as if closer to us.) That darkness of Blue Liner makes it great for lining or filling in crevices that you want to recede from view. The black + magenta shadow mix just wasn’t dark enough to use as lining between dark colours.

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How the figure appeared after completing the cloth and chest armour.

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Leather Accessories and Weapons

The next items I painted were the leather shoulder armour and some of the straps and belts. I wanted this to look like dingy blackish leather and to be quite dark, so it would contrast a little with the chest armour piece. I used black overall, and another purply-brown for the highlights, mixing in a bit of pale blue to lighten it up a bit here and there. None of these choices worked that well with my experiments. The paints are on the opaque side, and I had to do more stippling to smooth transitions, so I don’t think any of the colour underpainting shows through. The purply-brown colour ended up feeling fairly warm in colour because the low contrast highlight mixes didn’t include enough of the light blue to appear very cool in value.

IMG 2503Colours used on the warm black leather.

At the stage of these WIP photos, the black shoulder area did not look like it has anywhere near enough contrast to me. I reminded myself that those areas were not finished. All of them would have NMM steel added – metal studs on the shoulder armour, and buckles on the straps. Those would pop more against the dark surface. I might still need to add more highlights in spots (and I did), but I needed to get more paint on the figure to be able to accurately assess how everything was working.

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The next time I sat down to paint I wanted to try a different colour combination to see if I could get cooler colours in the highlights of my dark leather. I swapped out my midtone for more of a grey with a touch of brown in it. I tested this colour selection on Naus’ satchel. 

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It did add a little hue variation, but it didn’t work any better in terms of showing hints of the colour underpainting. I decided to switch back to the original leather recipe to finish off the rest of the leather areas.

After finishing the leather I worked on the weapon blades. I used my magenta + black mix for the shadows, neutral greys for the midtones, and pale blues for the highlights. I didn’t go up to pure white as I usually would. It’s been my experience with others of these dark colour scheme figures that a slightly smaller value range between darkest and lightest colours can work for non-metallic metal in this kind of colour scheme. Since I had to paint back and forth a bit to smooth out the blending on the NMM, I lost some of the colour underpainting. I had liked that touch of green on the blades from the underpainting, so I added it back by applying thinned down green paint on top.

IMG 2513The NMM colours. I added touches of the greens and the magenta to tie together my scheme and suggest reflections from the environment. LAG stands for Liquitex Acrylic Gouache. Reaper’s Clear Magenta is likely the same pigment as the Liquitex, and Jungle Camo would work as a substitute for the green.

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This picture of the back of the sword below was taken to confirm with the sculptor Bobby Jackson the nature of the material at the base of the blade. His answer: “Leather I guess.” Even having direct access to a sculptor won’t always answer the ‘what is this object supposed to be’ question!

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The following WIP pictures were taken with my fancy camera. Reaper likes to show pictures of new and upcoming products on their Reaper Live Twitch stream show on Thursday nights. I was pretty far along by Thursday afternoon, so I did a little touchup to make the really rough bits look a little less rough (mostly the mask), and then took some pictures to send to Ron to use on the show if he wanted. (If you compare the above cell phone pictures with the photos below, the only additional thing I painted was the mask, all other differences are between the cameras.)

Wag wip front

Wag wip back

After taking the above photos I kept working on the figure, painting the NMM details with the same NMM colours, and I also painted the small pouch.

Finishing Touches

Ron liked the figure as he appeared in the work in progress pictures, but he asked whether the hood and mask were finished, since he was concerned that both were too light in value for the character type. He thought maybe I had been trying to go for a sort of Assassin’s Creed vibe. Which I had not, at least not consciously! My intention had been to use touches of lighter value highlights around the face to make it the focal point of the figure and draw the viewer’s eye. When I went back to working on the figure the next day, I immediately saw why it made Ron think of Assassin’s Creed!

As I mentioned above, the hood was one of the first things I painted. Without more information on the rest of the figure, I didn’t really have the context to judge whether or not it was done when I first painted it. Now that I was close to finished I could see that it did look pretty pale in comparison to the rest, and had lighter highlights than the shiniest parts of the NMM!

I did a couple of things to tone it down. I started with a green glaze on the highlights, but it still looked pretty light.  Next I added glazes of Bruised Purple mixed with a little Dragon Black all over the hood, painting additional layers into the shadow areas to darken them further. Conversely, I felt like the non-metallic details did not stand out very well. This piece overall is very dark and not very colourful, there has to be some kind of contrast to make it legible and at all interesting to look at. So I went back over the small details with lighter values of paint, and I also increased the highlights a little on the two weapons.

Wag blue front

This is an example of two things. One is that you need to accept that you can’t accurately judge exactly how well the overall figure or even a section of it is working until you’re pretty close to done. This is particularly true of some effects, like non-metallic metal and source lighting. Every colour you add, every value you shift, it all affects your perception of what is already there. A colour that looked great in the beginning can end up looking too light, too dark, too bright, too dull  when viewed in the context of the overall piece. Sometimes the best way to fix that is by changing what you painted first; sometimes you tweak something you painted later. The main point that I want to stress here is that you can improve your paint jobs a lot if you plan for a step near the end of painting where you stand back and look at the figure as a whole to see if there’s anything that needs to be added or tweaked.

This experience is also a reminder that it is helpful to keep in mind the function of your object as you paint. For this project, my goal was to paint to paint something that met the expectations of the person commissioning the piece. Ron was very clear that he wanted a colour scheme of dark and dull colours, and that the figure should look dirty and weathered. I sent him pics when I thought I had things finished to the point of what he wanted. My inclination was to bump up the highlights around the face and in a few other areas, and just generally increase the level of contrast. I also wasn’t sure if Ron would consider him grungy enough. I had initially thought to use weathering powders after I finished painting, but I liked the colour where I was. Ron was happy with the figure as it was, so there was no point in my painting further unless I wanted to spend more time to make my client less happy.

Wag blue back left

Sometimes the function of your figure may be as a quick tabletop opponent, and it’s better to use some strong contrast and not waste too much time with the blending. Sometimes the function might be as a contest entry where there’s no such thing as too much time, effort, and thought put into it. Not having the time or effort put into an important display piece can lead to disappointment, but spending too much time and energy on something and always stressing yourself out instead of just painting and having fun sometimes can also hamper your enjoyment of the hobby and put you off painting. I used to aim for the best I could do on pretty much every figure. I’m a much happier painter now that I have different levels and approaches towards my work. Different kinds of work require different kinds of thought processes and effort.

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Assessing the Colour Underpainting Experiment

When assessing how well an experiment or study worked out, I use different criteria than I use in determining whether or not I think the paint job of the figure is. I think my painting of Naus turned out okay. There are a few things I might tweak to fit my preferences rather than my client’s, but overall it works. This and the following section are assessments of how well I thought the experiments I did on Naus turned out, and that is a different question!

If my goal in painting this figure was to learn the painting approach of Craftworld Studio and paint a figure in a similar style, it would be fair to say that I set myself up for failure. I did not follow any of the tips I outlined in my article about how to study from painting videos. I didn’t pick a particular video or video series and study it to identify the specific painting steps. I didn’t choose a figure similar to one painted by my inspiration. I didn’t study Craftworld Studio’s colour palette and pick the same or even a similar set of colours to use when practicing.

I knew going in that I wasn’t doing any of those things, and that the figure I painted wouldn’t look much like the ones that inspired me. The Craftworld Studios figures I admire burst with rich saturated colour. They typically have a strong focal point that is often achieved by intense value contrasts between the areas the viewer is meant to look at (light value, saturated colour), and the less important areas (darker value, less saturated colour). None of those choices really fit with the brief I had from my client for this figure, which was that it be desaturated in colour and overall dark and dirty looking. Either of the Craftworld Studio painters could probably paint something in their style that would fit that brief, but for me to try to paint in the that style for the first time while also inverting the main elements of it would be pretty much impossible.

Yet I suspect many painters unthinkingly make similar errors when they are trying to better understand and replicate the techniques they see in videos and articles. You want to paint something that looks like the work of a painter you admire. But you also want to get this mini of a different scale finished for next week’s game, and it needs to be in these specific colours. And also you don’t want to use the brushes/paints that your inspiration recommends. You can’t learn someone else’s style/approach/techniques and adapt them to your own in one painting attempt. You’ll be much more successful if you work on a few figures following what they do as closely as possible. Once you have a good understanding of what they’re doing, then work on adapting it into your usual workflow, tools, figure type, etc. If you’ve ever been in the position where you took an in-person class and had good results but then had less success on your own at home, it may be because of issues like this.

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Assessing the Warm Shadows, Cool Highlights Experiment

A common colour use guideline is that if the colour of the light is warm, highlights will be warmer colours and shadows will be cooler colours, and vice versa. A full discussion of colour temperature in shadows/highlights is beyond the scope of this article. In brief, I think that guideline can be useful if you’re not comfortable with colour, and that it can help a figure appear more naturally part of an environment than when painters think of each colour area on the figure individually. I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule required for successful painting.

Quick note for those less conversant with colour theory terms. In the abstract, a cooler colour is one with more blue in it and a warmer colour is one with more orange in it. So red, yellow, orange are warmer colours and blue, green, purple are cooler colours. In practice, it’s all relative, and every colour has warm and cool versions. A green that has a bit more blue in it than yellow is a cooler green, one with more yellow in it is a warmer green. So if you were painting a green cloak with cool shadows and warm highlights, you could use a dark green that skews a little blue in the shadows, a standard green in the midtones, and mix yellow into your green for warm highlights.

Colour temperature is also tied into colour saturation and value. Less saturated versions of colours generally appear cooler than more saturated versions of colours. Red is a warm colour. If you add black to that red you make it darker in value, less saturated in colour, and cooler in temperature. If you mix white into the red you make it lighter in value, less saturated in colour, and… cooler in temperature. With red you can use orange/yellow/salmon in the highlights to keep them warmer, but in general this happens with all colours – the lightest versions and darkest versions of those colours are less saturated and cooler in temperature than the midtones.

I think the overall darkness I needed for this figure is a large part of where I ran into trouble trying to put warm shadows, cool highlights into effect. I didn’t use the lightest versions of any colours other than the steel grey on the weapons. You can see the pale and cool blue in the highlights on the NMM. On the rest of the figure, the majority of the lightest colours are midtones. The issue is particularly noticeable on the dark leather. The shadows are black or near black, and the midtones are pretty dark. If I add the light cool blue directly into the black to mix highlights, I’d get grey, like on the satchel. If I use any other colour in the highlights, even mixed with the light cool blue, it’s probably going to look warm in comparison to the cool shadows, and it’s not going to get light enough in value for the light cool blue to be noticeable like on the weapons.

Wag blue face

I have always thought painting warm shadows/cool highlights would be tricky on any gaming scale figure because we usually have to use a wider value range than may be required for a piece of canvas art or a larger figure to make things look three dimensional. If I were to try it again I think it would need to be on a figure where I could use more colours in the middle of the value range.

I don’t think every area of the figure below displays warm shadows and cool highlights, but I would say this mermaid has more of the warm shadows effect than I was able to manage with Naus. You can see a warm glow to her skin, especially on the hand and upraised arm. There are hints of the warm colour in the shadows of the tail and the shells. I used the same magenta colour in the shadows of Naus as I did in most of the shadows of this mermaid. The pale highlights of the beer foam, sand, and skin are cooler than their shadow and midtone colours. There are some blued shadows on the sand and in her hair that don’t fit the warmer shadows pattern, but overall this mermaid figure where I wasn’t particularly aiming for a warm shadows effect does a better job of it than I did when I was trying to achieve that style on the super dark Naus.

Mermaid face