Painting the Bones V Hydra

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In a previous post post I talked about how it was a change of pace for me to paint this large hydra figure because of the difference in size and subject to what I paint most often. Now I’d like to share a little of the actual painting process for this miniature.

Hydra - finished, view 1It’s not too late to get this and hundreds of other figures at much lower than retail prices.

Planning Phase

My first step was making a plan of action. This is the stage where I consider different colour scheme ideas, what might be the best order to paint areas, things like that. In this case I did not take very much time and effort at this stage. I was on a deadline and not wanting to psych myself out about the aspects of painting something less usual for me.

And my experience in painting this figure is an example of how not spending a little bit more time in thought beforehand likely cost me a chunk of time in execution. I had some broad colour scheme direction via photos from Reaper’s art director, Ron Hawkins, but I didn’t take the time do do any colour tests. With some minis, I spend a bit of time working out my exact colour choices on paper before I start painting on the figure. I decided to wing it with this one, and I didn’t get it right on my first try.

Colour Complexity and Variation

One thing I did think about a little was colour variation. This is a subject I often end up talking with intermediate painters who are looking to improve their work to the next level. While painting shadows and highlights on an area adds some variation and visual interest, it only does so much. If you look at something the size of the hydra, or even a cloak or large expanse of skin, it gets a little samey to look at if the only variation is a difference between the dark, midtone, and light areas.

Bases color complexityTop: Shades of darker and lighter grey only.
Middle: Grey shaded with dark Burgundy pink, and highlighted with pale Caucasian flesh tone.
Bottom: Shades of darker and lighter grey for the value transitions, glazed over top with other colours.

These colour variations represent real world objects more accurately than you might think – reflections from surrounding materials on shiny objects, variations in skin tones like blush on the cheeks, colour shifting caused by a light with a colour cast, all kinds of things create varied colours on surfaces. And just as with many elements of art that reflect real life, it’s pretty common for artists to exaggerate these colour variations to create a more interesting piece.

There are a number of different techniques you can use to add some colour variation to areas. I talked about a couple of methods in a Reaper Toolbox video I recently completed. Michael Proctor is a master of colour use, and he also has a recent Toolbox video where he talks about some of his techniques.

Hydra view of light directionI visualized the sunlight shining from the direction of the tip of the hydra’s tail, but much higher in the sky.

In the case of the hydra, I relied primarily on shifting the colours used to paint the lights and shadows, as in the middle photo of the example above. I added a little more visual interest to things by shifting the direction of the light to one side of the figure, and using some colour contrasts in my (eventual) paint choices. I visualized the light as bright sunlight streaming from the direction of the tip of the tail. This created a situation where one side of the creature would appear more in light, and the other side more in shadow, with some interesting interplay of light and shadow on the necks.

Airbrush Misstep

Several people have asked me if I used an airbrush to paint the hydra. My answer is yes and no. I did try to start with an airbrush. it seemed like a perfect fit for a large creature like this, and handy method to lay in the broad strokes of the directional light I planned. It took me a few hours of painting over a couple of sessions (my compressor overheated the first session!), but eventually I ended up with this.

Wip1a Hydra airbrush stageThe more lit side after the airbrush stage. Crummy cellphone photo.

It looks pretty dull in the photographs, and that’s not because they’re just crappy cell phone pics – it looked pretty dull in real life, too! Essentially I ended up with a sort of zenithal prime effect – it was a good guideline to where to place my shadows and highlights, but not much more.

Wip1b hydra airbrush back viewThe more shadow side after the airbrush stage. Cellphone photo.

Painting the Base

As I considered where to go from here, I realized that it would be tricky to reach all the areas of the base if the body were fully painted, so I decided to paint the base first. I talk about the techniques I used to paint the rocks in my recent Reaper Toolbox video.

Wip2a hydra painted basePainted base. Light side view. Cellphone photo.

The technique I used on the pillar pieces was a little different. I painted using my usual layering technique, but with some variation in the selection of colours for lights and shadows. I looked at some reference photos of Greek temples, and plenty of them are not perfectly polished white marble. Several seemed to have a fair bit of ruddy red showing on the pillars. So I started with a basecoat of cream, and used a clay red in the shadows. To keep the effect of the bright sunny day throughout the whole figure, I used some dark blue in the shadow areas of the pillars, and yellow in the highlight areas that are receiving full light.

Wip2b hydra base shadow sidePainted base. Shadow side. Cellphone photo.

Re-Colouring the Body

Now I had to figure out what to do with the body of the hydra for a more interesting colour selection. I decided to keep my main shadow colours, but swap in more saturated midtone and highlight colours. As with the rocks and the pillars, I was using dark blues in the shadows, and yellow in the highlights to simulate a sunny day.

Wip3a hydra base colour repaint light sideAfter wet-blending new body colours. Cellphone photo. View from the direction of the light.

The majority of the paint on the body and necks was applied with the wet-blending technique. I started with a size 2 round sable brush, but this figure was large enough that I switched to a bigger synthetic brush for most of the basic lay-in of colour transitions, using the size 2 on smaller areas or to refine blends. I used the light to dark transitions created by my airbrush stage as a guideline, but refined and shifted the location of light and shadow as I deemed necessary to create the effect of the lighting or make the figure more interesting to look at.

Wip3b hydra wetblending shadow sideAfter wet-blending in new body colour, view from the more shadowed side. Cellphone picture.

Forging a… Five Heads

I was much happier with the colour selection for the body than I was with my first attempt. However, I felt like using the exact same colour transitions on the head would not work very well. The heads need to stand out in some way to help the viewer spot them and connect with them. I did some experiments with a couple of patterns to see whether patterning would be a good way to make the heads stand out. Sometimes I’ll grab a similar figure to practice tricky freehand or do tests like this (Bones are great for this!), but in this case it was just as easy to test on the figure, and it is sculpted with such definition that a coat or two of extra paint wouldn’t be an issue.

Wip5 pattern testingTesting some ideas for patterning on the heads and/or neck scales.

I also decided to use more saturated colours on the heads than I had on the body. I switched out my brown shadow step for one that was more green, and swapped my kinda yellow highlight step for one that was a more intense yellow. The heads and spines scales were smaller areas and I was working with more transparent colours, so for these I used my usual layering techniques rather than doing any wetblending.

Wip4a hydra colour contrast between heads and bodyPainting completed on two heads. They are a slightly different colour scheme than the body to help them stand out to the viewer.

Lining the Scales

The next time I sat down to paint I wasn’t in the mood for fiddly blending with semi-transparent colours, so I decided to work on painting the lining between the scales instead. I talked about the technique I used for that in a previous blog post.

Hydra lining comboAdding lining between the scales makes a big difference in the appearance of a figure like this!

Once I had the lining in, I reevaluated my intention to paint some patterns on the heads and/or spine scales. The lining between the scales added a lot of texture and I felt like the contrast between that texture and the smooth blending on the heads would help keep the heads as the focus.

Belly Scale Dancing

Wip6a hydra blue belly scalesTest of a blue colour scheme for the belly scales. I used slightly different colours on the final version.

The last thing to figure out was the colours to use on the belly scales. As with the pattern experiments I decided to test right on the figure rather than grabbing a separate one or testing on paper. I wanted to pick colours that would stand apart from the belly scales, but not steal focus from the heads. The brown was a bit too bland. The blue worked better, but it was important to keep it muted so that it didn’t compete with the yellow of the heads. I tweaked the colours a little on the final version.

Wip6b hydra brown belly scalesTest of a brown colour scheme for the belly scales. 

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see from my experience painting this figure, one of the things to keep in mind when painting something that is different from what you normally paint is that the process is not likely to go as smoothly as usual. You have less experience to draw on, fewer helpful habits established. Even though I was painting this on a deadline, and I felt some pressure to make it look as cool as I could for the sake of the Kickstarter campaign and a few other reasons, I had to accept that I lost time to mistakes and having to do tests to avoid more mistakes. There would have been no value to beating myself up or getting too frustrated about it.

Display Painting versus Tabletop Painting

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I’m still working on a bit more of an overview post of my experience painting the hydra I showed in my last post. In the meantime, I was thinking about the conversations I had with people about painting at the countdown party. 

Hydra side viewLate pledges are available if you missed the Kickstarter campaign.

I was very happy to talk with people about painting and try to share some tips. My painting knowledge is built on a foundation of generosity of other artists taking time to share what they know, and I want to give back to the community in the same way. I also genuinely enjoy geeking out about one of my favourite things with other fans! But there were times when I felt like the information I shared was disappointing to people since a lot of it summed up to the big ‘trick’ in painting this was time and patience.

When you’re learning a new skill, you tend to assume that as you get better at it, you’ll be able to do things in a similar amount of time and with similar techniques, just better and quicker. Certainly there are skills or areas in which this may be true. I’m not a great cook. I could follow a recipe to make a pie crust, but it would take me a lot more time and effort than a professional baker or even a practiced and enthusiastic home cook. And my results would likely neither look nor taste as good as theirs. They have a lot more experience and possibly access to better tools than I do. However, there are also areas where neither expertise nor tools are the limiting factor. My pie is going to take about as long to cook as the expert’s, and there’s not much either of us can do about that.

Cmon speed paints - frontA group of pro painters including myself, Jen Haley, Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford, and Clay Williams painted these Robb Stark models in a 90 minute speed painting challenge at CMON Expo 2018. The figures benefit from our painting expertise, but display models they are not.

Now I’m going to look at a more art based example. Someone who is in the earlier stages of learning to draw can produce an accurate and realistic drawing, whether through use of tools like grid drawing or just sheer effort. I did some decent drawings in my early days of starting my learning traditional art journey. But just like my attempt to make a pie crust, they took a lot of time and effort on my part. And they weren’t the norm. There were a lot more terrible drawings than decent ones. That stands in stark contrast with the work of a skilled artist, who can do quick sketches that look attractive and realistic in a few minutes. That is the value of practice and repetition, but also a lot of knowledge and experience that the artist draws upon.

I think people look at something I’ve painted like the hydra and parallel it to the example of the two artists above. They assume it’s the ‘pro’ version of their tabletop or speed painted miniatures. But it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. It’s more like comparing a pencil sketch to a high rendered photo realistic drawing. There’s a foundation of knowledge that applies to both, and there are some similar tools and techniques. But one is not the evolution of the other. It’s more like siblings or cousins.

Cmon speed paints - back viewMy figure is the second from the right, and is the weakest of the bunch. The painters who are more successful at balancing speed and end result than I am picked colour schemes with much more contrast, and enhanced those with painting techniques that enhanced the pop of the figure, and then sprinkled a dash of an extra like weathering and/or freehand on top. I spent too much time worrying about blending.

A professional painter, particularly one who paints armies or other tabletop figures regularly for commission, is like the professional baker making the pie crust. They have good tools and materials, but also a wealth of experience to draw on to create a great looking result in less time than a beginner or casual painter. Something they speed paint might be to a standard a beginner is aspiring to do as a display painted piece. But a lot of high level display painting techniques we use are more like the baking time in the oven for the pie, or the time it takes to render a quick sketch into a fully painted picture – there’s no quick trick or tool that does the job for you, it just takes time and patience.

Hydra - pre scale liningA work-in-progress picture of the hydra before I painted in the lining between the scales.

The lining between the scales of my hydra is a good example. Using quick painting techniques, most people would line between the scales by using a wash of a darker colour. Or maybe they would start by painting a dark coat of paint and then drybrush or sidebrush lighter colours on top of the scales, leaving the lines in between them dark. This figure is sculpted with a lot of great definition, and those techniques should work well to paint it. But that’s not how I painted mine, and I don’t think you could use those techniques and get a result that looks like what I got.

Hydra - after scale liningThe same view of the hydra with the lining painted between the scales. It adds a lot of impact and texture!

The way I painted the lines between the scales of the hydra was… to paint the lines between the scales of the hydra. I used a fine tipped brush, patience, and a little over two hours of my life. The only ‘tip’ type thing I did that might not be obvious to the viewers is something that made the process even more fiddly, not less! I did not use a single colour of lining over the whole figure. If you compare the value (lightness/darkness) of an area of scales to the lining around it, you’ll see that it’s fairly constant over the whole figure. It looks that way because I used a lighter brown colour to line between the lightest colour scales, a blue-black to line between the darkest colour scales, and a couple of mixes in between. In total I used five values of lining. Possibly I could have gotten a similar effect with four or perhaps even three value mixes, but in for a penny, in for a pound is how I tend to paint. ;->

Hydra scale lining paletteThe dried liner mixes in my welled palette.

My analogies are to an extent a simplification. There is a gray area between tabletop painting and high level display painting. High tabletop, basic level display painting, I’m not sure what you’d call it, but the basic gist is something both fast and good. There are some limits to how fast you can paint like this, and just how good of a result you can get with this. It uses techniques from both ends of the spectrum, so if this kind of painting is your goal, it is worth studying information from display level painters. Most people who paint miniatures for a living probably paint to this level as much as they can – as good as you can get it to look, in the least time possible. But when they paint a very high level commission piece or a contest entry that pulls out all the stops, they use techniques that take a lot of time and skill, like individually lining every scale on the hydra.

That balancing act between end result and time commitment is one of the ways I am not very good at my job. I’m working at getting a little better at it, but through my entire miniature painting experience I have tended to use time and brute force and focused on the quality of end result, and done a poor job of learning increased efficiency and good planning to improve on time. Or even just learned to accept that a lot of the time 80% of the best I can do is good enough.

As a result, those who are seeking information on how to better balance high quality result and speed are probably better off consulting other painters. :-> Two of the best painters I know for this both share their experience on Patreon if you’d like to learn a lot more tips and tricks than you could from a quick convention conversation. (And they also teach full classes at conventions.) Look up James Wappel and Aaron Lovejoy.

A Change of Pace

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I’ll try to post some info on the painting process for this figure next week. Right now I only have time to share a few quick thoughts before I head out on a trip to Reaper for the Bones 5 Kickstarter countdown party. (It’s not too late to join us if you can get to Denton, Texas by Saturday afternoon!)

Hydra - view 1

I think a lot of us tend to get into a pattern of what we paint. Whether it’s because we’re painting for a particular army/game, or for our own preferences of subject, scale, and/or colour schemes, it’s not unusual to look at your painted miniature collection and see some trends. 

The fact that a lot of what I painted is on commission means that my painted output is a little more varied than it might be if I was choosing only for myself. But even then, people tend to ask you to do more of what they perceive you to be good at doing, or my clients have a lot of things they need painting and letting me choose from a selection means I’ll tend to gravitate towards what I like (or think I’m okay at doing.) 

Hydra view2

For me this has tended to mean a lot of gaming scale human figures, female more often than not, and with a lot of non-metallic metal or elaborate cloth. I usually, though certainly not always, paint with a fairly saturated colour scheme.

Hydra view 3

While I have painted animals and humanoid type monsters on occasion, I’ve never really done a genuine large monster type figure. So when the art director at Reaper (Ron Hawkins) suggested that I paint this hydra, I thought that would be an interesting challenge. The sculpt, by the very talented Julie Guthrie, was certainly very appealing to me. One of the elements I love about it is the way that the main body seems to sink towards the ground and has a real feel of solidity and weight to it.

It definitely was a challenge for me to paint! The size and repetitive nature of some elements required a whole other kind of patience than fiddly freehand or never-ending non-metallic metal. And I found on several occasions that it was surprisingly easy to lose track of which head/neck I was working on at the time!

But despite a few bumps in the road (mostly related to choosing colours and the patience thing), I had fun, and I think it was a valuable experience to break away from the scale and subjects I normally paint to try something quite different. I recommend it to any painter, particularly if you’re feeling a bit in a rut or aren’t very excited to get to your painting table.

Hydra view 4

This Hydra will one day be available in retail, but for now the only way to get one is to pledge to the Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign and add on for the Greek Odyssey expansion.

Have you had a positive (or negative) experience trying to paint something that was a big change from what you usually paint? I’d love to hear some stories (though may have some technical issues accessing comments while on the road, but will do my best!)

Dark Sword Female Ranger

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Dark Sword Miniatures has just released a new set of figures, and I was happy to be able to paint a couple of them for their studio collection. One of the figures I painted was this female ranger sculpted by Tom Meier.

Fr low profile 450The completed figure. But this post is about the journey of how I got here.

I enjoyed painting this figure a great deal. It was not a project I approached by planning everything out in advance in terms of creating an elaborate diorama, nor even in terms of choosing all my colours in advance. However, as I worked on it I realized it was a good example of the kinds of planning new and intermediate painters often ask me about. New painters want to know how we figure out what to paint first, and how to build off of a few initial colour choices. Intermediate (and advanced) painters benefit from thinking about what materials and textures make up areas of the figure and how to represent those with paint. Those of us painting figures on commission also need to think about the preferences and needs of our client. So I’m going to run through my thought process related to those elements for this figure.

Colour Scheme Thoughts

My first impulse for a colour scheme was to base it on the gorgeous reds and yellows of a Japanese maple. But on further consideration, I was not sure that idea fit this particular figure. If you take the tree out of that colour scheme, it doesn’t really scream ‘ranger’. So I put that idea aside. I decided to stick with an autumn inspired colour scheme, but use less saturated reds and yellows. That idea fit in well with the lovely leaves sculpted on the base.

While I was getting the figure ready to paint, it struck me that she was a good representation of a character type I often play in computer games. I’m not the most original person, so I reuse a few names and concepts for characters in various games. One of them in a bow wielder. I usually create her as being fair skinned, with blonde or light red hair worn in a ponytail or bun. I have never painted a character to match, and doing so seemed like it might be fun. That gave me enough of a colour plan and character concept to get started on painting.

Order of Operations for Painting

My general advice for what order to paint elements of a figure is roughly to work from the inside out. Some people suggest a guideline of painting in the order you would get dressed (skin, underclothes, clothing, accessories, hair, etc.) For example, on most figures the face, neck, and upper chest are all under other parts – hair frames the face and neck, and clothes sit on top of the chest.

The basic idea behind these guidelines is to first paint areas that would be harder to reach with your brush at a later time. For example, if you paint a belt first, chances are pretty good that you are going to slop paint onto it when you paint the shirt that sits beneath it. So it makes a lot more sense to paint the shirt first, and then the belt.

When I first looked at this figure, it seemed like the face and neck would be the place to start, but when I sat down to paint it, I realized the dynamic pose made the hard to reach considerations a little different than with many figures. The recesses of the cloak behind the arms would be very difficult to paint once the arms and torso were painted. This was equally true of the hem area of the inner side of the cloak if I waited to paint it until after the pants and jerkin.

Range wip1 left 600I started with the inside of the cloak, then the area of jerkin touching the cloak, and then the pants.

It is pretty common for figures to have recesses and overhangs from cloaks or skirts or similar items. I recommend you look for these before you begin painting. Even if you don’t know exactly what colours you want to use, pick a shadow colour like a very dark blue or brown and paint it into these recesses. If they do end up being very hard to reach, you’ll have set them into deep shadow and there won’t be obvious unpainted spots.

So my order of painting was:

Inner side of the cloak
The area of the jerkin touching the cloak
Pants
The parts of the chainmail on the sides of the torso
Shirt
The rest of the chainmail
Jerkin, boots, bracers (these had slightly different but related colours and were in separate areas)

Range wip2 front 600It seems more convenient to paint all of an item at the same time, but sometimes it makes your life easier to paint parts at different stages. That was how I had to approach the chainmail and several other areas on this figure.

Then I started doing some basecoats to figure out the best order for the rest, which was a little different than I had assumed it might be.

Arrow shafts
Fletching
Face
Outer side of the cloak
Bow
Hair
Belt and straps
NMM – buckles and trim on bracers
Base

Pants contrast compA brief digression to talk about contrast, because we always need to think about contrast. “More contrast” doesn’t always mean a huge or harsh level of contrast. It just means you almost always need more contrast than you initially think you do. These pants are matte cloth, and they are not an area of major interest. So they shouldn’t be hugely contrasted or draw the eye away from more interesting focal points. But when I came back to look at this figure after initially painting the pants, I realized they were a little too flat, even given those considerations. I deepened the shadows just under the folds slightly by adding more dark blue to my shadow green. I made the top level highlights a little lighter in value, but I also added a little more yellow to make them brighter in saturation. That creates additional contrast so the peaks of the folds stand out a little more even though the highlights aren’t super light in value.

Other Planning Considerations

This figure was sculpted by Tom Meier, and that was a fact I took into consideration when planning how to paint it. Tom Meier sculpts at as realistic a scale as is possible for a gaming scale figure. What he can accomplish at gaming scale is a marvel, but it does mean that some areas and textures are finer or shallower than they would be on many figures. For this ranger, the eyes are quite small, and the chainmail texture is fairly fine.

I took this into account from the very start. Rather than using aerosol primer (which I tend to spray pretty liberally), I decided to brush prime by hand, being very careful to apply only the minimum amount of primer necessary, particularly on the chainmail and the face.

Prior to painting this ranger I had painted a few figures to practice the approach I learned a few months ago in a workshop with Sergio Calvo. This includes starting with your darkest shadow colour painted on all areas, and working up from there. I’ve also been increasingly using other methods of pre-painting, like doing a grisaille or notan style primer undercoat, or sketching and then refining in colour. Although I think those methods are effective and highly recommend that people experiment with them, I decided against using them on this figure for several reasons.

1. The Dark Sword studio miniatures have a cohesive style. I was not sure I could achieve that style with the Sergio Calvo approach. I try to push my skills and improve with figures I paint for clients, and I generally only accept commissions for figures that I know I will find interesting and fun to paint. But when you’re painting for a client, the primary consideration is to paint what the client wants and needs.

2. As mentioned, above, I attempted to minimize the amount of paint applied to the figure so that I did not obscure any of the fine details or textures. (Generally this is much less of a concern than people worry about as long as you’re not using super gloppy paint.) Colour sketching and grisaille approaches do not add so much more paint to a figure that I would normally think about it as an issue, but based on previous experience with delicate Tom Meier textures, I wanted as little extraneous paint as possible.

3. I had to remove the figure from its holder to effectively paint the initial recessed areas of the inner side of the cloak, underside of the jerkin, and the pants. Usually a holder makes it easier to reach all the areas of a figure, but in this case I had to come at a lot of areas from directly below. Numerous small spots of primer rubbed off of the face, hair, cloak, and other areas due to the way I had to hold the figure in my hand to paint the recesses. This is the other reason to use a holder whenever possible – your primer and paint will adhere much more sturdily! So had I used a pre-painting method, I’d have had more complex repairs to make than simply repainting some primer.

My last consideration before painting was to think about the textures of the various surfaces of the figure. Some of these are determined by the sculpt – skin, hair, and chainmail are all pretty obvious, likewise a fantasy character’s bow and arrow shafts are going to be made from wood. But what material is the clothing? Tom Meier is a master of sculpting drapery, and I really love his sculpting of that on this figure. To me the thickness and weight, and the types of folds on the jerkin and cloak felt like heavy leather, which would be logical attire for a ranger. 

Range wip3 face 600I had so much fun painting the leather jerkin that I was impatient to get to the stage of painting the leather cloak. But first I had to pass over some bumps on the road…

I recently watched an episode of a marvellous BBC series where they recreate apparel from famous paintings using traditional tailoring methods. One of these featured a leather outfit worn by a hedge cutter, and they tested the leather and found it very effective against thorny vegetation. So leather is a solid choice for ranger gear!

Having a lot of leather to paint was exciting because it gave me an opportunity to practice techniques I studied in another workshop I took this year, with Fernando Ruiz. He opened my eyes to the idea that washes can be used for advanced painting techniques as well as tabletop. In the workshop, we used a variety of coloured washes over a light leather colour to create something that looked worn and well-used. This is a different look to the worn leather you get using stipple and dash brush strokes. (Though the two approaches can also be used in concert.) I am very happy with the result, I like the richness and complexity of the shadows a lot.

Fernando Ruiz is giving more workshops this month. If you can get to the Atlanta area between October 25 to October 27, try to make it to one of these!

Bumps in the Road

Apart from having to put more thought than usual into the best order to paint items, the painting of this figure went pretty smoothly and enjoyably. Right up until I reached the face. Painting the face and skin in general is usually one of my favourite parts of painting a miniature. I love seeing a figure ‘come to life’ under the brush. But pale skin is tricky. I wanted to try using a bit more of a reddish shade tone than I normally would, to tie in with colours used elsewhere on the figure. I could tell when I started painting that it wasn’t working as I had hoped. So I mixed a second shade series using a little more of a purple shadow tone, using a colour I’ve successfully used to shade skin before. It was better, but the shadows got too dark and harsh pretty quickly. 

I debated trying to work with my midtones to see if I could get it closer to what I was hoping for. But then I thought about the fact that I needed to get this figure finished up quickly, that being a delicate sculpt it is not an optimal candidate for a lot of paint application, and that my mood in the moment was more frustration and less feeling invigorated by the idea of a challenge. So I instead decided to repaint the midtone colour and use an old reliable colour for the shadows. (That colour is Ashen Brown. Reaper had canceled this colour, but it and some other colours of the past are returning to us via the latest Reaper Bones Kickstarter, which is running right now! Saddle Brown in the Bones HD paint line also works well to shade pale skin tones.)

Range wip4 face1 600I’m happy with the end result. Sometimes you have to just try and try again.

Unfortunately I had already finished repainting the base coat midtone of the skin before it occurred to me that I should take a picture to share here. Sorry about that! I still worked in a little red to the skin by use of a soft overall glaze, and a glaze to create a blush in the cheeks.

Finally I got to paint more fun leather on that cloak! The picture below is from my ‘final check’ series of photos, which I have talked about doing before. (Final check stage for Tara, and then a second post listing the issues found in the final check.) In the case of this ranger, I found a pretty big oversight in the final check photos. It saved me a lot of time and annoyance to find it at this point rather than not noticing until I was taking the final photos. Or even worse, having the client find the problem for me!

Range wip5 back 600Job one when painting a miniature is to paint the whole miniature. I had forgotten the bottom and top trim areas on the quiver. Very easy kind of thing to do, and one reason a final check step can be worth the effort.

Here are some additional views of the completed figure.

Fr low face3 450

Fr face low2 450

Fr low 34 450

Fr back high 450

Fr left low 450

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie: Painting Process

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A couple of weeks ago I posted pictures of my completed paint job on ReaperCon 2018 Sophie. (https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/22/painting-figures-to-match-art-reapercon-2018-sophie/) She is now available for purchase online at this address. You can also purchase Barglemore and Camille (I’ll share more about painting those soon), the convention mouslings, and a few other figures. And even a swag bag from the convention! I haven’t unpacked mine yet, or I’d show a few pictures here. Maybe next post. Anyway, if you’d like to get your hands on any of that, run, don’t walk, to this link, they’ll only be available for a few days: http://www.reapermini.com/NewReleases

Now that lots of other people can get their hands on this fabulous Sophie sculpt, I thought it might be nice to share some insights into how I painted her. Lately I have really enjoyed using a process that I am calling value mapping. In art world terms, value refers to how light or dark a colour is. Every colour has versions in different values – a light sky blue, a medium value royal blue, and a dark navy blue, for example. Value is one of the major forms of contrast. It is critical to all of the visual arts, but is particularly useful for miniature painters. It is helpful to us to paint adjacent areas on a miniature to have different values. On Sophie, for example, the middle value blues and purples of her dress stand out against the paler colours of her skin and underskirt. So it’s easier for you the viewer to see which parts are which right away. 

Value is also a very useful tool to build contrast within an area. If I really want Sophie’s underskirt to look like it has peaks and valleys the way that Izzy “Talin” Collier drew it and Bob Ridolfi sculpted it, I need to make the peaks appear like they’re receiving more light, and the valleys appear as if they’re shadowed and receiving less light. It is always hard for we miniature painters to push our contrast like this, but we need to do this to make our figures look truly three dimensional!

Usually I paint in the value transitions of lights and shadows as I paint. Lately I’ve been starting by painting a ‘map’ of the major values and the transitions between them by using brush-on primer. (I live in a pretty humid climate, so I often use brush-on primer instead of spray cans anyway.) Reaper makes brush-on primer in black, gray, and white. I usually mix one or two additional values of grey. I didn’t take any pictures of my palette this time, but hopefully you can get the idea looking at these pictures of the miniature. I think I had 4-5 mixes of primer colours in total. I spent somewhere between one to two hours at this at most I think.

Sk wip faceSk wip frontSk wip back

In these first sets of pictures above you can see the main body of the figure after priming on the left, and a work-in-progress shot on the right. You can plainly see on the left version that I am not worried about super smooth blends or picking out every little detail. I’m worried about the big picture of what value do I want on the major areas of the figure, and where are the primary transitions between light and shadow within those areas. Then once I have established the ‘map’, I begin to apply paint on top. I am applying a full coverage of opaque paint on top, I’m just using the value map as a guideline.  You can see that pretty well in the area of her bracers/gloves, I think. 

Hopefully you can also see spots where I refine the initial map. In this second stage I’m working on making smooth blends and adding a bit more detail. So in the value mapping stage I applied the broadest highlights and shadows to areas like the torso plates and the tiny ruffles of her sleeves. When applying colour, I worked a long time on the smooth transitions on the large panels of her dress, and added detail shadow and highlights to the torso plates and ruffles. 

There are variations of this technique that involve layering transparent paint over the value mapping. In the traditional art world, this is known as grisaille if done using greyscale paints, and other terms with different colours. If I were using one of those variations, I would have to take more care in the value mapping stage to make smoother blends and bring out more details. In fact in this case, many of the colours I used were slightly transparent, so it was a bit of an effort to get down nice opaque coats to completely cover my value map over. So why did I take that effort?

I am finding more and more that if I can break up some of the stages of painting a miniature, I’m more likely to get more elements correct. We ask a lot of ourselves as miniature painters. We have to figure out where there would be more light and shadow on a figure based on our imaginary light source. And blend smoothly between those lights and shadows (or correctly apply texture strokes). That’s a lot to try to work on at one time, and it’s really common to have the location of shadows and highlights spread or drift, or to end up with insufficient contrast between them. If I use the value mapping method, I break the task of figuring out where things should be lighter and darker into a separate step. Then I can concentrate on applying the paint as smooth blends or textures to the best of my ability as another separate step. 

In the case of Sophie, things were complicated a little bit by the fact that I could not attach her wings at the beginning, or I wouldn’t have been able to get the paint everywhere I wanted it. I did a little priming on them prior to assembly, then once I glued the wings on (I love that extra attachment point on the skirt, thank you Bob!), I went through the process of value mapping again with the wings, and also with the stone texture on the base.

Sk wip wings frontSk wip wings back

Here on the wings the process may even be more obvious, at least from the front view. I did not bother at all picking out the bony spines of the wings at the value mapping stage. I’m a fairly messy painter, and likely any detailing like that would only have gotten covered over while trying to do the blends. So it saved me time to only worry about the big picture when value mapping. In the picture from the back, you can see that I also can course correct if I haven’t done a great job of all the areas on my map. As I was painting I decided that the top of the wing in the lowered position would be receiving more light than I originally thought, so I added more highlights.

One more picture to share. One of the things I love about Bones miniatures is how useful they are for doing practice and study. In the past I would have practiced freehand shapes on a flat surface like a base or primed piece of plastic. This can easily lead to sizing errors between the practice and the real figure, and doesn’t help you figure out how to apply the freehand to a three dimensional shape. Or I would have had to go through a lot of trouble to prep and prime a metal miniature. Now I just look out for a Bones miniature that has similar shapes to what I’m trying to test, bust out some paint, and get to testing immediately. Below you can see how I was working out how to break down some of the shapes from Izzy’s concept art into patterns I could replicate in freehand painting. If I had had the time time or was a little less practiced at this process, I would spent a lot more time practicing on my test figure.

Sk wip freehand2

So that is my little bit of insight into my painting process for ReaperCon Sophie 2018. As of the date of upload of this blog, she is available on the Reaper website for purchase along with some of the other convention figures, but they are limited release figures that will only be available for a brief time. So if you want to try your hand at painting this lovely figure (and it was fun to paint despite the deadline issues!), go grab one now!

Other figures featured in this post –

Sir Malcolm, Templar Lightbringing (also available in metal): https://www.reapermini.com/search/malcolm/latest/77423
Pre-cast resin base of forgotten origin.