Succubus Too Skin Too

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I’ve been working on the skin of a second succubus from the Infernal Desires add-on of Bones 5. I asked myself what I might write about that, and two very different lines of thought came up. So I’m dividing this into two different posts.

One line of thought was a reflection on the differences in the experience between painting the skin of the first succubus and the second. You might imagine that those experiences would be pretty similar, and in a lot of ways they were. But there were also a lot of differences both in the process and in my feelings of success or frustration at various points during the process. (Pictured below are two of three succubi you can order by adding the Demonic Temptations add-on to your Bones 5 pledge. Also includes three incubi.)

Succ1 2 wip1 front 600Paint desk WIP pictures – good camera, meh lighting.

If I were writing an essay or a scholarly paper, that would be the introduction of my thesis. Then I would run through evidence and citations, and finish by summing up my conclusions. I assume blog readers are more interested in getting straight to the punch. :-> So I’m going to start with my general thoughts and then get more into the specific work-in-progress experiences that lead to them.

Here’s the TL:DR – sometimes you will find it challenging to do tasks you think you should be able to do easily. It is not helpful to beat yourself up for ‘failing’ to get the drybrushing or whatever correct in this instance. No technique, tool, or artist performs exactly the same all of the time. Instead of giving up or trying to force things, it is much more productive to try to adjust what you’re doing to increase your chance of getting a good result and/or to better enjoy the experience.

There are scores of variables that go into a painting experience – specific shapes of that figure, the brushes and paints, the weather and climate, the physical and emotional condition of the painter, I could go on and on. The main point I want to make is – we don’t consciously think about how much some of those factors can vary. We spend a lot of effort on finding the ‘right’ tools, but apart from an occasional bad brush or weird pot of paint, once we select our tools we assume they’re always pretty much the same and focus our attention on the process. If we find a process that works for us for how to put the paint on the figure, whether for a result like smooth blending or an effect like non-metallic metal (NMM), then we have learned how to do that thing and should be able to do it with relatively the same level of difficulty every time. (Or in fact believe it should get easier over time because we’re practicing so we should be getting better at it.)

Succ2 wip1 front 600Started with the legs again. But I felt like I couldn’t really judge whether the location and brightness of the highlights was correct.

In practice we find that is not always the case. Sometimes we sit down to paint and the process seems smooth and easy and the end result comes out well. Other times are a mire of failure and frustration. Most of the time is somewhere in the middle. But we’re doing everything the same! So the only variable we see is ourselves. Somehow we’re bad at this – bad at learning it, bad at doing it, just bad in some way or other. If you give a good painter their preferred tools and methods they surely have a much more uniform experience when working on familiar techniques or effects, right?

I think the only ‘bad’ thing you’re doing in this scenario is setting up a false expectation of how learning and performing a complex skill works. Absolutely the painter is a variable! But that’s not just about your ability to have learned the thing. How well rested and fed are you? Are your muscles sore from moving furniture yesterday? How much caffeine have you had lately? How’s your mood? Are you distracted with excitement over a happy event or frayed with worry over an unfortunate one? All of those things may or may not affect the end result of how what you paint looks that day, but they definitely will affect how you feel about the experience of painting.

Succ2 wip2 faceComing together a little more, but still having trouble judging value and placement of those highlights.

Then you have the question of variations in your environment. Some days the paint takes more or less time to dry. On those days you may have challenges with layering or wet blending or other techniques that require the paint to be at a certain level of wet or dry to work most successfully. People who travel to out-of-town conventions often notice the paint behaving differently since it’s a big change in environment, but there are smaller changes happening at home all the time, too.

The difference in shapes on miniatures is also not an inconsiderable variable. Painting a large relatively flat area with a smooth blending technique is going to be a lot more challenging than painting an area that is small and/or has more jagged shapes. If you’ve successfully painting NMM on jewelry, small weapons, and small armour plates but found it challenging on large flat swords or big armour plates, you’ll have experienced this. (Or the reverse with metallic paints, where they often look great on larger surfaces but don’t bring out fine detail of jewelry or filigree and such well.) The same is true for a lot of techniques and effects – some work better or worse on different kinds of texture and different sizes of area.

Succ2 wip3 face 600Blocking in all the areas and painting the hair dark helped make it much easier to see what range of values I needed and where to put them. Compare how much brighter and broader the highlights are between this and the preceding photo.

People tend to think of a line of paint as being very uniform in its properties, but paint can vary widely in how it feels, acts, and looks based on the pigments used to mix it. It’s not your imagination that it feels different to paint red versus white versus blue or whatever. (And there are many pigments of various hues, so it’s also not your imagination if this blue is easier to paint than that one.)

Succ2 wip3 front 600Different angle of the stage with blocked in values.

To me the takeaway from this is that the goal in learning should not be to expect to learn a process for something like painting skin and expect to be able to apply it the exact same way and obtain the exact same results every time. As you learn a process, learn it with the expectation that it is something that can be tweaked to adapt to conditions or the desired result. If you start painting and something about the process isn’t going well, don’t berate yourself for being ‘bad’ or grit your teeth that you have to accept it’s just going to suck this time.

Instead, think about ways to tweak and adapt the process. I think I was particularly aware of this idea in this situation because of the similarities. I was painting the same area of two very similar figures one after another. It seemed like it should have been a very similar experience. And in many ways, it was. In many other ways, it was interesting how many differences I noticed.

Succ2 wip3 top 600Bit of a closer view of the blocked in values. It’s not super rough, but it’s also not the level of smoothness I would want as an end result for this project.

One difference was how I felt about my paint colour recipe/choices. (More specifics about how I arrived at those are the other line of thought that will be in a different post.) I loved the skin colour I came up with for the first succubus. I was much less sure about the colour choices for the second. I kept going back and forth liking this but disliking that, not being sure if the value range went bright enough, etc.

Succ2 wip4 front 600For comparison, this is what it looked like after I smoothed out the transitions. (And added lining.)

My experience with how easy it was to paint those two skin colours was the reverse. While I loved the look of the first succubus skin, it felt annoying to paint those blends. Looking back on it, I’m not sure if there really was a big difference in the paint colour mixes. I’d have to paint the two them again the same day to really know I guess. It may just have been the case that I was out of practice with fiddly detail blending and not in the mood for it. It can be sort of zen if I get in the right frame of mind, but it’s slow and somewhat tedious and I suspect I would have been happier doing a quicker but more imperfect kind of painting on those days. (So switching to a different project or task is another way to adapt to circumstances!)

The experience of painting the skin on the second succubus felt much less onerous. But just the act of painting at all was a little challenging. I have been very fortunate in a lot of ways during this time of isolation, but I have days where I have a lot of trouble focusing on anything to any depth and for any length of time. I had a couple of days like that while working on the second succubus. I had to figure out what kind of video/audio I could listen to that would work to keep the unfocused part of my mind distracted enough to keep my butt in the chair.

Succ2 wip4 face 600Another view of the skin finished and with lining.

I’m taking the time to comment on my emotional response to painting the figures because it can help to remember that our feelings about the process of creating something can have a big impact in our feelings about that thing overall. You might feel more attached to something you’ve struggled over and judge it with a kinder eye. Or you might be so frustrated by something that felt like a chore to paint that nothing about it seems right to you. A viewer with no emotional attachment might look at those two figures and see not a great deal of difference in the painting skill demonstrated on them, but to you they can look very different. (This is one reason why it is so hard to accurately critique our own work!)

I used a pretty similar process to paint both – the layering technique using a lot of small steps between values of shadows and highlights with paint only slightly thinned from out of the bottle consistency. I used similar brush handling to make the smooth blends – stippling tiny amounts of paint of intervening values along visible transition lines. But I found myself making changes to how and where I applied that paint with those brushstrokes between the two figures. There were enough variables between them that it made sense to make some changes to my process to maximize my chances of success.

Succ2 wip4 back 600Finished skin, back view.

I started off painting the darker skin succubus in a similar way to the pale one. I started with the legs. Legs (and arms) are fairly simple structures, so they’re often a simpler surface to paint in terms of figuring out where the highlight and shadow areas would be located. They’re also less detailed, so if I had the colours wrong and needed to paint several more coats until I was happy with the colour selection, there was no danger of filling in detail as there might be with a face or hands. 

But I found myself feeling like I was unable to make good judgements of the paint on the first leg. Darker colours, including darker skin, generally require smaller and sharper highlights to keep the surface appearing dark overall. I started that way with the first leg, and I felt like the small highlights did not convey the form very well. An additional problem is that I was having trouble judging my value range. Were the highlights bright enough? It’s always hard to be completely sure on a partially painted miniature (another argument in favour of the sketching approach to painting), but I felt much less sure than I had with the pale skin version.

Succ2 wip4 left 600Finished skin, left view.

What form is and what we do with paint to create/enhance it is very much a topic for its own post. For now here’s a brief definition: Form is the three dimensional shape of an object. So in the case of the thigh, the general form is a cylinder. Bringing out the form of a cylinder involves painting shadow where it recedes (or you want it to appear to recede) from the viewer, and highlights where you want it to appear closest to the viewer. (As well as in a way that reflects the imagined lighting scenario.) And then within that general concept bringing out the forms of smaller muscle groups that are part of the thigh in a similar fashion. Basically I felt like the way I was painting didn’t really show the viewer the shape the thigh had been sculpted.

When I sat down to paint again I thought it might be helpful to shift my approach a little. I would take more of a sketch approach. I applied shadows and highlights over the entire body, but painted them in a looser way. The aim was to get the values placed approximately where I wanted them, but not stress the blending. (Which was the complete opposite to the pale skin succubus where I stressed the blending through the entire skin painting process!) I found that the lighter area of primer on the hair was a distraction so I painted it over with a dark value of paint. I might end up changing my mind on the actual colour of the hair, but having the intended dark value painted there was very helpful to being better able to assess the shadows and highlights on the skin.

Succ2 wip4 right 600Finished skin, right view.

Once everything was roughed in I could take a step back and assess the overall effect. Did the value range of dark to light seem sufficient and attractive? Did the placement of areas of light and areas of dark look good? Only once I could answer yes to those questions did it seem reasonable to spend the time and effort to create super smooth blends.

Since I would be working over a few days I once again used the palette and paint keeping process described in the previous succubus post. I used a similar number of layer step mixes. With this figure, I did use all of the shadow mixes, with only the very darkest being for lining.

Succ2 skin palettePalette of layer mixes used to paint the skin. Brightest pink in the top row used very sparingly. 

Skin base colour: 9602 Bruised Purple (this colour is not currently available, but can be ordered through a Bones 5 late pledge)
Skin shadow colours: 9307 Red Liner, 9066 Blue Liner
Skin highlight colours: 9283 Old West Rose, 9503 Sinspawn Pink

Now I just have to figure out how to paint the skin of the third succubus…

If you’d like to try your hand at these figures, join in the Bones 5 pledge manager and pick the Demonic Temptations add-on, which includes three succubi and a trio of incubi.

Problem Solving: Succubus Skin

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

I’m working on painting the succubi and incubi in the Demonic Temptations add-on from the Bones 5 Kickstarter (late pledges available). Since painting great looking skin can be a challenge in miniature painting, I thought I’d share some of my progress and process.

Succ1 wip camcomp face full wm

The photos above are of the same figure at the same stage of painting. Each picture was taken with a different camera. I’m experimenting with ways to take progress photos at my paint desk as it’s not always possible to use my photo station. These photos are using just my painting lamp. The one on the left is with my good quality camera, the one on the right is with an iPhone X. I will probably write a later post about taking WIP paint desk photos and share more camera comparison pics.

I consulted with Reaper’s art director and the sculptor of these figures (the wonderful Gene Van Horne) for how to approach the skin on these figures. We agreed on more supernatural colour choices. Which is fun, but also covers a lot of ground! I had in mind to do different skin tones for each, incorporating sunset colours like peaches, magentas, and purples, at least for the succubi. I tested several different options, as you can see from the photo below. (The pirate’s vest and head kerchief are two more options. I’d worked on him a bit as a warm-up and decided he could handle being a more colourful pirate.)

Succ skin tests 1000 wm

Vibrant orange and magenta paint colours are often transparent. It’s just a property of the pigments that create those colours. I’m getting a later start on this project than I had hoped, so part of my testing was to try to eliminate colour schemes that would be unforgiving to touch up or would take a really long time to paint. 

Pirate test

In the end I decided to start with a fair skin option and went with the colours I tested on the pirate’s vest. (The black leather is a colour I tested to use on the succubus’ skirt.) These were fairly opaque (and just the purples rather than oranges and magentas), but the colours turned out to be a little fussy to blend. On the palette below you can see the colour steps I mixed to paint the skin with the layering technique. The darkest two or three were really only used for lining the edges where an area of skin meets another limb or a different object, and for lining in between toes and fingers. I’ve discussed a bit about why lining is a powerful technique and how I paint lining in previous posts. Insufficient lining is a common issue for contest entries that I judge at ReaperCon.

Succ1 palette 1000 wm

You can see from the above colour mixes that there is a wide range of contrast within the skin. Although I was aiming for something on the paler side, there are areas of the body that would appear to be in deep shadow. So that’s an example of what teachers and judges mean when we talk about needing more contrast or going deeper with shadows! (Go to the Home page and scroll down to the Painting Contrast on Miniature Figures section for links to all my previous articles about contrast.)

Just a quick note on my palette and the sponges before I get to more work-in-progress pictures. That is a ceramic palette, the same one that Anne Foerster (designer of the Reaper paint lines) uses on her free Reaper Toolbox Pro Tips videos. I bought several of these from Cheap Joe’s. I have seen a similar palette (and another similar palette) on Amazon for a higher cost. The wells are fairly small, so pools of paint evaporate more slowly than on a flat surface (or a shallow pool of paint in a larger well). When using a welled palette, I am able to control the dilution of the paint pretty precisely. Some water evaporates over time as I’m painting, so I occasionally need to stop and add a drop of water to the paint, or add paint if the pool is getting shallow. I use the sponges to keep the paint workable over several days. I add water to the sponges once or twice a day until they are not quite dripping wet. In between painting sessions I cover the paint wells with the sponges. While I’m painting, if I’m working primarily with shadows, I’ll cover the highlights area with a sponge and vice versa to minimize evaporation.

I usually need to add a little water before I begin to paint the next day, but this method keeps the paint better for me than a wet palette. I do use often use a wet palette for easy mixing and to keep paint in good shape during a painting session, but I rarely use paint on it the next day for anything other than small touch ups. The welled palette approach does use more paint than the wet palette approach, even with conserving paint over several days, but that can be an acceptable trade-off if you need to control the mix colour and/or dilution of the paint very precisely. Welled palettes are also great to have around to mix watery washes and glazes that can make a mess on a wet palette.

Succ1 wip1 face 600

The first day I painted in the afternoon and evening. I started with one of the legs. I’m a little bit out of the habit of serious painting. The face is the focal point of the figure, so I wanted to paint a section that was less important first to shake off the dust. I noticed straight away that the blending was much fiddlier than I had expected, but I entertained myself with Google friend chats and audiobooks and just settled into it.

Later in the evening I finished the legs and thought to myself why don’t I paint the face and chest while the paint mixes are still on the fresher side? I finished those areas and took the above picture. So in my mind as I cleaned up following my paint session, I had painted the face and the chest area and just had the arms and torso to go in another paint session. I looked at the figure now and then the rest of the night and the next morning in regular lighting, and I realized wasn’t happy with it. The legs looked good, but the face did not at all stand out on the shelf, and the facial expression wasn’t what I had hoped to achieve. 

This is not an unusual experience for me. At least it’s pretty common now. Time was, when I called something done, it was done, and I wouldn’t really study it or return to it unless I had an errant paint stroke or something else like that to fix. Sometimes we do have to call things done and move on rather than fussing over something forever, but a key element to improving in our work is also to look at an in-progress piece when we’re not seated at a brightly-lit desk working on it and see how we think it’s going. You have to give your eyes and your critical judgement skills time to see if there’s a problem, and then do the work of figuring out a solution. It’s very helpful to do that assessment when you’re not in the middle of working on it and in different lighting, and to do that looking at the figure as a whole, not just the part you’re working on at the moment.

Succ1 wip2 face 600

After a little thought I realized that the issue with the face as originally painted is that it was overall much too dark. The lighter areas that had a bit of a ‘glow’ were what I liked about the test paint of the vest on the pirate. I had a bit of that effect going on the legs, but very little on the chest and face. And that’s in addition to the fact that it’s usually very visually effective to paint the face and upper portion of the torso lighter than lower areas of the body on a figure. It helps draw the viewer’s eye to focus on the face. I will often start the skin of a face a step or two lighter than the rest of the figure for that reason, and I would have saved myself a little trouble if I had done that here.

I started my next painting session by painting over all the non-shadowed areas of the face with a colour two steps lighter in value and redoing the highlights and shadows on those areas. I went lighter in value and wider in surface area with my highlights and softer with the shadows on the lit areas of both the face and chest. I de-emphasized the nasolabial fold and emphasized the eyelids to shift the expression to fit the character of the sculpt better as well. 

Succ1 wip comp face full wmHere’s a side by side in case that makes the differences easier to see.

So why did I mess up in the first place? As I mentioned, I haven’t been painting very regularly for a fair while now. I did a bit of painting warm up before starting on these figures, but it was mostly on animal miniatures, so maybe not that great of a choice for a warm-up to painting a lot of skin! I also worked on the face later at night after I’d been painting for hours. I was tired, and I wasn’t putting a lot of deliberate thought into my choices, I was just focused on perfecting all those touchy blends. I should either have called it a night before working on the face, or found a less critical task to work on if I wanted to get more work time in. Either way, it’s nothing to beat myself up about. The important thing is that I listened to the voice telling me something wasn’t quite right and I tried something to fix the problem. Whatever level you’re painting at, you have a lot to remember and try to perform well when painting a figure. It’s not helpful to feel down about yourself if you goof something up!

Succ1 wip comp left full wm

Here’s a view from another angle. There’s a bit of lighting difference between the photos. I didn’t repaint anything on the legs, I think the light was just in a different location for the second photo. You can see that the revised face is a lot more visible and expressive even from this partially obscured side angle.

About the paint colours… I’m happy to share the recipe, but unfortunately the key paints are all out of production/special promotion paint colours. Sorry about that! These are all Reaper paints. The ones in italics are not currently available for purchase.

Midtone/base colour: 1:1 9679 Drow Nipple Pink : 61118 GREL Flesh
Shadows: Drow Nipple Pink, then 9602 Bruised Purple, mixed with 9307 Red Shadow for deepest shadows
Highlights: GREL Flesh, then 9282 Maggot White, with a bit of Pure White for the brightest highlights on the face

Figures in this Post

The work-in-progress succubus figure is not currently for sale. It’s available for preorder as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter late pledge. Look for the Demonic Temptations add-on.

The hellborn or tiefilng spellcaster in the test colours photo is available in plastic or in metal.

The pirate is part of the Rum & Bones game from CMON.

The spellcaster holding up an orb is available in plastic or in metal. These were repurposed from my article/video on how to paint hair.

The demoness was part of Bones Kickstarter 4. She has delivered to backers, and will be available for retail sale in late Summer or early Fall.

Can I See the Light (to Paint)

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

I’d like to share some general thoughts on how to tackle projects that are ambitious or intimidate you, as well as a few tips on painting object source lighting (OSL). These are based on my recent experience in painting the Ghost of Christmas Past. Check the end of the post for information on how to get this miniature as a free gift with purchase.

Ghost of Christmas Past with OSL effectThe Ghost of Christmas Past sculpted by Bob Ridolfi.

If this short article isn’t enough information on the subject of OSL, I will be teaching a class on object source lighting at AdeptiCon in 2020 where I will dive into it in a lot more depth. I will also be teaching classes on a quick and easy blending method, and understanding common critique terms and issues. Dozens of other terrific painters and hobbyists will be teaching classes on a wealth of topics. AdeptiCon is a great convention to attend if you want to skill up, and if you enjoy playing games with your figures. AdeptiCon passes and class and event tickets go on sale December 8, 2019. You can check out all the classes and other events by going to this link and selecting the Event List option from the left side menu.

Study and Research

When trying something outside of your comfort zone, it can be very helpful to study some video and/or text tutorials by more experienced painters. Oftentimes there are some guidelines or approaches that you just might not have thought of.

Since I teach a class on it, I had already done a fair amount of study into elements that can contribute to more successfully creating the illusion of reflected light on a miniature. And that study is why I had trepidation about painting this figure. The character in the book A Christmas Carol is described as wearing a white robe. I advise people not to use white on the clothing/hair/etc. of a figure painted with OSL. We can’t paint a glow or nimbus of light around a light source the way someone could on a two dimensional painting. So it is advisable to reserve bright white for use only on the light source, and maybe just a touch for highlights on areas of reflected light right next to the light source. 

OSL Mages ComparisonThe mage on the left was my first attempt at OSL. I studied what worked and what didn’t (almost everything) and tried to do a more effective version with the figure on the right. If I painted this figure again today there are yet more changes I would make.

Another recommendation I make for painting effective OSL is to reserve highly saturated colours for use only on the light source and the reflected light, and to use less saturated colours for the clothing and equipment of the figure. As with using white on the light source, this technique helps further the illusion that the light source is brighter and lighter than the rest of the scene. The Christmas Past miniature sculpt also includes holly leaves and berries, which are typically fairly saturated green and red in colour, so that would be a second guideline I’d be breaking to paint it.

So why did I decide to paint this figure with an OSL effect? Since I am preparing to teach a class on the subject in a few months, I was intrigued by the challenge of whether I could pull it off! If you are newer to painting OSL, I recommend that you follow the guidelines I’ve suggested for the use of white and saturated colours, at least on your first few experiments.

Plan and Experiment

Study is helpful, but a lot of us have the tendency to put off the intimidating project by burying ourselves in videos and tutorials. It is far more helpful to dive in and get some practical experience.

One way to more actively study is to look at specific figures. Pick out some that you feel do a good job of the effect or technique you’re trying, and also some that are less successful. Including your past attempts, if any. Study both groups with an analytical eye. Dissect the colour choices in detail. Evaluate where areas are lighter and darker. Try to come to some conclusions about concrete things you can do to improve your chance of success when you try.

Test colour scheme ideas on paper or on a test figure. Look up reference photos for materials and textures. Not just how other people have painted them, but looking at the materials themselves. Think about how you’d replicate that in miniature and test some of your ideas.

One of the things I do to prepare to paint a single point light source figure is to make my own reference photos for where areas will appear darker and lighter. I use a mini Maglite bulb to simulate the light source. I primed Christmas Past with Reaper’s white, black, and grey brush-on primers. This allowed me to prime areas of the miniature at roughly the same value as the colours I intended to paint them – white robe, light grey skin, black hair, and dark grey on the red and green areas. (Both colours tend to be darker than you’d think.) You could also do basecoats of your midtones and then take a reference picture to really get a good idea of how the light affects the various colours and values.

Christmas Past light referenceYou can make your own reference photos for less extreme lighting, too.

Just Do It!

The most important element is to get your butt into the chair and do it. Don’t procrastinate too long or psych yourself out of even trying. This is not life and death stuff. It’s not the end of the world if you mess up. You never have to show anyone if you don’t like how it came out. It’s just paint, and you can always paint over it and try again. Whether it’s a rousing success or not at all what you hoped for, you can study your end result to learn more to apply to your next attempt.

Problem Solving

I am trying to learn to do a better job of finding and solving problems during the painting process, and as I have with a few other figures, I will share my experience with that on the Ghost of Christmas Past.

In this first WIP picture, I’ve completed painting the skin, the hair, the base, and the accessories. (Or so I thought.) The robe and candle are still only primer.

The first thing I painted was the skin, and it was a frustrating experience. I kept feeling like it looked wrong and kinda rough. And I think that’s something that happens to a lot of people when they’re trying more advanced techniques. A lot of effects and some techniques do not really look good until the final stages. Some don’t even look right until the painting on the figure as a whole is almost finished. Non-metallic metal doesn’t really start to ‘shine’ and look good until you have your darkest and lightest values painted on. Initial passes of a texture can look rough and unconvincing. The first few stages of how I paint transparent cloth look almost silly.

Some types of painting techniques and effects start to look good pretty quickly, and you can assess whether there are issues you need to fix as you go along. Drybrushing or sidebrushing texture is an example. With many other effects, it can be very difficult to tell in the early and middle stages. When you try techniques like this, you need to take a leap of faith and follow through until the end. And then finish the figure. Only then can you take a step back and get an idea of whether or not you’ve been successful. If you try to judge and adjust a lot in the beginning and middle stages, you are making your life more difficult and might even be undoing things that would look better in the end if left as they were. 

My frustration in painting the skin was related to this. The figure I was holding was being lit by my room lights, which cast highlights and shadows on that big expanse of dress that match the zenithal lighting approach we usually use when painting miniatures. I was painting shadows and highlights on small areas of the figure to match the lighting in my reference photo. The location of those lights and shadows contradicted both years of habit for where to visualize and place light and shadow, and what my own eyes were telling me based on the room light. I had to just have faith that it would all come together as more of the miniature got painted and resist the urge to dial back or alter the effect.

Xpast wip1 front 600

In this next WIP picture, I had finally gotten colour on most of the miniature. My concern was getting everything in the right place and working on the right level of contrast within the light area and within the shadow area. If I started with trying to soften the edges I’d probably have had to do it over a few times while fiddling with one of those other aspects.

This is where I left off in painting the night before Thanksgiving. We were hosting people in our home, so I just put her up on a shelf and studied her now and then when passing through the room. I felt like things were coming together and working more than in the beginning stages, but I also felt like something just wasn’t quite right. I had to step away and then study the figure a bit more to figure out what. As eager as I was to finish since I was cutting pretty close to the deadline, the break ended up being helpful for getting a little distance and being able to solve the problem.

Christmas Past WIP 2

Late Thanksgiving night I realized what was bothering me – there wasn’t much value difference between the lit areas and the shadow areas on the far arm and skirt of the dress. If I squinted, the whole right side looked pretty much the same in value. I was trying to create the illusion that the light was much brighter closer to the source and fell off in brightness as it moved away from the source, but had I gone too far?

As you can tell from the photo below, yep, I had gone too far. There is virtually no difference in value between the light and shadow on the right side and bottom of the skirt on the left side. I had a warmer colour and a cooler colour, but they were the same value of grey, so couldn’t really create an impression of light and shadow.

Christmas Past WIP 2 in grayscaleConverting your photo to grayscale by desaturating it is a good way to check whether or not you’re actually painting the appearance of reflected light.

Since the shadow areas were already pretty dark, I felt the best remedy for the issue was to lighten up the areas reflecting the candle light. I did that over all of the sections of the figure – skin, hair, dress, and accessories.

Christmas Past WIP 3 Colour

Christmas Past WIP 3 grayscale

The final steps were to paint the buttons, candle, candle flame and candle holder, and to soften the transition edge between the areas of shadow and areas of light. Oh, and to add in the colour of the light. You might not have noticed it, but I didn’t really paint in the colour of the light as I went along. I used warm colours for the lit areas – more yellow in the greens and reds, and a tan colour for the shading of the white. I mixed a dark purple into the light area colours to create darker, cooler, and more muted colours for the various areas of the shadow side. For the shadow areas of the dress I just used pure neutral greys since I have a spectrum of those pre-mixed for easy blending, and then added the purple via a glaze at the end.

This is what everything looked like prior to painting on the light and shadow colour, painting the flame, and softening the edge transitions.

Christmas Past WIP 4

I thinned some red and yellow paint way, way, way down and painted glazes of the colours over the areas of light. I thinned down the dark purple I used in the shadow areas in the same way and painted it over the neutral grey parts of the dress to integrate them in with the rest of the shadows. I used the brightest white paint I have to paint the base of the candle flame. Here’s what the finished figure looks like on the same flat gray background I used for my WIP pictures.

Christmas Past on Grey Background

Below is a picture of the palette I used to paint the dress and glaze in the colours on the light side. The lit areas of the dress were painted with the top row of colours. The shadow areas were painted using the darker greys mostly on the bottom row of the palette. The red and yellow pools were my glaze colours. The colours in the centre of the second row were the mixes I used to soften the edges between the lit areas and the shadowed sections. (Which literally were mixes of the neutral and warm greys in various values.)

Christmas Past Palette

I used a wet palette for the majority of the painting, but I wanted to be able to preserve my paint mixes for the dress to be able to do touchups and alterations. I preserved the paint by placing almost dripping wet sponges on top of the ceramic palette when it was not in use. I’ll post more about that trick another time.

And here are a few more pictures of the completed figure, along with her compatriots from A Christmas Carol.

Christmas Past Back

Christmas Past Left

Christmas Past Right

Christmas Ghosts Front

Figures Featured in this Post

The three Christmas Ghosts are available until December 13, 2019. You can choose from one of these figures or another nine holiday options as a gift with $50 (or in other currencies) purchase from the Reaper website. For each $50 worth of your purchase(s) during the promotional period, you’ll be able to choose one of the 12 Days of Reaper figures for this year. If your purchase is over $60, you will also receive a sampler bag that includes a couple of festive paint colours, a Christmas ornament, and a few Bones miniatures. Each $40 of qualifying purchase throughout the month of December also receives a free Bones Black figure that you likewise choose from a selection of options.

The mage casting magical lightning is based on a classic piece of Larry Elmore art, and is available from Dark Sword Miniatures. I’ve used this figure in the past for my OSL classes, but this year’s class at AdeptiCon is going to mix it up and use another fun Dark Sword figure. They have a lot of miniatures that would make for great OSL practice – I had a hard time choosing the figure for this class!

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 4 – A Sisterly Comparison

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

In the previous instalments of this series (links later in the article), I walked through my work-in-progress steps of painting the figure Tara the Silent. My aim was to share the way I try to identify and solve issues during the process of painting a miniature. Progressing your painting skills has as much or more to do with improving your critical eye as it does with improving your brush and paint use skills. I think many people do not understand just how valuable it is to improve your ability to really see and analyze a figure (or other types of visual arts)! I know that I would have improved much more quickly and consistently had I been working on that as much as I focused on blending and other brush tricks.

It occurred to me that I could use Tara for one more exercise to try to help others build their critical eye. This exercise is one of comparison between two figures. Comparison can be as instructive as assessing a single work, whether that is a comparison of more recent work against older work, or comparing one artist’s interpretation of a figure against another’s. This exercise could also give you some insight to the challenges that contest judges face. You can imagine that these two figures are the final cut for a contest award, and determine which which you would choose and why. I will not share my analysis/thoughts until the section after the last picture. So if you want you can test your eye first, and then read my thoughts.

Anwyn and Tara, face viewsAnwyn the Bard is on the left, Tara the silent on the right. 

Although I have never before painted Tara, I have painted her ‘sister’, Anwyn the Bard. Reaper sculptors occasionally take a figure and do a significant conversion of it to create a different character. Werner Klocke first sculpted Tara, and then did a resculpt of the miniature to create the character of Anwyn. Even apart from the fact that the figures aren’t identical, this is more of a lemons to oranges comparison than an apples to oranges one. The colour schemes are quite different, even the cameras used to take the photos aren’t the same. But comparing like to like is pretty rare in comparison critique, and definitely rare in contest judging, so while the exercise is a little more challenging than a direct like to like comparison, it is an opportunity to practice the type of thing you’re likely to do more often.

If you’d like to review the previous instalments in this series, here are links:
Part 1: Colour scheme creation (and correction) on the fly.
Part 2: Spotting and solving conundrums of contrast.
Part 3: Giving the figure a thorough once over before calling it done.

Tara and Anwyn, front views

So what kind of factors could you look at when making a comparison? Likely the first elements that will jump out to many people relate to the colour scheme. We are very responsive to colour, and our initial reactions to colour tend to be visceral and subconscious. Building your eye requires a more conscious and critical assessment in addition to that emotional response. As a judge, I have often been a position of awarding high honours to something I might not personally ‘like’ in terms of colour selection or subject, but which is very skillfully done.

* Do the colours work together in a pleasing and effective fashion? (Depending on the subject and the intended scene, ‘effective’ may mean garish or gross colours that aren’t ‘pleasing’ in the traditional sense!)

* Does the colour scheme fit the character and the story/mood that the painter is aiming for with the figure/scene?

* What is the level of contrast between the colours of different areas, and within the shading and highlighting of individual areas? Is the level of contrast sufficient to visually separate different areas of the model and help the viewer identify what the various items on the figure are?

* What is the level of nuance and complexity in the colours? Are there subtle variations of hue within areas? Is there harmony in the shadow and highlight colours over the whole of the piece? Do the colours of the main figure(s) and the scenic element(s) work together and look like parts of a consistent whole?

Tara and Anwyn, right views

Brush skills are another key area to compare. 

* Precision of paint application, both in larger areas, and within areas for placement of sharp highlights and darklining as appropriate.

* The success of execution of details like eyes, small sculpted details, or pure painted details like freehand.

* Rendering of different surface textures – skin vs cloth vs leather vs metal vs wood vs dirt vs stone, etc. Is everything painted in a pretty similar way, or do these different textures stand out from one another in realistic and/or interesting ways?

* Consistency of rendering – is the overall level of the painting on the figure uniform? If you’ve ever wondered why something that looks fairly ‘plain’ scored higher in a contest than something with really great freehand or source lighting, consistency is often the reason. Doing an area or effect on a miniature spectacularly can fall short if the rest of the miniature is not up to a similar standard. That doesn’t mean that everything needs to have the exact same level of contrast or be super detailed! That is usually counter productive. You want to have areas of interest where the viewer focuses, and have areas that are less important fade into the background a little. But a miniature covered in detailed freehand standing on a base that’s had a quick wash and sloppy drybrush treatment isn’t as consistent as one with high quality but less flashy brushwork throughout the whole piece. 

(I will admit that consistency is an area where highly skilled artists can and have gotten away with doing things I just stated should not be done. Figures with errant brushstrokes, or areas that are barely base coated. Those of us of more modest talents are still well advised to aim for consistency as much as possible! I’ve also heard stories of people scoring lower or missing out on awards for having bits they ran out of time to paint to the standard of the rest of the figure.)

Tara and Anwyn, back views

Quality of preparation and the treatment scenic elements can make a bigger difference to a figure than it might seem. They might not jump out at first viewing the way colour and brush skills do, but they’re a critical foundation to those elements.

* Prep work – the figure itself is your ‘canvas’. No amount of brush skill can completely overcome a poorly prepared canvas. Removing mould lines is just the beginning. You may also need to fill in pock marks on surfaces meant to be smooth, accentuate textures, file or carve weapons to look a little more sharp or pointed, etc. 

* Assembly is also important. Gaps between limbs will break the illusion pretty quickly! A common issue is the attachment of the figure to the base. If the feet look like they’re floating slightly above the surface rather than firmly planted, the miniature does not look like it’s part of the scene and doesn’t look like it has weight and substance.

* It is important to paint basing materials and most vegetation type flock. It seems like you should be able to put small rocks or sand or whatever on a base and have it look like rocks and sand, right? But unpainted basing materials do not look in scale to a painted figure. They also don’t look like they’re part of the same scene lit by the same light source. Painting the elements of the base, and using colours you used on the figure in those elements makes everything look unified and more realistic.

The last comparison picture is below, so don’t scroll past it if you don’t want to read my analysis yet!

Tara and Anwyn, left views

I’ll be honest – I hesitated to post these comparison pictures. I painted Anwyn in 2006! I’ve improved in the last dozen years, but not nearly so much as I might have hoped or expected. I wish I had understood the concepts of deliberate practice and focused self-critique so much earlier than I did! (And truthfully I’m still struggling with incorporating those ideas completely into my painting process.) I worked hard to ‘get better’, but in such an unfocused and haphazard way. 

In the end I have decided to take my lumps and share this in hopes that it may help some of you get where you want to be faster and more efficiently. I know the lure of chasing the right brush, painting, blending technique, etc. is hard to resist. But it really is only half the puzzle. Training your eye to see better so you can identify specific issues in your work and iterate through working to improve them is immensely important.

The Photos!

I can’t help but be struck by the difference in the photo quality. My camera in 2006 was a $400-500 mid-range digital camera. The one I used to take photos of Tara is just a little better in quality (it’s a new technology class of camera, but it was also in the $500 range at time of purchase, so fairly comparable.) It’s now six years old and I am considering replacing it. Partly due to mechanical issues, partly in hopes of being able to add video to my repertoire. Both cameras allowed for setting white balance, f/stop, and other features useful to taking pictures of miniatures. Some of the difference is also down to my improving my photo taking set up with more lights, and use of a tripod, as well as using a grayscale card to help with editing the colours to look truer to life. I did re-edit the pictures from 2006 to try to make the comparison between photos a little fairer.

Colour Comparison

I quite like the colour scheme on Anwyn, and suspect many people will prefer it to that used on Tara. I’ve been thinking about having another go of that colour scheme for a while now, and I hope a figure it will suit presents itself soon. Tara’s colour scheme is fairly well suited to the character, but lacks a little oomph from an artistic point of view.

Although there are some nice areas of highlight on Anwyn, I think I have improved my level of contrast over time. There are much deeper shadows on Tara than on Anwyn, as well as stronger contrast between some colour areas. I think the contrast difference is most noticeable in the hair and the non-metallic metal. That said, Tara has some contrast issues and needs stronger and more small top level highlights throughout most of the figure. The level of contrast isn’t that noticeably problematic in a photo, but viewed at tabletop distance she lacks the desired level of ‘pop’.

When it comes to nuance and complexity in colour, there I feel I have made noticeable improvement. Anwyn’s colours play it straight, and that results in a bit of a plastic, artificial look. Shadows and highlights are just darker and lighter variations of the midtones. There is no added complexity of colour in the face like blush or interesting shadow colours. The lack of colour complexity/variation is particularly noticeable in the difference between the two bases. Both are pretty simple, but Tara’s seems much more ‘real’ and related to the figure, largely because of the way it’s painted more than the types of scenic elements used.

Brush Skills Comparison

I don’t think it’s particularly evident in the areas of detail in these two figures (eyes, darklining, and so on), but I am confident that my brush skills overall have improved. The end result may not be strikingly different, but at least the level of frustration and effort required to achieve it has changed!

I am much more conscious of painting different types of textures and surfaces now, and I think that is pretty evident in comparing these two figures. Every area on Anwyn is painted in the same smoothly blended fashion, with the possible exception of her hair. I was obsessed with achieving smooth blends, and I think that shows. Tara demonstrates a lot more of an understanding of different materials having different textures – rough stone, worn leather, wood grain, shiny hair, etc. The transitions on the NMM are a little more varied and better represent the way reflected light can appear than the perfect smoothness on Anwyn’s NMM.

Preparation and Scene Setting

Both of these figures are presented on very simple bases, so there’s not a huge amount to assess there. I do think that my ability to make a decent looking simple base has improved, though that may not be saying much. ;-> Anwyn’s base is very simple, and lacks a bit of variety that would make it more pleasing to look at. The flowers very much look stuck on instead of being a bit more naturally part of the rest of the foliage.

I’ve always been a bit fussy about prep, so there’s not a bit change to look at as far as that goes, either.

Conclusion

The end of the month crept up on me, so I’ve had to write this a bit more quickly than I usually prefer to do. Likely many of you will have spotted lots of issues with both of the figures or differences between them that I did not see. Feel free to share those in the comments. I am putting these figures out there to give people a chance to exercise their critique skills, so I have no problem with you tearing them apart. :->

The Bones Black plastic version of Tara was available as a promotion. It may become available again in the future. A metal version of Tara is currently available. Or you can buy a version of Tara sculpted by Sandra Garrity in metal. Anwyn the Bard is available in metal, or in classic Bones plastic.

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 3

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

At the end of Part 2  I explained how I try to take photos of a figure when I’m nearly done so I can check for issues to fix. I included my photos of this stage for Tara, inviting you to spot problems in my painting. I’ll share the two main views again now so you don’t have to flip between two blog posts.

Tara WIP final check front

Tara WIP final check backAlmost but not quite done…

Here’s the list I made of things I needed to add, alter, or fix. I just jotted things down in the order I spotted them, I didn’t go through an exhaustive checklist or anything. I will expand on/translate things from exactly as I wrote them down so they’re understandable to people who are not me, however. :-> 

* Soften the edges of the highlight on the nose, and broaden it to a wider area.

* Smooth the transitions on the cheek highlights.

* Tidy the edge of the shirt trim on the left collar point.

* Clean up the bottom edge of the top buckle.

* Glaze the leather texture.

* Smooth the highlight transitions on the arrowhead.

* Soften or increase gradation on the transition from the upper lip highlight to cheek area on both sides.

* Paint the base rim. (Hey, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious!)

* Check the murky look to the shadow under the rib on the bow side.

* Darken the skin? (The question mark was in my notes. I had intended to paint a skin on the darker side of the mid range and wasn’t sure I had succeeded.)

* Paint the lips. Add pink/red glaze to cheeks.

* Add additional bright hair highlights in small areas.

* Clean up overly-wide strand line on the back of the head.

* Tidy up chin highlight.

* Check/improve brightest highlight on the quiver.

* Clean up edge of the bottom of the quiver.

* Add dirt glaze to steel areas.

* Glaze purple into shadows of most areas, particularly skin, blue.

* Clean up the shirt trim near the neck on the shoulder pad side, looks like blue got swiped on some areas of it.

* Increase highlight on waistband of pants.

* Smooth transitions on the steel of the shoulder pad spikes.

How many did you spot? I look at these pictures full size; there may be issues that weren’t too apparent at blog-friendly size, so don’t feel too bad if you missed some.

ADDENDUM: I was asked on my Facebook page to give more detail about the glazes I used on the leather and the steel. This was my reply.

By glaze, I mean heavily thinned paint. Closer to coloured water than thin paint, really. With Reaper paints you can use just water. I often use a mix of Brush-On Sealer and water. I almost always will test a glaze to make sure it is indeed super thin and transparent, since if I get it wrong on something like the leather texture, I’ll be covering over minutes or hours of work with a couple of brushstrokes I can’t remove once they dry. I test it by painting it on to a piece of paper and checking that it just barely tints the paper once it dries.

I also use the term glaze to mean paint applied in a deliberate, controlled manner. So while it’s thin like a wash (or thinner really), I do not slop it all over like you would with a wash. I dip my brush in the paint, and then wick a lot of it off on to a paper towel. Then I apply a thin coat only where I want it to be. In the case of the steel, in crevices and other areas that aren’t going to get rubbed with use or are harder to polish. In the case of the leather, I was using it to shift the colour and tone down the appearance of the texture, so I applied it all over the leather areas.

The glaze did not texture the leather. If you look back at the previous pictures in Part 2, there was plenty of texture on the leather long before I got to the end stage touch ups. The texture was built up in layers with unthinned or only slightly thinned paint. The point of the glaze was to tone the texture down just a little, since she’s a well-kept adventurer and not a half-wild orc or something. I also used it to shift the colour to a little more orange to play up the colour complement contrast with the blue.

On the steel areas, I used a similarly thinned glaze of a dark brown colour. I keep this away from the lighter highlights. Partly because these areas are likely to be well polished and maintained, and partly because even super thin paint like a glaze painted over while will make it darker, and that’ll make the NMM less shiny.

I didn’t use the term, but some of the other places I used glazes were to add purple in the shadows of the skin and blue cloth, and to add a little bit of a blush to her cheeks.

How many did you spot? I look at these pictures full size; there may be issues that weren’t too apparent at blog-friendly size, so don’t feel too bad if you missed some.

More importantly, how many things did you spot that I missed?! On later reflection, I think I may have missed some big picture type stuff. And probably some small stuff, too. Feel free to let me have it with your critique!

Here are the pictures of the finished paint job, after I addressed the issues I outlined above.

Tara - final face

Tara - final front

Tara - final right

Tara - final back right

Tara - final back

Tara - final left

If this piece had been intended for competition, my ideal would have been to finish it some time before the deadline. I’d put it somewhere I see often so I could look at it over time. Or perhaps not look at it all for a few weeks, and then bring it out again. After some time had passed and I’d been working on other things, I’d be able to come back to this with fresh eyes. That would be especially helpful to getting a view of the overall effect of the figure, the big picture. When you’re in the thick of painting something it can be easy to spot something fiddly like improving the nose highlight, but a lot harder to step back and see the big picture effect to judge how the overall colours, values, and other contrasts are working. It is very important for a competition piece to ‘pop’ on the shelf/table, not just look amazing when you stare at details close up. Popping out viewed at a distance is what makes the judges and other viewers want to look closer to see and appreciate all the detail work. (And also what looks most effective for tabletop play!)

A metal version of Tara is currently available. Or you can buy a version of Tara sculpted by Sandra Garrity in metal.