How to Mix and Test Washes

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In my last post I discussed the idea of shifting your thinking and asking different questions to find ways to help you improve your own painting experience and results.

The question of how much water to add to your paint is a great example of conducting tests and experiments to be able to answer a painting question. The correct dilution of paint for various tasks like a wash or a glaze is a vexing issue for many painters. What ratio of water to add to a drop of paint to make a wash/glaze/etc. is a very common question that experienced painters are asked. The usual answers are:

It depends.

3 drops water to 1 drop paint for a wash (or similar specifics.)

People expect answers like the second one. They think that there is a formula, and they just need to learn what the formula is to experience better results and less frustration in their painting:

1 drop paint + 4 drops water = wash
1 drop paint + 1 drop water = layer

If you aren’t very familiar with paint that’s a natural expectation, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. There are variations in paint opacity between manufacturers, and much more critically, there are variations in paint opacity between colours. Almost all yellow or magenta paints are very transparent, whereas darker black or brown paints are much more opaque, and paints with a lot of white in them are more opaque. Even within those broad colour categories there will be differences of opacity and transparency, as we’ll explore below with an assortment of black paints.

You may have already noticed some of these tendencies yourself, perhaps becoming frustrated at how many coats it takes to paint an opaque base coat with some of your paints compared to others. That is the start of learning your materials and making observations! Make notes on your observations when you use new colours or ones you don’t use as often so you won’t forget. If you have paint left over after your session, you can use it to test dilution or study how colours mix together and learn a little more from something you were only going to throw out.

Following are some photos of some tests I did with a few colours. I chose one paint from each brand I own. You can see the tested paints below. The Kimera bottle has the paint name on the back instead of the front. It is called Magenta.

Dilution paints colour

I put the paints out on a piece of palette paper. One pool straight from the bottle/pot, and then one drop mixed with one drop of water.

Dilution palette colour

I painted stripes of each paint onto a piece of paper with text printed on it. Using the paint straight from the bottle/pot allowed me to observe the viscosity of the paint, so I could judge whether it was fluid enough to use straight from the container, or might need a little water added to avoid creating texture when applied. It also demonstrated what is called the mass tone of the paint – the paint’s colour at full strength.

Mixing a little water into the paint allowed me to make additional observations. A lot of darker colours can look pretty similar in mass tone. You often need to thin them down with water or add a little white paint to get a more accurate idea of their true colour. Thinning the paints reveals what is called the undertone. The purple and magenta on the far right both look much more vibrant when thinned down with water and painted out than they did as drops on my palette straight from the bottle.

Dilution swatch colour1 crTop row: One drop of paint diluted with one drop of water.
Bottom row: Paint straight from the container.

Adding water increases the transparency of the paint. But you can see that the degree of that effect is not universal. One drop of water had a much stronger effect on the green paint than the others. It’s pretty much wash consistency already.

I have a lot of general knowledge related to colour and pigments, so I wasn’t too surprised at the results, but it’s still helpful to me to do testing with my actual materials and not rely on theory alone. The transparency of the green with water added surprised me a little. I am sure that other greens from that brand, or similar greens from other brands, might not act the same way, since they will have been mixed from different pigments.

I was lazy and didn’t clean up my desk immediately after, but that ended up being a happy accident. The next day I saw some interesting results in the dried paints. Some of the paints mixed with water had dried surprisingly shiny, and one had a lot of cracking in the wash. I would have to do additional tests to see whether either thing would have any effect when actually used for miniature applications, but it was a graphic reminder that there are also differences in the base formulations of every acrylic paint, as well as differences between pigments. (My guess on the shiny ones is that they had deeper pools and the matting agent sunk to the bottom. You can read more about the characteristics of paint.)

Dilution palette colour dryThe thinned and undiluted paints from my test after drying on the palette paper.

The fact that you can’t follow a standard formula like add 3 drops of water to make a wash doesn’t mean that there are no guidelines for deciding how much to dilute your washes. What you need to do is shift your thinking. What questions could you ask or what tests could you do to find out what you need to know. To my mind the formula for diluting paint looks more like this:

1 drop paint + X drops water = wash consistency

You are looking for the answer to X, and the people who tell you ‘it depends’ are right. The answer for X isn’t fixed, it depends on the characteristics of the paint you are diluting. The first step to solving for X is to understand your desired solution as well as possible. What is wash consistency? It’s a paint mix that is transparent enough to tint underlying paint, but with enough colour/opacity that the colour builds up where it pools in sculpted recesses on your miniature.

So how could you solve for X? You could brainstorm possible ways to test the consistency of your washes, and then try them out to see which works best for you. And the great thing is, there isn’t necessarily only one right answer! If you’ve painted enough to have an idea of the consistency you like in a wash, I invite you to pause reading for a moment and think about ways you could check your paint mixes to see if they match your desired consistency before scrolling down and reading my suggestions.

One way to check your wash dilution is to study the paint behaves on your palette. I often use a welled palette. I can assess paint dilution and consistency by pulling a stroke of paint up the side of a palette well and then observing it. How much of the underlying white surface can I see? How long does it take the paint from the stroke to fall back down into the main pool?

On a flat palette like a wet palette, painters might move the paint around a bit with the tip of their brush and assess how strongly or weakly the paint covers the palette surface. They may also consider other properties, like consistency. It’s pretty common for painters to compare how paint behaves on the brush to other liquids, like you might want to mix paint equivalent to a cream consistency for a basecoat, and to more of a skim milk consistency for a wash. Judging by consistency can work well if you always use the same paint brand and diluent. However, different paints have different consistencies out of the bottle. Water and mediums are equally transparent but differ in consistency. Water is a very fluid diluent, but matte medium or glaze medium are more viscous.

Over years of teaching people miniature painting and trying to come up with a simple but still accurate answer to that question, I finally figured out a way to visually test the paint. I use a piece of paper printed with text. I paint stripes of a paint mix on the paper to assess whether it seems like it is the correct transparency/opacity for my paint task. I am judging the visual appearance of the paint, so it doesn’t matter if I use a paint or diluent that is more fluid or more viscous. (Ben Komets came up with a very similar answer to the question with his Dilution Helper strips.)

You can see me demonstrate mixing and testing a wash in this video, where I also performed more dilution experiments on a selection of black paints. I gathered up nine black paints to test.

Dilution paints black

I painted swatches of each paint straight from the bottle, and then swatches of one drop of each paint mixed with two drops of water.

Dilution swatches black corrected2 crTop row: One drop of paint diluted with two drops of water.
Bottom row: Paint straight from the container.

As you can see from the diluted paint swatches, the opacity of the paints differs a fair bit. Paints that all looked pretty similar out of the bottle look different in a 2:1 mix of water to paint. Some of those paints are ready to use for washes, others would need to have more water added. The diluted paints also demonstrate slight differences in colour, with one black being a little cooler or warmer than another. Those differences are pretty subtle in black paints, but you would find them much more noticeable with darker colour paints. 

If you find this kind of experimentation interesting, you might want to check out my show on Reaper Miniature’s Twitch channel. It airs live on Mondays at 2-4pm Central time. You can also watch on demand on Twitch, or when it is uploaded to Reaper Miniature’s YouTube channel.

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Go Beyond the Kit

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Beyond the Kit is the name of my new video live stream show on the Reaper Miniatures Twitch channel! Episodes will also be archived on Reaper Miniature’s YouTube channel. Beyond the Kit airs live on Mondays from 2-4pm Central time starting on May 24, 2021. Episodes are available for Twitch on demand viewing for two weeks, and are uploaded to YouTube a few days after airing.

Paint case openCome with me beyond the kit!

Part of the inspiration for the name is that I am the author of the current generation of Reaper Learn to Paint kits. I crammed as much information as I could fit into the kits, but there wasn’t a lot of space to talk about how to take the techniques or paint recipes from a kit or a class and make them your own. That’s the thread that will weave through many of my episode topics – how do you go beyond the kit, or the video tutorial, or beyond the tips you’ve read online and start learn how to figure things out for yourself?

The medium of video allows me to explore some of these ideas in a hands-on visual way. I’m also excited about the immediacy of exchanging ideas with viewers via the chat. I hope you’ll check out the show and see if it’s something you might enjoy. My interests in miniature painting and teaching are pretty diverse, so I expect episodes will encompass a wide range of topics of interest to different levels and types of painters.

Please be assured that there is still a lot in this vein that I want to continue to discuss right here with words, and pictures, and ideas. In fact, let’s talk about some ideas for how to move beyond the kit right now, with a few examples from my own painting experience. I’m also working on a more detailed article with an example of how to ask yourself the right questions and perform tests to get the information you need to improve your painting experience.

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I think many of us approach miniature painting in a similar way to something like cooking. We start with some basic instruction and simple recipes, like one of the Learn to Paint kits or similar instructions from a friend/video. As time goes by, we see something that looks tasty, and we try to get our hands on the recipe to try it ourselves. What technique did the artist use? What exact paint colours and brushes? We gather up as much of that information as we can, and try to replicate their results. We memorize the recipes we like the most or find the easiest to make, perhaps customizing a little by swapping an ingredient or two.

There’s another level of cooking. The kind that generates new recipes or reverse engineers how to make your favourite restaurant dishes. These cooks learn general principles of how best to prepare various ingredients, and which flavour profiles pair together nicely. They have a foundation of knowledge to help guide their efforts, but they still have to experiment to successfully recombine ingredients together and create new recipes. Undoubtedly a lot of those experiments fail. Some spectacularly, some in more mundane ways. Those that seem promising require iteration and refinement to perfect into a successful replicable recipe.

Miniature painting is kind of like cooking in this regard. Many painters look online for techniques to paint wood or marble or whatever other texture. They look for colour recipes for blond hair or red cloth. They ask for advice about the best colour to use to wash or shade this particular paint. You can learn a lot this way! I’ve looked for a lot of information like this, and I try to repay the miniature community’s knowledge bank by sharing my colour choices and other information. If you’re happy painting in this manner, that is great! That is absolutely how I cook. (At best!)

However, if you sometimes get frustrated with this approach to painting, you might want to pursuing learning a little more in depth and shifting how you think about your tools and techniques.You might want to learn more about the properties of colours and principles of colour theory instead of following the recipe of other people’s colour schemes. You might want to try to figure out for yourself how to simulate a particular kind of fabric or plastic, or explore effects from the real world or other art forms. Maybe you just want feel more confident making your own decisions about what colours to use for washes. In ways small or large, there may be ways that you want to be figure things out for yourself.

Velvet research crA few years ago I wanted to paint the texture of crushed velvet on a figure. I began by studying reference pictures of the fabric both worn as clothing and plain fabric swatches. I came up with a paint approach I thought would work, and tested it on a figure.

I think the most important step you can take to move beyond the kit is simple. And free! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That step is to reconsider your attitudes about failure and success. It’s also very helpful to try to find ways to reframe the questions you ask and figure out how to explore those answers on your own.

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Idea #1: You Can’t Out-Study Failure or Risk

Most of us spent a lot of time in school learning facts and knowledge. We may have a very study-based approach to learning. Our experience has been that if you read/watch/think about the subject enough, you’ll memorize enough facts and internalize enough ideas  to be able to pass a test, or write a great essay.

That is not how skills with a physical component work. You can’t watch videos or read articles and learn how to throw a perfect pass or handle the steering wheel of a car. You have to get out on the field or in the driver’s seat and practice. The same thing is true of miniature painting. Studying what other artists do can be very helpful, but you will make a lot more progress with a little study and a lot of painting than you will with a lot of study and a little painting.

Velvet painted crThe next step in my crushed velvet experiment was to try it on my intended figure. My first attempt is on the left, and represents several hours of applying paint. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t look quite right. I had to compare to my references and identify what was different, and then think about how to better represent what I saw in my painted version. My revised attempt is on the right. The fact that I am an experienced painter who knows how to paint textures was helpful, but it did not mean instant automatic success.

You will never be able to watch enough videos or read enough articles to ensure that the first time you try something you will get a fantastic result and know how to do that thing well every future time you try. It just doesn’t work that way. Beating yourself up for getting a poor result when you do try something new or try to push the boundaries of something you know how to do does not make you more likely to succeed in the future. It only makes you less likely to want to even try.

The way to learn a skill like miniature painting is to sit down and do it. Sometimes you’ll get great results, sometimes not so great. Success is not the outcome. Success is doing the work and trying to learn from your experiences.

I have written some additional tips about embracing failure, and also about unhelpful attitudes to try to root out of your hobby.

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Idea #2: Think Like a Scientist

Although I said you can’t study your way out of failure, be assured that the left-brain analytical skills you may have learned in school are not useless to miniature painting! They can be immensely helpful. Often you just need to reframe the way you’re thinking about things. That can involve figuring out the right questions to ask, and/or conducting tests and experiments.

One way to think like a scientist is recalibrate your mindset about trying new things and experimenting. Experiments are not pop quizzes where you pass or you fail. The results of experiments may be surprising. Often they may not be the desired results. But the nature of the results doesn’t make the scientist a success or a failure.

Whether it was a wild success or a dismal failure, the results of an experiment are always useful information. If you study the results and what you did, you will get ideas for ways to adjust the experiment and try again. Sometimes the failures can be more instructive than the successes. Sometimes the failures can even give you ideas for how to do something completely different than what you were trying to do! Viagra was initially developed as a drug to treat angina. The man who invented acrylic paint was trying to invent a glue. Your attempt to try a certain technique for smoother blending may not work well for you for that function, but maybe those streaky results would be a great technique to use apply to weathering and mud stains! 

IMG 0915Left: Some of the colour tests I did to choose the paint colours for the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit.
Right: Colour tests made during painting of the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit figures.

Even though I had been painting and teaching for a while when I wrote the first learn to paint kit, I didn’t create it by grabbing a handful of colours and slapping on paint on some randomly selected miniatures. I did test mixes of colours to see if I could get the range of colours I wanted. I carefully considered whether the figures I chose were good options for practicing the skills taught in the kit. I painted a test version of each figure to make sure that my overall colour scheme ideas worked. I did tests with paint mixes to see if the black wash for this area worked better thinned with three drops of water or with four.

I also do tests like that all the time in my own painting. I get stuff wrong and need to tweak it all the time in my own painting. It helps a lot to think of that as just part of the process. Sure, sometimes it gets annoying or takes time I don’t have. The fact that I don’t intuitively know all the answers doesn’t make me a bad artist, or a bad person, or bad in any other way. It’s just a challenge to me to find ways to figure out the answers.

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Idea #3: Ask More Questions to Find More Answers

When you work to solve problems or figure things out on your own, I think it is helpful to ask a lot of questions that are specific and detailed.

For example, say you try to paint something to match a reference photo or following someone else’s tutorial and your results don’t look the same. It’s not helpful to say ‘I hate it it looks terrible, I’m an awful painter’. It is much more helpful to look at it and say what are the differences? Where did I place light parts and dark parts in comparison to the reference? Is there a difference in the proportion of the sizes between the dark and parts and the light parts. Are my darkest areas as dark as the reference or are they darker or lighter? Is there a texture that is noticeable?

Perez nmm attempts crAfter watching the tutorial video from his Patreon, I attempted to copy the style of non-metallic metal on Arkaitz Pérez’s Uther bust. My first version (left) wasn’t terrible, but it also didn’t look quite right. I analyzed and compared my results, got some opinions from a few painting friends, and then tried again. The second version (right) is a lot closer. Feel free to test your eye and try to spot the differences.

A couple of years ago I spent some time doing some experiments and following tutorials of a couple of Spanish painters – Sergio Calvo Rubio, and Arkaitz Pérez. I am an experienced painter conversant with several different painting techniques. My first attempts in both cases were not successes. It wasn’t necessarily that my results looked terrible, but they were different from my inspiration material in ways that demonstrated I had not grasped some of the main points of the instruction. I want to emphasize this point – my goal wasn’t to get an attractive result. My goal was to understand and internalize an approach. So even though I got an attractive result with practice on the following figure, I painted that section completely over to practice again with the approach I was trying to learn.

Anushka comp crI painted this figure after taking a weekend workshop with Sergio Calvo Rubio. I wanted to practice the approach he had shown us. My first attempt (left) had an interesting worn leather look. But I had not really painted in the style from the workshop. I painted it over completely again to get the roughed in sketch version (centre), and then once I was happy with that refined it for the final version (right).

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Keep your eye on this blog and on my Twitch show Beyond the Kit for more information now how to ask questions and do experiments and tests to answer questions and expand your techniques. In the meantime, you might enjoy this suggestion for how to study a face painting tutorial. Or my video analysis of something I painted that I didn’t like.

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Miniatures in this Post

Two of the Learn to Paint kits I’ve written are available.
The Castle of Deception Female Mage is available in metal.
I believe the medieval dancing woman is out of production.
The Battleguard Golem is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Anushka, Female Fighter is available in metal. 

Many thanks to Gene Van Horne for the Bird with a Brush character and Ron Hawkins for the Beyond the Kit graphics.

Photo of woman wearing crushed velvet by Tiffany Combs on Unsplash.

Reference for How to Analyze and Solve Problems Video

Patreon supporters receive a PDF copy with high res photos!

Attention left brain painting enthusiasts! Success at artistic activities like miniature painting is not open only to those with innate skill or intuitive art sense. Critical thinking skills like analysis, devising and testing theories, and conducting tests and experiments are all tools you can use to paint a better miniature and improve your overall mini painting abilities. 

Snake badThis didn’t quite work out how I’d hoped.

Recently I painted something I wasn’t very happy with. You can see a picture above. I know that is a pretty common experience! I decided to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how you can use critical thinking skills to identify and solve painting issues and grow from mistakes instead of just beating yourself up about them. And because I’m testing some new video equipment, I also decided to do it as a video instead of written blog post!

Link to video example of using critical skills to analyze and improve figure painting.

In the video, I compared the figure I didn’t like to a couple of other figures that had similarities to try to help me identify the issues. Here’s a still picture of the main comparison figures.

Snakes bad compThe riddle of the Sphy…snakes.

After I came up with some theories about what the problem(s) could be, I got out some paints and couple of more snakes and did some tests based on my theories. In the picture below, the original snakes is in the middle and the tests of two theories are to either side.

Snakes bad testI learned some things!

The first snake I painted was a test colour scheme for a class I’m working on for Reaper Virtual Expo, which is coming up March 5-7, 2021. One of the classes I’m teaching is on scales. I ended up going with the colour scheme below for the class figure. I’ll post more about that once the class schedule comes out. Reaper Virtual Expo classes will be free! The event will also include free games, panels, paint challenges, and other activities. I hope you’ll hop online and join us.

Snake rust rve

I’ve written several articles in the past that discussed ideas of problem solving during process of painting a miniature, so if you prefer written material or want to see some more complex examples of the ideas discussed in the video, you may enjoy reading these.

Bones 5 Goblin band – evaluating and adjusting colour choices

Seated Succubus from Demonic Temptations – adapting paint application process to respond to frustrations and challenges

Problem Solving series on Tara the Silent – part one, part two, part three, part four
Part Four may be of particular interest if you enjoyed the video as it outlines factors to consider when comparing figures. 

Figures Included in this Post

The Giant Cobra is available in plastic or in metal. (The one on the largest base is metal, the others pictured are Bones plastic.)
The snakeman is in the Nagendra Swordsmen pack in plastic. Also sold individually in metal.

Succubus Too Skin Too

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

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

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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.