Can I See the Light (to Paint)

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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.

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 2

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

In my last post, I outlined some of my thoughts as I started to paint the classic Werner Klocke figure Tara the Silent, with the aim of sharing how how I spot problems during the painting process and try to come up with possible solutions.

I ended the painting session with the figure as seen below. The light is imagined to be coming from above and to the right in the front view photo. I had settled on the colours for the skin and cloth areas and finished painting those areas, but when I looked it over the next day, there was something I wasn’t quite happy about with how I had painted it. This issue relates just to the skin and/or cloth, the other areas of the figure are just flat basecoats, and are going to be changed to different colours.

Tara - WIP blue clothAt the end of the paint session where I switched the cloth colour from green to blue.

When I looked at the figure the next day, I felt like the highlighting on the front of the legs stood out more strongly in comparison to the other areas of the cloth or the skin. I was unhappy with that for two reasons. One is that I was not intending the thigh/knee area of the figure to be a major focal point for the viewer. The other is that it does not evoke the imagined light source very well. If the light is coming from above and to the right, the right side of the face and torso should be more strongly lit than lower areas of the body. 

I debated whether to just leave things as they were until I was further along in the painting process. It is always challenging to accurately judge elements like value contrast while areas of the figure are incomplete. Our perception of colours and values is heavily influenced by the colours and values around them. (This is particularly true when you use a strong value primer like white or black.) I find I always need to tweak a few things at the end, so often it’s more efficient to wait to address things like this until that stage. If you scroll down and look at a later stage picture, you can see that in fact the value contrast on the cloth overall seems much more muted once the lighter value areas like the trim on the shirt and the non-metallic metal areas are added.

But the lighting being off nagged at me, so I decided to address it before I continued painting other areas. I reduced the brighter highlights on the legs to confine them to a smaller area, and also painted in more midtones and shadows in the front of the legs. I then increased the brightness and the overall area of the highlights on the chest and shoulder.

Tara - WIP blue cloth with adjusted highlights and shadowsNot perfect, but I like it better.

Finally it was time to move on to making more colour choices. Since I was going with an overall darker colour scheme, I decided to go for a somewhat worn leather texture. I’ll be going over this type of contrast in a lot more detail in the future, but it is usually most visually effective to have a strong value difference between adjacent areas on a figure. (An example would be dark skin next to a light value shirt, next to a medium value skirt.) Sometimes that isn’t possible to do, whether because of your concept for the figure, or just having too many areas that are adjacent to one another. When adjacent areas are similar in value, it is important to create contrast between them in other ways. Colour contrast is usually what people will think of first, and I did use that here, picking orangey browns to contrast with the blue cloth. But using different kinds of textures is also a handy tool in that situation. (Note that smoothness like cloth is also a texture, and that there are different kinds of smooth – from dull like wool to shiny like satin.) 

Tara front WIP - main colour scheme establishedMuch more of a classic rogue look now. But maybe she blends into the background a little TOO much for a visually striking miniature paint job?

Tara back WIP - main colour scheme establishedAnd what the colour choices look like on the back view. This is a Klockenbooty figure, the back view is important. ;->

I definitely felt like she was looking like more of a classic blend into the background type of rogue. Almost a little too much so in the sense that I felt my paint job was very dull to look at. That was another problem to work out – what was missing or not quite working? One feeling I had was that it lacked colour complexity. In this case, I decided I would leave making a judgement on that until the end stage clean up. My touch up phase always includes some glazing and colour shifting to add interest and depth. 

Based on conversations I’ve had with people who are frustrated with their painting, I think this is one of those points where frustrated painters would have given up – just stopped painting, or even stripped the paint off the figure and started again. The thing about miniature painting is that you can’t always assess whether everything is working in the middle of the process. Expecting the areas you think you’ve finished AND the miniature as a whole to look good throughout the entire painting process is unrealistic. If you’re thinking like that, your mindset is more the cause of your frustration than your painting skills. What you need to do is push yourself to paint through these points and get several miniatures to the point of completion and THEN critique those figures as overall pieces to get a sense of areas where you’re weaker and need to work to improve. This is also true of many effects within the process – a lot of things don’t look good until you’re done or at least 90% done. (Examples include non-metallic metal, transparent cloth, and numerous others.)

So even though I wasn’t super enthused about the figure at this point, I proceeded onwards with the details – the trim and lacing on the top, the string on the crossbow, the arrow fletching, some decorative gold NMM, and some steel NMM areas, and then of course the hair. The hair is a fairly sizeable area of the figure, not a smaller detail, but I generally prefer to leave painting hair until a later stage as the top of the head is more likely than other parts of the figure to experience paint getting rubbed off while holding it in order to reach to paint other areas. I usually paint weapons extended in hands near the end for a similar reason. Affixing the miniature to a holder really helps minimize these kinds of rub-off issues, but I’m just in the habit of painting hair near the end now.

Tara front WIP - details and hair paintedSince many of the detail areas include lighter value colours, adding them in helps move the eye around and breaks up the dullness of the main colour scheme choices.

As I started to paint in the details, I felt the figure was already looking less dull. Why is that? I think it’s because the major areas of the figure that I had worked on (skin, cloth, leather) are all in the dark to mid sections of the value range. They are also fairly matte textures, so the range from highlights to shadows doesn’t include very many areas of light values. The trim is a lighter value, and so are the midtone and highlight colours of the non-metallic steel and gold areas. Those small pops of lighter value colours help keep your eye more engaged and moving around the figure.

Although I was resolved to leave addressing most problems until the final touch up stage, that doesn’t mean I didn’t touch anything already painted. If I have paint on my palette that fits in with other areas of the figure, I’ll often add some glazes or do other touchups. During this phase of painting Tara, I added a bit more texture and highlighting to the leather, touched up the highlights on the face a little, and added some touches of brown to the rock she’s standing on.

When I reached the point of feeling I was pretty much finished, I took a few quick photos and edited those the same way I would my final photos. I find it is helpful to check photos before I go to the final touch up stage. It usually saves time. There is almost always at least one thing that looks odd in the photos that I don’t notice looking at it in person, even wearing a magnifying visor. As another opportunity for you to exercise your artist’s eye, I’m going to share my final check stage photos here. I’m sharing at a decent size. In practice I actually look at the photos heavily magnified so I can see all the issues and goofs as well as possible. Though it is also important to look at them at a smaller size to get more of a sense of how the colours and values work on the figure as a whole. I do want to find the problems with details, but I don’t want to get lost in the details and miss the big picture!

I tend to find my touch up issues fall into a few main categories. I write out the issues I spot on a piece of paper I can take with me to my painting so I don’t forget anything while I’m doing my touch up painting.

Final details: There are a few details I often leave until this stage so I can use the paint colours from those in my touch-ups.

Neatness: stray brush strokes, lining that has gotten fuzzy, or edges that need more highlights.

Blending issues: places that should look smooth but where I see transition lines, or perhaps areas of texture that don’t look as textured as they should.

Value problems: Areas that need stronger contrast between highlights and shadows.

Colour: colours that look a little dull, areas where colour is more uniform than it should be. (Skin is not uniform in colour tone, metal reflects surrounding colours, etc.)

In addition to these pictures, you can also study the face view shown above, it was taken at the same time as these final check photos.

Tara front WIP final check

Tara right WIP final check

Tara back WIP final check

Tara left WIP final check

Did you spot where I went wrong in the first set of photos? Are you ready to scour my final check photos above for errors and issues? I’ll share my checklist of issues to fix in the final chapter of this series on problem solving in a few days. I’ll also share the completed photos, and some thoughts and critique of the paint job as a whole now that I’ve had some time to reflect on it.

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

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent – Part One

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Oftentimes I talk about painting figures in terms of planning in advance – working out the direction of your light source with reference photos of value painting, for example. But that’s not always how we paint, and even for those who do plan a lot in advance, sometimes the plan doesn’t work as anticipated and you encounter problems along the waythat you need to figure out how to solve.

I think the ability to critically analyze the issues with your painting of a figure and come up with possible ways to address those is one of the things that separates intermediate level painters from top level painters. It’s a similar skill to what you would use to try to create a new effect like a particular kind of cloth texture or something along those lines –  analyze a particular visual effect,  try a method to try to reproduce it, analyze the result, and adjust. A critical eye and problem solving are useful skills to develop for a number of different purposes in miniature painting or any other art form.

So I thought it might be helpful for me to try to share some of my own experiences doing this. To really help people learn to paint, I think we need to learn to help them have more insight into the thought process behind decisions and corrections. That kind of information can be just as useful as step by step information on techniques or colour schemes. It’s the paint equivalent of teaching you how to fish rather than giving you a fish. ;->

Tara the Silent is an iconic Reaper Miniatures character that there have been a few different sculpts of over the years. I’ve even painted one before! (And then I painted her again, where she provided a good example of ways to paint with more contrast.) Reaper has reproduced the classic Werner Klocke version in their new Bones Black plastic material as the promotional miniature for the month of May 2019, and I was asked to paint the catalogue version of that figure. 

My initial concept idea was to paint her up as more of a scout type rogue than a classic thief sort of rogue. I also wanted to paint her skin tone using some of the colours that paint maven Anne Foerster talked about on a recent episode of Reaper Toolbox. (Jump to minute 11 if you want to get straight to the paint talk.) In this case a somewhat darker skin tone, using Ruddy Flesh as the midtone. To work with that, my first thought was to paint the cloth khaki green, and the main leather a dark reddish brown, with a very dark brown for the hair and other leather accents. My idea was to paint her as more of an army scout type rogue than the classic skulk in the dark type thief. When I sat down to begin painting her, I quickly roughed in that colour scheme.

Tara - block in of green colour schemeA cell phone pic of my initial quick colour scheme idea. I don’t know the trick of taking nice cell phone WIP pics. 

I wasn’t that happy with this test colour scheme, and the art director at Reaper wasn’t, either. One issue is that, as it stands, it has much more of a ranger than a rogue feel. It’s always a bit hard to tell for me on plain mid-tone basecoats, but I don’t think there was a large enough value difference between the main areas of the figure, and the colours weren’t dark enough to convey more of a rogue vibe.

Tara - green colour scheme, painted skinSince I was on a deadline, I went forward with my plan for the skin and painted that up while pondering another direction for the overall colour scheme.

So I stuck with my plan for the skin, but switched to a dull darkish blue colour for the main cloth areas. (The art director also preferred that the figure be painted as if wearing a sleeveless top. As sculpted, I think you could paint it as either sleeved or sleeveless, whichever fits the painter’s taste.)

Tara - cell phone pic of blue colour schemeI settled on a somewhat desaturated blue for more of a classic rogue feel.

We both felt much happier with where that was going. So that is one example of problem solving. If you try something and you don’t love it, study and try to figure out what you don’t love. A lot of these kinds of things, there’s not going to be one perfect correct answer. I think I could have made tweaks to the original colour scheme to make it work better. For example, I think I might have been able to rescue my original scout concept by making both the khaki clothing and the red-brown leather darker value versions of those colours. Or I could have evoked more of a classic rogue feel with black, dark brown, dark purple, or several other ‘shadowy’ colours on the cloth, blue isn’t the only colour that would have worked. (And ideally I might have done the step of working out the colour scheme on paper or on a test figure, but sometimes the real world is far from ideal.)

Tara - work in progress 2 frontA better quality picture of the change to blue cloth for the colour scheme.

Tara WIP 2 back viewAnd what the blue looked like on the back view. At this point only the skin and cloth are the new colour scheme.

While I was happier with the main colour choice, when I came back to look at the figure the next day, I felt that something was a little off about the execution of the painting. Since it’s often easier to do this kind of analysis on someone else’s work, I’m going to end this post at this stage of the painting process and give you a chance to study the photos for a while and see if anything seems off to you. It’s always harder to tell when the painting is mid-process and doesn’t have all the main values laid in. But it’s still a useful opportunity to give you a chance to build your eye a little. It may also be helpful to note that I wasn’t using a reference photo, but my visualization for the light source is that it is coming from above and to the right in the front view pictures. I’m also not locked in to any of the other colour choices, so this relates only to the finished areas of the skin and/or the cloth.

I suspect that many of you will find additional issues to the one that was bothering me, so this is not necessarily a one right answer question!