Vex Airbrush Impressions and October Airbrush Class Signups

I got my hands on a Reaper Vex airbrush! This was part of a preview sale release at ReaperCon, but they will go back on sale on Monday, September 28, 2020. Check this page after that date.

IMG 1356

I gotta admit, it’s a sexy looking gadget. But can it possibly work as well for me as Aaron Lovejoy has claimed and demonstrated in his recent videos?

I took it for a spin to find out. I’m not a total airbrush novice, but I am the next thing to. My current airbrush is a GREX Tritium. It is a very well-made airbrush, and after an initial session or two of struggling to figure it out, I haven’t really had any problems with it. But I also haven’t really loved it enough to catch the airbrushing bug. Unless I’m painting a lot of smaller things in the same colours or painting something larger, it doesn’t seem worth dragging it out or, more particularly, cleaning it up after (and between colours). I don’t do either of those things very often.

One issue the Tritium has is I think it is more of a 1.5 action than true dual action. I’m going to have to give it a thorough cleaning and try again, but on previous attempts I was not able to get a spray of just air alone.

Mystics baddies 1000Villains from the Mice and Mystics board game. Painted in 2013. I really haven’t used my airbrush enough…

The last time I tried airbrushing with my Tritium, my compressor overheated and then I ended up not liking the colours I had picked. I started fixing it with standard brushes instead of dragging out the airbrush again. (My GREX airbrush is high quality, but I’m not so sure about my compressor… Though I have my water trap on my compressor, not on my hose as Aaron recommends, so maybe that would help.)

Rocky group 800My GREX definitely came in useful for doing base coats and initial highlights on chonky baby dragons though!

Although I’m not very practiced with airbrushes, I have learned one tip to pass along. You need to know your brush well. You need to feel comfortable taking it apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together, because that’s how you fix most problems. So for my first session trying out the new Reaper Vex, I rewatched Aaron’s demo video and sat down to do only that. I had to go back and watch a section of video again because I didn’t remember how to reassemble the trigger parts after the first watching. I shot some water through it and called it a night. Whatever brand of airbrush you have, I recommend looking for some videos of people breaking it down and putting it back together again to have for handy reference.

I had a group of figures to prime, so for my next session with the Vex I started there. Just basic grey brush-on primer. (The figures are for a project I can’t yet reveal, so no picture, sorry. Also because of the nature of the project, I couldn’t try the zenithal prime method from Aaron’s videos.) It did not go well at first. I’m not sure what I had done wrong, but it was sputtering and reluctant to spray. I poured out the primer and cleaned out the brush.

IMG 1371At the end of my first airbrushing session with the Reaper Vex. The grey blob is primer that got spilled when I knocked over one of those mixing cups.

For my second attempt I decided to try some spraying some regular paint on a Bones figure since that’s easier to clean up than primer. This went much better! I gave the primer another shot, and that went well too! The Vex is light and sleek, so it seemed less cumbersome to put down and pick up and so on for the frequent tip cleaning (required with any airbrush when using acrylic paint), moving the minis around, refilling the cup, etc. I used the last of my grey primer to do a sort of zenithal prime on the Bones mini I had practiced with earlier to practice my aim with the Vex a little more. (That figure, which is in the picture, has a darker grey overall spray and then a light grey zenithal spray, so not really true zenithal prime. I was going to paint over it anyway so it didn’t much matter about the colours.)

I only used the larger needle since I was spraying primer, I didn’t switch to the fine needle and try that. The larger needle seemed to do pretty well with more targeted spraying, as well. I will need a lot more practice before I can do the sort of detail work Aaron shows off in his video, though! Tools are only one part of that equation. I’d have to do a more thorough comparison, but I felt like it was a little easier to aim for where I was spraying than I have found it with the Tritium.

VexThe silver end needle is larger for priming and base coats, the black end needle is smaller for more detail work.

I’m excited about the possibilities for airbrushing more often and more comfortably in the future. I had expected to have more problems with the dual action trigger, because I’m not very coordinated at doing multiple things at the same time. I was also concerned about whether the classic airbrush style of trigger would be an issue with my hands. The reason I bought the pistol trigger style GREX is I have some issues with pain in my hands and fingers. (I don’t know the exact issue, my doctor poked around a bit and gave up on it.) Using this traditional trigger style airbrush was more comfortable than I had expected! I suspect I’ll have days when it will hurt my hands, but being able to use it for a few hours on a good hand day is honestly more than I had expected. 

IMG 1358The pouch is more convenient for easy access home storage than the larger Reaper case or the plastic case of my GREX. Those plastic cases are great to have for safer travel and long term storage though.

I finished up the session by taking the brush apart to clean it. I’m not fanatical, I don’t typically use airbrush cleaner, but I like to be thorough in rinsing everything out with water and wiping/scrubbing it down before putting an airbrush away if I’m not sure how long it’s going to be until I next use it. If only I had such good habits with my wet palette. ;->

There are some features I miss from my GREX. The Vex paint cup is built-in, you have to choose small or large size at purchase. The GREX paint cups screw on and I can swap between three sizes depending on the needs of my project. The chrome of the GREX is very easy to wipe paint off of, though the plastic is decidedly less so. The Vex finish is in-between. Both come with a crown cap to protect the needle. The GREX came with two styles of crown. (The bit on the front that protects the needle tip but also makes it a little harder to see when aiming for precise application.) Both attach magnetically, which is very convenient. They also magnetically attach to the back of the airbrush to store when you aren’t using them. The Vex has a reversible cap, but in both orientations you have to screw it on. The GREX also has a magnetic cap for the paint cup. The Vex has a plastic cap. The paint cup caps on either get pretty messy if you use them (and many people do not), but it’s less messy than tilting your brush and spilling paint all over. The GREX came with a printed instruction booklet that lists the part numbers of replacement parts and is very thorough in instructions for cleaning. It was still super helpful to watch videos of someone breaking down and reassembling the brush, but it’s handy to have that printed reference.

IMG 1380My GREX Tritium. A wealth of paint cups. The fitted case is nice, but only the bottom is fitted. The top is clear plastic and not snug to the contents. So for travel and storage I have to add bubble wrap padding.

Both the Vex and the GREX have a nice feature for those of us who are newer to airbrushing. You can set a ‘brake’ that limits the maximum volume/pressure of spray. If you twist the knob at the back of the brush, it limits how far you can pull back on the trigger. So if you’re doing delicate detail work you can set that to ensure you don’t shoot a really strong spray by accident. 

IMG 1359The soft case has a main pocket for the airbrush, and a second pocket for the other needle. The Vex ships with both needles. My GREX can accept multiple needle sizes, but I would have to swap out the nozzle as well as the needle every time I wanted to switch. (And buy the other size nozzle and needle.) With the Vex you just need to clean out the paint and swap the needles and you’re good to go.

Although my initial attempts went pretty well, I’m also well aware that I don’t really know what I’m doing. How do I actually get good at this? What can I use it for apart from priming and base coats? I decided the most effective way for me to learn would be to sign up for the Miniature Monthly airbrush classes in October. That will give me four sessions of instruction with a master of the airbrush and regular practice sessions that should leave me feeling a lot more comfortable using this nifty new tool. Reaper has put together packages to buy the paints and figures Aaron will use in the classes, but you can use your own paint and supplies, and any brand of airbrush.

Has anyone else picked up a Vex airbrush? How are you liking it so far? Or are any of you signed up for the Miniature Monthly classes? (They also have a cool Patreon with information on lots of different painting techniques.)

NOTE: My information about both the Vex and the GREX should be considered first impressions rather than in-depth reviews. I am not an experienced enough airbrush user right now to write quality in-depth reviews, and even if I were, I haven’t used either enough to do a true review.

Pirate Parade: Stylish Scallywags

It’s time for more pirates as we head into the final stretch of this piratical ReaperCon 2020! This group is pirates with style.

Barnabus front 450

This is one of three variants of Captain Barnabus Frost, who is one of the members of the pirate Consortium in the ReaperCon 2020 setting of Brinewind. I painted this years before the Brinewind guide was written, but I think it fits the character as described decently. Much more ruthless and cruel than you might imagine from his fine clothing and love for antiquities and historical lore.

Barnabus back 450

This version of Barnabus was sculpted by Bobby Jackson, based on concept art by Izzy “Talin” Collier. You can get the Brinewind guide as a separate purchase or part of the Brinewind Box, but only while supplies last. There is talk that it will be made available as a PDF, as well, and I’m crossing my fingers for that. The Brinewind guide includes Talin’s art of this and several other characters.

Barnabus right 450

I enjoy that this is sculpted as a character who is out to rule the seas, but look good doing it. You may notice that Barnabus above and Kalonice below have similar colour schemes – purple, teal, and red-brown. I will admit this is a favourite scheme of mine. For a few years around the time that Kalonice was painted, I had used it a lot. I had gotten out of the habit and wanted to visit with an old friend at the time I painted Barnabus.

Kalonice front 600

Every now and then even the most critical artist produces something they’re pleased with. Kalonice is one of those figures for me. She felt like a bit of a jump up in my skills at the time I painted her. She’s not perfect, and there’s plenty I’d do differently if I were painting her today, but I’m still pretty happy with her. I still use her face as my avatar picture on the Reaper forums!

Kalonice back 600

Although this looks like a simple base, it was challenging for me. How do you make broken pottery was one thing I wrestled with. I did some research on what the spilled wine would look like by pouring some juice out on our counter. As I think about it, I think I need to go back to trying to experiment with things like that and studying more from life and reference photos!

Rb pirate front 400

I don’t know the name of this character. I think he’s from the Rum & Bones board game. He has a great dynamic pose where he’s twisting his body in the motion of throwing the knives, but as is sometimes the case with dynamic poses, it’s challenging to photograph.

Rb pirate back2 400

I started painting him at the CMON Expo paint and take table a few years ago. Then I used him to test some of the colours I was thinking of using on the succubi figures. By that point I figured I might as well finish him up!

Rb pirate face 400

His colour choices are maybe a little flashy for a grunt level pirate, but I had fun!

Figures in this Post

This version of Barnabus is available in metal. There is a variant version in plastic Bones. And a newly available new envisioning in metal.
Kalonice was a licensed miniature from the Exalted line and is no longer available for purchase. 
A variant version of Kalonice is available in metal.
The Rum & Bones figure is a member of the Wellsport crew.

Pirate Parade: A Motley Crew

ReaperCon 2020 has begun! You can sign up for classes, enjoy the Twitch streams, come hang out and chat in the Discord, or start painting things to enter in the Showcase or Quad Color Clash to try to win some gift certificates.

I am getting into the pirate theme spirit by sharing some of the pirate figures I’ve painted over the years. There ended up being more than I thought!

Mousling pirate front 400

This adorable rascal is out to steal your heart and your gold!

Mousling pirate back 400

The base was made by layering a sandy texture paste over the integral base he comes on.

Dwarf pirate front 400

Some years ago I was asked to participate in the Ace of Aces charity event. Prominent painters come together for a frantic hour of speed painting, and the collection of figures is auctioned off to support the Gen Con charity of the year. The only trouble was… I hardly ever speed paint. I am a sllloooowwwwww painter. Even more so back then. Since this was for charity, I didn’t want to make too poor a showing. So I started to practice speed painting. Took me a while to get something decent in less than an hour, but I finally managed it. This dwarven pirate was one of my practice pieces. And then did double duty in our role-playing game sessions.

Dwarf pirate back 400

I’ve been working on getting more conversant with making videos to prepare for ReaperCon classes, and I was thinking that it might be interesting if I do a few videos where I take speed painted figures or older figures that I have lying around and demonstrate how I would touch them up to improve them and address issues with the paint jobs. Let me know if you think that sounds interesting!

Skeleton pirate face 600

Last up is the skeleton pirate manning a cannon. Those of you conversant with cannons probably noticed that something is a little off here…

Skeleton pirate left 600

Yep, the cannon is assembled backwards. I’d like to blame it on his being a literally brainless skeleton, but it’s the painter who is brainless. :-> This was painted for an old contest that used to run in the Wyrd Games forums, Iron Painter. 

Skeleton pirate right 600

This figure looks like another candidate for some repainting to me. The painting on the cannon is solid (it’s based on pictures of real cannons that I found), but surely there’s a way to add some interest to this super boring base, and make the skeleton look more weathered and worn. And maybe spruce up the light from the flame a little bit! (That cannon is pinned and glued, so that mistake I have to live with. :->)

ReaperCon Badge

If you have questions about any of my ReaperCon events, feel free to contact me here, or through my artist chat channel on Discord. I hope you have a great weekend!

Figures in this Post

The Mousling pirate is available as part of a three pack of metal figures.
Gruff Grimcleaver is available with a pistol in plastic, or as a pirate cook in metal
The Soulcannon is available in metal.

Pirate Parade: A Tale of Two Kits and Two Pirates

The theme for ReaperCon Online 2020 is pirates. As we start running up to the date of the festivities, I thought it might be fun if I shared pictures of the pirate figures I’ve painted over the years. There turned out to be more than I remember, so I’m breaking it up into a few different posts. Pirates ahoy, matey!

The ReaperCon Discord is already open and many of the artists are wandering by and available to answer questions in their chat channels. There’s a page with information on how to find and use the Discord.

Layer Up Pirates Front ViewWait, why two pirates? Why do they have different colour skin tones? Keep reading…

With this first post I’m starting with the pirate from the Layer Up learn to paint kit that I designed for Reaper Miniatures. This kit introduces painters to the techniques of layer and glazing, which tend to look better on smoother surfaces like cloth and skin. (The techniques covered in the Core Skills kit look great on textured surfaces like fur, chainmail, and many others.) I’m doing paint along classes for each of the Learn to Paint kits at ReaperCon 2020 online.

When I designed the learn to paint kits for Reaper, I was given some general guidelines for the quantity of products in the kits and the general approach, but I had pretty free reign. I chose to pick a set of paint colours that would work well to introduce and practice the techniques introduced in each kit, and then three figures to practice on. I painted each figure at least twice, and most of them at least three times. 

The first set of figures I painted for each kit was to test out my proposed colour schemes. I also made notes of colour mixes, water dilution, and painting tips so I could create the instructions for painting the figures in the kit. The two figures pictured in this post are some of my paint scheme test figures. Next I painted the ones for the kit itself, taking step by step pictures as appropriate. Those miniatures are in the Reaper collection. Finally I painted (or at least partially painted) each of the figures once more, this time following the instructions I wrote to test if they worked as I expected or if I’d made a miscalculation or a typo. (The instructions were also tested by several novice painters and non-painting friends of my acquaintance.)

The Core Skills paint kit did not include any red or normal human skin tone paints, so I wanted to be sure to include some of those in the Layer Up kit. The layering paint technique is well suited to painting flesh. Each of the paint kits stands alone, and you aren’t expected to use them in any particular order. But they also work together. The two kits are designed to pair together to make one mega kit with a selection of different brushes, paint colours, and techniques you can use to paint a wide array of figures after you finish the ones in the kit. 

Layer Up Test Pirates Back

So why are there two of this pirate and his booty? You can probably tell that the only significant difference between them is their skin colour. When I did the initial colour scheme test painting, I painted all three of the characters with variations on caucasian skin tones. Happily it soon occurred to me that I should include information for painting a wider range of natural human skin tones in the kit. The Bones HD paint line released around the same time as I was finishing up working on the Layer Up kit, and I was asked to include some of those paint colours in the kit. The Ebony Skin paint was close in value to the dark brown I originally tested and worked just as well in mixing, and even better for the pirate’s skin.

This incident is a pretty good example of unconscious racism. I try hard not to do or say racist things, but as a white person, and as a member of the majority group where I live, if I think of a generic person, by default I tend to them of them as being white, unless something prompts me to do otherwise. I’m not trying to exclude anyone, but if I don’t make some effort, I can end up excluding people by failing to ever include them. I don’t think that makes me a bad person, but it is something I need to work to be aware of so I can try to make better choices.

Pirates pair front bw 600

From a visual arts point of view, paint schemes like this are an interesting way to see how a colour can affect and be affected by your perception of the surrounding colours. There isn’t a huge difference between these figures since their skin tones are different values of a similar colour rather than being very different colours, but the different values in the skin colours still have some influence on how the rest of the colours appear and how the piece comes together as a whole. I think the vest and the clothing items stand out more on the figure with the darker skin. There is a greater range of values (how light or dark a colour is) in adjacent areas, which makes a figure easier to read and more visually effective. 

I previously wrote a post with a bit more detail about the importance of using different values across your figure, and it includes a few comparison examples. I’ve converted the pirate pictures to black and white so you can more easily see the value differences between the two paint schemes.

Pirates pair back bw 600

Figures Shown in this Post

Hajad the Pirate is available in plastic, and also in metal.
He is also included in the Layer Up learn to paint kit.

Quick Tips: Eyes, Triadic Colour Scheme, Cloth Patterns

Painting the Asandris Nightbloom figure sculpted by Bob Ridolfi appealed to me because she is a great representation of a low to mid level character, the type of character I’ve played most often in role-playing games! Asandris is available as one of the free bonus selections with $40 US (or equivalent) purchase from the Reaper site, or you can purchase her directly. I’m going to share a few work-in-progress pictures and some tips that would be useful to painting her or many other figures.

July blue front2 600Other views of the finished paint job are found at the end of this article.

The Base

I used a mixture of materials to make the base. I have some base texture press moulds, like those produced by Basius. When I have left over epoxy putty, I use it in a press mould. I cut off some of the integral base of the miniature with a pair of flush cutting shears and glued the remainder to the plastic base. I glueed pieces of cobblestone texture from a press mould around it. Then I applied superglue and dipped the base into a mixed-size gravel mixture. I built up a few areas with additional applications of glue and gravel. To add a little more variation, I applied some fine sand texture paste in a few spots. I over-did the glue and gravel stage a bit for my original intention of having it look like an overgrown road, but at least it looks like a nice mix of earth and rock textures.

July metal baseThe grey parts are the epoxy putty cobblestone pieces, brown is the gravel, and white is the fine sand texture paste.

Colour Scheme

I decided a simple, classic colour scheme would be a good fit for a simple, classic character archetype like this. I chose to use the red-blue-yellow primary triad. Any decent colour wheel should generate triadic colour schemes. One of the challenges with getting familiar with colour schemes and using a colour wheel is that they generally refer to very bold saturated colours – cherry red, royal blue, sun yellow, would be examples of a red-blue-yellow triad scheme with saturated colours. But bright colours like those didn’t really fit my vision for the character. When a colour wheel/scheme talks about a colour like ‘red’, it means the entire family of red – brick, blush pink, terracotta, red-brown, all of those would be considered ‘red’ colours for the purpose of fitting into a colour scheme. So I picked colours that were weathered and worn examples of blues, yellows, and reds to use. I used slightly more intense versions of those colours on her hair, lips, and her jerkin to try to focus attention to the main area of interest – her face. The belts, scabbards, and wood staff are desaturated yellow browns to keep them from drawing too much visual interest.

July wip7 front 600You can see that the base echoes colours used on the main figure to tie everything together and help it appear lit by the same light source.

Don’t leave out the base in your colour schemes! I dabbed colours used on the miniature or mixed from those main colours on various sections of the base to tie it in with the figure as a whole. I used red browns from the jerkin shadows, yellow browns from the wood and belts, and mixed a green from the yellow and one of the blue colours to use on the base. I also glazed some dull blue colours and a bit of yellow here and there on the stone sections. You can also use one colour from your colour scheme within other colours. There’s a little bit of red brown shading on the staff to give the wood a little more depth.

The Eyes

Painting eyes on gaming scale figures can be a real challenge! One thing that can make it a little easier is to paint the eyes looking off to one side instead of aiming for a straight ahead gaze. This can also add a bit of interest or personality to a figure. Here I think it helps give her a little sense of being in motion, as if she had been looking off to the side and has just shifted her gaze before turning her head to look back in front of her.

July blue face cuClose up view of the eyes painted off to one side.

The Cloth Pattern

I wanted to do a little something with her dress. Sure she’s an adventurer, and a low level one at that, but she can still enjoy a little personal decoration as most of us do! I had the inspiration for the pattern from character clothing in the Lord of the Rings Online game.

355px Dot LeafbottomI wanted to try to create an effect like the pattern on the skirt above.

I started off by using a stipple brush stroke to add the highlighting and shading to the dress. The stippling technique can be used to create a range of results. I have used in the past with a very small brush, uniform application, and a LOT OF DOTS to create textures like this. With a more dynamic range of colours and applying a lot of dots I you can get something like Madame Delia’s dress. You can apply it more loosely with a larger brush to get hammered metal or scuffed leather effects that work particularly well on larger figures like giants or busts. I used a brush stroke along these lines for the leather on Asandris’ jerkin and boots. In the case of the dress, I was going for a rougher woven look, so I used a smaller but not super small brush and applied the stipples somewhat haphazardly. This is one of the techniques that is I find challenging to explain with words and pictures, maybe some day I’ll be able to show it on a video. There is a bit of a WIP example on the Madame Delia link above.

July dress test combo 600Dress pattern tests.

The underlying fabric look was just one element of the pattern. I also had to create the diamond shapes or criss-crossing lines. Here I was on less familiar ground, so I did a couple of tests on another figure. Painting flat lines with the tip of the brush as on the above left did not result in the look I was after. It might work well for more of an embroidered decoration look, or a strongly woven pattern like a tartan, but it didn’t fit with the soft woven pattern I was aiming for. So I experimented with doing lines of stipple strokes on the above right. That looked like more of a woven effect to me, so I used that technique on the figure.

July wip4 front cu 600In this picture you can see the base fabric texture stage on the sleeves, and the addition of the diamond pattern on the skirt.

Additional Views

July blue face 600

July blue back full

July blue right 600

 

Paint Colours Used

For the most part I painted from darkest colour to lightest, though there were a few areas where I added additional shadows such as the hair and the staff. To save time I use paints straight from the bottle as pre-mixed layer steps whenever I can. So it would be entirely possible get similar colours using a smaller set of paints and more mixing. I am not suggesting you need to have all these paints to paint a simple colour scheme like this!

NOTE: Colours in italics are out of production. Colours in bolded italics are currently out of production but are available for preorder in the ReaperCon HobbyBox. (And will be available for sale outside of the boxes on the main Reaper website closer to ReaperCon 2020.) Turkey Brown will likely be available to purchase again during the next Winter holiday season.

Skin: 9224 Redstone, 89542 Shoanti Sienna, 9494 Gnome Flesh, 89540 Taldan Pink, 9487 Yellow Mold

Jerkin and boots: 9307 Red Liner, 9235 Red Shadow, 9223 Redstone Shadow, 9224 Redstone, 9225 Redstone Highlight, 9494 Gnome Flesh. Glaze with 9663 Big Top Red.

Blue cloth: 9229 Worn Navy, 9230 Soft Blue, 9056 Templar Blue, 9231 Heather Blue, 9057 Ashen Blue, 89529 Hobgoblin Blue. Diamond pattern: 9317 Moonstone Blue, plus a little white.

Belts and scabbards: 9199 Russet Brown, 29829 Golden Brown, 9429 Rich Leather, 9075 Buckskin Pale. Glaze 9691 Turkey Brown on belts and scabbards. Glaze 9074 Palomino Gold on side pouch.

Staff: 9429 Rich Leather with a dab of 9231 Heather Blue to dull it down. Then add 9075 Buckskin Pale for highlights. Added a bit of 9199 Russet Brown for shadows.

Cloak: Base of 9109 Ruddy Leather. Washes of 9307 Red Liner, 9685 Corporeal Shadow, and a little 9066 Blue Liner in the deep crevices. Then highlight up with 9109 Ruddy Leather, 9305 Tarnished Copper, 9232 Bright Skin Shadow, and a touch of 9306 New Copper. 

Hair: 9429 Rich Leather, then 9199 Russet Brown for shadows. Highlight up with 61101 Terra Nova Tundra, 9074 Palomino Gold, 9075 Buckskin Pale, 9039 Pure White. Glaze with 9095 Clear Yellow mixed with 9247 Saffron Sunset.

The greys of the non-metallic metal steel and stones on the base were mixed from colours used on the figure. Mixing a little bit of colour used elsewhere on the figure into standard neutral grey paints would work as well.