How to Neutralize a Colour Scheme: Lars Ragnarsson

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes high res photographs and better formatting. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

My experiences painting Lars Ragnarsson are a  practical example of how to use some of the tricks and principles I discussed in my recent article about working with neutral colours. I started with red-violet, red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-green and ended up with a grizzled warrior.

IMG 0221

Grey divider edit

Inspiration

If specific ideas for how I might like to paint a figure aren’t coming to mind, I sometimes do a few images searches for inspiration. The colour palette and general vibe of this painting appealed to me a lot.

38bfa687d2a27a49379fc36cf7cc03fbViking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

I used a computer graphics program to isolate samples of the colours in various areas to get a clearer look at the individual components of the colour palette.

IMG 0149Viking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

I wasn’t entirely sure of the root colour family of some of the browns and greys, so I used the color tool in my graphics program to identify the more saturated versions of the colours. (I used the Procreate app on the iPad, but you can do similar things with many different programs, including the free GIMP program which is available for Mac and Windows OS.)

IMG 0151Viking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

While I think these digital tools can be helpful, I don’t assume that their interpretation of colours like this is 100% accurate. When you’re dealing with a very desaturated grey or brown, I imagine that one program’s coding could interpret something as closer to red, and another as closer to orange. I know that the programming of different digital cameras interpret colours colours differently, and I assume this might be kind of the same thing. Procreate interpreted these colours a little differently than I had expected – a lot of variations of orange and red, and less violet than I had expected.

Grey divider edit

Choosing and Refining a Colour Scheme

I decided to experiment with some of these colours in the other direction – if I wanted yellow-green cloth, orangey skin, and some kind of violet/magenta based brown for leather, was there a colour scheme that encompassed those colours, as well as an additional fourth colour? I headed over to Paletton to play with some colour schemes. Paletton is a very handy website that lets you choose different colour scheme options and then manipulate sliders around the colour wheel to refine the options within each scheme. It shows you the colour families to the right of the screen, with samples of different values within those families. You can also control the saturation of the main colour swatches as a group or individually.

I chose a tetradic colour scheme, which is a colour scheme composed of two pairs of complementary colours. Below is an image of the screen with the colours I settled on. I did not refine the saturation and value levels via Paletton. I find the Paletton saturation controls easier to use with a mouse, and I was using a touch screen at the time.

IMG 0146

I did not take full advantage of some of the other features of this app, either. If you look at the sample colours on the right, you’ll see the swatches are different sizes. In this example I have the yellow-green set as the dominant colour. The app based its other colour suggestions around that. Regardless of the number of colours in your chosen colour scheme, you generally do not want to use each of them all on equally sized areas on your figure. It’s more visually pleasing to have one colour that is the dominant colour, then use the second on a smaller area, and then use the other(s) in smaller amounts or just as accents. Which colour you use in which role isn’t dictated by colour theory guidelines. Apart from allowing you to set the dominant colour, I believe that Paletton’s suggestions for which colour in which proportion are just that, suggestions.

I thought that set of colours would work if I used the red-orange for the skin, yellow-green for the cloth, blue-green for the metal, and then red-violet for the leather armour. But I would definitely need to adjust the saturation levels of some of those colours to make them fit my vision of a grizzled, worn warrior! I took the starting points suggested by Paletton and altered the value and saturation levels with my color tool in Procreate to get some ideas for other colours in that colour family that would better suit my vision for the character.. I sampled the colours on a middle value grey background to be able to better judge the value differences. (If you prefer not to use digital tools, the neutrals article includes tips for doing this kind of thing physical colour samples and how to desaturate paint colours.)

IMG 0214

I selected versions of each colour that seemed like they would fit the intended areas of the miniature, picked out some paints to match, and got painting!

Grey divider edit

Painting Process

I will share the exact paints that I used at the end of this article. First I want to talk about some of my experiences with the colour scheme during the painting, and assess the end result compared to the intended colours. (I previously shared step by step photos and colour samples for the leather armour.)

The skin and armour painting went pretty well, but as I neared the end of the painting process there were a couple of areas I wasn’t entirely happy with. Below you can see the final version on the left, and a work-in-progress picture on the right. I repainted both the horns and the axe blade.

Lars axe combo wip

I still can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t like the first version of the horns. Partly I think it is that the colour was a little off. I used a dark blue in the mix, and I think maybe it looked a little unnatural. The streaky texture and value transitions seemed like they should work with the vibe of the piece, but my instinct was that the streaky version of the horns was either stealing attention from the focal point of the face, or not sufficiently drawing the eye towards that area. Sometimes when I don’t like something on a figure I’m painting I try to analyze the problem to understand it better. Sometimes I don’t have time or energy to do that, so I just give it enough time and thought to be sure about exactly which part I think doesn’t work, and then I change that. The single colour horns do look very plain in comparison when I look at just at the horns, but when I consider them as part of an overall piece, I think they work better. I’d be interested to know what you think in the comments, should I have stuck with the original horns?

Lars leather chest comp

I did struggle a little deciding on paint colours to use on the hair and then the horns. The four colours of my colour scheme did not include a yellow, so a golden blond or yellow based ivory would mean straying from the scheme. As I mentioned in the neutrals article, colours like ivory and cream generally ‘go with’ most colours, and likely a blond/ivory type colour would have looked fine. But I wanted to work within the constraints of my chosen colour scheme. I instead opted to use khaki brown tans that had a touch of green in them. I am pretty happy with the platinum/aging blond end result.

I wanted to paint the metal trim items prior to assembly, to make sure I could reach everything. I thought it would also be a good idea to rough in the non-metallic metal on the axe head, as well. I wanted the final version of the NMM to have a little more texture, but I did some basic blends just to get colour on everything and see how the colours looked. (I would have no qualms about this level of NMM for a tabletop or quick paint figure, but Lars needed to be painted to store gallery quality.)

Lars wip1 front cu

After roughing in the axe blade I assembled the figure, and then I put it up on my shelf overnight to give the putty and glue time to cure. When I came back to look at it the next day, I was not happy with the colour of the axe head. It was a lot more blue than I’d intended for this version of blued steel. I’ve used a colour like this for blued steel before, why did it work then but look wrong now? This is a good example of why using the same colour recipe for a particular materials will not look great on every figure, even for materials that are brown, or cream, or grey like hair, wood, and stone. It’s also an example of how working with neutrals that have a little colour in them can be tricky sometimes!

The way we perceive a colour is always in relation to the other colours that are around it. A moderate value colour seems dark when surrounded by light colours and light. A moderately saturated colour seems more intense if it is surrounded by more neutral colours, and less intense if surrounded by highly saturated colours Many optical illusions manipulate the way we perceive colour, but similar issues can occur on a smaller scale in life and with the colours we group together in a painting.

1280px Gradient optical illusion by dodekThe grey stripe in the centre is the same value throughout. It appears lighter at one end and darker at the other because of the surrounding values. Image by Dodek from Wikimedia commons. You can see some other optical illusions that make use of value perception.

GreystrawberriesmainimageThere are no red pixels in this picture. The strawberries are shades of grey. You can confirm the colours and read more about why Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s clever illusion works.

Mixing black into a colour will dull it down as well as darkening it, and mixing white into a colour dulls it down as well as lightening it. I chose a darker bluish paint that already had some black in it and added white to create highlight mixes. I repainted the axe and the metal bits on the belt knife, but I did not repaint the smaller bits of NMM. The stronger blue was not strongly noticeable in the small areas, and probably actually helps them stand out a little more. The finished axe colour was shifted a little more with some glazes. I added a little of the yellow-green from the kilt to a few spots, and some dark orange-brown in the crevices for weathering. These colours were thinned down to be extremely transparent before I applied them.

Grey divider edit

Assessing my Execution of the Colour Scheme

When I started working on the article about neutral colours, I wanted to check the colours as they appeared on the figure compared to the colours I had chosen from the online colour scheme tool Paletton. The majority were pretty close. The Procreate colour tool saw a bit of red and purple in some of the midtones and shadows of the leather armour, but I think overall it works as a brown version of red-violet. The one colour that isn’t quite right is the blue-green. Even the repainted axe head reads more as blue than blue-green, and I think that’s part of why the first attempt didn’t look right to me. Desaturating the blue made it clash less, but didn’t bring it in line with the tetradic colour scheme.

IMG 0178

Out of curiosity I digitally edited the photo of Lars to experiment with a more and less saturated version of blue-green on the axe to compare it with how I painted the axe. I think the desaturated blue-green on the bottom left looks the most harmonious of the four options I tested. I don’t think the axe I actually painted is terrible! You don’t have to exactly follow a defined colour scheme for something to turn out looking okay. Colour theory and colour scheme suggestions are handy tools to help us out when we’re having trouble making decisions, they’re not shackles.

Lars axe combo crTop left: final version of the figure. Top right: WIP version with more saturated blue NMM.
Bottom left: digital edit experiment with desaturated blue-green NMM. Bottom right: digital edit experiment with more saturated blue-green NMM.

Earlier in the article I talked about using the colours of a colour scheme in various proportions. I did use the four colours I chose in varying proportions on Lars, but but I did not use the proportions suggested by the Paletton site. Also when considering the coverage area for each colour, remember that it includes the different values and different saturation levels of that colour. The largest area is the red-violet. The leather armour is fairly dark, and the fur on the boots is quite light. The second largest colour area is the red-orange. The lighter skin tone and darker leather accessories like the belt and boots are both red-orange. 

Is the third largest colour area on the figure the yellow-green, or the blue-green? This is also an example of how it can get interesting with three dimensional figures. The area of yellow-green kilt on the front is smaller than the axe, so the colours are in one proportion to another from most front viewing angles. But there is a larger area of yellow-green cloth on the back of the figure, and much less of the axe head is visible from most rear and side angles, so the proportion of those two colours appears reversed. The horns and beard are also in the yellow-green family, but are visible in all angles to one degree or another. 

Grey divider edit

Final Pictures

Lars bl front2

Lars bl face

Lars bl back

Lars bl back left

Lars bl back right

Lars bl right

Grey divider edit

Paint Colours Used on Lars Ragnarsson

Skin:

IMG 2977

Boot fur:

IMG 2978

Green cloth:

IMG 2979

Leather armor:

IMG 2980Paints to the right were used to paint the texture and battle damage. Paints to the left were glazed over to integrate the texture and add colour depth. See this article for step-by-step photos and swatches of colours used.

Orange-red leather accessories:

IMG 2981Bright Skin 9233 is no longer in production. Add a little orange to 9445 Peachy Flesh for a similar colour.

Base:

IMG 3004

WIP version of the horns:

IMG 3005

Final version of NMM axe:

IMG 3012Colours on the right were used to paint the main NMM. Colours on the left were applied as spot glazes.

Hair and final version of the horns:

IMG 3013The Terran Khaki and Khaki Highlight are swapped in position to what they should be.

Worn Leather and Woven Cloth – Lars Ragnarson

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

I recently painted Lars Ragnarson for Reaper. I know there’s a lot of interest in painting techniques for texture effects, so I’ve included step-by-step photos for how I painted the leather armour in this article, and some general tips for painting textures.

Lars bl frontSculpted by Bob Ridolfi.

I’ve been painting in a pretty smooth style lately, and after I posted the adventuring party and the Hellborn dancer, I received a few comments/queries from people wondering if I always paint in such a cartoony or stylized way, or if I sometimes paint in a more realistic or gritty way. I think it’s true to say that I am known for a fairly clean and smooth style of painting. But for several years now I have been working to learn or develop methods for painting different kinds of textured surfaces, and I have found painting textures can be a lot of fun. When Reaper asked me to paint Lars, he seemed like a great figure to use some textures on.

Lars bl back

Grey divider edit

What do I mean by Texture?

Miniature painters sometimes use the term ‘texture’ to refer only to specific painted effects, like the woven cloth and worn leather I painted on Lars. The term texture refers to both the visual and tactile qualities of a surface. Every material has a texture, which is partly a function of how it feels, and how it reflects and absorbs light.

Sculptors apply all kinds of wonderful tactile textures to our figures. Bob Ridolfi sculpted fur texture on Lars’ boots, hair strands on his hair, and texture on his base. I used paint to accentuate those, I didn’t create them with paint. Sculpted textures usually paint up well, even with quicker techniques like drybrushing and washes. Note that smooth is also a tactile texture! The visual qualities of smooth surfaces can vary widely – shiny silk cloth versus matte wool cloth. We can aim to paint smooth-sculpted surfaces on figures like cloth, skin, or metal to mimic the visual qualities of those real world materials.

Lars bl front2

A lot of textures around us are somewhere in between those two extremes – these are materials that don’t have a smoothly blended visual quality, but whose texture is not really tactile enough to be sculpted onto a mini (at least at smaller scales.) It is more reasonable to try to create the appearance of those textures with paint and brushwork.

Lars is clearly a strong and dangerous fighting type of character. His gear is simple, even somewhat primitive. He is not a wealthy character, a magic user, or a cosmopolitan city dweller. I thought that using painted textures to make his clothes look roughly woven clothing and his leather armour battle-worn would partner well with the character of the sculpt.

Lars bl back right

I want to note that Bob Ridolfi sculpted texture on the bracers of the Lars figure. This is less obvious in my painted version because I painted the rest of the leather with a similar texture. I think the texture Bob sculpted would look good as hammered bronze or copper, too.

Lars greenSculpted by Bob Ridolfi

Grey divider edit

Leather Armour

In the past I have used washes to create a subtle leather texture effect. That’s turned out well with cloaks and other larger pieces of leather, but I wasn’t sure it would work as well with the plate shapes of Lars’ armour. I’ve also made a few attempts at painting worn and battle-scarred armour by layering on increasingly lighter values of paint with rough brushstrokes. One of my first attempts at doing this was on Caerindra Thistledown. It’s okay, but I don’t think it’s an ideal result. I’m not sure if I was too random or not random enough. ;->

Caerindra leather

I think my final attempt with Anushka’s leather skirt looks a bit more convincing. As you can read here, my journey to that end result was a bit of a winding road! The peak of Anushka’s hat was painted just with brushstrokes. I like how it turned out, but can’t quite remember what I did to achieve that appearance as opposed to Caerindra’s.

Anushka left

So my goal for Lars’ leather armour was to sort of reverse-engineer what I did with Anushka’s skirt. I was also hoping to simplify that process a little, as well as figure out how to get a similar effect, but in an overall darker colour. This is not the first time I’ve been in the position of trying to remember how I did something, and I suspect some of you reading may have ended up in this position once or twice too. When we talk about studying work by painters to try to figure it out, sometimes what we mean is trying to rediscovering something we did previously!

If you try a new technique or effect once or twice and then do not use it for quite a while, you will likely not remember exactly what you did. Or maybe any of what you did. I recommend practicing with something multiple times. Try it with different colours and values. Try it on different shaped areas on figures. Repetition will help you learn something more thoroughly, and experimentation will help you discover situations where it might work better or not as well. I wish I had worked on leather variations more soon after I finished painting Anushka to cement the process better in my mind.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing articles for this blog for me is that it creates a record of many of my experiences painting. It gives me something to refer back to if I want to borrow from an effect or colour that I’ve used on a previous figure. You don’t need to start a blog to get the same benefit, you can instead keep a painting journal. Jot down the paints you used in that colour mix you really like. Make notes of sessions of study and experimentation. Be sure to track what works as well as what doesn’t. Try to take some WIP pictures when you’re trying new things to create a visual record, as well. If your journal is digital, include relevant pictures with the notes from that session. There is a section on Reaper’s forums where people post WIP notes for projects they’re working on. I imagine other sites and communities have similar features, too.

Anushka comp cr banner

Looking at the above WIP pictures of Anushka jogged my memory for some of what I did, and suggested some ideas for streamlining. My first try on the left was not contrasted enough. It was too detailed, with a focus on small texture strokes without having established more of an overall texture. It was all texture, with no use of value to create shadows and highlights to bring out the shapes of the skirt folds. My second attempt had both large and detailed textures, and had more shading and highlighting, though still not enough. If anything this was too much texture for my purposes. To achieve the final effect on the right, I applied glazes of lighter and darker colours over the middle stage. It helped better bring out the shapes of the skirt, and made the texture look more organic and suitable to the character type.

I mention ‘my purposes’, because I think it’s important to keep that in mind. I painted both of these figures with the idea that they’re more display quality, and for Lars in particular, intended to be seen in photographs. Display figures are closely scrutinized, and web photos often appear much larger than the actual figure. In that context, the middle attempt of Anushka’s armour would look too heavily weathered and worn, as if it has not been cared for for years. It might be great for an undead or other monster type, but not for a humanoid whose taking any care of their gear.

Figures viewed on the tabletop are viewed at arm’s length, and often in poor lighting. A more exaggerated texture like the middle version of Anushka map be very effective on a figure meant to be used in that way. How you approach painting something should relate to your time investment goal, as well. Aiming for an end result that basically works or looks good but not great is a more efficient answer if your goal is to paint more figures more quickly. A lot of miniature painting involves small details, but sometimes achieving your painting goals is about knowing when not to sweat the details and look more at the big picture.

Grey divider edit

Leather Armour Painting Process

Guided by my experiences painting Anushka, I decided to try using two stages to paint Lars’ leather. First, apply rough texture strokes to try to create random shapes of wear patterns. Although I wanted a dark leather look in the end, I realized that I would have to paint in texture using much lighter value paints for it to be apparent after the second stage. For the second stage, I would apply glazes of darker and lighter colours to integrate the texture to more of a distressed than a completely worn out type of look. I also wanted to use the glazes to add some colours into the armour to fit with the colour scheme I had chosen, but I will get into more detail about that in another article.

The following is a series of step by step photos of the main painting stages for the armour plates on the hips and legs.

The Patron PDF version of this article includes larger high res photos, and a second series of step-by-step photos from a different angle.

Lars leatherA steps1 2 cr

I started with a fairly dark value basecoat. I mixed up several values of lighter mixes to paint on the texture. Since I wanted transition edges and brushstrokes to show, my paint was fairly opaque, and the jump in value between each mix was notable. I used a worn sable brush for this step. I wanted to create random, messy strokes. It can be surprisingly challenging to paint random patterns using a precision brush. We have a natural drive to be more systematic, or to jump straight to smaller details like I did with the first try on Anushka’s skirt.

A softer bristled worn synthetic brush might work even better. I think you need a softer bristle brush so the bristles shift position with different brushstrokes. A stiffer bristle brush might act more like a stamp and apply brushstrokes in a repeating pattern, but I haven’t tried that out yet, so I could be wrong. I think a brush with shorter and/or densely packed bristles might also make marks that look too regular, but again, I haven’t tested yet. If you want to try this, experiment on a test figure with some different brush options and see which you like!

Lars leatherA steps3 4 cr

You want to use a brush you have at least some control with as you start applying the lighter values of texture. I started to choose where to place the brushstrokes more deliberately in steps three through five. My goal from this point was both to create textures, and to try to bring out the forms of the objects. I used the random patterns from the first two steps to help make decisions for where to add additional smaller strokes of lighter colours.

In step four, I started to apply some edge highlights, and also some wear and tear. If there was an area that kind of looked like a rip or tear, I used very light and very dark lines of paint to reinforce that impression. If you look at the plates on the leg on the right photo above, you can see faint lines on those areas in the left photo that I used as guidelines for where to paint deeper cuts. To paint a cut, you paint a dark line to create the depression of the cut. But you also need to paint a light line directly next to it to simulate the edge of the cut. Locate this light line opposite your light source to simulate where the edge of the cut is receiving more light. For the light source I painted on Lars, generally that meant I painted the light line beneath the dark line.

In terms of application, I found it easier to apply the light line first, and then the dark line. Lighter value paint colours are often a bit thicker and don’t flow off the brush quite as easily, so it can be harder to paint thin clean brushstrokes with them. I was using Blue Liner for my dark lines. All Reaper paints include some flow improver in the mix, but the Liner paints are designed to glide off your brush to make lining easier. You can also buy Flow Improver separately so you can increase the flow of any paint colour you have if you’re having trouble painting detail. There are art store brands of this type of product as well. Look for products called flow aid, flow release, or flow improver.

Lars leatherA steps5 6 cr

I added additional layers of texture with my lighter mixes in step five. I was trying to make the highlight areas more noticeably lighter in value than the midtone and shadow areas.

Step six was the glazing stage. I used several colours of thinned down paint. The paint needed to be fairly transparent – I didn’t want to cover up all of that texture! For a project like this it’s better to think your paint down more than you think you need to and apply multiple coats, rather than one not very transparent coat that dries and covers up all your previous work. I applied lighter glazes to the highlight areas, and darker glazes to the shadow areas. I also used a few somewhat vibrant colours in different places to add some visual complexity and hints of colour. (In my colour scheme article I’ll talk about how this colour was the red-violet portion of my colour scheme.) If the glazes toned down the damage cuts and tears I had painted too much, I added some back in with my previous paint mixes.

You can see that the texture looks pretty rough and fairly light in value in all of the steps prior to step six. This is one of those techniques where you have to get pretty close to the end to see whether everything comes together and works, or whether you might need to tweak anything, or even start over as I did with Anushka’s skirt.

The painting process was not quite as linear as the step by step implies. I did work that way, but I also ended up working back and forth over the last two steps a little bit – adding another glaze or two to shift the colour or try to create more volume, and then adding back a little texture, which I would then have to glaze back down a little.

It’s subtle, but you can see a comparison of the leather almost done and then after a little more tweaking in the following picture. Notice how you can see the triangular shape of the top of the helmet a bit more in the final version because I added more highlighting to the lightest areas and more shadow to the darkest areas. The shoulder plates look a little less textured in the final version, but they have a richer depth of colour from the additional glazing.

Lars leather chest compI’ll talk about the changes to the horns in the colour scheme article.

Below are some painted swatches of colours I used on the leather.

IMG 3035 2 edit

The large square near the middle was the basecoat colour. The long thinner swatches to either side of it were mixes I used to paint the texture. The very light yellow was used only for the light line on some of the painted cuts. The darkest colour small square near the bottom was used to paint the dark line of the cuts and lining in between the armour plates and around the rivets.

The thin paint mixes along the top and right sides are samples of the glazes I painted over the texture to integrate it and build up more shadows and highlights. The blue-grey was added after the step-by-step photos and was used to add shadow depth and tie the armour colour in with the NMM colour a little more.

Grey divider edit

Painting is not Always Linear

A lot of painting techniques and effects can involve some back and forth like I painted on Lars. Sometimes it happens because you’re figuring stuff out. Having to figure stuff out does not mean you suck at painting! It’s how we learn and get ideas for how we might do cool new stuff, as well as getting ideas of what doesn’t work so great. Often the process of going back and forth at some stages ends up adding more depth and visual interest to something. That kind of visual interest may be part of what makes the work of painters you admire look richer and more complex than what you might be achieving with a more linear process. The expectation that everything you paint should look better after every incremental step will hold you back more than it helps. (Ask me how I know!)

Going back and forth a bit in painting the armour didn’t really add a lot of extra time to the process. It was just a few brushstrokes of glaze there, or a few brushstrokes of texture mixes here. I think I achieved my goal of streamlining and somewhat speeding up the process I had used on Anushka. While it might sound like a lot of mixes and steps, I suspect I could paint a tabletop version of this more quickly than I could paint blends with smooth transitions, especially if I was okay with a result that looked like steps four or five.

Grey divider edit

Cloth Texture

I haven’t come up with a way to do a speedier version of the woven cloth texture effect that I painted on Lars’ loincloth. Or rather, the cloth I painted on Lars is the speedier version, it’s just not speed painting speedy. Currently the only way I know how to paint cloth like this is to use a brush with a fine tip and paint a lot of cross-hatch strokes, though I have an idea of something to try for a tabletop version. When I paint this kind of cloth texture, I’m applying the shadows and highlights at the same time as the texture. It’s like layering, but I’m using tiny hatch strokes instead of smooth strokes.

I used the same process, same types of brush, and same brand and consistency of paint to paint Tristan’s cloth, which you can compare to Lars’ in the photo below. The main difference between the two is just the number of tiny hatch marks I painted one over the other to build up the highlights and shadows. It took a lot more time to build up the more subtle effect of Tristan’s cloth, but the process was otherwise pretty much the same. I suspect it’s true of a lot of texture techniques that once you have the basic approach down you can tweak it to different effects with different brushes, paint mixes, or time investments.

Lars tristan cloth

The photo below shows swatches of the colours I used to paint the cloth texture on Lars’ kilt. I later added some of the blue-grey glaze from the leather colour swatch picture to the shadow areas of the kilt.

IMG 3035 edit

Grey divider edit

Miniatures in this Article

Lars Ragnarson is available in Bones USA plastic.

Caerindra Thistlemoor is available in metal.

Anushka is available in metal.

Help this Bardic Bird Sing

In this article I’m going to talk about the sculpting and painting inspirations for this figure, and how you could help the Ukraine by winning this figure (and a bunch of paints) or buying a copy of your own to paint.

Kobzar bl front

I’ll start with the links for those who just want to jump straight to the Ukraine relief, and then get into the paint process, the colours I used, and the story behind this figure. Head to Reaper’s page if you want to buy your own copy of Kobzar Soloveiko the nightingale bard. For a limited time, Reaper is donating $7.50 of each sale to UNICEF relief efforts for children in the Ukraine.

If you’d like to win the figure I painted, check out the NOVA raffles! The NOVA Charitable Foundation is running a special raffle for Ukraine aid. Proceeds from all raffles go to Nova Ukraine. The raffle for my painted copy of Kobzar includes the painted figure, new bottles of each colour I used to paint him, an unpainted copy signed by the sculptor Jason Wiebe, and an hour of personalized video instruction with me. (Or email if you’d prefer.) If my painted Kobzar figure is not to your taste, there are lots of other prizes to buy tickets for! These include units, large figures, busts, and more – all painted by some of the best miniature painters in the world. There is also a very special prize of the complete set of Marvel United, with a majority of the figures painted to a jaw-dropping standard. Plus a custom case to carry them in!

Prize packageYou could win all this stuff and an hour of video consultation with me.

When Reaper wanted to produce a figure to raise funds for the Ukraine, sculptor Jason Wiebe came up with the idea for Kobzar Soloveiko, the nightingale bard. Jason describes his inspiration for the figure:

 

When we first discussed a Ukraine relief project, the word Kobzar came immediately to mind.  Historically, a bard known for pointed opinions, and colloquially is used for various eastern European street musicians.  A bard seemed a good choice, but what kind of bard?

The European Nightingale is taken by some as a national bird of Ukraine, Soloveyka along with other common spellings.  We settled on Soloveiko for the ease and western phonetic shorthand.  A nightingale is a rather unassuming bird with a legendary song.

Sunflowers are somewhat of a more recent symbol, due to their economic status in Ukraine.  Now it all came together, as if it had to be; a small but proud character, singing its song with strength and love. I am happy to present the Nightingale Bard, Kobzar Soloveiko!

Kobzar bl back

When the figure released, I bought several copies to support the cause. And because it’s the kind of fun character I love to paint!

IMG 2738

He looked so fun to paint that I decided to start on him right away, on my Reaper stream, Beyond the Kit. My paints are not stored near the desk where I paint (and stream), so I needed to have some ideas for colours I wanted to use in advance. I started by looking for pictures of the nightingale found in the Ukrainian region. I expected to find a dull bird that wouldn’t help much with my colour choices, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a bird with some interesting colouration. If you do an image search on the term ‘bluethroat’, you should find some great pictures. The bird in the picture below isn’t as vividly coloured as some of the images I saw on a general search, but it is the one I could find that I am permitted to use publicly.

Hans veth XBHZSlEA0lo unsplashPhoto by Hans Veth on Unsplash.

The appearance of the nightingale gave me some good ideas for colours, but I thought it would be a good idea to explore the possibilities for various ways to use those colours, the way I did when I painted Fathom, my character from our artist D&D game. I ended up liking the first version I tested enough that I didn’t really keep on with the testing, and decided to just go with the first idea. It’s not visible in the photo above, but the real nightingale has a rusty orange stripe on its chest beneath the blue throat, so I decided to use the orange for the clothing of this anthropomorphic version. 

Kobzar colour testRead the Fathom article for tips on how to do this kind of digital colour test with your own figures.

I painted the bulk of the figure on stream. The videos are now posted on YouTube, so you can see exactly how I did the painting if you’re interested. I painted the feathers and his jerkin on the first video. I did darklining and painted the leather areas during a second video. The rest of the figure was painted and revised off-stream. Many regular viewers of Beyond the Kit prefer a variety of content topics rather than seeing me paint a figure from start to finish, so it is rare for me to do that. Anne Foerster’s RTB stream on the Reaper channel is a great place to watch the full painting process for a number of figures. I painted the lute, feet, and some of the other details off stream. Since I was donating the figure, I later spent some time making small improvements to the painting overall. I also revised the patterning on the head to better match the reference photo of the bird I was using.

IMG 2755A work in progress picture following my first painting stream.

When I was finished the second stream, I thought the painting was going well enough that I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to raise more money for charity with the painted figure. My initial thought was to see whether eBay had a Ukraine charity option I could use for an auction. When I heard that NOVA Charities was planning a Ukraine raffle, I contacted the organizers to see if I could contribute Kobzar, and we worked out a prize package for this figure. Reaper Miniatures very generously donated a fresh bottle of each of the paint colours I had used in the painting, even though some of them were used in only tiny amounts!

IMG 2756A work in progress picture taken after my first video stream.

Some Notes on Miniature Photography

I thought it might be interesting to compare the differences in some of the photos I got with different cameras and different lighting setups. If you find this interesting, let me know and I’ll try to include more information like this in future articles.

Kob wip fin comp

The photo on the left was taken with my cellphone under my painting lights. I placed a sheet of grey drawing paper behind the figure to help the camera focus. I also held the figure in my hand and tilted it figure until it had the best lighting possible on the front. If I sit a figure down on my desk and try to take a head on photo, it will look a lot shadowed and darker than this, like the pictures with paint bottles below. If you can’t move the light to the figure, move the figure to the light. I then edited the photo to crop away boring stuff on the sides, but I also did use the magic wand option in the editor on my phone. My cellphone is an iPhone 12 Pro (currently one generation behind.)

The pictures on the centre and right were both taken with my ‘good’ camera in a well-lit setting. For the blue background photo, I manually adjusted the levels of grey and white by using a grayscale reference card that I put include in frame with the figure to take the photo, and then crop out later. I occasionally adjust the brightness of a photo up or down if that seems out of whack, but that’s about all the editing I do on my miniature photos. The photo on the right was taken with the same camera and same lighting setup, but with a black background. I also have to alter the exposure compensation on my camera depending on whether it’s a lighter background or the black background. I haven’t had great luck manually editing levels with photos on black backgrounds, so I just choose the auto levels for those. To me there’s always a notable difference in colours between the photos taken on the lighter vs the black backgrounds. Figures really pop on the black background, but I think the photos with the lighter backgrounds have more accurate and nuanced colour.

The ‘good’ camera I use was specifically purchased to take photos of miniatures, though it does take pretty nice pictures of other things when I bother to drag it out for that purpose! It’s one of the first few generations of mirrorless cameras, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3, which released in early 2012. I bought it because it combines many of the full DSLR features that are useful for taking pictures of miniatures, but also has plenty of auto settings for non-miniature photography. I am very much not a photographer and I also can’t afford a full DSLR and good lenses and so on. Mirrorless cameras have larger sensors than standard digital cameras, though smaller than a full DSLR, and that makes a lot more difference than super huge megapixel picture sizes. Sure I’d love a newer camera, but this one continues to produce photos that clients like Reaper are willing to use for print quality, so I don’t feel like I have to have a new one. If you’re looking to buy a camera to improve photos of your miniatures, I recommend looking at older but higher quality cameras you can usually purchase for a similar price to a new mid-range camera. I have found the site Digital Photography Review to be invaluable for researching the last few cameras I’ve bought, and their detailed reviews include photo examples of stuff similar to what we do. (Coins, figurines, and objects with detailed text in huge closeup photos.)

The main thing I recommend to someone frustrated with photos of their miniatures is to play around with lighting and backgrounds before assuming the problem is your camera. There’s no one answer for this. Some cameras like loads of light, some phone cam software brightens stuff up so much you might need less lighting to get a better picture. As a general rule keep the lights brighter and further away from the figure, or diffused, if you want to avoid glare. Use a background. It looks nicer to the viewer than a clutter of paint and brushes. It also helps your camera know what to focus on. Pure white and pure black backgrounds are challenging to photograph against. The ideal is a mid to light blue or grey matte surface. Grey toned drawing paper is what I used in the cellphone pic above, and what I use for my streaming camera background. I use Strathmore, but I’m sure there are similar grey paper options available from a variety of sources. The mottled blue background sheet I use is no longer available. For plain colours like the black background, I like to use sheets of fun foam. It’s very matte, soft and safe for figures, and makes a nice sweep, though on the downside it gets marked up pretty easily. I’ve bought my sheets from local craft stores, but this item on Amazon seems similar. (I have found grey the hardest colour to find weirdly!)

Paint Colours Used on Kobzar Soloveiko

I am rarely able to keep track of the colours I’m using in the way I usually do when I am video streaming. I used a lot of wet blending on Kobzar’s head, and that is also much less systematic to outline the colours for than when I use layering. The colours listed below are the ones I recall to my best ability, but I do not consider these colour recipes to be as precise as what I often list in these articles.

Head, Hands, and Wings

IMG 2752

Blue Throat, Blue Leather Bag

IMG 2753

Orange-Brown Jerkin

I later used a bit of more saturated orange to punch up the highlights a little more.

IMG 2754

Beak

IMG 2792 2

Mouth and Tongue

IMG 2793 2

Wood areas of Lute

The paint that is cut off on the left is Blue Liner, SKU 9066.

IMG 2794

Gold Trim and Buckles

IMG 2796 2

Sunflowers

IMG 2797 2

How to Paint OSL Better than Me

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes high res photos and better formatting. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

What’s up with the clickbait title? I know that not every painter can (nor wants) to duplicate my smooth blending approach. But the key to successful source light (OSL) is not brushwork, it’s choosing the right colours and putting them in the right places. OSL is one of the few paint effects that is more about knowledge than dexterity – you can paint OSL with drybrushing! And you can paint source light effects more striking than what I painted on these two figures.

9party osl chars

I made compromises (and mistakes) in how effectively I painted the source light on the adventuring party. If you read through this guide, you should have the tools you need to paint these or other characters with better OSL than I did. I have written other articles with more information about other aspects of painting the adventure party, including the colour recipes used on each character: overview, halfling fighter, human rogue, dwarf cleric, elf wizard.

9party bl front

Grey divider edit

How to Paint Great Source Lighting (OSL)

The art director of Reaper (Ron Hawkins) was excited about the possibilities for painted light effects with this set of figures. The human thief is carrying a torch, and the elf wizard is casting a spell effect. However, since people would first be acquiring these figures as random selections of the individual characters, it was also important that each figure be painted in such a way as to look great on its own. Both of those ideas make sense, so why would painting them be a challenge?

To answer that question, and to understand the keys to painting great OSL, we need to consider how we normally use (or should use) contrast. Contrast is a critical tool in our painter toolbox. We use contrast between different values (light, medium, dark) in highlights and shadows to make figures look more three dimensional. Contrast of values is also a major element to successfully simulating different textures. Shiny objects like metal often have shadows as dark as black and as light as white, while a more matte surface like wool cloth has a smaller range of contrast between its darkest shadows and lightest highlights. Contrasts of different hues of colour and the saturation level of those colours are also useful tools to help define the different areas of the figure, and make it more interesting to look at. These are just a few of the reasons we constantly harp on the need for more contrast in miniature painting.

Let’s look at the following figure as an example. The version on the right has additional value and saturation contrast between the shadows and highlights. The lighter highlights on the hair of the more contrasted version help create the texture of strands and give it a little shine. Lighter highlights on the green material help you better see the shapes – there are wrinkles and folds all along the arms, and a zipper down the front that are not very apparent in the version on the left. Lighter highlights and darker shadows on the red material also definite the shapes of the cloth, but more importantly, better help you see the shapes under the cloth – her legs and stomach look more rounded in the version with more contrast. The more saturated colours in the highlights of the red and the green create stronger contrast between those two complimentary colours and help move your eye around the scene and keep things more interesting to look at.

Dionne before after cr

I have several more examples of figures with less and more contrast that you can study: Victorian lady, tabletop blacksmith, beach beauty digital edit, backwards contrast thief.

The challenge in painting light effects (OSL) is caused by the limitations of paint colour. In life, when we’re looking at something like a candle in a dark room or a blazing sunset, the light has properties beyond its colour. It’s not just colour, it’s… light. Light can be so bright it hurts our eyes. There is no paint that duplicates this effect. All we can do is use the properties of paint to simulate that effect. The best way to create the illusion of light is to do the following:

* Paint the brightest areas of the light itself white, regardless of its overall colour, and do not use pure white elsewhere on the figure.

* Paint areas directly illuminated by the light source with lighter value and higher saturation colours.

* Paint areas in shadow (not directly illuminated by the light) with darker value and duller saturation colours.

But remember what I said earlier? We usually use the colour properties of value, saturation, and hue for lots of other purposes in our painting, including breaking up areas of the figure, simulating textures and surfaces, creating a focal point for the viewer, and making the figure look more three dimensional. The challenge is that it’s difficult to use paint colours for all of that and also create the illusion of light.

When rendering a scene with light effects, whether in two dimensions or three, we have to make decisions about what is more important – the strength of the light effect, or the other needs of the piece. The more you use value and saturation in the same way you would when painting under general lighting, the less powerful your light source will appear. If you want to paint a strong light effect, you need to limit the overall value contrast range used on shadows and highlights to emphasize the contrast between lit and shadowed areas. You also need to reduce the saturation of colours used in the shadowed areas.

To put it another way – when painting areas that are well lit, don’t paint shadows as dark as you should in general lighting, and use higher saturation colours. When painting shadowed areas, don’t paint highlights as light as you should in general lighting, and use lower saturation colours. The end result of painting this way is quite visually striking when the piece is viewed as a whole. However, depending on the location of the light source, it is likely that there will be view angles or portions of the figure that look kind of dull or are less visually distinct because they don’t have the same level of contrast as they normally would.

Here’s a figure painted with source lighting that demonstrates the effect of the constraints. To make it look as though areas of the figure are being lit by the candle, I had to paint those areas mostly with light values, and paint areas that are in shadow mostly with dark values. If you look just at the shadow areas on the back, there’s a very small range of contrast, with the darkest areas being effectively black, and the lightest areas being dark grey. On its own this would be way too little contrast. But put this adjacent to the areas painted in light colours, and it is the key to creating the illusion that the candle is casting light.

Xm past combo cr

Note that these colour choices have reduced the definition of some of the shapes on the figure. Look at the dress. There are a few folds on the sleeves where the light colour is on the top of the fold and the dark colour is underneath, and those are very well defined in shape, as well as dramatic to look at. Compare those with the folds only in the light areas, or only in the dark areas. In the bright light area, you can’t really see that Bob Ridolfi has sculpted the cloth to drape over the arm holding the candle in such a way that you can ‘see’ the shape of the arm underneath the cloth. In the back view, the folds of the skirt and shadowed sleeve don’t look nearly as large or dramatic as they are on the sculpt, because I have painted so little contrast between the shadows in the depths and the highlights on the peaks.

It is also very helpful to pose source lighting figures against a dark background for maximum effect. I used a photo taken on a more neutral background for the explanation above because I think the colours and values are more accurate to the painted figure, and I want you to be able to see those as well as possible for the purpose of this article. In the picture below, you can see the same figure posed on a black background. The other two figures in the picture were painted using the more typical soft light from above lighting scenario. If you study these figures you can compare the differences in how I used value and saturation in the typical lighting scenario versus the source light scenario. The light effect is very eye catching, but you see less information overall about the various areas and colours of the figure than with the other two.

Xm ghosts bk full

If you want to paint OSL with a really strong light effect, I think it’s helpful to think of the areas in light and those in shadow of as two different distinct things. For example, rather than thinking of ’the shirt’, think of the area of the shirt in light, and the area of the shirt in shadow as two distinct areas. Paint each section with a compressed value range compared to what you would (and should) use when painting a figure to appear as if lit by normal diffuse/from above lighting. You can enhance the effect even more by choosing more intensely saturated colours for the light areas, and making the shadow area colours duller as well as darker. Often I will use the same paints for both areas, but mix a dark dull blue or purple colour into each colour I use on the light side to create the shadow side colour mixes.

IMG 0085 cw

Note that the OSL colours on the bottom vary in saturation, not just in value. The colours for the light side are more intense blues, and those for the dark side are duller blues.

You can see an example of this in practice in my article used on how I painted the figure holding a candle, which includes a picture of the palette colours used to paint the dress.

Grey divider edit

Adventure Party Source Light

Okay great, so how does all of that theory relate to that adventuring party I painted? Ron wanted OSL. Two of the figures have light sources, and I just told you the ‘secret’ to painting effective OSL. So what’s the problem? Ron also told me he wanted each figure to look good on its own. When the figures are in group formation, the dwarf cleric is somewhat illuminated by the light sources, but there is not much light light falling on the natural focus of the figure – her face. There also isn’t much light on the front of the figure in general. There is even less light falling on the halfling fighter. All of the light sources are behind him. If I painted the figures to achieve the most dramatic OSL effect, the fighter’s face and the front of his body would be dark and dull. In addition to looking kind of boring, there would be no context as to why he looked like that in the pictures of him as a standalone figure.

2party prime2

As I described in my first post about these figures, I used primer to create a reference for the areas that would be lit by the in-scene light sources. I primed all of the figures black. For the last step of priming, I arranged the figures together in their tableau. I sprayed bright white ink through my airbrush from the direction of the two light sources. This allowed me to see which areas would be receiving a lot of light from the light sources. This is all I would have done if I wanted to paint a very dramatic light effect.

Note that you don’t have to have an airbrush to do this type of thing! You can instead use a single small bulb light to take similar reference photos. This is the first lighting effect I’ve painted with figures primed in this manner, usually I use lighting reference photos. I did find that the primer helped me avoid the cognitive dissonance I experienced when painting the figure holding a candle.

2party prime1

Since these figures also needed to look good viewed individually, I needed to paint the figures as if there were a decent amount of ambient light in addition to the in-scene light sources. So I added a step between the black primer and bright white paint. After the black, I used the airbrush to apply dark grey primer from above on each figure, in the zenithal priming fashion. This gave me the information I would need for where the ambient light would create areas with more or less light. Then I assembled the group and applied the white paint to identify the areas lit by the in-scene light sources.

2party prime5

Below is a series of photos where you can compare the primed figures to the final painted versions. I’ve converted the photos to black and white to make it easier to see differences in value between the two.

9party prime face bw cw

Note that while this priming technique provides an excellent overall feeling for the location of light and shadow, it does not take into account the way different textures and materials appear, and how they react to light – matte cloth versus somewhat shiny leather versus reflective metal. To best evoke the qualities of those materials requires the painter to use the primer (or lighting reference photos) as a guide, but to then extrapolate and tweak value ranges and value placement to match various types of materials. For example, if you compare the areas I painted as metal on the figures to the photos of the primer stage, you’ll see a number of differences in where the lightest and darkest colours are placed because I was trying to simulate the reflective appearance of metal.

These photos also demonstrate that I missed some opportunities to enhance the light effect. I could have used much stronger highlighting on the back of the helmet and backpack flap of the halfling fighter. I should have had much stronger highlights on the lit portion of the human rogue’s hair. It’s can be challenging to see value correctly in many colours, and the orange and red glazes added on top to create the colour of the light also darkened everything a little, which is important to keep in mind if you use glazes to add hints of the colour of the light to the lit areas.

9party prime right bw cw

Using your own judgement as a painter is also important. Even had I been painting this scene as a much stronger light effect, I would still make judgements about making some parts a little lighter or darker. In this case, I would have painted the sides of the faces pointed towards the light in a lighter value on both the wizard and the rogue, even though they don’t show a lot of light in the primer reference photos. There may also be areas that should be receiving light that may not have received much white paint due to being awkward to reach with the airbrush. One example is the arm of the rogue that is holding the torch. Her arm is the closest object to the torchlight, and would appear lighter than it ended up in the primer photos, so I painted it accordingly.

9party prime back bw cw

To make these figures look more interesting when viewed apart from the group, I extended the contrast value range of the areas that were not receiving much light from the in-scene light sources. This is particularly true on the halfling fighter and the dward cleric. Compare the cleric sabatons and the halfling’s green clothing in the primer photos above.  You can see details in the final versions that you cannot in the primer versions. Painting those areas darker and less distinct would have strengthened the light effect, but made those individual figures less interesting to look at.

I digitally edited one of my photos to help give you an idea of how the tableau might look if I had painted it with a stronger light effect. I increased the saturation in the areas receiving light. I decreased both the value and the saturation of areas that should appear in shadow. My digital editing skills are pretty rudimentary, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how the scene might look if only the torch and the spell effect were illuminating the gloomy dungeon scene.

IMG 0073

Here’s a comparison with the original:

9party dig edit comp cw

And converted to greyscale:

9party dig edit comp bw cw

Grey divider edit

I Need Your Support

If you like articles (and videos) like this, please consider supporting me via a Patreon subscription or an occasional Ko-fi tip. I enjoy teaching, and I like being able to share my knowledge freely with the community. But I also like paying my bills! Each article I write take many hours to write, edit, and illustrate. The generous contributions of my supporters is what allows me to take time away from paid painting work to create this content.

My PDF Patrons receive copies of each article I publish in PDF form. The PDFs have better formatting, and include large size high resolution photos. I offer occasional exclusive content to all of my Patrons to thank them for their support.

Grey divider edit

More Examples of Painting Light

I’m going to compare some 2D paintings to further illustration how colour use differs in well-lit versus source lit scenarios, and then show you some terrific examples of OSL miniatures.

Judith Leyster was a Dutch Golden Age painter. Many painters of this time period focused on painting scenes with dramatic lighting, a continuation of the interest in chiaroscuro that began in the Renaissance. These painters also lived in a time when interiors were lit only by daylight, candles, and lamps, so I think their paintings are a good example of the kind of pre-Industrial lighting that would be seen in a fantasy/steampunk world. I’m going to compare the value range of two of Leyster’s paintings that depict bright daylight lighting (top), and two painted with with interior source light style lighting (bottom).

Leyster combo

These images are from Wikipedia, and you can see large scale copies of them on Leyster’s paintings page.

The scene of the Jolly Topper is well lit, suggesting that the figure is facing one or more windows. The skin overall is a lighter skin tone, but as you can see in the colour samples from the painting, the darkest shadows are close to black. These are sparingly applied in areas where the face turns away from the light. Likewise, the clothing of the figure is a somewhat dark grey in value overall, but in a few spots the highlights on wrinkles of cloth are close to white. (This painting is also a good example of why you should use more contrast in highlights and shadows in regular lighting than miniature painters often think we need!)

IMG 0051

The painting Two Children with a Cat depicts a scene of even brighter daylight. Perhaps the children are sitting outside in front of a building on a bright sunny day. The child holding the cat has very pale skin and is facing directly into the light, but note that areas of his skin facing away from the light still have strong dark shadows. The child wears a jacket of a golden brown colour. Although it is a fairly matte cloth, the shadows are close to black, and there are a few spots of fairly pale highlights. 

IMG 0050(For the sake of my sanity I’m going to assume a supervising adult rescued the cat soon after the moment depicted in this painting…)

In both of the daylight paintings, Leyster has used a fairly broad value range from light to dark to paint the various materials in the painting. Let’s compare those to the paintings with interior light sources.

In The Proposition, Leyster has used two different value ranges for each material depending on whether it is being lit by the lamp or is on the shadow side. Although the wrinkles in the white shirt appear to have fairly deep peaks and valleys, the value range of the material is compressed – it is painted with mostly light values on the lit side, and mostly dark values on the shadow side. Combined together they create the overall impression of light coming from the lamp. The contrast is even more apparent on the skirt. The fabric falling across her lap is being lit by the lamp, and is painted mostly light in value. (There is a dark shadow line in this area next to a particularly tall fold of cloth.) The side of the skirt that is in shadow is painted in variations of dark grey, with very little detail of wrinkles and folds apparent. Leyster creates the strong sense of light by sacrificing some details in the most well lit and the most deeply shadowed areas. (Which is also accurate to how our eyes perceive objects in super strong and very dim lighting.)

IMG 0052

The last painting is The Serenade. Here the light source is ‘off screen’, and the overall dimness of the lighting suggests the musician is sitting a little further away from the light source than the figures above. Compare the two cuffs. If you were not seeing those within the context of the painting, you would say the sets of colours used to paint them depict two completely different objects. The viewer might not perceive it consciously, but within the context of the painting, the viewer understands that both of the cuffs are white or cream in colour, but one appears much darker because it is further away from the light. To paint light effects successfully, we need to be conscious of this. We have the impression that there is light coming from the left side of the painting because objects on the left are painted with lighter colours, and objects on the right are painted with a smaller value range of darker colours.

Study the collar for a similar example. There’s no actual white used on any of it, and the side of the collar furthest from the light is painted in dark greys, but you as a viewer understand it to be white from the overall context of the painting.

IMG 0049

The values and saturation of the colours Leyster uses in all of these paintings are what create the impression of the different kinds of lighting, And we can do the exact same thing on miniatures.

David Colwell is a highly skilled painter who regularly explores painting light. I recommend following him if you’re interested in OSL or just more dramatic lighting of miniatures in general. Below is one of his pieces, Seeking Refuge. The light source isn’t part of the scene, but she’s been painted as if there is a light just off screen above and to one side. This is also a great example of a light source that is cool and not strongly coloured compared to the warmer orange/red light often used for OSL. Cool light colours work too!

David colwell seeking refuge frontPainted by David Colwell.
Observe how the light appears brightest in the upper left, and much softer further down and to the right. David is using values of paint to convey this impression.

David colwell seeking refuge backPainted by David Colwell.
Note how dark the back view is! It takes courage as well as skill to be willing to paint like this in the dark areas in order to make the light areas appear lit.

Mephiston: Revenant Crusade was painted by the very talented Erik Swinson, and if you look at his page you’ll see he’s explored light on others of his painted figures. Mephiston was sculpted by Joaquin Palacios, based on concept art  by Lie Setiawan. This piece was an entry in the Golden Demon Chicago 2022 contest, and placed Gold in the Open category. I’d love to see the back view, but judging from the front alone, Erik intended to paint a slightly less extreme version of light than in the David Colwell piece above. Mephiston’s sword appears on fire and if it is casting light, but Erik has used a little more value contrast in the areas receiving less light so you can still see a lot of detail and form. Note that there is still a wide level of contrast between the darks and lights, however! And Erik has painted very dark shadows, even on objects that are meant to be perceived as lighter in value. Look at the shadowed areas of the hair and skin. Both are very dark, but because of Erik’s overall use of value, hue, and saturation, we still read the hair and face as suitably pale and deathly.

Erik swinson revenant crusadePainted by Erik Swinson.
Winner of Gold in Open category at Golden Demon Chicago 2022.

At the beginning of this article, I said that painting OSL is more about colour use than super fancy brushwork. These next two examples were painted in 2001 and 2003, a somewhat simpler time in the hobby of miniature painting. Also, in contrast to the two pieces shown above, these scenes use gaming scale figures. Both were painted by talented painter and sculptor Victoria Lamb, of Victoria Miniatures. I don’t know if she was the first person to paint OSL on miniatures, but I’m not alone in considering The Rescue of Saint Joan one of the first really iconic OSL figures in the miniature world. Victoria’s work blew our minds back then, and it still demonstrates of how deft use of value and saturation can create the illusion of light! It is not really a surprise to learn that Victoria Lamb is a skilled theatre set designer.

Victoria rescue of sister joanPainted by Victoria Lamb.

The Rescue of Sister Joan won the Slayer Sword (best in show) of Golden Demon Australia 2001. The background is the key element to conveying the OSL in this scene. The area of the wall reflecting light from the torch is more saturated and lighter in value than areas further away from it. That OSL effect is not really carried through to the figures, but the scene and action are so strong that it still works. And Victoria was just getting started. She painted the duel scene Fiery Angel for Golden Demon Australia 2003.

Victoria fiery angelPainted by Victoria Lamb.
Winner of Bronze demon in the Duel category at Golden Demon Australia 2003.

Here’s a look at Fiery Angel on a grey background.

Victoria lamb fiery angel greyPainted by Victoria Lamb.

Victoria also painted this diorama scene for George R. R. Martin’s extensive miniature collection. I do not know the year this one was painted.

Victoria lamb grrPainted by Victoria Lamb.

And here is another one of my much more humble efforts. I think the way I contrasted saturation of the shadow versus the light areas is effective, but I could have pushed the value contrast even more and gone darker in the shadow areas for a more dramatic light effect.

Bourbon street combo

Grey divider edit

Miniatures Featured in this Article

Dionne is available in metal from Hasslefree Miniatures.

The three Christmas Ghosts are special edition holiday miniatures. They sometimes made available are to purchase or as a gift with purchase in late November and/or early December from the Reaper website

The adventure party figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is running until the end of April. A random selection of one of the five figures is still being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five was included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they are included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I expect that they will go into retail sales channels at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.

Seeking Refuge is a larger scale resin bust available from Robot Rocket Miniatures.

Mephiston: Revenant Crusade is a scratch sculpted figure and not available for purchase. Other versions of Mephiston are sold by Games Workshop.

The figures in the first two Victoria Lamb scenes are out of production Games Workshop figures. I’m not very familiar with the line so I don’t know the exact names, sorry.

The figures in the diorama for George R. R. Martin are from Dark Sword MiniaturesGeorge R. R. Martin Masterworks line – Stannis Baratheon, and a converted Melisandre.

Bourbon Street Sophie is currently available in metal. A Bones plastic version is available in the Core pledge of the Bones 6 Kickstarter, and should come to retail within a few years of Kickstarter fulfillment.

Elf Wizard: Adventure Party

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

In a previous post I discussed the preparation and planning that went into painting Reaper’s promotional dungeon delving adventurer party, and I shared pictures of the group. In this post I want to share my process for painting the elf wizard figure, as well as the colours I used to paint him. Articles about the human rogue, the halfling fighter, and the dwarf cleric are also available. The final article about this group of figures will be a look at some of the factors that go into painting source lighting effects, and how you can paint them to look much more dramatic than I did with these figures.

9wizard bl front

9party bl right hammer

Elf Wizard Process

I had decided on the colour for the spell effect and had considered desaturated blue as a main colour for the wizard before I began painting any of the figures. However, once it came time to actually paint the wizard, I realized I was going to need other colours! If it weren’t for the lighting effect, using different values and/or slightly different hues of blue for the robe and the cloak might have worked. To paint a lighting effect requires using a full value range of a colour, concentrating the lighter values in the areas being hit by the light, and darker values in shadowed areas. Had I tried something like a darker blue robe and lighter blue cloak, it would have been challenging to distinguish those two values while also showing the range of values between lit and shadowed parts. For me, at least. (Value is how light or dark a colour is.)

9wizard bl back

So I had to come up with some additional colours! I think all of the decisions I made for the wizard work well for that figure on its own. Magenta is a complementary colour to the green of the spell effect, and magenta and purple colours are often used for magical and mysterious things in painting, so it works with his characterization, as well. The reflected green light effect works really well on the grey leather accessories and blue-black hair. However, as I mentioned in the previous article, the wizard’s colour scheme does not completely mesh with the colours used on the other three figures. The blue works, as it’s similar to my universal shadow colour. One thing I could have done to tie him in better with the other figures would be using some of the tan or cream colours on the other figures for his leather accessories instead of introducing a new colour. The magenta colour appears only on this figure, it might also help to use the darker magenta in some of the shadow areas on colours of the other characters.

9wizard bl face

Contrast levels can be a bit of a tightrope on an OSL figure. The typical push for strong shadows versus highlights contrast has to take a bit of a backseat to the need for strong contrast between lit areas versus shadowed areas. When I reassessed my first pass on the cloak of the wizard, I felt it needed at least a little more shadow-highlight contrast to bring out the shapes of the cloth. This change is pretty subtle, but if you look at specific areas of the cloak, you should be able to see it. Look at the wrinkles around the gem on the front view, and the shoulders on the rear view. Had this not been a light effect figure I would have bumped the contrast up even more significantly.

3wizard contrast front

I painted the face later in the process, which is unusual for me. I usually like to paint the skin first. It helps me engage more with the character during the painting process. Once I did paint his skin, something about it nagged at me. It just didn’t seem like it fit in with the rest of the colours on the rest of the figures, nor the light effect. I thought it was too light in value, but I wasn’t sure if that was the issue, or the only issue. I kept working on the rest of the figure, and let my background thoughts simmer on identifying the problem and possible solutions. As I was finishing up the last parts of the painting, I decided that the skin definitely was too light, but also that the skin colour was too warm. His face isn’t receiving much light from either light source, and all of the other colours on the figure are cool.

8wizard face comp

When I realized what I didn’t like about the skin, I didn’t just immediately repaint it! In situations like these I usually start by trying to use glazes to shift the colour and only repaint everything as a last resort. Once you’re comfortable with the technique, glazes do not take a lot of time to mix or apply. So if you can fix an issue with glazes, it can save you a lot of time reworking, even if you need to touch up highlights or shadows a little. In this case, I was much happier with the skin after the glazes. Even had the problem been only that the skin was too light, I would have first tried painting in more shadows rather than repainting everything and starting from scratch.

8wizard face comp bwI desaturated the comparison photo so you can see that the revised version is is a little darker, it’s not just a colour shift.

9wizard bl back right

Since I was already dealing with light effects and deadlines, I did not want to add on the challenge of trying to figure out how to paint a large free-standing gem to appear as transparent. But the stone in the wizard’s staff was large and prominent enough that I felt like it needed a little something. I settled on the idea of painting it as a star sapphire. While sapphires are generally thought of as blue, they occur in a range of colours. Green star sapphires are quite rare, which seemed perfect for a wizard. I used a smaller finely pointed brush and began by painting the lines in a slightly lighter green. Once I was confident about the positioning, I added lighter and lighter mixes of green to the centre of the lines, and then a bit of white at the intersection where they meet. I used a medium value but highly saturated green to add more colour around the star and soften the edges of the lines a little, to help the star look more like it’s incorporated into the gem rather than being painted on top.

9wizard bl right

Elf Wizard WIP Photos

I explained how I used primer to create a roadmap for the lighting in the overall process post. I took photos of the primed figures individually and as a group so I could use them as a lighting reference if I painted over an area but then later needed to check my lighting placement. I took pictures from numerous angles, I’m just showing a few of them here. When it comes to reference photos, it’s better to take too many than too few!

2wizard front

This priming technique provides an excellent overall feeling for the location of light and shadow. However, it does not take into account the way different textures and materials appear, and how they react to light – matte cloth versus somewhat shiny leather versus reflective metal. To best evoke the qualities of those materials requires the painter to use the primer (or lighting reference photos) as a guide, but to then extrapolate and tweak value ranges and value placement to match various types of materials. For example, if you compare the areas I painted as metal on the figures to the photos of the primer stage, you’ll see a number of differences in where the lightest and darkest colours are placed because I was trying to simulate the reflective appearance of metal.

2wizard back

3wizard front

3wizard back

4wizard right

4wizard back

5wizard front

5wizard back

9wizard gr front

9wizard gr back

Elf Wizard Paint Colours

Wizard blue robe colours:

IMG 2656

Wizard magenta cloak colours:

IMG 2657

Wizard staff colours:
These include colours used on the weapon handles of the dwarf cleric.

IMG 2658

Wizard initial skin colours:
As described in the process section above, I later mixed a glaze of some cooler colours and painted that over this first skin colour to make it cooler and darker.

IMG 2663

Wizard spell effect and star sapphire colours:
These colours were also used to paint the gem in the cleric’s necklace.

IMG 2667

Wizard hair colours:
These colours were also used to paint straps on the cleric’s sabatons.

IMG 2671

Wizard grey leather accessories colours:

IMG 2672

How to Get this Figure

The adventure party figures and a dungeon dwelling goblin are teasers for Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter: Tales from the Green Griffin, which is running until the end of April! A random selection of one of the five figures is still being added to most Reaper Miniatures orders. One of the five was included in the swag bags for AdeptiCon, and there may be other giveaway opportunities where you can obtain one or more of these figures. If you are interested in these figures but are not able to receive a free one, or you’d like to ensure you get all of them, they are included in the Kickstarter core pledge level. I expect that they will go into retail sales channels at some point after the Kickstarter pledges have been fulfilled, but it will be several years until that happens.