Can I See the Light (to Paint)

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

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

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

Study and Research

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

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

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

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

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

Plan and Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

Just Do It!

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

Problem Solving

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

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

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

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

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

Xpast wip1 front 600

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

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

Christmas Past WIP 2

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

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

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

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

Christmas Past WIP 3 Colour

Christmas Past WIP 3 grayscale

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

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

Christmas Past WIP 4

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

Christmas Past on Grey Background

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

Christmas Past Palette

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

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

Christmas Past Back

Christmas Past Left

Christmas Past Right

Christmas Ghosts Front

Figures Featured in this Post

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

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

Painting the Bones V Hydra

In a previous post post I talked about how it was a change of pace for me to paint this large hydra figure because of the difference in size and subject to what I paint most often. Now I’d like to share a little of the actual painting process for this miniature.

Hydra - finished, view 1It’s not too late to get this and hundreds of other figures at much lower than retail prices.

Planning Phase

My first step was making a plan of action. This is the stage where I consider different colour scheme ideas, what might be the best order to paint areas, things like that. In this case I did not take very much time and effort at this stage. I was on a deadline and not wanting to psych myself out about the aspects of painting something less usual for me.

And my experience in painting this figure is an example of how not spending a little bit more time in thought beforehand likely cost me a chunk of time in execution. I had some broad colour scheme direction via photos from Reaper’s art director, Ron Hawkins, but I didn’t take the time do do any colour tests. With some minis, I spend a bit of time working out my exact colour choices on paper before I start painting on the figure. I decided to wing it with this one, and I didn’t get it right on my first try.

Colour Complexity and Variation

One thing I did think about a little was colour variation. This is a subject I often end up talking with intermediate painters who are looking to improve their work to the next level. While painting shadows and highlights on an area adds some variation and visual interest, it only does so much. If you look at something the size of the hydra, or even a cloak or large expanse of skin, it gets a little samey to look at if the only variation is a difference between the dark, midtone, and light areas.

Bases color complexityTop: Shades of darker and lighter grey only.
Middle: Grey shaded with dark Burgundy pink, and highlighted with pale Caucasian flesh tone.
Bottom: Shades of darker and lighter grey for the value transitions, glazed over top with other colours.

These colour variations are reflect real world objects more than you might think – reflections from surrounding materials on shiny objects, variations in skin tones like blush on the cheeks, colour shifting caused by a light with a colour cast, all kinds of things create varied colours on surfaces. And just as with many elements of art that reflect real life, it’s pretty common for artists to exaggerate these colour variations to create a more interesting piece.

There are a number of different techniques you can use to add some colour variation to areas. I talked about a couple of methods in a Reaper Toolbox video I recently completed. Michael Proctor is a master of colour use, and he also has a recent Toolbox video where he talks about some of his techniques.

Hydra view of light directionI visualized the sunlight shining from the direction of the tip of the hydra’s tail, but much higher in the sky.

In the case of the hydra, I relied primarily on shifting the colours used to paint the lights and shadows, as in the middle photo of the example above. I added a little more visual interest to things by shifting the direction of the light to one side of the figure, and using some colour contrasts in my (eventual) paint choices. I visualized the light as bright sunlight streaming from the direction of the tip of the tail. This created a situation where one side of the creature would appear more in light, and the other side more in shadow, with some interesting interplay of light and shadow on the necks.

Airbrush Misstep

Several people have asked me if I used an airbrush to paint the hydra. My answer is yes and no. I did try to start with an airbrush. it seemed like a perfect fit for a large creature like this, and handy method to lay in the broad strokes of the directional light I planned. It took me a few hours of painting over a couple of sessions (my compressor overheated the first session!), but eventually I ended up with this.

Wip1a Hydra airbrush stageThe more lit side after the airbrush stage. Crummy cellphone photo.

It looks pretty dull in the photographs, and that’s not because they’re just crappy cell phone pics – it looked pretty dull in real life, too! Essentially I ended up with a sort of zenithal prime effect – it was a good guideline to where to place my shadows and highlights, but not much more.

Wip1b hydra airbrush back viewThe more shadow side after the airbrush stage. Cellphone photo.

Painting the Base

As I considered where to go from here, I realized that it would be tricky to reach all the areas of the base if the body were fully painted, so I decided to paint the base first. I talk about the techniques I used to paint the rocks in my recent Reaper Toolbox video.

Wip2a hydra painted basePainted base. Light side view. Cellphone photo.

The technique I used on the pillar pieces was a little different. I painted using my usual layering technique, but with some variation in the selection of colours for lights and shadows. I looked at some reference photos of Greek temples, and plenty of them are not perfectly polished white marble. Several seemed to have a fair bit of ruddy red showing on the pillars. So I started with a basecoat of cream, and used a clay red in the shadows. To keep the effect of the bright sunny day throughout the whole figure, I used some dark blue in the shadow areas of the pillars, and yellow in the highlight areas that are receiving full light.

Wip2b hydra base shadow sidePainted base. Shadow side. Cellphone photo.

Re-Colouring the Body

Now I had to figure out what to do with the body of the hydra for a more interesting colour selection. I decided to keep my main shadow colours, but swap in more saturated midtone and highlight colours. As with the rocks and the pillars, I was using dark blues in the shadows, and yellow in the highlights to simulate a sunny day.

Wip3a hydra base colour repaint light sideAfter wet-blending new body colours. Cellphone photo. View from the direction of the light.

The majority of the paint on the body and necks was applied with the wet-blending technique. I started with a size 2 round sable brush, but this figure was large enough that I switched to a bigger synthetic brush for most of the basic lay-in of colour transitions, using the size 2 on smaller areas or to refine blends. I used the light to dark transitions created by my airbrush stage as a guideline, but refined and shifted the location of light and shadow as I deemed necessary to create the effect of the lighting or make the figure more interesting to look at.

Wip3b hydra wetblending shadow sideAfter wet-blending in new body colour, view from the more shadowed side. Cellphone picture.

Forging a… Five Heads

I was much happier with the colour selection for the body than I was with my first attempt. However, I felt like using the exact same colour transitions on the head would not work very well. The heads need to stand out in some way to help the viewer spot them and connect with them. I did some experiments with a couple of patterns to see whether patterning would be a good way to make the heads stand out. Sometimes I’ll grab a similar figure to practice tricky freehand or do tests like this (Bones are great for this!), but in this case it was just as easy to test on the figure, and it is sculpted with such definition that a coat or two of extra paint wouldn’t be an issue.

Wip5 pattern testingTesting some ideas for patterning on the heads and/or neck scales.

I also decided to use more saturated colours on the heads than I had on the body. I switched out my brown shadow step for one that was more green, and swapped my kinda yellow highlight step for one that was a more intense yellow. The heads and spines scales were smaller areas and I was working with more transparent colours, so for these I used my usual layering techniques rather than doing any wetblending.

Wip4a hydra colour contrast between heads and bodyPainting completed on two heads. They are a slightly different colour scheme than the body to help them stand out to the viewer.

Lining the Scales

The next time I sat down to paint I wasn’t in the mood for fiddly blending with semi-transparent colours, so I decided to work on painting the lining between the scales instead. I talked about the technique I used for that in a previous blog post.

Hydra lining comboAdding lining between the scales makes a big difference in the appearance of a figure like this!

Once I had the lining in, I reevaluated my intention to paint some patterns on the heads and/or spine scales. The lining between the scales added a lot of texture and I felt like the contrast between that texture and the smooth blending on the heads would help keep the heads as the focus.

Belly Scale Dancing

Wip6a hydra blue belly scalesTest of a blue colour scheme for the belly scales. I used slightly different colours on the final version.

The last thing to figure out was the colours to use on the belly scales. As with the pattern experiments I decided to test right on the figure rather than grabbing a separate one or testing on paper. I wanted to pick colours that would stand apart from the belly scales, but not steal focus from the heads. The brown was a bit too bland. The blue worked better, but it was important to keep it muted so that it didn’t compete with the yellow of the heads. I tweaked the colours a little on the final version.

Wip6b hydra brown belly scalesTest of a brown colour scheme for the belly scales. 

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see from my experience painting this figure, one of the things to keep in mind when painting something that is different from what you normally paint is that the process is not likely to go as smoothly as usual. You have less experience to draw on, fewer helpful habits established. Even though I was painting this on a deadline, and I felt some pressure to make it look as cool as I could for the sake of the Kickstarter campaign and a few other reasons, I had to accept that I lost time to mistakes and having to do tests to avoid more mistakes. There would have been no value to beating myself up or getting too frustrated about it.

Display Painting versus Tabletop Painting

I’m still working on a bit more of an overview post of my experience painting the hydra I showed in my last post. In the meantime, I was thinking about the conversations I had with people about painting at the countdown party. 

Hydra side viewLate pledges are available if you missed the Kickstarter campaign.

I was very happy to talk with people about painting and try to share some tips. My painting knowledge is built on a foundation of generosity of other artists taking time to share what they know, and I want to give back to the community in the same way. I also genuinely enjoy geeking out about one of my favourite things with other fans! But there were times when I felt like the information I shared was disappointing to people since a lot of it summed up to the big ‘trick’ in painting this was time and patience.

When you’re learning a new skill, you tend to assume that as you get better at it, you’ll be able to do things in a similar amount of time and with similar techniques, just better and quicker. Certainly there are skills or areas in which this may be true. I’m not a great cook. I could follow a recipe to make a pie crust, but it would take me a lot more time and effort than a professional baker or even a practiced and enthusiastic home cook. And my results would likely neither look nor taste as good as theirs. They have a lot more experience and possibly access to better tools than I do. However, there are also areas where neither expertise nor tools are the limiting factor. My pie is going to take about as long to cook as the expert’s, and there’s not much either of us can do about that.

Cmon speed paints - frontA group of pro painters including myself, Jen Haley, Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford, and Clay Williams painted these Robb Stark models in a 90 minute speed painting challenge at CMON Expo 2018. The figures benefit from our painting expertise, but display models they are not.

Now I’m going to look at a more art based example. Someone who is in the earlier stages of learning to draw can produce an accurate and realistic drawing, whether through use of tools like grid drawing or just sheer effort. I did some decent drawings in my early days of starting my learning traditional art journey. But just like my attempt to make a pie crust, they took a lot of time and effort on my part. And they weren’t the norm. There were a lot more terrible drawings than decent ones. That stands in stark contrast with the work of a skilled artist, who can do quick sketches that look attractive and realistic in a few minutes. That is the value of practice and repetition, but also a lot of knowledge and experience that the artist draws upon.

I think people look at something I’ve painted like the hydra and parallel it to the example of the two artists above. They assume it’s the ‘pro’ version of their tabletop or speed painted miniatures. But it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. It’s more like comparing a pencil sketch to a high rendered photo realistic drawing. There’s a foundation of knowledge that applies to both, and there are some similar tools and techniques. But one is not the evolution of the other. It’s more like siblings or cousins.

Cmon speed paints - back viewMy figure is the second from the right, and is the weakest of the bunch. The painters who are more successful at balancing speed and end result than I am picked colour schemes with much more contrast, and enhanced those with painting techniques that enhanced the pop of the figure, and then sprinkled a dash of an extra like weathering and/or freehand on top. I spent too much time worrying about blending.

A professional painter, particularly one who paints armies or other tabletop figures regularly for commission, is like the professional baker making the pie crust. They have good tools and materials, but also a wealth of experience to draw on to create a great looking result in less time than a beginner or casual painter. Something they speed paint might be to a standard a beginner is aspiring to do as a display painted piece. But a lot of high level display painting techniques we use are more like the baking time in the oven for the pie, or the time it takes to render a quick sketch into a fully painted picture – there’s no quick trick or tool that does the job for you, it just takes time and patience.

Hydra - pre scale liningA work-in-progress picture of the hydra before I painted in the lining between the scales.

The lining between the scales of my hydra is a good example. Using quick painting techniques, most people would line between the scales by using a wash of a darker colour. Or maybe they would start by painting a dark coat of paint and then drybrush or sidebrush lighter colours on top of the scales, leaving the lines in between them dark. This figure is sculpted with a lot of great definition, and those techniques should work well to paint it. But that’s not how I painted mine, and I don’t think you could use those techniques and get a result that looks like what I got.

Hydra - after scale liningThe same view of the hydra with the lining painted between the scales. It adds a lot of impact and texture!

The way I painted the lines between the scales of the hydra was… to paint the lines between the scales of the hydra. I used a fine tipped brush, patience, and a little over two hours of my life. The only ‘tip’ type thing I did that might not be obvious to the viewers is something that made the process even more fiddly, not less! I did not use a single colour of lining over the whole figure. If you compare the value (lightness/darkness) of an area of scales to the lining around it, you’ll see that it’s fairly constant over the whole figure. It looks that way because I used a lighter brown colour to line between the lightest colour scales, a blue-black to line between the darkest colour scales, and a couple of mixes in between. In total I used five values of lining. Possibly I could have gotten a similar effect with four or perhaps even three value mixes, but in for a penny, in for a pound is how I tend to paint. ;->

Hydra scale lining paletteThe dried liner mixes in my welled palette.

My analogies are to an extent a simplification. There is a gray area between tabletop painting and high level display painting. High tabletop, basic level display painting, I’m not sure what you’d call it, but the basic gist is something both fast and good. There are some limits to how fast you can paint like this, and just how good of a result you can get with this. It uses techniques from both ends of the spectrum, so if this kind of painting is your goal, it is worth studying information from display level painters. Most people who paint miniatures for a living probably paint to this level as much as they can – as good as you can get it to look, in the least time possible. But when they paint a very high level commission piece or a contest entry that pulls out all the stops, they use techniques that take a lot of time and skill, like individually lining every scale on the hydra.

That balancing act between end result and time commitment is one of the ways I am not very good at my job. I’m working at getting a little better at it, but through my entire miniature painting experience I have tended to use time and brute force and focused on the quality of end result, and done a poor job of learning increased efficiency and good planning to improve on time. Or even just learned to accept that a lot of the time 80% of the best I can do is good enough.

As a result, those who are seeking information on how to better balance high quality result and speed are probably better off consulting other painters. :-> Two of the best painters I know for this both share their experience on Patreon if you’d like to learn a lot more tips and tricks than you could from a quick convention conversation. (And they also teach full classes at conventions.) Look up James Wappel and Aaron Lovejoy.

A Change of Pace

I’ll try to post some info on the painting process for this figure next week. Right now I only have time to share a few quick thoughts before I head out on a trip to Reaper for the Bones 5 Kickstarter countdown party. (It’s not too late to join us if you can get to Denton, Texas by Saturday afternoon!)

Hydra - view 1

I think a lot of us tend to get into a pattern of what we paint. Whether it’s because we’re painting for a particular army/game, or for our own preferences of subject, scale, and/or colour schemes, it’s not unusual to look at your painted miniature collection and see some trends. 

The fact that a lot of what I painted is on commission means that my painted output is a little more varied than it might be if I was choosing only for myself. But even then, people tend to ask you to do more of what they perceive you to be good at doing, or my clients have a lot of things they need painting and letting me choose from a selection means I’ll tend to gravitate towards what I like (or think I’m okay at doing.) 

Hydra view2

For me this has tended to mean a lot of gaming scale human figures, female more often than not, and with a lot of non-metallic metal or elaborate cloth. I usually, though certainly not always, paint with a fairly saturated colour scheme.

Hydra view 3

While I have painted animals and humanoid type monsters on occasion, I’ve never really done a genuine large monster type figure. So when the art director at Reaper (Ron Hawkins) suggested that I paint this hydra, I thought that would be an interesting challenge. The sculpt, by the very talented Julie Guthrie, was certainly very appealing to me. One of the elements I love about it is the way that the main body seems to sink towards the ground and has a real feel of solidity and weight to it.

It definitely was a challenge for me to paint! The size and repetitive nature of some elements required a whole other kind of patience than fiddly freehand or never-ending non-metallic metal. And I found on several occasions that it was surprisingly easy to lose track of which head/neck I was working on at the time!

But despite a few bumps in the road (mostly related to choosing colours and the patience thing), I had fun, and I think it was a valuable experience to break away from the scale and subjects I normally paint to try something quite different. I recommend it to any painter, particularly if you’re feeling a bit in a rut or aren’t very excited to get to your painting table.

Hydra view 4

This Hydra will one day be available in retail, but for now the only way to get one is to pledge to the Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign and add on for the Greek Odyssey expansion.

Have you had a positive (or negative) experience trying to paint something that was a big change from what you usually paint? I’d love to hear some stories (though may have some technical issues accessing comments while on the road, but will do my best!)

We Must Increase our Bust*

Reaper Miniatures has announced an add-on level for a set of busts in their current Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign. To some people this may seem like an odd or even undesirable turn of events. I’ve been lobbying them to produce some Bones busts for years. I’d like to share my thinking behind that, and why I hope inexpensive Bones busts may help the Kickstarter and even the hobby as a whole.

Busts in Bones 5 KickstarterA set of busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie available in the Bones 5 Kickstarter.

There is a large and active segment of Reaper’s fan base, and the miniature hobby as a whole, who evaluate miniatures solely from their value as playing pieces in various role-playing and miniature war games. Apart from potential use as terrain and objective markers, the busts have little appeal as playing pieces, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone in this group to buy them.

In the miniature hobby as a whole, there are also a large number of people who only paint figures and do not play with them. This segment of the audience has a strong preference for figures in larger scale than gaming miniatures, and many of them also enjoy or even prefer busts to full figures. If you haven’t been much exposed to the painting side of the hobby you might feel like people who only paint are just a small number of people who paint at a very high display level. This is not at all the case. There are enough people who enjoy painting that there are clubs and large shows devoted to this side of the hobby all over the world. And those painters encompass the same range of beginner to expert quality of output as the painters on the gaming side.

World expo show roomWorld Expo 2017. Miniature enthusiasts from around the world traveled to Chicago to show their work. This large ballroom contained only a portion of the total entries and attendees.

Members of this side of the hobby have traditionally focused on historical miniatures, but many also enjoy fantasy and science fiction figures as well. In fact, the number of people participating in this area of the hobby who are interested in fantasy/SF has only been increasing over the years. Just as with gaming miniatures, there are a few larger companies with big catalogs that offer a mix of historical and fantasy/SF figures, and a lot of boutique companies with more select offerings. Two of the bigger companies are Andrea and Pegaso. If you take a quick look at the number and variety of figures they offer, you will be able to see that there might be a larger audience of people who just like to paint miniatures than you might have imagined.

That painter only audience currently has very little knowledge of or interest in the offerings of Reaper Miniatures. I am hoping that the addition of these busts to the Reaper catalog will inspire some of them to take a second look at Reaper’s product line, as they might also enjoy figures like the giants and dragons. If we can spread the word and get some of these folks participating in the Kickstarter, that will add more backers to help reach the backer goal unlock as well as adding more funds to unlock other goals, which will benefit also benefit the miniatures as playing pieces backers of the Kickstarter.

Dragon bust Julie Guthrie also sculpted this dragon bust that is available in the Kickstarter.

There is a third group of people who enjoy miniatures both for their use in games, and as artistic pieces to paint for display. Over the past 10 years, the interest this group has in busts and larger scale figures has ballooned. Once they were rarities to see as contest entries at conventions or in online galleries like Cool Mini or Not. Now they are much more common. But I think there are a lot more people who would like to paint figures like this than currently do. Busts are typically produced in resin, and resin production is expensive. Looking over the Andrea catalog, the busts seem to start at $60. I’ve seen a few boutique companies who offer them priced as low as $20, but $40 and up is pretty typical. 

I suspect there are a lot of people out there who are interested in painting a bust, but find the price point of $40+ to be too much to pay for something they aren’t sure they’ll enjoy or be able to paint a level they find satisfactory. In the Kickstarter, they can get three cool busts to try for a mere $12! And even when these hit retail, the price is still going to be much more palatable for an experiment.

Bust combo 600I did some quick B&W painting on this resin copy of one of the new Reaper busts to demonstrate how you can use paint to alter a sculpted expression. I was trying to make her look sad and grieving. The sculpted expression is much more neutral. Unfortunately my year of chaos means I haven’t had time to properly paint this wonderful bust yet!

Another great value of these is for teaching demonstration and study of how to paint miniatures, both for tabletop game use and display. There has been an explosion of great video resources online. As much as camera technology has improved in the past few years, it is still often difficult to make out exactly what someone is demonstrating on a gaming scale miniature. Reaper’s gotten in the game with their Reaper Toolbox videos, which you can find on their YouTube channel, and their staff painter has mentioned that she tends to prefer painting bigger figures on camera because it’s much easier for people to see what she’s doing.

I teach and take a lot of classes in person, and suffer the same issue. Reasonably priced busts and larger scale figures are a boon to teaching miniature painting. I could much more easily demonstrate the texture technique I used to paint Delia on a larger figure, and students would have a much easier time practicing that technique on a larger figure. I have never taught painting eyes at a convention because the iffy lighting would make it too frustrating to see the demonstration or attempt to practice. The larger eyes of a bust would be a different prospect! Busts are common subjects for one or two day workshops, but have been too expensive to be practical for use two hour classes. Inexpensive Bones busts offer exciting possibilities for new subjects and improvements in miniature painting instruction.

Figures on a shelfWhich would viewers see best on a mantle or curio shelf?

One final value for busts is as gifts. A lot of people who paint miniatures like to give these as gifts to friends and family. A typical gaming scale miniature is too small to work well displayed on a mantlepiece or curio cabinet shelf. You’d need to build up an elaborate base or create a diorama to make them stand out. The picture above gives you an idea of what I mean. The Reaper mousling and Dark Sword woman in the middle of my sample display are painted to a high standard, but it’s challenging to even see what they are unless you’re quite close to them. The two busts and the Reaper Efreeti are much more suitable for display of that nature.

I suspect that part of the popularity of the Reaper Kickstarter dragons and giants is how well they work in this capacity. Busts also make great display piece gifts, are sturdy, and do not require time-consuming or fragile basing. They also fit into a type of art object more easily understood by non-miniature enthusiasts, so are more likely to be appreciated by recipients and viewers of that nature.

If you are interested in buying the busts in the Kickstarter but aren’t familiar with the Reaper Kickstarter format, you might find it a bit overwhelming at first. Begin by going to the Reaper campaign webpage. You will need to set up an account if you aren’t already a member of Kickstarter. Take note of which email address you use. This is the address where you will receive information after the Kickstarter concludes about how to let Reaper know which specific products you want and where to send your items.

Select the $1 level that matches the area where you live. You will see a box that says Pledge amount set to the amount of $1. If you would like to buy the three humanoid busts, you need to add $12 to that, for a total of $13. If you would like to buy just the dragon bust, add $6 for a total of $7. If you would like all of the currently available busts, set your total to $19. 

Figures in this Post

The three humanoid and one dragon head busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie are currently only available via the Reaper Kickstarter. Read the paragraphs above for how to pledge to receive these. They will release into retail channels some time in the second half of 2021 or first half of 2022.

The Random Encounter dwarf bust is available as a gift with purchase from FeR Miniatures, which also sells some other terrific busts (and full figures).

The mousling pirate is available in metal from Reaper Miniatures.

The female shaman is based on artwork by Larry Elmore and is available from Dark Sword Miniatures.

The efreeti was briefly available as a promotional figure from Reaper Miniatures. She should go on regular sale early in 2020.

*If the title of this blog post is lost on you…

Madame Delia

Reaper Miniatures released the Madame Delia figure in metal just this week. She is also going to be made into a Bones figure as part of the core set of the Bones 5 Kickstarter that is currently running. So I thought this would be a good time to share my paint job on this terrific figure.

Madame Delia - face viewI do hope to add a base to her some time soon!

I jumped at the chance to paint this figure. I’m a fat woman, and it’s nice to every now and then paint a figure that looks a little like me. But much more importantly – look at her outfit! I often implore Reaper’s art director, Ron Hawkins, to include more figures in fancy dress or historical costume, and this certainly fits the bill, so how could I resist? I’ll talk a little more about my approach to painting the clothing below.

Madame Delia - back view

Madame Delia is based on fantastic concept art by Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier, which you can enjoy below. She was brought to three dimensional life by the talented sculptor, Bobby Jackson. Although I expect that she will see game use as a noble, a merchant, a mayor, and many other ideas, she was designed as a specific character in Reaper’s Dreadmere setting, and has a backstory by Ron Hawkins and Joseph Wolf. I painted her to match the sketch and the character notes. 

Madame Delia Sketch  1Concept art for Madame Delia by Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier.

In the world of Dreadmere, Madame Delia runs a punchhouse called the Drowned Waif. The brothel caters to exotic tastes and employs performers of diverse background and appearance who have a great range of talents. Its proprietor has a fondness for excessively elegant gowns and accessories. She also has a predilection for the drug hagshair, smoked from a long ivory pipe. (Such habits are an unfortunate consequence of living in the tumultuous area of Dreadmere!)

Delia right 400

My vision for Delia’s appearance was one that was dramatic, but not too over the top into garish. Taking a cue from the feather fan, I went with a peacock colour scheme and motif. Since Delia is a lot of woman wearing a lot of fabric, I wanted to paint at least two noticeably different types of cloth to prevent it from feeling like too much of the same thing. I picked a dark blue-green for the cloth of the main dress. Years ago I experimented with a colour and texture like this with a very quickly painted test figure. This seemed like an opportunity to try to execute the idea to more of a display level style of painting.

Test cloth elf cloakThis quick test figure was done in ~15 minutes using a synthetic brush.

To paint the cloth, I started with a fairly dark basecoat colour over the entire area. Then I highlighted up by stippling tiny dots of various shades of blue, green, and teal. To paint these, I used a smaller than usual sable hair brush with a very fine tip. I painted one value level of dark shadow with a very dark blue and dark green, then three or so value levels of highlights. For each level I used two to three paints of roughly the same value (how dark or light the colour is), but different shades of blue/green/teal. Then I glazed over the cloth with a thinned down and very transparent coat of a dark blue-green in the crevices, and a lighter one on the peaks of the folds. The level of contrast between the darkest values and the lightest ones is noticeable, because contrast is important to make things look three dimensional, but it’s not super extreme. Rather I’m using the texture to add some visual interest and create the appearance of a rich velvet or something with a little shimmer.

Madame Delia - back left viewI love those slashed sleeves so much!

By comparison, the lighter green cloth draped on top of the main dress has much more extreme contrast between shadows and highlights. Here I was aiming for a shiny silk type of look, so the crevices shade down to almost black, and the highlights are a yellowy off-white. To add further depth and richness to the shadows, I painted a thin coat of one of the deep red colours from her hair into the darkest shadows. Since green and red are colour complements, this adds a bit of additional contrast even though it isn’t immediately obvious to the viewer’s eye. Whether steel or cloth, materials require a large range of contrast between the darkest and lightest values to appear shiny. The overall midtone value of the draped fabric is lighter than the main dress, so it is set apart from it in terms of colour, texture, and value. There is a third cloth material, as well. I painted the cloth seen through the slashed sleeves and lacing to appear as a pale linen type of fabric, which is pretty matte and so has a much smaller range of contrast between the shadows and the highlights.

Madame Delia - Front view

There is a lot of green (and blue) on the figure, so I tried to balance that out with my other colour choices. Delia seems like someone who would dye her hair, and I decided on a not-natural burgundy type of redhead choice as that seemed like something that would look good with the green, and also fit someone who enjoys looking dramatic. I used similar colours for the gems and her makeup. Green or blue eyeshadow seemed clearly over the line into garish, but a little bit of a deep pink for her eyeshadow and some matching lipstick and blush seemed like they would fit. I used a touch of reddish-purple in the shadows of the gold and ivory to help tie those into the main colour choices, as well. And of course peacock feathers for her fan!

Madame Delia - back right view

Madame Delia is available for purchase in metal right now. Or you can get a copy in Bones by supporting the Bones 5 Kickstarter that is running currently. It is my understanding that the figures in the core set, which Madame Delia is part of, will be made in the newer Bones Black material that is a bit stiffer and nicer for detail than classic Bones.

Bones V Kickstarter Preview

Reaper Miniatures is back on Kickstarter, this time with Bones V! The pledge total is already up to $1M! They started streaming on Twitch when the Kickstarter was live expecting to stream for an hour or so, and ended up live for seven hours

I was able to take pictures of some of the preview miniatures while I was at ReaperCon last month, and it looks like there are some pretty amazing figures coming our way. I hope to get a brush on some of these sooner or later…

Here are a few highlights, but you can see all of the pictures I took in an album on my Facebook page.

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