A Focus on Scarlet Study

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Today I’m serving up a small buffet of painting tips. These occurred to me while painting the Mistletoe Goblin from the Reaper 12 Days figures for 2020, but I hope they will be tasty tips to use all the year round.

Xgob frontLooking for some holiday love.

Painting Red

Many people find painting red frustrating. This topic deserves a deep dive at some point, but for now, here are some quick tips you can try to see if they help reduce the frustration.

Midtones Make the Colour
Generally speaking, you need to make sure you paint a fairly large surface area in the colour you want the viewer to perceive – at least 40-60%. So to keep the jacket looking like a brighter, lighter red colour, I needed to ensure that a large surface area was painted in those brighter, lighter reds. I needed to keep the light highlights and dark shadows confined to smaller areas. Likewise to keep the pants a dark red, I needed to keep the highlights to small areas and not get too bright with them. (Shiny surfaces and other textures work a little differently, but this guideline works for a lot of surface types.) This tends to matter even more with red than some other colours because neither light red nor very dark red appear classically ‘red’ to people, so you won’t feel as if your item is as red if you lose too much of those midtones.

Reds are Transparent
Pretty much all miniature paint brand bright reds are somewhat to fairly transparent. This is a property of the available red pigments that are non-toxic and not super expensive. Miniature paint brand reds that are less transparent will also be at least a little less saturated (bright/vivid) in colour. This occurs because the most way to make a paint more opaque is to add some more opaque pigments to the mix. Generally this is black and/or white, either of which reduce the saturation of colour mixes. (You can read more about colour properties.)

In the Reaper paint lines, the Bones brand reds have the best coverage. Brilliant Red is a good compromise between decent coverage and intense colour. The truest, most vivid red in the Reaper line is a transparent colour, Clear Red. You can glaze it over red areas you want to brighten up a little to increase saturation. (I did not do that here, I think of Christmas red as being pretty saturated, but it doesn’t have to be the most intensely saturated red.)

Xgob back

There are some red paint art store alternatives that aren’t as transparent, but that is a topic for another day. For now, just be aware that it’s about the pigment, not companies mixing paint poorly because they’re being cheap. (More about pigment and paints here.) You’re just going to have to have a bit of patience when painting red because it will take more coats than many other colours. I usually annoy myself by being a little careless with my shadow placement and then having to spend more time than I’d like smoothing out transitions or restoring the midtone bright red.

Shadows – Don’t Paint it Black
If you only own mid-value reds and you mix your own shadow colours, I recommend not using black to darken red. It makes fairly dull reds and can be more difficult to mix with precisely. Experiment with dark brown, dark blue, deep purple, or mid to dark greens instead. You might be surprised at the interesting rich shadows you can create for your reds! On this figure I just used darker reds, and mixed in a bit of Blue Liner for the deepest shadows and lining. (Full recipe below.)

Xgob face

Highlights – My Secret Ingredient
If you mix white into red you get pink. If you mix yellow into red you get orange. Neither really mimics the appearance of a red surface being lit by brighter light. If you mix pink and orange together you get a salmon colour, and I find that salmon colours work great for highlighting bright reds!

The first time or two I experimented with this I mixed my own, and then I discovered a Reaper paint called 61131Red Dust. This has long since been discontinued, but now we have 9321 Red Neon Glow, and it works even better for the purpose. There is another colour you could try if you have it on hand – 9232 Bright Skin Shadow. This was very recently discontinued as well. It is also a duller colour. I would probably add a little orange to it, but it’s worth trying if you have some to hand and you want to test this kind of highlight colour on red for yourself before buying some Red Neon Glow.

My Recipe
To paint the Mistletoe Goblin, I laid out a full spectrum of red paint mixes from lightest to darkest. I used these mixes on both the pants and the jacket. However, I used different parts of the spectrum of mixes for the two items, and I used mixes in different proportions. 29840 Garnet Red is discontinued, but there are several darkish reds in the Reaper line that would work as substitutes. 9278 Gory Red (recently canceled) looks closest, but I think 9135 Carnage Red is also similar, just a little less dark.

IMG 0193

Red paints2

Reference the Real World

I received a pleased comment or two about having accurately painted the mistletoe. Many people confuse mistletoe with holly or ivy, other plants which are traditionally associated with Christmas. Both of those have dark, rich green leaves, but mistletoe has lighter grey-green leaves.

It is worth taking time now and then to research what things look like. Most of us feel like we know what a lot of things look like. We’ve spent our whole lives looking at things, right? So we must know what they look like. The general observations that most of us have stored up in our minds are often somewhat to strikingly inaccurate or incomplete. We tend to focus on just one or two aspects of an item. Like we know that mistletoe is green, but might not have accurately stored knowledge of exactly what kind of green. (For another example, think of a set of stairs you climb regularly at work or home. How many individual steps are there? Few people can answer that, even if they walk up that set of stairs multiple times per day. We often see things but don’t really see them.)

The more you look at and study real objects, the more ideas you’ll get for how to paint them. You’ll also increase the accuracy and the number of the objects in your ‘visual library’ – the objects you have really looked at and know what they look like. If you paint worn leather a lot, work on a miniature where you look at some examples of worn leather and you aim to match the way the colours fade and the patterns of wear instead of just doing it from your imagination. Then the next time you paint leather from your imagination, you’ll have more information to work with!

Dec6One of the watercolour mistletoe cards I painted.

I was familiar with mistletoe due to having painted some for Christmas cards some years ago. The painter in the tutorial I followed had some sprigs of real mistletoe to reference and shared them on video. She also described mixing the paint in some detail so I was aware of the desaturated yellow-green colours. I nonetheless did some online searching to refresh my memory of what mistletoe looks like. (I tried to find the video I followed to add a link, but if it’s still on YouTube I couldn’t find it. There are lots of others on painting watercolour mistletoe though!) There is also a difference in the appearance between North American and European mistletoe. The stereotypical Christmas mistletoe is based on the more attractive European version.

Focus

I spent some time talking about focus in the succubi wings article. It has been on my mind a lot lately as I work on putting together information for my ‘handbook of miniature painting’. It’s also something that I have historically not paid enough attention to in my own painting. So currently I am trying to focus on focus in my own work, and I figure it might be helpful to some of you if I share my thought process on that.

The Mistletoe Goblin is a simple example of trying to consider focus. To me the story of the miniature is in the goblin’s face and the hand holding the mistletoe, with a secondary focus on the box of chocolates. So how do I take that idea and turn it into paint on a figure?

IMG 0496

Ron (the art director at Reaper) and I agreed this should be a green goblin. Red and green are colour complements, and traditional Christmas colours, so I was starting off with a strong colour contrast advantage. But there were still plenty of ways I could have gone astray.

One issue I had to consider is that if the goblin is green, and mistletoe is green, how do I emphasize the face of the goblin as the main focus? Mistletoe is a light green, and lighter colours tend to draw more attention. Thanks to my research I knew that mistletoe is a more muted green. Muted colours draw less attention, so that was helpful. It also has white berries instead of red like holly, which would have been higher contrast.

Using a very saturated green on the goblin’s skin would have helped draw attention to the face, but I didn’t want to use super saturated green colours for the goblin skin. Unless I’m painting something very cartoony, I like to desaturate skin colours at least a little. Just as real world people are very desaturated versions of ‘red’, ‘yellow’, ‘black’, ‘brown’, I apply the same principles to fantastic skin tones. You can compare the more muted greens on the Mistletoe Goblin with the saturated greens I used on the Ghost of Christmas Present in the picture below.

Xmas green comp

But by using more saturated greens on the skin than on the mistletoe, I could at least draw a little more attention to the face. After most of the miniature was painted and coming together, I also decided to add the touches of pinky-red to the lips, nose, and ears of the goblin. That brought the strong colour contrast of red/green directly onto the main area of interest of the face.

Xgob wipBefore and after adding some red areas to the face and ears.

Many of my other decisions were related to avoiding distraction in other areas of the figure. I painted the pants a dark red, and did not paint them with strong contrast between highlights and shadows. I chose black for the shoes and belt, and again pulled back a little on the contrast. Partly this was for character – with a hole in the shoe, these were clearly not well-polished new shiny black patent leather or anything! But it was also to avoid drawing too much attention away from the focus areas. The legs and feet add character details, but they are not a significant part of my story.

The ‘story’ I chose for my version of the miniature is just one possibility. It would definitely be possible to tell another story with this miniature that puts a lot of focus on the worn out shoes and half eaten chocolates, and that story would benefit from colour and value used in very different ways than what I chose. There’s not a ‘right’ answer to how to use focus on every miniature. The key is to think about the story/character you want to convey to the viewer and make choices that support that.

Xgob candy

I’m not sure if the chocolates and box end up pulling more focus than they should. It’s a small area and something we don’t see a lot on miniatures, so I was concerned about making it as identifiable to the viewer as possible. I painted a light grey and just highlights of white for the chocolate cups, but it’s still strong contrast with the dark brown chocolate and then both of those contrast with the gold box. Possibly I should have painted the cups a little darker grey and the chocolate as more of a milk chocolate. But I’m still doing a lot of work figuring this focus stuff out myself! This is where things get interesting and artistic. And sometimes frustrating and challenging!

Miniatures Shown in this Post

The Mistletoe Goblin and the Ghost of Christmas Present are both limited availability holiday miniatures. They are part of Reaper Miniatures 12 Days of Reaper promotion, which is running until December 8, 2020. For each $40USD (or equivalent) you spend at the Reaper store, you can choose one of 12 different holiday figures, or a Reaper ornament. So if you spend $80 you can pick out two, and so on. This stacks with the usual monthly promotion, so you also pick out one of the monthly figures per $40 you spend, so you’re getting two free metal figures with every $40 purchase.

I shared a post with larger images and links to painting info for the 10 options I painted. After December 8th, the remaining stock of figures will go up for sale individually.

12Days 2020 2 copy

Efreeti Paint Process and Colours

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There seems to be some interest in knowing more about how I painted Ziba the Efreeti for Reaper Miniatures.

Efreeti front on black backgroundMy painted version of the Efreeti figure from Reaper Miniatures. This is a resin master copy, as the figure was not yet available in the Bones Black material at the time I was assigned to paint it.

Every miniature (with the possible exception of completely scratch sculpted figures) is a collaborative process, and that is certainly true of this one. It started with Izzy ‘Talin’ Collier’s fantastic concept art, which sculptor Bobby Jackson did a wonderful job of bringing to three dimensional life. Before I began painting, Reaper’s art director Ron Hawkins and I talked about his vision for the colours of the character. While I have played role-playing games for many years, I’ve played in a lot of low level and custom world campaigns, so I’m not as familiar with some of the classic creatures and characters of the RPG world as you might expect. As a result, I always like to collaborate with Ron to make sure I’m painting the classics in a classic way!. 

This was my colour brief – red skin on the darker side, hair with flame-like colours, and yellow metals for armour and accessories. So yellow, orange, and red, both in fully saturated form for hair and skin, and less saturated form for the metals. That sounded like a classic analogous colour scheme. An analogous scheme is one that uses 3-5 colours that are side by side to one another on the colour wheel. Because the colours are adjacent, they work very harmoniously with one another, and you can be confident that everything ‘goes’. What you lose in that colour scheme is the punch and pop you can achieve by pairing complementary colours – colours which are opposite one another on the colour wheel. Analogous colour schemes can be very effective in graphic design, and with certain subjects/approaches in traditional art forms. But when it comes to portraying something of any complexity, to me they seem a bit gimmicky or limited in the situations in which they work effectively.

Colour wheel showing red through yellow analogous colour schemeA colour wheel can be a handy tool to help you choose colours for painting a figure, and quick reference for useful concepts like complementary colours. I like that this one shows tones and tints as well as pure hues. There are also a lot of great pages and programs available online related to colour schemes and selection.

I was excited about the prospect of being able to try a true analogous scheme on a figure since I had never done it before. Neutral colours are generally considered apart from the colours that make up a colour scheme, so I added black to the colour options both for mixing shades and as a minor colour for leather straps, horns, and claws. This was also a departure – I very rarely use plain black to darken colours. I far prefer to use a dark blue, brown, purple, even green or red depending on what I’m shading. White was added to make the hottest part of the fire and for the top highlights on the metals.

I had a firm deadline for completing this figure, but a whole lot of outside life issues kept getting in the way (flu followed by literal flood, and that was after some other issues even getting started!) While I enjoy colour mixing in my traditional art studies, for miniatures I often prefer to use as many pre-mixed convenience colours as I can, supplemented with custom mixes of my own as necessary. This allows me to quickly get paint on my palette and refill as necessary if I start to run low on a mix. This figure is almost three times the size of a standard gaming miniature, which is a BIG figure for me. I definitely ran out of mixes as I was painting! (You can read a little more about paint choices, colour mixing, and convenience mixes in a previous blog post.)

IMG 5727The bottom row on the palette shows the value range and the intermediary mixes I used to paint the skin. After I had paint on everything I added one slightly brighter final highlight to a few small areas on the face. You can also see the corner of my reference photo over on the right, and some colour scheme test figures behind the Efreeti.

Before starting to paint, I did a little testing to pick my colours. I chose to go with a cooler red rather than a warmer red mix for the skin, and I also had my colours set for the hair from the outset. (A cooler red has a touch of blue, a warmer red is more orangey.) I did some Google searches for bronze items and picked out a few I liked the look of, then picked out some colours paint colours that matched. Since I was trying for the analogous scheme, I didn’t want to use colours that appeared to have green in them. I also didn’t want colours that were too yellow, since I wanted the bronze to look as distinct as possible from the gold. For that same reason, I picked out strong yellows and reddish browns for the gold areas. I will list the names of the paint colours I used at the bottom of this post for those who are interested.

Efreet test paintI tested several different versions of the red skin on a few of these Bones figures, which I love for testing! Once I had a skin colour I liked, I tested a hair colour. Then I began to paint on the Efreeti itself. I kept the test figure available to use to check on my choices for other areas of the figure, such as the cloth and bronze. Even very rough tests of a basecoat for the cloth and just roughing in highlights and shadows on the bracer for the bronze were useful to help me see if the colours worked together. You don’t have to know every colour you’ll use before you start painting, and you don’t have to have an ‘instinctive’ sense about colour to make successful colour choices. But it definitely helps a lot to be willing to test and play around!

Colour choices are just one part of the puzzle for why the skin of the figure looks like it does. I think the way that the skin seems to glow a little is strongly impacted by the depth of the shadows, and the degree to which I painted in the shadows. I didn’t want the skin to be much lighter in value than a bright red/dark orange. Using white and yellow only in the hair would separate the two areas visually more effectively and help the hair read better as fire-like. The shadows of the skin are nearly black in the darkest areas, and there is a fairly large proportion of shadow. The lightest areas are in a circle on the right side that includes most of the face, the right arm and hand, and the right unarmoured hip. The highlights on the armoured leg are almost, but not quite as bright as those. Throughout the skin there are strong areas of shadow next to areas of light – light on the cheekbones, very dark in the hollows under the cheeks and the chin and neck. Very light at the top of the right hip, shading down to near black above the knee. Even darker on the opposite leg, so although the highlight there is not as bright in value as the face and hip, it looks pretty bright. 

Efreeti front on gray backgroundThe background you use to photograph miniatures can have a surprisingly significant effect on the end result, both in terms of how your camera may perceive colours, and the mood that is created for the viewer. This photo on a grey background is less dramatic, but the colours are probably a little more accurate.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, it is increasingly my preference to try to separate out some of the steps or considerations of painting as much as I can. To ask yourself to think mentally about where the shadows/lights should go based on your light source, at the same time as placing them on the actual figure with paint, while at the same time trying to achieve a smooth blend or create a texture is like juggling a bunch of balls in the air at the same time. It can be done with a lot of practice and/or luck, but more often than not you’re likely to be dropping balls all over the place. You’ll have a much easier time with just two balls, or even just bouncing one ball back and forth against a wall.

My first step was to take a photograph of the figure under a strong light. I chose to make the direction of my light source above and to the right from the orientation of this photograph, and I took pictures with this lighting from several angles. (I think I’d like to get a lazy Susan type thing to make this easier to do!) This showed me where my main areas of light and shadow would fall on the figure. If you compare the reference photo below to how I painted the skin, you’ll see that I followed the placement shown in my reference photos pretty closely. Skin has a sheen but is not a strongly reflective surface, so a photograph of a resin figure seemed a pretty good guide to how skin would work, and likewise a good guideline for this type of non-shiny fabric. For the shiny metal surfaces, I had to extrapolate and use my imagination a lot more. In all areas I fudged or exaggerated whenever it seemed like it would look more visually interesting or effective to do so. As an example – the light falling on the right foot is about as light in value as that falling on the right hip in my reference photo. I chose to paint the foot darker because it is not a strong area of interest and should not be competing with the hip and the face for attention. The skin of the left arm is more heavily shadowed in my lighting reference photo, and I initially painted it that way, but I lightened it up a little because that area seemed too dull and indistinct when looking at the figure.

Efreeti front light refence photoThe unprimed resin figure illuminated by a single small light source placed above and to the right. The soft transition from light grey to near black on the right thigh is an example of a form shadow (see below). The sharp line across the right arm under the shoulder pad or the diagonal line of shadow on the left sword are examples of cast shadows.

For the past few months I’ve been studying shadows in traditional art. In particular, I’ve studied cast versus form shadows. Shadows occur where light is occluded from falling on a surface. When you stand out in the sun your body blocks the light of the sun from falling on the area where your shadow appears. That is a cast shadow, and there is a noticeable line around its edge that separates it from the area where the light is illuminating the surrounding surfaces. If you hold your arm out in the sun or a room with a ceiling light, you’ll see that your arm appears lighter on the top where it faces the light, and the skin that slopes down towards the underside of your arm appears to darken gradually. That transition from lit area to dark shadow area is a form shadow, and it is generally very soft and gradual, rather than having the sharper line or edge that defines a cast shadow.

As I was starting to paint this figure, I got to thinking that in miniature painting, we generally emphasize painting form shadows – those gradual transitions that show rounded forms sloping away from the light. But unless we’re painting figures that depict and emphasize the light source within the scene, we rarely paint cast shadows. I suspect this is because we look at miniatures in the round in a variety of lighting conditions. Cast shadows define the imagined light source more strongly and may look odd from certain angles or if the viewer has light coming from other angles. Also cast shadows tend to have hard edges, which require more precise placement to appear correct to the viewer. One of the exceptions to this is lining. One of the reasons lining often looks more natural than you might imagine is because there often is a ‘dividing line’ between overlapping surfaces that is created by cast shadows. If you look at a sleeve overhanging an arm, you’ll see the sleeve casts a thin line of shadow just below itself – a cast shadow that we paint as a line. You can even see this on the reference photo above – the thin dark line between the bracer on her right arm and the hand below it.

Drawing demonstrating different types of shadows and edgesThis is a reference diagram from my study of shadows and edges in traditional art that hopefully demonstrates a form shadow versus a cast shadow. The light is coming from above and to the left.

Important note! There are definitely miniature painters that paint cast shadows! Even apart from the example of the many painters who have painted shadows on the ground/basing when painting source light scenes. Alphonso Giraldes (Banshee) has done it, Aythami Alonso Torrent (NotOriginalMinis) has a short video demonstrating it, and I’m sure there are many, many, many others. I’m not under any illusion that I’ve invented anything unique here! I’m just exploring the idea that I think we emphasize form shadows and smooth transitions in miniature painting, and rarely paint the more sharply defined cast shadows.

Because yellows, oranges, and reds are not the best coverage paints, I decided against doing a grisaille primer approach or something similar. Instead I blocked in the main shadows and lights with the colours I intended to use on the skin and armour. For this figure, I decided I wanted to more actively paint in cast shadows. If you compare the figure to the reference photo, you’ll likely spot areas where I did this. It is most noticeable on the right arm, where I painted both the shadow cast by the large overhanging shoulder plate, and another area of shadow cast by the contour of the bracer. 

Efreeti WIP pictureIn this photo you can see the block in version of the bronze armour and swords. Blends are rough, and I haven’t added the brightest highlights or darkest shadows, or done any lining between the scale plates, nor any other kind of detailing. The goal is just to lay in an idea of where the big areas of dark, light, and midtones go.

Efreeti WIP pciture 2This is further along in the process. I’ve completed the gold non-metallic metal, and I’m starting to work on refining the bronze. I’ve finished the scale armour section on the bracer and her right breast. I’ve increased the contrast on the swords, but will do a bit more work on that as well as refining the blends. The placement of highlights and shadows on the metal areas is a little less straightforward than just following the reference photo, since super shiny surfaces behave differently than matte ones. You may find this video helpful.

In general I suspect that the shadows on the skin look natural enough that people might be (consciously or subconsciously) reading them as being partly paint, partly naturally occurring from an overhead light source. I have set up my photo area to cast as flat of light as possible so as to create as few shadows on the figure as possible. If you look around the area of the base in the finished photos near the top of this post (or scroll down a little), you’ll see only faint shadow cast around the base of the figure. The very dark areas next to the skirt are painted shadows, and my willingness to go down to near black there (and to follow a reference photo to help me visualize where things should be placed) is what makes the lighter areas of the skin appear to glow or pop. Committing to the cast shadows only enhanced the effect of that I think.

So how did an analogous colour scheme work out for me? In the end, I’m not entirely sure whether or not this piece qualifies as one. The purple colour on the skirt was mixed by adding gray to my darkest red (and then using a very close match pre-bottled colour for simplicity.) But in the final stages of painting I added a glaze of a true purple colour in the shadows of the skin, cloth, and gold NMM. It is hard for me to paint without using purple! Although I was attempting to avoid using any paints that seemed to have any blue or green in them,  I didn’t mix the NMM colours from my basic colour set, so I can’t guarantee they could all be achieved from my analogous colours plus black and white. Perhaps I will try an analogous scheme again in the future and conform to it more strictly, but in this case it was more important to me to make the piece as interesting and well done as I could manage given my time limitations.

Special thanks to Jen Greenwald for her suggestion for a way to paint glowing eyes that I’m quite happy with. If you like work in progress pictures and frequent updates, you’ll enjoy her blog a lot more than mine. :->

Scale picture of EfreetiOne more picture, this one indicating the scale of the figure. She’s big! But Sir Forescale doesn’t mind dating a taller woman, he’s secure in his masculinity. 

Paint Colours

All colours used are Reaper Master Series Paints unless otherwise noted.

Colours in italics are out of production or special edition colours not currently for sale. You can approximate Bruished Purple by adding Stormy Grey to Crimson Red. Garnet Red is a cool red with a value between Crimson and Brilliant, and several MSP colours should work in its place.

Colours marked * are currently unavailable and were previously part of the MSP HD line. They will be available in the near future as part of the Bones HD line.

Colours are listed from darkest to lightest. Bolded colour is the closest approximate midtone. Note that there may be intermediary steps of colours mixed together to create smoother blends.

Skin: Solid Black* + Crimson Red*, Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Red Neon Glow (pre-release colour, will be available soon), touch of Lava Orange + Linen White, glaze in the shadow areas with Imperial Purple

Bronze Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Woodstain Brown, Woodstain Brown, Tanned Leather, Blond Hair, Blond Highlight, Linen White

Gold Non-Metallic Metal: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Chestnut Brown, Chestnut Gold, Palomino Gold, NMM Gold Highlight, Blond Highlight, Linen White

Skirt: Solid Black* + Bruised Purple, Bruised Purple, Linen White + Bruised Purple

Hair: Crimson Red*, Garnet Red, Brilliant Red*, Lava Orange, Fire Orange, Lantern Yellow, Candlelight Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Pure White

Horns: Solid Black*, Dusky Shadow, Dusky Skin, Dusky Highlight, Vampiric Shadow, Vampiric Skin, Vampiric Highlight

Bone carved skulls: Same mixes as the horns, but emphasizing the lighter end of the colours. Glaze with Bone Shadow

Base: Grays mixed from Solid Black* and Pure White, glazed with colours used elsewhere on the figure