Paint Properties in Practice and the Great Goblin Debate

Ko-fi tips help keep this content free. Patreon supporters receive PDFs with high res photos.

I recently painted the goblins from the Dungeon Dwellers expansion in the Bones 5 Kickstarter. (Late pledge here.) The first half of this article is a discussion of my colour scheme choices and paint process for painting the figures, with some work-in-progress pictures. The second half discusses making paint choices based on paint properties other than colour alone, and why just adding white to your midtone colour isn’t always the best way to make great highlight colours. 

Gobs blue front full

If you just want to see closer up views of the finished figures, scroll down until you see more pictures on blue backgrounds. Members of the Fill the Feeder level on my Patreon receive PDF copies of my articles that include larger high quality photos than I can provide here.

Also let me know which side you take in the great goblin colour debate!

Gobs grey back full

Typically I paint one figure at a time, and approach each as an individual character. This painting project required working on a group of similar characters, while still trying to give each a bit of individuality. I have tremendous respect for all of you who paint armies and units, or just paint high volume to get a lot of cool looking figures on the table. It is not easy to do! You have to balance time investment and colour and technique choices to get the best result possible in the shortest amount of time.

Gobs grey front forscale fullSize comparison shot with a standard heroic gaming scale figure in the centre.

I used the start of the project as an opportunity to practice with the Vex airbrush. I primed the figures black with the airbrush, and also did the initial lay-in of the skin colours with the airbrush. Since I am not very practiced yet with airbrushing, I started with the two figures that are already available in metal. Anne Foerster had already painted up great versions of those, so if my initial attempts went very wrong or I ended up not having time to finish all of them, Reaper would still have painted versions of those two.

Doing a test figure or two can be very helpful before working on a group like a unit or army. It gives you a chance to discover non-optimal choices at a stage where they will take much less time to change or redo. With these figures I learned that I preferred true metallics to non-metallic metal at an earlier stage than having to repaint the whole group. This is also the stage when you might discover that a particular colour is more challenging or time-consuming to work with than suits this kind of project.

IMG 1589

These were the figures after my initial skin airbrushing session. The complete set of paints used on these two was: 9492 Wyvern Leather, 9457 Goblin Skin, 9247 Saffron Sunset, 9234 Bright Skin Highlight (discontinued), and then a light spray of 9417 Void Blue in the shadows. (Skin colours used on all the goblins are discussed later in the article.)

IMG 1590

I wasn’t sure I was 100% happy with them. When I posted them for feedback in the airbrush class channel, Aaron Lovejoy suggested that I work up the rest of the figures at least with base coat colours to be able to better judge the skin. This is very good advice. It’s often hard to judge things in isolation. So I worked on them a little more.

IMG 1594

IMG 1595

I still wasn’t sure these were working out, or if they were a little too dark and murky. It can be challenging to paint figures that both stand out on the table, but also look suitably dungeon dweller disheveled. I thought it would be a good next step to paint in the metal areas, since those would be among the brightest spots on the figures. Trying to judge whether colours are working before at least some of the lightest and some of the darkest colours are in place can be difficult. I initially chose to use the non-metallic technique, which is my usual choice for figures with smaller metal areas and those primarily intended for photography. I did some work on the base stones as well.

IMG 1596

IMG 1597

These two goblins were largely done apart from a few details, but I still wasn’t quite feeling it. I now knew for sure that I needed to go back and work on the skin a little more, but I wasn’t sure if they were working overall apart from that. I decided to start on the rest of the group and circle back to these two if time permitted. I don’t have many WIP shots of those, but I do have one I took to test my new phone’s camera.

Gobs wip1

I took a slightly different approach with the skin of these. I again laid in the foundation of light and shadow with the airbrush. Though I forgot about using Void Blue in the shadows like I had on the previous pair! Then I went back over them with my standard brush. They’re small figures and my airbrush skills are nascent, so I wasn’t able to be as precise as I needed to be to establish all the shadows and highlights. I used slightly browner shadows on half of them and redder shadows on the other half, but I’m not sure that the subtle difference is noticeable after the final stages of reworking and adding glazes.

I also worked on detailing the eyes and teeth at this early stage, instead of leaving them for later as I had on the initial two. Partly this was because a few of the figures had bows near their faces that would make the details more challenging to paint if I waited until the end. Partly it was because I enjoy painting figures more once the faces are at least somewhat detailed and and they have a little personality.

Gobs wip2

Then I worked on getting the bulk of the other areas on the figures painted so I could decide whether I wanted to stick with non-metallic metal and add more contrast, or whether I wanted to switch to metallics. The picture above was a comparison of the new batch with the original two before I enhanced the skin of the first two.

I wanted the skin to be the focus on these. Most of them aren’t wearing a lot of gear, so they have large areas of skin. Bobby Jackson sculpted some fun anatomy on them. They have wiry ropy muscles and little pot bellies and man boobs. I also love how much individuality there is in their faces. One is battle berserker crazy, another is world-weary, a couple look kind of derpy, etc. 

To play up the orange of the skin, I used a complementary colour scheme on the first two goblins with the chest armour. Complementary colours sit opposite one another on the colour wheel. So their cloth is blue, and there’s a little bit of green in their leather straps to complement the red in their shadows. The goblin with the shield in the image below has this complementary colour scheme.

Gobs group2 combo

With the rest of the goblins, I used more of a split complementary colour scheme. In a split complementary scheme you use the two colours to either side of the complementary colour. So in the case of these goblins, rather than blue, I used blue-green and blue-violet. Each of the goblins had cloth painted in medium values of one of those colours, and then highlights on their dark leather accessories painted with the other colour. So the fellow on the far right of the top row above has a blue-green loin cloth and blue-violet highlights on his black leather, and the goblin on the far left bottom row is the opposite.

IMG 0444

Since these are goblins and not wealthy nobles, I didn’t want the blue-green and blue-violet to be too saturated and rich looking. I added grey to my mixes when doing the initial painting. My final stage of painting was to add some earth tone glazes to deepen or unify shadows and add weathering. Then I used some weathering pigments to add a little more weathering and colour variation. Both of these tools further desaturated the richer colours. I was aiming to strike a balance between being true to the character and nature of the figures, but keeping them interesting to look at. I used earth tone colours lower in saturation for their for wood, rope, and leather accessories. Too much colour can be overpowering, especially for this type of character.

Gobs group1 combo

A quick note on the wolves two of the goblins are riding. In game terms these are wargs, and I wanted them to look suitably fierce and unpleasant. I also wanted them to be mounts/companions, not become the main characters in their pairings. I chose to paint them with an overall dark value for those reasons – it fit the characterization, and it complemented rather than distracted from the more vivid goblin skins. I did want to give them some visual interest and personality, though. To do that, I variegated the fur colour a little. I used orange-browns on the heads and manes to echo the goblin colours and frame their faces. I used warm greys on the rest of the fur. I put my focus in detailing on the faces, and used more saturated colours in the noses, lips, and eyes. (The eyes are also a little nod to one of my high school French teachers who had creepy pale blue wolf eyes, and was well aware of it.) I used the weathering powders on their fur as well as their bases to add some additional colour variation and grunginess.

Gwolf1 left front full

Paint Properties

I have written a previous article where I talked about the properties of paint, and another discussing properties of colours. Some of the choices I made on these goblins create an opportunity for me to discuss a real world example of choosing to use paints based on their properties as much as their colours. Miniature painters, particularly those newer to the hobby, often want paints that are as uniformly matte and opaque as possible. You’ll hear reviews that emphasize the importance of uniformity in a paint line or suggestions that a paint company must be ‘cheating’ their customers if this colour or that doesn’t cover opaquely in just a coat or two.

However, in watching videos and reading articles from some of the most talented miniature painters working in the hobby, it is clear that many take advantage of the differences between paint brands or pigment colours in opacity, sheen, or other elements in their painting. I make no claim to that level of ability, but I used that idea in two ways on these figures.

First, prior to working on the weathering steps, I had to make a decision about how to handle the metal items on these figures. I decided to switch over to using true metallics. I did not feel that the NMM was providing enough contrast and visual interest. These figures are fairly small, and the smaller a figure, the more contrast it needs to read well to the viewer and pop on the table/shelf. I had painted the NMM on my test pair somewhat lower contrast to try to keep them looking like gritty dungeon monsters. It did not pop enough, but I was concerned that adding more highlights would result in a type of NMM that wouldn’t fit the character type. Plus metallics just seemed like the right choice for some old school Dungeon Dweller figures! The unique properties of the sparkle and sheen of metallic paints contrasted with the matte paints on the rest of the figures seemed like the answer to what I needed here. (Note that I used the shaded metallic technique and applied shadows with matte paints.)

Gobs blue wolves front full

My second decision based on paint/colour properties was using a somewhat transparent colour to highlight the skin – Saffron Sunset. Saffron Sunset is a yellow-orange colour. Burnt Orange was another colour I considered. I could also have just have mixed a warm white like Linen White or Mold Yellow into the Goblin Skin orange to make highlights. All of these share the properties of being lighter value colours in the same colour family as Goblin Skin with the potential to work as highlights for that colour. But they differ in certain properties that made me more inclined to choose one than another.

9247 Saffron Sunset is a rich colour without being a fully saturated true yellow-orange. It is also a slightly transparent colour.  9111 Burnt Orange is similar in hue, but duller in saturation and a little more opaque. 9201Orange Brown is a nice rich colour, but it’s darker in value. It’s too close in value to 9457 Goblin Skin to really work as a highlight. Mixing in a near-white colour to make my own highlight creates a much more opaque colour, but also a much duller colour. (If you look back at the Saturation section here you can see that adding in white, grey, or black desaturates colours.) The skin of these goblins would look much duller if I had highlighted their skin with either of the examples below that were mixed with near-whites. The Goblin Skin paint colour mixed with near-whites actually created colours that are pretty close to normal human skin tones.

The following are painted swatches of these colours to help you visualize what I’m talking about. The black line was drawn on the paper with a Sharpie prior to applying any paint. This is a common technique in traditional painting to be able to easily assess colour opacity from painted swatches. The larger squares were decent amounts of paint applied with a large brush. Since that isn’t really how we paint miniatures, I also added smaller stripes of paint with a miniature painting size brush loaded with a more moderate amount of paint. The small stripes give you a much more accurate impression of the coverage levels of each of the paints.

Goblin paints

I added a couple of other swatches at the end. Second from the right is a mix of Goblin Skin with Candlelight Yellow, which is the rightmost square. This mix is very similar to Saffron Sunset in both property and colour. It’s a much brighter and more transparent highlight colour than the ones mixed with near whites, and it’s a little more transparent than the Burnt Orange. If I had mixed my own highlights, using Candlelight Yellow would have been a much better choice than white. Using yellows to mix highlights can also be more effective for red and green colours. (Experiment with your yellows. Candlelight Yellow here probably wouldn’t work as well with greens as with reds.) Premixed colours help me paint more quickly and easily, so it’s worth it to me to have the Saffron Sunset in my collection. If you enjoy colour mixing or prefer to keep your collection of paint compact, make sure you have a yellow or two in your collection for flexibility when mixing highlights.

IMG 0109The colours from my sample test swatches above. See picture below for the paints actually used on the figures.

Where the transparency comes in is that I was using this for highlights. People who get frustrated about transition lines in the layering technique typically have more trouble with highlights than with shadows. This is partly because many dark colours are not super opaque. Lighter colours often contain white, which is a very opaque pigment. Colours containing white often look streaky or show a lot of transition lines when used for painting in the layering technique. It can be challenging to thin them down to the correct opacity for layering. So using a slightly transparent colour like Saffron Sunset made things a little easier and quicker, and well as creating a more vibrant look that I liked. For the top highlights I did mix in a little white, and those lighter highlights did have a few transition lines I had to clean up at the end of painting.

(Fun fact – red is the first practice colour in the Layer Up! learn to paint kit for precisely this reason. Reds and oranges are somewhat transparent, so they’re easier to blend via layering than many more opaque colours.)

Saffron Sunset is also a great colour for glazes to enrich or shift colour. Sometimes when I paint blond hair or non-metallic metal gold it comes out looking a little too cool and lifeless. It needs a touch of yellow, but just a touch. I thin Saffron Sunset down to a glaze consistency and apply it over the area and it adds a little warmth and richness to the colour. Colours that are highly saturated and at least somewhat transparent are the easiest to work with for glazes used in this fashion.

IMG 0439The goblin painted green is from the Goblin Skirmishers pack.

Great Goblin Colour Debate and the Bones 5 Goblin Skin Paint Colours

My first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons was back in the early 80s via the red box set. Either I didn’t pay attention at the time or forgot in the intervening years that Dungeons and Dragons goblins are described as red-orange-yellow in colouration. Thanks to the influences of World of Warcraft and Warhammer, goblins are now often thought of as being green. Let me know in the comments which you prefer and why!

Below is a photo with the complete list of colours I used to paint the skin on these goblin figures. (I forgot to add the bottle of 9417 Void Blue that I used in the shadows of the two with breast plates.) If you don’t have Goblin Skin or Saffron Sunset, I think you’d get something close with Orange Brown and Candlelight Yellow. For shadows any warm reddish-brown should give a similar effect to the Minotaur Hide or Wyvern Leather. Options include 9071 Chestnut Brown or 9241 Auburn Shadow.

IMG 0098

Patron Spotlight: Brian Reichert

This blog is made possible thanks to the generous support of my patrons. The Patron Spotlight is an opportunity for me to share their work and philosophy with the world! From Brian:

About 2 years ago my wife and I were gifted a game called Mansions of Madness.  It’s a Lovecraft horror based co-op game and it came with a bunch of models. After a few months of playing grey I got tired of the bland models and decided to try my hand at this “miniature painting thing”.

Brian reichert4

After a bunch of research I eventually discovered the Learn to Paint kits and worked my way through them both. That along with tons of help from the Reaper community and I’ve managed to paint all of Mansions of Madness plus several expansions, totalling about 100 figures and I’ve got more games to go.

Brian reichert2

My goal isn’t to be a competition level painter. At this point I just want to paint my games and have them look OK on the table. To that end I’ve been keeping a photo gallery of things I’ve painted so I can look back and see how I’ve progressed.

Feel free to skim if you want, there’s some stuff I’m proud of in there and some I’m not so excited about but it’s there. Warts and all.

Brian reichert5

To contrast, I painted the running girl in February of 2019. She was the very first thing I painted on my own after the Learn to Paint kits. The others are just some of the ones I’m most proud of.

Brian reichert1

Thanks to you and the Reaper Community for all the help so far. I’m proud of my progress but I’m also humbled to know there is no end game in this and will be learning for years to come.

Brian reichert3

Display Painting versus Tabletop Painting

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon or a Ko-fi tip.

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.