Ghost Bride Betty: Then and Now

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I first painted Betty for a Reaper Miniatures special promotional sale in October 2015. Reaper has re-released some of the rare Bonesylvanians for October 2021, and I thought it would be fun to  paint a second copy on an episode of my Beyond the Kit episode. Now that I have, I think it would be interesting to compare the two and see what difference six years (and two hours) can make. The paint colours I used on both versions are listed further down in this article. The video recording includes information on painting a monochromatic colour scheme, how I mixed the new colour scheme, my complete painting process on the figure, and a demonstration of my reverse wet palette system.

Ghostbride comp frontThe left figure was painted in 2015, the right in 2021.

Value and Colour Differences

I think comparing these two figures is a good example of the power of contrast! (I’ll circle back to the idea that this character is a ghost later on.) I used the original photo as inspiration for my second version, so the overall value choices are pretty similar in terms of white dress, medium skin, dark hair, etc. However, in each individual area I used darker shadows overall in the 2021 version than in the 2015 version. Compare the shadows on the face, dress, and bouquet. In particular look at the lining around the bodice ties and lace trim as examples. You can even see it in the stone of the base, which has much darker shadows than the v2015, but roughly the same value of highlights.

Quick reminder: value refers to how light or dark a colour appears. It can be more difficult to see in full colours, so I’ve converted the photo to black and white below.

Ghostbride comp front bwIf you view Betty 2015 and Betty 2021 converted to grayscale, the contrast difference is even more apparent.

While the shadows are darker overall, I also increased the value range between darkest shadows and lightest highlights significantly in a few areas. The highlights on the hair of v2021 are almost white, and the shadows are almost black. The highlight and midtone colours of the two faces are very similar in value, but the shadows of v2021’s face are darker. The contrast of the darker shadows help make the highlights appear lighter. (I also applied some of the lighter highlights to a broader area on v2021.)

To help you compare the two, I have isolated samples of the highlight, midtone, and shadow colours from an area of the skin and hair on both figures in the picture below. The grey background is 50% grey, exactly halfway between the lightest and darkest possible values. These swatches also help isolate some of the differences in colour tones between the two. The colours are pretty similar, but those used on v2021 are a little more saturated and have a touch more green in the midtones and highlights.

Ghostbride comp value range

I’ve converted the swatch picture into a grayscale version below. There is a swatch in v2015’s skin and another in v2021’s hair that are exactly the same value as the 50% grey background, so they disappear in the grayscale version of the photo. The grayscale comparison confirms that highlights and midtones on the skin of both figures are similar, but v2021 has darker shadows. The shadows of the hair on both are similar, but v2021 has much lighter highlights. This larger value spread is part of what makes the hair of v2021 appear shinier.

Ghostbride comp value range bw

The back view is predominately just the white dress and veil. Here the colour differences between the two versions become the most notable difference. That colour difference enhances the appearance of value differences. The more saturated greenish blue used on the white of v2021 stands out to your eye more. Using strongly saturated colour in shadows can be tricky for that reason. In this instance I think the shadows drawing attention and glowing a little works since the figure represents a ghostly character.

Quick reminder: Saturation refers to the intensity of colour, whether it is very vivid, or duller and greyed out.

Ghostbride comp back

When the back view photos are converted to black and white, you can see that there is actually a little less value difference than it might appear. v2021 has deeper shadows on the veil and darker lining colours, but the overall shadow colours are not that much darker than on v2015.

Ghostbride comp back bw

 

When considering the contrast levels, remember that you are likely viewing these pictures at several times larger than the actual figure. It is critical to hold miniatures at arm’s length and consider how a colour scheme and level of contrast works at arm’s length on a shelf or table as well as thinking about the close-up details. I’ve shrunken the photos down to simulate that here. When viewed at a smaller size, the various elements of the figure are more clearly distinguished in the higher contrast v2021 than on the original v2015.

Ghostbride comp front tiny

Ghostbride comp back tiny

Grey divider edit

Personality Differences

I was a bit surprised at how much a few small changes to the way the facial features were painted altered the expression and characterization of the figure. The deeper shadows around the chin in v2021 make the face look a little pointier. The slight changes to the mouth make her look a little snarkier. Most significant is the difference between the eyes. Betty v2015 is painted with eyes facing forward and larger areas of white in the eyes showing, which combine to make her look more innocent and guileless, whereas Betty v2021’s slightly narrowed eyes that are looking off to the side give her a bit more sinister of an air.

Grey divider edit

But She’s a Ghost?

While I think the stronger contrast on Betty v2021 makes her the more visually effective of the two, I just want to note that the painting on Betty v2015 was lower contrast by design. I felt that using softer contrast and very subtle lining would help convey the characterization that she is an insubstantial being. The hair in particular is painted with much lower contrast than I would have used even in 2015. I wanted her to look a little different than the other tangible Bonesylvanians when they were viewed as part of a group. She was released the same week as Jake and Maddie and displayed with them in promotional material. I think the hints of green on Betty v2021 have a bit of a spectral glow, but I suspect many viewers may feel that the lower contrast of the the 2015 version better conveys the idea of ghostliness. I’d love to hear which one you think looks more like a ghost in the comments!

During the painting process I did not expect the value and colour differences between the two to end up as differently as they did. I was not referring to the original photo very often while painting, so once I had the main colours blocked in I painted as I would normally rather than trying to copy the original. Painting while streaming means I devote all of my focus to the painting task, and I’m more apt to go into auto-pilot mode instead of stopping to ask myself questions about what and why I’m doing something before I do it. Not that I’m always so great at that when I’m not streaming, either! But in this case it meant I defaulted to my standard level of contrast instead considering whether a ghostly character should be painted differently.

Based on some assessments of other figures that I’ve painted lately, I’ve been concerned that I have not been pushing my contrast and ‘pop’ levels as much as I though. This figure suggests I have certainly pushed my threshold past how I used to paint, even if it isn’t exactly where I want to be yet.

Since I did approach Betty a little different than the others Bonesylvanians, I thought it might also be useful to do a quick comparison with one of the other figures I painted in 2015, Mary. When I posted pictures of Mary the other day I was a bit disappointed by my paint job. In particular the non-metallic metal, particularly on her crown, does not have as much contrast as it should either for general NMM principles, nor to fit the cartoony type of character. Were I to paint her today, I would add more contrast not just to the NMM, but also a few areas of the blue, the pearls, and just overall. I did a quick digital edit example of how I might paint Mary today that you can see below, but I suspect I would push it even further if I did a physical repaint like with Betty

Mermaid combo crThe original 2015 version of Mary is on the left, my quick digital edit is on the right.

Grey divider edit

Colour Schemes

Both of the Betty figures use a monochromatic colour scheme, similar to a black and white movie or a sepia tone photograph, but using values of blue instead of grayscale or brown. One of the reasons that I chose this figure to paint on stream is that a monochromatic colour scheme is pretty quick to paint once you have all the paints mixed up, so I was pretty confident I could get it mostly finished in one stream. Painting monochromatically is also a great exercise to help force yourself to push contrast, and to explore painting textures. I talk about the fun and challenges of a monochromatic scheme more on the stream.

Below is a photo showing the paints I used and the mixes I made with them to paint the 2015 version of Betty. One of these paints is a sample colour, two are from the canceled MSP HD line, and Maggot White was canceled this year. So unfortunately the only one currently available is Pure White! 

Ghostbride palette

One of the reasons I wanted to paint a new version of Betty was to work out a variation of the colour scheme using more accessible paint colours that I could share so other people could paint something similar if they wished. I started by doing some tests on paper comparing the original colours to some other paints.

Gb colour tests edit

After testing I settled on these colours:

9039 Pure White with a tiny dab of 9410 Dragon Green to substitute for Maggot White. (If you have the swag box 29137 Vampire Pallor, that is pretty similar to Maggot White.)

9056 Templar Blue mixed with various ratios of 9039 Pure White to substitute for both Sample blue and Winter Blue.

9422 Nightsky Indigo mixed with 9066 Blue Liner to substitute for Nightsky Blue. This mix has a little more purple than Nightsky Blue, but I thought that would complement the touches of green in the highlights well. This darkest shadow colour was mixed with Templar Blue to create additional shadow mixes. (You can mix a very close colour match to Nightsky Blue by mixing Templar Blue with swag box 9507 Kraken Ink if you have it.)

Gb new colours

I liked the effect of the slightly darker test mix of Pure White and Dragon Green, so when I sat down to mix up my paints before the stream, I mixed up some white and green mixes with the intention of using those in some different areas than the white and blue mixes. I ended up only using them on the face highlights. However, I did decide to mix a little bit of the white and green mixes into the lighter four or so blue highlight colours, so the colours on my palette and the figure are shifted a little bit teal compared to the colours on my test swatch paper above. Use the colours as listed beneath the swatch sheet if you want a colour scheme closer to Betty from 2015. Add tiny dabs of Dragon Green into the mixes if you want a colour scheme closer to Betty from 2021.

Here is a picture with all the mixes. Again, I didn’t paint much with the green mixes on the left, just a bit in some of the highlights on the face, but I did mix some of these into the blues.

Gb new colours mixes

You can buy a copy of Betty and some other Bonesylvanians until October 21, 2021. You can see pictures of the other re-release Bonesylvanians and get information on the promotional gift items available from the Reaper site in my previous post.

Problem Solving: Tara the Silent Part 4 – A Sisterly Comparison

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In the previous instalments of this series (links later in the article), I walked through my work-in-progress steps of painting the figure Tara the Silent. My aim was to share the way I try to identify and solve issues during the process of painting a miniature. Progressing your painting skills has as much or more to do with improving your critical eye as it does with improving your brush and paint use skills. I think many people do not understand just how valuable it is to improve your ability to really see and analyze a figure (or other types of visual arts)! I know that I would have improved much more quickly and consistently had I been working on that as much as I focused on blending and other brush tricks.

It occurred to me that I could use Tara for one more exercise to try to help others build their critical eye. This exercise is one of comparison between two figures. Comparison can be as instructive as assessing a single work, whether that is a comparison of more recent work against older work, or comparing one artist’s interpretation of a figure against another’s. This exercise could also give you some insight to the challenges that contest judges face. You can imagine that these two figures are the final cut for a contest award, and determine which which you would choose and why. I will not share my analysis/thoughts until the section after the last picture. So if you want you can test your eye first, and then read my thoughts.

Anwyn and Tara, face viewsAnwyn the Bard is on the left, Tara the silent on the right. 

Although I have never before painted this version of Tara, I have painted her ‘sister’, Anwyn the Bard. Reaper sculptors occasionally take a figure and do a significant conversion of it to create a different character. Werner Klocke first sculpted Tara, and then did a resculpt of the miniature to create the character of Anwyn. Even apart from the fact that the figures aren’t identical, this is more of a lemons to oranges comparison than an apples to oranges one. The colour schemes are quite different, even the cameras used to take the photos aren’t the same. But comparing like to like is pretty rare in comparison critique, and definitely rare in contest judging, so while the exercise is a little more challenging than a direct like to like comparison, it is an opportunity to practice the type of thing you’re likely to do more often.

If you’d like to review the previous instalments in this series, here are links:
Part 1: Colour scheme creation (and correction) on the fly.
Part 2: Spotting and solving conundrums of contrast.
Part 3: Giving the figure a thorough once over before calling it done.

Tara and Anwyn, front views

So what kind of factors could you look at when making a comparison? Likely the first elements that will jump out to many people relate to the colour scheme. We are very responsive to colour, and our initial reactions to colour tend to be visceral and subconscious. Building your eye requires a more conscious and critical assessment in addition to that emotional response. As a judge, I have often been a position of awarding high honours to something I might not personally ‘like’ in terms of colour selection or subject, but which is very skillfully done.

* Do the colours work together in a pleasing and effective fashion? (Depending on the subject and the intended scene, ‘effective’ may mean garish or gross colours that aren’t ‘pleasing’ in the traditional sense!)

* Does the colour scheme fit the character and the story/mood that the painter is aiming for with the figure/scene?

* What is the level of contrast between the colours of different areas, and within the shading and highlighting of individual areas? Is the level of contrast sufficient to visually separate different areas of the model and help the viewer identify what the various items on the figure are?

* What is the level of nuance and complexity in the colours? Are there subtle variations of hue within areas? Is there harmony in the shadow and highlight colours over the whole of the piece? Do the colours of the main figure(s) and the scenic element(s) work together and look like parts of a consistent whole?

Tara and Anwyn, right views

Brush skills are another key area to compare. 

* Precision of paint application, both in larger areas, and within areas for placement of sharp highlights and darklining as appropriate.

* The success of the execution of details like eyes, small sculpted details, or pure painted details like freehand.

* Rendering of different surface textures – skin vs cloth vs leather vs metal vs wood vs dirt vs stone, etc. Is everything painted in a pretty similar way, or do these different textures stand out from one another in realistic and/or interesting ways?

* Consistency of rendering – is the overall level of the painting on the figure uniform? If you’ve ever wondered why something that looks fairly ‘plain’ scored higher in a contest than something with really great freehand or source lighting, consistency is often the reason. Doing an area or effect on a miniature spectacularly can fall short if the rest of the miniature is not up to a similar standard. That doesn’t mean that everything needs to have the exact same level of contrast or be super detailed! That is usually counter productive. You want to have areas of interest where the viewer focuses, and have areas that are less important fade into the background a little. But a miniature covered in detailed freehand standing on a base that’s had a quick wash and sloppy drybrush treatment isn’t as consistent as one with high quality but less flashy brushwork throughout the whole piece. 

(I will admit that consistency is an area where highly skilled artists can and have gotten away with doing things I just stated should not be done. Figures with errant brushstrokes, or areas that are barely base coated. Those of us of more modest talents are still well advised to aim for consistency as much as possible! I’ve also heard stories of people scoring lower or missing out on awards for having bits they ran out of time to paint to the standard of the rest of the figure.)

Tara and Anwyn, back views

Quality of preparation and the treatment of scenic elements can make a bigger difference to a figure than it might seem. They might not jump out at first viewing the way colour and brush skills do, but they’re a critical foundation to those elements.

* Prep work – the figure itself is your ‘canvas’. No amount of brush skill can completely overcome a poorly prepared canvas. Removing mould lines is just the beginning. You may also need to fill in pock marks on surfaces meant to be smooth, accentuate textures, file or carve weapons to look a little more sharp or pointed, etc. 

* Assembly is also important. Gaps between limbs will break the illusion pretty quickly! A common issue is the attachment of the figure to the base. If the feet look like they’re floating slightly above the surface rather than firmly planted, the miniature does not look like it’s part of the scene and doesn’t look like it has weight and substance.

* It is important to paint basing materials and most vegetation type flock. It seems like you should be able to put small rocks or sand or whatever on a base and have it look like rocks and sand, right? But unpainted basing materials do not look in scale to a painted figure. They also don’t look like they’re part of the same scene lit by the same light source. Painting the elements of the base, and using colours you used on the figure in those elements makes everything look unified and more realistic.

The last comparison picture is below, so don’t scroll past it if you don’t want to read my analysis yet!

Tara and Anwyn, left views

I’ll be honest – I hesitated to post these comparison pictures. I painted Anwyn in 2006! I’ve improved in the last dozen years, but not nearly so much as I might have hoped or expected. I wish I had understood the concepts of deliberate practice and focused self-critique so much earlier than I did! (And truthfully I’m still struggling with incorporating those ideas completely into my painting process.) I worked hard to ‘get better’, but in such an unfocused and haphazard way. 

In the end I have decided to take my lumps and share this in hopes that it may help some of you get where you want to be faster and more efficiently. I know the lure of chasing the right brush, painting, blending technique, etc. is hard to resist. But it really is only half the puzzle. Training your eye to see better so you can identify specific issues in your work and iterate through working to improve them is immensely important.

The Photos!

I can’t help but be struck by the difference in the photo quality. My camera in 2006 was a $400-500 mid-range digital camera. The one I used to take photos of Tara is just a little better in quality (it’s a new technology class of camera, but it was also in the $500 range at time of purchase, so fairly comparable.) It’s now six years old and I am considering replacing it. Partly due to mechanical issues, partly in hopes of being able to add video to my repertoire. Both cameras allowed for setting white balance, f/stop, and other features useful to taking pictures of miniatures. Some of the difference is also down to my improving my photo taking set up with more lights, and use of a tripod, as well as using a grayscale card to help with editing the colours to look truer to life. I did re-edit the pictures from 2006 to try to make the comparison between photos a little fairer.

Colour Comparison

I quite like the colour scheme on Anwyn, and suspect many people will prefer it to that used on Tara. I’ve been thinking about having another go of that colour scheme for a while now, and I hope a figure it will suit presents itself soon. The colour choices create more of a focal point around Anwyn’s face. Tara’s colour scheme is fairly well suited to the character, but lacks a little oomph from an artistic point of view, and it does not have a strong focal point.

Although there are some nice areas of highlight on Anwyn, I think I have improved my level of contrast over time. There are much deeper shadows on Tara than on Anwyn, as well as stronger contrast between some colour areas. I think the contrast difference is most noticeable in the hair and the non-metallic metal. That said, Tara has some contrast issues and needs stronger and more small top level highlights throughout most of the figure. The level of contrast isn’t that noticeably problematic in a photo, but viewed at tabletop distance she lacks the desired level of ‘pop’.

When it comes to nuance and complexity in colour, there I feel I have made noticeable improvement. Anwyn’s colours play it straight, and that results in a bit of a plastic, artificial look. Shadows and highlights are just darker and lighter variations of the midtones. There is no added complexity of colour in the face like blush or interesting shadow colours. The lack of colour complexity/variation is particularly noticeable in the difference between the two bases. Both are pretty simple, but Tara’s seems much more ‘real’ and related to the figure. This is largely due to the way it’s painted rather than the types of gravel or foliage I used.

Brush Skills Comparison

I don’t think it’s particularly evident in the areas of detail in these two figures (eyes, darklining, and so on), but I am confident that my brush skills overall have improved. The end result may not be strikingly different, but at least the level of frustration and effort required to achieve it has changed!

I am much more conscious of painting different types of textures and surfaces now, and I think that is pretty evident in comparing these two figures. Every area on Anwyn is painted in the same smoothly blended fashion, with the possible exception of her hair. I was obsessed with achieving smooth blends, and I think that shows. Tara demonstrates a lot more of an understanding of different materials having different textures – rough stone, worn leather, wood grain, shiny hair, etc. The transitions on the NMM are a little more varied and better represent the way reflected light can appear than the perfect smoothness on Anwyn’s NMM.

Preparation and Scene Setting

Both of these figures are presented on very simple bases, so there’s not a huge amount to assess there. I do think that my ability to make a decent looking simple base has improved, though that may not be saying much. ;-> Anwyn’s base is very simple, and lacks a bit of variety that would make it more pleasing to look at. The flowers very much look stuck on instead of being a bit more naturally part of the rest of the foliage.

I’ve always been a bit fussy about prep, so there’s not a big change to look at as far as that goes, either.

Conclusion

The end of the month crept up on me, so I’ve had to write this a bit more quickly than I usually prefer to do. Likely many of you will have spotted lots of issues with both of the figures or differences between them that I did not see. Feel free to share those in the comments. I am putting these figures out there to give people a chance to exercise their critique skills, so I have no problem with you tearing them apart. :->

Tara the Silent is an iconic Reaper Miniatures character that there have been a few different sculpts of over the years. I’ve even painted one before! (And then I painted her again, where she provided a good example of ways to paint with more contrast.) Reaper reproduced the classic Werner Klocke version in their new Bones Black plastic material as a promotional miniature for the month of May 2019, and also included it in their Bones 5 Kickstarter. It should go into general retail release in late 2021 or 2022. I painted the catalogue version for the new release of this figure. Anwyn the Bard is available in metal, or in classic Bones plastic.