Hellborn Dancer Paint Process and Colours

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I was eager to paint this figure as soon as I saw it. In addition to liking the graceful flow of the sculpt, I was also excited about the opportunity to paint unusual skin and hair colours, and to work with a saturated palette of some of my favourite colours.

Hd bk front

The Hellborn Dancer was sculpted by Bobby Jackson. She is included in the core set pledge of Reaper’s Bones 6 Kickstarter. The Kickstarter has concluded, but people will be able to pledge late or add to their pledges via this address.

I began thinking about what colours to use by doing some Google image browsing of how other artists have depicted this type of character, both in paintings and miniatures. I quickly decided I wanted to do a reddish skin tone. My initial thought was to paint the clothing in a light teal colour, and the hair as dark blue with cerulean highlights, but I wasn’t sure there would be enough difference between the cloth and hair to make for a visually effective figure. I shifted the blue to violet for the hair, and thought that would work better.

Hd bk back

I spent a little time testing colours on paper. I have on occasion done this kind of testing on a spare figure, or colouring in a digital photo. This may feel like wasted time when you’re in a hurry to get something painted. In my experience the choice of colours and where to place these on a miniature has an enormous impact on how visually effective it is. Taking the time to do some testing is worth it if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on a figure, or paint an entire army with those colours, and at least thinking a bit in advance about your colours can help you paint better, faster, as well.

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I also spent a fair bit of time picking out the exact paints I wanted to use for the skin. I wanted to use the Hellborn Skin paint and I also liked Kobold Scale, but I was having trouble finding highlight colours I liked. I wanted them more saturated versions than I was seeing in the paints on my shelf. I remembered that I had a set of N-Paints from their Kickstarter that I had barely looked at since receiving my pledge. I dug those out, and found not only a couple of highlight colours that were just what I wanted, but also a few shade colours.

I painted the skin in one long session. I tried to paint as if the light were coming from above and a little bit to to left (in the front view), and to keep my brightest highlights on the focus area of the figure.

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I found myself a bit flummoxed when it came to the stockings. A physical mix of the teal I planned for the cloth and the red of the skin greyed out quite a bit. You can see that in the big dull swatch on my test paper above. I was also concerned that because the teal colour for the clothing was the most saturated colour in my scheme, it would draw attention away from the face and skin, and dilute the focus area I was trying to create. I consulted my painting buddies, Jen Greenwald and Michael Proctor, to see what they thought. They agreed with my concerns, and advised me to swap the teal to the hair and use the softer violet on the clothing.

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I recommend painting buddies. These do not need to be painters who are more skilled at painting than you are! I think buddies who are roughly at the same level are very helpful, and that is what I have had in my various painting buddy groups over the years. I do think it’s helpful to have buddies who like different subjects or styles of painting than you do, or who paint for different purposes (war games, RPGs, contests, just for fun), as it gives you alternative points of view to consider. The most important thing is that everyone in the group feel comfortable taking and giving both positive and negative feedback from one another. Good paint buddies lift you up when you’re feeling down about your painting, but you need to be willing to hear about flaws in your work if you want to improve.

I originally planned to mix the colours to paint the stockings, and got as far as mixing paint. Then it occurred to me that this particular colour combination might work well with glazing. I tested the idea, and it seemed to work well. You can see a rough gradient of the skin tone and the glaze over it at the bottom of my colour scheme test paper above. Then before I could actually paint the stockings, I was disappointed to have to put this miniature aside for several weeks to work on some rush deadline work!

When I came back to work on the stockings, I ended up doing a combination of mixing paint and glazing. I mixed a dark purple (Kraken Ink) into the darkest of the skin shadows. Kraken Ink was the same colour I had tested as a glaze. For the more transparent areas of the stockings, I mostly used the skin colour paints. However, I swapped the more saturated highlight colours out for less saturated versions, since the purple stockings would desaturate the appearance of the skin beneath them. I also painted more shadows and fewer highlights. Although the cloth is transparent, it is also a little darker in colour than the skin. I also used less highlighting on the legs because they were outside of the main focus area zone I was trying to create.

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I had a little time left at the end of my painting session, and I thought I would put a foundation coat on the hair. Since I intend it to be dark, painting it with the darker colour would help me see the colour composition of the whole piece better. I started with a very dark teal (Indigo Black), but it just felt a little off to me. I switched to using the Kraken Ink dark purple instead. I still plan to use teal for the highlights, but mixing up from the dark purple.

Then came another hiatus where I had to put this figure aside for several months to work on more rush deadline work. And I was sad to do it, because I was having fun! And also because I generally prefer to work on one figure at a time when I can. One of the challenges of a long hiatus for me is that I might not remember all the decisions and impressions I’d made about the figure. In this case, I didn’t pay as much attention to the direction of the light and creating a focus area after the hiatus as I did in the initial stages. 

When I finally returned to it, I worked on the cloth. Given the type of figure, I pondered whether to paint the cloth of her outfit as opaque or somewhat transparent. I quickly decided on opaque. Partly this was because she was part of a Kickstarter aimed at a wide audience of people. But my assessment of the way the cloth was sculpted also argued against transparent material. In my opinion transparent cloth effects look more effective when the fabric sculpting includes certain elements:

* The cloth looks draped over the skin in at least a few small areas. You don’t have to be able to see every bit of anatomy under the cloth, but the transparency effect is more convincing if there are areas where the cloth is close enough to the body that you can see the shapes of some limbs or muscles. There also needs to be enough surface area where the cloth is directly next to the skin to create the illusion. On this figure the cloth of the top is close to the body, but only a very small area of the skirt panels is directly adjacent to the body.

* Transparent cloth is thin and flimsy. It does not have enough structure to fall into deep folds and valleys, nor can it easily be formed into more structured pieces like stiff collars, cuffs, or lapels. This dancer sculpt has a few areas where the cloth looks like it has more structure. There are small lapels on the top, and crisp points of cloth on the waist band.

* Areas of cloth that are away from the body are sculpted with a quality of floating or drifting. The skirt panels have a great sense of movement, but they also convey the impression that they are made from a sturdier cloth. 

* The edges of the cloth are not very thick. Transparent cloth is a thin, filmy material. Thick edges suggest sturdier types of cloth like cotton and wool. The cloth edges on the shoulders of this dancer are fairly thick, and the lower band of the top looks thicker and as if it is pulling away from the body in the way a more structured cloth might.

Compare the two pictures below for an example of a thinner and more filmy cloth compared to a thicker cloth, though of course there are many variations of both types of fabric.

Cloth compxcfPhotos from Unsplash. Left: Kamran Ch. Right: Airam Dato-on.

Overall the cloth of this sculpt appears to me as a somewhat thicker and stiffer material, like satin or a thicker type of silk. You can see an example of another figure that I painted with transparent cloth. After my initial painting of the cloth I considered whether to go back and paint it as a shinier material, but I was concerned that might divert attention from the focus area.

Dancer front

I was a little rushed in the final stages of painting as I needed to complete the figure before I travelled to the Reaper Miniatures factory to participate in the Bones 6 end of Kickstarter party. So rushed, in fact, that I forgot to paint the lips before taking my final photographs! (This is the kind of thing a final check photo can prevent.) I was tempted to just leave them as they were, but when I looked at the figure the next day, I was also unhappy with the eyes. I first painted the eyes golden yellow. As a warm and light value colour, I thought it would make them stand out well. I didn’t add a light enough hotspot in the centre, but even with that I don’t think these eyes would be very eye-catching.

Hd bl face

Finding a few moments to repaint the eyes and finish the lips wasn’t challenging. It was a bit more time to retake the photographs, but it was worth it to me to add those little details after all of that time thinking about and painting the figure. I decided glowing blue eyes would work better, and I think I was right.

Hd bl face

Below you will find some additional photos of the completed figure, and at the end of the article is a list of the paint colours I used for all areas of the figure.

Hd bk left

Hd bl back

Paint Colours

Skin:

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Stockings:

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Cloth:

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Gold:

IMG 2819

Hair:

IMG 2818

Horns:

IMG 2817

Base:

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Flesh (Tones) for Fantasy

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In choosing colours for the third succubus, I wanted to includes elements from the other two to help draw them together as a group. My aim was to paint her skin as sort of a middle ground between the other two. The colour selections were darker and a little pinker than the kneeling succubus, but lighter in value than the seated succubus. The golds and blues used for clothing and accessories were used in various areas of the other figures as well.

Since I would also be painting a transparent cloth effect on this figure, I decided it was worth the time to test the colours I proposed to use, and I painted a quick experiment on one of the figures I previously used in a hair painting demonstration. The blond hair colours wern’t exactly the same recipe I used for the jewelry of the succubi, but they’re in the ballpark.

Succ3 test fullTest of skin and cloth colours for the standing succubus.

This was the easiest of the three skin tones for me to paint. I imagine that was largely due to being well in practice at that point after having painted two other similar figures. But I suspect that the fact that the midtone value of the skin was more of a middle value colour also made it easier. It’s tricky to judge highlights and keep them small enough on a very dark colour. Shadows painted on to very light value colours can easily look sloppy or unnatural, or be very challenging to achieve smooth blends with. 

Succ3 wip1 face 600 cropIn doing a rough block in the main concern is where lighter and darker values are placed. It’s not meant to look smooth or perfect at this stage.

I once again decide to start with a rough block-in for the major highlights and shadows on the flesh. I do mean rough, as is probably more apparent in the close-up below. During this stage I was regularly holding the figure out at arm’s length and looking at it without magnification. I wanted to see whether the various masses of the body standing out as identifiable and looking three dimensional from a distance. I was not particularly concerned about how it looked up close at this stage. 

Succ3 wip1 front 600 crop cu

The next stage was to go back in and refine the placement and the blending. For me this refinement step includes three elements, but it’s certainly possible to break these down into sequential steps instead of combining them if that makes it easier to manage.

Firstly, I was fine-tuning the initial block in by making a highlight a little brighter here, or shifting the placement location of a shadow, that sort of thing.  If you compare the two stages, you can see that the highlights are shifted a little lower on the breasts in the refinement stage.

Secondly, I was making sure I had addressed smaller or subtler areas. This includes checking that I addressed all of the smaller shapes within a bigger one, like on the knee, which is this case is sculpted in such a way that some of the complexity of the knee bones are apparent. You can also see that the area of the bellybutton is more refined in the second stage.

Thirdly, I was smoothing out rough blending transitions by taking half-step mixes between colours and stippling them along the edges until I got the blends as smooth as I possibly could.

Succ3 wip2 front 600 crop cu

The face, hands, and feet are areas with a lot more detail. I worked on those after I had completed the main body areas. Partly this was just a question of time management. I knew I would be working on this over multiple painting sessions, so I concentrated on the body the first day, and the other areas the second. (The hand on the chest would also be most easily painted after the neck and upper chest area were completed) For these more detailed areas I painted a little more precisely. There was still a small amount of roughing in and refining, but I didn’t want to cake up any detail with paint or make my life too difficult, so I painted up a little more cleanly than I had on the body block in. 

Succ3 wip3 face 600 crop

I had thought I would paint the transparent cloth immediately after finishing the skin, but it occurred to me it would be very tricky to paint the jewelry without getting paint on the cloth. You can just barely see it in the picture above, but she has jewelry on both ankles, and the inner leg is quite inset behind the cloth. For the non-metallic metal on this figure, I decided to use the colours I used to paint the freehanded pillow on the second succubus, which were adapted from the jewelry colours on the first succubus.

Succ3 wip3 front 600 crop

The blue cloth incorporated colours that I had used on the other figures, but I also added more of a teal blue. I had a similar issue with saturation as came up with the freehand pillow on the second succubus. I liked the value and general colour tone of several teal blues, but they all looked garish when placed next to the more subdued colours used on the figure. There are a number of different ways to desaturate colours. If you only have the budget or room for a small number of paints it is better to buy highly saturated ones and learn how to use colour mixing and colour theory to adapt them as necessary. In this situation, I chose to add one of the purplish colours used on the skin to the teal. 

Succ3 cloth nmm cu 600

The photo above shows the palette of colours I used to paint the gold NMM and the teal cloth. You can see that there is not a true saturated yellow in the colours I used to paint the gold up towards the top. The teal that I picked to paint the cloth with is the blob in the far upper right. You can see how bright it looks next to everything else on the palette. Had I painted that directly on the miniature the cloth would have stood out in a way that wouldn’t look natural. It would have looked as if it existed under different lighting than the rest. The row of less saturated teal paints near the bottom are the colours I mixed using that teal that were used to paint the cloth.

The two pools at the very bottom left are glazes that I used. These were small amounts of paint to which I added a lot of medium (in this case Reaper’s brush-on sealer) to make them very transparent. I painted the heavily thinned down blue over the areas of flesh seen through the cloth to create the impression of the cloth colour acting as a filter on the skin colour. After I finished painting the blue cloth it still seemed a little more saturated than I wanted, so I painted a thin glaze of the purplish skin colour I had mixed into the pools over the whole surface to tone it down even more. That did fix the colour, but it also subdued the value of the highlights, so I painted some of those back on.

Succ3 wip3 back 600 crop

Following the picture above, I painted her hair and also did some work on the figures’ bases. I thought it would be good to take pictures of the three together to see how they work as a group.

Wip1 succubi front 1000

Wip1 succubi back 1000

When I took a look at the group pictures, and then compared the figures on the shelf, I felt I wasn’t sure if the standing figure ‘matched’ the other two in terms of contrast. I had painted her hair with a softer sort of texture and wanted the robe to look filmy, but overall she seemed to have less oomph than the other two. I shared the pictures with a friend who recommend that I bump up the highlights in the hair and the focal area of the skin, and also on the robe. (My helpful friend was Jen Greenwald, who also has a blog!) The other change in the later photos is that I added some glazes of colours used on the figures to the base stones to help tie those in a bit more and give them a bit more variation and visual interest.

Wip2 succ front 1000

Wip2 succ back 1000

And a look at the changes on just the standing succubus figure alone:

Succ3 wip5 front 600

Succ3 wip5 back 600

Below is a picture of the layer mixes I used to paint the skin of the standing succubus. The darkest two colours on the middle row were only used for lining. (I line fingers and toes with a slightly lighter value than the main lining.) The three lightest colours (including the pale green-white in the upper right) were not really used in my initial pass. I did use a tiny amount of those light values when I went back in to add in some additional highlights in the focal area. IIRC the midtone was the center pool on the bottom row.

Succ3 palette 600 cu

Paint Recipes

Skin base colour: 9679 Drow Nipple Pink 
Skin shadow colours: 9602 Bruised Purple, 9307 Red Liner
Skin highlight colours: 89503 Sinspawn Pink, 9282 Maggot White

Cloth base colour: 89522 Grindylow Blue desaturated by mixing in 9679 Drow Nipple Pink
Cloth shadow colour: 61127 Waveform Aquamarine desaturated by mixing in 9602 Bruised Purple (using 9077 Marine Teal would also work, or just mixing Blue Liner into the base colour), 9066 Blue Liner
Cloth highlight colour: 9282 Maggot White, 9039 Pure White

The paint colours in italics are not currently available for purchase. Waveform Aquamarine was from a licensed line of paint and thus very unlikely to be reissued. Bruised Purple is coming back, and is currently available for preorder in a Bones 5 pledge. Drow Nipple Pink was a special event colour available at a few ReaperCons. I have heard rumours it might make a reappearance someday…

Figures in this Post

The work-in-progress succubus figures are not currently for sale. They are available for preorder as part of the Bones 5 Kickstarter late pledge. Look for the Demonic Temptations add-on.

The spellcaster holding up an orb is available in plastic or in metal. She was repurposed from my article/video on how to paint hair.