Underpainting Grayscale Example: Barglemore and Camille

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Underpainting is using an initial layer of paint to establish some element(s) of a paint job. Zenithal priming is a great example of this – it establishes the direction of the light falling on the figure.  Zenithal priming is just one of many types of underpainting that we can use to improve our painting, however! For the pair of miniatures in this article I used a more traditional greyscale (grisaille) sketch underpainting technique. I think this approach can be much more helpful to creating (and understanding) the necessary contrast on a miniature figure than zenithal priming alone. Another benefit is that it does not require any supplies other than a brush and paint.

Zombie servants front full

Barglemore the zombie butler and Camille the zombie maid are great subjects for the technique. Their clothing is sculpted to resemble the traditional/stereotypical butler and maid uniforms, which are black, white, and shades of grey, and I wanted to paint them that way as well. I wasn’t able to find any freely useable reference images to include in this article, but you will find plenty of examples if you do an image search on ‘butler’ and ‘French maid’. Note that this greyscale sketching technique absolutely works with more colourful figures, I just think the more subdued colour schemes on these zombie servants help demonstrate the principle and application of the technique more clearly.

Value scale bw

Value refers to how light or dark a colour is. Value contrast is the most fundamental type of contrast we can use. Miniature painters tend to think of value contrast as referring to the contrast between the darkest shadows and the lightest highlights. Shadow/highlight contrast is crucial to making miniature figures look fully three dimensional, but there is another type of very useful value contrast – contrast between the values of adjacent areas. This is a strong tool we can use to make figures easier to read for the viewer, especially from a distance. It’s also a valuable tool to creating focus, mood, and conveying story/character. Note that every colour has a value scale, such as navy blue to baby blue. A full value range for blue and yellow would include black and white on the extreme ends of the value scales below.

Valuescale combo

When we are actively painting it is very challenging to juggle all of the elements we need to think about at the same time – choosing colours, selecting the appropriate value for each of those colours, painting sufficient shadow/highlight contrast, depicting the light source correctly – all while trying to create smooth blends or texture strokes with our brushes and paints. To try to do all of that at once is expecting a lot of ourselves, and it’s no wonder we often fail to get all of that right! In my study of traditional art I have found that traditional artists often break these tasks up into separate steps. This allows them to focus on one or two challenges at a time, which makes it more likely to achieve a successful piece. I think adopting a similar approach in miniature painting would be helpful to most of us.

The purpose of starting with an underpainting layer is to separate out a few of our tasks. For example, a zenithal prime underpainting establishes the overall direction of the light and creates areas of light and shadow so we don’t have to constantly stop to visualize where those should be. The greyscale sketch underpainting approach that I use here also establishes the direction of light and the rough range of contrast between shadows and highlights. The difference is that it also establishes the overall value of each area on the figure in comparison to each other area. So on the butler below, each area has some shadows and highlights applied with the direction of the light source in mind, but it also defines the value contrast between areas: the head is very light, the coat is very dark, the pants are somewhere in the middle, and so on. I think of this as mapping out my values over the surface of the figure, so I often refer to it as value mapping. The term value sketch would also apply.

11a sophie18 barglemore blockin frontThe underpainting stage on Barglemore the zombie butler.

I combined my underpainting step with my priming step by using Reaper’s brush-on primers. They’re available in white, black, and gray. I usually mix one or two more shades of grey so I have a value scale of four or five steps including black to white. These are metal figures, so it is necessary to prime them for the paint to adhere well. I live in a fairly humid climate, so I often use brush-on primer instead of spray cans. But if you’ve already spray-primed your figure or you’re working with a Bones plastic figure that doesn’t need priming, you can do this same step with black, white, and grey paints instead of primer.

Maid blockin front 400The underpainting stage on Camille the zombie maid and her ‘feather’ duster.

The underpainting looks rough, and that’s okay! My goal is to establish the big picture of the figure by answering a few questions. Which areas are darker, lighter, or in between? What is the value range between the highlights and the shadows on each area? Where should the main highlights and shadows be placed to establish the light direction I have chosen for the figure? I completely ignore all detail elements like the eyes, buttons on the butler’s vest, edge highlights like around the rips in the cloth, the crevices in between the tiles on the floor, and so on. I just want to make the overall big picture decisions so I don’t have to think about those when I am concentrating to paint tiny details, refine blending, or add textures. It’s easier to get more elements correct if you are only concentrating on one or two at a time.

That said, it may be that some of you look at those photos and feel that my underpainting is actually pretty detailed. Or you might be wondering if you have to address all of those factors at once with underpainting. It is a flexible technique. Just blocking in your basecoats for each area is a form of underpainting that lets you assess your colour and value choices for the figure as a whole. You could rough in just the direction of light and the main areas for highlights and shadows. You don’t even need to try to paint smoothly at all! In the example below, I used only three colours – black, grey, and white. The grey represented the midtone for each area. I painted black in the location of shadows, and white in the location of highlights. When I applied colour paint over the value map I applied it in a similar way. I applied highlight colours over the areas of white, shadow colours over the areas of black, and midtone colours over the areas of grey. (This is kind of a brush painted version of zenithal priming.)

Tara map final front crThis underpainting example does not include establishing values between areas or being at all smooth. It was still helpful to achieving the end result. You can see more steps of how I painted this figure and other forms of underpainting.

Since the next step involves applying paint over the value map, I recommend taking some pictures of your figure at this stage so you can refer back to your value map stage if you need to. You don’t need a fancy camera set up like I use for many of my pictures. Most cellphones made in the past few years take good photos. Pose the figure against a plain background if your camera has trouble focusing, and try to take the picture in a well-lit area.

Butler cellThis cellphone picture is blurry and a little overexposed, but since the value map is not about details, it gives me all the information I need.

 

My next step is to apply coloured paint. Even though these figures are dressed in shades of black, grey, and white, I still painted over the primer with opaque paint colours. Black and white primers are not as dark or light as black and white paints, and they sometimes have a different finish than matte paints. I also wanted greys that were not true neutral greys for the butler’s vest and pants. Both are warmer greys, and the vest has just a hint of purple in the shadows.

For each area I created mixes of paint similar in value to the primer mixes, with a few additional mix steps to allow me to make smoother transitions. When applying the paint, I used the underpainting as a road map for where to apply the various value mixes of the colour. Let’s look at the knee on Barglemore’s left leg as an example. I applied a lighter mix on the top of the knee, and a dark value underneath that, then smoothed the transition line between the two sections as necessary with midtone value mixes.

11 sophie barglemore front combo cr

Once I establish the main highlights and shadows and smooth the blending between them, then at that point I work on the details. For these figures that stage included such tasks as adding highlighting to the edges of the cloth tears and deep shadows within the recesses of the tears, lining around the buttons and other areas, adding detail to the facial features, and painting highlights and shadows into the smaller details of folds and wrinkles on the cloth.

12 sophie camille face combo cr

The front side of Camille demonstrates how the value mapping stage can help – if you remember to follow your map! When working with the black, white, and grey paint/primer colours, the only thing I need to think about is where areas of the figure should look darker or lighter based on my imagined light source. For this figure I pictured the light as coming from the upper right corner and slightly in front of the figure. If you look at the value mapping stage, you can see some nice highlights on the stomach area of the bodice that evoke that light. Unfortunately, I did not follow the map that I had laid down when I applied the final paint colours on top of the primer. I did highlight some wrinkles on the cloth in that area, but in a way that was less interesting and less true to the light source I was trying to evoke.

12 sophie camille front circle

It is also possible to make mistakes during the underpainting stage, or to change your mind about some of the decisions you made. My underpainting of the back side of Barglemore was really quite dull. When I started applying paint over it, I decided I needed to increase the value of the highlights on the folds of cloth to better accentuate the deformity of the shoulder and to just generally add more visual interest. The areas of shadow should probably be a little larger/darker in my final version, but I felt it was better to sacrifice the light direction and dark ambiance a little in this area to better bring out all the lovely sculpted details on the figure.

13 sophie barglemore back cr

Think of an underpainting is a useful road map, not a cage locking you in. You can reinterpret and enhance your vision as necessary when painting your colour paint over the underpainting. The rear view of Camille shows a mix of following the value road map from the underpainting and also making some changes. Overall the values are pretty true to my initial value map – look at the location of the highlights and shadow in the hair, and the bright spots on the elbow and side of the hand on the arm to the right, which are present in both the underpainting stage and the final painted version.

 

 

14 sophie camille back combo cr

I did make two major changes, however. During the painting stage I decided I wanted the skirt to look like more of a gauzy type of fabric, so I painted it as grey instead of black, and applied the highlights with vertical brush strokes to indicate ruffles in order to try to convey that texture. I think the colour switch and additional texture adds a spot of interest that the underpainted sketch lacked. I had painted the stockings more grey than black in the underpainting, and switched to black with hints of transparency during the painting stage. I think this helps keep more focus on the top half of the figure and breaks up the areas in a more visually interesting way.

Related Articles

My article about painting ReaperCon Sophie 2018 provides another example of this process with a more vibrant colour scheme. I used both greyscale and colour value mapping on this Christmas dragon.

The Contrast Series links to all of articles about contrast available on this site, some of which use different methods than that demonstrated here to help you achieve more contrast on your figures.

The How to Paint Faster article explores the idea of starting with a rough colour block-in or sketch to get paint on the figure faster.

My testing colour schemes article is an example of a way to separate out the task of choosing and composing colours before you begin painting, which traditional artists would call doing colour studies.

This short video from Zumikito Miniatures demonstrates three different methods of value sketching and how to proceed from the initial point to a fully painted figure.

 

History and Variations of Underpainting in Miniature Painting and Traditional Art

The underpainting technique that I demonstrated here is the process of blocking in the major areas of dark, light, and midtone using greyscale. This is similar to longstanding traditional art concepts. Value studies and thumbnails are common methods traditional artists use to determine the value composition of a piece as a whole, and they are often done in greyscale.

Traditional underpainting can be fairly roughly applied in order to figure out the big picture values, similar to what I have done on my figures in this article. This type of underpainting is not done only in greyscale (grisaille), however! Artists may use brunaille (browns) or verdaccio (greens), or any other colour. An initial rough sketch layer can also be done in the colours intended for the final piece. Miniature painters often refer to this as sketching. Benjamin Kantor has a video demonstrating greyscale sketching and another demonstrating colour sketching on a bust.

Sergio sketch comboThis is an example of making the initial sketch of hue and value choices and then refining the blending and textures once the painter is satisfied with the colour composition. This figure was painted by Sergio Calvo Rubio during a painting class.

Traditional underpainting, particular grisaille, can also be applied in a much more detailed and complete fashion. Detailed grisaille painting is sometimes also called the dead layer. Painters then glaze transparent colour on top of that, adding additional opaque highlights and making other tweaks as necessary.

Zenithal priming is a form of underpainting popular amongst miniature painters. It can be done with either an airbrush or spray can primers. You begin by priming/painting the entire figure black. Then you spray white from the direction of your light source. Adding a step between the black and white by spraying grey from a roughly 90 degrees can give a more refined result. Alternatively, you might used white paint to smooth areas and paint on the very brightest highlights. The painter Matt DiPietro popularized using the term sketch style for this slightly refined version of zenithal underpainting, though as I mentioned above, some miniature painters have been using the concept and the term sketching for a while now to refer to underpainting in colour and greyscale.

I mention the terms above so that if you’re interested in more information on the traditional use of underpainting or the way miniature painters are incorporating it into their process, you have some starting points for web search terms.

Zombie servants back full

 

Barglemore and Camille Paint Colour Guide

Barglemore and Camille are available in metal. All paints are from Reaper Miniatures. Some of the paints listed may be discontinued or special edition colours and not currently available on the Reaper Miniatures site. The dirt and stains were added with weathering powders.

Skin
Midtones: Ghoul Skin + Tanned Highlight
Highlights: Bloodless Skin + Tanned Highlight, Bloodless Skin, Pure White
Shadows: Ghoul Skin, Twilight Blue, Midnight Blue
Glazes painted in selective areas of skin shadows: 9602 Bruised Purple, 9667 Rattlesnake Leather, Icy Violet + Nightsky Indigo – experiment with dull purples, greens, and blues on zombie skin!

Barglemore’s Black Coat and Camille’s Black Corset
Midtone: Solid Black
Highlights: Dusky Skin Triad
Shadows: Blue Liner

Camille’s Skirt
Midtone: Dusky Skin
Highlights: Dusky Skin Highlight, with a dab of white added to it for brightest highlights
Shadows: Dusky Skin, Dusky Skin Shadow, Solid Black

Barglemore’s Vest
Midtone: Vampiric Shadow
Highlights: Vampiric Skin, Vampiric Highlight, Pure White
Shadows: Stone Grey, Shadowed Stone, Grey Liner

Barglemore’s Pants
Midtone: Stone Grey
Highlights: Vampiric Shadow, Vampiric Skin, Vampiric Highlight
Shadows: Shadowed Stone, Grey Liner

Camille’s Hair
Midtone: Shield Brown
Highlights: Driftwood Brown, Terran Khaki
Shadows: Woodstain Brown, then add a touch of Blue Liner for final highlights

White Accessories (Barglemore’s Ascot, Camille’s Apron and Hat)
Midtone: Creamy Ivory
Highlight: Pure White
Shadow: Terran Khaki

Metal Tray and Buttons
Midtone: Honed Steel
Highlight: Polished Silver
Shadows: Midnight Blue, Blue Liner

Brain
Midtone: Sunburn Flesh
Highlight: Tanned Highlight, Bloodless Skin Highlight, Pure White
Shadows: Bruised Purple

Floor Tiles
Midtone: Chestnut Gold
Highlights: Burnt Orange, Creamy Ivory
Shadows: Woodstain Brown, add Blue Liner for darker shadows

Chicken
Same colours as the floor, with a bit of white mixed into highlight colours.

Floor Marbling
Streaks of colours used on the figures include Ghoul Skin, Sunburn Flesh, Bruised Purple, Twilight Blue, and Midnight Blue

Link Ups – April 5

I continue to lurch from one show/convention to the next with barely a moment to spare, so this poor blog has been pretty neglected. I promise I have some meatier content simmering on the back burner that I hope to finish up some time soon to share! In the meantime, here are some links to interesting and insightful info from other miniature painters and artists to help you on your painting journey.

Atlanta Model Figure Show Photos
I did finally manage to post my photos from three events back! There were some fantastic miniatures at the Atlanta Model Figure Show this year that I think you’ll enjoy looking through photos of.

Reaper Skin Tone Paint Information and Demonstration
Anne Foerster shares some insights and does demos with the various skin tone paint options available from Reaper Miniatures in this video. Anne’s segment starts about 11 minutes in.

More Information on Colour Theory
Jerry’s Artarama followed up their Color Theory 101 video that I linked to in a previous Link Ups with a recent Color Theory 201 segment. This one explains hues, values, and how to mix tints, shades, and tones in a clear way with demonstrations.

If you’d like a text document on colour theory to reference, this one or this other one are options. (I keep sharing different information on colour theory and mixing because it’s a subject I found I had to review multiple times with info from different sources before it really started to click for me.)

How We See Values (Contrast) and How that Affects our Art
This video by Cesar Santos has some interesting information about the nature of the human eye that leads to us making mistakes with light/dark value contrast.

Chain photo by Bryson Hammer from Unsplash.

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie: Painting Process

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

A couple of weeks ago I posted pictures of my completed paint job on ReaperCon 2018 Sophie. (https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/22/painting-figures-to-match-art-reapercon-2018-sophie/) She is now available for purchase online at this address. You can also purchase Barglemore and Camille (I’ll share more about painting those soon), the convention mouslings, and a few other figures. And even a swag bag from the convention! I haven’t unpacked mine yet, or I’d show a few pictures here. Maybe next post. Anyway, if you’d like to get your hands on any of that, run, don’t walk, to this link, they’ll only be available for a few days: http://www.reapermini.com/NewReleases

Now that lots of other people can get their hands on this fabulous Sophie sculpt, I thought it might be nice to share some insights into how I painted her. Lately I have really enjoyed using a process that I am calling value mapping. In art world terms, value refers to how light or dark a colour is. Every colour has versions in different values – a light sky blue, a medium value royal blue, and a dark navy blue, for example. Value is one of the major forms of contrast. It is critical to all of the visual arts, but is particularly useful for miniature painters. It is helpful to us to paint adjacent areas on a miniature to have different values. On Sophie, for example, the middle value blues and purples of her dress stand out against the paler colours of her skin and underskirt. So it’s easier for you the viewer to see which parts are which right away. 

Value is also a very useful tool to build contrast within an area. If I really want Sophie’s underskirt to look like it has peaks and valleys the way that Izzy “Talin” Collier drew it and Bob Ridolfi sculpted it, I need to make the peaks appear like they’re receiving more light, and the valleys appear as if they’re shadowed and receiving less light. It is always hard for we miniature painters to push our contrast like this, but we need to do this to make our figures look truly three dimensional!

Usually I paint in the value transitions of lights and shadows as I paint. Lately I’ve been starting by painting a ‘map’ of the major values and the transitions between them by using brush-on primer. (I live in a pretty humid climate, so I often use brush-on primer instead of spray cans anyway.) Reaper makes brush-on primer in black, gray, and white. I usually mix one or two additional values of grey. I didn’t take any pictures of my palette this time, but hopefully you can get the idea looking at these pictures of the miniature. I think I had 4-5 mixes of primer colours in total. I spent somewhere between one to two hours at this at most I think.

Sk wip faceSk wip frontSk wip back

In these first sets of pictures above you can see the main body of the figure after priming on the left, and a work-in-progress shot on the right. You can plainly see on the left version that I am not worried about super smooth blends or picking out every little detail. I’m worried about the big picture of what value do I want on the major areas of the figure, and where are the primary transitions between light and shadow within those areas. Then once I have established the ‘map’, I begin to apply paint on top. I am applying a full coverage of opaque paint on top, I’m just using the value map as a guideline.  You can see that pretty well in the area of her bracers/gloves, I think. 

Hopefully you can also see spots where I refine the initial map. In this second stage I’m working on making smooth blends and adding a bit more detail. So in the value mapping stage I applied the broadest highlights and shadows to areas like the torso plates and the tiny ruffles of her sleeves. When applying colour, I worked a long time on the smooth transitions on the large panels of her dress, and added detail shadow and highlights to the torso plates and ruffles. 

There are variations of this technique that involve layering transparent paint over the value mapping. In the traditional art world, this is known as grisaille if done using greyscale paints, and other terms with different colours. If I were using one of those variations, I would have to take more care in the value mapping stage to make smoother blends and bring out more details. In fact in this case, many of the colours I used were slightly transparent, so it was a bit of an effort to get down nice opaque coats to completely cover my value map over. So why did I take that effort?

I am finding more and more that if I can break up some of the stages of painting a miniature, I’m more likely to get more elements correct. We ask a lot of ourselves as miniature painters. We have to figure out where there would be more light and shadow on a figure based on our imaginary light source. And blend smoothly between those lights and shadows (or correctly apply texture strokes). That’s a lot to try to work on at one time, and it’s really common to have the location of shadows and highlights spread or drift, or to end up with insufficient contrast between them. If I use the value mapping method, I break the task of figuring out where things should be lighter and darker into a separate step. Then I can concentrate on applying the paint as smooth blends or textures to the best of my ability as another separate step. 

In the case of Sophie, things were complicated a little bit by the fact that I could not attach her wings at the beginning, or I wouldn’t have been able to get the paint everywhere I wanted it. I did a little priming on them prior to assembly, then once I glued the wings on (I love that extra attachment point on the skirt, thank you Bob!), I went through the process of value mapping again with the wings, and also with the stone texture on the base.

Sk wip wings frontSk wip wings back

Here on the wings the process may even be more obvious, at least from the front view. I did not bother at all picking out the bony spines of the wings at the value mapping stage. I’m a fairly messy painter, and likely any detailing like that would only have gotten covered over while trying to do the blends. So it saved me time to only worry about the big picture when value mapping. In the picture from the back, you can see that I also can course correct if I haven’t done a great job of all the areas on my map. As I was painting I decided that the top of the wing in the lowered position would be receiving more light than I originally thought, so I added more highlights.

One more picture to share. One of the things I love about Bones miniatures is how useful they are for doing practice and study. In the past I would have practiced freehand shapes on a flat surface like a base or primed piece of plastic. This can easily lead to sizing errors between the practice and the real figure, and doesn’t help you figure out how to apply the freehand to a three dimensional shape. Or I would have had to go through a lot of trouble to prep and prime a metal miniature. Now I just look out for a Bones miniature that has similar shapes to what I’m trying to test, bust out some paint, and get to testing immediately. Below you can see how I was working out how to break down some of the shapes from Izzy’s concept art into patterns I could replicate in freehand painting. If I had had the time time or was a little less practiced at this process, I would spent a lot more time practicing on my test figure.

Sk wip freehand2

So that is my little bit of insight into my painting process for ReaperCon Sophie 2018. As of the date of upload of this blog, she is available on the Reaper website for purchase along with some of the other convention figures, but they are limited release figures that will only be available for a brief time. So if you want to try your hand at painting this lovely figure (and it was fun to paint despite the deadline issues!), go grab one now!

Other figures featured in this post –

Sir Malcolm, Templar Lightbringing (also available in metal): https://www.reapermini.com/search/malcolm/latest/77423
Pre-cast resin base of forgotten origin.