Go Beyond the Kit

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Beyond the Kit is the name of my new video live stream show on the Reaper Miniatures Twitch channel! Episodes will also be archived on Reaper Miniature’s YouTube channel. Beyond the Kit airs live on Mondays from 2-4pm Central time starting on May 24, 2021. Episodes are available for Twitch on demand viewing for two weeks, and are uploaded to YouTube a few days after airing.

Paint case openCome with me beyond the kit!

Part of the inspiration for the name is that I am the author of the current generation of Reaper Learn to Paint kits. I crammed as much information as I could fit into the kits, but there wasn’t a lot of space to talk about how to take the techniques or paint recipes from a kit or a class and make them your own. That’s the thread that will weave through many of my episode topics – how do you go beyond the kit, or the video tutorial, or beyond the tips you’ve read online and start learn how to figure things out for yourself?

The medium of video allows me to explore some of these ideas in a hands-on visual way. I’m also excited about the immediacy of exchanging ideas with viewers via the chat. I hope you’ll check out the show and see if it’s something you might enjoy. My interests in miniature painting and teaching are pretty diverse, so I expect episodes will encompass a wide range of topics of interest to different levels and types of painters.

Please be assured that there is still a lot in this vein that I want to continue to discuss right here with words, and pictures, and ideas. In fact, let’s talk about some ideas for how to move beyond the kit right now, with a few examples from my own painting experience. I’m also working on a more detailed article with an example of how to ask yourself the right questions and perform tests to get the information you need to improve your painting experience.

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I think many of us approach miniature painting in a similar way to something like cooking. We start with some basic instruction and simple recipes, like one of the Learn to Paint kits or similar instructions from a friend/video. As time goes by, we see something that looks tasty, and we try to get our hands on the recipe to try it ourselves. What technique did the artist use? What exact paint colours and brushes? We gather up as much of that information as we can, and try to replicate their results. We memorize the recipes we like the most or find the easiest to make, perhaps customizing a little by swapping an ingredient or two.

There’s another level of cooking. The kind that generates new recipes or reverse engineers how to make your favourite restaurant dishes. These cooks learn general principles of how best to prepare various ingredients, and which flavour profiles pair together nicely. They have a foundation of knowledge to help guide their efforts, but they still have to experiment to successfully recombine ingredients together and create new recipes. Undoubtedly a lot of those experiments fail. Some spectacularly, some in more mundane ways. Those that seem promising require iteration and refinement to perfect into a successful replicable recipe.

Miniature painting is kind of like cooking in this regard. Many painters look online for techniques to paint wood or marble or whatever other texture. They look for colour recipes for blond hair or red cloth. They ask for advice about the best colour to use to wash or shade this particular paint. You can learn a lot this way! I’ve looked for a lot of information like this, and I try to repay the miniature community’s knowledge bank by sharing my colour choices and other information. If you’re happy painting in this manner, that is great! That is absolutely how I cook. (At best!)

However, if you sometimes get frustrated with this approach to painting, you might want to pursuing learning a little more in depth and shifting how you think about your tools and techniques.You might want to learn more about the properties of colours and principles of colour theory instead of following the recipe of other people’s colour schemes. You might want to try to figure out for yourself how to simulate a particular kind of fabric or plastic, or explore effects from the real world or other art forms. Maybe you just want feel more confident making your own decisions about what colours to use for washes. In ways small or large, there may be ways that you want to be figure things out for yourself.

Velvet research crA few years ago I wanted to paint the texture of crushed velvet on a figure. I began by studying reference pictures of the fabric both worn as clothing and plain fabric swatches. I came up with a paint approach I thought would work, and tested it on a figure.

I think the most important step you can take to move beyond the kit is simple. And free! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That step is to reconsider your attitudes about failure and success. It’s also very helpful to try to find ways to reframe the questions you ask and figure out how to explore those answers on your own.

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Idea #1: You Can’t Out-Study Failure or Risk

Most of us spent a lot of time in school learning facts and knowledge. We may have a very study-based approach to learning. Our experience has been that if you read/watch/think about the subject enough, you’ll memorize enough facts and internalize enough ideas  to be able to pass a test, or write a great essay.

That is not how skills with a physical component work. You can’t watch videos or read articles and learn how to throw a perfect pass or handle the steering wheel of a car. You have to get out on the field or in the driver’s seat and practice. The same thing is true of miniature painting. Studying what other artists do can be very helpful, but you will make a lot more progress with a little study and a lot of painting than you will with a lot of study and a little painting.

Velvet painted crThe next step in my crushed velvet experiment was to try it on my intended figure. My first attempt is on the left, and represents several hours of applying paint. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t look quite right. I had to compare to my references and identify what was different, and then think about how to better represent what I saw in my painted version. My revised attempt is on the right. The fact that I am an experienced painter who knows how to paint textures was helpful, but it did not mean instant automatic success.

You will never be able to watch enough videos or read enough articles to ensure that the first time you try something you will get a fantastic result and know how to do that thing well every future time you try. It just doesn’t work that way. Beating yourself up for getting a poor result when you do try something new or try to push the boundaries of something you know how to do does not make you more likely to succeed in the future. It only makes you less likely to want to even try.

The way to learn a skill like miniature painting is to sit down and do it. Sometimes you’ll get great results, sometimes not so great. Success is not the outcome. Success is doing the work and trying to learn from your experiences.

I have written some additional tips about embracing failure, and also about unhelpful attitudes to try to root out of your hobby.

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Idea #2: Think Like a Scientist

Although I said you can’t study your way out of failure, be assured that the left-brain analytical skills you may have learned in school are not useless to miniature painting! They can be immensely helpful. Often you just need to reframe the way you’re thinking about things. That can involve figuring out the right questions to ask, and/or conducting tests and experiments.

One way to think like a scientist is recalibrate your mindset about trying new things and experimenting. Experiments are not pop quizzes where you pass or you fail. The results of experiments may be surprising. Often they may not be the desired results. But the nature of the results doesn’t make the scientist a success or a failure.

Whether it was a wild success or a dismal failure, the results of an experiment are always useful information. If you study the results and what you did, you will get ideas for ways to adjust the experiment and try again. Sometimes the failures can be more instructive than the successes. Sometimes the failures can even give you ideas for how to do something completely different than what you were trying to do! Viagra was initially developed as a drug to treat angina. The man who invented acrylic paint was trying to invent a glue. Your attempt to try a certain technique for smoother blending may not work well for you for that function, but maybe those streaky results would be a great technique to use apply to weathering and mud stains! 

IMG 0915Left: Some of the colour tests I did to choose the paint colours for the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit.
Right: Colour tests made during painting of the Bones 5 Learn to Paint kit figures.

Even though I had been painting and teaching for a while when I wrote the first learn to paint kit, I didn’t create it by grabbing a handful of colours and slapping on paint on some randomly selected miniatures. I did test mixes of colours to see if I could get the range of colours I wanted. I carefully considered whether the figures I chose were good options for practicing the skills taught in the kit. I painted a test version of each figure to make sure that my overall colour scheme ideas worked. I did tests with paint mixes to see if the black wash for this area worked better thinned with three drops of water or with four.

I also do tests like that all the time in my own painting. I get stuff wrong and need to tweak it all the time in my own painting. It helps a lot to think of that as just part of the process. Sure, sometimes it gets annoying or takes time I don’t have. The fact that I don’t intuitively know all the answers doesn’t make me a bad artist, or a bad person, or bad in any other way. It’s just a challenge to me to find ways to figure out the answers.

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Idea #3: Ask More Questions to Find More Answers

When you work to solve problems or figure things out on your own, I think it is helpful to ask a lot of questions that are specific and detailed.

For example, say you try to paint something to match a reference photo or following someone else’s tutorial and your results don’t look the same. It’s not helpful to say ‘I hate it it looks terrible, I’m an awful painter’. It is much more helpful to look at it and say what are the differences? Where did I place light parts and dark parts in comparison to the reference? Is there a difference in the proportion of the sizes between the dark and parts and the light parts. Are my darkest areas as dark as the reference or are they darker or lighter? Is there a texture that is noticeable?

Perez nmm attempts crAfter watching the tutorial video from his Patreon, I attempted to copy the style of non-metallic metal on Arkaitz Pérez’s Uther bust. My first version (left) wasn’t terrible, but it also didn’t look quite right. I analyzed and compared my results, got some opinions from a few painting friends, and then tried again. The second version (right) is a lot closer. Feel free to test your eye and try to spot the differences.

A couple of years ago I spent some time doing some experiments and following tutorials of a couple of Spanish painters – Sergio Calvo Rubio, and Arkaitz Pérez. I am an experienced painter conversant with several different painting techniques. My first attempts in both cases were not successes. It wasn’t necessarily that my results looked terrible, but they were different from my inspiration material in ways that demonstrated I had not grasped some of the main points of the instruction. I want to emphasize this point – my goal wasn’t to get an attractive result. My goal was to understand and internalize an approach. So even though I got an attractive result with practice on the following figure, I painted that section completely over to practice again with the approach I was trying to learn.

Anushka comp crI painted this figure after taking a weekend workshop with Sergio Calvo Rubio. I wanted to practice the approach he had shown us. My first attempt (left) had an interesting worn leather look. But I had not really painted in the style from the workshop. I painted it over completely again to get the roughed in sketch version (centre), and then once I was happy with that refined it for the final version (right).

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Keep your eye on this blog and on my Twitch show Beyond the Kit for more information now how to ask questions and do experiments and tests to answer questions and expand your techniques. In the meantime, you might enjoy this suggestion for how to study a face painting tutorial. Or my video analysis of something I painted that I didn’t like.

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Miniatures in this Post

Two of the Learn to Paint kits I’ve written are available.
The Castle of Deception Female Mage is available in metal.
I believe the medieval dancing woman is out of production.
The Battleguard Golem is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Anushka, Female Fighter is available in metal. 

Many thanks to Gene Van Horne for the Bird with a Brush character and Ron Hawkins for the Beyond the Kit graphics.

Photo of woman wearing crushed velvet by Tiffany Combs on Unsplash.

Reference for How to Analyze and Solve Problems Video

Patreon supporters receive a PDF copy with high res photos!

Attention left brain painting enthusiasts! Success at artistic activities like miniature painting is not open only to those with innate skill or intuitive art sense. Critical thinking skills like analysis, devising and testing theories, and conducting tests and experiments are all tools you can use to paint a better miniature and improve your overall mini painting abilities. 

Snake badThis didn’t quite work out how I’d hoped.

Recently I painted something I wasn’t very happy with. You can see a picture above. I know that is a pretty common experience! I decided to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how you can use critical thinking skills to identify and solve painting issues and grow from mistakes instead of just beating yourself up about them. And because I’m testing some new video equipment, I also decided to do it as a video instead of written blog post!

Link to video example of using critical skills to analyze and improve figure painting.

In the video, I compared the figure I didn’t like to a couple of other figures that had similarities to try to help me identify the issues. Here’s a still picture of the main comparison figures.

Snakes bad compThe riddle of the Sphy…snakes.

After I came up with some theories about what the problem(s) could be, I got out some paints and couple of more snakes and did some tests based on my theories. In the picture below, the original snakes is in the middle and the tests of two theories are to either side.

Snakes bad testI learned some things!

The first snake I painted was a test colour scheme for a class I’m working on for Reaper Virtual Expo, which is coming up March 5-7, 2021. One of the classes I’m teaching is on scales. I ended up going with the colour scheme below for the class figure. I’ll post more about that once the class schedule comes out. Reaper Virtual Expo classes will be free! The event will also include free games, panels, paint challenges, and other activities. I hope you’ll hop online and join us.

Snake rust rve

I’ve written several articles in the past that discussed ideas of problem solving during process of painting a miniature, so if you prefer written material or want to see some more complex examples of the ideas discussed in the video, you may enjoy reading these.

Bones 5 Goblin band – evaluating and adjusting colour choices

Seated Succubus from Demonic Temptations – adapting paint application process to respond to frustrations and challenges

Problem Solving series on Tara the Silent – part one, part two, part three, part four
Part Four may be of particular interest if you enjoyed the video as it outlines factors to consider when comparing figures. 

Figures Included in this Post

The Giant Cobra is available in plastic or in metal. (The one on the largest base is metal, the others pictured are Bones plastic.)
The snakeman is in the Nagendra Swordsmen pack in plastic. Also sold individually in metal.

How to Paint Hair

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

My first ever how to paint video is now available! You can watch my Reaper Toolbox segment on how to paint hair on miniature figures on YouTube. I thought it might be helpful if I posted some pictures of the figures from the video for people to reference as they practice painting hair. I’m also going to include the paints used and links to more Reaper Toolbox how to paint goodness. I’ll post the pictures roughly in the order they were presented in the video, with the colour recipe and links at the end.

At the beginning of the video I shared a couple of miniatures I’d painted from the Reaper collection. These demonstrate two very different approaches to sculpting hair, but I used the same basic approach for painting both of them. Unfortunately both of these were limited edition figures and are not currently for sale. The shirt featuring Sophie (which I am wearing in the video) is still available though!

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie hair exampleI visualized the light coming from the upper left in the front view picture. The figure has wings, so the back of the head is quite shadowed. 

Tristan hair exampleOn this figure I visualized the light as coming from the upper right in the front view.

Hair is sculpted with a strongly defined texture. Washing and drybrushing techniques work well to bring out sculpted texture, and can look pretty good used on surfaces like woodgrain, chainmail, and feathers. These techniques do not tend to look as good when painting hair, however.

Example of drybrushed hairI started with the same basecoat colour as for the rest of the demonstrations, and made a wash out of the same shadow colour. I drybrushed the strands by starting with the basecoat colour and moving up through the highlight colours. (I demonstrated this on only half the head, and have blocked out the other half.)

The fact that hair is made up of thousands of strands does not strongly affect how the surface of hair appears to us visually. Individual strands are barely visible if you’re standing even a foot or two away from someone. Do an image search on the word ‘hair’, and look at some examples. You’ll see that the way light and shadow falls on the hair is not vertical like the strands, but rather appears more in horizontal bands based on the shape of the head/body that it is draped over, and the shapes of large waves and curls.

Hair example from pexels.comThis photo from pexels.com illustrates how you perceive the horizontal bands of light and shadow on curves and curls more strongly than the strand texture of hair.

Example of painting blonde hairThis is an example of painting hair focusing on the larger shapes of the waves and curls and visualizing the light as coming from above – the shadow colours appear most on the underside of the curls, and the highlight colours are strongest on the tops of the curls.

Since it can be hard to get a good look at where people have placed various levels of shadow and highlight mixes if the blending between layers is fairly smooth, I also created a black and white example to help you more easily see where to place the highlights and shadows. This is just one interpretation based on a light source coming from above. Deciding where your light source is and which areas of your figure are more strongly lit or more darkly shadowed is where miniature painting gets more artistic, personal, and fun!

Black and white example of shadow and highlight placementI think some of the highlights are a little too far down the curve of the upper curls, but hopefully it helps you see the general idea.

On the video I demonstrated an alternative to drybrushing that is still quicker for tabletop use, but which follows the principles of where to apply the lights and shadows that I described above. This alternative is something many people call ‘dampbrushing’. When dampbrushing, you remove excess paint from the brush, but still leave it moist. Apply the brush perpendicular to the hair texture pulling it down or up the texture to pull paint off the brush on the raised areas, but leave the depressions shadowed. 

In the video I mention that I normally wear a magnifier and hold the figure a lot closer to paint, and you’re about to see an example of why I have to do that!

Dampbrushing example of painting hairThis example shows the basic idea of dampbrushing, but I could definitely have done a better job with this. The principles I describe work, what I needed to do was another layer or two of the original basecoat colour, and then I think I did need to use an additional transition mixes and work up a little more slowly. This looks choppy because the jump to the top two highlight colours is very sudden. I needed to build up more midtones with the Blond Hair colour and a mix between Blond Hair and Blond Highlight. 

This is a picture of the figure I painted on camera in the video. Once again you can see why I use a visual aid when I’m painting! If you are having difficulty getting the brush where you want it when you’re painting, sometimes the issue is as much to do with your eyes as your hands. Make sure you’re painting in good lighting. Some people use two or even three lamps in addition to the ceiling lights of their painting area! You can also use magnifying lenses. I recommend dual lenses rather than a single magnifying plate. Viewing objects through both eyes helps us best visualize their location in space. With just one magnifier, you will have more trouble getting the brush in the correct place on the miniature. If you don’t wear glasses, all you need is a pair of cheap reading glasses from a drugstore. If you do wear glasses, I highly recommend the OptiVisor brand of magnifying visors.

Comparison of reference example and on camera versionHere’s a comparison of my reference example and the one I painted on camera. This quick version painted without my magnifier doesn’t look as polished as the finished example, but I think it looks a lot more interesting and more like hair than the drybrushed example!

These are the colours used to paint the hair examples in the video. You can buy all of these from Reaper Miniatures online as well as in many retail locations. But as hair comes in a lot of different colours, you should be able to find some similar paints in your collection that you can practice with if you don’t want to buy more paint. The key to a natural blond hair look is to not use a lot of strong yellow colours.

IMG 8299

I’m including some additional angles of both the full colour and black and white versions of the figure in case anyone wants to reference these while practicing. The figure used in all of the examples from the video is Sarah the Seeress. She is available in both Bones plastic and in metal, and she is a terrific figure to practice painting hair on.

Colour example back view

Colour example back side and front view

Colour example top views

B&W example back view

B&W examples front and back side views

B&W examples top views

Reaper now has a playlist for all the Toolbox videos so they’re easier to find.

Reaper’s paint maven is doing live stream videos on Wednesday afternoons on Twitch. These are also posted on YouTube once completed. Anne is starting off by painting a black dragon. Watch episode one, or episode two here.

And in case you missed it, Reaper has announced that Bones V is coming – September 5, 2019.