Nancy Does NMM

As I mentioned in my last post, my Nancy Steelpunch miniature from Scale75 did well at HeritageCon this year, pulling in a silver in the Fantasy Figures category. In addition to being a cool sculpt with the punkish undercut, goggles, and steampunk robotic arms that she is named for, Nancy represents an important milestone on my hobby journey. She was the first model that I had done using a non-metallic metal (NMM) technique, which was on my list of hobby resolutions for this year.

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Nancy

 

What is NMM?

Now, while figure painters may know what I’m talking about, I can already hear the scale modellers who read this blog scratching their head, so let’s take a step back hear and talk about shiny things. Take a look at this picture of a hatchet I found online. When our eyes look at it, without even thinking about it, our brain detects the pattern and registers it as a somewhat shiny steel colour. We instinctively know that the surface of this axe head is a more or less uniform, somewhat reflective grey metal. However, if I open up Microsoft Paint and use the eyedropper tool, we can see that the colours that make up the shininess are a little more complex. If I wanted to draw a picture of this axe head, instead of just taking out a silver crayon and running it over the entire shape, I would have to play a little with shadow and highlight colours to represent how the light hits and reflects off of the wavy surface of the axe. As you can see, particularly in the third and fourth colour I’ve picked out, the actual colours that make up this image are not uniform and run the spectrum from almost white to almost black.

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The strip on the bottom represents the colour of the pixels at the location at the end of the red line

Another thing you can do is simply take a hobby knife, ideally one with a scalpel blade, hold it under your work lamp, and turn it around in your hand while looking carefully at it. Look at what you see, not what you think you see. Your brain will tell you that the blade is a uniform piece of metal. But depending on how the blade catches the light, you might see a particular part of the blade appear as bright white or almost black or any shade in between, depending on if that particular piece of the blade is reflecting the light into your eye or not. If it helps, take a picture with your phone and look at that, looking carefully at the glints of light bouncing off the blade.

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Now, getting back to miniature painting, one of the keys to painting at this scale is that light doesn’t interact with objects quite the same way at these small scales. It’s why so much of miniature painting involves painting in highlights and shadow colours in order to convey how the light would interact with an object at scale. It’s also why just slapping a coat of metallic paints onto the blade of a sword just doesn’t look right.

Non-metallic metal is one way (but not the only way) to address this issue when it comes to models with a lot of metallic pieces. Non-metallic metals allow the painter to take full control of the interaction between light and the object and make it look more appropriate at scale. To do this, instead of relying on shiny paints, you paint the metal piece with flat colours, painting on all the glints and shadows. It’s called non-metallic metal because you are using non-metallic paints to achieve a metal effect, and it is similar to the techniques a 2D artist might use if he were tasked with drawing something shiny.

Sharp Highlights

Just saying “oh yeah, just paint on the glints and reflections” sounds like one of those things that is easier said than done, but if you understand lighting well, you can get a grasp on it. Even moreso than regular miniature painting, non-metallic metals are an exercise in lighting and contrasts. In order to be successful, you need to figure out where you want to place the light and apply some really sharp contrasts. Looking back at our scalpel blade, we can see that it is mostly a fairly dull, dark grey, with some near-white highlights where the light catches it. The green circle represents an area which is reflecting the light towards the viewer, while the red circle represents edges that are just catching a glint of light. By painting on this highlight and these edge highlights, we can convey the reflectiveness of the surface even by using flat paints. Further, the edge highlights also help the viewer pick up on the shape of the blade at a glance, which is good for making details pop.

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See how the circled areas look almost white due to the highlight.

Steel and Brass

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Not mine, just something cool I found CMON

One of the other interesting things about non-metallic metal is that you can easily paint metals in any colour using this technique. If you want to paint up, say, a figure of Iron Man from the Marvel universe, you can just use the various shades of red you have kicking around instead of trying to find red metallic paints.

This is something that is useful in the world of steampunk fantasy. One of the things I really like about Steampunk settings is that there is a lot of brass present on machinery and metal parts. This means that when you are choosing a colour scheme, you can add some contrast to your metallics by “alternating” between silver and brass colours. You can do steel parts with brass trim, brass parts with silver trim, brass rivets on steel plates, and so on. This allows you to really make details pop, and is something that I chose to take advantage of for Nancy’s mechano-fists. The steampunk mechanical arms are a key distinctive element on this model, and they are filled with plenty of little mechanical details that I wanted to be apparent even at a glance.

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Ultra close up of the mechano-fists

The Process

I was a little intimidated when it came to actually doing the NMM, so it was one of the last things that I had done on this model. When it came to choosing colour, as I mentioned above, I knew I wanted to have both brass and steel to pick out the mechanical bits. But for the steel, I decided to go for something with a bit more blue in it than traditional grey metal. This, I felt, would do two things. First, the blue steel would go well with some of the blue in her clothing and the hints of blue in the highlights on the black parts of her clothes. Second, the blue and brass would give me some nice contrast on the fists themselves on a cool/warm dimension.

So, to start off, I laid down some base colours. For the steel, I used a couple coats of Reaper’s Blue Liner, which is a dark blue that is very near black. Reaper’s Liner paints are formulated for blacklining, a technique where you paint thin lines in the cracks on models to separate distinct parts, and tend to have a little more flow to them than regular paints. However, I have found them to be good not only for priming Bones figures, but also as base coats for things that I want to paint near-black. I use their Grey Liner a lot for painting black, for example, as it is close enough to black to read as intended, but not quite black so it allows me to go into the shadows with a darker colour such as pure black.

Anyways, starting with a base coat of that Blue Liner, I next worked up to Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3, two colours which are somewhat desaturated blues, with the denim being a midtone and the frostbite being almost white. I applied the Gravedigger Denim to areas where I wanted it to be lighter, then followed up with some very sharp highlights with the frostbite — mostly just thin lines where the metal is catching a glint of light. Finally, I edge highlighted the figure with frostbite as well, to represent the areas where the light is catching an edge.

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Progress on the mechano-hands

For the brass, I did something similar. I did an initial base coat in brown, but didn’t like that so I went back to the drawing board and mixed some Tanned Leather from Reaper with some grey liner to get a dark, desaturated colour that still has some of the yellow-orange that I want to it. From there, I highlighted up to straight Tanned Leather, then Blond Hair (Reaper), and then a Menoth White Highlight (P3) for the highest highlight. As always, these are just the colours I used; you can use whatever you have on hand and mix on your wet palette (you are using a wet palette, right?) to get a similar effect.

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Colours used — Blue steel on left, Brass on right

Final thoughts

Non-metallic metal can be an intimidating sounding technique. However, once I got down to it, it actually seemed to be a little easier than I thought it would be. The main lessons I took away from it were:

  1. Understand where the light is coming from
  2. Go all the way from very dark to very light
  3. Use sharp highlights to convey glints of light

It’s also easier when you have something to go off of, so taking a close look at miniatures that have been painted with this technique or even just art of the figure that you are trying to paint can help you understand it better before taking the plunge. Even if you don’t plan on using NMM as a common technique in your repertoire, doing a few pieces in NMM can help you understand how light interacts with reflective surfaces like metals, and in turn help you with painting metallics in general.

As for me, I’ve got the Nancy Steelpunch 1/12 scale bust as well, so that’s going to be an interesting project…

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HeritageCon 2018

This past weekend, I made it out to sunny Hamilton, Ontario for HeritageCon, a large scale model show with a category for figures. I had a fun time, learned some stuff, and came home with a full shopping bag and an empty wallet, so I would say it was a successful couple days.

The convention was held at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which, similar to CapCon, made for a cool experience to look at a 1:72 version of something on a table and turn around to see the 1:1 scale version behind you. The venue was great, though my one little piece of advice is that someone should really make sure to stock up the ATM with cash before opening a venue to a bunch of scale modellers and people selling kits. Lighting was good; perhaps not as great as CapCon, and you could tell by the fact that almost all the figure modellers faced their figures in the same direction that there was definitely one side that had better light, but still pretty darn good.

There were hundreds of models at the convention and it’s impossible to do it justice, but I’ll show off some of the highlights for me — things that either were particularly well-done, or subjects that I found particularly interesting.

IMG_2583.JPGFirst off, in the bantam category for modellers under 10 years old, there was one kid who entered in some scratchbuilt and kitbashed models of imaginary future weapons that were all delightfully Orky. There were a couple tanks made out of random bits and bobs, a mash-up of a MiG 15 and some sort of straight-winged aircraft, and what looked like a Dalek rolling around under propeller power with a couple missiles on stubby little wings. Whoever this kid is, I hope he or she keeps up the level of creativity and passion that encourages him to put a propellor on the back of a Dalek and a radial engine behind that.

IMG_2634.JPGSpeaking of stuff that looks like it’s straight out of the Warhammer universe, the T-35 was a Soviet multi-turreted tank that is probably the closest thing to a Warhammer tank in real life, in that it was boxy, had guns sticking out everywhere, and turned out to be horrendously impractical in actual combat. Still, this five turreted beast makes for an interesting model. There was also a very nicely weathered… some sort of German thing (I believe that is the technical term, though I have no doubt that some armour modeller will correct me) that caught my eye and will be going in the inspiration folder for the next time I do some weathering.

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In the world of aircraft, one of the little games I like to play at model shows is “spot the roundel,” where I look for roundels of aircraft from smaller nations and try to figure out where they come from. In addition to an Irish Hurricane that I remembered from CapCon, I saw roundels from Spain, Colombia, Austria, Thailand, and Czechoslovakia, but I think my favourite was the Iraqi Me-109 from the Anglo-Iraqi war. I am pleased to report that not only was the model nicely done, but a quick google search confirmed that I managed to identify the rather strange looking roundel on the first try.

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L-R: Roundels of Spain, Czechoslovakia, Austria, El Salvador, Colombia, and Thailand

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Iraqi Me-109 – note the hastily painted over Iron Crosses, which totally make sense in the context of a campaign that only lasted about a month.

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Sadly, this model did not survive the show

There was a beautiful P-39 Airacobra at the show. The Airacobra is an interesting aircraft because unlike most fighters of that era, its engine is located behind the cockpit and drives the propeller by way of a long drive shaft. This leaves room in the nose for a 37mm gun shooting through the hub of the propeller as well as nose-wheel landing gear instead of the tailwheel landing gear of its contemporaries. Finally, instead of sliding backwards to open, the cockpit has car-like doors on the side. While it wasn’t the most successful aircraft of the war, it put in some good service, particularly with the Soviets on the Eastern Front. This particular representation was well rendered, with nice weathering and panel line detail, as well as all the doors opened up to reveal details like the engine and the gun. I was lucky to get this photo as unfortunately, in what was probably the biggest tragedy of the show, I saw a dejected-looking builder packing away the model and a ziploc bag full of pieces that had broken off. Clearly, it had taken quite the impact and I just hope that it is fixable, as it is was a wonderful model of a subject that, in my opinion, is much more interesting than some of its contemporaries like the P-51.

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In the world of motorcycles, there was one that had what looked like a cool chrome non-metallic metal effect. I think it was a decal, but if you look closely at some of the chrome on that motorcycle, you can see that the reflection is not a result of shiny finish, but is actually drawn on the motorcycle. This is a more advanced version of the non-metallic metal technique, which I hope to master at some point in the future. Also, someone made a couple cool looking motorcycles out of miscellaneous metal bits and bobs, partly from broken electronics, which made for some unique models.

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Now, to paraphrase Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big boats and I can not lie, which is good because there were two very nice large-scale U-boats on display. Submarines are always good to look at because if you look closely, you can see a lot of interesting detail in the weathering, as any vehicle that submerges under salt water and resurfaces many times is going to have some interesting weathering patterns. There was an excellent diorama of a sinking submarine, complete with lifeboats, escaping sailors, and realistic looking wave effects, which won best ship.

The winner of the Arthur Redding trophy was one of the locals, for his representation of U-190, a German submarine that ended up being captured by Canada at the end of the war and impressed into Canadian service. I’ve seen this piece before, but this was my first chance to get a really good look at it in some really good lighting and… damn, that weathering.

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That weathing, and all those fiddly bits on the guns and radars… ouch.

Finally, when it comes to science fiction, the gundam guys were out in force, with a lot of gundams done to a pretty high standard when it comes to shading and weathering. There was a red one (I believe that is the technical term) that had some really nice shading and highlights on it, as well as some sort of non-gundam walker thing that was pretty cool. Finally, there was also a robot spider from Johnny Quest which brought back memories of watching cartoons with my sister.

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Gundam

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Not a Gundam. Pretty cool though.

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Figures & Busts

Now, lets get to the important stuff — the figures and busts. There were six categories: historical, fantasy, busts, mounted, vignette and diorama. This was where I made most my entries, and there were a lot of very diverse figures and vignettes and dioramas. One of my favourites was this… well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s cool.

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Nice.

The competition in the busts category was intense. There were nineteen entries, the majority of which were painted to a very high standard. Almost all were historical, though in addition to my entry, there were one or two other fantasy busts.

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Very cool. A+ for composition.

Judging

I was recruited to judge some of the historical figures, obviously stepping aside for the fantasy and bust categories that I entered. This was my first time judging, and it was an interesting experience. At IPMS shows, models are judged in direct competition with each other, so instead of an open system with set criteria, we had to pick out a first, second and third place.

It was an interesting experience. Really taking the time to look at other people’s work closely enough to fairly and impartially determine who is the winner was an interesting challenge, and in the process, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and it sort of demystified some of the cool things I saw on the table. Of course, I also think I may have dodged a bullet in that one of the categories that I had to recuse myself from was the hyper-competitive busts category. With 19 entries, the other two judges had to spend a long time looking at it to narrow it down to a first, second and third.

My main of advice to figure painters who really want to compete is to focus on eyeballs. The main thing that distinguishes figure painting from scale modelling is the flesh tones, particularly on the face. When I go to look at a figure (or even a piece of armour that has a figure sticking out of the hatch), my eyes naturally go straight to the face. Further, if I’m judging a figure, the first thing I will do is kneel down and look him or her in the eyes. If it doesn’t look right, that’s not a good first impression. And if the category has a lot of entries, a bad first impression might mean that your model doesn’t survive the initial cut where the judges narrow down the field to the few that they think are really in contention.

Similarly, if you have a piece that has certain elements that “pop” and draw the eye, make sure those are well done. In one of the categories that I judged, there was one piece that just narrowly missed out on placing in part because of its bayonet. It had a shiny bayonet which was bright enough that it drew the eye, but was also just done up in plain silver paint with no highlighting or definition to it. This, in turn, pulled my eye towards the gun, where I found a couple more little things to nitpick, and long story short, the piece ended up just barely not making the cut to top three. Of course, this also came around to bite me as well, as one of the weak points of my Mary Read bust was the bird, which also drew a lot of attention with its bright colours.

My results

I entered a few figures, my aforementioned Mary Read bust, as well as throwing in my Victor colossal warjack into the Gundam and Mecha category. Between Yephima, The Black Sheep, Laril Silverhand, and Nancy Steelpunch. My main competition in this category was two large-scale female figures and a nicely detailed Sphess Mahreen from 40K.

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The competition

Against this backdrop, I thought I would be lucky to even place, especially considering the fact that I was working at such a small scale. At 35mm scale (about 1/48), Nancy was dwarfed by even the space marine, never mind the two large-scale ladies. I have to give some credit to my fellow judges on this one; it can’t be easy to look at a 30mm figure next to something a foot tall and try to determine which is better. In the end, Nancy edged out Mr. Space Marine Guy to come in second, behind one of the big ladies.

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More importantly than any ribbon or medal, I talked to one of the judges afterwards and got some good feedback. Basically, I needed to go a little sharper on some of my highlights and get my blends a little smoother, perhaps even trying out oil paints instead of acrylics. On the plus side, the judge told me that my metals are a strong point — which reminds me, I should write that article on TMM Brass that I’ve been talking about for months…

I also have the bust of Nancy in my stash, and I’ve had a lot of ideas rolling around in my head about what to do with her, so hopefully by the next big competition I’ll be able to bring both versions of her. I think she will be done in the same colour scheme as little Nancy, though with a few pink highlights in the hair, and I haven’t decided whether to do the punchy fists in NMM, which worked well for little Nancy, or TMM, which I’m a lot more comfortable with and got some kudos on on Mary Read.

My stuff

Finally, it wouldn’t be a convention if I didn’t spend too much money buying stuff. First, I had an idea for a project for a future contest for a unique take on the Me-109B. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find, as one can barely walk around in a hobby shop without tripping over a 109 kit. Boy, was I wrong. Apparently the early marks of the 109 are actually not that popular, and it’s the 109E and 109G that comprise almost all of the kits out there. Fortunately, the staff at Wheels and Wings in Toronto were helpful and hooked me up with the only 109B in the store, a somewhat pricy kit from AMG that includes rubber tires, photoetch, and lots and lots of tiny parts…

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Also from Wheels and Wings, I picked up some figures in a box marked Skull Clan – Death Angels, which were just too cool looking to pass up, as well as a book from Angel Giraldez, one of the top miniature painters in the world, on his techniques.

At the show itself, I found some interesting stuff. One of the vendors was selling stuff from Green Stuff World, so I managed to pick myself up a second, smaller leaf punch, some of their colourshift paints, and a couple textured rolling pins for sculpting pavement or cobblestone patterns.

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The spoils of war.

However, I think my best find of the day was some flats that I picked up. Flats are, as the name implies, flat versions of figures which seem to blur the line between painting figures and just straight up painting. My research tells me they had their heyday about 100 years ago, before three-dimensional figures became a popular thing, which is a fact that is corroborated by the vendor telling me that the were being sold from the stash of a nonagenarian. These are going to be an interesting challenge as they will really force me to up my game when it comes to painting in light and shadow, as I will have to represent three-dimensional people with a mostly-flat two-dimensional object.

In short, I’m going to have to pretend to be an actual artist on this one, so it’s going to be tricky.

Final Thoughts

HeritageCon was a great event, and I will definitely see if I can attend next year, as well as start looking around for other model shows that I can compete at. I know there is TorCan coming up in Toronto, as well as the painting competition at the Southern Ontario Open that I’m going all-in on, as I think I have a much better chance of doing well at that than actually coming out with a winning record at playing Warmachine. Even for people who have cut their teeth on wargaming figures, if you can make it out to a scale model show, there will be something there for you and a lot of techniques you can learn just by staring closely at the models on display.

 

Paintlog: Mary Read

So, this was something that I had been working on for a while and I’ve alluded to in previous posts, but I think it’s time to do a paintlog of my Mary Read bust from Scale75. This was my first bust, and my first crack at something in 1/12 scale, though I did do a Reaper figure in an intermediate scale as practice for levelling up from 30mm to 1/12, and I’d say it turned out pretty good, in spite of me breaking my hand partway through and having to paint one-handed.

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Anyways, just to get it out of the way first, there was a bit of controversy with this kit. This was one of the busts from their Naughty Gears kickstarter campaign, and I got it (among a few others) as part of this campaign. Scale75 had initially shown a very different model in their concept art, however shortly after the campaign closed and they took everyone’s money, they informed backers that the original Mary Read was no longer available due to a copyright issue, and that they were going to be offering a completely different model in her stead. After getting a bit of flak from their backers, Scale75 relented and created a new sculpt of Mary Read, changing her just enough to avoid any sort of copyright issue.

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Original (left) and actual product (right). That hair, yo…

I have to admit, I was initially a little disappointed with the new sculpt when Scale75 first showed the photos of it. The original had some pretty awesome elements that I was looking forward to painting, particularly the hair, which really sold me on upping my pledge level and getting this model. However, the new sculpt had grown on me, particularly once I started getting some flesh tones down, and looking at the finished product, I have to say that it may be a little cheescakey with the amount of exposed skin, but I really like her sculpt. Her expression exudes the right amount of confidence and badassery appropriate for a pirate captain, particularly one who can pull off that corset.

This kit comes in about six or so pieces and is made out of a grey resin. Some of the pieces are small and fragile, such as the two dreadlocks hanging down by her face or, as I was to learn the hard way, the feet of the parrot. This kit includes two options for her right arm; one holding a gun and one holding a piece of fruit. The parrot on the right shoulder is optional, and one could with just a little bit of filling leave off the two deadlocks hanging down next to her face or the gun at her waist if you so desire.

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For someone who is used to assembling mid-quality miniatures from companies like PP, this one went together like a dream. Mold lines ranged from tiny to nonexistent, and there weren’t any alignment issues to speak of. There were some tiny bubbles in the resin, but they were easily covered by even a thin layer of primer. I did a tiny bit of sanding and filling, but the precision of the fit probably means that except for maybe where the arm fits to the body, you could get away with just gluing it together and getting straight on to priming. The model is also fairly well-engineered, in that the seam between the right arm and the body is somewhat concealed by the bandages on her right arm. As someone who doesn’t like assembly and fixing up gaps and seams and just wants to get on with the painting, I was really happy with how nicely she went together.

Once the kit was (mostly) put together, I primed it with the airbrush with white Stynylrez. In case I haven’t mentioned it, Stynylrez is a great primer for plastic and resin miniatures, and since it’s made by Badger of airbrush fame, you can basically just drop in in your airbrush and shoot. Once that had fully cured, I pulled out the airbrush once more to paint the corset. This corset was something that I thought I might have trouble placing the highlights and shadows on, and it was something I didn’t think I got quite right on Yephima, my practice model, so I figured by doing it with the airbrush, I could use the zenithal method of spraying from the angle that the light is coming from and that would be a lot easier than trying to place my highlights manually and blending them in.

So, out came the airbrush, and with a little bit of help from a colour chart and a quick stop at my friendly local game store to get the one colour I was missing, I figured out the exact colours to use. I started with Coal Black as the deepest shadow colour, which is one of the really good colours in P3’s range. It’s a blackish, bluish, greenish colour which works really nicely as a shadow colour either straight or mixed with your base colour. Or just for anything where you don’t want to go to straight black because of colour theory.

Once I laid down the Coal Black into all the shadows, I moved on to Sanguine Base, covering up most of the Coal Black but letting it show through in the deepest recesses. Then onto Sanguine Highlight, and finally mixing in a little Menoth White Highlight, a warm, cream-coloured off-white, to get the highest highlight without making it look too pinkish, as it would have if I went for straight white as my highlight colour to mix in.

P3 paints thin down quite nicely for use in an airbrush, but they do need to be transferred into dropper bottles because their paint pots are quite possibly the worst in the business and dropper bottles are so much more convenient for airbrush work.

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Dear Privateer Press: Forget the game rules, please do a CID on your horrible, horrible paint pots so I don’t have to transfer your paint into dropper bottles. Also, while you’re at it, make my Assault Kommandos great again.

As for the skin tone, my chronic inability to follow a studio scheme is well-documented, so when I saw something in their “Steampunk in Miniature” painting guide about how steampunk models should traditionally have pale skin, I immediately know what to do. In true George Costanza fashion, I chose to do the opposite.

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Initial painting of skin, and my wet palette at work as I mixed the colours to paint her.

This skin tone involved a lot of colours and a lot of wet blending. First, I base coated it with Reaper’s Soft Blue, which I find to be a good base coat for skin because of a bunch of reasons that have to do with colour theory, shadows, and the nature of the translucent sacks of meat that we walk around in every day. Next up was Idrian Flesh from P3, which I love for medium-dark skin tones, and which I applied in a couple coats, covering up almost all of the blue, but letting it show through in the deepest shadows. Also on my palette, I can see some Tanned Skin and Fair Skin from Reaper, as well as Khardic Flesh and Ryn Flesh from P3, all of which went into my highlights in various amounts as I mixed them on a palette and applied them in ever-increasing highlights. This isn’t the end of my painting flesh; I would touch it up in a few areas as the project progressed, as well as applying a glaze of Idrian Flesh and Vallejo Glaze Medium to bring it all together and smooth out my blends.

If you want more information about my process for painting skin, see my presentation to a local IPMS group.

For the lips, I went with a dark makeup of Red Shadow from Reaper, which just a little bit of a sharp highlight on the lower lip to convey volume and reflection. For the eyes, I went in with Walnut Brown from Reaper for the liner and pupil, and Misty Grey with a hint of a flesh tone for the whites. Generally when painting whites (or painting figures in general) you don’t want to go all the way to a straight white. This is because the whites of the eyes aren’t actually white, and if you paint them like that, your figure will look surprised and googly-eyed, and a messed up eyeball is going to be the first thing that a viewer is going to notice. The eyes on this figure are probably a little whiter than would be realistic (I used a very light grey, with just a touch of flesh tone in it) but that is a deliberate choice that I made. With her darker skin, I wanted to put a little extra contrast in the eyes just to make them look a more intense, as well as draw the eye of the viewer upwards away from the chest and balance out some of the light trim on the corset. Whether a competition judge would agree with that decision remains to be seen, but it’s one that I’m happy with.

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Next up was the hair. I base coated it in Walnut Brown from Reaper, which is a very near-black brown. I don’t remember the exact combination of washes and glazes and whatnot that went into it, but one of the keys to painting dark hair is the highlights. Hair is naturally oily, and those oils are reflective, so some very sharp highlights are necessary to convey the shape of the hair and the light reflecting off of it. When it comes to dark hair, I like to use desaturated blues as my highlight colour, in this case going all the way up to P3’s Frostbite, which is a very light, faded blue which is one of my personal go-to colours in P3’s line. I also did some washes and glazes to blend it all together; when it comes to hair, a black wash can help in the shadows, and a nice glaze can help pull all your highlights back together.

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Hair, before and after highlights. Also, see a before and after of the glaze on the stocks of the guns and the leather sash.

Also in the above pictures, you can see some of the work on the corset. While there was some detail sculpted onto the corset of the figure, it was pretty fine and hard to make out, so I ended up more or less freehand painting the patterns on, using the box art as reference. Of course, I also kept with the studio colour scheme for this filigree, as gold and purple go together quite nicely. For work like this, the secret is simple — a good brush with a fine tip and some nice, thin paints which flow smoothly off the brush with the lightest touch. Either a 00 or a 10/0 liner will work for something like this, and if you haven’t built up the brush control necessary to pull this off yet, you will with some practice.

The leather sash was something that I also went back and forth a little on, eventually deciding to go with Reaper’s Oiled Leather as a base colour. I painted on a couple scratches, and then used a couple of dark washes and glazes with a hint of blue in the shadows to give it that worn, beaten look. Finally, I used the technique I wrote about last week for painting woodgrains on the stocks of the pistols; the glossy nature of the Scale75 glazes work perfectly to represent a fine, varnished wooden stock.

After finishing painting the rest of the bits, using my true metallic metal techniques on the metals and plenty of blending and edge highlighting on the rest, it came to time to put the parrot on. And here is where I ran into a bit of a problem. When I started this project, I figured I would paint the parrot and the head separately, otherwise it would be impossible to get in there with the brush. Unfortuantely, here is where a little problem came in. I had fractured my hand falling down some stairs partway through this project, which meant that while I could continue to hold the figure with the cast and paint her with my good hand, painting the parrot and gluing it on was out of the question until the cast came off and I got a bit of dexterity back.

Normally that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but remember how I said that some of these parts were fragile? Well, at some point while this project was off on the side of my workbench, both the legs had broken off the parrot and disappeared.

So, I had some sculpting to do. After cleaning off the nubs where the legs broke off, I took my pin vise and some brass rod and drilled and pinned the bird to the shoulder, with the brass rod representing where the legs would go. From there, I took some epoxy putty (I believe it was Brown Stuff from Green Stuff World) and sculpted the legs and feet around the brass rod. A bit of primer and some paint, and it was good as new, or at least good enough that most people probably won’t notice.

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There, good as new

From there, it was just a matter of some blacklining in the cracks, a few touch ups here and there, popping her off the pill bottle and onto the display base, and making up a little display sign for her out of a primed piece of a miniature blister pack. After priming and base coating the piece in black with my airbrush, I drew out my design with a pen and paper a few times until I was comfortable with it, and then brought out the brushes and did it for real. A drop of super glue, and Mary Read was complete.

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Conclusion

Busts are fun. Because of the nature of the piece, you get to focus your painting on areas like the head, face, etc., where you have the most interesting parts of the miniature, and not have to worry about painting boring stuff like pants. While busts are traditionally cut off at the arms and purists may decry the choice of including a little more than on a traditional bust, I think Scale75 made the right call in including either one or both arms on these models; just having one arm holding an object like a gun or a blacksmith’s hammer can really add some character to the figure that wouldn’t necessarily be present otherwise.

This was an important milestone on my hobby journey. First, the result is something that I am quite proud of, and I’m looking forward to putting her on the table for some competitions and get some feedback on her. Second, this was my first bust and my first project in this scale, so it was nice to know that I can do something in a scale way bigger than 30mm and work on a project where I have enough surface area to really explore all the highlights, shadows, and freehand details. Finally, I feel that this project represents a true evolution from an army painter who rocks an above-average army while losing at Warmachine to a true display quality painter. She may not be perfect, especially when she is put next to the work of some Crystal Brush winning professional painter, but she represents a huge step on my journey as a painter. And, really, that’s what it’s all about — your personal journey as a hobbyist.

Painting woodgrain textures

In many historical and fantasy settings, wood is everywhere. Buildings, scenery, and even the stocks of rifles are often made of wood. This can pose a challenge for someone painting miniatures, figures, or any other thing where you are trying to make something that looks like wood but smaller. Like with flesh tones, wood is not a uniform colour; rather, it has a directional grain to it. Ergo, in order to represent that at the scales we are interested in, we want to include those woodgrain textures in our piece.

This sounds like a daunting task, but fortunately, there is a very easy trick to making your wood look great which doesn’t demand a high level of artistic talent.

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Note – for scale, those are 1cm gridlines

Sourcing your lumber

When talking about painting wood, one of the first things that someone might ask is “why not steal a bunch of wooden coffee stir sticks from Starbucks? They’re wood, right?” While that is an option, this is one of those many cases where using the actual item without any sort of painting or modification doesn’t quite give the correct result due to the effects of scale and lighting. Instead of looking like an actual piece of wood, it will look like someone glued a giant coffee stir stick to your model and may ruin the immersion rather than create a realistic effect.

Another option that comes to mind is carving the texture into a piece of plastic, but again we run into scale issues. Too small of a groove and it will be hard to see, but a groove barely a half a millimeter in depth at some of the scales I work at would represent an inch deep gouge in a board, which is something that we just don’t see in real life. Further, trying to carve these wood grains into a small, fragile piece like a rifle at a small scale is not an easy task.

Instead, we’re going to be painting the wood grains on. It sounds intimidating and possibly a little crazy, but so long as you have the right equipment and the right paints, it’s actually not too hard.

For this project, we’re going to need some acrylic paints in various shades of grey. We will need a light, midtone, and dark grey, as well as some black and white, though you can always mix up any shade of gray with the black and white if you want. Second, we’re going to need some sort of brown acrylic ink. I like to use Scale75’s Inktense Wood or Inktense Chestnut for this application, depending on the shade of wood I’m going for, but I’m sure there are some other figure painting inks or artist acrylic inks out there that can work. The Inktense Wood ink is great for raw boards, while the Chestnut is really good at representing stained, finished wood products like a hardwood floor, tabletop, or the stock of a rifle. Finally, we’re going to need at least one good brush with a fine tip – I recommend a small (perhaps 10/0) liner brush if you have one, because as the name implies, a liner brush is really good for painting lines, and the grains in a piece of wood are nothing but fine lines.

Hardwood floor base

In this case, I wanted to create a hardwood floor for Nancy Steelpunch, a 35mm (approximately 1/48, for all you scale modellers) scale miniature on top of a square, 25mm plinth. I had the idea of portraying her indoors, perhaps in a saloon or speakeasy. So, to begin, I created that floor by gluing a bunch of pieces of strip styrene to the top of my base. I chose to do it at about a 45 degree angle to the plinth, simply to generate a little more visual interest than if the boards were oriented parallel to the edge of the base. I also made sure to include a couple breaks in the flooring where one board stopped and the next one started. Since I wanted the flooring to look a little beat up as though she were in an old saloon, so I didn’t put too much effort into sanding down the edges where I clipped them, and roughened the plastic up a little with coarse sandpaper.

IMG_2538.JPGWith the flooring laid down, the first step is to prime it and paint it in your midtone grey. Make sure to paint in the direction of the grain where possible; after all, brush strokes look kind of like wood grains anyways, so if you paint in the direction of the grain, you don’t need to worry too much about getting a nice smooth coat.

Next up comes the process of painting on the grains in the wood, but first, a little discussion about the fluid mechanics of paint on a brush. Paint brushes store paint in the bristles and when you run it over a surface, that paint flows off the tip and onto that surface. Thin paints flow better, so by using thin paints, a brush with a fine tip but a sizeable enough belly to hold paint, and the proper brush control, you can paint some very fine detail.

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10/0 liner brush, nothing special, just an average, natural hair art store brush

This is why a liner brush is ideal for painting on woodgrains. With the business end having a very long, thin profile, you get a nice balance between a fine tip and enough volume in the bristles to store enough paint that you can actually paint a long, fine line before you either run out of paint or have it dry out on the tip. That’s why if you watch old videos of Bob Ross making his paintings, you will see that at the end of every show, he signs his paintings with a liner brush and some very thin paint.

IMG_2539.JPGSo, with thin paints and your trusty liner brush, start with a light grey and begin painting lines running along in the direction of the grain of the wood. The lines should be roughly parallel, but they don’t have to be perfect because wood is a natural product and therefore wood grains have some element of randomness to their texture. The lines shouldn’t all go all the way from one end of the board to the other, as wood grains on the surface start and stop. Further, if you have a break where one board stops and the next board starts, make sure to stop your lines at the end and start anew, as woodgrains don’t carry on from one piece of wood to the next.

IMG_2541.JPGOnce you’re satisfied with the woodgrain pattern you have generated, repeat the process, this time with a darker grey than your base colour to paint in the dark parts of the woodgrain texture. Once you’re done with that, feel free to follow up once more with just a bit of pure white here and there to get some additional contrast. If your wood has cracks between multiple pieces like on floorboards, you can also go in there with your liner brush and some pure black to get those to show up.

When we’re done, we should get something that looks kind of like a woodgrain texture only in black and white instead of colour. What we’ve essentially done here is create a value sketch – painting in the lights and darks of what we want, but without any actual hue or colour. This is where our inks come in. Inks are simply acrylic paints with a high pigment density, but with a very thin consistency, more like water than actual paint. Inks have a myriad of uses, and can be applied with either a brush or an airbrush or mixed in with regular acrylic paints.

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This is where the magic happens

In this case, we’re going to be applying the ink as a glaze. Using either a brush or an airbrush at a very low pressure setting, simply paint the ink over the entire surface of the wood, attempting to get a more or less consistent finish. If you’re using the right products and applying them properly, you will see the ink quickly colouring the wood and turning it into amazingly realistic looking wood before your eyes.

You may need multiple coats, and as always when working with inks, you need to make sure it dries completely between coats, but that’s it! You can always experiment with different inks and washes, adding additional hues, or putting different varnishes on top of the wood in order to get interesting effects like aged or weathered wood. Further, there is nothing stopping you from adding more lines and another layer of ink on top to get another layer of detail. But for this project, the colour and shine of the Scale75 Intense Chestnut alone gives me the hardwood floor effect that I’m looking for, so I’m not going to futz with it.

Conclusion

With the right tools and the right techniques, this is an amazingly simple way to get some very nice and realistic looking wood effects on your miniatures. It can be useful for painting miniature furniture, bases, scenery, and all kinds of weapons from spears and clubs to rifles and shotguns. Hopefully this technique helps you out, as properly rendered wood can really kick up a project to the next level.

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The Joy of Painting Figures – presentation

I had planned to write something on painting woodgrain textures today, but I ran into some problems and didn’t get around to it. So, in lieu of an actual article, I’m going to throw up a link to a presentation I made on painting figures at a local IPMS meeting this week.

In short, I feel that figure painting can be an intimidating thing for a lot of scale modellers, and I see a lot of comments on the scale model internet to that effect. Flesh tones aren’t a uniform colour like the glacis plate of a Panzer IV, and people who paint figures tend to worry a lot more about things like lighting and colour theory than someone trying to make an exact replica of something, only tinier.

That is not to say that figure painters are better than traditional scale modellers. The sheer number of pieces and the level of detail in a model kit with all the aftermarket bling in it can get rather insane, not to mention the historical research involved to make it as exact a representation of the subject as possible.

The goal of this presentation was to demystify it a little — explain some of the basics of using acrylic paints (thin your paints, take care of your brushes, and just make a damn wet palette already), explain a little bit about the theory behind what goes into flesh tones, and share some techniques as to how I go about placing those highlights and shadows.

So, without any further ado, here’s the slides from that presentation.

“I painted that one-handed…”

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I recently suffered a fracture to my hand, which knocked me out of gaming and typing for about a month. The only silver lining was that as the pill bottles I use as miniature holders fit in my cast rather nicely, so I could still make some hobby progress. Assembly and major conversions were out of the question, but I was able to put a large dent in my shelf of shame.

Laril Silverhand

IMG_2480.JPGI mentioned in a previous post that I had started on Laril Silverhand (03803) from Reaper. Well, I managed to finish her up. I didn’t quite go for the full-on dark moonlit night as I originally planned, but I do think the OSL on the sword does a good job of conveying the scene and the heat of the sword as it was just pulled out of the furnace. Reaper minis tend to be a touch smaller than what I’m used to from Privateer Press, but not too much; Laril here was perhaps 10% smaller than the equivalent PP mini.

Anyways, for this OSL, what I did was I started by basecoating the sword with Vallejo Metal Color Gunmetal Grey. This is the darkest silver paint I own, and the VMC metals are nice and smooth. For the sword itself, I applied layers of red and bright orange, blending them out so they smoothly transition from bright, hot orange to warm red to cold steel. On top of that, I did a yellow edge highlight along the edges of the blade to convey its shape. For the glow, I started by figuring out where the glow of the sword would hit her apron, anvil, arm, etc. Then, I applied the highlights as glazes, starting with red and working up to brighter oranges and yellows as we get closer to the sword.

Man-O-Wars

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Drakhuns with dismounted versions

With the Khador Man-O-War CID in full swing, I decided it was time to start putting a dent in to the large collection of assembled, primed, airbrushed Man-O-War models that were in my collection. Man-O-Wars are basically elite soldiers from the Khadoran army stuffed into steam-powered armoured suits which make them extremely tough and also occasionally malfunction and scald them to death. I decided to bang out two Drakhuns (cavalry models, mounted on the world’s unluckiest horses) and a Kovnik (officer with a flag).  The Drakhuns are dragoon solos for Warmachine, so each model comes with two versions — one mounted version, and one dismounted version which can continue the fight after being shot off his or her horse. So with two Drakhuns and one Kovnik, that’s five models total.

 

Now, these models are very detailed, including certain –ahem- anatomically correct bits on the horses. So they were a bit of a time consuming project, especially for someone like me whose style often involves a lot of contrast, a lot of picking out details, and a lot of heavy edge highlighting. To distinguish the two Drakhuns on the tabletop, I did a couple things. First, I painted one horse grey and the other brown. Second, I did a head swap for one of them. Instead of the standard helmet, I pinned the head from Alexia, Mistress of the Witchfire on there, which I had acquired from the PP bits store. I chose this head for two reasons. First, she’s got a cool angry expression on her face. Second, the motherland requires both its sons and daughters to carry on the struggle against the forces of Cygnar and Cryx, so I like to represent a bit more gender diversity in my army than is normally in the PP Khador line. With Man-O-War, since they are covered up by such big, bulky armoured suits, a simple head swap is all that is necessary to convert one into a Woman-O-War.

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Man-O-War Kovnik

For the Kovnik, I didn’t want to do a purple flag because it’s my second one and I want to be able to distinguish them on the tabletop. So, I went for pink, but I chose a bit different shade of pink for the cloth flag than I did for the armour, just to convey that they are made of different materials.

 

The other thing with these Man-O-War models is that some of the older sculpts are metal, and the newer ones are plastic. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem, except for the reality of scale creep in PP’s sculpts. The old metal Man-O-War miniatures are just a little smaller than the newer plastic ones, so to make them look a little more consistent on the tabletop, I elevated them slightly, using a layer of cork between the feet and the base. It doesn’t totally fix the scale issue, but it at least makes the models a consistent, uniform height which works out well at a glance.

Sofya Skirova

IMG_2501.JPGKapitan Sofya Skirova is a badass. Let’s just get that out of the way first. As an officer in the Black Dragons, the most elite pikemen in all of Khador, she has to be. On the tabletop, she has a lot of special rules which mean that she just does not die and can tough out a lot of attacks and get back into the fight.

She was one of Privateer Press’ December releases as part of their new plan of giving every faction a little something around Christmas. I’ve been waiting for her to come out ever since they spoiled some of the character art in No Quarter, however I think it may have been a bit of a missed opportunity there; when I first saw her art, I was hoping that she would be either the daughter or the wife of Lord Kozlov, our new battlebox caster, but that’s something that I can just headcanon.

In order to convey this badassery, I decided to do something special for her base. First, it goes without saying that she needs to tower over lesser models on the tabletop, so she needs a little height on the base. This was easily accomplished with a lump of air drying clay, as well as my usual use of acrylic artist medium for texture.

Now, height is good, but to add a little badassery, I decided to turn it up a notch and throw on some debris — a couple shields from her fallen comrades that I had traded for, as well as some Menoth bits including a warjack head that someone threw in with a sale (protip: never say no to free bits). These were, of course, weathered up a bit to indicate the origin of said bits, and really help convey the message that Sofya is one tough cookie.

Iron Fangs

IMG_2491.JPGWhile I’m at it, I also banged out the Iron Fang Pikemen that I had previously assembled. Aside from the hell that is assembling, converting, and magnetizing a whole unit of metal pikemen, I decided to do a little bit of an experiment on these guys. Normally, I wouldn’t use my airbrush for models this small, but I figured that perhaps I could save some time and get good results by airbrushing the purple on, including the shadows and highlights, then going back and brush painting the chainmail with some nice, smooth VMC metals. The other thing I did was use very targeted washes. As I’ve gotten better and better at painting, I’ve been less and less reliant on slathering a mini in Nuln Oil. That is not to say that washes such as Nuln Oil are not useful, but there are a lot of times where you want to be more targeted with them than just an all-over wash. Here, I pretty much just washed the metals and fur and for the rest, just kept the airbrushed or blended highlights au naturel. Overall, this gave good results, and given the amount of time I’ve saved, I am definitely going to be doing a lot more airbrushing on smaller miniatures.

Still on the bench…

IMG_2509.JPGI have a couple projects still on my workbench. First off is Karchev the Terrible, or Special K as I call her. You will note my use of the feminine in this case; a friend had commented on my habit on doing gender-bending conversions in my army and, well, one thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was grabbing a jeweler’s saw and a Statuesque Miniatures head. She’s a woman in a machine, an old warrior kept alive by life support systems, magic, and the giant steam-powered warjack that she was bolted into because reasons. I’ve got all the base coats laid down, and the shading done on the base and legs, so I’m probably pretty close to done, all things considered.

IMG_2506.JPGFinally, my take on Scale75’s 1/12 scale Mary Read bust is almost done, after a little mishap with the parrot that ended up with me needing to break out the sculpting tools. I still need to highlight the metals, do a bit of work on the parrot, and do some miscellaneous touchups, hightlights, and shadows here and there, but she is getting close to done. This was a really fun project, so much that I spent more money than I care to admit on Scale75’s latest kickstarter. I’m hoping to be able to make it out to HeritageCon in Hamilton in a few weeks, and if so, I’m going to definitely enter her into the figures category and see how I do. That is, as long as I can get her done by then.

Conclusion

In spite of my busted up hand, it’s actually been a productive month in terms of my hobby progress, and I’ve happily finished a few things that have been on my shelf of shame for way too long. Something about not being able to go out gaming or do much of anything is one way to ensure you will get a lot of hours at the workbench, though I still wouldn’t recommend breaking your hand as a motivational technique.