Bustin’ a Move with Nancy and Sorscha

To paraphrase the esteemed Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big busts and I cannot lie. When it comes to painting figures, I think the 1/12 bust is my favourite scale. 1/12 is a big enough scale to incorporate some really nice details and textures, especially on the skin and eyes. However, being a bust, that means I can get the large scale which enables a lot of detail work without having as large or expensive of a model as if it were a full figure. Plus, painting pants and boots can be kind of boring, and a bust focuses on only the interesting parts.

Starting out

I had mentioned them on this blog before, but had done two busts recently: the Sorscha bust from Privateer Press, and Nancy Steelpunch from Scale75. Both were high quality resin pieces, and cleanup was pretty minimal, with a little bit of work required on Sorscha and not much at all on Nancy. Both were assembled and then zenithal primed with Stynylrez white over black, going heavy on the white as is my usual approach.

Next, I laid in some airbrushed base coats on the skin. I started with blue, as that is my deepest shadow and it is generally easier to work from shadow to highlight with the airbrush. From there, I went into skin tones, working up from my deepest shade of Reaper MSP Soft Blue to my highest highlight of a very fair skin tone. The goal here isn’t to get everything perfect, rather, it’s just a quick way to lay in a nice base and get about 80% there, from where I can manually paint and glaze additional layers overtop.

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Skin airbrushed over a zenithal highlight

Sorscha

Here is where the process started to diverge. Nancy had a lot of skin showing, so I figured I was finished with the airbrush on her for the time being. Sorscha, however, was mostly pink armour. So, masking off her face with a bit of silly putty, I worked up from a shadow colour of Reaper MSP Nightshade Purple mixed with Punk Rock Pink, up to neat Punk Rock Pink, then Blush Pink and finally some Braaaaiins Pink for the highest highlight.

Next was some texturing techniques that I picked up in a class I had taken with Aaron Lovejoy a little while ago. I went over the airbrushed base coat with a bunch of stippling, using the base coats to guide me as to where I should stipple what colour. Once it was all stippled and I had the texture laid in, it was time for some airbrush glazing – mix up some very thin paints in your airbrush, and just barely pull the trigger back, depositing a thin glaze over your stippled texture. It will blend all your stippling back together, but so long as you aren’t too heavy and start laying down opaque coats, you will still have some texture from the stippling showing through. I started with some Nightshade Purple shot up from below to reinforce the shadows, then came from above with my pink highlight colours. I may have been a little heavier than intended on the highlight colours as the more pastel pinks have a lot of white in them contributing to more opacity than I anticipated, but the end result was good enough for me and I wasn’t about to spend another few hours re-stippling everything just because things ended up being a little more subtle than intended.

For the white trim, I used a similar but slightly different process. I started with a basecoat of Reaper’s Stormy Grey, then covered it with a wet blend from Stormy Grey up to Misty Grey. From there, I stippled in the texture and brushed on the glazes instead of using an airbrush because there is no way I’m going to do that much masking. I also added texture to the leather straps in a similar manner, adding some fine details then using glazes and washes to blend them all together with the rest of the leather.

The hair was base coated in a deep walnut brown, and highlighted with a series of desaturated blues. However, I also added in a touch of a light, desaturated purple in the highlights. This helps blend the hair into all the pink, and also represents a bit of reflection of light from her pink armour off her hair. For the hat, I did it in two phases. First, to get the general highlights and shadows, I basecoated and wet-blended the grey, ignoring the fur texture and using your wet-blending to roughly highlight and shade it as though it were simple, flat cloth. From there, I used washes and dry-brushing to highlight the actual fur, with a little bit of manual edge highlighting of individual tufts of fur applied afterwards just to kick it up a notch. For my shade colour, I wanted to stick to a cool grey, so I went with primarily GW’s Drakenhof Nightshade, however I also added the slightest hint of various coloured GW washes to give a little colour variation to it because grey is boring.

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Hair — note the blue reflections and the hints of purple in the highest highlights.

I was debating weathering her armour, but at the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. First, I thought it looked nice clean and was a little afraid that weathering would ruin it. Second, I was also concerned that with all the work I did to add texture, painting on a bunch of chipping and scratches on the armour would add just so much contrast that it would just completely overshadow and wipe out the more subtle texturing effects. Finally, I decided to rationalize it by figuring that Sorscha probably isn’t going to be wearing that much makeup to war, and dirty, heavily chipped armour would clash with lipstick and eyeshadow. As such, I figured that I would go with a “parade clean” scheme, where Sorscha is trying to look her best to show off her pride in the Khadoran military (and, perhaps make Vlad feel a few pangs of regret over dumping her and marrying the Empress).

This take on Sorscha doesn’t have a whole lot of colour variation, interesting freehand, or the like, but I think she stands out for two reasons. First, with the pink being such a bright, intense colour and the way I took a little artistic license with the lighting to draw the viewer into the face, it can suck an observer in from several feet away. Second, once you come in closer, you start seeing some of the texture variation across the model. Even without weathering, there are just so many textures on this simple bust – skin, hair/fur, cloth, leather, painted metal, and shiny metal – that there is a lot going on even without the addition of any sort of freehand or the like.

At the end of the day though, Sorscha is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms universe, and I think I did her justice here, even if she didn’t place at the last competition I brought her to.

Nancy

As for Nancy, my colour choice was already set. I painted a miniature of her last year, with red and black clothes in a vaguely Harley Quinn inspired theme and blue hair. I tweaked a couple little things from the miniature version because it wasn’t quite working at 1/12, most notably, I changed the necklace from a silver to a gold metal to incorporate a bit better colour balance.

The two challenging things on Nancy were the tattoos and the true metallic metals on the fist. For the tattoos, I wanted to tell a story. The idea was that Nancy here is a steampunk mechanic who lost her hands in an industrial accident thanks to Victorian-era workplace health and safety regulations. Of course, as any steampunk mechanic worth her salt would do, she simply invented a pair of giant mechano-hands.

In order to literally spell it out for the viewer, I decided to tattoo the phrase “What doesn’t kill you…” on her chest. In this case, the phrase is taken quite literally as what doesn’t kill you actually does make you stronger when you replace your hands with giant mechanical fists. I also added tattoos of gears and other mechanical bits on the side of her head to represent her chosen career path, as well as some random tattoos here and there just to balance it all out.

There are a couple tricks to tattoos. First, black tattoo ink often has a bit of blue to it for some reason, so it’s a good idea to use a blue-black like Payne’s Grey inks or Reaper’s Blue Liner paint. Second, unless a tattoo has been just applied, it needs to be blended into the skin as it fades a little as it heals. To do this, I made a glaze in one of my flesh tones and simply applied it over the areas with the tattoo, knocking back the contrast between it and the skin.

Beyond that, it is simply an exercise in fine freehand, so get yourself a good brush in your steady hand, and use thin paints with plenty of flow improver so they flow smoothly and consistently off your brush. I’m not sure I’ve quite mastered it, but I think the tattoos here at least look somewhat realistic.

For the hands, I decided to go with true metallic metals because I appreciate the shine. For the uninitiated, there is a technique called non-metallic metal (NMM) where you paint in highlights, shadows, glints of light and reflections using matte paints in order to portray metal. That is often used on box art and competition pieces because it looks really good in photos. True metallic metals is the use of metallic paints, but instead of just painting the whole thing in the same tone of silver or gold, you apply some of those non-metallic metal techniques of shading and highlights. This way, you get both the intense shadows and highlight of NMM, and a bit of shine from your metallic paints, which, although it is trickier to photograph well, I think helps add some pop to the real life model.

The tricky thing with TMM is that metallic paints are a bastard to blend. Vallejo Metal Color is workable, but even it isn’t as nice as blending with regular paints. As for gold paints, there isn’t much on the market for gold acrylic paints that don’t suck. Not to mention that you can’t use your expensive sable brushes here as metallic paints chew up natural hair brushes very quickly. I used P3 golds, which I find to be decent have a fairly tone on, but the gold paint still leaves a lot to be desired (In fairness, so do just about all of their competitors).

The other challenge was simply deciding where to put the highlights and shadows. With all the big flat surfaces, it was tricky figuring out exactly where to put the glints of light. I’m not sure I completely nailed it – there are a couple places on the fist where I think adding another highlight or adjusting the brightness here and there might help kick the metals up a notch. That said, I am loath to rework a model once I’ve called it finished and put it on a plinth because I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of trying to fix up all my old models and having nothing ever be truly finished. I may touch it up before the next big show, but it’s good enough for now.

One additional thing — late in the game, something about the colour balance seemed off. I conferred with some of my associates and they recommended that I repaint the poofy shoulder things yellow. I decided to take their advice into account, and promptly ignored it in favour of doing something else. Instead of repainting those poofy arm things, I chose to redo her necklace, swapping the silver metallic for gold, thus balancing out some of the colours on her body and bringing in a bit more of a “callback” on her body to the extensive brass bits on her mechano-fist. This definitely helped, fixing some of the colour balance issues that made it look a little off.

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The finished version above looks so much better with the gold necklace instead of silver

Conclusions

I’ve said it before, but painting busts poses a lot more interesting challenges than 30mm miniatures. The shortcuts you use on small miniatures like washes just don’t work at that scale. On the flip side, the relatively large size means you can incorporate more details than you can on a miniature. I’m sure Nancy and Sorscha won’t be my last busts; in fact, I have one on my bench right now…

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