Sketch style: How to paint miniatures backwards

I have long suspected that one of the reasons why some people dislike painting is because they set themselves up to fail. Without knowing any better, they end up doing things like trying to paint yellow straight over black primer then getting frustrated when they don’t get good results. That is not unexpected; we all make elementary mistakes just starting out (I did my fair share of mediocre colour schemes and trying to paint white straight over dark colours, and my first attempts at painting yellow were a nightmare) and it’s not fair to expect people who are just starting out to know not to use horribly inefficient processes. However, I feel like if more people knew how to set themselves up for success from the start, people would enjoy themselves more, accomplish more with their painting, and we would see more painted models on the table.

Which brings me to “sketch style,” a style of painting that was popularized by Matt DiPietro of Contrast Miniatures. This is a style that was all the rage about a year or two ago, but I never said I was always up on the latest trends. Basically, this style turns the traditional “base coat, shade, highlight” approach that companies like Games Workshop have promoted for decades and turns it on its head.

It, or at least the bastardization of the process that I use, rests on two assumptions. First, paint leaving an airbrush or rattle can travelling in a straight line can roughly represent rays of light emanating from a light source. Second, paint doesn’t have 100% opaque coverage.

Okay, so what is sketch style

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Munsell colour system – a system that can describe any colour by three axes: Hue, value, and chroma (which is similar to saturation)

Before I start, I think it is good to have a brief interlude about what makes a colour. In certain models for colour theory, every shade of every colour can be described according to three properties: hue, value, and saturation (or chroma, which is similar but different in a way people who actually went to art school may be able to describe). Hue describes the general colour of the rainbow or the colour wheel, whether it is red or blue or green or something in between. Value describes the lightness or darkness of the colour, with one extreme being black and the other being white. Sky blue, for example, has a much higher value than navy blue.

Finally, saturation describes the intensity of the colour and runs from completely desaturated neutral greys all the way out to really bright reds and greens and blues and whatevers. A bright blue is going to be much more intense than a dull, greyish blue. With these three variables, we can describe basically any colour that exists.

No, really, what is sketch style

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The “Citadel Paint System” — start with a base, hit it with a wash, then either layer or dry-brush the highlights

Think for a moment of the traditional way most of us learn to paint miniatures. If you’ve followed something like Duncan’s videos on Warhammer TV, you’re familiar with this approach. Typically, you start by base coating your miniature in the desired colour, using two thin coats to ensure you get smooth, even coverage. From there, apply some dark washes into the shadows and then hit it with a dry-brush of a lighter colour to pick out the highlights.

Now, let’s think about this in terms of the Hue/Value/Saturation. What we are essentially doing when we follow the traditional Warhammer method is laying down our desired hue and saturation with a uniform base coat some funnnily-named colour like Wazdakka Red, and then using washes, dry-brushing, and other techniques to increase the value in the highlights (eg: lighten them) or decrease the value in the shadows (eg: darken them), leaving us with a completed miniature with highlights and shading at the end.

Seriously, what the hell is sketch style already?

Sketch style basically turns this around. Instead of starting out with our hue by laying down an opaque basecoat, we start out by sketching in the value using black and white. Generally, we want more black in the shadows and white in the highlights.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this – a technique called zenithal priming, which I have discussed a few times before. Left to its own devices, light tends to emanate from a point and travel in a straight line until it hits something. As does paint coming out of an airbrush. So, by priming the entire miniature black, then loading up with white primer, holding the airbrush in the general location where the light source would be, and spraying your miniature from that angle, you can get a good start on your value sketch.

Take, for example, a miniature who is meant to represent your average soldier outside during the day. The main source of light on him is going to be the sun. So, figure out where you want the sun to be (generally somewhere in front of the miniature, though not necessarily straight on, coming down at maybe a 45 degree angle), hold your airbrush there, point it at the miniature, and spray it with white primer. That white primer will naturally come straight out your airbrush and land in areas on the model where the sun would hit the real thing, and leave the areas which would remain in shadow in black.

I like to especially focus fire on the face of a miniature, as that is generally the focus of a piece. I also like to add a secondary light source at about 180 degrees from the original light source, not as bright as the primary light source but still there. This is just so the back of the miniature isn’t completely black and you have some visual interest on both sides. While this may be taking some artistic license, you will never see both the front and the back of the miniature at the same time. And for wargamers, unless you’re playing a Warmachine game against Haley2, you’re going to be seeing the back of your miniatures a lot so you might as well use that secondary light source to make it look just as good from the back as it does from the front.

Note: You can use a rattle can for this, however an airbrush loaded with Stynylrez primer is my preferred tool as the airbrush offers more precise control over your spray, I don’t have issues with rattle cans in the long, cold, Canadian winter, and Stynylrez is an awesome airbrush primer.

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Value sketch on a miniature; ignore the purple wash in some areas (I got a little ahead of myself before I took the picture) and the white dot on the cape (that was a mistake that I covered up with dark purple paint after the value sketch)

While zenithal priming gives us a good start, for this technique to work to its maximum effectiveness, we need to kick it up a notch. By doing a quick dry brush, we can catch the edges and highest highlights of the model. The best paint for this is available not at your model or game store, but at the art store. Get yourself a tube of artist acrylic heavy body titanium white paint. Not only is it a nice consistency for dry brushing, but titanium white is the whitest white paint you can get. It’s basically the Mike Pence of paint.

So, once we’ve loaded up a makeup brush (which are the best dry brushes) with our white and gone to town, the end result should be a black and white miniature which is dark in the shadows and light in the highlights — basically, a value sketch with no hue or saturation.

Adding hue and saturation

Now that we’ve established our values, it’s time to add colour. What we want to do is tint the model with semi-transparent layers of colour; layers that are opaque enough that they add some hue and saturation, but transparent enough that they don’t completely cover up the underlying value sketch.

I’ve found there are two approaches which work well for this. The first, and generally my preferred method, is to use inks. You can use inks made by the usual suspects like Vallejo, P3 and Scale75, or acrylic artist inks made by folks like Daler & Rowney or Liquitex. While inks are very pigment-dense, they are also incredibly thin, almost like water. As such, a thin layer of ink often adds the perfect amount of colour, and one or maybe two coats should suffice to get to the desired level of saturation.

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A small sample of inks

The second option, if inks aren’t available, is to thin down some regular paint with a matte medium. While it can go by many names, especially if you buy it from a miniature paint line rather than the art store, matte medium is basically paint without pigment. This allows you to reduce the pigment density but not affect the consistency of the paint as if you just added water. This means the surface tension is such that you can apply a uniform coat as a glaze, instead of having it sink into the recesses like a wash. While this approach does work, it does take more coats than the inks to build up your colour, so unless you’re painting in such a large batch that your first model is dry by the time you make it to the end, having a blowdryer on hand to speed up the drying process can really help.

And that’s it. Using our inks or glazes, we can add colour to our value sketch in a sort of paint by numbers approach. Cover a blue cape with blue ink, leather straps with brown ink, and so on. Because we’ve already put in our highlights and shadows in the value sketch process, we don’t need to go back and hit it with things like washes and highlights if we don’t have to.

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Thrall warriors in just about every colour of the rainbow. Some sponge chipping was added to the armour, and brown washes to the bottom of the capes because re-animated skeletons are generally fairly dirty.

Colouring your shadows

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First Mate Hawk, with Drakenhof Nightshade (eg: dark blue) shade

Astute readers may notice that this runs slightly contrary to something that I often preach. By using black and white as a base for our value sketch, this means we are effectively shading and highlighting by adding black or white to the base colour. This works well for certain colours like blues and purples, but there are a lot of colours out there where colour theory dictates that there should be some variation in the hue as well as we move from shadows to highlights. Greens, for example, should move towards blue in the shadows and yellow in the highlights. Warm colours like to be shaded with cool colours, and mixing white into red can end up pushing your highlights towards pink.

While I wasn’t smart enough to get a good picture before I covered them with chipping and muck, we can see this issue in some of my rainbow thrall warriors. The red, yellow, and orange just doesn’t quite work as well as some other colours.

However, there is a way to address this somewhat. After establishing the value sketch but before laying down the colours, you can hit the model with a wash in a cool colour like blue or purple. As usual, Citadel’s shades are my go-to for this. Once dry, you can re-establish the highest highlight by giving the white dry brush another go. This will leave the cool colours in the midtones and the shadows, and give you a little bit of that cool to warm transition that we tend to like as we go from shadows to highlights after the application of your colour.

Going from here

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Ragman – mostly a sketch style then slathered with Nuln Oil to add a dirty look

Of course, once you have your ink slapped on, you can call it done, or you can go a little further. On my Ragman, for example, I wanted him to look dirty and shadowy, so I brought out my good old friend Nuln Oil and gave him a nice shade with the brown-black concoction. You can also apply washes and glazes to add weathering to things like capes.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with starting out with sketch style then going into more traditional techniques like blending and layering to reinforce shadows and highlights. I did this on my Orin Midwinter model, for example, using a bit of Drakenhof Nightshade in the shadows, and kicking up the highest highlight a little bit by mixing up an opaque highlight colour, applying it to the highlights, and feathering it out.

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Orin Midwinter – sketch style on the robes using P3 Sanguine Base, with highlights reinforced with a mix of Sanguine Highlight & Menoth White Highlight

Conclusions

When it comes to painting miniatures, there is very rarely one correct answer. Sketch style is not the solution to all your problems and for best results shouldn’t be applied everywhere all the time. I find it to work great for things like clothes and capes where a little roughness from the atomization of the white primer through the airbrush and the dry brushing can nicely represent the texture of the cloth. However, even when I’m using sketch style, I tend to revert to the traditional approach for things like armour plates and faces. And, of course, metallics are their own little ball of wax.

However, like most techniques out there, it’s worth a shot. Compared to the traditional approach, it can be very effective for quickly banging out good looking models. None of the techniques used to establish the value sketch are particularly demanding, and they’re all well-suited to batch paint dozens of models at once to quickly get an army painted. A spray from above in white and a quick dry brush with a detail brush is not particularly challenging. Adding colour only requires you to stay within the lines, but even that only requires some basic brush control.

Even if you don’t use it to bang out dozens of Trenchers in one sitting for your Cygnar army, dipping your toe into the water of sketch style can help you understand core concepts and make you a better painter.

And, it’s so easy that even my mom can do it.

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00 Gundam Part 3: Final Details

In my last two articles, I painted and weathered the bulk of my SD gundam using the hairspray technique, oil streaks, and some other effects. That took care of about 90& of the model, but there were a few details that had yet to be done, namely the eyes, the gun, and the sword. These details I saved for the end for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to do a different finish on these, so I didn’t want the varnish that I would apply to the bulk of the model to ruin it. Second, I wasn’t planning on using the same weathering techniques on the glass and shiny metal surfaces as I wanted to do on the painted surfaces, so I didn’t need to do it up front to keep consistent weathering across the model.

The Eyes Have It

For the eyes, I wanted to achieve a reflective glass look. So to start, I basecoated with Reaper blue liner. I knew to create the illusion of reflection, I would need to keep most of it dark, but then sharply transition from near-black to near-white.

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Hello!

Of course, I had to decide where to put the highlight. If you will remember from last time, I chose to put the primary light source in the right front quadrant, coming from above. The shape of the eyes was a key factor. If you were to look at them by themselves, you would see that they have a convex shape in the horizontal plane, but are straight up and down in the vertical plane. Basically, they could have been cut out from a vertical cylinder.

Fortunately, when it comes to reflections off a cylinder, we have an easy source of reference material. If you stare long enough at the handle of a hobby knife or the body of your airbrush, you will see that light reflecting off a cylinder tends to form lines of light and dark parallel to the cylinder axis.

What this means for this model is that the eyes are basically cut from a vertical cylinder, so the highlights would be most accurately represented by mostly-vertical lines. I did take a little bit of artistic license and angled the line slightly, to both represent the fact that the light is coming from above rather than from directly from eye level, and to add a little visual interest.

Anyways, now that we know where to place the highlight, it’s time to lay it down. So, I worked up from that base coat Blue Liner through some bright, midtone blues, into sky blue, and finally white, making sure to do a steep a transition as possible while still keeping it smooth. The key to getting a reflection that really pops is for the majority of the reflective surface to be dark, and then for it to quickly transition into the highest hightlight.

With the main highlight done on the right eye, I added a second and third highlight to the left eye, with the third highlight being much less intense than the first. Finally, I added a few highlights here and there around the edges of the eye to represent glints of light on the edges.

With that all done, I glazed over it with Badger Miniataire Ghost Tint Plasma Fluid, a blue glaze which viewers of Vince Venturella’s youtube channel will no doubt be familiar with. In addition to adding a little blue tone to it, this glaze helps smooth out the transitions a little. Finally, I finished it off with some gloss varnish just to give it a nice, shiny finish.

True Metallic Metal

For the gunmetal parts on the sword and the gun, I decided to do a true metallic metal technique. True metallic metal, or TMM, is more than just painting the entire thing in a shiny silver. In fact, it is closer to non-metallic metal, where you use flat paints to paint in reflections and glints, only you’re using metallic paints so you can take advantage of both the painted in highlights and the natural shininess of metallic paints.

As with non-metallic metal, there are some rules as to how you need to place the highlights and shadows. while they aren’t hard and fast and they are open to some artistic interpretation, understanding the source of the light and the shape of the model, and breaking it down into simple, familiar shapes (flat panels, spheres, cylinders and cones) is how you know where to place the highlights. In a way, light on a reflective surface tends to “move” and “collect” in certain places, depending on the shape.

So, similar to the eyes, I wanted to start with a dark colour. In this case, I basecoated all these areas by brush-painting on some Vallejo Metal Color Gunmetal Grey. While this is an airbrush paint, it brush paints quite nicely, flowing smoothly off the brush and delivering a smooth coat.

Next, I went into the highlights, using Vallejo Metal Color Silver to paint in the highlights on the edges and in places where the light would collect. Fortunately, the VMC Silver is a smooth enough paint that it is possible to blend it out and feather the edges into the underlying gunmetal grey.

With the highlights laid in, it was time to reinforce the shadows, and here is where the artist acrylic inks come in handy. I added some black into the deepest shadow, and worked into Payne’s Grey and Indigo, the latter two colours having a bluish tone which would add a subtle blue to the midtones.

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Back view. Note the metallic highlights on the edges of the blades on the shoulder pads.

Finally, it’s time to break out the secret weapon I’ve been playing with lately. Molotow Liquid Chrome is a pump-action paint pen filled with an alcohol-based acrylic paint that is brighter and shinier than any traditional water based acrylic I’ve come across yet. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the marker itself, so I usually pump some out into a well palette and paint it on with a brush, using 99% isopropyl alcohol as a thinner and to clean my brush. With this super-bright chrome, I can really make the highest highlights pop.

Unfortunately, the one issue with this is that any varnish that I’ve used, even a gloss varnish, will kill the brightness of the chrome. Which is why this was done last – I didn’t want the varnish on the rest of the model to get onto the metallics and kill the shine.

Glowing Sword

Finally, we get to the sword. I wanted to do a glowing sword with a fire glow, as that would contrast both the base green and the blue of the eyes. Thinking about how the glow might work if these fighting robits were real, I figured that the heat source would be the metal thing running up the center of the blade. As such, the area closest to the center would be hottest, and it would cool off as we get out towards the edge of the blade. So, this means that it needs to be brightest right up against the center part and fade out as it gets closer to the edges.

As such, the plan is to base coat the sword in yellow and fade out through orange into red when we get closer to the edge. Unfortunately, yellow is a notoriously difficult colour to paint; yellow pigment is generally weak so getting good coverage is difficult. As such, in order to get a vibrant, bright yellow, you want to undercoat with white so you’re not trying to cover up any dark colours.

Unfortunately, painting white straight over dark colours isn’t that easy either. So, in order to paint the white that I needed to lay down so I could paint the yellow, I started with a medium-light grey. With the grey having more powerful pigments than white, it would cover the underlying colour and give a smooth undercoat that I could build my white on top of — which itself is an undercoat for the yellow. I also thinned my yellow with acrylic artist inks and a touch of flow improver, as these inks are so thin and so pigment-intense that you can use them as a thinning medium and still maintain the pigment density of the paint as you thin it down to the desired consistency.

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So, after laying down some grey, then white, then yellow, I took my detail airbrush, loaded it with orange, and worked from the outside of the blade in, creating a smooth transition between the orange and the yellow in the center of the blade. Then, I followed up with some red, again, starting from the edge and using the airbrush to get a smooth transition into the orange, leaving myself with a smooth gradient from yellow to red as we move towards the edge.

Finally, an edge highlight applied with the brush running along the edges of the blade reinforces the shape of the blade and makes it not look like an orange blob from a distance.

With the blade done,it was time to add some glow to really sell the effect of a glowing blade, so I masked off the blade and sprayed some orange in the areas where the glow from the blade would hit the surrounding parts, similar to my green glow on Ruin. While this did kill the underlying metallics, I was able to mostly save the finish with some gloss varnish overtop of the places where the flat orange knocked the shine off the metallics.

Conclusion

This concludes this build. It was a fun little project for a number of reasons. First, it wasn’t that complex of a model, so there weren’t too many frustrations on the assembly. However, in terms of the number of techniques on this thing, I went all out, experimenting with multiple techniques and trying out new products. The simple model was a great testbed for some fun paint techniques, and is a great example of the freedom that is inherent to the hobby of gunpla.

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Bust a move with Amy Johnson

Lately, as I’ve been experimenting with larger scale pieces, I’ve been painting some busts. My Mary Read 1/12 scale bust from Scale75 was an absolute joy to paint and really came together nicely in the end, and I’ve got a lot more in my stash to start up at any time.

Busts offer some interesting advantages over full figures. They allow the modeller to focus on the most interesting and characterful parts of the model such as the face and upper torso, while not requiring them to spend a lot of time on boring parts like boots and pants. Further, a bust is to a much larger scale than a full figure of equivalent size (and, presumably, price), which allows the painter to incorporate more accurate details, especially on things like the face and the eyes. Finally, they really push the painter to get things right, especially with the skin tones. At this scale, you can’t just get away with slapping on some Citadel shades and call it a day; you need to know what you’re doing.

The model

Amy_Johnson_portraitAmy Johnson, born in 1903, was a pioneering British aviatrix from the golden age of flight. In the 1930s, she set many aviation records, including becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Sadly, her flying career was cut short during World War II. While serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary, her Airspeed Oxford went down in the Thames Estuary. There is some controversy as to the exact circumstances of her death, but that’s too much for me to get into; suffice it to say, it was a sad day for the aviation world when we lost her.

The bust itself is a 1/10 scale resin kit from Bad Squiddo Games, sculpted by Przemysław Szymczyka. Bad Squiddo is an interesting one-woman company out of Nottingham, founded by Annie Norman with the explicit goal of increasing female representation in tabletop wargaming. I ended up purchasing this bust several months ago with the goal of completing it for the local club’s “Anything British” themed contest. She didn’t quite win, however she did manage to pull a silver at the Sword and Brush competition in Toronto this past weekend, which I was quite overjoyed to receive.

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Assembly

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Head piece – note damage to rims of goggles

This kit comes in two resin pieces, with the head and neck separate from the rest of the body, so assembly was nice and simple. I chose to keep them separate for most of the painting process, as there were some areas around the neck where it would have been tricky to get a brush in there, especially as the fur would probably require some dry brushing. I mounted the head on a paper clip taped to the side of a pill bottle, and matching hole was drilled into the neck of the body (which itself was also temporarily mounted to a pill bottle) so that when I finished the head I could just snip the paper clip and drop it in.

The one other piece of assembly I had to do before painting was to repair the rims of the goggles. The detail in that area was fairly small, hard and brittle, and I suspect that it was damaged in transit as the two pieces bumped up against each other in the package. Since I didn’t feel like asking for a replacement, I simply sliced the remainder of the rims off and resculpted them with aluminum putty and milliput.

Edit: Annie confirmed after I wrote this article that there are plans to strengthen the goggles to prevent this problem from happening.

Preparing to paint

Before I put brush to model, I had a couple decisions to make. I chose to paint the jacket and the cap as leather, but decided that I wanted them to be slightly different shades as they are not necessarily part of a matching outfit. For the fur, I had a few options but I decided to do a neutral to cool grey in order to contrast all the warm tones in the leather.

However, as figure painting is often the art of placing shadows and highlights, the most important decision was light placement. I wanted to really play with directional light and play with light and shadow on this project, so I chose to have her painted as though she was lit from her top front right quarter. With the angle of the head relative to the body, I felt this would make for a good choice, as it would imply that she is turning her head towards the light.

So, while I primed the head white to make a better undertone for the skin tones, I chose to use the zenithal priming technique on the body. This is where you initially prime in black, then spray white overtop from the direction of the light. By using your airbrush to represent a light source, the incoming white spray will approximate incoming rays of light. As such, the lighter paint will fall onto areas where the light should hit the model, which does two things. First, it naturally preshades the model, and second, it helps the painter understand which areas of the model should be lit and which areas should be shadowed.

The face

This was my first attempt at painting flesh with my airbrush; normally, I brush paint my skin tones, but I figured this would be a good time to start airbrushing. So, I began by laying down a base coat of blue. I started with blue for a few reasons, the first of which is that skin is a semi-transparent sack of meat and bone, and if you look closely, there is actually a lot of blue underneath the skin in certain areas.

The second reason why I started with blue has to do with colour theory. As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to play with lighting and shadow with this piece. As such, I knew that blue would be the perfect shadow colour to contrast the highlights. First, it’s more or less across the colour wheel from a lot of my skin tones, so it’s going to generate some sharp contrast. Second, we also have the warm/cool contrast between the warm pinks and reds in some of the skin tones and the blue in the shadows. When you have warm colours in the highlights and cool colours in the shadows, it makes the highlights “pop” a little more.

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Why do I start with blue? Well, it worked for her…

One of my favourite examples to illustrate this principle is actually a canvas painting. Prudence Heward’s “Girl in Yellow Sweater” on display at the National Gallery of Canada is an excellent display of light and shadow. If you look carefully at it, you can see a lot of interesting colour choices the artist utilized to create the shadows and give it a three-dimensional appearance. The blues in the skin tones, the purples and greens on the yellow sweater… if you want to get better at painting figures, you would be well-served by studying this and other paintings made by artists who are clearly good enough to have their work on display in a national gallery.

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Amy, after airbrushing the first layer of skin tone

Anyways, with the blue down, I followed up with a lighter skin tone. Similar to the zenithal priming technique used on the body, I used my airbrush as a light source, focusing my fire on the areas under direct light. The end result was an interesting transition from a base flesh tone into the blue shadows.

With the airbrushing done, it was now time to do some brush painting. There were two main things that I felt I needed to do with the skin tone — bring up the highlights a little more, and make the transition between the blue and the skin tone a little better. For the highlights, I applied some very fair flesh tone on the areas where the light would hit it, blending out the edges to make a smooth transition. For this technique, a wet palette is mandatory. Also, some additives can help — I like to use my airbrush flow improver to extend the dry time of my paint and make it easier to feather the edges of the paint out or mix them together on the model.

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Highlights and glazes applied. Note the highlights on the right side of her forehead, as well as the hints of Khardic Flesh adding life to the model

In order to smooth out the transition from the blue into the skin tone, I mixed up a glaze out of P3 Khardic Flesh (a very pink skin tone) and some Vallejo Glaze Medium (though you can just use any acrylic matte artist medium from an art store as well). This medium is essentially paint without pigment, so mixing paint and medium will reduce the opacity of the paint as there is less pigment and more medium, while not breaking it down or changing some of the properties like viscosity and surface tension too much like if you thinned with too much water. As the glaze is basically just more transparent paint, it will tint the underlying layers. Glazes also can help smooth out transitions, so they are useful for either making the model have less of that airbrushed look, or smoothing out blends that aren’t quite perfect.

In this case, with a glaze of a very pinkish flesh tone, not only does it add a transition that was kind of missing before, it also adds a little more life to the model which was previously lacking some of that rosy glow. As before, I blended out the edges both into the highlight and into the shadows, ensuring a smooth transition from the blue shadows, to the pinkish midtones, to the lighter highlights.

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Some paints I used for the flesh. Soft Blue from Reaper was my undertone. The one on the right was my glaze colour. I also added a bit of white to the Fair Skin for the highest highlights.

Glazes are also useful for doing makeup or adding in shadows. In this case, I wanted to give her a little blue eyeshadow, so I mixed up a glaze out of some desaturated blue and some medium. Because the glaze is more transparent, a glaze applied over skin tones will be more of a subtle effect that doesn’t resemble Mimi from the Drew Carey show.

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No. Just… no.

The eyes have it…

Oh boy. The eyes were easily the most difficult part of this project. I had to repaint them a couple times because I just couldn’t get them lined up right; this is a larger scale than I’m used to.

Anyways, on small scales, I like to start from the eyes and work out, but in this case, the model was big enough that I could just paint the eyes directly. So, I started with a light grey, with just a hint of flesh tone mixed in to paint the whites of the eyes. It’s important here to not just paint them white; if you look closely, the whites of people’s eyes aren’t actually white, and if you do do them in white, they end up popping and the model looks surprised.

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Reference material, courtesy of the first result on a google image search for “blue eye”

With the whites done, I did some research to see what colour Amy’s eyes actually were, and thanks some paintings I found online, the answer was blue. However, because this is figure painting, the answer is never quite as simple as “just paint them in a uniform blue colour.”

If we look closely at a blue eye, we see some interesting things going on. While we obviously can’t show every little striation in the muscle of the iris at this scale, we can see some patterns here. First, the iris is darker near the outer edge and lighter closer to the pupil. Second, the way the light filters through the cornea, the bottom tends to appear a little lighter, similar to the sort of effect you get with things like gems on fantasy models. So, in painting my iris, I wanted to make sure to incorporate that highlight and that dark area around the outer edge of the iris.

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Note: I did touch up the eyeliner after; there was a little too much on the bottom.

Similarly, while I painted the pupils in black, if you really want to make the eyes come alive, you need to add that little tiny dot of near-white in the pupil to represent the reflection. That little point of light is really important; it’s what really makes the eye come alive at these scales.

Leather, fur and goggles

For the leather, my initial idea was to start by airbrushing on the shadows and highlights; basically redoing the zenithal priming technique but with browns and a hint of light blue in the areas where the light would be reflecting off of it. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working out, though it did leave me with not a bad base colour. As I was looking at it, what I realized I had to do was to get the texture first, then glaze in the shadows and highlights.

With plenty of leftover pluck foam kicking around, it wasn’t hard to find an applicator. Using the spongy material, I dabbed on various shades of brown, working up from a dark Walnut Brown into some midtone and lighter browns, and occasionally adding a stroke or two with a liner brush to represent creases in the leather.

With that done, I had a nice texture, but I had lost the shadows and highlights from the airbrushing. Here is where our old friend blending comes in again. By making a blue-black glaze out of some glaze medium and a tiny amount of Scale75 black and blue inks, I can come back in and reinforce the shadows in the wrinkles and near the bottom of the model, while still maintaining some of the texture.

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A sample of paints used for the leather; inks to make the glaze in the shadows are on the right.

For the fur, I am not ashamed to say that I used Citadel shades and dry brushing to get the effect. Citadel shades are sometimes considered to be “talent in a bottle,” and some people turn their nose up at dry brushing as a technique for newbies, but it still can be a useful technique if used properly and in the right place.

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Note the texture in the leather and the fur

However, what I started with was some wet blending — placing light paint on the highlights and dark paint in the shadows, and mixing them together on the model while the paint is still wet. Opposite to how I did the leather, in this case, I did the lighting first, then added the texture later with controlled washes with Citadel shades (both Nuln Oil and Drakenhof Nightshade) and dry-brushing light grey and white onto the raised areas of the fur.

Finally, er get to the goggles, I knew I had to do something to represent the reflection. To do so, I painted the lenses of the goggles in a very dark blue, and added a diagonal line of a sky blue colour. This represents a point on the goggles where the reflection of the light source off the curved surface might catch the viewer’s eye. I did blend out the edges to get a smooth transition from dark to light, however one of the keys to painting reflective surfaces is sharp highlights, so I went from a very dark blue to a very light blue over a very small distance. I continued that technique on to the rims, using true metallic metal techniques whereby I had dark metallic paints over most of the area, and bright silver where the light is hitting it and reflecting off.

Mounting

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Hehehe… I have wood for busts…

For this project, I ended up making a plinth out of a cherry wood block that I had sourced from a fellow IPMS member. A hole was drilled in the top, and after applying some cherry stain and three coats of polyurethane varnish, I had a nice looking piece of wood to mount her on. With her head angled to her right, I intentionally positioned her on an angle such that the front of the plinth was facing somewhere between the angle of her head and the angle of her body.

 

To make the sign, I simply made up a quick little text box in Microsoft Word and printed it on plain paper. To get an aged look, I shot a few different warm off-white colours of paints and inks through my airbrush at it in a random, mottled pattern, with the paints thinned such that they are very transparent and shooting just enough to tint the white of the paper, while not appreciably affecting the black printer ink. I then used some thinned white glue to attach the paper to the wood, and laid one more coat of varnish on to protect it and give it that gloss look.

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Conclusion

This was an interesting project for a lot of reasons. First, I don’t normally do a lot of historical figures, tending to lean more to the fantasy side, but something about Amy Johnson and her story really grabbed me.

I feel like while this bust may be less flashy than a lot of fantasy figures, it posed an interesting challenge. Because there aren’t a lot of the sort of fancy accoutrements which are present in a lot of fantasy worlds, and because her hair is concealed by her flying cap, the painter is challenged to do what they can with textures and shadows to make a somewhat mundane bust look interesting.

I think it’s fair to say that I rose to those challenges, and that this bust does represent progression on my hobby journey. Between the techniques that I used to create the leather texture, the glistening light on the goggles and the eyeballs, and the use of directional lighting, I really pushed myself on this model. Not to mention the work that went into the plinth, as woodworking is far outside the realm of my usual hobby work.

This was a fun project, and will go in a place of pride on my shelf, which, at the end of the day, is really all one can ask for in any modelling and painting endeavour.

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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My hobby resolutions for 2018

And now we get to the important part of the new year’s festivities: seeing how far I’ve come in hobbying over the past year, and figuring out where to go from here.

Last year was a good year for me. I’ve put a lot of work into learning how to properly highlight a miniature, wet blending, colour theory, freehand, weathering, and true metallic metals, and I think it really shows. Take a look at the difference between my two Grolars, and you can really see the difference, especially on the metallics and weathering.

I made a few resolutions last year; of course, I didn’t write them down, so I’m going by memory. From what I recall, my goals were:

Use a wet palette
img_2206.jpgHonestly, I don’t know why I needed to make a resolution in order to motivate myself to do this. It takes like five minutes to make one out of stuff you probably have at home, and it is a tool that very quickly made for a measurable improvement in my painting. Being able to keep my paints hydrated throughout a painting session has enabled me to really work with techniques such as wet blending and painting faces.

Paint something completely different

This one took me until November; after going to CapCon 2017 and hanging out with some of the people from the local IPMS group, I was motivated to finally finish a PZL P.11 that had been kicking around on my to do pile for a while. It felt good to finish something, and I have a P.23 in 1/72 and a P-40E in 1/144 scale on deck for the next time I need a little palate cleanser from figures.

Paint a display piece

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At least I got the plinth done…

Most of my pieces so far have been primarily for gaming. Even if they aren’t something that I’m going to bring to the game store very often, I’ve been using the proper, round-lipped Privateer Press bases with arc markings. This has been in part motivated by a desire to both play it painted and keep up with the Joneses, so while it has been good to build up my skills on my army, I haven’t yet done much which is purely a demonstration of my painting skills. However, I did do a couple miniatures as Christmas presents this year, and I do have something in progress, so I will say I’m about halfway there.

So, two and a half out of three isn’t bad for last year’s resolutions.

Resolutions for 2018

This year, I’m going to make some rules for my resolutions. Like with any goal, it is best if it is specific and measurable. If the goal is something too simple like “get better at X,” then it’s practically meaningless. Also, when it comes to hobbying, I feel like your skills tend to grow in spurts, with each spurt coinciding with when you go out of your comfort zone and focus on learning new techniques.

Also, I feel that resolutions should not be competitive. I could make a resolution to win a best painted award, but I feel that a lot of the time, a first place ribbon tells you just as much about who else showed up that day than it does your hobby skills on display. Though, in the case of an open system judging, it would be nice to take home a silver this year for something.

So, with that said, here are my resolutions:

Do a diorama

I have a couple diorama ideas floating around in my head, but with all the army painting I’ve been doing to build my skills and get painted models on the table, I hadn’t gotten around to them yet. Again, I’ve been focusing a lot on painting my army, and while I am painting it up to a very high standard and using it to build my skills, that means that I haven’t really put aside the time to hop into a diorama. I got a lot of tips at the Ottawa Figure Show this year on composition and groundwork, so I am looking forward to trying my hand at that.

Do a piece in non-metallic metal

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Look carefully… that’s not chrome paint

Non-metallic metal, the practice of rendering metallic objects with the use of non-metallic paints, carefully rendered to show the interaction of the light with the metallic reflections, is a technique that I really want to make a good effort at in 2018. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress on my metals by applying true metallic metal techniques to my work. While I may end up sticking to TMM in the end, I feel like learning how to do NMM will help me understand light and how to capture the interactions between light, shadow and reflection in a smaller scale.

Try out glazes and sketch style

“Sketch style,” the technique of doing zenithal priming and a value sketch then applying glazes in a sort of paint-by-numbers technique seemed to blow up in the first half of this year. It seemed like I couldn’t browse through any painting group on facebook without people asking questions about or showing off their sketch style creations. This was a technique I hadn’t really tried, partly because of inertia and partly out of concern that it might be hard to get either vibrant, saturated colours or really apply colour theory to the shadows and highlights.

Anyways, I’ve played around with inks a fair bit recently, and I think it’s about time I start doing so in a bit more deliberate of a manner. I’ve got plenty of beasts and minions and other organic creatures that I think would be a lot easier to do with a sketch style approach than traditional painting, so I’m sure some of those are going to end up being guinea pigs for these experiments.

End the year with fewer unpainted miniatures than I started with

This might be trickiest one. There is something about buying more plasticrack that offers the purchaser a quick rush of endorphines. Unfortunately, that means that I tend to accumulate minitures as fast as I can paint them, if not faster. My stash isn’t completely out of control, but I would like to reduce both the number of models in my stash and the number of assembled, unpainted miniatures on my shelf of shame.

Post an average of once a week

When I started this blog, the idea behind it was to catalogue my progress and use it as a tool for sharing my knowledge. I’m probably not going to end up being one of those minor internet celebrities like Menoth John or the guy from Tabletop Minions. Especially not if I stick to the written word rather than get into the world of podcasting or video. But I would still like to keep it going, and keep putting out semi-regular content, if only to keep this catalogue going and hopefully help some people with their painting progress.

Final thoughts

When it comes to miniature painting, one of the best ways to get better is to set goals and practice towards them. There is a wealth of information and guides out there on the internet, and with some study, practice, and a bit of luck, 2018 is going to be a good year for my progression as a painter.

So, what’s your goals for your hobby progression in 2018? Let me know in the comments!