Between the recent theme changes in Warmachine allowing mercenary models in theme forces, and magic weapons being an important consideration if you want to play competitively (screw you, Gremlin Swarms and Ghost Fleet!), there are a couple models which have rocketed up to the top of my painting list. That’s right, I’ve got Lady Aiyana & Master Holt to paint.
However, because of my rebellious tendencies, following a studio scheme is anathema to me, so I decided to do my own take on Aiyana & Holt.
Starting with Aiyana, I decided that I wanted to give her a dark skin tone. I’ve got plenty of caucasian models in my army and have had plenty of practice on light skin tones at this scale, so I wanted to do something a little different to both up the diversity of my army, and get some practice painting dark skin (my first attempt ended up looking more Drow than African-Khadoran). However, I also like to have some sharp contrast between skin and hair colour, so I decided that a bright pink would make a nice hair colour for her, giving me both that contrast I was looking for and a sort of cyberpunk aesthetic which I’m a fan of.
Next, I had to do the rest of her without clashing. Settling on a colour scheme was a challenge, but I figured that, to complete the cyberpunk look, some shiny black leather would be necessary, so I started there by working that into the boots, leggings, and the sides of her top. From there, it was a matter of choosing colours that were different enough to distinguish the several different parts of her outfit and different material types (smooth leather, cloth, metallics, fur), while also not clashing with each other. To accomplish this, I stayed in the cool end of the spectrum, going for blues, greens and purples, with just a bit of warm gold on some of the highlights to get that cold/warm contrast. I used P3’s Coal Black for the base colour inside of the cape, which is just a great bluish, greenish, blackish colour in general and one of the few colours that I will accept Privateer Press’ terrible, terrible paint pot design and dip into P3s range to pick up. The cloth hanging from her waist was based with Reaper’s Amethyst Purple, a nice light purple that I use a lot for highlights on my warjacks. Throw in some blues and greens, and we’ve got a colour scheme going.
Then we have her companion and bodyguard, Master Holt. Ironically, for someone who plays Khador, I haven’t had much experience painting reds (see: my irrational avoidance of studio schemes), so I decided to do him up as a redcoat. The majority of the jacket ended up red, with some black in different areas to break it up and prevent the red from being too overwhelming. The white trim was added to give some bright contrast and make the miniature pop even from across a table. Finally, a pink scarf was added, to match Aiyana’s hair and help tie these two models together.
Overall, I was very satisfied with how these models turned out, however there are two parts that I wanted to highlight in particular: The bases, and some of the colour theory I applied to my highlights and shadows.
On these models, one of the questions that I’ve been getting a lot was how I did the base, where I got it, and so on.
First off, these aren’t premade bases or base inserts, so anyone looking to just spend money to replicate this effect is out of luck. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that using a base insert is cheating, I find that I much prefer doing my own thing. Custom basing is one of my favourite parts of this hobby, and just sticking a premade base on, I feel, takes away from that.
For Aiyana & Holt, I decided that I wanted to do an urban scene, but I also wanted to give them a little bit of height on their base so they stand out on a table. As such, I decided to do a cross-section of a city street or alley, with them standing on a stone surface.
Each of these bases are three layers. The first is simply the standard, round, 30mm, Privateer Press base that we are all familiar with. On top of that, I used gel super glue to attach a piece of cork ripped from some dollar store cork board. Cork is a useful basing material, which is good for creating cross-sections of earth, but one of the tricks to it is that it has these unnatural-looking perfectly flat surfaces. so you usually have to do some work to it. However, since I was planning to build on top of this, it wasn’t a problem in this case.
Next, I had some tiny bricks that I had picked up somewhere; while I didn’t make them myself, I believe they were made from Hirst Arts molds and some sort of plaster. These were simply broken up around the edges with some of my sculpting tools and glued in place with the same gel super glue as I used on the cork.
To add a little more texture onto the cork, I used a coarse pumice artist medium. You can use sand and glue, which may be a bit cheaper of an option, but I’ve been moving to textured artist mediums for this sort of thing because I’m sick of cleaning sand out of my apartment, and because you can mix craft paint into those artist mediums to colour them as you apply them and skip a step in the process of painting your base.
Beyond that, it is mostly a matter of the usual base coat, wash, drybrush technique. The stones were base coated in a stone grey colour, washed with a black wash, and then drybrushed up all the way to Reaper’s Misty Grey, which is very close to white. Then, to add a little colour and visual interest to the piece, I brushed on some dry pigments from Vallejo and Secret Weapon. These are a recent addition to my hobby arsenal, but I’ve found that they are particularly useful for adding a touch of colour to stone and brickwork. Finally, I drybrushed it with a little more misty grey, just because some of the pigments took off the brightest highlights on the cracked and broken stone edges and I wanted to bring that back up.
To attach the models, I simply drilled into their feet and drilled a hole all the way down into the base and pinned them in place. One important thing with these bases is that I specifically chose not to place the models in such a position that they would be parallel to or at a 90-degree angle to any of the bricks, and instead went for something in the 30 to 45 degree range. When you are doing basing, you always want to add an element of randomness to it as nature is by definition pretty random. Even in an urban setting, I felt that having the models perfectly aligned with the bricks would interfere with that randomness and end up looking unnatural.
Finally, I wanted to draw some attention to some of the choices I made on these miniatures when it came to things like highlights, shadows, and colour theory. As I’ve said before, painting miniatures is often a study of light and shadow and trying to replicate that on a small scale, and there are a number of things I did on these models that I may not have known to do when I was first starting out.
First, let’s take a look at the green on Aiyana’s dress. Green is an interesting colour to work with because of how it plays with highlights. When I first started painting, when I wanted to highlight, I would just lighten the colour I was working in by mixing in a little white. While this worked for some colours, it really broke down when it came to green. In order to properly highlight green, you’re going to want to use yellow instead of white. This does a couple things. First, as a fairly warm colour, the yellow will make your highlights warmer, which tricks the eye a little. Warm colours tend to come forward, so a warm highlight and cool shadow will make the miniature pop. Second, adding white to green, especially the sort of drab, military-style greens we tend to use, can really desaturate the highlight, which is not what you are going for.
To illustrate this point, compare the highlights on Aiyana’s dress above with this Assault Kommando I painted before I learned about how to properly highlight green with yellow. You can see that the former just looks so much better on a miniature.
I had a similar issue with Holt’s red coat. Red is another colour where just adding black and white to do shadows and highlights doesn’t quite work. First, as a warm colour, red really benefits from a cool shadow, such as a blue or green across the colour wheel from it. Second, when you mix red and white, you end up with pink, which isn’t what you want. Instead, red should be highlighted towards orange, which also has the benefit of being an even warmer colour and “popping” just like how yellow makes green “pop.”
Then we get to black. Black is a very interesting colour to paint because it is defined as the absence of light. However, when you look carefully at pictures of black, you will see that unless you have some sort of exotic material such as a Vantablack or a miniature black hole, what our brain tells us is black is very rarely actually black.
This is a little tricky to explain, but if you spend enough time staring at shiny black objects, you will start to see what I mean. What our brain may tell us is a glossy black, like Michelle Pfeiffer’s outfit in Batman Returns, is actually the interplay of both black and the light reflecting off of it. In this case, if we look carefully, we can see that a lot of the pixels in this image of her allegedly-black outfit are actually white, as these bits catch the light and reflect it directly into our eye. A glossy latex catsuit may be an extreme example, but the same principle is at play with just about every black object; unless we’re staring down a black hole from which no light can escape, what our brain tells us is black actually still has some light reflecting off it.
So, what does this mean for miniature painters? It means that when we are painting something black, we need to take into account the properties of the material that we are attempting to replicate and how it will catch and reflect the light, and try to replicate that at scale. Simply slapping on a bunch of black paint all over the area that we want to represent a black item or piece of clothing just won’t do. To see what I mean, compare the black on Holt’s coat partway through painting below with the finished product above.
In the before picture, the black sections of the coat don’t really look like anything but a miniature that someone slapped some flat black paint on. However, by adding some highlights, in the above case, some desaturated blues (P3’s Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite) near the front of the coat, it made it possible for me to really sell the effect of a black coat by showing some of that light reflecting off of it. The same goes for Aiyana’s thigh-high leather boots, however to make them look shiny like the Catwoman outfit, I made the highlights smaller, brighter, and sharper, making it look as though the light was really reflecting off those small points where it is being caught and reflected into the viewer’s eye.
Got all that?
The same goes for black skin. While I can’t say that I have a lot of experience with or have quite cracked the code on painting African-American (African-Iosan?) skin, one of the things I’ve gleaned from looking over reference material is that dark skin tends to be relatively smooth and reflective compared to other skin tones. I believe the scientific term for this phenomenon is “Black don’t crack.”
Because of this, if you look carefully at a picture of a dark-skinned person, you will see highlights and reflections that have a touch of blue to them. You can see this in this picture of Idris Elba; the cheekbones, the nose, and the top forehead are caught in the light and emanating that reflection, which is something that we will want to take into account when we paint our tiny, dark-skinned faces.
So, this is where our old friend, P3 Frostbite comes into play, as the perfect colour to mix into these highlights to get that reflection. It’s hard to see in some of my pictures, but that touch of frostbite really helps make the highlights on Aiyana’s skin look a little more realistic and gives a little more contrast.
Overall, I’m very satisfied with how these two turned out, and I felt that being able to try out some different colours was a nice palate cleanser from my usual painting. Despite being one of PP’s older sculpts, they are both very nice models, with plenty of character to draw out. I already brought Aiyana to the Ottawa Figure Show, and I’m sure they will be seeing their fair share of table time at upcoming events.