Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

Month: August 2016

Desert Wanderer

I began working on this miniature last fall, shortly after Gen Con 2015, but only recently finished it, for Gen Con 2016. (WIPs: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

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It’s really a fantastic miniature, from the game Dark Age, and I love how much energy there is in the sculpt. I did some conversion work on the rider, twisting the cloak and moving the arm to give him a more three-dimensional pose, and also because I liked the feeling that binoculars gave the miniature (as opposed to a pistol).

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As I mentioned back in October, I was thinking about using south asian or west asian fabric patterns to decorate the cloak. I did a lot of image searches looking for inspiration, and eventually ended up settling on an Islamic geometric design, even though those are more commonly seen in architecture rather than on fabrics. Amusingly, though I spent hours googling possible designs, the one I settled on was from my office cafeteria rather than image search.

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Before transferring the design onto the cloak, I did a sketch (and modified the pattern slightly, adding more symmetry).

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The inside of the cloak has a large flat area, which is really perfect for this sort of intricate freehand design. Here is a work-in progress picture of the cloak. When this photo was taken, I still needed to make the line thicknesses more consistent. But first it’s more important to get the entire pattern laid out, since you don’t want to spend a lot of time getting a line straight and even only to realize it’s in the wrong place.

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The green spot on the cloak is actually intentional, though it looks totally weird in this picture. Once the rider is mounted, that part of the cloak is right above a piece of blue metal, the back of the shoulder-mounted gatling gun. So it’s an entirely natural place to see reflected blue light; yellow and blue makes green. I’ve been thinking about light a lot in my miniature painting for the last couple years, and I’m a big fan of reflected light. In some of the other pictures, you can also see ground reflections in the metals, particularly on the legs. The effect is quite subtle, but I think it adds a certain amount of realism and keeps things from being too cartoony.

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The other big change since the last in-progress post, besides the freehand on the cloak, is the addition of a lot of dirt and grime to the mount. I have a friend who I like to ask for critiques, and he always tells me my miniatures are too clean and I need to make them dirtier. But he is helpfully specific in how I need to make the miniature dirtier, so his comments are very useful. For this mini, he complained that someone wandering through the desert riding a powerful beast would churn up a lot of dirt, so why does the mount look so clean? He was absolutely right, as usual.

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I used the same pigments I used on the base in order to add the dirt. I kept it focused around the joints and in the cracks between armor plates and other mechanical elements. This is, of course, where you would expect dust to accumulate. But I also didn’t want to obscure the beautiful blue metals, and the brilliant white reflections, and keeping the dust confined to joints and cracks helps this happen. It’s sometimes a tricky balancing act, trying to get a realistically weathered appearance while still maintaining strong contrasts and making shapes that are easy to read at miniature scale. I think I was able to reach a good balance with this miniature.

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The dead tree is just some cool roots I found while walking near my office. Roots tend to work better than above-ground parts of plants in miniature scale, since they look like miniature versions of the above-ground bits. This piece was really cool and twisted looking, which I thought made it look like it had been warped by powerful winds.

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The sculptor did a fantastic job on the drapery on the back of the cloak, so I decided not to add freehand to the back, which would only distract from the great sculpt. Instead, I used very strong highlights and shadows to really bring out the details of the drapery work. It’s lovely when you get a beautiful sculpt like this which doesn’t need any freehand decoration, but I’m also happy that the sculptor left a broad flat surface on the inside of the cloak which was perfect for adding a pattern.

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I did add a bit of texture to the fabric to add some interest to the lower half where the sculpt is less detailed. Smooth blends are for smooth surfaces only, and I imagined my desert wanderer would need a coarse garment which could stand up to sandstorms.

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The bones on the base are mostly rodent bones from ebay. I assume they came from an owl pellet, but I bought pre-cleaned bones since I didn’t really want to dissect an owl pellet. The exception is the ribs—I really wanted a ribcage sticking up out of the dirt, but there weren’t any appropriate bones in the set I ebayed so I sculpted some out of green-stuff.

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In this picture  you can see where I added some control panels for the rider to see readouts from the mount’s sensors. These were added with freehand. That surface is smooth in the sculpt, but I figure that robotic dragons need dashboards so I added some screens.

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I entered this figure into the painting competition at Gen Con, where he was eligible for both the overall awards and the Rainbow Brush competition. Rainbow Brush, which is organized by one of the best miniature painters in the world, was started last year to express support for groups facing oppression and marginalization in the wake of anti-gay legislation that was passed in Indiana, where Gen Con is held. This year the theme was Islam, chosen because of the extreme and appalling anti-Muslim sentiment which has been particularly virulent this election season. As it happens, I had already decided on the Islamic pattern for the Desert Wanderer’s cloak before the theme was announced, but I thought he made a fitting entry.

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Desert Wanderer won a gold medal in the open judging at Gen Con, and placed first in the Rainbow Brush competition.

You can also see him on CoolMiniorNot and Putty & Paint, where you can rate him if that’s your jam.

Speed-painting!

I love speed-painting, both competitive speed-painting at conventions and just for fun at home. I think it’s great as a palette cleanser between longer projects. It’s a good way of getting playable, tabletop-quality figures on the table quickly, and allows you to focus on overall impact and feel rather than on getting all of the details perfect.

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In speed-painting, the name of the game is high contrast, dramatic paintjobs which will catch the eye from a distance. Don’t try to make the mini look good up close, that’s just not something you can really accomplish in an hour of painting. Go for eye-catching techniques such as lighting effects and freehand, strong contrasts, and a passable face, and don’t worry about quality blending.

For Karzoug, I went for a strong lighting effect—the mini basically begs for it. The other versions I’ve seen use ordinary flame-colored flames, so for my version I opted for a more unnatural fire, as befits a necromancer.

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Unlike the rest of the minis I’m showing today, Karzoug was not painted at a convention, so I actually got to give him a half-decent prep job instead of having to deal with giant mold-lines and dusty primer, and I got to use my own brushes. (Bringing your own sables to convention speed-painting events is generally considered cheating.)

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Every convention has its own speed-painting rules, but the basic idea is that everyone is given the same miniature—contestants usually have no idea what it will be ahead of time—and have to paint it as well as they can within the time allotted. You normally get 45 minutes; championship rounds often last an hour. Use of personal materials is generally not permitted, so you’re sometimes painting with really terrible brushes, though sometimes you get lucky. Provided minis are assembled and primed (often not terribly well, since the people prepping them have several hundred other minis to prep and don’t care much about the end result). Getting a decent finished product in this environment is challenging, to say the least. So please don’t judge these minis too harshly. 🙂

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Zombies make very good speed-paints. Messiness is usually inevitable, but on zombies it’s a plus. This zombie was painted in the speed-paint at KublaCon, which only provides contestants with one brush each. My favorite speed-painting technique being two-brush blending, I had to improvise. Fortunately, if you are sufficiently practiced, it is possible to two-brush blend with a single brush. 😛

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I had the good fortune of painting this anteater twice, in two consecutive years of speed-painting at KublaCon. He is a tiny one-piece mini, produced by Zombiesmith who are great for always sponsoring KublaCon mini events. Small one-piece sculpts are ideal for speed-painting, because it’s very fast to cover the entire mini with paint. This gives you plenty of time to pull off more inventive  decorations such as freehand, and causes me to occasionally annoy other contestants as I wonder aloud, “What am I going to do with all this time?”

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In the case of this anteater (technically a Quar) and his large flat back, that would be freehand decoration, of course. The first year I went with “hell angel” (it was faster and easier to leave off the esses, and still makes sense) and a pentagram, which seemed appropriate for a gun-toting bad-guy. The second year I wanted to do something different, so I ended up going in totally the opposite direction with a peace symbol on tie-dye. The idea cracked me up when I thought of it, so I hoped the judge would like it too. Both placed first in their respective rounds.

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This is Kubla, con mascot for KublaCon. For the championship speed-paint round, they always use the convention figure, which is fun and gives you some extra time to plan (not that I ever remember to use it). This was not my best speed-paint however, and I only placed third that year (2015).

Karzoug, Runelord (Reaper), 75 minute speedpaint

I did much better in 2016, when I managed to win all four of the rounds I entered, including the championships. This grot was from the first round I entered, and was a great little blast from the past. He’s another tiny one-piece model,  so I had lots of time to freehand in horrible ’90s-style checkerboards and hazard stripes. I think it suits the model.

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You can tell I spent way more time on the front than the back. Strategy!

Sadly this grot and the tie-dyed Quar are the only figures I managed to hang onto from KublaCon 2016. One figure I gave away, and the championship round figure I either misplaced or it, erm, wandered off.

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Privateer Press’ gobber rogue, another tiny one-piece figure! This was from the speed-painting competition at Gen Con, which tends to be a bit more competitive than the speed-painting at KublaCon since it draws a bigger audience. I’m really happy with how the face and the rusted daggers came out, and I stole the idea for flowers on the base from another speed-painter. Sadly he only came in second, but that was enough to qualify me for the championship round… where I again came in second. Phooey!

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And finally, this is perhaps my favorite speed-paint of all time. It’s a bit impressionistic, but I managed really strong contrasts and the overall colors work pretty well. I’m especially happy with how the rocket came out. One of my painter friends complained about the very visible brush-strokes on the back, but those were intentional, to show the gleam of the metal, and also a bit of the texture (if you look closely, you can see the brushstrokes are horizontal on the nose-cone and vertical along the shaft of the rocket).

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This was from the Wyrd championship speed-paint at Gen Con, where I managed to finish first, beating the woman who beat me in the Privateer Press championships (and collecting a bounty!)

P.S. I promise to be back showing actually-well-painted models (and not just well-painted-for-45-minutes models) later this week. I have lots of minis from the Gen Con painting competitions that I’ve been dying to show off.

“Black Arts”

This was one of those miniatures that sat around half-painted for a very long time, over a year in fact, before I finally finished it.

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Initially I didn’t have the lighting effect, just red fabrics with black armor. The result was a deadly dull miniature with the cloak stealing all of the focus and the armor a muddy mess. It took me a year to figure out how to fix it, but when I came up with the idea of a strong green light from some dark ritual Fiona was performing, I knew it would be perfect.

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I really like the result – it brings the focus back to Fiona’s weapon and face, where it should be, and also has a strong story-telling element when combined with the pentagram Fiona is standing in.

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The old Fiona the Black miniature has a lot of things going for it, but I never much liked its spindly legs. When someone on the Privateer Press forums suggested doing a conversion with the legs from the satyxis sea witch, I knew I had to try it. Since the Satyxis have a matching pirate theme and the same sculptor (Werner Klocke) as Fiona, the converted parts work well together, and the result is a great, powerful pose.

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I entered this mini into the Privateer Press painting competition at Gen Con, where she finished with a disappointing silver. I honestly think she deserved better than that, but I guess you can’t win them all.

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