Light Miniatures

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Tag: competition

The White Orc

This is the third and final installment of my series on my entries into Crystal Brush. Make sure to check out part 1 and part 2.

“The White Orc” was my main entry into the Crystal Brush competition this year, the one I spent by far the most time on.

Sometimes a miniature just goes right from the start, and this was one of those miniatures. I started the bust not long after taking a class with Alfonso Giraldes, and had a chance to watch him execute his style of sketching, and gradually turning the sketch into a finished painting. It was quite inspiring to watch, and I knew I wanted to have a go at it; this bust was the result.

I decided to paint the orc’s skin a light, neutral color that would be strongly influenced by his environment, and do a warm/cold ambiance. I really like complicated lighting situations, and study the way light is used in film in order to later recreate interesting situations with paint. Light neutral tones are perfect when you are playing with complicated lighting situations, since they will be most influenced by the light. I placed a strong white light almost directly overhead, with a warm ambiance from one side, and a cold ambiance on the other. The warm/cold contrast is extremely strong in the initial sketch. I eventually decided the contrast was too strong, and added more warmth to the cool side with some purple. The contrast is still quite apparent if you’re looking for it, but is now subtle enough that you might not notice it.

The shield was a lot of fun to paint, with all the battered wood texture. The freehand was one of the parts I struggled with a bit. I started out painting a bloody handprint, and it was just awful. I wasn’t the least bit happy with it, so started Googling alternative ideas for inspiration. Once I hit upon the idea of doing Celtic knot-work for the shield it all fell into place.

I like to get a lot of critiques on my miniatures, as other people often spot things I miss or have ideas I didn’t think of. One of the comments that kept coming up again and again in critiques was, the shield is too clean! So I kept dinging it up more and more. In the end, it ended up really with a really interesting weathered appearance.

It’s interesting to compare the initial face sketch with the finished product. I actually left a lot of the sketchiness in, especially in the cheeks. I tend to focus a lot more effort on areas that are meant to be focal points—the forehead, eyes, and mouth in this case—and leave things sketchier in areas which are less important. That may have been a mistake in retrospect, since I think it was one of the things the judges dinged me for, and may be part of why he finished just out of the medals. (My understanding is he finished 4th in his category.) I do plan to fix a few things that were bugging me in the photos (mostly where the neck meets the chest) and then enter him in another competition, so hopefully he’ll win some awards before too long. But in the end, I paint for me, not for the judges.

On a more positive note, he’s currently my top ranked model on CoolMiniOrNot, and even made the top 10 of the year as the score fluctuated between 9.5 and 9.6. That made me pretty happy.

The bust is by Hera Models, which has a fantastic little line of sci-fi and fantasy busts. They also make Abalam, which I painted last year. The miniature is now sold out; apparently it sold out in the last couple of weeks, after I presented my own version at Crystal Brush. I like to think I sold at least a few copies, wink.

Even though this bust is sold out, Hera’s “academic orc” bust is still available, and is a modified version of the same bust, without the armor. I can definitely recommend it, as the face is extremely well sculpted and a joy to paint.

Voting links, for those so inclined:

Crystal Brush Entries, part 2

Today I’m continuing my three-part series on my Crystal Brush entries with my single figure entry. If you missed part 1, please check it out here. This figure is titled “Space Pirate Kaelyssa.”

The figure is Kaelyssa, from Privateer Press’ steampunk game Warmachine. I got a big kick out of doing her up in true sci-fi fashion, not at all steampunk. Since she belongs to the Retribution faction, which already have a rather sci-fi look, this was quite easy. All I did was a very simple conversion to add a hose connecting her gun and backpack. The only other thing it took was paint. I was amused how many people asked me if it was an Infinity figure.

Part of the inspiration came from James Wappel’s excellent Professor Karrick. I absolutely love dramatic lighting and glow effects, and James’ take on Professor Karrick’s two light sources is excellent. The base he did complements it really well, providing a nice backdrop to catch the light. For my version, I kept the base but used a different figure from the same sculptor (Patrick Keith), converting it slightly to have a similar hose.

I tend to do simpler color-schemes on most of my figures, with two or three main colors dominating. In my experience, the easiest color-schemes to pull off are those that have at most two bright colors in them, and the rest of the colors are more muted. Here I was able to come up with a more complicated color scheme, with many very saturated colors in it, and I still think it works.

I was really surprised when Kaelyssa didn’t make first cut. I spoke with one of the judges, and he said that she was right on the bubble but the judges felt that the blending on the orange was not smooth enough and that kept her out. I’ve never been the smoothest blender, preferring to take my time creating textures and dramatic ambiance rather than glazing and glazing until I have really really ridiculously smooth blends. I think that hurt me here.

While I think there are some weaker elements, like her left arm and sword, I’m really happy with how the ambience and light effect came out. I think that overall Kaelyssa is good work, but given her poor result in Crystal Brush I plan to rework some of the weaker elements and enter her in another competition in the future (probably the Privateer Press competition at Gen Con).

Kaelyssa is sculpted with some fairly simple, round armor plates. Simple surfaces can be wonderful for an ambitious miniature painter, because they provide a good opportunity to make them much more complicated and interesting using paint. I took the opportunity to do a comic-book-style chrome effect, reflecting the glowing sword and ray-gun. I think the comic-book style art complements the sci-fi vibe really well.

There are a lot of debates between non-metallic metals vs. the use of metallics in miniature painting, with hard-line adherents on either side arguing their way is “better”. Personally I use both, but I think this miniature is a good example of some of the advantages of non-metallic metals. I could never have portrayed the interaction of shiny metals and a light source using metallic paints, the way I was able to do it here using nmm.

Crystal Brush Entries, part 1

I’m back from Crystal Brush, and wanted to share my entries!

I came with a bust, a unit, and a sci-fi single, putting the most time into the bust. Disappointingly, the bust was the only one which made first cut. I think that means that when you go to Crystal Brush, either you need to go all-out on your entry, or you might as well not bring it! That seems fitting for a contest as competitive as it is.

In sharing my entries with the blog, I’m going to start with the unit, which was definitely the weakest of the three entries. These are really gaming models, although I do have high standards for my gaming models. I didn’t even do any basing for them, just painting the 25mm bases they come with and calling that good enough!

I went with a classic red-and-military-green color scheme, which is really a very effective color scheme (yay color theory!) For the reds, I went with a high-contrast NMM look, which I think works really well for infinity models. The green cloth is subtly textured to better complement the shiny metals.

I still have another 4 models from this group to paint, since I got the Operation: Icestorm box set. Doing small tabletop gaming figures can be a nice break from larger projects, so I will probably finish the unit gradually in between other projects.

Next up is my sci-fi single entry, which I’ll be posting later this week!

Jeanne d’Arc

Infinity miniatures have come a long way since their first releases. For the last couple of years, they are doing all digital sculpts, which is perfect for sci-fi figures with their machined power-armor and gadgets. Their line is 100% metal, and are among the nicest metal casts I have worked with.

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For this miniature, I was inspired by the beautifully smooth non-metallic metals on the version by Gareth “glazed over” Nicholas. The resemblance is quite apparent, although my blends are not nearly as smooth. I just don’t have the patience for that much glazing. I’m pretty happy with the effect I was able to get.

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Although I stayed quite close to Gareth’s version for the metals, for everything else I decided to go my own way. I painted this while I was still working on Desert Wanderer, and decided to go with the same color scheme and Islamic-inspired freehand, since it worked so well for Wanderer. Because of the Islamic freehand, I ended up entering Jeanne along with Wanderer in the Rainbow Brush competition, but when Wanderer won, she was out of the running. Yes, I did end up entering two figures named after Christian saints in an Islam-themed painting competition. Irony is ironic that way.

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The fine texture of the cloth came out really well I think. I like to contrast different textures in my miniatures, in this case the weave of the fabric against the smooth metal of the armor.

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I’m a big sucker for reflected light, and love including it in my figures. Non-metallic metals are a great opportunity for this, especially when the metal surface is right next to a brightly colored element, as is the case with Jeanne‘s loin cloth. You can see it in this view on the silver woven metals, and in other views on the blue armor plates. In most places you see just the color, but on the flat plates immediately adjacent to the loin cloth you can also see the shape of the fabric in the reflection.

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I had a lot of fun with the base. I often like simple bases for my miniatures, especially gaming figures, but which are evocative enough to provide a setting for the figure. To make this base, I used a standard Infinity gaming base, but cut a big hole in the middle of it, which I replaced with a brass-etch grating and a clear piece of blister pack that I painted with transparent orange ink. I really enjoy using negative space when basing miniatures.

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I used a clear acrylic plinth from TAP Plastics to accentuate the negative space in the base.

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I frequently ignore the manufacturer awards at Gen Con, because I’m more interested in painting what I want to paint rather than maximizing my chances to win awards. This year I lucked out though, and when I went to enter the painting competition I found out that Infinity was supporting it with manufacturer awards.

I went down to the Infinity booth later on, and was seriously tempted to get Operation Red Veil. I think the sales guy was a bit miffed when I said I’d wait, “just in case” I won their manufacturer award (which included the game). He may have been astonished at my hubris, but I thought I had a pretty good shot at winning.

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It turns out I was right to hold off, since I was awarded best Infinity figure with this model. 😉

Voting links, for those who want them:

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.

Ar-Fienel—finished

So it’s been almost a year since I posted the first WIP of this figure, and I’m finally ready to post the finished mini.

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Sorry it took so long. I also meant to post more WIP photos, but that didn’t exactly happen. I promise to do better with my next project.

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Here are some up-close views of the dryad.

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She placed 2nd in a hotly contested single figure category at Gen Con 2015.

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You can also rate her on CoolMiniOrNot.

“Negative Space”—finished

Negative Space

As soon as I saw the new Infinity—Combined Army starter pack in my local game store, I wanted to paint it. In fact, that was the box that ended up getting me started on my recent Infinity kick. I have to say the models are fantastic, light-years ahead of the older Infinity models; they are very easy to clean, and tremendously fun to paint.

Negative Space

The base was the first thing I built, and is primarily composed of parts of the optical drive and heat sink from my old MacBook (which I replaced once it started constantly crashing), mounted on a resin block from Secret Weapon miniatures. The base presented some interesting engineering challenges, to make it structurally sound where a thin piece of plasticard was sticking out from a resin block and just attached at the edge, so I added some plasticard braces and carved a groove in the resin block for extra support.

Negative Space

The miniatures are all magnetized to the base, so that they can be removed to be usable as gaming pieces or just be appreciated on their own, but snap nicely onto the base in the appropriate position and orientation for group display. This was especially nice for entering into the Gen Con competition, which requires units to be presented together on a display base. Making everything nice and stable as a unit also makes things safer when being handled by the judges and their minions.

Negative Space: Fraacta, Umbra Legates, Maakrep, Fraacta

From left to right: Fraacta, Umbra Legates, Maakrep, Fraacta.

Negative Space: Umbra Legates

Originally I intended to paint the entire box up as a unit, but ended up dropping the Unidrons and adding an extra Fraacta. The base I built was not really large enough for six models, I wasn’t really happy with the first Unidron I painted up, and I really liked the new Fraacta model that had just come out.

Negative Space: Fraacta

The running Fraacta was the last model I painted, and turned out the best because I had the color scheme down at that point. In the sculpt, the Fraacta is jumping off of some weird, pseudo-organic piece of rock. In order to make it match the base, I had to completely resculpt that rock to look mechanical, and then incorporate it into the base in such a way that it looked at least plausible for it to be mounted at that angle. I ended up cutting a big hole in the base to make it look like a part which could be rotated out to provide access to something underneath.

Negative Space: Fraacta

It’s hard to appreciate from the photos, but three of the four models have holes going all of the way through the bases. My favorite is the base of the standing Fraacta, where I carved out a circle from the middle of the base, and mounted a brass-etch grate and a clear piece of plastic (from a blister pack). I think incorporating negative space into most of the miniatures’ bases as well as the group display base makes them hang together really well as a unit.

Negative Space: Maakrep

The Maakrep was the first miniature I painted of the group, and ended up much greener than the others. I painted the standing Fraacta second, and that was when I really nailed the color scheme down. I ended up having to go back to the Maakrep and add a lot of turquoise glazes so that the colors would match.


This piece won first place in the unit category of the Gen Con painting competition, and was awarded a gold under their open judging format. Additionally, Angel Giraldez, the studio painter for Infinity, was at the con, and told me that he really liked my entry, which was very flattering. Thanks Angel!

“2084”—finished

This figure by Studio McVey is so much fun to paint, I’ve painted it twice.

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Some of the pictures came out better than others. I really need to improve my photography skills. But I think you can get the idea.

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I had so much fun with the graffiti. I discussed what it all means in my WIP blog post about the base, in case you missed that one. Some of it is quite obvious, but other bits are more niche references.

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Painting the hoverboard was also a lot of fun. One of the things that makes Lisbeth such a neat mini to paint is all of the different surfaces that just cry out for freehand. The characters at the top read “freedom” (not that I can read Chinese).

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The other thing I had fun with is different textures – weathered concrete, scuffed plastic helmet, aged sign, scratches on the edges of the board. More and more I’m trying to convey textures when I paint minis. Sometimes it comes out great, but others not so well. But that’s always how it goes!

This was one of the pieces I entered in the Gen Con mini painting competition, which is why I waited so long to post it. It placed third for technical merit in the “Rainbow Brush” contest that Marike organized in response to Indiana’s terrible anti-gay “religious freedom” bill, and won a judge’s award and a bronze in the single figure category.

Congratulations to the Crystal Brush winners!

Congratulations to the three overall winners of the 2015 Crystal Brush Awards, Kirill Kanaev, Ben Komets, and Jessica Rich. There were many fantastic entries this year, and it was a pleasure looking through the galleries. I would like to highlight some of my favorites, in addition to the overall winners.

The Archivist - Katie Martin

The Archivist by Katie Martin

I wasn’t familiar with Katie Martin’s work before this, but I’ll be paying attention now. She took home trophies in several categories, but my favorite was this archivist. I adore the archivist’s green cloak, with it’s pointillism texture and freehand patterns.

CatManDu - James Wappel

CatManDu by James Wappel

Jade Knight - Damon Dreschler

Jade Knight by Damon Dreschler

This titan may be my favorite piece in the competition. Everything is executed flawlessly, and all of the elements are perfectly in line with the theme.

Serina - Mary Profitt

Serina by Mary Profitt

The Fruits of Sacrifice - Matt DiPietro

The Fruits of Sacrifice by Matt DiPietro

I hope to have the chance to see this piece in person at some point, because I have the feeling the pictures are not doing it justice. I love the dark take on the fairy tale, Grimm, not Disney.

Sad Panda Restaurant - Justin McCoy

Sad Panda Restaurant by Justin McCoy

This is a very cool, atmospheric piece. I can almost smell the stir-fry cooking. It’s amazing how Mr. Justin scratch-built all of the cookware and even the vegetables for this floating restaurant. Check out his blog for some WIP photos of the construction process.

I haven’t made it to Chicago for Crystal Brush since the first year it was held, but after seeing this year’s crop of entries, I really want to go back.

Thoughts on painting competitions

It’s almost spring, which means another convention season is approaching. I love conventions, and I especially love painting competitions, both because they provide an opportunity to glimpse fabulous miniature art works in person, and because they provide an opportunity to share your best work. Personally, I find it thrilling just to have my art in a big glass display case at a convention, even when I don’t win anything. As the 2015 season approaches, I thought I would share some of my personal thoughts on how to approach painting competitions, and a bit of what my own experience has been.

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