Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

J’ork Sparrow

I finished J’ork Sparrow just in time for Crystal Brush—literally. I did a few final touches the day of the deadline, and was even painting at the airport a bit on the way to Chicago.

When I last posted about Mr. Sparrow, he was mostly finished, but still missing his flintlock pistol. That was the slowest part of the project, as I am the world’s slowest sculptor. It was fun though – in addition to checking flintlock reference photos, I also read up on how flintlocks work so I could accurately depict the mechanism. I depicted it ready for loading, with the hammer down and the frizzen open, which I think is appropriate for a holstered ‘lock—but please correct me if I’m mistaken!

I sculpted more of the flintlock than I needed, so I could leave a crisp plane where I cut it off. I also sculpted the parts of the mechanism separately. This not only made it easier to get some of the shapes, it also let me glue on the pieces and have them really look like distinct parts.

The other main element I added since the last WIP is the label on the base. I usually don’t place title plaques on my figures, but for this one I wanted to highlight the Jack Sparrow connection, and I also thought it would be fun to do a little treasure map as the label. The map is sculpted out of green stuff and torn slightly, in an attempt to get a naturally weathered appearance. The map and lettering are freehand, which is why my kerning is slightly off and my glyphs aren’t nearly as perfect as I’d like them to be. I’ve never been a good calligrapher.

I added a couple of other pieces to reinforce the Jack Sparrow connection: Jack’s sparrow tattoo, which also serves to add interest to the ork’s otherwise rather plain back, and the bone shard on his head, which was another very simple sculpt. Other than that, the only changes since the last WIP are a bit of refining here and there, and obviously much better photographs. They really do a wonderful job of photography at Crystal Brush, and my poor home photo setup cannot really compare.

I’m really pleased with how this piece came out in the end. I think the sculpted additions I made are both characterful and also help to add some interest to the silhouette, and I think the piece works well compositionally, with a face that really grabs and holds your focus, but enough interest elsewhere.

Voting links: Putty & Paint, CoolMiniOrNot

Scythe

Scythe is one of those board games where playing it once can be enough to make you run out and buy it, and that was definitely the case with me. I think this is especially true for those of us who are both board gamers and mini painters, since the figures just cry out to be painted. Plus it gave me a chance to show off my work to a different audience—friends who are board gamers but not mini painters.

Since these are first and foremost gaming figures, I made sure to use each faction’s color prominently in the color scheme for the figure, as well as keeping the base rim the color of the faction. This makes it easy to see at a glance where each faction’s pieces are on the board.

My favorite figure of the bunch is Zehra & Kar. The pose with the eagle is great, and the figure itself has both enough detail to be interesting and plenty of room for freehand. As a result, it was the only figure I spent two days on (~7 hours total), which is why she is the most refined of the group. All of the other figures were done in just a day of painting (roughly 3-5 hours each).

The figures themselves are cast in that annoying PVC material which doesn’t hold detail well, and which gets the worst mold lines (that are impossible to remove also). I ended up doing a fair amount of “resculpting with paint” to fix some of the casting issues, and practically had to freehand the face on Olga (the red faction leader). Zehra has a maroon scarf at her waist, which you can just see under her quiver. It was not part of the sculpt, and I freehanded it so I could use its edge to hide a particularly annoying mold line.

For the rest of the figures I kept my painting fast and expressive, which is how I like to paint figures that are meant for gaming. There’s no point in putting 20 hours into a figure which is going to get regularly handled. Fast expressive painting is a fun change of pace between more fastidiously painted figures, and helps one work on establishing overall light, composition, and volumes, which are after all more important skills than the ability to do smooth, careful detail work.

I’m a huge fan of Scythe and think it’s a great game, but it’s even more fun now that the faction leaders are all fully painted!

From the Workbench: J’ork Sparrow, part 2

I started J’ork Sparrow in November, and so far I’m quite happy with his progress.

In the November post, all I’d painted was his face and started blocking in the color of the bandanna. The next step was blocking in the remaining colors, so that at least no primer was visible. That way you can see the overall composition which helps keep things consistent as you refine the individual areas.

As with many of my recent works, J’ork is heavy on the textures. Because busts are a relatively much larger scale than other minis, you can depict surfaces with a much greater amount of detail, so it’s really important to depict the textures of the various materials as well as their shapes and colors. You can see the neck wrinkles, the weave if the fabric in the cap. I’ve even tried to replicate the texture of sun-bleached dreadlocks (which is not easy, I can tell you!)

I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to do the vest, so I tried out two ideas, one on either side. One option was a slightly tattered fabric with gold embroidery on blue, similar to Jack Sparrow’s vest in the movie. The other was a more orkish vest, weathered and textured black leather. In the end I decided to go with the leather texture, and keep my freehand limited to J’ork’s cap.

Even more textures! In addition to settling on black leather for the vest and starting the freehand printed pattern on the cap, I’ve also done some subtle texturing on the bone and the white fabric, which helps differentiate them. It’s pretty subtle, but subtle details like that can add a lot of realism.

At this point all of the surfaces are done to an acceptable level of detail, and the bust is approaching where I could call it finished. However, I have one large step remaining, which is that I really want to equip him with a musket, in a holster attached to his vest. So there’s some sculpting to be done, as well, obviously, as more painting.

Other than that, the main remaining work is simply refining the details I have already established, making them crisper and easier to read, and fixing any mistakes until I’m 100% happy.

Tutorial: Object Source Lighting (OSL) and Other Lighting Effects

One of my favorite effects in miniature painting is when the artist uses paint to create the illusion of a light source which is not actually there. These lighting effects can be extremely fun and eye-catching, but they can also be very tricky to pull off. In this tutorial I will outline a set of rules which, when followed, will make your depictions of light sources much more believable and impactful. I will also show a step-by-step painting process which is one way you can follow these rules and achieve a good result.

A quick note on terminology and history.
Object-source lighting, or OSL, refers to when one of the light sources depicted by your painting is an actual object on the figure or its base, such as a torch, lamp, or glowing sword. Lighting effects is a more general term I use to cover any use of paint to suggest a light source which is present in the scene, but may be “off camera” rather than being depicted on the miniature.

The miniature painting community was introduced to OSL by Slayer-Sword-winning painter Victoria Lamb, whose creations The Rescue of Sister Joan and Firey Angel are two of the best examples of this effect.

To the extent that miniature painting is a genre of art, there are no hard-and-fast rules. However, when painting a miniature to simulate the behavior of a light source, you are trying to create an illusion of something which is not really there—the light that you imagine being cast on your miniature, from an object it is holding or from its environment. In order to create a convincing illusion, you must follow the same physical laws that govern how light behaves, or you risk spoiling the illusion because something will look “off” to the viewer. These rules about how light behaves are part of how you understand the world, but are often instinctive and subconscious. By taking these rules and making them explicit, it becomes easier to see when a lighting-effect illusion is not working, understand why it is not working, and fix it.

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Updated photos for IPIK (steamthing)

I took some better photos for IPIK. The angle is a bit lower, which I think works better, and I did a better job with the white balance and lighting. Check the rest out here.

From the Workbench: J’ork Sparrow

I started this fellow last night, and so far he’s coming along swimmingly. Here’s the face after one evening’s work (couple hours).

After getting the basic color composition down, I started refining. After a few more hours refining the face this morning, I’d say it’s about 80% done.

I don’t always finish entire areas like this before moving on. In fact I often like to put a bit of paint everywhere before finishing any areas, to test the overall composition. But in this case, all of the main colors are in the face, since the vest will be black and the other elements will be white, gray, or his skin color, so there’s no harm in it. Next I plan to block in all the other areas, then start in on the cap.

If you don’t know it, the bust is Papa Jambo, by Big Child Creatives. Quick tip: they have a good deal on a pair of busts from their pirate bust set—Papa Jambo, Sharki, and Capt. Albrecht—if you buy direct from them (though the shipping can be a bit pricy depending on where you live).

The Psychic’s Dream

After I went for the first time last year, Reapercon immediately became my favorite convention to attend. It has a 100% miniatures focus, everyone is very friendly, and it is small enough that you can actually get to know a decent number of the attendees. Reaper is very welcoming of other manufacturers at their convention. Their painting contest is open to entries from any manufacturer and genre, and they have a number of awards for miniatures by other manufacturers, such as Dark Sword, Bombshell, and Scale 75. Nevertheless, I like to paint something by Reaper for the convention, partly to show my support, but mostly because they make some nice minis! Also, it makes you eligible to win Reaper Sophie trophies, which are pretty awesome. I chose to use Rivani, Iconic Psychic, sculpted by Bobby Jackson, for my entry this year.

I like to start all of my miniatures by building the base, before I do any painting and often before I even start planning the painting. This allows me to do a lot of test fitting without handling a painted miniature (always a bad idea for competition pieces), and allows me to plan the lighting in the scene with both the miniature and base in mind, which is important.

For me, bases are roughly equal parts composition and storytelling. I always start by thinking about what sort of story I want to tell. For Psychic, because the psychic herself is floating, I decided to emphasize that by building a base which feels like it is just hanging there, oblivious to the laws of physics. I built a ruined church, but consciously did it in a way that a real ruin could never happen. Large parts of the structure are missing, and yet the remaining parts somehow stick around exactly where they started even though they lack support.

Once I have my concept in mind, I start thinking about how to best convey that concept in miniature. This usually involves building components I think will be useful for that concept, and then testing out compositions with those components until I have something where the composition works, and the scene is sufficiently detailed and confined.

The base is basically scratch built, using juweela bricks, textured plastic card (stonework and bricks), cork tile, putty, roots, and a couple of paperclips to provide armatures for more fragile components, atop a Secret Weapon resin cube. I did use two off-the-shelf components: the stained glass support structure (the cames), and one of Scibor’s resin cast stone faces. The stained glass cames is a plasticard cutout from a prototype product line that a friend of mine, Seth Amsden, is working on, to be called “Sensei’s Scenics.” It will be available before the holidays, and you can find out more by following Seth on Instagram.

This picture, with my jeans in the background and lots of blue tac, shows the test fit where I finalized the basic composition of the piece.  I think I nailed the front view, with the figure nicely framed by the elements behind her, while leaving enough unusual angles and gaps to keep things interesting from other views.

In order to get the sides perfectly smooth, I built the central part of the base and the protruding elements as separate pieces, with lots of test fitting. That way I could sand all of the walls of the central part until they were nice and flat. This sometimes involves a couple of rounds of sanding, priming, and sanding more, since priming will reveal flaws that you didn’t know were there.

Once you have those nice flush sides, it’s best to get a nice thick coat of black primer and then a clear coat, with no brush-applied paint. This keeps things nice and smooth, and also primer & clear coat will stand up to handling better than brushed-on paint. The downside is you need to be careful not to mar the surface, as you will never be able to replicate that finish once the piece is completely assembled and painted.

I chose to prime the psychic herself white, in order to get nice bright colors, while pre-shading the base with two-tone priming. This helps the psychic herself pop from a distance, and stand out from the base. I kept the psychic as a separate piece for painting, to allow easy access to all angles, and mounted her on one of the stone blocks from the base so I could easily mate the two parts when finished.

The painting itself was very quick, so unfortunately I only have three work-in-progress photos. Some painters like to keep the miniature very clean from start to finish, starting with very uniform base coats and building from there in a very controlled fashion. This is not my approach at all. I like to create contrast and overall impact quickly, which leaves lots of signs of my process, such as visible brushstrokes and “tide marks” from washes. Both types of process have their own pros and cons, but for me a more chaotic process is simply more fun, and that wins.

I initially planned a strong translucency effect for the psychic’s veil, so this early sketch from the back mainly depicts the psychic’s clothing under the veil, rather than the veil itself. As painting progressed, the veil ended up being much less translucent than my initial vision, although you can still definitely see through it in places.

One of the great things about Bobby’s sculpt is the number of smooth, relatively flat areas he left for freehand. Miniatures that leave some flat surfaces give the painter more flexibility than miniatures which are extremely detailed everywhere. I tend to prefer more geometrical freehands, so that’s mostly what I did. I also freehanded-in some fold in the fabric where I thought the sculpt was a bit too smooth.

The stained glass itself is made out of Uhu, the german glue brand that some folks like to use for blood and goo effects. It is clear and sufficiently durable to hold its shape when covering windows like this. When used to create flat sheets, like I’ve done here, it picks up lots of bubbles and has extremely variable thickness. For some applications this would be a problem, but I think it works wonderfully for this sort of medieval glass window where the quality of the glassmaking would be somewhat primitive.

I colored the glass by waiting for the Uhu to dry, and then painting over it with a mixture of Tamiya clear yellow and Daler Rowney orange ink. By varying the mixture between orange ink and clear yellow, and the thickness of the paint over the Uhu, I was able to vary the color a bit, adding to the non-uniform appearance of the glass. Rather than worrying about painting inside the lines for this, I simply covered everything using a brush that was big and cheap (that tamiya stuff is bad for your brushes). I then went back with an off-black and carefully repainted the cames.

Psychic’s Dream won a gold medal in the open judging at Reapercon, and placed third overall in the Reaper painter’s competition.

IPIK-7 (Steamthing)

IPIK had never been so far from his home. Food was getting harder and harder to find, even though only a handful of survivors of The Fall were still around scavenging. In the century since civilization collapsed, every home, grocer, or other potential stockpile of sustenance had been picked clean. The elders claimed that once upon a time, food grew by itself, but IPIK had never witnessed this. It sounded like a myth. But now there was a small green strand poking through the sand. What could it be?

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on the blog. Sorry about that! I went a little convention crazy this year with Crystal Brush, Kublacon, World Expo, Gen Con, and Reapercon. I’ve been so busy working on my entries for the various competitions (and, y’know, life) that I haven’t had much time to write about minis.

Now that I’ve finished all but one of my competitions of the year, I wanted to take some time to update the blog. First up is my main entry from Gen Con this year, Patrick Masson’s “Barney the Steamthing” bust.

I have been wanting to paint this bust ever since I first saw it on CoolMiniOrNot way back in 2009. However, the sculptor, Patrick Masson, said at the time that it couldn’t be cast. “Don’t think there is a chance to make a cast. Unfortunately there are a lot of uncastable areas. I should change too much things. The next one will be.” So I was very happy when I came across it recently in Patrick’s Putty & Paint gallery, here, and saw that casts are available. You just have to contact him through his website, Artik Toys.

I posted some early WIP photos in April; at the time he was all black in white as I started painting the bust in Matt DiPietro’s “sketch” class using the value sketch technique he teaches in the class. This mini continues to show the influence of the classes I’ve been taking, especially Alfonso Giraldes and Kirill Kanaev, along with Matt. It definitely borrows from Alfonso’s “fuck smoothness” approach and Kirill’s teachings on textures. As Alfonso correctly points out, most of the objects we encounter in our lives do not appear as smooth color transitions, but rather as textures of one kind or another.

In total, I painted fifteen different textures on different areas of IPIK. There’s the woven burlap of his head, the shiny metal of his eyes, the corroded metal of his arms, the dirt-covered but still shiny coke can, the chipped paint of his shoulders, the cracked leather straps supporting his backpacks, and so on. Try to spot all fifteen!

In addition to the textures, I also had a lot of fun with the various freehands all around, especially the repurposed materials. As a post-apocalyptic scrounger, IPIK is all about recycling. His head covering is made from burlap potato sacks. If you look closely, you can make out the texts: “NAME BRAND POTATOES” and “100 LBS PRODUCT OF USA.” The oxygen bottle on his back even has the correct NFPA 704 warning symbol for oxygen. My absolute favorite bit of IPIK is the coke can. Painting a scavenger who repurposes everyday objects opens up a lot of opportunities, and few everyday objects are more iconic than the coke can.

Figures tend to be about character, and this is especially true for busts. This can make painting figures with helmets, masks, or other head coverings a bit tricky. Patrick (and his brother Thierry who did the concept) did a really good job on Steamthing’s face, putting a lot of life and expression into what is really just some stitched-together fabric, but it still poses a bit of a challenge for the painter. One of the ways I addressed this was putting the reflection of the plant in IPIK’s eyes. It’s a bit of a cheat—from most angles, the reflection of the plant would not be visible. But as soon as I saw the effect in the first sketch I did, I knew it was the right thing to do.

2017 Classes

This year I am again teaching classes at KublaCon and Gen Con, and I’m also adding a new convention: Reapercon! I went to Reapercon for the first time last year and had a blast, so this year I’m excited to be teaching classes there.

I will be teaching Two-Brush Blending for the fourth year running, and this will be my second year teaching a class on painting the “tricky colors”: white, black, and red. I’ve had a lot of good feedback on both of those classes, so I’m looking forward to teaching them again. Those classes will be held at all three cons. Also, I’m happy to offer a class on lighting effects at Reapercon. I’ve learned a lot since I first wrote my OSL tutorial, and I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned. I also plan to write an updated tutorial when I have a chance.
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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:

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