Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

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.

Rules of light physics

  1. The Cardinal Rule of OSL: lit areas always appear brighter than surrounding unlit areas.
  2. Lit areas appear no brighter than the light source they are lit by.
  3. The apparent color of an object is affected by both the color of the object itself and the color of the light falling on it.
  4. Light moves in straight lines.
  5. The strength of the light diminishes with distance from the object.

Rules 1-3 are the ones that people get wrong most often. I normally see people getting rules 4 and 5 right, or if they violate them they seem to have sensible reasons.

Rule 1, the Cardinal Rule of OSL: lit areas always appear brighter than surrounding unlit areas. This is the most important rule, but is also the rule I see violated most frequently when portraying colored light sources, which is why I have chosen to call it the cardinal rule of OSL. Very frequently I see people represent a yellow light source by painting the entire miniature as if the light source were not casting any light at all, and then glazing the areas around the light source with a thin translucent layer of yellow paint. This violates the cardinal rule of OSL, since the glazed areas are no lighter than the areas around them, and in fact are usually darker.1 And while the effect is not spoiled too much when people use yellow for this, it is completely destroyed when people choose a darker color for the light source, like green, red, or purple. If you are going to use the glazing approach (which can be a good one), it is important to highlight the areas where the light will fall before you glaze them.

Rule 2: Lit areas appear no brighter than the light source they are lit by. This rule most commonly gives people trouble when painting light sources which are red or purple, since saturated purple and red colors appear darker in value compared with other hues. If you are trying to simulate something like a red or purple neon sign or lightsaber, you are in a bit of a bind, since neon signs are themselves very saturated and also put out a lot of light. One way of resolving this is taking a cue from how photos of neon often appear, where the tube itself is a very light orange, pink, or white, but all of the reflected light has the characteristic neon red-orange color.

Of course this only works if there are surrounding areas to reflect the light. If the lightsaber is held away from the mini where there’s nothing to reflect the light, it will just look white.

This doesn’t mean that the entire light source must be brighter than the light it casts, just the brightest part. If your light source is a fire, parts of the fire can be a dark orange, red, or even black for the smoke, but the brightest part should be white.

Even though this is art, which allows you a certain license to break rules, in my experience breaking either rule 1 or rule 2 is a very bad idea. Rules 3-5 are a bit more flexible: it is possible to violate them without destroying the illusion, but this is best done in limited ways and for good reason, such as emphasizing a focal point of your figure.

Rule 3: The apparent color of an object is affected by both the color of the object itself and the color of the light falling on it. This is the rule I struggle with the most, and the way I have stated it is somewhat vague and doesn’t really tell you which color to use. There are a couple of ways to figure out what color to use. The best way is to use reference—either find an image of a similar color of light falling on a similar color of object, or do an experiment with colored light sources and materials in your home. This is recommended wherever possible. You can try other things, such as mixing the paints you are using for the material and the light together in varying ratios, but this gets tricky. For example, there’s a difference between the yellow of a torch, which has blue in it, and the yellow of a traffic light, which does not.2

Rule 4: Light moves in straight lines. People normally get this one right. This doesn’t mean you have to follow the model exactly—you can combine the light source illusion with a trompe l’oeil illusion to show how the light interacts with detail which is not physically sculpted on the model, but which you are simulating with paint.

Rule 5: The strength of the light diminishes with distance from the object. People normally get this one right too. Note that there is a difference between how this effect interacts with matte materials, like cloth, and reflective ones, like metal. With cloth, the increase in lightness due to the cast light diminishes with distance. With reflective materials, the apparent lightness diminishes less (and not at all for highly polished metals like chrome), but the reflections themselves are smaller.

Step-by-step process of painting an OSL effect

The rules of light physics are about the final result, not the process. It is important to follow them to get a good result, regardless of what process you use. Different artists use different processes, and that is fine. Process is important, but there are a lot of different ways to get good results.

However, there is one process I like a lot for creating lighting effects. It’s simple, produces good results, and makes it easy to stay consistent with how light behaves. The basic idea is to start by ignoring the color of the light source, but simply highlighting. Paint the light source white, the purest, brightest white you can find (which in most paint lines will be made from titanium oxide). Paint the surrounding areas whatever colors you have chosen for those areas, and then highlight those areas aggressively by adding white, and paying attention to where the light is coming from. Your goal is to sell the effect of illumination by a pure white source of light. Finally, once you have successfully created the illusion of a white light source, add in color by glazing with a bright, transparent paint, covering all of the areas you highlighted.

I will demonstrate with two models from kingdom death: the male intimacy survivor and the white lion. For the survivor, because of how the lantern is placed on the miniature, I can get away with making the lantern the only light source, so that’s what I’ll do. For the lion, this is not possible, so there will be too light sources: the lantern on the base, and a weak white light source (like moonlight) from the opposite side of the lion as the lantern.

Our subjects, ready for paint

These are gaming figures, not display figures, so both will have fast paintjobs designed to be effective on a gaming table with a minimum amount of time, not display or competition-level painting by any stretch. OSL can be very effective without spending hours on precise technical painting or creating smooth blends. The key is to understand how the light would affect your model and to paint it appropriately, whether you are doing a quick sketch or a time-consuming showcase piece.

For my fast gaming pieces, I like to do two-tone priming, starting with black, and then applying a white spray from the direction (or, in the case of the lion, directions) that the light is coming from. Because I can’t spray directly from the lanterns, I matched the direction as closely as I could while spraying from the recommended priming distance.

Step 1: Pre-shading with primer

Since the survivor only has light from one direction, he is a bit simpler, so I will start with him.

Step 2: Pre-shading with a brush

I did a very quick refinement to the primer pre-shade using white and black. Most important at this step is to paint the light source itself with an opaque coat of pure white, which will help it appear as bright as possible, to be consistent with rule #2. I also painted the body of the lantern black, to maximize the contrast around the light source. The other important part of this step is correcting places where the directional spray does not match where the light or shadows should be, since spray paint does not act quite like light. I corrected the cloth closest to the lantern, and the survivor’s torso, face, and hair.

The pre-shading in total was only about 5 minutes of work. It doesn’t need to be terribly precise.

Step 3: Basic flesh volumes

After the fast pre-shading step, it’s time to add color, starting with the skin. At this stage I painted only the most basic volumes. I essentially treated the legs, arms, and torso as cylinders, and the head as a sphere in terms of the highlight/shadow placement. All of the additional detail you see is created by the sculpt and the underpainting.

I used a thin, translucent layer of paint, so you can still see the effects of the underpainting through this paint layer. I painted each limb separately, first covering the entire area with a flesh tone, then adding blue to darken the shadows and keep contrast high. Since this is at night, there is little ambient light, so it’s important that the shadows are very dark. I chose to use blue for the shadows because we experience night as bluer compared with day,3 and because it creates complementary color contrast with the yellow of the light source. For similar reasons, I also used nightshade purple, which is a purplish off-black color by Reaper, as my “black.”

Step 4: Refining the flesh and face

After establishing the most basic volumes in the flesh, I picked out the smaller volumes, such as the details of the face and the six-pack abs, increasing contrast at the same time. This is only about one brush stroke per muscle, still obviously very sketchy. I could have refined much further, but again, this is a gaming model.

Step 5: Clothing, sword, jewelry, hair, and base

The next step is to paint the other details to the same level as the flesh. I won’t describe this step in detail, as it is similar to steps 3-4, or any other highlighting and shading that you do. Just keep thinking about where the light is coming from, and do all of your highlighting and shading with that in mind.

After this step, I have hopefully sold the idea that his lantern is a white light source, and all of the other areas are illuminated by it.

Step 6: Change the color of the light

Once I’m sure I have believably sold the light source as a white light source, it’s time to add color. Using thin glazes of a very saturated and not too dark color, I glaze over all of the midtones and highlights I painted.

The apparent difference between this step and the previous step is huge, but actually this step is not very time consuming. Most of the work happened in steps 3-5, but this preparation is critical for the payoff in step 6. All I did was apply thin, dilute glazes with yellow over all of the areas I had highlighted in steps 3-5. (For those who like to keep track of such things, I used Reaper MSP candlelight yellow, but any saturated, slightly translucent yellow paint should work fine, and yellows tend to be translucent.)

Be careful to use very thin glazes, ideally with a fairly saturated but not super dark color. This is especially important if you are using a color other than yellow for your light source, since other hues naturally appear darker.

If I were painting to a display standard instead of a gaming standard, the sequence of steps would be the same, I would simply spend a lot more time refining in steps 3-5, and do some touch-up work at the end.

Painting the lion was quite similar to the survivor, except that light comes in from two directions instead of one, and only one of the light sources is yellow. The steps are similar, and you can see how things change (and don’t) with two light sources instead of one.

Step 1: Pre-shading with primer

I sprayed the lion from two directions, to depict the light from both sources. In this case, it was a bit easier to spray the lion before I attached it to the base. I also sprayed the base around where the lantern would be, before I glued the lantern to the base.

Step 2: Pre-shading with a brush

Most important: opaque white paint on the lantern’s faces, black on the top and bottom. I used black to paint the shadows cast by the top and bottom of the lantern.

I added white to the parts of the lion which would get the most light: the ribs and muscles around the lantern, and the top of his face.

Step 3: Face and mane

Since the lion is much larger than the survivor, and essentially all one color, I worked area by area, always keeping in mind where my light sources are.  The pre-shading was really helpful for keeping in mind the locations of the light sources.

To sell that there are two distinct light sources, it helps if you can define the boundary between them with shadow. You can’t cheat in order to do this—you also have to paint the light and shadow where they make sense given the shape of the figure and where the light is coming from. For the lion, I planned ahead by deliberately placing the light sources to make this possible. I positioned the lantern on the base where it would best illuminate one side of the lion from below, and then placed the second light source on the exact opposite side of the lion’s head from the lantern.

Since the lantern was not part of the sculpt, I had complete freedom in placing both light sources for maximum impact. But even when the sculpt constrains your choice of light sources, you still have control over the non-object light sources which come from off camera. If you want to use lighting effects on a mini, think about how to light the scene as if you were a cinematographer.

Movies can be great inspiration for this, since movie-makers devote a lot of attention to positioning the lighting for optimal effect. I’ve been known to pause movies and take screenshots when I see lighting I want to as reference material.

Establish your light sources early on, and keep them in mind throughout the painting process. One advantage of pre-shading is that it forces you to do this. When you choose not to pre-shade, it is especially important to always be mindful of where the light is coming from as you paint.

Step 4: Body and base

As with the survivor, I painted all of the areas of the lion as if both the off-camera light source and the lantern were white,

In the view where the lantern light is not visible, notice that the shadows are quite dark, even black in places. The lion still reads clearly as white, because it is painted white where it is well illuminated by the off-camera light source. But because it is night and there is not much ambient light, just weak moonlight and a lantern, the midtones are quite gray, and the shadows go all the way to black.

The same is true on the side illuminated by the lantern, except that there are two light sources, with a definite area of shadow in between. Because most places would catch at least a bit of the light from either the lantern or the moonlight, the shadow is not the deep black shadow of the lantern-less side, except in a few of the deepest folds. Rather, it is mostly a dark gray midtone.

I used a black wash over all of the stone faces on the base, except the ones right around the lantern, to make sure there would be black in the cracks and crevices in between them. I then highlighted the stone faces with a succession of gray, focusing on the area right around the lantern. On the far side of the lion from the lantern, where the moonlight would hit the base, I added some weaker highlights in the direction of the other light source.

Step 4: Change the color of the light

Again, the final step is glazing in the color of the lantern light.

Because there are two light sources affecting the lion’s left side, I needed to be a bit more careful in the glazing step than I did with the survivor. As a result, this step took a little bit longer, but still represents a very small amount of time compared with the previous steps. The defined area of shadow between the two light sources was quite helpful for this, since it made it easy to keep track of which areas of light were coming from the lantern vs. the moonlight. Keeping this in mind, I glazed the parts illuminated by the lantern light, leaving the parts illuminated only by the moonlight white, and the parts without strong illumination from either gray.

Since the different muscle groups and tufts of fur create lots of small volumes, this part was quite fun.

Of course, the lion’s right side changes hardly at all in this step.

Voila, finished lion and survivors!

As I said above, this step-by-step shows one of many possible processes for achieving a believable light source effect; this is by no means the only way to do it. For instance, you could easily skip the pre-shading steps if that is not your thing, as long as you plan your light sources from the very beginning and shade and highlight with them in mind, achieving the same level of contrast.

I do recommend using a process where you first depict a convincing pure white light source, only adding color once you’ve made the light source believable without it. When you only add color after you add light, it’s much easier to be consistent with the physical properties of light you are trying to replicate, the rules of physics described above.

Ultimately you can get a good result regardless of the process you choose to follow, as long as the end result is consistent with the physics of light.

I will conclude this tutorial with some tips for getting good results with lighting effects. These are not rules, so feel perfectly free to ignore them, but I have found they help me get better results.

Subtlety is not your friend. When a lighting effect is not working, the solution is usually to either make the light brighter, the shadows darker, or both.

Try to avoid placing light sources where you will fight with the mini’s natural shadows. No matter how bright you paint your lighting effect, it will be ruined if the mini casts shadows that hide it. Sometimes you can get around this problem by repositioning part of the mini or filling in a recess where you want to paint a lighting effect. For instance, if you want to paint a skull with glowing eye sockets, fill the eye sockets first, as in this great example by Jen Haley.

Highlight light sources backwards. If you paint an object in a very light color because it is glowing, parts of it will still be in shadow, and that can spoil the effect. Increasing the lightness of the areas which are in shadow can fool the eye into thinking that no part of it is in shadow, similar to how camouflage works. This makes the eye more willing to accept the illusion that the object is glowing.

The glowing hose and energy pack of Kaelyssa’s gun are highlighted in reverse—the top is a saturated orange color and the bottom is a warm yellow-white.

This is more for appreciating the miniature in person, when light is usually from overhead, rather than in photos, where you have more control over the lighting environment.

Light interacts with different materials differently. Just like highlights from the main light source, reflected light from a secondary or object source should be more spread out for more matte materials, and more concentrated for reflective materials like glossy leather or metals. material, and should be affected by the textures of rough surfaces like coarse fabric or unfinished wood.

When the orange glow reflects off of the matte cloth and leather parts of Kaelyssa’s armor, it is softer and more diffuse, but when it reflects off of her shiny metal armor, we see actual reflections of the glowing objects rather than a diffuse aura of light. Even a less mirror-like metal, like brushed steel, would reflect the light in a more concentrated way compared with cloth or leather.

Avoid interacting complementary colors, or multiple secondary colors. Often in art, you are told that complementary colors are good, because they create strong contrasts and help balance colors. This is all true, but having light of one color falling on a surface of it’s complementary color is a bad way to create complementary color contrasts. This is because of the physics of light: a surface of one color will is poor at reflecting the light of its complementary color. Similarly, a surface of one secondary color, like green, will be poor at reflecting light of a different secondary color (orange or purple). Instead, it is better to use neutral tertiary colors, or combine colors of light and colors of surfaces that mix well as paints, to create bright colors, such as yellow light falling on a blue surface to make it appear green. You can still create complementary color contrasts, but do it in other ways, such using the complementary color of your light source in the shadows, or having complementary colors of materials illuminated by light of a primary color (such as a red and green fabric illuminated by a yellow or blue light).

Yellow light is the easiest to pull off. Yellow has a lot of things all working for it. It is perceived as the lightest of all of the colors of the rainbow, which makes it easier to follow rules 1) and 2). It is a primary color, so it combines well with the previous tip. And yellow pigments are often translucent, which means they work well in glazes. This will make your life easier if you are using glazing as part of your process, such as the one I described above. Cyan is also pretty easy, for similar reasons. A bluish purple is probably the hardest.

It can be immensely helpful to do a “lighting study” for more complex pieces. Plan what you want to do, then try to arrange light sources to match what you have in mind, and take a photograph for reference. This can be effective even if you can’t match the colors you have in mind—either translate mentally or fix it in photoshop.

I referred to my initial lighting study frequently while painting Abalam.

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 screaming deal on a three-bust set for 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:

Value Sketch: Steamthing

A couple of months ago I took a class with Matt DiPietro of Contrast Miniatures (formerly of Privateer Press) on the use of value sketches in miniature painting, as a first step to establish contrasts before adding color. While the class mostly focused on tabletop-quality miniatures, and I painted a board game figure in the class as practice, I also started working on Patrick Masson’s “Steamthing” bust, as a bit of an experiment to see how this style would work for me in display quality.

Here is the finished value sketch. In the sketch, I focused mostly on the mechanical arms and the head, letting the “zenithal priming” create most of the sketch in the other areas. I’m not sure how well the textures will translate with color over the top; I may need to re-create them at the step where I add color.

One of the things that made me first fall in love with this sculpt is how expressive the face is, despite being just a burlap bag with some stitching and goggles. Patrick, and his brother Thierry who did the concept, managed to instill a lot of emotion in this little robot-thing.

When I first saw it on CoolMiniOrNot (way back in 2009, when it was posted), I knew I wanted one, and was very disappointed when the sculptor said in the comments it would not be cast. It seems a lot of people were interested though, and convinced him to rework some things (like the bottle attachment in back) in order to enable casting. When I rediscovered Steamthing in Patrick’s Putty & Paint gallery and learned casts were available, I immediately asked for one. If you want your own, you should contact Patrick.

I’m excited to start adding color!

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!

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