Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

Author: David (page 1 of 7)

Come back to me, my love…

Adriana and Nymera’s relationship with the other villagers had always been poor. Two women living together inevitably branded the pair outcasts and brought on whisperings of witchcraft. In this case, the rumors were true. Not that they had ever used their powers to harm anyone. In fact, on two separate occasions, villagers had miraculous recoveries from death’s doorstep thanks to Adriana’s unseen interventions. But far from helping the couple’s reputation in the village, these miracles had instead cemented the power of the rabble-rousing preacher Fillius. As his sermons against the witches became filled with fire and brimstone, Nymera and Adriana made preparations to find a new home.

* * *

When Adriana approached the house and saw the door ajar, a spear of ice stabbed her heart. Silently chanting, “please, no, please, no,” she peered through the doorway. The disarray inside confirmed her worst fears. Turning on her heel, she rushed towards the church. Maybe there was still time to save her love. The blackened stake in front of the church burned that last hope to cinders, replacing the ice in her heart with fire.

Listlessly, not knowing her purpose, she sifted through the charred wood and ashes. When she found the bones she needed, she realized why she had been searching. There was a book she had read in her youthful researches: one filled with spells she had sworn she would never use. One spell in particular, blacker than the darkest night, required a human heart for its workings. Life could be restored, but only at deadly cost.

She knew just whose heart she would use…

This was a really fun project. When I was thinking about ReaperCon projects this year, and settled on painting this lovely necromancer (03784: D’Vandra Lukesia by Bobby Jackson), I decided to do something a bit ambitious. D’Vandra comes equipped with a shovel, and something about a shovel-wielding necromancer just cries out to be raising the dead. I began mentally composing a graveyard scene, but in the end I decided that I just didn’t want to deal with all that dirt. So I swapped the shovel for a ritual blade, and replaced the graveyard with an unholy altar, upon which our heroine would resurrect her lost love.

With the exception of the two figures and the urns, the scene is entirely scratch-built. The altar is composed of PC-Lumber two-part epoxy putty over a frame of cork tile. I like to use cork tile to test out shapes quickly and easily, and also save on putty. PC-Lumber is a great putty to use for terrain construction. It hardens very quickly, it cures rock hard, and it holds texture reasonably well. Its hardness makes it ideal for structural use, where a more flexible material like green stuff would bend slightly. It also means it holds crisp corners, which is useful for doing architectural details. For stone work, I like to alternate between adding material and subtractive sculpting, where I carve or break away material. I find that this process results in more natural shapes and textures. Because this particular putty cures hard enough to carve in about 45 minutes, I can do several cycles of this alternation in a day’s work.

The torches themselves are green stuff, as you can see in the photo above. Originally, I tied them to the stone pillars with thread, which is what you see in the photo. However, the thread was noticeably fuzzy when primed, so in the end I had to replace it with green stuff ties.

I used zenithal priming for both necromancer and base, as I do for most of my figures. With the base, I did an intermediate step with a red oxide primer, after the black and before the white. I deliberately made the red oxide primer fuzzy and lumpy, by holding the nozzle of the paint can only part-way down. This makes the paint spray in larger droplets, creating a texture over the surface. This texture would be a disaster when priming a figure, but actually works quite well for rock and corroded metal. It was a bit of a problem for the flames however, and I ended up needing to use gloss varnish to smooth out the texture on the flames before painting them. Were I to do this over again, I would cover the flames with little blobs of blue tac when priming, in order to avoid that problem.

I started painting with just the basic structure in place, and added more details as I went, such as the resurrected body, urns, and books. Partly that was because things were easier to paint separately, but mostly it was because I didn’t have the parts I needed for the corpse when I started working on the project, and I didn’t get the idea for the books until half-way through painting.

The corpse is converted from 03639: Bella, Succubus by Patrick Keith, and Secret Weapon’s skeleton kit. The spell effect I used to merge the two, showing flesh forming over bone out of ectoplasm, is made from putty over a brass wire armature.

After anchoring the wire to the corpse, I ended up playing with it quite a bit in order to find a design I was happy with. Originally it was spiraling out from left to right, but I decided I wanted more interaction between the corpse and the necromancer. Then it went through a phase where it it was coming in from her general direction in thin wisps.

One problem I had to solve was how to ensure the viewer interpreted the spell being cast as resurrection, and not disintegrate. I combined several ideas in order to make this as unambiguous as possible. The first idea was to have the body forming from left-to-right in the main view, since English readers are used to things starting on the left. The second idea was using a cloudy spell effect, which I thought would look more like matter being formed from vapor, rather than being blasted into dust. I was also happier with the spell effect once I added a bit more structure to it, making it look like clouds rather than wires. The third idea (suggested by Chris Suhre) was to make the flesh parts quite red and lively looking. And the fourth was to put roses in the corpse’s hand, which fits well with the theme and should dispel any notion of violence.

Making the roses was actually surprisingly easy. I just bent some brass wire (since stems are never perfectly straight) and sculpted the leaves and petals with color shapers.

In addition to sculpting the spell effect, I also had to sculpt the corpses hands and collar-bones, since those are not part of the Secret Weapon kit.

It was a bit of a disappointment to go from a miniature were all surfaces were decently far along to one with bare metal and green stuff, so it was a huge relief when I had everything covered in paint again.

The colors changed many times as I was feeling my way towards a composition I was happy with. Sometimes you just have to try stuff out and see how it looks to see what you’re happy with, as visualizing miniatures in your mind’s eye can only go so far. Even though I was fairly happy at this point, significant changes were still in store, including completely redoing the top surfaces of the rock, changing the color of the spell effect, and adding the books.

Both books are scratchbuilt, using thin plastic card and a hint of putty for the covers, and parchment paper for the pages. Parchment paper, in addition to being smoother than normal paper, is more durable, and slightly translucent. I was lucky enough to have some brown parchment lying around which was a perfect color for old, worn pages.

Lots of careful tweezer work during construction! Getting all of the pages the same size and lined up was a bit of a pain, but worth it.

Of course painting these was extremely fiddly as well. This is damn close to the maximum resolution I can wield a brush at.

With the addition of the books and some final work to bring everything together, I was ready to call her finished. But I’m also a big believer in critiques, so I circulated photos to a number of my mini painter friends in order to get their takes, before calling things finished.

The resounding comment from everyone I showed photos to was that they wanted some OSL. Even though there were four torches and a spell effect that could be casting light, I had depicted the scene as if the ambient light was bright enough to overpower the object sources. Ben Kantor’s critique, in particular, was extremely helpful. He used photoshop to suggest a darker, grittier ambience, with much more of the light coming from the sources in the scene. I debated back and forth whether I should follow this advice, but in the end I decided to go for it.

In order to make the OSL work, I needed to make the stone work much darker, with a bit of a greenish hue from the spell effect. This actually was not hard to accomplish: I grabbed a large brush, mixed some Reaper green liner with black pigment, and put a thin glaze over almost all of the stone. I avoided covering the upper parts of the columns with the torches, as I imagined they would receive some orange light from the torch glow to cancel out the green. I also used nightshade purple instead of green liner in the glaze in the places where the green light from the spell effect wouldn’t reach.

I also added a label to the base. This has two purposes: it clearly indicates what side is the front, and it informs the viewer of the title of the piece, which adds to the story. On the occasions when I include a title plaque, I try to tie it in with the piece somehow. In this case, I painted it as if it were a handwritten note from the necromancer to her beloved.

I tried to squeeze in a lot of storytelling elements, which rewards the attentive viewer.

I kept the OSL itself relatively subtle, in order to keep the focus on other elements. I made it most noticeable on the hair. It makes sense to do that because hair is shiny and tends to reflect light, and it’s an effective thing to do because it makes the head more of a focus.

I received many nice complements for this piece at ReaperCon, and was lucky enough to end up with runner-up for Reaper Best of Show, and gold Sophie for best Reaper Diorama. I was hoping to improve upon the bronze Sophies I received in the last two years, so I was super excited to end up with not only a gold Sophie, but actually snagged one of the best-of-show awards, finishing after the legendary Doug Cohen. You can see all the entries and awards here.

Number of blood sacrifices involved in constructing Come back to me, my love…: One. Of course I sliced my thumb open at one point, since that’s pretty much inevitable for any serious miniature project. I think it was while I was building the base. And of course I made sure to spill some on the model. For luck, and/or to appease the dread god Osiris. Shockingly, no blood sacrifices were needed to construct either Codex Daemonicus or Codex Necronomicon (the two books).

2018 Reapercon Classes

I usually post the classes I am teaching on my blog in the spring, but this year I have been slow to get organized, and as a result, most of my classes have already passed or sold out by the time I posted this. Sorry about that! I promise to do better next year.

I will be teaching 4 classes at Reapercon this year, which is coming up in just a couple of weeks. You can see all my classes here.

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The Alchemist

The sculpt is “The Wizard of Agni,” by Ben Komets Miniatures (sculpted by Lucas Pina Penichet), but I call my version The Alchemist. This was one of those figures that I fell in love with the second I saw it, and immediately knew how I wanted to paint it. The figure practically screams for OSL, and with the magical, alchemical vibe he gives off, using a magical flame color just seemed natural.

When OSL is one of the main light sources, you can get very different results depending on whether the light is a natural light source (like fire, which gives off all colors of light) or a colored artificial light source, and if it’s colored, whether it’s a primary or secondary color. Using a light source of a secondary color, like the green fire I used for The Alchemist, lends itself to simple color schemes with a very limited color palette. This is because when green (or another secondary color) mixes with other colors, you will either end up with something quite similar to the original color, or a desaturated, muddy color.

For The Alchemist, I decided to pair a strong saturated yellow-green with mostly desaturated colors, generally reddish and purplish browns in order to play with complementary colors. I also made very limited use of a saturated orange in just a few places: the eyes of the monkey and alchemist, the monkey’s pipe, and the bead in the alchemist’s beard.

With a very large scale figure like a bust, you have the opportunity to add far more detail than you can in 25 or 30mm scale. So I think it’s important to play with textures and freehands to take advantage of that opportunity. I generally like to do some of each. I had a lot of fun with the textures, especially the monkey fur and wrinkled hands. The monkey fur was very simple to do, just lots of little lines, but came out extremely well. The sculpt even has a tiny bit of fur sculpted in some places, to suggest the direction. I found the appearance was better if I painted the fur to be a bit matted, rather than smooth.

For the freehands, I went with muslim geometric patterns, which I very much like and have used before. Not only do they go well with the Turkish vibe of the sculpt, they also fit the subject matter: alchemy and chemistry have a long history in the muslim world, and even the world alchemy derives from the Arabic al-kīmiyā’ (الكيمياء‎). The pattern on the alchemist’s shirt was a bit of a pain to get right, since the lines need to be very precise due to all the regularity. I started with a square grid, then added the triangles, and had to do a number of minor adjustments to fix imperfections. On the other hand, the border on the vest was simple and easy. Both were painted before adding the beard and arms to allow easy access for all that precision work.

I entered “The Alchemist” into the painting competition at Kublacon, and was lucky enough to take best of show amidst some of the stiffest competition I’ve seen there. If you would care to voice your own opinion, he’s up on Putty & Paint and CoolMiniOrNot, or leave a note in the comments!

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 folds 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.

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