Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

Tag: basing

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 compliments 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).

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.

From the workbench: St. Mark on Dragon, part 3

I reached an important milestone since part 2. There’s no more primer showing! There’s still lots of work to be done, but all of the main elements are now in place, so you can see how it all looks together.

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I can’t decide which side is the front of this mini. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I think it’s good. There’s a lot of energy moving in several different directions, which I think is one of the things that drew me to the mini originally.

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The most obvious change since the last post is the rider of course. Originally, I painted his cloak and pants pink rather than orange. The color worked okay in the color scheme, I think, but I couldn’t get over my societal hangups about pink.

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Fortunately a thin glaze with yellow ink was enough to change the color completely without destroying all of the highlighting and shading, and my careful texturing work.

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The other main change is the addition of pigments to the base. I don’t think it photographs as well now, but it looks way better in person and that’s the main thing. Pigments create a wonderful dusty effect which makes the base look much more realistic as dirt and stone.

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The pigments I used are mostly from the Secret Weapon “wet earth” set, which is somewhat ironic since I created a dry dusty effect using the pigments. Just goes to show you never to take names too seriously, since at the end of the day they are just colors. I used terracotta as the main color for the lit areas and violet (which is an awesome color!) in the shadows, with a few spots of red brick to provide variety.

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I screwed up when I added the pigments, since I added the pigments first, then sprayed the whole mini with dullcoat (which it needed to kill the shine from the inks I used). Unfortunately the dullcoat ruined the lovely dusty effect. I added another layer of pigment, but that pretty much obliterated the highlighting and shading I had done before. So I had to re-paint the highlights and shadows over the pigment, and then add pigments a final time. Oy.

At least thick paint is not much of an issue for the rocks and dirt. But next time it’s definitely dullcoat first, then pigments, rather than the other way around.

“Negative Space”—finished

Negative Space

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

Negative Space

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

Negative Space

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

Negative Space: Fraacta, Umbra Legates, Maakrep, Fraacta

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

Negative Space: Umbra Legates

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

Negative Space: Fraacta

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

Negative Space: Fraacta

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

Negative Space: Maakrep

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


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

Step-by-step: clockwork base

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When I painted Commander-Adept Nemo, I was inspired by Natalya “Alexi-Z” Melnik’s amazing version of Nemo from the previous Gen Con. I really liked the non-metallic metal armor and the elaborate base she used, so I decided to do something similar for my version. It’s a fair bit different from hers, but I really liked her idea of putting Nemo on a raised platform with technological elements. For my version, I wanted to create a clockwork mechanism you could see into, like a skeleton watch.

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