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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 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!

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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Speed-painting!

I love speed-painting, both competitive speed-painting at conventions and just for fun at home. I think it’s great as a palette cleanser between longer projects. It’s a good way of getting playable, tabletop-quality figures on the table quickly, and allows you to focus on overall impact and feel rather than on getting all of the details perfect.

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In speed-painting, the name of the game is high contrast, dramatic paintjobs which will catch the eye from a distance. Don’t try to make the mini look good up close, that’s just not something you can really accomplish in an hour of painting. Go for eye-catching techniques such as lighting effects and freehand, strong contrasts, and a passable face, and don’t worry about quality blending.

For Karzoug, I went for a strong lighting effect—the mini basically begs for it. The other versions I’ve seen use ordinary flame-colored flames, so for my version I opted for a more unnatural fire, as befits a necromancer.

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Unlike the rest of the minis I’m showing today, Karzoug was not painted at a convention, so I actually got to give him a half-decent prep job instead of having to deal with giant mold-lines and dusty primer, and I got to use my own brushes. (Bringing your own sables to convention speed-painting events is generally considered cheating.)

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Every convention has its own speed-painting rules, but the basic idea is that everyone is given the same miniature—contestants usually have no idea what it will be ahead of time—and have to paint it as well as they can within the time allotted. You normally get 45 minutes; championship rounds often last an hour. Use of personal materials is generally not permitted, so you’re sometimes painting with really terrible brushes, though sometimes you get lucky. Provided minis are assembled and primed (often not terribly well, since the people prepping them have several hundred other minis to prep and don’t care much about the end result). Getting a decent finished product in this environment is challenging, to say the least. So please don’t judge these minis too harshly. 🙂

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Zombies make very good speed-paints. Messiness is usually inevitable, but on zombies it’s a plus. This zombie was painted in the speed-paint at KublaCon, which only provides contestants with one brush each. My favorite speed-painting technique being two-brush blending, I had to improvise. Fortunately, if you are sufficiently practiced, it is possible to two-brush blend with a single brush. 😛

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I had the good fortune of painting this anteater twice, in two consecutive years of speed-painting at KublaCon. He is a tiny one-piece mini, produced by Zombiesmith who are great for always sponsoring KublaCon mini events. Small one-piece sculpts are ideal for speed-painting, because it’s very fast to cover the entire mini with paint. This gives you plenty of time to pull off more inventive  decorations such as freehand, and causes me to occasionally annoy other contestants as I wonder aloud, “What am I going to do with all this time?”

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In the case of this anteater (technically a Quar) and his large flat back, that would be freehand decoration, of course. The first year I went with “hell angel” (it was faster and easier to leave off the esses, and still makes sense) and a pentagram, which seemed appropriate for a gun-toting bad-guy. The second year I wanted to do something different, so I ended up going in totally the opposite direction with a peace symbol on tie-dye. The idea cracked me up when I thought of it, so I hoped the judge would like it too. Both placed first in their respective rounds.

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This is Kubla, con mascot for KublaCon. For the championship speed-paint round, they always use the convention figure, which is fun and gives you some extra time to plan (not that I ever remember to use it). This was not my best speed-paint however, and I only placed third that year (2015).

Karzoug, Runelord (Reaper), 75 minute speedpaint

I did much better in 2016, when I managed to win all four of the rounds I entered, including the championships. This grot was from the first round I entered, and was a great little blast from the past. He’s another tiny one-piece model,  so I had lots of time to freehand in horrible ’90s-style checkerboards and hazard stripes. I think it suits the model.

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You can tell I spent way more time on the front than the back. Strategy!

Sadly this grot and the tie-dyed Quar are the only figures I managed to hang onto from KublaCon 2016. One figure I gave away, and the championship round figure I either misplaced or it, erm, wandered off.

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Privateer Press’ gobber rogue, another tiny one-piece figure! This was from the speed-painting competition at Gen Con, which tends to be a bit more competitive than the speed-painting at KublaCon since it draws a bigger audience. I’m really happy with how the face and the rusted daggers came out, and I stole the idea for flowers on the base from another speed-painter. Sadly he only came in second, but that was enough to qualify me for the championship round… where I again came in second. Phooey!

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And finally, this is perhaps my favorite speed-paint of all time. It’s a bit impressionistic, but I managed really strong contrasts and the overall colors work pretty well. I’m especially happy with how the rocket came out. One of my painter friends complained about the very visible brush-strokes on the back, but those were intentional, to show the gleam of the metal, and also a bit of the texture (if you look closely, you can see the brushstrokes are horizontal on the nose-cone and vertical along the shaft of the rocket).

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This was from the Wyrd championship speed-paint at Gen Con, where I managed to finish first, beating the woman who beat me in the Privateer Press championships (and collecting a bounty!)

P.S. I promise to be back showing actually-well-painted models (and not just well-painted-for-45-minutes models) later this week. I have lots of minis from the Gen Con painting competitions that I’ve been dying to show off.

“Black Arts”

This was one of those miniatures that sat around half-painted for a very long time, over a year in fact, before I finally finished it.

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Initially I didn’t have the lighting effect, just red fabrics with black armor. The result was a deadly dull miniature with the cloak stealing all of the focus and the armor a muddy mess. It took me a year to figure out how to fix it, but when I came up with the idea of a strong green light from some dark ritual Fiona was performing, I knew it would be perfect.

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I really like the result – it brings the focus back to Fiona’s weapon and face, where it should be, and also has a strong story-telling element when combined with the pentagram Fiona is standing in.

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The old Fiona the Black miniature has a lot of things going for it, but I never much liked its spindly legs. When someone on the Privateer Press forums suggested doing a conversion with the legs from the satyxis sea witch, I knew I had to try it. Since the Satyxis have a matching pirate theme and the same sculptor (Werner Klocke) as Fiona, the converted parts work well together, and the result is a great, powerful pose.

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I entered this mini into the Privateer Press painting competition at Gen Con, where she finished with a disappointing silver. I honestly think she deserved better than that, but I guess you can’t win them all.

Abalám, revisited

When I posted Abalám on Putty & Paint, one of the comments I received was from Roman Lappat (of Massive Voodoo fame) who wrote,

Great piece. Love the light situation, even I think there are minor parts missing here and there, but this does not make the bust bad. If you want me to point out my thoughts about the light shot me an Emal 🙂

Let me just say I love this reaction. “I like this mini, but see some ways it could be better. I must tell the painter!” Constructive criticism is fantastic, and I’m thankful for all of it I can get, especially when it comes from as knowledgeable a source as Roman. As I wrote in Thoughts on painting competitions, constructive criticism is extremely valuable in improving your work.

When I emailed Roman, he sent me a very helpful diagram showing the areas he felt the light was missing or not strong enough.

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Armed with this sketch, my brush, and some red paint, I went back to my figure, and intensified.

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Of course, the lighting is also rather different between the two photos. I’m terrible at miniature photography, sorry! I think the new pictures are somewhat closer to life, but this guy is really tricky to photograph.

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I followed all but one of Roman’s suggestions, which was the back of the helmet. It’s just so recessed that I didn’t feel it would receive very much light, so the very strong light that Roman suggested would look out of place. Also, you have to be very careful painting lighting effects in heavily recessed areas of a miniature, because you are fighting against the shadows of the miniature itself. In the end, I did retouch the back of the helmet, but with a dull, dark red, instead of the strong effect that Roman suggested.

I did add light on the rivets, but it’s subtle, and hard to make out in these photos.

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In addition to following Roman’s advice, I also intensified in some areas he didn’t highlight. I made the light on the neck much more dramatic, since it looked flat and poorly painted in the original. I added light on the lower-most armor plate, as that was one of the areas that lit up in my original study but where I had not added a glow effect. And I intensified the light on all of the ropes and the sash, and not only the parts Roman indicated.

Many people, when confronted with criticism, are resistant towards it, and try to find reasons to ignore it. I think this is a very good example of how one can benefit from not only being open to criticism, but trying to look further, and explore how you can use the insight in the criticism to improve upon things that the critique did not specifically identify.

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Now that I’ve posted the back view, Roman’s probably going to point out all of the areas I’m missing here! I’m joking of course, but in truth, I think I can guess which areas he would point out.

I intentionally took a lot of shortcuts on the back, because a bust like this will normally be seen mostly from the front. Also, I have a policy never to retouch figures after they win awards!

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I entered the bust into the KublaCon painting contest last weekend, and was fortunate enough to win Best in Show and one of the People’s Choice awards. This is my second KublaCon win in a row, as Tribe Chief Morrow won Best in Show last year. KublaCon is a Crystal Brush qualifier, which means that my award comes with round-trip airfare to Chicago for Crystal Brush. This will be my second time going, since I lived in Chicago for the first year of the competition, but moved away and missed the other years.

Word from the judges is that the decision between my entry and the second-place winner was very close. This just goes to show the importance of getting feedback on your work. Without Roman’s advice, I probably wouldn’t have won.

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Thanks again, Roman!

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