Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

Tag: tutorial

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.

Continue reading

Four tips to level up your painting

These are some things I’ve learned that I think most miniature painters would benefit from keeping in mind when they paint. Anyone, even people who just started the hobby, can follow these tips.

Pay attention to where the light is coming from when highlighting and shading

Figures that are lit in a realistic fashion are much more believable than ones which are not. Everyone who can see develops an intuitive sense of how things are supposed to look, and when the lighting is off we will notice it and be bothered by it, even if we can’t put our finger on what the problem is.

When highlighting and shading, don’t just highlight the raised areas and shade the recesses, as this is not the way light actually works. Instead, decide where the light is coming from early in the painting process, and try to consistently and realistically light your miniature with that in mind. The three dimensional nature of miniatures is a huge boon here, as you can often just hold your figure at the right angle with respect to a lamp and use that as your guide.

abalam lighting

A photograph to use as a guide can be useful, especially for more complicated lighting situations with multiple light sources. For just one light source, you can usually get away with just holding your mini at the right angle without taking a photo. Can you see where I deliberately highlighted some of recesses of the folds in his shirt, where they catch the light? Can you spot where I missed some?

Don’t just add white to highlight and black to shade, and don’t just use pre-mixed highlight and shadow colors

The light around you is constantly changing. Things look one way in the morning, another way at noon, and everything is beautiful during the golden hour in the late afternoon. This should influence the colors that you paint! When you paint a miniature, think about the ambient light conditions and the mood you want to set. In a cold environment, you might add blue to both the highlights and the shadows in order to set the appropriate mood. If you’re painting an alien on Mars, you might keep the highlights neutral in color, but add red to all of the shadows because of the color of the ambient light. Always keep the environment, lighting situation, and mood you want to create in mind when choosing colors.

Too often I see miniature painters who always paint elf skin with elf skin, elf skin highlight, and elf skin shadow, or who always highlight by adding white. I won’t tell you never to do this. In art, all rules are meant to be broken. But it should always be a choice made consciously, not unconsciously because that’s what the paint is called.

ruby_giant

When painting Ruby, I set the scene during golden hour. Both the direction and the color of the light are appropriate for a sun which is low in the sky. For the parts of the model lit by the sun, I added yellow to all of the highlights. For the parts of the model facing away from the sun, I highlighted by adding gray.

Smooth blends are for smooth surfaces only

A lot of miniature painters obsess over making their blends as smooth as possible, and a lot of this is energy which could be better spent elsewhere. Smooth blends are for smooth surfaces, and most of the objects in our lives have other textures than that. If you are painting a silk kimono, a polished ceremonial suit of armor,  or the skin of a pampered noble, then by all means try to make your blends smooth. But if you are painting a rough work garment, armor which has seen combat, or the skin of a warrior, your blends should not be perfectly smooth. Try to show the grain of the leather, the weave of the fabric, the varying structure of the stone, the lines and scratches from wear, where the paint has started to chip, where corrosion has beset the metal. These are more interesting to look at, and more fun to paint, than smooth blends on every surface.

khador_destroyer_1Do you see any smooth blends? Of course not! This ‘jack has been through years of war; there are no smooth surfaces left. As I was creating the lights and shadows in the white armor,  I did a lot of sketchy blending and left a lot of “bathtub ring” effects where an edge of paint dried. If you do this once or twice, it looks like a mistake, but if you build up a texture out of it, it just looks like weathering. For the turquoise ‘jack, I created an entirely different texture by highlighting with a lot of short lines of color.

Freehand is not hard

Some freehand is hard. If you’re trying to paint something which needs to be very detailed, very regular, or perfectly symmetric, you need to have good brush control. On the other hand, there are a lot of good uses for freehand that are not challenging to pull off. For example, try a cherry blossom pattern, rough graffiti, or something totally abstract. Even a simple border can add interest without being difficult to paint. As you get experience with easier bits of freehand, you can move on to more technically challenging subjects.

axer2

The zebra-skin loincloth on this axer was super simple to do. It’s just a serious of lines, and they aren’t supposed to be straight or the same width.

Tutorial: True Metallic Metals

tmm-bane-thrall-teaser

In the miniature painting community, there are two broad types of approaches to representing metallic surfaces, “non-metallic metal” (nmm) and “true metallic metal” (tmm). In non-metallic metal, the painter represents a metallic surface without using metallic paints by painting the reflections by hand, in the manner of 2-dimensional art. True metallic metal, in contrast, involves the use of metallic paint, which contains little bits of mica or other reflective material to gain a metallic look. I have no interest in debating which is “better”; the two techniques have very different aesthetics and lend themselves to different styles, but both can look amazing when done well. Personally, I have used both in my work [tmm, nmm], although generally I think I get better results when using metallic paints.

In this article I will share my standard technique for painting metals with metallic paints, by painting all of the metals on a bane thrall from start to finish. (Why do all of my tutorials seem to be on Cryx minis?)

Continue reading

Step-by-step: clockwork base

clockwork_base_closeup

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.

Continue reading

Tutorial: Object-Source Lighting

This tutorial is quite old. Please check out my new one instead!

Really! The new one is much better!


One of the most eye-catching effects in miniature painting is source lighting, where a glowing object casts light on the rest of the miniature. Especially in the fantasy and science-fiction genres, it’s a great way to show that a sword is imbued with magical energy, or a plasma cannon is charged and ready to fire. Let’s face it: glowing weapons are just cool. This technique is often called “object-source lighting” (OSL) by figure painters, as the source of the light is represented on the miniature (an “object-source”).

Pulling off believable glow effects is tricky, however, and there are many examples of poorly done lighting effects on the internet. In this article, I will show a step-by-step sequence of how I paint source lighting effects, using a Cryxian Slayer by Privateer Press as the demo mini. I’ll also provide plenty of tips and additional examples to help you give your models that eye-catching glow.

Continue reading

Tutorial: Painting Battle Damage

damage

We all love tabletop wargames, and our miniatures often see many battles. As hobbyists, we want our miniatures to look it! Well-done battle damage effects can make miniatures look more realistic on the battlefield, and also more fun to look at. In this tutorial, I will demonstrate a couple different techniques for giving your models that battle-hardened appearance. The miniature I’ve chosen to demonstrate them on is a Deathripper, a Cryxian bonejack from Privateer Press.

 

Realistic Chipped Paint

The first technique I’m going to demonstrate is called the blister-foam technique. Its purpose is to give the appearance of chipped paint. A warrior or war machine in the field is going to be scraping against the terrain and other combatants, not to mention getting pelted with gunfire and hacked with melee weapons, and its paint will not remain intact long. That is the effect this technique will achieve.

You will need a small piece of foam, like the “blister-foam” that comes packaged with most miniatures.

Continue reading

© 2018 Light Miniatures

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑