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Monday, 2 May 2011

Inspiration: a Guest Post by Mr. Harris

Search "inspirational" in Google Images, and you too can be greeted by Satan's Gaming-Nightmare Cat-Raptor Pet!

Gold in Large Model (54mm and up) in the Crystal Brush
painting competition at Adepticon 2011- Jen Haley 

There are many theories and techniques from fine art that seem to have slipped passed most of the miniature painting community, especially in Britain. I’ve been looking quite critically at my painting recently and looking into how I want to develop and improve by looking at some of the top painters in the world and deciding what I like and then researching how they do it. Three painters have really stood out for me. My first aim was to learn how to paint non-metallic metals. As it happened, I was already painting true metallic metals in virtually the same way so the jump only involved abandoning metallic paint and increasing the contrast across surfaces. With that in mind, the first painter who stood out for me was Jen Haley

Space Wolf Priest- Games Workshop- Jen Haley

I love her use of colour, though I nor anyone else could ever hope to mimic it, but her metal is so subtle that a couple of her miniatures look like they’re painted with metallic paint and others are so convincing, you wouldn’t realise it was painted at all. Metallic paint is something I’m happy to leave behind, though I would still revert to it if a commission called for it, because it doesn’t look like metal. Metallic paint looks like metallic paint, which is lots of little bits of metal. It is too granular for a smooth metal surface and is too coarse and therefore out of scale for most machined metal surfaces. 

Cmdr Stryker- Privateer Press- Jen Haley

It might pass for metal which has been cooled slowly enough to have very large grains but that’s not what you’d make armour or weapons out of. If an oil painter was painting a suit of armour, they wouldn’t go and pick up a pot of Humbrol Gun Metal would they? They’d paint how the light reflected on its surface just the same as they’d paint glass, silk or any other surface. When our eyes look at a metallic object, they are not picking up some special metal rays that tell them they’re looking at metal, they are picking up the same frequencies of light that bounce off of any other object so we can use appropriately coloured paint to paint highlights and contrast which will tell our eye that it’s a metallic surface. As long as you keep your light source in mind, you can create something that’s convincing enough quite easily.

Celeborn by Games Workshop-
Silver Golden Daemon Spain-
Jeremie Bonament
The second painter who stood out for me was Jérémie Bonamant Teboul (or Bragon). His painting style really characterises what you see in the French Golden Demon entries (probably because he’s won so many and influenced so many other painters). He makes a lot of use of colour theory which many fine artists wouldn’t give a second thought to but for us, spoilt by our massive paint ranges with premade highlight and shadow colours, don’t even know. The education system in this country is equally to blame. Art and music are probably the two worst taught subjects in the National Curriculum.

 The first of the concepts which I’ve picked up from Bonamant is zenithal lighting (I blame a certain dominant miniature company’s studio painters for this being ignored for so long) which is obvious when you’re told about it so why don’t we all paint this way? In brief, most everyday miniature painting uses global highlighting; the miniature is painted as if lit from a light source which is equal from every angle meaning that recesses are in shadow and everything else is lit. This situation is unrealistic and quite artificial to look at, it picks out the detail on the miniature but leaves us with something which will only ever look like a painted miniature, no matter how good we get. Outdoors we’re lit by the sun and indoors we’re usually lit by lights in the ceiling. Therefore we have source lighting from above (or our zenith) and so shadows should sit beneath a detail. If the light source is somewhere else or we have multiple light sources, the same theory still applies but we still don’t have global light. The zenithal or source light concept can be kept very subtle like Ali McVey’s painting to produce very natural looking light or accentuated like a lot of Bonamant’s miniatures in order to create mood and atmosphere. The easiest technique for painting zenithal or source lighting is pre-highlighting, which is something else I learned from Bonamant. This can be done using a white spray paint or in different colours using an airbrush and is pretty much what it sounds like; producing a guide to where light hits the topography of the miniature which can then be established with glazes and highlights.

"Ruby", from Studio McVey
The next thing from Bonamant is his use of colour. Producing shadow colours is very simple if you look at a colour wheel. Opposite, or complimentary colours, can be used to mix shadow colours. They will often appear more natural due to red, blue and yellow in equal proportions making brown. (If you try this and it doesn’t work, remember that the paints we use contain varying amounts of pigment depending upon the colour and also medium blue and yellow often contain white and bright red will often contain some yellow). Every mix of complementary colours will have the three primary colours in different proportions and so have a slight neutrality when compared to your original base colour. This technique works especially well if the colour is a warm colour (e.g. red, orange or yellow) as the complimentary colour will be cold (e.g. green, blue or purple). This brings us onto the next concept, which is a trick of distance which can be played upon the eye by colour. Yellow will appear closer to the eye than blue so if you mix a little blue into your shadows and yellow (or Bonamant often uses beige) into your highlights then you increase the distance your eye is seeing on the miniature. This is something that dyslexic people may know about too. Often a coloured filter is applied over a page of writing as the brain finds this easier to interpret than black on a white background but the easiest colour combination to read is pale yellow writing on a dark blue background as the yellow writing jumps out from the background colour.
The Exodus- inspired by Games Workshop, sculpts by David
Bax and Jeremie Bonament
Something else I found from Bonamant is that it often takes someone to tell you that something is legitimate before you allow yourself to do it. I often painted with watercolours as a kid which are transparent so you paint on a white page from light to dark, increasing the strength of the colour with washes and glazes. I was always taught that with body colour (opaque paint, like oil, acrylic and gouache) you paint from dark to light because each layer will cover the next and a lot of white is used whereas with watercolours you will almost never use white but instead rely on the white paper. How many times have you painted a highlight or a basecoat over a darker colour and had to use successive layers to increase the opacity because the first didn’t cover the basecoat? Our modelling acrylics aren’t as thick as artist’s acrylics but darker pigments tend to be stronger so going the other way isn’t a problem. If we start from a light colour and progress to a darker one in a succession of glazes (being careful to know the difference between a glaze and a wash and no they are not different kinds of paint) then we save ourselves a considerable amount of work and at the same time we’ll find it easier to produce blends using the movement of the brush without even having to resort to wet blending. I’ve done this before on occasion but having discovered that a top painter uses this approach regularly, I now paint like this a lot more.
Viking in the Shadows- Latorre Models-
Jeremie Bonament
My last piece of wisdom from Bonamant comes in the form of using a wet pallet (though Jen Haley also uses one). I first heard about the wet pallet from a friend but decided that the cost of refills was prohibitive and instead started using retarder to increase the working time of my paint. However, Bonamant seems to have purchased a wet pallet at some point but the sponge and parchment he uses look quite improvised. With this observation I set about making my own wet pallet out of a watertight tray, a thin kitchen sponge/cloth thing and a roll of baking paper. If there is one thing I can advise you to do, now that you’ve read the last sentence, it’s this; go and make your own wet pallet. If you don’t have these things in the kitchen, go to the supermarket and you’ll find it’s the best £5 you ever spent. I still use retarder but only very occasionally and in much smaller quantities. Retarder is a useful tool but it decreases the adhesive qualities of the paint.
The last inspiring painter I’ve found is Natalya Melnik (or Alexi_Z). She has a fantastic way with non-metallic metal. It’s not as subtle as Jen Haley’s but it really catches the eye and for table top miniatures it’s spot on. Her other trademark is her textured cloth which she achieves by creating a blended surface of shadows and highlights like normal but then builds up layers of dots, changing her colours from light to shade as she paints from highlight to lowlight producing a textured gradation. I haven’t tried this technique yet as it looks like a brush killer and also I feel that that amount of texture on fabric may be a bit out of scale but it certainly produces an interesting effect and I think a lot of painters will be copying it soon.

Hector Rex- Forgeworld-
Misan- Rackham Models-
You’ll notice that two of these painters are women and the other is French. To me this sums up the upper echelons of the miniature painting community. I may be the wrong gender and nationality but at least I’m trying!

Thanks Rich- interesting set of choices, and some lovely, lovely figures.
Here's Mr. Harris' Site:
And the other people in the post were:
The models were produced by :
Comments, as always, are welcome.

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