Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ask the Bastards #7

In this installment, the Bastards team up to help a painter get to the next level.

My basic issue is that I'm not sure how to progress my painting - I think I am a pretty capable army painter, and characters look good, but I keep finding myself looking at 'eavy metal stuff and a lot of the more advanced blending techniques. I have tried out the thin paint layers, but it seems to always look chalky, and when I really water it down it never quite seems to dry properly. It seems to leave water marks/rings and the colours still don't blend and flow properly - they do not quite have the transparency that better painters than me always speak about with this method. I've tried the two brush blending where you fade out the colour with a second brush, but I think that is something that I need to see demonstrated as I really can't get the hang of it from just the descriptions and explanation I've read and listened too.
I am happy to spend some more times on models, especially characters as I would like to get more proficient at the single figures, but at the moment I just can't see a way to do it better :(


For me "seamless blending", or the inability to see where one color ends and another begins, is the hallmark of an exceptional paint job. It's also a skill that I'm still trying to master to take me over the proverbial wall that we all eventually hit with our painting.
As you mentioned one technique to get very smooth blends is the two brush technique made famous by Mike McVey. I did see it demonstrated by Mike at GenCon a few years ago but, unfortunately, I could never make this work for me. I had a real problem getting the second brush to feather the paint properly. Also, I never could understand how to apply it to the smaller internal areas of the model.
Another method for smooth blending that I've had better luck with is where you apply a very small amount of thinned paint and slowly build up the color layer by layer. This technique goes by a number of names but it's sometimes referred to as "juicing". The benefit of this method is that you can slowly build the color up which gives a lot more control. One of the most striking things to me about the technique is how little paint is actually applied to the model with each stroke. Essentially, the paint is dry by the time you finish the stroke. If you see rings that is an indication that you have the right consistency but are applying too much paint. Here is an article about the technique that I've found useful over the years.

I checked out the pics of models that you sent along, and I think your stuff looks better than the majority of what I see. You're on the right path.

It sounds like you understand the basic highlighting process, as you described it really well. The problem is that describing and doing are two very different things. Perhaps you just need to see an example of someone painting in person. If you were here, I'd sit down with you and actually do some painting. You need someone to let you watch the magic being done for a while, so you can see exactly what the process looks like. I highly recommend that you find someone whose models look the way you want yours to look, and ask if they can show you how it's done in person. Hopefully there's someone kewl around there that would do that for you.

I did a quick YouTube search for highlighting and layering miniatures, and got several results. If one of the finished models ends up painted to the quality that you'd like yours done to, then perhaps that video would be of some assistance. You'd have to scan through the existing videos, and see for yourself.

I'll still try to give some more intimate detail of the process, in the hopes that something will click. I feel like I'm telling you something that you already know here, but I'll try to describe things as well as I can. I'm sure there will be a few worthwhile tips in here.
I start by putting out about two drops of paint into the paint tray, followed by one drop of water. That mix is still way too paint heavy to be used on a model, but it will keep the paint from drying out as you work.

For each stroke of paint that goes on a model, the process is the same. Dip the tip of the brush in the paint, then dip just the very end of the tip in clean water. Do a few quick brush strokes on the back of your hand that is holding the model to check the dilution. While doing those strokes you have to either twist the brush to get a sharp point on the bristles, or lay the brush at a sharper angle in order to fan out the bristles. Most the time, I do the latter. The fanned bristles cover more model surface, and make for a more transparent blend. If your test strokes show that there is still too much paint in the brush, dip just the tip into the water again and repeat the testing process.

Once you get the paint to the transparency level you're looking for, then paint it on the model. As you blend from one color to another, you want more and more paint on the brush (and therefore less water). You also want to cover less of the models surface, leaving your previous blending untouched.

Perhaps just practice that basic technique on a flat surface to get the hang of working the brush into a fan shape vs a point, and to see how different transparency levels of paint work when blending.

You never want the brush to be soaked with water such that it leaves excess water and paint on your model. If the water is leaching from the brush and pooling on the model, you have way too much water in there.

On the flip side; if the brush isn't wet enough, you'll get a chalky/blotchy look when trying to paint with it. This ends up looking somewhat like a light drybrush technique.

I should say some more on the shape of the bristles to use when doing the highlighting. About 80% of the time I do the blended highlights with the bristles fanned out, as opposed to in a sharp point. The only time that I use a sharp point is when doing the last layer or so of highlighting. I've found that some brushes just don't fan well (or at all), and therefore don't suit my style of paiting very well. This is true of brushes that some to too sharp of a point.

One thing I did quite a while ago was to go to the craft store and buy one of each brush that looked like it might work for painting models. I used them all for a few hours, and chose the one that worked best for me. Now I stick to that brush, ordering them by the dozen from online art supply stores when I need more.

Another thing to note is that you never see the highlight just right until the paint is dry. Many times I'll paint on a new layer, and it just won't look right. It'll be too stark, and you'll see a clear transition line where the new color begins. Wait for the paint to dry before you make a judgement on your work.

If you are seeing clear transition lines instead of smooth blends all the time; that means that there's too much paint in the brush, and not enough water. When that happens, you can fix the blend with a round head toothpick. Just get the tip of the toothpick wet, and smudge the offending line. That goes a long way to cleaning up bad blends. It's much much more time consuming to paint models that way though, as opposed to just getting your blends right with the brush the first time.

That toothpick thing is a great tip, and I always keep one around when I'm painting. It has so many more uses than just fixing bad blends. In my head, I refer to it as a smudge stick or a cheater stick. When you're basecoating; if you get a little paint somewhere that you didn't mean to; use the tip of the wet toothpick like an eraser. When I'm trying to put pupils in eyeballs and screw it up, I smudge all or part of the offending pupil out with the toothpick. It'll take black pupil paint off white eyeball paint without a problem. I usually use my mouth to wet the toothpick, but I'd imagine that dipping the tip of it in clean water would work the same.

I've found that with some colors it's much easier to pull off really smooth blends than with others. For me reds, fleshtones, purples, oranges, and almost any other warm colors take half the time that blues, greens, and the like take to make look super good. As long as those warm colors avoid anything remotely pastel-like anyways, then it gets harder and more time consuming.

One more key is to be sure that you're using paint mixes, not right out of the pot colors for your blends. If you're going to attempt this blending technique, you absolutely need to blend between color tones that are reasonably close to each other. The closer the tones, the more seamless the blend.

For instance; assume that you want to use a Scorched Brown basecoat, with the ultimate highlight color being Snakebite Leather. Also assume that you want to use Bestial Brown as a mid-tone. You'd have to go through five colors (including the basecoat) to get very good looking blends, not just the three colors that you're actually using. You'd start with your Scorched Brown basecoat, then you'd do a blended layer with a color that was half Scorched Brown and half Bestial Brown. Then you'd apply a blended layer of Bestial Brown. Then you'd mix half Bestial Brown, half Snakebite Leather for another blended layer. Then you'd finish off with a blended layer of just Snakebite Leather. If you really wanted to make the model pop, you'd then do a final blended layer of just Bubonic Brown on only the raised edges. That extra step really makes models stand out. Hopefully these old paint color references aren't lost yet, I really have to start using the new colors!

That's all I have for you. I'm sure there are a thousand ways to do these things, the ones described here are what I have found that work for me. The key is practice, practice, practice. You have to do it enough to find out what works best for you. I know that's a lame thing to add here, and doesn't really help you out; but that's how people get better at things. If you want to get to the next level, you have to suck it up and put in the time.

I hope that helps you some, at least. If you have any questions about any of this, post them in the comments section. I will follow up. Short of having you come out to Stevens Point for a paint night, I don't know what else to tell ya!


Stevewren said...

Cheers guys, for the compliments and the tips for improvement. School is out now, so its gonna be a good opportunity to try out the techniques you have mentioned. I have a Varghulf that is gonna be part of the Greatsword unit I have planned, so I'm gonna use the large flat wing areas on this as the test piece, and plaenty of smaller models that I can play around with. I'll keep you updated with how it goes, and see if in six weeks time I have made some improvements (and hopefully have a nice shiny new empire army to show off..)

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