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How? Just How? Realistic Face on Bust

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Well, I don't see it that way.


If you do something for fun it doesn't mean you don't want to become a "good" at it. And that is the reason I will never see it as "doing what I want right now".


Not after 10 years of having spend much, much money and time for a goal I want to achieve just to discover after a happning in my life, that I nowadays sit in front of the miniature and cannot understand or even action what I am trying to do there. That my hands are shaking so badly I have to put the brush away, my concentration breaks immediately and my mind revolves around the question: How does it even work? What do I have to do here? That even my teacher stands behind me saying: "That's weird. It should work. You did everything right. I have no idea what's the problem."


Knowing that you don't have got the time and, the money and the condition to do it all over again and maybe go for another 10 years, looking for a precious ring that has fallen into the sewer. I think that's a pretty badass giving up and it is absolutetly not "okay."


But those are my feelings and my personal view (and frustration and unhappiness and struggle and much more words I currently cannot recall) and I think it already was a mistake bringing it up here. It's nothing that belongs into this topic.


Sorry @Wrenif my response sounds sarcastic or angry. It's not meant as such.


And sorry @Glitterwolf for hijacking your thread. I am not doing it again. (At least for now :devil:)

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@SisterMaryNapalm I started the thread, but I think everybody is free to join and give their two cents.

We can learn from each other here.

I do hope you can find your vibe back.

A few years ago I got frustrated because I couldn't see details anymore ( getting older does that to you) then I bought a headband with magnifiers and it works like a charm.

Maybe just create some terrain?

I've seen what you made and I liked it a lot.

Maybe that way you can slowly ease yourself into it again?


If I look at my older work ( most is sold now) it was all tabletop quality, I know I have levelled up and I want to improve.

Not because I'm frustrated but because I like to.

I still had fun painting just tabletop quality in those days though.


I do love all the hints/tips and instructions that the awesome people here provided.

Keep it coming people, we will all benefit from this!

Thank you all!





Edited by Glitterwolf
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I think the "fun" is different for different people, and at different times. 


We also don't paint for the same purposes. Someone who paints for the game table doesn't want to spend dozens of hours on a single figure. They can still work on techniques if they want to, but they don't have to put each freckle on a face to accomplish their goals. A display painter will spend more time on figures. At least to me, display painting isn't always about doing 100% best. It is about studying and practicing certain pieces though. 


Personally, I can't help myself. I say I'll try to paint something faster just to try to sling more paint... and at least one item on a figure is going to get some intense practice. To me, obsessively studying these is fun. I'm not trying to do photorealism though, not yet at least. I'm going for improvement piece by piece. Sometimes that goal is speed, because I paint hideously slow in general. In that case, I nitpick less. Others, like my ranger, I nitpick forever. 


Sometimes taking a break helps. Bad habits can be forgotten (as well as good ones). Long time ago when I was in dance class, there was a move that no matter how hard I tried, I could not do it. It was a backwards multi-tapping move, while traveling, in tap class. We didn't have class in summer. I didn't practice. When I returned, everything clicked and I was able to do that maneuver. I'd left behind the "bad practice". 


In any skill, I think the phrase "practice makes perfect" gets used wrong. It isn't good enough to just practice, if you are practicing something wrong - whatever I was doing for that dance move was originally wrong, no matter how hard I tried. My dance instructor wasn't sure what I was doing exactly wrong either. It just didn't work... until I went at it with fresh feet. Once I got the move, I was able to finesse it to be better. Then practice started to work. Perfect practice makes perfect; continual bad practice makes bad habits. 


Now, wrong practice still has a purpose - if you can identify what is wrong and fix it. Without that identification or new set of eyes/hands/feet, there can be no improvement. Conscious or unconscious, one has to be changing things. I think this goes back to what Wren was saying about actually seeing features. This is true in both our own skills, and what we are trying to accomplish. If you can't see the flaw, you can't fix it. If you can't see your target, you can't aim for it. These are trainable skills though, so there is hope. 


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Sister Mary - Your situation sounds very frustrating and upsetting, and you have every right to feel that way about it!  But it also seems like you might putting a lot of pressure on yourself about your inability to do what you want to be able to do right now that I suspect that might not be helping.

My statement encompassed a couple of different situations, and is based on many conversations with a lot of painters over the years. I also didn't mean to imply that trying to be good at something is different than having fun with it. What I mean is that different people find fun in different approaches, and sometimes need to stop and check in with themselves to see if what they're doing (or able to do) and their goals match up to be something they're having fun at. I also mean fun as an overall thing. No matter what the hobby or activity that we love and have a ton of fun doing, there are always going to be at least moments of frustration, and sometimes more than moments.

One group of people I was talking about includes people who were on a treadmill of feeling like they needed to enter contests and constantly strive to a particular artistic level who one day realized that that was not the type of painting they enjoyed. They get far more fulfillment painting characters for friends, or to fill up a game table, or just spend a pressure free afternoon slapping some paint around. It doesn't mean they don't ever get better or strive to improve, just that constantly chasing a certain standard and going to classes isn't what they enjoy about painting, so why do that?

This doesn't sound like your situation, however. Another group includes people who very much do want to continually strive for higher artistic levels and enter contests and so on and who in ideal circumstances find their fun doing so, but for reasons of physical or mental difficulties, or just plain lack of time, are currently unable to put in the kind of work that is required to be able to do that. Those people aren't doing what they _want_ for right now, that's absolutely true. But if they're torturing themselves about not achieving those standards they also aren't really doing anything they _need_ for right now, either. If they aren't able to change the circumstances holding them back from what they want, it might be worth considering changing the goal or their attitude about their goals to be more in line with what they need. For right now.

Cyradis has an interesting idea about how taking breaks can be beneficial. It's like the concept that thinking about something all the time isn't necessarily when we'll have the great idea, it'll be in the bath or chopping vegetables or something when your unconscious mind is working in the background putting pieces together. Maybe it would help to step back a little from the things you've studied but you feel are eluding you right now. Try focusing on something you haven't really spent a lot of effort on. Maybe try doing speed painting, or working on sculpting and assembling bases or painting a mini using only four paint colours or other challenges like that. Things that are still in the area of working with miniatures, but not directly related to the things you're trying to do and are feeling frustrated by. I'm a display painter, but I ended up doing some speed painting a couple of years ago for two separate projects. The results of the painting itself are no great shakes, and there are lots of people who could have done as well or better in less time. But I learned a lot from the experiences that has informed and improved my overall painting. I can say the same thing of other exercises and activities that weren't directly related to my larger painting goals, but ended up being tremendous learning experiences. 


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I really know it is well meant, Wren, but to be honest: It is not helping me anymore. It is like a revolving door.


I am constantly breaking since July 2017, listening to the same words from every direction. Take a break from work, from life, from painting, from writing, from travelling. from this, from that.


It isn't helping me. It is like being stripped of everything I love and like and once enjoyed. I am busier taking breaks than doing everything else.


And everytime I feel like it is overtaking me, I get the same answer: Maybe you should take a break.


What an irony.


I am done breaking.


I've been doing speed-builds since last year october to relax and do something else and I enjoy it. I have around 50 or 60 figures finished and everytime I present them on the net or to friends, at least one comment is "Not just build - paint them."


So should I take a break from the community, too? People who encouraged me when I had my painting flow?

And even more frustrating is that everytime I write about this, about my feelings, what bothers me or I don't understand, there are two answers:


It's either: You should practice. I practiced a lot to get better and I got better.

or it is: You should take a break. Sometimes a break helps.


Yes, I know that. I know both "rules". I am not a newbie to this, but I had my situations and they threw me out of balance. For that, sometimes someone is needed who holds your arms until you find back your balance, but instead I feel like I am being treated like a newbie.


I cannot practice what I don't understand and I cannot take a break from taking a break.


What I need is someone who takes my hand and says: "Let's see what you don't understand and we figure out how to get it back and maybe push you all along the Hillary Step to the summit." - What I get is: "Yeah I don't really know why it isn't working - maybe you should take a break."


I know: I am being sarcastic and maybe it feels a little unfair. It is not meant as such. It's just reflecting my feeling of running from pillar to post.


I absolutely admire all the work you guys do and I already made friends with some people here (at least I think it's like that). If it wasn't for this forum and the people here, I would have stopped doing miniature painting last year and scrapped all my stuff.


But if it continues like this, there is just no reason for me to go on trying and fighting. I am constantly stepping back, and the more I break, the more I loose the grip of what I once acquired.


That is all I can and want to say about it.

Edited by SisterMaryNapalm
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I'd also like to add to the topic on mini fatigue and mental health.  I've been really depressed about work over the last 6-8 months and my stress level has increased.  It's made me not feel like painting up to my usual standard. When I sit down at the painting desk, I have to make myself paint, and since I do this as a hobby for fun, it hasn't felt like much fun.  It's felt like a chore that I know I have to do, and not something I want to do.  But, I took a class recently that was an entirely new way of painting and then spent the next weekend speed painting with friends and having fun.  It re-energized me in my hobby. It took me out of my rut and pushed me to try something that didn't involve stress, or deadlines or super nit-picky high quality.  It was fun.  It helped.  But I also know that on some days it just isn't worth it to paint; and forcing it just isn't cool. It's probably unhealthy and would eventually make me hate my hobby or think of it as just another job.  That's when I have to step back and decide what's best for me and my brain.


That's when I go play video games and kill monsters... :)

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@SisterMaryNapalm - got any Reaper figures handy? Or if not, we can find a figure that we both have or will acquire. Let's do a paint-along and paint something together. The input you seek is really valuable to have (it certainly was for me when the CO painters found me), but it is tough without being in person. Due to thesis and whatnot, I can't commit tons of time, but if we can work out a weekly time on the hang-outs, we could do a figure together. You teach me how to do cooler bases, and I'll teach you what I do on faces. :rolleyes: My weekend is relatively free, I think. Probably should work on thesis, but I know I'm going to procrastinate and paint a bit anyway so you can call dibs on what I paint for a bit! 


@Corporea is right; sometimes stress interferes and it is good to do different styles. When I was sick, I actually painted more figures than usual... but differently than I typically do. That's when I did the chibi Morty figure in a fast-paint-style, and I don't even usually like chibi or skeletons or fast-paint! But it was fun! I also did the mostly-monochrome dragons, which was a nifty experiment. When I was feeling better, I went back to the ranger. 


Alas on the video game destressing, I swore off my computer games until after the thesis is done. It is too easy for me to fall down that rabbit hole for full-time job sort of times. 

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People, I want again thank you all for the deep thoughts.

Not only according to how to paint, but also how to deal with struggles we all encounter every now and then.

The way you all give your advice here is another reminder why I love this forum so much.



I encourage you to read Wren's post above!


@SisterMaryNapalm maybe Cyradis offer for a paint a long is a good idea.

Aside from that, if you like the building part and can enjoy that, like I said, maybe built some terrain?

You should do what ever you like, and if right now you're on the spot where building and assembling is more fun than painting, then go for it.

Sure, some people will encourage you to paint it, but it's up to you if you do that or not.

Nobody here is the boss of you.

You decide.

I think most of us just want to try to help, which is not always easy  since we only "know" each other online, and we might misinterpret what someone says.

Taking a break is usually good advice, but when you're already done that it will not be helpful anymore.


I have seen your conversion work with the all female Russian troops.

And the kitbashing you did on that armoured car.

Such things are really cool to watch.


I know some forumites participate in hangouts  , I don't know if it is your cup of tea, but maybe that could help you as well.

Paint and talk to someone who can help you out where you struggle?






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On 4/29/2018 at 9:17 PM, NecroMancer said:

I haven't tried this yet but looks like a pretty good technique.  I really suggest people check out some more of Kujos Painting stuff!




I've been looking for this kind of tutorial for a few weeks now! Thanks!

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17 hours ago, Cyradis said:

@SisterMaryNapalm - got any Reaper figures handy? Or if not, we can find a figure that we both have or will acquire. Let's do a paint-along and paint something together. The input you seek is really valuable to have (it certainly was for me when the CO painters found me), but it is tough without being in person. Due to thesis and whatnot, I can't commit tons of time, but if we can work out a weekly time on the hang-outs, we could do a figure together. You teach me how to do cooler bases, and I'll teach you what I do on faces. :rolleyes: My weekend is relatively free, I think. Probably should work on thesis, but I know I'm going to procrastinate and paint a bit anyway so you can call dibs on what I paint for a bit! 


@Corporea is right; sometimes stress interferes and it is good to do different styles. When I was sick, I actually painted more figures than usual... but differently than I typically do. That's when I did the chibi Morty figure in a fast-paint-style, and I don't even usually like chibi or skeletons or fast-paint! But it was fun! I also did the mostly-monochrome dragons, which was a nifty experiment. When I was feeling better, I went back to the ranger. 


Alas on the video game destressing, I swore off my computer games until after the thesis is done. It is too easy for me to fall down that rabbit hole for full-time job sort of times. 


I would never say no to such an offer.


So let me make the remark that for the next three month at least my spare time is quite limited and my ability to use an internet connection strong enough to support - let's say ... a hangout - is even more limited.


After that I hope my free time will increase again, still only on the weekends.




For trying different styles, you need a certain repetoire of styles, which I don't have got, mainly because I don't understand "what I did there" before. But that would make the discussion revolve around the same topic again.


8 hours ago, Glitterwolf said:

Aside from that, if you like the building part and can enjoy that, like I said, maybe built some terrain?

You should do what ever you like, and if right now you're on the spot where building and assembling is more fun than painting, then go for it.

Sure, some people will encourage you to paint it, but it's up to you if you do that or not.

Nobody here is the boss of you.

You decide.

I think most of us just want to try to help, which is not always easy  since we only "know" each other online, and we might misinterpret what someone says.

Taking a break is usually good advice, but when you're already done that it will not be helpful anymore.


But there is the problem again, that the terrain isn't getting finished. I have got so much terrain and primed figures here, that they almost suffocate me.

I absolutely do what I like, but it's not helping that I cannot do what I like, which is finishing all the stuff I do and preferably the way I like it (which is hindered by some restraints - please see posts above for further).


Doing terrain and preparing figures is not something you can do everyday. Especially in those moments where you exactly know what the finished work should look like and you immediately realize you cannot achieve that goal. Then the assembly gets frustrating.


I know that people want to help, and I think I made clear that I appreciate that, thought it might not be "helpful" in my current situation. Others might find some assistance in getting rid of a blockade or taking a different approach.


8 hours ago, Glitterwolf said:

I know some forumites participate in hangouts  , I don't know if it is your cup of tea, but maybe that could help you as well.

Paint and talk to someone who can help you out where you struggle?


From all the time I used the hangout ( and I think all my comments in the thread there should be an evidence of how frequently I use that possibilty) I only met people six times. Last sunday, I was there for almost 11 hours. I cannot do anything else than announce my presence and wait for someone to join me (or not). That's the problem when you live on a different continent. (I mean ... you know the problem - your are just a flight hour away from me).

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I understand @SisterMaryNapalm !

Still hope you will find your mojo back somehow.

Maybe the paint along thing is a good idea.


As for the Hangouts, timezone can be a thing.

I do not participate in those.

Maybe some of the UK residents might be able to do this.


On topic:

Found this..





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something occurred to me and I've been trying to figure out how to explain it.  I may ramble, but bear with me.


I started painting miniatures in 1995.  It was when I started gaming with the boys and they introduced me to this whole D&D thing.  I used crappy brushes and crappy paint, but it was fun.  The only people who saw my miniatures were my gaming buddies, and since I happened to be going to school as an art major, they said they loved the way I used color and blended.  I felt like my minis were pretty cool!  Sometimes I could even paint the eyes!  I painted like that, more or less in isolation from any other painters for about 7 years.  I had to take a break for med school and residency and didn't really get back into painting miniatures until 2011.  I had no one to critique my work or tell me anything other than what I picked up on my own or already knew from art classes. I knew how to use color and the concept of contrast; but in terms of an art form, miniatures were, to me, just something to put on a hex map.


In other words, I painted pretty "badly" by my current standards for years.  But, I have all of my old minis and I can see a progression.  My brush control improved.  My freehand improved.  I got better lighting over time and better brushes.  I figured some things out on my own, but it took years.


Then this reaper kickstarter thing happened and I found the forums here. I saw what people were doing with minis and it was its own cool art form.  They did this arcane thing called thinning paint.  They used... watercolor brushes?!!  For acrylics?  Madness!  But, I tried it out.  I listened to what they suggested and it eventually made sense.  I was no longer painting in isolation.  I had people to bounce ideas around with.  I searched the web for examples and gradually improved further.  I learned new techniques, sometimes by asking how it was done, sometimes by watching, and mostly by trial and error.  I already knew how to paint watercolors, so I learned I could apply those techniques to metal.   I went to reapercon for the first time in 2014 and took actual classes.  I learned things I would never have thought possible when I first started painting.  Actually watching other people paint and seeing what they do is worth more than all the gold in the world.  Even watching videos isn't the same.  All that time I kept painting, failing often, but still puttering along and trying to figure out how to make it all click.  I wanted to get better.  I wanted to reach another level, just like in gaming.  I had to get to that final boss!  I could see it was possible to paint much better than I had been when I first started.  I knew it could be done, but the how took a lot of hunching over my desk with all my free time until I could get it done myself. I don't know how or why it clicked, but it did. I wish I knew, because I'd try to explain it better.  It might have been the thinned paint, or how much paint I had on the end of my brush so that it didn't run away from me and end up causing tidemarks.  It might have been patience and waiting for layers to dry. It was probably a host of things that I do unconsciously now and don't even know I'm doing. Some techniques worked for me, others didn't. Some still make no sense and I know that's just not how I can or want to paint.


Even now, when I know I can paint with skill, I still try to figure out how to get better.  How can I make my work look like Kiril's? I admit- I took his class a few years back and halfway through I decided I was a failure and couldn't paint and was wasting my time.  I say this because it's important to understand that no matter what skill level you reach, there will always be someone or many many someones out there who are infinitely better.  No one who is a perfectionist is ever satisfied with what they do, and no mini will ever seem truly finished. None of us probably ever feel like we've achieved our goals.  And this isn't to say those goals aren't worth working towards, just that we're not alone in feeling inadequate. 


Every time I take a class or watch someone paint I learn something.  I learn something every time I try to step outside my comfort zone and do something new.  I learn every time I teach because it makes me think harder about how and why I do things.  And figuring out how to explain something makes me understand it even better.  I learn from screwing up and having to re-basecoat. I learn a lot when something doesn't work and I try to figure out how to fix it when the eraser brush isn't fast enough.  I took two beginner level classes at reapercon last year because they were things I'd never done before and had no idea how to even approach.  I laughed at myself, because I'd clearly been thinking about the concept of weathering completely wrong, and the half finished CAV was, of course, going to have to be re-basecoated for next year.  I have no shame when it comes to learning, because in my head deep down, I'm still a kid trying to figure out how to paint. 


So technically, I've been doing this thing off and on for 23 years.  And I still haven't figured it all out.  

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@buckyball video unavailable ( to me at least). Can you provide a link?


@Corporea I have travelled a similar road. I started painting and modelling military kits when I was young.

All I could find were the catalogues and sometimes a magazine on the subject.

Then I discovered the first Fantasy minis from Grenadier. Citadel, Ral Partha etc.

Getting tired of having to paint a soldier in the right shade of Prussian Blue or Feld Grau and being a fan of Tolkien and Leiber books I bought them.


I painted them like I wanted and also figured a few things out on my own.

people who saw them liked them and that was it.

My only reference then was the White Dwarf Magazine.


Then the Internet arrived.

Not only I discovered that there where many more manufacturers and minis, I also found some more useful stuff about painting.

I'm 53 years old and have been painting for decades.

My biggest progress is made in the last few years where I discovered this forum and youtube vids.


Still learning and still having fun.

I do want to improve, but I'm not seeing it as a task, I love to create stories and background for my minis as much as painting.

So sometimes I paint a bust to the best of my ability and sometimes I churn out a monster or adventurer a little faster because I want to paint it as a character from my stories.

I do not play, only did that a few times years ago. my wargames and rpgs are played on the PC.


Minis are for fun and display, sometimes when I get bored of looking at the same army in my cabinet, I sell them and move on to the next.

Of course since the Bones KS and some other KS, my garage is filled with containers with minis yelling for paint.


I love the journey, I do not know how far I will make it, but I intend to have fun while travelling.

I only hope my body and mind will stick with me long enough to keep doing this till I die ( hopefully while being old an healthy, quick and painless).


I have found this forum to be the most friendly one.

Other fora didn't appeal to me or the people on it didn't show much interest or interaction unless you were part of the incrowd.


Have fun all!



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Some of the replies got me wanting to expand on my initial post in this thread. I feel like my initial post sorted started in the middle of an idea. Going back to the beginning of the idea moves beyond the scope of the original question, so I thought about starting a new thread, but this thread has already expanded in scope and I"m lazy. Maybe one day I'll get smart and collect some of these thoughts into a blog or webpage or something. Anyway, on with the thought.


I talked about really 'seeing' in my initial post. There's an idea of the hand and the eye as a short form for the main elements of being an artist. The 'hand' represents the tangible, physical elements of the art making process - what tools you use, what mediums, and what techniques - how you use those tools and mediums. Beginner and intermediate artists tend to laser focus on stuff related to the 'hand' side of the equation. You can see that on this very forum - how many discussions about types or brands of brushes, of paint, which technique is the 'best' for getting a smooth blend, etc. And as I enter year three of my learning 2D art adventure, trust me, it's the same there, too. 


Though I think it may even be amplified in miniature painting for a couple of reasons. One is that not everyone starts here with the idea that they're doing art. A lot of us start painting because we want to play games. And even many of those who get into painting for its own sake are happier thinking of it as a craft than an art for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because of that, we have a lot of more 'left brain' thinkers than you are likely to find in a lot of other artistic areas - we have a lot of computer programmers, engineers, and others in similarly technical fields. They are used to looking at things concretely, using formulae and steps, etc. So they are even more likely to look at painting issues as purely a tools and process situation.

The hand stuff matters, but it is really only half of the process. So what is the 'eye' stuff? A lot of it is related to what I talked about in my initial reply - being able to really see something - what colour is this part? Is it lighter or darker here or there? Is the transition between where it's light and it's dark sharp or soft? For drawing, it includes things like how much does this line curve, or what is the angle of this line. 

So that's how I talked about it in my initial post, but there's more to really look at than a reference photo. The near-universal struggle of the miniature painter with contrast might be a good example. You are painting a figure, and you feel like you've gone super dark in the shadows and light on the highlights, then you post it or bring it to the ReaperCon show or something, and people tell you that you need more contrast. And you might think to yourself that's as much contrast as you like to see on a mini, thank you very much. Meanwhile you are looking at and admiring miniatures by other artists that really do have much darker shadows and/or lighter highlights than what you painted. This issue is not a function of the 'hand' side of things. This is your eye not really being able to 'see' the differences. (And it really is much more difficult to really 'see' something when it's something you've done that you've spent a ton of time looking at.)


Now, in this particular example it can be related to 'hand' issues because I think sometimes what happens when people try to add more contrast is that they haven't yet fully mastered blending, so they get more visible harsh transitions and they don't like the look of that and associate it with the greater contrast. If you think that could be happening to you, try squinting when you look at the mini, or take a picture with soft focus, or shrink the picture down to the size of the mini or half of that. If the shadows and lights seem pretty natural and attractive at that level, the contrast is good, you just need a bit more practice with making nice transitions or better placement of exactly where you put the darks and lights so the transition looks more natural.


This might go back to the earlier question about trying to do super dark shadows on a face. Those are going to look more noticeably off if they aren't placed where the shapes and structure of the face would dictate based on the light. For an example, go back and look at the last photo that NecroMancer posted on page two. Half of the woman's face is in shadow. But really it's not half in a line down the middle. In the area of her nose and mouth, the shadow is almost a straight line down the middle. But the shadow line makes a half moon curve around her chin. And the straight-ish line of shadow across her forehead is much further over to the right. If you paint the right darkness of that shadow but you put it in a straight line down the forehead, nose, mouth, then chin, it's not going to look right. You as a viewer and everyone else who has ever looked at faces in different lighting conditions is going to see that doesn't look right.


The annoying thing about the 'eye' side of the equation is that being able to see that doesn't look right doesn't mean that you can easily figure out exactly about it is wrong. Instead you are likely to seize on the thing you do know that you did differently than your miniatures that you think look fine - you made the shadows way darker than normal. Clearly that level of contrast doesn't work. Why do people keep telling you you need more contrast? This is so frustrating!!!

Or maybe like NecroMancer you try using black for the shadow and you put it in the right place. But as previously discussed, the colour in shadows is more nuanced in colour than it can appear, particularly compared to photographs which tend to darken and dull shadows. But that is not necessarily an easy thing to be able to see/puzzle out on your own. So you seize on the one thing you know you did differently - super dark shadows. Clearly that level of contrast doesn't work on miniatures, this is so frustrating!!!

It can be very challenging to analyse something and figure that kind of stuff out. But that's how you start developing your eye. The untrained eye sees shadows as black. It sees a face in half shadow and thinks of that as a literal half. It sees blond hair as bright yellow. You have to train your eye, just like you train your hand. Think about the first few miniatures you painted. How difficult it seemed to be to get the paint where you wanted it just for a basecoat. Nevermind painting eyes! Or painting fine lines of shadow for lining or stripes on pirate pants or whatever. Whatever level you're at with your hand, if you've been painting for more than a few figures you have developed your hand to the point where you can do more than you could at first, or you can do what you did initially but faster and with way more ease than on those first few figures.

Developing your eye isn't as straightforward, and there aren't as many step by step tips and concrete tricks and so on, but it's even more important if you want to do this at something more than a casual craft level. The books I mentioned originally are a place to start. You can also try just being more conscious about painting in general. Both your own, and assessing other people's. Look at miniatures you like. What do you like about them? Look at figures in styles you wish you could paint. Where are they darker, lighter. How much darker and lighter? For you techy types, use computer aids! Grab a reference photo of a blond and use an eyedropper tool to isolate what colours are really in that hair. Print it out so you can test paints against it to match those colours. Find out if you really are using less contrast than you think you are by making the same kinds of tests with the shadows and highlights of your figure versus one that you admire and think has a nice level of contrast. What colours are in shadows? Bump up the saturation on a reference photo to find out!

People talk about inborn talent and such. I think a lot of the people we think of as gifted artists are people who come to a better/quicker understanding about the eye side of things on their own. They may not even do this consciously. A lot of artists are 'right brain' thinkers. They may not be as conscious of their process and less talented at being able to put what they're doing and how they're seeing into words to explain it to other people. The people who are frustrated with all of this seeming artsy-fartsy and intangible are often more left-brain thinkers who will do better if someone can more clearly articulate things and give concrete examples that they can study. Artists you admire aren't necessarily keeping all their best tricks secret, they may just be unable to consciously articulate what you want to know. Great artists are not always great teachers.

I happen to be a fairly left brain learner, so I absolutely get the frustration that many experience with this. You aren't going to find a ton of articles and forum posts and so on related to this. You'll get more information if you delve into the fine art side of things, though even there if you're just going by YouTube videos and so on you'll find a lot of people who can't break things down as well as you might like, and spending years learning to draw so you can learn to see so you can paint a better miniature might not be a great time trade-off to everyone. ;-> But keep the idea in the back of your mind that you need to train your eye as much as your hand.

Even if you are a left brain thinker and aren't thinking about training your eye at all, if you paint for a period of time, it is likely going to happen to some degree. And your eye and your hand are not going to progress to the same level at the same time. If you start having a period where it feels like everything you paint kind of sucks and you are frustrated and don't understand why - often that is because your eye has leveled up. How you paint hasn't changed. What has changed is that you are looking at what you paint more critically. You're seeing more of the issues that were likely always there. That is a time when you might need to analyse your use of colours (are you just using stock recipes over and over, maybe you've started to see that the yellow isn't working for blond). Maybe you need to analyse your shadow placement. Maybe you're seeing that your blends aren't as smooth as they could be. Go get some of the figures you painted just before you got frustrated and take a really good look at them. Are they truly as good as you remembered them being? If you're now seeing flaws in them, that's a good indication that your eye has leveled up.

On the flip side, if you go through a period of thinking that everything you paint is pretty amazing and you've really cracked the code on this miniatures painting thing, there's a good possibility that your hand is currently higher level than your eye. If you vascillate between this looks pretty good and ugh the whole time you're painting a figure, probably your hand and eye are in balance. ;->

I'll give an example of my own experience in case that is helpful. Some years back I painted a miniature for Dark Sword. Jen Haley painted the same miniature. They got posted up to the Dark Sword site at the same time. Jen Haley's figure was obviously better than mine. For years I'd been working on my blending, since I thought that was the main difference between my painting and the painting of the high level painters I admired. But as compared the two miniatures, I did not see a big difference in the level of blending. Mine was maybe 10-15% less nicely blended, but that is not a super significant difference. I even kind of liked the approach I used in painting the hair better than what Jen did. So what _WERE_ the differences? I puzzled on that for a while. I don't think I saw all of the differences for quite a while. But it pushed me in a direction of looking at something other than just the blending, of thinking about elements other than just the 'hand' stuff, and following those paths did eventually lead me to improving my painting.

If you'd like to try to give your eye a little workout comparing my figure and Jen's, I'm including the link with the photos below. This is to a commercial site, but my linking is for non-commercial purposes. If it needs to get moderated away, look for the figure called Lady in Waiting #2 in the George RR Martin Masterworks section, or I'll try to come back and post the photos here.


(Edit by OneBoot: I did need to remove the link, but the example is very valuable to the discussion, so I put the pictures themselves into Wren's post ^_^)


Here is Jen's version:







Here is Wren's version:







I think Corporea's experience in the Kirill class may have been a similar kind of moment. Kirill uses a LOT of reference material, and he aims to use the tools of a mini painter to replicate textures as exactly as possible on figures. That class was an eye opener in how miniature painters really don't emphasize seeing the way most art forms do. Corporea didn't forget how to paint and suddenly start to suck during the workshop. Her 'hand' skill didn't change at all. More likely her eye was opened up to a whole new world of possibility, and it wanted her hand to apply paint in new ways that felt uncomfortable or that she hadn't quite figured out how to do yet. (I was in that same class, and it was another aha moment like the one I described in the paragraph above for me too!)

One final example of what I mean about hand versus eye. I briefly mentioned in my original reply. that you could practice this kind of seeing by trying to replicate someone else's work. So you could grab a photo off of the Reaper store examples or the Show-Off Forum and try to paint the same figure as closely to match as you can. In the fine art world, this is called doing a 'master study', and it's something a lot great artists do. (I mean like the historical greats as well as modern day artists.) A lot of people think of doing a copy as something lame. If you do it as a study, it's a learning experience in a long line of artistic tradition. Think of all the other skills you learned by copying what someone else showed you or did! 

So how does this demonstrate the hand versus the eye? Someone might make a copy using completely different paint colour bottles (and brands), different brushes, and different brush use techniques than the original artist and still end up with a pretty similar looking result. Or someone might have the exact same tools and techniques and end up with a result that isn't very similar at all. The hand side of things is only one half of the equation!

(If you do master studies and post pictures, please note the original artist and that it's a copy for the sake of study when you post.)

Edited by OneBoot
Removed link and added pictures
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