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Ode to Blue: A step by step tutorial


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Hello Fellow Fans of Blue! I love Bones, because they're cheap enough for me to use to demonstrate some fun stuff. I know a lot of newer (than me) painters have lots of questions about color, light and paint mixing, etc, so I was hoping to put a bunch of that stuff here. My goal is to walk through a monochrome blue miniature, using a Kickstarter Mini, Kickstarter paint, and some simple/intermediate techniques while doing some "teaching" on color and light. Er, not ambitious at all! I get to practice while doing it, so we're all having fun!


First, the players of our little game:


For this tutorial I'll be using Sapphire Blue, Pure White (take my word for it, ignore the label) and Walnut Brown, and of course, 77063 Duke Gerard. Sapphire Blue is a nice bright (saturated) blue. It's a good standard blue as well. When you look at a color wheel, I tend to think of a cobalt or ultramarine blue as "blue" but sapphire is pretty good, and it's a kickstarter color and learn to paint kit color, so most of us have it.



Next, what are their painting stats? How do they behave? What can we do to them?


Here they are! Simply painted as a flat swatch of color on paper. The picture is a bit dark, sorry! I'm using walnut brown as my black- see how nice a dark it is! Now, for our volunteer Male Paladin I'm going to essentially be using 3 base shades: blue, blue with some white (1:3) and blue with some brown (4:1) Here they are on the palette:


walnut, walnut/blue, and blue on top and white, white/blue on the bottom.



Here's an example of the Sapphire blue with a wash in the first swatch. The second is by brown/blue mix with a wash, and the third white/blue with wash. Here's where we learn a bit about saturation. The first picture is bright. Nice pretty blue. Like an autumn sky. The second is dark, moody, stormy and intense. The third a bit lighter, fluffier and softer. Each of these shades reflects light to us differently. The more pure pigment in a color, the greater the intensity. The more we dull the color, either by adding it's complement if we're mixing pure pigments or by adding white or black, the more we alter it's ability to reflect it's color back to us. I think of this like hummingbird feathers. The hummingbird's got a specialized air bubble structural pattern in it's throat feathers that literally reflect a single wavelength of light. But- only at the right angle, which is why they often look dull or black unless you catch them just right. Paint obeys the same physics. The more stuff we put it in that can potentially reflect less light, the duller the color. A possible exception/complication is white, which is nice and reflective. White is great at drawing the eye on a miniature, and great for highlighting when you want bright highlights. More on this later.


One fun thing you can see when painting is how translucency can affect the way color looks. See below:


Hmmn. Those look similar, don't they? The top is a thin wash of sapphire blue. The left my white/blue mix (normal paint layer) and the right my sapphire blue with a white glaze. What I take from this is that you can paint however you want, using whatever technique you want, and get the results you want! There's not one right way to do it. So things like wet blending can mimic layering/glazing or washes! Remember with washes- here I'm painting on white paper, so the surface is very uniform and the wash smooth and flat. Your miniature may have many different surfaces, primers, curves, etc. When painting on the miniature, paint will obey the laws of gravity. It will pool in crevices and drip down surfaces if allowed. Also, washes are by nature translucent, so you'll need a smooth, well-prepared surface to get the maximum effect.


Ok- let play with our miniature and actually paint!


I've basecoated our Paladin using just our 3 colors. Again, Sapphire blue, Blue/White mix and brown/blue mix. I tried to think about where I wanted my most intense blues, where I wanted my lighter areas, and I decided ahead of time I was going to go for a darker look to the armor. This is a nice, messy, quick "speed-painted" basecoat. No fancy stuff. I thought I had trimmed his mold lines, but I missed a few. Oh well. He's an experiment, so I'll leave it! I did wash him with dish soap and water first. The cloak and hair I'm doing in sapphire, the skin and leather/pouches/etc in white/blue and the armor in blue/brown.

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Next, I paint the face. i paint it first because doing eyes stresses me out and I want that stress gone ASAP. Also, if I mess up, it's easier to fix early rather than later. I do a Bette Davis Eye approach, mostly.


Here I started by painting the sclera with my white/blue mix- I added a bit more white for this part. Then I lined the eye and brow with sapphire. Then I dotted with the blue/brown. And added a little white shiny dot. I like this guys eyes because they're larger and thus, easier to paint. As a rule, it seems like male eyes are larger than female, but it does vary.


Next I'll shade the face


Not a huge difference here yet, but to explain some of what I did- I painted the lips blue, the face was my blue/white. I put a dot of blue under the nose and in the ear. I extended my blue from the eye lining into the folds next to the eyes (heck, while I'm at it might as well do anatomy lessons- epicanthal folds) I made sure my blue eyebrows were fairly symmetrical. I then did some glazing with thin successive layers of my blue/white, adding a bit more plain white at the end to give a highlight to my forehead, nose, ear and cheeks ridges (maxillary processes). I also glazed the hollow of the cheeks with blue. I put a dot of white/blue on the lower lip. It did not take very long. I did not wait for my layers to dry completely. I was trying to see how smooth I could get while "speed-painting"- I'm trying to get faster. Now, I could have mixed some flesh into my blue and used some purple or red to glaze my shadows and give a bit more depth to this, but, I'm trying to do monochrome, so...


Next, the hair.


I washed the whole hair area with the blue/black. It took some time to dry, so I moved on to the cloak while waiting.



Here's my trying to take 2 photos of wet blending- doesn't work. But, what I did with the cloak was paint blue, the blend in some of my blue/white at the edges to simulate highlights on the folds. Here's where looking and cloth, looking at pictures and examining our surroundings is helpful. Stand art classes involve a lot of drawing practice. I think this approach is important because it teaches us several things.

1. Hand-eye coordination. If you want more of this practice the art of blind contour drawing.

2. How to shade/observation of the way light interacts with objects. Can be used as a foundation to work on more complex shapes. Practice drawing simple objects like spheres or cubes and shade them. I wish google had been around when I started...

3. How to draw "everything"- the more practice, the more times we draw something new, hard, different, the more we learn about our environment, understand proportion, learn how to see things differently, etc etc. Painting minis is all about practice.


So anyway, I blended my "midtone" (blue) with my "highlight" (blue white) I also did some glazing- thin layers of my blue-white mixed with water to create the impression of light falling on cloth. I did this with smooth transitions and softly blended areas to look like a soft cloth, rather than the hard lines you'd see with silk or satin. I also mixed some of my blue-brown in to the crevices to become my shadows.



At this point, the hair had dried! That allowed my to play with highlighting hair.


Apologies for not having good steps here, but there are only 2, believe it or not. I mixed a thinned blue-white and applied it on the edges of the hair at the bottom, and on the crown of the head- where it bends. then I put a thin layer of pure white on while it was wet. That's it. I promise. But it looks pretty much like hair!


For the front I took an extra step. I find hair looks more realistic with darker roots that frame the face. It also helps create a transition between the pale skin and the highlights on the front of the hair. So I mixed a only slightly thinned blue-brown and applied it by the neck, under the ear and a the hair line. Then I did the hair highlighting trick. Sometimes the thinned paint will creep into your washed crevices. A way to fix this is to dry your brush and use it to wick up the excess paint. A key step is to make sure you wash is dried before you highlight. If this doesn't work out, you can always go back and wash the shadows in and re-highlight whatever you need to.

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Now on to blending metal. I'm still learning how to paint metallic objects using non-metallic paint (Non-metallic metal, NMM) but I'll try here. Since I've committed to a monochrome approach and all that. First, the sneaky trick. Use light!


Seriously- hold the mini up to the light and see what it does. Now, this means you'll have to pick a direction from which you want your light to come if you're getting fancy and want a directional light source and all that jazz, but for simple stuff, let's just say our light is coming from above and slightly from the left. Now- take picture of this step when you're painting if you want, to go back to a refer to later. Or just keep holding it up to the light periodically. The key here is to think about how light hits metal. The transitions are intense. Brightly contrasting. Our shadows are dark dark dark and our highlights white.


I painted the shield with wet blending, with the exception of the whiter highlight, which I glazed on. I used some pure walnut brown (gasp! no blue? sorry....I'll explain..) on the right side of the shield at the bottom and blended it while it was still wet with my blue-brown mix. Wet blending just means mixing the 2 colors together in the middle while they're still wet so they blend together smoothly. There are a few ways to do this. Either using 2 brushes, cleaning 1 brush quickly and applying the 2nd color, or what I do which is put 1 color down, wipe some of it off of my brush, and put the second color down and blend them. It works most of the time. Whatever works best for you is the right way to do it. I'm not quite done with his shield, but I needed the paint to dry before doing more, so moving on...


Now, since I'm using my shadows tone to do the armor (blue-brown) I need to incorporate something darker to be my shadow- thus the plain walnut brown. Just like on the face when I used my highlight tone (blue-white) and highlighted with more white. So, any of my 3 shades can be used to highlight or shade the other. Let take a break from Paladin-man and go back to paper.


Here's our spectrum- blue-brown all the way to blue-white. See how pretty that nice blue is with it's shadows and highlights? I promise- I only used 3 colors on this whole project! You don't have to have a large selection of colors to get the effects you want. Now, it's faster to use reaper's triad system, and easier when you're starting out, but you can blend some nice colors from just a few choice bottles!


Here's an example of my sapphire blue with a white glaze- a simple example of how to highlight using blue and white



here's our shadow tone- blue-brown. But, instead of using our midtone I've used our blue-white to highlight it. Compare this to the second photo where I used the midtone- plain sapphire blue. See how different applications of our 3 colors can create different shades? This is especially important when painting monochrome, because with a limited palette, we have to find creative way to show contrast. We can do this with shading- making steel, leather and cloth look different by the way we illustrate the way light hits them, or through clever combinations of our colors. Or through textures- such as roughened brush strokes, linear strokes to look like woven cloth or the use of freehand patterns. I think a limited palette is a great exercise.


Next I played around with the armor, the leather straps and the er-cloth things that hang off the armor? Anyone know what they're called? Oh- anyone feel free to jump in and add hints, tips, thoughts or general peanut gallery madness at any time!


I used by blue-white and even some pure white to highlight the metal bits. I did use that walnut brown to do the shadows. The leather I started to lighten using some pure white blended with my blue-white.


...and this is as far as I've gotten right now:


Thus far this mini took 2 hours. More soon!


edit- forgot to mention, used a #2 brush for the entire thing.

Edited by Corporea
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So I spent another 2 hours on this guy. Usually by that point I get bored and have to take a break and work on something else or I become fed up with whatever aspect of the mini I'm working on and threaten it with the shelf of shame. But for this project, I can upload pictures and write stuff, thus saving the miniature from certain doom!


I started by working on his armor.


I forgot to add a few color things. For the armor I’m using the blue-brown. It’s dark. I want it to stay dark, even when I highlight it. A way to do that is instead of using my blue-white as a plain highlight, I mix a tiny bit of walnut brown into the blue-white- this desaturates my highlight just a bit, and keeps that nice metallic look a bit more subdued or at least more cohesive. I still did use a bit of plain pure white to do the brightest highlights though.

I've put some drybrushed almost pure white on the eagle on the front to pick out the detail. I then went back and put a little teeny wash of my blue-brown in the crevices to add contrast. I did the same thing on the little studs and those cross pattern thingys.


I do have an issue with the sculpt- what the heck do I do with these legs? Are they armor? Cloth? Not sure. So, I chose cloth. The miniature was getting too dark and it needed some more light areas for contrast.


Freehand! Lets play with a simple freehand! I use freehand to do fun patterns, add texture or in this case, add what my sculpture lacks: leg straps. So I painted the straps with blue-brown mix, then a stripe of pure white overtop.



I tended to skip around at this point trying to get all the fiddly bits blended. I alternated between wet blending and layering. The bendy sword is coming along. Hey, those straps look ok from this angle!


That brings me to another good painting point: Look at miniature from a distance and close and from all directions. Far away helps me get a sense of the composition- are my dark and light areas balanced? Do I like the way the overall shading is going? Does it look harmonious? Close lets me see all the fiddly bits and smooth my highlights.



More smoothy smoothy with the boots here. The hidden areas on this mini are problematic. If I had it to do over, I would have detached the arms, painted the understuff, then finished with the rest of the painting with the arms reattached. Oh well. I don’t usually black-line, but sometimes I’ll do a modified lining. Here I’ve put walnut underneath the armor plates as a shadow. On my leather, I’ll use blue as my line.



Speaking of hidden areas... Now, I want them to look like what they are- say the cloak should still look like cloth, still be blue as it’s midtone. But, it’s generally more shadowed, so I’ll mix in more of my shadow tone and use less of my highlight. So, I can change the ratio of any of my mixes, adding more or less white to get a lighter or darker blue. Also- for those areas deep in shadow, hidden behind or under things I just paint them either walnut or blue-brown. This is where using your light source can help. If light doesn’t reach it, don’t paint it with a light color. Monochrome is more friendly here, because anything in shadow can be painted “black.” As long as you maintain believable shading and contrast, you’re safe! Alternatively, if you’ve got an area that gets some light, but you know it’s more or less a shadowed area, you've got a few options.



Example here with my arm straps on the right, which are leather, and based on my plan, should be done with my blue-white. Either I can use less highlight and shade more with my blue midtone, or I could add a hint of my walnut and make the shade of the color change to a more desaturated/darker version. I went with the second because I think it’s a prettier color.


A quick note on the benefit of using 3 colors here rather than just straight grayscale- I can mix my brown and white for a nice gray if I have trouble getting enough contrast. I’ll have a different “temperature” I can work with without the blue. But, it seems like cheating right now. Just throwing it out there!



A note on highlights. Periodically I look at the mini from above to see where the light will fall the greatest. I make sure I put the most of my light color there. Where an object bends is also a good point to put a highlight. See how this wire has lighter spots in its bend?


For my armor- the center of a bend and on the top of a surface is a good rule for most highlighting. The exception is those angled plates where the light is actually brighter underneath. Google images is also a great place to visit to find examples of what I'm trying to paint. I use it for inspiration all the time!


And that takes us up to the present:



oh- the shield:



more highlighting later!

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If light doesn’t reach it, don’t paint it with a light color.

This is one of the first lessons I got from the Ali McVey thread that more or less got me up and running last year. Basically, I try not to have anything above a mid-tone anywhere light won't hit and nothing below a mid-tone where it does (obviously OSL, metal, etc can introduce exceptions!). I have been fudging more lately to highlight or frame things with deeper contrast, but in general I find that really helpful as a rule.

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