Saturday, May 9, 2015

Scale, Contrast, and Bad Advice

I wanted to share a few thoughts on painting today.  I enjoy working on a variety of different scales: 28mm, 54mm, 75mm, 90mm, and busts (150mm or 200mm).  If  you just want to paint for gaming, that's fine.  But, if you want to focus on display and competition level work, I think that experimenting with different scales can help you push yourself.  Larger figures give you the chance to work in a lot more detail, experiment with the larger area, and plenty of opportunities to work on blending and color transitions.  Then, when I work on smaller figures, I try to figure out how to apply the lessons I've learned to the smaller areas.  If there is a size you really like to work with, there's nothing wrong with focusing your efforts there.  But, from time to time, try something new.  I know my larger scale work has helped improve my smaller scale painting.  And, if you look at the galleries of the top artists on CMON or Putty and Paint you will see that a lot of them work on a bunch of different scales.

One of the things people often ask when trying a larger scale for the first time, like a 54mm figure, is how is painting that 54 different from painting a 28mm?  And, most of the time, someone will offer the advice that for larger scales you need less contrast.  In theory, yes, this is true.  On a full scale figure you wouldn't need any contrast, so we can assume as the figure gets larger and larger, the amount of contrast should get smaller and smaller.  However, in practice, I think that is terrible advice.  When you go from 28mm to 54mm or 75mm you are still working on a figure that is 1:35 or 1:24 scale.  That is a hell of a long way from 1:1 scale.  Furthermore, when people look for suggestions on improving their work one of the most common critiques is the figure needs more contrast.  So, unless you're already being told you've got too much contrast, do not intentionally dial it back when you're working on a larger scale.  Okay, the 'right' amount of contrast is subjective.  Some people don't like high contrast painting and that is fine.  Paint the way you want to paint.  But high contrast painting is the hot style these days and does well online and at competitions.  So I see absolutely nothing wrong with continuing to push the contrast even when working on bigger figures.

As an example, let's look at the bust I'm currently working on.  This is 150mm or 1:12 scale.  It's about 5 times the size of a 28mm.  The range I have on the face has a dark shade of roughly 70% Mahogany Brown, 20% Rosy Shadow, and 10% Burgundy wine.  You'll see this in the dark shadows around the eyes, under the nodes, and on the right side of the face.  The highlights go all the way up to Fair Highlight and even Pure White in a few spots.  I would say this is a big contrast range, even for a 28mm figure and certainly for a 150mm one.  But, at least to me, this doesn't look wrong or out of place here.  There's nothing wrong with high contrast on a larger scale figure, as long as it's combined with variation in the level of the shadows and highlights.  While I may use that dark shade in the bigger shadows, on the smaller features like the side of the nodes and wrinkles around the face I use a much milder mix of Rosy Shadow and Fair Skin.  A deep crease in the face would be darker and a shallow crease.  So vary those shadows to get a more realistic effect and remember that applies to any scale you want to paint.

Before I sign off, let me give my response to the question of 'how is painting a 54mm or 75mm different than a 28mm?'  I would say it really isn't that different.  If you've painted a 28mm ogre or troll, that's about the same size as a 54mm regular human.  The biggest differences are that the figure (if metal) will be noticeably heavier, so you may want a decent holder while you paint, and you should expect to spend 2 to 3 times as long painting the figure (more if the figure is even larger).  My approach really doesn't change for 54, 75, or 90mm figures.  As you get even bigger, then other tools such as an airbrush or oil paints can make your job a lot easier.  But I'm focusing more on 28 to 54, 75 or 90mm figures (not stuff like the 1/6 scale garage kits).  The only thing I really change in my approach is, as the figure gets larger and I have more room, I try to work in more details.  The eye is an obvious place to spend more time.  But also it's easier to develop subtle details like wrinkles in the face or just better define the major line and shades.

As a final example, below are the faces from four reasonably similar figures ranging from 54mm up to 150mm.  In terms of contrast, there's no gradual decline with scale and I'd say the one I've pushed the contrast the most on is the 150mm figure.  In terms of detail, you can clearly see that increasing as the scale goes up.


  1. Great post! You know what is hard to do in large scale? Anime crap. That is one where you have to have long subtle smooth blends because too much contrast too squickly will make it look weird, but you still need contrast - just less forced. I am still suffering ptsd from Vampirella. That said, I learned SO much working on her especially with powders :)

    1. Yeah, those garage kits and especially the anime style ones, present a lot of new painting challenges. I've got a couple in the collection, but I'm waiting until I feel more comfortable with the airbrush before I give them a try. For the anime style ones you definitely want to do softer shading on their faces. However, I wonder how soft shading on the face combined with stronger contrast on the clothing and maybe even the hair might look. When I finally get around to painting one of them it's something I'll have to experiment with

  2. I have always felt this way, good to hear it expressed by an expert. I painted Gokan by Stephen Simon, and he is like a 32mm brute, so almost the size of a 54mm. Probably somewhere around 45mm. But nothing changed at all. Same concepts. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Really inspiring Bailey, I can't wait to get those new 15mm figs I ordered. I think they will really up my game... :P