Sunday, April 17, 2016

Captain of the Hussars Part 2

Alright, now that I have a general plan for the colors, it's time to start painting!  I began by base coating the top half of the rider.  I'll most likely be holding him by the legs to help steady the figure while I paint, so that's why I'll leave that bare until later.  After that I got to work on the face.  It's the same basic approach I use on most of my figures, you can check the tutorials section here for a more in-depth discussion of painting faces.  I'm not sure if I mentioned it in the last post, but this figure is 75mm scale.  So he's a little bit larger than the typical 54mm figures I paint, but smaller than the 90mm samurai I just finished.

I do want to stress that painting the face is a process and not one I necessarily complete in one sitting.  Here's a comparison of the face at two different stages.  The first shows my initial highlights and shadows in place.  After that, I took a break and then re-evaluated the figure.  There were some shadows I thought weren't quite right and the upper highlights needed a little more pop.  So I went in a tweak the parts I felt needed it.  Once that was done, I painted on more of the details (hair, chin strap, collar) and then put on the glazes to add that color variation to the skin.  

Because his head is turned and titled slightly, I painted much stronger shadows on the right side of his face.  You can see that more clearly when I show the two sides next to one another.  I also painted his eyes looking to the left (following the direction of the head turn).  

Still not 'done' with the face.  Looking at the pictures, that shadow over his left eye needs to be fixed (the blend at the top needs to be improved).  But, otherwise, I'm pretty satisfied with how he looks.

I also started working on his hat.  There's a flowing 'sock' on top and I wanted to add some extra detail on it.  The box art has something similar, so I'm borrowing the idea for my version.  The details will be done in gold, but I started with a layer of Burgundy Wine as a base.  I'm having a bit of trouble putting the gold on top.  It's just not looking as clean as I'd like.  I'm not sure if I should make the purple line thicker and then do the gold (sort of using the purple as a border between the gold and the red), trying to completely cover the purple with gold, or do a dot pattern like I did on the sculpted detail.  I'm going to have to think about this one a bit and probably give a few different things a try.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Captain of the Hussars Part 1

This is a figure I've been wanting to do for a while.  It's a 75mm mounted French Hussar from Pegaso.  I started assembling him back in 2014, but other projects too priority and I never got around to doing any actual painting on the figure.  Now that I'm done with Crystal Brush and don't really have any pressing projects (no contests I'm worrying about, no commission pieces, etc), I thought perhaps I'd actually try to put some paint on this one!

This post will be a little different than my usual starts to a figure.  This time I want to share how I actually begin my historical projects.  Basically, what do I do before I start painting?  Obviously the first step is to pick a figure.  This is the sculpt for the kit.  It's a beautiful piece of work and has tons of details, so I think it will be a great project.

The next step is planning out the colors.  With a historical piece you can decide for yourself how historically accurate you want to be.  For medieval and ancient figures you've got the freedom to pick a lot of different colors.  Things weren't all that uniform back then, so it's harder to say if something is actually incorrect.  For more modern figures like Napoleonics, regiments had specific colors.  You don't necessarily have to follow that.  If you're only painting for yourself, then you can do what you want.  Even if you're planning to compete, most figure shows don't judge you based on historical accuracy.  But, that being said, it's still nice to go with reality if you're painting a historical.  Okay, so what are the options for a hussar?
If you're interested in painting multiple figures from the same era, it can be worth investing in some reference books.  Osprey Publishing has many reference books for a huge number of historical topics.  Of course, the internet and various forums are also a great place for information.  All the images here came from basic online searches.  Okay, back to this figure.  There were 12 regiments in the French army during the Napoleonic era and these images shows the basic colors for each of them.  Red, Green, Blue (light and dark), Brown, and Grey are the main colors.  I also look around at the box art and other examples of this figure.  The 4th and 6th color schemes are very popular... so I decided to go a different route.  I opted for the 5th Hussars.  The figure will be done with a light blue, gold/red details, and a white coat.

Now I start to look up images for that particular regiment.  Often these are drawings but if you can find images of the actual uniforms (museum pieces), that's even better.  I don't worry about getting certain colors 100% correct, but it's still nice to be somewhat close to how the colors should look.

So there you have it.  I've got the figure and a basic idea of what colors I want to paint him.  As I go I may find some details or pieces of equipment where I'll need to go back and check my sources to find out the color.  But, in general, I've got enough information to start painting the figure.

Again, the level of detail you need to go into for the background research is dependent on the era of the figure and how historically accurate you want to be.  For a Napoleonic piece, I want to make sure I'm using colors that actually match the regiment I want to paint.  I'm a little more flexible on the exact color (this shade of blue vs that shade), just as long as it's close.  For medieval and ancient figures, my general goal is to have the color scheme be plausible.  Finding proof for something like that is just too difficult.  As long as it doesn't look unreasonable, I'm happy to just start painting.

Just remember, this is art and you have the freedom to do whatever you want.  If I really wanted to paint this guy in purple, no one is going to come and confiscate my brushes.  If all I want to do is paint a neat looking figure (and I don't mind some people online complaining about the accuracy), then I can do whatever I want.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lessons from Crystal Brush

So I've already written about the show and my general thoughts on the competition, but now I wanted to share a few of the lessons that I took away from the show.  These are things that I gathered from looking at other people's work, looking at my own work, and speaking with the other artists.  Basically it's about what I want to do with my future projects to continue to improve and hopefully win a medal in one of those really tough categories.  Having now had 4 or 5 days to think about things, I'd say there are three main lessons or ideas about how I'd like to approach my new projects...

1) How to improve my freehand work
I think what I did on the samurai turned out great.  But, it still didn't quite match up to what I had envisioned when I started the piece.  Where I think it feel short was on the contrast.  I went for a high contrast on a lot of the figure and I wanted the design work to have the same sort of look.  The designs on the clothing had some contrast, but not as much as I wanted.  Meanwhile the design on the chest had almost no contrast.  Take a look.  The white has shading, but there is so little on the black design.

Meanwhile, take a look at the design work on the Northumbrian.  Here it really fades into the shadows of the folds.  It could probably still use some brighter highlights, but in general I like the look much better.
I spoke with Kyriakos, the top overall winner, and it was something he noticed right away about the samurai.  He gave me some advice about painting the design and background color at the same time, then glazing over to create shadows and highlights.  It made sense, but isn't really how I paint.  But, because of that conversation, I think I've found a solution that will work better for me.  Here's what I want to do... lay out all the paints for both the design and the background color before I start.  That way I can say here's the shadow color for the design and the shadow color for the background, how do they look together.  Same for midtone and then highlight.  One problem I had on the orange cloth is as that the design started to get darker than the background in places, which limited how far I could push the contrast.  By picking the colors together initially, I can see how the work relative to each other.  If the design midtone is lighter than the background midtone, the same should be true of the shadow.  If I need the design shadow to be darker for the purposes of contrast, then I'll also have to make the background shadow darker.  By doing this I can make sure all the parts of the clothing have a contrast range I'm happy with and also work together well whether they're in shadow, highlight, or in between.

Of course the design and background can have similar shadow and highlight shades.  If you look at a patterned cloth, the pattern can seem to vanish in the shadows and get washed out in the highlights.  So the shadows and the highlight paints can reflect that as well.  The important point is to plan it out first and then start painting.  I think that will make it much easier to get the effect I want.  Hopefully I'll give it a try soon and see if it does!

2) Get more unity between the figure and the base
Of the winners, the figures and the base just seemed to work so well together.  Doesn't matter whether it was a complex base/scene or a simple one. I've done some pieces where this is true (the hobbit piece, last year's saxon figure) but other times I feel like the base just doesn't seem to fit the figure well enough.  And let's be honest, my primary motivation is the figure and often the base is an after thought.  What I'd like to do is get out of that mindset and really treat the base as an extension of the figure.

So how do I change?  My goal is to start building the base at the same time as I'm assembling the figure.  Then, when I paint the figure, I'll also be working on the base.  When I save it until the end, I'm more likely to rush so I can move on to the next figure.  If I paint both simultaneously it will help me create a sense of unity between the two and help keep me motivated to paint the base.

3) Be mindful of all the small details
This goes more towards the basing than the figure.  I was talking with Ben Komets about my Northumbrian piece and asking what he thought were ways to improve it.  He mentioned that the snow was a bit too even.  For example, the tree stump leans to one side.  I've got snow that's fallen on the stump, but because it leans it would shield part of the ground beneath it.  The snow there should go down and not be as thick there.  That's obviously very specific, but the more general lesson is pay attention to all those small details on the figure and base.  Look at references, see and think about how things happen in nature.  Whether it's dirt, snow, rust, water, etc, how does it really look and how would it affect the scene I've created.  It's that reason I had to put footprints in the snow behind the figure (he had to walk to where he was standing, so there better be footprints showing that).  Or if you've got a figure standing in mud, there better be mud caked on his shoes.  But anything you add to the base, how would time and the element effect it?  Would there be rust?  Would moss grow on it?  Did a bird sit on it and take a crap?  It seems silly, but it's a good exercise to go through and will help add realism to your scenes.  It's definitely something I've been working on, but there's still work to be done.

Look at Ben's piece from last year, there's just so much detail and it's all very thoughtfully done.  Same goes for a ton of the top artists.  So whether it's a big scene or a small one, just go the extra mile with the little details and think through each one.  Give the piece life and a history, don't just paint a figure and plop it on a base.  As I said, this is something that I've been working on but going to the show and seeing the pieces there has given me renewed inspiration to keep at it!

Anyway, those are the three major ideas that I took away from the competition, at least related to how I want to improve my pieces.  I took a number of classes and learned a lot of stuff in them, this doesn't even start to cover that.  So don't think that's all I learned at the show.  They're just the ones I felt inspired to talk about here.  And who knows, maybe some of you will find those thoughts useful as well!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Samurai Part 15

I guess if you read the last few posts it's no surprise that the samurai has been completed, but I thought I should still share all of my final photos of him.  The main thing missing from the previous WIP posts was the base.  This guy presented a bit of a challenge there as the figure is kneeling with one leg up in the air.  The kit comes with a base that has a big boulder (which the figure is resting his leg on).  I wasn't a huge fan of the boulder sculpt, so I decided to ditch it and come up with something on my own.  I went through a number of ideas.  Most of which ended up being scrapped either due to time (had to finish for the show deadline) or my inability to sculpt anything too complicated.  In the end I kept it simple.  The figure is kneeling on a small hill and the scene is just made up of dirt, grass, and rocks.

The actual base was made using cork to build up the basic volumes.  This was then covered by putty, rocks, sand, and baking soda to create the textures.  I did the initial base painting using an airbrush, then went in with a traditional brush to apply some washes, dry brushing, and some more detailed highlighting and shading.  After that grass was added using woodland scenics field grass.  I took two colors of grass (a dark green and to a lesser extent a light green) and mixed them.  This broke up the color and made it look more realistic (instead of every blade being the exact same shade).  Once these were glued on, I used dry pigments to stain them and create more color variation (plus it ties them into the colors of the dirt).  Those same pigments were used on the dirt sections as well for a bit more color variation.

I had a few more grandiose ideas for the base, but just did not have time to realize them.  I would have loved to have had a small stream running next to the hill (with his foot in the water) or have added a flowing banner behind him.  But, honestly, the figure is complicated enough that a simple base can be a good option.  You can take a look and decide whether you think it's better this way.  Anyhow, the samurai and also the Northumbrian images are up in my gallery, so you can take a look at that final pictures of that one too!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Crystal Brush Recap and Thoughts on the Competition

Well, another Crystal Brush competition has come and gone.  To everyone who signed on to check out the entries and cast their votes, thank you!  The standard this year was incredibly high.  We had quite a few European painters and sculptors show up including Michael Kontraros, Kyriakos Simos, Sergio Calvo Rubio, Joaquin Palacios, Francesco Farabi, Fabrizio Russo, Richiero Massimiliano, Ben Komets, Kirill Kanaev, Matt Cexwish, Karol Rudyk, and probably more I'm forgetting.  If you have not gone online to see the work, you really should check out all the pieces that made first cut.  You can see them here:  It's easiest to go category by category.  Or you can just skip to the winning entries here:

There were some great hobby workshops this year.  I could only take a couple, but the ones I did were excellent.  I ended up in Ben's seminar on the loaded brush, Kirill's one on oil painting, and Angel Giraldez class on airbrushing.  I still need a lot of practice on all three of those techniques, but seeing it done correctly really helped me figure out what I was doing wrong and more or less how to fix it.  I also taught three sections on painting faces.  I was really happy with the work the students did during those classes and the feedback I got was great.  I hope they all enjoyed the class.  If I'm able to go back to Adepticon again next year, I imagine I'll teach some more.  Perhaps I'll take on another topic like freehand too.  We'll see!

As for the painting competition, I was lucky enough to win a silver trophy in Historical Single.  Matt DiPietro won gold in that category.  I personally thought it was a toss up between our two pieces, so I'm not shocked by the results.  Unfortunately the samurai did not place in the Large Scale category.  He lost out to pieces by Sergio Calvo Rubio, Francesco Farabi, and Fabrizio Russo (which was totally not surprising!).  On the gallery link above, you can sort of score.  Based on that, my samurai piece came in 4th... so close!

I've seen a few posts online bashing the show, which I really don't agree with.  Yes, it has some quirks.  The scoring is a bit different from typical shows, since 50% of the score is from onsite judges and 50% is from online vote.  I can understand why some people don't like it but, at the same time, it seems to work for them.  I've yet to see an entry win a top three spot that didn't deserve to be there.  There are some categories where I think 3rd place should have been 1st and vice versa, but that happens at every show.  Find an example where 1st place really should have been last place and then I'll believe the voting system is broken.

Some people also seem to feel the cash prize for the top three is not a good thing.  I've heard a couple different reasons.  Some say it's not right to offer it for something as subjective as miniature art.  Others say it attracts too many pros and thus less experienced painters or hobby painters can't compete.  They also brought up the idea that it's not fair for entries that are professionally sculpted and scratch built to compete against kits and gaming figures.

I understand some of these ideas, but generally disagree that things should be changed.  Yes, the cash prize attracts a lot of professional painters from around the US and Europe.  But why is that bad?  Don't you want to go to a show and see some of the best work from around the world?  Without that big cash prize, I doubt we'd get many (if any) European painters flying over for the show.  And, with all the top painters there, not only can you see their work, but you can also take classes from them and just chat with them to find out how they did things and get feedback on your work.  This sort of access is so worth the trip to the show and is the main reason I want to go each year.  Whether a cash prize is right for a subjective thing like art is a matter of opinion.  But, I don't hear any complaints from the people who were competing and lost.  They seem to feel that the winners deserved it, so what's the big deal?

As for having to compete against people with professionally sculpted pieces while most of us are stuck using kits, I say that's just the way it is.  If I thought I could paint well enough to win the top prize and all I needed was a better sculpt, I could commission a sculptor to make me something!  Plus, those scratch built pieces tend to show up in the Large Scale and the Diorama categories.  With the exception of Karol Rudyk's dragon and Fabrizio Russo's gold minors, every other winner in every other category was just a regular commercial kit.  All in all, the category winners consisted of 5 scratch builds and 28 kits.  Yes, the top three overall consisted of 2 scratch builds and one kit.  But last year it was 1 scratch build and 2 kits.  If you can paint at that high a level, you can still win with a commercial kit!

If I were to propose any changes to the show, the two I can think of are:
1) The additional of finalist pins or coins.  It'd be nice if everyone who made first cut got something to show for it.  It doesn't need to be anything too fancy, just something to show for making it that far.  It's hard to win a trophy and a lot of people strive just to make it past the first cut.  When they do they should get something!

2) Acknowledgement of multiple artists working on the same piece.  Right now only the painter is listed as the artist on a piece.  If it was a scratch built sculpt the site will say "Manufacturer: Scratchbuilt."  Why not put the sculptor's name there?  What does that hurt?  They've made it clear that there is only a single trophy and the prize money (if it wins top three) is not divided by the show (it's up to the artists to deal with that).  I guess this one is pretty minor, but it's still something I'd like to see.

There was a bit of drama this year with the categories though.  Last year the judges made an effort to set a standard across all categories with their first cut.  This meant that if only two pieces in a category met that standard, then only two were up for awards.  It came as a surprise to many of us, but I understand and support what they're trying to do.  This year there was another change.  In two of the categories only a single entry made first cut.  Instead of just giving them a gold, those entire categories were removed from the competition and the pieces were put into the next closest category.  So a historical unit was moved to fantasy unit and a historical vehicle was moved to sci-fi vehicle.  It's possible that a friend's historical unit was also dropped because he already had an entry into fantasy unit (though I can't confirm whether or not it would have made the cut).  Again, I understand what they're trying to do and don't necessarily have a problem with it.  I just wish this had been better explained at the event.  I saw Jen comment on Facebook that they plan to update the online rules to reflect this possibility for future years.  So that should help avoid the same confusion in case it happens again.

All in all, the Crystal Brush was a great show.  If you're in the US or Canada, I highly recommend checking it out.  I'm sure you will agree it's worth the trip.  If you're in Europe, well you've already got a lot of great shows to attend.  But we'd love to have you come to this one too!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Crystal Brush Voting is Up

It's that time.  The photos have all been posted and the Crystal Brush voting is open.  If you're not familiar with it, anyone with an account at coolminiornot is allowed to vote.  If you don't have an account, you can create one for free.  As with the regular gallery, you score the entries on a scale of 1-10 and the highest three scores get the top spots.  The online voting accounts for 50% of the total score and the onsite judging panel makes up the other 50%.

Voting is open until noon Eastern time on Sunday.  Even if you don't vote, it's still worth checking out the gallery.  There are some truly amazing entries this year.  To everyone who made first cut and got their figures posted, congratulations.  This was a really tough year!

Here's the link to the gallery.  Once you're there, you can sort the minis by category

Oh, and here are the official pictures of my two pieces.  There are more angles in the gallery and I'll be posted additional photos after the show.