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!


  1. I am telling you man, make three bases of different settings - vastly different. Make them and paint them with no figure in mind for each. Treat each like it's own story and see if people can get the story or setting just from the base alone. You'll never have basing issues again. Hand to God ;)

    1. Yeah, that sounds like a really good exercise to work through. Should definitely help with basing. Now I just need to find the time to actually do it...

    2. Sleep is for the weak -_- If you really want you can find time to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........

  2. Good evaluation. You have the skills needed to win and these points make sense to bring the different piecs to a holistic whole.