In order to hone my figure painting skills I decided to have a go at this Mitches Military Models bust sculpted by Pavol Ovecka of Lt. Col. John frost 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.
I don’t usually do figure painting build logs, but Wayne Hillman (the excellent chap that he is) kindly found me a reference photo for this build that I was missing, and asked me to share my work in progress… Well, who am I to argue – this one’s for you Wayne 🙂
On with the proceedings…
In terms of the sculpt, this one’s not bad. The surface texture of the face is a bit rough when you get up close to it (as you will see in some of the extreme close-ups), but not too bad. There wasn’t much fettling required, just a small seam down the back of the neck (where it would hardly show) and a few voids that had to be filled in the body (more on those later).
After a mild fettle, he got a wash in warm soapy water and was drilled and mounted to a base (which was from Model Display Products). I find it easier to mount the figures to the base at the start so that you have somewhere handy to stand them. Seems daft to spend the whole build propping the figure up against a bottle of Tamiya thinners only to mount it to a base at the end!
For this one I’m experimenting with Zenithal lighting using pre-shading. Zenithal lighting simply means “lit from directly above”, and pre-shading means the shadows are applied *before* the main paint colours.
There will be plenty of shading going on after the base colours, but the idea is to achieve a certain amount of shading via the primer.
For this the first step was to coat the figure with Tamiya flat black (XF-1) using an airbrush. I say “using an airbrush” here because this is the last time the airbrush will be used until the end of the project when it will be used to apply the final matt clear coat. All other painting will be via a hairy stick (brush).
Same for the torso, a decent coat of Tamiya flat black.
And for the zenithal bit, Tamiya flat white (XF-2) was sprayed from roughly the 12 o’clock position above so that the white paint landed on the areas of the figure that would catch the light.
And the same for the torso, the white paint forms the highlights, the black paint the shadows.
It’s worth saying at this point that making a figure look as realistic as possible is all about the lighting, or rather how you paint the lighting onto the figure.
You might think that for (say) a face it’s enough to paint it a flesh colour and because it is 3D it will catch the light, create natural highlights and shadows, and therefore look real…
This is never the case. If you paint a figure just in a base colour with no shading or highlighting painted on, the figure will look like a toy. Now that’s fine if that’s what you’re into, but if you want to achieve any sense of realism, you need to paint in the shadows and highlights.
One of the reasons for this is that on a life-size figure, the shadows and highlights are life-size, so they look real. When you scale a figure down such as this one where the head is the size of a grape, the shadows and highlights also scale down and therefore become less apparent.
So what’s needed is to artificially amplify the light and shade on the figure by painting the shadow areas dark, and the highlighted areas lighter.
I thought I’d mention that because it took me a little while to twig onto it.
Anyway, onto some of the tools for the job…
As I mentioned, this figure will be painted (apart from the primer) solely with a brush.
For this kind of painting you need a good brush, and one of the best you can get is the Windsor & Newton Series 7 Sable (Kolinsky).
BTW Kolinsky is a type of Siberian weasel that they pluck the hairs from to make the brushes. Not to be confused with the Steppe Polecat which is Stoatily different – I’m here all week!
I only use one size of brush and that’s the Size 1. I find this one good enough to do fairly large areas, and has a fine enough point to tackle even the finest of details. However the main thing with brush painting is to use a big round brush (as pictured below). If you try to use an extremely small brush for detail work, all that will happen is the paint will dry before you get the brush to the figure. Using a brush with nice big bristles and a sharp point will allow the bristles to hold enough moisture to keep the tip of the brush wet.
Here’s a close-up shot of the brush with a ruler for scale. You can see the needle sharp tip, even though this brush has been quite heavily used.
And when you’re paying £12 per brush it pays to get a jar of brush soap so that you can give your brush a deep clean and condition after each session. It only takes 30 seconds to do and ensures the brush is as good as new each time.
Another product I really like to use is Citadel Lahmian Medium. This is used for diluting water based acrylic paints when you want them to go on very thin i.e. as a glaze.
Generally you thin water based acrylics with water, and you can use water to create glazes. However if you add too much water to the acrylic it can lose its structure, the pigment breaks up and you get a chalky effect on the figure. Using a glaze medium (such as Lahmian medium) helps keep the pigment together. Also when using Andrea acrylics I find they are very matt (too matt), thinning them with glaze medium gives them a slightly satin finish which I find easier to work with.
You might notice that the tub of Lahmian Medium looks a little bit pink. In reality the medium is clear (unless someone puts a dirty red brush into the tub). Don’t ask me how I know that.
Another handy tip is to buy a load of plastic dropper bottles from eBay (as pictured on the right) and transfer the Lahmian medium (or whatever glaze medium you use) into it. It’s far easier to add a few drops from a dropper bottle than to put a dirty red brush into the tub (don’t ask me how I know that). The dropper bottles cost about 30p each and are well worth having around.
Finally as far as tool go, I like to paint using a wet palette. Here’s a photo of mine complete with some of the colours used in this update. The wet palette is basically a sandwich box with some cleaning sponges in the bottom. Tap water is added to saturate the sponges and a sheet of baking parchment is placed on top so that the paint on the surface is kept hydrated via osmosis. Have a look at my 1/12 scale F-16 Cockpit build for more info on the wet palette…
Right-o, onto some colour…
To start with I’m using two colours for the base coat. Vallejo Model Color Green Grey for the tunic, and Andrea Flesh Set #1 for the face.
As I said, I find the Andrea paint dries very flat (matt) so I thin it about 3 to 1 with Lahmian Medium to not only thin it but make it less matt.
Here’s the face after a coat of Andrea flesh #1. It’s going to need 3-4 coats to fully cover, but best to apply many thin coats than to apply the paint too thick and risk brush marks and obliterating the detail.
And the torso after a coat of thinned down Vallejo Green Grey.
After a coat of colour I noticed a couple of voids in the resin. These will need to be filled with a little Perfect Plastic Putty otherwise they would be very noticeable in the finished figure. Shame because they didn’t look too bad after priming.
Carrying on applying more base coats to the face (making sure previous coats are fully dry), it’s worth paying special attention to behind the ears (like your mother taught you). It’s very easy to not “scrub behind the ears” and end up with a bare patch of primer where there should be “behind the ears colour”.
Also worth bringing the flesh colour onto the hair, again you don’t want a patch of primer next to the finished hairline.
Here we are after about 3 or 4 coats, the face is evenly covered.
You will notice that I have obliterated the pre-shading on the face. This is intentional as the shading will be applied later for the face.
Next up – the eyes…
First job is to apply some shade to the eyelids. For this I’m going to use a red-brown tone. Andrea flesh tone #6 will do, or Vallejo Mahogany Brown as they are very similar.
I’m going to go with Vallejo for this as I personally prefer the way it dries.
Thinning the Mahogany brown very slightly (don’t want it neat, but don’t want it too thin either) the inner edges of the top and bottom eyelid get a line of brown. This will help with the realism of the eyes after the eyeballs have been painted.
Next will be the eyeballs…
A lot of figure painters I’ve seen paint the eyes last on a figure. Personally I like to paint them near the start as they help you see how the face looks as you apply the shadows and highlights to the skin.
For the whites of the eyes, never use pure white. It makes the eyes pop way too much. I’m going to use Vallejo Pale Sand for the whites, this has a slightly yellow tone.
The whites have been blocked in, making an effort not to go too far over the brown shading on the eyelids.
To be honest you could just blat the white in, finish the eyes and do the brown shading afterwards. It would probably be easier – but like I said, I don’t usually do figure painting build logs 😉
Next up are the irises (the coloured parts of the eye).
To begin with these are blocked in using flat black.
The black is slightly thinned with a little water, and carefully painted in where the Irises will go (the colour will be added later).
I reckon looking at the close-up below I got the eyes slightly mis-aligned here. I didn’t spot it until I looked at the photos and it’s not too far out so I’ll live with it for now – if it looks off in the morning I might re-do it. Making sure the figure doesn’t look cross-eyed is one of the hardest parts of painting the eyes.
If you go wrong with the black, just let it dry and re-touch it back with the white. Then come back in with the black and repeat until it looks right.
Best to look at images of eyes on the web at this point so you get a feel for how much of the iris will be visible. It is very rare for any white to be visible above and below the iris…
And now for some colour.
For the Irises I’m using Citadel Altdorf Guard Blue. Purely because it’s the only blue I have.
Gotta say though that Citadel is lovely paint to work with. The only reason I don’t use more of it is because the tones are geared towards fantasy figures and not towards military models.
The blue was slightly thinned with water and applied into the black irises. What you’re looking for here is to end up with a fine black ring around the blue Irises.
It might take a couple of coats to get the blue vivid enough for your liking.
PS. In the interests of accuracy, I don’t know what colour John frosts eyes were. I’m not aiming for a museum exhibit here so I went with blue but you might want to double check if you want total accuracy.
In a moment we will be adding a catch light (reflection to the upper left region of the iris). To add realism, I’m going to lighten the part of the iris that will be opposite the catch light.
I mixed the blue tone with a little pale sand to lighten it, and painted a little in the bottom right region of the iris (your right).
Next, in goes the pupil. This is simply dotted in with black paint. Again have a look at reference photos of eyes to gauge the best position for the pupil. Towards the top of the eye usually looks good.
And the finishing touch – a catch light is added to the top left region of the iris (your left). This is pure white dotted in. It really brings the eyes to life.
Here you can see that I overpainted the mahogany brown shading on the eyelids with the irises.
Not a problem as I will just cut back across them with the mahogany brown after I finish the eyes. As I said, probably easier to do the brown shadows on the eyelid edges after painting the eyes 😉
Again, a shot from below shows overpaint on the right eye. Don’t worry about stuff like this, it’s very easy to touch back over.
And finally for this session, I’ll seal the eyes in with a drop of clear gloss acrylic.
This gives the eyes a nice wet look, and also serves to protect them from subsequent coats of paint.
In the next update I’ll be applying a pale rose tone to the corners of the eyes and the clear coat will help prevent it staining the whole eyeball and creating that “hangover” look.