Sketch Style - Thoughts and Results

If you haven't previously seen any of Matt DiPietro's sketch style miniature painting, let's pause here.  Take a minute and go read this blog (or at least look at the pictures of the painted minis):

The principle achievement of switching to Sketch Style is that my time to paint a model has gone from two to three nights down to one.  Three to six hours down to two.  While there is a difference in quality, it is not so dramatic as to be disappointed with the final result. That is what has sold me on the approach.

It is a truly unique style that focuses on value contrast over all else.  Seriously, over everything else.  Smoothness, blending, all of the crap that's a "sign of a great painter" is ignored.  Look at the results he produces and tell me that he isn't a great painter...

So here's Greyscales, my very first attempt at sketch style.  In total, he took around three and a half hours over two days.  Much of that time was simply learning, making mistakes, and choosing colors.  However, I think he's a great result.

I waffle back and forth between the style being a true paradigm shift, or just a re-focusing of painting efforts.  If i have to simply pick one, it would fall in the paradigm shift category.  Here's why.

My traditional formula has been prime, base coat until even in a mid tone, shade, and then highlight. Base coating in particular is massively time consuming, and can be horribly frustrating.  I started using the airbrush to speed up base coating as well as help with the shading and that does help to speed the process up.  The focus of this approach is always on individual pieces of the model, with an inexplicable exo-ambient light source the justification for the highlight.  As I painted in my previous style, I was constantly focusing on two things at once: lighting and color.

Due to the daily average humidity of 25%, I could not apply many of the more advanced blending techniques such as wet blending to make the transitions as smooth as I would like.  Paint begins to dry the second that I pick it up from the wet palette, and leaves coffee stains on models if I brush over it more than once within about three seconds.  This leaves glazing as the best approach for smooth blending, which means significant time consumption.  On average, I was spending five hours over three nights per model.

As I write the description of my previous painting style, I realize that it really isn't that advanced.  It's the product of self-training, YouTube videos, and a few years of practice.  Perhaps simply receiving instruction (albeit in video form via Miniature Monthly) and trying to follow that approach is enough to justify the difference in quality.

The paradigm shift in transitioning to Sketch Style is that you break it down to focus on one aspect of the miniature at a time.  What this really means is that you're doing either lighting or color, not both simultaneously.  Instead, you focus on your light first, and then apply color later. It's very similar to sketching when drawing like you learned as a kid.

This means that you start by trying to "sketch" in the light on the model.  There are a few different techniques that can help save time, such as priming black, then adding light to the model with a white primer.  Those are just time savers though.  You could start from an all black model and sketch in light, or start with a white model and sketch in the shadows.

For me, I start with a black primer, then dust the entire model with a white primer in a classic zenithal prime job.  An important note is that it is only a dusting with the white at this point, leaving a speckled grey behind.  Then, I will pick an angle that I want to light the model from and strengthen the white primer.  Having an explicit, strong direction of light helps the drama of the model overall.

A sketch of Honor from the Guild Ball Kickoff box set.  Notice that the transitions on her legs aren't particularly smooth.

With the sketch, focus on how the lighting of the scene is interacting with the model more than anything else.  For the Guild Ball models, I lit them all as if the sun is shining above and from one side of the face.  First, fill in the natural shadows that occurred from the priming job with a black.  Next, with a very light grey, begin to strengthen the light spots and add some additional. Finally, go in with white to pick out details.  It's during this final pass with white that I will start to think about textures on the model and paint those in.  Non-Metallic Metal, shine from a wet surface, and shimmer from hair are examples of textures to pick out with white.

The principle behind spending so much time on the sketch is that you are creating value contrast.  More than any other type of contrast, the human eye picks out light versus dark.

Now that the sketch is done, it is time to start glazing in color.  Matt DiPietro recommends Daler-Rowney FW inks, and I can second that recommendation.  However, any of your acrylic paints you know and love can be thinned to glaze consistency with a little water.  Now, you simply glaze over the sketch with the colors that you want the model to be.  With the exception of skin, this works extremely well.

Honour's sketch colored over about an hour.  Total time on this figure was around 1.5 hours.

For skin, Matt has a few techniques that can work to keep it simple with glazing flesh tones, greens, and reds, but I have not yet mastered those.  Faces are important for me to be high quality.  For now, I use the face sketch to place my colors, instead of simply paint.

An important note is that the transitions of the sketch do not need to be perfect, and the fact that they aren't will actually give the model texture and character.  Over the top of the sketch you will glaze colors.  This will naturally make the transitions smoother as it brings the blacks, greys, and whites closer together.

I know.  It's a little counter-intuitive.

The results speak for themselves.  For me, the most important result is number of models painted.  In the month since I started Sketch Style, I've painted 30 models.  Basically one per day.  Sure, there are 8 cheater models in there that are significantly smaller, but there are also 7 larger-than-average sized models.  I think it evens out.

Part of the reason that so much was painted is that the approach is fun.  It allows for rapid progress, and just sitting down for an hour or less to complete a sketch is satisfying.

That's 259 models down, only 738 to go...  But this elephant is going to get eaten one lead-filled bite at a time...

A June Wrap

Sounds tasty!

Or buggy. Not sure.

Speaking of bugs, I made a startling amount of progress on the Rap Sheet Builder in not a lot of time in June. It started with a rebranding, and ended with integrating assigning equipment to actual units. Super cool!

A feature summary is: 

  • Added the equipment for all crews under /equipment. This allows you to print cheat sheets of equipment for your particular crew.
  • Added the strategies for all crews under /strategies. Similar to equipment, it allows you to print cheat sheets for a crew for their available strategies.
  • Added a trait browser under /traits. More basic as it only allows searches, and is less useful. 
  • In the rap sheet builder, you can now add equipment to crew members. 
  • In the rap sheet builder, you can now print the current list out to a code, and can print a summary for pasting into Facebook or other forums. 

Kinda awesome, really! 

Painting was a bit less productive. The month started with three speedsters for BMG: Black Flash, Reverse Flash, and The Flash (CW).

The Reverse Flash, The Flash, and the Black Flash. Three speedsters for the Batman Miniature Game. 

The Reverse Flash, The Flash, and the Black Flash. Three speedsters for the Batman Miniature Game. 

Then, almost no painting for three weeks. Craziness at work, and a desire to get Bruce's Utility Belt out the door pushed painting onto te back burner. 

However, the last week of June, I felt challenged to crank out a few Saga minis that had been sitting on the back burner for a while. 

An Anglo-Dane Warlord directs his most loyal warriors and warrior priest across a psychedelic battlefield. 

An Anglo-Dane Warlord directs his most loyal warriors and warrior priest across a psychedelic battlefield. 

I kinda had fun with these , and the firm end-of-the-month stopping date helped keep their pallette more simple. I wanted to trend toward more yellows, greens, and reds to contrast against the cooler green grass.

Onward! Show the Viking dogs who has the best mustaches!

Onward! Show the Viking dogs who has the best mustaches!

There was some downtime while the Saga minis were drying, so I picked Gordon out of the vat of primed and 1 color painted BMG minis, and somehow finished him in two days to a reasonable level.  

James Gordon as an old man. He was really a fun mini to paint, and deserves better pictures. 

James Gordon as an old man. He was really a fun mini to paint, and deserves better pictures. 

I may go back and add a couple white glints to the glass part of his glasses, otherwise I am really pleased with him as a tabletop+ model. 

Gordon was the perfect send-off for the month. The closing totals are: 

  • June ending model count: 870 (+50)
  • June ending painted count: 211 (+14)
  • June ending painted percent: 24.25% (+0.52%)

Next month I will continue to hit Batman Miniature Game minis hard, will hopefully release Bruce's Utility Belt into the wild, and...

 HAVE BABY #3!!!


Finally (Almost) Getting It...

The Arrow was a sign of the next level.

Man, there should be something really clever to say about an Arrow and feeling like I am getting better at painting. The Arrow is pointing at improvement? Too obvious.  

Evidence that eyes are still hard. 

Oliver Queen is one of the first minis where I feel like I got it. Which is strange, because he is one color. 

What I finally grok is contrast. The value of shading. The importance of pushing your highlights those extra shades brighter. It finally paid off with Ollie.

An angry hood watches over his paper towel. 

The paints here range from Reaper Brown Liner, through the Reaper camo green triad, up to Vallejo Ice Yellow. Near black to a white yellow. Contrast. 

His other side is also an angry side. 

The lessons learned from Oliver have carried over into other models. The Gotham Police Department Officers were done faster, but with the same approach. Blue liner to shade, up through a white-blue. 

Not quite Gotham's finest. A few too many donuts. 

Liam Neeson was a blast to paint, and I intentionally left his skin a darker tone, focusing on bringing out the contrast of his skin.   

Ra's Al Ghul - somewhere between the Batman Begins Ra's and Arrow Ra's. 

Most recent was Bane and a few lackeys for 150 point Batman Miniature Game demo games. He was an interesting challenge as he is supposed to be in all black. Instead, I chose to have contrasting armor pieces and a leather jacket to make the model more interesting. 

Clover, Bane, and McGregor. Mercenaries to murder the Bat with.  The shadows on Bane are actually painted there. It still surprises me.

Nearly two years after starting to paint miniatures, probably close to 1000 hours of painting, I finally feel like I get it. 

The feels are good.

A Painting Manifesto

Vacant blog is sad blog.

The origin of this despair has been abundant productivity. Not the painting kind of productivity, but producing a software product productivity. Hopefully I will get the go ahead from the copyright holder to post said product, but until then, peaceful silence for all...

But painting! In the highly occupied month of April, I only completed two models. I believe that is the worst month in the past year, maybe since I started painting. However, I think there was a hidden benefit to having put down the brush for 4 weeks.


Specifically the rejuvenation of my perspective on painting.

Slipknot and Killer Croc from Knight Models's Suicide Starter Box. I did a bunch of experimenting with these models, and none of those experiments turned out great...

The reality is that my painting queue is 624 long. 624. And I truly do want to paint about 90% of  it. That is a lifetime of painting unless something changes... Or about three years at 15 models a month.

So something changed. 

I had two Batman models from the previous order to complete, and decided that I would power through them. The result was actually quite excellent:

Completing the Quick Response Force.  Really pleased with how they turned out in a short amount of time.

Completing the Quick Response Force.  Really pleased with how they turned out in a short amount of time.

In my post-mortem for the two, I reached nirvana, or at least a state of greater understanding, and wrote down a series of guiding statements in the form of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

As a painter, I favor:

Contrast over blending
Dark lining over washing
Faces over outfit
Getting it done over getting it right

As with the earlier Manifesto, the stuff on the right is important and should/can be done. However, the stuff on the left is more important and is where more emphasis should be placed.

These statements form my style. They give me the freedom to work on contrast instead of making sure my blends are prefectly smooth. They also let me put more time into the face than the clothes, guns, swords, or backpacks.

Style is good. For now, this is mine. 

Batman (the Miniature Game) Beginnings

It's tough to say which superhero in the current twenty-first-and-a-sixth-century-pantheon-of-superheroes reigns supreme.  One thing is for certain; Batman is on the Mount Rushmore of superheroes.

Batman's resurrection with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy has kept Bruce Wayne in popular culture while previously popular heroes have languished.

I'm looking right at you, Superman.

Catwoman, Damian Wayne Robin, and Batgirl from Knight Models' Batman Miniature Game.

For about five years now, a small Spanish company known as Knight Models has been manufacturing DC miniatures for a skirmish game set in the Batman universe.  The models are in 35mm scale, and all are cast in a white metal.

I should stop now and say that Infinity has spoiled me.

I struggled for hours with Catwoman's round face.  I never could get her face to be worthy of the sexy Selina Kyle.  In fact, I decided to just leave her without makeup in my final attempt.

As great as the Infinity models may look, all of the details on Infinity models are exaggerated to make painting easier.  I have always found it surprising that folks coming from Games Workshop games struggle to deal with the details on Infinity models.  Now I understand their pain.

Batgirl from Knight Models' Batman Miniature Game.  I love this sculpt, and a happy accident made it even more awesome.

BMG models are wonderfully detailed.  Look at Catwoman's suit, it has two textures.  The underside of Batgirl's cape has a very subtle texture intentionally applied to it in order to help the cape have more sheen.

But all of the details are shallow.

Damian Wayne.  The least popular version of Robin.  Still, this is a wonderful job by a superb sculpter capturing so much of his character.

These are not models you rush.  Too thick of a base coat and the details are gone.

And now I feel spoiled by Corvus Belli's line.  Even when the Infinity line is considered difficult to paint, the details on BMG sculpts are so tiny that they're easy to lose.

That's not to say that the BMG figures aren't fun to paint.  Quite the opposite.  It's an exquisite experience having so much character emerge as you paint them, something that Corvus Belli's sculpts often lack.

These three models took about a week from assembly to completion, and I'm excited to dive into more.