Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Right Tools: Wash Bucket & Mixing Jar

As I grew up, I did a lot of watercolor painting. You may remember the paint sets I used: plastic trays with little oval-shaped cakes of dried paint. You dipped a brush in a cup of water (in my case, an old coffee cup) and swirled it around on top of the color you wanted until it was full of paint. Then you put paint to paper, coloring book or (on one regrettable occasion) the kitchen wall.

It was a simple, stripped-down form of painting, but I loved it. Watercolor painting was a big reason why I became an illustrator. But it also gave me an odd, unhelpful quirk. For years, I thought this was the best way to wet my paint and rinse my paintbrushes:

Ugh! That water may get most of the paint off of a brush, but it's terrible for mixing colors. There's so much pigment floating around in there that you may as well mix all your paints with brown ink. Everything it touches is going to be faded and slightly muddy.

In art school, I learned a new approach, and acquired a couple of indispensable tools:

Meet the wash tub and the mixing jar (or in this case, an old Tupperware canister and a scrubbed out peanut-butter jar), the dynamic duo of color mixing. Here's how they work:

The Wash Bucket
The wash bucket is where you rinse your brushes. Before a brush goes into the mixing jar, it takes a dip in the wash bucket so the mixing water stays clean and your colors stay bright and true. The wash bucket should be big ... as large as will comfortably fit in your sink and on your work table. The more water it holds, the longer it'll take to clog it with pigment. I also prefer a bucket with a wide diameter, so it isn't likely to tip over. I replace this water as soon as it becomes opaque. If you dip a bush into the water and the submerged part disappears, it's time to dump out the water and refill the bucket.

A word of warning: once you use a container for rinsing paint brushes, never EVER use it for storing or serving food. Many pigments contain toxic substances, like cadmium (in red, orange or yellow paint), lead (white), or chromium (green). You probably won't get a fatal dose if you reuse the container, but these substances are biocumulative. That means they stay in your body forever. Consume enough of them over your lifetime and bad things will happen.

If you don't have an old Tupperware canister in your kitchen, pick up a paint mixing tub from your local hardware store. They're cheap, stable and relatively durable.

The Mixing Jar
The water in the mixing jar is only for diluting paint or mixing colors. I never (with one exception) dip a loaded brush into this container. So the water stays clean, and my colors stay bright and reliable.

Here's the exception, when I'm diluting a color I may need several brushloads of clean water before the paint reaches the right consistency. If I rinse the brush off in the wash bucket before every brushload, I'll waste a lot of paint. So in this case I do dip a paint-filled brush into the mixing jar. There's a trick to it. Instead of swishing the brush around, like I do when I'm rinsing it, I dip it straight in and straight out, without any side-to-side movement. If I'm careful, it leaves just a tiny ring of color on the surface of the water. And the rest stays relatively clear.

I like a clear jar for this. It lets me see just how clean the water is. Once again, low and wide is better than tall and thin. Because I change the water as soon as it gets cloudy or takes on a noticeable tint, I prefer to use a smaller jar. That makes the changes faster.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Grey...errr...Red Hunters

This week I painted my first unit of Grey Hunters. They're finished, aside from the basing (I'm waiting for a bag of snow to arrive at my favorite local game store). This is still a painfully slow process, but I feel like I'm getting a grasp on the basics of miniature painting. I still have a lot to learn, but there's a lot that transfers between painting 2D illustrations and painting inch-high army men.

The Full Pack

Grey Hunters with Power Fist, Wolf Banner (with the pack's marking),
& Mark of the Wulfen (indicated by silver armor)

Grey Hunters with Bolters

Grey Hunters with Meltagun, Plasma Pistol/Chainsword,
& Meltagun

Based on the feedback I received on my previous minis, I made a few changes to my approach. On the red areas, I toned down the highlights and used an orange mix instead of white. Basically I just switched Diarylide Yellow for Titanium White when I was mixing the highlights. The result is warmer, subtler and much less pink. Instead of drybrushing the metal areas, I painted a full base coat and used washes to bring out the recesses and highlights.

Many of the black lines on these models were made with technical pens rather than paintbrushes. I had some concern that the ink would run when exposed to the varnish, but it held up beautifully. In my 2D work I don't like using paintbrushes for line work, so it was nice to see that I have some alternatives. The pens in this project were disposable Sakura Micron pens with plastic nibs (diameters 01 and 005). In the future, I may try some of my refillable metal-nibbed pens, so I can use a wider range of inks and paints.

How do I feel about these minis? Great! I made dozens of mistakes. There are four or five redos hiding under some of that paint. But heavily diluted Carbon Black levels beautifully and can cover up a lot of faults. There are also some areas that would look better with a little cleanup. I may go back go back to them later, but for now I'm going to move on.

The camera I used in my previous posts is on vacation in Sedona. So I took these photos with a much older point-and-shoot camera (a Nikon CoolPix 4300 from 2001). I'm very satisfied with the results, although the exposure is a little dark. Before I take more pictures, I'll track down the instructions and figure out how to make adjustments.

Next up: more Fire Giants/Space Wolves. I have two Rhinos, a squad of Long Fangs and another squad of Grey Hunters assembled and ready for priming. Before I make a decision, I'm going to sleep on it.

Drying vs Curing

Once you squeeze it out of the bottle, acrylic paint goes through two different processes: drying and curing.

We all know how this works: water evaporates from the paint, leaving behind a solid, durable coating. With some paints, like watercolor, gouache, and the elementary school version of tempera, that's the end of the story. They're solid simply because they're dry. Get them wet, and they become workable again. But that doesn't work with acrylics, oils or enamels. Why not? Because these paints don't just dry, they cure too.

When acrylic paint hits the air, a chemical reaction begins. Molecules in the paint bond to molecules in the air, forming a tough, durable film. Some solvents may be able to break down this film. But once the reaction occurs the paint will never be workable again.

Although you can usually tell when paint is dry, curing is a little more difficult. The process can take hours, days, or even weeks to reach its conclusion. And all the while, the paint gets harder and more durable. That's why fresh paint can be very fragile, and why it's often more difficult to strip old paint from models and brushes.

In 2-dimensional painting, this pops up a lot when I want to use technical pens or crow quills on top of acrylic. If the acrylic isn't completely cured, the pen nibs can dig in and catch. That gives me wobbly lines and can even tear or strip the paint. If you use tecnhical pens to draw black lines on your models, you may have encountered the same thing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Right Tools: Wet Palette

Around here, it's tough to keep paint wet. On average, the temperature tops 100 degrees more than 100 days every year. Without a wet palette, paint doesn't stay workable for more than a couple minutes.

I've used this palette for years:

Essentially, it's just a plastic tray, a soaking wet sponge and a layer of special paper (actually it's a sheet of permeable acrylic). When the sponge is wet, water passes slowly through the paper and keeps the surface slightly wet. Even here, in the middle of the desert, paint stays workable for at least 15 minutes (or longer if it's thinned with enough water).

The tray and the sponge are dirt simple. If you don't want to spend $15 on a "real" wet palette, you could make your own out of a soap dish and a kitchen sponge. But I haven't discovered a cheap replacement for the acrylic sheets (although at $7.50 for 30 12"x16" sheets, they're not too expensive). Unlike sheets of paper, they lay flat when they're wet and they don't fall apart as you mix your paint. If you're careful, they're a great investment. And don't forget, once you use up one side, turn the sheet over and use the other (Just wait until the paint on the top side dries. Otherwise you'll paint your sponge).

I find they work best if I give them a few minutes to soak up water for a few minutes before I start painting. What I usually do is put the paper underneath the sponge to start and cover them both with water. 5-10 minutes later, I drain off the extra water, put the paper on top of the sponge and blot it gently with a paper towel. The blotting is very important. If you skip it, the surface will be too wet and your paint will spread all over the place when you put it on the palette. Those colorful stains on the sponge in the picture above occurred when I forgot to blot my palette.

After that, you're ready to go. If your weather is exceptionally hot and dry, check your sponge every couple hours and make sure it's sopping wet. If it isn't, lift up the paper and add some more water to the sponge.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers' Day!

Like me, my dad is an incurable maker. Actually, I have that the wrong way around. I learned to make things, to solve problems with my own hands and wits, by watching my mother and father. I owe my own creativity to their good example and encouragement. Thanks, dad! And thanks, mom, too!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

WIP: Venerable Dreadnought, Part 05


Well, not quite. I'll let this sit for a week or two and make sure that there isn't anything I want to change. But for now, I am very satisfied. If I'm still happy in two weeks, I'll finish the base with some snow flocking and static grass. The varnish I use to protect acrylics doesn't play well with flocking, so I want to be absolutely sure before I glue anything to the base.

Next up: A small squad of Grey Hunters. I had so much fun with this model that I want to try a few more Space Wolves.

Here's a series of photos showing the dreadnought from start to (nearly) finish, along with a few more views of this step:

Friday, June 18, 2010

WIP: Venerable Dreadnought, Part 04

Details, details, details! This model has plenty of 'em. There's enough here to keep me painting for weeks if I want to.

Here's what I did since last time:
  • Drybrushed midtones and highlights onto the fur.
  • Painted a thin Pyrrole Red/Carbon Black wash over all the red parts. they were a little brighter than I intended. In the future I can avoid this step if I don't "clean up" the red areas so vigorously.
  • Highlighted many of the edges and rivets. I focused on top and front/side/back edges, since they'd normally get the most light. I left bottom edges alone.
And here's what I plan to do next:
  • Continue highlighting the red areas. There are still a few areas that could use more pronounced highlights. I may also add "specular highlights" wherever two edges meet. It's something we do in product illustrations to make the lighting pop. I think it'll transfer well into this kind of painting, but I'm not entirely sure. It's time to experiment.
  • Once the highlights are done, I want to clean them up. There are spots where they are much wider and wobblier than they should be. With a little pure Pyrrole red and a liner brush I think I can make them much narrower and straighter.
  • My depth perception is lousy, and it's difficult to tell when the tip of a 10/0 brush has made contact with a rivet. So some of my rivet highlights are a little blobby. a quick dab of red/black wash around each of the rivets (just enough to darken the edges, but leave the top untouched) should fix that (I hope, oh I hope).
  • The gunmetal and bronze need highlighting with silver and gold.
  • Several small details still need painting. I noticed today that there are two tiny skulls at either end of the chain on the model's left shoulder. They're going to be especially challenging. The view-port should be blacked out (or maybe painted bright orange, like there's a fire inside...hmmm) and all of the blue lenses need highlights and shadows.
  • Then it's time to finish the furs and the base.
  • Finally, I want to add some freehand details. The model's right shoulder will get a unit marking (probably just a number) and I may put something on its left shin. I also want to put a rough symbol or glyph on the fur banner, maybe a stylized sword, crown or flame. there's also a couple scrolls that want text (which means I need to name this guy).
Next update will be on Saturday or Sunday. Let's see how far I get between then and now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WIP: Venerable Dreadnought, Part 03

Halfway there! At this point, there's no single process that needs to be applied to every part of the model (the way that I drybrushed nearly everything in Part 02). Some parts, like the skulls and the newly-painted metal, will get ink washes. Other parts, like the body and arms will get layers of thinned-down Pyrrole Red to smooth out some of the drybrushed areas. On the other hand, the fur will get few passes of dybrushing. And a few parts are just ready for detailing and clean-up.

Two areas are still untouched: the back side of the fur and the base. That's to give me something to handle while I work. Until it's protected with varnish, the acrylic paint wears off very easily. Take a look at the orc skull on the model's right shoulder. See the black spots? All it took was five minutes of handling to wear away the paint above the eye sockets. When it comes to painting minis, I'm slow enough already without having to paint things twice. If I give myself a few safe handles on a model, it cuts down on these mistakes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Other Work: Biomimicry Presentation

I spent the first two weeks of my vacation locked in the studio with a pencil in one hand and a heavily caffeinated beverage in the other. The result was an inch-thick stack of drawings for a presentation on biomimicry.

Here are a few sample drawings (out of about 60 total).

You can see the finished presentation at www.designfromlife.org. Not all of the drawings made the final cut, but that's normal for these things, especially when you have to edit for time. It was a fun project with a brilliant group of people, and a great way to start my summer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm a painter, not a fighter

Although I enjoy painting miniatures, I've never been much of a miniature game player. I've always preferred shorter, simpler games without such an expensive barrier to entry. My idea of gaming heaven is dinner with a group of friends, followed by a few rounds of something quick, challenging and social. For folks familiar with the genre, Liars Dice is a perennial favorite, as are Barbarossa and Take 6. And it's a nearly perfect day when I find someone who'll play Ricochet Robot.

Most of my miniature gaming experience comes from MLB Sports Clix, a baseball-themed collectible game from WizKids. It had some of the same elements you see in games like Warhammer 40K or Warmachine: customizable teams, special events at the local game store, league games and tournaments. It was a ton of fun, but I eventually moved to a new job in another city and drifted away from miniature gaming.

Because I'm hardly a veteran miniature wargamer, I'll usually limit my comments to areas where I have a more expertise (like painting, board games and publishing/manufacturing) . But don't be surprised if I stray into occasional comments on miniature game mechanics and culture. Please be patient and keep an open mind. I love games, in all their permutations. And when I see something that spans the gap between miniature gaming and other parts of the gaming universe, you can be sure that I want to talk about it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

WIP: Venerable Dreadnought, Part 02

After priming, I drybrushed the model with the base colors: Golden Iridescent Bronze, Vallejo Gunmetal Metal, and Liquitex Pyrrole Crimson followed by a layer of Pyrrole Red. Then I painted the fur areas with a watered-down mix of Vallejo London Grey (a very, very old bottle) and Liquitex Bronze Yellow.

Here's the result:

A few notes:
The two layers of red & crimson give me a nice worn base coat and better depth of color than I can get with with just a single red hue.

Because I don't want harsh black shadows in the patches of fur, I chose to coat it completely with a grey base coat instead of drybrushing. Now that I have a lighter base, the remaining layers will be drybrushed.

I use a paper towel to test each brush-load of paint before I apply it too the model. this way, I know I'll get the right texture.

No need to use a good brush for this step. I prefer an old Size 1 brush that's lost its tip. Some painters prefer to use a completely dry brush (it is "drybrushing" after all), but I like to wet the bristles and then gently pinch them between two layers of paper towel. The thin layer of water protects the bristles and keeps them from becoming overloaded with dry paint. Then they stay together, instead of shooting out at odd angles. I rinse and dry the brush every 2-3 minutes, and I wash it out whenever the tips get clogged with dry paint.

A few more photos:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

WIP: Venerable Dreadnought, Part 01

This pewter Space Wolves model has been in my studio for years. It's time to put it together, add a few details, and get it painted:

Things I added:

A fur leg band (green stuff)
A banner (green stuff, welding rod, polystyrene tube, and the head from a goblin wolf-rider's mount)
Ground texture (rocks and sand)
A few extra decorations (plastic bitz)

Some time in the last six years, I added a dog's head (from a pewter Mordheim model, I think) to the pelt on the dreadnought's left arm. I don't remember why (I may have intended to convert it into a lion's head). That's the problem with holding a model for a decade before you decide to paint it. I'm not entirely happy with the dog's head, but I don't think it's a fatal problem. And if I wait until it's perfect this model may remain unpainted for another 10 years.

Here's a quick trip around the back and sides:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slag Troll

Don't be fooled, I didn't paint this model in the last two hours. I was working on it at the same time I painted the Butcher.

It took me a while to warm up to Privateer Press' models. Compared to Games Workshop's, they seemed a little cartoonish and the assembly can be painful (so many small pieces, and so much pinning!). But after reading the Warmachine rules and painting a couple miniatures, I've changed my mind. These models have some wonderful details and loads of personality.

The rules look fascinating. I'm not much of a miniatures player, board and card games are my preference. And from that perspective, the Focus/Fury resource management and the game-changing special rules that come with each Warcaster/Warlock look like a lot of fun. I think I could learn to enjoy this game.

On to the model itself. In Privateer Press' artwork, Trollbloods are blue, not green. If I do paint more of these guys, they'll be blue too. But since this model has a collection of acid-based abilities, I thought green was more appropriate. Since other Trollbloods have fire- or ice-based attacks, they'll probably be color-coded too. To keep with the acid/corrosion theme, I also painted the stones growing from his body as bits of rusty iron.

The furry armbands and loincloth are made from green stuff. Since Privateer Press only makes one version of the Slag Troll, I thought bits of furry armor would be a great way to conceal conversion seams, should I decide to add and repose another one. But then I read the rules, and it doesn't sound like I'd need more than one. It was good practice though, and I learned a lot by adding a bit of extra fur. Look for more in some upcoming models.

Next up: A Space Wolves Dreadnought from Warhammer 40k. I have tons of old Space Wolves miniatures on the shelves and it would be great to get them painted.

And here are a few parting shots of the Slag Troll:

The Butcher of Khardov

With two months before work starts, I've got lots of time for painting. Scattered, indecisive painter that I am, I'll probably be all over the place. But maybe, if something takes hold, I may actually paint enough to...you know...play one of these games. In the meantime, it's just good to spend time makin' stuff.

First up, the Butcher of Khardov from Warmachine. Here he is in all of his nearly-finished glory:

There are several spots that need touch-ups, especially the axe-head and the boiler. The paint also wore away from a few spots on his gloves, but I think I may leave those spots untouched. Since they're part of his armor, it actually looks like wear and tear. I also need to paint the details on his badge.

I borrowed a camera (an Olympus SP-570UZ) to take these pictures, and I'm really impressed with the results. The static grass I forgot to brush away from the base, trenchcoat and armor are especially, painfully clear. Shame on me for not noticing this before I took the pictures.

Next up: A Slag Troll from Hordes. After that, I may tackle a Space Wolves Dreadnought from Warhammer 40k. There's no long term plan, at least not yet. But if one of these games grabs my imagination, I may try to finish an entire set before the new school year starts in August.

Finally, here are a couple more pictures of the Butcher: