I’ve been falling behind on updating this blog, partly because I have a couple articles half-written that I haven’t had the motivation to actually finish. While those are still on the back burner, I figured it would be a good idea to update some of my readers with information on a recent project I did which involved some interesting techniques to accomplish something that most people consider to be very difficult.
Yes, I’m talking about painting yellow.
Yellow is a colour that a lot of people struggle with, including myself. Until this project, my preferred method for painting yellow was “pick another colour scheme.” This is for a couple reasons; the main one being that yellow tends to be a very transparent colour with weaker pigments. As a result, you don’t get very good coverage, especially if you’ve punished yourself by trying to paint it straight over black primer or some other dark colour. And in trying to get good coverage, it is very easy to end up laying it on too thick and ending up with a patchy, horrible looking mess.
But what if we were to take advantage of that transparency? There is a trick that a lot of miniature painters use called zenithal shading, which is where you prime the mini black, then hit it from above and in the direction of the light source with a rattle can or airbrush to effectively preshade your model by making it lighter where the light is hitting it. Matt DiPietro of Contrast Miniatures has taken this one step further and developed a process he calls “sketch style” where one follows that up with transparent glazes to colour the model, and end up with good results quickly. By taking advantage of the natural transparency of paint, you can use the preshading you did in your initial steps and basically paint by numbers, automatically getting your highlights and shadows depending on whether you’re painting over black, white, or a shade of grey.
Of course, shadows aren’t always as simple as adding a bit of black or a bit of white because of colour theory. So, knowing a bit about colour theory and being inspired by a couple things I’ve seen online, I decided that I wanted purple shadows, and the yellow to progress from purple into orange, yellow, and maybe a touch of white in the highest highlight.
So, with the figure primed in my white primer of choice (I believe I used GW Corax White, with Reaper for touchups) (1), the first step in my journey on painting yellow was to load up my airbrush with a dark purple and began spraying from below (2). At this stage, it was more important to get it everywhere in the shadows than to be clean with it because I was going to cover up most of it anyways with more layers of paint.
Following that, I grabbed a lighter colour of purple and went for my second coat. This time, however, I used a zenithal technique, focusing on spraying from above and leaving the dark purple in the deepest shadows (3). I also focused my fire on the front of the model, because when it comes to composition for a single figure, it’s good to have the main light source coming from the front. You can see this in the difference between the front and back. After that, I repeated the process with white, being a little more controlled with my spray and leaving some of both shades of purple present in the shadows but covering up the purple on the upward-facing surfaces, and again, focusing my fire on the front, where most of the light is going to be hitting her (4).
By now you are probably thinking that this article was going to be about painting yellow. Well, no fear, here is where we finally break out the yellow. I’ve got a couple different shades of yellow FW acrylic artist inks, one of which is a very bright lemony yellow, while the other is a little more golden. These inks, as I discussed in a previous article, are basically acrylic paints with a high pigment density and very thin consistency. As a result, they can actually go through an airbrush on a low pressure setting quite nicely; practically drop and shoot with a minimum of clogging.
This is also where the natural transparency of yellows is an advantage. A thin coat of yellow won’t do much to change the colour of those purple shadows, however if we spray it on over white, we’re going to get a nice bright yellow. So, with my shadows established in purple, I wanted to work up to my highlights, so I took my darker yellow and sprayed it over pretty much the entire model, ensuring to at least cover up all the white. After letting that dry, I followed up with some of my brighter yellow from above, and finally, added a bit of white to the bright yellow to get the highest highlight (4).
Here, I ran into a bit of a problem. The highlights and shadows were looking good, but the transitions weren’t that great. Going from purple to yellow is a very stark transition, and I felt it needed something in between. So, I reached for Citadel’s Casandora Yellow shade, which despite its name is actually an orangey wash. After putting a few drops in my airbrush, I fired it into the shadows and all over the mini, getting basically all over and allowing the wash to sink into the shadows and anywhere where I needed either the depth of the wash or that midtone transition colour (5).
The Casandora Yellow did a great job of bringing the yellows and purples together, but it unfortunately made the entire model a little more orange than I wanted and kind of killed the highlights wherever it went. Which was no problem — all I had to do was load up some more yellow inks and re-highlight by spraying from above with the airbrush, and then mixing in a little white to the lightest yellow for the highest highlight (6). The end result was a very nice, rich yellow which really sold the illusion of light and shadow at that scale.
From there, the yellows were done and it was time to put away the airbrush and pull out the brushes, because with that done, I was happy to brush paint the rest of the model. Of course, in doing so, I was careful not to get paint on the areas I wanted to keep yellow, as it would be hard to colour match such a complicated base coat. Also, areas such as the cream-coloured bits on her uniform had highlights and shadows blended in to match the lighting and shadows on the yellow — after all, it would look strange to have this perfectly shaded yellow next to a strap or a belt with no shading at all.
Another little detail where I really like how it turned out was the tricorder looking thing on her left thigh. Here, I think the edge highlight on the top corner really helps sell the shape to the viewer, and I had some fun with the colours on the screens. The little heart monitor screen is actually painted on with white and then glazed with green, to give an old-school monochrome CRT monitor vibe, and I like how the contrast between the edge highlight and the transition on the blue square worked out.
Finally, as soon as I attached her to the base I noticed that the composition seemed off. I had glued metal rods into her feet to attach her to a handle while I was painting her, and the last step in theory would have been to clip those rods down to size, drill corresponding holes in the base, add a little super glue and drop her in. But when I drilled the holes, I centered them longitudinally, faining to take into account the fact that she was leaning off to one side. So once I got her in there, the whole piece looked off-balance. And with a contest deadline looming, I really didn’t have the time or the desire to fill those holes, re-prime, re-paint, and try again. So, as a last minute fix, I grabbed a tiny switch from an electronics project, clipped off the legs, and glued it to the base near her left foot. After hitting it with some primer, I quickly painted some blue gunmetal NMM highlights and a big red button, colours which were already used on the figure in small doses, but would stand out enough to balance out the imbalance created by having her leaning to one side. I think it worked, and definitely helped save the model composition-wise.
This was a fun project for a lot of reasons. First, it allowed me the opportunity to play with my brand new Badger Krome, which I picked up in the recent Badger 54th Birthday promotion. Second, I was able to use the airbrush to, in a short time, easily accomplish an effect that would be very difficult trying to do with a brush. Third, it just turned out really well, and I’m very happy with the end result. I feel as though I learned a lot in the process, especially as I’ve been shying away from yellow because I haven’t had much success with it before. Also, I took her to the IPMS Montreal (Réal Côté) show last weekend, where she won first place in the fantasy figures category, so that was a nice result as well. I think it’s always a good sign when one of the pieces you are most proud of is your most recent piece, and I think as I look back on my hobby journey, this will be one that represents a big step forward.