Friday, 31 July 2015

House Martell Knight [WIP - Everything sans heraldry] and Warhorse [WIP - Brightening the highlights]

Sand snakes are synonymous with House Martell so it was a no-brainer to select a Bretonnian Knight with a snake/serpent helm to represent one of the great noble house of Westeros. While sand snakes normally exist in yellowish brown hues, creative license meant green was chosen instead to contrast the predominantly orange colour scheme. Yellow and blue wash on metal made up the rest.

House Martell Knight work-in-progress, a closeup of a 'sand snake' atop the helm

Having watched House Martell come to prominence in Season Four of Game of Thrones, I was largely influenced by the costumes of Prince Oberyn Martell and his paramour Ellaria Sand. Because Prince Oberyn's entourage was decked mostly in yellow, it made me doubt my initial choice of an orange colour scheme. But closer inspection of everything House Martell in the Game of Thrones HBO series revealed an interplay between yellow, orange and every hue in between. Hence I made a slight adjustment to my original choice by making the orange lighter to mimic the colours on TV.  

My version of a Martell knight has a colour scheme dominated by orange, yellow and green
Getting smooth blends was much easier for green than orange
Side view (right) of the House Martell Knight
Apart from the 'sand snake', I achieved fairly smooth blends on the helm banner and lance

Getting a smooth transition for the orange hues was difficult which made blending work on the greens of the 'sand snake' seem almost too easy in comparison. For both colours, I made use of Vallejo Model Color (VMC) acrylic paints as I find them relatively easier to blend smoothly. I love the amount of green as well as orange/red/yellow hues available from the VMC line. That and its consistency allows me to make half tones of half tones for that extra smooth transition between hues. 

Back of the Martell Knight had the darkest orange hues
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
Side view (left) of the House Martell Knight
A blue wash was applied to the knight's armour for that 'extra' shine

A piece not shown above was the knight's shield. Thus far it just lacks the House Martell heraldry which is a red sun pierced by a golden spear. I have yet to create a design simple enough to be painted freehand on the miniature. That should be the final step prior to completing the paint job.

Shield with the House Martell heraldry/symbol yet to be painted on it

In addition, I reworked the House Martell warhorse so that it now looks much brighter. Extreme highlights are now a pure yellow instead of the previous light orange. Inclusion of the red sun/golden spear heraldry may yet change the dynamics of the overall colour scheme ... time will tell.  

House Martell Warhorse sans heraldry work-in-progress
Warhorse had its overall scheme brightened up a notch towards yellowish orange

Time off from this piece has gotten me excited about it again. Hopefully it will spur me on to figure out how to paint the heraldry freehand. You might be wondering what has happened to the red dragon in my previous post. Well similarly as I'm wont to do, projects tend to be left to gestate for a while before I return to finish them. I find that this allows me to spot mistakes I may otherwise have missed as well as view the miniature from a newer perspective. The latter could cause an adjustment to the colour scheme; the point being moving from project to project keeps things fresh. And having a fresh approach can sometimes make or break the miniature painting project we have spent an eternity on.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Red Dragon [WIP - Scales and Wings]

There is something about painting colour transitions that's seem rather zen-like. More so when the activity takes place on a majority portion of a miniature as it is for the reds on this dragon's scales. Frequently my mind focuses on the repetitive blending brush strokes; senses oblivious to all sensory inputs around me. It's small pleasures like this that make miniature painting such a great hobby.  

Red Dragon sans wings: work-in-progress with scales at an advanced stage
Comparison between the dragon's scales and that of an arowana; both have purplish red shadows

Key to making the reds pop was having a purplish shadow in between the scales for contrast. Yet, as you can see in the photos above, the purples are not as obvious as those found on the Arowana (inset photo above). Making the shadows very purplish was never my intention. Instead, I wanted a dark black red shadow with a hint of purple akin to a secret food ingredient that is just beyond your palate. If I had used pure black for the shadow, results would have had a different and duller effect.

Front view of the red dragon sans wings
Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings Dragon miniature has a fluid, dynamic look to it
Having a light beige underbelly adds contrast to the whole piece

Ever aware of not making the highlights too bright, I consciously limited myself to light orange as the final highlight. My main fear was inadvertently turning this beast into an orange Umpa-Lumpa. So even if I were to make further adjustments to the scales, it would be to add darker reds to the existing colour scheme. This would make the existing highlights brighter as well as create greater contrasts.

Back view of the red dragon sans wings
Purplish dark red is the new black ... at least as shadows for a red dragon
Light orange was as bright as I dared take the highlights on its scales

Meanwhile, the dragon's wings were painted to look slightly brighter than its main body; pure yellows were used as the final highlight. And to mimic the membranous nature of wings found on the reptilian flying lizard or the mammalian bat, I painted a lined texture on the dragon's wing membrane.

Highlights on the wing membranes went one step higher towards pure yellow
Care was taken to create a lined texture to simulate a wing membrane

The next steps would be to paint the dragon's bones, claws, teeth, mouth, tongue, eyes before gluing the wings to its body and finally either brightening up the wings or darkening the reds of the scales (or both or even neither). No work is planned for its oval base as the dragon is meant to be a piece on a yet-to-be-fully-envisioned diorama. There is a possibility the base will be discarded in exchange for a bigger one that can contain other miniatures, so that a story befitting this dragon can be told. But that day is still far away. For now, the priority is to complete the dragon's paint job and do it well.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An urge to paint a Red Dragon [WIP - Basecoats to First Mid-tones, Underbelly, Resculpting the Tail]

If like me you are a miniature hobbyist who loves reading fantasy, then chances are you would have had an urge to paint a red dragon sometime in your life. From The Hobbit to Game of Thrones to Dragonlance and to (almost) any fantasy world setting ever created, red dragons are about as ubiquitous as space is to science fiction. Since most dragon miniatures cost a pretty penny - for example Games Workshop's Smaug sells for a whopping £295 - I had to make do with a cheaper yet adequately sized dragon also from Games Workshop which sells for roughly seven times less.  

Red Dragon after initial light coats of the first mid-tone
Red Dragon with underbelly, horns and claws at the basecoat stage
Tip of dragon's tail had broken off - it wasn't even in the package - so I had to resculpt it

Because the way I'm painting the dragon entails a lot of manhandling of the miniature, I decided to use mainly Citadel paints for its high durability. Ideally we shouldn't be touching any part of a miniature while its being painted for fear of leaving oily residues on the surface or chipping the paint work. But the scale of this dragon - measuring 14 cm in length - which sometimes necessitates it being held by hand while being painted as well as the possibility it may suffer yet more manhandling later on as I try to fit it into a (yet-to-be-determined) diorama, I felt Citadel paints was the way to go. 

Red Dragon, work-in-progress - first mid-tones on the red scales and on the horns/claws, ...
... a purplish dark red wash over the scales and a completed underbelly

Citadel Skull White was used to prime the dragon while Scab Red, Khemri Brown and Ratskin Flesh was used as the basecoat for the dragon's scales, horn/claws and underbelly respectively. An initial mid-tone (first of three planned) of Red Gore was applied to the scales followed by a purplish dark red wash. Care was taken to ensure most of the wash ended up on the ridges in between the scales. Similarly, the horn/claws were given an initial mid-tone (one of two planned) of a Khemri Brown and Bleached Bone mix followed by a wash of Devlan Mud. Meanwhile, the dragon's tongue/mouth was basecoated with a pinkish Vallejo Model Color hue (the only paint from this brand used so far).  

Red dragon's soft underbelly [completed]
As with the scales, the wings were washed over with a purplish dark red mix

To date, the only thing I have completed is the dragon's underbelly. After basecoating with Ratskin Flesh, the underbelly was washed with Ogryn Flesh followed by a first mid-tone layer of Bestigor Flesh then a second mid-tone layer of Ungor Flesh before it was dry brushed with Bleached Bone. This was followed by lighter wash of Ogryn Flesh and yet another dry brush coat of Bleached Bone.

Nature's own 'red dragons'

For inspiration on how the scales of a red dragon could be painted, I am taking a leaf out of mother nature's book. Specifically, I will be using photo references of Scleropages legendrei (super red arowana) and Naja pallida (red spitting cobra) to help me paint a combination of the two. As an overall guide, I will likely based the general look of the red dragon on how Weta Workshop's version Smaug the Terrible turned out. So I guess the final product would be an amalgamation of three ideas - two from nature and one from Middle Earth. Only if, that is, everything turns out as it should.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Beware an optical illusion's effect on your paintings and drawings

Your eyes are deceiving you! In 1995, an optical illusion published by Edward H. Adelson, a Professor of Vision Science at MIT, drew attention to the fact that our eyes perceive how light or dark an object is based on the lightness or darkness of its neighbouring objects. If you are seeing the illusion below for the first time, you would probably call me crazy if I told you that Square A and Square B have the exact same tonal properties. But they actually do as the subsequent picture shows.

The checker shadow illusion as published by Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science
When cut out and placed next to each other, the squares A and B are found to be of the same shade

This illusion has implications on our artwork be it paintings or drawings. In essence, the checker shadow illusion highlights our visual system's weakness at being a physical light meter. I believe the same principle is roughly at work when a colour that we paint on our miniatures can sometimes look noticeably different based on which other colours are surrounding it. To illustrate my point, I made a skin tone comparison between the Nocturna Models Le Petit Chaperon and Akelarre Enchantment figures. At first glance, one can arguably assume that the former has a slightly brighter skin tone.   

A light skin tone on the finished Nocturna Models Le Petit Chaperon
A seemingly duskier skin tone on the work-in-progress Akelarre Enchantment

However, upon closer inspection - and when the surrounding colours are removed as to negate their influence - it would seem that the latter i.e. work-in-progress Enchantment figure is the one with the much lighter skin tone. Her skin's seemingly dusky undertones are more apparent when viewed next to her light turquoise dress. Similarly, Le Petit's skin tone is made lighter by the darker contrasts of her red cloak and blue corset. As control, both figures were photographed under the same condition.

Putting both the Nocturna Models miniatures side-by-side for a skin tone comparison
Comparison between skin tones sans surrounding colours

Such optical illusions are more noticeable when drawing with graphite pencils because we are dealing with a gradation of only two colours namely black, white and the resulting grey hues in between. Looking closely at my drawing below, you might notice the highlights/reflected light on the ala (or wing) of Park Joo-Mi's nose looks as bright as the highlights on her left cheekbone. But as the following edited picture shows; this is not the case at all. The illusion is caused by the wing of the nose being located next to the dark shades of the nostril which makes the reflected light look much brighter than it really is. And this illusion caused an error on my part: Highlights on the bridge of her nose have the same tonal value as the wing of the nose when the former should have been brighter. Inconsistencies such as this are among the kinks that I need to iron out before I can improve further.

Finished portrait drawing of Park Joo-Mi
Optical illusion showing reflected light on the ala (or wing) of the nose is darker than it actually looks

My suspicion of this phenomena was first confirmed in a National Geographic Channel show called Brain Games and reaffirmed when I came across this brilliant YouTube video by JD Hilberry. I would strongly advise you watch both sources to better understand how this optical illusion can effect your paintings and drawings. Just being aware of the problem has been a real eye opener for me. Hopefully, this post can bring a similar awareness to those of you who do not yet know, or those that do but just can't quite put your finger on what you may already instinctively know. Either way, may this little bit of information help you as much as it has helped me in my quest to create better art.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Portrait Practice #13 on Park Joo-Mi

On my thirteenth try at portrait drawing I imposed two arbitrary conditions on my subject matter i.e. she must be oriental and be born on the same year as me. With a portrait of the missus still a long way off until my skills are up to par, that meant looking at some Chinese, Korean and Japanese celebrities for inspiration. In the end I settled on 43-year old South Korean actress Park Joo-Mi.    

Portrait Practice #13 on Park Joo-Mi

Yet another self imposed albeit non-arbitrary condition I attach to every practice piece is to, whenever possible, incorporate new techniques or approaches to portrait drawing. In this case, the number of things I did differently from before were threefold:
(a) Using an inclined drawing table - for better facial proportions when drawing;
(b) Using sharpened pencils when shading skin - for better control of tonal transitions; and
(c) Using a combination of camel hair brush, paper stump and soft tissue - for smoother blending.  

Reference photo of Park Joo-Mi

Trying these new approaches has brought me closer to realising my goal of drawing realistic portraits. A small step granted but a step forward nonetheless. Using the inclined drafting table has definitely improved my sense of facial proportions. However, I haven't quite got a handle on getting an accurate likeness. For instance, the margin for error seems awfully small to me. Even slight differences in tonal value - sometimes deviations of just a few millimetres of graphite shading - can cause the portrait to look noticeably distinct from the subject matter that I want to portray through graphite.       

Blending graphite using soft tissue, paper stumps and camel hair
Using an inclined drafting table to obtain better proportions when drawing

Among the things I am happy with are successfully replicating the shirt's chequered texture as well as achieving much smoother skin tone transitions. For the former, I'm glad I didn't chicken out and draw a plain white shirt which was what I initially planned to do. Completing the chequered shirt was a real confidence booster because before the attempt I honestly believed there was no way I could do it. For the latter, I'm slowly approaching a level of smoothness in skin tone that I believe will be the best I can achieve using a 160 g/ student grade paper. Ideally, I would love to work with Bristol paper. From what I understand, certain Bristol papers are good for achieving smooth blends with graphite. 

Portrait Practice #13 (Park Joo Mi) - comparison between reference photo and graphite drawing

Each new drawing I finish always results in cringe-worthy reactions to my previous drawings. But this is a good thing as it means I'm able to spot my previous mistakes; some of them anyway. Hopefully a day will come when I can look at my drawings and be genuinely satisfied with what I put on paper. Chasing the rainbow for the proverbial pot of gold ... who knows, I might just find it. 

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