Flatting, Rendering and Detailing Miniatures

There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. This is as true for painting as it is for cat skinning. There really are no rules when it comes to slapping paint on a miniature. For every example of a technique you can find someone successfully practicing the opposite. However, there is an underlying framework to a painted miniature which, once you understand it, clarifies and informs how to improve.

The three stages of the framework are Flatting, Rendering and Detailing. This framework is not necessarily a strict order to painting, although I do loosely follow it.

Some painters are able to complete all the steps at once. If they are successful it is because they’ve visualized the finished miniature and can work on the small pieces so that they come together into a coherent whole.

Other painters feel a lack in their painting and focus on advance techniques like two-brush blending when it’s really their highlight placement or ability to lay a smooth coat of paint which is holding them back.

The Reversed Painting

To visualize this framework I’d like you to imagine a finished, painted miniature. We can easily differentiate the shapes of the miniature and our brain has no problem processing the image. The blob on the miniatures belt is effortlessly recognized as a leather pouch. We can see detail and understand what each surface texture is meant to be. This I will call the Detailed Miniature. This is the final result, the last step of the painting.

Imagine all the detail removed and the smooth transitions from light into shade broken into separate, chunky stages. We can see the seams but we still see the miniature, the shape of surfaces. Our brain processes the image as volumes with depth. Let’s call this stage the Rendered Miniature to reflect that the greatest detail is the values of light and dark which render shape.

Bust by Alfonso "Banshee" Giraldes
Bust by Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes.

Last we strip away the value information until we are left with flat areas of colour. Obviously, we will call this the Flatted Miniature.

Not all painters progress through all three stages of this framework in this order as they paint. The ones that paint consistently well can visualize the finished miniature and work towards that image. I prefer to physically perform each step, it’s easier for me to make adjustments if necessary.

The Framework As Curriculum

Now that we have the framework in our mind we can use it to determine where to improve our painting. Blending is usually the thing most painters feel they have to get better at. They don’t realize that the blending they are doing is undermined by weaknesses in the previous stages of the framework.

Before you worry about blending, worry about how you are using values to create depth in the miniature. Before you worry about values, worry about applying colour properly.

This is not to say that a painter must master each stage of the framework before beginning the next. It isn’t necessary to paint hundreds of miniatures in flat colours before trying to render the volumes by adding value. Similar to how many painters add colour and value at the same time each stage can be practiced simultaneously as well.

Applying the Framework

How each stage of the framework is applied is up to the individual painter’s preferences. However, I’ll give a brief overview of each stage and will endeavor to expand on each in a separate page.

Flatting

Batman Miniature Game Shield Clown Flatted
A miniature in the flatted stage.
Knight Models Shield Clown from Batman Miniature Game.

I see flatting as the stage where I get to know the miniature and start making decisions about the colour scheme. I start with a miniature which has been zenithally primed. This priming style is mostly to make is easier for me to see the details but also helps me visualize the rendering later. It will be covered in so many layers that any physical impact will be very subtle.

My goal in the flatting stage is to completely cover the miniature in colour during a single painting session. Occassionally I will leave a few areas primed, often the colour if it is very small. I am not concerned with being overly neat, nor do I care how even a coat. I do make sure I’m not creating a rough surface or filling in details and will tend towards more translucent paint than is considered useful for base coating.

If I change my mind about a colour placement I’ll just paint over top. The final colour isn’t much of a concern as well. I’ll mix something close enough as this stage will be completely covered during rendering. The idea is to break up all the surfaces and differentiate them.

Rendering

Batman Miniature Game Shield Clown Positioning
Shadows and Highlights painted using opaque colours.
Knight Models Shield Clown from Batman Miniature Game.

Rendering is the next, although very rarely, first step. This is why I start applying my highlights and shadows. The speed and quality I am aiming for determines how many different shadows and highlights I will mix. For the most part it is 2 shadows, 2 highlights and a midtone.

Each are mixed as an opaque colour. I work from darkest to lightest, skipping the midtone until last. The midtone brings everything together and helps kickstart the detailing process. There will be little transition at this stage. I am trying to build shapes. Squinting at the miniature to determine if it makes sense as a 3D object is a good way to see how well the miniature is looking.

Detailing

Batman Miniature Game Shield Clown Glazing
Glazing and transition colours are used to blend the colours together. 
Knight Models Shield Clown from Batman Miniature Game.

The last step is taking the rough render and paying attention to my edges. This is the edge between light and shadow and is defined by the surface texture and quality. Sometimes the edge will be sharp, like a highlight on a corner. Sometimes the edge will be soft, like a piece of cloth gently curving away from the light.

The technique I use is to start mixing transition tones. Any large jumps between the two highlights are smoothed by mixing the two highlight colours together and painting this new tone over the edge.

If I am going all out I will heavily dilute my paint with medium and glaze over any remaining transitions which I want to smooth. This method is much faster than working only with glazes which can take hundreds of coats to build up sufficient colour.

My last pass is to sharpen any transitions that became accidentally softened by the glazing.

Am I The Only One

Let me know in the comments if you have been performing any of these steps, intentionally or unintentionally in your painting. I’ll also be happy to look at anyone’s miniature who is having trouble to see if perhaps an earlier step is the cause.

– Tyler

Batman Miniature Game Shield Clown
The finishes model.
Knight Models Shield Clown from Batman Miniature Game.

4 responses

  1. Simon says:

    Great to see you back posting! Don’t forget RSS users 🤘

    • I won’t. I’m an RSS user. I wish I understand the page/post interaction better. Pages seems to be better for maintaining a navigable library of techniques but posts got to RSS. If a site I follow only added pages I’d never see them. But, if my techniques are just in posts they are harder to add to the menu.

      What do you think?

  2. Sudo Nimh says:

    I usually skip the Rendering step and tend to paint each part of the model up to detailing. Maybe that’s why I feel everything takes forever. One of the big problems I have with the rendering “medium” detail step though I reproducing the colors of paint I used to paint each “layer” of the lightening band/gradient. I usually am mixing paints on the fly for contrast and saturation so it’s hard for me to successfully reproduce those colors to mix with the previous transition layer. (if that makes any sense)

    • Sudo,

      I understand what you mean. I can never match the exact colour from the flatting stage during a later stage and I don’t even try, since I know it will all be covered up. It does me to doubt my highlights and shadows if they are very far off the flat, but then I trust myself to blend it in with my midtone.

      I do render and detail in the same session and try to never let it be interrupted.

      However many miniature painters I interact with are obsessed with matching colours. Someone didn’t like the green they were using, I suggested adding red which they liked but said the wouldn’t do it because they’ll never match it across all models. Between paint batches and fading no colours are ever exact in life.

      Even on the same model there will be natural variations and the more changes in colour the more interesting the surface.

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