Blending Step-by-Step: Batman Joker Thug
Blending isn’t as difficult as people think. It is easy if you work in small steps, with opaque paints and not scrambling to fuss with paint drying on the miniature. Neither is it necessary to always match by eye colour wet that is dry, or precisely place a layer so as to create the illusion of blending.
Recently I thought it might be fun if I live-tweeted my painting session. I snapped quick pictures with my cell phone as I finished each stage and described what I was doing. The pictures are rough but I think show enough detail to get the gist. In a perfect world I’d take better pictures and figure out how to eliminate the glare from the fresh paint but for now hopefully they will be helpful.
Here’s where I started. The miniature is flatted with something close to the intended colours. I’ve described flatting before so you can read more about it in the article. However it’s important to note that the colours I use when flatting aren’t the exact colours each part of the miniature will be painted.
Step one was to create five versions of my flesh colour. The paints I used were all Vallejo Model Colour: Black, White, Beige Red, Mahogany Brown, Dark Blue, Pale Sand. There’s no exact mixing ratio but I generally start with an equal measure of Beige Red and Mahogany for my base tones. Black and Dark Blue are used to create the shade while White and Pale Sand form the highlights.
I really like a palette with paint wells over a wet palette. The wells hold the paint together which keeps them open longer and I can mix enough for my entire session. I arrange my different colours in a range and dump paint from one well to another until they form a smooth gradiant. In this case my first shade was too dark and my first highlight wasn’t light enough, but I was able to fix that as I went.
My first shade is the closest shade to my mid tone. At this stage I am just sketching in shadows. I cover the lowest facing surfaces and try to overlap my midtone area. There’s no need to be neat at this stage as I will be coming in with my mid tone later to clean things up.
At this stage of the painting process the shade looks very dark. This shade is balanced for my midtone and the colour I used for flatting is a bit lighter. It won’t make a difference later but is important to be confident in your mix. To boost confidence it newer painters I’d recommend painting swatches of each of your mixed colours next to each other and let them dry to see how they’ll look.
The other reason this colour is so dark is because the Batman Miniature Game exclusively takes place at night in low light situations. The strong light-to-dark contrast is consistent with close, strong lighting such as provided by street lights. It doesn’t hurt that this is a style you’ll see everywhere among top painters.
It is important to remember that this tutorial describes only a way of painting, and somewhat only the way I painted this miniature. Lately I’ve been swapping the order of my first and second shades. Find what works for you.
The second shade was mostly a thin line under some of the muscles, where the arms press to the body and under the left arm.
I skip the midtone and go straight to my first highlight. This is the highlight colour closest to my midtone. I place it on the top of surfaces, again overlapping my midtone to make sure I get my coverage right.
It’s more obvious know that the base colour is too light as there is not enough contrast between it and my highlight. Don’t worry, this will be fixed.
This highlight is much stronger is placed on the most upwards facing surfaces where it will catch the most light. You can see how strong the total contrast will be which is, again, meant to demonstrate a close bright light with low ambient light. It’s still an artistic rendering as such a light would be very hard with little transition between light and shadow.
Here things start to come together a bit with the proper midtone added. This overlaps again the first shade and highlight, in a way this is my first blend.
If I were painting a quick and dirty army job I could stop here and call it good, but that’s not what this is. Up to this point I’ve been working with mostly opaque paint and just sketching in where I want my shadows and highlights. It’s important to get them where I want them now as it’s easier to move them with opaque paint compared to trying to shift them with a million glazes. At any stage, if need, I’ll go back with my opaque paints to move something where I want. I also know from experience that I’ll be pushing my mid into my shadow and highlight rather than pushing them into my mid, which is why there’s actually a bit more shadow than I need.
I apologize for the blurry photographs. When I took these pictures I was just trying to live-tweet my painting session and so I was just taking quick snaps with my cell phone.
Until this point I was working strictly with the five colours I had previously mixed. Now, as I’m adjusting where my highlights and shadows go I’ll mix two of the colours together to make a transition colour in order to better understand where I want things to go. For example, I clarified the shadow on the shoulder muscle by adding a transition colour so I have a better idea of where I wanted the shadow to fall.
This step is often the longest which is why there appears to be so much change between it and the last photograph. Now that I’m “mostly” happy with the position of my highlights and shadows it is time to start the blending process. I say mostly because while this is maximum effort for a wargame model it is still a wargame model. It’s maybe 90% perfect1 but that last 10% will take at least as long as it’s already taken, if not many more times as long.
Pushing past 90% is something I reserve for my competition pieces and even then I’d rather stop short of 100% and start painting another model. Even hitting this level improves my painting and I’d always rather paint two models in the time it would take to paint one. The second one, since I’m always pushing to improve, will probably be as good as I could have painted the one.
Enough about my philosophy, back to practicality. The previous stage was the first where I started mixing colours. In this stage I will freely mix intermediate shades to help smooth transitions. I work quickly, not cleaning my brush between colours and allowing some slight mixing on the surface. It’s not traditional wet blending where I apply two colours and them smudge them together on the surface. However, I am working fast so I take advantage of the paint being wet.
As fast as I am trying to work this stage it’s also important to slow down from time to time. Acrylic paint has an intermediate stage when it isn’t dry but it is no longer workable. It is not just thickened; people work with heavy-body paints all the time. Instead it has started to dry to the point where adding water won’t return it to its former consistency. When the paint gets to this state, and preferably before this, it is time to let it full dry before adding another layer of paint. I’ve gone into more detail on this in the past. The point is that it’s important not to become so focused on smoothing the blends at this stage that you overwork the paint.
This is also not the final blending stage, although certainly a painter can stop here and be happy. The goal is to knock down the worst transitions to save time in the final stage.
The last stage and the first introduction of non-opaque paints, this is where the transitions will completely disappear and with luck everyone will think you are a genius.
When I first started working on this technique I would mix a glaze of each of my five colours. The glaze consisted of a 50/50 mix of water and matte medium with just a touch of the colour. I was always left with way more glaze than I could possibly ever use. Now I fill a paint well with my mix of water and matte medium and use it to spot mix a glaze on the flat spots of the palette. Normally I’ll fully load my brush with my glazing medium and then dip the tip into colour. This way I could vary the strength of my glaze as needed and it saved a lot of matte medium.
The glaze consistency should be similar to the consistency of your paint. It isn’t a wash and isn’t meant to flow into the crevices of the miniature. It needs to stay where you put it.
I start with my midtones pushing them into the highlights and shadows. When glazing it’s important to properly unload your brush into a rag and not apply too much glaze at a time. Always pull your paint to the location where you want the most colour. When you pull your brush off the surface there’s always a little extra paint left behind. If this is left on your edges it will be harder to hide the transition.
Again, allowing coats to dry is important during this stage. It’s less likely the glaze will fall into an unworkable state which will ruin the surface. The main issue is that if the first coat isn’t dry additional coats of the same colour won’t accomplish much.
Here’s the finished miniature. It’s a little easier to see the blending after I applied a coat of matte varnish. Of course the shield covers the most prominent blending, though it it helps the gradient on the shield was painted in exactly the same way.
I hope this tutorial was helpful. There’s a lot to painting that comes from practice and experience. Knowing when to move from one stage to another takes an understanding of the process that is impossible to achieve on the first attempt. This is one of the reasons I encourage people to paint as best they can and then move on to the next miniature.
Leave a comment if you have any questions. I sometimes feel the urge to make painting videos which I may yet do, provided there’s enough demand.
- In this case perfect is as good as I can possible make the model assuming I took as much time as I wanted and pushed my abilities past my current max. Nothing is truly perfect. ↩