Friday, 17 February 2017

Let There Be Light! : What Kind of Lighting Works Best For Miniature Painting?

One of the questions I get asked by many gamers and painters is, "What kind of light should I be using for painting minis?"  It's a simple question, that has many different answers.

Generally speaking, what you are looking for in a painting light is something that gives off a nice, clean tone of light.  What I mean by "clean" is something that is not too far in the warm, yellow end of the light spectrum, or too far into the cold blue end of the colour spectrum.  Either extreme will affect your colour perception, and can trick your eye into thinking that the paints you are using are something they are not.

The old fashioned incandescent lights were very warm in tone, which made sense because they were created by heating up a tiny filament that created more heat than light.  Later on, there were various fluorescent tubes sold that were very blue in colour... the light was created by sending an electrical current through a gas filled tube to excite the molecules into producing light.  Neither method created a form of light that approximated natural sunlight very well (and even sunlight varied in colour temperature quite often).

Nowadays, we have a number of lights and light bulbs that are marketed as "Daylight", which basically mean that produce light in the 5000k to 6500k range (as opposed to "warm" lights, which are meant to reproduce the old fashioned incandescent lights, sit around the 2700k range, and old halogen lights are around 3000k).  This is the sweet spot of lighting, as far as we painters are concerned.  5000k or 6500k allows our eyes to see colours on our palette and miniature for what they really are... not tinted or colour shifted by the colour of the light itself.

So, the very first consideration any painter should have when choosing a light, is to stick to something that produces a light between 5000k and 6500k.  When in doubt, look for those numbers on the packaging, or on the product itself.  Don't just look for the word, "daylight", as that is just a marketing term which could mean anything.  "Daylight" for lights can be just as misleading and confusing as "organic", or "all natural" for foods.

Next, look at your painting station.  How do you want the light to be set up?

For my personal setup, I like a light with a position-able (articulated) arm, so that I can move the light around and adjust the angle and height without having to tear it down and re-set it up elsewhere.  The ones I have also clamp firmly to my desk, so that I don't worry about knocking them over.  However, you may like something completely different, as your preferences and your desk setup may be completely different from mine.  There are lights with a weighted base that you simply set down anywhere you have space on the desk, and there are lights that mount to the walls or ceiling.  There are also floor lamps with long arms that put the light where you like (although I find they are often designed with reading at a couch or chair in mind, rather than painting).

Those are the two basic considerations that spring to mind.  That being said, why don't we have a quick look at various lighting options, and I'll give you my thoughts and experiences with each?

The first light worth looking at just so happens to be one of the least expensive options.  Which also happens to be one of the most versatile.  And coincidentally, happens to be the one I use now.

It's the standard desk lamp.



A venerable design, widely available just about anywhere (office supplies stores, art stores, furniture stores, etc... I believe mine are from IKEA).  The versatility comes from the fact that it can accept a number of different kinds of light bulbs, so long as they have a standard size twist-in base.  You can put an incandescent bulb in there, halogen bulb, or LED bulb.  You can also find bulbs in varying wattage, based on how bright a light you need.  And you can position and adjust the angle as needed.  The only real drawback to these is that they take up a fair bit of room, and need a sturdy surface to clamp on to.

And did I mention that these are dirt-cheap?

Of all the kinds of bulbs you can use, I would strongly advise avoiding the old fashioned incandescent bulbs.  Not only are they incredibly energy inefficient and short lived (meaning that you have to replace them quite often), but they usually put out a very yellow light.  In addition, they put out a lot of heat, which can get uncomfortable when the lamp is inches from your head.



I currently use the twisted florescent tube bulbs (which remind me of curly fries... mmmmm, curly fries...).  While they still put out a little bit of heat, it's generally not noticeable unless you are painting for hours and hours.  They have a good long life, and use substantially less energy than the incandescent versions.  They do cost a little more to buy, but pay for themselves in the long run.  And they put out a very pleasant 6500k light, which make the colours and details pop nicely.

Years ago, when these first came out, they did put out a faint humming sound, but I can't hear anything from the ones being sold nowadays.



The latest offerings in bulbs are daylight LED bulbs.  These promise to be much better than even the florescent ones, in that they use even less energy, last even longer, and produce almost no heat whatsoever.  Plus, they are much more impact resistant, so no worries of breaking them.  They are a bit more expensive, but are coming down in price all the time (and still MUCH less expensive than some of the dedicated painting lights sold in art stores).

They are also made in a number of different colour temperatures, but the ones you are looking for are the 5000k ones.  I haven't seen any 6500k versions yet, but the 5000k ones seem to work just fine.  Great for painting, and great for photography (although you still need to diffuse the light somewhat if you are using them for photographing your minis).

For those who are always looking for the fanciest, most expensive solutions, here are a few to consider:



A variation of the basic clamping desk lamp would be this one.  It's a magnifying desk lamp.

This has a magnifying lense in the centre, which is the "donut hole" to the florescent tube that wraps around it.  I used to own one of these, and bought it thinking that the magnifying lense would be useful for painting finer details on my miniatures.  However, unlike the binocular magnification of an optivisor or reading glasses, this robs you of any depth perception.  I found that I had a hard time determining where my hand and brush were, relative to the miniature I was painting.  I suppose it would be good for the occasional up-close look for particular details, but not for painting with.

I ended up using it just like a regular adjustable desk lamp for a time, as the light was bright, and had a good colour temperature.  However, when it came time to replace the "bulb", I found that they were very pricey.  It was much cheaper for me to ditch the magnifying desk lamp and just get a regular desk lamp with a daylight bulb.

My advice would be to not bother with one of those.

Here's a look at one of the most hyped lamps in the history of miniature painting:



For quite some time in the late nineties, and early 2000s, everyone was talking about the "Ott light".  Decent florescent lamps were hard to come by back then, and the most plentiful bulb to use with your basic desk lamp was the old yellow light incandescent.  At the time, Ott lights were a godsend.  They worked off a florescent tube, but produced a very nice, white light.  They also didn't hum loudly, like the old florescents, and created almost no noticeable heat at all.

Sold by the hype, I went out and bought one.  It was painfully expensive, but I figured that it would be worth it.

In terms of light quality, the light was everything that people had said it was.  It was clean, and it made details pop.  It was easy on the eyes too.  The only problem I had with it was that it wasn't very bright... with the ambient room light on, I could barely tell that the lamp was on or off.  Add in the high price tag (even the replacement light tubes were expensive!), and I eventually gave up on this light.

Newer, more recent versions may be much better... I don't know.  All I know is the one that I got back in '01 was barely brighter than a candle.  Very disappointing for the price.

Another possibility:



I've seen a few variations on the above design, but never used one myself.  Some use long florescent tubes, and some newer ones use LED strips.  Either way, these look promising.  The benefit of using one of these over the standard desk lamp would be that they throw light evenly over a wider area, with less of a central "hot spot" of light.  I mitigate this with the use of two separate lamps, but if I were to only use one light, it might be this one.  However, given the choice between florescent or LED, I would opt for the LED... longer life, less heat, no buzzing noise, shatterproof, and more energy efficient.  Either version is likely to be pricey, however.



Speaking of even light, this is a pic that's gotten a lot of attention recently.  It's of Mathieu Fontaine's painting desk (check out all those Golden Demon awards on the window sill!), and the "light arches" that he uses.

Custom made for him out of LED light strips, these cast a very even light across nearly the whole surface of his desk.  Provided the light strips you get are the right colour temperature range, these would do the job very nicely.

The funny thing is that 4 years before he got this setup, I was sitting in his Vancouver Masterclass, and when the topic of preferred lighting came up, I suggested creating a setup using one of the new LED light hoods that were just coming out for fish aquariums.  Mathieu scoffed at the idea, and then proudly showed off this setup years later... essentially a stripped down version of the idea I first proposed in his painting class!

Now have a look at this pic, taken during Alfonso Giraldes' Masterclass in Vancouver last year:


Using two lamps borrowed from the students, Alfonso quickly set up a spot to work on a demo bust for us.  It appears one lamp is a long florescent tube lamp, and the other is a small portable Ott lamp (likely one of the newer LED versions).  Between the two, he was able to produce a fairly even, white light across his workstation, which worked out very well.

So, perhaps the question isn't, "What lamp works best for miniature painting?", but perhaps "What LAMPS should I use for miniature painting?"  As we can see, two lamps are better than one.

Speaking of portable...


For longtime followers of Sable and Spray, you might recognize this pic from my "Portable Painting Setup : Perfect for Lunch Breaks" post.  This is a very modest setup... something I can break out, do a bit of modest bit of painting (say perhaps, just a blue cloak), and then pack back up, all within the space of an hour.  No point in lugging along a huge desk lamp (or two)... a simple LED headlamp is sufficient for the task.  Combine that with a reasonably well lit room, either from overhead lights (hopefully not yellowish incandescents), or from a nearby window, and it's enough lighting to get by.

One other note I should make before finishing up this article... be mindful of what kind of lighting your miniatures will be viewed in.  If you paint up your minis under a clean white 5000k + light, but then try taking pictures of your minis under yellow incandescents or 2700k bulbs, you may be shocked how differently your colours turn out.  The models simply won't look the same.  The same goes for the lighting that painting judges may view your minis under.  However, in that case we are generally pretty fortunate that most reputable painting competitions try their best to use clean white light... very similar to the light you should try using while painting.  That's not because they are the best lights to paint under, but because they also are the best lights to display miniatures well.

Now, some of you may be using something else entirely than what I've presented in this article, and it may be working for you.  If so, then use what you like.  However, if you were thinking of trying something else out, then you might find some of what I've written above quite useful. Perhaps you'll find yourself enjoying painting much more, with less eye strain, and better able to discern details and colours.  I certainly hope so.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Eavy Metal Style of Painting, or "Is Duncan Rhodes the Messiah of Mini Painting?"

Duncan Rhodes always drinks his painting wash water after he finishes a model.

For some, mini painting is an art form.  For others, it's simply a chore to be quickly gotten over with prior to playing a game.  Sometimes the two mindsets clash.

However, there IS a happy medium between the two, and I would have to say that it's the Eavy Metal painting method / style, which was popularized by Games Workshop eons ago (and is more popular and refined than ever today).

Now, I've mentioned before, I started mini painting back in the late eighties when there were very few published mini painting step-by-steps, no YouTube videos, no painting DVDs (or VHS tapes, for that matter), and no mini painting classes.  These are all things that we all take for granted nowadays, but back then we simply saw pics of completed minis in White Dwarf and Dragon magazine, and did our best to guess at the tools and techniques used, and somehow reverse engineer the process.

Back in the 80's, we would stare at White Dwarf pages like these for hours, trying to figure out how the artists achieved various effects.
And then we'd end up with something like this...

GW / Citadel Miniatures was making the move away from being a game importer and distributor in the UK, to their new focus of creating miniatures.  However, sales of individual miniatures as a business model was very limited in growth.  After all, most D&D players only needed a single miniature to represent their character, and a DM might only need a handful of models.

"The Role-Playing Games Monthly"... a far cry from where White Dwarf's at now.

So GW started publishing rules for playing with entire armies of miniatures.  As you know, this was a fantastic business model... and suddenly GW was selling quite a lot of minis.  In some cases, however, the only thing slowing down people's purchasing was how much money they had to spend, and how fast they could paint.

In some ways, that's how the Eavy Metal method of painting came about.  Gamers and collectors needed a fast and efficient way to paint their miniatures.  The sooner they finished a miniature and got it on the table, the sooner they would be back in the shop, looking for their next acquisition.

It also needed to be easy to understand, so that people new to the hobby would not be intimidated, and could pick it up quite quickly.  When I worked at GW, we often heard non-gamers look at the display cases and say, "Wow, I could never paint like that".  Of course, like wolves hearing a distress call from a weakened deer, we would then swoop in and say, "Actually, it's quite easy.  If you've got a minute, I can show you how at our painting table over here...".  Then, after a 20-30 min demo where the potential customer got to walk away with their first painted miniature, we were often able to talk them into a purchase.

"Why hello, dear... would you like a painting lesson?"

Lastly, it still had to look good.  This style of painting had to help showcase all the details on the miniature... it couldn't be a quick and dirty "dip-job".  It's understood that part of the draw of the hobby is how fantastic a fully painted army looks on the tabletop... potentially every gamer's army would essentially be a marketing tool to drive further sales of minis, and help bring in new blood.  Whatever method of painting that GW promoted would have to keep that in mind.

And so if you look at the motivations behind one of the main driving forces behind the evolution of miniature painting, Games Workshop as a corporation, then you see how the basic primer, basecoat, wash, and layer highlight (with optional drybrush) method made perfect sense.  It's quick to learn, quick to paint, and for economy of effort, it's hard to beat the end result.

Now, also consider that GW also sells their own line of paints, and has done so for quite some time.  Yes, they are made by other companies, but they are made to GW's direction.  Sales of these paints represent a very large chunk of their income, and any painting tutorial published in White Dwarf, or posted online or on YouTube goes a long way in helping drive sales of GW paints.  Part of what makes the Eavy Metal method so easy is that you rarely have to mix paints... every painting tutorial has a long laundry list of colours that you can simply pick up and layer on your mini.

Use this system, and you may never need to learn how to mix paints.

(Side Note: Other companies are also doing their part as well in specifically targeting the beginner.  Reaper came out with a "Triad System" of paints, in which each they grouped each colour into separate base, shade, and highlight pots.  I've also noticed that many P3 paints are given names like "Menoth White Base", and "Menoth White Highlight".  Organizing your paint range in this manner turns purchasing paints into an established system that new painters can easily understand, even without any knowledge of colour theory).   

Okay... so if you've read all that, you might now think of me as some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.  You likely just love the painting techniques shown on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel, or those published in White Dwarf, for the simple fact that they have vastly improved your own painting.  The thing is, both are entirely valid reasons for this style to exist.  This method of painting has evolved BOTH to help new painters / gamers, AND to help GW's sales as well.  One reason / result does not devalue the other whatsoever.  They live in happy harmony.  GW has done the hobbyist a huge favour, while at the same time doing themselves a favour too.

Now, there's very little NOT to like about the painting method.  Even though it's simple in concept and execution, the end result is a clean, bright, and characterful model, that looks fantastic on both the tabletop, and in the display case.  For that reason, it's incredibly popular, and in particular I'm seeing many people rave about Duncan Rhodes' painting tutorials on the WarhammerTV YouTube channel.  I've seen a few of them, and most recently I've been checking out the ones on how he has painted the new Saint Celestine model and Inquisitor Greyfax.  Frankly, I was blown away at how simple, effective, and elegant the painting was. 

How to paint Inquisitor Greyfax, the Duncan Rhodes way

The best part of the promotion of this method of painting is that it's getting more painted miniatures out there.  One thing that I absolutely loathe is seeing hordes of bare metal / resin / plastic at gaming stores or at tournaments (I even wrote a whole article on how much I dislike it).  I think it's absolutely awesome that we are seeing more and more beautifully painted minis, and people are taking more pride in their models.

However, to play Devil's Advocate for a second, the one drawback to everyone following Duncan's painting vids is that we're going to start seeing similar paintjobs from one person's army to another.  Much the same happened back in the early nineties, when everyone copied Mike McVey and the Eavy Metal style. Many of the gamers I played with pretty much had identically painted armies.

Don't get me wrong... I still like Duncan's vids. As far as economy of effort, it's fantastic. Easy to follow, and amazing results. However, unlike the McVey era, there are so many different styles and techniques out there now, it's a bit of a shame that more people aren't trying to branch out a bit more and find their own style of painting.


Let me make an analogy here.

Say everyone has a bunch of potatoes. Most of those people are serving boiled potatoes, because Duncan has posted a vid of how to quickly and easily get your potatoes to the dinner table by dunking them in a pot of boiling water. It's simple, and it's a heck of a lot tastier and better looking / smelling than a plate of raw potatoes.

But if that's all people are trying, then they are missing out on all the other ways to prepare and eat potatoes. Why not roast or mash them? Cut them up and deep fry them as french fries? Bake them and pile on some butter, chives, and sour cream? Slice them thin and fry them up as chips? Dice them up and turn them into hash browns? Sure, all those methods take a bit more time and effort than plopping potatoes into boiling water, but the end result may be worth it.



If cooked potatoes are like painted minis, then poutine is a Slayer Sword winning entry!

My point being, sure, it's awesome that we are seeing fewer raw potatoes on dinner tables, but hopefully after people have tried boiled potatoes for awhile, they go out and try their hand at other ways to cook them. Otherwise every time you go to a friend's place, or visit relatives, or go to a restaurant, you'll see the same boiled potatoes over and over again... just done up by different people.


But that's a very minor point considering the overall benefit to gaming / hobbying.  The impact of the efforts of WarhammerTV, White Dwarf magazine, Duncan Rhodes, and every red-shirt staff member at a GW store is enormous.  While many gamers will likely watch WarhammerTV and be satisfied with a lifetime of painting to that standard, many a future Slayer Sword winner will take their first baby steps because of Duncan... but not if they stop their progress there.

I really hope that after people learn to "thin their paints", and that "multiple thin coats are better than one thick one", that their interest and passion will just have started to be piqued.  Hopefully they go on to find other influences, like Mig Jimenez, Mathieu Fontaine, Massive Voodoo, James Wappel, John Blanche, Darren Latham, David Soper, Alfonso Giraldes, etc etc etc (please see some of the other blogs on my sidebar list, or Google them).  Duncan Rhodes is the starting point I recommend for anyone new to this art form, but I implore you, do not stop there.  Just as there are many different ways to prepare a potato, I strongly urge everyone to try out as many different ways to paint a miniature as they can.

Just not the "Pure Edging" approach that some White Dwarf staff were pushing in the years previous to Duncan Rhodes coming on the scene... jeez... it's still shite.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Recent Purchase : Mig Catalogue and Weathering Magazine

Just a quick post regarding a few things I picked up from my local hobby shop (Burnaby Hobbies), and a few thoughts on them.



I'm a huge fan of anything from Mig Jimenez (who incidentally, kind of looks like a Spanish version of George Michael).  If you don't know the name, you should.  This man has pioneered so many weathering techniques for scale models, it's crazy.  He has worked for a number of different companies, helping them formulate painting supplies to help make weathering easier and push the boundaries in what can be done with a model.  He has also founded a number of companies himself (the original MIG company, and AK Interactive, are two well known ones, which were both wrestled away from him... a long story which I may be able to go into in a later post).  His latest company is Ammo by Mig, which has an extensive line of oils, pigments, acrylic paints, enamel paints, basing materials, and some amazing how-to-books.

Well illustrated, well translated, his "Weathering" magazine picks a topic with each issue, and has a number of great step-by-step articles on that topic.

Adding depth with enamel washes

Highlighting and shading with oils... longer working times, easier to blend, but longer drying times and messier too.

Looking forward to applying some of these techniques on my X-Wing models


The Mig catalogue is more than just a list of products for sale.  There is a small smattering of how-to articles included as well (thought not quite as in depth as the ones in the Weathering magazine, or in one of his dedicated books), but it showcases the huge range of modeling paints, mediums, basing materials, pigments, washes, and books.

The catalogue is full of brief step-by-steps

Hmmm... I wonder if this would work for Vallejo paint bottles?

Sorry to sound like a sales pitch, but I can't help but geek out over this stuff.  A word of warning to anyone else who wants to get neck deep in weathering geekery... collecting all these books and paints / pigments gets pretty darn expensive over time.  I've probably spent more on these products than I have on the models themselves in recent years.

If you're into this kind of thing, another company worth checking out is Secret Weapon Miniatures.  The owner, Justin McCoy, is an award winning scale modeller himself, and has produced a great range of weathering products as well.

GW Forgeworld has a smattering of related products as well, which is appropriate because these these tools and techniques work amazingly well on their models.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please comment, and I will try and answer as best I can.