Thursday, 1 December 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Base Dry Fitted, Wooden Stool & Stone Floor] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum

Work on the individual pieces which make up the Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons figurine's base was mainly spent ensuring three different textures - metal, wood and stone - were recreated as accurately as possible with acrylic paints. My previous post touched on efforts to simulate rusted metal while the one you are reading now focuses on recreating wood and stone textures. All the three separate parts were then dry fitted to observe the effect of the overall colour scheme.   

Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons: Base comprising rusted metal sign, wooden stool and stone floor
Seen from behind, the base now becomes a backdrop for Suicide Squad's Katana courtesy of the skull icon

For the wooden stool, I had in mind softwood hues like yellow cedar or yellow pine. Without proper botanical knowledge, I'm unable to tell if the wood grain sculpted on the stool is that of cedar, pine or a different wood. That level of accuracy isn't needed for a fantasy piece although the obsessive compulsiveness in me keeps tugging at my subconscious to get it right. I'll let it go ... this time.   

Light yellowish hues were used to approximate the textures of yellow cedar/pine wood
A combination of light and dark brown washes helped make the wood grain more prominent
Stool sculpture looks to be a bit too rough for Soum/Katana's delicate rear end

Meanwhile, I decided to do something I had never done before with a stone floor base i.e. not paint it in gradations of dull flat grey. Well almost anyway. I went the bluish grey hues this time. In addition to that, I did two other things differently namely not paint the recessed areas black (they were painted in Vallejo Model Color Dark Seagreen) and spend time painting highlights onto the edges of the stone slabs even though they were flat on the ground. Both helped create contrast and depth to the piece.

Highlights were added to the edges to create contrast and depth
Overhead view of the stone floor, which was painted in blue greys

What colour Katana/Soum's clothes will be, will largely be dictated by the existing colour scheme of the base. It looks like either pastel pink or warm whites on her clothes would be an ideal fit into the existing base colour scheme of orange (rust), green (sign), bluish grey (floor) and yellowish brown (stool), and still perhaps be in sync with Katana (as in the colours the character would wear). 

Overhead view of the base for 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum13 Moons figurine

So the stage is set for Katana (aka Soum) herself to be painted i.e. her clothes, hair, face and improvements to her skin tone in general. There is also her sword, hairpin and if all goes well then a mask too, sculpted to resemble the Suicide Squad character's signature mask. But Katana may have reached the stage where a period of gestation will do her a world of good. Time off would do me good too as I chew on the direction I want to take her. This comes at arguably the best possible time seeing it's Star Wars fever again with Rogue One on the horizon. And that means painting iconic Star Wars characters, droids or vehicles. December is shaping up to be a good month hobby-wise.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Weathered, Rusted Sign] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons

One thing in my painting bucket list had always gnawed at my creative subconscious like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go. That bone, figuratively speaking, is to paint a realistic weathered and rusted effect on metal. While I have occasionally attempted to do some weathering (mainly rust, grime and verdigris using Citadel acrylic and technical paints) on my miniature projects - the results haven't been convincing enough. It has been said that doing something over and over again expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity. So for this latest attempt I opted for a different path.

Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons, base items (upper section of signage)
Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons, base items (lower section of signage)

As far as I know, there are two main ways to weather a miniature. One involves physically chipping paints and/or applying pigments on acrylic paints while the other relies on just paints and washes to achieve the same effect. I went for the latter using only Vallejo paints/washes. What made this a path less travelled for me was the paradigm shift it invoked in me. Previously when using Citadel acrylic and technical paints/washes, I was too preoccupied with the special effects the paints/washes could achieve thus distracting me from truly seeing the colours involved in a weathered, rusty look.    

Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons signage, rusted and weathered side

This is not to say you cannot achieve good weathering effects with Citadel paints/washes. Far from it. It's more to do with the mental approach one takes to the weathering task at hand. Here, I took the time to study the hues present in greenish rusted metal pieces. The end result is an amalgamation of hues found in both reference photos - from the lightest rust stains (on the cafe signage) to the deepest black brown rust (on the corrugated metal) and everything in between (on the metal letter).

Reference photo of a rusted green sign - cafe signage
Photo of a rusted turquoise sign - metal letter/alphabet propped up by a corrugated metal wall

Because this side of the sign has raised surfaces which resemble two eyebrows, two eyes and a mouth, I tried to apply the rust, stains and streaks to create the illusion of depth such as that you would see on an actual human face. This include, among others:
(a) chipped paint effect on the top to resemble hair;
(b) chipped paint effect along the centre circle to resemble the bridge of a nose;
(c) rust stains/streaks on the median area of the circle to resemble highlights of the upper cheek;
(d) chipped paint effect on the raised areas to make the eyebrows, eyes and mouth more prominent;
(e) absence of any rust stains/streaks at the bottom to create a pseudo-chin; and
(f) chipped paint along the 5 and 7 o'clock parts of the circle to resembled shadowed area of cheeks.

Soum 13 Moons signage, angled slightly to its left
Soum 13 Moons signage, angled slightly to its right

Below is a scale comparison of the Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons signage against a standard paperclip and a five sen coin (Malaysian denomination). As you can see, the signage is rather small.

Soum 13 Moons signage as compared to a standard paperclip and a five sen coin

At the end of it all, I'm pretty happy with the weathering job I did on this signage. That being said, I will probably look at it again after a long period of time and go what the hell was I thinking. But that's a problem for another day as I bask in my infrequent successes in this hobby. Bask, bask. bask. Ok, that's over and done with. Now onwards to Soum/Katana's wooden stool and stone floor base.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Freehand of Skull Icon] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons

My first step in converting the 80-mm Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons resin figurine into a proper Suicide Squad character proxy involved painting freehand, a skull icon used to symbolise Katana in the promotional movie posters. Although I'm by no means an expert at it, I must admit the thought of painting freehand on miniatures no longer fills me with a sense of trepidation it used to. That boils down to having the proper tools which in my case is the combination of a Kolinksy Sable brush, Vallejo Model Color acrylic paints and oil-based Faber-Castell Polychromos colour pencils. 

Freehand painting of a skull icon representing Suicide Squad's Katana
A comparison between the original skull icon (left) and my freehand version (right)

If the freehand skull icon looks a bit muted that's because I wanted the painted design to blend into the sign rather than stand out too much. Because of this, I refrained from using pure white on the skull icon. While to the naked eye it might seem as if white was used to paint the skull icon's cheeks and forehead area, in actual fact Vallejo Model Color Pastel Green was used instead.

Acrylic paints, mediums and washes used on the sign so far

Meanwhile, the other side of the sign (see immediate photo below) is far from completed. All it has is the base colour and some shadows. It looks bland now because the side of the sign with the face-like features will eventually be heavily weathered to show chipped paint, rust, stain and streaking.

Other side of the sign which is uncompleted and still in its early pre-weathered stage
Completed, unweathered side of the sign

When compared to the original skull icon as seen in promotional movie posters, the shortcomings in my own freehand interpretation are obvious, for example proportion-wise it's slightly off. But I think I did the best I could considering the scale of the sign (see photo below). Hopefully, in the future my freehand miniature paintings will have better proportion and that will only come with more practice.

Scale comparison of the sign against a five sen coin and a paperclip

Personally, I prefer either a pastel green or turquoise blue base colour if orange rust is to be added. In Katana's case, green seemed a perfect fit as the hue better evokes a ghostly atmosphere. My plan is for the sign to have a 'two-faced character' to it i.e. one side with the skull icon for Katana and a heavily weathered side with face-like features for Soum. I had better get started on the latter then.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Skin Tone, Phase One] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons

Painting realistic skin tones is hard. Painting extremely fair skin while maintaining realism and contrast is a whole different level of hard. At least for me. Phase one of the Nocturna Models Soum 13 Moons or Suicide Squad Katana proxy's skin tone involved setting the overall feel of the piece. And in this regard I decided to disregard the skin tone references of Karen Fukuhara (the actress who plays Katana) and go with a segment of Japanese society's fascination with the marketing concept of bihaku which literally means 'beautiful white' and refers to skin whitening cosmetic products.          

Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons - work-in-porgress on phase one of her skin tone
Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons is being painted as a proxy for Suicide Squad's Katana
Katana aka Soum's skin tone is an approximation of the concept of bihaku (see caption below)

My choice of an extremely fair skin tone partly references an incident in the movie in which Katana's eyes turn white as if she was being possessed by the ghostly souls of her blade. More often than not, pale skin seems to be associated with ghosts is Eastern Asian culture hence the link. That and my intention to create a muted pastel look to the whole piece which incidentally would run contra to Katana's colour scheme of black, red and white as seen in the movie (see final photo).

Bihaku is a Japanese marketing concept of fair skin

Contrast on the figruine's pale/fair skin tone is extremely subtle and to a large extent much more visible to the naked eye. Lower contrast on her skin as seen in the photos of the work-in-progress resin figurine is more a reflection of my own weaknesses as a miniature photographer. 

Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons - work-in-porgress, phase one skin tone (back view)
Contrast in her skin tone is actually more visible when viewed with the naked eye
Smoothness of the skin was an important consideration when painting Katana/Soum

Phase Two would likely involve adding some rosiness to Katana/Soum's cheeks and possible deepening some shadows for higher contrast. However, any further changes to her skin tone will be done only after the clothes and hair have been painted. I'm at a crossroads whereby painting her clothes white/off-white will automatically make her skin look darker while laying on darker hues on her clothes would likely make her skin look much lighter. My quandary is to find a dark enough hue that would still fall under the muted pastel category. Moreover, there is the original colour scheme of Katana's costume to consider. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the final colours will be.

Chalkiness is evident here and there, perhaps a sign I should use more Glaze Medium, and less to no water
As to what colour her clothes will be ... I've absolutely no idea at this point

Below is a rough guide on what was involved in Phase One of Katana/Soum's skin tone:

Evolution of Katana/Soum's skin tone (phase one)

Stage 01: A basecoat of Vallejo Iraqi Sand was followed by a midtone mixture of Rose Brown and Light Flesh. A glaze medium was added to the mix to enhance the translucency of the midtone layer. This allows some of the Iraqi Sand to show through the midtones.

Stage 02: Both a darker (more Rose Brown in the mix) and lighter (more Light Flesh) midtone combinations were applied in as smooth a transition as I could achieve. in addition to this, I also started adding the shadows which were varying mixtures of Iraqi Sand and Medium Flesh as well as pure layers of the latter albeit in very small recessed areas of her skin. 

Stage 03: Using Light Flesh, Ivory as well as mixtures of both, highlights were applied to the most prominent areas of the skin e.g. tip of the shoulders, knee, etc. The effect is subtle but as you can see from the center panel of the photo above that without the highlights the skin looks very flat. There are also minute amounts of Oxford Blue added into the mixture of the deepest shadows.

Katana/Soum's skin tone under undiffused direct lighting
Under certain lighting, Fukuhara's skin tone closely resembles the bihaku concept

Meanwhile, under undiffused direct light, Katana aka Soum's skin tone took on a slightly more pinkish hue but displayed an arguably higher contrast in that the highlights were more noticeable. It reminded me of a Katana promotional photo (see immediate photo above) of Karen Fukuhara in which her skin took on a pale pinkish hue. That's what lighting (or even filters) can do to one's skin. So progress-wise it's all good, for now, and coming up will be a freehand paint job that defines this piece as Katana. Until then, stay safe, be well and have a good weekend ahead.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Suicide Squad Katana [WIP - Assembled and Primed] aka 70 mm Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons

Embarking on a new art project always give rise to a sense of trepidation in me. This is especially so for miniatures as I always fear ruining the inherent beauty that already exists in a beautifully sculpted figurine. It was no different with my latest large scale miniature project i.e. the Nocturna Models 70 mm Soum, 13 Moons resin miniature, which I'm using as a proxy for Katana from the Suicide Squad

Nocturna Models Soum, 13 Moons ... proxy for Suicide Squad's Katana

What is immediately noticeable about this miniature is the fairly minimalistic look she conveys, the very thing that attracts me to the figurine. Soum is all about form and curves with intricately rendered details in only a few areas such as her hair, face and the small folds in her clothing. But it's this minimalism that makes painting her so hard. Without many small details to distract the eye, it becomes even more crucial to get the basics spot on. In short, her paint job will be tough to pull off.  

Soum partly assembled and coated with Light Grey Tamiya Fine Surface Primer
Overall look of Nocturna Models Soum is minimalistic with intricate details on a few parts
Soum is perched precariously on a plastic bottle using Blu-Tack as I don't have metal pins/cork for a more secure base 

To me, the very first things that an observer will notice in a finished Soum/Katana piece is her face and skin tone. Mess those two up and nothing else will matter - not her hair, clothes, katana nor the base. A key challenge for me is finding a way to maintain an acceptable level of contrast when I plan to paint an extremely low contrast ala Bihaku (美白) skin tone style. That will be a problem that I expect to plague me all the way until the final steps of the painting process.  

Behind Soum are other parts such as her right hand holding a katana and a hair pin on her ponytail
Soum's detailed hair will remove any guesswork during the painting process
From this angle, Soum's minimalistic look is particularly noticeable

There is lot more going on around Soum/Katana i.e. a round signage, a wooden bench and a stone floor. However, these are 'neutral' objects that are suppose to blend into the background and not take centre stage. Therein lies the irony because they still have to be painted well (as in realistically) in order for our eyes to see them as noise and relegate their presence into the background. 

Parts of the Soum, 13 moons base which comprises a signage, bench and floor

So the stage is set for some paints to be laid on. It will start with Phase One of her skin tones i.e. the initial skin hues before any other colour is laid on. Meanwhile, Phase Two will involve modifications to skin tone contrast and hues in relation to the colours around Soum/Katana (e.g. clothes, hair, etc). But the latter phase will only kick in if there is a need to do so. I guess it will all depend on how well the Bihaku skin tone style fits into the overall colour scheme. Nothing left to do now but start.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Going skin tone crazy in more mediums than one

Westworld has become my favourite ongoing science fiction series and is now tied with fantasy series Game of Thrones as still-in-progress television series that I most like. As with any inspirational shows, I tend to either draw or paint the main characters which in this case are Dolores Abernathy (played by Evan Rachel Wood) and Daenerys Targaryen (by Emilia Clarke). These two actresses are going to make excellent subject matters for my coloured pencil (and probably graphite too) portrait practice sessions. While watching Westworld through a semi-hatchet job by local television censors isn't ideal, it'll have to do until HBO releases the Bluray version of this awesome series.            

Skin Tone Study 01: Evan Rachel Wood under warm lighting (left) and daylight (right)
Skin Tone Study 02: Emilia Clarke under overcast lighting (left) and daylight (right)

For my coloured pencil portrait drawings, I'm doing skin tone studies to find out the right mix of hues to achieve the fairly light skin tones that both actresses have. It involves the use of both oil-based and wax-based artist grade coloured pencils namely Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Coloursoft and Prismacolor Premier. For these studies, I've started incorporating green hues into the mix as strong green undertones can be visibly seen in both actresses' facial skin tones. Whether this natural green undertone is more prominent due to specific makeup and set lighting I can't really say. But it's worth noting green foundation has always been used by the old masters to depict realistic skin tones.

Derwent Coloursoft wax-based coloured pencils and Faber-Castell Polychromos oil-based ones
Light skin tone swatches with Coloursoft and Polychromos pencils
Prismacolor Premier wax-based coloured pencils - 24 pieces portrait set
A skin tone bar using Prismacolor Premier pencils (based on a tutorial by artist Ann Kullberg)

For the time being most of my coloured pencil portraits will be drawn on the Strathmore Colored Pencil paper and perhaps the Daler Rowney Fine Grain Heavyweight paper if I decide to use solvents with the oil- and wax-based pencils. Eventually I would want to switch to the Strathmore 400 series Bristol Smooth and Rising Stonehenge papers respectively. Not yet though as both are too expensive for the initial practice sessions. But future graphite portraits will likely be on smooth Bristol paper from now on as I feel I have put enough practice in to earn the right to use higher quality papers.  

For now most of my colour portraits will be drawn on Strathmore's Colored Pencil paper

The close study of skin tones in portrait drawing has re-opened my eyes on how varied the human skin tone actually is. However, it remains to be seen if seeing skin tones from a different perspective will also translate into better skin tones for my miniature painting projects. Based on my experience so far, coloured pencils are a more translucent medium than acrylic paints although similar effects can be gained in the later through glazing. I haven't painted a large enough scale miniature - at least in the amount of surface area dedicated to skin tones ... and the Hulk doesn't count - to warrant doing green acrylic glazes on the skin tones. That remains the case for my two ongoing projects below.  

Skin Tone Study 03: Karen Fukuhara (left) and Jerome Flynn (right)
Nocturna Models resin figurines: Soum 13 Moons (left) and The Crusader (right)

If you've ever wondered why I take so long to finish my miniature painting projects, well, here's one reason amongst the many. I tend to do lots of skin tone swatches to determine the most appropriate skin colour for the miniature project in question. Granted such swatches don't account for the wet blending, feathering and layering effects of acrylic paint on primer but it does provide a fairly accurate guideline on hues that closely resemble the painting's subject matter.

Vallejo Model Color acrylic paints under consideration for a female Japanese skin tone
Skin tone swatches of possible hues to be used as a female Japanese skin tone
Vallejo Model Color acrylic paints under consideration for a male Caucasian/Mediterranean skin tone
Skin tone swatches of possible hues to be used as a male Caucasian/Mediterranean skin tone

Complicating matters is the use of cool or warm shadows which depends on the predominant skin tone hue. At this stage of my research. it's highly likely I'll use cool shadows for both Katana and Bronn (see above) to counter their fairly warm skin tone in general. Regardless on the hues used, one thing for certain is that I will be using Vallejo Model Color paints exclusively to paint their skin.

And in case you were wondering just what is Westworld all about, do check out the trailer above. I leave you with my two favourite lines/phrases from the Westworld series so far, both incidentally uttered by another character Bernard Lowe to Dolores Abernathy i.e. "Step into analysis, please" and "Limit your emotional affect, please". Simple yet meaningful words in globally trying times.
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