Monday, 26 September 2016

Portrait Practice #15 on Rey (Star Wars Force Awakens)

A year is a long time without drawing; for me it is anyway. Drawing is akin to riding a bike i.e. a skill you aren't likely to forget just because you haven't been doing it regularly. That being said, realistic portrait drawing is something you get good at only with regular practice. My drawing skills are rusty and it shows. Natural born artists are geniuses and as rare as they come. For the rest of us mere mortals, regular practice is the only thing that can result in better art. And practice I must.  

First graphite portrait in a year ... just glad to be drawing again

But strangely enough, for a piece that's one year too late I'm actually still quite happy with it. Despite over 365 days of neither acquiring any new skills nor honing any existing ones, I didn't wholly lose what I had previously learned. Some mistakes were repeated, some avoided. Inconsistencies abound but thankfully any skill regression was kept to a minimum. That's not saying much since I wasn't starting from a high base but a relief nonetheless for someone looking to progressively improve.  

Portrait Practice #15 on Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey as played by Daisy Ridley

Drawing an accurate and recognisable portrait is said to be one of the hardest things to do. Any little thing can make a portrait drawing look nothing like the subject matter in question. Even knowing that, I had for some unfathomable reason decided to shift the position of Rey's irises to show her gazing directly ahead instead of off into the distance like in the original reference image.  

Adjustments to the portrait meant Rey's eyes now stared directly ahead versus off into the distance 

This was a genuinely idiotic thing to do as it heaped more pressure on me to get the graphite blending/shading of the lights and shadows accurate enough to depict a face/neck that is tilted upwards and off to the side. Specifically to the image in question, the new location of the irises implies that Rey's facial plane was directly parallel to the drawing paper which isn't the case at all. These are some of the little things that make you go ... D'oh! ... Homer Simpson style. 

Portrait was completed with both traditional as well as mechanical pencils

In a way, I'm starting to feel constrained by the student grade papers I draw on. That could mean two things. The good - I'm improving. The bad - it's not the paper its me. A lot of top artists use smooth Bristol paper to draw realistic graphite portraits. Unfortunately, it's still too expensive for me to buy such drawing papers online due to prohibitive shipping costs. Instead, what I could do was source a possible equivalent - the Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Pad - locally. Going forward I will use both the existing Daler Rowney Graduate Pad as well as the new drawing pad to draw the portraits.   

Reference image/photo of Rey that was used for this practice session

In addition to my graphite drawing and miniature painting hobbies, I've also been bitten by the colored pencil bug. You heard right ... colored pencils. But not your low pigment school variety. It's the highly pigmented Sanford Prismacolor Premier (wax based), Faber Castell Polychromos (oil based) as well as Derwent Coloursoft (wax based) fine art pencils I'm talking about. There will be the usual bedding in period with a new art medium but it's going be a fun journey to complement what I already enjoy doing now. Life's all about the journey and I can't wait to get started on this one, with continuing progress on my other two hobbies of course. Hopefully, you'll join me for the ride!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A miniature painting project for my mother-in-law

Surprised last week by a request from my mother-in-law to paint a figurine she had, I set about the task to - at the very least - do a half decent job that didn't elicit any major disappointment. With this not being a personal project that I could take my own sweet time on (read procrastinate), I imposed a time limit of one week to finish painting the figurine. Luckily for me, the previous week had two public holidays which equaled four full days (plus the weekend) of free time to paint. Working throughout the past week on the figurine, I must've put in about 35 hours or more on the paint job.  

A miniature painting project finished in record time for my mum-in-law
Main clothing comprised of a yellowish orange-blue green combo 
Base was in pastel-like hues of sky blue, light pink, yellowish green and neutral greys

A major difficulty I encountered in this sculpture was not truly being able to know where the outer robes began and the inner clothing ended. As such, I took creative license in order to have a fairly decent ratio of yellowish orange to bluish green on the main clothing. It was all tied up by a neutral ivory colour to counterbalance the darker hues on the said main clothing.  

Strap on the left shoulder was painted ivory to provide a subdued counterbalance to the main clothing's hues
Natural stone structure was the easiest to paint - just dry brushed layers of progressively lighter greys 
Under photographic lighting, the skin tone seems to become fairer than under normal daylight or fluorescent light

For the skin, I tried to simulate a fair East Asian look. It turned out a bit too fair especially under photographic lighting and more so when contrasted with much darker hues of the clothing. In future projects requiring such skin tones, I'll have to either reduce the saturation/intensity of the surrounding hues or experiment with Vallejo paints to come out with a new East Asian skin tone recipe.    

Curves on the waves and clothing neutralise the jagged stones thus providing an equilibrium of sorts
Waves on the base were the second easiest part to paint, followed by the lotus flower/seed pod
Figurine prior to it being primed or any paints layered on

One extremely positive thing I got from this project was the surprise at my ability to actually finish a miniature painting project within one week. Granted I didn't attempt any freehand design on the robes - which would have increased the time to completion - but hey, it's still a big deal for someone whose projects have been known to drag on to over a year or even mothballed. Now all that's left to be done is deliver the figurine to my mum-in-law. I can only hope that this eye opening experience of a quick paint-job-turnover will stand me in good stead as I resume my own drawing/painting projects.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

One year is a long time not to draw ... that ends now

Just recently I was asked to share a memory of something I posted one year ago on my Facebook. It was a graphite portrait drawing of Emily Browning as Babydoll in the movie Sucker Punch. Point being I had not drawn anything in an extremely long period. Any skill improvements I had made will likely have atrophied somewhat over the course of 12 months. It could very well be a case of one step forward two steps back though I'm hoping I can just pick up where I left off i.e like riding a bike.  

My last graphite portrait drawing was over a year ago

For my first graphite portrait drawing in aeons, I decided on Rey whom Daisy Ridley plays in Star Wars The Force Awakens. I chose a fairly low resolution photo of Rey which depicted her facial features in more of a no-frills variety akin to a photoshopped image with smooth skin tones. This should make it easier for someone like me who is resuming graphite portrait drawing after such a long time. Higher resolution images would've displayed details such as freckles and skin texture.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is my first subject matter in my return to portrait drawing

Based on my experience so far, the most important step of the graphite portrait process is the initial faint line drawings. Bungle the line drawing and no amount of shading and blending will be able to create an accurate depiction of the portrait subject matter. And for portrait drawings, the only thing that really matters is the likeness to the subject matter that you're drawing. As such, I tried spending a longer than usual amount of time on the line drawing of Rey. I'm quite happy with it, to be honest.

Progress so far ... faint line drawing of Rey

There is a subtle difference between Rey in the reference photo and Rey in my line drawing. The latter has her centred irises looking straight at the viewer. But in the former, Rey is staring off into the distance (towards the top right corner of the paper). Perhaps in hindsight this wasn't such a smart thing to do as the rest of her facial features are angled upwards to the side. Changing her irises to stare straight ahead may distort proportions and make everything seem off. I'll have to be extra careful at the graphite shading/blending stage. Without the cue of off-centred irises, highlights and shadows on her face will take on greater importance in the portrayal of the tilt in Rey's head.   

Reference photo of Rey in a scene from The Force Awakens

Unfortunately, the JPEG image I used was smaller than I realised. A smaller file size (or lower resolution) equals less facial details. While doing the line drawing I noticed the shadows and highlights on Rey's face weren't clearly defined as I would've liked. This means I'll have to try and find a higher resolution image as reference for the graphite blending/shading process. But I'll be pushing ahead regardless as I aim to finish the portrait before the month is out. A three day stretch of free time coming up means plenty of drawing opportunities for me. Let's hope I put it to good use.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Game of Thrones Bronn (WIP - Clothing) aka 54 mm Nocturna Models The Crusader

It has been quite a while since I painted so much clothing in a miniature. Another recently completed Game of Thrones (GoT) project namely Princess Myrcella Baratheon - using the Dark Sword Miniatures Female Mage on Stairs as the proxy figurine - had clothing but most it was painted months earlier. Painting cloth comes with its own set of challenges but it actually isn't that different to skin tones. In the end, it's all about creating textures through paint to mimic real life surfaces.   

Nocturna Models The Crusader (54 mm) painted as Bronn, a sellsword in Game of Thrones

As a sellsword who first served Tyrion and later Jamie, Bronn needed a colour scheme to reflect his allegiance to House Lannister. Because the costumes that Jerome Flynn (the actor who plays Bronn) wore on set largely consisted of dark neutral hues such as greys or dull colours like browns and olive greens, I had to take some creative license with his clothing. Granted Bronn had on bright hues when he was betrothed to Lollys of House Stokeworth - light turquoise, bright greens and even yellows - but those are better suited to my Loki project. So in the end I went with dark red, reddish brown and ivory white; a colour scheme somewhat similar to a costume Jamie Lannister wore on Season 5. 

Bronn aka Nocturna Models Crusader, picture here with his left arm and yet to be painted scabbard
Lower right back area of miniature is arguably the best place to paint a freehand House Lannister lion

With Bronn's clothing looking rather bare, chances are high I'll attempt to paint the House Lannister heraldry freehand on some part of his clothing. Prior experience painting the heraldry on a warhorse caparison will hopefully stand me in good stead for the second attempt. Another issue I have is with the slight glossiness of the red gorget-like clothing around his neck (If anyone knows the definition of this Medieval clothing, do let me know). I tried matting the reds with Vallejo Matt Varnish but results were unsatisfactory. I then used Citadel Lahmian Medium with better but still mixed results.

Side view (right) - Bronn's clothing comprise of a red-reddish brown-ivory combination
Side view (left) - indentation on Bronn's left hip is where the scabbard will eventually be placed

I had second thoughts about using the Nocturna Models Crusader 54 mm resin figurine as Bronn seeing that this figurine was actually modelled after Baron Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson) from the movie Kingdom of Heaven. But the more I looked at it, the more I felt this figurine to be better suited as a proxy for Bronn. Not entirely accurate sculpt-wise as Jerome Flynn/Bronn but close enough for a carefully considered colour scheme to pull off a character doppelganger effect. 

Undergarment's main colour is ivory with white highlights and beige-grey shadows

Every miniature I paint seems to present a first-of-sorts for me and this figurine was no different. This was the first time I attempted to paint ivory clothing. I used a combination of grey and beige for the deepest shadows; ivory for the base colour; white for the brightest highlights; and lots of half-tones in between. Initially I used ocher for the deepest shadows to terrible results. It took me a while realise that ochre shadows weren't deep enough for ivory clothing. Moreover, the undergarment took on a yellowish tint which gave it an unappealing sickly look. So beige-grey shadows it was.

Reds of the gorget-like clothing symbolises Bronn's ties to House Lannister

Apart from the Lahmian Medium from Citadel, I used only Vallejo Model Color to paint Bronn's clothing. Next up will be the leather bits as well as metals on the miniature. While I'll revert to my trusted Citadel metallic paints for the latter, I'll be trying out the former with Vallejo paints for the first time. Hey, whaddayaknow. Yet another first. Until then, do enjoy your weekend.   

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Looking for crazy to paint - Suicide Squad proxies using Nocturna Models resin figurines

Critics may have slated the big screen adaptation of DC Comic's Suicide Squad but I honestly enjoyed the movie. Not being a huge fan of DC Comics I naturally approached this movie with low expectations. To me, DC always have had better villains than heroes so perhaps it wasn't that surprising to find myself more receptive to Suicide Squad than any of the previous Batman or Superman movies. Story-wise Suicide Squad didn't quite cut it but character-wise it was superb.     

Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara)

With books and movies forming a large percentage of what serves as inspiration for my miniature painting projects, it wasn't long before I started looking for Suicide Squad proxies to paint. Luckily, I found two in my collection that could serve as substitutes for Harley Quinn and Katana i.e. the Nocturna Models 80 mm Alice (Fairy Tale Girls) and 70 mm Soum, 13 Moons (Malefic Time)

Nocturna Models 80 mm - Alice (Fairy Tale Girls) tin box packaging
Alice (Fairy Tale Girls) unboxed
Resin miniature parts of Alice, Fairy Tale Girls

Both are resin miniatures with fantastic details. More importantly both contain key features that allow me to link, ever so tenuously, to the subject matters that form the main inspiration. When doing a paint-job miniature conversion, I try to use appropriate colour schemes, freehand painting, and if possible mini-sculpts in order to 'convert' an otherwise unrelated miniature into proxies for the more well known characters which as mentioned above are Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn and Katana.  

Nocturna Models 70 mm - Soum, 13 Moons (Malefic Time) tin box packaging
Soum, 13 Moons (Malefic Time) unboxed
Resin miniature parts of Soum, 13 moons (Malefic Time)

One movie screenshot more than any other set off a light bulb in my head as to which miniature in my small collection I could use as the infamous Harley Quinn. It was one of her sitting in a cell, sipping on a cup of tea (see below). After that eureka moment, the creative floodgates opened and I began to notice many other features of the Noctuna Models Alice figurine which lend itself perfectly to a Harley Quinn-Joker themed diorama piece. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Said teacup in hand;
2. Pigtail-like hair for Harley's iconic tri-coloured hairstyle;
3. Large leg stockings which can painted to resemble her in-movie ones;
4. Playing cards which offer the opportunity to paint Joker cards; and
5. A large mushroom which can be painted in purplish Joker hues (not to mention the phallic symbolism it offers to represent Harley's relationship with the Joker).    

The picture that, for me, linked Nocturna Models Alice to Harley Quinn

As for Katana it was more a case of finding a miniature with oriental features who happened to be holding on to a traditional Japanese sword i.e. the character's namesake. Cue yet another Nocturna Models figurine namely Soum, 13 Moons of the Malefic Time series. She also had some workable similarities to her DC counterpart which made her, in my eyes, a suitable proxy:
1. Soum's katana which is self explanatory;
2. She's of East Asian ethnicity, also self explanatory; and
3. Round signage offers an opportunity for some Suicide Squad-related freehand painting.

With Katana it was all about finding a miniature with an Eastern Asian look and a ... well ... katana

As alluded to above, there will likely be some sculpting as well as freehand painting that needs to be done. To keep things as simple as possible, I plan to sculpt Harley's baseball bat and Katana's face mask. Easier said than done for someone with zero sculpting skills but you never know. All those play time with plasticine way back during my kindergarten years could yet pay off (all tongue-in-cheek of course). Meanwhile, the easiest Suicide Squad-related freehand painting I could think of are the 'floating head' pop culture art for the respective two characters (see below).  

"Floating head" art of Harley Quinn and Katana - inspirations for freehand painting
Harley's baseball bat (above) and Katana's face mask (below) are iconic items which I may sculpt

When on a budget, us miniature painters can't always get to paint the model we want either because they either don't exist or are too pricey if they do. Moreover it's rare to find proxy miniatures that closely resemble or have the potential to closely resemble the original characters. I don't want to jinx it but I'm truly excited by both these Nocturna Models figurines which show great promise as Harley Quinn and Katana wannabes. All that remains to be done is to turn that potential into reality. Huh? What was that? I should make blood sacrifices to the miniature painting gods for the skills to pull this off. Sorry. The voices. Ahaha, I'm kidding! Jeez! That's not what they really said.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Star Wars Star Destroyer [Completed]

With the Star Destroyer done, that's another must-do-item ticked off my bucket list. Finally that space ship that filled the entire movie screen much to the wide-eyed wonder of a then 5-year-old is up on my shelf amongst my other collectibles. Granted Bandai's existing version is a tad small at 111-mm in length. But until the day I can get my hand on a bigger-scale Star Destroyer, this one will do nicely.  

Bandai Star Wars Vehicle Model 001 - Star Destroyer [Completed with paints]
Main ion engines are just coming online but the emergency ion engines are still offline

Painting the Star Destroyer's hull saw me use Tamiya Acrylic Paints for the first time. I found the solvent-based paints to be a bit more of a hassle to use especially during the clean up process which involves the use of isopropyl alcohol in place of water. Attuned to working with water-based paints and a wet palette for so long, I guess I've gotten used to the minimal cleaning. Getting smooth coats with either types of paint is essentially based on the same concept i.e. patiently applying numerous very thin coats of paint while making sure each layer is dry before applying the next one. For the hull, I used a mixture of Tamiya Flat White (XF-2) and Sky Grey (XF-19) at a ratio of roughly 9 to 1.  

Vallejo fluorescent yellow mixed with white provided a simulation of the ship's lighting
To mimic the main ion engines in action, a mixture of blue and white paint was used
A very light grey hue covers the Star Destroyer's hull; mixed using Tamiya XF-2 (Flat White) and XF-19 (Sky Grey)

To simulate lights emitting from the Star Destroyer, I reverted to my good old water-based paints or more specifically the Vallejo Model Color Fluorescent Yellow mixed with White. While the final effects will never be as good as actual emitted light, it still looks acceptable enough at this scale. Meanwhile I used Citadel Regal Blue mixed with white to simulate the ion engines with their hyperdrive engaged.

Bandai Star Destroyer [Side view, leftt]
Bandai Star Destroyer [Side view, right]
Bandai Star Destroyer [Top and bottom views]

Admittedly I got bored pretty quickly with the Star Destroyer's monotone colour scheme.This plastic model kit is all about the iconic triangular design with the paint job a secondary concern if at all.

To bring out details, a mix of Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color Black plus Grey was applied
Based on looks alone, I would say it's an Imperial II-Class Star Destroyer
At certain angles the light catches the display stand thus breaking the illusion of a vehicle in space
Primary docking bay would have benefited greatly from some LED lighting
With such a monotone colour scheme, the 'sexiness' factor lies mainly in the ship's hull design

Based on close scrutiny of movie screenshots, I'm aware random grey panels can be found scattered all over the ship's main hull. However, I felt it was impossible to accurately depict the grey panels at such a small scale without causing the Star Destroyer to take on a darker hue. So I made do with washes and panel lining (Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color - Black/Grey) to bring out the details.

Lets put all our senior officers on a bridge that sticks out like a sore thumb ... what could go wrong?
Hyperdrives engaged, course locked in ... the rebels are doomed

This mini Star Wars project was ever only going to be a short diversion to keep me busy while I was trying to figure out some colour schemes for other projects. In a way it was the perfect in-between-project due to its simplicity. Sometimes it's good to keep busy while allowing ideas to gestate on the back of your mind. Also in the midst of this busywork I was inspired to add two new figurines (70 mm and 80 mm) into my project pipeline. Details to follow but suffice to say for now that it involves a long-standing universe that I have yet to sink my teeth into, miniature painting-wise that is.
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