About this Site

Purpose of this Blog is to become a tool and a place where artist that collect and paint flat figures can find interesting links and news about flats, painting techniques, history and various related articles.English speaking related sites are very few but hopefully this blog will provide the collector and the painter with interesting and valuable information about the Art of the Flat Figure and everything related to it.
During the next days I will post any related info I have collected for a long time about various aspects of Flats. Techniques, photos, links, historic articles, anything that is related. Wherever possible I will including the author of the original article. I apologise if sometimes the author's name is not included. It's not intentional but it is lost through time.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Painting Flats

Painting Flats by Jon Redley

Before I start, please do not accept anything that follows as "gospel". I am a great believer in individuality and what suits one artist does not necessarily suit another. What I offer is not "The Answer", nor 'The Way" to paint figures. They are just my observations and practices formulated over the past years. So if you're sitting comfortably, then I'll begin.......
The first essential is to ensure that the figure is clean of any 'flash' for which a needle file or craft knife is an excellent tool and more than adequately suitable for the job. The amount of flash is very much dependent upon the editor from which the figures came, some flats being almost totally devoid of flash whereas others require a great deal of work. A word of warning here to newcomers - you should realise that some figures are cast with a number of limbs to allow you a choice as to how you pose the figure. These are called combination figures. Do check that your figures end up with the light number of limbs - I didn't!

Priming is next, once the figure is free of flash and, where necessary, any 'pitting' of the surface filled. The latter is usually very rare and Milliput will suffice. With experience you can actually cover up minor blemishes with layers of paint. Here personal preference plays an important part. For many years I have used car spray primer as my undercoat. The cellulose paint dries quickly, giving an even coat, just rough enough to act as a key to take the paint off the brush for the finished paint layers. Prior to this I used Humbrol Matt White, applied in thin layers with a large flat soft brush, preferring two thin coats so as not to hide the fine engraving. With this method it was essential to get a matt finish since often the paint had a habit of drying with a semi-gloss sheen which made it difficult for successive layers to remain matt or key properly to the undercoat. I normally leave the figures for 24 hours in which to allow the undercoat time to harden off. With the cellulose primer though, I have found that I can work on it with 2 hours.

Next comes the question of brushes and, once more, this is down to personal choice. I know members who achieve magnificent results with brushes I would not give house room to. Yet it is not always the case that the most expensive is best. I prefer sable brushes and, as a result, I tend to work with Winsor & Newton Series 7 and Series 16 – both of which have fairly long points. Another favourite series is Winsor & Newton Series 29 ‘spotting sables’, which have a much shorter point and are excellent value since they keep their shape very well over a long period of time.

As to sizes – I tend, since the majority of my work is 30mm, to require nothing larger than a ‘0’ and go down to the occasional ‘000’. By experience, I have found that a sable brush, even only moderately well looked after, will outlast a mixed hair brush or even an artists brush specifically made for watercolours, like the Winsor & Newton Cotman range.

A hint for avid brush hunters – remember, when the brush leaves the manufacturers and before it is put into its little plastic protector, it is pointed and fixed by spraying. There is nothing more distressing than purchasing a brush and then finding that, as soon as it is used, the point separates. To overcome this, before parting with your hard-earned cash, remove the plastic tube, damp the point of the brush (some art shops even provide a jar for this purpose) and draw the point across the back of your hand to check that the brush will hold its point.

But now that you are set up with your chosen brushes, do not discard those with worn points. There are plenty of opportunities for their use for blocking in large areas, undercoating, mixing or blending areas of colour together.

The next problem concerns what paint to use. Again, use what you prefer! Due to its closeness to two dimensional painting it is assumed that artist’s oils are the thing to use, yet there are members who achieve remarkable results using water-based paints, acrylics, and even enamels. Over the years I have worked in a variety of different media, all of which have their advantages and their problems. For ease I use artist’s oils which have, in the manufacturing process, been ground to give a very fine pigment.

Colour theory dictates that the only colours you should need are Red, Yellow and Blue, plus Black and White. From these all other colours are possible, Being realistic however, you will need more than these to make a full colour palette. The wide variety of different Blues alone would create difficulties as to exactly which shade to use. The basic colours I use are as follows:

Titanium White, Ivory Black, Chrome Yellow, Indian Yellow, Scarlet Lake (or Bright Red), Chrome Orange, Crimson Lake, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Deep, Mauve (blue shade), Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.

Then, as interests and finances allow, I add other colours to help create required effects or dye colours.
Now you are ready to start painting – or are you? Some painters will now underpaint their primed figures in the basic colours they want to use. This underpainting in basic hues – Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Blue, Green and White (usually in Humbrol enamels or Plaka) helps to give a depth to the figure. Once this has dried then the oil colour can be added using thin layers of paint. There is, of course, no demand that this process should be followed and you can paint directly on to the undercoated figure. This often gives you a much 'brighter' figure, where the colours often appear much purer - almost jewel-like.

Holding the figure
Finally you are ready. Your work area is ready and you are raring to go. Well, how are you going to hold the figure? Some of us hold them between the finger and thumb. Others cut a slot in a piece of card and push the figure's base into it. Yet others "Blu Tac" or glue the figure to a narrow piece of wood to help them handle it, or them since many painters work on more than one figure at a time.

I normally use a piece of card as my palette, since over a period of time this will remove the excess oil and binder which is used in the paint. This leaves you with the pure pigment. This will happen overnight, forming a skin which can be broken and, with the addition of a thinning agent, become workable.

Handling the paint
Another advantage of using card is that I have found it helps to retain a matt appearance to the oil colour. Naturally oils will dry with a silky sheen which can look effective, especially on well groomed horses or expensive costumes. This semi-gloss appearance can be further enhanced by the use of Liquin which is drying agent which, when added to oil colour, speeds up its drying time. Needless to say the use of various artists varnishes on a completed and dried figure can add to, or remove, the natural effects of artist's oils.

It is easier to work in thin layers of paint rather than thick layers. If you can see the brush strokes in the paint then it is too thick. At this point, since you are basically blocking in the final paint, a worn brush can be used, saving the newer brushes for final blending and detailing. As to what you use as a thinner - again, it is a matter of personal choice. I use turpentine substitute from the local DIY superstore. I have found that it has the effect of deadening the natural sheen of oil colour. Provided that the brush point is cleaned in the liquid and not allowed to touch the bottom of the jar this usually works and keep you colours pure. I tend to place my card palette on top of a piece of soft tissue on which I wipe off any excess paint or dampness.
This also allows me to re-point my brush before using the next colour. The slower drying time of oil paints allows you time to brush and blend colours together. In fact, you are actually working directly on the figure rather than having to mix and blend each individual shade. As with water based paints, by mixing oil colours with enamels you can get the best of what both have to offer - the slower drying oils with the quicker and less transparent enamels. It is essential that you are logical in your approach to painting a figure. I tend to start with the face then paint from the nude outwards, starting with any clothing that can be seen under outer layers of clothing and finishing with these outer garments and the fine details.
Light & Shade
As you start to paint flats you must keep firmly in your mind the light conditions you intend to portray your figure in. In art, the classical way of showing light is with it striking the figure from the left, at a high angle. This allows you to portray fairly easily the form (the space on the canvas) taken up by the figure. As you become more experienced, so you can vary the light source and if you intend to display your figures in diorama form it is vital that the light source is constant. A time may even come when you will consider artificial and subdued light...

But before you can run, you must walk! For centuries artists have been solving the same problems on canvas which now face you, and a study of how they have tackled these problems may help or fire your inspiration. To give a figure form, the use of light and shade is essential and if three versions of any one colour are used then this will give a good basic start, because as you blend one version into another you will create other tones of that colour.
Skin Tones
For flesh tones I normally add small quantities of Chrome Yellow, Yellow Ochre and Scarlet Lake to White, mixing it and matching it to my own skin colour. Once satisfied, I then paint in the face. To lighten this basic mix I add White, evenly applied directly to the figure. and then small quantities of pure White on the raised highlighted areas of the face. To make the darker flesh tone I add first Yellow Ochre and then Burnt Sienna to the original mix. The darker flesh is used to indicate the areas of shadow on the face as well as, depending upon the lighting conditions, any notable features. For areas of the face which are very dark the Burnt Sienna on its own is used. Sometimes it is necessary to apply this as a fine line after the whole face has dried, to add details such as eye lids or to define the chin or jaw line.

Facial details are normally painted once the face has dried - lips being painted using the basic flesh colour plus a little more Scarlet Lake (only a small quantity for men; slightly more for females). The eye is painted into the socket using an Off White. Then the desired colour is used for the eye and detailed in, and if necessary a fine line of Burnt Sienna is added to define the shape of the eye.

Not all the figures you paint will be Western European, in which case by observation you will be able to mix the appropriate version of flesh necessary. For Asian tones I add more Yellow Ochre (even Raw Sienna) to the basic mix. For American Indians the amount of Burnt Sienna is increased and Raw Umber is used for shadows. Africans come in a wide variety of colours, ranging from a pale brown to an almost black. To achieve these effects a wide range of browns can be employed even using Prussian Blue mixed with Black to create appropriate shadows. It must also be noted that the darker skin reflects light with a greater contrast and therefore this needs to be indicated in your rendition of the figure.
Equally, you may not want all your figures to be in perfect health and you will therefore need to consider this accordingly. In this case you may need to use more White to indicate illness. The use of Blue added to the shadow areas will further emphasise this, giving a sunken appearance to the face. In the same way a little Scarlet Lake to the cheeks can suggest a very healthy or drunken appearance. Troops on campaign do not always give much thought to their appearance and once dry, a little Payne's Grey added to the basic flesh mix and applied round the jaw and neck can give the appearance of being unshaven.

Having decided on the light conditions and solved the problems concerning the painting of the face, the next task is to deal with the rest of the figure. Here any observations of two dimensional work, be it photographs or paintings, can only help. Numerous sets of flats are based upon the works of artists so if a copy of that particular work can be found it is always helpful. Much assistance can be gained from studying the work of artists but it is of little use unless you are prepared to practice yourself. The advantage with oil based colour lies in the Polystripper bottle which provides you with an easy method of correcting your work.

All artists have their preferred method for mixing colours and you will need to experiment to find what suits you best. Articles like Graham Dixey's well-known series in Military Modelling, which aimed at teaching people how to paint, usually included a section on colour and colour theory. What follows is my basic method for highlighting and shadowing the basic colours.
White is perhaps one of the most difficult colours to deal with since, more than any other colour, it reflects the colour of other objects around it. As a simple guide, Payne's Grey is effective with the addition of progressively more of the latter until the desired shadows are achieved. White, despite the claims of washing powder manufacturers, is a very difficult colour to brighten, in which case the basic colour 'white' needs to be altered to an off-white to enable the pure white to be used as a highlight. In this case the use of Yellow Ochre provides you with the basic off-white and to darken the colour, progressively more Raw Umber is added. This range of colours plus Payne's Grey can be effectively used to produce a reasonably effective white horse. A richer quality for white material can be achieved by using Ultramarine and a Mauve to make the shadows.
Yellow comes in a variety of different hues (versions of the same basic tone) and as a result can be fairly easily shaded by using the numerous variants. As a basic guide however, White can be used in small quantities as a highlight. For shadows Yellow Ochre will give a middle tone range and the addition of Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber will darken the colour. As with white a richer quality for the material can be achieved by using orange and scarlet with the final addition of Burnt Sienna.
In many ways blue shares similarities with yellow because of the range of hues available. As an example, Prussian Blue can be lightened by the addition of Ultramarine and finally white. To darken try to avoid going directly to black unless you require a poor quality cloth effect. The use of a mauve shade blue or violet will give more richness to your work.
Red has many similarities with white in that often the red used is in fact the highlight colour. To try and lighten red with white will result in a pink being achieved. In order to overcome this orange is a better choice. Red is a colour often used on clothing and more than any other colour needs to express the different quality of the material. For example, the difference between the uniforms of British Napoleonic infantry man and his officer are well documented. To reproduce this on your figure the private would be best represented by first using Burnt Sienna then either Burnt Umber or Raw Umber to create shading. For the officer first Crimson Lake and then blue shade mauve would give a suitable contrast.
With the secondary colours there are available a number of different versions of the same basic colour, and either by creating the colour yourself or mixing it in appropriate primary colours you can alter the colour to your choice. Needless to say black and white will also have an effect on these secondary colours, as will the addition of grey or brown.
Brown is achieved by mixing together the three primary colours and the use of anyone of these in their various hues can effect the chosen brown. For the majority of us, we tend to use brown when painting horses and like so much of the above I can only recommend that you experiment. Often I will start painting a horse in Yellow Ochre as the highlight colour and then paint the basic horse colour in using Burnt Sienna, with Raw Umber plus a little Prussian Blue to make the areas of shadow.
Black has a number of similarities in common with its opposite, white. Here the problem is not how to make it lighter but how to make something 'blacker'! The answer is simple - reserve black for the very dark areas only. White will make the colour lighter as will grey, but by mixing Raw Umber or Prussian Blue into a black and white mix the range can be extended. When faced with the problem of a black horse the use of Prussian Blue will give the impression of a healthy coat whilst Raw Umber will suggest a less well cared for beast.
Painted Metal
In recent years it has become accepted that metals are painted using a basic grey which is highlighted and darkened using white and black respectively. By painting definite areas of colour rather than blending the edges together the reflective quality of the metal can be achieved. Once more, the addition of blues and purples into the basic colour can extend the range being used. To suggest a worn effect, then either Burnt Sienna or Raw Umber are most effective. However, this is not the only method. The bare metal itself can be used. First polish or burnish it carefully with the side of a large needle and then use a mix of black and polyurethane varnish. Paint in carefully the shadow areas increasing the amount of black to increase the shadows and finally coat the whole area with the varnish to seal it. In the same way metallic paint can be used to portray a metallic surface. For yellow metals Naples Yellow, orange and various browns can be used with the addition of pure white to suggest the reflected highlight.
I hope some of the suggestions in this article have helped or proved useful, but please do not think that this is 'the way' to paint. We are all individuals and as such approach things in our own particular way. There is no substitute for practice and experience. I have my first painted flat from over ten years ago and I can remember how pleased I was with it. Now, I can see an improvement but at times I seem to be getting nowhere!

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