Highlighting and Shading
By Anthony Karl Erdelji
Highlighting and shading is without a doubt the most difficult and most important painting techniques to master. It is this that separates painters from people who simply put paint on their models.
Before I go into this long and complicated process of highlighting and shading we need to understand why it is necessary. First off, all painters are basically tricksters working in a miniature world trying to bring a breath of reality. We are fooling the viewer through the use of highlights and shades to see depth that is not truly there. Just as a canvas painter can bring to life people and places on a flat canvas, to make them appear to have depth by using highlights and shades, we are doing the same thing, yet we have the added benefit of working from a three dimensional figure instead of a one dimensional canvas.
Now lets take a look at a typical miniature. Every miniature has the exact same folds and curves as a life size object and thus reflects light and has recessed areas that appear in shadow. However since the miniature is just that, a miniature, these folds and curves are also in miniature and can be quite faint and difficult to see with the naked eye. Through the use of highlighting and shading we can increase the visibility of the contours of the miniature and recreate the reflection of light that we would be able to see if the miniature was life sized.
Mixing Highlights and Shades
We can recreate the effects of light by mixing up a lighter value of our base color for highlights, or in the case of shade, a darker value. Simply put, if you want to highlight blue, use a light blue. If you want to shade blue, use dark blue. Between our light blue and dark blue we need to create a subtle transition with the base color of blue in the middle. This is done by mixing small portions of each color into the base color until we reach light blue for the final highlight and bark blue for the last shade.
For highlighting, I usually use four steps, more or less on the importance of the model. The first highlight will be 75% blue and 25% light blue. The next 50% blue and 50% light blue. The third highlight 25% blue and 75%. The final highlight will be 100% light blue. Each corresponding highlight is applied in a smaller area than the one before moving closer to our light source until we reach the final highlight, which is sparingly applied at the areas where the light is the most intense.
Our shade is applied the same way only is reverse. Instead of working from our base color to a lighter shade, we go from our base color to a darker shade. I use two steps for shade and rarely waiver from that number. The lack of light means our transition to our shade color is quicker than with the highlights. The first shade step will be a mix of 50% blue and 50% dark blue. The second and final shade will be pure dark blue, which is placed in the deepest, darkest areas of the model.
Some of you may wish to additional contrast to your models. In the blue example above it is possible to add white and black to our mix. By keeping the same number of highlighting and shading step, but making the transition between colors quicker, we can get a stronger contrast which is prevalent in the Games Workshop style of painting many people prefer. For example, our first highlight could be 66% blue and 33% light blue, the second 66% light blue and 33% blue, the third pure light blue, and the forth 50% light blue and 50% white.
Thinning Your Paint
So now we got all of our colors picked out and we're ready to do some serious highlighting and shading. This is where is gets difficult. If we were to simply brush on our highlights and shades onto the model there would be an obvious jump between each shade of color where one color ends and the other begins. We need to soften the lines between each shade of color so the transition is smooth and unobvious. This is known as blending. Blending is accomplished through the use of transparent layers also know as glazes. Each of our highlight and shade colors must be thinned so a portion of our base color will show through. We want not to paint over the previous coat, but tint it to a lighter or darker value.
The amount of water to add to your paints to thin them depends on the consistency of the paint your using. You'll need to thin the paint until it become transparent. For highlighting, most hobby paints such as Coat d'arms or Citadel will require a 2:1 water to paint ratio for most applications, but you may need to play around with this ratio.
Shading is handled a bit differently. For shallow recessed areas of the model we want just a slight shade so thin your paint to 2:1 water to paint. On other recesses we want the shadows darker, so thin them to 1:1. There is less gradation in areas of shadow so we will need thicker paint than when painting on highlights.
These ratios of water to paint should work in a majority of situations, but you many need to adjust them depending on the surface begin painted. Large, gently sloping areas such as the hindquarters of a horse require thinner paint, while areas that go quickly from shadow to light, such as tight folds in clothing require a quicker transition between colors, hence thicker paint.
One more thing to learn before we begin painting is control. Your highlight and shade are now thinned somewhat like a wash. Dip your brush into this mix and the capillary action draws all of the mix into the bristles of your brush. If you were to begin painting it would flow everywhere and we would have no control of the placement of the paint. After you load your brush with paint, drag it a couple of times across a paper or cloth towel. This will absorb the excess water on your brush. We don't want to remove as much as we would when drybrushing, just enough so the paint will not pool on the model.
Let take everything you've learned so far and have a go at painting flesh on a Clan War figure. All colors listed below are Coat d'arms.
If your first few attempts at blending do not come out as desired, don't worry. It will take a lot of practice to master blending. I've been painting for well over a dozen years and I still work on my blending skills. Remember that half of blending is placing your highlights and shades in the proper places. Study each miniature before painting and memorize how light reflects off the miniature, replicate this through the use of transparent layers of paints, and your well on your way to being a master painter.
Sigmar Priest photo used on permission of Dominic Heutelbeck of Miniature Painting.net