Dancing With the Dead
I’ve been asked on more than a few occasions as to how I painted the Host of Tartarus, so I figured instead of just telling you guys I’d show you, and the process of how it came to into being.
It begins back in April with an email from Mike McVey outlining the project. They were looking to do something unique for Superiority; an entire army spread in a new scheme for each of the factions. Participating painters would only have a short time frame to do it. If I was interested, I’d have about 30 days to do 30 models. Well we BrushThralls are nothing if not blazingly stubborn, 30 models in 30 days would be a challenge, but I knew I could pull it off, (well I hoped I could at least).
We were given an outline of what they are shooting for in each of the spreads. Each person was given rough instructions to use as a starting point.
Here’s what I got.
Light but creepy colors with muted chroma. Dominant color on fabric would be a dark, greyed out purple. So the main cloth colour would be this purple; and it’s important that is doesn’t come out too pure a colour, definitely like it’s faded and worn. Then the rest of the figures would be in light ghostly colours, greys, bleached bone and sickly pale undead greens. Avoiding too dark colours in the shading would work well I think.
Forgive the U’s in color… Mike’s British.
No Hue for You!
The hardest part for me was trying to figure out a way to accurately desaturate the colors I had intended to use. So what’s desaturation? It’s essentially what happens when you reduce the actual color in a color. Wow that’s just about useless isn’t it? Here’s a visual example. On the left we have a “pure” paint that is undiluted by any other colors. (For the actual painting this is VGC Imperial Purple). On the right, we’ve done the equivalent of adding grey paint to it. We’ve reduced the potency of the purple and we’ve increased the brightness. So we’re left with a soft, somewhat ghostly purple.
The key to painting ghostly (at least like this) is going to be adding grey to nearly every color. What’s my muse of mute-age? VMC Neutral Grey, a dead middle of the road grey. It can go lighter or darker as needed and it’s a good counter point to some of the more dominant paints out there. Had I P3’s Ironhull Grey at the time, that might have worked too, but it’s a bit darker than the VMC.
And thus we begin. To end light you must start light. We’ll begin by priming the model white. It’s possible that grey could work here, but to get that final ethereal look, I think you’re better off going white.
Assembly with be up to you. Some poses lent themselves better to pre-assembly, others less so.
The basis of everything is a green-grey wash. I use VMC Emerald Green. This is a highly saturated color, and it takes a large amount of grey to cut it down to where I want. I’d say start with 50/50 but I think my final mix was closer to 30/70 in favor of the grey. You will find with all paints that some are dominant. That is to say that a 50/50 mix will not actually yield a true middle-ground between the paints. As much as I’d love to give you exact recipes, you’re going to have to experiment. There’s a lot of give and take when mixing paints and nearly this entire scheme is a mix of one kind or another. So if you’re not big on mixing paints, you might want to skip this scheme all together.
I’ve changed up the procedure some from the original, both to make it easier to teach and frankly because I think this looks better. I’ve gotten rid of some of the fiddlier paints I used in the original scheme. P3’s Menoth White Highlight takes the place of VMC’s Ivory, both for its opacity and its smoothness. In the original plan I used VMC Deck Tan and then VMC Ivory. Since P3’s Menoth White Highlight has such a good opacity I got all the coverage I wanted out of one paint. I really wish it had been available at the time.
After the wash is dry, add more and more of MWH to the base of VMC emerald green and the VMC Neutral Grey. The goal here is to smooth out some of the patches that are created with the wash as it pools and dries. This first coat will be some what greyish and that’s fine. We’ll be brightening it up in future passes. What follows is more and more passes of the mix with successively more amounts of P3’s MWH. The last highlights are nearly pure MWH. Once the armor is complete I highlight just the edges with P3’s Morrow White.
There Are Only Shades of Grey
The first parts of this step are pretty easy. It’s the second part that’s more complex. I begin with a wash of VMC Charcoal. This is a finicky color. Shake the hell out of it, or you will never get the same color twice. It also breaks down a bit in a wash so keep your eyes on it as you work. A little effort up front will mean far less work down the road. Once this color’s been slapped into shape its coverage is quite predictable and very rich, which is why I use it. The only places that need attention are the bane’s chainmail, and the central part of his axe. The tricky part is trying to feather in some VMC Neutral Grey while the charcoal wash dries. It’s impossible to catch in photographs, but that’s the principle. Finally add in some P3 MWH, for the last few passes. Do your final edging in either MWH or Morrow White.
At this point the rest is easy. Greyed out bone takes little effort to look good. In this case I begin with a mix of Menoth White Base VMC Smoke and VMC Neutral Grey. This yields a dark dirty Khaki color that gives bone its mottled look. Continue to add more MWH to this mix as you progress. Can you see a trend here?
Real (Dead) Men Wear Skirts.
The last step in painting is the skirt. As we saw above the purple needs to be desaturated with grey. Begin with a 50/50 mix and make a few passes for coverage. You’re still going to wind up with too much color for the final product, but it works well enough as a base. I do my best to add more grey while the base coat is wet to minimize the number of layers I’ll need to apply. I add slightly more grey than I want the final color to be so that as it picks up more and more of the purple with each pass it settles into the final color I’m looking for.
Watch Where You Step
While difficult to seen in the pictures in the book, I went a little crazy on the basing. Here’s how I pulled it off. Using a soldering iron, I slowly and carefully waved it just above the plastic until it began to melt. I didn’t touch the iron to the base because it would melt on contact and then burn. Plastic smoke isn’t exactly good for your health, so we’re working on melting here with NO CONTACT. Once the plastic is smooth and shiny I used a blunt ended sculpting tool to depress it into the base. Push as far as you can with out ripping. These depressions still need to be “water tight” when they cure back up.
When your divots are suitably large enough for your tastes, Rock the bases as you would normally. With one slight exception, don’t go too deep into the divots with the rocks. Bare plastic will be ok here and will help out the last step. When the basing is dry go ahead and dry brush with your desired colors. I try to keep the whole palette darker because swamps are dark and raw with rot and decay, not exactly bright colors in decomposition. When all paint is dry you can apply static grass or leaves now, if you want some of them to get trapped in swamp water. It’s a neat effect, but does take some practice.
The last and final step is to mix up some Enviortex Lite in a 1 to 1 ratio, You can add artist inks or a touch of paint if you like. In my case I used Vallejo Smoke and some green ink. Be careful to use INERT paints. Anything that requires thinner, will keep the Enviortex from fully curing. Swamp effects are cool, and actual swamp on your figure? Not cool. Use a toothpick or pipette to put in a small amount of EVTX in each depression. EVTX really likes to crawl. It’s designed to have capillary action and basing material makes for great crawling. So you’re going to want to do this in layers. 2-3 if you have the patience. Leave the base to set over night, and repeat the process the next day. This is a great thing to set up and do all at once, so hash out an army’s worth and you’ll be set!
Pin the model to the base and call it a day. You’ve painted the host of Tartarus.
Till next time.