Everyone loves a good flame war, but before you strap on your asbestos undies and dive in, it’s usually best to be well informed so you can torch the competition. Follow along as I walk you through accurately painting fire and the object source lighting that really heats up a model.
A Hot Topic. (not the goth store)
Some will argue that fire is the reason we’re here today. It’s a fundamental component in life on this planet. It’s also a freaking nightmare to paint, if you haven’t take the time to dissect what fire is, and how it should look. Shy of breaking out the lighter fluid, it’s very hard to accurately depict fire on a miniature. Pewter is the polar opposite of what fire actually is. It is energy and light vs. solid matter, constant erratic movement vs. constant solid state. Luckily for us painters the problem is mostly in the sculptor’s hands. Our only quandary is bringing life to those odd metal twists.
Painting the fire itself isn’t actually all that hard if you start with a proper foundation. For thousands of years fire was our main source of light, and light does not begin with black. That’s where light ends. Fire is a warm light, and while you could start with white, fire at its core is almost never white, even at it’s brightest it has hints of yellow. So I begin my fire with a few washes of P3 Menoth White Highlight. MWH’s coverage is pretty solid. I prefer washes here because I’ll be working in a lot of layers here so I don’t want to build up too thick of a foundation and obscure detail. I’m not worried about complete coverage quite yet. I know that it’ll come in time, and when I’ve got the fists roughly covered I begin to turn up the color. I mix in a touch of P3 Cygnus Yellow to my next wash of MWH. This adds a touch more opacity to the base. Yellows, on their own, don’t usually cover very well and when applied right over black they can take on a green tinge.
Gradually I work with more and more Cygnus Yellow until the fists are almost completely yellow. At this point I’m getting the coverage where I want it and I want to make sure that the hot parts stay looking toasty. I go back in with a wash of the MWH, just to make sure that all the recessed parts look like they could really cause a burn.
As fire cools though it darkens and then quickly dissipates out of the visual spectrum. To capture this I darken my yellows with a bit of P3 Heartfire and shortly work up to a mix of Heartfire and Khador Red Highlight. It’ll take a bit of play back and forth to get a nice smooth transition but after a few passes I’ve got myself some flaming fists.
The story could end right here. But there’s more to it than that. Wrapped up on the fists are heavy chains. I could use metallic paints, but I don’t feel like it would look right. When metal gets hot it expands and usually just before it starts to glow red that nice shiny surface expands beyond the point where it reflects light as a glossy surface. A shiny chain will start to go black then gray then red, orange and so on until hits a yellow white and melts. Melted chains aren’t going to get us anywhere and we’re talking 2000 degree heat or more here to pull that off. Fantasy troll with regeneration or not, 2000 degrees is more than enough to sear flesh right from the bone, and burn the bone to dust right after that. So it’s clear to me we’re talking about a nice barbeque level of heat. Just enough to sear up some tasty 6 legged elephant steaks. I left the chains pretty close to white along the way so getting them to look heated, was pretty easy. A wash of P3 Bastion Gray and a subsequent wash of VMC Smoke, gets me the look I’m going for. A quick Highlight of the exposed chain with Bastion Gray and a touch of MWH, and I’m done.
Let there be light
I could stop here. I got my flaming fists, but to me that’s not really driving home the picture. Fire is light and it should cast light. The interesting thing about painting cast firelight is that you paint it the exact OPPOSITE as the fire itself. Here’s where you get to apply all the normal things we apply when painting highlights, we’re just applying the source from another direction. Terarin goes into great detail on his article about OSL and I’m applying the same tricks here, just with different colors.
I want the light to be warm and diffused though. It’s coming from multiple directions and is constantly moving. Harsh shadows will only serve to decrease the believability here. How do we get around sharp shadows? Washes of course. I start out by blocking out the reflected orange. Some paints work better as the over coat. I like the transparency of Bastion Gray better than Khador Red Highlight, so I start with the KRH and block in all the places I think the fire will illuminate. Then I glaze on a few coats of the Bastion Grey to tone down the orange of KRH. The body parts closer to the fire see glazes of Heartfire and the tiniest glaze of Cygnus Yellow.
At this point it’s all down to the details. I do several washes back and forth until I’m happy with the outcome and that’s it. Only a half dozen or so paints to do this whole model, but I think it’s effective.
Experiment; Play with fire.