BrushThralls.com is proud to have David “althai” Stone contribute this guest article. Read on for an excellent insight on painting non-human skin tones.
Painting human skin, especially faces, is something that gets a lot of attention, and it’s easy to see why: most of the models we paint are people, and a good face can make or break a model. This is equally true when the subject is a non-human monster such as a troll, dragon, or other beastie. If anything, the skin (or fur, or scales, or…) becomes more important, as it frequently dominates the model. I will discuss several principles to keep in mind when painting non-human skin, and then paint a Troll Impaler (Privateer Press - Hordes, sculpted by Kev White) as an example of how to apply some of these principles.
There are two important things to consider when painting skin, human or otherwise: color and texture. Color is obviously important, but texture is easily overlooked. Nevertheless, there are many ways to indicate texture on a model, even if none is present in the sculpt. Is your painting smooth, or does it have a mottled or dappled quality? Furthermore, very smooth skin will tend to be shiny, whereas rough or leathery skin will have a more matte appearance. The difference between shiny and leathery skin can be indicated by the starkness of the highlights, and even subtle reflections from some parts of the skin onto others.
Inspiration from nature
An excellent first step when embarking on any project is procuring some reference material. As the subject of this article is painting non-human skin, we’ll be looking at photographs. Luckily, while there is a distinct lack of dragons and trolls inhabiting our world, non-human skin abounds in nature, and a quick internet search turns up a wealth of examples.
This is a strawberry poison dart frog. As indicated by the sharp highlights, this frog has shiny skin. The skin’s texture is also quite visible in the picture, as well as the interesting pattern of colors on the frog’s back (which is no doubt there to warn away predators).
The skin of this iguana is much different from that of our frog. The gradual transition from the highlights to the shadows on each scale indicates that the skin is much more matte and leathery, and the texture is also quite different. Again, this animal’s skin shows colored markings, although these markings provide much better camouflage than the vivid markings of the frog. I can imagine a scheme inspired this iguana doing quite well on the Legion of Everblight or on Lizardmen.
There are several common motifs in natural skin that can be incorporated into our painting. One is the prevalence of patterns of different color, which can add spice to an otherwise plain model. Our poison dart frog, above, showed both a pattern of black spots on the back and sudden transitions from red to blue skin. Another is lighter skin around the mouth and on the underbelly, which may be seen on many animals, from amphibians to birds to mammals. I will incorporate both of these motifs into my impaler.
Since I’m drawing on photographs of nature for my inspiration, I could either look at various patterns found in nature or my own invention, and mix them together into an entirely original creature, or I could draw mostly from a single source. While collecting reference material for my troll, one picture particularly struck me, so I decided to make it the primary source:
I will transfer the scheme of this frog onto my troll, but I’ll use blue instead of green as a nod to the original troll color scheme.
The subject, ready for paint
Now that we have the inspiration all lined up, let’s take a look at our subject, a Troll Impaler:
Some minor conversion work has been done, and the model has been primed and based. The head, weapon, quiver, and base have merely been pinned to the model, and will be painted separately. I’ve decided to prime the head white and the rest of the model black; the head is a focal point to any miniature, and I want it to be brighter than the rest of the model. Additionally, while the skin I have in mind can be painted equally well over white or black primer, priming the model black will make my life easier when painting the armor.
I will start with the head. I want the upper half to be blue, and the lower half to be a light tan color. The first step is to base in these colors, blending from blue to tan. (The tan color is P3 Hammerfall Khaki; the blue is P3 Trollblood Base.)
Now that the base colors are down, I shade…
The shading is done by adding browns (P3 Bloodtracker Brown and Umbral Umber) to the transition color and the tan, and a dark blue color (P3 Exile Blue) to the blues. An abrupt transition between two very different colors (blue and khaki) is a bit hard to manage; by adding a neutral transition color and keeping the saturations low (for example, by using P3 Trollblood Flesh rather than a brighter blue) the transition becomes easier to manage.
The head is finished off by painting the eyes and crest. The crest is a fairly standard dark red, and the eyes are just white with a black pupil. Some monsters will have quite large eyes which afford you the opportunity to do something creative and different; however, this troll is not one of them.
Now work begins on the body. I am starting by simply blocking in the colors roughly with very thin paint. This serves two purposes; first, since the miniature is primed black, a thin first coat will help the coverage on later coats; second, it will be my guide in placing the skin pattern. At the moment, I’m keeping my paint very thin to maintain a smooth surface. I’m also not terribly concerned with keeping transitions smooth or with highlights and shading, since that will all be taken care of later.
At this stage I also block in roughly where the brown markings on his sides will be.
Next I paint on a midtone and start highlighting it. This step is rather complex and tricky, as I’m blending in two “directions” so to speak: the flesh itself transitions from blue to a light tan, so I begin by painting the midtones and blending from Trollblood Base to the light tan, which is a mix of white, P3 ‘Jack Bone, and Gun Corps Brown. As I blend from tan belly to blue back, I also add highlights the raised muscles, belly, and ribs.
The final step is shading. The blues are shaded by adding Exile Blue, while the tan is shaded with a medium gray-brown composed of the highlight color with some Umbral Umber to darken it, and some Trollblood Base to keep it on the cool side. At this stage I also finish the brown specking. Finally, some Testors Dullcote will kill the shine, and protect the skin while I paint the rest of the troll.
I’ve photographed the troll on his (now painted) base, with his head in place, to best show off the troll’s flesh. The head is not yet attached, since I still have to paint the armor and attach the other arm, but the skin is finished.
I finish by painting the armor in neutral browns and grays, both for a practical reason: that is how I picture the Impaler equipping himself; and for an aesthetic one: neutral tones for the armor will complement the blue skin of the Impaler. Here is the end result: