Monday 2 June 2014

Review: Painting Class with Meg Maples

A few weeks ago Meg Maples, of Arcane Paintworks and (formerly) Privateer Press fame [here is her Putty and Paint  gallery] took the short trip up from Washington State to teach more than a few budding painters in Vancouver about her preferred "two brush blending" technique. Additional topics included painting flesh tones, faces, eyes, hair, painting white and black, "true metallic" metals, object source lighting, blood and other liquids. Add in a little colour theory, paint brush selection, priming technique, one-on-one painting assistance with particular models and you barely have time to try everything once before the weekend was over!

My new "dry well" palette and a few new P3 paints to try out.

Model Priming was first and foremost, with most of us finding we are using way too much paint during the first spray undercoat. Meg is not a fan of air-brushes so after the model is primed she will be base-coating with a brush, something I always thought required a nice even, flat coat of white to bring out the best in whatever basecoat you are using, but apparently not so. She referred to the "tooth" of the undercoat being all that is required for the next layer to hold to the model. Need a more even coat? Try a few thin layers instead. Below you can see the undercoat on a recent model, with the previous paint layer showing on the hull, and the plastic of the newly attached storm-bolter showing through the thin undercoat. The dollar savings in spray cans is worth the secondary benefit of crisper details being retained as you add the next few layers!

(The "yellow" is light reflecting off a nearby bag covering the spray area)

Two Brush Blending is the core of what Meg teaches, and although she was previously employed by Privateer Press she sticks with their P3 paint line because it was designed for this particular technique. I have tried a little of it with some GW paints and you have to be careful in thinning down without losing the pigment once you start spreading it around. P3 does seem to save a lot of hassle, being much thinner already, though they do sell a medium which can add some of their particular properties to other paints. One of the students in the class had great success in using this method.

Contrary to what a few of the students (myself included) presumed, two brush blending involved only one colour, with one brush applying the paint and the other "feathering/working/wiping" the paint across the surface with the addition of one's own spit. I won't go in to too much detail suffice to say it can be used to both highlight and shade, required minimal effort to get some great results, and once you get the technique down it reduces a lot of painting time indeed! The armour and cloak in the above photo were painted with two brush blending, while the model on the right has been undercoated ready for the skin tutorial.

After a couple of hours with one brush resting in your lips and the other dabbing away with the paint, you feel like you're the master of the pigment, that two brush blending will solve all your painting problems. It's once you add in the highlights that it comes tumbling down (as Meg pointed out, she shades first, making it easy to touch up the base coat before highlighting). In the above photo you can see a relatively smooth orange in the centre, all ready for a nice glaze to even out the redness of the cloak. However, if you click on the photo and look closely you can see what looks like yellow dust on the model where the orange arrows are. I tried rushing things, skipping the orange and going straight for a highlight while playing with the pigment too much. It broke up, leaving a "chalky"effect as Meg describes it. Patience with this technique, gradual highlighting layers, and thinning the paint a little further should make for a smoother finish in the future.

Faces, Skin Tones and Colour Theory were the next most important set of lessons beyond the brush work, with Meg providing step by step recipes for a skin tones, hair and metals, all of which involved the use of colour theory to add depth to surfaces of the model and draw the viewer's attention to certain areas (usually the face). Even something as simple as painting an eye involved more than six steps! I look forward to trying out some more faces in the future. (A notepad was certainly essential for this class!) As you can see above, it pays to take a variety of models along with you to try out the various techniques. Although not finished, you can see the slightly ham-fisted attempt to add some depth to the skin tones in the model above.

Object Source Lighting (Meg has another term for this but I have forgotten it) was actually a simpler technique than expected, especially after watching a number of other artists go to great lengths in blending all of the cast light surfaces, not to mention intricate recipes for the source of the light itself. Two colours, white and the colour of the cast light, was all that Meg used in her demonstration, and I tried the same technique on my own model at home, which you can see above. Although not a match for some of the great artists out there, or even some of Meg's competition work, I am very pleased with how it turned out, and happy to be able to easily add a little more colour to flat surfaces like the one above. As always it payed to practice my two brush blending with some other colours before trying the yellow out.

A lot of chin holding. (Apparently a lot less chin wagging than the Australian class)

There were a number of additional in-depth demonstrations over the two days, but I have not had a chance to try these out on any models yet. Painting black and white surfaces is always tricky, and Meg clearly described things in terms of percentage of surface area covered as indicative of the overall colour, which helped out in theory at least. Lastly she demonstrated the use of certain gloss/clear mediums, glues and certain paints to create blood and "other fluids", much to amusement of the class. I can't say I'll be trying anything more adventurous than a splash of GW blood effects, but it's a good way to add a little something extra to a future project.

I have already been using some of the techniques on a number of different models, and instead of changing how I paint entirely I have instead used "two brush blending" to complement my current glazing and layering. Above you can see some work in progress models (ignoring the bad spray job on a humid day), with the model on the right shaded using techniques from Meg's class, with the addition of a few of my usual darker glazes and highlights to the model on the left, and the armour is already looking better than anything I have painted before. I really wanted to change my game away from the harsh highlights of the "Eavy Metal" paint style and try for a more somber and smoothly finished paint job, and Meg's class has really helped in that regard. As for the added bonus of a relatively easy OSL effect? Between the two, worth the price of admission alone. Now back to the painting desk before I get lazy and forget these new techniques!


  1. Realy interesting to see these techniques shown off. Very interesting about thinning the paints and the use of the basecoat. Do you think you will convert fully to the two brush method or will you still use the harsher edge highlights on certain parts of a model?

    1. I think it will be a technique I use to get an extra layer of shading in to guide my next layers of glaze, probably with the 2BB a warm colour, then glaze in a cold colour to creat more depth. I am also having great success in highlighting, though only with P3 paints, so I probably won't use it extensively as I don't want to replace an already extensive collection!

  2. Grrr... sounds like I missed out on quite a few neat tricks after I left early on the 2nd day (it WAS Mother's Day, after all!).

    The 2BB technique has been a neat addition to my skill toolset too, although I find that if I let my mind wander, my hands go automatically back to my previous blending techniques. I've got more than two decades of ingrained muscle memory to overcome, and 2BB still feels a bit unnatural to me. It definately works though.

    My two cents in regards to Man In a Hat's question would be that you could try combining the two techniques of 2BB and edge highlighting. The 2BB would give you that really nice colour gradient, and the edge highlighting (used sparingly) would add definition and simulate the way light catches on the edges of hard surfaces.

    Just don't go for JUST edge highlighting: ;)

    1. Kelly, you missed a few "tricks" but were present for the most important parts. I'm sure you've got enough tricks already! Two decades of muscle memory is tough to break though, I have been trying out so many different things that it seems less of an issue, though getting consistent results week to week is the problem! I think I will stick to edge highlighting on my basic NMM at the moment, the smooth 2BB is creating great contrast when the metal areas have just a touch of edge highlighting to them.