Kevin and Me


Before we begin, I should note that since this article is all about painting and other minute details, I linked each picture to its zoomed version. Just click on the pictures to view the extreme close-ups in a separate window.


Pikemen's asses. These were from the third and final batch. I decided I needed more contrast and tried the Foundry/Dallimore method of painting in the highlights. Naturally, I suck at anything that requires actual artistic talent. While I'm old enough to remember Foundry before Kevin, the two have become rather tightly associated lately. I've always been fascinated with Kevin's signature three-color style but for a long time I thought it was just one of those things I couldn't do, like blending or painting neat eyes.

I had tried the three-color style every now and then, but without much success as this picture proves. I even got the flesh palette from Foundry, but mainly because I wasn't satisfied with the flesh tone paints I had at that time. The paints were good, but I didn't really get the hang of the three-color style.

Then Kevin wrote a book...

The Beginning of... Something

I figured I'd buy the book just for the pretty pictures (like most of the Osprey titles I own). So I placed a pre-order and sat waiting. But the thought of actually doing three-color stuff kept nagging me and finally I tried to paint a few figures in that style.

Thankfully no face visible... This is the first mini I did entirely in the Foundry/Dallimore 3-color style. Unfortunately, the results aren't that hot. I think this one is the best of the bunch, but that does not mean I'm happy with it.

Well, it took no genius to see the results weren't that hot. Something was missing, but I couldn't quite figure out what. Bravely I posted these pictures on TMP and fellow members jumped to rescue. Especially Matakishi was extremely helpful, explaining the procedure and pointing out my mistakes instead of snapping off a CMoN -style one-liner like: "Thin your paints more."

One Small Step for Mankind, One Giant Leap for Man

Emboldened by the feedback, I took the splurge and called Foundry to amend my order. Bernard was a bit taken back when I told I wanted to change it, most likely he was expecting me to tell the missus had orderd me to cancel such frivolity, but once I mentioned I wanted more stuff added to the order, he promptly recovered and assured all would be taken care of.

But could I wait? Noooo... I just had to have a go at it. It just happened I had had a bunch of Dixon samurai sitting around my desk for quite some time. I decided that these would become the test subjects. The first few were primed long time ago in black just like Kevin suggests. I did have the Foundry flesh palette, but otherwise I was restricted to my old and faithful Miniature Paints, some very old leftover Citadel paints (when they still had the same pots Foundry uses now) and my largely underutilized Vallejo Model Color paints to work with.

This meant that I only had pre-mixed shade and highlight colors for the skin. I decided I'd stick with the style for the skin and do the other parts as I saw fit.

Hybrid style: Flesh is 3-color while the cloth is still traditional wash and drybrush. Here the cloth is 3-color but it's not the official Foundry palette. Contrast is too stark. Again, the cloth is inkwashed while flesh is 3-color.

As you can see, the blue robe is spoiled by the too stark contrast between the shade and the highlight colors. On the belt of the leftmost figure it isn't that bad - mostly because the belt area is so small.

The Theory

This is the contents of the starter set I bought with Kevin's book. Soon after that my starter deal arrived. For some reason, I even got two copies of "Kevin the Painter" figure. Not that I mind getting free figures. I also got a set of brushes which I hadn't really counted on, but whattaheck... The retro-style pots brought back memories of my early days in the hobby... I grabbed the book and started reading.

Now, I had read Kevin's various painting articles in Wargames Illustrated, but quite frankly, they just hadn't clicked. I was mildly disappointed to see that his book reprints quite a few of those articles, but the gorgeous pictures made it seem a worthwhile purchase anyway.

But upon closer reading, the thing seemed to click together unlike ever before. I'm not entirely keen on everything Kevin suggested, like using oil colors for horses (I'm quite comfortable with ink and acrylic washes and drybrushing large areas) or varnishing with gunk scooped from stockpiled vintage pots obscure polyurethane varnish. The less solvents I need to sniff, the happier man I am (in the long run, anyway).

But the basic process of the three-color style seemed much clearer now. I would attribute this partly to the one-color and two-color sections using the same figures. In my mind, these would better show how the coloring progresses. The other great thing was the huge larger than life photos of the miniatures. Many people say that miniatures are not meant to be viewed that way, but in my opinion being able to paint figures that can be enlarged tenfold and still look good is just awesome ("Happamia, sanoi kettu"). It's like detailing engine on your car model kit: you could argue that no one ever pops the hood to check, but in your heart you just know you cut a curner - the model is not as perfect as it could be. Modeling is a hobby for us anal retentive perfectionists...

But one of my problems with the three-color style has always been that I can't draw. Consequently, I can't mentally picture where shadows and highlights fall. Seeing the hugely enlarged photos where I could see every brush stroke really helped me on this. I could literally copy the brush strokes.

The other problem is that I just don't seem to be able to pick right shade and highlight tones. I had become practiced with washing and drybrushing, but actually painting in the highlights is much less forgiving. This is why I decided to splurge and buy the Foundry paint set: All colors pre-mixed for me. Maybe Kevin can tell if Dusky Flesh 6B goes with Buff Leather 7A, but I sure can't.

The Practice

By this time I had exhausted my supply of previously primed samurai models. I dug up the rest and cleaned the models, but then I diverged from Kevin's guidelines. Yes, I know. Here I am, trying to find out if the master's teachings are good for me and then I disregard his sagely advice and prime in white of all things. You see, I had tried gesso for priming and really liked it - no more smelly spray, no more spray all over the place, no more sneezing black crap after a priming session, no more spray, period! The only problem was that my giant one liter tub of gesso was white.

So, white they were. I tried inkwashing a few to bring out the lines, but the gesso sort of sucked up the ink and it never really gathered in the recesses. Oh well, doesn't matter I thought and went at it. White undercoat really does make this style of painting harder. Even if you're not into blacklining, there are bound to be some hard to reach nooks on the miniature. In a wash-based style, the washes will enter these and leave a dark shade. In the three-color style, you have to actively put paint on every bit unless you want the undercoat to show. A black undercoat showing in deep recesses is okay - white isn't.

Painted fully in Foundry 3-color style, with official Foundry colors. I think I am getting better at this (the yellowish tint is just the camera). This model is done entirely in official Foundry colors, but on a white undercoat rather than black. Black does work better with this style. Another samurai. This is not 100% kosher 3-color one, though. The brown cloth is based on a Vallejo color and inkwashed before painting in the highlight. I simply squirted too much Vallejo brown and had to use it somewhere...
I think the helmet came out well. Note how the base is not dry yet, you can see the white glue on it. Very drab overall. I found the black hair a bit problematic, didn't quite know how to highlight it.

I'm relatively happy with the results... except I cheated. I was thinking of something else and squirted too much brown paint from a Vallejo bottle. Unable to use it all on the intended subject, unable to put it back in the bottle and unwilling to let it go to waste, I used it on the clothes of the brown guy. Now, faced with a color I didn't have a proper three-shade palette for, I inkwashed it. But the final highlight is painted, I think it was actually one of the spearshaft colors.

A Quickie On The Side

Even though the three-color style has been perhaps faster in terms of absolute time, as there is virtually no waiting for paint or ink to dry, I found the style slower overall. Maybe just because I'm still learning it, maybe because I'm overdoing it and three-shading every small detail. But that's the impression so far.

To see if I could paint it faster, I grabbed two Clan Wars troopers from the basic box graciously donated to me by a friend of mine (ok, he got a bunch of genestealers out of the deal). I started doing a simple black base drybrushed silver for the armor, but then I realised that while this is ok for the archer's armor, the swordsman actually has an earlier style of armor that has scads of silk lacing visible. This is a very classic and beautiful armor style, but it's also a royal female canine to paint.

I did try, though, but even with the very finest Foundry brush (I think it's 5/0 but for some reason they don't print the numbers on the handles) it was simply beyong my abilities. You can spot similar lack of precision if you look closely at the cord bindings on the spearshafts and similar things. I guess old age is getting to me finally. Finally I just gave up trying, re-painted the area black and drybrushed it in dark grey. Black silk is always in fashion, damn it!

This quilted armor really should be colorful, I tried painting it but the individual strings were just too much, so I repainted it all black... Another bit of seashell. This armor doesn't have as much quilting, so it was actually easier to paint. I'm particularly happy with the blue on the pants.

I'm pretty happy with the blue (except on the hat, lack of precision again), but otherwise these are a bit bland. On the other hand, they were maybe twice as fast to paint as the other samurai in here. If you look closely at the legs, you'll see that I tried to combine the black and white palettes to generate dark grey, but the final highlight from the white palette is too light. Gotta stick with the official colors.

More Practice

In the book Kevin mentions having once painted a whole bunch of horses as a sort of "kill or cure" to learn to paint the oatmotors. I didn't have quite as many samurai left, but I persevered. I think I was getting better doing the faces. Ironically, I was beginning to see the clothes with lots of heavy folds these figures have as harder to do than something with less sculpted-in folds. While the folds do act as guidelines for placing shadows, they also force you to put shadows and highlights in certain places. The resulting figures look a little busy in my opinion.

The spearshaft is bent... proving that Dixon is still into the old style alloys. The pants are done in Buff Leather I think and the shirt is Ochre - but you can't really see the difference in the photo. If you zoom in, you'll see how bad the cord on the spearshaft looks. I think a wash would have been better. I'm not happy with the pants, there's too much contrast between the shade and the highlight.
I struggled to come up with this color combination, but I'm pretty happy with the end result. Red is definitely not one of the better colors in the Foundry palette, but this came out ok.

I tried to use two similar but different tones on the spear-armed samurai. The shirt is Ochre while the pants are Buff Leather, but the colors are a bit too close and you can't really see the difference in these photos.

Out Of Samurai Error

All things end, and so did my batch of Dixon samurai. I put a little extra effort into these final ones, including some patterning done with a technical pen. This is actually really easy to do, as long as you keep to simple dots and dashes placed randomly around the garment.

It's slightly out of focus, but I think I'm getting better with the faces. Especially the gnarly ones like this. Again, patterns drawn with a technical pen. The hat is drybrushed and with Miniature Paints to boot.
I think the pants went especially well. Black is surprisingly easy to do in 3-color, IMHO. Not quite satisfied with the hair, though. The patterns are done with a technical drawing pen. But the red vest is okay, I think, as are the chrome-dome highlights.
I should have used some other color for the socks. The starter set colors are pretty limited actually. You basically have one red, one green, one blue, black and white and a bunch of kinda brownish tones. Wouldn't be a problem if you mix, but the whole point of the Foundry paints is not needing to mix. The red jacket is looking a bit bland even with the patterns. I wish they made technical pens in white or yellow... Another cheater: The brown robe and the green armor are both inked. Naughty me!

I guess I should mention all the straw hats above are actually drybrushed and painted with Miniature Paints to boot.

Final Thoughts

The non-metallic parts are done in 3-color style. Final in the sense that this article is finally finished.

On The Book

The book is, in my opinion, well worth the money. It is not perfect, there is a fair bit of repetition and some parts have been previously published. What I find strangest, though, is that glosses over some stuff pretty completely. Washing is mentioned only very briefly, glazing and blending neglected completely...

Still, I would have to rate this book as the best guide for painting miniatures that is written for non-artists.

On The Starter Set

The starter set is even better deal, assuming you don't already own a lot of Foundry paints. To be pretty blunt, I'd have never ordered brushes from Foundry if they hadn't come "free" in the set. But actually they are good brushes and unlike my old painting style, three-color really needs those good quality teeny weeny brushes to be successful.

I have to say I wish they did something between buying the whole set and individual colors. Like a collection of greens, a collection of reds, a collection of blues etc. With the starter sets, you're buying the flesh tones and a number of other common colors over again. The full set is pretty expensive, and you're buying everything in your starter set over again. Individual colors add up quick, making you think you should have bought the full set from the get-go.

On The Style

Another Dark-star warrior. I did not find three-color style as fast as I thought I would. While it does pretty much eliminate waiting for stuff to dry, you are in effect painting everything three times and with increasing precision every time.

I think I'd still prefer my old wash/drybrush style for bits and pieces that have lots of really intricate raised detail, such as hair, samurai armor etc. Also, some bits are simply too small to have room for three-color shading to properly show. But it does seem perfect for bringing bland surfaces to life.

For me, the future is probably a hybrid style, like the Chronopia Dwarf here.

The Verdict

The time has come, dear readers (those who got this far), to render your verdict. Have I learned anything, or is this all just hopeless? Please use the vote button to register your views. The comments box remains an option for those who can still use a keyboard or other character entry device. The technical department tells me the system is yet unable to receive audio abuse, sorry about that.

Sucks! (5) Sucks by 5 votes Rocks by 29 votes (29) Rocks!


Nice guest Jun 06, 2006 15:46

Good review, I've got the book myself and largely agree. For armour etc I think I'll stick with washes, for normal painting, I'm going to be trying the three colour method.

"Washing is mentioned only very briefly, glazing and blending neglected completely... " I thought that at first but then realised it's because they aren't used in the painting method described in the book.


Good stuff guest Jun 06, 2006 19:09

My favoutite is the chap in blue with the robe you don't like. I think it has a good silk look to it. Personally I use washes, drybrushing and three (or more, or less) colour painting; there's nothing wrong with usig every technique you know when you paint a figure. I think your Samurai are excellent. -Matakishi

Methods in the book maxxon Jun 09, 2006 13:15

Yes, the book is very much a treatise on a specific method, not a general painting guide with many different methods.

It feels a bit like a cook book with only stir-fry recipes.

Very good, but not an end-all be-all of painting guides.

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