10 Year Challenge

The 10 Year Challenge is comparing your work from then, 10 years ago, and now. I haven’t done one of these before and I finally have an example! Plus, I’ve been seeing a lot of artists I follow posting up their 10 Year Challenges lately so I thought I’d join in on the fun.

Then . . .

10 Years ago (or thereabouts) I painted my first copy of Azrin the Barbarian from Reaper Miniatures. Then, I did a weapon swap so that she was wielding am axe and hammer. Then, this was one of my first display bases where I tried to do more than just some grass and rocks. I made the steps out of stained glass remnants, the tree out of a twig I found on a walk with a little vine wrapped around it and I even tried using jewelry wire to create a short railing. My idea at the time was she was a jungle dwelling dwarf protecting a temple. She had a wolf companion to help her. Everyone needs a good doggo!


Now . . .

Now, I decided to revisit this piece. I had a spare Azrin the Barbarian in my collection and I wanted to paint something smaller amidst larger projects. I needed that sense of accomplishment of finishing a project. I used my Then Azrin as a reference and redesigned the composition using the knowledge I now possess to make a better piece. A lot of the same elements are there but more refined and added to. I also have better materials to work with than I did 10 years ago. Partly because Mark has a hoard of basing supplies.



There are some major differences between the two pieces. First, the faces show a pretty big change in not only color use on skintones but lighting and expression. I also bent some areas of the new Azrin to give the pose a bit of dynamic movement the original was lacking.

I used general overall lighting on the Old Azrin which is why it looks very low in contrast levels. On New Azrin I used Atmosphere throughout the entire piece which helps it all feel like it is a coherent scene. Every part has the same colors used for shadows and highlights. The only thing that changes are the local colors.

You can see almost all of the elements between the two pieces are the same. Except for the wolf. I couldn’t find a good spot for a familiar on the new base so I left it off. Otherwise, there is still a tree, but with more interesting color and texture. There is still moss on the stairs but I used flock instead of glued down cornmeal. I still have flowers but I used MiniNatur basing materials instead of dried flowers. And the steps are still stone but I built them using cork board and milliput. Lastly, there is still a fence/railing but I used pre-made fences from a dollhouse supplier that is a good scale. Instead of trying to make my own with wire.

Overall, the newer piece has a more refined look to it. It has more polish.

I want to leave off with a message for those who maybe struggle to see improvement from piece to piece: persist! Even if it feels like you aren’t making progress because it can be slow in coming, you are still evolving more than you know. You will soak up information the more you are exposed to ideas and techniques. The more you look at art across many different formats the more you will identify, subconsciously, what makes something appeal to your sensibilities. And don’t be afraid to do your own 10 Year Challenge!

#miniaturepainting #10yearchallenge

Light and Shadow

I was just looking for examples on how to explain light and shadow for my beginner's class this weekend when I happened upon this blog. It is an excellent resource! It covers a lot of the different areas of understanding light and shadow that I had to go over in my drawing classes in art school. 

If you are someone who struggles with highlight and shadow placement, read through this and follow along with the couple of quick exercises. It is well worth the read. 

Understanding Light and Shadow by Monika Zagrobelna

Macca Chung's Sorayama Marilyn

I had a fantastic time at Crystal Dragon this year. It was my first time and I will definitely be back. It was also an absolute thrill to receive a best in show award for the Sorayama Marilyn bust.


Fans of Hajime Sorayama will recognise instantly where the idea came from. I wanted as much as possible to emulate the hyper-realism style of Sorayama's robot pinups, which included several paintings of Marilyn. The original Marilyn Monroe bust is from Life Miniatures and it is a gorgeous kit. The sculpt and the quality of casting made it a joy to paint.

Before I started the project, I spent weeks looking at Sorayama's work trying to understand how it could translate to a model. Immersion is an important part of my process.

Sorayama employs 2D illustration techniques to communicate the way light behaves in a 3D environment. For me, the most impressive aspect is the way Sorayama negotiates plane changes and the reflective behaviour of different materials, from metal to fabric to translucent skin. I really had to think about how to use a 2D painting technique on a 3D model to look like a 2D painting that was depicting light on a 3D form—quite a meta-dilemma!

In terms of execution, I kept to a few landmarks in Sorayama's approach: sharp lines to seperate volumes combined with the impression of edge highlighting to emphasise a surface change; soft colour transitions; heavy use of reflected colour; characteristic light flares particularly on metal surfaces. The piece was painted by brush over plain white primer. A lot of time was spent on the linework that would transform Marilyn into her robot version. The majority of colour work was done with glazing and fine directional linework. Finally, the "Skynet" logo on the jacket was a cheeky tip-of-the-hat to pop culture (Trent Denison and I came up with the idea to do this on both our busts—see his K0-HANA). Overall, there was about 30hrs painting on Marilyn, which is relatively quick for me!

A huge thanks to Meg Maples and Mark Soley for running and judging the Crystal Dragon painting competition. Thanks also to the judges: Sebastian Archer, Roman (Groobsy) Gruba, and Kara Nash. It has been amazing to meet and swing a brush with so many fine painters. I can't wait to see everyone again next year!


Part of the Judge's Choice Award that Macca won for his Sorayama Marilyn is that he will be participating as a Guest Judge at Crystal Dragon 2019. We look forward to welcoming him as part of our judging team as well as seeing what other fantastic creations he cooks up in the next year. Congratulations again, Macca, on your win this year! May your paint stay wet and fire burn bright! 

--Meg and Mark

Composition: Anatomy of Bases

When painters start to delve into the world of display painting, not much is discussed in regards to composition. We have a bunch of painting and theory tutorials out there but not much actually discussing composition. The aim of this blog post is to explain the difference between plinths and bases, firstly. Then to discuss how to determine maximum heights for your entire composition. 

For the purposes of this blog, I will explain the difference between a "plinth" and a "base". 

The Plinth is the handle to which the entire scene will be affixed. 

The Base is the scene created with which to provide context. 

Ok, so we have some basic definitions and you can see the photographic examples I have provided. 

File these definitions away while we move on to discuss the aspects of harmonizing your plinth choice and your basing in order to create a complete composition. 


Before we continue, I want to discuss what makes a "composition" in art. In Visual Art, Composition refers to the use of various elements to create a whole. The elements used are color, texture, shape, line movement, positive and negative space, contrast, pattern, emphasis (focus) etc. 

Essentially, all of the various 'parts' used to create a scenic display piece, are your visual elements with which you create your composition. 

The Plinth

The Plinth is most often thought of as the handle on which to stick your basing and figure to allow the viewer to pick up for observation. This is a single function of the plinth, when in reality it has a dual function. It also serves as a way to frame your work. You don't want the plinth itself to become the focal point for your composition. You want it to help present your composition to the viewer without getting in the way. 

In Miniature Painting there are two trends with regards to plinths that are most popular. The first, is getting a nicely turned and finished plinth. The second, is using a block or puck and painting it black. Both of these methods are acceptable however, there are considerations you have to make, as the artist, as to which you will use. 

When using a block/puck, you don't want to paint it a bright color because it will over power your whole composition. The blocks used are very solid both physically and visually. By bringing attention to this very solid structure your model is affixed to, your model is now fighting for visual superiority. Painting it black allows the block to recede into the background as your eye moves over it. Black is a neutral color which means it doesn't engage the eye first. It is seen only as a supporting element. Allowing your brighter colors in your model and basing to shine. The lines of a block are straight and clean so they won't get in the way of your composition. Straight lines are very neutral when off in the background.  

When using a turned and finished plinth, you have to think about a few different elements in order to make sure it doesn't clash with your finished composition. First, you have to consider how the lines of the plinth work with your composition. Choosing between a round plinth and a square plinth also affects how people will view it. Round plinths encourage people to turn the entire piece around. This means your piece needs to look excellent in a full 360° turn. If you are using a squared plinth, you can limit the viewer to a few angles. 

Beyond determining style of plinth, you also need to consider the height of the plinth. This is the biggest problem I see when people are starting to get into Display Painting. They tend to think of the plinth as being a separate element instead of it being an incorporated element in regards to the entire composition. The end result is often a base that is visually and physically out of balance, often it is too big for the subject matter (the figure) and people want to "try to be different" without first understanding the rules to composition. Yes, there are rules in art. There are rules about how to make a visually pleasing and stimulating design. You first have to understand the rules and how to implement them before you can bend or break them. 

The General Rule for Maximum Plinth Size is: 1 times the height of the model. 

The General Rule for Max Basing Height: 2 times the height of the model.

Total Max Height For Composition: 3 times the height of the model. 

This equation above is following The Rule of Thirds in regards to Art and Design Principles. This is a Guideline and does not have to be followed exactly. Just keep in mind that the plinth factors into your composition and the max composition height shouldn't exceed 3 times the height of the model. Believe me, even on a 28mm figure, that is a lot of space to fill! 

Working Example

I have a recent example of this from one of my students in New Zealand, Gavin Dodd. I have received permission from him to use his photos and to discuss the process. I believe he has only done one display piece before, which we discussed at my most recent Wellington, NZ class. 

Gavin had painted up the Target Identifed Set of models from Painting Buddha. He wanted to create a Sci-Fi/Modern themed base for them and he started having a crack after the class he attended. This was his first photo I saw posted up: 

Immediately upon looking at the photo, you can see where the focal point is as opposed to where it should be. Keeping in mind the models are supposed to go on top of the block, in front of the sign, the green dot is where the focal point *should be*. Instead, it is squarely at the corner of the building (where the red dot is). This happened because the plinth for the base was too tall. When Gavin posted this up, he explained that he wanted to create height to force to viewer to feel like the models are up high on a roof. I can totally understand this! However, by using the extra height at the bottom of the plinth, he just forced the focal point elsewhere. Instead of trying to create the height by using the plinth, you need to create the height on top of the plinth. Which he had also done by creating the sign. 

Additionally, by using such a tall plinth and then creating such a tall base element on top of the plinth, the center of gravity is lifted. Why is this important? Well, that plinth has a small footprint when compared to the total height. If you are going to take this to a show and someone accidentally bumps into the case or table it is displayed on, this piece is going to topple a lot easier than a piece that has a lower center of gravity. Not only do we need to make sure we use the correct design principles to determine composition height, we also have to think about the physical stability of the piece. 

I advised him to cut the plinth shorter to redistribute the focal points. I also advised to get rid of the Target Identified sign because when you add a label, you are forcing the viewer to see what you see. If your composition doesn't match what your label says, it can cause confusion and the viewer spends more time trying to reconcile the label with what they are seeing. As opposed to letting them take in all of the elements and creating their own story. So much affects the way different people read the same image based on what their mood is at the time, their personal experiences in life, what sorts of stories they favor. Basically, everyone's perception is shaped on their own life experiences and we should allow the viewer to create whatever narrative they want as opposed to trying to pigeon-hole your personal concept. 

Anyway, so he cut the bottom of the plinth off and removed the sign. He also extended some of the brickwork a bit. In the end, he came up with a much more pleasing composition. 


This scene, already tells me a lot more about the setting by adding a few more elements and fixing the focal point. I can tell they are on a rooftop of a building. That is quite clear because of the lip of the wall, the flat roof and the vertical sign element. An illusion of height is created by extending the sign upwards.

Even so, he probably could have removed another centimeter off the bottom of the plinth and it would be a perfect height. But that is getting really knit picky. In the end, for his second display base, he put a lot of effort into this and took on the critiques from me and some of the other Kiwi Painters like a champ. 

Here is the finished photo of this piece: 


I wanted to close by saying that you can always incorporate some of your basing directly into your plinth, as Gavin did here by putting the brickwork down the sides of his plinth. I have also done this on my Steampunk Ariel piece I painted a few years ago. Don't think of your plinth a a separate entity. It is part of your entire composition and as such, it needs to compliment or accent your display. 

I hope this is helpful for my readers. Writing this blog I already have so many ideas on discussing design elements and how to utilize them in your miniature painting. I will try to get a few written up to release to you guys while we are in Europe!



Don't worry. Paint and be happy! 

Everlasting Wet Palette by Redgrass Games

A new company popped up on the scene recently, Redgrass Games, based in France. They started developing a new wet palette. One they were promising to be a more high tech version than many of the homemade wet palettes used by painters around the world.

At first, they were trying to create a sponge that you could put your paints directly on for use and then clean off at the end of your painting session. I imagine it felt a lot like an ink pad and it sounded like a really cool idea! I would be all for it if it means I can ditch using paper. Especially for travel! It would be one less thing to pack. And these days, when I try new products, I scrutinize them and how easy they would be to travel with and whether or not I would recommend the product to my students. 

Unfortunately, the special sponge they were trying to develop hasn't worked out but they still wanted to launch a Kickstarter for a palette. So they scrapped their original idea and used chamois and paper instead; much like a traditional homemade wet palette. 

When they asked if I would review it, I was more than happy to. I was excited at the idea of a new wet palette that would be marketed towards miniature painters and likely made available in game stores. As a teacher who has a lot of new or beginner level students in classes, the most common scenario is that people are exposed to miniature painting through their game store. They get what the shops recommend which is usually GW paint, Army Painter brushes and primer and a whole slew of other low quality products. However, most game stores don't carry palettes of any type and it is sort of taken for granted by those more experienced about what should be used or where to find things. And if the game store does carry a palette, it is gonna be the hunk of junk that is the P3 palette. In Australia, the P3 palette is sold for upwards of AUD$50 fo something smaller than a VHS container that uses packing foam and tissue paper. 

Additionally, in Australia, Masterson's only just picked up distribution in the country at the last half of 2017 through National Art Materials. That means Aussies have either had to buy the Masterson's from the US or Europe, buy the P3 palette and be frustrated by it, or create a homemade one using kitchen sponge sheet and a food storage container. The idea of a new wet palette, that is a quality product, being carried in game stores at this far flung part of the painting world got me excited! Finally, I would be able to give my students a shopping list for class and they could support their Local Game Store at the same time! 

With all of this optimism, I cracked open the palette! The one I was sent is just a 3D print prototype. The finished product will be a bit different including an airtight seal (which means it is meant to be water tight as well). It is around the size of an A5 sheet of paper (5.8inch x 8.3inch - or - 148mm x 210mm).


The sponge supplied was a white chamois type material. Chamois is a lightweight, synthetic material that is super absorbent (holds a lot of water) and is meant to be mold resistent. I used to use a chamois towel when I was a competitve swimmer and the things lasted forever! 

The paper felt like a cross between tissue paper and baking paper. It was thinner than baking paper and not as slick. This is the part that interested me as this is the part that is different to homemade palettes. Let the experiment begin! 

Everlasting Wet Palette Experiment - Australia

Notes before we begin: 

  • This test took place in Goulburn, NSW from Friday September 15th to Sunday September 17th, 2017. 
  • Time of year is early spring with evening temps below 0C and day time temps between 13C and 18C; It is still cold here.
  • Environmental factors affect the way prodcuts such as wet palettes and paint behave. 
  • Medium Body and Heavy Body Acrylics were used, not Fluid Body Acrylics (most game range paints are Fluid). 

No instructions were provided on how to use it so I treated it the same way I would my homemade palette. I put water in the tray and let the chamois soak up the water. I kept the water line at the line of the chamois as well. Then I placed the paper in it. It started to curl, which is normal when using baking paper, so I flipped it over to wet the other side. The logic here is that if one side gets wet then only one side relaxes in the water which causes the curling. Wetting both sides means the paper will fully relax and lay flat. Then I added 3 dollops of Heavy Body Artist Acrylic. Something to note: Heavy Body Acrylics take a lot more water to become dilute or runny than Game Manufacturer paints which are Fluid Body Acrylics. 

As soon as I put the dollops of paint on, the color started to run. This is not good . . . Fairly certain something went wrong, I still continued to try to mix colors. I was okay with getting a less than perfect result because if it is this easy for me to misuse the palette, how is a newbie going to fare? I wasn't too worried and I sent photos to Redgrass to get some info from them on where I went wrong. 

Sure enough, the mess above, was due to User Error. They advised to not wet both sides of the paper and that it would likely curl just at the edges but to flatten it with my fingers. Apparently, there was too much water in the palette. Awesome sauce! I ditched this paper, rinsed the chamois and then tipped out all excess water then layed new paper on the sponge then repeated the experiment. Using my Medium Body Acrylics (Jo Sonja) and my Heavy Body Acrylics (Schminke), I put new dollops of paint on the palette. I then mixed up a skintone. This way, I could see how a mix fares on the paper as well as just the pure dollops of paint straight of the tube. 

I used some of the color for a couple of hours but noticed a lot of water was coming through the paper still and it was affecting the consistency of my paint. This made me a little apprehensive. If over the course of a couple hours I was already having this issue, how was the paint going to hold up overnight or even several days later? Knowing I wasn't going to paint this weekend, it was an optimal time to see how this thing works passively. 

I closed up the palette on Friday night at 11pm. I then opened it up on Saturday morning at 11am. So it had 12 hours to sit closed up. Why is this important? Well, when using a wet palette, you should close it up between sessions to keep the evaporative process in the container. By containing this process, the water trying to escape through evaporation ends up recondensing in the wet palette which is what keeps paint hydrated when using baking paper. Baking paper doesn't actually let moisture through the paper. It keeps moisture around the paint. 

With the paper supplied with the Everlasting Wet Palette letting moisture through plus also containing the evaporative process by closing the container, too much water is introduced into the paint. This is a particular problem for painters like myself or my husband, who use the same paper and paint for days at a time. Mark even uses the same baking paper sheet and paint for a month or more in his homemade palette - no problem. 

I then left the palette open the rest of the day Saturday and checked it again at 9pm on Sunday. Even left open, more moisture was let through the paper and into the paint. Not the worst result. In fact, this could possibly be a good thing in the summer time. 

Then I removed the paper from the sponge and saw another problem - the yellow had seeped through the paper and into the chamois. Which means that you cannot leave your paint in this palette for days or weeks at a time as it will end up coloring the chamois underneath. 

Yellow seeped through on the sponge after 70 hours in the palette. 

Yellow seeped through on the sponge after 70 hours in the palette. 


The conclusion of this 3 day experiment is there are pros and cons to this palette. 

I like the slim profile of the container for travel. 
The chamois is a nice alternative to sponge and is mold resistent. 
They will be providing a grey sponge in their kit which means you have a neutral palette color to mix your colors. This will allow you more accuracy when mixing. 
It is marketed for miniature painters and it is much better quality than the P3 palette which is the only other one usually carried in game stores. 
New Painters may be exposed to this earlier if they are carried at Local Game Stores. 

The paper is too unforgiving. It allows too much water through which in turn means it will let paint through to the chamois after a few days. 
It doesn't seem to be designed for more than one session at a time as closing it up will dilute the paints further. 
The A5 size is just too small to work with regularly. 

I let Redgrass know of the technical difficulties I experienced on my end. They have claimed I am the only painter to report any issues with the product as well as stating that I didn't use their product with the correct paints by using my Heavy Body Artist Acrylics. That said, I am not sure of the process the other painters have used who have tested this product so I cannot comment on their results. I can only comment on mine. 

I asked them what time of year the other painters reviewed their product but they didn't respond. They just said the other testers were in the Northern Hemisphere.

Why did I ask this? The way wet palettes work in the summer time, when it is hard to keep indoor temperatures cool for painting, will differ from the way they behave in the winter time. If everyone else who has tested it is in the Northern Hemisphere and has tested it within the last 3 months it has been summer time. For me, I am currently at the tail end of winter/beginning of spring. Our temps at night are still dropping below 0C (below 32F) and have been between 12C (54F) and 18C (65F) in the day time. In other words, it is cold outside which means inside the studio is cold and we have to kick the heater on to get to 18C inside the house. Therefore, extra moisture coming through the paper and into my paint isn't a good thing right now. However, it may be better in the summer time when that extra moisture is needed. 

Personally, I do not feel this is an improvement on what people can make at home. Had there been a massive improvement in design and function, I may feel differently. However, they have taken a classic design and packaged it all up for 25Euro for their base pledge on their Kickstarter. The pledge level includes the A5 palette, 2 chamois cut to size and 100 sheets of paper cut to size. Is it convenient to purchase all together? Sure. Is it cost effective? No so much. 

All of this said, if Redgrass games were to develop their original idea with a sponge you can put your paint directly on for use and then clean off, I would definitely be up for trying that to see how it works. That was the real innovation many seemed to be interested in when they originally announced their project. It is a shame it hasn't come to fruition. I hope they do continue to pursue the original idea. 

For now, 9 out of 10 painters approve this product. I am just that one awkward result that isn't totally sold.