Creating Focus

Creating Simple Focus on a Miniature

by Mark Soley


There has been some discussion in a Facebook painting group I’m part of about how to create focus on a miniature. As it is something I am always telling developing painters “this needs more focus” or “this lacks a good focal point”, I thought it might be good to discuss a simple way to create focus on your painted miniatures.

I have used digital art for the explanations as they are very easily obtained and will help show the ideas. None of these artworks are mine and the links to the pages I have grabbed the images from at at the bottom of this article if you want to go and check them out in their full sized glory.

A very simple and effective way to create focus is by using zenithal lighting. I’m sure that most of you are aware of the concept of zenithal, or top down, lighting on a miniature as its been about the mini painting circles for a long time. I also sometimes use an upside down tear drop shaped area of extra highlights on part of the mini, to help exaggerate the lighting effect on the figure.

Starting with a simple focus on a mini using a zenithal lighting, with the tear dropped shape area of extra lights, to help draw the eye to the upper torso and face. This helps create a nice simple focus for the mini that will draw the eye of the viewer to the face and and give them an easy to see place to start viewing your work.  The following 3 images show in image what it is that I am discussing.



Working from left to right. The left image is the base image the middle one is with a zenithal filter added to the image, which helps draw the eye the face. The right image is showing the tear drop area that I apply the extra highlighting too. In this example above, the lightest highlights are in the white areas and inside the inverted tear drop, with the general intensity of the highlights reducing as you move down into the greyed areas of the example.

I would say that this is one of the most important, albeit simple, ways of generating an overall focus on your miniature. This alone can make a large difference to your composition and will allow the viewer to quickly pick out the face, then lead them down into the mini exploring the other details of your work.

You can always check your highlighting levels and contrast by taking a black and white photo of your miniature. This will remove the colour and leave you looking at the light and dark elements alone in the painting. I use this when I want to see the light contrasts without the colour distracting me and it allows me to make decisions on where I can increase the highlights and shadows. It’s a neat little trick that some of you probably already know, but it really is an invaluable tool to use, especially as everyone with a smart phone can do it very easily while they work on their miniature.

The next item I will touch on is using colour in your focal point creation, this is more difficult then purely using lighting a miniature, as there are many many ways to apply colour and the tone to a miniature and I believe that colour theory is a lesson in and of itself.

It is however an integral part of creating a good focal point and increasing the level of interest in your work so I have added a few simple examples to show how it is used in with the lighting I discussed above. In the examples below you can see the use of colour and the zenithal lighting to create good focal points in the artworks.

Both of these images have a strong lighting application that creates a focus at the upper levels of the figure. This helps to draw your eye to the faces then down into the other elements of the art.  You can see here that the highlights are less intense the lower down the figure you go. They also use warm and cold colours to help with contrast and building a focal point.

The Barbarians skin tones are warm with hints of pale orange and rich browns which pop forward against the steel armour with the cool teal and green tones. This coupled with the lighting helps create a strong focal point around his chest, right shoulder and face.

The Sorcerer on the other hand, uses a stronger colour value or saturation in the upper levels, the red cloth contrasting with the pale green skin help draw your attention to the well highlighted face, while as you move down the image the reds in the cloth become less saturated and the highlights less intense.

I hope that this discussion on creating simple focus helps you to develop your painting to the next level and inspires you to make more beautiful painted minis.


- Mark



Art Links….


Green Sorcerer Lady:

Line art Spear Lady: