Samstag, 19. März 2011

Theories of painting - Light and shadow

Historical background
Painting light was immaterial in the world of fantasy miniature painting for many years. When painters of historical miniatures got into fantasy figures, this technique started to spread like wildfire. For this reason, painting light is erroneously meant to be a modern technique. To find its origins, you have to eye classic paintings on canvas, like the ones of Rembrandt. So painting light is not a modern trend, but rather a rediscovery of a classic technique and its utilization on a new medium. This article will describe different sorts of light and show how one can easily paint light on a miniature without any prior knowledge.

Different sorts of light
Diffuse light
Regardless of whether one has the intention to paint a directed source of light, there is always more or less ambient light around a miniature. Due to this light, raised parts of a miniature are always painted brighter, while deepened areas are painted rather dark. This variance of light and shadow creates natural contrast and makes a miniature look realistic. Diffuse light is most often used unconsciously by lightening edgy parts of miniatures and shading immersions. A classic example for the perfected usage of diffuse light is the ‘Eavy Metal Team (Games Workshop).

Zenithal light
In contrast du diffuse light, zenithal light always has a certain, desired intention on a miniature and is used well-controlled. In most cases one will try to imitate natural light that is created by the sun, which hits the miniature from above. The exact direction of the light source is prescribed by the position of the miniature’s face and position of the torso. When a miniature looks to the right side, or when the body is turned to the right, the position of the light source is relocated, until it hits the most important part of the figure in an angle of 90 degrees. This will be the place with the highest light intensity, in most cases these parts are the shoulders, the face and parts of the torso. Depending on the position of other body parts, it might also be arms or legs. A purposeful use of light can control the eye of the beholder, as lighter parts always seem to be more interesting than dark areas. Being aware of this fact empowers a painter to control the viewing direction of the beholder, what can become quite a strong power. As this technique takes some effort, you find it most often on miniatures that are painted for contests, rather than on gaming miniatures.
When you have decided to paint a miniature by using zenithal lighting, you will soon start asking if there are any rules you have to obey. In fact, there are three of them…

Global colour gradient
When you look at a miniature as a whole, single details become secondary and can be disregarded. What remains is one of the most important rules for zenithal light: the upper part of the figure is lighter than the lower part. The face and the torso are in the majority of the cases the most interesting part the most interesting part of a miniature, so they must be lightened stronger than the remaining parts. Global colour gradient means to mentally reduce a miniature to a cylindrical geometric form and to apply a colour gradient from light (upper part) to dark (lower part).

Geometrical colour gradient
In order to paint geometrical colour gradients, you have to look more exactly at a figure. You still must reduce it to geometrical forms, so arms, legs and the torso are cylinders while the head is a ball. Rarely you will also have square or rectangular forms on a human miniature. Each part on its own now gets a colour gradient, while you still have to think about the global rule of light and darkness.

Detailed colour gradient
So what about the details? The third step you have to think about is the detailed colour gradient. This will be the most time-consuming task, even so it will have the smallest effect on the overall impression of the figure. Even the most tiny part now needs a colour gradient on its own, without forgetting the global and geometrical theory. When you do this properly, your miniature will “come to life”.

Theory and practice
Understanding these theories does not automatically mean that you know where lights and shadows have to be placed on a certain miniature. To ease the use of this technique, you can prime your figure in two layers of different colours. After priming the miniature with black colour, you use white spray coat to simulate the light. You should mind that a distance of less than 30 cm will cover the mini rather than apply a thin and transparent layer of colour. The white colour will only reach parts where you have light, will the darker areas show you shadows. With some practice, you won’t need this technique forever, as you learn to “read” the lights on a miniature by just taking a closer look.



  1. Congratullations for your blog!!Very very interesting post.


  2. Thanks a lot Gimnir, I am happy you like the article. :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

    airless spray gun