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Style In Painting Miniatures

I ran across something the other day that really got the hamster wheel turning and tangented off all over but eventually landed me on the topic painting styles in miniatures.  I’ve studied art while in college and know a bit about the emergence of styles and schools of influence and so when I look at painting miniatures, I wonder what the prevailing styles and schools of thought are.

I still feel very new to the painting scene and so I might be missing a lot of cultural knowledge but I’m always surprised by the lack of diverse styles in the industry.  Maybe they are too subtle for me to recognize but it seems to me like the art of painting minis is still in its infancy with painters focused more on trying nail down techniques and not develop an actual style.

I ran across a pretty great blog article on Hot Dice Miniatures talking about style and while it’s a great start to the conversation, I think the author was mixing up “style” with “technique.”  In the post, the author talks about OSL (Object Source Lighting), NMM (non-metallic metal), and several other tongue-in-cheek “styles” but most of those are just techniques.  There are more techniques out there like Zenithal highlighting and basic items like different blending techniques or dry brushing. But I see very few things out there that show a defined style.

In looking for more clarity on “style” vs “technique,” I stumbled on a painting blog that helped define the two terms.  Oil Painters of America had this post that did nothing but define the two and I have to agree with the opening statement:

An individual style, while part of the artist’s being, can contain a multitude of technical approaches and variations. Thus, technique is the systematic procedure by which the style is conveyed.

-Alan Wolton, Oil Painters of America

The rest of the post goes a little off rails as he starts talking about horoscopes and other oddities but the first few lines are well worth a read.

Maybe it is because I don’t look at enough of the painted miniatures out there or maybe the hobby is too full of amateur painters but I don’t see a lot of style out there.  I don’t personally feel like I have a style yet for how I paint minis either because it hasn’t developed yet or is buried under so much mediocre technique that it hasn’t been fully expressed.   All too often, the style I see is just basic realism. Most of the painted minis that I see called upon due to some award win or finalist is just showcasing an amazing amount of effort and technique to make for a very realistic depiction.  Take this finalist from CMON’s Crystal Brush.

This spectacular piece from Benjamin Kantor shows off a lot of great and varied techniques, from some very prominent NMM work on the Pharoah’s sword and headress to the OSL on the Pharoah’s chest and skirt.  There are loads of other techniques applied that I’m sure are way over my head or I don’t even have an eye for yet but the overall style is still rooted in this very realism-centered view with an almost Baroque emphasis on detail.

I’m not arguing that among the best painters in the world, there aren’t differences but I’m looking for where there is a marked difference in painting style.  I’m not trying to compare Monet and Manet, I’m looking at where is our Titian vs Picasso.  Maybe that is not fair since the differences between those two span centuries and we don’t have centuries of painted miniature history to draw on.

In even my limited exposure, I have seen mold-breaking shifts in style so they are out there. This example from DakkaDakka user Nard and his famous pink Tyranids from WH40k show that the medium has a lot space to develop new styles:

Nard has a tutorial on how he achieves this style and it is well worth the read-through.

Now to wrap things up, I’m going to go back to the beginning.  The ‘something’ I was hunting down initially was info on Mantic’s new Hellboy game up on Kickstarter and I was exploring some of Mignola’s art from the comic series. If you don’t know Mignola, he created a very unique visual style for his Hellboy series and with the game looking so interesting (solo-able, comic-based, unique art style) I was curious if anyone has tried more of an illustrative approach to miniature painting, especially in a style similar to Mignola’s art.

After a lot of searching, I really didn’t find much, which led to the this whole post topic on the dearth of divergent painting styles. I did however see a glimmer of hope.  Before creating Hellboy, Mignola worked on a one-off series for Batman. Eventually this ended up spawning a now famous black and white sculpture put out by DC Comics in Mignola’s signature style.

This fantastic full 3D sculpture really brought home that the technique can work effectively in 3D and maybe on the minis Mantic is producing for their game. I know I said I was going to swear off buying any new games but this challenge is very tempting.  Just last month, DC put out another Mignola-inspired Batman sculpt, this time larger and in color.  Maybe I should track one of those down too…


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  1. Russ Spears

    I think the style of painting the mini is mostly limited by the style of the casting of the mini. Most minis are cast similarly (real-world setting), and outside of the traditional “paint it to look as real as possible” the only style, or maybe technique, I’ve seen used that I think works is when the B/W motif is used – which I just mentally switch to more of a Noir style.

    There have been some Chibi/Anime minis that I’ve seen painted with a flat, limited palette to better match comic (maybe cel?) stylings.

    Interesting view. Got to admit I’d never really thought about it before.

    • Christian

      I think you’re really onto something with the fact that the sculpt itself is dictating a lot what and how you can paint. Looking again at the Mignola Batman figure, the sculpt itself is lending a lot to how it is painted. Looking at the figures in the Hellboy kickstarter, they aren’t sculpted in that style so I don’t even know if you could deviate from the style depicted in the sculpt. Maybe if you are good enough you’d be able to pull it off but I’m not sure how good one would need to be…

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