Friday, August 8, 2014

Painting Drizzt, Part 2: Heroes, Villains, and Big Monsters

This is the second part of my series of posts in which I reflect on painting the miniatures from Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game. In Part 1, I described my experiments with a few different techniques and ended with descriptions of some of the unique characters. The Drizzt set is the second collection of miniatures I have painted since my 20-year hiatus from the hobby, the first collection being Mice & Mystics—a painting experience documented in my January post.

I make sure to take pictures of all the miniatures I have finished, and I often take work-in-progress shots of interesting or challenging pieces as well. Using my Android phone, these get automatically backed-up to Google+, where I write my notes about techniques and colors. I also frequently use the image editing tools in Google+ to do some white balancing, and I find the "Lift" option combined with increased brightness makes up for my budget camera and lighting setup. (My only criticism is that these editing tools do not work in Linux, and so I have to run in Windows just to take good painting notes.) I mention this in part because I have had the Drizzt figures complete since May and have begun my next painting project; I am glad I took the notes, as they remind me of my focus at the time.

I left off my last post with this picture, the first step of an experiment with priming miniatures in white or black:

Let's revisit these characters in the painting process, starting with Guenhwyvar. Prior to painting her, I came across a post (maybe this one, though I do not remember so well now) explaining that one rarely paints in pure black. Guenhwyvar then is my first experiment in non-black black. The base coat is almost black with a bit of purple, and the drybrushed highlights are greys tinted purple. The base also has hints of purple, a color that was chosen in part to match my plans for Drizzt himself. The only pure black on this model is in the pupils and the roof of the mouth. I am pleased with the result.

The other black-primed figure was Yochlol, who I decided to build up in layers following the technique described by Dr. Faust. This figure also marks a change in my work lightbulb, switched to a Cool White Ecobulb (1170 lumens, 4100K), which gives much better light although also generates quite a bit more heat. Yochlol is really just a series of layers from yellow-brown up to yellow-white, as can be seen in little montage. I remember at the time feeling a bit silly covering the whole model in each subsequent layer, as opposed to a lighter base coat and using a wash to get in the cracks. However, it was a good experience to practice layering on this model, given that it's basically a blob of slime. If I could do it again, I would probably have it be a bit less brown, but I'm still pleased with the smoothness of the result.

For Athrogate, I tried to model his color scheme after a wild boar, inspired by his pet boar, Snort. I remember being happy with his base colors but thinking he was rather dull, and I was nervous to add highlights. I am glad I faced my fear and added the highlights, because I think it turned out great—and it's another novice fear eliminated!

Next up is Artemis Entreri, whom it seems we face every time we play a random-villain game. I was never really happy with his face, which came out kind of splotchy. This was also the first miniature I did after buying some glaze medium. I tried giving his vampiric dagger a red glaze, but it came out comically pink and was painted over. On the cloak, there was too much contrast between the highlights and shadows, and so I tried a glaze there, but I think I used too much medium. The result was an accidental "clothy" effect, which is not horrible but also not what I wanted. Long after working on this figure, I came across some tips on how to get cloth effects with sponge painting, and I think that's what I will try next time I approach a cape like this. All told, Entreri is passable, but not great.

Looking back at those four, it's hard to tell that the primer made any difference at all in the final model. Artemis Entreri does look darker than the rest, but he was also supposed to look darker, so I cannot say the primer was a major issue. My experience was that white lends itself to a painting sequence of mid-tone, wash, and highlight, while black works well for building up from dark tones (although I usually end up needing a pin wash to bring out the contrast at the end in this technique anyway). Based on this, I moved forward with white primer for the rest of the figures in this set.

I had been waffling with respect to the sequence of basing and priming, and I had also been experimenting with different primers. One thing I tried was basing first (with a mix of three sizes of ballast held down with thinned white glue) and then priming with my Vallejo White Surface Primer, which I brush on. I took this picture to show how it cracks after drying and shrinking (white minis on right), although the final effect isn't too bad (Entreri on left).

This next picture shows the streakiness of brushing on this primer, which I found annoying although, as you'll see, did not seem to effect the final paint job.

That inspired me to do some more reading about brush-on primers. I think I mentioned before that I was unsatisfied with my spraypaint experience when working on the Mice & Mystics figures, in part because of weather restrictions. After watching this video about using gesso as a primer, I thought I would give it a try.

Nice video, eh? Damned lies, I say. I bought some white Liquitex Gesso and tried it on Bruenor.

Looks like he fell in a pool of chalk dust. It took a bit of scrubbing to get him cleaned up again. (A note from the future: I have recently returned to the Gesso in my priming experiments, and it seems to work well when put on in thin layers, avoiding the "glop it on" advice from the video's article. However, I also realized that the gesso I have is leaving noticible texture on flat areas of my models. It doesn't look too bad on armor, but is not what I wanted. I also realized that I have the "Basics" line of Liquitex gesso, and I wonder if the particulate is less finely ground for the cheaper line. Sadly, I have yet to find any information to confirm or deny this, otherwise I would consider buying a new bottle of the higher-quality stuff—but that's not worth the gamble to me right now.)

Here is the finished Regis, who turned out pretty well.

Cattie-Brie was an interesting model. It looked like the miniature was based on this iconic painting of the character:

However, I didn't really want my son's first experience with a human female adventurer to be a leather bikini, and also, the arms had a "puffiness" that implied sleeves. I decided to give her a purple shirt, to go well with the green cloak and red hair. The blue gem on her sword is designed to bring out the blue in her eyes. I think the figure turned out well, especially considering that the miniature itself lacked a lot of definition.

I used a similar color scheme on Cattie-Brie as on her adopted father, Bruenor Battlehammer. This figure was my first to use my gold paint, and I followed some of the advice given in this article. I am quite pleased with the result, and I think it might be my favorite one from the whole collection.

Here's Wulfgar, on whom I got to practice drybrushing fur texture, layering skin tones, and 1980's heroic blonde hair.

"Hey," you ask, "Where's the star of the show?" The last hero I painted was Drizzt himself, painted to match the color scheme on the game's box. Turns out, though, that it was kind of a bad figure. The sword in his left hand and the cloth down his front are molded all the way back to his cape, and I found him generally uninteresting. He has the same problem as the other drow from the set: he's just plain dark. Oh well, they can't all be Bruenors.

With all the small figures done, I was left with only big monsters. Some of these had rather significant gaps: looks like they were cast in multiple pieces and hastily assembled. I picked up some Milliput and decided to try my hand at both filling gaps and crafting some more interesting terrain. Following the instructions, I worked together the two colors of epoxy, and then formed some rocky bases for the trolls and dragon and filled some gaps in the balor. I found out much later that my Milliput is probably too old: both rolls are discolored and chalky. Still, it worked well enough for this purpose, but if I were to do any more serious modeling, I should probably discard it and get some more workable putty.

The two feral trolls were tedious to paint. Their skin lacked meaningful texture aside from very shallow muscle shapes and a few warts. I also was painting them using a number 2 brush, and by the time I got the skin done, I was tired of painting them. The end result is somewhat uninteresting, but certainly passable for tabletop quality. In fact, looking back over my photos, I have two sets marked "final." After having them sitting on my desk for a few days, I decided they needed more highlights, so I touched them up and re-varnished. This one has some sloppiness on his right pectoral area, but this was a serious case of diminishing returns. They still look intimidating no matter who they face. I am glad I added the lumps to the ground, just for a bit of visual interest.

Shimmergloom was much more fun, and exercise in shades of grey. The highlights were added to each scale individually, and I think they add a lot of depth.

The last figure of the set was Errtu the Balor, and calling this a "miniature" seems like an abuse of the term. He is huge. I ran into the same problem as with the trolls: it took an enormous amount of paint and time just to do uninteresting things like cover his wings with a solid color, and he's mostly monochromatic. I decided to do most of the shading with washes for expediency's sake. 

When I finally got to the weapons, I got my second wind. According to the game rules, he has a flaming whip and a lightning sword. A Hot Lead article to me thinking about how to do the fire whip in a realistic way. Indeed, before reading the article, I was thinking about making exact mistake he points out and working the fire up to white instead of keeping the white at the hottest point. The sword is a "lightning sword," and I took inspiration from a BoLS article on painting science fiction power weapons. Errtu's sword was not a smooth surface, however, and I decided to try to make the edges look like the lightning strikes and the rest like clouds. Never having seen a real lightning sword in action, I figured this would be reasonable, and I am happy with the result. 

Writing this up, I realized that if you haven't played the game, you might not have a sense of scale of the balor, so I took this shot of Errtu about to consume the soul of Artemis Entreri.

One of the reasons I put off finishing this blog series (despite having finished the painting months ago) was that I had hoped to get some in-game photographs in good lighting conditions. However, we have only played the game once since I finished painting the figures, and that was mostly because my brother was visiting. It looked great, but my son and I had sort of "played out" this game already. 

I learned my lesson: paint the figures before playing the game! I picked up Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon, which is from the same series as Legend of Drizzt, and I have enjoyed painting those figures. That, however, is a story for another blog post.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to leave comments below.


  1. You did such an amazing job! Thank you for writing so much detail for how you painted each figure. I too started with painting the Mice and Mystics figures, unfortunately we don't enjoy the game much so they just sit in their box...we recently purchased the drizzt game and I am both excited and intimidated by the 40 Minifigures to paint! Your posts will definitely help me along, so thank you again.

    By the way, how do you store the painted figures? The box is sadly lacking in proper Minifigures storage space.

    1. Thanks for checking it out! This is some of my earlier work, and it's fun for me to look back and see how much I've learned in the few years I've been in the hobby.

      I keep a lot of my figures in pistol cases. You can get them pretty cheap at sporting goods stores. I just lay them in the "egg carton" foam and stack them in the closet. I have had one or two pieces get bent when I'm not being careful enough, so on later sets, I went the extra mile and cut into the foam to make slots for each kind of figure. I did that with Imperial Assault, for example, in part because it has more figures that don't have a clear "flat plane" where they would security lie without bending.