Thursday, August 11, 2016

Painting The Temple of Elemental Evil

The latest in the D&D Adventure System board games is The Temple of Elemental Evil, and I could not pass up the opportunity for a new and improved co-op dungeon-crawling adventure with a horde of new miniatures!

Longtime readers will recall that Legend of Drizzt (1, 2) was the second set I painted since returning to the hobby, and I finished Wrath of Ashardalon in November 2014. With Drizzt, we played it first, then I painted the minis, but at that point, we were kind of tired of the game. With Ashardalon, I painted the minis first, but the game just wasn't quite as good as Drizzt. For The Temple of Elemental Evil (henceforth ToEE), I had read in several places that the gameplay is an improvement over Drizzt, in part because it includes a proper campaign mode while keeping the game's simple charm. I have not actually played the game yet, though: I bought it in July 2015, started painting in October 2015, and just finished it today. I hope it lives up to the expectation! (Incidentally, during those eleven months, I painted Fury of Dracula, Runebound,  and a few one-offs. Also, there were a few other distractions.)

But enough context and back-story, let's get on with the painting! I'll be sharing the models in the order I painted them.

First up is the Air Elemental. Yes, I started with a "big bad" instead of grunts. When I looked over this miniature, I had the idea of doing some creative basework. Here he is, primed and stripped after my first failed attempt with fine pumice gel. The gel would not hold the kind of edges I wanted, but I'm including this picture as a "before" reference.

Here he is with a new base sculpted out of Milliput, stretching the curves in the figure out to the very edges.

The finished results turned out nicely. The shape is good, maybe could have used more aggressive highlights on the spiral.

On the water elemental, I added some ripples along the edge of the base with heavy gloss gel. The rest is a fairly straightforward paint job that gets the job done. The sculpt is kind of weird, in part because there are phantom faces on both sides of it.

These gnolls are weirdly huge, but I'm really happy with how they turned out. I spent a lot of time on them for grunts, but they were fun to paint. I'm particularly happy with how I used inks to add hyena-inspired spots.

Here are some bugbears, whose original photograph seems to have disappeared, so I just took a new one. The picture quality is quite different from above, since I changed camera-phones since then. I am still struggling to get good settings on the new device, or I am trying to convince myself that a custom lightbox is wholly unnecessary.

There was a several-months gap after the bugbears because I wanted to do these hobgoblins next, but I found them completely demoralizing. Why are they wearing full platemail? Why are they so uninteresting? Around February, after a painting drought, I had to force myself to sit down and just finish them so I can move on. I look forward to trouncing them with the hero characters once we're in the game. That'll show 'em.

Fire bats! They're bats, but they're made out of fire!

I used these as an excuse to practice wet-blending the shades of yellow and orange. The transitions are pretty smooth, and I think they are fine for what they are. I thought about trying to make a more mammallian/furry face on them, as one sees in illustrations, but this proved to be too much work for such weenie characters. That's why the one of the far left has a slightly darker head: I painted over the brown head with yellow and didn't really care to clean it up more than necessary. He looks fine by himself, it's only in the threesome that he stands out as a blackhead.

Earth cultists. I tinted the armor with ink, and I like the earthy colors. By the way, the color scheme for these and other cultists comes from some of the concept art I found online. I ended up on this page via a Google Image search and based a lot of the upcoming color schemes on it.

Around this time, I was reading about custom bases, and someone mentioned cornmeal. Cornmeal? OK, I'll try anything once. Here is a cornmeal water cultist.

And here's the finished result. The two on the left used actual sand from my kids' sandbox for basing, which still looks OK at scale. The guy in the creekbed is cornmeal guy. The picture doesn't quite do it justice: with some green-brown paint and gloss varnish, it really looks like a mucky creekbed. I don't think I'll use the cornmeal again soon though because it is so variable in size. For a creekbed, you get a look of some small and some large stones, but it's not going into my toolbox for regular use.

It took a lot of experimentation to get a good flesh tone for these water cultists, by the way. Even here, they are actually three different blends, though almost the same in appearance from the crummy photograph.

Fire cultists. Fire is good, fire is your friend. Following the concept art, I tried to make them look dark and sooty, but with bright fire highlights. I used wet-blending as with the fire-bats. Not a lot of color or amazing detail, but I think they work for their purpose.

Air cultists. These are the first in the "What is going on with the cape?" collection. These grey capes were a real pain to paint, with poorly-sculpted seams running at the top of the ridges, making a simple wash technique doomed to failure. I suppose it didn't help that I primed them black and then had to build back up to this color, which just made extra work for me. Notice, too, that the cape sits much too close to the their backs: that's not how a cape would fall, especially not if you're an air cultist in presumably a windy area. Maybe their special elemental power is back vacuums.

Doppelgangers, or as Germans would call them, doppelgängers. Yes, I modeled them after the sectoids from X-Com 2, because I really enjoyed X-Com 2. Nice job, Firaxis.

They are small things, but I'm really happy with the broken stump on the middle guy and the tiled floor on the right. I don't rebase any of these guys, so I had to bold the tiles around his feet, using a very thin pressing of Milliput that is sculpted into a tile effect.

Around this time, I really messed up a base effect of my earth elemental, so he went into a Simple Green bath to strip and I finished up my fire elemental instead. The concept art of this guy features a lot of smoke, but when I tried painting dark clouds of soot on the upper region, I didn't like it, so I re-primed him and started again. I think the yellow parts of a decent subtle glow effect.

Troglodytes, each a little different. Nothing fancy to these guys, because at this point I was down to the least interesting grunts and more interested in doing the unique guys. Base color, drybrush, wash, paint in some highlights, tweak some details, done. Tabletop quality.

Here's a salamander, the last of the fire-themed figures on a lava-rock base. I am pleased with the result, especially the subtle transition of colors from the serpentine bottom to the human torso.

Here's a giant ettin. He was done all in brown earth tones and natural colors, which I think gives him a suitably primitive look. The stone axe turned out nicely and helps sell the "two-headed giant caveman" motif. I spent a lot of time on on the muscles of this guy, some of which I am sure are not anatomically correct. I did this entirely with layering, and I think I got just the right level of contrast—something that I tend to have a little too weak in a lot of my paintings.

Since around the time I started this set, I've been uploading pictures of finished paint jobs as I go to Facebook. I wanted one that showed the scale of the ettin, so here's a gratuitous shot of him about to clobber Ezren and Valeros. Grr, me Wizards property! Me smash Paizo properties! Did I mentioned I've been working on this set for a long time?

There are several different perspectives on Velathidros, the iconic black dragon. I started with the intention of doing him all black, knowing that this would be a real stylistic challenge. However, when looking around for inspiration, I found this black dragon paint job by Garden Ninja Studio, and I completely fell for the yellow and black motif. I think it turned out well here.

I'll point out that painting him was a challenge of dexterity and equipment. I normally base my miniatures onto corks while painting them, and that worked for the fire bats which were already affixed to their clear rods. What I ended up doing with Velathidros was supergluing a thick straightened paperclip into the peg hole and jamming this into a cork. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but this was very top-heavy, and the weight of the miniature pushed down on the wire, making balancing him upright a real challenge. Given the awkwardness of the sculpt, I ended up doing most of the painting while just holding other parts of the model in my bare hands. I had to clean up a few spots, but for the most part it was painless, and easier than working around the paperclip/cork combo.

Nymmestra is the elven wizard hero, and her figure had this big awkward magic turnip sculpted into her hands. I knew I could do better than that, so...

I don't know how many times I've read Wargaming Tradecraft's article on fire effects with gels, but it's a lot. It's always tricky to read these articles from experts, because my work never stands up to theirs. There are a few painters whose styles I try to mimic or learn from, but really, I'm just an advanced beginner (or maybe competent). Anyway, here are a few more WIP images as I was working on the magic orb:

There were a couple of other orbs that I played with, but the one I ended up using is a very small seed of gel, painted almost white. This was set into a dollop of gel placed in Nym's upturned hand, then sealed in with a layer of gel around it. Once dry, that layer was painted pale purple only in parts. I placed another layer on the outside with the intention of painting it, but I liked the clear layer better.

There she is, all done. I had intended to also do an OSL effect, to make it look like the orb is glowing, but there were two problems. First, the orb is really not much brighter than the rest of her. Ghool points out in this tutorial that, when painting OSL, many add color without adding light, but lights brighten things—they don't just color them. I know I've made that mistake on my scant OSL efforts in the past! The other problem was that I had layered gel onto both of her hands, which meant I couldn't repaint them: I had put the gel right over the spots I would have to brighten and color with OSL effect! Turns out for the best to just have it like this, I think, with an otherworldly cool purple.

A few other comments on Nym. (Her character card points out that we can call her "Nym." None of this "Nymmestra" business between friends.) I am very happy with the layering on the back of her robes. The silver filigree on the front trim was a bit of a gamble: it disappears in some light, and shimmers in others. I was going to go in and add more contrast so it's more visible, but I decided I liked the sort of mysterious quality of it. I would not do it this way again, however: I would layer it up from a darker shade so that it looks more intentional in general lighting conditions. Also, I think she should be listening to new wave music while doing her little magic hand dance.

Ratshadow is a halfling rogue. I would have called him "Face," because he has a big face. Whereas I was trying to increase contrast in a lot of my painting during this series, with Ratshadow, I wanted to keep it toned down. I think the black cloak turned out nicely, considering the aforementioned challenges of highlighting black.

Around this time, I told someone that I only had three heroes left to paint, and I would be done. Then I went into my box and I found a naked Earth Elemental looking up at me. Remember how I mentioned that I had messed him up and stripped him? I had re-primed him and then kind of forgot about him.

But there he is, looking good and rocky. This is another case where a very simple technique paid dividends: base coat, many layers of drybrushing to find the highlights, and then a lot of brushwork to clean it up. He's not going to win any awards, but I'm happy with him.

Barrowin the dwarf cleric is kind of a terrible model when you look at her: those arms are much too long, and why is she doing that with her hammer? The paint job, however, I am proud of. I envisioned the skirt as being scale mail made from some kind of lizard. I painted each scale individually, and inadvertently gave it a sort of NMM look. The rest of the gold was done with TMM paint. It was before working on this model that I started reading more about two-brush blending, relying again on an excellent article by Ghool. My first efforts with this technique can be seen in the gold and the hands here.

Talon the ranger provided a good excuse to continue my experiments with two-brush blending, and this technique was used throughout. While I am still getting the hang of this approach, I think the results are quite good. My default painting approach, taken from Dr. Faust's Painting Clinic, is to start with black primer and build up from the darkest shade to the highest highlight via layering. With two-brush blending, it's recommended to start with the base color (on any color primer), paint in the shade in increasing darkness, and then paint in the highlights in increasing brightness. I find that this approach helps me see where I want the shadows and highlights a bit better than the other; often, when building up from the darkest shades, I don't end up with the base color I really wanted, because I over- or under-shot the layers.

Also, I have been catching up on Ghool's articles and videos, trying to learn what it is that he's offering. In his videos on female faces (1, 2), he makes a big deal about women being paler than men, and their having blush and eyeshadow. Yes, he is careful to ensure your miniatures don't look like harlots, but he unapologetically wants them looking "feminine". You know what? My women adventurers don't have time for that nonsense. Of course, just because we have stylistic disagreements does not take away from the amazing quality of Ghool's articles and the helpfulness of his videos: I definitely recommend them to someone looking to up their painting game.

I'm including some pics here of Talon along with Catti-Brie from Legend of Drizzt. They are similar models in many ways, and I think putting them side-by-side shows how I have developed as a painter over the past two years or so. The contrast is much better in Talon, the treatment of shadows and highlights. The blacklining really helps show the difference in color on the tunic. I can remember being so proud of Catti-Brie's pants at the time, and now, they look kind of lackluster compared to Talon's. Incidentally, I am currently using these two as my archers in a Frostgrave campaign, but maybe I'll write more about that later.

This is Alaeros, no relation to Valeros of Ettin-Squash fame, and he's the last miniature. I copied the color scheme from the nigh-monochrome character card, where his cape looks like it came from a giant furry beast. The sculpted fur looks terrible, however, making him look like the intrepid slayer of albino squirrels.

To wrap up the post, here's rather a mediocre photo of the complete set of miniatures.

I hope you enjoyed reading this painting summary. It was fun for me to go back through a year's worth of photographs and tell the stories that go with them. I believe I have over a hundred miniatures from a variety of games in my closet, awaiting my attention, and I look forward to my next creative challenge. Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice work! I have the game and enjoy it, but the models are utilitarian to put it politely. You did some great painting given the quality of the source. :)

    1. Thanks! It was fun to paint, ... or maybe it's just fun to paint? We played two adventures last night and had a great time. I am looking forward to painting something with better sculpts next though.

  2. Paul, I particularly like the earth tones and shading you did for your ettin. Would you mind telling me the colors and brands you used to get the skin and leather that color? Thank you!

    1. Thanks! Unfortunately, I don't keep paint lists for my models. When I first started, I used to write it all down for reference, but I found I never referenced it! Since I'm not painting armies with a need to match colors across models, I've stopped keeping such detailed notes.

      However, I do have a limited collection of paints, so I can reverse engineer what I probably used, or what I'd try if I had to color match it. Almost all my paints are Vallejo Model Color, because that's what I can find easily at Hobby Lobby. All of the Caucasian flesh that I paint is based on either Flat Flesh or Medium Fleshtone; it was probably the latter here, since Flat Flesh leans pink and Medium Fleshtone leans brown. I believe I toned it down with something like Beige Brown, which I likely used for the leather/hide also.

      Roughly two years ago, I picked up Buff, which I started using for lightening warm colors instead of white; again, that's probably what I used here for the highlights. More recently, I bought Ivory, which is like a secret weapon for highlighting almost anything.

      Looking back at the Ettin---and re-reading my comparison if Catti-Brie and Talon---I think it is nice, but I wonder if I could have added more tonal variation, thinking about how Sorastro consistently surprises me, e.g. by putting purple washes onto brown creatures.