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  • Painting Faces


    You can never have too many tutorials on how to paint faces, right? Well, hopefully because here's another one...

    This is my general approach to painting human faces. The main example is a 54mm figure but I use the same ideas on 28mm and 75 or 90mm figures. The difference with going up or down in scale is the level of detail we can reasonably expect to achieve. If you're painting a smaller figure don't worry about putting as much detail into the eyes. For the face focus on the main shapes/features. Don't try to add as many fine line details. For larger figures (which I'll also show an example) I'll put more detail into the eyes and develop more of the finer features. The point is be flexible and keep in mind what you can realistically do with the scale you're working on (then push yourself and try to do slightly more).

    First, here are the colors I'm working with. These are all Reaper paints, but you can follow the same general idea with whatever skin colors you prefer. I like to supplement my skin tones with reddish browns but you can use other colors to create a lot of different effects.
    On top of the Reaper paints I also use GW's Bloodletter and Guilliman Blue glazes.

    The model below (a 54mm Saxon warrior) was primed with white and then base coated with Rosy Shadow. The surrounding areas were base coated with a dark brown (first image). I like to do the eyes early, but before I can get to them I need to lay down the dark tones around the eyes. No sense spending an hour to get the eyes right only for a quick slip with your skin shadow to ruin it all. I find it easier to be sloppy with shadows and then more precise with highlights to that's why I do it this way. I start by sketching on the shadows with Chestnut Brown and then a bit of Mahogany Brown (image 2). The Chestnut Brown goes around the eyes, under the cheeks, nose, and chin, and then around the mouth. The Mahogany Brown is used to further deepen the shadows under the brows, in the nostrils, and under the chin.

    Moving onto the eyes, this is something where the scale really plays an important role. We want to include as much detail as possible, but on 28mm or 54mm figures that can be very limited. What follows is what I try to do with 54mm eyes. It's not always successful so in some instances I will simplify the approach. To begin, I paint the eyes pink (Rosy Skin + Violet Red). I will cover this up with white, but the idea is to leave the pink layer showing in the corners of the eye. For the white I avoid pure white. It's too bright and looks unnatural. Instead I work with off whites, Reaper's Weathered Stone and a little Leather White mixed in (image 3). On larger figures you can attempt to do some shading with the whites but on small ones it's unlikely you'll notice after the iris has been added. This is a good opportunity to stop and clean up the upper and lower borders of the eye using the shadow tone (for the top) and the midtone for the bottom. That may seem reversed, but you're doing the bottom edge of the upper eyelid and the top surface of the lower eyelid, so that's why you'll have a dark line above and light line below it. For the irises I start with a dark tone (dark brown, dark blue, dark green, etc). I try to place a dot where I want the center of the iris to be in each eye and then slowly expand it until it's the correct shape and size. By starting small you can make corrections easily. If it's a little too far to the left or right, just go the other direction as you expand. This should help keep the figure from being cross eyed or anything like that. In many cases you can stop here. If you feel like you can add more detail then try a lighter shade on the lower portion of the iris followed by a small black dot for the pupil. If you've gotten that far, perhaps you can take a bit of pure white and add a catch light too. Again, this is tough on 54mm scale and even more so on 28mm. But for 75mm and 90mm figures it's more feasible.

    Okay, with the eyes finished we can move onto the skin. I start with the shadow tones, Chestnut Brown and gradually mix in the base color, Rosy Shadow. Through a number of thin layers I blend the shadows that I'd previously sketched on into the rest of the face (image 5). While they may stay dark under the brow, nose, and chin in many other places they become quite subtle. From here I start to gradually blend in my highlight, Fair Skin, into the base tone. The brightest parts will be the nose, tops of the cheeks, and perhaps a bit on the top of the chin. You'll also want to take some highlight color on the top of the lower eyelids. The upper eyelids get some highlight too, but not as much as they are still shaded by the brow. You'll highlight around the mouth but don't go too bright as you still want the nose and tops of the cheeks to be brighter. On this figure I've gone from Fair Skin up to Fair Highlight (image 6). I can continue on into white if you want the highlights even brighter.

    Next I add a few details like the eye brows and lips. For the lips I just mix in some Violet Red into my Rosy Shadow and then add Fair Skin to create the highlights. This is the point where I step back and see how everything looks. What might need adjusting? We're pretty used to seeing faces so ask yourself does anything look off? In this case I felt that the lines running from the nose down to the corners of the mouth needed more work (image 7). The last step is to go back in with glazes to add some more color and variation. I'm using GW's red glaze (Bloodletter) and blue glaze (Guilliman Blue). I also combine these two to make a purple glaze. For all three I further thin then with water (maybe 1 to 1 or 2 parts water to 1 part glaze) so the effect is subtle and blends well. Red is applied to the nose, cheeks, and (if he had them) lower parts of the ear. I use blue on the lower part of the face. When placed over the skin it gives a nice 5 o'clock shadow effect. I then use purple to deepen some of the shadows around the eyes and in the cheeks. It's a lot of going back and forth between the different colors and adding until things look right. Once you're done you may need to go back with your highlight color to fix a few spots (often the nose, sometimes the blends in the cheek, etc).

    Here's a look at the finished face from a few angles

    Here is another example, although with a less detailed breakdown in the photos. This is a 90mm scale figure, so the head is almost twice as large as the previous one. As a result we can include a lot more detail. The first image below corresponds to the fifth one above, where the shadows have been blended into the midtone. I took a slightly different approach for the 5 o'clock shadow by blending a touch of brown into the skin tone (instead of doing it through glazing). That process was done between the first and second photo. The final image shows the impact of the red and purple glazes on the face. I also adjusted the shadows around the mouth and sharpened the ones under the eyes.

    Since this is a larger scale figure I could go into more detail with the painting. The eyes are a key place. After putting down a pink layer and then an off white one (leaving pink at the corners of the eye), I began the iris as a dark blue circle. I then applied a lighter blue starting in the middle and working out and down. I still tried to leave a thin border of the dark blue all around the iris. Pure black was used for the pupil and then I went in with pure white to add the catch light. Instead of the catch light you could apply a gloss varnish to the eye, but that doesn't always produce the desired effect (especially if the sculpt or paint is not smooth). In addition to the eyes I attempted to add more fine detail in the lower eyelids and in the creases on the forehead. You don't need to add lines everywhere, but some fine details here and there on the larger scale can really help.

    The two key things to keep in mind are light and color. Think about the location of your light source (usually directly above the figure) and what that means for your highlight and shadow placement. You still get some artistic freedom to emphasize the expression or certain features, but the lighting still has to feel right. And experiment with color. Glazes at the end are a great way to add some subtle color variation to the face. It might look fine without it, but that last step really adds life to the figure and can take it to another level. The best thing about faces is we have an endless supply of reference material. Look at people around you, in pictures, and art from painters you admire. Pay attention to the different colors in the skin and how light and shadow work across the face. Then go practice painting some faces and have fun!
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Darklord's Avatar
      Darklord -
      Fantastic tutorial sir. Always a pleasure to see how you do things so well. I shall be applying this to a high Elf I am working on
    1. possumcraft's Avatar
      possumcraft -
      awesome tutorial! Going to try it too. Faces always come out kind of flat for me.

      Would it be possible to get a breakdown photo of a 28mm face at all?
    1. NeatPete's Avatar
      NeatPete -
      Thank you very much for sharing this. Quite impressive results!
    1. Donald Johansson's Avatar
      Donald Johansson -
      This is great! Thank you for putting it together. I especially like your 5 o'clock shadow effect.
    1. dpowell's Avatar
      dpowell -
      Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you like it.

      Possumcraft, I will try to do a similar series for a 28mm figure. Unfortunately it may be a few weeks before I'm able to get to it. In the meantime, here's a 28mm scale face I did about half a year ago. At that small scale the sculpt is especially important, much harder to fix any issues with the sculpt. This is a forgeworld kit so the faces tend to be more detailed than the standard GW ones. The process was the same but I did less with the glazing. No blue (no 5 o'clock shadow) and no red on the nose or ears, mostly just some purple in the cheek shadows and around the eyes, then a bit of red for the scar.

    1. possumcraft's Avatar
      possumcraft -
      awesome, thanks :D
    1. vegascat's Avatar
      vegascat -
      Sadly, the pics have disappeared, any chance of getting them back? I've a friend I wanted to share this article with.