If you are new to the world of flats, you may not know the name, Mike Taylor. But if you have explored the world for a short while and are serious about learning to paint, a number of people will tell you that you need to get Mike Taylor’s book, The Art of Flat Tin Figures. I found a copy at the last SCAHMS Show and was told it I got it for a bargain at $80.00.
Browsing through all the past issues of the British Flat Figures Society Journal, I came across an article titled, “20 Questions for Mike Taylor.” My browsing pace slowed to a dead stop until I read every word of that article. Apparently, the society (BFFS) pooled together 20 questions on painting flats, posed them to Mike Taylor and he responded to their questions.
I contacted the British Flat Figures Society, now the International Flat Figures Society for permission to reprint the article. I didn’t expect to get permission because of copyright laws and all, but I am delighted to say they graciously gave me permission to reprint the entire article, not just make reference to it. For those of you not familiar with the Journal, let the article below be your introduction to the kind of material you will find. There are, to date, 108 issues packed with history, tutorials, etc.
One final note before we get to the article. I could not simply copy and paste this article from the pdf version available. I had to type every word. Every time I typed the word “colour” my computer wanted to automatically switch the spelling to “color.” So, you may find the word spelled both ways. I tried very hard to go back to type it the way it appears in the Journal, but it didn’t always accept it. I found this both frustrating and humorous.
The article that follows is from the January 1993, No. 28 edition. A big thanks to Martin Sutor and Mark Kirkbride for their help. Here is the link to their site, I mean, our site (I’m a member.) http://www.intflatfigures.org
20 Questions for Mike Taylor
For years people have marveled at the work of Mike Taylor, looking with awe at the standard of work and detail that he achieves on his figures. Now the Journal has put twenty questions to him in the hope of discovering how he obtains these results. The questions have all come from members, and hopefully Mike’s answers will help them solve their problems.
How long have you been painting flats, and what made you start?
I’ve been painting flats for about eleven years. In 1982 I began painting ’rounds’, but only completed about twenty before seeing a flat for the very first time. Like many modelers I fell in love at once and haven’t painted a round since.
Do you have a favorite editor or engraver?
A favorite editor? No. It depends on which period in history one is interested in as to which editors one uses. Segom, for instance, may be ideal for the Napoleonic collector, but no use to those who want Egyptians. As for the engraver. Well, that’s a different matter altogether. Ludwig Frank of Nuremberg was the same-no less than superb! Of course there is that other genius Franz Karl Mohr, but I only paint his figures when I want to give myself a special treat. And Mohr’s figures are certainly a treat to paint.
How do you prepare a figure from its casting to the final painting?
Like most painters, I first clean the figure with a scalpel and file, then rinse it in warm, soapy water. Another clean rinse, then on t the block. Using Blue-Tack I fix the figure on to a small block of wood. This allows me to hold the figure for painting without touching the casting. The figure is then primed with several thin coats of Humbrol Matt White, using a bris. Some painters then block in areas with color enamels prior to using oils. I do not. I prefer to work on a pure white surface.
What do you use as a palette for your paint?
An art it’s wooden palette. I know this doesn’t make much sense. You can see what colors you are mixing much better by mixing on a white surface, but I like the feel of polished wood.
What type of brushes do you use?
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Sables, 0, 00, and 000. I have tried many different brushes but have found nothing to beat these. They are very expensive, but my advice is to always buy the best materials you can afford. It’s worth it in the end.
Do you use any medium to help in your work?
Yes—Nitromors! Apart from that, White Spirit only. It keeps the paint matt and dries quickly. The paint will probably drop off my figures in fifty years time but I will be dead by then. I don’t use varnish at all.
What paints do you use of your flats?
Winsor & Newton Artist’s Oils. I have the odd tube of Rembrandt paint which I use occasionally, but not due to any preference.
When Painting a figure, do you work in any set order?
Not really. I like painting the face first. This helps me to see if the figure is going to work or not. I also like to get the tedious bits out of the way early on, like hands, boots, and weapons etc. Other than that, there is no set order.
What colors do you use to create flesh tones?
For Caucasians I use the following mix: Flake White, Scarlet Lake, Chrome Yellow and Burnt Umber. The Burnt Umber is also used for shading. Sometimes I shade with a mix of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. When the figure is dry I glaze it with a very thin coat of Sap Green. This takes away the sunburned look. For Black skin I paint the figure as if it were Caucasian using the same colors as above but, when dry, I gale it using the very heavy mix of Prussian Blue and Burnt Umber. Areas of highlight are then taken out using a dry brush. But do not take any of these methods as being complete—I also experiment a lot.
What colors do you use for shading white?
Black and White plus one. black and White mixed together makes what is known as “dead” grey. One other color like brown or blue should always be added. For really soft shadows I add a little Cobalt Violet (Hue). Sometimes I go over complete areas of white with very thin glazes of color like pale orange or ochre—but always return to the highlights with Titanium, the brightest of the whites.
Do you have any favorite highlighting and shading colours?
No, not colors used for this purpose. But I do enjoy highlighting certain colors and objects. Prussian Blue for example, looks good when highlighted with a mix of Winsor Green and White; Scarlet Lake with Chrome Orange, then Yellow and so on. I also love putting that tiny spot of Titanium on a sword pommel or belt buckle.
What colors do you use to represent gold?
White, yellow Ochre, Chrome Orange, Chrome Yellow and Burnt Umber in various combinations. Painting gold objects is my worst nightmare. If any other painter has ideas on the subject, I would love to hear them.
How do you deal with other metals?
Silver objects i have less trouble with, providing that I put ‘reflected’ colors into them. Using blues, blacks and whites in sharp contrast next to each other, it always seems to work.
Is there any principle concerning the painting of cast shadows?
This is an interesting question, as many painters ignore cast chadors. It is after all the shadows that give figures the appearance of having a third dimension. A point to remember is this: A shadow always follows the contour of the surface upon which it falls. For example, a shadow cast by a sword onto a horse will not be a straight line but will follow the contours of the horse’s body.
When you apply cast shadows to your figures, are there any particular colors or techniques you use?
No particular techniques. Colours? Shadows do not have color. One should ask—What is a shadow? A shadow is an area of reduced light. So, if a shadow falls upon a red cloth, for example, the cloth is a darker shadow of the red in the shadow area. The object that casts the shadow can ‘reflect’ its own color into the shadow area but this only complicates matters. The key word concerning shadow work is ‘Observation’.
Do you approach painting animals and equipment in a different manner?
No, not unless the subject demands it.
Do you use any aids to enable you to add such detail to your work?
Ten years ago I could detail a figure without any aids. Eventually I had to work with a magnifying glass. Then came the reading glasses. Now, after having found my way to the study with a white stick, I wear my reading glasses under an OptiVisor. Later I plan to breed guide dogs for retired flat figure painters!
What color do you paint your bases?
Humbrol Desert, mixed with white. This matches the shelves in my showcase.
On average, how long do you spend on each figure?
Seemingly forever, as I work very slowly. A single 30mm foot figure takes about two weeks. Madame pompadour, for example, took months working on and off. On average I painted about thirty figures a year. I always put ‘quality’ before ‘quantity’.
Finally, does being an artist by profession make painting flats any easier for you?
I hope this doesn’t sound pompous—it isn’t meant to—but the answer is No. I sweat blood over my flats and am continuously dissatisfied. By profession I am an illustrator and designer. Most of my work is done in watercolor or pen & ink anyway, not oils. I have learned to paint in oils by looking at the work of others, studying books etc. Any artistic ability I may have was learned through experimentation, perseverance and moreover ‘observation’. I have no training in art. I am self taught. Anyone can teach themselves to paint—anyone can be an ‘artist’!
In conclusion I would like to thanks those members who put these questions forward, and hope that my answers will be of some help.