(Editoral Note: I found an article by Nicholas Ball in the British Flat Figure Society Journal that caught my attention. It caught my eye because the typical constructive bit of criticism I usually get of my own work is that I am not painting highlights high enough and shadows deep enough. Nicholas’ article addresses this issue and makes good sense. I wrote to him about the article and he wrote a fresh article on the same topic. Thanks Nicholas.)

When I first joined the BFFS and started painting flats, I wrote an article in Journal 101 with regards to using photo’s to help with getting a better  3D effect.

This was 2 years ago, and since then, (and looking back at this article,) I have now realised that photo’s can be far more useful than previously thought or even mentioned.

And so, here is what I have learnt, and I hope you find it interesting and useful too.

Digital photo’s have a tendency to lighten the subject enormously, and here in the UK the figures being put into competitions have a tendency to be ‘washed’ in black to compensate for this, mainly for better effect for magazine articles.

I personally do not like this look, so my photo’s do tend to look slightly blander than the real thing, but they are nice and colourful!

Even so, they are just as useful.

So how does it work?

I paint between 4/5 figures at any one time, so as one dries I can work on another.

I will take a photo of each figure after a good painting session and  download these photo’s into a separate file for each of the specific figures in numerical order.

By opening up each file separately, a slide show can then be produced, (a bit like the old fashioned animated film shows, or drawings in a book, that when flipped can make the little monkey dance.) and by clicking through them you can see areas beginning to stand out or moving backwards. If you stop on the last photo taken, you can then start to work out which area’s you now think need refining or altering altogether. I also find standing approx. 4 feet (1.5 metres ) from the screen helps as it seems to magnify the 3D effect!!!! Don’t ask me why, it just does.

I will then cheat, (if indeed you want to call it this) by printing out this specific photo and using a colour pen, or pencil, to shade in various areas for either shadows of objects, (swords, belts etc.) or folds in the material. This way, I do not need to put paint to figure and then try to remove it again when it all goes wrong!!!!!

The other aspect which slowly dawned on me, is that if you increase the size of the photo on the computer screen, major errors or unblended areas can also easily be seen ( who needs an optivisor, or a  x 1200 magnifier!!)

If your figure looks Satisfactory when it is blown up to 5 times the size, then you can be sure you’ve done  a pretty good paint job!  I find this really useful with faces, as the face IS the figure, and if this is wrong, then no matter how good the rest of the figure is, it will always be a let down.

Mike Taylor always paints the face first, before he starts on anything else, specifically for this reason, I on the other hand, do the interesting parts first to keep my interest in the subject, then use the computer to try to get the face right near the end. (why?  because I’m just backwards!!!)

It must be remembered however, that a computer is only one tool in the artist’s box, and although it is very helpful, the most important items are still obviously very good brushes and excellent paint.

Recently, I took photos of a Polish winged Hussar which I had just finished and after placing it in it’s frame I took a good look at it. The 3D was there but obviously the black background took away some of this effect, so I had another brain wave!!! (Well they do hit me occasionally, but I tend to have to lie down for a few minutes afterwards to get my strength back!!!!)









What if I took the figure out of the frame and just put it on a shelf, with open space around it, would this then create the round illusion I had wished for?  and I am pleased to say YES, I think so, Steve even commented he thought it looked much better.

So, there you have it, a few observations and ideas that may help you to achieve your goals, but most importantly, if you enjoy what you are painting, then you will always get a better results either with or without little tips like these.


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