Some notes on painting the classic Ludwig Frank Carthaginian War Elephant

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Carthaginian War Elephant brown shrink

The Carthaginian War Elephant series by Krog is truly a magnificent collection of miniature masterpieces.  There is such variety of poses, and the facial expressions are wondrous.  Of course what makes them extra special is that they are engraved by the Master – Ludwig Frank.  How he was able to get facial expressions on such a tiny surface, using carving tools into slate never ceases to amaze me.  Also there is an inherent vitality of movement in his work that is unequaled.  Much of the mastery in each of Frank’s engravings is not revealed until you start adding the highlights and shadows and study each piece up close and personal!  As my friend Jim Horan always says, “Flats are the cheapest form of quality art you can buy”, and Ludwig is the top in this art form in my book.

Of course the War Elephant may not be totally realistic, I think the African Elephants the Carthaginian’s used were probably smaller if I remember my history correctly, and probably would not hold a turret this large.   But then again, how do we know – it was over 2000 years ago!!  In any event, this flat has so much action and drama too it that it cries to be painted.

This flat was painted with acrylics, i started as usual with a grey primer and then using white and dark grey i painted the entire figure with light and shadow – being careful to preserve lots of middle tones so the highlights have impact.  This is the stage where we can be bold and artsy, i.e. not worry about detailed and precision which is so much a part of what we do.  I moved the light source around in my mind while laying in the pattern of illumination.  I took a chance putting the Roman in shadow in the hopes of adding some drama.  I also put the bowman towards the front mostly in shadow.  I think this helped to add interest, i.e. by putting different figures in different angles to the sun, as opposed to keeping every figure in a grouping with the identical light source pattern.  In reality, everyone would need to be facing perfectly in line to be in the same light pattern when together in a group.  Also in this step I played with the thrown shadows to work out how they would fall.  The shadows from the tassels were fun to paint, and by having the shadow fade towards the bottom it creates the impression of the tassel is coming towards the viewer.   I found that the angle of the shadows from the bow cases were a bit more tricky and I sort of guessed where they would fall and played with them a bit until I felt I had the illusion of them coming towards the viewer.  I guess I could have mocked this up and placed a bright light on the mock up but I was too lazy!

Color is added after that step. Some of the lighting “tricks” I used, all shadow areas facing up are painted with some blue in them (ambient light reflecting the sky) and all shadow areas facing downward have some orange or yellow reflecting light from the earth.

The technique is that during the initial painting of color I’m working pretty thin so the underpainting will show through, especially the bright white undercoat highlights .  As I build up color most if not all of the underpainting is obliterated.  However, the effect of the white undercoat is important in helping to give vibrancy to the illuminated areas of color.  There is no question that the colors are more vibrant when the undercoat is white (ala Mike Taylor) then when it is grey.

I don’t really do much traditional blending, to get the soft transitions i leave the color on the brush that i just painted and then pull some darker or lighter color off the wet palette and remix a slightly darker or lighter color right on the brush and then when I place it on the figure it looks like its blended, basically, an optical blend.

Carthaginian War Elephant yellow shrink

(Mark Kirkbride informed me that an exchange between Greg and other painters can be found at the IFFS Forum here: http://www.intflatfigures.org/index.php?topic=116.msg278#msg278. Additional photos of this piece painted by others are included. Thanks for the heads up, Mark.)

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