Author Topic: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.  (Read 1169 times)

warriorsoul

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 I'm writing this to clear up some of the confusion I see on the subject of how various Battletech paint jobs look. Most of us including myself don't have much of an art theory background, so we just gravitate to particular styles without really thinking about it. This has some consequences, especially if you don't think much about exactly why a specific painting style is so appealing to you. I chose to break this down into two broad categories because it seems like the appropriate dividing line for what I'm talking about. Obviously to some extent you can use specific techniques to achieve either style and miniature painters often deploy all of them to varying degrees. (Cockpits are frequently done with some form of stylistic approach while bases are almost always dry-brushed)

 Naturalistic
 This is a gritty, subdued, "earthy" style that often features a lot of textures and muted colors. It's the classic "scale modeling style", or the "Forgeworld" style. It's a very old way to paint everything from railroad scenery to military models and you'll see a lot of it in the classic Battletech books or with painters that have been working in the hobby for a long time. It's experienced a bit of a resurgence with the aforementioned Forgeworld models and Horus Heresy universe in Warhammer. Dry-brushing, washes and weathering are frequently employed, while edge-highlighting is kept minimal or even omitted entirely. The idea is to try and represent how a model would look in real life if one were to paint it much like a real life object.


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 On the plus side, it is indeed more "realistic". It's also how nearly everyone paints their background terrain, so 'mechs painted in this style tend to visually gel with their bases and backdrops. (Whether that's ideal or not is another question) It's an often gritty, dirty style that looks how you'd imagine a warmachine in the 31st century to actually appear in real life. It uses techniques that are frequently faster and require less brush control than other styles, although I want to make it very clear that even dry-brushing can be taken to an elite level. In other words, the entry level skill threshold might be lower, making it attractive for new painters.

 On the negative side, 'mechs painted this way can often appear a little too messy and indistinct for some tastes. It's not usually as "readable" as the other major style, which is why Games Workshop doesn't use it for showcasing their own models. Color depth can be a problem, with miniatures looking "flat" or "boring".

 Stylistic
 This is how I paint, it's well known as the "Eavy Metal Style" and it's likely the most popular art direction in miniature painting as a whole. The goal is not necessarily to capture how something would probably look under normal lighting conditions, but to accentuate and exaggerate the shapes, lines and details of the model so that it "pops". Stylism is all about grabbing your attention first, and looking strictly realistic takes a backseat. Edge-highlighting and blending are the dominant techniques.


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 The advantage to this style is that makes the miniature very "readable" or legible even in imperfect lighting or from a distance. The lines do indeed pop out and allow the viewer to instantly pick out the major features of what they're looking at, which is very important when you're working at such a small scale. Color depth is usually rich and phenomenal, particularly if you're following the 'Eavy Metal tactic of highlighting all the way up to pure white. Even with no washes at all miniatures painted this way tend to never look "flat". It's visually a very arresting, clean, and eye-catching style.

 The downside is you are throwing some degree of naturalism out the window. Every edge of every single panel of armor technically should not have a fine edge highlight. To some tastes, this style looks cartoony, over-worked, and "toyetic". It can also be extremely time-consuming and requires insane levels of brush control. You're gonna be blocking in the base color of every panel then carefully lining it with progressive highlights, which takes forever. Finally, it does contrast against the bases and backdrops most people use. Whether this is good or bad depends on your perspective. 

Other considerations
Battletech is 6MM scale. While the size of the miniature might be comparable to something from Warhammer 40K, it's meant to represent something much, much larger. This can be somewhat difficult to convey. I think the more you can add tiny details like caution stripes, unit numerals, decals, and insignias the easier it is to get this across. 6mm scale terrain and vehicles to give the viewer a visual reference point also really helps, as does photographing from low angles. (Be careful not to just reflexively photograph miniatures as you would a collection of small tea cups)


 
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Joel47

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #1 on: 09 October 2023, 12:23:02 »
The advantage to this style is that makes the miniature very "readable" or legible even in imperfect lighting or from a distance. The lines do indeed pop out and allow the viewer to instantly pick out the major features of what they're looking at, which is very important when you're working at such a small scale. Color depth is usually rich and phenomenal, particularly if you're following the 'Eavy Metal tactic of highlighting all the way up to pure white. Even with no washes at all miniatures painted this way tend to never look "flat". It's visually a very arresting, clean, and eye-catching style.
I like to say that 6mm minis are not scale models. Over in historicals-land, GHQ takes flak from the uber-realism folks for how big their panel lines are and how raised all the detail (hatches, etc.) is. True, and they look a little wonky in a zoomed-in picture. However, the human eye detects and processes lines very well, so making the detail prominent enough to see on a mini can make it look more realistic when it's on the tabletop. (I challenge anyone past their mid-30s to tell the difference between a PzIII and PzIV in 6mm at more than a meter away unless their details have been "enhanced.") I think Naturalistic looks better in photos, but on the game table I much prefer Stylistic.

Whatever style you paint in, it's also important to remember that the light itself isn't being scaled. Lighting effects like shadows become incredibly crisp at 1/285. Also, the interplay between light and our eyes means smaller-scale minis need to be painted in lighter colors to look correct. I have some interesting discussions with a scale-modeler friend on this. "If it's supposed to be that color, why are you using three different shades?" "Because my 'model' isn't a foot long."

worktroll

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #2 on: 12 October 2023, 00:11:39 »
I think there's a middle realm here, which I tend to call "enhanced realism".

First point, I think with ultra-realism, there is a very real risk of losing the mini ;) I've seen some really effective digicam & others used on BT minis, and remember, the point of real camo is to disguise the shape of the thing. To the point where the mini becomes a blob, because of the effective paintjob!

And you called out the big problem with stylistic:

Quote
It can also be extremely time-consuming and requires insane levels of brush control.

And frankly I don't have the control, and choose not to spend the time trying to do something I've never satisfactorily achieved in decades.

So what do I mean by enhanced realism?

1) More contrast than you might use with pure realism is one approach. Light tans and dark browns in large shapes on small minis. Bold use of colours.
2) Or non-natural colours! Sword of Light Red, Marik Purple, but not going stylistic with them.
3) Adding depth with drybrushing - eg. any colours over black to bring out the panel lines (but see shades!) Or medium green over darker green
4) Adding edging via 'ghostbrushing' - my term for a incredibly light drybrush with less paint on the brush than you'd normally use. This picks up the edging when done right. Use a complementary colour - eg. grey over base black.
5) Shades (aka inks) are the newbie's friend. Base tan, add blobs of green, then hit with a brown shade/ink - instant contrast and blending for free! You can use shades over bases, drybrushes, and ghostbrushes too.
6) Trim colours. Real world units don't put purple or yellow trim on MBTs, but doing so can increase the contrast and highlight the mini. It's like chili, though - everyone has their own taste levels.
7) Metallics. Real world tanks don't have metallic grilles, exposed metal joints, or metal gunbarrels, but again, this adds detail & contrast to the mini, and helps make it pop.

These are all more mainstream techniques than blending
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Kibutsu

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #3 on: 12 October 2023, 12:05:55 »
I'm solidly in the "enhanced realism" camp. I started doing military models as a young teen, then gravitated to painting 'Mechs, then spent a lot of time doing 15mm WWII before returning to 'Mechs, so I tend to use muted, drab colors as they give me that "military" look and make some sense in my head canon, though the brighter, flashier schemes are fun to do at times (I did the whole 1st Ghost with dragon scales etc). I do everything except the small details using an airbrush, and I like to keep the zenithal effect subtle so that it fools the eye as to whether it's paint or natural light. I used to drybrush a lot, but I find I don't use that technique much anymore as I get more mileage from subtle edge highlighting. Even on the "parade" schemes I keep edge highlighting to a minimum, and only on upper surfaces. I never outline whole panels, even though some painters can really pull off that look, it generally just doesn't appeal to my sense of realism.

I enjoy using metallics for mechanical joints and jump jet ports and I like picking out weapon barrels in various greys. Though it makes sense why this would not be done IRL, it just looks cool and adds visual interest, especially when the model is otherwise drab and muted. I also always try to pick out Omni pods in a neutral grey or at least some color that contrasts with the rest of the 'Mech.

Bottom line, there's no right or wrong, every style has its merits. Just do what feels best to you and keep painting and posting your minis!


Bedwyr

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #4 on: 12 October 2023, 13:16:51 »
I think there's a difference in table-ready vs photo-ready stylistic methods. Actually I think it's kind of on a spectrum that starts with color choices. Difficulty changes with the methods and time you want to put into a model such as layering vs blending or how many color gradations you want to use.
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warriorsoul

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #5 on: 12 October 2023, 19:33:51 »
I think there's a difference in table-ready vs photo-ready stylistic methods. Actually I think it's kind of on a spectrum that starts with color choices. Difficulty changes with the methods and time you want to put into a model such as layering vs blending or how many color gradations you want to use.

 There's obviously going to be differences between painting up stuff fast to slap down on a table, but as far as photos go, it can actually go the opposite direction you might expect:

 I've painted up models for photography purposes that were basically unfinished on the backside.

Hilariously this is just how it goes when you're working on a project with a timeline and it isn't something you'll be playing with, or likely to play with much.

 I actually think that extremely well painted models with subtle blending can also look worse under real-world lighting on a table-top precisely because they're painted up for a light booth and a high resolution photo. A lot of that detail is just lost on the viewer and a more aggressive, less subtle style will hold up better out there in the wild under dirty lighting.
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Joel47

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Re: Naturalistic versus stylistic art styles in miniature painting.
« Reply #6 on: 13 October 2023, 11:01:08 »
I actually think that extremely well painted models with subtle blending can also look worse under real-world lighting on a table-top precisely because they're painted up for a light booth and a high resolution photo. A lot of that detail is just lost on the viewer and a more aggressive, less subtle style will hold up better out there in the wild under dirty lighting.
Tables tend to be less well-lit. When I got new/better lighting a few years ago I had to learn to push contrast much farther, because what looked good under my painting lights was very muted in ordinary lighting.