Thoughts on painting - 2D vs 3D.

In the real world, I'm a painter (of pictures) by training and by profession and I sometimes have a bit of difficulty in translating one style of painting (2D) to another (3D) and thought it may be fruitful to talk about some of those issues here.

There are certain tricks and methods that one employs when painting a picture so that a 2D image of lines and blurs and colour, etc, start to deceive the eyes so they begin to look like a 3D object. However, when you're painting a miniature, the 3D object is already there in front of you - any highlights and shadows are already present on the miniature by the way light falls on it.

However, there's a real trend in miniature painting to almost pretend that the miniature is a flat, 2D surface and assume that the light source on the object is fixed (ie, coming at the model from one direction, making that side of the miniature brighter than the other side). This reached fever pitch with the utilisation of object source lighting whereby the light source itself
is modeled on to the miniature (a torch, a light, etc) so really emphasise where the light was coming from, or to introduce an additional light source to the primary one. The excellent Victoria Lamb is the real champion of this and her dioramas work beautifully with OLS:

Now, this works really well for a diorama as it introduces an element of drama, or for a miniature where there is an object that gives off light integral to it's design (for example, a torch). Yet, I'm not quite sure that I've ever felt entirely easy with it's introduction on to all miniatures - or I suppose, rather, I don't quite understand it. By painting extreme highlights on to a miniature and ergo fixing the light source of the miniature, you're sort of denying it's 3D nature. When the object's in a room, the light source will come from several directions (the light bulb, windows, etc) but you're adamantly stating (through the paint) that the light is only coming from one direction.

NMM does the same thing - by painting the reflections and highlights on to the metal, again, you're fixing the direction of the light source, even though that light source will change entirely with every differing context that you take the miniature in to.

This is reaching new heights with a technique that's quickly becoming popular with wargaming painters and has been popular with historical/tank painters for some time: zenithal lighting. This involves leaving the miniature in one place, undercoated black, and then, using an airbrush, spraying from a fixed angle (usually about 200 degrees clockwise from the feet of the miniature, so coming from the NE, if you imagine compass points around the miniature) in ever increasing tones from slightly further away with each spray. You get a very graduated tonal change, which looks very naturalistic, and all the areas that haven't been caught by the paint form very dark shadows. It can be a lovely technique but again relies entirely on the painter stating that this imaginary light source is the only light source and ignoring the very 3D nature of the sculpt.

Now, I find that a bit weird - and these techniques aren't something that I ever really use when I'm painting a miniature. My style, such as it is, is very old fashioned. I tend to rotate my miniature as I'm painting it under a lamp and paint each area to try to make them look as if they were a 'real' object in space - so cloth looks like cloth from all directions (it's integral folds define where highlights, mid-tones and shadows fall). I want to be able to take my miniature into any setting and for it to look 'right' wherever the light is coming from.

I'm wondering if I should change this and start introducing some of the more 'painterly' techniques that I would utilise in 2D painting into my miniature painting. How painterly can miniature painting become whilst still remaining miniature painting?

1 comment:

  1. I'm no big fan of source lighting, NMM and similar techniques, since the illusion often is ruined when looking at it from another angle than the most optimal.

    I paint my miniatures to be playable, not to be looked at and admired from one direction only.

    Thie being said, I think there is a lot of inspitation you can use as well.
    A sword with painted reflections often can look really good if you don't over do it.
    And a unit in WFB, with some torches and OSL can look splendid as well.

    2D techniques can and should be used to enhance the 3D model, but alwaus beware, not to let it take over to much and ruing the 3D-effect when looking from another direction.