Grave Guardian - The Figure [Part 1]

In this 2-part article, CK Tang shows us how he created the Grave Guardian diorama. This first part focuses on the figure construction and painting.

1. The Figure

I thought it would be nice change to have a go at a Fantasy figure more commonly known as a Mini. However as their name suggest they are literally quite small, so to take it easy on the old eyes I chose one which in the world of Minis would be considered large as its quite close in size to a regular 1/35 figure. The figure is from the well known, French maker of Minis, Rackham and comes from their Wolfen of Yllia series called the Grave Guardian.

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The figure comes in 5 white metal pieces (Photo # 1) in a simple blister box quite common to Minis and has a Player card inside with a description of the figure and a plastic stand (Photo # 1a).  In general the figure was well sculpted with a relatively large amount of detail as can be seen from Photos # 2 – 4. Unfortunately there was a moderate amount of flash but fortunately most of it did not run over fine details like hair or complex details. Fit was slightly lacking and a bit of puttying to fill in the gaps at the head and the left arm was needed (Photo # 5).

2. Prepping the Figure

For those unaccustomed to white metal, flash is removed with a sharp knife much like styrene. Of course the removal of flash on white metal does take a toll on the knife much more than it would if used for removing flash on styrene. Some light sanding was required as well using fine grit sandpaper (# 800 or higher). Be careful sanding though as white metal is soft. Parts were then washed in a detergent and dried.

While you can get away with styrene glue or super glue with styrene and resin, white metal requires 2-part epoxy glue and preferably one that is for bonding metal. As white metal pieces are also heavy strengthening the joints is advisable and more so in this figure with the arms holding an enormous, oversized axe and sword. I suppose it’s the Law of Compensation, small figgies need super, humongous weapons.

To strengthen the joints a little metal stub placed in holes drilled on both adjoining parts should do the job. As you can just make out on the figure’s left upper arm in Photo # 5, a small wire stub (actually part of a staple) was inserted into a drilled hole and held with 2-part epoxy glue. A corresponding hole is drilled in the lower arm. The problem I found here was while it was not critical to have assembly instructions as it’s a simple figure, a picture showing the whole completed figure would have helped the positioning of the arms with the oversized weapons. The figure in the box cover provides only a partial view and I had to go to Rackham’s webpage to get a picture of the entire, posed figure.

For most 2-part epoxy glues a minimum 24-hour wait is recommended for the joint to attain maximum strength. Next was priming. Here I used an Auto primer. White metal unlike styrene or resin, are not affected by solvents used in most primers.

Normally a little sanding and a bit more patching with putty is required following priming as some tiny and annoying pin mark or flash will always manage to escape the initial clean up.

3. Painting

Now onto the fun part at least for me, the painting. A couple of hours should suffice for the primer to dry. As with painting most figures and I suppose more so in Fantasy figures, a little planning is critical. Unlike Historical figures, you can paint Fantasy figs any colors you fancy as there is normally no hard and fast rule. So colors have to be chosen carefully not only because they look nice but because they have to complement and contrast each other to make the often tiny figure look more eye catching.

I’ve basically gone with the front of the box as far as skintone goes but improvised on everything else. The other thing I discovered about this figure as it had lots of small details and textures like buckles, metal surfaces, bones, jewels and even snakes coming out of a skull. So what was to be a simple, in-between projects quickie turned out to be a lengthy but still enjoyable paint job.

Acrylic being the medium of choice, I used almost all Vallejo colors although I did use a wee bit of Tamiya paint for the skirt as I wanted to simulate a rough cloth effect given the larger paint pigments found in Tamiya. Tamiya Clear colors were used to give a translucent effect on the jewels. Metallic portions of the figure were done with mainly Citadel colors which have a nice range of metallic acrylics.

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A basecoat is first painted on and allowed a sufficient time to dry. In acrylics it’s usually quite fast but I usually wait about 1 hour or more to allow the better bonding of the paint to the primer.

Skin basecoat

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Brown Sand (876) mixed less than 10% Flat Earth (983)

Skirt basecoat

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Tamiya Flat Blue (XF-8) and/or Flat Blue (962) mixed with roughly 30% White (951)

Photos # 8

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Starting with shadows first or highlights first is largely a matter of preference as either way should be fine. I tend to go with shadows first. As everyone knows, the trick to acrylics unlike oils is that diluted, thin layers of paint upon ever smaller area layers are added on to create the effect of shadows and highlights that give the figure its 3-D effect.

Placement of shadows and highlights were based on an overhead light source shinning down which is the easiest to paint. The 3-D effect is created by the shadows we paint playing off against the highlights. As a very, very general rule with overhead lighting there is usually a shadow below every highlight and every highlight should be followed by a shadow.

On the other hand the intensity of the shadow is dependent on how deep the fold is and how far down it is on the figure while the intensity of highlight depends how high up the figure it is or rather how close it is to the light source (i.e. shoulders receive stronger highlights say versus the knees on a standing figure).

Skin 1st shadow

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Basecoat mixed with roughly 20% Flat Earth (983) and 20% Burnt Umber (941)

Skirt 1st Shadow

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More Flat Blue (XF-8) added to the basecoat. Flat Blue (962) was interchanged with Tamiya and used too.

The first shadows hardly show up but are slowly built up in ever smaller areas.

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I started with the highlights while switching between painting in the second and third shadows. It’s a matter of preference but some painters find it easier to finish all the shadows first before moving onto the highlights or vice versa. I like to switch as it helps me judge how much darker or lighter I have to go, thus the switching back and forth.

Skin 2nd shadow

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Basecoat + a bit more Burnt Umber (941) + adding more German Cam Black (822)

Skirt 2nd Shadow

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Base coat + Flat Blue (XF-8) and/or Flat Blue (962).

Amount added above is more based on eyeball estimates than measurements.

Skin 1st Highlight

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Basecoat + more Brown sand (876)

Skirt 1st Highlight

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Base coat + more White (951) added

At this point you can see the contrast starting to appear.

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Contrasts become more apparent as you move on to the third highlights and shadows making the folds and muscles appear more prominent.

Skin 3rd Shadow

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2nd Shadow + more German Cam Black (822)

Skin Final Shadow

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German Cam Black (822)

Skirt 3rd Shadow

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2nd Shadow + more Flat Blue (XF-8) with a tiny touch of Black (950)

Note however to darken blue, the opposite color on the color wheel, red or purple should actually be added but because not all paint pigments are truly pure colors it doesn’t really work all the time.

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Skin 2nd Highlight

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Basecoat + more Brown sand (876) + a touch of Yellow Ochre (913)

Skin 3rd Highlight

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2nd Highlight + more White (951)

Skirt 2nd highlight

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Basecoat + more White (951)

Skirt 3rd highlight

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2nd Highlight + more White

A final thin line of consisting of almost White tinged with a teeny bit of basecoat was painted at the very top of the 3rd highlight as can be seen in the uppermost fold of the skirt in Photo # 11.

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As mentioned earlier what seemed like a simple figure to paint turned out quite complex after all. Starting at the feet, there were leather calf guards with metal studs. Then there a bunch of fur attached to these. Of course there was the skirt which came with metal rings and belt with another bunch of metal plates tied on. Then there was the skull with snakes as well, jewels, arm band of bones, etc.  Different material meant different colors and different textures with each requiring their own little highlights and shadows.

For example, Red (947) was used for some of the jewels but was given a highlight of Vermillion (909) and Light Yellow (949). The hair on its mane had to be differentiated from the brown body and a little Red (947) was added to Brown Sand (876) and was brighter towards the top of the head by adding White (951). German Cam Black (822) had to be painted in between the strands of the hair as opposed to applying it as a wash.

Additionally the jewels and some of the snakes had a diluted coat of Tamiya Clear Red (X-27) and Clear Green (X-25) to give a translucent depth to them. Finally, touch ups are unavoidable given that details are so small and one’s hand can only be so steady.

I’m not sure if my final choice of colors was contrasting enough but that why planning before painting is critical.

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There is nothing more White than white and likewise nothing more black than black. So in painting a white skull the basecoat should never be truly white. For the Skull mask, I used White (951) mixed with very small amounts, probably less than 5%  of German WWII Beige Cam (821) and a super small touch of Black Green (980).

Any color added in super tiny amounts to pure white will turn it off-white, so I chose to mix in German WWII Beige Cam but you must be wondering why the Black Green too? Green in tiny amounts gave the skull a used, worn, fungus encrusted look. Plus I wanted the skull mask to contrast with the other smaller skull with snakes attached to his skirt (Photo # 15). In the smaller skull the white was turned off-white with 5-10% of Light Yellow (949). You can just barely see the tinge of yellow on the skull with snakes in Photo # 15 and 16.

Highlights and shadows were done pretty much in the same way as described for the skin and skirt. White was added more and more to the basecoat until pure White was used as the final highlight while the shadows had more and more German WWII Beige Cam and Black Green added. Again it’s hard to say the exact proportions but remember when dealing with White, a little goes a long way so less is more.

Note that the horns on the Skull mask were painted with shadows on the underside and highlights on the top portion and towards the tips. The basecoat for the horns which was also used for the claws of the foot consisted of Yellow Ochre (913). Brown sand was progressively added for shadows and White for the highs. Even the red and blue stripes on the horns were painted with highs and shadows.

Attention to the tiny details eventually adds to the overall look.

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The most prominent feature of this figure was the weapons so I had to bring it out as much as possible through the painting.

The blades of both the axe and sword especially the cutting edge were actually sanded down with sandpaper from grit # 800 right upto # 2000 to give it an almost mirror finish. However, not all white metal retains this polished finish. Depending on the composition of the metal itself some will oxidize and become dull more easily then others. For additional realism, some notches and scratches were added to the axe edge by scratching it with a sharp knife.

The back end away from the edge was then painted with Citadel colors consisting of a basecoat of Boltgun Metal (61-57) tinged with a wee bit of Vallejo Black (950). To give it depth the recesses and areas furthest away from the blade edge were progressively darkened using the earlier basecoat with more Black (950) added. In contrast, as it got nearer to the blade edge more and more Citadel Mithril Silver (61-55) was added to the basecoat. This effect of adding the final “Highlight” of Mithril Silver alone can be seen on the edges of the rings where blade attaches to the wooden handle as in the case of the axe in Photo # 19.

The very edges of the both blades were left unpainted as the final highlight.

The same approach was used on the tiny rings just behind the skull mask as seen in Photo # 17. The basecoat was Boltgun Metal and the bright, shiny highlight was done with a 000 brush just lightly touching the top of the rings with pure Mithril Silver.  Remember we are dealing with a tiny object which means a lot of contrast is needed if it has to stand out especially on flat surfaces like blades.

I have longed wanted to experiment with Citadel inks to create a metallic sheen. I gave the whole painted area except the blade edges of the axe and sword a very, diluted filter of Citadel Purple Ink (61-70). This turned out slightly too purple so I toned it down with by a very, diluted filter of Citadel Enchanted Blue (64-34). I found that besides a metallic sheen the filters added an illusion of depth and metallic luster as well.

Additional scratches were actually painted on using Mithril Silver especially on the sword (Photo # 20).

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Little details go a long way in enhancing and adding realism to a figure. In this case along with other minor details, scratches were painted into the claws of the feet.

Summary of Major Colors Used

Vallejo

  • 950 Black951
  • White949
  • Yellow913
  • Yellow Ochre
  • 821 German WWII Beige Cam
  • 876 Brown Sand
  • 983 Flat Earth
  • 941 Burnt Umber
  • 822 German Cam Black Brown
  • 833 German Cam Bright Green
  • 980 Black Green
  • 909 Vermillion
  • 947 Red
  • 962 Flat Blue
  • 56 Glorious Gold (Game Color)

Citadel

  • 61-55 Mithril Silver
  • 61-57 Boltgun Metal
  • 64-34 Enchanted Blue
  • 61-70 Purple Ink

Tamiya

  • XF 8 Flat Blue
  • X 25 Clear Green
  • X 27 Clear Red

Conclusion

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to painting Minis. However, given their relatively small sizes, stronger highs and shadows are preferred and it helps to use contrasting colors as well. Now all this figgie needs is a home and Part II is where the construction of a home will be described.