Thoughts: Painting with Style

Mona Lisa - StyleThere’s no shortage of articles related to painting your miniatures that focus on technique, color theory and the like. The thing that often seems lacking in most of these articles is style. Over time we all develop a style of painting and some times we don’t even realize it. I know I had a style of painting long before I became aware of it.

So, what is style when it comes to painting? I’ll use the entry from a dictionary that pertains to my use of the word in this application:

  • a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed: the pillars are no exception to the general style.
  • a particular design of clothing.
  • a way of arranging the hair.

If I were to put down a model I painted next to a model that another person painted and we were equally skilled (for better or worse), and we both painted the same model then our style would be the distinguishing factor. No two painters paint exactly the same even when given the same task. Your own preferences come through, your experiences and the techniques you use will ultimately create a style all your own.

In my opinion style is the the most defining factor for a great looking model. A model painted with less advanced techniques but a distinctive style will always, to me, look better than a model showcasing every advanced technique possible but lacking style. A great style will have a way to pull your eyes where the painter wants them. It will take the different painting techniques on the model and bring it all together into on cohesive form. Style will give the model emotion and depth.

Style is a bit elusive. From my experience it’s not something you set out to find, it’s something that finds you, at the sake of sounding lame. It’s a natural progression and can’t be forced. However, once you have a style you will know it. You’ll find everything you paint, unless you’re consciously avoiding your style, will have a similar appearance or aesthetic. You could paint a unicorn and a daemon and your style will be evident when comparing the two.

My favorite painters all have their own style. People who accept and acknowledge their style become comfortable with it and that comfort shows on the finished model. Techniques aren’t forced, color choices work and end result seems alive. Those who seek to deny their style, to intentionally avoid what they are comfortable with, will never be content. Having a style doesn’t pigeonhole you either. Like anything with art, it’s an ever-evolving process and some people will go through various styles. What your comfortable doing today may not be the same in a year or two. Ultimately it’s about accepting your abilities, knowing your limitations and creating something that you are happy with.

Now, I’m not educated in the arts. I can’t sit here and spout of all sorts of great artists from history that have been innovative and created unique styles. I could, however, show you lots of work from other hobbyists that have styles I admire. I won’t though. Since I’m talking about style and having your own, I figure I’ll show you my style.

First up, some shots.

Some of these are of better quality than others but my style should be apparent, well, it is to me anyway. This is a style that began when I first got into 40K, was more apparent on my Space Marines, Fate’s Angels, and then on my Chaos Marines, Disciples of Twilight, I realized it. I love contrast. My stuff can often be on the cartoony side of things with shading and highlights. I will shade white with black and relish that hard contrast. I will highlight black with white to show strong edges and pull the eye. My color composition will often have an element or two that just jump out with boldness. I just love the separation of color I get with strong shadows and bright highlights.

Using strong contrasts and bold colors isn’t in itself a style, no more than layering paint is. Really it’s about how it all comes together. I use black primer on everything because I prefer darker tones. I like to try to create texture on my model, through paint, where appropriate. I use a lot of complimentary colors for most of the model, sometimes to the point of monotone, with a few distinguishing elements to jump out. I’m sure I could think of a few other things but the point is you take that and then add in my like of strong contrasts and you get what you see above, my style of painting; a composition.

It took me a while, in all honesty, to accept my style. I felt I should be creating ‘realistic’ representations of my models. I would constantly debate the choice of color for shading (would it really be that dark or that tone?). I’d struggle with the proper brightness for highlights (would this red be more orange or pink with that lighting?). In short, I was routinely fighting with myself to create something. Not only was the effort exhausting mentally, I was never 100% happy with my results. The day I stopped over-thinking painting my models was the day it all came together. Now, I just paint the way I’m comfortable with and it may not be realistic, it may not be what others would do, but I enjoy my style.

The other interesting thing with style is the things other people will pick up on that you don’t. I know I use strong contrast and that’s what stands out to me but I’m sure some of you will notice something I’m not. That’s art!

Final words. I by no means created the style utilizing lots of contrast. I’m not saying you need to be an innovator and do something nobody else is doing. If you are talented enough to invent your own style then that’s awesome. Otherwise, find something that makes you happy and just run with it.

  • Ming from b&c

    Yeah, your style is similar to big nate’s. very smart and crisp on marines. Very thin hi lights. Love the look! I have a very fast untrained dry brush style that works ok for gaming. Totally different!

  • Great post. I agree, the thing I like about a paint-job is the style, and for me a strong style can overcome technical weaknesses, whereas a technical paint-job lacking a distinctive style has nowhere to go. It would want to be technically superb, or else it’ll just look unfinished.

    I like your style, it is bold and it reminds me of the days before the general trend became “try to make the model look like a digital painting.”

    • Exactly.

      Thanks. I admire those who can paint super realistic but it’s just not for me.

  • Style is a very important aspect of painting and building models. It’s good to recognize the style(s) you are most comfortable with and what you tend to stray into. By recognizing your tendencies you can more consciously work to improve upon that style. It helps you understand the end result you are looking for and identify the right techniques to get there. At the same time by knowing what elements go into your current style you become able to see other elements that you can mix into your style, or even try another style entirely.

    Personally I tend toward darker or muted colors, worn metals, and a bit of a dingy finish with my Orks and Marines. I use a lot of washes, drybrushing, and stippled colors to represent a certain degree of wear and patina. However, I envision the Eldar as being ritualistically fastidious about their equipment. Even during a protracted campaign I believe they would take time for contemplation and proper maintenance as every piece of equipment is a piece of art and quite possibly and ancient relic. When painting Eldar I tend to use a lot more blending and dark lining to create crisper contrasts. I also tend toward cleaner and brighter color choices.

    • Being able to change up a style is an important element. You stick to the same thing for every army you do and they all start to look the same. That may not be a bad thing but it may not be what you’re after either. I tend to stick to the same style but change up technique a bit. Just personal preference.

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