Tutorial - The Ice Palette - A Blending Tutorial Part 1

by Vhaidra

posted by Yvonne, Vhaidra


I decided myself to write a tutorial about one of the most important questions for a painter: "How do I get a nice and smooth blending?".
To be honest: "There are many ways.". I will only describe the most common ways of how to paint blendings here and of course my own special way of painting blendings.

I just want to inspire you and show you a couple of ways.
Means: "I don`t say that the tutorial is the entirely truth of painting."
It is just a bit experiance I wanna give to you and share with you.

This first part of the tutorial is basic knowledge about acrylics and how they can be used in miniature painting.
Important knowledge for beginners but maybe interesting for the advanced painter too.
I will also introduce you a special tool that I use for painting.
I call it the "Ice Palette". Further informations and details about different painting techniques will be content of the next 2 parts of the tutorial. Here I talk about basically findings.

To understand blending

First we have to ask: What is a blending? A blending is a stageless transition between two colours.
One colour blends into the other and between the both extremes there is a line of midtones to connect the both extremes with each other and we see a fine transition called blending.
If we paint a blending between black and white then the midtones would be different bright/dark greys.
The closer to black the darker, the closer to white the brighter.

A blending with acrylics can be painted with wetblending which means to mix the wet colours on the miniature into each other.
Or it can be painted in a lot of transparency layers where one overlaps the next, this is called layering or glazing.

 If we want to paint a blending at a miniature first there are 2 questions:
  • How many colours do I need?
  • Which colours do i need?

Through the last years I made my experiences and found a way that works well for me.
Years ago Darkstar has taught me the basic technique behind my way of painting.
He is a fantastic american painter and a very good friend of me. Greetings at this opportunity :-)

He recommended at least 7 different tones (colours) for to paint a blending.
The more midtones are used, the more easy is it to paint a really smooth and deep blending.

I found out that the number of tones also depends on the size of the detail that you want to paint.
For very small details 3 - 4 tones are enough, for medium sized details 5 - 6 tones and for larger details 7 - 8.
If you use 4 - 7 tones the most challenges will be mastered.
It depends also a bit on the size of the sculpt how many tones you will need.

If you just want slightly depth at the transition it works already good with few tones (3 - 5), but if you want much depth and high contrast at your transition there will be more tones necessary (5 - 8).
You have to try it and found out how many tones you will need in a certain case by yourself.
It is easy to recognize if some midtones are missing if you work the way I tell it here.
Because you get good results already with 5 – 7 tones the most examples here are done with this amount of tones.

For to find out how many colours and which I divide the blending on the first picture into 7 single tones.

It isn`t necessary to buy black, white and 5 different greys.
Black and white is enough. You can mix all the greys with the black and white.

The interruptions at the transition are pretty obviously.
I used an opacitiy of 100% and it would look like that if I would apply the paint not diluted on the miniature.
Because the interruptions are to obviously even for a very first coat, I thin my paints for the first coat.
Opacity would be approximatly 70%.

But for making the theory behind more vivid, let`s see how many single tones we would need to paint a finer blending with opaque paints if we would put more tones beside each other:

10 tones beside each other with 100% opaque paint would be a „relatively“ smooth blending.
At least if both extremes are black and white.
The interruptions become less obviously if you use more tones.

Because there is not never ending space on a miniature it isn`t very recommendable to use to many tones.
That is why opaque paints are seldom used in miniature painting.
If you use diluted paints you can work with less tones.
7 – 8 are enough for such a extremly deep transition from pure black to pure white.
So you can imagine that for the most other transitions (with less depth) you just need 5 – 7 tones. 

Transparent and opaque layers

Acrylics can be used thinned for to apply the paint in transparency layers or they can be used in a thicker consistency for more opaque layers. It depends on what you want to do.
For to smooth out the blending, thinned, transparency paints are best, but for getting good depth quickly it is necessary to use thicker and more opaque paints.  

I can explain it with the following images:
At this image I used an opacity of 100%.
Means: I used successful covering opaque paint.

You can see clearly the interruptions at the transition.

Now I reduce the opacity to 80%

Now I reduce it to 60%

If I use a lower opacity the interruptions are less obviously but also the contrast, the depth of the transition becomes fewer.
Especially the light colours are very hard to see now.

The conclusion is:
  • Thicker more opaque paints are good for to reach depth quickly, but they also make ugly interruptions at the transition.
  • Thinner, more transparency paints means: Less interruptions at the transition, but only few depth.
  • A medium consistency is relatively opaque, works relatively good for getting quickly good depth and the interruptions at the transition are at least acceptable.  

So it would be clever to use each consistency for painting.
We can use the properties of each consistency to our advantage.
There is no right or wrong consistency.
There is only: The right consistency used wrong.

Each consistency has it`s pros and cons and can be used for a certain purpose.
Which purposes exactly I will try to explain bit by bit.  


What is depth und why is it important for painting and blending?

Maximum depth is reached at a transition from pure black to pure white.
Nothing is darker than black and nothing is brighter than white.

If I remove one or two extremes at the end of the transition the depth will change.

Without the black:

Without the black and the white:

Blendings whith few depth are much more easy to paint than the ones with much depth. That is good to know for the beginner in painting. A beginner should start to understand and practise first a blending with fewer depth. At least that would be my recommendation.

If I pick out the single tones from the last blending and use a opacity of 100% it would look like this:

Opacity reduced to 60%:

This leads to an additional conclusion, which is important to know:
  • The fewer depth is aimed, the fewer tones are necessary to paint a smooth blending.
  • But this also means: The more depth is aimed, the more single tones are necessary for to paint a smooth transition.

The images here intentionally doesn`t show smooth transitions because the reader shall understand that a blending is nothing but a lot of tones next to each other.

But there are certain conditions for the tones which must be meet for the success of the project "painting a blending".

This conditions are:

For a blending that shows the changing of lightness at highlighting and shading (one and the same colour changes from dark to bright):
  • Each tone has to be slightly brighter than the previous and slightly darker than the next.
  • All tones need a similar grade of saturation or at least a connection to the directly next tones.
  • Each tone has to be connected with the previous one and the next one.
  • There should be a homogeneously transition on your palette. Even on the palette there shouldn`t be to hard and abrupt differences between the tones. Not in brightness, not in saturation and not in colour.

For a blending between 2 different colours, a colour swift (red turns to green for example).
  • Each tone has to be connected with the previous one and the following one.
  • Mix into the base colour (for example red) more and more of the second colour (for example green).
    Mix in more and more green the closer you get to the pure green in the end.

With interruptions for a better awarness of the single tones.
It should look like this on your palette, when you use actually this 7 tones for blending (I guess 6 tones would be also okay in this case):

So you can paint simple transitions easier by using more than 3 or 4 colours if you mix them well.

Back to the question why painting much contrast (depth) when it is so much easier to paint more flat transitions? It is simply up to you.
If you prefer lower depth you can take less colours, you will have less work and you will finish your paintjobs more quickly.
If you prefer much depth you have to take more colours, you will have more work and it will takes longer to finish a paintjob.
It is alone your decision and a question of taste and motivation. 

Common mistakes

Not well mixed paints:

I told somebody about this method and this guy mixed a transition with 5 tones for a blending on his palette and it looks this way on his palette.

He asked me if the tones are okay but unfortunatyl I had to negate.

The fault is at the third colour. All other colours are connected with each other.
Colour 1 is connected with colour 2 but colour 2 is not connected with colour 3 and colour 3 is also not connected with colour 4. Colour 4 is connected with colour 5.

Colour 3 is pure khaki and it doesn`t fit in the line. That is why we won`t get a nice transition from dark green to light green in this case.
I will show you:

A way to make it better could be to leave the khaki at all and only working with the greens:

Or you mix in the khaki for to desaturate the colours.
You could start to mix it into the highlighting colours and also a little bit at the midtones and the shading colours:

There are so many possibilities for variants, there are almost no borders. You just may not overacting and you have to care about that all colours are possible to mix with each other for a stageless blending.

More complicated transitions are not that easy to do or to explain. Blendings for OSL (object source lighting) or very artistic work with multicoloured shades and so on are not to manage only with just one line of colours. But it is a good basic for continuative work at the transition for example: Working with glazes or additional colours. But that is not the point at this tutorial. Maybe I can write additional tutorials about more complicated blendings in the future.

For this tutorial my goal is to explain the normal, simple blending how you need it for painting a transition between shadow and light or colour switches.

Skin, fabric, non metallic metal (nmm), hair, leather and bases for all those details you only need simple blendings. If you are creative and if you have fun with doing experiments just do it. You can use as many tones (colours) as you like and mix in whatever you want. The main point is the connection among the tones.

If you comprehend the principle once you can really mix what you want. You will see the limits by yourself. Well mixed paints are determining and not only negligibility.

Chalky highlights:

Chalky highlights are a mistake which is especially often done by unexperianced painter and the cause for it is exactly the using of to few tones. If a beginner paints his first blendings he normally doesn`t use more than 3 – 4 tones (colours).

A blue transition could look like that:

Not bad. A smooth, stageless transition but not much depth.
Now the beginner gets feedback (at forums for example) that he shall paint stronger highlights, more contrast is often demanded and the beginner starts to brighten up his highlighting colour.
This could look like that:

An interruption at the transition appears. At the miniature it looks chalky.
Well known and dreaded as chalky highlights, brrrrrrrr, lol.
The connection to the other tones is missing.
So the beginner always get forced to paint stronger highlights but nobody tells him that he also needs to take more tones then. At least I seldom read that.

A good mixture for a nice transition from darkblue to lightblue with good depth (6 tones).
It could look like that:

Dominance of dark colours:

Dark colours are dominant over light colours. Not really a new fact.
But in miniature painting with acrylics, where especially transparency and semi transparency layers are often used, it is a very important fact.

The most painter aim for high contrast in miniature painting but if they use diluted paints and don`t make differences in consistency between dark and light colours there will be a problem:

Here I take a dark and a light colour. Both have got the same opacity.
First 100% and then 30%. Both paints are applied only one times.
In the midst where both paints lie over each other (like it is when you do layering) you can clearly see the dominance of the dark colour.

So it is relatively exhausting to try to highlight with the same consistency you use for shading.
For to covering only one layer of a dark colour you have to apply approximatly 5 layers of the bright colour.

Here I had to paint 5 layers of the bright colour with an opacity of 30% for to cover the dark colour successfully.

So it is good to use darker colours more thinned and brighter colours can be used in a thicker consistency. 

To mix dark with light colours:
You also have to care about the dominance of dark colours when it comes to mixing colours. If you want to mix a dark and a bright colour and you want the exactly midtone between both, you always have to mix in more of the bright colour to reach your goal.
  • For to darken bright colours you need less dark paint than you need brighter paints for to lighten up dark colours. If you keep that in mind it will saves up paints for mixing.

The Ice Palette

After I talked so much about mixing paints, you probably ask yourself how this mixing colours will work and what palette is best for it.

I will introduce you a tool which isn`t very common, because it is part of my own, special way of painting. I call it the Ice Palette. It is a metal palette with dimples and it lies over an icepack. The ice makes the paints stay wet for a longer time and so it is almost the same effect you have by using a wet palette. 

Ice Palette vs. Wet Palette:
The advantage of the ice palette over the wet palette are the dimples.
I can mix the whole transition on the palette and don`t need to be afraid the the paints could flow into each other on the palette.
I can stir the paints and don`t have problems with the fat on the backing paper which is often used for wet palettes.

I have got maximum controll over the brightness of my tones because they lie in front of me and I do know that tone 3 is brighter than tone 2 and darker than tone 4.
When acrylics are still wet they are brighter than they look after they are dried.
This is the cause for a lot of painting accidents.
You think you have got a brighter colour on your brush (than it really is) and you apply it and after it is dried you see an ugly interruption at your blending.

So it is very helpful to have all the tones in the right order in front of you.
With thicker paints the wet palette works too but with thinner paints you have got the problem that the paints flow into each other without the dimples the ice palette got.

Apart from that I can „feel“ the consistency of the paints much better on the ice palette.
I guess the cause for that is that I use the ice palette since many years and almost exclusively so I guess that I can work especially good with it. 

Wet Palette vs. Ice Palette:
Of course, the principle works as well at the wet palette.
The advantage of the wet palette over the ice palette is the time the paint keep its wished consistency without changing.
This point is really the failing of the ice palette.
You have often mix in new water to keep the paints liquid at the ice palette.
At the wet palette you don`t need to do this often. At the wet palette the consistency of the paints stay same way long time. Not at the ice palette, there the consistency is changing always.
In winter, when it is cold outside you have to mix in more water in summer when it is hot outside the ice is melting much faster and you get to much water on your palette.

So there are even pros and cons in the palette question.
The best is to use both so you have one for each purpose.
If you wanna work with much diluted paints, take the ice palette. If you work with thicker paints trust the wet palette. 

The metal palette:

Wrap around some aluminium foil so you never have to clean the palette, you just have to change the aluminium foil from time to time.

Put an icepack below:

Ice palette at work (skintones):

Now we are at the end of the first part of the Tutorial.
At the next part I will explain how to mix the paints, how to work with the ice palette.
I will talk about layering and I will share and write down what I think what is important and helpful to know.
I explained things very extensive at this tutorial and I did this because I want that even the bloodiest beginner can follow and understand all.

@All: Don`t be shy to ask if you don`t understand all and give feedback what you wish to know about blending for the 2nd part of the tutorial because I didn`t write any sentence until now and if you tell me now in what exactly you are intrested, I can do my best to explain it at the 2nd part at least as far as I know it. Oh and sorry for english mistakes if there are some. I won`t be offended if someone would tell me because I`m always willing to improve my english.
@For the germans: For all those of you who have problems with the english language there will be a german version of the tutorial at Das Bemalforum soon. Guess I will get it until the end of the week (at least I hope) just look out for it :-) Cheers Yvonne happy blending :-)


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