Tutorial: Visual Studying - Learning to see and paint

by Massive Voodoo

Welcome Jungle Painters,

due your votes via the last Tutorial Voting you decided to put Roman in front of a big task.

His article about Visual Studying - Learning to see and paint is a monster in its content and size. At least it felt like for him - he believed the article was well prepared during the last months, but while he sat down, drank too much coffee and racked his brain he doug deeper into the write up: He had to learn how delicate and all-embracing this topic really is.

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Massive Voodoo's year of the painter is proud to present you a deep insight in Roman's brain, but we are not sure if this will do any good, haha. Please be aware of that these thoughts are Roman's, which means what he says does not mean to be your own truth. It is meant as a little help or inspiration and we hope you enjoy what you find in and beyond these words.

In the meantime you can also find subarticles to this, that take care of the years seasons:

Visualising: Autumn
Visualising: Winter
Visualising: Spring


Visual Studying - Learning to see and paint

1. Foreword
2. Visualize your daily life
3. Transfer to Miniature Painting
4. Closure


Allright. Well, were to start without confusing everybody right from the start?
Let me start with a term called "Principles of Painting", which in this case does not give you any clue what I want to tell you with it. Fair enough, more words needed :)

Painting is not only applying colour in different steps. Painting is much more in general, irrespective of what canvas you are working on (Miniatures, Digital Artwork, Traditional Canvas, Paper, Skin, etc.). The "Principles of Painting" means a huge package full of different topics that come together to understand the act of painting better. Right now I try to go the way of explanation that I have learned while I became a teacher of Art and Art history, trying to find the gateway into miniature painting.

First of all I can not explain all Principles of painting to you right now in one article as the different topics and how they are connected in your brain just would take the rest of my life. Those of you who follow Massive Voodoo for the last years might have recognised already a change in their own way of painting and their own way they reflect on different aspects of painting. At least that is the feedback we often recieve, thanks to you. Everybody of us is on the journey of his way of the Miniature Painter, if he sticks to active painting.

Don't fear what I am trying to explain here, even the upper picture might lead to raised eyebrows already. While I was preparing for this article I felt like that and did made a small mind map to help me guide you all through this read, always seeking connection to our beloved miniature painting. It looks like this:

As you can see there are a lot of terms in it. These Terms mean "Visualising" for me if I think about it in connection to miniature painting and I might have missed some.

Some are yellow, those are the casual ones from my perspective. The ones which we sorrounds what we do without being present all the time. The orange ones are the ones were a lot of painters I know fail in using them properly. "Colours" are the only pink as they are very important in the practical way of painting. "Paint" is the only tourqoise as the act of painting is what does connect everything in your brain, let's you keep track with what you already know and let's you strive forward. Only due active painting you learn. The rest is bonus.

This goes all hand in hand. All the time.
Often I find myself sad to see people walking through their daily life without being aware of the gifts daily life presents if you want to become a better painter. That is why I want to talk about visualizing now. I think I will still only be able to cover the tip of the iceberg here as my brain really feels heavy on the task. In hope you might be able to follow me, I start with a gentle slide to ...


2. VISUALIZE your daily life

Visualizing means to me:

- to see something in real life
- to question it or just enjoy it
- to understand it
- to transfer it
- to remember it
- to make it a part of my skillset

Visualizing does not only happen in front of you. Sometimes it happens just in your brain without you noticing it. Sometimes it happens just straight in your face. Sometimes it needs more time in one aspect than in another and sometimes we are all blind to visualize something in front of our eyes as there might be more important stuff going on in our minds. Sounds logic, eh.

I am not the one who can tell you how you can learn the way of Visualizing yourself. I can only be a person who shows you a direction and the walk is on your own. Slowly we are raising the bar now and dive deeper into the topic. I want to talk with you about what aspects you can observe in reality before I tell you how you can transfer them to your miniature projects.

The following list shows you main topics, which are the essence and basic for everything else and provides you with sub-topics that show you a more detailed look on subjects. Please know that these are inspirational thoughts for painting and basing likewise if you put the following into connection to miniature painting.

Main: Colours
Nature and Life provides us with a great collection of colours. We see them everyday, nothing special at all, just daily life, but these colours are essential if you want to learn from your sorroundings. There are way too many to understand them at once, but if you train your memory and start a wise collection for your own you will see what help in your colour choices the real thing provides. It is you who has to see this on your own and not passing by without noticing it. It is you who will gain from it, some examples:

Main: Light/Shadow
Often in miniature painting you read about zenithal light and how to achieve to paint light situations by using dark tones for shadows and bright tones for highlights. All good, but if you open your eyes and start to see this in real life you will grow from it. You will see beyond it and understand reasons why to paint some areas brighter and some areas darker.
It is outthere for all of us to observe and study. It is not necessary to just paint a highlight on a miniature because somebody else said it should be there. You are able to find your own rules for it if you see, understand and paint it, some examples:

Main: Material
Your world is full with different materials presenting their wide variety of charecteristics to you everyday. They are presenting their colour, their way they react to light influance, their textures and their specific unique properties. Some examples:

Sub: Texture
When it comes to painting taking these characteristics in to your brush-game is a great goal. Textures are visible everywhere, some appear due extreme usage on a specific material others are the reason why you can say the difference between one and the other material. Some examples:

Sub: Weathering
This term means a material is influanced by weather, it is really old and aged or damaged by its constant use. Texture is a big point influancing this sub-topic. There might be rust, verdigris, darker areas, brighter areas, damage and more. It happens just before your nose and if you start to observe you will learn how to use it. Some Examples:

Sub: Composition
Nature and also urban reality provides us with a lot of natural composition. Some beautiful in their randomness, some reasonable due their natural arrangements. Look close, see and understand why things are happening in front of your eyes. Put yourself to question these observations to gain the most from it. Some Examples:

Sub-Sub: Extreme Situations
You might have recognised that all these points are visible in all examples. Everything goes hand in hand all the time. Always - you can not run from that - but sometimes you encounter extreme light situations, or a complete different look of a material due daytime switch or simply crazy colour combinations.


Well, this was pretty much I'd say and still the tip of the iceberg in fact.

At least, I can tell my head is already burning from the inside. If you made it this far: Well done! Enjoy a little break and relax to a cup of tea, maybe give the upper part another read, this time taking a little more time looking at the provided examples and already start to question some things for yourself. Why is something particular happening where it is happening? Maybe go for a walk with your dog or take a family member by the hand and go outside, just right now in this moment, just for half an hour or so. Just to breathe and have a look on your sorroundings. Just now. Just do it.


3. Transfer to Miniature Painting

Ok, I first fell asleep because of the relaxing music and then took a little walk to clear my mind to be able to tell you where this all tries to aim at.

The answer I found is pretty simple: It aims at you!
You and how intent you react with your world. If you start looking closer on it - with simple steps, one by one - I garantue you that you and your way of painting will gain from it.

Transfering your future observations to miniature painting is on the deal's other hand. I will now try to cover the same order of main- and sub-topics and tell my mind on the transfer aspect.

Main: Colours
A good example on your colour choice for a particular area is something I often encounter in my painting classes: A stone has to be painted grey is a common mistake. Go outside, look at stones, collect some, study them and you quickly will see that there might be a little grey to every stone but there is much more.

This happens to a lot of different materials and you will see that you can change your painting when you transfer your real life observations to your painting game by already making some proper thoughts on your colour choices.

Just some simple stone variations here:

Main: Light/Shadow
Now let's stick with the stone example here: Think about the light situation you want to paint to your scene. Is it zenithal light or another angle of light hitting your stone ground? If the angle is low, does this change the hue of the stones? Why do I paint strong edge highlights? Well, light arrives in rays and they break at sharp edges. Take a look you will find out on all materials:

Have a look at the damage in the mid-section of the wall:

Which daytime is it?
Has the light/shadow influancing your scene a specific colour?
How does a night scene look different to a scene in daylight?

Main: Material
Light works different on the character of different material. For example plastic and metal reflect very strong compared to fabrics or leather. Question what you see and also question what you do. This is a big topic to study and I think the journey never ends to try to paint different material and its texture on a smaller scale.

A good example how different materials can work out awesome is shown by my friend Robert aka muhani on his project called "Frutti di Mare". You have wet slimy material going on, wet and dry wood, dusty fabrics, different light and shadow intensity on different materials.

Different material reflects different to light - check this example from the article "How to paint the colour black":

Sub: Texture
Go study and understand textures. Do experiments with old brushes or different tools to try to rework your observations on the topic texture. Try to paint them often and you will understand much more. You will find your way on how you achieve them. What about some marble?

A great example of different textures on different materials comes from Oli aka HonourGuard,
check the leather, fabrics and wood, bone, metals, etc.:

Sub: Weathering
As we are creating small worlds with our bases and miniatures we should not push it over the top when it comes to aging effects. Observe how stuff takes rust in real, observe where colour chips and find out why? I know I am giving you too much homework to do by your own, but you will see if you do - just a small start - you will gain from it big time.

Think about why something takes damage and make it reasonable for yourself, if you are unsure check it in real. If damage or weathering appears with with the right reason it will appear in the right spots and will look not out of place.

Is there someone not able to aim with a key?

A beautiful example on different, detailed weathering effects can be found at Raffa's Giu's Robot Repairs - maybe you can already transfer back to real life while observing all those little weathering details here (rust, dirt, dust, etc.):

Sub: Composition
How often to you find something on the ground? Maybe after this article more often now. Have a look on the "why" things are on the ground/floor. Is it reasonable that they are going in the place you place them at your base?

Let's take the mushroom example: Do not place just three mushrooms on your base, at least if it is not meant to be in the forest of the only three magic mushrooms. Place mushrooms of all sort in small families, find your inspiration and ideas in nature with open eyes, but not only with mushrooms please, check for leaves, dirt, garbage, stuff, stuff and even more stuff.

Sub-Sub: Extreme Situations
Well, I leave this too your own imagination now, as my brain is slowly going offline after hours of writing this article and thinking about it. There is much more homework for your brain and future miniature projects hidden in this article as you might believe me right now.


4. Closure
Oh well, me is exhausted right now and I hope those of you who read through the article feel the same. Yeah really I hope so as this means your brian worked during the read and believe me when I say it will do even further if you hit the streets or the forest.

If you want to keep track with my personal photo collection where I took the inspirational photos for this article from, please visit: tale-of-the-banana-whale, my personal hobby photo blog.

Going back to the "Principles of Painting" I want to encourage you in digging deeper in your own brain about the "why" on doing something in your figure projects. Observe, learn, study, paint.
If you do you will soon find out that it all belongs together and forms a unit of painting wisdom. Important in my eyes is that you build it up on your own as you will see the knowledge becoming one in your brain. Big and small fireworks will hit your heart, brain and soul while painting and achiving another personal step in your painting skills, like this synphony over here.

Always remember: It takes time that you invest in the act of painting and what we learned today in observing your world too! The journey never ends :)

Have fun and keep on happy painting!
Best Wishes,

You want to support Massive Voodoo? 
If you like to support or say thanks the monkeys of Massive Voodoo in what they do, please feel invited to drop a jungle donation in their direction via paypal or check their miniatures they got on sale here.


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