Review: FAQ Figure Painting Techniques, by Kirill Kanaev

by David

Disclaimer: David received the book as a free review copy by the publisher. Hansrainer bought the book himself. Neither will predetermine the review, which will be a fair summary and assessment of the book's strengths and weaknesses as we perceive them.

Hey all,

this is Hansrainer and David joining forces for a collaborative review of AK Interactive's F.A.Q. Figure Painting Techniques, written by the fantastic Kirill Kanaev. And, boy, is it good that we do this review together, because this is a monster of a book. Weighing in with a whopping 2.2 kilograms, distributed over more than 480 pages, this is not a book you read leisurely while dozing off in bed - or even quickly use as a handy manual you put on your painting table for quick reference. Rather, it is more akin a technical volume that you want to study in-depth before trying things out in practice. And in this book, Kirill presents much for us to study with topics covering basically all aspects of miniature-painting, except base-building/composition.


Overall, the book contains six chapters, each with a host of sub-chapters and sections, of vastly different length. After a brief, two-pager introduction in which Kirill outlines his goals for the book, Chapter 1 dives right in with an overview of the miniature painter's tools-of-the-trade: paints, tools and other equipment. Over 20 pages, the chapter provides a quick and informative survey of the existing materials and explains their uses, strengths and - where appropriate - the potential drawbacks for the miniature painter.

In Chapter 2, titled "Before we start on our figure", Kirill discusses a few general thoughts on the first steps of any project, including some ruminations of scale and preference, and gives a few suggestions on how to organize your workplace. The brunt of the chapter deals with preparing a miniature for painting, covering the removal of moldlines, pinning parts, remodeling imperfections in the cast and the necessity of cleaning and priming the miniature.

The third chapter is the first real heavyweight in the book, presenting a comprehensive treatise on color theory as it applies for the miniature painter's needs. The chapter first systematically introduces the relevant terminology (hue, saturation, brightness, temperature) and how they combine into different color concepts. The remainder of the chapter draws on these concepts to present different color mixes, showing the spectrum of colors when highlighted and darkened with white/black, but also other colors to change the saturation, brightness and temperature of the original "mid-tone" hue. This quick mixing-guide is not only important for understanding the interaction of the colors and their different characteristics on a theoretical level. It also is immediately practical for one's own painting projects. If I know, for instance, that I want to include a blue tone on my figure, I can draw on the illustration on p.74, which provides the light to dark ranges for several blue-tinged tones.

While much of what is covered across the first three chapters can be found in other painting guides (even if color theory and mixing recipes are usually not dealt with in a systematic and detailed way as Chapter 3 does), Chapter 4 on "Lighting Concepts" is really groundbreaking. It provides probably the most comprehensive treatment of how to realize light and shadow on miniatures out there. Next to a general discussion about the relevance of painting the light situation and the necessity to dramatizing light/shadow contrasts because of the small size of miniatures, Kirill introduces a number of specific lighting situations. These include the impact of light coming from different sides and angles and intensities as well as more specific lighting effects such as light filtering through leaves or very crass-contrast, directed focal lights in an otherwise relatively dark overall ambience.

While Chapters 3 and 4 mostly focus on conceptual knowledge and fundamental principles, the roughly 30 pages of Chapter 5 deal with very practical topics. It is, therefore, adequately labeled "Techniques". In the chapter, Kirill first talks about general considerations when painting with acrylics and oil colors, showing how their specific characteristics require different techniques for color-application and achieving color transitions. He then explains the most relevant techniques of brushwork and color-handling, including glazing, stippling, outlining, and using the airbrush.

Chapter 6 is where it all comes together: The chapter is broken up into 11 subchapters. Each subchapter delving into another specific area of applying the techniques and concepts from the previous chapters. All subchapters follow a similar pattern: they start with generic observations around the topic and then start to go deeper with a number of step-by-step examples for the application on an actual project. The first four Subchapters 6.1-6.4 deal with the bodily components of busts and miniatures: Skin, Hands, Eyes and Hair. Kirill provides a number of in depth examples as well as generalized advice. These include several types of skin in different lighting situations, skars and tattoos.

The subchapter on eyes deals with the different challenges in painting the eyes of a miniature, depending on factors as scale and even goes into some detail on make-up around the eyes for female models.

Finally, the subchapter about hair deals with everything from head to toe so to say - including bodyhair. Again we can see the same pattern as before: Meticulous analysis, abstraction and simplification appropriate to the scale and careful and controlled application.

Subchapters 6.5-6.6 deal with clothes, leather, apparel and furs. Again in quite some depth for different scales as well as details on how to analyse the textures of real-world examples and photographies in order to achieve a perfect result. He spends quite some time explaining different levels of abstraction depending on the model and material copied. This includes going down to the level of the weave of the original material and how that affects its reflection and appearance and how in the end to achieve a similar effect on the model.

The detailed examples and step-by-steps include regular, everyday cloth, different variants of camo, embroidery and all kinds and varieties of textured garments as well as printed fabrics in different scales for busts and smaller miniatures.

The remainder of 6.5 deals with leather in general and some variation. It is not as detailed as the section on cloth, but that does reflect the fact that there is less variety than in cloth. 6.6 feals somewhat like an extension on leather, dealing mostly with fur and rawhide. With just 12 pages its relatively short, most of it is filled with example projects of three different types for fur.

The next big block in Chapters 6.7 and 6.8 is about reflective materials and then follows up non-metallic metal. Naturally, these chapters build heavily on chapter 4 - lighting concepts. 6.7 starts off with more than twenty additional pages of theory and concepts of reflection. Here we learn more about lighting choices, and how they affect reflections and how this in turn needs to inform our painting. Kirill then gives three relatively brief examples on how to paint with different types and techniques of metallic paints. Chapter 6.8. then leads into non-metallic metal (NMM): The first 44 pages of the chapter are reserved for concepts and advanced theory and observations. A lot of space is spent on studies for color, texture and volumes depending on the various properties and finishes of the potential subjects. It gives some additional insights into the tremendous research Kirill is putting into his work. Later in the chapter he ties this toghether with atmospherical and overall color selections for a project and how these in turn inform the painting of the NMM. The remaining 61 pages are devoted to a number of example projects where different metals are represented in very detailed step-by-step works.

The last block - 6.9 - 6.11 is kind of a mop-up section. It deals with several topics for completeness sake, but in a comparably short fashion and in less depth than the previous subchapters: Chapter 6.9 is a relatively short treatise on painting wood, short basics and two applied examples that provide a base for further studies. 6.10 ist about translucent materials: Gems, glass, pearls, crystals. Finally 6.11. is about special effects, basically OSL. It is relatively short as well, which is somewhat remedied by it building on the general lighting concepts and theories presented in the previous chapters and subchapters.

The book closes with a color equivalence table, listing color equivalencies between several well nown paint brands (AK 3rd Gen Acrylics, Abteilung 502, Tamiya, Vallejo, Mr Hobby and Reaper).

David's thoughts

This is an incredible book. Written by one of the most influential miniature artists of the last decade, it is chock-full of general knowledge, practical advice and individual gems of wisdom that only a true master can provide. It combines high production value with great substance and is lavishly illustrated throughout. There is a lot of text in this book in which Kirill explains his thoughts in a profound yet accessible way. In addition, and different than many other painting books, the book is very well edited and the text is extremely readable, despite the huge amount of text. Hundreds of high-quality pictures illustrate the points being made in writing and in the practical chapters, the pictures provide the foundation of easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions.

In terms of content, I think, this book's main strength is that it systematically combines the introduction of general conceptual principles with hands-on advice on how to transfer these concepts to actual miniature painting. If I had to choose my, say, three personal highlights of the book that exemplify this didactic approach particularly well, I would first pick the conceptual chapter on understanding light and shadow and their relevance for miniature painting (Chapter 4). While other painting books also deal with this issue in varying degrees of detail, Kirill's treatment is particularly systematic and comprehensive in introducing the principles of light and how to apply this to the painting of miniatures. My second highlight is the sub-chapter on different cloth textures. Next to his NMM, Kirill is particularly well-known and justly praised for his incredible understanding of the visual aspects of different materials (cloth, leather, fur, etc.) and transferring them on miniatures. And in Chapter 6.5, he shows how to follow in his footsteps.

And then, of course, there is the sub-chapter on "Reflective Surfaces"! Over almost 140 pages, Sections 6.7 and 6.8 deliver what is hands-down the most complete and detailed analysis of metal and other highly reflective materials - focusing most importantly, of course, on painting NMM. Kirill takes the reader by the hand and guides them through the whole process of not only replicating his acclaimed NMM technique, but actually understanding how light behaves on metal, how different surfaces reflect light in different ways, and how we, as miniature painters, can achieve these reflections with color. Together with the sub-chapter on the painting of different textures, this section alone makes buying the book worthwhile.

All this being said, I have two comparatively minor issues with the book. First, and different than Hansrainer (see below), I wonder whether the decision to pack all that information into a single volume was the best idea. I get that AK follows the approach they decided on with their Diorama FAQ and that they wanted to produce the one book for the complete miniature painter. But I think it might have been more convenient, both for targeting the different potential audiences and the practical usability of the book, to distribute the topics over several individual volumes, similar to what Ammo did with their Encyclopedia. That way, AK could have done one intro book covering the basics; one book on general principles of light and color theory; and a few dedicated specialized volumes on the various contents of what is Chapter 6. I think that way AK would have made the book even more interesting for an even broader audience across all levels of painting procifiency and mastery, while at the same time making the individual books more affordable. I don't think, for example, that those painters truly benefiting from the material in Chapter 6 will find the info in Chapters 1 and 2 particularly relevant. Also, I found that OSL and the painting of atmosphere has been dealt with a little too briefly in the volume, being relegated to a few pages at the back of Chapter 6. Similar to Hansrainer, I feel that these last sub-chapters are a bit of an aftertought. A bit more substance here would have been appreciated.

These minor points of critique, of course, take nothing away from me considering Kirill Kanaev's Figure Painting Techniques F.A.Q. the most complete and plain awesome miniature painting book on the market - currently and probably for some time to come. It covers a vast range of topics in unprecedented depth and with the skill, understanding and authority of a true master of his trade. It is kind of pricy, but even if it's only for the NMM chapter or the chapter on textures I highly recommend you buy this one!

Hansrainer's thoughts

I have to concur with David - this is by far and large the most comprehensive book on miniature painting from the conceptual basics, over technical foundations up to quite specific applied studies. While the price and sheer volume might feel overwhelming and intimidating, this book is by far and large the best bang for the buck and in regard to the quality of writing, editing and photography and reproduction, it can compete with any other book on the subjects I have seen. But the amazing volume is at the same time its biggest drawback: This book takes serious reading. The huge amount of text and imaging is not just windowdressing - at times its really high information-density means it takes a lot of time to spend with the text, as well as the pictures. Especially the applied cases in chapter six might easily mistaken as just another step-by-step with color recipes - but they are much more.

Kirill is probably mostly famous for his insane meticulousness when it comes to materials, surfaces and textures, and of course these parts of the book are what I've been looking forward to, as probably most readers - and he doesn't stint us. Most of the book are taken up by Chapter 6 - which is basically putting the concepts and advice from the previous 5 chapters to use. Those 350 pages pack a huge treasure of knowledge. Kirill is an avid observer and meticulous analyst - and thats how he paints. On the first glimpse these pages are mostly step-by-step recipes for specific pieces, but when you put those together with the concepts and instructions from the first five chapters - especially the one on lighting - thats when you can start to unlock the secrets. I am not sure how long it will take - and I will probably try and paint one or two of the pieces he did in the book - just to follow him and hopefully understand even better.

Recognizing this time investment into the book, I think this is a great book on miniature painting - but its not a book for everyone. I heard Kirill say on a few occasions "There are no shortcuts". If you expect troves of cool tricks and nifty workarounds, shortcuts and fast results, you will be disappointed. We get used more and more to stand on the shoulders of giants, learn from quick tips and tutorials and educational videos from the internet. We like to learn looking for quickwins and fast results. And I think you won't get them from this tome. I do not concur with the first of Davids criticisms that the book ist too much. Personally, I think that it is good and necessary to have all of this in one book, published at the same time, somewhat forcing the audience to take it all in. If you take the book as a whole and work with it, I think you will be rewarded with a much deeper understanding of pictorial art in general and miniature painting especially. If it were published in bite-sized chunks adressing specific "hot" topics, I feel a lot might have been lost, the "glue" between the topics so to say.

After all the praise, there is a small number of issues I have with the book: Issue one - the last few chapters feel very forced and shortened. I would have preferred the remaining topics covered in comparable depth to cloth and metal. The other issue is that the book is a bit pushy on some paint series - but then again, thats a personal pet peeve and you see similar things in most painting related books nowadays. I guess I am just a bit allergic to inline advertising. As I said - these are small issues and they do not affect overall valuation of the book in the least.

In the end, this is not a cheap book if you look at the price tag - but if you look at value for money, it is hard to beat: 74,90 Eur for 480 pages is roughly equivalent to about 4 other painting books. Go out there, get it while you can. Its worth it - and then READ IT!

Let us know if you have questions or comments. All the best,

Hansrainer and David


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