Review: the Encyclopedia of Figures Modelling Techniques, Vol.

By Massive Voodoo

Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion on the book; I bought it myself and have no relevant relationship with Ammo, the editor or any of the authors.

The book’s cover

There are a number of books
on the topic of miniature painting out there, which I like to group into three categories, based on the different primary aims and target readership. Some books aim to inform on basic principles and foundations, introducing theoretical concepts such as color theory, rules of harmony and base composition and their relevance and transfer to miniature painting. As a paradigmatic example I would name the first volume of Jeremie Bonamant’s Figopedia. The second category includes the large number of books with more technical approaches, in which the authors explain how to achieve certain effects, how to do smooth blendings, how to master brush control or use of the airbrush, or present color recipes. Examples include Games Workshop’s painting guides, AK Interactive’s learning series on how to paint wood, skin or metal; the book on painting Steampunk miniatures by Scale 75, or Ángel Giraldez’ Painting Miniatures From A To Z. Books in the third category are mainly centered on individual painters and their painting history and development. Examples for these books, which often include but do not focus on information on the masters’ preferred methods and their approach to painting, include Scale 75’s most recent publications on Alfonso Giraldes (the excellent review by Hansrainer is highly recommended) and Mike Blank.

The 112 pages-strong “Encylopedia of Figures Modelling Techniques, Vol. 1”, edited and co-authored by Rodrigo Hernández Chacón and published in 2019 by Ammo of Mig Jimenez, is the first volume of a three-volume Encyclopedia on figure painting. Actually there also is a “Vol. 0” of the series, in which the fundamentals of figure painting (tools, preparation and priming of the mini, brush control, etc.), are explained, but the volume designation suggests that it is not meant as a genuine part of the encyclopedia. Focusing on “Color, Shape and Light”, Vol. 1 straddles the first two of the three categories of miniature painting books by combining the introduction and description of general approaches, principles and concepts with more hands-on advice on how to achieve certain effects.

Table of contents

In addition to a brief introductory blurb by the editor, the book consists of four chapters with one each on light, color, shape, and texture. The chapters include a general introduction of core concepts by Chacón as well as articles on specific topics, written by him and five other well-known and highly decorated painters. Krzysztof Kabalczyk contributes an article on how to plan and execute painting a bust in the “Rembrandt lighting” style, based on a single light source. Roman Gruba shares insights into how he painted his acclaimed Boudicca bust, convincingly combining a dark, night-blue atmosphere with the orangy Object Source Light (OLS) effect of a campfire. In his article, Rubén Martínez Arribas presents a detailed step-by-step tutorial on how he painted his Legends of the Jade Sea Orc Sailor, focusing particularly on cast shadows and the bright and intense light situation of a sunny, cloudless day on the open seas. Dmitry Fesechko, of whom I am a big fan, summarizes in excellent detail the crucial importance of value, i.e., the contrast between brightness/darkness, for the miniature painting hobby – both on figures and in the composition of bases. Finally, David Arroba puts all theoretical concepts and fundamental thoughts introduced in the previous pages into practice by showing a step-by-step explanation of painting the Goblin King. The book closes with a couple of uncommented pages which present a few of the authors’ best-known, yet older works.

Rodrigo summarizes relevant color theory concepts in a succinct way.

Different light and shadow situations explained in a nutshell

The book is beautifully layouted and overall has a high production value. It is printed on relatively thick, slightly glossy paper; the pictures are excellent and large enough to allow detailed analyses on what’s going on on the mini. In terms of substance, it really shines in combining the introduction of general ideas in an accessible and practical way and showing how these ideas are relevant and can be transferred to the subject of miniature painting. I particularly like the “Russian chapters” by Roman Gruba and Dmitry Fesechko. The former explains in-depth how athmosperic colors interact with and affect the “local colors” of individual parts of the miniature. And while the specific example centers on the color effect of dark-blue nightly colors and warm orange fire, the general logic how surrounding colors affect local colors can be transferred to other atmospheric situations such as a deep-green forest, the yellow-umbra of a desert-scene or the pale ice-blue of an arctic surrounding. I found Dmitry’s chapter on value particularly insightful as I have always considered the light-dark contrast the most important one in miniature painting – and the most difficult to master. Besides a general discussion of the relevance of value and its application in painting different materials on a  miniature, the chapter briefly addresses how to play with light and darkness in creating vignettes and dioramas to develop the scene’s narrative and guide the viewer’s eye.

Rubén explains how to add cast shadows already in the earliest stages of black-and-white volume sketching
Krzysztof shows the effects of different textures on light and shadows.
Roman shows how to use atmospheric effects and OSL on the example of his Boudicca bust.

Dmitry shows how to use value contrast to guide the viewer’s eye.

Of course, as any book, this volume also has its weak spots. At points, I would have liked a bit more diligence in the editing and language checking. Next to minor issues in wording and spelling, final editing has missed a few more serious glitches. In Dmitry’s otherwise fantastic chapter, for instance, there is a numbered value chart ranging from 1 (light) to 9 (dark) – in the accompanying pictures, the scale is inverted: 1 is dark and 9 is light. This is not a big issue, but a bit confusing when you first try to understand what’s going on. There also is, most likely because of the collaboration of multiple authors within an edited volume, a bit of overlap and repetitions between individual chapters, and some concepts are introduced in multiple chapters. Finally, while, as noted, Roman’s elaborations can be transferred to non-night/non-OSL atmospheric light situations, the book could have benefitted from including a few pages on other atmospheres and their impact on local colors.

Excellent advice and analysis, but a bit confusing: the different value numbers of the chart on the left and the picture discussions on the right.

These issues notwithstanding, there is much to learn from this book for both the novice and the more advanced miniature painter. For the novice, there are a lot of concepts and theoretical ideas on colors and how to apply them on miniatures (and small dioramas). It does so in an accessible and easily digested way with nice pictures and without going into overwhelming details. The more advanced painter can find more in-depth information on more advanced topics such as OSL, cast shadows and how to make the best out of light-dark contrasts. In addition, with a suggested retail price of 29,50 Euros, the book is easy on the wallet.

The book’s final part takes a look at textures and how to create them on miniature, including the use of additional materials such a flock to add “texture to the touch” to a figure.

In sum, I recommend the first book of the Encyclopedia to figure painters who are looking for a single volume that combines theoretical and background knowledge on color, shapes and light as well as useful bits of hands-on advice in a way that is directly useful for miniature painters.

All the best,

David

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