Saturday, 20 July 2013


I have been painting the new(ish) High Elf pheonix model - the ice version rather than the fire version. I've seen a number of them painted up and everyone seems to have gone for very similar paint schemes, none of which I liked very much. I found them quite boring and wasting alot of the detail on the model. I'm not going to link or display any here because I really doubt people will be happy for me to show their photos as examples of work I don't think is good.

I have of course got the GW studio pictures to hand. The Phoenix has two model types: flamespyre and frostheart. Original names I know. The model itself is gorgeous. Very well sculpted. Interesting, with a good balance of details across the span of the model and along it's length. It has enough unique elements to set it apart from the pre-existing griffon and flying models that are out there.

But the paint jobs are just so damn boring and minimum effort. I thought two things to moment I picked up the box; 'That's a really nice sculpt' and 'I can paint that better'.

Flamespyre Phoenix Side View

Flamespyre Phoenix Top View

Frostheart Phoenix Side View

Frostheart Phoenix Top View

It's all just really basic, dull shades with half hearted highlighting. Whats the point of having those details - the extra flame licks, the snowflakes, if you are just going to paint it the same as the surrounding model?

I went for the Frostheart model because I like the cold elements more and wanted to paint something not red after the ordeal that was my Ork Bomba a while ago.

Putting the model together was straightforward. No mold lines that were hard to remove - it seemed like they'd put some more thought into it than usual and everything was easy to scrape off without going around delicate details. Very sturdy as well. All the individual tails parts and feathers are firm and wont break easily.

I decided that although I liked the blue for the base colour I did not like how ... bland the original paint job looked, or how dull the base colours were.

Here's my current progress on the model. I know I am sorely lacking in technical skill compared to alot of the phoenix paint jobs out there, but I'm much happier with this design than the standard one. For each section I'll list the colours I used and how I painted it.

I left the model in sections because I wanted a couple of sharp colours changes without needing to masking tape hundreds of fiddly bits.

I started with the Vallejo model colour primer in white, applied in 3 fine, thinned layers with a airbrush. Then I laid down a basecoat of deep blue, again with the airbrush.

Then I used a turquoise colour (I started with hawk turqouise but changed to the VMC equivalent, much nicer paint) in the airbrush and sprayed it over the model at a 35 degree angle. I kept the paintbrush aimed as I usually do - for me this is angled diagonally down at the desk - and then tilted the model so the bottom of the feathers were pointed nearly straight down. I used light, quick coats. 

Doing it at an angle meant that there was a natural fade in the colour and it developed contrast and shadows straight away. I did this with progressively lightened shades of turquoise - made by adding in lighter turqouise paint and then a cream colour paint - and sprayed at a progressively sharper angle. The closer I was to the wing tips the more fine and delicate I made the spray. The sharpness of the shadows and strength of the contrast between the feathers did reduce but I knew I was going to bring it back with washes later on, so focused more on getting a pretty fade than precision application.

I didn't take many pictures of the step by step progress because I was having too much fun to stop painting. I applied this technique to the head as well, and the section of feathers that go into the indentation along the spine that you can see above. 

This image is a bit further alone in the paint process but illustrates the pieces that I'm talking about and how they look with the airbrushing applied. You can see as well; when I finished airbrushing them and began brushwork, I painted the tiny snowflakes in between the feathers in white. These details were neat but fiddly to get good coverage on with pooling or the patience of a saint. The helmet got a silver basecoat in advance of gryphon sepia and devlun mud washes to give it an old, majestic gold look. There's also a gloss coat because the paint was fragile. 

Next step was restoring the contrast and shadows. I diluted asurman blue wash about 1:2 or 1:3 wash:water and, using a 0 winsor and newton brush, applied it about a millimeter away from the overlap of the feathers and then drew the bristles up towards the corner where the layers met. I did this with minimal wash in my brush. You need a lot less than you think you do to get a meaningful amount of colour down. It is better to start of with less than it is to start with more and accidentally swamp the model. If this did happen, I just used a clean, tiny bit damp, fluffy paintbrush I had to the side and sponged it up. 

It took about three layers to build up proper shadows again. I knew the mixture was right and I was painting in the correct amount when the first bit I laid down was dry by the time I had worked it into the crevices on the rest of the wing. 

Again these pictures are from further along in the painting process but after the washes the shadows were left alone for the rest of the painting process. You can see where it goes into deep, softly blended shadows between each feathers and between each layer. I also added a few dabs of wash between some of the feathers on the top of the main body, but it was less necessary than on the wings because there is a much sharper transition between feathers on the back. 

 After I had re added the shadows I decided I wanted the outermost feathers to fade closer to a creamy, almost white turqouise colour. You can see this in the above pictures. It was just achieved by mixing light turouise (VMC) with cream paint and airbrushing on successive layers and occasionally adding a touch more cream to it.

This still didn't have enough detail or contrast for me so I decided to mix in some of my favourite painting style, that you've seen when I posted my garden of more WIPs. I diluted the cream colour I had been using about 1:3 paint to water. Using a winsor and newton 0 brush again I held the model so the feathers were pointing away from me. With a slow but steady hand I pulled the brush away from me on all the outside edges of the feathers. I did one layer on each feather before going back and repeating it. I also drew the highlights down the centre of feathers that had a prominent line sculpted into them.

It took 3 or 4 layers to get the strong, full cream colour coat. Now this meant that I had the lightest colour next to the darkest colour. It also meant I had a bit more than just 'airbrush blend' on the model. I was really pleased I had gotten my favoured painting style mixed into the more natural blending style.

This is what it looks like across the whole wing spread now. 

That's the state the body is currently in, and I'd say it's 95% finished. I applied the technique I'd used on the wings to the crest as well. 

I used a paintbrush to add in the last few turqouise blends, using thinned layers and a gradual increase of cream paint to keep the transition smooth as it is on the rest of the model. I couldn't do this part with the airbrush because the details were too fine. The shadows just got coloured in. I also reinforced the shadows here the same as I did on the wings. Then I took my trust W&N 0 and the cream paint again. This time I only thinned it 1:1. I had carefully loaded up on a small bit of paint and then brushed it out until the bristles were flat. Then I ran the flattened bristles perpendicular to the edges of each flick. I didn't paint it the same way as the feathers because these bits aren't flat and there was too big a chance I would slip a tiny bit and just paint white in the crevices.

I did this a few times, starting further up the section as I went so the white was stronger and lighter at the top. The final colour was still lighter than the white snowflakes though.

I used brushwork again to finish the highlights on the feathers of the head for the same reason as on the above piece. The helmet was heavily washed with devlin mud. When that had fully dried it received a layer of gryphon sepia. The top section was highlighted with a dense gold colour. This was washed again with gryphon sepia. The edges of the gold was blended in with careful, diluted layers of devlin mud and gryphon sepia painted starting just after the join and then pulled towards the outside of the model.

The eye was basecoated white, the tongue red, and the beak shadow grey. The raised sections of the eye area with painted with the lightest colour that had been used on the surrounding feathers, and dilute blue wash painted carefully into the creases.

 The wing tips were painted and scrubbed clean at least three times before I settled on a look I liked. I decided I saw them as magical extensions of the wing, not just extra long feathers. Like a magical, icey trail behind it. I wanted it to have a sharp colour change but still be within the same theme. Up until now I had use warm versions of all the colours I applied, or as warm as I could. I started with a mix of VMC emerald as the basecoat, to give a blue green tint to the most shadowed section and a contrast to the main model. Then I made up colder versions and started with a very pale mix of VMC blue-green and white. This was applied with an airbrush over a couple of layers. 

This was then switched for a nearly pure white, thinned with water and medium until it was translucent. I airbrushed this onto the last 1/5 of the feathers. I started at the furthest part of each tip and gradually made my way inwards using very delicate and very fast movements with the brush. I kept angling the piece when I airbrushed it like I had done with the body before, to make sure I caught the lightest colours on the edges and left the darkest shades in the deepest parts. 

I was originally going to paint the snowflakes here white but thought it look too boring against the pale background. I decided I would paint the smaller ones white - as I had done on the front section of the model - and paint the larger ones gold to match the armour on the model. I didn't think I would be able to paint them silver and then wash them without having to painstakingly draw lots of thinned wash layers over each one, so decided to go with a straight gold from VMC. This turned out to be too bright compared to the helmet so I have ended up spending hours colouring them in with mud and sepia washes anyway. The golds are slowly starting to match though!

 I have found it almost impossible to photograph this section properly. I need to get a couple of extra lights then put it on a dark background I think - everything is too washed out with a light background. For now I guess this shows it off fine.

I redid the same things with the shadows as I did earlier - this time with the wash very heavily diluted and with a tiny touch of green in. Disaster struck when I was painting one of the wings. My asurman blue had died without my realising and as a result I painted speckly, grainy blue into the shadows of one wing. It looked awful. I had to repaint alot of the wing - and all the blending - by hand using a tiny paintbrush. It was awful! I was actually holding them over the dettol tub about to drop them both in - because the blue wash had made it look so bad - but stopped myself at the last second.

I was quite chuffed though. When I have the right set up I'll photo them both side by side. You can only see the difference looking very closely. The power of hundreds of thing layers!

That's where I'm at so far.

The tail section is currently bare plastic. I had it partally painted and then accidentally washed over something with the wrong mix and ruined it. It has since been for a swim in dettol and scrubbed clean, just waiting to be sprayed again.

The final details; gems, armour, eyes, etc will be painted over the following week. Check back soon!

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