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I chose an old Ral Partha AD&D Fire Elemental for my demonstration model, partly because it's always my favorite Fire Elemental sculpt (the Rackham version is gorgeous, but not traditional enough in the style of the flames). Dennis Mize put a lot of motion into the figure, too, making it look like a twirling column of flame - perfect for my purposes!

SHADING - Painting fire is contrary to the normal way of doing shading. The lighter parts will be at the base and vice versa. Keeping with the idea of a strata of flames, each subsequent layer is made darker as we go up the fire, but the highlights are also darkened, so the yellow-white base will have pure white highlighting, while the dark orange top will have orange. To keep this from getting too formulaic, a little light yellow and white is used periodically to call out the tips of the flames, regardless of what layer they fall under. This mimics a fire's natural tendency to shoot out licks of hotter flame as it burns.

BRIGHTNESS - Another important thing to keep in mind when painting fire is to keep the colors vibrant. Over-darkening the shadows or darkening the brights unnecessarily will make the fire dull. Therefore, to keep a sense of vibrancy I used a very bright underlying white basecoat, washed initially with the base yellow color and then washed with progressively redder tones to gradually darken the flames as they went up the figure. This series of washes establishes the light/dark areas so I could go back in and blend the lighter tones up from bottom to top. I also added darker tones into the recesses as I went up, to make the lighter tips of the flames stand out more.

GLAZES - Glazes of ink or translucent paints are very useful while painting fire. Not only do they work well to restore areas of color to their original shade, they do so without darkening the underlying color too much, helping keep the overall brightness high. So while painting this figure, I made judicious use of Vallejo translucent colors to bring the values back up. Highlighting with white 'tints' (or dilutes) the value of colors like yellow and orange (making them look creamy). Glazing with an appropriate ink restores their original values. Likewise I used glazes when blending areas of the figure, giving me a wet layer to blend into while adding vibrancy.

PAINTS - All colors were from the Vallejo Game Color range, with translucents from the Model Color range.
Here are the mixtures I used (in addition to individual washes of color, as noted in the text):

Lightest Shade Skull White (GC 1)
Highlight Skull White (GC 1) + Gold Yellow (GC 7)
Basecoat Gold Yellow (GC 7)
1st Darker Shade Gold Yellow (GC 7) + Orange Fire (GC 8) + Skull White (GC 1) (1-2 drops)
2nd Darker Shade Gold Yellow (GC 7) (1 drop) + Orange Fire (GC 8)
3rd Darker Shade Orange Fire (GC 8) (1drop) + Hot Orange (GC 9)
Darkest Shade Hot Orange (GC 9) + Gore Red (GC 11) (1-2 drops)
Wash #1 Translucent Yellow (MC 184)
Wash #2 Translucent Orange (MC 185)

Click on thumbnails for larger images.

STEP 1 - The miniature has been primed with GW White Primer. I don't bother to clean up any uneven spots as I'll be covering them up with the next layer anyway.
STEP 2 - To assure the colors are as vibrant as possible I undercoat the figure with Vallejo Model Color Foundation White. Two thin coats are enough to provide a bright, unified layer and clean up any primer unevenness.
STEP 3 - The basecoat is applied. This is not a normal opaque basecoat, but a thinned wash of Gold Yellow over the white. The object here is to create a base tone of yellow, while letting the white show through a little to keep the figure bright.
STEP 4 - A wash of Orange Fire is applied next. This starts to establish where the recesses/highlights fall naturally in the sculpt.
STEP 5 - A second wash of Orange Fire finishes the process. The detail in the flames is clearly demarked now, allowing me to use the highlights and shadows as my guide for the highlighting steps to follow.
STEP 6 - A wash of Orange Fire + Hot Orange is applied to the upper 2/3rds of the figure. This starts to establish the strata of the fire.

I keep my washes thin so I don't obscure the highpoints of the details: you can still see the underlying yellow highlights showing through the orange shading.
STEP 7 - Next a wash of pure Hot Orange is applied to the upper half. The striations of color typical of fire are starting to form.

STEP 8 - Finally a very thin wash of Gore Red is applied to the upper 1/3 of the model, establishing the darkest shade. Now we have 3-4 bands of flame, with the lighest at the base and darkest at the top.

Now that I've established the underlying layers of color in the fire, I'm ready to start highlighting the tips to bring back the brightness of the flames.

STEP 9 - Working wet on wet, I begin blending the Gold Yellow + Skull White light shade into the bottom 1/3 of the mini. As you can see the white is beginning to make the base look a little creamy and desaturated.

STEP 10 - To increase the brightness of the flames, I blend pure Skull White on the high points of the base. I also stipple white onto the flat areas which have no sculpted details, to simulate embers.

To fix the saturation problem I apply a thinned glaze of Translucent Yellow over the bottom 1/3 of the figure. You can see how the yellow tone is re-established.


STEP 11 - Since the glaze tints the white highlights yellow too, I work back into them with pure Skull White, trying to catch only the very tops.

I ditch the stippling effect for more of a swirled pattern, in keeping with the rest of the sculpt.


STEP 12 - I blend Gold Yellow in the middle 1/3 of the figure, ending roughly around the 'eyes' to establish the middle strata of the fire.

I work in Gold Yellow + Orange Fire and Orange Fire + Hot Orange shades into the highlighting in the top 1/3 of the model. This creates a darker contrast for the final layer of highlights to follow.

I use Skull White to pick out some of the flame crests in the middle 1/3. This helps further define the flames against the orange.

STEP 13 - Now it's time to inject some darker shades at the top of the flames. I start by giving the top half of the model a glaze of Translucent Orange, using Vallejo Glazing Medium in the mix to keep it from getting glossy.

This is followed by another wash over the top 1/3, with just a touch of Vallejo Smoke added (10:1 with the orange). Go easy here - Smoke is a potent color.

I start layering on the highlights using Orange Fire + Hot Orange in the top half. Pure Orange Fire is used at the tips to make them brighter.

Finally, I use
Hot Orange + Gore Red and layer it only in the 'valleys' between the tips to darken them further.




STEP 14 - I continue to layer highlights into the top 1/3 of the figure, using the Gold Yellow + Orange Fire mix. This is painted on only the edges and tips of the flames, leaving the darker valleys between the flames untouched.

If I make a mistake and layer into the darker areas, I clean it up with the Hot Orange + Gore Red mix (or Orange Fire + Hot Orange mix if it was in a lighter area).

I also liberally use the Translucent Orange wash over the whole area as I layer, which helps the paint flow and feather much more smoothly. The glaze of orange also helps clean up any chalkiness in the highlights.




STEP 15 - in this next step I concentrate on emphasizing the highlights at the very top of the figure. Starting with a glaze of Translucent Orange I blend in the following set of shades:

  • Orange Fire + Hot Orange
  • Gold Yellow + Orange Fire
  • Gold Yellow
  • Skull White + Gold Yellow

Each is wet-blended into the previous layer. If the results look a little chalky I use someTranslucent Orange to smooth it out.

Finally I layer on some thinned Skull White + Gold Yellow to emphasize particular areas (around the eye-sockets and some of the flame-tips). I also layer on more Skull White into the base 1/3 flames, as the bottom looks a little yellow from the previous step.




STEP 16 - The final step is to add some focused dark shading to the upper 1/3 of the model. I use a mix of Hot Orange + Gore Red initially. It's layered into the recesses between the flame-tips. I follow this with pure Gore Red at the very top of the flames.

Finally the eye-sockets are picked out with Gore Red mixed with a touch of Smoke.

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All images and text Copyright 2004 Laszlo Jakusovszky