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  • Painting Lighting Effects


    I have had a few requests to share my method of how I achieved the lighting effects on my Fire Dragon Exarch and The Rescue of Sister Joan. I am grateful for the feedback but have avoided the question because the technique is still quite experimental. I do not actually yet have a set in stone method of achieving it. In fact both these models used quite different techniques. I will share what I've learned so far and hope it inspires others to develop the technique further.

    The idea for Joan came from looking at paintings by the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt. Some of these paintings feature candle lit figures and started me wondering if the same could be done in 3D. I also work in the theatre and have an appreciation of how much lighting can influence the dramatic impact of a scene.

    There are some important points to keep in mind when trying this effect. Light only travels in straight lines so only something that is in the direct path of the light source will reflect it. The closer to the source, the more intense the reflection. The reflection should never be brighter then the light source itself. For example look at this test model of a necron immortal.

    -The green on the gun (light source) is the lightest ie. brightest green on the model.
    -The planes of the model that are most oblique (facing towards) to the source will appear brightest. Eg. the tips of his chin and nose are brighter than his upper lip.
    -The surfaces closest to the source will appear brighter. Eg. The left side of his chest shows a bright reflection while on the right side the reflection fades out.
    -Only the planes that can trace a direct line to the source show the reflection. Eg. His chest is in line with the source but the tops of his head, shoulder plates and collar bone are not.
    The necron, Sister Joan and the Fire Dragon all followed these basic rules but the actual painting of each model used quite different techniques.

    This was my first attempt at painting lit models. The scenery and figures were painted separately. I did not seriously attempt to paint reflected torchlight on the figures themselves. I simply shaded and highlighted them as normal while keeping a rough idea of where the light was coming from. I made sure that the surfaces closest to the light source were painted lighter and those in shadow were darker and heavily shaded. I did not add any orange "light" to the figures themselves.
    The dramatic lighting in this scene was mostly achieved with the stone scenery. I started by painting it as normal, just dry brushing with progressively lighter greys to create a normal stone effect. I then temporarily placed the witch hunter figure in position and stuck a pin in the stonework directly behind the flame of the torch.
    After removing the figure the pin served as a marker for the light source. Working outwards from the pin I dry brushed a large circular area of stone with a dark red, and the same in a large pool around the position of the witch hunter's feet. Orange was gradually added to the red and the process repeated in smaller circles finishing up with the brightest orange (but not as bright as the torch itself) directly behind the torch in the position marked by the pin.

    The challenge of this model was to achieve the lighting effect without the help of the scenery. To make it work all the reflected light would have to be painted onto the figure itself. I started by painting the model and finishing his armour in NMM greys. I then carefully painted orange ink onto the areas in line with the flame. Adding more and more ink to the surfaces closest to the source to create a more intense colour. The same technique was applied to the base. The other parts of the model were painted and highlighted with the highlights directed towards the source as seen on the dragon skin.

    The necron uses another technique again. The model was painted and highlighted in a NMM grey. Then dark angels green was painted on to all the surfaces reflecting the light. I continued highlighting, adding bilbous green to the dark angels and carefully picking out the surfaces closest to the source.

    I have really only scratched the surface of this effect. You may have noticed that most of my "lit" models are grey. I find neutral or dark colours the easiest to light. I'm not sure how you would achieve for example a green light on a red surface. I have also used NMM because you can control the direction of the reflections. I'm not sure if it would be possible to light MM. There are other things that need further experimentation, lighting faces, furs, gems, etc. all present their own challenges. I strongly recommend looking at some 2D painting that feature painted light sources. Recently I have seen some examples of it done with larger scale military figures and flats too.
    I hope this information is helpful to other painters. Please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions. I will continue to experiment with lighting effects and would love to see other painters apply it and develop the idea further. It has a lot of potential can be quite eye catching if done well, after it was this effect that won me my sword. More pics of these models can be seen at
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