Painting a dragon… This little phrase often mean an imminent nightmare for a lot of us. They are big and iconic creatures. They are fierce and command respect. They are also something deeply imprinted in our geeky culture. You cannot really reinvent the wheel with a dragon. They are, like someone would say, a fix point in time. Of course I could have painted it in pink and turquoise in order the relive my Raphael phase, but… I would probably have nightmare from the lack of respect.

The other hurdle with this one is that dragons themselves are iconic, but this model more so. It is one of the grand, a classic dating back from the age of Ral Partha. It was sculpted by Dave Summers and inspired by the illustrations of Larry Elmore. I think it is impossible to actually have a miniature inspire more respect than this piece. There’s a reason why these dragons were reedited by Dark Sword, even if they date back to another century (yeah, yeah, I’m laying it thick). They cannot be replaced. Even though more and more dragons, with more and more details and finesse are released, these will remain the reference.

Being a classic is great, but when you never paint classics… it definitely becomes an issue. Most of you are accustomed to my selection of minis I work on and this dragon is definitely outside of that range. I have nothing against old school. It is a great style that we all respect and love. Unfortunately, it is usually a type of minis that I find uninspiring. So I had to dig deep to find inspiration for this piece and motivation.

As usual, with most laborious and iconic project, a google image search was done. Out of thousands of images, one thing was clear: there’s only a handful of “accepted” colors. Green, blue, yellow, bronze, silver, gold, white, black and the king of all, red. Anything else looks fake. Not bad or poorly executed, just wrong. I’ve thought about every colors out of the list. I  developed secondary and tertiary color scheme, went outside the box to realise how wrong I was to finally head back to the king of all, red. As usual, when I jump, it is usually all or nothing so I had to tackle what is probably one of the worst color to (ok with the exception of yellow but who really wants a yellow dragon in his or her collection?). And that was only the beginning of the road through the nine circle of hell.

When I set the cost of a commission, it is in prevision of the work I will put into it. Sometimes it goes easier than planned and the job is more profitable. Other times you encounter every unplanned obstacles possible and the job is less profitable. All part of the job. Other times, you evaluate the work properly, in this case let say the equivalent of Montreal-Paris flight, but for some reasons, which goes against every business logical explanation, you decide that in order to fly from Montreal to Paris, you need to make a layover in Sydney (like Sydney Australia…).

So here is a red dragon:

But more on that later. The first step was to assemble this beast. Old school as it is, it is all pewter. No resin, no plastic, all heavy pewter. Furthermore, the request from the client was a bit unusual. I usually develop an intricate display base on a plinth on which the mini is glued. In this case, the mini will be handled and move around which means that I needed to make sure that everything would be sturdy. In addition, I had to think about the manipulation of the beast. I usually hold my minis with a pin vice. I had a feeling that it wouldn’t work in this case. So once again, every part needed to be solidly assembled so that if I had to hold it by the tip of the wing, it would hold. Let simply say that it led to creative pinning and use of putty. I won’t say more on the subject as it would be an entire tutorial by itself.

First step was the primer, a coat of Fine Surface Primer from Tamiya as I do with most majorly airbrushed project. Then came a coat of Minitaire Ancient Bone on the entire model except for the wings.

This step was in fact, not necessary. This is the classic shift of direction during a project.

First thing first, let’s explain a few things when working with such textured project. A good part of this model is covered in scales. There’s 2 approaches possible to it. The first one, which a lot of people would assume is correct with high end job would be to treat every single scale individually. I can hear of lot of you think “are you f…..g crazy?”. Well not entirely. The key of good work is usually definition, which means attention to every details, to a certain limit. The second approach is a more simple one. Only care about the forms of the model, not so much about the texture. Definitely a more available option which will inevitably delay your admission into the insane asylum.

General rule is that the coarser the texture, the more attention you’ll pay to it. The finer the texture the less attention you’ll pay to it. As you will see, the approach taken for this project is a mixture of both. That is part one of the plan. Part 2 was to try something I never did before. Taking the pre-shadow technique, widely used by military modelers, and push it to the extreme. So the plan was to paint a colorful pattern, painting each scale individually, to then cover it with our principal color, red. The original pattern would permeate through the transparency of the acrylic.

It is an easy to use technique on photoshop. You work in layers. If you over do a step, if your color is too opaque, you simply adjust it or remove the layer and start again. With real pigmented paint, not so easy. There’s no such thing as removing a layer or adjusting it unless you want to make the paint more opaque. I still remember a good friend of mine urging me to test it prior to doing it. No such thing as the pressure of the unknown to make sure you succeed, so no test.

So as said, the original ivory layer was not necessary. My initial goal was to paint the pattern in beige and browns based on an illustration of a dragon head I had seen. But that was too neutral to my taste. I wanted more contrast, more deepness, richer colors. So one by one, I painted the scales of the dragon just like a cheesy ABBA musical.

First I applied a coat of Citadel Badab black in order to outline every scales in black quickly. Then, each scales were painted in P3 Trollblood Base, Beaten Purple, Cryx Bane Base and Coal Black. The primary color was Trollblood Base which meant that all other colors were used in order to avoid, most often, 2 scales to be painted in Trollblood side by side. Parts of the wings were airbrushed in Trollblood in order to ensure a more equal transition with these parts when moving to the main color.

So why these colors? If you look at the color wheel, you can spot our main range of colors, going from light orange to deep red are in direct opposition to the colors chosen above. Basically I’m going with two type of contrasts: cool-warm and a complimentary one. A beige to brown pattern would have been within the same range as our main color and too easily covered up. I wanted a strong contrast that would have more impact through the transparency. And they are in my usual palette.

So far so good. It is a long and painful work but anyone can do this given the time. So this is basically our way up the 15 meter tower and getting ready to dive. Did I ever told you I have vertigo?

From the start, I knew that the scale pattern would be more pronounced in the shadow areas. So it was then time to start building the red because in case you forgot, yeah this is a red dragon. To ensure an easier red buildup while still keeping the desired transparency effect to achieve my goal, the following steps were taken:

1) The highlight areas were airbrushed in white:

The white was only to ensure that I could airbrush the next step with more ease. White covers pretty well when airbrushed. Yellow, as with any medium, not so much, especially on darker color. I also wanted to kill the transparency potential which would have turned the yellow in green in these areas. As said earlier, the patterned scales were mostly for the shadow areas. As certain persons already asked, why didn’t I simply painted the pattern in these specific regions? Simply because I tend to take my decisions and calibrate as I go. It is also extremely difficult to properly know exactly where highlights and shadows really start and end this early in a project. Lastly, to ensure a regular transition while building the principal color.

The following step was to prepare the the lighting transition before giving the first coat of red:

Anyone else feels like having a bowl of Fruit Loops? I know I do. The colors used so far were Minitaire Mustard Gas and Hazard Orange. You can see from the close ups below how the transparency effect is starting to show through the orange and how it is entirely stopped where the white was initially applied:

But it still looks quite silly. So now start the red build up which involve a Ghost Tint from the Minitaire range, Fresh Blood. The Minitaire Ghost Tints are what is usually referred to as “candy” colors in the industry. They are a transparent type of paint, giving a glossy finish just like what a candy looks like. They are a great way to play with transparency without too much risk. So basically, you can paint an intricate pattern on a surface using stark colors, like let say the insignia on an eldar craft, and then apply a coat of Ghost Tint on top of it of the specified color of your craftworld. It will quickly unify everything together with a minimum effort.

For those of you willing to give it a try, there’s a few things you ought to know. A Ghost Tint takes 24 to 48 hours to properly dry. Until then, no matter how thick the paint you will put on top of it, the Ghost Tint will always sip through it. So let say I try to apply beige on top of a fresh coat of Fresh Blood, the beige will gradually become pink… You can always apply varnish on top of the Ghost Tint in order to reduce the effect but I would suggest caution.

I first apply a light coat of Fresh Blood to start getting the feel of it:

The above picture isn’t perfect. The yellow was still a bit more present than the picture would indicate. You can observe the development of the transparency effect in the close up below. The scales are now suggesting a hint of red.

But this isn’t a pumpkin dragon so let’s dip it in Fresh Blood and build the red:

And yes your close up for you to see the transparency effect development:

You can now see that the original colors are now only a hint of what they were. But it gives so much more richness to the reds and even though the initial work doesn’t show much, it is still more than worth it. The red was built up on the body and wings, using Minitaire Nebula Red and Regal red in addition to the Ghost Tint. Minitaire Blood Stain Mud and Raven Black were used for the shadows.

Before going any further, I had to paint the inside of the wings and the belly first. Both would use the same colors but be done in two stages as I needed to mask everything in a fashion allowing manipulation.

As usual, I use Tamiya masking tape. Another great way to mask wide area is to simply use simple plastic wrap. It is quite cheap, lightly stick to the surface and won’t let a drop of paint pass through. Ready to shoot:

The basecoat was Minitaire Jaundice to preserve that yellow to red palette. Highlighted with Minitaire Ancient Bone and shadowed with Minitaire Saddle Brown and Blood Stain mud, again to solidify the harmony. It looks more and more like a dragon but there’s still something missing on these scales.

Remember what I said about how to work textured surfaces? How my approach would include both? Well so far, to the exception of the initial color pattern, I only have work on general areas and not on the scale by scale level. Which is what we will do now. Several scales in the highlighted area will be enhanced with yellow and several others will simply have the edges highlighted.

Close ups:

With a simple lining of some edges, and an enhancement of the color of certain scales, I was able to increase the texture. The key here is to make sure that the texture is present, but to not overburden the surface.

Claws, horns and fangs, yes to be airbrushed. As you can see on the previous pictures, they were already basecoated in brown. The one on the tail would have to be hand painted, but the rest were “airbrushable”. First thing first, masking. Once again, the plastic wrap is the quick answer here. Simply let these horns, claws and fangs pierce the plastic wrap and make sure to cover gaps with tape.

Once airbrushed:

Masking removed:

Now you simply have to retouch the base of all of them. Since they were airbrushed from beige to black, I only needed to use pure black to quickly adjust everyone individually.

The final step was simply the base. A quick succession of washes and drybrushes did the trick. The goal was simple, keep harmonized color while keeping the old-school look to it.

My objective was simple, take something more old school and give it a new twist. I personally think I succeeded but ultimately the judgement is yours. I hope this demonstration of the step taken will be instructive for a lot of you.

You can find the final pictures here:


Coolmini link:

In the meantime, keep painting.