Saturation, Isolation, Containment

by Alex Castro

The concept of saturation, isolation, and containment, came to me out of frustration! When I started painting figures, my friends called me “Buck,” because my work spent more time in the bucket of solution than on the drawing table. I couldn’t get the effect I wanted. An artist By training, I assumed that painting these miniatures would not be difficult. After all I was a talented creative artist that had been schooled in the fine arts. In addition, my fellow colleagues were constantly debating with me that painting miniatures was not an art form.

 I viewed these figures as a three dimensional canvas, one-step beyond the regular canvas. I was determined to devote myself to this growing field of art and improve my skills and techniques. Painting miniatures carried a spirit of pioneering. The figures have the potential of looking alive! The issue here is how does one go about creating an aesthetically “realistic” figure? How does one translate techniques from the canvas to the figures? I remember a highly respected collector’s words, “I have come across a lot of very competent Artist, but they can’t paint figures. You have to have a knack for them.” Pondering his words, I realized that what he really meant was that figures require special skills and techniques unique to them, which only certain masters know.

Modeling and painting figures, in my opinion, is a mental process. One has to be able to understand the Technical difficulties, as well as the aesthetic end game before embarking on a painting strategy that Works. The first step is to look for the rough spots; anticipate any problems that may arise during the building and painting stages. This will help you to assess your limitations. Another words, do you have the concepts and techniques necessary to complete the piece? If the answer is no, put the piece aside and come back to it later. Believe me it will save you a lot of grief. There are three underlying principles that can be applied to most figures that have assisted me in producing an aesthetically pleasing realistic figure: saturation, isolation, and containment.

 The principle of saturation implies to look at the whole, to cover entirely, to soak, to fill, or load to capacity. The principle of isolation is to separate from the group, or whole, and set apart. And lastly, the principal of containment means to have within; enclose, to be able to hold; or keep within limits. In the past, when I didn’t know what approach to take on certain pieces, it usually meant that I was not applying these principles correctly. Let me illustrate. One day, I was attempting, to paint a 25mm fantasy lead figure. It was a beautiful piece, consisting of a treasure-trove and a wonderful dragon. The base was as large as the palm of my hand, and about six inches tall. As I examined the piece to see what approach I would take, it became apparent that the challenge was to visualize the end result. This required critical analysis of the piece. When examining the piece, I was overwhelmed with the number of items it contained such as gold, coins, jewels, pearls, beautiful ornaments, skeleton parts, weapons, and a host of other items. The first question that crossed my mind is do I paint the parts or the whole?

After pondering for some time, I decided that the entire treasure-trove had to be painted for two reasons: it allows you to orchestrate the whole piece and it allows you to develop a relationship (symbioses) with the other parts not yet painted. This I call saturation. Let me explain. First by orchestrating the whole I mean to paint the treasure-trove as one continuous piece, not in fragments. This sets up the groundwork for the other two principles: isolation, and containment. I randomly splash different dark earth tones, even black, on the treasure, letting each dry. One of my favorite colors is soot, which I make by mixing equal parts of black and brown. I apply soot over the entire piece as a final wash. It should be noted that in this stage we are looking for randomization, rather than order. Once the paint dries, the dark tones set up the groundwork for the other objects to emerge, creating a relationship or symbioses with the mass, in this case the treasure-trove.

As these clunks of matter emerged, I start to differentiate or isolate them by randomly painting them with precious metals like copper, gold, brass, and silver. At this level, I am isolating the parts for a visual effect. This is the principle of isolation.

Lastly, the principle of containment comes into play. The individual items are painted separately bringing out the details. At this point, the weapons, steel, jewels, etcetera, are brought out. The three principles of saturation, containment and isolation, interplay creating an effect of a continuous whole but separateness.

In conclusion, the concepts that I have outlined are the essence of my work. I hope that this book will become your workbook for miniature painting. I expect that the pictures, concepts and how-to sections will simulate and inspire you in seeing for yourself what can be done and that these results are achievable. I hope that you will be encouraged to paint more, with confidence, and with the pleasure and joy that that will enable you to enjoy this beautiful art form. Written by Alex Castro

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