‘Comic Style’ Painting

Sources & Inspiration: Marc Chee and his Inky Boyz, Mike Cousins of Epic Duck Studios, the awesome Borderlands inspired Tau by Ork Paintboy, and a lifetime filled with comics and cartoons

Now I am far from an expert but I have painted a few different minis in this sort of style, which also gets called cell-shaded or pen & ink style. Due to the stark contrast and uncommon appearance, a warband or entire army of minis painted this way really gets people’s attention. To me it also conveys a lighthearted tone, and subconsciously reminds you that this is a game you’re playing for fun so don’t take yourself too seriously. The downside is that people usually find it hard to have a more serious, immersive narrative gaming experience when their grimdark guys are on the table next to such completely different looking models. Because of that, I only plan on using this style to paint stuff for smaller skirmish games where I’m not as invested in the storytelling experience (Malifaux, Underworlds, etc…).

I have been painting up more of my Rasputina crew for Malifaux lately, so I thought I would document the process with this older, metal December Acolyte I had lying around. It’s surprisingly easy to do, you really only need to be able to paint clean lines. Keeping the color scheme fairly basic helps too, you don’t want these guys to be too busy and take away from the effect.

Unlike what you might usually do, when painting in this style we don’t actually want smooth transitions between colors. We want our shadow, mid-tone, and highlights to be distinct blocks of color to sell the hand-drawn effect. We’ll be drawing in shadows with black and doing some final highlights in white so you still end up with a good range of tones for each color. I’d recommend using a larger brush (size 2-3) for most of this since we aren’t too worried about little details until we get to the final steps.

Since I’m imagining them to be outside on a bright, snowy day I’m just going with the typical sort of top-down lighting, and I’m ignoring the light that would be reflecting off of the snow on the bases because I don’t think it is at all necessary with this style. To start off I block in each of my colors with the mid-tones I’ve chosen.

Next I look at the model from below to see all the surfaces that should be in shadow, then start painting all of those surfaces in their respective shadow colors. I’m being careful to use clean lines and following the shape of the surface.

Then it’s time to do the exact opposite, looking down at the model from above and blocking in areas with your first highlight color. Unless an entire surface is being hit directly by the light I make sure to leave some of the mid-tone showing, so that there is a bit of a gradient.

I repeat that same process again with the each highlight, covering a smaller area than I did with the previous. By now you should start to see the look you were going for, but if something seems off this is the time to fix it. Since we aren’t blending our layers together this technique is very forgiving, just go back with whatever color you need and clean up any lines you need to. You still don’t need to worry about fine details, just keep your lines nice and clean.

Now with that done you have a pretty cool looking mini already, all that is left is the line work and maybe some final highlights with white. The blacklining and shading we here is what ties everything together and gives your miniature character. I switch to a smaller brush for this so I can paint some finer lines and get into those little recesses.

To start, I mix up black paint and black ink so the black has a thin consistency but still completely covers the underlying paint with a single brushstroke. Then I trace along the joints where different parts of the miniature meet, such as where a hand meets a sleeve. Once that is finished you can start going around the model shading some of darker areas with little lines, picking out little details, or even creating details and textures of your own like scratches on armour. Sometimes I want to emphasize the shape or curvature of a surface so I’ll paint a long, straight line, you can really just do whatever feels right. I have a lot of fun with this step, but less is definitely more (I have done a bit too much cross-hatching here and on the big ice golem for example).

Lastly you can paint on some reflection lines with pure white if there are any highly reflective surfaces like metal. You can trust your gut with this, but for some excellent examples of what it could look like I suggest checking out some Epic Duck Studios videos.

Well, that’s that then! A very quick paintjob that looks pretty unique, and it lets me get away with a bit of sloppiness here and there. If you invest more time you can absolutely get incredible results, but I like that these don’t need to be perfect.

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