This bust is from the Exquis line by Ouroboros Miniatures, a range of more modern female busts as opposed to the plethora of sci-fi, fantasy, and historic busts out there. Now when I bought this bust I had never painted one before, so I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I didn’t want to be overambitious with an extremely complex one, but I also didn’t want to stay entirely in my comfort zone either. I ended up picking Léa because female faces are something I really want to get better at painting, and the sculpt is both beautiful and simple. All there is to her is a hoodie, hair, and skin, so it would be up to me to create a story.
So the question was, what kind of story did she have to tell? The sculpt itself is very passive, she is facing downward and has her hands pulling her hood over her head, very much isolating her from her surroundings. David Colwell did an incredible, sad interpretation of her already, so I didn’t want to do the same. I actually became frustrated with how passive she was, feeling like a sad story was the only option really (of course that is not actually true). However, details in the sculpt were telling me that she was a strong, even rebellious person. The piercing, her decision to wear the hoodie without a shirt on underneath, she felt like someone with more to express. My own feelings must have transferred to her, because I suddenly realized she could be frustrated herself! Maybe on her way home after a late night out, being harassed by some drunken morons across the street. Maybe she got in an argument with a friend or significant other and stormed off?
I got a strong feeling that whatever her story might be, it was nighttime for her and she was outside. To show this I initially wanted to do a strong dark blue shadow, but blue feels too calm so I decided that purple would suit her much better. The hoodie would be a deep red, the color of anger and passion, to again help set the mood. Her skin I wanted to light somewhat harshly from an angle, which is something I had never tried before but would hopefully seem more like streetlights or moonlight. It would also make it easier for me to create convincing illusions of creases and wrinkles on her face because I could exaggerate them more. This was important because now I wanted to paint an angrier expression on her face than what she is sculpted with. The model itself very smooth, so I’d need to fake things like furrowed brows.
Anyway, that was the plan so how did I actually go about trying to make it all happen? I began as I usually do, with black primer followed by white primer from the angle of the light. I took reference photos of this from all angles to help me later.
If I’m being honest, things did not start off looking very promising. The only colors I was using for the skin were Naggaroth Night and Kislev Flesh, I guess for simplicity’s sake but I’m not really sure there’s a good reason here. The purple tones in her skin made her look like a zombie, but as I added more and more skin tone it quickly improved. Just adding the indication of a furrowed brow transformed her expression completely and that was when I knew that this idea had a chance of actually working. I kept working on the skin for a long time, taking lots of pictures in different lights and with different backgrounds to make sure I was on the right track. The whole time I was definitely still making glaring mistakes, but it felt really good to watch her come to life.
Right there at the end I was feeling happy with the skin and started to paint her hair, but without really thinking about it. The plain black hair had been growing on me so I wanted to keep it black, but then I began adding cool blue tones to the highlights and quickly ended up somewhere completely different. Cool tones in general were a mistake there, because the piece as a whole is very warm, the lighting from above is warm, and blueish highlights just read as dark blue hair here. I leaned into it at first, then decided it wasn’t for me and I would come back later to change it.
Taking that short break from the skin allowed me to come back to her face with fresh eyes, and I began to see so many things that I wanted to change or do better. That really dark line along the nose on the lit side of her face was one big one, as well as her eyebrows, the texture of her lips, and more. I noted some of these thoughts down on a picture so I wouldn’t forget and then started working on the most glaring issues first.
So here’s the thing, the model then sat on a shelf for the next 8 months. What I had been really excited about was painting the face and getting that practice in, and with more exciting things to paint I just didn’t have the motivation to come back to work on her. When I finally did, it was just to see if I could touch her up in a couple hours so that I would be able to call her finished and cross this project off my mental list of things to eventually get around to. I didn’t take any photos of the progress and I didn’t do anything terribly exciting either, but here is the finished version of her at last.
The hair took a few tries but it turned out going pink instead of blue with the highlights looked much better, that was a little unexpected. I don’t love the way the eyebrows look, or the hoodie really, but I’m very proud of all that I learned when working on her face and I look forward to another bust at some point in the future!