Tips to Paint Realistic (and Interesting) Skin
How to Paint Your Mini to Look Awesome and Realistic
So, you like to paint minis, and have been wanting to up your skin painting game. Well, how about we jump into that?
First Things First: Skin 101
You can achieve the basic skin tones, as you know, in several ways. One of the most popular, if we are talking about good old boring human skin, is using orange, brown, purple, yellow, black and white, depending on the tone.
But how do you go further, beyond the safe and boring? You want to play with the skin tones and try to find your own way to do it, right? You want to give them something that sets one mini apart from the next one.
Light and Shadow
Using contrast is something everyone thinks about when painting. In miniatures it’s very important to think in scale, and what we are able to highlight to see and perceive better. When we talk about skin tones and small minis, using the right amount of light and dark can be the difference between a clever nose and some deep eyes and an indistinct blur of color.
Of course, our eyes are limited in what we can see. So, unless you really want to, you don’t need machine precision in every detail (things change if you are painting a statue, though). But look closely, what can contrast do for this mini? Maybe we want his eyes to be lost in shadow and the suggestion of a five o’clock shadow on their scoundrel chin. Or a glowy bright for a fairy noble that makes the room lighter just for being there. The light and shadow can surely help the visibility and usual appearance. But we can go further in what it can do.
Not Every Skin Is Instagrammable
When we approach fantasy, sci-fi and overall fiction, we are mostly used to thinking about Hollywood skin for heroes and protagonists and shady tones for villains and monsters. But why should it be that way?
We can learn from our mistakes and deconstruct some preconceived notions. What if you want your paladin to have a rugged and sickly skin because of how much time he has seen without sleep. Or maybe your space diplomat is inspired by a certain Admiral from that famous space fantasy franchise and you want him to have a bluish tone to his complexion.
Wrinkles are hard to do depending on the scale, but it’s very possible to represent a yellowish sickly skin, or a paler Twilight inspired vampire that looks like his make-up was a little overdone. Even your fantasy races don’t have to all be the exact same skin-tone. Not every lizard man has lived the same life and been exposed to the same amount of sun and bad weather.
Variation and Context
Since we are talking about lives and what they do to skins, should our cargo beasts, monsters and strange and mysterious creatures come from the same places? If you are using the minis in a D&D campaign, you could even surprise them with a goblin that has a kind of strange skin tone. What’s so special about them?
And, about the odd ones out, what about nobility? Should they have the same skin tone as the peasants? Should race, a concept that even biologists say is not as precise or easy to define as we used to think decades ago, define so much of what a person, creature or inexplicable eldritch abomination looks like?
Food stains, rusty glasses, a stained beard (due to smoking?), those may not always be really “skin”, but, in minis, we can argue that everything that covers them directly kind of is.
Adventure and Getting Beaten Up
Scars. Scars are bloody, make people look tough, or gritty. And scars are very cool, if you are going for that kind of aesthetics. A little splash of red can make your grizzled war veteran look even tougher. A little line across the eye and a gray splash can make a handsome young character look like they have seen better days.
What do you prefer on your minis? To keep them looking as sharp and minty as possible or make them look like time is something no one can avoid?
Time to Experiment
So we talked about a lot of alternative ways you can paint skin. And skin is an organ that covers most of the body of the more common species we see in minis. Time to get your hands dirty and make these concepts happen. But how?
Well, there are several ways.
We have talked about light and shadow, the old NES palette swap to create unique characters, scars, age, life marks, stains. Everything can help you think of alternative stories and deliver those things you thought about. But also, you don’t need to.
You can paint your minis the way you want to. And that’s not a way of saying that, as in an elementary school art class, everything will be seen as a beautiful effort. But you can do it.
There are some people that enjoy building their own stories on their mind while they paint, thinking about the way that misplaced black dot is an evil warning about the downfall of the sacred gold order of Wizards that has been in this world since the gods first built it. And there are people that like to try different colors and say “Huh, guess what, I DO like my goblins better when they are navy blue”.
There’s something relaxing and a little bit zen about trying colors and doing with them as you think it’s better. Of course, you want your minis to be awesome and you try to paint them with the greatest techniques. But you will only know the ways you like them better as you go.
Painting minis is something, as almost every art form or hobby, that you only get better as you keep doing. You will try new paints, new brushes, airbrushes, new colors and tones. Maybe, as you get more confident, you will get bolder. And that will lead to wonderful mistakes and new discoveries.
And if, sometimes, you slip a little bit on the skin tones and don’t achieve exactly what you wanted, hey, I’m sure purple orcs are canon in some universe.
Loot Studios can help you paint highly detailed minis, statues and props. Choose your favorite bundle from our previous releases or sign up for Fantasy or Sci-Fi to receive a new bundle every month. You can also check out some tips at our YouTube Channel.