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Free Hand Designs

Discussion in 'Post Your Own Articles & SBS' started by Bailey, Apr 16, 2012.

  1. Bailey A Fixture

    One of the things I love to add to my figures is a design or pattern, something unique to make it stand out from the many other versions you may see around the web. This can take the form of a small detail like a line or pattern on a piece of clothing, an emblem on a shield or flag, or a more complicated pattern like a tartan. Painting designs on your figure can really be as simple or as complex as you'd like. I recommend starting small with simple designs and then working your way up to more complex ones as your confidence and skills increase. I know I'm still learning and improving, but I thought I would share my basic approach (and hopefully some follow up examples in the coming weeks and months).

    My focus here is going to be painting designs free hand, as opposed to using a stencil. There are some great stencils out there and I see nothing wrong with using them. However, I like the freedom of painting free hand. You're not limited to the available stencils and sizes. I also like knowing that I did it myself and that the quality of the design matches the quality of the rest of the figure.

    Example 1: Templar Cross
    I'm going to start simple. I'd like to paint a cross on a Templar's surcoat. This figure is 54mm, so I really don't want to go too crazy on this small scale.

    Step 1: Planning
    Always start with a plan. Figure out what you want to paint and where. Think about size and level of detail and decide if it's realistic for you to do. Once I know what I want to do I take a piece of paper and draw the design. If I can't draw it on a flat piece of paper, odds are I'm not going to be able to paint it on the figure. For more complex designs (like an animal on a shield) this is also a good opportunity to work out proportions.
    Here I'm doing a basic Templar's cross. There are a few different cross variants and this is the one I've chosen. Next you'll want to redraw it, this time to scale. Measure your figure. The location I wanted to place the cross was a little over a quarter of an inch tall, so I drew my cross 1/4 of an inch high by 1/4 of an inch wide. If you're doing a design on a shield, trace the shield and draw inside the outline. When drawing to scale, you don't need to include every detail, just enough for the basic idea.
    For more complex designs (like an emblem on a shield) I'll often practice drawing it. In step three you'll be transferring this design to the figure, so you want to have confidence in your drawing abilities and a few practice scale drawings can be very helpful.

    Step 2: Paint the background
    I begin by painting and shading the background for the design. It is a whole lot easier to paint and shade the white without having to paint around my design. As long as I keep the coats smooth I'll have a nice surface to add my design to.

    Step 3: Transfer the design to the figure
    I find I'm better at drawing with a pencil than with a paint brush. So I take my pencil and softly sketch out the pattern on the figure. Don't push too hard, you don't want to rub off any paint. Just draw light enough so you can barely see the line. I use a ruler or my paper image to get the size correct. I don't want one arm of the cross to be shorter or longer than the others.
    Here your lines will be used as a guide. So you don't need every detail, you'll be painting over it anyway. Just enough to help you guide the brush where it needs to go. Depending on your paint color and thickness (or thinness), it may take several coats to completely cover up the pencil. So again, use as few lines as possible. In this case I didn't draw the triangular ends of the cross. I know where they go and I'll just do that with the brush. With a larger scale (say 90mm) I may have added them so I could measure and keep the size consistent.

    Make corrections as needed. I was off in my length for the left side of the cross so I made a second vertical mark to fix it.

    Step 4: Trace design with paint
    Using your lines as a guide, take a small brush and trace over the line with paint. If you're doing a more complex design like on a shield, you may also begin adjusting your picture if your pencil version wasn't exactly how you wanted it. If you go outside the lines, that's okay. If it obscures the pattern, fix it now. If it's a small mistake you can get to it later.

    Step 5: Fill in design
    Once you have your outline traced, go ahead and fill in (or fill out) the design. It may look a little sloppy, that's okay. You'll fix it later. If you can still see the pencil lines, add another coat. Repeat until the pencil line is completely gone.

    Step 6: Shading
    More of a step 5 part 2. As you fill in your design you can add some color variation for shading. I tend to do this more directly by painting the shadows on as opposed to washes that may bleed onto the background... but whatever works for you.

    Step 7: Clean up
    Now take your background color and trace over the edges of your design. Try to sharpen corners, straighten lines, and just generally "make it look better." This process can go back and forth between the design color and the background color. Repeat until you are happy with the end result. A steady hand or a whole lot of patience is what you need here.

    And that is my basic process. With more complex patterns I may add more intermediate steps. You may even draw a second design on top of your first. The key points are:
    Plan ahead
    Draw to scale
    Outline and then fill in

    There are a lot of opportunities to add details to your figures. With a little practice you'll find you have the confidence to work on some more ambitious designs. The key is taking that first step and deciding to add a unique detail to your figure.

    Best of luck with your painting! Feel free to post your own samples below. I will try to add some more examples as I get started on other projects.

    - David
  2. Bailey A Fixture

    I've been discussing with another painter how to approach painting the fleur de lys on the flag of Pegaso's Standard Bearer for Carlo d'Angio. As it fits into the topic of this SBS I thought I would share. While the topic here is a fleur de lis pattern, this describes my general strategy for any repeating pattern. This how I'd start....

    For a pattern like this we really have two major issues to tackle. One is painting a single fleur de lis. The second is repeating this pattern so it looks consistent (ie painting a second, third, and fourth fleur de lis exactly like the first). This second issue is by far the toughest and what I'll focus on. My strategy for repeating the same pattern is to break it down into smaller more manageable pieces. If you paint an entire fleur de lis and then try to paint an exact copy you're almost certain to be disappointed with the end result. So instead we start by turning the fleur de lis into a series of simpler shapes that are easier to copy. Check out the bottom of this post for the image illustrating the following steps.

    1) We begin by determining the size of the fleur de lis (just the height) and marking the top and bottom on an index card. It's helpful to draw one to scale on a piece of paper and then take your measurements from that. I would also make a notation for the horizontal bar that separates the top from the bottom. This is going to help us make sure the size remains the same as we repeat the image on the standard.

    2) When we place the fleur de lys on the figure, we start with a simplified version that is just an upside down cross. This gives us the height of the center section and the horizontal bar. We then repeat this pattern at regular intervals. Note: you'll probably want to measure the distance between the fleur de lys as well. You can use the index card to help keep this spacing consistent. Since you've drawn your sample image to scale on paper (Right? You didn't skip this step did you?) you know how wide the final fleur de lis is so you can make a measurement for the space between them (from midpoint of the central cross to midpoint of the next cross) and also mark that distance on the card. Draw all of the crosses before moving on to the next step. Follow the folds in the cloth. If you get off with the pattern a little bit of paint can easily cover up the pencil. I'm assuming you're doing this in pencil first. You can start with paint if you're feeling confident. For me, I'd probably use pencil for this step and the next, then switch to paint.

    3) Now we're going to add guide lines for the other major features of the fleur de lis. Add two curved lines from the end of the horizontal bar for the outside petals. Take care to make these as symmetric as possible. Consistency is key as you go from fleur de lis to fleur de lis. Try and keep the width, height, and curvature the same for each one. As before, you can turn to your index card and make measurements and guide marks or just do it by eye. Note: my image below doesn't exactly match the box art. On that version the central petal is about twice as tall as the outer ones. If you're trying to match that version make a mark on your initial cross to indicate the highest point of the outer petals (use the index card to keep everything consistent!).

    Add the two diagonal lines under the horizontal bar. These should be easy compared to the curved lines.

    While I'm only drawing it once you'll want to repeat this step on all of fleur de lys before moving on to the next step. This will make it much easier to keep the designs consistent.

    4) Time to start adding volume to the fleur de lys. At this point I'd probably switch from pencil to paint, but there's nothing wrong with drawing it on first. Decide on your preferred shape... is it more rounded, does the top come to a point, is it diamond shaped? You want to keep the shape and width the same for each fleur de lis. Again, repeat for each fleur de lis before moving on to step 5!

    5) Now do the outer petals. Pretty much the same as the previous step just with more curvature to the design. Getting the left and right to look like a mirror image can be tricky. A little practice on paper or a scrap figure may be very helpful.

    6) Fill in bottom part of the fleur de lis

    7) Add a little volume to the horizontal bar

    8) Finally go and fill in your design. If it was all pencil, add paint. If you switched to paint earlier your focus should have been on getting the outline, not on filling everything in. Now go and cover up any of the background color that is showing through. I'll take at least one or two passes with the background color to clean up my designs, sharpen points, straighten edges, and fix anything I screwed up.

    This is a tough tough project. But hopefully this approach will make it a little more manageable. Best of luck!

    Blind Pew likes this.
  3. Mariner Active Member

    David, Danilo Cartacci's work with heraldry is all freehand so we know it can be done.
    This is a great SBS, thank you for taking the time to post these heraldry tutorials. It is a huge help to us masochists who like medieval figures!:D

  4. dimgall Active Member

    can you post how to draw a lion on a knight?
  5. Bailey A Fixture

    Ah, a lion is getting even more complicated. Can you give me a little more info on what you were thinking? First off, what scale (54mm, 75mm, or 90mm)? Second, what type of lion? When I think of a lion on a knight I think of either (a) the long horizontal lions like you'd see on a Richard the Lionheart (b) the more vertical lion rearing up on it's back two legs or (c) just the head of the lion. And there may be others.

    When it comes to scale, the larger the scale the more detail we can include. For a 54mm figure, I will usually pencil (or sketch with the paint brush) a greatly simplified version. Essentially just lines showing the position of the body, limbs, head, and tail. Then I would add the finer details like toes/claws, tufts of hair, and the details of the face when I paint it. At this point the limitation is your skill and precision with the paint brush. With larger figures like 90mm ones I'll do a lot more planning. In this case I may also draw those details like the tufts of fur, the face, etc before I start painting.
    dimgall likes this.
  6. dimgall Active Member

    54mm vertical lion standing.
  7. Bailey A Fixture

    Okay, challenge accepted! I will try to post something next week (sorry, I'm traveling this weekend so it will be a few days before I can work on it).

    This talk of lions made me curious so I did a little bit of online research. The standing lion is known as the lion rampant and is the most common form used in heraldry. The lion on the coat of arms of England (the horizontal lion) is the lion passant. There are a variety of other positions and variations. Anyone interested in more info on heraldric lions can take a quick look at this:
    dimgall likes this.
  8. John Bowery A Fixture

    Thanks for taking the time to do this SBS. Very helpful.
  9. Bailey A Fixture

    Sorry for the long delay in posting this, unfortunately life and a number of time sensitive projects took precedence. Okay, on to the project...

    Example 2: Lion Heraldry
    This is a little more complicated than the cross or the fleur de lis, but we follow the same basic principles.

    Step 1: Planning
    As this is a more complicated design, the planning stage is a little more involved. First, you have to pick the image you want. In this case I have chosen a 'lion rampant,' a lion standing. This is probably the most common lion seen in heraldry, but the 'lion passant' would also be a popular choice. If you were painting an English knight or king that is the one you might pick. Okay, back to the job at hand. After you have selected what you want to paint start by drawing it at a larger scale. The goal here is to show in more detail what the finished product will look like. You can work out proportions, details, and anything else about the image.

    Now, for a more complex design like this, I will go back and create a simplified version that will be easier to transfer to the figure.
    This is sort of like a stick figure, though with more attention paid to the eventual volumes that will replace the lines (hence space left between limbs and body). Details like the toes, fur tufts, tongue, etc are unnecessary at this point. They can all be added later. The idea here is to create a representation of the final image that can be easily and accurately copied. The image should retain all of the proportions of the final design and help guide you when you add in those details. One easy way of creating this is to lay a sheet of paper over your original design and then sketch the simplified version. Not exactly tracing, but using the faint under image as a guide for proportions and location. If are less confident in your drawing skills, I'd recommend making several copies of the simplified design and then use them to practice re-drawing the final design. Once you're confident, move on to the next part...

    Enough of the large images, now you need to draw this to scale. For a shield, like I'm painting here, start by tracing the outline onto a sheet of paper. I'd make a number of copies (3 or more) to practice. Then, draw your simplified version onto the shield.
    I was unhappy with the placement of my first lion (top left) so I drew a cross through the shield to find it's center and looked at the relative location of the lions body. I then made a faint cross on the second shield (top right) and moved the lions body to the center of the cross. That is one of the points of this step. Here you can work out location and relative size. It might take several practice attempts... so better to do that on paper than to do it on the actual model! Now that I was happy with the location and size I made one more attempt (bottom) and proceeded to draw in the details just to practice at this scale. Take as much time and practice here as you need. If you are confident in your drawing abilities this can be quick... if not, don't rush. Drawing the same image over and over again will give you more confidence and will make the next step that much easier.

    Step 2: Transfer the design to the figure
    Okay, I'm assuming you've already painted the background of the shield. In this case, since this is just for show, I'm using white, my primer color. If this was a real figure I'd have spent some time on the background. To transfer the design to the figure start with your simplified version. Notice I've placed a cross on the shield below to identify it's center. Once you have the simplified version in place start to fill out the volumes. Give the head, body, and limbs a little more definition. However, notice I am not drawing the finer details. The claws, tufts of hair, and facial features are missing. There are a couple reasons. First, painting over pencil can be hard and take a number of coats, so we'd like to use as little guide lines as possible. Second, I really don't want to over complicate the image. Too many lines and I might get confused as to what they're supposed to mean. And third, it's going to be a lot easier to do fine details with a brush than with a pencil. Compare you pencil tip to your 00 or 000 brush... at this scale the pencil is not your finest tool.

    Step 3: Paint the Outline
    This step is pretty straightforward. You're just going to trace your pencil design with paint. Don't worry about the center for now, just go the outline. At this stage you can make some small corrections. Maybe the body is too fat or too thin, maybe a leg is too long. You don't have to blindly follow your pencil... it's just a guide. You have a much better view of the overall shape and image at this point. Make corrections to it if you think it needs them. Notice I've added the tongue to the mouth. Since this is a key feature of the design I wanted to add it early. It would also help me determine the necessary size of the mouth. But, as a finer level detail, I did this with the brush and not with the pencil.
    If pencil lines have gone outside of the region you want to paint, take a little bit of the background color and clean them up. In the image above I've got some clean up to do around the right knee, the base of the tail, and around the mouth.

    Step 4: Fill in the Image
    Once again, this isn't too complicated a step. Use your color of choice and fill in your design. If your paint is thin or light colored (or both) it might take several coats to really cover up the pencil lines. The image below is about 3 or 4 coats worth.

    Step 5: Add Details
    While the image from the previous step isn't bad, we can do a little more to it. We need to add the claws, fur tufts, and the eye. At this small scale, I find it easier to just do it with the brush and not use any pencil guide lines. If you're painting a 90mm figure... then maybe it's a different story. Use a fine detail brush, don't overload it with paint, and go slow. For the first pass, you can keep the paint thin (but not runny) and it will be easier to correct any mistakes. After that you can use thicker paint for your 2nd and 3rd coats.

    Step 6: Clean Up and Finishing Touches
    The hard work is done. Now just spend some time touching up the edges of the image. Use the background color and smooth out your lines if necessary. You can add shading or whatever else you think is necessary. Then sit back and admire your work!

    And remember, the more you practice the better you'll get. If this is your first try and you pick something complicated like this, don't get discouraged. Just take your time and, if you find it's too difficult, go back and practice with simpler designs (crosses, diagonal lines, checker patterns, or smiley faces). Then work up to the more complex ones. Best of luck!


    Just a quick note, for those of you who noticed the shape the shield changing from picture to picture as well as subtle changes to the lion, each image is actually a different shield. I'm creating a demo for my local painting group so I made several copies of a shield and am using each one to represent a different part of the process.
  10. Figurenfreund66 Well-Known Member

    Thanks David

    what a great sbs for painting heraldic .


  11. bpnmd123 New Member


    The best and simplest techniques for heraldry and crosses that I have ever seen.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  12. mick3272 A Fixture

    Great Info and I will be using this very soon. Love the fleur de lis, been scratching my head about this for a while.
  13. arkangelo Active Member

    Thank you the tip of the rampant lion is going to come to me very well greetings

  14. Viola New Member

    Great Info !!;) I abcolutely agrea what a great sbs for painting heraldic .

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