Tuesday, 18 December 2018

What is your style ?

one trick pony : god mode

Ok, Today I'd like to talk a bit about what we consider as style or a touch, anything that sets one's work apart from the rest.
We've all encountered people's work we can immediately tell apart from others and there are some things that make or break it for each f us.
It's usually harder to give a proper definition of what we do unless we have a very strong vision and the means to translate it in a tangible form (and that requires talent AND skill I think).

Why would I think about all that ? Well I do see people with a strong identity in their painting and I've been told now and then I do have a "style" some can easily identify (although I've also been mistaken for my friend Jon).

Well if I look at people whose work I can spot immediately, there are many clues to tell who's who, here are a few I can think of right now :

Palette : There are colours we like more than others and that might influence which we pick. There are colours that we find easier or nicer to work with so that's another case of adding a bias on our palette. We might also see colours differently or be influenced neurogically by certain colours as well. All those reason means we usually won't have the same way to use colours which are very often the very core of how we paint.

Skill : Skill is obviously a good way to tell painters apart if you know their previous work. It's probably only when it comes to master level painters you can use that to determine who painted what, many painters have their little area of expertise, in say OSLs, NMMs, freehands or whatever

Technique : Of course, we don't all work the same way, I could do a whole post about the different kinds of painters really but let's just sum up and see the broad lines here. Some people like to work from a dark base, others from a lighter base, some like to paint a million thin layers while some others like to wet blend, some like to airbrush or stipple. The way we work does affect how our models look though ad although good painters have a broad array of techniques to pick from, there are often patterns you see

Rules/taste : Now there are other points that are a little less obvious because they rely on our personnal taste and things we want to achieve. Some of us like neatness, while others like grimdark looks. Some want to achieve the perfect smoothness while others have a nervous and "straight to the point" approach.
We might also have self imposed special rules like the number of colours (while others will go full Desigual

Gimmicks : Now this is the kind of painting habit we do because it's become part of our painting grammar, exactly like we have our own expression that define the way we talk, these can be checkers wherever we can paint them, or battle damage or whatever, the kind of thing we don't really think about but that we do because it wouldn't feel right without it.

Now here comes another way to see things... Yes , all the above (and probably more) help define the style of a painter but is it natural thing or a conscious one ? Is the way we paint recognisable because we want it to be so or does it just happen to be so ?
I guess it depends, I suppose both extremes could exist, with a control freak trying to define his/her own style as precisely as possible and of course a person not caring a bit being immediately recognisable but I believe those are rare.
I reckon it's a partly inconscious and conscious thing, why we love the colour we love isn't something you can explain easily without having to go deep. The techniques we're the most confident in come from our painting history, what we've painted before and what we've worked to improve.
On the other hand, we sometimes want to emulate a certain style of vibe and hence try to copy the "codes" to make a reference or echo to some other piece.
Then of course we might also be influenced to the point of mimetism...

Now what if I was to define my style ? I'll try to find the elements in the grid I drew above (just keep in mind I could have picked plenty of other painters to illustrate the point but I just selected those that came to mind for this particular purpose, id any of them want to correct my assumptions I would be delighted to do so) :

Palette : 

People who've met me irl will have no surprise about that but if you only know me from online you might learn my favourite colour is by far blue. Almost all shades of blue make me feel fine (I'm not into turquoise much but is it blue ?). I realise I don't use it on my models much or as much as I used to although it often comes as a spot colour rather than a dominant. I also tend to favour deep blues which I don't paint much (I usually go for brighter more pastels tones).
However, if you look at the first picture of this post, you'll see I LOVE painting red. I don't really know why, I like cold or neutral colours and could live in a grey and blue worlds really but I know I enjoy painting deep vibrant reds. On the other hand, I uterrly despise orange and yellow to some extent but I don't mind painting those colours at all, I actually quite like to use orange to balance blue which from a colour theory point makes sense.

Now I said the word now didn't I ? Colour theory. That's interesting.
The colour wheel is a very powerful and clever construction :

And I won't even get into spectral colours and non spectral colours or colour perception here... ^^

It's a common practice for painters to select their palette according to the colour wheel to get the right contrasts and complements between colours, thus influencing the colours we use.
Just like the chromatic scale isn't the only way to define music, there are several colour theories and I've always found Wassily Kandisky's colour theory to be fascinating by giving each colour "properties" and inner movement. It changes the colour grammar a fair bit and I have to say I quite like that and find myself thinking in similar terms.
I believe it does explain to an extent why I use red as much as I do, it does add that "power" and depth I want. It somehow enriches the composition.
My point here is that the colour theory we relate to does affect our choices and hence style.

The first example that springs to mind about palette is 

Latest example from Ana's blog


Well skill is quite different, we all begin with the same level or so and you only get skill by spending time and energy. So Skill is almost completely a voluntary thing (I say almost because I can admit sharp eyes, muscle stamina and a steady hand will vary greatly from a painter to another because of physiology).
But skill is mostly just that : being good at what you spent time and energy (and sometimes money) on. The skills we get depend on what we worked on, what we wanted to achieve or what we thought was the most cost effective.
In this regard, skill does say a bit about who we are as the level we reach in any given technique will tell about our nature.
Stormcast by Flameon
Here's a good example of how an extremely high level of skill give a style, if you know Flameon and his previous work, there's a good chance you can spot this is his work.


Techniques are the different means we use to achieve the effect we want on our models. Now more than ever, the array of techniques (and tools) available is absolutely mind blowing so there are usually many ways to treat an area depending on the difficulty, time, tools available. 
What changes everything now from when I started (some 27 years ago) is that we have an almost unlimited amount of info on anything with tutorials, reviews, videos, patreons and everything so getting the information is absolutely not the issue now.
It all falls down to what we wan't to achieve and what we're ready to do to make it happen.
Like I said, I've been painting for 27 years now and my level is... I don't know, more than tabletop worthy I guess but not much more either and in no way worthy nor meant for display. It's the compromise I've found to enjoy though, which lets me paint enough models to a standard I'm OK with.
I know I could paint way better than I do by not taking shortcuts and spending more time but this is my happy place. Now of course this is just a hobby to me, so staying in my comfort zone isn't exactly an issue as long as I keep enjoying it. I do progress over time and this very blog does show some of it.
I do like to use certain opportunities to do things differently though, every once in a while I'll challenge myself and because it's usually in a pressure free context, I always enjoy and learn a lot from these occasions.
I haven't changed my painting techniques much over the years, I'm still pretty much that "base coat/shade/highlights" guy with just added fancy stuff. I do thin my paints considerably more than I used to, I do use drybrushing less than I used to, I blend, glaze and try to add fancy (although shy) attempts at things like OSL or NMM and I blackline a lot but that's it. Every now and then I'll limit myself with brushes, colours or instead of working from dark to bright I'll work the other way.
Maybe I'll want something radically different in the future, I don't know, but for now, I'll follow the mood.
And that right here is I think one very important part of what defines a style (or mine at least). I keep using the same techniques, the same colour sequences, processes I've aquired by trying that I then replicate and that replication does give a signature or an identity. It's not deliberate, maybe more of a consequence I believe.

Here's a very good example I think with Third Eye Nuke Studio with the same techniques or so repeated on different models. The glossy blacks, the blood splatters, the sprays of white on the base all tell you where the models are from at first sight. In that regard, the first picture of this post is a good example of that too. ^^


 Now this part is fun, it's the purely arbitrary side of painting. There are things we like and things we don't. There's no real explanation of those possible. We just "feel" it.
Some people will have a very loose appreciation of what "works" while others will have a very precise and firm idea of what is right to them.
I'm the second kind, definitely.
Thinking about this whole "style" thing, I've tried to see the patterns and logic behind this all and here are some of the points I've noticed :
- I try as much as I can to avoid having mpore than 2 main colours (there are exceptions)
- I almost never use pure white or pure black raw (apart from base rims) for anyting else than extreme highlights for white and black lining.
- The only colour I almost never desaturate is red
- I highlight most colours with some form of light grey or off white (thus desaturating most colours)
- Areas adjacent to one another HAVE to oppose one way or another (cold/warm, saturated/desaturated or complementary colours) and if possible in more ways than one.
This is why I use greys (all shades) and off white so much. It provides me a way to differentiate zones and to avoid clashes on adjacent zones.
 The nomads below are a good example of that. I have three "bright" colours (quite rare for me) and a greysish brown to seperate them.

  Here's another example of how I cornered myself into a dead end. I wanted to have planty of colours on those guys for a change. But my routines were still on so I reached a point after painting all the skintones nicely where I was stuck. I opted to paint the feathers in desaturated colours and to make all the equipment grey to lessen clashes as much possible.
If I were to redo them (and I really did consider doing so seriously) I would have opted for a single colour tone (with variations from one to another)...


 Now gimmicks, this may seem like quite a negative term, gimmicks are things one tends to repeat without even thinking about it, because it's a habit, a mantra or for whatever reasons. They're usually very distinctive of their creator and are often the first thing one will try to copy to emulate a given "style" although in most cases it means caricature more than a real hommage.
Just think about it for a second, we all have some, adding checkers wherever you can, painting the eyes, gems or who knows what part the same exact way ALL THE TIME because it would feel wrong not to... It can be a basing fetish, a bit of a kit you've used on countless models, using models from a given period or range exclusively.

One good example I believe is John Blanche himself, the man has varied in his way to create over the decades, just look at what he was doing in the seventies and now but you will keep seing patterns, symbols he uses like poets use words or musicians notes, so yes the ogryn faces, checkerboard patterns, Mona Lisas and elements from other painters are often used but you cannot sum up the whole work with just those. However, people trying to emulate the style (and I have done this myself) will use those to channel some of the master's art into their own.

So here you are, I don't think one thing specifically defines style and I do believe it's part conscious and part unconscious (in different ratios from one painter to another) and I only have clues as to what defines minebut it's fun seeing the balance evolve as you gain experience, grow old (and maybe lazy) and explore new grounds.


  1. I, sadly, lack all of the above. I am a pure mockingbird. I have no skill or talent of my own and purely copy from others to a vastly inferior degree.

    It's the main reason why I very rarely paint anything. Plus it exhausts me so much!

    1. You sculpt more than you paint so those express in other ways really. You have to paint to have a painting style and that's why it evolves too. ^^

  2. I'm not sure that I'm good enough to have a style, although I have set ways that I paint certain things, especially skin. Almost everything I paint seems to involve strongtone somewhere, although that's probably laziness rather than style.

    I do like quirkier models, often those that aren't just holding guns, and I'm not very interested in space marines and other big armoured people. I've always got a feeling that a model isn't quite "right" unless I've converted it in some way. But more than that, I'm not sure.

    1. Well, my point here is that skill isn't everything and you get plenty of paintters whose work isn't top shelf technically speaking (mine isn't) but are yet recognisable.

  3. Interesting and enjoyable read! And it was cool to see myself up there as an example. I've been meaning to write a think post about a related topic for months; maybe now I'll be inspired to finally put it together...

    1. This topic has been in my head for a while so I figured I had to just try and put some form on those thoughts. ^^
      Glad you enjoyed it !

  4. What an insightful post, some food for thought. I think you are right, but I had never decomposed this all to its nuclear elements. It is true that you can certainly identify some artists just with a glimpse to any pic, and I think that is great, that makes every (recognizable) artist unique. I enjoy each different trademark in different people, the way they all make similar models their own. I had never given all this such a deep thought, I guess I'm of the unconscious kind (in so many ways!).
    Thanks for the read, for sure I'll be revisiting it.

    1. Cheers man, it honestly was an unconscious thing for me until I realised some people were mentionning my "style" which I had no conscious of before. I thought it was just my backdrop actually. ^^'

  5. Thanks for the interesting read. Personally I aim for tight lines like Mondriaan but 'my steady hand' turns the end result more into a Jackson Pollock on a too small scale. Luckily I can Bob Ross it off remembering there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents ;)

    1. Accidents are not a problem, you can make the best of them really. That's what serendipity is for right ? ^^'

  6. This is a really interesting set of thoughts. I guess that many people evolve their style over time as they try out different techniques, rejecting those they dislike and repeating those they like. I tried painting a set of zombies with washes over a white undercoat. I didn't like it, so have never tried it again. On the other hand, I found that I could paint a nice white by starting with an off-white and washing with a thinned brown wash. I use it on nearly every figure!

    As for having our figures mistaken for each other, that could be down to similar model selection and presentation. I tend to use more orange than red though - my default colour scheme is orange, blue and white!

    Is a distinct style a good thing though? Or is true talent being able to paint figures in a wide variety of styles to a consistently high standard? :)

    1. Now talent is yet something else I believe but it's a fun thing to consider !
      We use similar backdrops and have similar tastes for models plus we've been painting alongsides each other for some time now which I guess has influenced us somehow. ^^

  7. When all is said and done, I'm a big fan of your style. :)

  8. Fine insightful post. I'm sure I have a style but suspect my lack of skill hides it rather well! I recently realised that while I am in awe of John Blanche's creativity, style and skill I've disliked his orange/red palette since the first brilliant chaos renegade conversions in the first Citadel Miniatures Modelling Guide, so your analysis has allowed me to work out why that is so.

    1. I really think that style could be deconstructed and reinterpretated into other colours and that's a fun exercise I believe. ^^

    2. Now there's and interesting idea.

  9. Interesting article! Personally, whilst I think I do have a style, it's just not that good, lol. I tend to aim for 'Blanchitsu', but veer off into 'dark and scruffy' far too often. One of my main problems (beyond a lack of talent) is that as I lack colour vision, I struggle to match colours, and so tend to stick to fairly basic schemes that I've practised over time and got good results with.

    1. Well I think style is only partly conscious which is why I also wish mine was a bit different. 😊

  10. Very thoughtful post JB. I'm not really sure what to say without coming off like a cave man. I definitely have a comfort zone for my painting.

    1. I'm definitely not one in a position to judge anyone in his comfort zone 😊

  11. Very interesting to think about. I don't know how I would describe my style, but I have developed enough of one that people who know me can spot my Models among others.

    Trying to think about it, I always work up from black primer, and do tend to use a lot of drybrushing (often with a very large brush). I focus more on shading than on highlighting, and avoid highlighting with desaturated colours. Usually much more emphasis on cool colours and neutral tones, tho I will occasionally make myself do something super bright, just to stretch a bit. I have issues with eyesight and shaky hands that keep me from doing super fine detail, so I tend to work for a tabletop/arm's length standard. I never bother doing detailed eyes, since they don't really show up on actual people when they're far enough away that perspective makes them look the size of minis.

    1. Looks like they're all good elements to define a style knowingly or not !

    2. Also, random association, but is your handle a reference to this Nobody Scores! comic:http://nobodyscores.loosenutstudio.com/index.php?id=347 ?

    3. To be honest I didn't know that comic but it fits !

  12. Good article...I always wonder about this question because my 2 main influences are Mike McVey and John Blanche--polar opposites! I struggle with wanting to do clean and bright figures but being drawn to dark and messy styles...I think perhaps Jakob Rune Nielsen (1990s style!) is perhaps a happy medium and ultimately what I am trying to emulate...? It's a hard question though and one I have spent some time pondering! Happy New Year anyway :)

    1. Well McVey and Blanche sure are influences for many of us and indeed Nielsen would be a very good middle ground, definitely one I'd aspire to !
      Happy new year as well !


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