Find a Picture to Steal
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Today, I want to take you guys with me down the rabbit hole into which I dove while prepping and painting these beautiful Mandalorian sculpts from the Star Wars Shatterpoint core box.
Without a doubt, the most important moment in my miniature painting routine comes at the very beginning of the process. It’s the moment when I take the assembled miniature in my hand, stare deeply into that blank canvas, imagining the endless possibilities... and then I set it down on the desk, and proceed to panic as I remember that I have no idea what I’m doing.
Deciding on a color scheme can be intimidating. Color theory, contrasting and complementary colors, paint limitations - they all cloud my brain as I begin a new project. And the longer I have to think about it, the less likely I am to actually get painting. That’s one of the reasons I love to paint beloved characters from well-established IP, with canonical color schemes. I don’t have to think about it. Yoda is green - let’s get a brush.
So instead of staring into the scary abyss of a blank miniature, I start the painting process by staring at reference pictures on the internet - and you wouldn’t believe how much it helps! And please - don't let misguided ethical questions slow you down. If looking to see how someone else painted a miniature is stealing, then Bob Ross should have been arrested for looking out a window before he painted a tree.
With a game like Star Wars Shatterpoint, you can usually count on a couple of additional visual aides for your color plan: the card art, and the official commissioned paint schemes used on their display models. And Atomic Mass Games doesn’t disappoint - this is some incredible card art:
The comic-book/cartoon style makes it easy to see where colors are meant to transition, what parts are metal, leather, cloth, etc. And really beautiful paint work on the miniatures. Another great benefit of painting your miniatures in line with the card art is that it's really easy to understand which piece on the table the card is referring to - and with Star Wars Shatterpoint, there are going to be quite a few other Mandalorians to pick out of the crowd.
But wait a minute... something’s not right.
The painted minis don't match the color schemes on the card art. Come to think of it - these color schemes are just ever-so-slightly off from what I expected to see all around.
When I first assembled Bo Katan and the Clan Kryze Mandalorians, I had a pretty good idea that these were supposed to be Bo’s on-screen buddies, Axe Woves and Koska Reeves. Remember these Mandos?
- but apparently AMG didn’t agree, because their Clan Kryze Mandalorians are slightly different - both in paint and sculpt.
The Mando that I'm assuming is Axe looks much more like Jango Fett in the AMG schemes. His armor isn't black, his helmet is color-swapped and doesn't have the silver ring on the dome, and his knee armor isn't blue. The sculpt on his belt is different, and it's missing the separate piece of thigh armor - but there's nothing we can do about that without some green stuff, and some skills I don't possess. The other sculpt that I'm assuming is Koska has silver armor instead of blue, and her helmet is slightly different (although the armor is blue in AMG's painted models.)
So I took to Instagram to see if everyone was ignoring the AMG schemes, and painting them as they appeared on screen - and I couldn’t find a single example of it! It seems like most of us were following AMG’s lead.
These examples are true works of art - and I want to emphasize that there’s nothing anywhere that says you’ve got to paint your Mandalorians to look like these two characters that were on TV! Part of the real beauty of painting your own miniature is that it’s...your own. And if that means pink supercommandos (as my daughter still insists they ought to be,) then I can’t wait to see them. There’s a good chance that these aren’t even supposed to be Koska Reeves and Axe Woves. Maybe AMG sculpted them before the Mandalorian aired the episodes. But for me, the whole point of this exercise was to find an agreed-upon canonical scheme for these characters - so I’m digging in.
Here’s how you can use the appropriate source imagery, and the absolutely incredible new line of Vallejo Game Colors from Boardlandia to make your Clan Kryze Mandalorians feel more like Axe and Koska.
The best imagery I found came from Sideshow Toys - and their exceptional 1/6 scale figures of Axe & Koska.
The first thing I notice about this scheme is the vibrant, almost turquoise-y character of the blue. There's a lot of damage on this armor, which is going to give us some liberty when it comes time to using weathering and scratches to cover up mistakes. And I can tell I'm going to have a tough time separating dark colors from one another - like the black ridge in the mask where it meets the black visor; or the black armor plates on the dark undersuit.
After a zenithal prime administered via airbrush, I got to work starting from the inside out, painting Axe's inner suit first with this gradient of grays.
To keep the inner suit distinct from the black plate armor, I start with Charcoal for the darkest recesses, and quickly move up to Neutral Grey, gradually adding Glacier Blue to the greys for highlights. Glacier blue is one of the absolutely irreplaceable colors in my arsenal, for situations when you need cool highlights, just as we do here. Most highlight colors have a tendency to run warm - which makes sense; you're trying to paint light, which is usually coming from a warm source like the sun or an incandescent bulb. But sometimes, either due to the environmental lighting, or in this case, simply cohesion to a cool color scheme, you need a cool highlight - and there's none better than Glacier Blue.
For the black plate armor, I'm using the same basic gradient - with 2 small changes. On the deepest, darkest recesses, I'm using pure Black - and for the highlights, instead of the beloved Glacier Blue, I'm going with Dead White. Adding white to the gradient keeps the grayscale completely desaturated, without any hint of blue, adding a tonal contrast between the cool dark suit and the neutral dark armor. It also works great for specular highlights, and those deep scratches in the armor. I also used this lighter grey to make the silver ring around the top of Axe's helmet.
For the leather, I used gradients of warm browns made from Charred Brown, Grunge Brown, Tan and Plague Brown. Plague Brown has always been a must-have warm highlight color, even with the old formulation which was often clumpy and prone to separation. The new Game Color line has completely solved those problems, making Plague Brown one of my most-used colors.
Looking at this series of browns, you can see that they're leaning warm - particularly on the brighter, highlight end of the gradient. Warm browns are going to contrast the cool blues and greys, even if they're not brighter or darker; and the orange tones are perfect complements to the blues we're about to apply. But the pursuit of contrast isn't limited to high and low values, or even confined to the same miniature - because in this instance, I want to create some subtle contrast between Axe and Koska, so the leather is a good place to start.
And now, for the magic blues...
One of my favorite all-time colors is Vallejo's Magic Blue. It lives up to its name in every way. And to make this beautiful teal-leaning blue that's so prominent in Axe & Koska's armor, I'm making a gradient that starts with Abyssal Turquoise on the dark end, Magic Blue to Turquoise for the mid-tone, and a touch of Electric Blue on the highlights.
And now, I have something on the table that looks as close to Axe Woves as my attention span and skill level are able to get :)
Now, let's take a look at Koska's source material:
A couple of things to note: None of the jetpack sculpts match the designs of the on-screen props, so you've just got to roll with it. The sculpt has a recessed "V" in the helmet which Koska doesn't have; and it also has a larger, 3-segment codpiece - but aside from that, you just need to paint all of her armored parts with the blue gradient, and remember that her boots are leather - not metal!
And after all of this complaining about inconsistent color schemes - I realize now that I failed to hit that tiny centerpiece of the cuirass with a silver accent. So please disregard all advice given up until now :)
To finish things off, the exhaust plumes from the jetpack were done with an undercoat of white, to lay the foundation for Vallejo's excellent trilogy of fluorescents: Fluo Yellow, Fluo Orange & Fluo Magenta.
Once the gradient from Yellow at the top to Magenta at the bottom is dry, I covered up much of the fluorescents with an overbrush (or heavy drybrush) of Charcoal, highlighted up to Neutral Grey. (Thanks to Sorastro for this great comic-book style technique!)
Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. And whether it’s the internet, a streaming service, an old action figure, or some pretty rock in the backyard, finding it and identifying it is the first and most important step in my painting process. I’m not good at slapping colors together and hoping that something reveals itself to me. I've got to know where I'm going - and pics help me get there.