Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How should you paint a maquette?

How should a reference maquette be painted? Here are four options to consider:

The first option is to paint it white, or leave it white, as in the case of this maquette bust of Dinotopia's Arthur Denison, which I sculpted out of Sculpey polymer clay. White is best if you're using it for direct observation, because you can really see the subtle plane changes and the effects of reflected light. 

Gray is the best color for photographing because it tends to stay within the range of the camera's sensor against normal backgrounds. White objects often exceed the sensor's range, leading to clipping. I generally use a matte gray spray primer because it's fast and gets into all the small cracks.

If your maquette has a variety of surfaces and textures, you can paint the maquette to look as real as possible. When you photograph or observe the polychromed surface, a lot of subtle color interactions become apparent. 

This maquette of Waterfall City is made from cardboard, styrofoam, modeling paste and two-part epoxy sculpting compound for the sculptural details. I used acrylic paint for most of it, and metallic enamel for the dome. 

For this one, I just used two colors of acrylic, tan and gray, with the gray stippled on with a big brush. It's made from foam-core board, cardboard, styrofoam eggs, modeling paste, gesso, and two colors of acrylic.

The silver Christmas tree ball provides a record of the entire surrounding light environment, a trick I learned from the world of visual effects, where they always shoot a mirror ball and a gray ball in principle photography to record the lighting information for the digital team in post-production. You need this lighting information to really understand the combined effects of various light sources on any given object in the scene.
The original archway maquette, along with the Arthur Denison and Lee Crabb sculpts are on view at "The Art of James Gurney is an exhibition of about 25 original paintings on the UARTS campus in Philadelphia, through November 16.
Dinotopia: The World Beneath from Amazon


Carlos PĂ©rsico said...

I know you are 100% percent traditional, but for the sake of simplicity (say you don't have the proper paints or you are not sure what to do with color yet) could you colorize a white or gray maquette in Photoshop without loosing color information? I'm thinking about reflected light and such. I like to work with traditional and I've been thinking about doing maquettes but I don't have the space to store them, I was thinking I could create something similar with 3D, but im not sure how complex it will be to get realistic ligthing.

James Gurney said...

Carlos, I'm no expert on the digital techniques, but my impression is that the high end 3D modeling software is getting a lot better with lighting and shading. Still the complex effects of surfaces, combined with occlusion effects and complex fill light scenarios puts pretty high demands on digital tools, and I believe physical models will always be superior. They're also fast to build and get the forms "into your hands," which helps greatly when you get to the final painting.

Keith Parker said...

In that last example, did using two different colors help you see reflected light from one "building" to the other? Was that the intention, or just a happy accident?

Fabio Porta said...

I'm curious about the silver ball. How would that be used in post production? Do you use that to adjust a photo's levels/contrast as well? Say, for this one, when having to use it as reference

Michael Pagdon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S. Stipick said...


3D is a wonderful tool that several artists have been using to stage and compose paintings and have been doing so quite effectively. While I think that using it for final lighting could be useful, it might not be the best use of your time or the most efficient. As previously stated by Mr. Gurney, right now when it comes to efficacy and the overall cost of time, maquettes are probably a better solution. Also keep in mind that often maquettes are built to better understand (scan, etc.) the topology of 3D models, so there is something to be said of getting one's (hopefully grimy, ink, and paint stained ) hands on the form itself, even if it is to just walk around it. The way I see it by the time I would create an acceptable quality reference that's half the time I could have been painting and I am professionally experienced in industry standards and other digital tools.

Mr. Gurney,
I'm glad to see someone else paints their objects gray. I picked up painting my casts and maquette a local value 7 from a friend and fellow artist. The first spray is often the most cringeworthy and hesitant as often a good cast is beautiful in its flat white initial state. But having a close approximation to an average flesh value and minimal compression or expansion in the shadows or lights is of huge benefit. I still have a a couple of white casts around but most these days are a lovely Rust-Oleum Automobile Flat Gray Spray Primer in a can, which used to hit a perfect neutral 7; I haven't had to paint a cast in awhile so who knows if the paint is still the same.

Mr. Pagdon,
Why did you delete your post?

S. Stipick said...

When photographing or referencing your maquette, specifically your architectural structures, do you do so outside? If you reference them inside what sort of lighting tools do you use to simulate the rays of the sun? Or is the miniaturization of the landscape or architectural structure enough to approximate a sunlit day using an indoor light?

Tom Hart said...

I'm probably missing the obvious answer, but in what situations would you need to photograph a maquette? Woudn't you always be better off painting from it directly?

Thanks for this post. It's really inspirational. Up until now, I've been skeptical that I'd be tempted to take the time to build a maquette. But I'm becoming more and more convinced of the advantages of doing so.

James Gurney said...

S. Stipick, I try to take the maquette into conditions similar to the scene I want to paint, so yes, I take them outside if I want to simulate natural sunlight. It's hard to simulate the blue fill light from the sky and the reflected light from the ground. In a pinch, I'll set it up indoors under artificial light. The small LED spotlights are good for simulating sun because they're small sources.

Tom, the main challenge of working directly from a maquette is that the lighting you need for the maquette may not give you very good light on your work. If you can set up your scene so that both are well lit, then observation is a good way to go.

Fabio, the position of the highlights on the silver ball shows where the light sources are. The gray ball gives an overall sense of the direction and quality of the light. This is good to know if you're combining several different sources, such as a costumed figure, a maquette and an outdoor location.

Keith, I used two different colors on that archway maquette just to get some natural variation, and to suggest ideas for local color variations.

S. Stipick said...

Thank you.

Karen Robinson said...

James, how big are the heads you made on this post and how much Sculpey did you need to make one? They are just fab. Sculpey appears to be sold in 765g packs, I don't know if one would be enough to "have a go"? also I am baffled by the baking time given as 15 mins per half inch of thickness. ???
I would like to try this, specifically I would like to try and make my hand and possibly one of my ears, I am finding them so hard to paint I thought it might help.

James Gurney said...

Karen, I should really do a separate series of posts on making maquettes. But here I used a crumpled up blob of tin foil the size of a tangerine, which took up about 70% of the volume, so I could use much less Sculpey. the heads are about 4 inches tall. There's more about making maquettes in my videos "How I Paint Dinosaurs" and "Australia's Age of Dinosaurs."

Karen Robinson said...

James, thank you very much. Tin foil innards. You are a genius.

James Pailly said...

I never thought of using a mirror ball that way. That's a really useful tip.