Creating the look of a worn leather texture with paint

Worn Leather Texture – the PRELUDE

Lately I’ve been giving more attention to how I can create the look of different textures on various parts of my figures. For a long time I used to focus on just getting extreme enough highlights and shadows for good contrast and then a smooth blend between them. As I started to feel more confident there, I turned my attention to making the various parts actually look like the materials they were supposed to be. A wool coat looks different from a satin leather and both of those look different than a shiny piece of metal armor. I’m not just talking about the color, but how the light reacts with the material (where it reflects, where it scatters, etc). For some materials we need to take this a step further and create the look of specific textures. Two common ones are leather and wood. Of course sometimes you will have the texture actually sculpted on. That’s great! But many times a leather belt/strap will just be a flat strap on the figure. This article will discuss my approach to these sorts of materials.

When it comes to painting leather texture on your figure we want to balance two different things: light/shadow and the actual texture.  If you just do shading and highlight but don’t address the texture, the material won’t look right.  But, if you focus only on the texture and don’t add highlights and shadows over top of that, the figure won’t look right either.  In the following examples, pay attention to how those two different concepts are addressed.  In general, textures show up better when they are in light. In the shadows, textures become harder for the eye to see. So when you’re working in the shadows, you won’t need to bring the texture out as much in your painting however, in the midtone and highlight areas, the textures should be much stronger.

EXAMPLE 1: OLD LEATHER STRAPS/BELTS

Leather is a great place to practice painting textures. Tons of fantasy and historical figures will have some leather component on them, and maybe some sci-fi figures as well. So you can find plenty of opportunities to practice. With leather, there are a wide range of looks. Below are a few examples:

Newer leather tends to be more monotone, but also much shinier than old leather. As the leather gets more wear and tear, that will cut down on the shine but also produce colour variation in the worn regions. For now I will focus on worn leather as that has more texture to paint. But, if you’d like to mimic a shiny new leather, check out this tutorial where I cover painting shiny black boots.

With worn leather you need to also consider how does it get that wear and tear? For straps and belts, that typically occurs along the edges. Or, maybe there’s a spot that is getting bent back and forth a lot (like near a buckle). The textures you apply need to make sense in order to create a convincing illusion.

Take a look at the leather straps in these work in progress images of a pirate orc (Redghar from Big Child Creatives).

Okay, that gives you an idea of how they look when we normally view the figure.  But to get a better idea on how the texture is done, let’s look at some ultra close-up images of that work…

You can click on those images for a much larger view of the leather texture. For the strap on his back the shape of the lower section is concave. So, the top side (where it is angled downward) is in shadow and the bottom side (where it’s more horizontal) starts to get some lighter tones. In the darkest region I don’t really worry about the texture. The shadow hides all of that. But, where it gets lighter, I begin to add lines and scratches to create the look of worn and uneven leather. As you move up the strap towards his shoulder, the middle gets lighter. Now I’m adding scratches on both sides. There are a few along the belt that are sculpted in. However, many are done purely through paint.

These scratches are simple to do, just apply a thin dark line and then apply a highlight directly beneath it (where the scratch would catch the light). Do notice that the ‘highlight’ for the scratch varies around the strap. In the lower part, where there is less light, that ‘highlight’ is closer to my midtone. But, in the upper regions where more light is hitting the strap, the scratch ‘highlight’ is the true highlight tone. Now, because the belt is 3-D, I also apply an edge highlight along the top edge going all the way from the bottom to the top. Because the shape is uneven, I don’t want this to be one uniform colour. You can see that the edge highlight varies, becoming lighter in some spots and darker in others.

In the front view you will see some of the highlight areas are not smooth (like where the belt loops over the pistols).  This is intentional. By building up the highlight with stippling and short uneven strokes, it creates the look of leather texture.  And, which looks rough in the close up, looks fine when you view the entire figure. I’ll go over the stippling and short stroke approach in more detail in the next example.

EXAMPLE 2: WORN LEATHER HAT

Sticking with the pirate theme, the next example will look at the worn leather texture of the hat on Barbarella, a pirate dwarf from M Proyec. Below are two ultra-close up images of the work done on the hat.

Again, you can click on either image to see the enlarged version.  In this case, the hat had a bit of distressing along the edges but I went in with a hobby knife and added more cuts to make it look even more worn. I also drilled the holes but, the surface of the hat was essentially smooth. Therefore, any texture had to come from the paint alone.

The top of the hat protrudes out over the face of the dwarf, thus most of the top half is in shadow. I included a tiny bit of variation there, but did not worry about it too much. As we get down towards the bottom of the hat, the surface becomes more horizontal and almost rounded, so the colours get lighter and lighter in that region.  Remember, the texture shows up much better in the spots where it is getting hit by the light.

Figure as it would typically be seen (full figure rather than close up) to illustrate how the texture will read to the viewer

For the leather texture along the edges of the hat I used dark and light lines (dark over light) to accentuate the cuts in the hat. I also added a few more scratches through paint alone along the sides. For the middle of the hat I start to work up from dark to light by applying lighter and lighter layers. I don’t worry about smooth coverage. In fact, I don’t want that at all.  I apply the paint by stippling and in short uneven strokes. I slowly transition from dark to light. The first couple layers of the leather texture (closer to the shadow tone) are applied a bit at random. I still know where I’m trying to build up my lights, so focus the strokes in those areas, but almost stab at them rather than using long smooth strokes. As the layers get lighter I begin to see a texture start to appear. Now, I begin to apply the colour more intentionally. I work with the texture that’s developing, trying to bring it out. In other spots I go in and add further details. On the right side I painted two cracks originating from under the hat. For this I simply painted two thin jagged lines with my darkest shadow tone and then used the highlight tone along the bottom of the crack (where the light would hit).

Keep in mind that might look rough in the close-up images, yet looks much more natural when you view the figure at a more ‘normal’ size.

EXAMPLE 3: LEATHER SOLE

On this project I had to paint the underside of a samurai’s shoe (what, is that not a common thing?).  For this I wanted the look of untreated leather.  This time I used just stippling to build up my highlights and, at the same time, create a texture.  I began with a smooth coat of the shadow tone, followed by a couple smooth coats of gradually lighter colours.

Then, prior to even reaching the midtone, I started to apply the colours just by stippling.  In the close up you can see how this creates transitions and highlights while also giving the impression that the sole of the shoe was not perfectly smooth.

WRAP UP

While the focus of this article was on worn leather texture, the same techniques can be applied to many other textures (fur, wood, etc.).  The key points are to balance the need to create highlights and shadows with the inclusion of implied surface texture. Texture should be more apparent in the lit areas and more subdued in the shadows. Texture can be created precisely by painting on scratches and cracks or more randomly through stippling and short strokes to break up the surface. Finally, remember if the texture is created through wear and tear (weathering), the locations must make sense. In other words, the cracks, scratches, etc. should be in places likely to get that wear and tear.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope it inspires you to attempt more textures on your figures!

David Powell

David Powell is an award-winning painter. He's taught painting workshops and written numerous tutorials for publication in magazines and online. While he's best known for his work on historical miniatures, he's got a soft spot for fantasy and sci-fi subjects as well.

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