A Few Thoughts on my Way of Painting Busts by Jason Zhou

Hi everyone,

First all, I’d like to thank Jason Martin (Redrum) for inviting me to share some of my experience and thoughts on painting busts by taking the King Tiger tank commander bust as an example. It is the latest work I finished painting recently.

A little bit about me

Before getting started, I’d like to introduce a bit about myself. My name is Jason Zhou. I was born and grew up in Shanghai, China. Though my full time job is within the IT industry where I have been working for 15 years, I have strong passion for great artwork, painting and history. Therefore, a few years ago I started painting miniatures which well suits my interest in those realms.

Painting miniatures has become one of my biggest hobbies to which I have been devoting much of my spare time when I am not busy with my work or family. I love to keep learning from the miniature painting communities, get inspired by the great work from others, try new stuff or techniques, exchange ideas and interact with people sharing the same interest in miniature painting and more importantly enjoy the process of happy painting.

A few thoughts on my way of painting busts

OK, enough for self-intro. Now, let’s get back to the main part of this article. This is not a step-by-step article for that bust I painted. Instead, I will be trying to share and explain some of my personal experiences, thoughts and tips on painting that bust and how to make the result more appealing. I’d be happy if there is something useful to you or can be possibly integrated with your own painting styles.

1. Face is the Focal Point


Tank Commander by Jason Zhou

In most cases, the first thing people notice when looking at a figure or bust model is the face which certainly becomes one of the focal points. Naturally, it is worth investing a lot of time on sketching shades and tones for the face, carefully refining the details and adding desired expressions if needed to suit the mood or characteristics you want to bring out for the figure.

By using a combination of painting strategy and techniques like directional lighting, sketching, glazing, stippling and micro-painting, I aimed to balance the final result of the painting between a realistic and an artistic effect. I was not only trying to paint the desired lighting and fine details as much as possible at this scale but more importantly to bring out more characteristics and related facial expressions, in my mind for depicting a vigilant commander who is observant and on the lookout for possible danger. Most of the techniques explained below are taking the painting of the face as example.

2. Colour Palette for Face

Quite a few people have asked me either privately or publicly regarding what colours I used for painting the face of the King Tiger tank commander. Below is a list of the main colours I used. It may not be a complete list because it is possible that I used a bit of other colours here and there in improvisation, that I can no longer exactly remember; but the list should be very close to what I have used.


My skintone palette

Base: A mix of Brown Sand and Beige Red and then with a bit of Basic Skintone and Mahogany Brown added.

Highlight: Add colours like Sunny Skintone, Basic Skintone, Sky Blue and Off-White to the base colour or mix two of them directly for extreme highlights.

Shadow: Add colours like Mahogany Brown, English Uniform, and Olive Drab to the base colour or mix two of them directly for extreme shadows

Tone: Colours like Red, English Uniform, Purple and etc. are applied very diluted as glaze for adding subtle tones to different areas on the face.

Though it is almost impossible for me to remember the exact ratio of each colour in the mix, because I usually mix and adjust the colours I want by adding a bit of this or that as needed. I repeat the process until I am satisfied with the result, I hope the list of colours above may still be helpful in giving you a general idea of the range of colours I have used for painting the face.

3. Painting Directional Lighting

Painting light illusion indicating directional lighting

First off, before I start painting, I always think about and decide the direction of the light for my painting. In many cases, I prefer to paint a lighting illusion comprising not only the 360 degree soft light around the bust but also one or two stronger directional light sources. The directional lighting results in the fact that certain surface(s) of the object facing one or two directions where directional light comes will be painted brighter from an overall perspective than the surfaces facing other directions where there is only global soft lighting without any strong directional light.


Hannibal Barca from Nuts Planet

Taking the face of this bust as an example, I paint the front side of the face with a value (brightness) range which is much brighter than that for the two cheek sides, imagining there is a main light source coming only from the front, though there is also global lighting from all the directions but the global lighting is less strong than the main light source.

In some cases, I may also choose to paint a directional lighting not coming from the very front-side but with a certain amount of degrees offset from the very front. The face of the Hannibal Barca bust from Nutsplanet I painted last year is an example of this. This is useful for introducing extra level of atmosphere and fitting the character with the desired scene.

Various materials affected by directional lighting differently

Apart from the face, I apply similar idea of introducing directional lighting when painting other parts. However, in order to make some difference and retain the focal point(s) of the whole model, I may not use the same strong level of contrast resulting from directional lighting for some other parts especially those made of super matt materials or those of less interest (not the focal points).

Remember that in real world not every material is affected by directional lighting in the same way in term of intensity and therefore they should be treated differently in painting as well.

In a nutshell, in my opinion it can help make the overall result more convincing and compelling by painting directional lighting in additional to the 360 degree general lighting. It is my personal preference that I usually adopt in my painting.

4. Sketching


Base colour stage

Sketching takes place in the very early stage of painting and is useful for quickly setting the overall brightness and general distribution of shades on the model. Brush strokes do not have to be very precise because at this stage the purpose of various strokes is to give me a guide on how the overall brightness contrast will be and how it is represented on the model.

Any imperfection in the sketching strokes can be corrected later in painting as needed. Of course, it is totally personal preference whether or not to do a sketching and how strong the sketching strokes are in term of contrast. Some people like doing a strong sketching from the very beginning, while others prefer a softer sketching, and there are also people who feel more comfortable without doing any sketching at all. It just varies from people to people.

There are no absolutely correct or wrong methods; what is important is to have a try with different approaches and find the one suiting your personal painting style best. For myself, I usually spend some time doing a sketching after applying two coats of the base colours; but my sketching is not very strong, just reaching the average to mid-high values of colours. The high to extreme values of colours are added layer by layer when my painting progresses.

5. Glazing


Painting in the eyes to determine expression and direction of gaze

Glazing is basically a technique to apply semi-transparent layers of colours to the model. For acrylic paints, the transparency is mainly determined by how much the paint is diluted. Additionally, certain mediums like Vallejo glaze medium, which is designed to increase the transparency of paint, retain the adherence of paint when diluted and also lengthen the drying time of the paint to some extent, can also make the glazing work a bit easier.

But glazing medium is not a must-have; through practice you can certainly achieve excellent glazing result by diluting with only water. Glazing is useful for smoothing the transition of shades, changing the tones or adding subtle effects with a top layer of paint which does not completely cover the layer of paint below. Multiple layers of glazing can be applied to enhance the effect as needed; but each layer of glaze must be applied after the previous layer has dried.

Avoid undesired satin finish possibly resulting from glazing

Some acrylic paints tend to have a slight satin finish after many coats of much diluted glazing are applied. Sometimes a very slight satin finish may be suitable for certain situations such as painting new leathers or skintones; however it is not desirable in other cases such as painting some super matte materials like cloth.

In order to avoid any undesired satin finish possibly resulting from glazing, I try to keep the times of glazing in a manageable amount and not apply too many unnecessary brushstrokes rubbing the same surface again and again. Apart from that, I sometimes also glaze using certain paints that are all known for their very matte attributes such as Jo Sonja paints.

When to apply glazing


Sketching in lights, shades and start of details

In term of when to apply glazing, I usually use it to blend colours and smooth the transition after the sketching stage mentioned previously. It is crucial to paint subtle colour variation for illustrating realistic skin. This is where glazing comes into play. The colour tones on real human face is very rich and comprises many subtle colours ranging from yellow, red, blue, green, violent to buff, pink, drab: Instead of just a set of value (brightness) changes of one or two skins tones.

I usually save inspirational human face pictures from photographers, artists’ paintings, digital artists’ computer graphics for reference when I see them from books or on the Internet. The more you see and observe great pictures of human faces, the more easily you will have an instinctive feeling regarding what kind of colour tones to be glazed on those featured areas of human faces such as forehead, eye-bags, temples, chin, cheeks, nose etc.

6. Stippling and Micro-Painting

In order to achieve an extra level of realistic human face, I use stippling and micro-painting techniques to add tiny details to the face including but not limited to skin textures, stubbles, wrinkles, caruncle in the inner eye corner, lower eyelashes, lip lines etc.

Steady hands are important

It is very important to have steady hands when stippling or micro-painting details. Two tips that help ensuring steady hands are:

  • Find something (a small box, book, a piece of hard foam or anything else that suits) to support both of your wrists. Your wrists need to comfortably rest on something when the fingers holding the brush or the wrist itself is moving. This is important to keeping your hands ready while painting.
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds when painting small details such as very thin straight line or tiny dots. This helps eliminate possible vibrancy coming from your own breath during the painting.

The right paint consistency for stippling


Glazing in colour tones and micro detailing

Moreover, unlike glazing, the paints for stippling or micro-painting should not be diluted too much; otherwise, the result will be blurry or cannot be controlled in the desired very tiny area. The consistency of paints that are direct out of the bottle (such as Vallejo model colour paints) is generally suitable for doing stippling and micro-painting without having to add additional water.

However, when I feel the paint is a bit too diluted, a quick tip that I usually use is to gently blow the brush having paint on its tip with my mouth for a few seconds to make it the right consistency for stippling to work. However, the paint consistency for stippling work may vary depending on the result you want to achieve. Generally speaking, the more stark and sharp result you are expecting, the less diluted the paint should be; the more subtle and blurry result, the more diluted the paint should be.

Paying attention to details


Showing some of the key stages of the painting

When adding small details such as wrinkles, tiny muscle structures, it is important to introduce some level of irregularity. The big nature is comprised of all kind of randomness and irregularity. Taking wrinkles as an example here, there are deep wrinkles, shallow wrinkles, the distribution of some wrinkles may be generally in one direction but they should be never painted in perfect parallel with each other. Also, for eye brows, they need to be painted in forms of thin lines stretching the right direction and the edges where eye brows touch the skin on the face are never very smooth.

In short, referring to some high resolution real world pictures of human faces will definitely give you good ideas when you are not sure what it should look like.


These are just my two cents regarding some of my personal experience and techniques I usually use during my painting of busts. Hope some of them can be of any help to you. I am open to any suggestions, ideas or comments whenever you have. You can reach out to me on Facebook.

Thanks for reading. Let’s enjoy this hobby and art together!


Finished face