Reflection: Stylized Mini Painting

Practice 1, Reflection, Research and Enquiry

Observing Laudna

Looking forward on my Laudna figure, I’m starting to think about the overall style I’m going for. Since she’ll be 3D printed, all of her details will need to be physically sculpted into the mesh rather than simply painted on afterwards, meaning that this style is something that I’ll need to establish now.

I’d like to somewhat match her character art, partially for accuracy and partially because it’s stylized in a way that I’ve never attempted before. At a glance, she looks somewhat monochrome. However, a closer look reveals a fair amount of hue jitter and colorized shadows. There are also visible brushstroke lines and crosshatching while still having strong 3D shading, which straddles the line between flat 2D and dimensional 3D art. She isn’t too detailed (you can’t see individual threads or embroidery), but there’s a great deal of detail implied with the sharp highlights on specific areas (e.g. metallic jewelry in her hair). Finally, every part is outlined in black, which gives it a slight cel-shaded look; for my final (digital) render, I’m thinking of applying an outline filter to create that effect regardless of viewing direction.

Inspiration: Sergio Calvo Miniatures

As I have plans to produce Laudna as a 3D printed miniature, I started investigating expert mini painters. An instant spotlight I found is Sergio Calvo, a professional miniature painter for DnD minis and figures. Apart from being impressive purely in the amount of detail he manages to convey on such tiny pieces, he also demonstrates quite a few useful techniques in a similar style to Laudna’s concept art.

I’ve noticed that he tends to make heavy use of gradients, often between two different hues. This helps make his pieces much more dimensional and mimics the way light would hit much larger objects. He also uses visible, consistent brushstrokes rather than perfect blending in some areas to add texture. For metal parts, he uses a technique known as ‘NMM’ (non-metallic metal) painting where he manually adds in highlights, reflections, and worn edges without relying on an outside lighting source (as with real metallic paint). This is a technique that I often used when painting my own cosplay armor, where it won’t necessarily always be photographed in a way that brings out the cartoony video-game look, and so I’m glad to find that I do have some background that I can apply to this project.

My own cosplay paintjob (Orrian armor from Guild Wars 2)

I also admire his use of false (often colored) lighting, highlights, and shadows to make details pop; it’s clear he picks a light direction at the start and paints the entire mini with it in mind. This gives a sense of the character’s surroundings (are they outside? In a tavern? Near synthetic lighting like a control room?). With this, he tends to have a larger contrast between light and dark areas than would exist in reality (or with non-painted lighting), again adding more depth.

Many of the same styles and techniques apply to digital painting as well, especially since I’d like to maintain the crosshatched brush strokes, gradient highlighting, and tinted shadows present in the original concept artwork. Often, 3D sculpts are painted in a flat way and rely upon external colored lighting and filters to create this effect, but this ‘painted shading’ look is clear in some of my favorite painterly-style games such as Dishonored, Borderlands, and Life is Strange.

Traditional drawing and painting skills are some of my weakest areas – I’m quite insecure in my lack of sketching ability, and it’s something that I don’t often practice. I’m also very new to digital painting in general. Because of this, I find it helpful to break down other artists’ work into easily identifiable steps (base color, gradients, shadows, highlights, false lighting..) to make it more manageable. I plan to basically follow along with this sequence when I paint my Laudna figure in Substance.

Stylized Painting Tips + Procedural Adjustments

In anticipation of painting this piece, I’ve been generally collecting bookmarked articles that catch my eye as potentially containing useful techniques. I discovered a great writeup, ‘Character Art: Balancing Between Stylization and Realism‘ by Georgian Avasilcutei, character artist on 2/3 of the aforementioned stylized games. Beyond describing a useful pipeline for stylized painting, he reveals several creative ways of programmatically enhancing the painterly look.

Georgian Avasilcutei / 80Level

He starts out creating his characters fairly high-poly and realistic-looking, specifically mentioning material choices and fine details. This is something I’m more comfortable with than stylized, as I tend towards realism in my work. He then does some automated adjustments to the texture maps in Photoshop, such as adding a cutout filter to the green channel of his diffuse and normal maps, and tweaking the settings from there; this creates distinct brushstrokes without having to manually paint them in. He then adds more hand-painted details but with a HSB jitter on the stroke – this is a really smart way to get that nice color/lightness variation without having to continually go into the color palette.

As I said, I’m not the strongest digital painter, so I appreciate any ‘hacks’ I can find! Both of these are useful methods for ‘faking’ the way more practiced artists paint their pieces. I intend to take advantage of both, at least while I work out my own style. In general, I’ve found that I prefer more automated methods for creating art (filters, adjustment layers, shader creation..) because I’m not yet happy with my from-scratch skills.


Avasilcutei, G. (2021). Character Art: Balancing Between Stylization and Realism. [Online]. Medium. Available at: [Accessed: 21 November 2021].

Calvo, S. (2021). Sergio Calvo MiniaturesGallery. [Online]. Sergio Calvo Miniatures. Available at: [Accessed: 22 November 2021].

Friederichs, H. (2021). Laudna Character Portrait – Critical Role. [Image]. Available at: [Accessed: 4 November 2021].

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