Painting Flames and Fire
Painting flames for the first time can be a challenge to any painter, no matter the skill level. For most fantasy miniature painters, we have been taught to paint from dark to light, highlighting the edges and tips, and shading the recesses. This is true for most miniatures, shading helps to bring out small details and highlighting makes the miniature “pop.”
However, this method is completely backwards when it comes to painting flames.
To understand fire and flames, we need to take a closer look at what’s happening. So what is happening? Captain Obvious says, “Something is burning.” Very true, Captain Obvious. Something is burning, and that is why we have fire.Fire is hottest at its source, which makes sense. Flames are white hot at the center, the very hottest part of the fire. The farther away the flames lick away from the source, the cooler they get until they die out. As the flame tendrils reachout as they burn, the color changes. White hot at the center, turning into yellow, orange, red, and finally a dark red at the tips. We paint the very tips black to suggest soot or smoke.An orange or red fire suggests a natural fire such as a bonfire or a torch. An ethereal or magical flame might have blue tendrils with a white center. Magical flames tend to be painted blue because it suggests a cooler flame, one able to be shaped and handled by a mage or sorcerer. It also suggests a supernatural source.Fire is, in fact, blue at the center of a flame, but it is usually invisible to the naked eye. The orange and red hues from the burning source is usually enough to mask the blue color. Putting blue at the center of your torch flame would be confusing and unrealistic on a miniature. This is why I limit my colors to yellows and reds, which is what we see and identify with when we think of fire.
It is always important to prime your miniature before painting. In the case of painting fire, I always use white or grey primer, since the basecoat is white. Painting a black primer first would require many coats of white just to cover it up, and is a waste of time. Prime your fire white or grey, and let it dry for a few hours.
I am using Citadel colors to paint these flames, but they can be substituted for similar colors. The model I am using for the example is a Legion of the Damned backpack with a nice torch attached to the top. The flames modeled onto the backpack are painting the “wrong” way, but I find that modeled flames like this are easier to see with the tips painted yellow. It might be technically incorrect, but it’s hard to see dark red tipped flames against black armor, so I took artistic license. For the real flames, however, we’ll use the proper method.
Paint the entire fire Skull White. Make sure to cover the entire area and get the white in the recesses.
Next, paint the fire Sunburst Yellow, leaving Skull White in the recesses. I only leave the very deepest parts Skull White, so most of the fire can be painted Sunburst Yellow. This is the hot part of the fire; the yellow will be most prominent at the base and toward the middle of the flames.
Paint the middle and upper flame tendrils Golden Yellow, leaving Sunburst Yellow in the recesses and at the base of the flame tendrils. The flames are getting cooler as they go up, so the color is getting cooler as well. The darker yellow color works well as a blending color between yellow and orange. Your flames should look like a bunch of delicious bananas at this point.
Next, paint Blazing Orange on the flame tips. I find the transition between Blazing Orange and Golden Yellow to be a bit abrupt, so for the next step I add a wash of Golden Yellow to the flame bases and the recesses of the flames where the transition is too abrupt. This helps blend the colors together and smooth things out a bit.
Add the wash of Golden Yellow. Just add water to make the Golden Yellow a bit more soupy than you would normally paint with, and use it to blend the colors together. Be careful not to wash the entire flame with it, or you’ll have to go back and redo the Skull White and Sunburst Yellow.
Go over again with Blazing Orange, making sure to leave the blended colors lower on the flames, helping the color transition. It should look a lot like fire now!
Paint Blood Red on the tips, leaving streaks as you go down. I find that the streaks help it to look like real fire, and give it a sense of motion. Imagine the flames licking up from the center to the top, the dancing flames are suggested by these streaks.
Now paint Red Gore on the tips, leaving streaks again. The Red Gore should be applied mostly to the tips of the flames, avoid painting the Red Gore too low on the flame tendrils. Red Gore is a cooler red, so it should be limited to the tips.
I skip using pure Scab Red and instead mix Scab Red and Chaos Black together, and paint it on the very tips of the flames. This is to suggest the coolest tips of the flames, and also suggest the soot or smoke coming off of the flames. I use this dark red mix sparingly, painting very small streaks and limiting it to the very tips. Too much and the fire will look strange. Follow with pure chaos black on the very tips if necessary.
Now that the fire is complete, I can finish the wrought iron cage holding the flames. I paint this with pure chaos black.
There you have it! The fire is complete. If desired, go back and paint some very small dots of pure Skull White at the very base of the flames. This helps suggest white-hot embers at the base of the flames, and can add some realism and helps break apart the colors at the base of the flames. Adding some pure Sunburst Yellow specks at the base of the tendrils can add to the realism as well.
Hope this helps you with all your flame and fire painting needs!