Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tutorial: Painting Japanese Woodblock-style Cherry Blossoms

Since I've been at my current job, I've always admired two scrolls of japanese woodblock prints that hang in our hallway. Both scrolls depict cherry blossoms in bloom using a limited palette of 4 colors - white, grey, black, and red.

If you're interested in the background and history of this type of artwork, it is generally referred to as 'Ukiyo-e', roughly translated as 'pictures of the floating world'.

In keeping with the vaguely asian fine art theme for my Eldar army, I thought Id try to replicate this print in miniature. The technique is fairly easy, any painter with some experience under their belt should be able to do this tutorial in 1 to 2 sittings. An experienced painter should be able to do this very easily (and probably a whole lot better than mine!).

What You'll Need

-A good paintbrush with a well-defined tip (here I used a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #1)
-Grey, black, and red paint (I used P3 Ironhull Grey, Golden Fluid Acryl Black, & GW Blood Red)
-Sakura Micron Pigma 005 Black Pen
-Satin or Matte Sealant


1. Prep and paint the mini as you normally would.
Above, I'm using the cape of an Eldar Farseer. As you can see, I've already shaded and highlighted the cape and the rest of the mini is complete.

2. Starting with grey, define the main branches of your tree.
Don't worry too much about making perfect, defined edges and lines. Most Japanese woodblocks and Sumi-e paintings of the period we're attempting to emulate focused more on pronounced brush strokes, then toning them down into the overall painting.

3. Still using grey paint, begin defining the smaller branches of the tree.
Notice that I don't uniformly paint the branches throughout this process, letting the colors underneath come through here and there. This provides the subtle illusion of tree bark, which is not uniform and reflects color differently throughout.
In the prints I used for inspiration, the branches tend to point upwards and are generally bunched together. Because I had such a large and uneven surface to paint on, I decided to let my smaller branches "splay" outwards a bit more.

4. Using the black color, over-paint the upper portion of the main branches. If you want branches to stay in the background, use little or no black paint to define them.
As we are emulating a woodblock-style print, highlighted and shaded areas are reversed (most trees would be highlighted on the upper portion of branches, where the sun more often shines upon them). Do a Google search for Japanese woodblocks and look closely at the images. The vast majority of them will have lighter colors where western art would traditionally put deeper, more shaded colors. This is part of the reason Japanese-style art is so distinctive to the eye.

5. Still using black, over-paint the majority of the smaller branches, making them more defined.

6. Now the fun part! Using red, begin painting the cherry blossoms around the branches. For larger blossoms (congregating more to the main branches and the bottom of the image), paint 4-5 dots linked to each other (picture a four-leaf clover if you need to visualize what I'm saying). For smaller blossoms (usually congregating towards the very tip of the smaller branches), a single dot should suffice.
You can add as little or as many blossoms as you'd like in this step. For a starker, more "traditional" image, use less blossoms and cluster them together thoughout the image.

7. Now to add the iconography. Because I'm painting an Eldar, Eldar runes are drawn with a 005 Micron Pen along the edges.
You could leave this step out all together or decide to replicate some Japanese (Kanji) or other asian iconography. A word of advice though: If you decide to replicate Kanji or other asian characters, do some research first and know what you're painting on your piece. Someday, you may encounter an opponent who can read it and something may get "lost in translation".....
8. Seal with satin or matte sealant when complete.

The completed Farseer can be viewed here.

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