A ghost in the attic – Experimenting with object source lighting

I always shied away from Object Source Lighting effects (or short OSL). The idea is that you paint a light source and the light it casts on surfaces. As you can imagine, it ain’t easy to do that on a miniature. I decided to give it finally a try. Did I succeed? You will be the judge.

Long time readers may remember one of my earliest posts featuring a castle’s ghost conversion based on a Reaper Bones ‘Spirit’ miniature. Like most of my conversions he haunted my box of shame for many years.

Converting the ghost

To transform the spirit in a castle’s ghost with chains and all, you need one Warlord Games Skeleton sprue for a new purty face and skinny arms and one Warlord Games Orc sprue, or more precisely, two morning stars,  for the shackle’s chain. Some Greenstuff to sculpt the shackle’s cuffs is also necessary.

Start with a few clean cuts to liberate the Spirit from its head and arms. Select a pair of arms and a head from the Skeleton sprue and give the spirit  its new shiny head and hands. With some green stuff sculpt cuffs around the spirit’s neck and wrists. These can be simple bands of iron or if you want to get fancy could also show some bolts.

Next take two morning stars from the Orc sprue. Cut one in half and remove the handle and spiked ball, leaving you with two chain segments. The second one will only lose its handle and the spikes on the ball. Be careful with the chain segment, as it might break apart when handled with too much force. Best rest the ball end on an even surface and shave the spikes off with a sharp hobby knife.

Now glue the chain segments in place, making sure they are not only attached to the green stuff cuffs, but also rest on the model’s body for more support and stability. E voila, we have turned a rather plain miniature into a much more interesting rendition of a castle’s ghost.

Coming up with a scene

A ghost miniature is obviously well suited for glow effects, but I wanted to go one step further and fashion a scenic base for it: an attic with covered furnishings and personal objects related to the ghost.

I just finished a haunted house series on Netflix, so I thought an oil painting of the deceased and a diary would convey a tragic back story to the haunting. In classic victorian fashion a person was kept captive on the attic, now to seek release from its shackles even after death.

Assuming the attic is entirely dark, the ghost would cast a gentle light over all the furnishings and objects. The advantage of this setting would be the lack of a second light source (the moon or a candle for instance) and thus a clear indication were the light would be blocked by objects.

Fashioning the furnishings

With a large circular base I had plenty of space to add some larger furniture in the background. A chest of drawers seemed like a good choice; bulky enough to take up some space, but not too detailed to distract from the ghost or painting.

I used foamboard, plastic card and tooth picks (for the feet and knobs) to build a rough shape, resembling a chest of drawers. One drawer is not entirely closed to add interest. The clue is, that this shape is now covered in a dust sheet. Accordingly it doesn’t need to be overtly detailed or textured.

The sheet is made with a single layer of tissue paper soaked in thinned down PVA. This is then draped and shaped while still wet. You should try this on a spare piece first, as you need to get a hang how the wet tissue behaves for best results.

Spooky portrait

The spooky oil painting was directly painted on a thin piece of plastic card, using model acrylics. The backside of the painting got some love, too: With thin stripes of plastic card I fashioned a proper stretcher.

While I did use a reference to get the facial proportions right, the face just didn’t come out perfect. Gladly I was able to cover the right side up with the dust sheet, so the golden rule of modelling comes in handy again: if you don’t like it, cover it up.

One important aspect were the colours used. Instead of a colorful rendition of the deceased, I wanted a reduced palette, mimicking the overall color atmosphere of the scene.

Another consideration was how to fasten the ghost to the base. I wanted a hover effect and decided to use a magnet and clear acrylic rod. This also offers the opportunity to exchange the miniature, should I have an other ghostly creature in need of a scenic base.

Painting the scene

Bringing it all together and achieving a suitable ‘ghost in the dark’ effect was definitively not easy. In fact I struggled at every stage. Per usual in this hobby: it all paid of. I learned a bunch and lost some fear of OSL with this project. If I don’t practice the craft I will never improve, so next time it might come easier.

Instead of going for naturalistic colours and darkening those, I decided to use, just with the oil painting, a reduced palette: violett and blue. Furnishings were rendered with the violet, while the ghost and painting use the blue. I think the connection between the ghost and the person in the painting is more obvious that way.

To give you a better idea of the base colour of the ghost.

In both cases I mixed a fairly dark shade of each base colour, basically chromatic blacks, and used these mixes for all areas in darkness. Highlights where then applied with a fairly light version of the base colour. In effect I only used two colours and established contrast going from almost black up to pure white.

To fully realise the glowing effect I might need to tone down some of the light cast on the dust sheet, but all in all I am happy how the ghost turned out. Some pictures with an infinite black background might also add to the illusion.

I hope you enjoyed this journey into darkness and give it a try yourself. If you have any suggestions, ideas or painted some cool ghost miniatures yourself comment below. Dead or alive, no matter, always wield your brush with honour!

12 thoughts on “A ghost in the attic – Experimenting with object source lighting”

  1. Bloody brilliant. Certainly an idea I’d like to rip off someday if I ever get around to doing anything with that particular Bone.
    erm.
    Bones? Bones model?
    Regardless, I’m keen to see the painted version now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You are invited to rip the idea off I look forward to your version ;). There are still some half finished minis on the table, but I should be able to get around painting him in the not so distant future.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Never thought about it, but you are right, the “castle” ghost variety is surely something I would connect to Scooby Doo. There are some other miniatures on the table I have to finish first, but I am looking forward to paint this guy up. Now he even has a proper crypt backdrop.

      Like

  2. This came out really well and I think OSL is best done slowly and carefully. If you overdo the effect, you can’t really walk it back though thankfully it is easy to always add more to the lighting effect. As a result, I tend to not be impressed by my own OSL that I’ve painted because I’ve applied so many super thin layers, I’ve lost a bit of perspective on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for commenting and your experiences with OSL. Quite true. If you go too dark or too light it is usually a pain to correct. Another consideration is preparation. Adding OSL to a finished mini is usually not going to work, as just glazing areas will not provide the best outcome.

      With the ghost I may increase the dark to light contrast a tad more and see how it goes.

      I am also contemplating sculpting a more romantic apparition, using negative space to create a face resembling the portrait and not a ghastly visage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thinking about where you want to place the highlights can be a little mentally taxing too come to think of it. I think you’re right that it is best to have OSL in mind when you begin the painting process. I like the idea of the romantic apparition. It could have an Edgar Allen Poe-like beauty to it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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