Sunday, December 29, 2013

Painting People, or It Figures

Trains, trucks and tracks, but where are the people?

Looking at photos of the M & M Sub., you see trains, track, trees, water, buildings, even some vehicles. One thing you don’t see are people.

I am not a big fan of people on layouts. Nothing seems to make a photo of a model railroad look more toy-like than unrealistic-looking figures.

But maybe the problem is that I am painting them wrong. At least, that’s what Brian Fayle suggests.

Some of Brian Fayle's people.

Fayle, a modeller from Ontario, has the same problem with figures that I do. 

“Have you ever noticed when you look at a photograph of a model railway, and there is a figure in it, the figure will nearly always give the game away?” he asks. “The figures look flat and artificial.”

To counter this, Brian came up with a painting technique that creates false shadows in the figures, making them seem fuller and more lifelike.

On his website, Brian says that his “painting technique is designed to produce figures that photograph to look like real people and to look like real people when viewed at a normal layout viewing distance.”

Brian’s method is to first paint the figures black, then use a dry brushing technique to add colour. This preserves what he calls the Type A, or edge shadows, and the Type B, or fold shadows. It is these shadows that contribute to making them look more realistic.

By way of example, Brian offers the figures in the photo above. The one on the left is painted the normal way, the one on the right with his black base technique. 

“Half close your eyes, sit back and which one looks closer to reality?” he asks. “The figure on the left looks flat, whilst the one on the right definitely does not.”

What do you think?

Click here to visit Brian’s website to see more photos and learn more about his figure painting technique. 

More of Brian's figures.


  1. While I agree with you, John..."Nothing seems to make a photo of a model railroad look more toy-like than unrealistic-looking figures."

    I also find that if we go for a drive, or even go to the mall, people are fascinated with other people. In the former, you'll pick out someone chopping wood, weeding the garden, fixing a car playing frisbee and focus on them. In the latter, we enjoy the many differences between people, their activities, and where they might be shopping.

    We focus on them, so in model form, yes, the figures have to look just right!

  2. Good post!

    These figures do look quite good and would make a great subject for an expanded how-to or even a quick video to show the technique from start to finish.

    I assume HO scale, and would also assume O scale would be easier (or would it require even more detail) but would also be very interested to see the technique done in N scale and whether it still holds up as the size shrinks.

    Thanks for posting this.