How to: Paint A Sky-Earth Non-Metallic Metal Cockpit Canopy
There are many manners in which you can paint a cockpit canopy for Battletech. I have a wide variety of painting styles that I have utilized over the course of painting hundreds of miniatures worth of canopies, lenses, windows, etc. There are, however, some methods in particular that are more striking visually and have a way of really tying your miniature to an environment of your choosing.
This brings us to today’s topic which is Sky/Earth Non-Metallic Metal, otherwise known to many folks by its acronym, SENMM. So, what is SENMM? Non-metallic metal, a.k.a. NMM, is a relatively widely known technique to paint metallics on a miniature without the actual use of metallic paints. To do this, folks utilize a color pallet that creates stark gradients to produce a hue of colors that would represent a choice of metal; be it silver, gold, bronze, copper, etc. Where SENMM differs greatly is that this technique in-essence represents something very specific: a chrome or mirror finish. This is used to help give environmental reflections and add visual interest to areas of a miniature. While there are a number of methods you can use to achieve this look, I’ll break down what I feel is the least complex method of doing so. I assure you that even as a novice painter, what may seem like an advanced technique will have much of its magic dispelled once you work through the steps below.
The basis of this technique is the attempt to create a horizon line that delineates the separation of sky and earth within the reflection of whatever you are painting with this technique. The way in which this is painted will be dictated by the shape of the object being painted.
Using the above image as an example, we can see that flat surfaces will have a relatively even, two-dimensional horizon image.
Round surfaces will have some curvature to the horizon, and placement of the horizon line will be dictated by the angle of the object with relation to the earth: a semi-spheroid round surface angled to face more toward the ground will have a horizon line higher up in perspective with a side-on view, whereas if it is facing mostly upward toward the sky, it will have very little ground visible with sky reflection dominating the surface.
Where things get more convoluted is on oblong surfaces/objects. Oblong surfaces are surfaces that have multiple curved shapes present, and these will require more attention to orientation with relation to the sky and the ground. Ultimately you will be following the same line of thought as a spheroid shape, but you now have multiple round surfaces to account for.
Cylindrical objects have vastly different reflection depending on their orientation. The above example shows the cylinder being perfectly level with relation to the ground, i.e. a side-on view. So, even though the reflection is on a curved surface, the horizon line appears perfectly straight in perspective. However, the more you tilt that cylinder off of a “level” axis, the more elongated curvature the reflection will have. Additionally, if you continue rotating the cylinder until it reaches a vertical – or 90-degree angle – from the horizontal orientation it was at previously, the horizon will become relatively level and straight again.
There are a few rules of thumb when considering placement of the sky, earth, and horizon line, as well as where you will be placing light and dark shades within the sky and the earth.
When it comes to placement of sky and earth, you really need to consider the shape of whatever canopy panel you are painting, as well as it’s orientation to the earth and sky. For example: a flat panel that is angled slightly upward is going to have more sky than earth showing; a rounded canopy facing up and forward (like a Battlemaster’s, or the below Arbalest) will have a curved horizon toward the front with much of the canopy being dominated by sky; a flat panel angled downward at a 45-degree may have only earth showing with no sky shown at all. These are just a few examples, but I hope this illustrates the thought process.
With regards to placement of light and dark shades, the general rule of thumb is the sky nearest the horizon in the reflection will always be the brightest – often times being a near white reflection – with the sky getting darker the further up and away from the horizon you move.
With the earth reflection, the horizon of the earth will be the darkest, with color shade getting brighter the “closer” you get from the horizon, toward the bottom of the earth reflection. This placement of bright sky color directly adjacent to the very dark horizon color creates a stark contrast that produces the very striking appearance of the reflection. In many cases – especially on curved surfaces – the transition areas between color gradients will be very short to also increase the contrast within the overall reflection image.
So, all this theory laid out for consumption, lets dive into what this actually would look like, step by step. For this example, I am using an Arbalest with a curved canopy panel.
Step 1: Base your canopy panels in black. Here, I used Vallejo Game Color Black.
Step 2: Delineate your horizon line by applying your darkest ground color and your darkest sky color, leaving a black line separating these two colors to indicate your horizon line. You can reinforce this line by going back in with black to sharpen it. Here, I used Vallejo Model Color Chocolate Brown for the earth tone, and Vallejo Intense Blue.for the sky tone.
Step 3: Apply your second darkest ground color within the previous earth layer. You do not need a very smooth blend with the earth tone gradients as this will help create some texture shading as you progress through the gradient colors. With the sky color, I apply my next tone in a smaller area, having the color fade toward the top of the previous layer. With the sky colors, you do want to get a smoother blend overall throughout the transitions. However, you can simply sketch in for now, and go back later on to smooth out the blending; it’s up to you entirely. Here I use Forumla P3 Bloodstone for myearth tone; for the sky tone I use Vallejo Game Color Ultramarine Blue.
Step 4: Progressing in a similar manner, I apply my next, slightly brighter earth tone in the ground reflection, covering a smaller area than the previous layer. Again, I recommend sketching this in and not worrying about a smooth blend. I apply the next brighter tone for the sky, but make this layer a bit smoother to ease the transition. The earth tone here is Army Painter Monster Brown, and the sky tone is Army Painter Crystal Blue.
Step 5: Once again, paint with your next brightest tones within the previous layer, leaving some of that layer showing through. For this layer, I leave slightly larger transition areas as I am getting nearer to the lower part of each side of the reflection. I do also go back in with some of my darkest earth tone and scribble in a few areas near the horizon that I wanted to darken in order to create a bit more contrast; clean-up, small edits, and refinements like this throughout the process are necessary, so don’t get frustrated with this. It’s an organic practice and I find this a very enjoyable part of the process. The earth tone here is Vallejo Model Color Desert Yellow; the sky tone is Citadel Temple Guard Blue.
Step 6: In this step, I am really shortening the area I paint within on either side of the reflection. I do this as I want to start to really brighten up the edge of the earth reflection as well as the sky nearest to the horizon. The earth tone here is Formula P3 Hammerfall Khaki; the sky tone is Citadel Temple Guard Blue mixed 2:1 with some white Dahler&Rowney FW artist ink. I also do a small edit to give the impression of some hill/mountain features in the very distant horizon. To do this, I used a thinned down amount of the Ultramarine from Step 2. I chose an area toward the middle of the horizon line and just gave two opposing grazes with my brush to leave an indication of hills faded by atmospheric effects in the distance. This is a more technical bit of the below example and is not entirely necessary when just learning this technique and just working on grasping the primary fundamentals of the whole process. However, creative little things like this help to add a deeper sense of realism. I highly recommend pushing yourself down the road to try doing this extra bit!
Step 7: This is where I am applying my brightest color tones, and doing so within the smallest areas in the highlight edge. I use Army Painter Skeleton Bone to blend the highlight edge of the earth reflection. I then add a small amount of white ink to the Skeleton Bone, and go back in to place some very small spot highlights along the bottom edge of the earth reflection. For the sky near the horizon, I take the previous 2:1 mix of Temple Guard Blue and white ink and add some more white ink to the mix, making it closer to a 1:2 mix of Temple Guard Blue to white ink. You are ultimately going for a very cool off-white color that is a bit blue heavy. I paint a very thin line of this along the horizon, as well as do some very gentle lines and scribbles in the sky above the horizon; this will give some small indication of clouds.
At this point you can go back and refine whatever you feel needs some more attention. Spending time thinning down your transition colors and going back to blend the sky to give it a smoother appearance will go a long way. Conversely, the earth reflection often benefits from some harsher contrasts in the interest of texture and topography, so blend this area at your discretion. Sometimes less is more. The amount of refining is ultimately up to you.
…. That’s it – that’s all folks!
This is a daunting technique for some and I wanted to make it as clear and understandable as possible so that even beginners may have enough confidence to give this a try. It’s very achievable and just requires a reasonable level of patience. Work on taking your time and keeping a steady hand. Please, do give it a try!
Onward, and upward everyone. Happy painting.