Is this how to paint fire?

It was hard to think of a title for this post that didn’t make me sound like a know it all. So now I’m just going to talk about how one of the best painters I’m aware of does things incorrectly. Darren Latham:

Darren painted this Avatar and did an incredible job, there’s no denying that, but the fire on it has always bugged me.

It’s the thick black shadow that differentiates the fire from the Avatar’s leg. This is not how light works and makes the amazing blends on the fire kind of a waste of time, the illusion is ruined.

Now it looks like I’m cheating here because my desk lamp makes this look far better in a picture than it does in real life, but the flaming skull coming out of my skull cannon casts painted light on the top of the part that’s underneath it.

This is all done with drybrushing, and is something any painted can achieve with little practice or effort and I think it sells that fire effect far better than Darren’s Avatar.

But in the realm of fire painting I think I’ve made another breakthrough. Fire isn’t yellow/orange and definitely not red.

I had a sneaking suspicion that fire is actually closer to being metallic. So to test this I threw together a weird shrine thing with a big fire on top. It’s all your standard stuff:

Once primed white I got down to drybrushing. My standard process works through from white to yellow to orange to red to black, not washing out your drybrush between each stage as that helps with the blend.

This time however I works through various golds into a bronze and then finally a black.

It certainly looks the part, but then I did put a yellow wash over the top:

I think the final result is better than my usual method by quite some way, and it’s really one of those things that’s seen better in real life, but here’s the new and old side by side:

I thought about why metallic fire might be more effective that your standard orange stuff and it might be to do with light. Fire generates light and paint can’t, but metallic paint is reflective and so helps with the illusion that the fire is generating light.

Let me know what you think.

7 thoughts on “Is this how to paint fire?

  1. i had not thought of using metallics to create a fire look but it works.

  2. Looks good to me. Just asking – if the goal is to have something that looks like it is emitting light, then what about flourescent paints? Of course, I’ve no idea if you can get them for our hobby, or if they would work in practice (and the effects probably don’t last)…

  3. This may well be how to paint fire! I certainly agree with the diagnosis of that Avatar (masterful technique, poor composition) and can’t fault the effect of the ole metallics. Part of me wants to go to town with funny coloured inks and try out some spell effects in the same style – weirdo glowy wizard nonsense surely generates light too…

  4. Very effective. I’m convinced!

    Note also the edge highlighting on the Avatar’s black flame edges. Process painting triumphs over observation, but it’s probably in line for a Golden Bogie award or somesuch?

    Regards, Chris.

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