Wouldn’t you agree that the most important element to consider when seeking to render the grimdark style is the aspiration to capture realism or a dark realism in our figure painting?
Personally, my first thought when coming up with a recipe or application process is “what would this really look like?”
In conjunction with this sentiment and almost as important to consider is the environment from which we should draw inspiration.
Environment is everything when considering the effects taking place on any given surface.
With that being said, let us first understand that the different types and variations of environments that could be found in any given fantasy setting are boundless. However, keeping with the spirit of the grimdark idea we should focus on style genres such as but not limited to horror, dystopian, surreal, morbid, and foreboding alien environments.
So we have a realism that is derived from a selected environment and coupled with that we should now talk about the exaggerations or elements of style we often include. Things such as muted color palettes paired with forced contrasts. The former being our realistic element and the latter being an artistic application.
Below is a reference list with a few realistic elements and artistic applications.
Mottling – the single most important element. Every surface will see some amount of mottling. The understanding of this element and how to apply it is one of the fundamental building blocks for the style. Want to master the grimdark style? Then master mottling first.
Surface Variations – Often enough the correct surface finish and variations of surface finishes is enough to sell a realistic approach. An example would be the difference in surface between a cloth and an armored surface. The distinction should be made obvious here. Another more detail oriented surface variation would be a polished black metal coating chipped down to a dry, textured, and perhaps rusted under surface.
Color Saturation – the armor and garments of an individual who has seen prolonged exposure to outside elements will see a reduction in color saturation over time.
Chipping – bangs and scratches happen. The amount and severity of chipping can be telling when trying to convey atmosphere. Now let’s not be confused. Chipping is not mandatory for the grimdark style.
Environmental Effects – a broad category. Things like rust, grime, oil stains, blood, corrosion, and the list goes on. Again, not mandatory.
Contrast – exaggerated contrast is a tool used to bring focus to the model. Darker darks and brighter brights will help to control the viewer’s eye.
Lighting Effects – is a fun way to add an artistic element to a figure. Regrettably, I can’t consider this a realistic element due to the fact it is impossible to paint ambient light in the negative space around our model.
To conclude, let me clarify that a gritty and dark realism is the grimdark way. There is no doubt about it. Weathering and chipping may not be pertinent in every environment but to endeavor for realistic elements in your work is mandatory. This often lends itself to the use of different types of products than what is commonly suggested for miniature painting. Indeed, you can take a grimdark approach with just acrylic paints and washes but without a doubt the use of enamels and oils in conjunction with acrylics will convey a much more realistic finish. And realism is key.