I was using the character Nandi from the Firefly episode Heart of Gold. Nandi was played by Melinda Clarke. You can Google the actress or the character for pictures of the original. In the episode, her hair was mostly dark brown, but under any kind of light the highlights went to red. So, I was going for brunette with a lot of red in it.
The technique I used for her hair is based on what's taught by PaintMinion, Sue Wachowski. Last I knew she still teaches at conventions occasionally. If you have a chance to take her class, by all means do so! You will do better getting it from her directly than my version.
Here's the figure I'm using for demonstration. This is Lysette, Female Elf, from the Reaper Bones line (77076). She's been given an overall base coat of RMS Brown Liner. Some people recommend doing this with the Bones figures to help paint stick more evenly when thinned and to help make the fine detail stand out more. Also, since I'm only going to be painting the relevant parts of this figure, I think it'll photograph better this way than if I'd left it white.
Now, on to the hair. Since I was going for 'mostly brunette with lots of red', I started by giving her hair a base coat of Reaper Master Series Blackened Brown (9137). This is a dark brown with a bit of red to it.
I decided I wanted a more reddish cast to the hair. So, I pulled out RMS Auburn Shadow (9241) and thinned it to a glaze. I went over all the hair except the places that would be in shadow. The result still reads as brown, but a redder brown. By not applying the glaze to the shadow areas, I've left the Blackened Brown as my shadow color.
Next, I went back to the Blackened Brown. I thinned it some; not as far down as glaze consistency, though. I went back and carefully put the thinned Blackened Brown between some of the locks of hair, putting some shadow color in those spots to create some depth and definition between locks of hair. In the next picture, arrows point to where I've put in these shadows.
And that was it for shadows. Next, I went into building up highlights. For this, I went back to the Auburn Shadow. I thinned it a little less than I would for a glaze so it would go on a little more opaque. Then I put this on where it looked like highlights should go. As I do this (and in all steps following this), I am using brush strokes going in the same direction as the strands of hair. I am not moving the brush across the strands of hair.
So then, how do you choose where the highlights go? Well, here are some rules of thumb, assuming your light source is overhead.
- On the crown of the head. This ends up being the 'halo' highlight around the top of the figure's head. That's the one that I have the hardest time getting to look right.
- Where the hair curls convex, arcing outward, at the highest part of that arc facing your light source.
- Where the hair curls concave, arcing inward, at the lowest part of that arc facing your light source.
So you can see on her, there's a highlight around the crown of her head, another across the back where the hair curves away from her head and neck, another under her left shoulder where the hair dips down, and another under her right wrist where the hair curls back up.
Next, I brought in a brighter layer of highlight using RMS Highlight Orange (9243). These are the same highlight areas, but this band of highlight is narrower.
Now, the edges on that highlight are a little sharp. So, I went back with my Auburn Shadow to blend them in better.
Then I went in with the final highlight. This is the brightest, shiniest spot, where the reflection off the hair is almost white. I used RMS Creamy Ivory (9144).
This highlight should be very narrow. I never manage to make it narrow enough and blend it in smoothly, so I make it a little wider than I want it and come back with the previous highlight color along the edges. I also usually glaze over it with a very thinned mix of the previous highlight, again to help blend it in but alsoto make it seem more part of the hair than just some paint laid on top. After the glazing, I will often hit a few of the strands with just a touch of the top highlight (in this case, the Creamy Ivory) to put back those very fine brightest highlights.
And that's the end. There is a fair bit of back-and-forth while getting the highlight layers blended in, which can be time consuming. But I think even if you don't want to do all that, there are a couple ideas that are valuable regardless of how you choose to implement them:
- Don't be afraid to go very bright with your lightest highlights. Healthy hair is shiny.
- Highlight placement - crown of the head and on the curls, both locks that curl in and that curl out.