Having read and enjoyed sharikkamur's sagas of audacious, swashbuckling needlework in the Viking colonies, not to mention pink_weasel's fabric-related exploits, I thought I'd have a go at a handicrafts saga myself.
In my case, not being in the least a seamstress or weaver, I have been applying brush to a couple of fine figures recently liberated (with permission!) from the eBay account of very_true_thing. Behold, the before and after:
Rather reassuringly, when I displayed the finished figures to qidane without warning, he said: "Those look like Victoria and Albert," with no need for prompting or bribery, so perhaps the paint-jobs aren't too bad.
The figures needed little cleaning up - I don't know whether this was because they were well-moulded or very_true_thing had given them prior attention - so there wasn't much to prevent me getting stuck into the painting. Despite being a relatively late convert from enamels, I'm a confirmed fan of acrylics now and mostly used a combination of Inscribe acrylics and the now discontinued Humbrol range.
However, starting from the skin out, let me first sing the praises of the solitary example of the Maestro Craft range that I used. For pale Northern European skin, I don't reckon you can do better than their Natural Flesh colour.
Aside from the skin, which I felt fairly safe committing to, I started by doing a bit of research. I don't know whether the figures are based on a particular portrait, but if so, I didn't find it. I did find one of Albert in which he was kitted out similarly to the figure, but none of the portraits of Victoria seemed to come especially close. In the end, I allowed myself some artistic licence based on some of the portraits I did find. Thank you National Portrait Gallery, for your searchable catalogue.
A phone call to Mum and a bit more Googling established that, based mainly on the shape of Albert's star, the star and Victoria's sash were most likely to represent the Order of the Thistle. This was quite pleasing in a small way, partly because of course Scottish is better :-) but mainly because people rather expect to see Queens in a kingfisher blue Order of the Garter sash, so it was nice to get to use dark green instead.
A dark green sash would also fit better with my chosen colour scheme for Victoria's dress - inspired by sepia photos, I decided to go for cream and brown.
Having found an appropriate portrait to work from, Albert was almost a case of colour-by-numbers. Jacket and trousers were Inscribe's True Navy, with a stripe of Humbrol Scarlet down the seams of the trousers (not visible in the portrait, but it felt right). Scarlet was also used for the medal ribbon at the throat and for the belt. The belt in the portrait was a little unclear, but seemed to be gold with cords of an indeterminate colour (gold? red?) associated with the suspension of the sword at his hip. The miniature Albert isn't carrying a sword, so a bit of interpretation yielded a scarlet belt with gold edging. I used Inscribe Super Gold throughout as my gold of choice, as it's a bit more lustrous than the other golds I have available and seemed to be the best choice for carefully maintained paraphernalia.
I gave him Inscribe Pure Silver Metal buttons, in place of the dark ones in the portrait, as they wouldn't have been very visible on a figure of that scale, and Humbrol Black shoes or boots, with a gloss varnish (Inscribe).
For both Victoria and Albert I chose to use Inscribe's Burnt Umber for their hair and eyes, and picking out these details proved the only significant challenge for Albert. A fairly new size 1 liner brush kept its point admirably for this task. With some retrospective application of the Natural Flesh once more to narrow down eyebrows and moustache, Albert was more or less done. A few small dabs of Inscribe Coral Rose added a little shadow to the eyes and ears.
Victoria was more interesting, though apart from the sash (Inscribe Forest Green) she is predominantly painted with just two Inscribe colours - the pale, creamy Almond as a base colour for the dress, and the versatile Burnt Umber.
A few of Victoria's portraits show her wearing dresses with dark stripes hooped around a pale skirt. In some cases these might be different layers of material - in one with particularly broad bands this seems quite likely - but in others they're clearly part of the fabric. This seems to be quite a distinctive style of the period, so I thought that would be a good choice for my Victoria.
Wanting to go for a subtler effect, I tried thinning down the Burnt Umber before applying it as stripes to the skirt. This had both positive and negative effects. The negative effect was immediately obvious, and in fact predictable, had I cared to predict it. A very pale line appeared on the high parts of the dress, while darker regions pooled in the folds and bled outwards slightly. I carried on, but knew I'd have to tidy up afterwards.
Examining the damage after it had dried, I came to two conclusions: firstly, I would have to retouch the areas where the Burnt Umber had bled, with more Almond; and secondly, although it hadn't worked as I planned, the thinned paint had allowed me to draw the brush more quickly and smoothly around the hoops than I would have been able to do with unthinned and quick-drying acrylic paint. As a result, although some retouching was necessary, I had a decent set of guidelines to steer me through a less subtle and more effective application.
A second try, with full-strength paint, was more successful.
Thinned Burnt Umber did prove successful elsewhere, however, when applied in varying strengths. A medium application around the neckline helped to give a cappucino froth to the lacy trim, while the the form-hugging properties that had failed the skirt positively complemented the bow tied around the waist, providing contrasting shadow that picked out the higher areas. The same shadow also naturally appeared around the neckline at the very edge of the lace, with a very slight hint of a crease between arm and shoulder. Finally, a very thin mixture applied all over the skirt helped to pick out the folds.
I'm always slightly in two minds about that sort of wash. Close to, as the painter, it makes the dress look frankly grubby. However, at a slightly greater distance, where most folk will see the figure, it's effective in providing texture. A light dry-brushing with more Almond helped to reduce the grubbiness a bit while still keeping the general effect.
Jewellery in Super Gold and Pure Silver Metal with a couple of dabs of Inscribe's Leaf Green and Burgundy to represent stones, and a very slender Almond silk band restraining the hair style completed the head and neck. A little Coral Rose was applied around the eyes, as with Albert, to deepen the shadow slightly, and also at the bust.
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the Victoria figure is the elbow gloves she is wearing, which are a bit chunky - in contrast to the sophistication of the rest of the figure, they look like she is ready for a spot of falconry. Sadly, I don't think my paint job helped. Over a base of Inscribe's Fawn, I applied another wash of Burnt Umber. The texture contributes to the air of chunkiness - but you'll just have to take my word for it that they didn't look any better when the colour was flat.
Finally, a fan kept the same Almond base as the dress for the fabric part, and Burnt Umber for the wooden parts. For the chain of beads it's suspended from, I chose a Pearlescent White from Liquitex, although I suspect even the Great She-Elephant didn't punt about with pearls of that size as a matter of course.
The base they both stand upon allowed for some minor innovation. Out-of-the-box, both Victoria and Albert came with pegs in their bases that matched holes in the tiled floor. However, Victoria is stable enough on her dress alone that I cut her peg off and filled the corresponding hole in the base with Milliput. Now she can still stand on the base with Albert if so desired, but I can also use the figures separately.
I decided to try for a marble look to the tiles in the base, with a single inlaid hoop of brass. Ironically the best choice for a posh reddish marble seemed to be Barnyard Red (Inscribe). I interspersed the red with Humbrol Black, and chose to make the four-slab circle in the middle Inscribe Snow. A slightly laurelate textured wreath within the brass hoop became Leaf Green.
To achieve the marbling effect, I applied small amounts of Humbrol Light Grey with plenty of water on top of the stronger colours. I tried several ways of applying it - small, thinned amounts applied directly by brush and left to dry; the same, but with most of the moisture drawn off straight away with a sliver of tissue; drops of water with small amounts of paint then spotted into them with the tip of the brush; and very small amounts without thinning applied directly on top of the results of more watery applications to add final detail.
It's hard for me to judge whether the marbling is a success. I think it's not too bad, and the liberal use of water has given it a reasonable degree of randomness, but I think I may have applied too much grey to the white marble and one thing I found particularly noticeable is that it's hard to achieve convincing results at the edge of tiles or slabs without flooding the rest of the floor...
Coats of matt varnish for the figures and gloss varnish for the tiled floor were quickly applied, and as a last touch the cracks between the tiles each got some Inscribe Raw Umber and a thin line of matt varnish. For such a small detail, it's amazing how much that matt varnish added to the look of the floor. The tiles were briefly buffed with a piece of felt to remove the most obvious brush texture (the gloss varnish is quite thick and quick drying).
Over all, I'm quite pleased with my results on this miniature. Thanks again to very_true_thing!