When you look at a mini, the first thing your eye is drawn to is the face (if it has one). Faces are the most important part of a paint job. A good face can make a mediocre paint job seem better, and a bad face can turn the most brilliantly shaded and dynamically lighted model into a strip-and-repaint job.
Even though it can be one of the hardest things to paint, I tend to paint the face first. That way if I completely ruin the miniature, I can start over from a strip quickly.
So, what makes a good face? Shading, detail, good eyes, and composition with the mini.
Most faces have detail, wrinkles, recessed areas, etc. Unless it's something like The Blank from Dick Tracy.
Detail and shading here is quite easy. Start with a dark base and gently drybrush a lighter shade. Then, drybrush even more lightly an even lighter shade. This worked well in the below mini, whose face was Scorched Brown with a drybrush of Dark Flesh, and then a very very light drybrush of 50% Dark Flesh and 50% Bronzed Flesh.
You can also paint a medium shade, do an ink wash (light brown or chestnut) and then, if you need to, drybrush the original color over that. GW's new line of washes make this easy. Scroll back to the top of this post. Daniel was done with Elf Flesh, then a wash of 50% of the old GW Chestnut Ink with 50% water plus a drop of dish soap. Then, Elf Flesh was drybrushed over that.
Faces usually have a lot of little things on them. Take this for example:
In addition to teh flesh and eyes, I've made sure to pick out the interior of the mouth with black and the teeth with white, to make a sharp contrast. I've also added a paler flesh color to the scar. Little details make the face more visually interesting. Compare that with this:
The Black Reach plastic Warboss is a great mini, and that tongue BEGS to be painted a nice brilliant pink or pale blue. Leaving it black look bad because it is big enough to see. There is also a lack of attention to the "good eye" on the Warboss' right side (our left). The shading on the skin looks fine, but the lack of detail makes it look sloppy. If the face had been great, the less-than-perfect paint job on the rest of the mini would be less noticeable.
The eyes are the windows to the soul, it was once said in the cheesy Fox television series Brimstone. Good eyes can make a mini come alive. Most eyes are too small for colored pupils, and so are usually black in the middle of a white eye. There are two ways to do this. Paint the eye white and put a dot of black in the middle, OR paint the eye black and put white on the outside. I usually do the former, but I'm told the latter is easier.
One tip for good eyes is to make sure the black dot of the eye touches both the top and bottom of the eye. Like this:
Piers above has a very relaxed feeling, as he's balancing his hammer on his shoulder. His eyes reflect this. He's not squinting, or wide-eyed. Contrast that with the sergeant on the left in this picture:
Notice the black dot is not touching the top or bottom of the eye. He looks wide-eyed, as if screaming with rage!
You can also have the dot off-center, to make the mini looking in a particular direction. Check out Epic Caine below:
The dot touches the top, but not the bottom. Because Caine's head is tilted down, he looks like he is looking forward. If he had his head held high, he'd be looking up.
This means that the colors on the mini work together. Take this mini:
To do this, I mixed 75% Bronzed Flesh with 25% Sunburst Yellow. I then washed it and drybrushed over it, but that hint of yellow makes the skin fit in better with the yellow of the cape. This is a great tip for Space Wolves players. Add Space Wolves Grey to your initial flesh color to make the flesh and the armor seem to go together.
Faces make the model. Do it right.