Painting armor is really tough. There’s no getting around it.
To begin with, it’s very difficult to get good reference for a full suit of armor. Most artists don’t have the funds to go out and buy a period specific suit of full plate mail, so we have to do what we can with existing reference elsewhere. I’ve been knocking my head against this problem for a few years now, and have learned a few rules that seem to make it easier.
- Armor is an external architecture that wraps itself around the body.
Basically, this means that wherever someone is wearing armor, it is an additional layer over their anatomy. Everything gets thicker because there is this armature that is adding to the girth of the chest, the groin and the appendages. Armor is designed to deflect blows, so it inherently has a convex shape that induces blades, arrows and other penetrating objects to bounce off of it. This further adds to this appearance of extra thickness. This is the fundamental problem with “boob armor”, but many other bloggers have gone on at length about this issue so I won’t dwell on it here.
- Armor is designed for movement.
When knights were wearing armor in the middle ages, they not only needed it to protect themselves but also needed it to allow them to move sufficiently enough to swing their weapon, raise their shield and any number of other necessary maneuvers in combat. This means that anywhere that a limb needs to rotate, the armor needs to be flexible enough to allow a full range of movement.
A great way to replicate this is to build armor yourself out of cardboard for reference purposes. You’ll quickly find that in order to lift your forearm, the bicep armor needs to have a sort of diagonal cut near the elbow joint that allows for movement.
- Form follows function.
Although it is super fun to draw super buffed out knights with massive armor, it’s important to remember that armor is always designed for a specific purpose and that the amount of armor is always relative to the combat role of the soldier wearing it. Knights could wear full plate mail mainly because they rode on horseback, and didn’t need to worry as much about the weight of their gear. A footsoldier, on the other hand would quickly tire with all that weight so his armor is much lighter with more tactical placement that emphasized speed and agility over protection. Notice how the armor on the right protects the soldier’s head, chest cavity and neck – but not much else.
- Study, study, study!
Whenever you can, draw from real suits of armor in museums. There’s just no replacement for this kind of observation, as you can’t take that suit of armor home to photograph it in just the right pose. I always try to draw armor when I see it and take lots of reference pictures from all angles. Of course, the interwebs have a vast trove of reference to glean as well, but there’s nothing like your own notes.
Hope this was insightful, thanks for stopping by!