Introducing a Star Wars Painting Master: GeekDad Interviews Sorastro

Reading Time: 11 minutes
Sorastro
Sorastro. The face behind those fabulous painting videos. Photo: Sorastro

I probably don’t have to tell GeekDad readers that once you have children, things change. Free time is reduced, priorities alter, energy levels are sapped. Old hobbies are put away. Gradually though, as our children grow up, the gravitational pull of the things we love reasserts itself.

I put away my paints and brushes for more than ten years, but after buying Star Wars: Imperial Assault, the lure of the tiny Stormtroopers and Darth Vader became too much. I decided I’d open the paint box again.

Since I last painted this thing called YouTube has come along and with it countless people wanting to show what they’ve been doing with their lives. A search of “How to paint Imperial Assault Stormtroopers” brought up one hit above the others – Sorastro’s Imperial Assault Painting series.

From there I haven’t looked back. The videos opened my eyes to a world of new techniques and ways of producing more than decent minis. I’ve been amazed by how much my painting has improved just by watching somebody else show me how it’s done. Sorastro’s videos are the benchmark in paint tutorials, clear, well edited and extremely helpful. I’ve used his tips and techniques, for IA, Batman, and Warhammer.

Around this time Anthony started up the GeekDad Paints! series and he too mentions Sorastro’s painting channel as his go-to place for inspiration. Behind the scenes here at GeekDad, we battle it out over who has the biggest man-crush.

Which is why we were both thrilled to have the opportunity to ask the man himself some questions about his painting and his passion for Star Wars. A bona fide geek and a parent himself, GeekDad is honored to introduce the Jedi Master of miniature painting, Sorastro. (Sorastro, like me, is a UK resident, and whilst the editors here have broken me, I’ve left in his English spellings)

GD: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how “Sorastro’s Painting Videos” came about?

S: Sure! I’m basically a nerdy family man with a background in music education and an obsessive creative need.  I have some formal training in the visual arts and music, but have learned most of my skills through personal pursuit over the years – which includes photography, videography, composing, and, of course, miniature painting.

Around four years ago, I picked up my first DSLR that had video capability (the Nikon D7100) and having recently begun painting my Zombicide miniatures, I simply felt compelled to create a tutorial for fun. A year later, I felt the same compulsion when Imperial Assault was launched; I was a full-time Head of Music at a secondary school at the time and I remember throwing myself into that first episode during the Christmas break.

Over the following months, I felt the joy and creativity gradually draining from the teaching profession due to creeping soulless bureaucracy, and at the same time, I was receiving growing recognition and appreciation for my work on the videos. Eventually, I was able to earn enough through Patreon support and a small amount of sponsored work to make the switch to working for myself, and although it meant giving up a relatively stable career for a less certain one – it was the best thing I ever did.

GD: As this month sees the 40th Anniversary of the release of Star Wars and we’re a huge fan of your Star Wars minis, we’d love to know, What does Star Wars mean to you? 

S: I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy so it’s pretty deeply engrained in me, and seeing my own children falling in love with the Star Wars universe and characters kind of helps me relive that child-like sense of joy and awe I felt when I was their age.  This was brought home to me when we visited the Madame Tussauds Star Wars exhibition: Standing in the Emperor’s Throne Room inches away from Luke and Vader really felt like I was quite literally stepping into that pivotal moment in the saga – the mix of hope, fear and determination written on Luke’s face as he looks up at the towering figure of his father…wow.

The epic ‘Return of the Jedi’ lightsaber battle at Madame Tussaud’s. Photo: Sorastro

GD: Why “Sorastro”?

S: “Sorastro” is actually a derivation of “Sarastro” who is the High Priest of the Sun in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.  I’m not claiming any high-minded connection with the character, however; it was just a name I had rattling around my head when I played vanilla World of Warcraft back in 2001 and I thought “Sorastro” would be a good name for my forsaken warlock character!  I’ve since used the name for various MMO online avatars and gaming accounts and it just stuck.

GD: Do you only paint miniatures or do you play games too?

S: I do love to play a range of games including miniature, board and card games and I generally “paint to play.”

GD: What is your favorite mini based game? and non-mini based game?

S: I don’t have one clear favourite but in the miniatures category for one-versus-one it would be X-Wing, for one-versus-all it would be Star Wars: Imperial Assault, for solo/co-op it would be a tie between Zombicide Black Plague, Descent (with the co-op app), and Kingdom Death Monster, and for large-scale combat my current favourite is the Runewars Miniatures Game.  My favourite non-mini based games currently include Robinson Crusoe Adventures on a Cursed Island, Arkham Horror The Card Game, and Star Wars Destiny.

GDWhat was the first figure you ever painted? Do you still have it?

S: I honestly don’t remember a specific first figure.  I used to paint airfix models as a very young child (dinosaurs and aeroplanes) then some early Warhammer Fantasy miniatures in the 1980s as well as the first wave of 40K miniatures of which I do have a few surviving examples (Space Orks). (GD Note: My son collects Orks – he was thrilled to know Sorastro did too!) 

Blood Rage Fire Giant
The impressive giants from Blood Rage. Photo: Sorastro

GD: Do you prefer to paint science fiction or fantasy figures?

S: I love both!  I think as generic genres I probably lean slightly more towards fantasy, but if we’re talking about Star Wars specifically – well –  that holds a special place in my heart partly due to having grown up with the early trilogy, but also due to the unique aesthetic genius of the Star Wars universe.  I can’t think of any other movie franchise that has produced so many timeless and iconic designs: the Stormtrooper, Vader, Boba Fett, the ships, the iconography, the list goes on.  There’s also a subtle 70s vibe in the colour choices that I enjoy, as well as a pleasingly weathered look to the aesthetic.  Just the other day, I walked in on my daughter watching the Hoth sequence in Empire and I was just mesmerized by both the colours and the weathering on Luke’s helmet!

GD: If you had one piece of advice for anybody starting in the hobby, what would it be?

S: Don’t be afraid!  Just get some basic equipment and go for it; you may be surprised at what you can achieve.  It’s also worth remembering that there are many ways to paint anything and never a single “correct” way, so try your hand at a range of approaches and find out what works for you.

GD: Knowing what you know now, is there a mini that you wish you could go back and do again?

S: If I may quote Edna Mode from The Incredibles: “I never look back, darling.  It distracts from the now.”  Seriously though, I rarely watch my own videos once they’re “out there.”  Thinking back, I might do one or two small things differently (I’d probably wet blend the base colours on the wookies for example, and I might be a little more canonic with my uniform colour choices for the Imperial Officers) but nothing major.

GD: What is your favorite mini, you’ve ever painted?

S: I think probably the Frost Giant from Blood Rage.  He’s such a characterful sculpt and he also allows for some interesting and subtle colour choices for the skin tone in particular.

Lando
Amazing color work on Lando. Photo: Sorastro

GD: If you could present any of your IA figures to the actor/creator of the character, who would it be?

S: Perhaps Billy Dee Williams?  I put a lot of love into trying to nail the colours for Lando! (GD Note: Which he totally did. If you only watch one video make it this one!)

GD: Do your children get involved in painting too? If so, what equipment do you have for them?

S: Sure!  I probably don’t sit down and paint with them often enough but I’m happy to give them an older brush and let them have a go on some spare minis.  I have a box full of spare zombies and old Warhammer minis that they’re welcome to practice on, and they can absolutely use my paints.

GD: Do they want to play with your models like they’re action figures?

S: Not so much: My son (who’s four) is more into playing with cars and buses, and my daughter (who’s nine) would rather actually play a full game of something like Zombicide or any of the Star Wars games.

GD: What games do you play with your family?

S: I play mostly with my daughter and she’s a huge Star Wars fan, so Star Wars: Rebellion and Star Wars: Destiny are current favourites.  We also recently enjoyed playing Runebound (3rd edition) and I have a feeling that if/when the Imperial Assault co-op app comes out that we won’t be playing much else for a while!

Sorastro in his studio
Sorastro in his studio. Photo: Sorastro

And now some more technical questions.

GD: What is your favorite piece of painting equipment – do you have a “go to” brush?

S: I have two favourite pieces of painting equipment: one is my desk which is motorised so I can raise it quite high to work comfortably at without slouching (and when I’m editing on the computer I can work standing).  The other is my light (which I recently upgraded); bright, even light that accurately renders colour is a must.

My “go-to” brush would be the size 2 Rosemary & Co Series 33 (followed closely by Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes).  The Rosemary and Co brush has quite a long belly and I find keeps its tip for a long time.  They’re also reasonably cheap so I don’t feel too bad when I kill one through misuse!

GD: Do you have one pro-tip for taking my painting to the next level?

S: I would have to have a proper look at your work to answer that so feel free to bring some minis down to Brighton and we’ll get a game in whilst you’re here! GD Note: I don’t live that far from Sorastro, (in US terms, he practically lives in my backyard) and I’m totally going to take him up on that offer.

GD: Color theory. How important is it? Is it a natural instinct or can it be learned? I’m thinking here of Luke Skywalker’s hair, which is blonde, yet your basecoat mix has blue in it. How does one know that will work?

S: I think some understanding of colour is essential, whether it’s instinctual or learned.  A lot of the colour choices I make are based on instinct – or as is often the case – I’m simply trying to match the source material (character illustrations or stills from the films) which requires sensitivity to colour but doesn’t necessarily demand a deep understanding of colour theory.

I have lately been working on understanding more of the “theory” surrounding colour, and was fortunate enough to attend a masterclass on the subject by Alfonso Giraldes which really opened my eyes to what a deep and fascinating subject it is.  I did learn at art college the importance of learning to see what colours really are present in the world around us rather than what colours we think things are.  Try to colour match the tones you see in a tree trunk for example, or a cloudy sky and you may be surprised.

Rancor monster
It takes a brave man to ‘wet blend’ a rancor. Photo: Sorastro

GD: I’ve noticed that you’ve started to use “wet blending” more and blended shade layering less in the past few months (which, incidentally, has resulted in some wonderfully organic looking minis). How do you discover your new techniques?

S: Thank you! I learn new techniques like most painters – from articles or fellow painters, or just messing around to get a result I’m happy with.  With the wet blending, I just happened to be faced with a couple of situations recently where it seemed like the easiest way forward (I’m thinking of the flaming sword on the Fire Giant and the Rancor).  These are also situations which provide quite a forgiving opportunity for newer painters to try the technique out so seemed like a good opportunity to introduce it.  Also, within a single series, I like to explore a range of approaches, especially as my audience for a particular game is probably continually advancing with their own painting skills, so I often start with basic techniques and progress onto more advanced stuff.

GD: How do you get your Stormtrooper paint jobs so smooth?

S: I’m not sure that they are especially smooth, to be honest! But I do try to spread the paint in even layers by not overloading the brush to avoid the paint pooling unevenly, and of course, building up the tone in a couple of layers helps.

Some questions about your videos.

GD: Which is your favorite video?

S: It would be hard to pick a single favourite but I am fond of the first Zombicide: Black Plague video. I think partly because of the theme, but also because of its strength as an inclusive point of entry for new painters.  From the more advanced videos, I would have to say the first two Blood Rage giant videos.

GD: How many times do you generally paint a mini before recording your painting of it? Do you have a practice run first?

S: I always test out my colours and techniques on some spare minis, trying out as many different colour combinations as I have to, to arrive at my final approach. I also sometimes buy a second copy of the actual mini to do a complete practice run on before filming to ensure I’ve really nailed an effective and easy-to-replicate recipe.

GD: How many hours, on average, does a video take to make?

S: Typically I’ll spend between 40-60 hours producing each video.

GD: How do you get such close video and still get your hands in there to manipulate the miniatures? It seems like any configuration of camera, mini, and appendages I try fails miserably.

S: I position the camera to my left – kind of looking over my shoulder, and usually pointing downwards at a roughly 45 degree angle.  Using a camera lens that lets you get a decent close up without having to be inches from the model also helps!

GD: Are there any other painters out there you admire?

ElementalsS: Certainly!  I consider myself an intermediate painter so it’s not hard to find numerous examples of painters I admire. There are many great YouTube creators that share wonderful tips such as Kujo Painting and Vince Venturella, and Caleb Wissenback over on the Hobby Hangout Facebook group to name a few.  I also like to explore the work of the top-level painters who focus more on larger-scale busts and the like, such as Ben Komets, Kirill Kanaev, Alfonso Giraldes and Sang-Eon Lee.

GD: We want you to keep painting forever and ever, how can we help do that?

S: You already have! Simply watching the videos, subscribing to the channel, and sharing my work with others all helps.

GD: Will you help me when IA’s Hera Syndulla and Chopper comes out, please!?

S: Ha ha – of course!

GD: Well, Hera and Chopper are on their way, so I’ll be down soon!

So there we have it. I hope you enjoyed that Q&A with one of the world’s best “intermediate” painters. I aspire to that level of intermediacy! Until next time, from both Sorastro and I, happy painting!

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