Hi all, a few weeks ago, my good friend Mr. Harris contributed a post for me which proved to be overwhelmingly successful for both of us! He's a semi-pro painter (in that he'll charge you real money for making your models look pretty) and likes to talk about painting - so whenever I can convince him to post here, I will do (at least his models look better than my 3-year old's cave paintings :) ) Without further ado - Mr. Harris, take it away...
For me, improving my painting has been about looking at other painters and trying to mimic style and technique and then if it fits how I can work I’ll keep doing it but if it doesn’t fit how I work then I’ll naturally stop doing it. Painting is a bit of a Zen thing for me so if it becomes a chore I’ll lose interest, therefore, I find it important to use techniques which produce reasonably good results without too much frustration. I shall list and explain a series of techniques in the order that I encountered them, which I assume is the order in which most people encounter them.
This is clearly the first way we paint. Just like a child with a colouring book, we buy our first miniatures and then learn to colour them in. The important thing for the look of the miniature and to give us any chance of future progression is that we learn how to paint inside the lines. At this stage, if you’re not familiar with painting, you’re learning brush control and, hopefully, the correct paint dilution to get a good even coat. Most painters never lose this technique; however, in the end it gets called ‘base coating’ as it is just a stage rather than the end result.
People will either learn to wash or dry-brush first. For me, I invented Army Painter’s Quickshade! Just to be clear; I didn’t actually invent the product but I had a similar idea. I watered down some black paint and covered my swooping hawks with it. Unfortunately it looked atrocious as I had painted the wings rather nicely in a spectrum (like a rainbow) and the black ink looked absolutely dreadful, especially on the yellow, but we learn by our mistakes. It was at this point that I abandoned washes. It’s safe to say that I didn’t use one wash all over a miniature ever again. Incidentally, I have never used Quickshade but I have seen it used well. It works on flesh and weathered metals but it needs highlighting afterwards and should never be used on other colours except maybe reds and browns and very possibly yellows and dull greens. Why would the shadow of blue look brown? Skeletons, Celts and GW Warriors of Minas Tirith are about your limit with this product. If you want to make your own, try mixing Matt varnish with a mix of grey and sepia coloured paints or inks and some glaze medium or flow improver. Alternatively, if you’re going to paint an army with it, just buy some!
Everyone goes through this phase. It’s our first method for highlighting (washes being a technique for shading). They say “get an old brush, scrub all the paint off and then flick it over the miniature so that just the raised surfaces get painted”. It works. You can get a nice weathered, textured effect if you’re good at it and have the patience to build it up very slowly. One point to note is to never use an ‘old’ brush. If the ferrule is clogged with dried paint and the bristles are all over the place, then the only use for that brush is applying PVA glue or using up some free bin space. Alternatively, if you’re into recycling (and by that I mean using something again, not reprocessing!) you can pull the bristles out, use a drill to remove the base of the bristles from the ferrule and then with some super-glue and Duro (or Milliput) insert a needle to make a handy sculpting tool. (N.B. this is also the best use for hobby store paint brushes). If you have to dry-brush, and it is a good technique for a very few applications, like highlighting the sand on your bases, then use a new or looked after brush. To be honest, none of your brushes should get into the state described above and your dry-brush is no exception. You need a brush with stiff, springy bristles, not as stiff as hog hair, but stiffer than sable so usually a thick synthetic hair. This is one brush which you will find in your hobby store. I currently use a Citadel Small Drybrushpre-highlight. This is fine if you want global highlights; however, there is always a light source isn’t there?
In the example above, the first layer is Vallejo Game Colour Cold Grey, then 1:1 Cold Grey and Stonewall Grey, pure Stonewall Grey and finally Ghost Grey. This last layer should ideally only touch the edges facing upwards. The dry-brushing has been built up carefully but it’s not a smooth look by any means and this clearly is not the best technique for painting cloaks. If the cloak folds were more numerous and closer together then this might not be such a bad result. Dry-brushing, if used at all, is best kept for sharp rough surfaces like rocks and gravel.
Ah; washes should be an appropriate colour. My early experiment with washes being what it was, the only time I used them in the interim period was as a filter for metallics to make some Dwarfs I painted for a friend look more interesting. It is at this point I feel I should define some terminology as there are four things commonly confused because they are in essence the same thing, just applied differently. A glaze is applied in a very controlled way, producing an even layer of transparent colour. A wash is applied more liberally with the intention of filling recesses. It can be applied all over a surface, though this does not always give the tidiest result as you will get some pooling in the wrong places if you’re not careful, or it can be aimed at the recesses but still more loosely than a glaze. A filter can be either but it is usually a glaze and will often be used to change the tone or hue of what you have already painted. These are all a mix of thinned down paint either using water, acrylic medium, flow improver or some other thinning agent, though a glaze is normally thinner than a wash. Be warned that for washes especially you will want an additive, even varnish will work, because just water will not necessarily disperse the pigment evenly. You can also buy inks for this purpose, which are a medium not a technique (no, I hadn’t miscounted). I personally don’t use inks very often as they usually dry to a glossy sheen which is annoying to paint over. I did go through a phase of mixing inks with paint as a thinner, which is an idea I still flirt with very occasionally as they add some brilliance to the mix but that’s another story. Washes I never used or use to a great extent as I find them more effort than they’re worth. A friend of mine who is quite good at dry-brushing always used to say “if it all goes wrong, just give it an ink wash and dry-brush it up again”. Everyone has their way. Washes, as a rule, aren’t mine. I have also seen a black wash used over a white undercoat as pre-shading but again, where is the light source?
Taking the dry-brushed cloak from before, I have reinforced the shadows with a light wash of thinned Vallejo Model Colour Dark Sea Blue. It is essential to control the wash and not to use too much as you will end up with puddles which dry as rings.
This could also be called ‘wet-brushing’. You still don’t want too much paint on the brush but you want it slightly thinner than for dry-brushing and you will build up the colour faster. You can use a stiff brush or your nice sables but I wouldn’t use too thin a brush and if the surface is a bit rough then I certainly wouldn’t use an expensive brush. This is also very good for bases. This is a phase which you could skip. It is the transition between dry-brushing and…
This is something I stuck with for a long time. It requires a lot of layers to build up the transition evenly and if it’s not perfect that doesn’t matter as you will gain texture and from a distance, the eye will complete the transition. It is a good technique and we can start producing miniatures which look quite good, even close up, but it is probably the most work to produce a reasonable effect of any of the techniques here. You can just base coat with a shadow colour then layer on a mid-tone and a highlight but if you’re not careful and the gap in luminescence is too big then you will not even get a transition from a distance. You might get away with this on small areas like a money pouch or a belt and it may be the best technique to use in those instances but to use the technique on a large area, say a cloak, requires anything from ten to twenty layers to achieve the transition.
In the example you can see that I haven’t used this many layers as I wanted to save time and reinforce the point that you can’t get away with only a few layers if you want a smooth transition on a large area.
When I used to paint like this, I started leaving the black undercoat in the recesses, even when painting white. This gives a cartoonish look which I quite like and for gaming miniatures, it does help to outline detail, however, it will always leave a miniature looking rather unreal. This can similarly be achieved by…
This is similar to layering but instead of an area you paint lines. This is very useful but please, please, please do not outline every surface on a miniature with a stark highlight. This just looks ridiculous. If I see another Tron army from a certain miniature painting company or certain manufacturer’s studio, I will throw my home-made sculpting tool at them! This technique must only be used where there is an edge which faces a light source. This will usually be, if the light source is zenithal, the upward facing horizontal edges with your primary highlight colour and then moving towards vertical edges with a darker highlight colour and then downward facing edges should not be highlighted at all. You can also produce a shadow lining effect using washes in a controlled way as mentioned above. This is better than using a thicker, layer mix as it will give a smoother transition. The last layer above was virtually lines painted along edges and focusing on more upward or exposed folds.
Feathering (Pushing and Pulling)
I flirted with this originally as a development of layering but didn’t really get on with it for large areas. This is layering but instead of using many layers and letting the eye produce the transition, we paint less layers but pull and push the paint using the edge of the tip of the brush to produce a smooth transition. The paint needs to be thin enough to move on the miniature but still thick enough to cover the previous layer. Retarder may help but be warned that you will still need at least five layers to produce your transition. Note that this is the first blending technique and is therefore worth learning. I now use this but in a different way, which I shall explain later.
This is the same example as the layered cloak above but I have added some intermediate layers and feathered them over each other to improve the transition.
To dispel a myth put around by a certain book written by a certain miniature company; this is NOT…
This IS mixing paint on the surface of the miniature. This IS a very good technique and can produce brilliant results and very smooth transitions. This IS more effort than it’s worth (in my opinion). Saying that, I wet blend quite often, but in a different way; I don’t use this as the be all and end all of my painting. You need a lot of retarder. A wet pallet will increase the time your paint stays wet on the pallet but to increase your working time on the miniature in order to wet blend, you either need to paint with enamels (messy and smelly brush killers) or use retarder. The problem with using too much of an additive with your paint is that you will quickly have something which will rub off of the miniature as you handle it so this requires experimentation, practice and patience to get right. Always work from light to dark (topography permitting) because darker pigments are stronger so it will be easier to control the transition. Lay down the two colours you intend to blend and then clean your brush, or use a fresh brush, and mix the two colours where they meet. Painting with two brushes is faster but you don’t want to risk paint drying on your first brush. I find you do not want a wet brush as you will thin the paint in your blend and lose coverage meaning that you’ll have to repeat the process with another layer. Use a series of small strokes in one direction then in another cleaning your brush in between. Alternatively you can wet blend in a more fluid way by starting in one place with one colour and slowly adding your darker colour as you progress. This way must be done light to dark. It is often the only technique to use when you want to achieve certain effects like a blend of separate hues rather than luminescence's but other than that the best uses are base-coating (why does a base coat have to be flat colour?) and…
Some people only use glazes as filters. You’ve spent hours highlighting something, moved on to the next colour and then decided that the first bit is either the wrong hue, too bright or the transition isn’t perfect. The answer is to glaze it. Obviously, this is best avoided. But it certainly works and I’m sure most people have done this at some point, I know I have. Glazes are now my number one painting technique (or number two I suppose because I don’t do it first) and yes, you can wet blend glazes but you can also feather them which is faster. If you are doing either or if you are glazing over a base-coat (something else I occasionally do) then, again, you should work from light to dark because the dark colour will cover the light better than the light will cover the dark.
I decided (for some contrived reason) that I wanted the now feathered cloak to have a greenish tint rather than a bluish one so I thinned down some Vallejo Game Colour Yellow Olive and Mutation Green with some retarder to act as an homogenising agent and painted it very thinly all over the cloak being careful to prevent pooling.
I started off doing this with a white spray over a black undercoat, spraying down from above from a series of slight off vertical angles. This instantly gives me a guide to areas of shade and light. After that I learnt from Jérémie Bonamant Teboul to base-coat and then pre-highlight as this means that your shadows are already the correct hue thus saving some work. The pre-highlight is then covered with a series of glazes either wet blended or feathered depending on the colours involved, my mood or the size, shape and topography of the surface. You will need a minimum of three colours to build up the transition but I usually use five: a highlight, a mid-tone and a shadow (the same colour as your base coat) and at the end I come in with a lighter, warmer highlight and a darker, colder shadow.
How I Do Paint
Now I use an airbrush to pre-highlight. This opens up the possibility of base-coating and pre-highlighting, not only with any colours I like but also very quickly and with a finer spray, which is then easier to cover, requiring less glazes and therefore even less time. Alternatively, if there is not one colour which dominates the miniature then I will use a bluish tone for my base-coat and work up to a buff colour for the pre-highlights. This will give me dark blue as a base for my shadows and a slightly yellowish off-white as a base for my highlights. With these shining through all of the colours, it will work both for my warm-cold contrast between light and shade and also on bringing some colour harmony across the whole miniature.
This article should really have been called ‘How I Don’t Paint Very Often Any More’ as I still use most of the techniques above, just not very often. As you learn new techniques, don’t throw the old ones out just realise that there is a right and a wrong technique for you in a given situation. I am not the best painter in the world by a long mark but I have found techniques which work for me and each miniature I paint, I hope, is better than the last. Look at other painters, try everything, steal what works, adapt what almost works and shift what doesn’t to the back of your mind but most importantly don’t forget what you’ve learnt. I still dry-brush but only when it’s the best technique for me in that situation (which is rare).