me, painting figures is always something of a compromise
between quality and time. I am constantly assessing and
revising my style and techniques to achieve the best
results in as short a time as possible. The figures you
see on this site aren't necessarily the best I could
do, but instead reflect a balance between quality and
Click on the links below for a description of the methods I currently use.
Clean up the figures. It's crucial to spend time on this. I've seen a lot of otherwise well painted figures spoilt because they haven't been properly cleaned up prior to painting. There's nothing worse than seeing a mould separation line running around a finished figure.
I usually stick figures on a strip of card, generally 8 infantry on a card about 6" (150mm) long for ease of handling whilst painting. The examples below were painted in this way, but removed for scanning purposes.
The figures below
are from the Essex Later Pre-Islamic Arab range that I am
currently working on
Primer. I use a
white acrylic spray paint for this. It gives a good solid
key for the paint to stick to. I use acrylic colours and
they adhere far better to this type of primer than to the
polyurethane primers used as car primer.
Basecoat. Whilst the white primer provides a good "key" for paint, it can be a problem on finished figures as any bits you miss stand out a mile. What I prefer to do is give the primer a good coating of dark brown paint or ink.
The colour used here is burnt umber almost but not quite black, which I find too "harsh".
Blocking in. The next stage is to paint on the base coat. My method for accentuating detail is to "work up" to a highlight colour from a darker base. It is therefore necessary for me to use a shade considerable darker than the effect I eventually want to achieve. I have also left some of the burnt umber showing in the deepest recesses and where the two colours join.
Here you can see a
dark flesh colour (actually Cork from Vallejo) and a
light buff colour used as a base for "white".
Highlight. To get a realistic looking effect, you actually need to provide a fair amount of contrast between the base colour and its highlight.
I use ivory rather than white. A lighter flesh tone is painted over the base coat in basic "muscle" shapes. Black has been used for the hair, eyebrows and spear head. The spear shaft has also been painted in a darker sand colour to that used for the clothing.
I generally paint metallics over a black base. Black provides a good base for metallics (I'm not sure why) and can also be left in deep recesses/around edges to accentuate detail.
I often find it
difficult to restrain myself and leave enough of the base
colour showing to achieve the optimum effect. A useful
tip is to keep looking at the figures at arms length
this is the range you will most often be viewing
them on the wargames table.
Finishing touches. I normally paint in the metallics at this time. Details such as belts and shield edges are generally painted in last.
Although I have
written up stages 4 & 5 as distinct processes, I
generally mix them together. Painting is very much a
pragmatic process, and you need to make judgements as you
go along. I often find that I need to finish one area
before I can go on to another. I find the best way is to
paint from the middle of the figure out, painting the
body and working along the limbs. This has the advantage
that you are only working to one straight edge at a time
and you can tidy up each edge with the next colour.
Varnishing. This is essential if the paint is to stay on the figures for any length of time. I usually use a spray varnish initially, followed by a brush on matt varnish.
The reason for this is that some metallics can lift if you use a brush on varnish and this can ruin hours of work. By spraying first, this possibility is negated. The matt varnish will also kill any sheen even the best spray varnish usually gives.
In contrast to people, I prefer to paint most horses over a black undercoat. The principal reason for this is that the majority of horses tend to be shades of brown. Using a black undercoat gives you a ready made deep shade colour that will not contrast too much with most finished colours.
Once you have a solid undercoat, paint the bulk of the horse in your chosen colour.
For brown or black horses, simply paint on the colour with a reasonably large brush. Don't try too hard to cover the horse any areas left black will enhance the shading effect. Try and leave some black around any harness or saddle area. This will again improve definition. I tend to mix my colour with some black for the first coat and then go back with the basic colour more carefully and paint on the highlights (alternatively, use your base colour initially and then lighten it for the highlights). You will effectively get three levels of shading rather than the two on foot figures.
The colours you use are very much a personal preference. The more horses you paint, the better feel you will get for the job.
For grey horses (white horses are also technically grey) use the same principles as above. How light you want the finished animal to be may dictate your number of highlights, as with a very light colour more degrees of shading could be required to get the right effect.
For light brown horses, use the method above but use a dark brown base black is too stark and can make the finished effect look too cartoonish.
Manes, tails, socks & blazes. Most dark horse tend to have black legs and manes/tails. I tend to put on a fairly heavy black wash over the base colour. This gives you your first level of shading. For black manes and tails, I then dry-brush white and apply a thin black wash over this when dry. This gives a subdued but still visible contrast and gives increased depth to the miniature.
Socks are the white bits at the bottom of some horses' legs. There can be 1, 2 ,3 or 4, which gives you lots of options for variation when painting horses. They can be just a small ring above the hoof at one extreme, to half way up the leg at the other. It is also important to note that horses hooves reflect the colour of the leg to which they are attached - for black legs, use black, for brown use brown and for white use a very pale sand. I've seen far too many otherwise well painted horses spoilt because the painter hasn't been aware of this.
Blazes are the white areas on a horses face. These can range from a small star up to a completely white face. Putting blazes on selected horse figures can again add to the variety.
Harness & saddles. As suggested above, you should try to leave some darker shading around these areas as you paint the horse's body. If you haven't managed to do this to your satisfaction and depending on your chosen harness colour, you may need to re-paint the harness area in a darker shade, e.g. burnt umber, prior to your finish colour. Don't try too hard when you are doing this; use a thin coat of paint to help flow and paint slightly over the edges of straps to increase the shade effect. When painting in your final colour, try to just paint the top of the straps, leaving the shade colour on the sides, to give a 3D effect.
It's not efficient to paint figures one at a time. I paint figures in batches to improve both efficiency and speed.
How many figures I paint in each batch depends on several variables: are they regulars or irregulars (for which see below), are they foot or mounted, and most importantly of all, what I feel like at the time!
To make handling easier during painting, I stick 8 foot or 4 mounted figures to a piece of card approximately 6" (150mm) long x 3/4" (20mm) wide. Three or four strips gives you batches of 24/32 foot or 12/16 mounted.
I ALWAYS attach riders to horses before painting, as any adhesive is only as strong as the material it's glueing if you're glueing paint to paint, no matter how good the adhesive, it's only as strong as the bond between the paint and the figure.
My basing process is very simple. First attach figures to a suitable base. I use heavy card for my bases, others prefer mounting board, MDF, plywood, or plasticard. Try to use a variety of figures/poses on each base to enhance the visuality of the stand.
I use a pre-mixed plaster type filler what you use is up to you. I apply this with a metal sculpting tool I bought from GW that has an extremely useful narrow blade-shaped end. Spread the filler carefully up to a level with the figure's base, overlapping it if at all possible.
Use an old paint brush and stipple the surface of the filler whilst it is still wet. This simple technique increases and enhances the texture to a remarkable degree.
Once the filler is dry, use a thin wash of very dark brown over the filler. This will stain the filler and settle in the deepest recesses, giving you a preliminary level of shading. Once this is dry, I use a very light sand or buff colour and dry-brush over the top of the filler to highlight it.
Flocking. I use static grass, available from most good model railway shops. Static grass carries a small electric charge that lines up the particles and causes them to stand upright, giving the illusion of real grass. It is relatively expensive but well worth the cost as one pack seems to last forever.
The main trick with flocking is not to overdo it. Having spent time painting and highlighting the base, you don't want to cover it all up. My technique is to use a PVA type adheseive (that's that white stuff) and an old paintbrush and generally splodge it onto the base. Aim for the juncture of filler and figure base to further hide the join. Make sure you leave areas of bare ground.
Once the PVA has been applied, sprinkle the base liberally with flock and set it aside for ten minutes to dry. You can then shake any excess back into the tub.
I have used lots of different paints over the years (more than I care to remember years, that is!) and currently use Vallejo from Spain. They offer a vast range of colours that are generally very opaque. This is important if you use a dark undercoat, or as I do work up from dark to light. Poorer quality paints generally wont cover over darker colours than themselves. Because they offer such a range of colours, it is possible to buy colours in pairs so that you have a ready made base and highlight colour selection that requires little thought when painting.
Vallejo paints come in screw top dropper type bottles. Some people dislike these because you can waste paint if you put too much onto your palette. The positive side is that they are extremely unlikely to dry out.
Vallejo paints dry very fast. Some might consider this a drawback, but find it useful as it allows me to recoat colours quickly if they are not dence enough after one coat.
For metallics I currently use Citadel from GW. These are readily available and cover pretty well. Unfortunately, their yellow metals aren't so good in their current incarnation. I have some gold from their previous manufacturer that I use I'm not sure what I'll do when this eventually runs out.