Undercoating or Priming
I used not to bother undercoating but have since found that it saves
time in the long run. It's better to undercoat as long as possible (weeks
not hours) before painting the rest of the figure. Acrylic hardens over
a long period, so this will give it time to form a really solid layer.
Generally it is best to undercoat white - dark colours will go on
easily over light, but the opposite is not always true. The exception
to this is a figure which is almost entirely metal or fur, which will
have a black or very dark base coat, when a black undercoat will be better.
The paint should be quite dilute - more water than paint, but applied
thinly. A white undercoat should consequently dry as a pale grey colour
over metal. If the paint is not put on sufficiently sparingly then bubbles
will form and these will dry to form tiny craters. Another sign that too
much paint has been applied are puddles in the recesses. To get rid of
excess paint, start undercoating another figure and transfer the paint
onto this one by refreshing your brush from the overloaded figure rather
than the paint pot.
Mixing two different
colours or shades together while wet to create a smooth transition from
one to the other. It produces the best results for shading figures, but
is also the most time-consuming and difficult to master.
First paint the area with a base coat and allow this to dry. Generally
when shading you will use two separate blends. One will go from the base
coat colour to a very pale shade of this and the other will go from the
base coat colour to a very dark shade. In between each blend, you should
allow the paint to fully dry. This is to prevent the light and the dark
shades mixing to form a muddy grey.
Before applying any paint to the figure, you should mix the paint on your
palette. First mix a blob of each of the colours which will form the two
extremes of the blend, (one of which will be the base coat). Then mix
these two blobs together to give you the complete spectrum. Make sure
this paint is quite dilute, or the palette will dry out half way through
Paint on Extremes
To give yourself some guidance, paint on a few patches of the blending
colour which is furthest from the base colour. Next take some of the base
colour and paint that on, before mixing the two colours together. As you
have the full spectrum on your palette, you can use any part of that to
help get a smooth transition.
Small areas only
Because of the speed that the acrylic dries, you will need to work on
a small area only. It is possible to blend a whole figure with one batch
of palette mix (provided it is all the same colour), but you should only
blend a small area at a time (for example one limb, or a helmet).
A wash is a diluted
coat of paint which allows previous coats of paint to show through to
some extent. The diluted paint also tends to settle into the crevices
and depressions in the figure.
Acrylics don't work as washes all that well. Although they look fine when
still wet, as the paint dries, the surface tension will drag the pigment
out of the recesses. This reduces the desired effect of the wash - to
have the paint predominantly in the recessed areas and it also can create
a blotchy colour with noticeable tidemarks.
This problem can be ameliorated by adding a tiny bit of washing-up liquid,
which reduces the surface tension, although personally I don't think this
makes a great deal of difference. Tony Christney recommends Future floor
polish (aka Kleer?) mixed about 8:1 (Water:Future) which apparently reduces
the surface tension better than soap (I must admit I haven't tried this).
However, washes are simply a bit uncontrollable, and in many cases are
more suitable for scenery rather than figures, where more precise control
Another use for washes is to build up a patina in order to give the
impression of rust or dirt. Rather than aiming for an even distribution
of the wash, a certain amount of blotchiness actually contributes to the
overall effect. Usually I give the figure an overall wash
Wash & Wipe
This is a quick
but inexact shadowing technique, best suited to large and smooth surfaces.
I used it on these lions.
The paint for this technique is applied more dilute than the base
coat, but it is not liquid enough to be a wash. Paint it approximately
in the recessed areas and then, before it can dry, wipe it off the more
exposed areas with your finger. (Make sure it is not dirty or greasy for
artistic as well as personal hygiene reasons). After some experimentation
I have discovered that the finger is just the right absorbancy for this.
Tissue will remove too much paint and sponge tends to smear. The key to
success with this technique is speed. Even dilute acrylic dries alarmingly
quickly, so you will need to paint an area and wipe it in a few seconds,
(don't wash the whole figure in one go, or the bits you did at the beginning
will be dry by the time you have finished). Using your finger will help
with this, because you don't have to waste time swapping your brush for
If you are having problems with the paint drying too quickly, you could
try using a little retarder mixed into tthe acrylic,
The finger-wiping technique helps to concentrate the paint in the right
areas and also provides a smooth transition between different shades of
paint. Using a standard wash on this sort of surface, where there is little
undulation, will tend to result in just an overall patchy covering. This
will just make the miniature look dirty rather than emphasising its form.
Also if you leave a wash to dry without wiping, you will often get unsightly
EXAMPLE:A 15mm car
Bleeding is a quick
but inexact method of shading, where paint is allowed to mix or 'bleed'
from one side of an area which has been previously covered with clean
Bleeding is best used to apply shadowing. First paint the area with a
largish quantity of water, but not so much that it starts to trickle off.
Now put some paint (or better still ink) on your brush and run it along
one edge of the area. This will naturally spread across the area to give
you a transition from one colour to the other. If it is not mixing well,
then use a wet brush to mix it up a bit.
A method of painting
which uses a small amount of almost dried out paint to pick out the highlights
on a textured surface. It is excellent for fur, hair, metallic surfaces,
bases and scenery as well as larger items such as vehicles and buildings.
Loading the brush
Drybrushing severely damages a brush so use an old one. If you are drybrushing
a small area then use a small brush. Other than this, the larger brush,
the better the effect. Mix up the paint on a palette, and do not add any
water. (If the paint is about to dry out then you could add a little,
but use the tail end of the brush rather than the head to add water to
the palette - otherwise you will get far too much.
Reducing the paint on the brush
In between taking paint from the palette and applying it to the figure,
you will need to reduce the amount of paint on the brush. The best way
to do this is to take a piece of card (slightly absorbant) and rub the
brush vigorously backwards and forwards across the edge of the card until
only a tiny amount is still being transferred off the brush. Don't just
rub the brush on a flat surface because although it will appear that the
paint is almost entirely gone, as soon as you put it to a surface with
texture, great big blobs will come out of the brush and spoil the effect
Drybrushing works best if you apply several coats (at least 3), each lighter
than the one before. With early coats the brush can still be relatively
damp with quite a lot of paint on it, but each subsequent coat should
be drier and have less paint than the one before. The last coat can be
Drybrush across texture
To minimise the amount of paint which gets into the grooves in the figure,
you should drybrush perpendiculat to the lines of any texture.
EXAMPLE:A wooden crate
Two methods of improving accuracy
Unfortunately there isn't a shortcut to intricate detail in painting.
The two main areas to concentrate on, are using a good brush
and the correct painting posture.
The use of black
(or a very dark colour) in fine lines between areas of different colour
to increase the visual separation.
This can also be used to neaten the boundary between the two areas. In
most cases you will be accentuating a physical boundary on the figure
between items of clothing, so the paint can be quite dilute. Ink is very
good for this, because it is liquid enough to slightly run into the groove
and contains more pigment than diluted paint.
Rather than black, which can be give a bit of a harsh effect, it is
usually best to use a much darker shade of the colour being dark-lined.
If there are two completely different colours that you are putting a boundary
between then you will have to pick one.
I usually use Games Workshop's brown ink, which is approximately this
It is so close to black that it is suitable for almost any colour, (not
saturated blues or very light colours).
Painting small metallic items.
Once you have fully shaded the main surface that these are on, paint
the entire item black. Next pick out the item with metallic paint. Don't
drybrush it but just paint in the normal way to give a good strong metallic
colour. The initial black area should be slightly generous, so that a
small amount of the black is still visible round the edges.
In the case of 'gold' items they will also benefit from a wash of dark
orangey-brown ink. I use a mixture of Games Workshop's chestnut and brown
This makes the gold look more like real metal and less like metallic paint.
I don't use a spray varnish these days as I have had a few disasters
in the past, and the time it saves just doesn't seem worth the risk. When
I did spray varnish, my favourite was Letracote Matt Varnish, which was
expensive but consistent in finish.
My Favourite Varnish
I use Humbrol Matt Acrylic Varnish, which actually has a slightly
satin finish. It tends to separate slightly, with the liquid being quite
glossy and the sediment being very matt, so make sure it is well shaken
or even stirred before use.