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Painting Techniques


Rampant Acrylicism
This page only covers acrylics, because I don't paint with anything else. All the techniques which I use are described here, and for the sake of comprehensiveness, I have also included a few that I don't make much use of.

Horses for courses
Many of these techniques involve some form of shading, by distributing the paint in a non-uniform but (hopefully) controlled way. Which technique is the most appropriate will be largely dependent on the size and texture of the surface you are painting, as well as which type of 'real' material you are trying to depict such as metal or cloth.

Undercoating or Priming
Semi-Dry Wash & Wipe
Fine Detail
Black Lining
Buckles, studs etc

Undercoating or Priming

Think ahead
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.

Undercoat Colour
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.

Paint Consistency
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.

Palette Preparation
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 your blending.

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.

Shading Washes
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 is desirable.

Patinating Washes
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

Semi-Dry 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 anything else.

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 tidemarks.

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 water.

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 entirely.

Several coats
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 almost white.

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

Fine Detail

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.

Black Lining
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 colour: It is so close to black that it is suitable for almost any colour, (not saturated blues or very light colours).

Buckles, studs etc.

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 inks. This makes the gold look more like real metal and less like metallic paint.


Spray Varnishes
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.

2001. All rights reserved.