Basic Painting Techniques

Video demonstrations will accompany this article soon but for now, I hope the descriptions are helpful.

Flat Colour
Lining
Dry-brushing
Over-brushing
Layering
Feathering
Glazing
Washing
Double Loading


Flat Colour

This is what it says on the tin (or paint pot). Many aircraft modellers will leave their miniature at this stage. The key principle is to build up an opaque layer of paint on an area with no variation in colour and no blotching. This can only be achieved using several layers of thinned paint. A mix of between 1:4 and 1:2 water to paint depending on the make/colour is probably ideal. Don’t pick up too much paint on the brush and don’t let an edge dry in the middle of the area you’re painting as this will leave a bump. Too much paint will also cause rings as the pigment settles at the edges of a blob of paint. However, if an area has started to dry, don’t draw the brush across it as this will be even harder to correct. For ease of coverage, this is best done over a grey primer or, at a pinch, white.

I draw a slight distinction between flat colour and base-coating. For me the base-coat could be either my pre-highlighting or my first blended transparent layer applied with a brush. I rarely build up a traditional opaque layer with no transition on a figure just because it’s not the way I paint but I do sometimes make a wet-blended base-coat.


Lining

Again, it’s what it sounds like. By painting thin lines you can accentuate shadows and highlight edges. In either case, it should be used sparingly and with full consideration of the light source to prevent your miniature from looking like a character from ‘Tron’. All too often I see figures which have downward facing edges highlighted, and in the same colour as the upward facing edges. As a general rule, this technique should 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, then moving towards vertical edges with a darker highlight colour and then downward facing edges should not be highlighted at all or with a much darker highlight colour if the surface is supposed to be very reflective.

Lining used for shading will give a cartoonish look to the miniature. This can also be achieved by priming with black and then missing out the recesses when applying your base-coat. It’s quite good for painting armies quickly but these days I avoid this technique. You can also produce a shadow lining effect using controlled washes. This is better than using a thicker, layer mix as it will give a smoother transition. This is often more appropriate.


Dry-brushing

This technique is rarely appropriate but for textured surfaces where a rough look is required, like sand and rocks, it’s ideal.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, though, 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, stiffer than sable, so usually a thick synthetic hair or hog hair is best. The former is one brush which you will find in your hobby store but I currently use the latter, a Winsor & Newton Azanta size 2 round short handle (brushes made for oil/body colour usually have long handles for painting with an easel), which does the job very nicely if you maintain it.

Patience is required for this technique. Use paint straight from the pot so that it doesn’t run into recesses, wipe the paint off on your palette and then start dry-brushing on your palette (a spare piece of wood works; don’t use a wet palette for this) and then continue to dry-brush on something else like a paper towel (or I use the back of my thumb). Turn the brush as you do this, otherwise you will not remove all the loose paint. When it is ‘dry’ (it still has paint on it but the paint is starting to dry and not much is coming off) you can start using it on the miniature. At first it shouldn’t show until you have made many passes and then the colour should slowly build up. You may need to add and remove the paint as described several times as the paint will dry very quickly because you’ve had it on the brush for a minute or so already and be wary of a build up of dried paint on your brush, which will come off in lumps onto your miniature so you may want to wash your brush each time you renew the paint on it or renew the paint after every couple of strokes like ‘normal’ painting to prevent it drying. Be careful to dry the brush well after washing it and before continuing to dry-brush otherwise you will begin to water down your paint.

Sweep in a controlled way, preferably from the direction of the light source and concentrating on where you want the paint. Don’t just scrub all over the miniature because you will get too much paint in some areas and not enough in others. Another point is that you only need to paint the areas you want that colour. Don’t be too worried about mistakes that you can correct but you don’t want to put too much paint where it isn’t needed and risk obscuring detail.

I have written a lot about this technique as it is generally so misunderstood and misused. Some painting snobs say “don’t dry-brush” and I think this is largely down to people doing it so badly. I think it is a useful technique but it should never be your default technique for highlighting. I have also seen white dry-brushed over a black undercoat as a pre-highlight but this only helps pick out detail as it doesn’t give guidance to a light source.


Over-brushing

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.


Layering

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 useful technique but it is probably the most work to produce a reasonable effect out of all 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 luminosity 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 and you’ll be wasting a lot of time by applying paint which is just going to be covered by the next layer.


Feathering

Feathering is essentially layering but using the flattened tip of your brush to break up the edge of the layer so that there is no hard line between one layer and the next. By painting like this, you will get a smoother transition and require fewer layers as you can leave a bigger step between one layer and the next. Thinner paint will also aid the transition.


Glazing

Glazes are heavily diluted paint, ink or a mixture of the two. You can use glazes as filters to change the hue or luminosity of a finished area. You’ve spent hours highlighting something, moved on to the next colour and then decided that the first area 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 that most painters have done this at some point.

Glazes are now my number one painting technique (or number two I suppose because I use them after pre-highlighting) and yes, you can wet-blend glazes but you can also feather and push them, which are faster techniques. If you are doing either or if you are glazing over flat colour then you should work from light to dark wherever possible because the dark colour will cover the light better than the light will cover the dark. However, it might be that you need to work back up to your highlights to smooth things the blending out and build up the layers. In this case you run the risk of getting a chalky finish if you start glazing white. Adding flow improver can help to homogenise your mix but additives are best avoided as they affect the adherence of the paint to the figure so I usually use off-white paint and then the final glaze with pure white will cover it more easily.


Washing

Washes are diluted paint or ink similar to glazes but applied more liberally so that the pigment is allowed to accumulate into the recesses on the miniature. The more dilute the wash, the more liberally it can be applied. Be warned that too heavy an application may dry into rings but the wash can be controlled slightly with a brush as it dries. A drop of flow improver in the mix will help to disperse the pigment. I never use inks on their own as they often dry slightly glossy.

I have seen a black wash used over a white undercoat to produce a pre-shaded undercoat but this just picks out the details, it doesn’t give you a realistic light source.


Double Loading

This technique can be used to provide quick transitions but will usually require some going over afterwards. Simply load your brush with the paler of your two colours, dab paint off of the tip and then load the tip with the darker colour, then sweep the brush sideways and the colours will blend with the pressure of the stroke as they leave the brush. This can also be done with a flat brush loading one side of the brush with one colour and the other side with the other.