The Painting Palace with King Poffy Poffa

Semmi? I am feeling dirty. Fetch me my bathers. Today I think I shall enjoy the blonde and the brunette with the enormous...

Oh! Hello there! I did not see you come in. No, no, do not leave; all are welcome in King Poffy Poffa's Painting Palace. You are just early. But then, it is never too early to learn the ins and outs of painting your own spectacular miniatures. So sit down, choose a brush (sable please, but more on that later), and steady your mini--we are going to paint!

In our first lesson I thought it would be a good idea to go over the basic techniques that you will use to paint every miniature in your army, from the lowest foot soldier to the noblest king. In future lessons I will share my techniques for some of the more difficult painting tasks, including metallics, non-metallic metallics, horses, blood, special effects, sculpting, color theory, problem colors and more. I am going to assume at the outset that you have assembled your figure and given it a good scrub with dishwashing detergent (otherwise the oils from your fingers and the model molds will keep your paint from sticking properly). Everyone have his or her figures ready? Very good. But do not dip those brushes yet--princes do not become kings overnight. First thing is first...

The Colored Wet Stuff
So you wish to start a miniature army. You have bought your first miniature. It is either made of plastic or metal, but it is missing something. Color! And that means paint.

As a general rule, paint comes in two versions--oil-based and water-based. Oil-based paints (oils and enamels) are full of petroleum distillates and other nasty, cancer-causing chemicals. They can only be thinned and cleaned with special thinners, and oil paints take days to dry. Do you really wish to spend the rest of your life hunched over a table of noxious chemicals? No, unless you are painting a miniature for display, oil-based paints are not recommended for wargaming armies.

For miniatures you should to use a paint that is non-toxic and cleans up with water-- acrylic paint. But all acrylic paints are not created equal.

Like everything else in life, with paint you get what you pay for. On the low end are craft paints. These are the large squeeze bottles that you can buy for a dollar in Wal-Mart--and that seems like a deal. Until, that is, you start seeing the streaking and the uneven finish that craft paints produce. Paint pigments cost money, and craft paints cut corners by cutting pigments. So when they are thinned, the colors tend to separate. Craft paints are great for crafts, but not for armies. They are fine for terrain and bases, but please do not bring them into the Palace for your minis.

Next are the artist's acrylics. Liquitex, Golden, Winsor & Newton--all quality paints with lots of pigment. But they are designed to cover canvas, not smooth plastic or metal. They are thick out of the tube, and they have a slight texture. Again, not the best choice for your minis. Check them at the moat, please.

Third are the scale-model paints--the acrylic enamels. These are the paints that you see in the small jars in your local hobby store--Testors, Model Master, Tamiya and Polly Scale. Acrylic enamels are an acceptable choice, but you will find your color palate limited to historical colors. Further, most acrylic enamels are designed for airbrushing, and they are therefore too thin to hand-brush properly.

No, if you wish to paint a Warhammer army the right way, you need miniature paints. This category includes a number of manufacturers, including Games Workshop, Vallejo, Reaper and Ral Partha. Games Workshop is the grandfather of miniature paints, if only because it is the most widely available. Lucky for you, it is also quite good. When properly thinned (you are thinning your paint, are you not? Oh my--we shall get to that), the GW paint produces a flat, even coat without brushstrokes and with bright and consistent colors. The main problem with GW paint is the jars. The old-style screw-top jars were a nightmare, often ensuring that your paints dried out in under a month. The new snap-lid jars seem airtight, but you still cannot properly measure your paint for mixing, and the paint still gets caught in the cap.

But do not despair, gentle readers. There is a better paint option--Vallejo Game Color. The Vallejo Game Color line features near-exact copies of the GW colors, each one with an easily identifiable name. Vallejo paints are top-of-the-line--highly pigmented, very consistent and they need very little thinning. Even better, they come in eyedropper bottles, so that you can always measure out an exact amount of paint. They do, however, need to be shaken quite a bit before using. I recommend that you drop an environmentally friendly (non-lead) fishing weight into every bottle.

Vallejo makes another line of paint, called Model Color. There are over 200 Model Colors available, and they are also fantastic paints. However, they are a different consistency than the Game Colors, and they are a bit more difficult to use. Not for novices, these! Reaper and Ral Partha are also perfectly acceptable choices--they are just more difficult to find.

In any event, whichever acrylic miniature paint you choose, your technique will be the same. So gather your bottles and jars, and let us move on to the next subject, my subjects...

Thin is In
Now, I know that you are all eager to get started, but you should not use your paint directly from the jar or bottle. Take a look at that miniature soldier in your hand. See all the detail? The fine sculpting? The nose? Now take a close look at the consistency of your paint. What does it remind you of? That is right, glue. What do you think is going to happen if you glop that thick, gluey paint onto your nice, clean mini? You will cover up all that detail. No, you should thin your paint to the consistency of milk before you use it. It may take a few coats to cover the figure, but you will preserve the detail--and is that not why you got into this hobby in the first place?

You can use plain water to thin your paint. But I prefer to use distilled or filtered water. Less minerals to affect the paint. And if you are really serious, you should consider adding two other chemicals to your thinning mixture--flow aid and retarder.

Water has tension--and so does thin paint. It tends to bead up when applied, and it does not always spread smoothly. That is where flow aid comes in. Flow aid breaks up the water tension, allowing the paint to spread in a thin, even coat. My royal wipers tell me that dishwashing detergent does about the same thing, but who are we to put the acrylic paint companies out of business? Golden makes a good liquid one--buy some.

Retarder is also a very helpful chemical to add to your thinning solution. Acrylic paints dry fast--sometimes within seconds. If you wish to keep the paint on your palette fresher, longer, you should add some retarder. Guess what it does? It retards the drying of the paint! You will not gain much time, maybe 50%, but every bit helps.

The following mixture is sometimes called 'Danny's Magic Wash', but the King hears it was borrowed from another painter. In any event, this is the thinning solution the King uses for his minis:

350 ml of water,
100 ml of non-concentrated flow aid
and 50 ml of non-concentrated retarder.

I say non-concentrated because both chemicals are available both ways. If you buy concentrated solution, thin it out as directed before including it in your wash. And experiment! You may like a different balance. Do not use too much of either chemical, though--especially retarder. If you do, the paint will never dry.

Now that you have your magic wash, you can use it to thin all of your paints. I find that GW paints need to be thinned about 50/50 for base coats, and a bit more for highlights and details. I thin Vallejo paints far less--perhaps 70/30 for strong colors. Again, you will need to experiment, and it will depend on what color you are trying to cover. But keep in mind that the thicker your paint, the more likely it will pool and obscure detail. It is up to you to find a balance between speed and quality.

I see that you are eager to begin painting. You have your paint, it is thin and you wish to apply it to your miniature. But do not use that finger--who knows where it has been? You need a brush!

Choose Your Weapon
You need to get your paint onto your miniature, and there is no better way than using a brush. A good brush is perhaps the single most important element to painting well. Take the King at his word--instead of buying a dozen poor brushes, might we not settle on one or two good ones?

Brushes come in a number of sizes and flavors, and each have their uses. But for the majority of your painting, you will want a top quality sable hair brush. And not just any sable, but Kolinsky sable. And not just Kolinsky sable, but all-male hair Kolinsky sable. Got that?

Yes, I see your hand, and I can predict your question. 'But your Majesty, the art store told me to use a nylon brush with acrylic paints!' Well, if you were using acrylic paint from a tube, and slathering it onto a canvas, that might be a good idea. But we are going to be thinning our paints to the consistency of thick water, and therefore you will want a watercolor brush--and that means Kolinsky sable. A nylon brush might work well the first time you use it, but after a few minis you are almost guaranteed to start seeing hooking (when the tip of the brush bends over into a hook shape), and that is no good. The point will dull over time as well. No, if you wish to do a quality job, stick to natural hairs.

However, all sable brushes are not created equal. There is cheap sable, and then there is expensive sable. GW brushes, for example, are cheap sable brushes. After only a few uses you will notice that they will not come to a very good point, and they shed hairs faster than the King himself. Not worth the $5 American they cost. On the other end of the spectrum are the true kings of the brush world--Vallejo, Escoda 1212, and the King of Kings, the Winsor & Newton Series 7. This is the brush favored by most Golden Demon winners.

And yet I do not recommend the Winsors. They are twice the price of the Vallejos and the Escodas, and they are finicky--they are prone to fishtailing (splitting down the middle--but of course you knew this?). I have two, and I rarely use them. The Vallejos are nice, with short hairs designed for painting miniatures, but the Escoda 1212 series... now that is a brush designed for a king. Nice fat belly, so it holds plenty of paint for its size, soft feel and a razor sharp point. And it is half the price of the Winsor & Newton. You cannot go wrong with any of these brushes, but listen to the King and give the Escoda a try. You can get the W&N or Escoda at many art stores--they will be with the watercolor brushes. You can order the Vallejos online. Expect the W&N to start at $14 per brush, and the Vallejos and Escodas at $7. I see those wide eyes--is that sticker shock? Well remember, those $3 nylon brushes add up very quickly if you are constantly replacing them. A good Kolinsky sable brush can last for years if you take care of it properly (yes, we are getting to that...)

So you need a good brush, but what size? First, you will want a round brush--that is the shape that comes to a sharp point. The sizes are measured in numbers--0, 1 and 2, getting bigger, and on the small side 00, 000, 0000 and even 20/0 (getting smaller). Most novice painters that have passed through the palace have all made the same mistake--they purchased the smallest brush that they could find, because they wished to paint very small lines. But you are in the big leagues now, my subjects. Every one of the high end brushes that I have recommended comes to a needle point at every brush size that you would use for miniature painting--up to a 2 or 3 round. In fact the smallest W&N that you can buy is a 0000, and that is only in their miniature line. Yet the point on that 0000 will be sharper than the point on a cheap 20/0, even if it is a sable brush.

The problem with the tiny brushes is that they hold very little paint. So you dip the tip into your paint, bring the brush up to the figure, and the paint has already dried. Damn! Wash the tip, dip the tip, dot the eye--after about five tries, you may get it done. The benefit of a bigger brush is that it holds more paint, so you can use it longer before it dries out. And not all brushes are equal in this respect, either--those Escodas that I mentioned are fat around the middle (hmmm, maybe that is why I love them), so they hold more paint than other similarly sized brushes.

In fact, when you become an experienced painter, you will choose your brush based on how much paint you wish to lay down, rather than how thin an area you need to paint. I use 4 main sizes--a 2 for basecoating and large areas, a 0 for almost all general work, a 00 for tight areas and a 0000 for eyes, patterns and very controlled lining. If you are just starting out, I would recommend a 0--it is a great all-purpose size. I can easily paint an entire miniature with a 0. My next purchase would be a 2 and a 000 or 4/0. Then fill in the rest as you see fit.

My assistant Semmi is handing out some brushes to get you started. Good, good, but wait! I saw that...You were about to jam that brush into your paint bottle. I see we need a lesson in brush etiquette!

You have just spent good money on good brushes--do not ruin them. Every brush is made with a handle (usually wood) and a bunch of hairs that is glued into a metal ferrule. You should not get paint into the ferrule. It will eventually dry, causing the brush hairs to separate. Remember that nice sharp point you used to get? Used to get?

No, you should only dip the very tip of your brush into your paint. Keep fresh water handy and clean the brush frequently, every few dips. When you are done with your painting session clean the brush thoroughly with either a liquid or a solid brush cleaner--the King uses both. You can get them at your local art store. If you have a brush that needs a really heavy duty cleaning the Winsor & Newton liquid brush cleaner and conditioner is a good soak, reported to get out all kinds of dried, set-in paint.

Never, ever, EVER leave a paintbrush sitting in a jar of water, hairs down. That will kill a brush in an instant. Swish the brush in the water, wipe it on a towel and either lay it flat or put it in a cup with the hairs sky high.

Do not dip your best brush directly into your paint jar. Take some paint out of the jar with a cheap utility brush and place it on a palette--a plastic tray, a ceramic tile, even wax paper. If you leave the jar open during your painting session the paint will dry out for sure. Thin your paint on the palette, mix it with the utility brush and then, and only then, can you approach the paint with your regal brush. There, that is much better. But why the blank faces? Go on, paint!


Well, I guess it is on to the next topic...

Duh Dum, Duh Dum, Duh Dum, Duh Dum...Base!
So you are sitting with a bare metal or plastic figure in your hand. True, you could just start painting, but you are best off laying down a base coat of paint designed to help the real paint stick to the figure. This layer is called primer, and it is especially important for metal miniatures. Acrylic paints do not stick very well to metal, and you will get far more chipping if you do not prime.

Primers come in both brush-on and spray formulations; however, spray primer produces a much smoother coat. As a general rule, there are three primer options--white, black and gray. Each primer color has its proponents. Black primer is great for army painting, because you can miss painting some areas without it showing. And if you are in a rush, the black primer becomes your darkest shadow. However, it may take several coats of red or yellow to cover black primer, and your colors will look darker, overall. White primer produces a nice, bright figure, but you must make sure that all of your basecoats are complete. Golden Demon-level painters use white primer almost exclusively. Personally, I use black for my armies, and white for my display figures. Gray primer is a good compromise--it is easy to cover, but if you miss a spot, it does not scream out at you.

Sounds simple, but there is an issue--spray primer is very weather sensitive. If you spray primer outdoors on a hot, humid day, it will almost certainly dry to a rough or chalky texture, ruining your figure. Wind will also affect your primer, drying out the paint before it hits the figure and creating the dreaded 'sandpaper primer'. You should spray indoors whenever possible. But there is another issue--spray primer is not non-toxic. The fumes are very toxic, so try to get good ventilation. Shake the bottle like there is no tomorrow, hold it six to ten inches from the figures, and pray. Start spraying the primer away from the figure, and then move it from side to side across the figure without releasing the trigger. Always begin and end your spray away from the figure to avoid splatter. You should spray a few light coats of primer, rather than a single heavy coat.

Did it work? You should have a figure covered by a smooth, tough base layer of paint. If you missed spots, just use watered-down paint to fill them in. If it did not work, strip the figure and start over (Simple Green, a degreaser available in most hardware stores, is a basic non-toxic stripper). Frankly, priming is an article all to itself, so for now we will move on to the fun part...

Layers! Ogres have Layers.
If miniature figures were life sized, we would simply paint them in solid colors, and they would look natural. Why? Because the lights in the real world would create realistic shadows and highlights. After all, they do on you and me. Well, perhaps more on me than you--I have just finished lunch!

But miniatures are tiny (hence the clever name), and they are too small to cast their own natural shadows. So we must re-create the effect of light using paint to make them look realistic. That means painting shadows in the low parts, and painting highlights on the high parts.

Hang a towel over a chair (wait, do not touch that towel...) and take a close look. See how the folds are darker than the actual color of the towel? And see how the highest areas are lighter? Those are shadows and highlights. That is what we are going to be painting to make our minis look like tiny people living in a tiny world. Now take a close look at the transitions between the shadows and highlights. They do not jump from dark to light, do they? They are gradual. That is what we are trying to re-create, and that is the difficult part.

When your King was but a youthful Prince I often painted large-scale military figures. For these figures I used oil paints. Smelly, dangerous oil paints. But the beauty of oil paints is that they take a very long time to dry. So you can paint dark paint into a shadow, and light paint onto a highlight,and then blend the wet paints into each other until you have created a beautiful, gradual transition.

Go ahead and give that a try with acrylics. Paint the dark the highlights...and now blend. Notice how the dark paint is already dry? That is the problem with acrylics--they are almost impossible to blend. Some high-end mini painters blend acrylics by using plenty of retarder and working on very small areas, but if you wish to get your army painted in this lifetime, I do not recommend it. Because there is a better way.

To paint highlights with acrylics, you are going to layer your paint. Almost every area of your figure can be painted to a high standard using layering. See all those spectacular Golden Demon figures? All layered. The concept of layering is simple. You cover your paints with gradually darker or lighter color layers, leaving only the slightest amount of the original color visible. In this way you create a stepped graduation of paint colors that, from a reasonable distance, looks like a smooth transition. Think of it as a color staircase.

Layering can be accomplished in several different ways, and it all depends on the effect that you are aiming for. The simplest technique is to paint the area with the darkest, shadow color, and then to work up from there until you have painted the highlights. Some painters basecoat the entire figure, layer down the shadows, and then they layer up the highlights--this gives a brighter, richer effect, but it takes more brush control. Either way, the overall quality of your miniature is going to depend on the number of layers you use. The King generally uses a minimum of five, but Golden Demon painters use 20 or more. If you are really starting out, try using three--a basecoat, a single shadow, and a single highlight. It will not look great, but it will be clean, and you can perfect your technique.

Here is where we get into thinned paint again. If you are going to be painting five to ten layers of paint onto a figure, thick layers will quickly cover all the detail. Not only do you want your layers thin, but also you want them to be nearly transparent. That way, each layer will blend smoothly into the layer below, and the transitions will be less noticeable.

Of course, how thin you do your layers depends on how many you are painting. It also depends on how quickly you need to paint. But if you know and practice the basic techniques, you can learn to modify them to suit your needs.

Let me describe a very simple five-layer transition for a medium-blue cloak. Take a look at the cloak in the photograph below and imagine where the shadows and highlights would fall. If you need help, drape a piece of clothing or a towel over a chair. Now choose the base color--that is going to be your middle layer.

First, we will start by painting the darkest shadow. If you wish to create a very striking effect, you can use black as your shadow. However, the King prefers a more natural shadow, so we will use a very dark blue. Either use a pre-mixed dark blue, or add some black to your base color. Cover the entire cloak with this shadow color. Make sure to get in all the crevices.

Once your shadow is dry, it is time to do the 'sub-shadow'--the second layer. Leaving a small amount of the darkest color in the deepest areas of the cloak, paint the rest of the cloak with the second layer. Because you are doing two shadow layers, about half of the shadow should be the darkest color, and half the lighter color.

Now it is time for the middle, or base color. Paint it over all raised areas, letting it merge slightly into the top of the shadows. After that coat has dried, add a bit of white to your base color and paint all of the raised areas. This is your 'sub-highlight'. Finally, add a bit more white and paint the brightest highlight onto the highest raised areas. Again, the color for your highest highlight depends on the effect you are going for. Many successful army painters highlight everything to white. It is not quite realistic, but it is striking, and it looks great on the tabletop. Your King tends to go a bit darker than that, but that is an issue of style, not of quality.

See how simple that was? Every area of every miniature that you ever paint can be painted using these layering techniques. For example, a wash is simply a way of layering a shadow color into complex folds. Drybrushing is a way of layering highlights onto rough textures. But it is all layering. Though perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves...

Wash and Dry
Semmi, is it time for my bath? Not yet?


Well, I suppose we have time for two more basic techniques--washing and drybrushing.

Your King likes to think of washing and drybrushing as speed layering techniques. They are simply quick ways to get paint where you wish to have it. If you look at them that way, you will get a better idea of when they can be used, and when they are not appropriate.

A wash is an application of very thin paint or ink. The pigment will flow into the deepest areas of the figure, staining those crevices with the wash color. The thinner your wash mixture, the lighter the eventual stain, and the less paint deposited on the high areas. As a general rule a thick wash designed to stain an entire figure or area is called a glaze. For example, if you have painted your highlights and they look too stark, give the entire area a glaze to tie the highlights into the base color. In contrast, if you only wish to have the paint in the darkest areas, you use a thin wash.

You can use paint or ink for your washes, but ink has the perfect wash qualities. The pigments are designed to be liquefied, so it retains its color well. Paint can sometimes separate and get a speckled texture if it is too thin. GW sells several colors of ink, but you can buy FW Acrylic Ink in almost any art store. It comes in over 20 colors, has a dropper built into the bottle and it does not leak like the GW ink. I highly recommend it, especially the sepia ink--it makes a great, not-quite-black wash for warm colors.

If you use ink straight from the bottle it will stain the entire painted area. That is great for a glaze, but if you are going for a wash you will need to thin your ink. But there is a problem. If you thin the ink with water, you may find that your ink collects on the high areas, creating ugly rings and ridges of color--not good. Your King is no scientist, but I understand that this is a function of water tension. Sometimes water will dry from the inside out, and the ink will move with it, leaving an ugly ring of ink on the figure. So here is where we introduce the modeler's secret, the miracle invention--Future Acrylic Floor Polish.

Yes, I am talking about the fruity-smelling liquid that your servants spread on your vinyl floors. You can buy Future at the grocery store. Future is an acrylic gloss clear coat that can be applied with very few visible brush strokes, smells nice, is as cheap as soda and dries in minutes to a rock-hard clear finish. It has infinite uses.

In our case, you should create a mixture of three to four parts water and one part Future, and keep it in a dropper bottle. Use this mixture (we will call it Future Wash) to thin your inks and paints for washes and glazes. The Future will make the wash smoother, reducing the water tension, drawing the ink into the crevices and helping to prevent ugly ink rings. It is not a cure-all, but it helps--a lot. Experiment with your Future mixture until you get a pleasing effect. The King usually thins his inks with Future Wash at a 50/50 ratio for glazes or dark washes, and three or four to one for lighter effects. Again, the thinner the wash, the less the color will adhere to the raised areas of the figure. Also, know that ink or anything thinned with Future Wash will dry to a gloss. Do not worry about it--just use a good matte varnish after painting is complete.

And before we go on, please do not use your expensive new brushes for washes or inks. Ink is thin enough that capillary action will almost always draw it up into the ferrule of your brush, ruining it. Keep a few sizes of cheap ink brushes handy and replace them when necessary. If Future dries on your brush, it can be removed with ammonia or alcohol.

I should also note that the newest GW vogue is to use a little PVA glue in your washes. This thickens the wash, helping it stick into the deepest areas. I have yet to try the technique, so I will have to report back.

So when do you wash? Well, what about that cloak we painted? Remember, a wash is just a quick way of getting dark paint into a dark area. So, if you are in a rush, you might base coat the cloak and then wash it with dark blue ink or very thin dark blue paint. Paint a highlight or two, and voila! Quick and easy shadows and highlights. In fact, if you are in a real hurry, you could always drybrush those highlights. But what is drybrushing, you ask?

Drybrushing is a highlighting technique that is very useful for highly-textured areas. Take a trashy brush (not Madonna trashy, but Brittney trashy), dip it in your paint and wipe off almost all of the paint onto a rag. The brush should be nearly dry. When you drag the brush across your hand, it should deposit only the slightest amount of paint.

Now, drag or flick your brush over the raised edges of your figure. Because the brush is so dry, the paint will only stick to the highest areas. Easy highlights! Drybrushing works best on hair and fur, where painting the highlights by hand would be inordinately tedious. And do not use your good brush, under any circumstances--drybrushing eats brushes for breakfast.

Do not bother raising that hand--I can read your mind. Why not use drybrushing for all of your highlights? Well, for one, drybrushing will not work well on smooth surfaces, such as marine armor, vehicles, etc. For another, drybrushing leaves a characteristically chalky surface. On highly textured areas, like hair, you will not notice. But you will on large surfaces. You can temper this effect by drybrushing with thinned paint, but it still will not provide the clarity and even coat of hand layering.

Do not get me wrong. You beginners would do well to perfect washing and drybrushing, and you can produce very respectable figures with only those two techniques. But eventually you will wish to progress to the next level, and you will have to learn when washing and drybrushing are appropriate.

All of this talking has made me sweaty and randy, so it is time for my bath. Semmi! My bathers, if you please?

Oh, do not look so sad. Stop by in a few weeks for part two of basic techniques, where we will discuss lining, faces, metallics and everything else you need to know to produce a complete miniature army. Until then, my faithful subjects, remember this rule--make sure it is thin and wet before you dip the tip! Now leave me. Clarice, is bath day in the bear house...

Created by: system. Last Modification: Sunday 25 of January, 2009 02:27:35 PM EST by ZiggyQubert.

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