Painting Tips Part 1

I. How to get good at painting? A professional's opinion.

Boy, this is a question I've been asked before. And the answer of "practice... practice... practice" is disengenous at best. Because if you are practicing bad habits and bad techniques, it is hard to get much better at all.

I run a painting service for wargamers and paint thousands of 15mm and 25mm figures each year for collectors all over the country. And here are just a few of the many things I've concluded are important for getting a realistic" figure.

1. Use only acrylic paints - I use Creamcoat by Delta along with hobby paints by Polly-S and Ral Partha. Oil-based paints are just too tough to use and too slow to dry.

2. Get good brushes. I prefer Windsor-Newton round acrylic brushes, although Polly-S golden foxes are excellent as well. The only natural hair brush I use regularly is a 00000 red sable spotter. And try to use as large a brush as possible for the job at hand - I get suprisingly small details painted with a seemingly large brush.

3. Learn a new painting technique. Most books on painting figures I've seen describe a method of painting completly opposite to what I do each and every day. I think of my way of painting figures as "bottom -up, inside -out".

Taking a Union infantry man in a fatigue coat and kepi as my example, I will detail each step I follow. Keep in mind that I will be painting between 24 and 48 figures at a time, so I assume adequate drying time between each step. I also assume the figure has been primed with a white or grey primer, as I do NOT use a black primer when painting figures.

The Basic Method:

a) Paint the base green.

b) Paint the shoes black, taking care to avoid getting paint on the green base but not caring if black paint gets on the pants.

c) Paint the pants light blue. Once more I am careful to not get blue paint on the already painted shoes while I cover-up any black paint that I slapped-up onto the pant legs.

d) Paint the fatigue jacket dark blue. Be careful not to get blue paint on the pants, but be sure to get the figure's collar, cuffs and underneath the arms and behind the pack / knapsack.

e) If the fatigue jacket has light blue piping around the collar or cuffs, I paint it on now. A red sable spotter works well for this task.

f) Paint all the webbing (straps), knapsack and cartridge case black. Other equipment like blanket rolls, linen pouches, canteens, etc can be added as well, using colors other than black.

g) Paint the gun - stock wood brown, barrel pewter, fittings brass.

h) Paint the flesh tones, being careful to not slap paint onto the figures collar, cuffs or onto the gun where it does not belong. Then add the hair, beard, etc.

i) Paint the black band and bill of the kepi. Be careful not to get paint onto the figure's face or hair.

j) Paint the cloth part of the kepi dark blue.

k) Using a red sable spotter and silver and / or brass paint fill in the buttons and buckles.

l) Finally, paint the bayonet silver.

And you are done, with hopefully a minimal amount of re-painting or touch-up. The key to my method is slapping paint onto areas of the figure I know I will cover-up later on in the painting process, while taking care to not get paint on areas I have already finished.

I have not touched dry-brushing or staining as they can only be done once you have mastered getting paint onto your figure in a clean and accurate way.

  • Gettin' Good: An introduction, explanation and disclaimer.
  • Part 1: How to get good at painting? A professional's opinion.
  • Part 2: How to get good at painting? Dissenting opinions are heard.
  • Part 3: The selection, care and feeding of brushes.
  • Part 4: Questions and answers from the gentle readers.
  • Part 5: A primer on using stains and washes.
  • Part 6: Ragged Rebs (or painting irregular units in a regular way).
  • Part 7: Painting Ponies I. Just what sort of beast is that, anyway?
  • Part 8: Painting Ponies II. Your basic black, brown and chestnut horses.
  • Part 9: Painting Ponies III. Fancies - whites, greys, duns and finishing touches.
  • Part 10: A primer on stripes, checks and tartan plaids.