Painting Guide

from Dave Smiths Mini-Wars site

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Overview Brushes, Paints, Work Area, Etc. Step-1 Preperation and Undercoating Step-2 The face and skin
Step-3 Hair, Beards, and Eyes
Step-4 Helmets, and Tunics Step-5 Chainmail, and other armor Step-6 Trousers, Boots, Leatherwork
Step-7 Shields Step-8 Decorations and Accessories
Painting 15mm's


Historicon Plaque

Painting styles are as unique as the individual, and are subject to the old question, 'What do you want to games, or paint figures?' I happen to enjoy the painting side of the hobby almost as much as the gaming side. I do happen to be a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to painting my figures, which can lead to frustration, and start-overs, which slows down my ability to put lead on the table.

For years I painted with the white undercoat, mid-range base coat, ink washes, and highliting method. This gave me very nice results when I looked at the figures up close and personal. However, a funny thing happened when I put them on the gaming table.....all that subtle shading and blending got lost, and in some cases my very detailed and time consuming painting looked like a very basic paint job.

I changed over to the 'British' style of painting, championed by the very talented Kevin Dallimore. His style and technique is one that I call exagerated detail, almost characature painting. This style starts with a black undercoat (primer) and then the first application is the darkest shade color. Each succeeding application is lighter, with the lightest highlites almost white in some cases. The stark gradation between colors, particularly in the flesh areas really stand out on the table top. I switched to this style last summer, due in large part to Dave Woodward of EVM, a professional figure painter from Great Britain. I engaged him to paint up a portion of my new Early German army using the new Copplestone Early Germans from the Foundry. When I received them, I was blown away by how nicely they looked, and what a huge difference this made when I put them on the table and looked at them from 5 or 6 feet away. Since that point, I have tried to replicate this style, with varying degrees of success.

I will offer a step by step guide for the curious on this page, and will add photos of a figure as it is being painted. Additionally, I will give you the exact paint that I am using, and the manufacturer and their code number, if applicable. It used to drive me crazy ( a very short drive), when the author of a painting guide would direct me to....'Use a medium brown next,'....medium brown....medium brown....what's that....I have 10 different medium browns....I wanted the exact name of the brown and the manufacturer, and then I could decide if I wanted any variance. This is what I will give you. Exactly what paint I'm using...from that point you can decide to change or alter it to suit your own personal taste.

Brushes, Paints, Work Area, Etc.

Work Area

I guess I should make a comment or two about work area, lighting, and the other ergonomically important issues. I always wanted to have one of those spiffy painting areas, with 2 sources of direct lighting, built-ins to hold my paints and naked lead, but alas, I had to make do with a card table and 1 table lamp when I first started out. Now, I have a 12' x 14 ' office, equipped with a U shaped work station, and a closet that stores all of my unpainted lead, magazines, and other paraphanalia. I also have a couple of book cases that hold all of my reference materials. Whatever you have, make sure that you are comfortable and have a good chair (preferably with lumbar support), and have the best lighting available to you (for obvious reasons).

I work from a palatte. You can buy the paper palattes at Hobby Lobby or Michaels. It's like a tablet of wax paper, and you get about 50 sheets for a few bucks.


I use all kinds of paint brushes, but probably my favorite are the Windsor and Newton sables ranging from 000 to 1. If I had a dime for every paint brush that I have had to throw away, I could probably retire. There are 2 distinct theories when it comes to paint cheapies and toss them when they are gunked up, or buy the best you can afford, and take very good care of them with periodic cleanings, etc. I adhere to both, quite frankly. If you find a good brush, take care of it. Nothing is more frustrating than struggling to paint detail on a 25mm figure with a lousy brush. I use different types of brushes as well. For dry brushing, I have several shaders, flat tips, or angles. I find these glide across the high points of the figure better than the detail pointed brushes.


I'm a paint-aholic. I think I've tried just about every brand of paint that is out there, including 3 different brands of oils, and a couple of brands of enamels. I decided a few years ago to make the switch to acrylics. I won't identify all of the plusses to using acrylics, I assume everyone probably has come to the same conclusions that I have, for the same reasons. The brands of acrylics I currently use (until the new Foundry paints arrive) are Vallejo, Citadel, Plaka, Ceramcoat, and Liquitex Artists acrylics. I also have a bunch of Kohr-i-noor, and Citadel inks, although I don't use them now (other than the black for priming). As I paint the figure (for this page), I will identify the brand and the color I'm using.

Step-1 Preperation and Undercoating

The photo of the Gripping Beast peasants were painted using my old technique of shading, blending, highlighting, etc. Group of peasants

Okay, I must admit something. I have never washed any of my figures before priming them. Every 'how to' guide that I've read suggests that the first step is to "wash the little buggers in some warm soapy water to get the mold residue off." Well, I don't...and to be honest I'm not sure it makes a difference. If you want to wash your my guest. But, please do trim all the flash and mold lines from the figure. Nothing looks worse than having a nicely painted figure with flash between the figures legs, or between the horses legs. Watch for the mold lines, as well. Almost imperceptible on naked lead, but very noticeable when your figure is painted. Shields are really noticeable.

I undercoat (prime) in black. I use Krylon black spray primer. I let this dry for a day (I usually spray in the evening, and the next evening I'm ready to paint). The spray will not cover the entire figure. Believe me, irregardless of how you hold the can, and at what angle, you'll still see some silver shining through in various places. That's okay, since I finish the priming with Ceramcoat black mixed with Koor-i-noor black ink (any black paint and ink will suffice).
I set this aside for a couple of hours, and then I'm ready to start slapping on the paint.

Step-2 The face and skin

Well this part can really mess your day up. Before I settled on a 'recipe', I used to put off painting the flesh areas as long as I could. I don't know how many figures that I've had hit the Pine-Sol bath with a complexion that ranged from Oklahoma dirt to the white cliffs of Dover.

This recipe is for a typical European caucasian.

I paint from the inside out, which I think is pretty standard. So after black priming, I set up my palatte for the flesh areas. I try and paint only 4 figures at a time. I know, I know, there are those of you that are saying 'What!..... You need to paint 50 at a time...putting one color on all of them and then moving to the next color.' Sorry...can't do mind would go into vapor lock if I tried to paint 20, or 30, or 50 figures in one setting. I want to see some completed figures for my effort...and I want to see them sooner rather than later. Soooo...I paint 4 at a time.

Dark Shade Color-Plaka Red Brown

This is the first color that goes on my figures, and I paint all of the exposed skin areas, but try and leave a little black where skin meets clothes, hair, eye sockets, nostrils (heh,heh...just kidding) etc.

First Base Color-Citadel Dwarf Flesh with a drop of Vallejo Medium Flesh.

The dwarf flesh is too pinkish, and the Vallejo colors are too yellowish. I hate to mix paints, but in this case I do. Paint on all of the raised or exposed areas, but leave the Plaka exposed in the creases of the muscles, and lines in the face. When I first started this technique, I regretted not taking any kinesiology classes in college. Some figures won't have the nice beveled muscalature that makes it easy to follow. Unless the figure is fat, I always try to paint in the '6 pack' abs...(wishing I could be built like some of these Arnold-like dudes).

First Highlight Color-50% Base Mix with 50% Vallejo Flat Flesh

Now, leave a small strip of base color showing, and paint in this color. It should be several values lighter than the base flesh color. Paint it all over the exposed skin areas.

Second Highlight Color-25% Base Color and 75% Vallejo Flat Flesh

Apply this color to the main highlights of the figures, leaving a small strip of the first highlight color.

Final Highlight Color- 80% Vallejo Flat Flesh and 20% White

The final highlight that should be applied to the most exposed areas wherever your assumed light source is coming from. Areas for consideration are the bridge of the nose, chin, forehead, knuckles, tops of the shoulders, and maybe a couple of areas on the leg, if they are bent in a running position. Be careful with this step...a little is definitely better.

Step-3 Hair, Beards, and Eyes

Since I'm painting Kevin Dallimore's Big Beardy Bondy figure, the hair is the 'real deal'. In any figure, there will always be some part that will have a tendancy to dominate the overall appearance of the figure. In most cases, this is the shield (for ancients and medievals, anyway). It could be the face, a weapon, armor, or something else. With this figure, it's definitely the hair, gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair-er, gleaming, streaming.... uhh, sorry, just dated myself with that little senior moment.

Sooo....I think I'll make this Bondi a redhead. The black undercoat will be the darkest shadow color for a redhead.

First Base Color-Vallejo Burnt Cadmium Red

For Blondes: Shade Color - Plaka Dark Brown; Base Color- Plaka Yellow Brown; 1st Highlight Plaka Yellow Ochre; Final Highlight- Vallejo Yellow

For Grey Hair- Shadow Color-Black Undercoat or, Vallejo Dark Gray; Base Color- Vallejo Medium Gray; Highlight Color- Vallejo Pale GreyBlue

For Black Hair- Shadow Color and Base Color is the Black Primer. First Highlight- Vallejo Dark Grey; Last Highlight- Vallejo Medium Grey (very lightly).

Take your flat tip brush and moistbrush over the raised ridges of the hair and beard. Notice I said moistbrush...make sure your brush is a little damp with paint, or this step could take you all day,

First Highlight Color- Vallejo Red

Repeat the above step using this color with a little dryer brush.

Last Highlight Color-Vallejo Scarlet

Last highlight should be at the edges of the beard, and hair. Try to make sure you can see some gradatian between colors. With this much detail on the beard and hair, I think this is all the steps that you will need to take.

Oh, also, put a bit of the first color on the bottom lip if showing, or the open mouth...don't get too goofy, or your Big Beardy Bondi will look like he's wearing lipstick.

Next...the eyeballs. This is where it usually gets interesting, and some figures can end up looking like they have the 'mad-cow' disease, or they are extremely constipated. At this scale you may even decide not to do the eyes, which is fine. The next time you're thinking about it, look at a person from about 30 or 40 feet away. Can you see their eyeballs? Didn't think so. But for those of you, like me, that are somewhat anal about this painting stuff, we are obliged to paint the eyes. Otherwise our figure is just not complete.

I use Ceramcoat Pale Gray for the 'whites', and it needs to be the tiniest of lines. Don't make the whites too large, or your figure is going to have that goofy look. Believe me, I've done it a gazillion times. For the eyeball itself, I sometimes cheat and put the pupil (black, or dark gray)in the corner of the eye. Sometimes, the figure will look better that way, just because of the way it is sculpted. Sometimes, you just have to plant the pupil right smack dab in the middle of the eye socket. If this is the case, make sure you've stayed off of caffeine for 24 hours, you've had a good nights rest, and you're not fighting with the wife. Hold your breath, anchor your hand on the table and go for it. For those sicko's that want to make the pupil blue, or highlight the pupil, then all I have to say guys need a life...ain't no way I'm gonna highlight the pupil.

Hold the figure about a foot away and see if both pupils are looking in the same general direction. If so, then it's a success. If not, just tell everyone that you've always admired Marty Feldman, and this is your tribute to that wonderful actor and comedian.

Step-4 Helmets, and Tunics (shirts)

t's all down hill from this point. With what you've painted at this point, you are well on your way to turning out a little gem...or not, depending upon how you did in the first 3 steps.

For Helmets that are iron (steel), I use GW's Boltgun Metal as the Base Color mixed with a small amount of Ceramcoat Black (about 3:1). First Highlight is GW Boltgun Metal (straight), and the last Highlight is GW Mithril Silver. In fact, I really prefer all of the GW metal colors over any others (at this point.) If your helmet is heavily inlaid, or has rivets, etc. that are portruding, gently moistbrush over the black undercoat, so that you can see some gradation on the rivets.

Tunics/Shirts will follow the same 3 or 4 step process as described earlier. For this tunic, we'll go the Green route.

Darkest Shade color- Vallejo Black Green; Base Color-Vallejo Deep Green; First Highlight-Vallejo Park Green Flat; Last Highlight-Vallejo Park Green Flat mixed with a small amount of Vallejo Yellow (3:1).

Obviously, follow the same guidelines as before, with the lightest highlight on just the edges and bottom of the tunic that is the most directly exposed to your imagined light source.

Step-5 Chainmail, and other armor


The fun and easy part is painting chainmail. If you're lucky, you'll have an entire army of chainmail dudes...maybe,.. The Imperial Northern Chainmailians, or something like that. Chain is very simple...use the black undercoat as your shadow and base, and dry brush GW Boltgun Metal over your figure. Ta da...that should do it. You may want to take some Mithril Silver and lightly touch the raised areas, or those most directly exposed to your light source, and or the edges. That's up to you.

Step-6 Trousers, Boots, Leatherwork

For this figure, I will paint the trousers brown. A recent survey that was released indicated that 82.4% of all ancient and medieval warriors that wore trousers, wore brown trousers........and, if you buy that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell to you. Suffice it to say, brown was a very common color for trouser/pants.

Darkest Shadow Color-Liquitex Burnt Umber; Base Color-Vallejo Beige Brown; Highlight Color-Vallejo US Tan Earth.

If you want to go another highlight, then mix a little white, or better, Vallejo Beige into the Vallejo US Tan Earth.

For Boots and other leather work I use the black undercoat as my shadow color, and then moistbrush Vallejo Leather Brown, followed by a drybrush of Vallejo Red Leather. This will give you the effect of worn leather. I do this with the straps, belts, etc. that the figure might have.

Step-7 Shields

By the time you get to the shield, you're probably ready to move on to another set of figures. Too often this spells doom for the shield, as most will hurredly apply some paint, maybe a decal and that's that.

The shield can make or break a figure. The eye is inadvertantly drawn to the shield since it typically dominates most ancient and medieval figures.

Take your time on this and remember what Mrs. Weigel told you in Kindergarten...."stay in the lines David, you naughtly little boy"...oops, sorry, another senior moment.

For ancients I will use GW's Brazen Brass as a base coat, highlighted with Model Master's Acryl Brass. Use the same method of dark base coat, followed with a highlight in the middle of the shield. When appropriate, use decals. I always prefer to use decals. I highly reccomend VVV's decals. Foundry's suck, since you have to cut out the middle where the decal fits over the boss...major pain to do this. I would then reccomend, painting over the decal, so that it doesn't look like a decal, and folks will come up to you and say, "Geez, did you hand paint that shield." The response is up to you.

Step-8 Decorations and Accessories

The final step before varnishing is the accessorizing step. You know, painting on the tunic embroidery, the gold work, the one off tatoo, or whatever it takes to make your figure stand out. Use this time to paint your plaids or checks on your Gaul's trousers.

Varnishing takes 2 steps. I use Crafts, Etc. Gloss Coat, and when that is dry, I follow up with a spray of Testor's Dull Coat. However, I have had a couple of decals ruined with Testors, so you may want to use another Matte spray like Krylons rather than run the risk seeing your nicely painted decal shrivel up and look like your 94 year old grandmother.

Painting 15mm's

2002 award
I received a Bronze Award at Historicon for the 15mm Tuetonic Knights. There were no Gold Awards presented for some odd reason.Crusader knights
With thanks to Dave Smith for allowing the use of his words and images. 31st August 2007