Saturday 19 March 2016

A Troopers Tale

Well, there we were, four merry men sitting in my car on the way back from a show. In between dozing off, one of the guys in the back started a conversation about figure painting. I mentioned my white over black undercoat style which was a new approach for him.

Here is how I do it.

Phase One, mount the figure on a painting stick so that you can turn the figure around to allow easy access to both your eyes and the paintbrush. Some guys use paint pots or nail heads but that's not what I do.

This is a Dixon US cavalry trooper from my spares box. The horse is attached to the painting stick with a blob of Blue Tac. The rider is superglued in place, I use the gel variety to keep the superglue from running riot all over the figure and I wait until it is completely dry before painting.

I paint the entire figure matt black paying particular attention to the undercuts and bits where it is hard to reach. These will be the deep shadows which help emphasise the sculpting of the figure.

Once that is dry I carefully drybrush the figure in white taking care not to fill in any of the shadows. I use a biggish old brush for this and I try to stroke the figure from top to bottom and as little from side to side as possible.

This is the basis of the white over black undercoat style which I use on some figures. The next phases are all about colour and you can go at least two different directions from this point.

One is to apply colour washes to the main colour areas using a thinned down coat of paint. I am assuming you are using water based acrylic paint here. I'm not sure if you can achieve this effect if you are using enamel paints.

The thinned down paint allows the dark areas to show through keeping the shadow effect going. It sometimes takes more than one application of thinned paint to get a suitable density of paint on the highlighted areas.

Here you can see darker areas showing through the chestnut on the horse and also some white highlights too. It is possible to cover the rest of the white highlighted areas with further colour washes until the entire figure is completed.

The second way of colouring the figure is to use a two colour or a three colour scheme (Foundry triads are great for this) to colour each area with a shade then a standard colour and finally a colour highlight. The shade goes on first avoiding any black and totally covering any white. The standard colour goes on next but only on the major raised areas and then the highlight colour on the very fine raised areas.

There is a third way you can do this which involves the shade, the standard and the highlight colour being applied in quick succession i.e. wet which gives a more subtle merging of colour.

You can see the second method in use on the body of the horse here.

Choose whichever style which suits your eyesight, your time available, your desired end result or whatever to complete the figure. I often use a combination or sometimes all three methods on the one figure.

You may well end up with a figure something like this. A close inspection will reveal everything from black shadows, shaded colours, standard colours and highlighted colours.

We could be done here but I add another stage i.e. an ink wash. I use the little bottles of Army Painter acrylic washes. These are water based and dry reasonably matt and are very easy to apply. You just splash it all over (joke!).

Here it is, still wet and a bit shiny.

I usually matt varnish my figures unless they are 'Old School' but that is a different story. I use Winsor & Newton artists acrylic matt varnish, available from all good art stores and hobby shops.

Here is a close-up of the completed figure (as close as my camera will allow). Just look at the subtleties of the shading. Is it worth the effort, I think so.


  1. That's a nice technique. Thanks for posting.


  2. I've done the black basecoat followed by a strong drybrushing of white (or other light shade, such as a tannish/bone color when doing skeletons) occasionally. It is a good technique.
    And it certainly paid off in your miniature of the cavalryman. Strong yellows and other light colors, as well as strong shadows. Very nice work!

  3. Very nice effect. I have used this technique on some of my 6mm and 10 mm figures, but tend to use the "Magic Wash" for larger scales; may have to give this a go on the 15 mm and 28 mm now I have seen such a good example.

    1. I've used a variation of this technique right down to 6mm. A lot depends on the sculpting of the figure.

  4. I'm pretty set in my ways painting wise, but I may just have to give this technique a try! Cracking looking results

    1. I thought so too but in the last couple of years or so I have had to replicate my deceased friends painting to finish off his part-painted units.

      I've had to be inventive and figure out how did he do that and add that style to my repertoire.

  5. Fascinating post.... if you had shown me the finished figure on it's own I would have said you used oil paints. A friend of mine used to get a similar effect with oils, but they took ages to dry. Nice idea to continue with a departed friend's army in the same style.

    1. Thank You Sir.

      You won't believe what I had to do to get my chums collections into a sellable state. probably worth it though since I have raised about £10,000 for charity doing so.

  6. Interesting technique and finished product, sir.

    1. Thank You Jay.

      I have another 8 or 9 similar figures in the bits box. I hope to get them done in time to sell at a show over the summer.