February 3, 2009

Some thoughts on painting and techniques I use

I thought I'd respond to a comment from Itchy (who writes a great Warmachine Blog) and put down some detail about the processes and techniques I use when painting.

There are a number of ideas out there about these, from using a plastic lid that you put little blobs of paint onto to building simple Wet Pallets to help keep the paint wet and stop it from drying out to fast. I've used a cheap $2 plastic pallet and plastic lids for mixing colours when I've been blending but now I just shake the paint pot and dip my brush into the paint you find in the lid. The only step I take to keep the paint wet is to dip the brush in some water first and to close the lid of the pot and re-shake it every 10 minutes or so.

I use the standard Games Workshop spray undercoats Chaos Black and Skull White to undercoat everything. I tend to favour Black as I find it shows up the detailing better. I have also experimented with cheaper options from local hardware stores but find that the Games Workshop stuff offers a much better finish that protects the detailing on even the smallest model.

[I'll use my High Elf Dragon and Swordmasters as a guide here]

Always start with your darkest colour or the colour that covers the majority of your model. So for the Dragon & Swordmasters that was Liche Purple. I apply the first coat using a fairly big brush typically with a fair bit of water on it meaning I need 2-3 coats to get things looking right (2-3 thin coats is always better than 1 thick coat). I never worry about covering other areas of the model and just lather the major base coat colour on.

Highlighting & Blending
There was a great series of articles in White Dwarf which showed a series of colour combinations you can use to build up progressive layers of highlights. But basically just use your commonsense and work from Dark to Light. However, as a basic rule I never use more than 3 colours - the basecoat, the secondary colour and the raised area highlights colour with maybe 1 wash in there somewhere. I use the following techniques on nearly every model I do.

Dark Skin
1. Basecoat of Dwarf Flesh, getting it nice and flat probably 2 coats.
2. Layer of Flesh Wash to bring out the highlights, don't worry about watering it down.
3. Repaint with Dwarf Flesh, this time only on the raised areas to keep the Wash showing in the crevices
4. Light highlights of Elf Flesh on the raised areas, only very small points of this.

Light Skin
1. Basecoat of Dwarf Flesh but only a single coat
2. Layer of Flesh Wash
3. Elf Flesh onto the major skin areas leaving the Flesh wash.
4. Ogre Wash or Sepia Wash watered down (just keep the brush wet) to highlight skin a second time
5. Final light highlights of Elf Flesh


Colour Highlighting
If the use the Swordmasters as an example I went through the following process.
1. Basecoat of Liche Purple, couple of coats using a damp brush
2. Watered down Sunburst Yellow around the Helmet rims and raised areas, not worrying about how well it shows up.
3. Warlock purple between the Yellow and the Liche Purple, again watered down. Start from the raised edge and move toward the bigger areas as you move the brush the thinned down paint should fade out giving you a nice shadowy edge.
4. Go over the Sunburst yellow again this time slightly thicker to get it highlighted.
5. Back over with the Liche and Warlock Purples to tidy it up.
6. Bit of Purple Wash over the deeper recesses but only on the Darkly painted areas.


The key is to use lots of thin coats. Thick coats will build up too quickly as you work toward a neat finish and you will lose any detail or effect from the highlighting. Some colours also need more coats than others, Yellows, Whites and Oranges especially.

Simple process here with just 4 real layers to get a great looking effect
1. First layer Bolt Gun Metal 2-3 thin coats not worried about losing any detailing
2. Sepia Wash or really really thinned down black ink (you have to thin it down or it just darkens things up way too much)
3. Chain mail on small portions of the armour leaving the edges and crevices free.
4. Final highlight of Mithril Silver but only a few small raised areas. Dry brushing is the best technique to use here, little bit of paint wipe it off on a cloth and lightly drag the brush across the model. Only the raised areas should get touched.


Follow exactly the same process for armour but use less Mithril Silver and you'll get a nice look. There are ways of making weapons look rusty but I havent figured those out yet.

One thing I have started to try recently is using Chaos Black to create more effective shadows on some models. For example on the shoulder pads of the Swordmasters armour rather than paint the entire thing in metallic colours, the underside has been painted in Chaos Black. The same colour also went onto other areas such as under the edge of the surcoats and the chainmail. This makes the whole thing stand out a lot more, particularly from the side.

In this picture the triangular bits of yellow edged armour have black shadows underneath, as do the rims of the helmets by the faces and the edges of the Chainmail surcoats.

Painting Gold
I struggled with this for a long while as I only had Shining Gold as a colour which isnt that great. However, I read a blog article somewhere that suggested you use Chestnut Ink (which sadly is no longer available, but watered down Flesh Wash gives nearly the same effect) and I now use that - I got the last pot of it in town :) Gold like everything else needs layering and I use the following process, unless I want it to look a bit dull.

1. Basecoat Bleached Bone, thin coat
2. First coat of Burnished Gold, 2-3 thin watered down coats
3. Shining Gold, 1-2 thin layers
4. Highlight of Chestnut Ink, watered down

You can also touch it up with some Mithril Silver to give the edging a better look but I havent tried that technique yet.

Purity Seal
I started using this stuff when I got into Warmachine. Its supposed to protect your models from chipping and wear and tear etc, it also adds a nice shine or matt finish to your models giving them a more uniform look. There have been some quality issues with GW Purity Seal and you will occassionally get a can that gives you really really bad results - dull powdery models, but otherwise its good stuff. I spray the Matt Purity Seal onto every Metal model I finish now and find that it really helps bring out the colours more.

Getting a standardised army
To me nothing looks better than a fully ranked up army consisting of unit after unit of models sporting similar paint jobs. The only advice I can offer here is pick a simple set of colours no more than 3 and stick to that, have 1 principle colour and perhaps 1-2 highlight colours that you use on key areas. At present my armies use the following standardised combos

  • Warhammer Dwarfs - Green & Brown
  • Warhammer High Elves - Purple & Yellow
  • Warmachine Menoth - Red & Grey or Purple & Grey for Elite troops
1-2 simple colours that are easy to remember, and keep everything else simple.

Best painting advice
Read as much as you can, keep pictures of models you like regardless of the gaming system they are from. Cut out articles from old White Dwarf and other gaming magazines that discuss painting and keep them in a folder somewhere. A key thing you can do is EXPERIMENT. The great thing with Warmachine models being metal is that you can always strip the paint off and start again. I always take 1 model in each unit and use them as a Guinea Pig trying different combos of colours on different areas, before doing the rest of the unit. For plastic models again I just experiment often using older models I dont field anymore or just experimenting on pieces out of my bits box.

I've only been collecting and painting Warhammer stuff for a year now, and Warmachine for about 6 months so I've learnt all this stuff as I go and believe me it gets easier and better with practice. But my best bit of advice is to decide what sort of army do you want? Do you want a Golden Demon display army that wows everybody but sits in a glass box being admired, or a nice set of simply painted units all looking the same, or perhaps just a quick slap up paint job so you can start playing? My brothers Empire army is just basic clean colours with no highlighting, shading or inking and it looks fantastic. So don't bust your balls trying to do too much just do what makes you happy and stick to playing the game - I paint and get into it because I really like to paint and if I didnt play the games I would still collect the figures and do that. But if you enjoy the game you play regardless of whether your models are painted or not hey just undercoat them all in pink or whatever and play!!!


Mel said...

John - Thanks for your support of Itchy! He's a great guy and means the world to me. This Gaming is a big part of his life and I'm so happy that he's taken an intrest in it again. Thanks for helping him see the light again! Keep up the Great job with your Blog!

John said...

Not a problem :) and thanks

Kevin said...

I'm just getting into Warhammer and have chosen High Elves as my first army. Great writeup on painting, but there are no pictures. Any chance at getting the pics to go with the writeup? Would appreciate it! :)

John M said...

@Kevin - not a problem. I moved a lot of photobucket pics around so most of my older posts lost their images.

Have updated them for you. Ill post an updated guide a soon for you