Sketch style: How to paint miniatures backwards

I have long suspected that one of the reasons why some people dislike painting is because they set themselves up to fail. Without knowing any better, they end up doing things like trying to paint yellow straight over black primer then getting frustrated when they don’t get good results. That is not unexpected; we all make elementary mistakes just starting out (I did my fair share of mediocre colour schemes and trying to paint white straight over dark colours, and my first attempts at painting yellow were a nightmare) and it’s not fair to expect people who are just starting out to know not to use horribly inefficient processes. However, I feel like if more people knew how to set themselves up for success from the start, people would enjoy themselves more, accomplish more with their painting, and we would see more painted models on the table.

Which brings me to “sketch style,” a style of painting that was popularized by Matt DiPietro of Contrast Miniatures. This is a style that was all the rage about a year or two ago, but I never said I was always up on the latest trends. Basically, this style turns the traditional “base coat, shade, highlight” approach that companies like Games Workshop have promoted for decades and turns it on its head.

It, or at least the bastardization of the process that I use, rests on two assumptions. First, paint leaving an airbrush or rattle can travelling in a straight line can roughly represent rays of light emanating from a light source. Second, paint doesn’t have 100% opaque coverage.

Okay, so what is sketch style

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Munsell colour system – a system that can describe any colour by three axes: Hue, value, and chroma (which is similar to saturation)

Before I start, I think it is good to have a brief interlude about what makes a colour. In certain models for colour theory, every shade of every colour can be described according to three properties: hue, value, and saturation (or chroma, which is similar but different in a way people who actually went to art school may be able to describe). Hue describes the general colour of the rainbow or the colour wheel, whether it is red or blue or green or something in between. Value describes the lightness or darkness of the colour, with one extreme being black and the other being white. Sky blue, for example, has a much higher value than navy blue.

Finally, saturation describes the intensity of the colour and runs from completely desaturated neutral greys all the way out to really bright reds and greens and blues and whatevers. A bright blue is going to be much more intense than a dull, greyish blue. With these three variables, we can describe basically any colour that exists.

No, really, what is sketch style

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The “Citadel Paint System” — start with a base, hit it with a wash, then either layer or dry-brush the highlights

Think for a moment of the traditional way most of us learn to paint miniatures. If you’ve followed something like Duncan’s videos on Warhammer TV, you’re familiar with this approach. Typically, you start by base coating your miniature in the desired colour, using two thin coats to ensure you get smooth, even coverage. From there, apply some dark washes into the shadows and then hit it with a dry-brush of a lighter colour to pick out the highlights.

Now, let’s think about this in terms of the Hue/Value/Saturation. What we are essentially doing when we follow the traditional Warhammer method is laying down our desired hue and saturation with a uniform base coat some funnnily-named colour like Wazdakka Red, and then using washes, dry-brushing, and other techniques to increase the value in the highlights (eg: lighten them) or decrease the value in the shadows (eg: darken them), leaving us with a completed miniature with highlights and shading at the end.

Seriously, what the hell is sketch style already?

Sketch style basically turns this around. Instead of starting out with our hue by laying down an opaque basecoat, we start out by sketching in the value using black and white. Generally, we want more black in the shadows and white in the highlights.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this – a technique called zenithal priming, which I have discussed a few times before. Left to its own devices, light tends to emanate from a point and travel in a straight line until it hits something. As does paint coming out of an airbrush. So, by priming the entire miniature black, then loading up with white primer, holding the airbrush in the general location where the light source would be, and spraying your miniature from that angle, you can get a good start on your value sketch.

Take, for example, a miniature who is meant to represent your average soldier outside during the day. The main source of light on him is going to be the sun. So, figure out where you want the sun to be (generally somewhere in front of the miniature, though not necessarily straight on, coming down at maybe a 45 degree angle), hold your airbrush there, point it at the miniature, and spray it with white primer. That white primer will naturally come straight out your airbrush and land in areas on the model where the sun would hit the real thing, and leave the areas which would remain in shadow in black.

I like to especially focus fire on the face of a miniature, as that is generally the focus of a piece. I also like to add a secondary light source at about 180 degrees from the original light source, not as bright as the primary light source but still there. This is just so the back of the miniature isn’t completely black and you have some visual interest on both sides. While this may be taking some artistic license, you will never see both the front and the back of the miniature at the same time. And for wargamers, unless you’re playing a Warmachine game against Haley2, you’re going to be seeing the back of your miniatures a lot so you might as well use that secondary light source to make it look just as good from the back as it does from the front.

Note: You can use a rattle can for this, however an airbrush loaded with Stynylrez primer is my preferred tool as the airbrush offers more precise control over your spray, I don’t have issues with rattle cans in the long, cold, Canadian winter, and Stynylrez is an awesome airbrush primer.

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Value sketch on a miniature; ignore the purple wash in some areas (I got a little ahead of myself before I took the picture) and the white dot on the cape (that was a mistake that I covered up with dark purple paint after the value sketch)

While zenithal priming gives us a good start, for this technique to work to its maximum effectiveness, we need to kick it up a notch. By doing a quick dry brush, we can catch the edges and highest highlights of the model. The best paint for this is available not at your model or game store, but at the art store. Get yourself a tube of artist acrylic heavy body titanium white paint. Not only is it a nice consistency for dry brushing, but titanium white is the whitest white paint you can get. It’s basically the Mike Pence of paint.

So, once we’ve loaded up a makeup brush (which are the best dry brushes) with our white and gone to town, the end result should be a black and white miniature which is dark in the shadows and light in the highlights — basically, a value sketch with no hue or saturation.

Adding hue and saturation

Now that we’ve established our values, it’s time to add colour. What we want to do is tint the model with semi-transparent layers of colour; layers that are opaque enough that they add some hue and saturation, but transparent enough that they don’t completely cover up the underlying value sketch.

I’ve found there are two approaches which work well for this. The first, and generally my preferred method, is to use inks. You can use inks made by the usual suspects like Vallejo, P3 and Scale75, or acrylic artist inks made by folks like Daler & Rowney or Liquitex. While inks are very pigment-dense, they are also incredibly thin, almost like water. As such, a thin layer of ink often adds the perfect amount of colour, and one or maybe two coats should suffice to get to the desired level of saturation.

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A small sample of inks

The second option, if inks aren’t available, is to thin down some regular paint with a matte medium. While it can go by many names, especially if you buy it from a miniature paint line rather than the art store, matte medium is basically paint without pigment. This allows you to reduce the pigment density but not affect the consistency of the paint as if you just added water. This means the surface tension is such that you can apply a uniform coat as a glaze, instead of having it sink into the recesses like a wash. While this approach does work, it does take more coats than the inks to build up your colour, so unless you’re painting in such a large batch that your first model is dry by the time you make it to the end, having a blowdryer on hand to speed up the drying process can really help.

And that’s it. Using our inks or glazes, we can add colour to our value sketch in a sort of paint by numbers approach. Cover a blue cape with blue ink, leather straps with brown ink, and so on. Because we’ve already put in our highlights and shadows in the value sketch process, we don’t need to go back and hit it with things like washes and highlights if we don’t have to.

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Thrall warriors in just about every colour of the rainbow. Some sponge chipping was added to the armour, and brown washes to the bottom of the capes because re-animated skeletons are generally fairly dirty.

Colouring your shadows

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First Mate Hawk, with Drakenhof Nightshade (eg: dark blue) shade

Astute readers may notice that this runs slightly contrary to something that I often preach. By using black and white as a base for our value sketch, this means we are effectively shading and highlighting by adding black or white to the base colour. This works well for certain colours like blues and purples, but there are a lot of colours out there where colour theory dictates that there should be some variation in the hue as well as we move from shadows to highlights. Greens, for example, should move towards blue in the shadows and yellow in the highlights. Warm colours like to be shaded with cool colours, and mixing white into red can end up pushing your highlights towards pink.

While I wasn’t smart enough to get a good picture before I covered them with chipping and muck, we can see this issue in some of my rainbow thrall warriors. The red, yellow, and orange just doesn’t quite work as well as some other colours.

However, there is a way to address this somewhat. After establishing the value sketch but before laying down the colours, you can hit the model with a wash in a cool colour like blue or purple. As usual, Citadel’s shades are my go-to for this. Once dry, you can re-establish the highest highlight by giving the white dry brush another go. This will leave the cool colours in the midtones and the shadows, and give you a little bit of that cool to warm transition that we tend to like as we go from shadows to highlights after the application of your colour.

Going from here

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Ragman – mostly a sketch style then slathered with Nuln Oil to add a dirty look

Of course, once you have your ink slapped on, you can call it done, or you can go a little further. On my Ragman, for example, I wanted him to look dirty and shadowy, so I brought out my good old friend Nuln Oil and gave him a nice shade with the brown-black concoction. You can also apply washes and glazes to add weathering to things like capes.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with starting out with sketch style then going into more traditional techniques like blending and layering to reinforce shadows and highlights. I did this on my Orin Midwinter model, for example, using a bit of Drakenhof Nightshade in the shadows, and kicking up the highest highlight a little bit by mixing up an opaque highlight colour, applying it to the highlights, and feathering it out.

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Orin Midwinter – sketch style on the robes using P3 Sanguine Base, with highlights reinforced with a mix of Sanguine Highlight & Menoth White Highlight

Conclusions

When it comes to painting miniatures, there is very rarely one correct answer. Sketch style is not the solution to all your problems and for best results shouldn’t be applied everywhere all the time. I find it to work great for things like clothes and capes where a little roughness from the atomization of the white primer through the airbrush and the dry brushing can nicely represent the texture of the cloth. However, even when I’m using sketch style, I tend to revert to the traditional approach for things like armour plates and faces. And, of course, metallics are their own little ball of wax.

However, like most techniques out there, it’s worth a shot. Compared to the traditional approach, it can be very effective for quickly banging out good looking models. None of the techniques used to establish the value sketch are particularly demanding, and they’re all well-suited to batch paint dozens of models at once to quickly get an army painted. A spray from above in white and a quick dry brush with a detail brush is not particularly challenging. Adding colour only requires you to stay within the lines, but even that only requires some basic brush control.

Even if you don’t use it to bang out dozens of Trenchers in one sitting for your Cygnar army, dipping your toe into the water of sketch style can help you understand core concepts and make you a better painter.

And, it’s so easy that even my mom can do it.

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Paintlog: Dana Murphy and fun with airbrushing inks

I’ve been falling behind on updating this blog, partly because I have a couple articles half-written that I haven’t had the motivation to actually finish. While those are still on the back burner, I figured it would be a good idea to update some of my readers with information on a recent project I did which involved some interesting techniques to accomplish something that most people consider to be very difficult.

Yes, I’m talking about painting yellow.

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Dana Murphy (72mm), Reaper #01407

Yellow is a colour that a lot of people struggle with, including myself. Until this project, my preferred method for painting yellow was “pick another colour scheme.” This is for a couple reasons; the main one being that yellow tends to be a very transparent colour with weaker pigments. As a result, you don’t get very good coverage, especially if you’ve punished yourself by trying to paint it straight over black primer or some other dark colour. And in trying to get good coverage, it is very easy to end up laying it on too thick and ending up with a patchy, horrible looking mess.

But what if we were to take advantage of that transparency? There is a trick that a lot of miniature painters use called zenithal shading, which is where you prime the mini black, then hit it from above and in the direction of the light source with a rattle can or airbrush to effectively preshade your model by making it lighter where the light is hitting it. Matt DiPietro of Contrast Miniatures has taken this one step further and developed a process he calls “sketch style” where one follows that up with transparent glazes to colour the model, and end up with good results quickly. By taking advantage of the natural transparency of paint, you can use the preshading you did in your initial steps and basically paint by numbers, automatically getting your highlights and shadows depending on whether you’re painting over black, white, or a shade of grey.

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Colours used – I used Reaper paints and FW & Holbien inks, but you could use your brand of choice for most of these. Citadel Casandora Yellow is on the far right.

Of course, shadows aren’t always as simple as adding a bit of black or a bit of white because of colour theory. So, knowing a bit about colour theory and being inspired by a couple things I’ve seen online, I decided that I wanted purple shadows, and the yellow to progress from purple into orange, yellow, and maybe a touch of white in the highest highlight.

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(1) primed mini, (2) first coat of purple

So, with the figure primed in my white primer of choice (I believe I used GW Corax White, with Reaper for touchups) (1), the first step in my journey on painting yellow was to load up my airbrush with a dark purple and began spraying from below (2). At this stage, it was more important to get it everywhere in the shadows than to be clean with it because I was going to cover up most of it anyways with more layers of paint.

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Step (3), front and back.

Following that, I grabbed a lighter colour of purple and went for my second coat. This time, however, I used a zenithal technique, focusing on spraying from above and leaving the dark purple in the deepest shadows (3). I also focused my fire on the front of the model, because when it comes to composition for a single figure, it’s good to have the main light source coming from the front. You can see this in the difference between the front and back. After that, I repeated the process with white, being a little more controlled with my spray and leaving some of both shades of purple present in the shadows but covering up the purple on the upward-facing surfaces, and again, focusing my fire on the front, where most of the light is going to be hitting her (4).

 

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Step (4) – note how the shadows are more readily visible from above

By now you are probably thinking that this article was going to be about painting yellow. Well, no fear, here is where we finally break out the yellow. I’ve got a couple different shades of yellow FW acrylic artist inks, one of which is a very bright lemony yellow, while the other is a little more golden. These inks, as I discussed in a previous article, are basically acrylic paints with a high pigment density and very thin consistency. As a result, they can actually go through an airbrush on a low pressure setting quite nicely; practically drop and shoot with a minimum of clogging.

This is also where the natural transparency of yellows is an advantage. A thin coat of yellow won’t do much to change the colour of those purple shadows, however if we spray it on over white, we’re going to get a nice bright yellow. So, with my shadows established in purple, I wanted to work up to my highlights, so I took my darker yellow and sprayed it over pretty much the entire model, ensuring to at least cover up all the white. After letting that dry, I followed up with some of my brighter yellow from above, and finally, added a bit of white to the bright yellow to get the highest highlight (4).

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After the first attempt at yellow (4)

Here, I ran into a bit of a problem. The highlights and shadows were looking good, but the transitions weren’t that great. Going from purple to yellow is a very stark transition, and I felt it needed something in between. So, I reached for Citadel’s Casandora Yellow shade, which despite its name is actually an orangey wash. After putting a few drops in my airbrush, I fired it into the shadows and all over the mini, getting basically all over and allowing the wash to sink into the shadows and anywhere where I needed either the depth of the wash or  that midtone transition colour (5).

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(5) After the Casandora Yellow, it’s now a bit too orange. Just like a certain world leader…

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No problem, I can just fix it up by re-highlighting the yellow (6)

The Casandora Yellow did a great job of bringing the yellows and purples together, but it unfortunately made the entire model a little more orange than I wanted and kind of killed the highlights wherever it went. Which was no problem — all I had to do was load up some more yellow inks and re-highlight by spraying from above with the airbrush, and then mixing in a little white to the lightest yellow for the highest highlight (6). The end result was a very nice, rich yellow which really sold the illusion of light and shadow at that scale.

From there, the yellows were done and it was time to put away the airbrush and pull out the brushes, because with that done, I was happy to brush paint the rest of the model. Of course, in doing so, I was careful not to get paint on the areas I wanted to keep yellow, as it would be hard to colour match such a complicated base coat. Also, areas such as the cream-coloured bits on her uniform had highlights and shadows blended in to match the lighting and shadows on the yellow — after all, it would look strange to have this perfectly shaded yellow next to a strap or a belt with no shading at all.

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“Once you’re done with the yellow, just pull out a brush and do the rest. No big deal, right?”

Another little detail where I really like how it turned out was the tricorder looking thing on her left thigh. Here, I think the edge highlight on the top corner really helps sell the shape to the viewer, and I had some fun with the colours on the screens. The little heart monitor screen is actually painted on with white and then glazed with green, to give an old-school monochrome CRT monitor vibe, and I like how the contrast between the edge highlight and the transition on the blue square worked out.

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See: Tricorder

Finally, as soon as I attached her to the base I noticed that the composition seemed off. I had glued metal rods into her feet to attach her to a handle while I was painting her, and the last step in theory would have been to clip those rods down to size, drill corresponding holes in the base, add a little super glue and drop her in. But when I drilled the holes, I centered them longitudinally, faining to take into account the fact that she was leaning off to one side. So once I got her in there, the whole piece looked off-balance. And with a contest deadline looming, I really didn’t have the time or the desire to fill those holes, re-prime, re-paint, and try again. So, as a last minute fix, I grabbed a tiny switch from an electronics project, clipped off the legs, and glued it to the base near her left foot. After hitting it with some primer, I quickly painted some blue gunmetal NMM highlights and a big red button, colours which were already used on the figure in small doses, but would stand out enough to balance out the imbalance created by having her leaning to one side. I think it worked, and definitely helped save the model composition-wise.

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My little mistake in positioning her on the base is most apparent at this angle. Without the little button, she’s way too far to one side because I centered her feet without taking into account her pose. Also, see the shadows here.

Conclusion

This was a fun project for a lot of reasons. First, it allowed me the opportunity to play with my brand new Badger Krome, which I picked up in the recent Badger 54th Birthday promotion. Second, I was able to use the airbrush to, in a short time, easily accomplish an effect that would be very difficult trying to do with a brush. Third, it just turned out really well, and I’m very happy with the end result. I feel as though I learned a lot in the process, especially as I’ve been shying away from yellow because I haven’t had much success with it before. Also, I took her to the IPMS Montreal (Réal Côté) show last weekend, where she won first place in the fantasy figures category, so that was a nice result as well. I think it’s always a good sign when one of the pieces you are most proud of is your most recent piece, and I think as I look back on my hobby journey, this will be one that represents a big step forward.

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Also, insert gratuitous T&A here

 

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ThINKing outside the box — acrylic artist inks

Sometimes, when it comes to finding hobby supplies, it’s best to go outside the hobby store or the FLGS and look outside the box a little. Art stores in particular can have a wealth of useful products because, if ancient cave paintings in France and Indonesia are any indication, artists have been at this for a while, much longer than us hobbyists.

IMG_2275One of the more recent additions to my hobby arsenal has been the acrylic artist inks made by companies like Holbien or Daler- Rowney, which would likely be available at just about any store which caters to the artsy types.

Both the Holbien and Daler-Rowney FW inks come in glass bottles, approximately 30mL, and are about $10 or so at the art store I frequent. The bottles are very short and squat, so there is little to no danger of spilling them, and the cap has a built-in eyedropper to transfer the inks onto your palette. While the glass in the bottles seems pretty thick and resilient, I would recommend a tight grip when you are shaking them for obvious reasons. The downside is that they are much heavier and bulkier than your average Vallejo-style dropper bottle, so they can be a little annoying to store and transport, especially if you’re someone like me who gets very particular about keeping his hobby supplies organized in an efficient manner. Overall, though, as someone who very strongly prefers the dropper bottles to paint pots, I really like the little eyedropper in the cap and have no major complaints about the packaging.

Inside the bottle, these inks are fairly similar in composition to acrylic paints, except they have a very thin, almost water-like consistency, and a very high pigment density. Daler-Rowney has about 40 different colours in their line, and Holbien has a few dozen more, though with the Holbiens, you will want to be careful that you’re getting the pigment-based ink and not the dye-based stuff. As you can see just by looking at the bottles, some of these colours are extremely bright and vibrant. The intended use for these products is seems to be calligraphy and other forms of 2D art, as the labels on the Daler-Rowney FW inks indicate that they can be used with a variety of different types of pens in addition to a brush or airbrush, however they will work well on miniatures and play nice with your standard hobby acrylic paints.

Anyways, there are a couple of uses that I’ve found for them so far. In addition to using them for glazing and inking your miniatures, they can also be used to help you paint difficult colours like yellow, orange and white.

Thin your paints!

Our average hobby acrylic paint such as Vallejo or P3 consists of a bunch of pigments floating around in some sort of acrylic medium. It’s why you need to shake your paints before you use them, to mix up and emulsify any pigments which have settled out. These paints tend to be not completely opaque, which is actually a good quality if you’re using techniques like glazes and preshading. However, because of the nature of the pigments, some colours tend to have more or less coverage than others. Black can cover pretty much everything up with just one thin coat, whereas yellow and white, with naturally weaker pigments, just don’t have the same opacity.

As a result, trying to create a smooth, opaque base coat with a brush in a colour like yellow can be difficult. The paint just doesn’t cover well, especially if you have a dark colour paint or primer underneath. One way that newer painters sometimes respond to this frustration is to try to glob on a thick coat, but that brings in its own issues. Thick coats obscure detail and show brush strokes, and the uneven coverage from a thick coat just doesn’t give good results. It’s no surprise, then, that “thin your paints” is a meme-worthy piece of common advice given to new painters.

The proper way to do it is in multiple thin coats, however the challenge is that by adding water or some other medium to thin your paints, you end up reducing the pigment density. For a lot of colours, this isn’t really a problem as even thinned out, you can still get the coverage you need with one or two coats. But if you’re starting with a colour whose coverage is kind of iffy at the best of times like yellow and then reducing the pigment density even more, it is going to be hard to accomplish your goal of getting a smooth, clean coat.

This is where our artist inks come in. Because of their very thin consistency, they can be used instead of water as a thinning medium. And because they themselves are jam-packed with pigments and come in some very vibrant colours, you can get the paint consistency you want to lay down a smooth coat while maintaining the pigment density you need to get decent coverage. You will still probably need multiple thin coats, and I would still recommend an undercoat as an intermediate step in extreme situations like trying to paint yellow over black, but this is going to save you a lot of time and trouble and give you a much better result than either globbing on a thick coat or struggling against paint that just doesn’t cover what’s underneath.

Further, when you’re painting freehand, symbols and markings, thin paints and a good brush** are key. By thinning your paints with these inks, you can get them to the perfect consistency such that they will flow nicely off the tip of your brush, and still maintain the coverage you need to get the effect you want. Reaper paints thinned with a white ink was how I painted the bear paw on the front of my Grolar, and that seemed to turn out quite well.

Glazing with inks

These inks can also be used as a glaze to tint your miniatures. On my shelf of shame, I have a few thrall warriors that I’m using to try out different colours, because I figure zombies are notoriously not great at coordinating their sartorial choices. So, with them all assembled and primed using the zenithal*** technique, I figured they would make perfect subjects for an experiment on whether these inks might be good for the “sketch style” that has been all the rage for the past year or so.

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Sketch style is an increasingly popular way of painting miniatures which has been heavily promoted recently by people like Matt DiPietro. With this technique, you start by zenithal priming, then add some black to the shadows and white to the highlights to create a value sketch on the model. Once you’ve got your values blocked in, you apply coloured glazes and inks using a sort of paint by numbers style technique in order to tint each area the colour you want. The underlying values end up showing through the glazes and inks, creating highlights and shadows without the need for advanced time-consuming techniques like blending and layering.

In the picture, you can see the result on a couple thralls, next to some of their companions who haven’t been inked yet. While I would say that I probably should have highlighted the whites a little more instead of just hitting it with the airbrush from above and calling it good enough, these inks did a marvelous job of colourizing the sketch, and you can see some clearly defined shadows and some bright highlights on the shoulder pads. If you use a lot of inks and glazes and that sort of thing in your painting, or you are interested in moving into sketch style, I would definitely consider picking up a bottle and trying it out.

Other Uses

With the vibrancy of some of these colours and the high pigment density, I would imagine these inks would also be very good for things like fire, lava, and other glow effects. A bright yellow in particular would probably go a long way in conveying the intensity of the heat and light being given off by a campfire, as well as blend the underlying colours of the flames together. For the more fantasy-oriented, between these two companies, there are enough different colours out there that you could do all sorts of cool magical flames.

Also, if the label is any indication, these inks should be able to be shot through an airbrush pretty easily. While I haven’t tried it yet, I would imagine with their very finely ground pigments and very thin consistency, you could probably just drop them in the cup and pull the trigger with no thinning or other additives required. I’m sure you can get some quite nice and interesting effects, especially on a preshaded miniature. Vince Venturella did a product review on the FW inks recently on his youtube channel and he goes into a few other uses as well.

Final thoughts

Acrylic artists inks may not be the sort of thing that you are likely to find at your local hobby or game store, but they are a useful addition to any hobbyist’s arsenal. I’ve been using them for a couple months now and although I have the feeling that I’m just at the tip of the iceberg so far when it comes to their many uses, I’ve found them to be quite the addition to my repertoire. So, for those of you who have used them before, how did you find them, and what sort of tips, tricks and techniques would you recommend?

 

**What constitutes a good brush and how to take care of one so it remains a good brush could be an entire article of its own, but suffice it to say that what you’re looking for is a big enough belly to hold paint (no, put that 10/0 down and back away slowly), a fine enough tip to get that paint where you want it, and bristles with the right amount of springiness to work with your style.

***Zenithal priming is a technique where you prime the whole model black, then with either an airbrush or a rattle can, hit it with some white or light grey primer from above, or from whatever direction your light source is coming from, giving you a quick preshade. Value sketching is similar, only you take it one step further by painting in deeper shadows and brighter highlights with black and white paint.