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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Terrain time! Wooden crates and barrels

As someone who appreciates the aesthetic qualities of wargaming, I like 3D terrain, or as non-Warmachine players like to call it, terrain. So, in order to celebrate the completion of my huge Necromunda terrain project, I decided to do the logical thing and buy some more terrain. I saw a pack of barrels and crates from Micro Art Studios for the game Wolsung, and thought that they would be perfect for walls in Warmachine.

Of course, that means I had to paint them. A little while ago, I wrote an article on how to paint on woodgrain textures onto flat pieces of plastic. That’s all well and good, but sometimes the sculptor has done the work for you and sculpted in some texture. What do we do then?

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This. Do this.

The walls

I picked up the five pack, which came with five pieces for a bit under $40 CAD. Three are the pieces are long and wall-shaped, while two of the pieces are more square. They’re all pretty good sizes for a game of Warmachine, though you may want to make a bigger wall by lining up a wall shaped piece and a square piece. They come in a hard, heavy resin which seems to be pretty good quality, and there aren’t many mold lines to speak of. It may be a touch on the expensive side if you aren’t a total terrainiac, but in terms of detail and quality/sharpness of the cast, you get what you pay for.

Painting – letting the sculptor do the work

If you remember in my previous wood painting article, I talked a lot about sketching in the value first and using semi-transparent paints to add the colour after. This is the same thing, but since the woodgrain is already sculpted in, we can take advantage of that to make it super easy.

For this project, I started by priming it with white, then spraying it all over with P3’s Armor Wash, which is a lot closer to a true black than something like GW’s Nuln Oil. I sprayed on a heavy coat, because I wanted to get it in all the recesses and shadows. I suppose it also may have worked to just prime black, but I wanted to try it this way.

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Primed and washed

Next, I took out my trusty big makeup brush and some titanium white artist heavy body acrylic paint. There are a few different brands out there, but you can get this from art stores. It excels in this application for a couple reasons. First, titanium white is the whitest white you can get, so if you want coverage, it’s a good start. Second, unthinned straight out of the tube it has a pretty thick consistency, perhaps not quite as thick as Citadel’s dry paints, but pretty good for dry-brushing.

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Dry-brushed with titanium white

So, we’re going to dry-brush the heck out of it. Like Bob Ross cleaning his brush, you want to really go at it. In doing so, it’s good to go across the grain and allow the brush to catch on the ridges. When you’re done, you should have a pretty good value sketch in — dark recesses and shadows, and white highlights and ridges. And we did all that without using any details or special techniques, we just sloppily slapped some wash on and hit it with a giant dry-brush.

Adding colour

Now, before we want to go all out on applying our wood tone, let’s think for a moment about shadow and light and our good friend colour theory. We want to shade some brown pieces of wood, so what’s the perfect colour for that? Well, blue contrasts warm browns quite nicely and is a cool colour, so load up your airbrush with some Drakenhof Nightshade or your favourite blue wash and spray it into the shadows and the bottoms of the barrels; if you’ve mounted them on pill bottles, it’s easy to do sort of a reverse zentithal with your airbrush.

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Oooh, blue shadows… it looks cool and ghostly now

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Hit with the Inktense Wood

With that dry, it’s time for the main attraction. Get a brown ink and load it up into your airbrush and spray. I like to use Scale75’s Inktense Wood ink for this. Use your trigger to control the spray so you don’t overwhelm it, and just lay in the colour as light or as dark as you want until you’re happy. Don’t pull back all the way; spraying at a high pressure, just pulling it back a little bit will allow you to tint the barrels the exact shade you want. Let it dry for a while, as Scale75 is a little notorious for taking longer than other brands of miniature paint to dry.

 

Now, we have something pretty good, but it’s got a lot of shine to it. Don’t despair though, we can fix that with our good friend Agrax Earthshade. A quick spray of that will add a little more depth to the recesses and knock the shine right out.

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Sprayed with Agrax

This terrain also has a lot of burlap sacks leaning up against the barrels. We could spend a lot of time worrying about this, but I’ve got a solution here as well. Simply grab a stiff brush and do something in between a regular brush and a dry brush to apply a very light grey (I used Reaper #09090 Misty Grey) to all the ridges of the burlap but leaving the texture readily apparent. Follow that up by spraying with a brown wash overtop.

With that done, there’s just a few little details to pick out — metal barrel bands and ropes, and from there, it’s just a matter of varnishing it and it’s ready for the tabletop.

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Details and burlap sacks done

Conclusion

With this, we have some pretty nice terrain that didn’t take that much skill or effort to do. By letting the sculpt do most of the work and almost exclusively using inks, washes, and dry-brushing, the only kind of tricky part to this is maintaining trigger control on your airbrush with the thin inks and washes, but that’s something you should probably be learning anyways.

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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Painting woodgrain textures

In many historical and fantasy settings, wood is everywhere. Buildings, scenery, and even the stocks of rifles are often made of wood. This can pose a challenge for someone painting miniatures, figures, or any other thing where you are trying to make something that looks like wood but smaller. Like with flesh tones, wood is not a uniform colour; rather, it has a directional grain to it. Ergo, in order to represent that at the scales we are interested in, we want to include those woodgrain textures in our piece.

This sounds like a daunting task, but fortunately, there is a very easy trick to making your wood look great which doesn’t demand a high level of artistic talent.

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Note – for scale, those are 1cm gridlines

Sourcing your lumber

When talking about painting wood, one of the first things that someone might ask is “why not steal a bunch of wooden coffee stir sticks from Starbucks? They’re wood, right?” While that is an option, this is one of those many cases where using the actual item without any sort of painting or modification doesn’t quite give the correct result due to the effects of scale and lighting. Instead of looking like an actual piece of wood, it will look like someone glued a giant coffee stir stick to your model and may ruin the immersion rather than create a realistic effect.

Another option that comes to mind is carving the texture into a piece of plastic, but again we run into scale issues. Too small of a groove and it will be hard to see, but a groove barely a half a millimeter in depth at some of the scales I work at would represent an inch deep gouge in a board, which is something that we just don’t see in real life. Further, trying to carve these wood grains into a small, fragile piece like a rifle at a small scale is not an easy task.

Instead, we’re going to be painting the wood grains on. It sounds intimidating and possibly a little crazy, but so long as you have the right equipment and the right paints, it’s actually not too hard.

For this project, we’re going to need some acrylic paints in various shades of grey. We will need a light, midtone, and dark grey, as well as some black and white, though you can always mix up any shade of gray with the black and white if you want. Second, we’re going to need some sort of brown acrylic ink. I like to use Scale75’s Inktense Wood or Inktense Chestnut for this application, depending on the shade of wood I’m going for, but I’m sure there are some other figure painting inks or artist acrylic inks out there that can work. The Inktense Wood ink is great for raw boards, while the Chestnut is really good at representing stained, finished wood products like a hardwood floor, tabletop, or the stock of a rifle. Finally, we’re going to need at least one good brush with a fine tip – I recommend a small (perhaps 10/0) liner brush if you have one, because as the name implies, a liner brush is really good for painting lines, and the grains in a piece of wood are nothing but fine lines.

Hardwood floor base

In this case, I wanted to create a hardwood floor for Nancy Steelpunch, a 35mm (approximately 1/48, for all you scale modellers) scale miniature on top of a square, 25mm plinth. I had the idea of portraying her indoors, perhaps in a saloon or speakeasy. So, to begin, I created that floor by gluing a bunch of pieces of strip styrene to the top of my base. I chose to do it at about a 45 degree angle to the plinth, simply to generate a little more visual interest than if the boards were oriented parallel to the edge of the base. I also made sure to include a couple breaks in the flooring where one board stopped and the next one started. Since I wanted the flooring to look a little beat up as though she were in an old saloon, so I didn’t put too much effort into sanding down the edges where I clipped them, and roughened the plastic up a little with coarse sandpaper.

IMG_2538.JPGWith the flooring laid down, the first step is to prime it and paint it in your midtone grey. Make sure to paint in the direction of the grain where possible; after all, brush strokes look kind of like wood grains anyways, so if you paint in the direction of the grain, you don’t need to worry too much about getting a nice smooth coat.

Next up comes the process of painting on the grains in the wood, but first, a little discussion about the fluid mechanics of paint on a brush. Paint brushes store paint in the bristles and when you run it over a surface, that paint flows off the tip and onto that surface. Thin paints flow better, so by using thin paints, a brush with a fine tip but a sizeable enough belly to hold paint, and the proper brush control, you can paint some very fine detail.

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10/0 liner brush, nothing special, just an average, natural hair art store brush

This is why a liner brush is ideal for painting on woodgrains. With the business end having a very long, thin profile, you get a nice balance between a fine tip and enough volume in the bristles to store enough paint that you can actually paint a long, fine line before you either run out of paint or have it dry out on the tip. That’s why if you watch old videos of Bob Ross making his paintings, you will see that at the end of every show, he signs his paintings with a liner brush and some very thin paint.

IMG_2539.JPGSo, with thin paints and your trusty liner brush, start with a light grey and begin painting lines running along in the direction of the grain of the wood. The lines should be roughly parallel, but they don’t have to be perfect because wood is a natural product and therefore wood grains have some element of randomness to their texture. The lines shouldn’t all go all the way from one end of the board to the other, as wood grains on the surface start and stop. Further, if you have a break where one board stops and the next board starts, make sure to stop your lines at the end and start anew, as woodgrains don’t carry on from one piece of wood to the next.

IMG_2541.JPGOnce you’re satisfied with the woodgrain pattern you have generated, repeat the process, this time with a darker grey than your base colour to paint in the dark parts of the woodgrain texture. Once you’re done with that, feel free to follow up once more with just a bit of pure white here and there to get some additional contrast. If your wood has cracks between multiple pieces like on floorboards, you can also go in there with your liner brush and some pure black to get those to show up.

When we’re done, we should get something that looks kind of like a woodgrain texture only in black and white instead of colour. What we’ve essentially done here is create a value sketch – painting in the lights and darks of what we want, but without any actual hue or colour. This is where our inks come in. Inks are simply acrylic paints with a high pigment density, but with a very thin consistency, more like water than actual paint. Inks have a myriad of uses, and can be applied with either a brush or an airbrush or mixed in with regular acrylic paints.

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This is where the magic happens

In this case, we’re going to be applying the ink as a glaze. Using either a brush or an airbrush at a very low pressure setting, simply paint the ink over the entire surface of the wood, attempting to get a more or less consistent finish. If you’re using the right products and applying them properly, you will see the ink quickly colouring the wood and turning it into amazingly realistic looking wood before your eyes.

You may need multiple coats, and as always when working with inks, you need to make sure it dries completely between coats, but that’s it! You can always experiment with different inks and washes, adding additional hues, or putting different varnishes on top of the wood in order to get interesting effects like aged or weathered wood. Further, there is nothing stopping you from adding more lines and another layer of ink on top to get another layer of detail. But for this project, the colour and shine of the Scale75 Intense Chestnut alone gives me the hardwood floor effect that I’m looking for, so I’m not going to futz with it.

Conclusion

With the right tools and the right techniques, this is an amazingly simple way to get some very nice and realistic looking wood effects on your miniatures. It can be useful for painting miniature furniture, bases, scenery, and all kinds of weapons from spears and clubs to rifles and shotguns. Hopefully this technique helps you out, as properly rendered wood can really kick up a project to the next level.

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