PSA: Stop varnishing your metallics!

Note: this article is going to be short on pictures because, quite frankly, it is hard to capture what I am talking about in photos or even videos. The best way to illustrate this is in three dimensions — try it out for yourself by comparing metallics before and after a coat of varnish!

Conventional wisdom in miniature painting dictates that the final step to any projects is to protect your work. Seal it in with one or more coats of varnish; perhaps a gloss coat or two for protection and dullcote to knock the shine off. This will protect it from the clumsiest, most cheeto-fingered gamers and ensure your hard work will live on.

Unfortunately, there is an issue with this approach and that issue is metallic paints. All too often, I see people kill their metallics with varnish. And I am no exception — it took me a couple years to figure out that dullcote makes my metallic paint less shiny, so I have a lot of winter guardsmen with mediocre metallics in my collection.

Display vs tabletop

Of course, if you don’t plan on touching your models, this is less of a problem. In fact, this is one of the reasons why a lot of display painters separate gaming models from display projects — the varnish that is being used to protect the model often can have unintended effects on the finish. A lot of display painters don’t varnish their models, which is why they don’t want you touching them.

If you are handling them, then there are two things to worry about — paint chipping and paint rubbing. While paint chipping might be able to be ameliorated slightly with varnish, generally the problem there has more to do with how well the primer has adhered to the model (and how well you cleaned all the mold release off). Paint rubbing, on the other hand, is caused by a mixture of skin oils and friction as you handle the model. By sealing out those oils and putting a layer of varnish overtop, you can protect the underlying paint from both of these factors.

Back to metallics

Whether you are going for display or tabletop, metallic paint is harder to work with than regular paint. In general, coverage is often mediocre so they often require an undercoat in regular paints (essentially doubling your work), they can be broken easily if you thin them, they mess up your wet palette and your paint water, they don’t flow quite as smoothly, and they chew up natural hair brushes, meaning you can’t use your really good brushes on them unless you are very rich and you don’t mind killing every weasel in Siberia.

Siberian_Weasel_Pangolakha_Wildlife_Sanctuary_East_Sikkim_India_14.05.2016

How could you; it’s so cute!

In spite of these challenges, we still use metallic paints for their unique properties. Namely, that you get a nice shiny metal effect and… well, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out why a matte varnish might mess with that shiny metal effect. And, if you are going through the trouble of using metallic paints to get a nice metallic shine then immediately kill that shine with dullcote, it should be evident that this is a counter-productive approach.

One other neat property of metallics is that I’m not sure why or how this is the case, but they seem to be more durable. I suspect something in the metallic flakes and pigments is a little more resistant to oily fingers and rubbing than regular paints. As such, they might not even need to be varnished.

So, for tabletop miniatures, there are at least three ways that you can address the problem of varnish killing your shine:

Save your metallics until the end

Generally, a coat of varnish is applied from a rattle can or airbrush. As such, you can’t really decide to varnish everything but the few metallic areas, at least not without a whole lot of obnoxious masking. Even if you are using a brush-on varnish, you want to paint everything on quickly with a big brush and not try to carefully paint around your metallics.

However, there is a simple solution. Paint the whole model, and give your metallics whatever base coat you desire (since one of the properties of metallics is that they often need either multiple coats or an undercoat to get good coverage), then do your varnish. Once that is done, go back in and paint your metallics over top of the varnish. The metallics should be tough enough to resist to the gentle handling we do on the tabletop, and even if they do chip, you have a solid undercoat underneath.

Save the highlights until the end

If you are still worried about the aforementioned cheeto-fingered gamers, you could varnish in your metallics, but save any highlights (be they true metallic metals or something simple like dry brushing) until the end. This way, you at least can get the protection of the varnish over the base coats while retaining the shine in the place where it matters the most — the highest highlights were light is glistening off the model. If your metallics do somehow get weathered from handling on the tabletop, the varnish will protect the undercoat and they will just look… well, weathered.

Bring back the shine with gloss varnish

Finally, if you did kill your metallics with something like dullcote, don’t fret — there is a way to bring them back somewhat. If you go over these metallics with a brush-on gloss varnish, that will help restore the shine. Unfortunately, it won’t be quite the same, particularly if you did a lot of TMM shading and highlights. A gloss varnish doesn’t have quite the same finish as metallic paints, but it is a lot shinier than a matte varnish. and will help make those metallics pop again.

Conclusion

While varnishing your tabletop pieces is a good idea to protect the paint from oily fingers, varnish will affect the finish. In the case of regular paints, the effect isn’t subtle enough that it isn’t a huge tradeoff. However, when it comes to metallics, that is a whole different ball of wax — you get less benefit from the varnish, and it can totally ruin the finish.

 

Bonus Content: Hutchuck!

Not much to say about him; I just finished my Hutchuck model as part of my push to clear out my WIP shelf before Christmas. The metallics on his club kind of reference what I am talking about; I put some work into doing good true metallic metals on them, and if I were to hit it with dullcote, that would kill the shine and I might as well just have done NMM using paints that are easier to work with.

IMG_2217.JPG

Man up and go to the makeup aisle

Sometimes you can find hobby stuff in the most interesting places. Lids from bottles of Tropicana orange juice make great bases for fantasy figures, a sandwich container and some baking parchment makes for a great wet palette, and with a little bit of creativity, just about anything can be either terrain or basing material.

But, one place that is often overlooked by a lot of hobbyists is the makeup aisle. Given the, shall we say, “demographic profile” of a lot of modellers and wargamers, that may not be too much of a surprise. But, if you keep an open mind and are confident enough in your sexuality that you don’t mind using a paint brush with a pink handle, there is actually a surprising amount of useful stuff there.

Organizing your paints

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of hobby paints. And you are slightly obsessive compulsive when it comes to keeping your workbench organized, needing everything to have a place and everything to be in its place. Fortunately, us modellers and miniature painters aren’t the only ones who collect large amounts of brightly coloured paints in small bottles.

nail_polish_rach

Nail polish bottles are about the same size as most paint pots, and some people have as many of those as we have paints. As such, there are plenty of storage solutions to keep them organized and accessible. If you simply google “nail polish rack” and shop around a little online, you can find a lot of ready-made storage solutions that are perfect for hobby paints. Because they target a larger audience than the hobby community, these are often cheaper and a little nicer than some of the stuff targeted at us. Further, because not all nail polish bottles are the same, these are well-designed to efficiently hold many different kinds of bottles, from tall and skinny dropper bottles to short, squat Citadel pots, to bigger 30mL bottles in  way that allows you to get more paints per square foot than some of the laser cut MDF alternatives that have holes for each paint.

IMG_1270.JPG

No, I do not have too many paints.

Makeup Brushes – the best dry brushes

When it comes to dry brushing, a lot of us just use any sort of beater brush, often something that used to be an actual mainline brush but has since become too frayed or damaged for regular use. However, the best dry brushes have a few characteristics. First, they are nice and soft, which allows you to slowly build up the colour and reduces that dry brushed look that we all know and don’t love. Second, they should come in useful shapes like flat and filbert brushes. Finally, they should be cheap because you will wreck them, so it’s not a good idea to get too attached.

Enter makeup brushes. You can get them at the dollar store, or buy them in bulk online. They come in all kinds of useful shapes and sizes, and if you go to the right source, they’re super cheap. They’re also nice and soft, because apparently women don’t like to poke themselves around the eyes with stiff, hard brushes. Because of these properties, they are also good for applying dry pigments to models for weathering and such.

Believe it or not, brushes that women use to dry brush pigments onto their face are good for dry brushing paint and pigments onto models. Who knew?

IMG_1272.JPG

Also, a big, soft makeup brush is great for dusting off your models without damaging the finish, so if you’re bringing a model to a show or just want to dust off the stuff in your display case, a makeup brush is a handy thing to have.

Files and sanding sticks

Getting back to nail care, there are a lot of things used for doing one’s nails that can also be useful for models. If you look around, there is an assortment of files and sanding sticks which look remarkably similar to a lot of more expensive products from hobby shops.

For example, look at what I just found in the makeup aisle the other day. This is a sanding block for doing your nails. It’s got seven grits in one, starting with a rough grit for reshaping nails and progressing to finer and finer grits to smooth and polish your nails. While I haven’t had a chance to use it extensively yet, so far it is pretty great for sanding down seam lines and polishing out imperfections.

IMG_1274.JPG

Conclusion

Not everything you need for models can be found at the hobby shop. Sometimes, you can find great things in the strangest places. The makeup aisle at a dollar store is one of those places, with all kinds of files, sanding sticks, organizers, and brushes that have all sorts of modelling applications.

Also, is it just me, or does the Tamiya weathering master kit look a lot like rebranded makeup?

IMG_1273.JPG

 

 

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

800px-Munsell-system.png

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

paint_system.jpg

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.

img_1151

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.

IMG_1192.JPG

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.

IMG_1187.JPG

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

IMG_1191.JPG

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

IMG_1180.JPG

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.

IMG_1177.JPG

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.

mom.JPG

 

Sector Mechanicus: My 10 step method for awesome looking industrial terrain

As part of my foray into Necromunda, I ended up eventually breaking down and getting the core Necromunda: Underhive box. While I parted with the Goliath sprues, due to a mispack that I had to go through GW customer service to resolve, I ended up with twice the terrain as usual, in addition to the massive pile that I bought because when I get into something, I go all in.

Of course, this meant that I needed to find a way to get all that terrain painted. Now, because it is terrain, that means that I could relax and just do something tabletop quality. Unfortunately, because I’m kind of anal-retentive about my miniatures, my definition of tabletop quality is a little different from most people’s, which can be both a blessing and a curse. After a little trial and error, I think I’ve hit on a pretty good method to banging out masses of pretty good looking terrain for the Sector Mechanicus/Zone Mortalis stuff that is commonly used for Necromunda.

So, I’m going to do my own version of a Warhammer TV Duncan Rhodes video. But, since I’m not as photogenic as our lord and saviour of two thin coats; I’m going to do it in my own style: an incredibly wordy article, and also forgetting to take pictures of all my steps.

Also, just as a warning, this method does involve heavy airbrush use. An all-purpose airbrush like the Patriot 105 is a great tool for this sort of work, especially when you’re trying to bang out a lot of terrain in a short time. If you don’t have an airbrush, you could probably adapt some of these techniques, but it may be a better idea to go look up one of the Duncan tip of the day videos. Just don’t think you need to stick to the Games Workshop family of products. Even in this guide, I mention a lot of specific products, but aside from a couple which are so good you probably should be using them anyways (Vallejo Metal Color for airbrushing metallics, for example), feel free to substitute paints from your favourite paint brand.

The Method

1. Clip it off the sprues and assemble it. Duh. The Zone Mortalis stuff is mostly one piece bulkheads that just need some feet glued on, so it’s easiest to just assemble it all up front. For the big complex Sector Mechanicus terrain pieces, it’s probably best to work in sub-assemblies where you have to but leave it unassembled for now where you can, but it’s not hard to figure out the best way to do something like this.

2. Prime it in Stynylrez black through the airbrush. You could use a rattle can of black primer if you want to, or airbrush a different black primer if for some strange reason your primer of choice isn’t Stynylrez. However, airbrushing primer is much easier than using a rattle can, and it can be done inside in all kinds of weather.

3. Airbrush it with a base coat of Vallejo Metal Color Steel or a similar dark silver colour. Someone asked me recently what the best acrylic silver paints were for airbrushing, and Vallejo Metal Color (Not Vallejo Model Air) is a great answer. It has nice fine pigments, sprays like a dream, and covers in one coat. Right now, it’s the only metallic paint that goes through my airbrush.

4. Pick out brass bits. One thing I like to do is incorporate some visual interest in big metal things by having a mixture of grey metals and brass. It’s why I like painting steampunk stuff so much; I get to throw in a lot of brass bits to add some contrast to my metals and machinery. I generally use P3 Molten Bronze for this, but you can use whatever brass paint you like.

IMG_0920.JPG

VMC Steel (airbrushed) and P3 Molten Bronze (brush painted)

5. First dry-brush. Get a nice, big, soft makeup brush and a bright silver and go to town. It doesn’t really matter too much if you get the silver on the brass bits; it can actually make for a nice effect as the highest highlight on brass should be silver anyways. Feel free to be heavy on the dry brushing here as we will be taking it down a notch in a later step, and those errant, chalky dry-brush marks that are why real hardcore srs bsns painters use more advanced techniques and leave dry-brushing to noobs (note: my tongue planted firmly in my cheek as I write this sentence) actually make for a decent representation of scratches and scrapes and other sources of visual interest. Don’t be afraid to really beat the devil out of it and take out your frustrations on this terrain.

IMG_0949.JPG

My weapon of choice

IMG_0923.JPG

Before (bottom) and after (top) the first dry brush. See the difference; it’s looking pretty good already.

6. Pick out non-metallic details. Things like wires, hoses, etc., which are non-metallic. We’re doing this after the first dry-brush because we don’t want to spend a lot of time picking these out only to hit them with our violent, heavy dry-brushing in step 5 and ruin out work. Do them in nice, vibrant colours; it’s better to err on the side of more vibrant, because we’re going to knock it back in the next step.

img_0934.jpg

Some non-metallic details such as the tanks and hoses picked out.

7. Wash time! Drop some Nuln Oil into your airbrush and spray. Using the airbrush to apply these GW shades is fun; you can build up the shade and let it get everywhere, and if you don’t go too heavy on the trigger, you don’t end up with the coffee staining issue you normally get when you try to apply the shade with a brush. For more visual interest, follow up with some Drakenhof Nightshade in some random areas to get a nice subtle worn mottled look between blue-grey and brown-grey, and/or something like Agrax Earthshade for brown patches.

IMG_0935.JPG

Post-wash, note how the washes really dulled it down.

8. Second dry-brush. With the same makeup brush, do a subtle, controlled dry-brush just to pick out some of the edges but without going all over and messing up your non-metallic detail. Focus on the upper portions of your bulkheads and supports and the like, so it looks like they are getting more direct sunlight.

IMG_0937.JPG

The effect is difficult to capture in photos, but the second dry brush can really help bring back some of the highlights which faded a little in the wash.

9. Add finishing touches. There are a few things you can do here to take it up to the next level. If your terrain piece is sticking out of the ground like the support pieces for the walkways, you can add some crud to the bottom where dirt, debris, and standing water during floods might congregate. I like to use Typhus Corrosion for this part, which is basically GW’s technical paint that consists of brown with bits of crud floating in it. Basically, apply it to the areas close to the ground with a big wet brush and feather it up and out. This will give the impression that the areas close to the ground have gotten dirty through years of flooding and add a little bit of dynamism and visual interest. If you want, you can also add a little green corrosion to your copper and brass bits with a touch of Nihilakh Oxide. If there are any lights on your terrain piece, you can get a cool, simple OSL effect by painting the light source white and then spraying some artist acrylic inks in the colour of your choice overtop, allowing the overspray to represent the reflected light. You will look like an awesome painter who takes the time to do super advanced and crazy difficult techniques like OSL on your terrain; just keep the fact that it was actually super easy between us.

IMG_0938.JPG

Some quick glow effects with white paint, an airbrush, and some artist inks.

10. Varnish. You’re going to be handing these terrain pieces a lot and you’re probably not going to take as good care of them as you do your army, so give it a coat of satin varnish, which is a nice happy medium between a bright shiny gloss and those super dull matte varnishes that makes you wonder why you even bothered using metallic paint in the first place. Again, I like to use my airbrush for this because it makes varnishing much easier than either trying to brush it on or use a rattle can.

The Results

From there, you can start assembling your terrain. I found it’s good to assemble it in modules; this way, you can build your table in multiple ways, but you aren’t taking an hour to quickly lego together some rickety terrain pieces every time you want to play. When you do this, it’s good to think about how pieces might logically go together. Furnaces and the like may have big smokestacks, which should be the tallest things on the table. Pipes shouldn’t go to nowhere, especially when they’re being placed vertically as supports for flooring. Terrain should have enough supports that it looks stable, which has the advantage of actually being stable and not collapsing onto your nicely painted miniatures. It also may be a good idea to make some concessions towards the practicalities of playing the game when you do this — where you place your ladders, how you can get nice cover, and how you can make your terrain such that it can be interacted with and is meaningful enough that it matters in-game, but not so unbalanced that whoever has this terrain piece on his side of the table basically gets a free win.

Finally, once you get it together, you may need to touch up a few areas with paint. Places where you got some glue where you didn’t mean to could use a little love. Further, with OSL and weathering, you may need to add a little bit more for it to make sense. For example, if you have a clean pipe coming out of a dirty tank, you may need to add some grime to the pipe to make it look more consistent. Or you may need to dry brush on a little more OSL if you end up with a glowing bit that is facing another surface.

IMG_0948.JPG

This is my terrain setup; it has a few major pieces, but can be arranged and rearranged in a number of ways. The two stories of the section with the large white tank is not glued on, so I can take it off and place it on the gaming surface to have two single story terrain pieces. Also, the large chimney on top of the white tank is removable, and the pipes can be arranged in any number of ways. I think I’m going to get a battlemat to go with it; I was thinking the Cryx Necrotite F.A.T. Mat would be a good choice as it would go with both Necromunda and Warmachine, and could be set up with forests and more natural terrain and not look too shabby either. I’ve also got some fully painted Zone Mortalis terrain; the sort that comes in the Necromunda: Underhive box painted with the same technique to go with it.

As you can see, this painting technique works quite nicely. You end up with some good looking terrain, but because the washes have dulled and blended some of the colours together, it has enough contrast that it still looks good, but not so much that it overpowers the miniatures, who should be the focus of the game.

This isn’t the only technique I used though; on some of the larger pieces, I also did some chipping using the hairspray technique. That would be its own article though. If you want to do this, I would suggest to do the chipped sections first and mask them off while you work on the rest of the terrain piece and be careful about your colour choice; orange and brown rust doesn’t contrast red paint very much.

Conclusions

When you’re painting large things, effective use of an airbrush can be key to getting it done fast and good. This technique here is a nice way to get some awesome looking terrain, but for your projects, you can feel free to adapt it any way you want. Picking out brass bits and other details is really the only time-consuming part of this project. I kind of went overboard on some of the details for mine, but if you just want to get it done up to tabletop standard, paring back on the amount of details you put into the brass and the non-metallic bits you picked out can be a real time-saver.

Good looking terrain is an aspect of miniature gaming that is often undervalued. As we naturally want to focus on getting our armies painted, terrain often lags behind in both painting quality and actually getting it finished. However, there is nothing more satisfying in the hobby than seeing two nicely painted armies duking it out on an attractive table.

IMG_0950.JPG

Nancy Does NMM

As I mentioned in my last post, my Nancy Steelpunch miniature from Scale75 did well at HeritageCon this year, pulling in a silver in the Fantasy Figures category. In addition to being a cool sculpt with the punkish undercut, goggles, and steampunk robotic arms that she is named for, Nancy represents an important milestone on my hobby journey. She was the first model that I had done using a non-metallic metal (NMM) technique, which was on my list of hobby resolutions for this year.

IMG_2666.JPG

Nancy

 

What is NMM?

Now, while figure painters may know what I’m talking about, I can already hear the scale modellers who read this blog scratching their head, so let’s take a step back hear and talk about shiny things. Take a look at this picture of a hatchet I found online. When our eyes look at it, without even thinking about it, our brain detects the pattern and registers it as a somewhat shiny steel colour. We instinctively know that the surface of this axe head is a more or less uniform, somewhat reflective grey metal. However, if I open up Microsoft Paint and use the eyedropper tool, we can see that the colours that make up the shininess are a little more complex. If I wanted to draw a picture of this axe head, instead of just taking out a silver crayon and running it over the entire shape, I would have to play a little with shadow and highlight colours to represent how the light hits and reflects off of the wavy surface of the axe. As you can see, particularly in the third and fourth colour I’ve picked out, the actual colours that make up this image are not uniform and run the spectrum from almost white to almost black.

hatchet.jpg

The strip on the bottom represents the colour of the pixels at the location at the end of the red line

Another thing you can do is simply take a hobby knife, ideally one with a scalpel blade, hold it under your work lamp, and turn it around in your hand while looking carefully at it. Look at what you see, not what you think you see. Your brain will tell you that the blade is a uniform piece of metal. But depending on how the blade catches the light, you might see a particular part of the blade appear as bright white or almost black or any shade in between, depending on if that particular piece of the blade is reflecting the light into your eye or not. If it helps, take a picture with your phone and look at that, looking carefully at the glints of light bouncing off the blade.

IMG_2659.JPG

Now, getting back to miniature painting, one of the keys to painting at this scale is that light doesn’t interact with objects quite the same way at these small scales. It’s why so much of miniature painting involves painting in highlights and shadow colours in order to convey how the light would interact with an object at scale. It’s also why just slapping a coat of metallic paints onto the blade of a sword just doesn’t look right.

Non-metallic metal is one way (but not the only way) to address this issue when it comes to models with a lot of metallic pieces. Non-metallic metals allow the painter to take full control of the interaction between light and the object and make it look more appropriate at scale. To do this, instead of relying on shiny paints, you paint the metal piece with flat colours, painting on all the glints and shadows. It’s called non-metallic metal because you are using non-metallic paints to achieve a metal effect, and it is similar to the techniques a 2D artist might use if he were tasked with drawing something shiny.

Sharp Highlights

Just saying “oh yeah, just paint on the glints and reflections” sounds like one of those things that is easier said than done, but if you understand lighting well, you can get a grasp on it. Even moreso than regular miniature painting, non-metallic metals are an exercise in lighting and contrasts. In order to be successful, you need to figure out where you want to place the light and apply some really sharp contrasts. Looking back at our scalpel blade, we can see that it is mostly a fairly dull, dark grey, with some near-white highlights where the light catches it. The green circle represents an area which is reflecting the light towards the viewer, while the red circle represents edges that are just catching a glint of light. By painting on this highlight and these edge highlights, we can convey the reflectiveness of the surface even by using flat paints. Further, the edge highlights also help the viewer pick up on the shape of the blade at a glance, which is good for making details pop.

IMG_2659 - Copy.jpg

See how the circled areas look almost white due to the highlight.

Steel and Brass

ironman

Not mine, just something cool I found CMON

One of the other interesting things about non-metallic metal is that you can easily paint metals in any colour using this technique. If you want to paint up, say, a figure of Iron Man from the Marvel universe, you can just use the various shades of red you have kicking around instead of trying to find red metallic paints.

This is something that is useful in the world of steampunk fantasy. One of the things I really like about Steampunk settings is that there is a lot of brass present on machinery and metal parts. This means that when you are choosing a colour scheme, you can add some contrast to your metallics by “alternating” between silver and brass colours. You can do steel parts with brass trim, brass parts with silver trim, brass rivets on steel plates, and so on. This allows you to really make details pop, and is something that I chose to take advantage of for Nancy’s mechano-fists. The steampunk mechanical arms are a key distinctive element on this model, and they are filled with plenty of little mechanical details that I wanted to be apparent even at a glance.

IMG_2661.JPG

Ultra close up of the mechano-fists

The Process

I was a little intimidated when it came to actually doing the NMM, so it was one of the last things that I had done on this model. When it came to choosing colour, as I mentioned above, I knew I wanted to have both brass and steel to pick out the mechanical bits. But for the steel, I decided to go for something with a bit more blue in it than traditional grey metal. This, I felt, would do two things. First, the blue steel would go well with some of the blue in her clothing and the hints of blue in the highlights on the black parts of her clothes. Second, the blue and brass would give me some nice contrast on the fists themselves on a cool/warm dimension.

So, to start off, I laid down some base colours. For the steel, I used a couple coats of Reaper’s Blue Liner, which is a dark blue that is very near black. Reaper’s Liner paints are formulated for blacklining, a technique where you paint thin lines in the cracks on models to separate distinct parts, and tend to have a little more flow to them than regular paints. However, I have found them to be good not only for priming Bones figures, but also as base coats for things that I want to paint near-black. I use their Grey Liner a lot for painting black, for example, as it is close enough to black to read as intended, but not quite black so it allows me to go into the shadows with a darker colour such as pure black.

Anyways, starting with a base coat of that Blue Liner, I next worked up to Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3, two colours which are somewhat desaturated blues, with the denim being a midtone and the frostbite being almost white. I applied the Gravedigger Denim to areas where I wanted it to be lighter, then followed up with some very sharp highlights with the frostbite — mostly just thin lines where the metal is catching a glint of light. Finally, I edge highlighted the figure with frostbite as well, to represent the areas where the light is catching an edge.

nancyprogress.jpg

Progress on the mechano-hands

For the brass, I did something similar. I did an initial base coat in brown, but didn’t like that so I went back to the drawing board and mixed some Tanned Leather from Reaper with some grey liner to get a dark, desaturated colour that still has some of the yellow-orange that I want to it. From there, I highlighted up to straight Tanned Leather, then Blond Hair (Reaper), and then a Menoth White Highlight (P3) for the highest highlight. As always, these are just the colours I used; you can use whatever you have on hand and mix on your wet palette (you are using a wet palette, right?) to get a similar effect.

IMG_2669.JPG

Colours used — Blue steel on left, Brass on right

Final thoughts

Non-metallic metal can be an intimidating sounding technique. However, once I got down to it, it actually seemed to be a little easier than I thought it would be. The main lessons I took away from it were:

  1. Understand where the light is coming from
  2. Go all the way from very dark to very light
  3. Use sharp highlights to convey glints of light

It’s also easier when you have something to go off of, so taking a close look at miniatures that have been painted with this technique or even just art of the figure that you are trying to paint can help you understand it better before taking the plunge. Even if you don’t plan on using NMM as a common technique in your repertoire, doing a few pieces in NMM can help you understand how light interacts with reflective surfaces like metals, and in turn help you with painting metallics in general.

As for me, I’ve got the Nancy Steelpunch 1/12 scale bust as well, so that’s going to be an interesting project…

IMG_2664.JPG

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.

IMG_2546.JPG

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.

IMG_2529.JPG

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.

IMG_2543.JPG

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.

IMG_2547.JPG

The Joy of Painting Figures – presentation

I had planned to write something on painting woodgrain textures today, but I ran into some problems and didn’t get around to it. So, in lieu of an actual article, I’m going to throw up a link to a presentation I made on painting figures at a local IPMS meeting this week.

In short, I feel that figure painting can be an intimidating thing for a lot of scale modellers, and I see a lot of comments on the scale model internet to that effect. Flesh tones aren’t a uniform colour like the glacis plate of a Panzer IV, and people who paint figures tend to worry a lot more about things like lighting and colour theory than someone trying to make an exact replica of something, only tinier.

That is not to say that figure painters are better than traditional scale modellers. The sheer number of pieces and the level of detail in a model kit with all the aftermarket bling in it can get rather insane, not to mention the historical research involved to make it as exact a representation of the subject as possible.

The goal of this presentation was to demystify it a little — explain some of the basics of using acrylic paints (thin your paints, take care of your brushes, and just make a damn wet palette already), explain a little bit about the theory behind what goes into flesh tones, and share some techniques as to how I go about placing those highlights and shadows.

So, without any further ado, here’s the slides from that presentation.