Saturday, 6 February 2010

A step by step painting guide

I've got a busy few weeks ahead with little room for painting so I have taken the time to put together a step by step guide to my method of painting with a few hints and tips that I've learned over the years. It's also a rough guide to the Tudor uniform I have contrived for these figures / this army.

To start I recommend having some decent source / reference material to hand that covers the period you're focusing on and the equipment and clothing of the models you're working on.
In this instance I have gained a lot from two books; Osprey's Henry VIII's Army and to a much greater extent; The Medieval Soldier (15th century campaign life in colour photographs) by Embleton & Howe. It's by no means cheap but I have found it to be an excellent indispensable resource.
I'm not going to dwell too much on light but I find it easiest to paint during the day with an angle poised desk lamp fitted with a daylight bulb for extra light which is particularly useful for detailed work. When painting at night I have this along with a daylight bulb fitted in the room light directly above me, this really helps to get rid of any shadows which ultimately will stop you creaking your back and/or neck chasing the best light - and that's no fun.

The paints I use are those of the Wargames Foundry paint system. I've used a variety in the past but find these the best for the following reasons;
  • Opacity, it's just right and really suits a black undercoat, no laborious re-painting or thinning.
  • The 3 step system is great and the colours are on the whole suited to it, I rarely mix paint now which results in figures being done to a good standard quickly.

Taking the above into account and the amount you get, they're good value - their brushes are good also.

Stage one
Here we have two figures assembled, undercoated black and glued to a cork.

A couple of notes on assembly; This boxed set is excellent and the will to see what all the figures look like fully assembled was very strong here, seriously, I have not been this excited about miniatures in a very long time.
Anyway, take your time and think about the poses you're crating along with the arm, head and body combinations, here are my tips;
  • Take your time, don't rush in.
  • Remove everything from the sprues so that you can have a good look at what you have.
  • Use blu tac to experiment with until you have what you want.
  • File down each piece with a needle file and then an emery board for a smooth finish.
  • Don't model archers with a visor-down sallet, it just doesn't look right, especially in a loosing pose.
  • For those poses loosing or reaching for arrows tilt the head slightly, it's a simple thing to do but it looks much more natural.
  • I used a thin superglue as opposed to polystyrene cement as I find the latter can sometimes bubble or melt the plastic slightly and is just generally a lot more messy and unforgiving. Furthermore I have found that once thin superglue is dry it's easy to remove arms or heads at a later stage without too much hassle - polystyrene cement isn't always as easy.
  • Use any source material you have to hand to help you / give inspiration.
Once you've assembled your figures pick one, two or however many you want to go with and glue them to a cork. I used to use 2p pieces and bits of card but my hands and particularly thumbs really hurt after half an hour or so, with corks you can manoeuvre the figures better and they're easier to hold on to.

Stage two
Drybrush any armour or large metal area in the first colour (Foundry Chainmail 35A) Leave out smaller metal areas such as knives, buckles and so on.

Don't load your brush too much. I usually polish armour on metal figures but for plastics drybrush quite thinly leaving some of the black as it helps to give you an idea of the ridges on the helmet and is a good guide for the latter stages.

Stage Three
Another reason for this post is to show how I paint brigandines. I'd normally go straight to stage Five but this is an exception as it's leading to a wash which can get messy and will need a little touching up in black for any areas touching the washed area, so to that effect, stages 3 & 4 are used whenever I decide to use a wash on a figure.
Here I have painted the whole brigandine in Scarlet shade 38A, going over the rivets, these will be sorted later, just be careful to be neat around the belt and try to show some black showing through where plates meet.

Stage Four
Paint the flesh with Flesh Shade 5A leaving a small amount of black wherever the flesh touches another surface and also in the eyes and between the lips.

Stage Five
Mix Scarlet shade 38A, Bay Brown Shade 42A and water in equal parts and apply to the brigandine then add a little more scarlet and water to this mix and apply to the flesh,experiment with the latter wash for different flesh tones. I find that this wash really helps bring out the faces on these figures.

Stage Six
Complete the flesh with the mid-tone and highlight. Leave the bottom lip untouched from the wash, the highlight only going on the bridge of the nose, forehead,chin and knuckles. At this point in can be handy to look at any faces - particularly photographic, in your source material to help you get an idea of facial muscles and natural furrows and lighter areas.
Completing the flesh at this early stage gets the hardest job out of the way early and gives the figure character and depth.

Stage Seven
The cross and green guarding are painted onto the coat, (Scarlet 38A & Phlegm Green 28A) this is so that in the next stage a very fine black outline can be left around these areas giving the figure more depth - it's also a lot faster and easier than painting these areas after the rest of the coat has been done.

Stage Eight
Apply the remaining base colours to the rest of the figures, the colours here are;
  • Canvas 8A for the coat, arrow shafts and jack sleeves.
  • Scarlet 38A for the leg.
  • Arctic Grey 33A for the striped leg and arrow fletching.
  • Phlegm Green 28A for the arms.
  • Deep Brown Leather 45A for the belt, chinstrap and archer's bracer.
  • Chestnut 53A for the satchel and purse
  • Spearshaft 13A for the bill shaft, bow and bollock knife handles
  • Metal 35B for the buckles, arrowheads, splints and as slight highlight on the helmets and bill head
  • Base coat is left for the legs and re-applied to the rivet heads on the brigandine in preparation for the final stage.

Not too many colors with some on both figures making for a swifter job, the black undercoat really helps at this stage giving you a nice outline around everything along with any areas which are to be black being already done for 'free' so to speak.

Furthermore, if you need to field an army fairly quickly you could halt at this stage, it looks OK, particularly because the flesh is complete - just don't varnish them and you can return when you have time or after the battle.

Stage Nine

Midtones. All I can say really is take your time and be neat, ensuring you apply these within the colours already laid down and not over or outside them, this will contribute further to the depth. Notice the bow only has the midtone applied to the horn ends and the outer edge. The colours used here all the midtone shades of those mentioned above. Again, you could stop at this stage if you wished.

Stage Ten

Highlights. Just as stage nine really; make sure you only apply these within the area of the latter stage so that they are a highlight rather than blending into the other colours / stages. It is important to get this stage right. For the red areas I have sparingly applied a further highlight of Orange shade 3A. At this point the rivet heads are painted in Burning Gold 44B.

Stage Eleven

Job done!

So, that's pretty much it, for reference this took me around 3 hours.

I'll do horses and high detail (patterned areas such as gendarmes barding and gowns ) guides at some point.

I hope this is useful to you and gives a few pointers.

One of the things it shows I think is how it is possible to do a conversion to a figure just through the way that you paint it.

I have painted for 20 years now and practice does count towards a lot. However, I really do think that if you get a decent set of paints and brushes, use a black undercoat, and above all take your time the rest will just fall into place.

Feel free to ask anything in the comments.




  1. Thanks for this good painting guide ! ;)

  2. Stuart
    Great guide and very intersting read, I think that with the fine detail on these figures that a wash seems to be the best way to bring out the details. I'm really struggling to see all those rivets on the brigandine, let alone get a brush on them to highlight with metals!
    I really won't suggest that you drink the water you've washed your brushes in, in the last pic!!
    thanks for posting. Looking forward to the next ones.