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Category Archives: Technique

I’ve been on vacation and haven’t made any real progress for a couple of weeks. Getting back in the groove, I finished up three SU-100’s that I had purchased for my Late War list (Udarny) to get them off the work table. This follows the new rules – everything that gets purchased gets painted! I suppose that I could proxy them in a pinch for SU-85’s in Mid War if I wanted to use that option as well.

These are a bit of an experiment. I didn’t use my usual three step process (basecoat, drybrush, detail). Instead, I did all of the highlights and shading with the airbrush and finished with a couple of oil washes. I think they compare pretty favorably and this method is much faster. I used Vallejo Model Color paints cut with Liquitex Medium/Distilled Water/Liquitex Flow Aid. Colors used were Russian Green for the basecoat and shadows, Russian Green/Russian WWII Uniform at 50/50 for the mid shades, and Russian Green/Iraqi Sand for highlights. Van Dyke Brown was used for the oil washes. Finish coat is Vallejo Satin Varnish mixed 50/50 with the airbrush thinner mix from above.

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Now that I’ve got these off the bench I will continue working on my Rota list for next month. I need to rework the list given the P-39 Kobra nerfing – I still want air power and have purchased an IL-2 Sturmovik in 1/144 (Zvesda model). It is more expensive, points-wise, so I’ll have to tweak the list over the weekend and finalize my painting plan for this month.

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I’m working on the SU-122 assault guns I mentioned in the last post. After basecoat and 3-step drybrushing, I have applied a Van Dyke Brown oil wash. I use this color both as a liner and for a subtle weathering effect. One problem that occurs often when you have large vertical surfaces is that the strong capillary action of an oil wash actually works against you, pulling the wash down off of the model before it can dry. To avoid this, I use a roll of tape as a scaffold so that I can wash each “face” of the vehicle as a flat surface, which keeps the wash where I want it. This Increases the drying time as we are doing multiple washes, but I think the added control is worth it. In the photo I have the tanks standing straight up, keeping the wash in the gun detail.

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I finished painting the Stuart tanks a few days ago, but didn’t have time to post until now. Yesterday was a “road warrior” day – I had breakfast in Omaha, a late lunch in Detroit, and dinner at home in Pennsylvania.

Anyway, I finished detailing the 8 M3A1’s. Two passes of color modulation gave the models a nice 3D look. On a 15mm model, my interpretation of modulation is “paint all the raised detail with your mid highlight” with a little edge highlighting thrown in. Not “realistic” but it looks cool. I use a glazing mix for this technique (paint, glaze medium, a drop of flow/water solution) as I like the effect created by a little transparency. It adds a bit more depth to the finished product.

After re-highlighting (okay, modulating) I put a very runny coat of Track Primer on the tracks and picked out a few details – machine guns, shovels and tools, searchlight, etc. The models are ready for decals and final varnishing today, but supplies are low (I am out of Micro Sol). I will also trick up the bases a bit more, at the moment they have only a coat of dark earth on them. Last but not least, I may weather the tracks and lower hull, I haven’t made up my mind. I overdid it on the last batch of tanks (T34/85’s) so need to take a step back and convince myself one way or the other.

Semi-crappy photos, I’ll have to do something about my camera and lighting.

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A recent post on the Dakka forum go me thinking about miniature painting from the perspective of a newcomer to the hobby, or the perspective of a gamer that has “given up” on painting because it is too hard. Without getting into specific techniques, here are my thoughts on having the right attitude:

  1. Mini painting is a function of developing technique first, and "artistic" ability second (or never). Generally, you will have a roadmap to follow given YouTube tutorials, painting articles in forums and so on. I cannot overstate how helpful it is to have a guide. It can be very difficult to dream up a paint scheme from scratch if you aren’t artistically inclined (I’ve been painting for better than three decades and I still can’t do it). Once you have a roadmap, it is all down to technique.
  2. Technique first and foremost requires patience. The worst thing you can do is give up after a first effort or heaven forbid during a first effort. My mini’s look like crap right up to the moment that they don’t. If you watch tutorials, you’ll see this phenomenon play out even with the most talented artists. Don’t give up, give yourself a chance!
  3. One does not fly into flying (Nietzsche). Work on your basic technique first – get comfortable thinning paints and painting in multiple thin coats. Get your basecoat smooth and even. Pick out detail as cleanly as you can, and don’t be afraid to touch the same element more than once. Assume that you will have to "touch up" colors – don’t expect perfection, just steady progress! Don’t try blending or advanced shading techniques until you are confident that you can get the basic elements painted cleanly. Once you can do that (and believe me, you can do that) the rest is just a matter of repetition. You can’t build reps if you quit every time a model isn’t "perfect".
  4. Washes can really suck the life out of a model. If you find yourself saying "these look a*s" and giving up, my first question would be "did you use an acrylic wash over unsealed paint". A wash will not just fill gaps when used this way, it will also stain the paint you are covering. It is a common mistake to consider an all-over wash a fix-all finishing technique. On an unvarnished model you are adding shadows and definition, but you are also killing highlights and contrast, that is part of the deal. Depending on the wash you are using, you will also stain the paint and muddy-up the figure. A muddy model without highlight or contrast will de-facto look like crap, expect it and don’t panic. Or better yet, stop mopping acrylic washes over unvarnished models! If you watch many painting tutorials, you’ll note that the better painters start painting after the basecoat and wash method, they use it as essentially a multi-part basecoat. When washes are used as a finishing step you’ll see the real pros painting over a varnish coat and using more complex techniques, such as oil-washes.
  5. Speaking of the “pros” – don’t get hung up on comparing your models with top level commission work, Golden Daemon entries, White Dwarf entries, and so on. Begin at the beginning – a painted army, no matter how basic, looks an order of magnitude better than grey plastic or bare metal. And, if you don’t go crazy with the washes, your models can be improved over time as your technique improves. I go back to finished units all the time to add detail …
  6. Set realistic goals. Get a unit finished – that’s a good first goal. Improve your ability to keep color groups separate – practice and experiment with brush sizes and paint thickness. You will be surprised how accurately you can paint if you don’t handicap yourself with under-thinned paint and tiny little brushes.
  7. Don’t get hung up on tools. Good brushes last longer. That’s it, they don’t magically paint models for you. Tiny brushes suck, unless you are painting something tiny. Hobby paints have a few advantages over craft or generic artists paints – they offer specific intermediate hues to make "paint by numbers" shading and highlighting easier, they make mixing colors unnecessary, and they are easily cross-referenced when following a recipe. You will hear a lot of talk about the medium and binder and pigment load and pigment quality and blah blah blah. Don’t believe everything you read, paint is for the most part just paint. You’ll notice differences once you have some experience working with different vendors, but once you have the experience the paint no longer matters anyway ;->
  8. Talented artists have been doing amazing work on miniatures for a long long time with all kinds of paints and all kinds of tools. Don’t worry if you don’t have the “right” stuff – you can do excellent work with craft store brushes and Wal-mart craft paint that costs less than a buck. I have painted many good looking armies doing just that.
  9. Regardless of how much you spend on them, you need to keep your brushes clean. Never let paint dry on your brushes. If you are properly thinning your paints and you are working with a palette, this won’t happen. Don’t paint straight from the pot, it is only a matter of time until you dip a little too far and overload your brush. Paint will dry in the ferrule. You will be unhappy with the results and blame cheap brushes ;->
  10. Every figure on this blog has been painted with a broad spectrum of materials ranging from the “latest and greatest” to the stuff others might say can’t be put to good effect. I don’t paint award winning armies, but I paint armies that look nice on the table. What I can say for sure is that the paints and brushes don’t matter at all.

… but I’m still making progress. I am just about finished with the last battalion of 3rd East Prussian Landwehr. I am trying out a new technique on this last unit – I have used Gouache (opaque watercolors) as the basis for a final wash on the jackets. The result is very not-bad. I like the results with oil washing perhaps a bit better, but keeping the entire process in acrylics saves time and cleanup. Not important for 28mm figures, but doing 15’s in bulk a little time saved goes a long way. I’ll try to get a decent shot of the results when the models are complete. One other side note, on a lark I airbrushed a Gloss Glaze Medium from an old acrylic artist’s set I have lying around rather than a spray-can varnish – it worked great as a base for the wash and left a very subtle finish that will require a lot less work to cover up than a heavy spray coat. I like trying new things, but I love it when they work out ok.

Here are the components of the wash – all were thinned with distilled water and a bit of flow-aid to the proper consistency:

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Once the Prussians are finished, I will take a crack at the Dark Vengeance boxed set for 40K. Should be interesting … as I haven’t painted a sci-fi mini in about 15 years. However, new rules – first in, first out. I bought them, I am obligated to paint them up!

After that, back to Prussians and Soviets.