Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Talkin Paint

In simplicity we begin

As promised I return to painting and undercoating.

I must confess that in my time I have used many different colours as undercoat. In the eighties I haunted the racks of car paint in Halfords. Back in those day's British Leyland used to paint their cars in some truly horrible colours,( who really wanted to buy a sh*t coloured car?) but the shades of brown and beige were ideal for undercoats. I painted a whole army of Fuzzy Wuzzies by spraying them Simca Beige and then washing them with Indian Ink.

I am less adventurous these days but still have cans of black, grey and white in my garage. I use Black the least, but still I do use it for dark uniforms such as rifles and Prussians or when I want to increase the bulk of the figure, eg my French Cuirassier. I do not use a technique of leaving a black edge because I find it too slow. I also find black to be harder to see and am often jamming the brush point against the figure.

I use a grey undercoat which I then wet brush heavily with white. This is a quick technique for mainly white clad figures such as Austrians, but I mainly use it when I intend to do a good deal of the rest of the figure with inks or paint washes. It gives a fairly subdued effect when using bright colours that I think works sometimes.

The main reason for using white is that it gives a clean pure palate to work on. I also remember an article on Russian Icon painting which dealt with the physics of light. Building up colours from a white base coat meant that light was reflected back and not absorbed giving greater depth and warmth to the image. Now that may well be nonsense, but I like to think that enables me to use a more subtle palette of colours as a result.

Which raises another objection to black undercoat. In that style contrast is everything, the figures may not necessarily be as brightly coloured as Micky Mouse but the aim is the same as the cartoonist. Bright, rich, heavily pigmented colours with highly contrasting shades and divisions. Muted colours are not possible nor are they wanted. The result is a completely artificial effect, which is the opposite of our daily experience of the way light works.

If we are kind we can say that these painters are following in the steps of the Pre Raphaelite school or the Japanese miniaturists. A less kind view would be that they are completely obsessed with the way the figures look when photographed and are in danger of disappearing up their own 3 colour system.

Take a figure and stand at the window, hold it at arms length and try and find someone in the street who is sufficiently far away to seem the same size as the figure. Now take a good look at them, Interesting isn't it, the way the pupils of the eyes stand out and each knuckle catches the sun?

The fact is that colour fades as distance increases. I would never use black on a figure of 25mm or less. I would either heavily dry brush it with medium grey or dark earth, or simply use a dark grey instead. When using rich and vivid tones I always mix them with a little pale grey first. These effects work best on a white undercoat, simple as that.

Of course the choice is always open to simply paint the figure with no lining, highlighting or shadowing at all. This is a technique which screams out TOY but I will share secret on a big table with lots of units, this looks better than any other type of painting. There I've said it, the fragmentation of light caused by the myriad of different shading and highlighting colours makes the figures look dark and muddy when viewed from six feet or so. The simple figures look clear and attractive, still that's enough of such heresy I don’t want a visit from the painting inquisition.

And finally we return to simplicity


Jubilo said...

Dear Sarge ,
You certainly waxed eloquently on the subject ! I think what is often found with wargame blogs is painting = wargaming . Some of the most veteran and avid minatures wargamers of my acquaintance have never picked up a paintbrush . They purchase their painted figures used or have some one paint some to a tolerable standard for them. To these gamers, the rules, battle and history are everything and the painting is a quaint abberation . I think many hobbyists like to create their own units and thus paint , but what if painted units could be cheaply purchased ? Once agian we get back to the argument of are these miniatures diorama pieces or game counters ? Quite a lot to be said for both camps don't you think ?
cordially ,
David Corbett

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

...got to weigh in here - personally I would *never* use a professional painting service... I know every unit that I've put on the table as a result of spending a lot of time up close and personal on each one of them ie. painting them... they're not counters, neither are they diorama's, they're wargame figures.. they hold the middle ground.. :o))

..b.t.w - blessed relief to hear your words on 'knuckles' & eyes.. what eminent sense... who'd want their figures to permanently look like they'd had an electric cattle prod applied to their most delicate parts?? :o)

Anonymous said...

I've had very good success with black under coats. Most people who see my figs don't even know that they were painted that way. Loosely speaking, painting in the "Dallimore" style does not necessarily preclude finesse or subtlety. I am finding though, painting the newer mass market figures, to be less than inspiring. The popularity of the "Dallimore school" has prompted miniature sculptors to design for the painting method, thus producing mobs of Hobbits, for which a bold "cartoony" style is eminently suitable. More figs of that type prompt more people to paint them in the officially prescribed manner. Trouble is, the overly detailed figs and the three layer (or more) paint job conspire to slow the process of army building almost intolerably at times. I'm painting some figs like this right now. By all objective standards they are precisely painted and well detailed... and thoroughly uninspiring. I find myself longing for simple, anatomically correct (or at least more correct) figures and look forward to developing a style conducive to painting an army instead of glorified vignettes. Its easy to forget that war games miniature's reason for being is to function in a clear and aesthetically pleasing manner...on the gaming surface. I am finding more and more, a miniature painted for close inspection (i.e. display) doesn't necessarily transmit those qualities when viewed at table top distances. Gaming figures need to be painted with gaming in mind. Exactly how to accomplish that end will vary with the individual.


Bluebear Jeff said...

I do use black primer for many of my figures . . . but I then "damp brush" over it with white.

This brings out lots of detail that a solid base coat tends to obscure. It works for me; but it is not the only way to do things.

I fully agree with your closing points. To my eye far too many "modern" paint jobs end up "muddying" the figures with too many colors.

I agree. For myself I prefer relatively "simple" paint jobs. I admire the fine artistry that many gamers have with a paint brush, but I'm happy with what I turn out.

My armies don't win awards; but they look pretty good on the table top.

-- Jeff

Andy Mitchell said...

I use an undercoat of black dry brushed white. Changing to that has, I think, improved my figures more than any other technique I have tried.

For faces though, I just undercoat with a flesh colour and then slap on a red wash (these guys are outdoors types not office workers). I don't do eyes - in 30mm an eye would be a slit about 1/5th of a millimetre wide.

Giles said...


This is a fascinating post and got me thinking about all manner of things to do with the hobby and painting wargames figures. As a card-carrying black undercoater and practitioner of a style that has the words "Foundry" and "layers" in it I take issue with some of your conclusions, but your blog continues to be entertaining!

Best wishes


ps I've just started a thread on this vein at the WD3 forum.