Other Painting Techniques

Brian Fayle has written a great tutorial about black priming then drybrushing on acrylics over the black.

My Painting Philosophy and More Sources

I highly recommend white primer for most figures. Use acrylics and not oil based paints, they have a transparency and brightness that is very suited to 20mm figures plus they dry fast. I'm probably more autistic than artistic but acrylics are much brighter than oils, they don't get yellow with age like some oils do, and they usually have brighter shades available than oil paints do. There is a scale to color, the smaller the object, the darker it appears. The most important thing is to have the relative brightness correct, the human eye fools itself quite easily.

I have some speed techniques, developed for painting armies. These make use of acrylic paint's special properties. Mount your figures on a base at least temporarily so that they are easy to handle. In addition, some of the military magazines or D&D magazines may have articles or booklets on painting and bashing figures.

Get the right paints and painting equipment

Don't cheap out on brushes, they last a long time. Recommended brushes:

  • Winsor Newton Series 7 Miniature #1
  • Winsor Newton Series 7 Miniature #000 - Optional if not doing really fine detail
  • Winsor Newton Series 7 #1,2, or 3 depending upon scale. Holds lots of paint!

Recommended tools:

  • Exacto knife with #11 blade
  • Assorted cheap, small steel needle files
  • Sprue cutter - optional
  • Xuron piano wire cutter for steel pins if using pins
  • Pin vise and drill if using pins

These colors work will work well together and cover much of the daily clothing for the early 20th century.
Recommended paints and inks:

  • Apple Barrel or Delta Ceramcoat White
  • Apple Barrel or Delta Ceramcoat  Black
  • Delta Ceramcoat Medium Flesh - Add white or brown for different colors of flesh
  • Delta Ceramcoat Autumn Brown - Works well with the flesh color
  • Apple Barrel King's Gold - A mustard yellow that covers well
  • Apple Barrel Denim Blue - Really very faded denim or use for chambray
  • Apple Barrel Cobalt Blue - Mix with black for navy or new denim
  • Bright Red - Used as an accent color or sometimes for shirts for my period of interest
  • Americana Neutral Grey - Any medium gray is fine
  • Folk Art Silver Anniversary
  • Folk Art Inca Gold
  • FW Acrylic Artists Ink Black - made by Daler Rowney
  • FW Acrylic Artists Ink Sepia

Recommended primers:

  • Tamiya Fine Surface Primer(L) - White or light grey is fine but I recommend white.

Get the right figures

The right figures are the ones that you like, but as a rough outline I recommend:

  • Select figures that fit your era and sense of humor. It's your layout!
  • Good proportions are vital, figures with heads too small or strange arms and legs are not worth painting. Basic artists anatomy books show that an adult body is roughly 6-7 heads tall, if the head is much larger or smaller than this it looks cartoonish.
  • Reasonable height, this can be a very broad range. Since I model the US, I use an average male height of 5'10" as a good average and I use figures 4-7' tall as appropriate. Big figures in front, smaller towards the rear. Keep the extreme sizes away from doors or other objects with fixed heights.
  • Using action or static poses is your choice. Figures that appear to be running or performing other tasks are great in photos but for some may feel that they do not not look right when viewed in person.
  • If you like bashing I recommend styrene and other plastic figures for the most part. Metal can be bashed, but sticking it back together can be a challenge sometimes.
  • If you find prepainted miniatures that you like, spend the money unless your really broke. When I was cranking out figures commercially I figured I could do one unique figure in roughly 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the detail required. Make sure that the figure was properly prepared (see below), otherwise its a bit of a waste!

Prepare the figure - Unpainted figures

This is a very critical step, if flash is not removed or if the figure is not properly primed, you can have a painting disaster on your hands.

  • Remove flash using either a sharp knife or a needle file.
  • Perform any fixups as required. Any good quality modelling putty can be used, crazy glue and tissue works well for some fixes.
  • Add a pin to the figure if you use them.
  • Prime the figure, do more than one to avoid wasting primer!

Start painting 'sloppy' style

Acrylics are transparent and self shading when used properly. Always mix a bit of water in with these craft acrylics, otherwise the coverage will be too uniform and you will will not be a sloppy painter. If you're not sloppy, you may have to work at this! We are not looking for even coverage, just enough to hide most of the primer or the colors underneath in a few cases.

Painting a Victorian Child

After preparing and priming the figure, we start painting in 'dressing' order. Since normal people always wear their skin under everything, I first paint the flesh. 

Colors for basic flesh

I find the Medium Flesh to be a good starting point for most figures:

  • For darker complexions mix in some Autumn Brown.
  • For pale complexions add white.
  • Use a touch of Bright Red for florid complexions.
  • For Africans use either Black with a touch of Cobalt Blue or Autumn Brown and and Black.

Notice how the flesh has gray highlights still, don't worry those are treated later.

First clothing bits

I decided to make this a figure in mostly black with white frills, I think the stockings will be white in this case as well. The hat will have a white ribbon as well. The rest of the hat, the belt and the dress will be black as well. The round ball will be red as well as the hair.

Looking at the figure, the hair covers the collar, so I will paint the collars and other white bits first.

Second I will paint the combination of red and black, a bright red ball and roan colerd hair. I mix red and black for the hair, but I don't mix too carefully. This allows for some redder and blacker hair showing which looks more real to my eyes.

Face shading

Yecchh!!!  What happened? I gave the face a thinned wash of black ink along with the hands and legs.

More examples

Black lining, shading and highlighting

A figure can be made to look more alive by applying black or dark blues or browns in the cracks and crevices of figures and shading.

The tedious traditional method with oil based paints was to blend the previous layer with the new paint layer. This does not work with acrylics in most cases since they dry very rapidly. I used to do this, I don't recommend it!

Black Lining - The most difficult method is to break out  the #000 brush and the Black paint or ink and just manually paint this detail in. This is what was done to the top hatted gentleman on the left. For items like buttons, first paint the button black and then paint the color slightly smaller so that a black ring will show around it. If you thin the ink you can apply multiple thin lines, each narrower than the last, you can get a very effective gradual transition from the base color to black.

Washing -

Dry Brushing -

Wet on Wet -


Face and Eyes


Special Tricks

Questions and Answers

Bill Roy / McKenzie Iron & Steel
Hope you like the NEW ones, as they are very much TOC, and less suitable for other eras!

Many of the older ones are pretty good, I'm sometimes over fussy about miniatures, I've painted too many of them! As for being TOC, awesome, there aren't many American TOC figures out there, the English ones are sort of OK but they look too, well in many cases, too English ;)

From my experience of bashing/scratching 15mm, 20mm and 25mm figures I can tell you the following:

1. The face followed by the hands are the most difficult parts to sculpt, find female figures with hairstyles that approximate the ones you want.
2. Draping a sari over a figure wearing modern clothes shouldn't be too tough, try tissue paper and crazy glue.
3. A good paint job will hide many faults! You can paint in many of the details.

What do people wash pewter figures in before priming them?

I've never bothered since I used acrylic paint almost exclusively for 25 years. I haven't seen any signs of unbonding and these are gaming miniatures, they received lots of handling, if little abuse.

Can I use wargaming figures and what size are they? Do  "25mm" figures translate to S scale?

Possibly the Dixon figures do. Each manufacturer has it's own ideas on what 25mm is and the figures vary by about 50%! I seem to remember the Dixons are about 30mm tall for their Samurai line.

So the "XXmm" indicates how TALL the figures are supposed to be? Thus a "25mm" figure is SUPPOSED to be 25mm tall?
Yes but there are serious flaws in this scheme.

#1 Some people measure this from the feet to the eyes, so it will be about a 30mm figure if built on this standard.

#2 Many manufacturers call there figures 25mm but some make them 25mm tall and some make them close to 40mm tall! It's often tough to mix figure lines because of this, hmm... I see a pattern here! Buy one and measure it, it's probably the only way to be sure.

So, tell me, am I crazy to be thinking of making up these paper doll models?

Absolutely not. especially if you have very ornate cars with lots of decals, it may be a great way to go. The European military miniatures people still make 'flats' for figures and when painted up properly, look great.

I believe Varney or another early manufacturer printed freight car sides made from real photos, weathering, chalk marks and all!

Even in O, lots of old timers used paper and other dodges, modeling is an art, if it looks good and runs well, do it!

Please tell me more about these 'flats' figures. One of the other problems I have with this layout is that the people are, of course, Indians and Nepalese. Getting decent looking figures is going to be a massive problem.

Well you know it's going to sound silly, but they are almost perfectly flat and they are given 3D form through painting! If you can control the viewing angle from which your little people will be seen from then you could use cutout photos or some other diorama trick to make it look like you have 100's of people on hand. They can be flat or bas relieved but I believe all the modern ones are the latter. You may also want to check out some of the 15-20mm lines of military miniatures for conversion fodder. For the foreground figures, your probably stuck with 3D figures.

Examples; these are less than 1/16" thick if they are like the other flats I've handled: