Thursday, January 15, 2009

Painting Gaming Miniatures with Craft Paints

I've received about a dozen emails asking for a post that details my painting technique, and four of those have specifically asked me to address the use of craft paints.  I'm happy to lift the curtain and show you how the trick is done.

Before I start, I have a disclaimer to make.  I know my limitations as a painter better than anyone.  I've never had any success--any--with using washes.  I tend to use the paint straight out of the bottle, not thinning it a bit, so that my figures can look a little puffy in areas.  So I'm no Kevin Dallimore.  I've won painting awards, but I understand that I did not win those for the excellence of any individual figure.  I won those awards because of the quality of the army paint job.  And that's my strength.  I can do a pretty good paint job, and I can crank it out over and over again in very little time.  If you're looking for the very best painting technique, look elsewhere.

Of course, if you're looking for the very best painting technique, you should probably be painting 200mm figures or 1/4 busts, not wargaming armies.  My technique will let you field large, well painted armies.

I don't have a hobby store nearby, and I don't fancy ordering hobby paints through the mail.  I've had bad experiences doing so, where the shade I got wasn't even close to what I thought I was getting.  And at $4 a pop, a few of those mistakes each order add up.  I buy all my paints and brushes at two stores: Michael's and The Creative Element (a local art supply store).  For those of you outside the US, Michaels is a craft store, and it carries a wide variety of items: scrapbook supplies, artificial flowers, art supplies, woodworking supplies, home decor, art prints, and fabrics.  It's not a hobby store at all.  They have a couple shelves of cheap models, and that's about it.  But they do have an entire aisle of craft paints.

I try to buy Delta Ceramcoats whenever I can.  The other brands are cheaper, but in general the paints don't have as much pigment in them.  Some of their shades, however, are very nice.  I included the paint bottle I used for each step in the photographs below.

The figure we'll use as our exemplar is a Foundry Marian Roman legionary.  Romans are one of the easiest figures for me to paint, and one of the quickest.  This entire paint job, including breaks at each step to photograph the miniature, took only 40 minutes.  Without photo breaks, and using an assembly line approach, I can cut that time in half.

Step 1: Priming

I base the cleaned figure on a popsicle stick, three figures to each stick.  I prime the figures with Rustoleum's flat black enamel spray paint.  I've tried Gesso, but it leaves too much bare metal in recessed areas.

Step 2: Silver Drybrush

I haven't ever found a good acrylic silver or gold paint, so I use the little $.99 Testor's enamels.  You might remember these from the models you built when you were a kid.  I use a broad, flat brush for the drybrushing, and I don't keep it very neat.  Anything that gets mistakenly painted silver will be covered by other paint soon enough.

Step 3: Brown Basecoat

The sandals, pilum shaft, sword grip, and helmet get an undercoat in Brown Iron Oxide, a very useful paint.  All of these will get highlights in other colors, but the brown undercoat provides a nice base.  I've switched over to a 000 fine point paintbrush for most of the work that follows.

Step 3: Red Basecoat

The tunic gets a Cinnamon undercoat.  Again, this is a very useful color.  I use it for all my reds.  Cinnamon is a sort of reddish brown or browninsh red.

Step 4: Leatherwork

I use Autumn Brown as my main leather color most of the time.  I used my broad, flat brush to drybrush the sandals, and I used the 000 fine point brush to pick out the leather bands on the chainmail and the leather bits on the sword scabbard.  Autumn Brown is not as well pigmented as some other colors and goes on a bit translucent, so I tend to use a large amount of it.

Step 5: Wood Grain and Sword Grip Highlights

I paint the fiddly details with a 10/0 fine point brush.  This particular brush is almost at the end of its life, but it still has some use left.  I use Territorial Biege (a tough color to find) to paint the grain of the wood and to pick out the leather grips on the sword.

Step 6: Gold Drybrush

I go back to Testors enamel paint for the bronze helmet.  Sometimes I paint the detail with a fine brush, which gives the helmet a nice gleam.  I want my legionaries to look a little more worn by active campaigning, so I used my broad, flat brush to drybrush the gold.  Here I am very careful not to get gold on the shoudlers or pilum head, but I don't mind getting some on the face.

Step 7: Flesh Basecoat

There are three different shades I use for the flesh basecoat: Dark Flesh, Cayenne, or a shade I mix myself from Dark Brown, Territorial Beige, and Medium Flesh.  None of these shades covers the black very well, so I really glop the paint on.  It takes a while to dry, but it does cover the primer pretty well.

Step 8: Tunic Medium Coat

The Cinnamon tunic now gets its first highlight.  I use Red Iron Oxide for my Romans, leaving Cinnamon showing only in the crevices of the tunic folds.

Step 9: Flesh Medium Coat

I use Medium Flesh as my main flesh tone.  It's quite a bit darker than the Fleshtone paint, and it works very well for wargame figures.  I start with the face, then do hands and arms, then paint the legs, then pick out the toes.  By the time this step is done, the figure really is ready for the wargame table.  But for this demonstration, I'm going to add three more shades to really make the figure pop.

Step 10: Leather Helmet Strap

This figure has a strap extending from his cheek guards to the back of the helmet.  I paint the strap with Brown Iron Oxide and highlight it with Territorial Biege.

Step 11: Flesh Highlights

This is really an optional step, but I'm starting to use it more and more on my figures.  It doesn't take much time, and it helps the flesh to pop.  For this Roman, who is showing quite a bit of flesh, it's an easy way to improve the figure's appearance.  I use my 10/0 brush and dab a little Fleshtone on the tip of the nose, the chin, the knuckles, the toenails, and the centers of my Medium Flesh.

Step 12: Mixing the Tunic Highlight

As I wrote earlier, Romans are prett easy for me to paint.  One reason is that their uniforms are not very ornate.  Another is that they acutually have uniforms.  I can set up my assembly line and crank them out without changing paints too often.  But a third reason is that I have all the shades I need ready at hand.  This isn't the case with every army.  Often I have to mix my own colors by adding a little black or white to another color.  For Romans, I only have to do this with the tunic highlight.

I take the dab of Red Iron Oxide left from the tunic midshade and add a tiny drop of white.  I want the tunic to look faded, not pink!  I use a toothpick to stir the paints together.

Step 13: Tunic Highlights

Using my 10/0 brush, I pick out the very top areas of the tunic folds.  I use this color very sparingly.  It's easy to overdo this, and the result is a pastel tunic.  We want to avoid that.  It makes the warlike Romans look strangely effeminate, and we don't want the ghosts of legionaries past to haunt our die rolls.

Step 14: Painting the Base

I'm going to flock the bases, so I don't need to do too much here.  I slap on a little Dark Brown and call it good.

Finished Figure

So here is the result of 40 minutes' work.  Again, without photography breaks, and by painting 60-100 figures at once, I can average about three of these per hour.  That doesn't include prep time, of course, nor flocking and texturing the bases, but I can field a well painted army very quickly.


  1. Love the blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. WOW!!! Thanks sooo much for the tips!


  3. Great step-by-step Scott!

    Can you tell us how this process is different for 15mm miniatures, if at all?

    I'm hoping to get a couple of FOG armies painted up early this year, and I really appreciate the look you achieve with your technique and the paints you use.

    My main problem is speed, and your process looks to aid the speedy completion of an army.

    Also, I haven't painted 15mm in quite some time, so any pointers would be welcome!


  4. That is really clear and extremely helpful. I think it takes me around 90 minutes to paint the same figure as you, to a standard that is certainly no better; so I had better revise my technique!

    Thanks, Simon

  5. This is a very nice article. It's helpful to see other people's painting techniques, especially in such detail.

  6. Excellent painting tutorial. As good as I've seen anywhere.

  7. Great tutorial!
    How about some paint triads you prefer.

  8. Brown as a undercoat for bronze? Good idea, I think I'll steal it!

  9. Great write up. Very helpful and informative.

    Apple Barrel 20762 Pure Silver is a great craft store acrylic. I've also added Deco Art DA070 Shimmering Silver to my palette. They are the best alternatives I've found to Testor's enamels.

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    ~ Tom T

  10. I have finally gotten all of the paints together (needing to replace Ceramcoat's Cayenne with Vallejo's "flesh base") and the contrast of shades of your flesh tones is fantastic! Now I have to do the clothing as well!
    Do you have any suggestions of base, shade, and highlight colors for Celts, like your recent 15mm Celts?
    Also, any suggestion as to how to make reins for 28mm cavalry figs?

  11. So helpful... for a newbie, your pics with the figure, the paint and the brush made your information very clear. Excellent!