Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Painting Napoleonic Miniatures

I have had a couple of requests in the comments for me to go through my painting process.  I just finished up these Hanoverian landwehr and light infantry.  We have here two separate units, one in red coats, and one in green.  My process is pretty similar for all uniform colors.

CAVEAT: I do not claim that this is the only way, or even the best way, to paint Napoleonic figures.  Certainly there are fellows who paint better than I do.  I haven't seen many who can turn out high quality armies as fast as I can, and I think my technique has something to do with that.

NOTE: I never thin my paints.  Well, I do thin them when I am painting models or display figures 54mm or larger, but not on my gaming figures.  I like a certain puffiness with my miniatures, as it helps create more depth to the figure.

After priming with flat black enamel paint, I start by painting my figures in their shade colors.  If these figures look dark and muted, well, that is by design.  This is the base from which I add the brighter colors.

Here are the paints I used for blocking in the shade colors.

From top left, they are:
Delta Ceramcoat "Blueberry," canteens, light infantry officers' pants
Americana "Evergreen," landwehr facings, light infantry jackets and plumes
Americana "Forest Green," not used yet
Delta Ceramcoat "Harvest Gold," landwehr officers' plumes, all officers' sashes
Delta Ceramcoat "Opaque Yellow," not used yet
Delta Ceramcoat "Cinnamon," landwehr jackets
Delta Ceramcoat "Brown Iron Oxide," flagpoles, bugle, sword hilts, hair; landwehr drummer's plume, light infantry bugler's shoulder rolls and plume
Delta Ceramcoat "Autumn Brown," drumsticks, musket stocks
Americana "Zinc," pants, blanket rolls
Delta Ceramcoat "Territorial Beige," drumhead
Delta Ceramcoat "Ginger Spice," flesh
Delta Ceramcoat "Mudstone," landwehr musket slings, straps, turnbacks, haversacks
Delta Ceramcoat "Oyster White," landwehr plume tips
Vallejo "Flat Red," landwehr plumes
Vallejo "Oily Steel," musket locks and barrels, ensigns' rank insignia, light infantry cuff buttons and shako badges

The shade painting job must be very tidy.  When I add the brighter colors, I do not have to be so fussy about where colors begin and end, because the shade already delineates the different items on the soldiers.

For solid colored plumes, I use the same shade to highlight approach I use with everything else.  You will see that technique on the light infantry plumes later.  For these landwehr, with their short multi-colored plumes, I will use the only wash I employ on these figures.  Vallejo's "Sepia" ink is nice and dark.  Used sparingly, it dampens the colors just enough.  The white plume tip will get a touch up later on, but I will do nothing else with the red.

I start the serious painting with highlights on the jackets.  The landwehr get a coat of Vallejo's "Flat Red," and the light infantry get Americana's "Forest Green."  I am careful to leave the folds in the arms in the shade color.  Each belt also has a line of shade between it and the highlight.  Already these figures are starting to pop.

Now I do the same thing with the pants.  The highlight is Delta Ceramcoat's "Rain Grey."  I leave every recessed area as the shade color, paying careful attention to the crotch and behind the knees.

Napoleonic figures always have a lot of white straps, white piping, white lace.  I find that this is the most unforgiving step, and it also takes the longest.  I spent two days, about three hours' painting time, just on the white highlights on these 48 landwehr.  I have found that a straight white color looks too stark.  Delta Ceramcoat's "Oyster White" has just enough warmth to keep the figures from looking washed out.

The shoulder wings demand careful work, but they can look very sharp.  I start by painting very narrow lines on the outside of the wings.  Then I carefully add the cross hatching.

Here you can see the effect from painting white over mudstone.  I leave the mudstone peeking through wherever I can.  It really gives the figures a three dimensional look.  You can also see where I freehanded the stomach braid (I have no idea what it is called!) as the figures do not have this detail cast.  I try to leave a line of mudstone around the haversack opening and its recessed buttons.

I also used my white to touch up the tips of the shako plumes.

The landwehr will be a green faced unit so I can make use of a lovely GMB green Hanoverian flag.  I use Americana's "Forest Green" to highlight the cuffs, collars, and shoulder straps, as well as the body of the drum.

The blanket rolls get a slightly lighter shade of grey, Delta Ceramcoat's "Quaker Grey."  I paint the edge of the roll on the sides, as you can see on the bugler below.  I make sure to leave some Americana "Zinc" showing between the highlight and the blanket roll straps.

The canteens and the light infantry officers' pants get the same highlight of Delta Ceramcoat's "Denim Blue."  I paint a circle around the canteens then place a dot of highlight in the center.  The officers' pants get painted just as I did with the grey pants.

Here is how I usually paint plumes.  They already had a shade of Americana's "Evergreen."  Now I paint dots of Delta Ceramcoat's "Vibrant Green" all over the shade color.

The drum head gets a highlight of Delta Ceramcoat's "Latte," while the drumsticks get "Bambi Brown."  Sorry about the fuzzy picture here, but I think you get the idea.

I paint all the metal bits that could not be done before now.  Both regiments get silver buttons on cuffs and jacket fronts using Vallejo's "Oily Steel."  The brass cap badges of the landwehr, bayonet and sword scabbard tips, landwehr commander's rank insignia, sword hilts, the bugle, and the flagpole "cup" all get Vallejo's "Old Gold."  It took me a long time to find an acrylic gold that I liked.  Now I go through two bottles of Old Gold a year.

Hanoverian officers wore yellow sashes, and the landwehr officers had yellow bases on their shako plumes.  Delta Ceramcoat's "Opaque Yellow" is a fantastic paint, almost as highly pigment as a good oil paint.

If white is the most important color to get right, flesh comes second.  For a long time, this was the only stage I bothered to use two-tone shading.  Using a very fine brush, I pick out all the earlobes.  Then I paint the faces.  I start with the nose and chin, try my very best to pick out the lips, and finish with cheeks and jawlines.  It requires a lot of patience and some skill with the brush, but the result is faces rather than blobs of fleshy paint.  I pick out the lines of fingers then paint the backs of hands.

European flesh is a difficult tone to get just right.  I have over a dozen different flesh colors, and I use all of them from time to time.  The best single color I have found is Delta Ceramcoat's "Medium Flesh," which just looks like tanned European flesh to me.  Most paints sold as "flesh" are too light, and the result is an army of animated corpses.

GMB makes the most beautiful wargaming flags I have ever seen.  I won't use anything else on my figures, and luckily Glenn feels the same way. 

I start by applying Elmer's Glue All to half the flag.  Then I lick my finger and run it across the glue, removing any excess and wiping it on my shirt.  Working quickly, I wrap the flag around the brass rod and press the edges together.  I apply pressure by pinching the flag while it dries. 

Apparently many gamers stop here and call it good, but I have never seen a flag stick straight out like that in real life.  Well, I guess the American flag that the astronauts placed on the moon does that, but flags on earth should not.  It is so easy to shape the flag that I wonder why many gamers do not do it.

I use a toothpick to make a vertical roll against the flag pole.  Then I shift the toothpick to 45 degrees and make a roll throughout the main area of the flag.  Then I shift the toothpick to even a greater angle for a third roll, allowing the top corner of the flag to roll under.  I usually leave some toothpicks in place and hold the flag tight while the glue dries.  The toothpicks act as hair rollers.  The result should be a nicely waving flag.

Once the flags are dry, I use some sprue trimmers to cut off any excess brass rod, then I paint the edges of the paper flag.  Again, I am surprised that so many people skip this step.  It does not take long, and it makes the flag appear much more realistic.  I used Delta Ceramcoat's "Black" on the light infantry flag, Americana's "Forest Green" on the landwehr's flag, and Delta Ceramcoat's "Espresso" on the gold braid on both.  I used Vallejo's "Old Gold" on the tip of the flagpole.

I am going to seal these figures with Testors Dullcote, and the Dullcote will fog the flag ink if it contacts it.  GMB must use an ink that is based on mineral spirits.  To keep the flags from fogging, I paint a light coat of Delta Ceramcoat's "Matte Exterior / Interior Varnish" over them.  The flags will try to uncurl here, so once the varnish is no longer tacky, I hold them in place until they are set again.

I always use Litko bases, 3mm.  Glenn as provided me with all I need for his project.  I always start by spraying them with a flat enamel paint.  Besides adding good tooth for basing, the enamel provides a barrier between water based paints and glues and the wood underneath.  When I skip this step, my bases will sometimes warp.

It's not really necessary, but I like to label troop types on the bottom of the bases.  Glenn's British army has a unit identifier on the bottom of each base.

I use Elmer's Glue All to attach the figures.  It's a nice, tough glue that keeps the figures from breaking off during handling, but it's also a water based glue.  If these figures ever need to be rebased, soaking the bases in a thin film of water will allow them to pop right off.

The Glue All does take a long time to dry completely, and the figures should not be handled until it is dry.  I always let my figures sit undisturbed overnight before moving to the next step.

I use a tacky acrylic paint to attach my scatter.  This is from JoAnn's Fabrics line, Craft Essentials.  They are TERRIBLE paints.  They hardly have any pigment.  I have tried to paint figures with them, and the results were never good.  But they are very tacky, and they dry very slowly.  That makes them idea for basing.

I use a medium brush with a good round tip to paint the top of the base, taking care not to touch the figures or their shoes with the paint.  Then I dip the painted base in Woodland Scenic's Fine Brown Ballast.  I give the base an upside down shake, wipe down the edges with my thumb, and move on to the next one.

I'm sure we all have figures whose flocking ends up everywhere.  A few years ago I decided to try to keep my flocking on my bases.  I found that a lot of model railroaders seal their flocking in place with specialty products, so I bought a bottle of sealant from Woodland Scenics.  It smelled awful, but it worked very well.  As I worked with the stuff, I realized that it was only watered down glue.  Since then I have always made my own glue wash from water and Elmer's Glue All.  You will have to experiment on the ratio of water to glue.  I would guess it is about one part glue to four parts water, but that is just a guess.  I just fill a container halfway with water then add glue until it looks right.

I use an old, beat up brush to apply the glue wash.  I load it up and touch it to the flocking.  I repeat this until capillary action has spread the wash all over the base.

Here are all 14 bases with their glue wash applied.  You can see where the glue has pooled up in spots, and you may be worried that it will be visible once dried.

Here is a dried base, and you cannot see the glue wash at all.  But that scatter is now firmly in place.  You can brush your thumb over the base without picking up a single grain of scatter.  Something about the enamel paint's tooth, the tacky, crappy paint, and the Elmer's glue has made these bases indestructible.  Water can loosen the bonds, but without a good soak, this scatter is staying in place.

I have many different shades of static grass, but Gale Force 9 is my standard.  It's bright without being too garish, it includes different shades within the mix, and it stands up nice and straight.  I buy three or four packs at a time.

I use Elmer's Glue All (again), painting dabs of it where I want the grass.  I dip the base in the static grass, turn it upside down, and tap firmly on the bottom of the base a few times.  Then I turn the base upright, bring it close to my lips, and blow to make the grass stand up.  No electricity is needed.

Here are two bases with their grass standing upright.  It's a pretty easy basing technique, and it makes for sharp looking units.

Because these figures only had acrylic paints, sealing them consists of a single simple step.  I spray them all over with a light coat of Testor's Dullcote from a rattle can.  In inclement weather, I use a bottle of Dullcote and spray it through my airbrush.

In the next couple of days I will post photos of these completed units, but for now, there it is.  That's my technique.  I got here through trial and error over the course of two decades' painting, and I doubt my technique will remain static.  I am always working on new things, trying new ideas, but the basics of this technique are pretty solid.


  1. The depth and detail of your process is amazing. The fact that you can be so quick and retain the highest quality is even more so!

  2. Very fine painting tutorial and your Hanoverians will look splendid, Scott!

    As for Dullcote, I have been having a devil of a time with the stuff regardless of weather conditions. In the "Old Days," it would leave a flat figure. Not as good as the old Floquil Figure Flat but good enough. Now, even after shaking the bejeebers out of the can, I still get a matte finish with a more satin than flat finish. Is it a new formulation? What can a guy do to remedy this? This sounds like an Advice Column request, doesn't it?

    Not Quite Dull Enough in Spokane...

    1. Hmm. Mine has been going on very dull. I haven't bought any for about a year. Has it changed since then?

      Nothing beats the bottled stuff through the airbrush, though. Do you want to buy a cheapo airbrush and give it a try?

  3. Excellent tutorial Scott! My Method is similar, but I differ in some of the paints I use(Foundry and Vallejo combo rather then craft and Vallejo) and paint slower albeit I do take a lot of breaks might have something to do with it! I brush on W&N matte which is quite nice so weather is never an issue.


    1. I have a big bottle of the W&N. I'll give it a try!

    2. Hint: Give the bottle a really good shake and dip your brush in the bubbles and not into the solid liquid which gives a better matte finish and simply shake when needed.


    3. Scott, do you buy this stuff locally?