Painting Clothing


Well painted clothing contributes perhaps more than any other part of the figure to its overall appearance (unless perhaps you're looking at a fully armored knight). Ancient and medieval clothing was often quite ordinary in color (e.g. the off-white of unbleached linen or the light browns or greys of undyed wool). In other cases, however, clothes might be quite colorful through use of dyes. But even colorful clothing would become drab through wear. Another challenge is painting clothing items such as leather or fur. This page collects a variety of tips for painting clothes. Suggested techniques and tricks of the trade are welcome and can be sent to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com for addition.

General Comments

Joe Mann: One point that has made a great deal of difference to the overall aesthetic value of the miniatures I hae painted comes down to understanding that "If I REPRODUCE in miniature what things look life in real life, it won't look right." In miniature, I must exaggerate brightness and certain details to make and effective SIMULATION of what was historically done, which will trick the eye into seeing the effect we are trying to achieve. The example of off-white, tan and light grey drybrushing illustrates that very well, making bright colors underneath look dirty.

David Lavictoire: I have achieved good results with 15 and 20mm figures by first undercoating the figures black, then after leaving them to dry overnight, drybrushing them all over with white using a flat 1" Chinese bristle brush. I use an opaque white color (Liquitex Titanium White) straight from the tube, with a little water added to moisten the brush.

The finished product results in a figure that's easy to see and paint, as all the raised details are white and the recesses are black. While it's possible to obscure detail by using too much white paint, you can avoid that problem with a bit of practice.

At this stage, clothes become easy to paint. All I do is paint a thin wash of the appropriate color over the appropriate parts of the figure, and leave to dry. Voila! Instant shading. I try to start with darker colors than the final shade I'm aiming for, since the white undercoat will lighten up the thinned paint considerably. I also try to find high-pigment paints, since thinning them will tend to wash-out the colors. Sometimes (OK, more and more often now) I add a quick highlight with a light, bright tone to bring out the color of the figure.

Red Clothing

David Lavictoire: Experiment with various shades of red-brown for a base coat. For a dull red, I use Liquitex Red Oxide; for a bright red, I start with Burgundy. I often wash red areas with purple ink, or a mix of purple and dark brown inks. First highlights are Scarlet for dull browns, or Crimson for a vivid color (note: Liquitex Naphthanol Crimson is the most vivid and best covering red I've ever seen!) For final highlights, I usually mix a bright yellow into the first highlight color, but as always feel free to play around; sometimes a light buff or tan will give you an interesting highlight.

Chris Brantley: For red cloaks, etc., I start with a dark red (e.g. Brick Red) as a base and then dry-brush the raised folds with a brighter shade of red. I've even been known to do a red cloak with a russet brown base coat and a medium red dry brush over the raised folds; an experiment that worked well in my opinion.

Stan Olson (a.k.a. Stantoniouss): To make a red acrylic cover well as your med-dark base colour, mix a drop or two of red ink into it . The ink molecules will fill the gaps between the paint pigments micro-lumps.

Then drybrush as follows. Mix an orange into it (the dark base color) unless it is red leather, then mix an off white or tan, or light grey into it. The first method makes the red brighter, the second pale, weathered and worn. Dust and sun would tend to mute bright colours. Or at least how they are seen, at a distance .

David O'Brien: When I highlight my red uniformed figures I use a basic red for the undercoat colour then highlight with a bright orange. Lastly I pick out details using a very orangy yellow. I had tried mixing white into the red before for highlights but my troops ended up looking as if they were wearing pink nighties.

White Clothing

Whether it's Roman or Greek tunics, Arab robes, or medieval hose, painting white clothing can be a challenge. White's reflective quality tends to visually flatten out any detail unless properly shaded. The challenge is, however, how to create depth in the figure by using colors that still give the impression that your figure is wearing white clothing.

When painting, you'll often find that once you've mastered the basic techniques of dry-brushing and washes there is more than one way to achieve the desired result. Consider for example, the following variety of suggestions for achieving realistic looking white clothing:

Jonathan Lim: I paint the cloth white, then use a thin wash of Citadel Flesh ink, wiping away the excess. Then, I use Flesh Ink mixed with Brown Ink for deep shadow. Then pure Brown Ink for very deep shadow. Then I paint extreme highlights in white again. The effect is extremely attractive, somehow looking white yet worn. It's the brown ink that makes the difference.

Dave V.: For mostly white figures such as Arabs and Napoleonic Austrian infantry, I undercoat black, but drybrush with an off-white color such as Liquitex Unbleached Titanium or Citadel Bleached Bone. When dry, I follow up with a highlight of the brightest white I can find, ie Titanium White. If I'm feeling fancy, I highlight 'soft bits' such as clothing in Soft White, and 'hard bits' like leather belts and so on with Titanium White.

Dan Goodpasture: I have been furiously painting Pathans, but the inconsiderate buggers generally dressed in white. I am not happy with the results I've been getting in shading them. The method I'm currently using is to shade with a glaze of lightened Payne's Grey acrylic, but it isn't working out to my satisfaction. I have had bad luck with washes (both acrylic and artist's oils) as well. Everything seems to wind up looking like exactly what it is, white paint with some blotches of light blue-gray. Any hints on how to get them to actually give the illusion of clothing?

Jim McDaniel: It depends on the scale and how much you want to put into the painting effort. Fort myself, I'd think of white as your absolute high point and use a very light white and burnt umber (bu) mixture type-color to get the shading color. If you need two levels of shading on your figures, then make one mixture with only the barest hint of bu mixed with white and the other with more bu. Finally if you line your figures use straight bu. This way you'll have a transition from shadow to highlight.

Craig ?: I black prime my figures, and that presented many problems for painting white clothing. What works best for me is to first paint the white areas a light grey color. I use Ceramcoat "Quaker Grey". After I apply this all over, I paint the high pointswith Ceramcoat "Light Ivory" (it is an off white color) and then I highlight a final time with regular white. It is laborious, but I am satisfied with the results.

Mike Siggins: I favour a light grey base coat and then drybrushed white on top, then a *very* thin mid gray wash to tone it all down.

DAS: Hmmm. I found this out from what I would consider an 'expert' and/or 'artist' Paint the base 'white' clothing with a VERY light grey. When shading, use a grey-brown color. Then I would highlight with white (but VERY sparingly).

J.P. Harrison: I had reasonably good luck with this method. Spray the figures with medium-gray primer, then spray them from about 45 degrees above with flat white. Paint details (belts, headgear, rifles, etc.), then apply a thin wash of dark brown. After it dries, apply more wash until you get the effect you want. If you use acrylic dark brown, you can put just a little detergent in the wash. It will destroy the surface tension and make the wash go into the cracks and depressions more smoothly.

Niko Mikkanen: Well, the real answer lies in the color. Take a white cloth and go on a campaign for a few months. It won't be white anymore. Usually whites tended to be light grey (or even gray, whatever's anyone's fancy). Solutions? 1) Make the clothes dirty. Forget white. Use grey, with brown dirt all over the place. 2) use very light grey (white with a hint of grey added). The washes will blend more nicely (nicelier?) with that, and probably presents the true color of the cloth, anyway.

JMT: I've had good luck with the following method. Prime gray/white/black. Paint the areas you want to be white with a medium gray. I use a Ral Partha gray with a little black added to darken it. Once this is dry, I paint over all but the most deeply recessed areas with a very light gray (Citadel Elf Gray). Finally, at the creases and edges I add a detail of white. On the table top, this looks like white cloth. I use a similar procedure for white metal (armor) except I shade with a very light blue.


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Last Updated: December 16, 2003

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.