06-13-2006, 10:10 AM
[Salutations, Mr. Brantley!
Hope this doesn't exceed the 'posting size limit' - if you
want to place it elsewhere in _Fanaticus_, go ahead.]
Some of these were previously printed in *Spearpoint* #s 47-48.
As the then editor of that 'zine left my name off the article, I
feel 'tis morally justifiable to reprinting them here.
I'm not a professional figure painter or a regular award winner,
nor am I ever likely to be. I just want to be able to grin and
nod affirmatively when someone asks "Did you paint these yourself
?" Some things I've learned ...
The Marines talk about the "6 P's" - "Proper Preparation Prevents
Piss-Poor Performance" and the same can be said by figure
To start, before trimming the flash from your new figures, put
some adhesive tape [even a Band-Aid [TM]] around the forefinger,
middle finger, and thumb of your non-dominant hand, and the third
finger of your dominant hand - cuts down on cuts. _Guard-Tex_
Safety Tape, produced by General Bandages, Inc, 8300 Lehigh Ave,
Morton Grove, Ill, 60053-0909, is very good stuf - unfortunately
they only sell it in industrial-size boxes - I got my supply as a
sample. Drop them a line and maybe they'll package it in single
rolls for the hobby-shop market.
When trimming flash, put figures needing repair aside, and repair
or reinforce before priming. Remember that it's always easier to
deal with a weak place before it breaks off completely.
After I trim off the flash, I sand the bottoms of the figure bases
level, using 260 or 320 grit wet sandpaper in a bucket of water [
I try to do this under water as much as possible - I don't want to
breath lead dust - and dispose of the result in an industrial-
strength sewer system. ]
When you're finished trimming flash and sanding bottoms of the
figures' bases smooth, wash the figures in Spic-n-Span or other
heavy-duty detergent - removes mold-release stuf, oil from your
hands, and loose bits of lead.
Don't use dishwashing detergents or soap for washing them - the
stuf that keeps milady's hands soft probably isn't good for
keeping paint on.
After washing, I like to soak the figures, overnight, in a mixture
of 1 part white vinegar to 4 or 5 parts water - the acid seems to
'etch' the metal slightly - makes the metal take paint better.
After the figures are washed, soaked, and rinsed, handle them as
little as possible. If you're using a brush-on primer, fasten
them now to 'popsickle sticks' or individual bases [Surplus
Avalon-Hill dice make great 'painting bases' for 15 mm figures,
and milk and soda bottle-caps can also be recycled for this.] [I
use Scotch 'Double-Sided Poster Tape' for sticking them down.]
If you use a spray primer lay them on a clean and dust-free sheet
of cardboard, etc, for spraying, and attach them to the painting
For priming, I use spray cans of Krylon White Sandable Primer and
Painter's Touch Gray Primer [They both give a good prime coat -
the main difference is that Painter's Touch has a bigger spray
nozzel which puts out more paint faster - you may or may not think
this is a disadvantage.].
I used to use brush-on primer, found that the acrylic primer which
gave the best preparation for the top coats was a half-and-half
mixture of Armory 'Primer White' and Pactra's 'Iron-Oxide Red
Primer'. The only drawback of this combination was that it left
the primed figures a truly hideous shade of pinkish-violet.
A spring-counterbalanced lamp and magnifying grass combination -
mine is a 'Polaris Magnifier Lamp, model IM 295 A', from Ledu
Corp. of Trumbull, Ct. - is almost as useful as twenty-four Reg A
Spring clothespins are handy for securing figures for painting
[especially seperately-cast horsemen]. Craft-supply stores often
have smaller versions - 2" long instead of the 4" laundry size.
To make them more useful, get a razor saw and trim the wooden ones
so that the grasping end comes to a point insted of a 'U'. One
firm of paint makers [Unfortunately, I've forgotten which one -
look around in your art supply store.] packs their acrylic tube
colors in clear plastic boxes with a rectangular slot in each
corner - perfect for holding a clothespin upright.
To keep acrylic paints from drying out while you're working with
them; Get a plastic or metal tray or large shallow box, preferably
with an airtight cover. Cover the bottom with two or three layers
of high-quality paper towels cut to size [I like +Bounty+] and
saturate with water. Cut a piece of white paper - you want a
grade that won't seperate into fibers when wet - to fit atop.
Good-quality electrostatic duplicator +[Xerox]+ or laser-printer
paper works well. Saturate with water - you want the papers to be
very wet but not so wet that the paints run into each other - and
squeeze your paints onto the paper. Cover when finished for the
Modelers' Mart [and probably some other vendors] packages some of
its figures in snap-shut clear plastic packs, about 4" x 2 1/2' x
3/4" deep. These make excellent mini-palettes - with the lid
closed they can be left overnight without drying out.
Often we would like some 'wetter water', some medium with less
surface tension that would make acrylic paints flow more easily
without thinning the pigments out too much. I've heard that
"Kodak Photo-Flow" is nice for this if you've an unlimited budget.
Liquid 'Spic & Span' thins acrylic paints very well. [But if an
expert in paint chemistry out there thinks this is a bad idea -
please pass the word.] But 'tis probably best to go to the art
supply store and buy some Liquitex Flow-Aid Flow Enhancer. A
four-ounce bottle of this sells for about 5 bucks, has directions
"Dilute before use, 20 parts water to 1 part Flow-Aid", and works
very well. Is also useful in cleaning stubborn paint residues
I like to plan my painting sessions in an 'intensity curve'. I
start with something easy to 'warm up' - big brush and wide swaths
of color, go on to the fine detail work and 'ten-zero' brushes,
then finish up with some more easy stuf. The problem with this is
that I accumulate boxes of figures with tunics or whatever
'roughed in', and must pledge myself to 'finish two stands for
each one I begin'.
Sometime or other, you probably have had your significant other
charge into the workshop yelling "When are you going to call it a
night and get to sleep ?" One way to pace yourself at your
painting sessions [assuming you use acrylics) is to go by the
dishes of water you use for cleaning brushes. Fill up a dish and
work from light colors to black. When you dump it down the drain
and rinse it out, check the time [and the morale of your support
group], then decide whether to resume wielding your paintbrush or
break off and recover expended fatigue points.
One way I maximize the productivity of my hobby time is a strict
"Never look at a figure unless:
1 - I'm thinking of purchasing it
2 - I have a paintbrush or a knife in my hand,
and I'm going to do some work on it.
3 - I've finished painting it,
and am admiring it or fielding it in a game"
Finally, once the colors are 'roughed-in', and you start the
blacklining, touchups, and highlighting, get that figure finished!
Unless it's obvious, figuring out where you stopped and what
still needs to be done is the biggest time drain of all.
I used to think that 'blacklining' figures was one of the 'black
arts'. Then I painted up some Achaemenid Persian cavalry - tan
boots and bowcases, red trousers, sky blue tunics, yellow hoods,
mauve cloaks - and found that from a foot away they looked like a
pastel blob. So I got a Floquil '5/0 Precision Liner' brush [very
good brushes, but wear out faster than other brands] and learned
Keep the brush lightly loaded with paint - you want it wet but not
runny. You may want to touch the bristles near the ferrule with a
paper towel to remove excess water. Rinse out the brush
frequently - black, unfortunately, tends to be the fastest drying
Use light pressure, follow the 'creases' of the casting, and let
the paint flow into them.
Usually I start by 'filling' with black the hollows and undersides
of a just-primed figure. Sometimes 'tis easier to do all the
'base' colors first and blackline between them, other times easier
to do one base color, edge it with black, and paint the adjoining
color 'up to' the black. Practice on some figures you 'don't care
about' - I got some old Peter Laing castings of miscellaneous
psiloi to see what the results of a good blackline job would look
Suitable paints for model soldiers are not found only in hobby
shops or art supply stores. Several manufacturers' lines can be
most easily found in 'crafts' stores.
Miniature buildings, etc, may often be found there, especially in
the pre-Christmas season, and 'pom-poms' or 'ball fringe' are very
useful for trees, etc, when scattered over dark green felt
patches. Here be a review of some manufacturers and colors to
seek or avoid;
+Ceramcoat+, by Delta Technical Coatings, 2550 Pellissier Place,
Whittier, Cal. 90601 www.deltacrafts.com (http://www.deltacrafts.com) - Generally good
They produce a bunch of leaflets and suggestion sheets, often
found in pads hung by the paint racks at ye local crafts supply
store. One very useful piece of paper is "Shades of Color for the
Decorative Painter - Guide to Highlighting and Shading Colors..."
item #000 99 0367. This gives printed 'color chips' for their 229
colors, and suggests complementary darker and lighter shades
[highlighting a 'blue-gray' with a 'green-gray' doesn't work very
+Mendocino+, #02406, a 'redwood' brownish-violet, is extremely
useful for 'morocco' leather as well as for clothing. +Sweetheart
Blush+, #02130, is similar but slightly more red, less brown, and
darker. +Maroon+ is more of a 'semi-gloss'.
+Wedgwood Blue+, #02069, is a dull, very light blue with good
covering power, often useful as an undercoat, over a dark base,
+Black+, #02506, is very fast drying.
+Leaf Green+, #02067, looks like a good ground color under natural
light but becomes garish under florescents.
+Seminole Green+, #02009, a good 'dark grass green', is what
'covers all my bases'.
+Ultra Blue+, #02038, is a very 'stringy' pigment and hard to work
The differences between +Fire Red+ #02083, +Napthol Red Lt+
#02409, and +Bright Red+ #02503, cannot be discerned with the
naked eye. These are almost translucent colors, need to be
applied over white or lt gray undercoat for best results.
+Crimson+, #02076, is a good glossy red.
Good horse colors include Delta's +Burnt Sienna+, #02030,
+Fingerberry Red+, #2425 in the Accent Country Colors line, and
Folkart's +Nutmeg+, #944, +Brownie+, #757, and +Wild Rose+, #755.
*Gleams*, also by Delta Technical Coatings, is a very good line af
metallic paints. Their pigment is finely ground and in the right
proportion to the vehicle, enabling it to be applied to 15 mm
chainmail or lamellar armor by the 'slather it on and let it dry'
+14 K Gold+ #02604, produces great classical-bronze armor after a
black wash. +Silver+ #02603, a medium-gray metallic, and +Bronze+
#02606, are always useful. +Red Copper+ #02605, a metallic
orange-crimson, makes nice highlights on your elite troops.
These lines - +Folkart+, by Plaid Enterprises, Norcross, Ga;
+Apple Barrel Colors+, also by Plaid Enterprises; and +Accent+, by
Illinois Bronze, Lake Zurich, Ill are also very good.
What they don't seem to have is a 'steel' color - if you don't
want to get one of the specialized 'model' paints, you can mix a
'silver' with "Princely Pewter" [a metallic dark gray] - # 2531 from
Accent's "Crown Jewels" line, and perhaps adding a bit of "Empress
Blue" - "Crown Jewels" # 2524. "Empress Blue" also makes
compelling pupils if you're painting blue-eyed 54mm figures.
Once you've accumulated an almost-sufficient assortment ;) of
paint colors, 'tis a good idea to get some sheets of white
cardboard, rule them off in 1-inch squares, and paint a sample of
each of your paint colors thereon - a thick 'mass tone' blob at
bottom of square, a thinned 'wash shade' in the middle, name and
manufacturer at top [in pencil, so info wont run if you get sloppy
on next sample]. You may, even, end up having a sheet of 'browns'
- with 'red-browns' at the right, 'yellow-browns' at the left,
dark shades at bottom and light shades at top. Very useful when
you can't remember if you basecoated that horse in 'Brown Iron
Oxide' or 'Sonoma Wine'
Special mixtures of colors can be troublesome to duplicate if you
need a couple more touch-ups to finish some figures and find that
paint has dried up. The catsup containers found at the 'fixin's
bar' of some fast-food places come in handy. Similar containers
can be found in art-supply stores. But for small quantities of
very important color combinations, get some contact-lens holders -
they have a minimal space for drying air and a very tight seal -
at a discount drugstore.
And if you're going to make up a big batch of a special color
you'll be using often in the future, you'll have gone shopping
right after Xmas and picked up some of those 'gift boxes' with
several 2-oz jars of jams and jellys. After eating the contents
and washing them out, these little glass jars make perfect paint
I like to use brass or copper wire for spears and pikes. It's
easier to cut or bend than steel and doesn't rust. It will bend -
in the event that your figures get stepped on or dropped - before
the lead of the figure bends - thus keeping the figure and its
paint job from being damaged. Brass wire, also, eliminates the
risk of stabbing a hand put down in the wrong place.
We often have the problem of spears, pikes, standards, etc -
especially when held in a one-hand grip - breaking off under
stress. The best way to deal with this is to reinforce the joint.
Go to the local fabric-and-sewing supply store and get some extra-
extra-fine all-cotton black thread [glue and paint won't bond with
the sythetic thread]. Loop around arm and weapon, knot, saturate
thread with glue, paint.
This job repays forethought - plan how the loops will run, where
they will be most inconspicuous, where the knot will end up -
often you can put the knot on the inside or underside of the
wrist. It is often helpful to 'tack' spear to hand with a very
small drop of glue, then saturate the thread and fill in the gaps
in the joint at the same time.
25 mm 'fantasy' figures can be used as the central statues in
Graeco-Roman temples, for your 15 mm armys' base camps - if you've
been up against me in a DBA tournament, you may remember the
temple of "Artemis of the Chainmail Bikini". The local hobby shop
has dowels shaped, smoothed, and ready for making into simple
Greek columns [ No, Alanis - Ionic is fancier [ and Corinthian is
much fancier ] - these are plain old Doric. ] Anyway, giving these
dowels a fluted appearance and making miniature Ionic or
Corinthian capitals has me stumped. Any advice?
Styrofoam packaging can often be recycled into hills and ridges.
Sand to shape with coarse sandpaper, paint with a couple of coats
of green acrylic, glue some pebbles onto the steep slopes, and
Water hazards made easy - First, paint your stream beds and pond
bottoms with metallic silver - as light and bright a silver as you
can get. Then, get jars of Liquitex Phthalocyanine Green and
Phthalocyanine Blue - these are translucent colors. Get your
palette nice and wet, squeeze a blob of blue and a blob of green
down so you end up with one big wet blob which is blue on one
side, green on the other, and blue-green in the middle. Cover the
silver streambeds with this - make the bluegreen very thin, flow
it on, and use two coats [possibly from opposite sides of the
blob] when necessary.
In the +Ceramcoat+ line, from Delta Technical Coatings, Whittier,
Cal, is +Fleshtone+, #02019. This is a 'sickly' color with poor
covering power. Useful for plague victims, corpses and the hog
carcasses that Viking Forge's pack horses haul around.
For Egyptian and Numidian flesh, I use 'Acorn Brown', # 941 in the
"FolkArt Acrylic Color" line from Plaid Enterprises, Norcross,
For 'fair maidens', Northerners just out of winter quarters, and
other indoor types, "Skintone", # 949, works well.
As my standard 'Caucasian flesh' color, I use 'Apple Flesh', #
20514 in their "Apple Barrel Colors" line. This is the best
premixed 'Caucasian' flesh color that I know of -not too pale, not
too red - looks unobtrusively correct
For Gauls, Celts, etc, I use "Apricot Stone", # 2448 in the
"Accent Country Colors" line of Illinois Bronze Paint Co, Lake
Zurich, Ill, 60047. This is a 'ruddier' shade.
I also have some Caucasian and 'Near-Eastern' skin tones I mixed
One of the problems with skin colors, for people like me without
much experience in combining paint pigments to get desired colors,
Even tho I live near a university, in a neighborhood with people
from around the world, closely studying their skin is likely to be
considered rude, and be responded to belligrently.
It is probably best to make their acquaintance first and ask
their permission. This is where a knowledge of your army's
history and culture is very helpful.
Or you can get a little sketchbook and put 'swatches' of your
available paints therein, and make notes 'For Slommovians - 3
parts this, 2 parts white, 1 part iron-oxide red'...
Usually I paint shields either:
A - with a metallic base color, which I leave pristine for the rim
and the boss, and a translucent color over the remainder of the
Or B - with a 'leather' color, and either a metallic color or a
black 'neatline' around the rim.
For Gauls with limed hair, I paint the hair in off-white, light
blue, or light gray, paint a line of 'hair color' around the edge,
and a 'wash' of that 'hair color', black, or brown over it.
On 'washes': The easy way to do it is to take the brush after
painting the black 'edgeline', dip it in water, moosh it around on
a piece of plastic and see if the 'color density is OK, paint it
on. I've also used enamel thinned with turpentine, India ink
thinned with alcohol, and acrylics thinned with Spic-n-Span.
While visiting a 'crafts shop' near my parents' home over last
Christmas, I saw something called "Heavenly Hues of Color", made
by the DecoArt division of Ceramichrome, POBX 386, Stanford, Ky,
40484. Cost me about $2.00 for a 2-ounce bottle, and comes in
'Soft Black' and other brown and gray shades.
These need to be thinned out with a little water, and a couple of
drops of "Flow-Aid", from the Liquitex division of Binney & Smith,
Easton, Pa, 18044 improve them somewhat. They are very good for
chainmail, etc, when you want the wash to 'soak into the crevices'
and leave the highlights bright.
Acrylic-based, they're thinned and cleaned up with water. Brush
it on, wipe the excess off the highligts [ I used a small, folded-
up, piece of paper towel held by a pair of tweezers ]. Worked -
applied on 'scale armor' over a metallic acrylic paint - like a
charm ! Highly recommended.
Finally, I've made up washes of:
8-10 drops water
1-2 drops paint
1-2 drops 'matte varnish' [I've been using # DS 14 in Decoart's
1 small drop 'Flow-Aid'
When I've shaded in the recessed areas of a cloak, etc, I brush a
wash of the shading color over the whole cloak - this 'blends' the
colors together and gives a more realistic look.
Removing old paint; A couple of hard but inescapable facts of
First, paint [except the stuff they make for kindergarteners] is
made to be permanent.
Any chemicals powerful enough to remove it are also going to be
powerful enough to damage your bod.
Deal with them with respect - also with rubber gloves, safety
goggles, lots of ventilation [preferably outside on a breezy day]
and protective [and expendable] clothing.
Dispose of the residue afterwards so as not to create a toxic
waste dump in your backyard.
Second, nothing - not even an ultrasonic cleaner full of methylene
chloride - will do an * effortless * job of removing paint .
You will still have to soak the figures afterwards in Spic-n-Span
or other heavy-duty cleanser, scrub off the residue with an old
toothbrush, and scrape the remaining bits of paint out of the
cracks and crevices with a knifepoint or straight pin
Given these facts, it seems to me that the safest and most
enviromentally friendly 'paint remover' that gets the job done
would be the best to use.
Another advantage of using pine-oil or citrus based cleansers to
remove paint is that you can let the figures soak for days - even
weeks - while the cleaner does its job, without worrying about
 I know this because an ultrasonic cleaner full of methylene
chloride is the method I've been using. [Methylene chloride is
the active ingredient in the 'paint remover' you get at the
hardware store.] I will switch to Pine-Sol or CitrusStrip when
the last of that can of paint remover is used up. [However, the
job of removing paint is such a hassel that I've been refraining
from acquiring figures that need their paint removed. That paint
remover may sit around the workshop for several years more.]
Two more drawbacks to this method are, first, that an ultrasonic
cleaner full of methylene chloride will become quite hot [either
from the vibration or from the chemical reactions] by the time the
paint is off - possibly hot enough to melt some of the home-
casting alloys with a 171-degree melting point.
Second, this will remove or greatly loosen epoxy and cyanoacrylic
glues. [then, again, maybe you *want* to remove epoxy.]
Basing miniature figures
This is all about how I do things - if you think there's a better
way, please let us know.
Preparing figures - After I trim off the flash, I sand the bottoms
of the figure bases level, using 260 or 320 grit wet sandpaper in
a bucket of water [ I try to do this under water as much as
possible - I don't want to breath lead dust - and dispose of the
result in an industrial-strength sewer system. ]
For bases, I've been using what the art supply shops call
'showcard board' - cardboard about 1/16 inch - 1.6 mm - thick.
[ecause I had some of it lying around surplus from a 1991
project] The stuf sold as 'mat board' also works well. Frugal
gamers may want to ask a picture-framing shop if they can look
thru their 'scraps and remnants' bin.
I use one thickness of this for 15 mm figures, 2 layers for 25's,
sticking the layers together with Elmer's Glue-All, and making the
bottom layer about 5 mm smaller than the top, thus enabling me to
pick up the stand easily.
I like to round off the corners of the troop stands, with old
On the bottom is a layer of the kind of magnetic vinyl that's used
to make refrigerator magnets. To acquire this, look in the
business-to-business Yellow Pages under 'signs', find a place that
advertises 'magnetic truck signs', and call them up and ask if
they have magnetic vinyl - scraps / remnants / printed out of
register / with surface defects. You should be able to acquire it
at from $1 to $2 per square foot.
Wash any dirt or grease off the vinyl with soap and water, stick
the vinyl to the bottom of the cardboard with Glue-All, squeeze
together on a nonstick surface, let dry.
Paint the edges of the stand - I paint stands and figure bases
with 'Seminole Green', # 02009 from the Ceramcoat line of Delta
Technical Coatings, Whittier, Cal, 90601. [Note that some light
green paints have a garish glow under florescent lights. ]
I use Glue-All, again, for mounting figures when their exact
placement on the stand isn't important, or when I need them to dry
fast. When I want all the troopers in a phalanx lined up in
order, I stick them to the stand with Wingel, which Windsor &
Newton sells as a medium for oil paints. I started using it when
I was working with soft plastic figures - it's one of the few
reliable adhesives for them.
Wingel will stay liquid for an hour or so - enough time to slide
the figures into exact alignment - and hold them down firmly after
4-5 hours drying time.
One minor advantage of using Elmers Glue-All to mount figures is
that, should you ever face the horrors of rebasing, putting the
stands ankle-deep into warm soapy water for a few hours usually
softens the GlueAll enough so that the figures can be removed
easily and the glue residue removed with hobby knife or
fingernail. Rinse off the figures, and they're ready for rebasing
After the glue drys, paint the top of the stand and the edges of
the figure bases. The paint here fills in the crevices where glue
might not have gotten to, giving a more secure bond.
Flocking and chipping flash are the two messiest jobs in figure
painting, and 'tis well to do them when you can clear the area and
put a layer of old newspapers down. I use Liquitex Matte Medium
[again, leftover from an old project] to coat the top of the
stands, working over the tops of the figure bases but avoiding
their feet and legs, but my friends report good results with
diluted white glue. [ As you've got the figures completed, painted
and based, and want flocking covering the entire base but not
marring their uniforms, this is an exacting job. ]
As soon as you've coated the stand, swoosh it around in a
container of flocking. [Metal containers - 'candy tins' - work
better that plastic ones - static electricity gets conducted away
instead of attracting the flocking. ] Put it aside on the
newspaper to dry, and go on to coating the next stand.
Give them a couple of hours to dry, then shake off the excess
flocking onto a big piece of newspaper - a light tap on the stands
with pen or hobby knife handle helps. Put the stands aside, and
try to shake the excess flocking to the center of the paper and
into the tin again [Lotsa luck!] Take a big old worn-soft
paintbrush and dust remaining flocking off the figures.
Let them dry a few more days. Give them a final inspection -
possibly get a friend to look them over - then spray on a coat of
Dullcoat or Krylon Matte Finish.
For flocking, I use Woodland Scenics' Turf - Weeds [dark green]
[T-46] and Yellow Grass [T-43]. I mix about 1 part of 'Weeds'
with 3 parts of 'Yellow Grass' for my Persians, Greeks and Romans,
fighting in a dry Mediterranean summer. For 25 mm figures, I mix
in some Coarse Turf - 'Burnt Grass' [T-62]. For my Civil War
troopers, soldiering in a well-watered climate, I use 4 parts of
'Weeds' and 1 part of 'Yellow Grass' [ except for the Louisiana
Zouaves - for them you should get some Mardi Grass ]
Hope this is of some help to you. Take care. Good painting
And for those who ask "How did the Carthaginians deal with an
elephant with three balls ?", the answer is,
"Walk him, and pitch to the giraffe !"
Yours, John Desmond
john.a.desmond.cgs80 AT alumni dot upenn dot edu
[permanent address for receiving email]
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