Some notes on painting the models #1: Spraying (A response to Tool Tips 09 – Paints)

I just read the latest post from my mate Faust over on his Double Down Dice blog – Tool Tips 09 – Paints. I saw that Lionoversuskingkong had posted something about Army Painter paints, and replied, and then was going to go on and reply in some detail to DDD and his post – and then had the thought – I’d talked about a lot of this in the past – in the comments section of Luke’s Start Your Meeples board game review blog. So then I decided to just copypasta the stuff I wrote in Luke’s blog, “Remix” my thoughts, and turn it into a “response video”-type post to DDD’s post, as an entry on my own blog.

Now everything I write here is completely 100% correct and true. I’ve been painting for a long time now, and I know what I’m doing, while still being open to learning new techniques and continuing to improve. I’m not going to win any Golden Brush or Crystal Demon awards anytime soon, because I don’t paint in the “competition” style. Maybe I could? I’m sure I could go down that path, but I’m not actually interested in competition painting. I’m interested in good quality models for my own table, use and blog. I see some amazing work from pro painters and people who strive to make each model better than their last – and that’s awesome for those who choose to go down that path, but many painters of that type often finish a dozen or fewer models per year. Which for me is not going to get me a game of The Warhams with two fully-painted sides clashing.

So like I said. Everything I state here is true. But it’s true for me, in my own experience. In one particular Tabletop Minions video, Adam asks a bunch of Pro Painters for tips on improving. Which is an interesting 10 minutes, but if you watch it, you’ll see that a lot of these Pro Painters offer contradictory advice. Some only use cheap, disposable brushes, others swear by the Pure Sable, Windsor & Newton Series 7. What they state in that video is also 100% true, and factual. For them. It’s a kind of different thing to opinions, in that they (and I in this post) aren’t talking about favourite colours, but actual, factual things and techniques that work. For each person. Watch it, or don’t!

So here we go:


Always, always wash resin and PVC models before priming or assembly. I probably should theoretically wash metal and HIPS plastic as well. I read that some people swear by doing so, but I’ve never had a problem not doing so in 30+ years. I’d also wash Mantic’s crap “restic” and especially Trollforged’s shitty “Trollcast” (this is what Raging Heroes’ “resin” models are made from. That shit is the worst production material ever.)


Spray prime your models – don’t do it with a brush if you can avoid it. Black and white paints that you paint on with a brush are radically different to using a proper brush-on primer, and again different to using a spray. Just use the spray. Sprays stick to the models much more effectively than painted-on primer or undercoat.

Get three cans of primer (cheap spray paint from the hardware shop works – you don’t need GW’s expensive cans).
Black, White, Grey. Make sure they’re all matte, not gloss. I use hardware shop cans for most models, and have some Tamiya ones for “extra special” models.
Unless you’re going to pre-shade with zenithal highlighting (and you should try it sometime, anyway).

Just choose the colour most suited to the dominant base colour paint you’ll use. White for bright and light colours, black for dark colours and metals, grey for “in-betweens” and… you’ll get a feel for it. Reds and pinks get white.

It’s probably also worth having some “good” primer as well for those special models. I use either/or Tamiya or Gunze or Mr.Surfacer from “normal” model shops. At the same time, most models aren’t “special” and don’t need it.

If I’m painting a whole lot of something in particular, I’ll often follow up on a black or white initial coat with a coloured (or metallic) coat. It’s a hell of a lot faster, and gives you a pretty decent base coat that you can still touch up and continue to paint over. I’ll use another cheap can from the hardware store if they have an appropriate colour – but if they don’t, I used to buy a can of Tamiya Spray, or Citadel, or another hobby brand. Now, I go to the local paint specialist store (Paintaway is my local) and go through their book of colours, and choose the exact shade of custom colours that I want. Sure, the cans cost AU$30 each, but so do the Army Painter Sprays, or the Citadel, or the Plastic Soldier Company, or…  and the Tamiya ones are cheaper, but tiny. Also, I can always go back and get the same mix and don’t need to worry about them discontinuing the colour that I’ve been using (unlike GW/Citadel).

Great Unclean One

It seems to work pretty well.

Or to put it another way:

This is how I prime and base coat (when I spray a base coat):


I personally don’t like Army Painter sprays. They sandpaper your models’ surface too easily if you spray from too far away, and I’m just not into spray can brands that need special snowflake instructions in order to function as well as the cheap stuff from the local hardware store. Other people find the Army Painter sprays to be perfectly fine, and so, you know, good for them. Genuinely. I can’t and won’t personally recommend them though – as I have better options available and feel that anything that doesn’t require special snowflake instructions is a better option.

Over many years I’ve seen a lot of people complain about GW sprays being inconsistent or sandpapering their models and such. I was always fine with them, but don’t bother anymore – because as I’ve noted, I can just get custom cans from the paint shop which is much closer than a GW or any GW stockist.

Here’s a couple of great videos from Luke of Luke’s APS on how to use Spray Cans properly. Including the cheapest brands he could find in the UK.

I use this one.

Matte is completely fine as long as you don’t go too thick. You want a bit of tooth for your brush paint to get onto. Gloss is only good if your first step is going to be to wash the models, but can have its place as a coloured undercoat that is also a basecoat. Satin is my go-to. You can also cheat with a gloss base spray by then going over it with a satin mid-coat, and then continuing to paint.

Some people live in places where spray cans don’t work very well, due to humidity or temperature which may or may not be seasonal. I often see airbrushes recommended here, and I’d probably agree, but I’m hot garbage with an airbrush and I find it a massive pain in the arse to set mine up, especially for priming a few figures, and so I just never end up doing it – so I’d suggest that they’re right, but can’t speak from personal experience. I suspect that airbrushed primer would be a bit less hardy than sprayed-on stuff, which is another reason that I just don’t bother. But then the climate that I live in means I don’t need to worry about it. In winter, it’s a pain in the arse waiting and hoping for a weekend when it’s going to be warm and dry enough to spray. The weekend because I’m usually still at work during the warmest part of the day, it gets dark early (and spraying at night time, even with a porch light isn’t the greatest), dry because I spray outside and can’t do it in the rain (obviously). Sometimes this means I build up a backlog of a couple of weeks worth of stuff to varnish and undercoat, and so on those rare days, I seem to be out there constantly, spraying this and that. And then leaving them to dry forever. Yeah, I can see the appeal of using an airbrush!

This has now gotten a bit longer than I’d anticipated, and I haven’t even gotten onto the paint that you paint on with a paint brush yet. So I’m going to call it here and do a follow-up post on that in the next couple of days. Otherwise I’ll be here all day, and I’ve got pressing stuff to do.

Painting Skeletons – A Warm Bone Tutorial.

Like great men everywhere*, I’m always happy to share my methods and techniques when asked. In this case, Imperialrebelork asked me if I could share how I paint the bone on my skeletons and other undead, and as I had these guys coming up in the queue, they provided me with a perfect set of models to use as an example. It’s a pretty simple system. Pretty much base coat, two down and three up.

*Note – I’m not calling myself a great man, just saying that like great men, I’m happy to share. 😉 – OR AM I?

Cleaned model & Primed model.

The first thing was the usual. Cleaning the models. In this case, a mob of 22 metal “fir bolg” skeletons from Brigade Models. I’d have taken a photo, but I forgot and it doesn’t really matter. Unpainted bare metal models glued down to plastic slottabases. Not a huge stretch of the imagination, amirite?

Now usually, I prime skeletons white. I know a lot of people prefer to start dark, but I’m the opposite with skellys. In this case, I did something a little different to my normal way. I recently asked Marouda to grab me some spray paints when she went past a local hardware place. I’ve been using Several Shades of Grey on some scenery projects that I haven’t yet shown, and also asked her to pick this one up for me, as a trial for undead.

White Knights Squirts – Gloss Cream – AU$7.45 from Bunnings.

We all know that GW cycles through a bunch of different coloured sprays for basecoats every few years before losing interest and discontinuing them, and Army Painter cans are popular. Both cost around AU$30 on average last time I cared enough to look. This can was less than ten bucks. I’ve had mixed results with Army Painter and Rustoleum on models, but nice cheap White Knight seems to come through every time. It’s good stuff. I’d have been happier with matt, but it’s a base coat and I’m going to seal them when it’s all said and done anyway, so whatever.

After their spray with White Knight

Now usually, I spray prime white, then I paint all of the bone elements of the model with Old-GW “Bleached Bone” or the equivalent. (Ushabti Bone, Vallejo Bonewhite, etc). – for something different, I gave this paint a test, and it looked just fine. No problems with coverage, etc – so I did the whole lot in it. Except for one model who fell down on my desk that I missed – Little bastard! Since it’s a spray it didn’t manage to hit every little bit, so the choice is to tidy up with Bonewhite (as I use the Vallejo) or respray depending on how much is missed.

A choice of bone basecoats

Assuming that you don’t have a local source of cream/bone coloured spray paint, or just prefer not to, these are a few paints that would work just as well. I’ve never used Flayed One Flesh and am unlikely to since I’m quite happy using the last of my old-school bleached bone and the Vallejo Bonewhite – the same paint I use for touchup after the spray.

With and without the first shade layer.

The first shade layer is applied with a very-thinned “Snakebite Leather” or equivalent. Lately I’m using XV-88, which – despite it’s ridiculous name – has a colour and consistency that I like very much. Often when painting over traditional paint I use saliva to thin the paint. I drop a little drop of clean saliva (no bubbles) into the palette and a drop of paint next to it and then draw them together. Saliva has a slightly more “elastic” quality to it than mediums be they water, Lahmian Medium, Windex or commercial acrylic medium. This allows better control with the brush when moving it around on the model. Blame John Blanche and a very old White Dwarf’s “Blanche Itsu” article.

All of these paints are effectively "Snakebite Leather" for the first shade layer.

With these models, I used windex and water. The nature of having used a gloss enamel spray can for the base coat meant a much smoother finish to the models than if I’d painted them with white primer followed by acrylic miniature paint. As you can see above, the flow was smooth, and white there are a few tide marks left in spots like the shoulder blades and near the arm joints, that’s fine – they get fixed later. You can also see that as well as going into the recesses between bones and joints, the wash also stains the bone slightly.

Second layer of shading – almost a lining exercise. After (left), Before (right)

The next step is the second layer of shading. I use a very dark brown paint – and again that can change from batch of skeletons to batch. Once again I thin the paint right down via either saliva or various mediums. This second layer of shading is something I’ve only started doing in the last couple of years. Might have even been last year, but I think it adds nicely to the final result – though I guess it’s optional if you’re wanting to get them done a bit faster. This time, I shade only between specific bones. Between and underneath the ribs, and then I do major joints. So elbows, knees, hips, the jaw, sometimes between the fibula and tibia (lower leg), sometimes between the radius and ulna (forearms). I also line between the fingers and toes but not the metacarpals and metatarsals (the bits of our hands and feet usually covered in skin). Sure, it’s not especially realistic to have the fingers defined but not the metacarpals in a skeleton but it’s a visual look that works since we’re used to looking at fingers and toes.

This Model Air paint: 71.041 Tank Brown – is my current go-to. I had to write the number on the label after it wore off the main part.

The important thing here is to keep the second layer of shading to joints and holes, etc only. We don’t want to be staining the top layer if at all possible. I do go over the mouth and teeth area, as well as the nose, eye sockets and a very subtle-thin bit in the sphenoid – where your temple is behind the eye sockets/orbitals.

Any of these will work. The AP is a bit lighter though, so would be my last choice.

Now our two layers of shading are done – the “two down”. We do our three layers of highlighting – or the “three up”. The first layer is the same bone that we used for our basecoat, as seen up the page. Thin it down nicely (saliva recommended) and then carefully overpaint the bones in spots where they’re raised – leaving the lower and most recessed bones untouched. This is where we start to neaten up the tide marks and other messy bit left by our two layers of shading. The first layer of highlighting is essentially restoring the base coat colour to the model where it’s needed while neatening and leaving the shading that we want to keep.

L-R: No highlight, Layer 1, Layer 2

The second layer is pretty simple as well. With a lighter shade of the same colour (or add white) we highlight more of the edges of the bones, top and sides of the skull, the parts of the ribs at the forefront of the model, the spinal column, the raised portions.

L-R: Layer 1, Layer 2, Layer 3

Finally, the last layer is done with an almost-white paint, and here we only paint the top of the skull and facial details, the very tips of fingers, and upper and outer edges of bones and joints. The tips of the spine. I use a very fine brush here to pick out individual teeth. You can see it most easily in the pic above on the ribcage and the skull.

A selection of highlight colour options. The Vallejo are 72.101 Off White and 72.098 Elfic Flesh

The two colours I use here are both Vallejo Game Colours: 72.101 Off White and 72.098 Elfic Flesh. At this point it’s a matter of painting (or finishing) any cloth, armour, weapons or other junk being carried around by your Skellies, sorting your bases, and you’re pretty much done.

I are finish! (this image is unfortunately a bit overexposed/washed out)

Now this method isn’t going to win any Golden Demons or Crystal Brushes, but it’s a relatively quick, easy and simple way to get a “warm bone” look, uses a limited palette of 5 colours and I’m happy with the results. It’s even simple enough that I can manage to chip away at it in my lunch breaks at work.

Another batch painted using the same techniques, photographed with different (better!) lighting.