General tips n’ tricks: Painting

These are tips that I have gleaned (or stolen) from various websites and forums scattered across the web. Where possible, I’ve tried to give credit for them but if you’re aggrieved that I haven’t given you personal credit for some golden tip, then get in touch and I will.

General Painting Tips For Beginners

Stop using your paintbrush like a pencil. Many miniature painters instinctively hold the brush like a writing instrument. While doing so feels natural, the fingers end up positioned in such a way that the painter’s view of the figure is obscured.

Try moving the point at which you grip the brush away from the bristles, to a distance about twice the width of your thumb. It will feel awkward at first, but you’ll like the results.

Paint the most difficult areas first. Some painters struggle with painting hair or skin on a figure; others have trouble with gems and jewels; still more have difficulty with freehand detail; this writer has trouble with eyes.

Any aspect of a figure that troubles a painter should be done first; this way, an entire figure doesn’t need to be redone because, for example, the face didn’t look right when the painter finally summoned the courage to paint it.

From PlanetFigure Forums 

Painting Order

This may seem obvious, but it is important to think about what order you are going to be doing things in. The basic rule is to paint your figure “as you would dress it”. Start with the inner layers and work outwards.

That will mean painting the skin first, then the hair, the shirt and the trousers, then the jacket and the leggings, and finally the cloak.
This rule is used for a simple reason: it is much easier to paint the inner coats without overflowing, and there is a greater risk of messing up previous work if the outer coats are painted first.

Manuel Manumilitari Sanchez, Team Toulouse Creation

Portrait painters have long used the 3 zone technique for painting faces as a guide to the tonal qualities of different areas of the face. This can be quite effective.

A rough guide to lighting schemes applied to a face. Strong chiaroscuro lighting effects have become a signature of Spanish painters like Alfonso Giraldes and Aythami Alfonso who teach it as a painting style.

I always begin with the face, on which I lay the basic colour and then completely paint the eyes. More exactly the eyes and the position of the pupils are painted in this stage, rather than at the end.

This is so I can correct anything I don’t like again and again problem free, and without worrying about damaging the. Because I find the chances of painting the eyes correctly the first time improbable, since the left side is always seemingly more difficult than the right, I always need several attempts, until I am finally content.

I have a rule of thumb, which I apply to all basics mixtures, whether it is a face, an article of clothing or anything else I paint. I always begin with the middle tone and work up to the “brighter” or highlight, like the structure of a pyramid. Usually four or five stages are enough for me to get what I want, and get to the brightest highlights.

I take a little of the last colour to be used and add that to blend away any obvious lines between the layers of colours… Later I follow the same procedure in the reverse sequence, and start with the brightest shade, whereby I make certain that the colour is kept extremely aqueous and very thin on the brush.

I also make four to five layers, until I arrive at the deepest shade. Afterwards I correct the whole thing again, by lightening again a little the appropriate places since by shading highlights were automatically slightly darkened.
When I am finished with the face and the head, I work downward and from left to the right from above. …

This is my habitual way of painting a figure; and I would never begin with the trousers for instance. In this way I can still touch the figure on unpainted parts, if I must, without worrying about anything happening. I like to stress all transitions of clothing or body parts, by taking the respective colour and under‐painting it with a thin line. It is a little, like a relief, by after‐drawing everything with the brush. The whole figure is outlined. The trick of course is that the brush line must be kept absolutely as thin as possible”.

Marion Ball on her painting methods

A Basic Recipe For Caucasian Skin Tones

White, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna. Add dark blue and dark green for deep skin tones

A Basic Recipe For Black Skin Tones

“Start with Burnt Umber, (using Oil Colours) and if you wish a warmer tone, add a bit of Venetian Red (remember Venetian is powerful!). To shade use an Ultramarine Blue or Winsor Blue. To highlight use Mars Orange with Naples Yellow for the real highs.” by Bob Knee

A Basic Recipe For American Indian Skin Tones

White, Yellow Ochre, Red Oxide, Mars Black.

” I’d try to avoid WHITE as it ‘greys’ the tones and use NAPLES YELLOW instead. Adding VIOLET to the darkest shadows add warmth to the complexion”. Le-van Quang

Painting hair recipes

Painting a mouth

Painting Straight Lines

I paint them in oils because it is easier for me to fix mistakes. I paint the item as if it will not have stripes; shade, highlight and blend as normal. After this color is dry, I do the stripes.

I will paint the horizontal lines first, because it is easier to line up the bottom line with the horizontal edge of the clothing. The consistency of the paint is critical: too thin and it goes everywhere, too thick and it won’t flow. I paint from fold to fold. So, in most cases you don’t have to paint a really long, straight line. The hard part is trying to figure out how the lines enter and leave creases and folds.

For really thin lines, I mix up three different tones: a base, shadow and highlight. Use each in the appropriate areas. For wide lines, I use the shadow color as a base and than lighten with the base and highlight color.

A good brush is essential.

Pete Kessling from the Tn T Forum 

Making goggles look realistic


  1.  The goggles are moulded on and solid: ALuminum paint with a clear smoke or clear green over them. Apply a layer of gloss, such as Future Floor “wax” over them.
  2. The goggles are moulded but cut away: Paint the eyes as you would and apply clear epoxy or Micro Krystal Klear. Leave as is or apply a light layer clear smoke, green or amber.
  3.  The goggles are a separate piece of solid material: Superglue the piece to a rod and clamp it in place. Heat clear acetate until a center section starts to sag and look slightly deformed. Press this over the master and let it cool. Carefully cut away the clear goggles and apply to the painted face. Tint as in (2) above as desired or leave clear.

Terry Martin from Tn T Forums

in reply to 1072.6

Instead of 2 part epoxy you can also use acrylic gloss medium; it will set up the same way with a convex shape if you apply it with a toothpick rather than brushing it on. It also has the advantage of being easy to pry off if you don’t like how it turned out. Plus it’s water soluble and no mixing requiring.



Materials: Using Inks

A tip about Inks. If you go to the art supply store to buy your inks, be sure and get pigmented inks, not transparent ones. Pigmented inks, especially brown, work much better for a wash than the transparent ones. Red and blue don’t seem to matter as much.

For shading white, there is a really good ink color called “Payne’s Grey” whick is a kind of blue-grey. It does a much better job than black when washing white or very light tans and greys.

Inks are best used as washes, for outlining, and as glazes. When washing with inks on a matt surface (or on any other, actually), a gentle blowing of air from the top to the bottom of the miniature helps keep the ink from drying back up into the raised areas. The author usually blows lightly until the wash stops looking slick-wet

Credit: Unknown

Danny’s Magic Wash Recipe

I use this to extend the open time of my paints and to thin them for layering and blending. This alone is not enough, you should try to use high pigment paints (Reaper, GW or Vallejo) and a Wet Palette. These are absolutely crucial for the wash to have its full effect.

  • In a clear plastic 16oz. water bottle mix (but don’t shake as it creates a zillion bubbles that you have to wait to settle) the following (use pyrex beaker to get the measure roughly correct):
  • 350 Ml of filtered water – if your tap water is good use that.
  • 100 Ml of Golden/Liqitex Flow Aid – this stuff is awesome, combats ringing and makes paint “milk-like” in the right proportion.
  • 50 Ml of Golden/Liqitex Retarder – Instructions say to only use a couple of drops but I threw that out with no ill effects. Paint stays open for days with a sealed wet palette.
  • One drop of liquid dish detergent – may just be superstition but it seems to keep paint from adhering to my brush ferrule.

From CoolMiniOrNot Forums

Why do my washes dry badly?

It seems that once in a while, even though the inks and washes have been mixed properly, they end up drying, not in the low spots like they should, but on the high contours. It has something to do with the density of the wash and the slickness of the surface; on matte surface the effect is more prominent than on glossy surfaces. It happens because a pool of wash in a recess starts to dry from the edges, then the rest of the paint in the wash adheres to the already dry paint, producing a ring of paint around the recess.

There are four methods that can help solve theproblem:

1) Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the wash. It lowers the surface tension, and dries faster. This may be a drawback for some painters. Some model railroaders have been doing this for a while now. (Thanks to Coyt D Watters for this tip.)

2) Add a little dishwashing detergent to the wash. It helps the wash stick better. (Coyt again…) 3) Use small amounts of wash, allowing each to dry before applying the next. Blow gently on the wash after applying, from the top, to keep the pools in the recesses where they belong. If the wash is thin enough, it’ll dry with a minimum of blowing.

4) Mix a new wash, thicker. It might work better, being thick enough to keep from creeping, or maybe with just little different density.

Brenda Klein

Highlighting for a  Matt and Gloss effect

The width and the contrast of your highlights also gives a texture to the surface you are painting. The way you paint gives the area a level of glossiness (in 3D this is called a specular point).

If your highlight is faint and the area is wide, you will get a matt finish, like some fabrics.

If on the other hand your make your highlights very intense and narrow, you will get a glossy impression (like some leathers).

Manuel Manumilitari Sanchez, Team Toulouse Creation

A useful list by Axel (Skraal)

Here are a few basic pointers that I think anyone that’s starting out or thinking of starting out ought to know. They should help to provide you with a basic list of what to do in order for things to go smoothly.

* Prepping the miniature for painting and ensuring that the model is smooth and clean is possibly the most important step you’ll do whilst building / painting a model – if the surface your applying paint to is not smooth, your next layers will not be either! Always remember to give the model a good clean of any mould lines and / or flash and then fill any gaps or seams with some form of filler such as Green Stuff (liquid or traditional) or Milliput Standard (yellow / grey)

* Thin your paints! Do not, do not; use thick paints when painting miniatures. If you do, you’ll end up with a rough surface that will affect your future layers as well as possibly obstructing some of the detail on the models. For layering you want a slightly thicker than skimmed milk consistency. For glazing you’ll want a skimmed milk consistency or thinner – getting to this skimmed milk like viscosity will take some practice and there is no one rule to how much water you ought to add to the paint as each paint range and even individual paints will have different viscosities to begin with.

* Build up the paint gradually by building it up over many layers for a smoother paint job. The thinner your paint and the more layers of thinned paint you use, the smoother your paint job will be, that is if you’ve ensured that the model was prepped correctly. This does mean that the painting process will take more time in the long run but the end result is worth it. Remember that when painting the idea is not to rush the paint job but to enjoy the whole process.

* Try to learn new techniques and processes in stages! When starting out, you’ll want to learn everything at once but that’s not the way to do it. Each time you paint a model, set yourself a goal. On one model you may want to learn how to paint fur, on the next large areas of skin etc. Doing it like this will ensure that you focus entirely on the job at hand and more importantly that you learn how to do it well! If you’re not happy with it the first time round, try again – the beauty about this hobby is that anyone can be a great painter as long as they invest the time and effort into it and practice makes perfect!

* Use a hair dryer to help speed up the drying time when layering / glazing – but remember not to apply paint to the model without first allowing the previous layer / glaze to fully dry. We all want to see our models painted and get to the end result, this is an easy way to speed the process up, just remember that different material will act in varying ways under the effects of being heated up, so take particular care if your using things like Citadel Finecast, heat it up too much and it will deform and melt!

* Do not put on your primer too thick, a few quick spurts at about 30 cm away from the model from each direction is plenty, the primer is meant as a layer to help paint adhesion rather than as a base coat. Think of the model as having 6 different angles, and spray a quick short burst at each angle – that’s your priming done! Spray from beneath the model, from above it, from the rear, from the front and from the left and right hand sides of it.

* Smile when painting and breathe, the more relaxed you are and comfortable, the better your painting will be – so remember not to hunch, it’s bad for your back! If you can, invest in a good comfy chair to sit in whilst painting.

* Make sure you paint in a good light! Your eyes are important so take care of them! You’ll be wanting to invest in a day light bulb or lamp of some sort, they key elements being the temperature of the bulb and the colour rendering index (CRI). The lamp that I use is the one made by the Daylight Company and it’s one that I would highly recommend, it is pricey but if you look around you can get it for a decent price and even if you do spend the full amount on it from the producer it’s well worth the cost. Daylight Company Triple Bright Lamp.

* Have fun & don’t forget to post pictures of your work for others to comment on. This is best done on great forums such as Coolminiornot, Platoon Britannica, Wamp, Chest of Colors etc.

I hope this article / post is of use and helps anyone that is just starting out and I’m more than happy to answer questions should you have any!

All the best and happy painting!

Using Tracer Tapes from the JFP website