Thursday, 2 July 2009

Fun with Humbrol

Since starting this blog i've had a few requests to outline what passes for my painting technique. An illustrated step by step would probably be the most effective approach but, with no painting time on the horizon, that will have to wait (if indeed there is really a demand for it). So for now i'll present a few notes on the painting of the unit featured in my last post - Lamb's New York Artillery.

As i've mentioned previously my main weapons of choice are Humbrol enamels. Most of you will no doubt have abandoned enamels years ago and switched to acrylics, but, being a semi-professional masochist, i have stuck with them through the various reformulations they've gone through over the last 20 years or so (each of which seems to have resulted in a worse product than before). Back in the day Humbrol's matt enamels were the dog's doo-dahs in terms of consistent coverage and finish. Sadly their latest incarnation is but a pale shadow - some matt enamels have a very grainy consistency, and many do not cover well in one coat. The gloss colours also cover poorly but this works to my advantage as this means they 'wash' well. They have a much finer, smoother finish than most matt colours (finer pigments perhaps?) - none of that grainyness - and so come in very handy for fine detail work. The Humbrol satin colours are in many ways the best of both worlds - they cover reasonably well and have a fine finish - so come in very handy.

I also use artists oils for horses and occasionally leather and woodwork. Remember to mix in a generous blob of Liquin (or an appropriate enamel colour) to your oils or you'll be cashing in your pension before they've set properly.

Finally, i use a few acrylics - Humbrol matt white (34) as an undercoat, and Coat d'Arms 'matt' (really satin if you ask me) white (101) as a final undercoat, and to finish all white areas. An ancient pot of GW 'Brazen Brass' takes care of any brass, bronze or gold items.

As for brushes i use Windsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky sable almost exclusively. I doubt it matters which brushes you use as long as they hold a decent point, but if you are using sable make sure to arm yourself with a good brush cleaner - i swear by Chroma 'Incredible Brush Cleaner'.

Figure preparation
One of the disadvantages of my method is that it highlights (literally) any imperfections in the figure - any mould lines or flash that you neglect to remove will scream out at you from the finished figure. Preparing badly cast figures can be a soul destroying task - but no pain, no gain... (in an ideal world my collection would be exclusively Suren 30s but i just can't face spending years of my life cleaning and reparing the usually poor castings, never mind the cost...).

The undercoat is important. The figure needs to start life with a good strong, even coat of white. As ever multiple thin coats are preferable to one thick - i usually go for a couple of coats of Humbrol finished off with one of Coat d'Arms. A matt white spray may well be a quicker and better alternative at this stage.

Plastering on the pigment
I'll deal with each colour roughly in the order that it is applied:

I reinforce white areas with one (or more as appropriate) thin coats of Coat d'Arms matt white(101). I find it relatively easy to avoid overpainting crossbelts, etc. when painting the rest of the figure (and, thanks to Coat d'Arms plasticy satin finish, it's usually easy to remove any mistakes with a damp - with white spirit - brush) but it might be more sensible to leave white areas til last.

I start with a wash (roughly 50/50) of matt khaki(26). Cover with matt flesh(61) leaving an outline of the khaki base coat, and khaki in the eye sockets, down and under the nose, round the mouth and ears, between the fingers, etc. With a mix (50/50) of flesh and white i paint in the highlights (typically nose, chin, bottom of ears, top of chin, fingers and knuckles, etc.) and whilst this is still wet work some white into the very tip of the nose, chin, and maybe the knuckles and anywhere else that looks right. The cheeks should really be painted with a flesh/crimson mix - though you risk a very toy soldier look if you over-do it.

I paint the coats with a thinned matt dark oxford blue(104). Whilst this is still wet i remove most of it (leaving a blue stained undercoat) from the prominent raised areas and anywhere i think requires a highlight - i do this with a brush, or even my little finger on prominent areas such as down the arms. Once this first blue has set i wash the entire blue area with a thinned (50/50) gloss french blue(14). This wash will remain workable for a few minutes allowing me to reinforce it or remove it as i see fit to create a pleasing contrast.

I paint all buff areas with a thinned (50/50) gloss tan(9) - i don't go overboard with the amount of mix i use on the brush, i use just enough to cover the area in question - don't drown the figure. Whilst this is wet i remove most of the paint from all accessible areas (as i did with blue above, only more so) - the aim being to leave a stain in shadow areas, with highlights being almost white.

The officer's sash and water canteens are painted with a thinned gloss crimson(20). I use a fine brush to remove a little of the paint from any area that would benefit from a highlight.

I paint all grey areas with a thinned gloss grey(5). Again i use a brush to remove most of the paint from any area that would benefit from a highlight - leaving highlights almost white.

I paint all black areas with a strong coat of matt black(33) (this may need two coats depending on how the particular tin of paint is behaving - matt black can be particularly grainy, and lack covering power). As i'm just looking to block in all the black areas an acrylic matt black may be a better option (the only real advantage the enamel has is that it's easy to remove any mistakes with a wet brush). Once this has set highlight with a drybrush of matt light grey(64).

I paint hair and leather areas with a thinned mix of gloss brown(10) and matt red-brown(100). Again whilst still wet i remove some paint from raised areas to create highlights. The bucket handles are painted in matt red-brown, with highlights dealt with as above.

By the time i've finished all the basic colours i usually look at the figures with some concern - they just don't look very good. Luckily the next step makes all the difference...

Lining In
Outlining clothing and equipment (and painting in the most prominent folds in clothing, etc.) seems to really bring the figure to life. I never use straight black as i feel it is too harsh and seems to deaden the adjacent colours, instead i use a dark version of the dominant colour. For example: where white crossbelts cross the blue coat i outline them in a very dark mix of gloss black(21) and matt oxford blue(104), where these same belts cross the buff waistcoat they are outlined in a mix of gloss brown(10) and matt scarlet(60). The majority of the uniform is buff - and these items are outlined and detailed in the previously mentioned mix of brown and scarlet.

There's no way round it - lining and detailing takes a fine brush and a steady hand, but the advantage of enamels is that any mistakes can quickly be rectified using a clean damp brush. I always paint with two brushes handy - one with which the paint is applied, and another clean one with which the paint can be removed.

You can save a lot of time at this stage by prioritising - only outline the most prominent areas. Consider how the figures will be arrayed once based, and what will be visible once they are on the table, and act accordingly. However, if you are like me and probably borderline obsessive/compulsive then you will feel compelled to outline everything whether it be visible or not - in which case you are doomed...

Finishing Off
After lining in all that is really left is to correct any glaring mistakes. I then set the figures aside for a day or two and varnish with a high gloss poly varnish (my weapon of choice used to be International Japlac High Gloss Enamel however i've been unable to find any lately so it may well be out of production). I avoid Humbrol Gloss Cote -expensive and not tough enough.

The figures are then based, the bases textured with a (dry and lumpy) sand/PVA mix, painted with matt grass green (80) and then drybrushed with matt pale yellow(81).

Incidentally the guns are painted in a similar fashion with gloss grey (5) carriages, black (33) ironwork, tan (9) leatherwork, and 'Brazen Brass' barrels washed in a very thin mix of gloss cote and gloss black.

Potential Improvements

This is one area where for some reason i didn't follow a Gilder style method. To be frank i wish i had as i think it would be both quicker and more pleasing to the eye. A quick Gilder-esque method for flesh would be a wash with gloss tan, whilst this is still wet remove some paint from nose and chin to create highlights and work a little bit of crimson into the cheeks and lower lip. Leave this to dry and then line the eye sockets, sides of the nose, between the lips and fingers with a mix of gloss brown and matt scarlet.

Painting a solid coat of dark blue (104) then drybrushing with a suitable highlight would probably be more sensible - the trick of course is to find a suitably vibrant mid blue for the highlight. I couldn't find one in my armoury at the time so went with the rather odd process i described above.

Well, that's all (!) there is to it. I hope this is useful to someone as it's taken me bloody ages to type out - i could have been painting instead!

I've always been fascinated with techniques for modelling and painting so i am eager to hear any observations, suggestions or questions ......