Painting Styles and Techniques

I’ve been asked a few times lately to do tutorials on how I paint, and was even asked to join in on a class teaching. And sometime soon I may start doing that. But I thought it might be useful to first talk about painting style and techniques first. Well, at least my painting style and techniques. I really can’t speak for how anyone else goes about it.

This seems to fit the article's theme...plus I never did post this, so I may as well now 🙂

And the first thing that needs to be said is…there is no right or wrong way to go about painting a miniature, as long as you are pleased with the results. I know, I know… that sounds like a cop-out. But it’s true. Sure, you can paint for competitions and have your worked judged, but even competitions are subjective things, and much of what will win or lose is at the whim of judges who’s own styles of painting differ from place to place, and who’s own idea of what constitutes a “good” piece depends on many different factors. In the end, paint for yourself. And if you really are concerned with others liking your work, which is fine and quite expected, well,  I’ve found that if I paint something that I am happy with, and that I enjoy looking at, others do as well.

It’s also important to note that painting miniatures is, or at least should be, an evolutionary process. Over time, as you practice and talk to other painters and gamers and see other people’s work, the way you approach painting and the techniques you use will change. I look at miniatures I painted 3 years ago and I’m surprised at how different I would have painted them today.

Also I should mention, very little of my painting techniques are anything amazingly original. Pretty much everything I do I learned from someone else. And I still, honestly and truly, believe I have a long way to go until I will think of myself as a really good painter.

So, let’s talk about my painting “Style”. Or styles, I guess I should say. I think that, generally speaking, I have three ways I paint, depending on the miniature, if it’s an army, if it’s only for display, if it’s for competition, etc.

The first one would be Army Painter Style, or what my friends and I who are using it call the “Imrie Style”, after Saxon Dog David Imrie who first took the time to email me and show me how he did his amazing armies. This technique uses Army Painter Quickshade as the key element to painting and to the final look of the army. Though many of my friends use the colored primers that Army Painter makes, I generally stick to black primer for this. The figure’s colors are block painted in. Then lightly brush on Army Painter Strong Tone. No dipping, no letting huge pools of the stuff build up. After it’s dried, I give a quick dusting of matte varnish, and then start highlighting. And it’s the highlighting that makes all the difference. Because of the time saved shading, I take a little more time with the highlighting and picking out details, eyes being a biggie. I start with the base color I blocked in before the glaze, and then go lighter colors from there if need be. There is no fast rule on how much to highlight. I simply highlight until it looks right to me.

The whole point of this style, for me, is to get armies on the table that look good in a reasonable amount of time. Though not much shorter that other methods because of the highlighting, I really like the final look.

A number of my miniatures are painted in this style. Here are a few-

Prince Rupert's Regiment, Army Painter Style, with a simple 1 step highlight.

With some patience and time, Army Painter style can be taken much further.

These Army Painter style French curassier won a bronze medal in the GhengisCon '11 painting competition.

These Army Painter style French Curassier won a bronze medal at GhengisCon 2011.

The next way I paint is what I simply call a 3-Step Style. This is basic miniature painting 101. Start with a shade color, then paint a base color, leaving the shade showing in the deeper recesses, and then paint on a highlight color onto the highest areas. This is the way I first learned to paint, and is still the way I paint many, if not most, of my miniatures. I spend a little more time than just 3 layers of paint, usually. I may prime black, grey, or white.Generally black if it’s a unit. white if I want bright colors, grey if I want the colors to look just like they do in the bottle. I switch it around alot.

And it isn’t always 3 layers. Sometimes I go more. But generally, when I decide to paint something this way, i try to stick to plan. Again, the idea is to paint something that I think looks nice in a reasonable amount of time. To that end, I also sometimes use washes, GW’s Gryphone Sepia, Ogryn Flesh, Badab Black, and Devlan Mud being favorites. Though I used to alot, I generally don’t drybrush anymore. It almost always leaves my figures looking too grainy for my taste. I will still drybrush some, though, when painting this style…especially things like metallics or hair/fur. And I do usually spend more time on faces than 3-layers of paint.

Basically, I paint this way when I wand a cleaner, brighter looking miniature than I can get with Army Painter, and I really want to pay more attention to the details. Again, many of my miniatures are painted this way. Here are a few-

This figure of WIlliam III was done with a very simpe, fast 3 layer paint scheme on a white primer.

Elves in a 3 step style, with a little more time and attention spent on the banner.

A personal favorite, all painted in a simple 3-step style.

And then, finally, there’s what I call my Going All-Out Style. This is where I spend ridiculous amounts of time on layer after layer, blending down to shadows and blending up to highlights and trying to pick out every detail I can. This is also a “style” that I am nowhere close to being comfortable with, and generally fell like, the entire time I’m painting, that I have no idea what I’m doing. Everytime I spend this much effort on a miniature I’m reminded of how much further i have to go to get to a level I’ll really be happy with. Honestly, I probably never get that good. But that’s okay. I only spend this kind of time and effort on pieces for competitions or display, or the occasional army commander figure. I still have so much to learn, that I would never even venture to try and teach anything. I haven’t won a gold at a competition yet, but I’m still learning and trying. Maybe someday…

edit- “All-Out” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”. I could spend weeks on one figure, and then do the same figure again in a simpler style, and like it much more that way. It really is hit or miss sometimes.

These Zouaves took a silver at TactiCon '11.

I rebased this French Colonel and will use him as part of my "Waterloo" army. The horse didn't come out nearly as good as I would have liked.

Probably my favorite that I've painted, it won a silver at TactiCon '10 and is featured in Warhammer Historical's "Waterloo" rulebook.

Now, after categorizing all of that, the fist thing I have to admit is, it really isn’t that simple. Of course, nothing is. I may mix a little bit of everything in painting something, plus I have certain approaches to painting gold, for instance, that I use regardless of how I’m painting. But these kind of break down my painting into 3 broad categories, and it sort of helps me manage my time painting a little better if I can look at a group of miniatures and say “This is how I’m going to paint this today”.

-Scott

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9 thoughts on “Painting Styles and Techniques

    • Thanks Christopher.

      From the tidal wave of comments I can tell this was a morning well spent HAHA! That’s alright, it was more me babbling on anyway. But I do plan on doing a few tutorials with photos coming up soon. I’ve had a couple people ask about how we do AP..thought that could make a good “how-to”.

      -Scott

  1. Dear Sir,
    when you begin the highlighting stage do you use a wet palate, or a matt medium or just thin the paint with water to the desired thickness? Is the thinned paint as thick as single cream?
    I am just about to highlight some french Napoleonic cavalry and i caught this article. Please could you point me in the right direction.
    Many thanks i would really appreciate your comments.

    Lee

  2. Hey Lee

    I haven’t had luck with a wet palette, but that’s just me. All the painters around here use a wet palette, and eventually I’ll try one again.. If you use a wet palette, that should work perfectly to keep your paints thin and wet.

    What I use is what we call “guck”. Basically its a Reaper paint bottle filled with 3 parts water, 1 part Reaper thinner, and 1 part Reaper drying retarder. I use that to thin my paint. I get the paint thin enough so that if you wipe a brush across a flat surface, the color is translucent. If I was to guess, I’d say the consistency of milk. The easy way for highlights= 1 drop of paint to 4 drops of “guck” if using Reaper paints. A drop more for thicker paints like Vallejo or GW.

    I use the guck for 2 reasons. 1, here in Denver, the air is amazingly dry. Water as a thinner by itself works, but dries very quickly. 2, more importantly, the retarder in the paint allows the edges of the brush strokes to blend a little more, and gives me more time to manipulate the paint in the highlighted areas.

    Hope this helps some.

    -Scott

  3. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your comments. I do not think that i can precure guck in the UK. I am going to try the water method and mix the pant to the consistancy of milk and try that. I appreciate the tip on wiping the brush over a surface and the pigment being translucent. If it is ok with you sir i would like to post some photos of the completed job for your perusal. Would it be possible to email you the pictures? Would that be to this site or your personnal address?

    Kind regards and many thanks again.

    Lee

    • Hi Lee

      Water should work fine as long as the paint isn’t drying too fast on the miniature. 4 parts water to one part paint should do the trick (roughly).

      I’d like to see some photos. Feel free to email me at m.scott.merrifield@gmail.com

      -Scott

  4. Dear Sir,

    Once again thank you for all your support and advice, i really appreciate it. I am close to finishing the figures but i only get to paint once a week what with work two small children and the hectic existance that is my life!!!!!!!!I think that if i could just do a hour a night i would come on leaps and bounds but just as my brush skills develop i am unable to paint for sometimes two weeks. I am going to try the ratios that you have kindly provided and i will feed back.

    Kindest regards
    Lee

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