Painting Faces

A few people have asked if I could put together a tutorial on how I go about painting faces, so a few weeks back I decided I’d give it a go. I had to stop a few times because I’ve been sick, so it took a few weeks to get it all together (hence the different photographs, lighting, etc). But maybe someone will find it useful.

Most of what I do when I paint faces for units I learned from my friend Kris, who also posted his tutorial on his blog Wargames and Railroads. All I’ve really done is added a couple quick steps. But it’s basically the same thing.

An important note- this is how I am currently painting faces for units. Not for display or competition pieces. What I’m trying to do when I paint this way to to get faces that look right to me in a unit on a gaming table. I think it pays off to spend a little extra time on the faces, but not to take too much time. This is, for me, a happy median.

Also, this is just one way to approach painting faces. I have no idea if it’s the best, the worst, or if down the road I might find a way I like better. But this does give a  basic approach that can be done relatively quickly and with what I think are decent looking results. It’s not even the way I always do it…when using Army Painter style, I don’t bother with anything more than skin highlights usually.

Sorry if the photos are poor quality…just my camera phone and a lamp to take them.

For this tutorial, I’m going to work on a figure from a unit of AWI 42nd from Perry Miniatures. Here’s the paints and such that I use-

So what we have is Reaper Walnut Brown, Blackened Brown, Linen White, Rosy Shade, Rosy Skin, and Rosy Highlight, along with GW Scorched Brown, and GW Gryphonne Sepia and Ogryn Flesh washes. I really like the Reaper Rosy Flesh Triad… it works well by itself as a skin tone as well as mixes well with other tones. For army painting, I want to avoid mixing paints, so I’m going to stick with Rosy Flesh and my base skin color.

Step 1-

So we start with a black primed miniature (I generally use black primer when painting units/armies). The first thing we want to do is give a warmer color to paint the flesh tones on. Reaper Blackened Brown works well for this. The paint should be well thinned, about 1:1. It’s better to do multiple coats to get full coverage than have the paint thick or chalky. Paint all the flash areas on the face, hands, etc. 2-3 coats should do it.

Step 2-

The next color will be Reaper Rosy Shadow. Again, the paint is thinned about 1:1. Paint on thin coats, about 2-3 to get full coverage, leaving the very deepest recess showing the Blackened Brown (such as the hairline, the mouth, etc.)

Step 3-

Time for our first wash. GW Gryphonne Sepia does the trick.

A light wash of Sepia give  a nice, warm tone to the skin, and gives good shadows. Any brown wash would do, but Sepia is convenient and works very well. Let the wash completely dry before moving on to the next steps.

Step 4-

Now it a good time to start on the eyes. If there are any mess ups, we have a number of steps coming up to fix the problems. The first color is Reaper Walnut Brown-

We’re going to paint the entire eye area with Walnut Brown, provide a shadow area for the eye.

Step 5-

Now it’s time to move on to the whites and then the pupils. First the white

Use an off-white, such as a linen or a very light grey. Pure white doesn’t look right. Thin down to about 1:1 again, and basically paint a strip of line across the eye area, leaving the Walnut Brown showing abound the edges. This provides a separation of the eyes from the rest of the face, and helps keep away a “surprised” look on the miniature.

Then we paint in the pupils. Walnut Brown is perfect to use for this. Don’t try and paint a dot. I usually turn the miniature upside down and do a combination brushstroke and brush press against the center of the white where I want the pupil. This will give more of an oval or line shape than a dot, which is what you want, unless you purposefully want you figure to look wide-eyed and surprised.

Don’t worry too much if the pupil or the shading spills out a bit from the eye area. As we layer up the fleshtones, we’ll clean this up.

Step 6-

Now we start working on the flesh colors, starting back again with Rosy Shadow

What we’re attempting to do here is paint areas of the face getting more light than the deeper shadow areas. Using downward brush strokes really helps in keeping the paint in these areas, as well as helping defint where they are. Holding the miniature under a light for a moment and seeing where the light falls from above helps as well. We want the paint a little thinner here. Generally I do about 2:1 water:paint, wiping the excess paint on a paper towel before using it on the face. A couple quick strokes in every area needing highlight should do the trick.

Step 7-

Next color up is Rosy Skin

Again, we’re working on lightening the highlight area. So we’re painting roughly the same areas as we pa9inted with Shadow, only high areas of those spots, f0cusing on the hot spots…the forehead, the nose, the tops of the cheeks, the chin. Again, well thinned paint, abut 2:1.

Step 8-

Now time for Rosy Highlight

With this, you only want to touch the very highest, brightest part of the face…the tip of the nose, the tip of the chin, perhaps a tiny amount on the tops of cheeks and forehead.

Step 9-

Now we add a little more color-

We’re going to do a little bit of spot washing and shading with GW Ogryn Flesh. There are many ways to approach this, and many types of washes or paints that could be used, but for the sake of simplicity and time conservation, when doing units, I use Ogryn Flesh. First us it as is out of the bottle to carefully color the bottom lip. Make sure your brush sn’t too loaded with wash…just enough to stain. It’ll take a couple passes to get enough color there. Then i mix the wash down with just a little water…say 1:1, and carefully apply it like a glaze into the shadow area of the face, such as the cheeks below the cheekbone, the hairline, in the eye socket above the eye, and perhaps right under the nose. One thin down coat is usually enough. Add a second coat if you don’t think there’s enough color there. This step can be skipped entirely, but to me it adds a little more “pop” to the faces, and doesn’t take much time at all.

Step 10-

Now we flesh out the details

I’m going to carefully paint in the teeth with linen white (again, avoid using pure white), and paint on eyebrows with Blackened Brown. Eyebrows aren;t something I usually do when painting units, but sometimes it seems needed, like in this case. Just something subtle to frame the eye a little more.

Step 11-

This to me is the most important step, and of all the things Kris taught me, has been the biggest “game changer”. The glaze…

We’re going to take a tiny drop of GW Scorched Brown (Reaper Redstone Highlight and Vallejo Red Leather work well also), and add quite a bit of water to it. As a rough estimate, say 10:1. 15:1. Maybe more. You want the color to barely show on a paper towel if you wipe your brush across it. Apply the glaze across the whole face, hands, etc…every flesh tone area. This is quick, because everything gets covers. What this does is it ties all of the colors you’ve painted together, and blurs the layer differences. The photo I have doesn’t do it justice. Trust me on this…it’s really worth the little extra time.

The Final Figure-

Here it is, all finished up and ready to base-

So that’s pretty much how I go about painting faces when I’m painting units for gaming armies. I don’t know if it’s a good way or not, but it works for me. Another big thanks to Kris for teaching me most of this.


EDIT- An important note…for this tutorial I did the final glaze with GW Scorched Brown, but that’s not the color I usually use. I usually do it with GW Bestial Brown or Reaper Redstone Highlight. Both are lighter shades with a redder tone.


21 thoughts on “Painting Faces

    • LOL thanks. My first shot at a highlander. I hope I have enough patience to paint the whole unit…

  1. Awesome tutorial! One I will be trying out next unit. I have Vallejo, but I am sure I can translate to similar enough colours.

    • Thanks Grant. You shouldn’t have any problem matching this up wit Vallejo. If nothing else, pick your base flesh color, ad a small bit of brow for a shade and a small amount of off white or a very light tan for your highlight color.

  2. BTW, I wanted to say I really enjoy your blog overall. I found it by doing a Google image search for Napoleonic reference images; I’m entering a painting contest at a con in July, and for some crazy reason I decided to do Napoleonics ><

    Your figures and vignettes are beautiful and inspirational, and I really like the elegant layout of your blog.

    My fav thing is your header and the way the images change as you go through the site, very clever. . . did you have to edit the code to set that up?


    • Thank you very much! Glad you like it.

      I think Napoleonics are the perfect period for contest pieces.. with such a range of colors and type of troops, and the wide variety of miniature manufacturers producing figure for the era, you’ll never be at a loss for a nice piece to work on. If there’s anything I can do to help out, don’t hesitate to let me know 🙂

      The header is actually part of this WordPress theme. I uploaded a number of sized images, and it randomly selects one every time you load a page. I wish I could be that clever. Umm, I mean, yeah..yeah I wrote that code… heheh


        • Ah yes…the Perry competition. I wish I could be there. I’ve never been able to attend a Historicon. Someday I hope to. It’s a heck of a trip for me from Denver though. Good luck!


          • Dear Scott,

            Speaking of painting faces, when you have a figure that has a separate head from the body, like a plastic Perry Napoleonic for example, do you paint the head and body separately and then assemble? Or do you totally assemble and then paint?


            • I always attach the heads first, so a number of reasons, but mainly for consistency and time. Consistency, because the shadows and tones I want where the two connect I can;t paint unless they’re connected, and time because I don’t want to have to pull out the same paints and repaint the same colors I already painted either on the face or the jacket.

              I do often leave the backpacks off the Perry French Line, though, and paint them separately. Sometimes it’s easier.


              • Thanks!

                I wasn’t sure whether to assemble the faces before priming or not, thanks for the info. I think I will prime, paint, matte finish the pelisses separately and then add them to the figures in the end.

                As someone said on another blog, “I really do love painting Perry’s figures but you often find that you have to hold your breath and clench your buttocks firmly when things get a bit fiddly.”

                I agree with him!

  3. Great tutorial Scott, thanks for sharing. Nice to see someone else using Reaper MSP, do you use the HD paints also?


    • Thanks Dave.

      I wish I had a better camera… I was using my phone camera, so the pictures came out like, well, like they were taken with the camera on my phone. A better example would probably be the faces of the Dutch Blue Guardsmen.

      I LOVE Reaper paints. Kris, who taught me most of this, also got me hooked on the Reaper MSP Triads. Paints made by painters for painters, IMHO. And the triads take out a lot of guesswork for me. I’ve used 2 of the HD paints so far. They make great basecoats. I’ve used them in the same way I use GW Foundation paints when I’m painting armies…a fast way to get a good basecoat on over black primer.

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