Sunday, August 8, 2010

Norman DBA army painting photo log

I promised Barry I would create a photo log or tutorial of how I painted his Normans to help him learn some basic painting methods. So here it is, I would like to preface this long post with a disclaimer: I use many different methods and approaches to painting minis, probably never the same way twice. I think everyone does it a bit differently. The methods I show here work for me, they may not be everyone else's first choice.

So we start with an Essex Norman army, nice figs, chunky and well sculpted with very little flash. I really like Essex. This army has 32 mounted and 18 foot troops.

First I open them up and clean the excess flash and obvious mold lines using fingernails, files, side cutters or whatever else seems to work. Fortunately these are very clean models and really don't take much cleaning. Areas to watch are places like between the horses legs. Here are my tools:

Next I mount the models individually on the head of a roofing nail using hot glue. I use roofing nails becasuse I like to paint each model by itself and this gives me access to all sides of the model, and furthermore I don't like holding popsicle sticks for long periods of time, it hurts my fingers. Roofing nails for me are comfortable and convenient. I also use a piece of wood with holes in it to hold the models while I am painting since you never want the unfinished model to touch anything. I keep my fingers off them too.

I go out to the garage and spray undercoat in cheap-ass black flat paint. I often undercoat in white, but for dark age figs I use black since it makes the chainmail much easier to paint and, well, they should be "dark".

I just lay them down on old rubber dish draining tray and try to cover about 90% of the surfaces with spray paint, moving around to spray in different directions and angles, turning them over once.

You'll see nooks and crannies uncovered, I don't worry about that since I will fill them in by brush. I strongly recommend going light on the spray primer since it is easy to overdo it and you will lose detail if you put too much spray paint on them. Here they are back on the table sitting on their nails in their wooden caddy.

I finish the undercoat off with a bit of dilute black acrylic paint and a big old brush, this gets 100% coverge of the undercoat.

Once dry, the first thing I do with dark age figs in mail (like most of these Normans) is drybrush the chainmail. I use an old large brush (ideally dry and not wet) partly load it with gunmetal, wipe the brush on a paper towel once or twice, and then whisk the bristle tips rapidly over the mailed parts of the model until the raised surfaces accumulate a layer of metallic paint and the recessed areas remain black. Repeat until happy. I work with a batch of 8-12 models at time and work my way through each batch the whole way to completion. I find that working with a manageable number of models at one time means that I see progress in a short time.

I don't worry about hitting other parts of the model, I even find that the overbrush makes the details on the rest of the model much easier to see (e.g. the reins on this horse) for subsequent painting. In fact, some might even drybrush the entire model with a bit of brown or grey to bring out those details for painting delibertately. I think visualizing the model is very important, and it can be hard to see details when they are all black, certainly when you are painting a range for the first time.

I usually start with painting the flesh, I like to do that for two reasons. First, it is usually the deepest layer of the model, so I might accidentally hit clothing or other bits with the brush when I try to reach the face or legs, but that's not a problem since those areas get painted over later (this is the "inside-out" strategy of painting). But more importantly for me, it helps me to visualize and personify the figure. That sounds hokey, but it helps me see what I am trying to create. I always use two or three layers of colour for every part of the model, starting with a tone that is dark (the shade) followed by a tone that is lighter (the highlight). I aim to cover fully with the shade, then use the highlight on 50-80% of the shaded areas focussing on edges and raised areas. This gives depth. For me, the highlight is usually the final colour. I aim for the the highlight to be quite bright since these are small models. I do all of the shade layers first on the batch of models I am working with, then after that I go through all of the highlight layers. For flesh, I use a terracotta colour for shade, then a medium flesh for highlight.

For the rest of the model, I choose a colour palette before I start. For the Normans, I wanted strong basic colours, blue, red and green, with some ochres and yellow for things like trousers. I mostly use Vallejo and pair my shades with highlights:

Here are three foot models that have been shaded and highlighted. I shaded the shields in dark brown then used stripes of highlight brown to give a wooden effect. With foot figures I usually paint in the order inside to outside or from head to toe. Inside-outside is logical since you cover your errors as you go, but I find head-to-toe works for me too.

With mounted figures I always paint the horse first, followed by the reins and other tackle, then the rider. I also always paint horse and rider assembled together even if they are cast separately.

Once the batch is done, I use GW flesh wash on the flesh, let that dry, then I seal them using an acrylic varnish mixed with a drop of black paint.

I take 5 mLs or so of the varnish and add one very wee drop of black paint, mix well, you need very little paint in this since the goal is to let the varnish carry the black pigment into recesses and at the same time not discolour the flat surfaces.

Apply with a big old brush liberally, but be sure not to let it pool anywhere

In particular, watch flat areas like the bottom of the shield where a drop can pool and discolour the shield when it dries. Use the brush to mop up pools and drops. This varnish-wash step does two things. First, the pigments settles in creases and folds which give the model depth and helps outline or define the belts and other parts. Second, it is a very good sealant for protecting your paint job. This is really important, especially for a DBA army which gets handled a lot.

After they dry, I glue them onto bases using a generous dollop of my favourite craft glue:

Then when that has dried, I cover the base generously with a beige or light brown paint:

And while still wet I dunk it in model sand and shake off the excess:

Let that dry. When that is dry, I hit the sand with acrylic varnish, this time using a drop of brown paint instead of black in the mix, you only need to touch the brush to the sand in a few spots and the varnish wicks to cover the base. I do this to stain the sand to look more earthy, and more importantly, it seals it up so it won't wear off.

Finally, when that is dry, I hit the sand with some blobs of white glue and dunk the model in static grass:

Last step, it all goes out to the garage for spraying with dullcote to remove the glossy finish of the varnish and provide another layer of protection.

That's how I do it. This army took me 3 evenings and a Saturday afternoon to complete.


  1. Great job with the tutorial. When you say three evenings and an afternoon, about how many hours would you mean?

    You inspire me to get at it and paint more.

    Mark Wall

  2. I dunno, 12-15h in all? Hard to say since the time is often broken up by open a can of beer, folding laundry or watching the Eskimos lose.