Acrylic paints are opaque, meaning that they are slightly translucent, and thus colors underneath will effect the look/brightness of the finished color.
For the base coat, go with a lighter shade that covers the majority of the model, then layer on the darker colors as needed. As has been mentioned before, paint using several thin layers to achieve an even, uniform, brush stroke free coat.
Here's a basic guideline that I teach to others who are new or wanting to try to improve on their painting skills.
1. Priming tips and tricks
- ensure that spray nozzle is clear, then depress the nozzle away from the model and in a sweeping motion, pan the can across the model from side to side at a distance of 6 to 8 inches. The goal is to apply several light coats, giving each coat a chance to dry in between applications.
- primer selection. It doesn’t matter what brand, as it’s just an under-coat for the paint to adhere to. Color is up to the painter... But black is better at hiding painting mistakes, as any missed spots will look like shadows. White is less forgiving when it comes to painting mistakes, but will yield a brighter more vibrant finished product.
- primer looks fuzzy/hairy... What should I do? If your primer has a fuzzy or hairy texture, do not fret. It’s most likely due to cold temperatures or dust being trapped in the primer. Once the primer is fully dried, you can give it a quick buff with a soft/cotton rag to smooth out the surface prior to applying your base coat.
2. Choosing your colors
- a basic knowledge of the color wheel helps. I go by the rule of three, so try to pick two complimentary colors, and at least one additional accent color... I don’t normally include black in the rule of three, as it tends to drown/hide details, so you will need to highlight black to bring up the details if it’s a main color.
- once your main colors have been established, you’ll need to find two shades of each color ( one shade lighter, and one shade darker ) for shading and highlighting. This is much easier to replicate then blending/mixing shades, when painting an entire army.
3. Choosing your brushes
- you’ll need a few different sizes of paint brushes, ranging from base coating to general painting to detail work. This is all personal preference, but what is common is the care/maintenance of your brushes.
- stay away from 100% synthetic brushes, as they lose bristles constantly. Even if you feel you can’t afford the 100% sable brushes, the cost will even out as they will outlast any synthetic brush… when properly taken care of. Even a partial sable/synthetic brush will do.
- the greater care that you give your brushes, the longer the working life span will be. So it’s wise to clean and re-tip your brushes as often as possible… especially while painting. Some major don’ts to remember are
a. don’t leave a brush with paint in/on it
b. don’t leave a brush submerged in water/cleaning solution for extended periods
c. don’t leave a brush sitting bristles down
When storing your brushes, thoroughly clean them first, then moisten the bristles to re-point your detail brushes ( I find that saliva works well ). Then store your brushes either in a cup with the bristles pointing up or lying flat.
- I like to re-point my detail brushes every time that I clean them, which is between each visit to the palette, to keep the tip… which means that I’m licking my brushes constantly. Which is also why a lot of painters don’t share their brushes.
4. Painting area prep/set up
- find a nice flat surface that’s not too cramped, and well lit. I find that by a window is ideal, but a decent desk lamp with a daylight white bulb will work just as well. The daylight white bulbs will ensure that colors will appear/look the same as they would in sunlight... Normal/traditional light bulbs throw off more of the yellow spectrum, so the colors will look different.
- set up a triangle between water jar ( for cleaning your brushes ), paint palette and rag/paper towel ( for wiping off your brush ). If you have a drink on hand while you’re painting, try not to set it close to your water jar to avoid either cleaning your brush in your beverage or attempting to drink from your water jar... Yuck!
- keep your brush clean!! Treat your paint brushes like gold. I quickly clean mine before each time I take paint from my palette. This ensures my brush will maintain a point and lengthen its working life span.
- work from a palette, not directly from the paint pot. The majority of available hobby paints are too thick to work with straight out of the pot, so you’ll need to thin them to a more workable state. To ensure that your paints don’t prematurely dry out, work from a paint palette. You only take out the amount of paint that you’ll need, and a palette is a great place to thin out your paints, making them easier to work with. Thinning out your paints also helps it flow onto the model more smoothly, and it will even out on its own, removing your brush-strokes.
- there are different mediums for thinning out your paints, ranging from brand name flo-agents, to future floor wax, to water ( provided you work with acrylic paints ). A typical ratio for thinning paints is 50:50, or equal parts water/flo-agent to paint. If desired, play around with different ratios to find the one that works best for you. I use a 60:40 and/or 70:30 water to paint ratio. The 70:30 water/flo-agent to paint ratio will indeed require more coats of paint to cover the model, but the resultant layers will be thin and smooth which will yield a very clean finished result.
- brush technique. The way that you hold your paint brush can make a difference in your control, especially when doing detail painting. As our hands are constantly moving/shaking to some degree, what you need to do is minimize this by ensuring that your brush and model will move/shake at the same rate. Hold your model in one hand, and touch either the palm of your hand or model with the pinky finger of your brush hand. This will ensure that the model and brush will move/shake in sync.
- model/fig paint prep. Now that your model is primed, you’re going to want to paint it up. The best way to prevent mucking up the fresh paint and primer with your fingers is to mount the model on a handle/holder so that you can manipulate it enough to paint the entire model from almost any angle. For small to medium sized figs, I find that an empty 35mm film canister ( affix the model to the canister with a blob of blu-tac ) or a bottle cork works best. You can also use old/spent paint pots as holders.
- back ground music. I find it best to have some relaxing/calming music playing in the back ground when I’m painting to put me into a Zen like state. So long as the music helps you to focus on your work, use what works best for you… the key is to minimize distractions.
- working paints/colors. Keep whatever paints/colors you need, easily on hand… you don’t want to have to get up from your work area every time you need to add more paint to your palette.
- taking into account that we’ve already covered thinning out your paints, try not to cover your model in one pass. Paint straight from the pot is generally too thick, and could fill in small details. It will take several coats of thinned paint to cover your model, and reach the desired color tone. So be patient and take your time. This is also where the hand stabilizing technique we covered earlier will be put to the test.
- start with the main colors ( keep those lighter and darker shades handy ), starting with the darkest then working up to the lightest. The dark base coat can be applied any way you like, but for the rest we’ll use a technique called dry-brushing. Some “expert” painters scoff at dry-brushing, and will tell you never to use it… but if used properly, you’ll be shocked with the results that you’ll achieve with seemingly little to no effort. The key is to use as little paint as possible in the brush, and continue with the dry-brushing until you’ve added the amount of color that you like. ( remember, it’s far easier to add more paint than it is to remove it )
- as you transition from the darkest color to the mid-tone/color, you can use a heavy dry-brush technique. Once you’re ready for the third high-light tone/color, this is where you’ll want to go lightly with the dry-brushing so that the color only catches on the high spots of the model.
- blending your layers. There are two techniques that I use to blend my color layers together. The first technique takes the most practice, but once mastered is the fastest for blending on highly textured surfaces.
1. Once your base coat is applied and you’re ready to start the second color transition, keep the brush as far away from the surface as possible ( ie: only let the very tips of the brushes bristles make contact with the model ), then as you work the color to the higher points, you can add a bit more pressure. This will cause the paint to slowly build up from the lowest to the highest points. The slow build-up of paint/color will then be your transition. This technique will give the area a “dusty” look/feel, so I wouldn’t recommend it for large flat surfaces.
2. This second technique requires a bit more brush control, and less working time, as you’ll be “wet-blending” the color transition directly on the model. While applying the transition color ( start your transition “line” higher than you’d like, as you’ll be blending the color down towards the darker shade… so leave yourself room to work ), clean your brush of paint and load it with water from your cup. Wipe off some of the water on your rag, then add it to the transition area and slowly work the water around. Slowly pull the lighter color down towards the darker, the water will thin out the paint more along the edge and create a natural gradient between the two colors. This will eliminate the need to custom mix several “in between” shades. Practice this technique before attempting on a character model, so you get the feel and control you want for adding and blending with the water.
- save all of the detail work for later, once all of the larger areas have been painted. Try to think of spots/areas on the model that might need to be repainted due to color “cross-contamination”, and save any final detailing until after you’ve finished any “touch ups”.
Hope that at least some portions of my rant above, may be of some use to you. Happy painting.
I reject your reality and substitute my own.