Friday, 21 December 2012

Painting Dark Ages Figures - Step by Step

I cannot recall doing this sort of thing before, plus I thought readers might find it interesting. Many of you probably don't even need any painting advice! :o) But may be there'll be the odd tip that you might find useful. As you may already know, for my Dark Ages figures I generally use a 'wash' technique with Army Painter Strong tone - although I do also use Games Workshop and Windsor & Newton inks. Most of the paints are Foundry but again I use some GW and Vallejo colours. Where a colour is important I'll mention it specifically.

Step 1 - Preparation
Like all projects, a good start is essential. I know it's a bit boring but time spent on good preparation pays dividends later.


I undercoat all the figures using GW Skull White. I've tried other primers but this one works the best for me. I always attach any weapons, e.g. spears, bows, swords, axes, etc, before undercoating as this makes the bond as strong as possible. Super glue gel works well for this. I'll mention shields later.
Tip #1 Make sure you remove all mould lines! Otherwise the wash will really make these standout.
Tip #2 Ensure you have a good even layer of undercoat. It make the painting easier.

Step 2 - Block Colours
I start by covering any metals (chainmail, swords, spear tips, buckles, etc) in black, then drybrushing with GW Chainmail or GW Shining Gold.
Tip #3 Try to leave a thin black outline around any metal items as this helps the wash to better delineate the feature.
This stage is often quite messy so is usually followed by a quick tidy up with white before moving on to the colours. I paint in batches of 8 - 12 figures. For each batch I choose a palette of colours. The ones shown below feature a lot of red and blue. Another batch might be predominantly green and buff. I use a set of common colours for things such as leather straps, spear shafts, etc.
For figures with cast on shields I either paint them a colour or leave them white ready for a transfer.


Tip #4 Use colours that are slightly lighter than you would normally use. It may look a bit 'bright' now but the wash will tone things down nicely.
Tip #5 Go for more 'natural' looking colours. There were no colour fast dyes or much in the way of soap back then! ;o)
Tip #6 Make sure you get a solid, even covering of each colour. If it looks patchy now then the wash will make it look worse. Some colours may require two coats.
Tip #7 For the flesh tones I use GW Dwarf Flesh, followed by a quick highlight of Foundry Base Sand Light. Only the metals and flesh get highlights at this point.
Tip #8 To help the non-uniform appearance of the figures, choose a colour then select which figures in the batch will have tunics in that colour, then which will have cloaks, trousers, and so on. This helps to prevent all the figures ending up with the same colour tunic, for example.
Tip #9 Don't worry too much about the edges between colours. Slight overlaps will be covered by the wash so this should help speed up painting.
Tip #10 Whilst painting, make a note of the colours you use for each batch. In pic above you'll see two blue dots on the bases. I use this to record which colours were used on each batch. This is only necessary if you plan to highlight the figures after washing.

Step 3 - The Wash
I prefer to apply the AP 'dip' using a brush, hence I call it a 'wash'. It gives more control and uses less of what is a fairly expensive product. You could try using similar products from a DIY/hardware store but I've yet to find anything more suitable. Note the white shield in this photo. Keep the wash off this for best results with any transfers.


Tip #11 Use a good quality soft brush, size 3 or bigger. The soft bristles will help prevent air bubbles forming as you apply the wash.
Tip #12 Make sure your work area is properly ventilated!!!
Tip #13 Keep an eye on the figures as you complete them, the wash can sometimes 'pool' too much in the folds of cloaks, etc. Use a spare brush to gently wick it away.
Tip #14 Leave the figures somewhere warm-ish for at least 24hrs. Ensure the area is not dusty.

When the wash is dry you may look at shiny, brown-ish result and think "Oh no... They look terrible!". But that's fine, they'll be alright after the next step.

Step 4 - Matt Varnish
Some use sprays, e.g. Testors, whilst others use brush on varnishes. After some experimentation I've settled on the latter. I had several issues with sprays (especially the AP offering!) and even Testors can go cloudy. This will depend a lot upon your particular circumstances, i.e. where you can spray, the weather, etc.
I use the W&N UV "Artist's Acrylic" Matt Varnish, which gives a very matt finish similar to Testors.


Tip #15 Spray - If it goes cloudy then apply a brush on acrylic gloss varnish (e.g. W&N) to remove the cloudiness.
Tip #16 Brush - As with the wash, use a good quality brush with soft bristles to avoid bubbles.
Tip #17 Brush & Spray - Apply the first coat as a thin layer. This will cover most of the figure but you're bound to miss some bits so wait for it dry properly and go back and fill in the gaps.

By this stage the figures should be looking fairly good. Certainly good enough to play games with. However, as part of the next step I do a final highlighting stage.

Step 5 - Highlights, Bases & Shields
Using the list of the colours applied in step 2, I apply some simple highlights to the figures. The wash effectively shows you where to apply them so it's quite easy and very satisfying as it adds extra depth to the colours.


Basing is whatever you prefer. I've settled on the scheme shown above. Sand and grit glued on with PVA. Painted with Vallejo Flat Earth and highlighted with Vallejo Gold Brown and Dark Sand. Flock is GW field grass, plus some clump foliage from Woodland Scenics and 'Mini-Natur' grass tufts.
Tip #18 Ensure you have a consistent basing scheme for the whole army and stick to it.

Shields - these are added last. Paint must be gently scraped off the figure's hand and from inside the boss on the shields. The two slightly rough surfaces seem to bond very well with super glue gel (or poly cement for plastics).

Tip #19 Transfers can sometimes be a bit 'shiny' so apply a little matt varnish.
Tip #20 Apply any transfers to the shield before gluing it to the figure.

There you have it. I hope you found it useful. If you have any suggestions or improvements then please do post a reply.

9 comments:

Ray Rousell said...

Some great tips Matt, thanks for sharing!

Monty said...

Perfect! I have a large order of Saga coming and as a 15mm guy, I've been a bit nervous about scaling up. I'll be using this shortly. THANKS for sharing!

Phil Broeders said...

Great tutorial. Very good.

Hendrid said...

Good write up,and some good tips there Matt. Cheers

tidders said...

Very instructive, thanks

Keith said...

Great stuff Matt, some usefull tips in there

Kenneth Ross said...

Excellent tips Matt, much appreciated

Kenneth Ross said...

Excellent tips Matt, much appreciated

Matt said...

Thanks chaps!

Glad you found it helpful.

Matt