Model Miniatures - Home
-- MAKING SCENERY --
-- WORLD WAR TWO VEHICLES --
Painting plastic figures
Converting polystyrene figures
Painting darkskinned figures
German WW2 infantry
Painting swords and axes
Dark age shield patterns
Painting 25mm faces
Basing 25mm figures
2mm scale figures
Useful modelling tools
How to waste money
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-- MAKING SCENERY -- -- WORLD WAR TWO VEHICLES -- Painting plastic figures Converting polystyrene figures Painting dark-skinned figures Painting tartan Painting German WW2 infantry Painting swords and axes Dark age shield patterns Painting 25mm faces Basing 25mm figures 2mm scale figures Plaster casting Making banners Storing models Useful modelling tools How to waste money
PAINTING PLASTIC FIGURES
There are two main types of plastic used for wargaming figures. These are sometimes called "hard" or "brittle", and "soft". The hard brittle type is polystyrene, and this can be glued with the proper glues very easily, and takes paint very well. It needs little discussion here. The problematic type is the soft type, polythene. Polythene is used for most boxes of toy soldiers. The figures are fairly safe for young children to play with. One problem, though, is that they are a bit bendy, and so the paint tends to flake off them. Many people are put off buying these figures for this one reason. This is a shame, since the figures are cheap and often good. I shall now describe how I paint them for gaming. I can honestly say that in the last three years of gaming with these figures, I have had no paint flake off at all.
Step one: get rid of flash
The figures have often got a very thin film of "flash" where the mould halves joined. It can be very difficult to trim this flash with a scalpel, because of the texture of the soft plastic. Get a wine cork and a pin. Stick the pin through the cork, entering through the side near one end, and exiting through the end. Hold the pin in the flame of a candle for a few seconds, and then use the hot pin to melt away the flash. You have to be fairly quick about it. If you linger too long, then the hot pin will melt into the main body of the figure. It is easier to do this task with the figures left on the sprue.
Step two: wash the figures
Remove all the figures from the sprue, complete any more trimming of them you are going to do, and stick them in a bowl of water with plenty of washing-up liquid. Stir well, rinse very well, drain, and leave to dry.
Step three: undercoat
Undercoat with PVA. This is the white glue which is sometimes called "school glue" or "wood glue", and which has many trade names, including Unibond, Polycel, and Liquid Nails. Get the cheapest. You may find it available in big squeezy bottles in craft shops or school supply shops. It is polyvinyl acetate, which is white and water-soluble when wet, and clear and water-proof when dry. You will be tempted to dilute it a bit. Resist. Paint on undiluted PVA glue to the figures. You may be appalled at the state of the figures. The glue will sit on them in horrible blobs of white yuck, and you may think that you have ruined your figures. Keep calm. When the glue dries, it will shrink onto the figures, and obscure very little detail. It dries fairly quickly. If you see that you have missed a bit, then, before the glue is completely dry, you can smear the thicker, half-set glue around onto the bits you have missed. When thinner, the glue tends to run off some parts of a figure.
Step four: paint
Paint the figures with acrylic paints. These paints are flexible, and you will find that they go on the primed surface very easily. Start with the big block colours like the main tunic colour, and later add the finer details.
Step five: varnish
I use ordinary polyurethane varnish, of a sort sold in house decoration shops for varnishing wood. You can use gloss varnish, satin, or matt. Gloss is far and away the strongest, but I find that matt is strong enough for light plastic figures, and I only use the gloss (I use extra thick "yacht" varnish) on lead figures. This is the first of two coats of varnish, and it has several purposes: (a) it protects the paintwork from the thousand natural shocks of wargaming, (b) it makes the figures a bit stiffer, so that rifles, spears etc. bend less, (c) it shades the figures. This third effect is achieved by the simple means of mixing in some dark enamel paint with the varnish. The pigment from this paint will settle in the crevices of the figure and provide excellent shading. I use black, dark brown, or a mixture of black and dark brown, for most of my figures. Remember that whatever colour you choose to add to the varnish will form the shadows on the face, the clothes, the whole surface of the figure.
Even if you use "matt" varnish for the first, protective, coat, then you will find that the figures are still not perfectly matt. I then put a second coat of Humbrol "Matt Cote" which renders the figures very matt indeed. If you used gloss varnish for the first coat, then you may find that two coats of "Matt Cote" are needed to get the figures as matt as you want.
A note on gluing
I use "all purpose" adhesive for soft plastic figures. Two major brand names are "Uhu" and "Bostik". You MUST follow the instructions properly, to get it to work. Put the glue on both parts to be joined, wait a minute, then press together. It takes a long time for the glue to set to full strength, but it works. Obviously, you do all your gluing necessary between stages two and three (above). A new type of glue on the market is Loctite All Plastics Super Glue and you might want to read about this at the bottom of my page on modelling tools.
If you paint your figures this way, you should end up with figures easily tough enough for wargaming, and which are very easy to store and transport - much easier than lead figures. I know that some people use varnish as a primer instead of PVA glue, and I am told that this works well too.
PAINTING DARK-SKINNED FIGURES
The effect I was after was a recreation of that sort of dark skin which some negroes have, which has a fabulous sheen to it, much beloved by photographers. The skin is very dark, but the highlights have a sort of golden quality. I found one method which works. There may be others, of course.
First, do not undercoat with the usual black or white, but use a biscuit colour. Humbrol acrylics are what I use for undercoats. They come in nice big pots which is good for something which one is going to be used as an undercoat, and they dry with a porous surface, which takes later coats of paint particularly well. Acrylics by other manufacturers do not have the same finish. Humbrol "sand" is perfect for undercoating figures.
Next, mix a dark reddish brown. I use a mix of black and Miniature Paints Chestnut brown, which is that rich red-brown colour of a conker which has just come out from its casing. Thin this slightly, and paint it all over the areas of the figure which are bare skin. The sandy-orange undercoat should peep through in the raised areas.
The figures look wrong if you do not add more detail to the hands and feet. They will look as though they are wearing black gloves. Paint the palms of the hands, insides of the fingers, and soles of the feet, with a "flesh" (i.e. European flesh) colour. If there is enough detail on the figure, you can leave breaks between small areas of flesh-coloured paint, so that the joints of the fingers and the like, are separated by dark lines. With a pale flesh colour, paint dots on the fingers and toes to represent the nails. Another touch which looks quite good, is to paint the bottom lip a European flesh colour.
Now paint the rest of the figures: their clothes, equipment and the like. Paint the hair black, and do whatever details you can be bothered with. If you don't paint the eyes, or the teeth if the mouths are open, then these details will be missed far more than they would be on pale-skinned figures.
Now, the varnishing: mix in black paint with your varnish. I use two coats of varnish for my lead figures. The first is yacht varnish which is very strong, but horribly glossy, and the second is "Matt Cote" by Humbrol, which is the only varnish I have found which actually dries properly matt. Unfortunately, they don't put in as much matting agent as once they did, and so now one doesn't get as much useful varnish per pot as once was the case, since to get a proper matt finish, one first has to drain half the clear liquid out of the pot, once the matting agent has settled in the bottom. I wrote to Humbrol to complain, and they denied all this, but I still think that it is true. Anyway, you mix the black paint with the first coat of varnish. I have tried mixing black ink, black acrylic paint, and black enamel paint. The effect of this varnish-paint mix is to darken all the crevices on the figure. The black pigment sinks into these, and the thickness of the varnish holds it there while it dries. With ink, the pigment ends up in the crevices, and no where else, giving a rather cartoon drawing-like effect, with hard black lines. With acrylics, the pigment favours the crevices, but not so definitely, and one gets a rather soft overall shading effect. With the enamels, the effect is most successful, with dark crevices, little darkening of the highlights, and a nice amount of shading in between. This same varnish coat will shade folds in clothing, and knock the goggle-eyed look off the figures, by darkening the whites of the eyes.
I have viewed these photographs on many different computers now, and on some I admit that they are a bit dark, but on most screens they look fine. By their nature, these photographs are particularly sensitive to under or over-exposure. All going well, you should see the results of the above-described method here.
Tartan is a swine of a thing to paint well on a figure, and there is no fool-proof way of doing it. Tartan was very common in the days of yore. It was an easy pattern for people who made their own clothes to do. When one set up the loom, one put groups of threads of the various different colours on the warp strings, and in the weft changed colour every now and then, and the effect was tartan. This was not unique to Scotland.
Pick three colours. One of them should be pale, one medium, and one dark. Paint the garment entirely in the medium colour. Next, using the dark paint, paint a network of perpendicular lines over the garment. Last, get the pale paint, and make sure that it is fairly thinly mixed, and paint another network of lines between the dark lines. All going well, the dark lines will cover over the medium paint clearly, and the pale paint will show a little of the paints beneath it through its pale thinness. Where the pale paint crosses the dark, you will see the dark line crossing underneath. At this point on the real garment, there would be a small area with inter-woven threads of both the dark and the pale wool, and this effect is simulated.
The three colours I have used here are medium grey, dark blue, and pale orangey sand. These are a fairly sober choice, and I would recommend that you avoid loud bright clashing colours. Subtle heather purples, gorse greens and the like will not threaten to dominate a figure and advertise your every little slip of the brush, as would shades of O'Hara scarlet, and Jezebel puce.
The figure you see here has been in many wargames, and handling has caused it to go a bit shiny. I do sometimes ask my opponents not to eat crisps and greasy snacks while playing, but I seldom bother as they usually blithely ignore my requests. Shiny figures with dust and little bits of fluff adhering to them is the reward of my tolerance.
PAINTING SWORDS and AXES
By and large, with metal things, I paint them black, and then dry brush them with metallic paint. This works well for armour, but the results I got with weapons were not so great. I have come up with another method that I much prefer. I paint some of the weapon a dark mix of silver and black, and the rest with the shiniest silver I have.
One effect of this, is to reduce the apparent size of over-size weapons. Take this figure here. His sword is much larger than a true in-scale sword would be. Figure sculptors do this largely to make the weapons strong, but also because they tend towards heroic or cartoony proportions. If his whole sword were painted silver, this sword would look even larger. At his feet you may be able to make out a broken axe.That's meant to be a scarecrow in the field, by the way.
Another effect of the technique, is to make weapons look very shiny. The exaggerated contrast suggests high shine. I gloss varnish my figures for durability, but then matt varnish over the top to get rid of the unrealistic shine. If I can, I avoid matt varnishing the blades of weapons, though. Even if a weapon is matt-varnished, with this technique the eye is fooled into seeing a shiny object.
Yet another benefit is that weapons look sharp. Here you see a Prince August Viking spearman converted into an axeman. Most of the axe is dark silver, with a line of bright silver along the sharp edge, giving the axe a dangerous look. The spear in the background, and the edge of the scythe have been given the same treatment.
The technique also creates an exaggerated 3D effect. Here I have used it to suggest a fuller on a blade that in reality has no sculpted fuller. A fuller is a channel that runs down the centre of some sword blades to make them light, strong and flexible (and not, as you will read in some old books, to facilitate the victim's bleeding). The sculptor had given me a flattish section of sword to paint in the middle of the blade. I have painted the fuller as mostly dark, but have picked out the lower edge of it in the bright silver highlight colour. I have assumed that the sword is lit from the top.
You have to use your judgement when deciding which side of a sword to highlight. A good rule of thumb is to hold the figure with its front facing you, and imagine that the sword is being lit from the top left.
The 3D effect is useful on shield bosses too. When painting shield bosses, I first paint them black, then dry brush them dull silver, then add a blob of silver to the upper left part of the raised boss. This highlight makes the boss stand out, as you see here. It is a fact that the amount of highlighting and shading you need to make something look right increases as figures get smaller. If a figure were life size, you wouldn't need to paint on highlights or shading, but a small figure has shallower recesses, which create weaker shadows. In this photograph, the painted highlights coincide with the highlights created by the lighting, making the bosses look life-sized.
PAINTING 25mm SCALE FACES
You see here a Wargames Foundry figure of a peasant, sculpted by one of the Perry twins. The Perry twins give all their figures unique faces, and very expressive ones too. Their medieval peasants all look very peasanty. This one looks positively retarded.
There are several different schools of thought about figure painting. Some people like gaudy cartoony figures, some like drab realistic ones. Some are prepared to take an age to paint every figure, while some want to get on with it. Some say that one should paint figures to look good at arm's length, while others want figures to bear close scrutiny. In my own opinion, my painting methods give fairly quick results, are fairly realistic, while not too drab, and bear reasonably close scrutiny.
One common way to paint figures involves painting them a very dark colour first, and then painting on ever smaller blobs of ever lighter colours, leaving dark lines showing through in between the blobs. The results of this technique can be quite striking, but they are not the way I do it. My way is a bit quicker, more realistic, and doesn't require as much care.
I undercoat the figures with acrylic (preferably Humbrol as this dries with a good porous surface) paint. The colours I pick are pale browns, and biscuity tans. Over this, I paint a block flesh colour over the whole face. The best flesh colour I have ever discovered is also very cheap. It is Anita's "dusty peach", which you might find for sale in a craft shop, or, as I did, in a remaindered bookshop.
Next, I mix a pale version of the flesh colour, and I paint the highlights. The brow ridge gets a horizontal line, the bridge of the nose gets a vertical stripe down it, and then I pick out whatever else seems appropriate on the figure, such as above the upper lip, the cheekbones, the point of the chin, tips of the ears etc. The highlight colour is quite a bit paler than the block colour, and at this stage you may think that the contrast is a bit too great. Fear not. Fingers and knuckles are also picked out with the highlight colour.
The eyes I paint by first getting a very fine brush, and holding it horizontally, I apply, preferably in a single action, a blob of very dark brown. I water the paint down slightly, to get it to behave as I want. All going well, this blob will be slightly larger than the whites of the eyes, and will come to a point at its left and right ends. Next, I slightly thin some white paint, and do the same again, only this time the blob is slightly smaller, lying within and on top of the dark brown blob. If this goes well, I now have the white of the eye, surrounded by a thin dark line, representing the eyelashes, and giving some life and contrast to the eye. I then dot in the iris, usually with brown, but sometimes with blue. The iris dot should touch the upper eyelash line. If it doesn't, your figure will have a mad staring look which is appropriate if they are meant to be mad or terrified, but otherwise is best avoided.
Some figures are not improved by having the eyes painted. If a hat comes down low over the eyes, if the eyes are poorly sculpted, or are only open a crack, then you may be better off leaving the eyes alone, or perhaps just representing them with a little dark smear.
On some figures, the lips are prominent or the mouth is open. I never use red paint on lips or mouths. It is too vivid, and makes figures look as though they are bleeding or wearing lipstick. I use a dull brick-red colour, such as Humbrol brick red, or Citadel swamp brown.
On some figures, it seems appropriate to give them a five o-clock shadow. This is simple enough, with some much-thinned dark brown paint. I use this too for chest hair, forearm hair, and leg hair if these parts of the figure are exposed. Aeneas (below) has been given this treatment.
Some figures demand eyebrows to be painted on them. The village idiot (above) I have given a monobrow. Obviously, blond figures can look wrong with a lot of dark body hair and dark eyebrows. You have to use your judgement. On some figures, especially blond and ginger ones, I sometimes add a little reddish paint to the cheeks and end of the nose, for a weather-beaten or boozy look.
A word on hair colours: never use yellow paint for blond hair. Use sand instead. Similarly, ginger hair looks wrong if you use orange paint. Use a very orangey brown, such as Miniature Paint's "leather" or Citadel's "snakebite".
The faces you see in these photographs, I hope you'll agree, have a subtle shading to them, and do not seem to have harsh highlights, or clear edges to the shadows. I achieve this effect by mixing in brown paint with my varnish. The pigment will settle in the recesses, and give you this nice shading effect. It will also blend all the colours you have painted so far together, and hide many mistakes. For example, you may have thought that the white you used for the eyes looked a bit bright, but this will be taken care of by the varnish. The village idiot's white undershirt was simply painted off-white, and then varnished. The pigment in the varnish did all the shading for no effort from me.
One more thing: can anyone tell me why wells had roofs over them, as in the photo of the village idiot? To stop the rain falling into them? To give the birds somewhere to perch and shit into the water? The only reason I can think of is to stop the rope of the winding mechanism getting wet, but is this so important?
BASING 25mm FIGURES
Basing figures well makes a huge difference to the look of them. I'd even go so far as to say that a well based but badly painted figure looks better than a badly based but well painted one.
I use thick card for the basic shape of the base. I glue the figure on with universal adhesive (Bostik, UHU etc.), and I make sure that I obey the instructions and put glue on both surfaces and wait a while before pressing them together, as this makes a much better join. I also coat the whole of the upper surface of the card with the adhesive, because this creates a seal that stops the card soaking up water from the texturing material, which might make it warp.
For the texture, I use something brown. I used to use white plaster, and paint it brown, but this takes longer, and if the result chips, you get a white bit showing through on your figure. I have used instead white powder plaster gap filler, bought from any hardware shop (get the cheapest, as it's near enough all the same), and mixed in poster paint. First, I put in a small blob of black paint, to counteract the whiteness of the powder, and then I add plenty of brown. One odd effect this has is that it increases the drying time for some reason, but if I've got a lot of bases to do, this is a welcome thing. I also usually add some PVA glue, to give the mix strength, stickiness, and water resistance when dry. More recently, I have been using brown acrylic mastic, squirted from a gun (see this page for information on mastic guns). This is the stuff sold for sealing windows and baths, and in some other countries it is called "caulking" or "silicone". Do not get silicon mastic, because this cannot be painted over - make sure that it is acrylic. This material has the advantage that you needn't mix a load of it for a job and then use it all before it dries. Instead, you could do just a couple of bases with it, if that's all you have time for, and the mastic will keep happily in its tube until you decide to do the next ones.
At the same time as I texture the base, hiding the base of the figure, I also paint the edge of the card with the same mud mix. Some people prefer a solid black line around their bases, but I much prefer the more realistic edges that you see here.
While the texturing material is still wet, I add stuff. For rocks, I use cat litter. Cat litter is made by smashing up large pieces into smaller ones, so it gives you a variety of rock-sizes, and they are angular and so look good in scale. Stones that have been weathered look too rounded in my opinion. I add the cat litter to the mastic with a wet paint brush, so that I can be sure that the surface of the mastic is wet when it receives the cat litter. This is important so that the mastic soaks into the cat litter to form a strong bond. If the mastic is not wetted in this manner, it very quickly forms a skin, which will stick to the cat litter, but when it dries the bond is a bit weak.
Small chunks of green-dyed foam (see the figure on the left in the picture) get stuck into the texturing material to represent little shrubs. Little bits of snapped twig get stuck in to represent logs and stumps (see the archer figure in the red cap, second from the right). Dry reeds are represented by sisal string (see the archer on the right). I hold the end of the string in the fingers of one hand, and snip it off with scissors held in the other, and then, pinching tightly, I transfer the snipped off short section to the wet mud mix on the base. Lush tufts of grass are made in the same way using green garden twine (see the axeman, second from the left).
When the base texture has dried, I add flock. I glue it on with PVA glue. There are "static" flocks of very fine fibrous material, and flocks that look more like dyed sawdust. I use a mix of the two. I leave a fair amount of the brown texturing material showing through. Make absolutely certain that any varnish on the figures has dried before gluing on flock, because you will be so annoyed if bits of stray flock stick to the figures.
If the undersides of the bases are ever going to be seen, I paint them brown with cheap paint and a big brush. In my skirmish games, I usually knock figures over when they die rather than remove them, and I hate to see the white squares of upturned bases, or, even worse, the designs of the beer mats from which they were cut. This doesn't take long, and it is worth going this extra inch, in my opinion.
The challenge with banners is to make them animated, and strong. Many banners you see on wargame figures are far too thick, and look like duvets on poles. Often these are cast in metal with the figure. At other times you'll see paper banners that are too smooth and shiny, and rather fragile.
The banners you see here are very robust indeed, and I think you'll agree that they are nicely animated, rather than flat. They are made from cloth. The cloth I picked had a fine weave. Many of my banners are made from shiny, smooth, dense-woven labels cut from underwear. I cut out a piece the shape I want, making sure that the part that will contact the pole is long enough to wrap around the pole. I then glue the cloth to the pole with super-glue, wrap the end around the pole and glue it back to the main part of the banner. The glue dries quickly, so you have to work quickly. Have some tweezers standing by for pinching the cloth in place. Next, I saturate the cloth in super-glue. I use quite thin runny super-glue for this. Before it dries, I manipulate the cloth into the wavy form I want. This is not a process easy to describe, as it involves working with tweezers and such like tools, as well as the use of fingers, and the inevitable remedying of mistakes. The glue likes to stick to everything, especially skin, but I've always managed it.
Once the glue is dry, the banner is pretty solid. I paint it off-white, and then paint on the design, and varnish it to protect the paint. I find that a pure white background/undercoat is too bright for my tastes.
The figures you see above were converted for use as standard bearers by removing the axe and sword from their hands, and then drilling through their hands with a pin vice (see this page for information on pin vices), and then gluing in the shaft of a quilting pin to serve as a spear shaft. The spear heads were beaten out on a cobbler's last with a hammer.
How to waste money
I saw this in a model shop in London and felt I should share it with you. Yes, for the grand price of £3.78, you can buy yourself some TWIGS! Who on Earth would shell out that kind of money for a few twigs? I have a feeling that when I went in this shop before, the packets they were selling were actually smaller. Who has access to model shops in London, but not access to any wood-bearing plants? Even if you were aboard a submarine, and had no access to plants, you still wouldn't be able to receive post, so you still couldn't mail order some twigs. The price bothers me too. It is so precise. Perhaps they once sold these for £4, but after some compromises and harsh cost-cutting they managed to get it down to a bargain £3.78. Presumably at £3.77 or less it just wouldn't be worth their while offering this product.
And now here's more. At a wargaming show in Newcastle I spotted these packets for sale on one of the stalls. For a mere one pound, you can save yourself the trouble of bending over and picking up some stones, and instead buy these stones in handy hygienic plastic bags. Guaranteed 100% genuine rock. Good grief.