Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Painting Tutorial #1: Introduction & Materials

After a pretty long break from painting, I got back into it recently and started the long task of getting my force painted up. Until now, I had only primed a few models, and had been honing my painting skills by painting the interior of my Rhino/Razorback. Looking back, I DID paint a test figure earlier this year using an old metal GKSS figure, but I found it was a bit too bright for my liking and put off painting the rest until now.

In any case, I have decided to put together some tutorials to help others in their path to improve their painting skills.

First off, a bit of a disclaimer:
  1. By no means do I consider myself a great painter. When compared to some of the work you can find online, I am average at best.
  2. That said, I have yet to find a painting guide for Grey Knights (or any other guide in my searches) that is what I'd call "truly comprehensive." My goal is to try and attempt just that, and although it may be a bit long-winded and tedious, I hope that aspiring painters will be able to easily follow my steps if they feel they like the end product. Really, this tutorial is as much for my own use as others' - I wanted a good way of documenting my process, paint ratios, etc. for future use.
  3. I do not have many/any progression pics as I am starting this tutorial after all but finishing my first figure and having already started the remaining four in the squad. That said, when I get to my next round of models I will do a step-by-step progression guide using pictures.
  4. True metallics are a b*tch to photograph, especially trying to capture subtle shading gradients, so when I attempt progression pics I can't promise they will be any good!

Materials & Preparation

1) Paint

I am currently using Vallejo Game Colour (VGC) exclusively for my painting purposes. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • Dropper Bottles are superior to Paint Pots. For paint longevity, nothing beats dropper bottles. Also, mixing and measuring becomes a lot more consistent (although still not exact). Since I use a wet palette, my life becomes much simpler.
  • Consistency in product. I am a little OCD, and the idea of using paints from multiple lines just gives me the heebie-jeebies for some irrational, illogical reason. Also, the VGC line matches up well with the Citadel line for the most part, and Dakka Dakka has a decent Compatibility chart (located here).
  • Cost. You get more paint per bottle than Citadel, and a lot of FLGS sell them for a good price, typically at least $1 or more cheaper than a Citadel pot.
  • Good quality (for the most part). In my research, it seems most people feel Vallejo is a good quality paint line with good pigment density and coverage. I tend to agree based on my very limited exposure, however, I have been extremely disappointed in their washes. This may be due to user error in part (see below), but regardless, when I put so much effort in my painting I cannot afford to be screwed by my tools.
In light of these reasons, there is one significant disadvantage I have found with their paints: They have a huge tendency to separate and require a LOT of shaking to mix thoroughly. As alluded above, this may be part of the reason why the washes often misbehave on me, but even their standard paints need a really good shaking. Bottles that are not used for a while may take 3-4 minutes of vigourous shaking to mix properly, and if they are full or almost full it becomes even more difficult.
Useful tip: There are 3 things you can do to properly mix up a dropper bottle. Shaking is obviously one of them, but holding the bottles horizontally and rolling them in your palms is also useful. Finally, try slapping the base of the bottle on your palm repeatedly (or any hard surface, but I find the palm works best) as this generates a lot more force than simply shaking.

2) Wet Palette

This is a huge difference maker in terms of improving your painting quality. All of my prior work was done using paint taken directly from Citadel paint pots, and while I did find my work went faster, the quality (especially metallics, which are very thick) was much worse. Details get obscured very fast without thinning your paints, and if you appreciate the detail of the figures as much as I do you'll want to thin your paints.

You can buy a wet palette at most art stores for under $10 or make your own. Most art store varieties come with paper included, but I found using parchment paper used for baking works as well or better, and is much cheaper. If you want to make your own, you simply need a shallow dish and a sponge (ideally the thin square ones, not the thicker bricks).

Basically, soak the sponge thoroughly, wet the paper on both sides, and put the paper on top of the sponge. Wipe off water droplets from the top of the paper and you are good to go. The sponge should be quite wet, so that when you tip the container to one side water begins to pool on that side. Just make sure the water can't rise up above the paper.

Now, just add paint to the parchment paper, and use your brush to move the paint along the damp paper surface. The paint will get slightly thinned out and will flow smoother when you apply it to your models.

Useful Tip: While thinned paints are the way to go, too much thinned paint on the brush can wreak havoc on your miniatures. Only take small amounts of paint at a time, and wipe the brush on a paper towel or cloth before you apply the paint to your miniature. Otherwise, paint will pool and streak all over the place. A good rule of thumb that is repeated many times is to aim for the consistency of skim milk.

A wet palette on its own is enough for most painters to find improvement, but for even more fluidity and control, the use of flow aids and mediums is a must.

3) Mediums

These products go by many names, and have many uses. There are lots of good online tutorials and guides on using mediums, but I will try and summarize the important ones here.

I have 3 mediums that I have used: Citadel Lahmian Medium, Vallejo Glaze Medium and a mixture I made following a guide on the Reaper website, found here. This link is a good guide on general paint thinning principles.

The first two products serve basically the same function, and again I prefer Vallejo due to its dropper format (but it too needs to be shaken well prior to use). The main reason I use these mediums is that they help preserve (or enhance) the properties of the paint. Water is a good thinner when used in small amounts, but too much of it can negatively affect the flow properties of the paint, causing it to dry in streaks and go places you don't want it to. The two mediums, put very simply, work like transparent paint, and therefore allow thinning of your paint while still maintaining brush control and smooth/consistent drying. The products dry to a matte finish like the paint itself.

The other mixture I mentioned is one that I recently started using and am very happy with. It is a mixture of 2 products and water (1:1:2 Ratio of Liquitex Slo-Dri : Winsor&Newton Flow Enchancer : Distilled Water). It is a lot thinner than the Citadel/Vallejo products and for now I use it more for creating washes and glazes rather than as a generic thinner. Unlike Vallejo Washes, mixing this product with VGC paint does not seem to cause the grainy, milky residue upon drying. Using this product will typically give you a semi-gloss finish. If this is not to your liking you can apply a coat of matte varnish after, but that's another topic.

Useful Tip: If you still have/use Vallejo Washes and end up with the aforementioned grainy residue, a few layers of this mixture will, in most cases, completely take care of this issue. This saves you the hassle of reapplying a basecoat and then re-shading.

Finally, this product is very economical since you get roughly 500mL of stock solution for less than $20, and Liquitex/W&N brands are both commonly found in art stores. To compare, you get less than 30mL of Vallejo Medium per bottle and you pay $3-4 dollars around these parts.

4) Brushes

For the bulk of my work, I use Winsor&Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brushes. I own a size 2 and a size 00. They were a sizeable investment for a novice painter, but I immediately noticed a difference in control and flow compared to the cheap synthetics I had been using prior to this.

If you are going to spend this kind of money, invest in good maintenance practices and tools, namely some Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver, and a brush rack that can store your brushes hanging bristle side down (suspended in mid-air, not just jammed into a cup). Really, proper brush care is a big topic and I won't get into it here at this time.

If this is out of your budget, there are lots of good mid-range brushes I heard are good for starters. Ideally try and get a sable brush (Kolinsky sable preferred, as it holds its point the best), as synthetics tend to splay and bend quickly.

Also, a cheap synthetic set of drybrushes are a must if you plan on using this technique. I have 3 in varying sizes, depending on what models you are tackling.

5) Miscellaneous
  • A solid light source is a must. I sometimes use a headlamp, but a good table lamp is sufficient.
  • It's good to have at least 2 water cups, one for metallics and one for regular paints. 
  • A small plastic paint palette is also useful in some cases when a wet palette doesn't make sense (glazes, for example, are so liquid-y that there is little risk of drying out).
  • If you want to do detail work, some sort of magnifying tool (as simple as dollar store reading glasses) can help. I have not yet invested in these, but feel I am reaching the limits of my simple human vision.
  • Once you get to doing glazes and thin layers, a small hairdryer is useful as it speeds up drying time significantly.

I can go into much more depth with any of the above topics, but this hopefully gives a good basic overview.

The first squad to be painted up is a 5-man GK strike squad (The squad is actually supposed to be 6+ knights, but that's not relevant here). Check back for updates soon!

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