How to Paint Baran Blacktree – Extended Edition

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Throughout 2018 Reaper released a special Dungeon Dwellers figure each month, and these continue to be available. The figures were sculpted and painted by a variety of talented people. Each is accompanied by a free painting guide PDF, and there is also a fun role-playing adventure you can download. All these documents are available on the Dungeon Dwellers page at Reaper Miniatures.

Baran front full

I painted the February figure, Baran Blacktree, and wrote the accompanying PDF painting guide, which includes information on painting black fabric, non-metallic metal, and scratches. Since I knew I would be writing a painting guide for him, I took a lot of work-in-progress pictures as I painted him. I ended up with more pictures (and more tips) than could reasonably be included in the painting guide. So I thought I’d dig up some of the ‘deleted scenes’ and share them with you now.

Members of my Patreon will be getting additional bonus content some time soon, as I will be sending them a copy of my draft for the PDF that includes my full resolution photos.

Preparing to Paint

In the PDF I discuss how I used a mix of primer colours to block in the major value areas on the figure. (If you’re unclear on terms like value and saturation used in this article, here is a handy guide to colour terms.) This gave me a chance to consider the composition of values across the figure. It also gave me the chance to create my own lighting reference photos. I positioned a small LED desk lamp where I wanted to have the light appear to fall on the figure, and took pictures.

If you struggle to figure out where to put your shadows and highlights, this is something you might try. You can do this with the base coats of your major colours, not just in black and white. Here you can see the lighting reference photo of my primed figure next to the final version of the figure. There are areas where I added some nuances to the lighting (the reference photo lighting is pretty blown out), and the NMM is handled a little differently to try to evoke the appearance of metal. But you can also see that I followed the reference photo pretty closely, and it was very helpful to me to have.

Baran light comp

My article on painting Caerindra Thistlemoor has another reference lighting example, and so does my article on painting Ziba the Efreeti. It’s an effective tool to help you push the level of contrast on your figures.

Weathering Metal Areas

In the non-metallic metal section of the PDF I talk about general principles of painting NMM, and painting the scratches. I also share the colours and materials used for the general weathering. Unfortunately there wasn’t really space to talk about the process of the weathering apart from the scratches.

The way I paint NMM and my general blending approach can result in a sterile or boring appearance for NMM. A little too ‘factory fresh’, if you will, especially for a battled-wearied character like Baran, who has damage sculpted into his equipment. In addition to painting on scratches and damage as appropriate, I also like to use glazes to add wear and tear and visual complexity to NMM. (I use pretty much the same techniques to add interest to true metallics, too, this idea is definitely not limited to NMM.) 

I often apply a dull dark brown like Reaper’s Woodstain Brown or Blackened Brown to areas that are more recessed and less likely to be cleaned thoroughly, like the bottom quarter or so of the sword where it meets the hilt and crevices in armour. I also added hints of rust to areas of scratches and damage on Baran. Applying thin glazes of colours used elsewhere on the figure is a simple way to create the impression of surrounding items reflecting on the metal areas. Baran’s colour scheme was fairly subdued, so I didn’t really do that here, but it’s a trick to keep in mind. 

Baran front fullYou can see light rust in the sword cracks, dirt on the armour, and dust on the floor stones.

Sometimes I use paint glazes alone for this kind of wear and tear and colour interest. In this instance I also used pigment powders. These are finely ground powders that you rub on to areas of a figure with a dry old brush. They can be applied with a damp brush, as well, but this gives a different appearance. You may need to use fixative on them for gaming figures that will be handled frequently. Several companies produce these products. I bought my set years ago at my local HobbyTown, and I’m not finding the producing company online to link to. You should be able to find recommendations for pigment powders from other miniature hobbyists in your favourite discussion venue.

For Baran, I applied dirt and rust coloured pigments in various areas of the figure, with a concentration on the NMM to add interest to it. Some lighter dirt coloured powders were also used on the base. In the picture below you can see a comparison of some of the NMM areas before and after weathering glazes and powders. Although the effect is subtle, it’s quick to do and I think adds a lot of visual interest to the figure, even if the viewer isn’t always consciously aware of it. You can also use these powders on areas depicted as cloth and lots of other materials.

Nmm glaze comp

Contrast of Hue and Temperature

One of the biggest challenges in painting Baran is that the overall colour scheme was dark and the colours used were fairly low in saturation. Strong differences in value and hue are very effective tools for creating contrast. Most miniature painters rely heavily on one, if not both of those tools. 

I think Baran is an interesting example of how colour elements always need to be considered in the context of the overall figure. A strong colour like bright blue or vivid red would stand out too much and look weird on this figure. In this kind of somber colour scheme, even subtle differences in colour saturation and temperature can create some contrast.

Color v bw

As an example, look at the lighter brown leather accessories of Baran’s bags, pouches, and straps in the photo above left. These stand out pretty well against the metal armour plates and the darker leather armour and boots. Looking at the colour picture you may feel this is because the colours are lighter in value than the surrounding colours. But if you look at the picture converted to greyscale on the right, you can see that the value of the leather accessories and even the face is close to or even darker than the value of the metal areas. Those areas do not stand out much at all in the black and white photo, so they definitely do not have much value contrast with the surrounding areas. (Differences in temperature and saturation are only apparent in full colour. Looking at something in black and white is a great way to assess its level of value contrast.)

Instead, those areas stand out due to contrasts in temperature and colour. In isolation, I would classify the colours I used on the NMM as warm greys – they are grey paints with a little bit of brown in them, not true neutral greys. There is some dull blue (Blue Liner) and neutral grey (Grey Liner) in the shadows that makes them cooler there, but this is a much warmer NMM colour than one painted with neutral or blued greys. However, in the context of this figure, if you compare the armour colours to the leather and skin colours, the armour colours by comparison are both cooler and less intense in colour saturation.

This is an example of what we mean when we say colour is relative, and why it can understandably feel a little frustrating to try to figure out sometimes! Below is a photograph with some additional figures that show more colour relativity. These are all NMM figures, but you can get similar contrasts of temperature on true metallics depending on the colours you use in the shadows.

There’s no one right answer as to which way to go with your colour use. But one other thing you can see in comparing the figures as a group is that stronger contrast makes it easier to delineate a smaller scale figure and make it more readable to the viewer. The hue contrasts on the left figure make it pretty readable. The centre figure has strong value and texture contrasts that would help it stand out on a tabletop or shelf. Keeping Baran dark and moody and limiting both the colour contrast and the value contrast means he doesn’t quite have the same visual oomph when you look at him in a group of figures, nor when you look at him at the smaller size he would appear on a table or shelf rather than larger photos online. I should have pushed the saturation and value contrasts just a little bit more than I did. (The white/black contrast on his shield definitely makes that area stand out though!)

Nmm contrast

The metal colour of the figure on the left is quite cool. The blues in the shadows are not strongly saturated, but they’re obviously blue. It is also cool in the context of the figure, since the skin and leather colours all incorporate warm yellows and oranges, even though they are likewise fairly low saturation versions of those colours. (Speaking of weathering, the dried mud on the bottom of her skirt was applied with paint glazes, but you could also use weathering powders for this kind of effect. You can also see some light glazes of dark brown in the crevices of her swords and armour plates, similar to what I described painting on Baran above.)

The figure in the centre has fairly neutral colour metal. The paints are true greys with touches of weathering and reflected colour added through glazes. The colour looks pretty neutral in the context of the figure, as well, since she has warm colours in her skin and leather and a cool colour on the pants, so it keeps the steel metal colour between the two and feeling neutral. However, if you transplanted that same metal colour NMM to either of the other figures, it would look cool in contrast to their colour schemes. Neither of the other figures has cool blues or greens or even purples used in their overall colour scheme. All of their colours other than their metal areas are warm. In colour schemes with warm colours and no cool colours, neutral greys would look cool by contrast. The reverse is also true – if you placed that same NMM colour scheme on a figure painted completely in cool blues and greens, it would look a little warm in contrast.

Then we have Baran on the right. His overall colour scheme is warm, though dull in saturation. But the skin and leather areas are a little warmer in colour than the armour, so in the context of the figure’s overall colour scheme, the armour is a cool colour.

Additional Photos

Here are some additional angles and uncropped photos. I’ll have one more behind the scenes article on Baran coming up, with step-by-step photos and tips for painting freehand like that on his shield.

Baran s face 500

Baran s shield 500

Baran s back2 500

Baran back right 500

Paints Used

Please see the PDF Paint Guide available from the Reaper site for a complete list of all paints used on the Baran Blacktree figure, as well as additional information on how I painted him!

Figures in this Article

The Female Dual Wield Fighter is based on a Larry Elmore drawing.
The Female Demonkin Warrior with Sword is also available from Dark Sword Miniatures.
Baran Blacktree is available in metal from Reaper Miniatures. 

How to Paint Miniatures that Survive the Apocalypse! (Or at Least a Minor Fall)

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Edited October 20, 2020 to add additional information in the Seal Your Figures section.

A lot of people believe the key to a strong paint job that doesn’t chip or scratch is using a good sealer. But in my experience, creating the sturdiest paint jobs starts before you even put any paint on the model, and even before primer! You might not be able to follow all of these steps every miniature, but the more you can do, the tougher your paint will be.

IMG 0409Examples of what we want to avoid.

Sturdy Paint Steps Checklist

I’ll go into each of these in more detail below, but I thought a shorter checklist might be handy for people to refer back to.

1. Prep the Miniature
If you can, do messy and potentially damaging filing, conversions, assembly, and base work prior to the cleaning step.

2. Clean the Figure
Dip/brush the figure with isopropyl alcohol, or scrub with dish soap and a toothbrush and then rinse thoroughly.

3. Prime the Figure (Except Reaper Bones)
Whether you use aerosol primers, brush-on, or airbrush, you need to use a primer. Unless you’re painting Reaper Bones.

4. Let the Primer Cure for One Day or More Before Painting
Primer is touch dry in minutes, but takes minimum 24 hours to cure to full sturdiness.

5. Don’t Touch the Miniature while Painting
Affix the figure to a handle while painting to minimize touching it.

6. Maintain the Paint Film
Use stronger paint brands for tabletop models, and don’t add more than 30% water (and/or additives) to any brand on foundation coats. Use medium instead.

7. Let the Paint Cure for One Day or More Before Handling or Sealing
Acrylic paint seems to dry quite quickly, but like primer, it doesn’t cure fully for at least 24 hours.

8. Seal the Paint
Gloss sealer is the most protective. You can use matte sealer over gloss to dull the shine. Avoid aerosol sealers on Bones.

9. Safe Storage and Travel
A lot of damage occurs not in play or handling, but in storage and transit.

Orc skin left damage cuWe definitely want to avoid this.

Now I’ll go through the steps above in a little more detail, as well as explaining how those help create a sturdier paint job.

Miniature Preparation

It’s worth taking a little time and extra effort to assemble your figures well. Use pins to attach multiple parts or affix miniatures to bases. Paint gets damaged when parts break off, so repair usually involves not only reassembly, but repainting.

Harbinger damage fullIt’s only a flesh wound, but it’s going to take pinning and paint to fix it.

If possible, do as much assembly and base work as possible prior to painting. This helps avoid damage, stray glue, debris, and other issues that can damage finished paint work. 

Base damage fullExamples of damage along integral base edges and texture.

The one area I do regularly have problems with paint rub-off is on bases. I often paint metal miniatures with integral bases. The outer edges of metal bases and those with Bases with sharp textures near their edges are prone to paint rubbing away when they are picked up or slid across tabletops. The best way to prevent this is to glue the miniature to a slightly larger base. This might be a plastic base, coin, washer, or a number of other options.

Arilynn damage fullThe paint ended up being much sturdier than my assembly method.

The base for the above figure is made of Sculpey. Only the top area of the ’tiles’ was painted. The metal figure detached from the base soon after it was finished. I’ve just left her lying on top of the base for years. It got moved repeatedly around my display cases. And then up and downstairs during a renovation. And then to add insult to injury, I dropped her on the vinyl tiling floor that was installed during the renovation when I took her out of the case to take pictures for this article! There’s a tiny chip on her thumb and another on the hem of her dress, but considering the way this has been treated, the paint has held up pretty well due to the kind of prep steps I’m describing. The familiar is lighter weight, but eventually detached as well.

Clean the Figure

Filing off mould lines and other types of figure preparation creates debris, and you are depositing finger oils on the surface as you handle it, so I always recommend washing a figure, regardless of what it’s made of. The moulds used to make metal figures are dusted with powder prior to casting, and resin mould release agent is even worse. People involved in production may have handled the miniature with greasy fingers at several points, as well.

Primer and paint will not adhere as well to surfaces that have debris or skin oils on them. Sealer cannot hold on primer and paint that is flaking off due to issues with the underlying surface. Cleaning your miniatures is probably a more protective step than sealing! I know there are lots of painters who do not bother with this step and rarely have problems. To me it is such a simple step and not that time consuming, so it’s worth the effort to avoid even rare problems.

Bones baggie fullFine for unpainted Bones, but not a great storage method for anything with paint on it.

My preferred method of cleaning is to dip or briefly soak figures in isopropyl alcohol. I’ve also used it to ‘spot clean’ miniatures if I had to do some putty work or filing after I already started priming and I was concerned I’d gotten oils on them. If I can’t do that, I want to scrub them with dish soap on a toothbrush and then rinse thoroughly. I even do this with miniatures I’m prepping for convention classes and paint & take events.

I also always wash my hands before I sit down to paint in case I have lotion or anything else on my skin that might get on the miniature while I’m handling it during painting.


Metal and resin are slick materials. Primer is designed to adhere well to these slick materials. It is also designed to be a surface that acrylic paint adheres well to. 

I’ve long believed that aerosol primer is a sturdier coating than brush-on primer, but I have no evidence one way or the other and I’m not finding much about whether durability varies in doing some casual research.  So I’d suggest picking on the basis of what you find most convenient.

Many people find it quicker and easier to spray aerosol primers. However, as with any aerosol product, they should not be used in certain climatic conditions. Generally speaking they work best in temperatures between 60 – 90 Fahrenheit and at less than 60% humidity, but check the brand you’re using for its specific guidelines.

Pencil case exterior fullI store and transport class example miniatures in hard plastic pencil cases.

It is possible to spray in less than ideal conditions, particularly if it’s a little too cool. You can spray outside, and then bring the figures inside to cure. However, be aware that the fumes are still off-gassing throughout the curing process. If you or other members of your household are sensitive to fumes and chemicals, this may not be a great idea.

One issue that can occur when you use aerosol primer in less than optimal conditions is ‘fuzzy primer’. The surface will look bumpy or gritty, and the grit may rub off when you touch it. Vigorously brushing the surface with a hard dry toothbrush or similar can help. You can also paint on a coat of brush-on sealer to smooth and seal the surface. However, if you want to paint a high quality paint job on such a figure, it’s best to strip off the fuzzy primer and start over.

Brush-on primer is ready when you are regardless of the weather, and is easily used indoors without issues of fumes. It can take a little more time, but you are familiarizing yourself with the figure during that time and discovering elements that might need special consideration in painting. You can spray brush-on primer through an airbrush and get the best of both worlds. A general purpose airbrush with a larger needle is best for this task. Primer will quickly clog a detail needle airbrush.

Depending on your primer, it may say that it is touch dry or safe to handle within minutes or an hour. Dry enough to lightly handle is not the same as fully cured. If you can, allow a freshly primed figure to sit for at least a day before handling it extensively or beginning to paint. I believe that heat can help primer cure a little more quickly, but I have no idea how much running a hairdryer on it it would take to equal waiting a day.

Pencil case interior fullWhen I travel with a pencil case I wrap the figures in bubble wrap. The unwrapped figure is metal, and is one of several metal figures I have taken to numerous conventions where they are handled by dozens of people. I only starting mounting them on holders a few years ago. None have chips or damage.

Note that your primer coat doesn’t need to be thick and 100% opaque to be effective. In fact, some primers can form a slick surface that repels paint a little if applied in too thick a coat, in addition to the danger of filling in fine detail on your figures. You also don’t need to worry if you don’t get primer into every crook and cranny, since heavily recessed surfaces and under-hangs aren’t likely to be touched in game play. Aim for a decent coat over the areas that will be handled often, and you should be good to go. If you use black primer to ensure crevices are shadowed, you can use brush-on primer to touch up areas you missed when spraying.

It is a good idea to keep some brush-on primer on hand even if you primarily use aerosol primer. This will allow you to prime in periods of inclement weather, and to do touch-ups if there are areas you missed or which experienced rub-off during painting. When I repair a chip or scratch to a paint job, I always try to start with a layer of brush-on primer to help the paint stick.

Primer fullMy favourite primers. I live in a humid place, so the brush-on and airbrush primers get the most use.

NOTE: Use of aerosol primers is not recommended for Reaper’s Bones plastic figures. Many people have experienced issues where the primer doesn’t cure and remains sticky or occasionally outright gooey. Primer is not necessary to paint these figures – acrylic paint adheres well directly to the surface. See the Bones FAQ reference for primer alternatives.

Minimize Handling

Once you do start painting it is helpful to minimize how much you touch the surface of the figure. Holding the figure in your hand causes a lot of paint and primer rub off. This is most likely to happen on sharper areas like weapons or outward facing areas like the top of the head. Those are the areas most likely to be touched in game play, so are the ones you want to have the strongest primer and paint on! Touching the primer surface can also deposit skin oils or debris that might interfere with how well the paint adheres to the primer.

To minimize these problems, attach the figure to a holder. You can use anything that is comfortable in your hand – dice cubes, dowels, wooden spools, old pill bottles, I’ve seen a ton of variations. If the base of the figure is flat on the bottom, double sided mounting tape works best to attach it to the holder. If it’s a slotta-base or concave on the bottom, strong poster tac can work well.

Mini holdersJam jars, pill bottles, spools – there are lots of different options for painting holders. The mini holder with a hand brace is from Rathcore. They offer different heights of braces and a smaller size holder as well. Games Workshop sells two sizes of holders that clamp bases into place while painting. (More info on holder options.)

If you need to brace your hand against the miniature while you paint, you may prefer to buy a few purpose-made holders that have finger bracing frames you can use while detail painting.

I also always wash my hands before I sit down to paint in case I have lotion or anything else on my skin. Even using a holder and the best intentions you’re bound to touch the figure now and then.

Acrylic Paint Considerations

To understand the reasoning behind some of the suggestions in this section, it may help to know a little more about acrylic paint.

A key idea here is that there is a paint film. The paint film is the solid layer of the paint that remains on the surface after the paint has cured/dried. If you think of pieces of paint that have peeled or chipped off a wall, that is a paint film. What we want is to create one that is as sturdy and durable as possible! How sturdy the paint film is largely relates to preparing the surface (cleaning and priming) and how you treat the surface after painting (sealing and storage). But there are definitely some considerations related to paint mixing and usage.

Paint has three main components: pigment, binder, and additives. (I go into this in a lot more detail in another post.)

Pigment creates the colour of the paint. Pigments are dry ground particles that don’t inherently stick to anything. They need to be mixed into a binder to become paint.

Reaper case eggcrate fullEgg crate foam that immobilizes figures during transit is a good storage option. This is Reaper’s new figure case.

Additives are substances added to a paint to alter its behaviour or finish. Most miniature paints have matting agents added so they aren’t glossy in finish. Reaper paints have a little flow improver added to help them flow off the brush. Painters may also choose to mix in additional additives. People who live in drier climates or like to wet-blend might add in drying retarder.

Binder holds the pigment and any additives together. It literally binds. In the case of acrylic paint, the binder is a sort of plastic resin. The binder is what creates the paint film. You need to have the correct ration of binder to pigments and additives for the paint to cure into a sturdy paint film. This important role of binder affects a few things you might not have thought of.

The first is that there is a limit to the amount of pigment (or additives) that you can put in a paint and maintain the correct ratio. Some paints seem more prone to rubbing or scratching off, and this may be a factor. If a company adds a little more pigment to make a colour more opaque or intense, they may also risk making a paint that has a more fragile paint film. Similarly, if a painter adds a lot of flow improver and drying retarder to a strong paint, they are altering the ration of binder and might be weakening the paint film. A general rule of thumb is to add no more than a ratio of 25-30% additives to your paint.

Mediums fullExamples of mediums you can use to thin paint and maintain a sturdy paint film.

Note that water counts as an additive! The more water you add to paint, the more thinly you spread out the plastic molecules of the binder, which reduces their ability to bind together in a strong paint film. I think this is most significant for the first layer or two of paint you apply to the miniature. For base coats and/or initial wet-blending layers, adding no more than 30% water (and/or other additives) is safest. Generally you want those first few layers to be as opaque as possible anyway. For opaque applications, paint only needs to be thinned if it is so thick that it might add unwanted texture to the miniature or fill in delicate sculpted details. If you can run a brush through a pool of paint and the ‘wake’ behind the bristles fills in within seconds, that’s as thin as you need to be. 

Applying heavily water thinned washes or glazes over a couple of coats of thicker paint is less likely to cause issues. Once you have an initial sturdy paint film down, these thinner layers should be able to adhere to that.

Medium info fullWith art store mediums, check the back for information on properties. Look for products that are thin or fluid, transparent, and the finish of your choice.

It may also be helpful to note that we have an alternative to water when we want to make paint more transparent – medium. Fundamentally medium is binder. The main ingredient in medium is the clear acrylic resin that makes an acrylic paint an acrylic paint. The other ingredients are additives to make the medium (or the paint it is added to) behave in certain ways in terms of finish, flow, or dry time. The bounty of medium options can seem overwhelming, particularly if you visit an art store.

Fluid matte medium and glaze medium are the products most often used among miniature painters. For our uses we need products that are fairly fluid, and most of us prefer matte products. For Reaper paint users, Reaper’s brush-on sealer is equivalent to matte medium. Vallejo also makes a matte medium and glaze medium. You can use one of these products or a mix of half medium and half water to make a paint much more transparent, but maintain the integrity of the paint film.

Paint filmThe white circles represent the acrylic binder. You need a specific amount of these for the paint to cure to a sturdy paint film. The pink circles represent pigment, and the blue circles represent water or other additives. The top section is paint from the factory. Water (or additives) have been added to the middle section to decrease the amount of pigment and make the paint more transparent, but note that this has also decreased the amount of binder. The paint film will be weak. Medium and a little water was added to the bottom section. This still decreases the amount of pigment and makes the paint more transparent, but it also maintains the amount of binder necessary to form a strong paint film.

Just as with primer, acrylic paint can feel dry to the touch within moments, but it doesn’t cure to full strength for at least a day or three. If you can, avoid handling or playing with newly-painted figures to give the paint time to fully set.

Seal Your Figures

Sealer (also called varnish) is a protective finish placed over your paint job. However, think of it more as a coat or two of transparent paint than a tough resin varnish or piece of plexiglass. It is a little harder and a little less flexible than standard acrylic paint. It helps, but it’s not a forcefield of protection. It also can only do its job successfully if your primer and paint coats are strongly adhered to the surface by following the practices recommended in previous steps.

There are some differences between gloss and matte sealers. In most brands, gloss sealer is thicker than matte sealer. In the Reaper line, the Gloss Sealer is a little more fluid than the original Brush-On Sealer. Sealer products with matting agents added to them (anything with a matte or satin finish) are less protective than gloss sealer. You are also limited to applying only a few coats of matte sealer on before it begins to appear glossy. It is very important to shake any matte or satin product very thoroughly before every use. The matting agents are actual particles which are heavier than the acrylic polymer and fall out of suspension easily. If you do not mix well before every use, a larger proportion of matting agents may concentrate in the bottom third or quarter of the bottle/can, and become very likely to apply with a visible frost/mist appearance on your work instead of appearing clear.

It is possible to apply a coat of matte sealer over gloss if you don’t like the shiny appearance. In my experience you can only get a truly matte finish over gloss sealer by using either Dullcote aerosol spray or an ultra matte formulation sprayed through an airbrush. If the figure starts looking shiny due to the matte coat rubbing off in play, just apply another coat of matte. I have never been able to get a 100% matte finish with brush-applied products. Gloss followed by matte is my preferred sealing method for metal figures intended for game play. 

This product information sheet is for Golden Polymer Varnishes. I have confirmed that this is very similar to the products used in our hobby, so this may be a useful reference

Sealer fullThe can of spray sealer is at least a dozen years old. I use the brush-on sealers more for prep and as mediums than as sealers.

Note that Bones plastic miniatures can suffer issues with aerosol sealer as well as aerosol primer. I think that paint adheres strongly enough to Bones plastic that no sealer is necessary. It is more helpful to take precautions with storage and transport. But if you want to seal Bones figures with a spray, I recommend getting a cheap airbrush to spray liquid products through over using aerosol cans.

I seal metal figures intended for game play with a coat of gloss followed by a coat of matte. I don’t ever seal Bones figures that I paint. I hardly ever seal metal or resin display figures that I paint. I used to use brush-on sealer more, but I was concerned that it was altering the appearance of the paint jobs very slightly. I choose to put my efforts into the steps I’ve outlined above instead. I have had few issues with damage to the paint that aren’t directly related to storage/transport methods or glued parts detaching. 

A note on some off-label uses of sealer. I don’t know if it’s still popular to do, but for a time some years ago several painters I knew used coats of Dullcote as a sort of ‘save’ feature. If you were going to paint freehand on a cloak, you might do a spray of Dullcote on the painted surface first. People find it easier to use a damp brush to lift up paint applied over Dullcote to correct errors while painting. If you’ve already got the bulk of your miniature painted this probably isn’t too risky. However, if you apply it to a finished cloak but other areas are still just primer, paint applied in those areas isn’t going to adhere as strongly, and it will be more likely to scratch and chip. (I am speaking from experience on this one!) Similarly, when Bones miniatures were first released, people used Dullcote spray as an alternative primer and to reduce the hydrophobic behaviour of the Bones plastic. My tests of various ‘primer’ methods on Bones demonstrated that paint over Dullcote does not adhere strongly and is more prone to damage than other preparation methods. I recommend against using Dullcote as a primer alternative on Bones.

The following information is a direct quote from Anne Foerster, who designed and mixed all of the Reaper paint lines made prior to April of this year. She was kind enough to reply after some people had questions about my statements on sealers in this article. If you want to know more about Reaper paint and miniature painting in general, I highly recommend her PaintingBIg Patreon. She also streams miniature painting videos on Twitch via the Reaper Miniatures channel and her own paintingbig channel.

In the case of Reaper’s gloss sealer, I would say that it is slightly thinner than the regular Brush-On sealer. 

In this case the Brush-On has additives which make it more matte, which influences the viscosity, whereas of course the Gloss Sealer doesn’t need those!

In other brands than Reaper, however, yes, the Gloss Sealer is almost always thicker than the matte or satin. The reason for this is the way that the resin particles act in thicker layers. If you  have used spray Dullcote, you may have noticed that if you put many layers of the spray on, it will eventually go glossy. This is because the tiny microparticles that create a matte finish eventually build up and start “filling in” their own texture with successive applications. Because of this, it’s desirable to make a matte sealer more thin, to avoid this effect. Whereas, with a gloss sealer, you want the shine, so you can afford to make it a thicker, more protective coat (you will almost always see this in sprays). 

The Reaper Gloss is thinner because it pretty much comes that way. 🙂 You can build up successive layers on top of each other if you would like a thicker coat, or leave it thin. I find it’s more versatile this way so we didn’t really look for a high-viscosity gloss (other brands produce these anyway). 

You’re very close in your conclusion that sealers in water-based paints are usually just putting an extra layer of base on top of the paint! The difference here is usually in the specific resin that is in that layer of base. For paints you typically want something with more thickness, viscosity, and coverage, but with a protective layer, you want it very clear and hard, so most sealers use a high-acrylic resin because it’s the most transparent and durable. Again, of course, this will be different in spray sealers. 

As an aside, if you are using Reaper Sealers to fill in heat pitting or unwanted texture on a sculpt the regular Brush-On Sealer 9107 will work better for that than gloss because it is slightly more viscous.

Storage and Transport

One of the most important things you can do to keep the paint on your miniatures protected is to take care with how you store and transport them.

These are factors to consider when choosing storage options:

Immobilize the Miniatures
Paint damage is much more likely to occur when miniatures bang into each other or jostle around inside the storage container. Magnetized bases on metal trays, bubblewrap cocoons, double-sided mounting tape, and poster tac are all options to keep miniatures separated and immobilized. 

Reaper case foam squares fullThis kind of case (and probably pluck-foam) separates the miniatures, but can still cause problems.

Minimize Scraping
I have a storage case with foam cells. It separates the miniatures. But parts of them often scrape against the foam walls when being placed into or removed from the case. I added a piece of bubble wrap to a few squares to store metal figures more securely. The plastic of the bubble wrap also seems to have prevented scraping damage on them. I suspect just adding plastic wrap to the other squares would be enough to protect the paint on the lighter Bones figures.

Forecales front full

Prevent Bending
A second issue with my foam cell storage case is that for some of the figures a weapon or arm extends up over the foam walls. The flexible Bones plastic material can easily survive a little bending like that. Acrylic paint isn’t quite as flexible, and these figures are exhibiting a lot of chipping and wear. In the centre left of the storage tray above, you can see the two warriors and how their weapons protrude past the foam squares. There’s no damage on the body of either figure, but the paint is flaking off their swords, likely due to the bending in storage. Keeping them in larger sections like the following would help.

Reaper case foam large squares full

The first picture of this article is an example of some goblins that have experienced rub off, likely due to scraping against the foam of the tray. The second picture is an orc that was stored and transported in a baggie with some other half-painted Bones. You can see scraping damage on his armour, and severe damage to the paint on the sword due to its being bent repeatedly in transport.

Patron Spotlight: Dave Cecil

This blog is made possible by the generous support of my patrons, and I want to share more about them and their work with the world! The following are Dave’s words, and I think he has given us all some great food for thought here:

In the forums and most other gaming related places I go by the name “Lord Dave” or some variation of that. This is more a sarcastic title than a statement of nobility, but that is a whole other story.

Dave cecil3Figures from the Song of Ice and Fire game painted by Dave Cecil.

I have been playing and running D&D games since the very beginnings of the game (yes I’m that old). As a natural byproduct of that, I began collecting and painting miniatures, initially to a barely acceptable tabletop standard with crappy paints. For years, I would buy a few minis at a time, paint them, and use them in games.

More recently, thanks to multiple kickstarters, I had amassed an army of hundreds of miniatures, and I began to get more serious about my results and materials. I have since won a several medals and awards at various Cons including ReaperCon and Wonderfest.

I started teaching six years ago after winning a speed painting contest at CONglomeration in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I was asked to share some of the techniques I used on that piece. After teaching that first class, I discovered how much I enjoyed sharing techniques with fellow gamers and artists. I started to learn as much as I could from any source I could find, not only to become a better painter, but also to be able to share even more with others. As I have said in many of my classes, I am OK at a great number of things. I have taught many classes at conventions, festivals, fund raisers, game stores, and local art centers, and I enjoy that very much.

Dave cecil2Ghoul painted by Dave Cecil. Available in metal or plastic.

My real gift is my speed. I can go from blister pack to “meh thats not bad” ridiculously fast. At heart, I’m still a gamer. While I do very much enjoy painting, I want to get models on the table fast and still have them look presentable. Most of what I paint is completed in an hour or less. True, some of my competition pieces I spent 20 to 30 hours on, but in general those aren’t for my games.

I guess my biggest tip to share with people is to first know what your target is. If you have an army of 100 miniatures for a boardgame, the goal is to have decently painted minis while you play the game, not to win a trophy for each one. Therefore, don your boots of speed and crank them out. If you want a trophy, the approach will be much different. And if the joy of painting itself is the goal, relax, do some research and try new things. In short, it’s OK to be OK.  

Dave cecil1Bones T’Raukzul painted by Dave Cecil.

Figures in this Post

The left goblin is from the Pathfinder Goblin Warriors pack available in metal or plastic.
The right goblin is from the Pathfinder Goblin Pyros pack available in metal or plastic.
The orc berserker is available in metal or plastic.
The Harbinger of the North was available with subscriptions to Harbinger magazine.
His wolf companion is available in metal. 
Arilyn, Water Sorceress comes with the shell.
The fairy dragon I added to the shell is available in metal or plastic.
Ziplock baggies are available from numerous vendors.
The Castle of Deception wizard is available from Dark Sword.
The left skeletal archer is available in metal or plastic.
The right skeleton archer is available in metal or plastic.
Mangu the warrior is available in metal or plastic.
Hajad the pirate is available in metal or plastic.
Orc Marauder is available in metal or plastic.
Anirion elf wizard is available in metal or plastic, or clear plastic.
The Skeletal Archer, Mangu, and Orc Marauder are included in Learn to Paint kit: Core Skills
Hajad, Anirior, and Ingrid (not pictured) are included in Learn to Paint kit: Layer Up!
There are too many more to list in the foam squares case pictures, but if you are interested in getting a copy of one of those, let me know and I’ll find you the information.

Paint a Kangaroo, Help a Kangaroo

Updated 4/15/2020: Reaper’s relief fund for animals impacted by the Australian bush fires was a rousing success and raised over $30,000 for the RSPCA of South Australia. The fund raiser has now concluded. The figures are still available for purchase.

I’m going to talk about painting the kangaroo, and also provide links to videos and at the bottom of this post I’ll information links to videos and other information for painting the other cool critters.

Fund raiser pack options

The male koala with the fireman’s axe is named Courage. I had hoped to paint him and do a bit of a step-by-step, but life has intervened such that I’ve barely been able to do any painting for the past couple of months. One issue has been a back spasm. Finally it’s improved to the point where I thought I might be able to paint for a few hours. With only a few days left I didn’t think a mini requiring assembly was a good idea, but I thought I could manage to finish the kangaroo. 

I’m going to share some tips and work in progress photos for how I painted this kangaroo in case anyone would like to paint theirs in a similar way. Working last minute also reminded me of some of the issues that can crop up when you’re doing rush last minute painting. (As is very common with painting contest entries!) So I’ll also talk a bit about that.

Kangaroo photo by Paul Copeland from the Morguefile sitePhoto by Paul Copeland, from Morguefile.

When painting real life animals, or even fantastical creatures that incorporate elements of real life animals, I find it very helpful to study some reference of real creatures. A simple Google search will suffice unless you want to share the photos like on this blog. Then you should look at sites like Morguefile that have pictures available for public use. Since I was tired and in a rush, of course that is not what I did. :-> So I actually used a couple of photos I found on Google, but the kangaroo pictured above has the same general colouration.

Looking at the above photo I can see that I made a more important research error. I thought about but did not take the time to look for photos that showed the back of this kind of kangaroo’s head. I assumed the ears would mainly be the reddish colour. It turns out I was very wrong! Painting the back of the ears like in the picture above would have added some points of interest to my kangaroo figure when viewed from the back.

Next I assembled a selection of paints I thought would work to paint the main colours of the kangaroo – dull oranges and orange-browns for the darker fur with some red-brown for shading, and cream and blond colours for the light fur. You can also see areas of ‘black’ and ‘grey’ in the reference  photo. Natural objects are very rarely true neutral black, grey, or white, so using true neutrals won’t look very natural. I picked a very dark brown, Walnut Brown, for my black, and mixed ‘greys’ by mixing it with one of my cream colours.

Kanga palette

You can see the palette I used above to get an idea of the colours. The card at the top of the picture is a grayscale card. It is true grey, with sections of true white and true black. So you can use it to colour balance photos in a photo editing program (which I have done with this one). I left it in the shot as I think it might help you judge the values (darkness vs lightness) of the colours I used. I don’t think you need the exact paints I used to get a similar result or match a reference, although I will list the paint colours I used in the work-in-progress steps below. What is more important is to use paints of similar value for similar functions.

Now I’ll run through some work in progress shots for the main body of the kangaroo. All paints I reference are produced by Reaper.

Step 1: Block In
I roughly blocked in the main colours on the body. You can see that this is indeed rough. I don’t care that I’m slopping paint on areas I haven’t painted yet. This photo also shows that this first coat was not enough coverage as you can see my grey primer showing through in several areas.

Colours used: 9144 Creamy Ivory, 9110 Oiled Leather, 9136 Walnut Brown.

Kanga wip1

Step 2: Block In Better
I did a second coat blocking in my colours. With this coat I also took a second look at my reference and was more exact with the position of each the colour areas. So this next photo is not wildly different than the first other than exactly where one colour ends and the other begins has shifted slightly, and now the coats of colour are solid with no grey peeking through.

Kanga wip2

Step 3: 
I did some rough wet blending and layering to blur the lines where the colours meet. This is imperfect. I tend to be the kind of painter who overcomplicates their life, and in the past I would have agonized over this for another hour or so. I reminded myself of a few things: this is fur, which is textured, and I still had to paint highlights and shadows. Both of those would mean the blends would change. They might look better as I added in fur texture and more colours, or there might be new poor transitions created that I’d have to fix. So why go too nuts on it at this stage? All I needed to do now was get rid of sharp looking transition lines.

Colours used: I mixed the two colours to either side of a line to create a transition colour to aid in the wetblending. For the Walnut to Creamy Ivory blend I used 2-3 transition mixes.

Kanga wip3

Step 4: The Light Fur
Now I added shadows and highlights to the light fur areas. Adding shading to the areas that curve downwards or away from the viewer on cylinders like the arms and tail, and highlighting on the plane facing up helps the viewer see those areas more as rounded cylinders. The shading brings out the musculature that Andy Pieper sculpted on the legs, much of which is not visible at all with the flat cream basecoat. Shading the stomach and inner legs pushes those areas back so they appear to be in shadow (as they would be) and don’t jump out and steal the viewer’s attention from looking at more interesting areas of the animal.

Apart from the tail these areas were sculpted fairly smoothly, as they have finer fur than the main body of the kangaroo. You can see the difference between the body fur and the limb fur in the reference photo. But since it is still fur I did a lot of my blending with small parallel strokes and I didn’t stress about getting super smooth results. It looks more like fur being less super smooth.

Colours used: Midtone of 9144 Creamy Ivory. Shadow of 9142 Stained Ivory, and then some 9199 Russet Brown mixed in.

Kanga wip4

Step 5: The Brown Fur
The brown fur was a little trickier as I wanted to capture some of the notes of oranges, browns, and deeper reds from my reference photo. So there was a little more working back and forth and adding hints of colour here and there. But the basic process was the same idea – place darker colours where areas curve away from the light and place lighter ones where they are facing the light to help bring out the forms and make it look more three dimensional. I used short parallel brushstrokes in the direction that the fur was sculpted.

Colours used: Midtone of 9110 Oiled Leather. Shadows mixed with the midtone and 9070 Mahogany Brown with a tiny bit of Walnut Brown for darkest shadows. Highlights mixed with midtone and a mix of 9201 Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then 9256 Blond Shadow, which was lightened with 9061 Linen White for top highlights. I went over some of the highlight areas with thinned Orange Brown to keep the colour more saturated. This sounds fussier to paint than it was.

Kanga wip5

Step 6: Painting the Head and Base
I did not paint the head at the same time as the body. One issue is that colouration on the head was a little different. The other is that although the process would be pretty similar (block in, rough transitions, add shadows and highlights, clean up transitions), it would be taking place on a smaller space. Also a more important space, since the face is the focal point of the miniature. I decided to paint it at the end when I’d have all my colours mixed and on my palette, and focus on it completely. I also used a smaller brush for this smaller space.

I painted the base with mixtures of colours used on the main figure. This helps everything look as if it is in the same kind of lighting. My aim was to mix colours a little darker and duller than those used on the main figure. The brown has a little grey mixed in, and the grey has a little brown mixed in. (Or glazed over or just dotted over, it doesn’t have to be super complicated and annoying to do this kind of thing!)

Colours used: Rock greys were mixes of 9136 Walnut Brown and 9144 Creamy Ivory, with touches of 9010 Mahogany Brown in the shadows and 9256 Blond Shadow in the highlights. The earth was Russet Brown, with Walnut added to darken it and Blond Shadow added to lighten it.

Unfortunately the time was growing late, and I was not able to keep taking work-in-progress pictures. I finished up here. I wasn’t really happy with the face, but it was very late and I had to get to sleep. 

Kanga wip6

When I woke up, I was still pretty unhappy with the face. I wrestled with whether to change it. I wanted to work as fast as I could to get this finished and published while the fund raiser is still going. It was decently true to the reference. So what is the problem, and was it worth changing? 

The problem is that the head as painted does not act well as a focal point for the miniature. Your eyes are much more likely to go to the contrast between the dark paws and light arms or the bright spot at the end of the tail. This is one of the issues we have to wrestle with between making something realistic and making something viewers enjoy looking at, and why the answer isn’t always to be as realistic as possible. I had tried to fudge a little when I painted the head originally, but it didn’t work that well.

Unplanned Step 7: Fixing the Head
I decided it was worth taking a little extra time to fix the head. Since this wasn’t a contest I didn’t have a hard deadline where I just had to live with it, and I thought it would also help improve this blog post to take the effort. I studied the head and decided it would be more effective to paint the center area of the head in the brighter more saturated colours of the main body, even if that wasn’t 100% true to the reference. Further, I decided to try the same approach I used when painting a Hydra and make the head a little more saturated as well as lighter than the main body area.

Colours used: Midtone 9110 Oiled Leather + 9201 Orange Brown. Shadows in small areas with just Oiled Leather. Highlights mixed with the midtone and up with mixes of Orange Brown + 9144 Creamy Ivory, then add 9061 Linen White and a touch of 9095 Clear Yellow.

The head still isn’t grabbing quite as much attention as I’d like, but I think it’s an improvement, and now time really is growing too late to fiddle much more!

Kanga left full

Kanga face full

Kanga right full


Lessons for Deadline Painting 

My experience with this offers some parallels for the risks of painting contest entries right up until a deadline. If you start contest entries well in advance of a deadline, you have a lot more time to do research and discover things like what the back of the ears should actually look like. If you are mostly finished some time before a deadline, you have time to sit with the figure a while and study it. You need both time to spot areas you might not like, and time to figure out how to improve them. You might end up making changes like I did with the face of this kangaroo. Or find areas where you need more contrast, or left stray brushstrokes you need to clean up, or any other number of things.

More than once I have taken an entry I slaved over up til the deadline to a contest thinking it was really quite well done and addressed the major flaws people have with my work. Some of those entries did not make much of a splash, and when I looked at them again a few weeks or months later, I could see all kinds of issues with them I didn’t realize were there in the frenzy of trying to get something finished by deadline.

So if you want to get a kangaroo of your own or just help Australian wildlife relief efforts, what can you do?

Reaper’s fund raiser has ended. You can still donate to the RSPCA of South Australia directly.

The figures are still available for purchase. 


If you buy Hope, pictured above, you can enjoy a video series for how to paint her by Reaper’s talented Anne Foerster.
Koala fur and face video
Hope’s cloth painting video
Painting the accessories and some detailing
More accessories and detailing
Finishing up Hope the Koala

Kanga pack full

The two figures pictured above are available in a pack that also includes an aardvark. One of Reaper’s paint mixers, Sadie, is brand new to painting. She’s been working her way through the Learn to Paint Kit: Core Skills in her videos, but she took a break from the kit to paint up the koala from this pack


I’m not aware of any learn to paint articles or videos for Courage the koala, but there’s a great version you can look at for inspiration painted by Mini Wizard Studios.

How to Paint Fur Patterns – Again

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

One of my first posts on this blog was a look at how to paint animal fur patterns. This is helpful to know not only for painting animal figures, but also for painting clothing or scenic elements made from fur. I recently finished painting another personified tabby cat figure, and I took some in progress pictures to talk a little more about the process I used for painting the fur.

Korben front view

Korben back view

The warrior cat above is an anthropomorphic imagining of one of my own cats, Korben. It is one of a line of terrific anthropomorphic animal figures from Dark Sword Miniatures. Korben is a large and beefy cat and a deadly hunter, so he was envisioned as a burly, but mischievous, fighter character. Once the concept artist and sculptor finished their fantastic work, it became my job to bring my orange tabby goofball to life. One important part of that was to study photos of the real Korben to determine good colours to use, where there were variations in his fur colour, and where to place the stripes.

Korben looking innocent. He's not.

One thing that’s apparent from these photographs is that the lighting conditions can have a significant appearance on the colour of objects. The fur appears more red/auburn in the first picture than the one below. I aimed for something in between the two in the painted version of Korben.

Korben profile2

I tend to start by painting the lighter colour(s) on an animal with patterning. It’s usually easier to paint a darker colour over a lighter colour than vice versa. Let’s study the lighter areas of the fur on my reference cat. One important element to note is that the lighter areas of fur are not uniform in colour. The variations are affected by several factors:

Natural Variation
The fur is a lighter colour in some areas than others. Most notably, the lower jaw, the tip of the tail, and narrow stripes under the eyes. The fur is almost white in places. It is very common for animals to have lighter coloured fur on their bellies than they do on their sides and backs.

Skin Showing Through
The number of fur strands is much less dense in the areas in front of the ears and above the eyes. More white skin shows through, which makes the fur appear lighter in colour here.

Light and Shadow
The way that light falls on the animal creates shadows depending on the shape of its body and limbs. Areas of fur will appear lighter where they are facing towards the light, and darker where the forms of the animal curve away from the light and create shadows. On the full body picture of Korben, you can see a dark ridge of shadow on the lower side of his flank above the tail, and quite a dark shadow under his jaw. 

His chest fur appears darker where it curves down towards his belly. This can create one of the challenges of painting animals. As mentioned above, fur is often lighter coloured on the underside of an animal. But in most poses this is also an area that is facing away from the light and thus shadowed. Where this occurs you need to paint the fur the shadow colour of your lighter belly fur colour. You might have belly fur that would appear pure white if it were viewed in good lighting, but you will need to paint it more of a tan or grey because it should appear as if it’s in shadow.

It can be difficult to depict both the natural variation of fur AND the play of light and shadow over the fur simultaneously in a way that makes sense on a small miniature figure. Sometimes you need to make choices about which aspect is most important to your vision for that figure.

In the case of Korben the miniature, my thinking was along the following lines. The lighter areas of fur on his face are part of what makes Korben look like Korben, so they are important to include to capture the likeness, even if I have to sacrifice creating the three dimensional form a little. Luckily those areas are mostly in the light, apart from the lower jaw. The colour shift of his tail from light to near white is interesting and also a distinctive feature of his appearance, so I wanted to capture that, but still add some shading throughout the tail to make it look round.

On the arms, the emphasis of the sculpt is on Korben’s muscular strength. (He is a mighty hunter!) In terms of capturing the vision for the figure, accuracy of the fur patterning or even whether the stripes are very visually apparent is less important than bringing out the rounded curves of the muscles so those are very visible to the viewer.

For the purposes of painting a more effective miniature, I increased the level of contrast between his light and dark colours of fur. Miniatures are small (even though this one is super sized compared to the other anthropomorphic cats in the Dark Sword line!), and a lot more of the body area is covered than in an unclothed cat. So it seemed like a good idea to exaggerate the contrast a little to ensure that the tabby patterning would be easy for the viewer to see in the display case at a busy convention, since that will be the function of this miniature.

I did a quick test of some colour options on another figure. Doing tests like these might seem like wasted time. But it is more efficient to spend a few minutes working out my colour choices on a test figure than to it would be to try something, discover it doesn’t work, and then have to spend a lot more time repainting the main figure. If I were not already practiced at painting stripes from painting anthropomorphic Archer and Ella, I might also have spent a little time practicing the techniques I planned to use to make the stripes look less painted on. The one downside of this test is that now I’m trying to resist the urge to paint this as a Pippi Longstocking wolf…

Korb wolf test photoI love the Bones figures from Reaper for quick tests like this. No prep or primer needed, just grab the fig and start testing. 

The following is a picture of what the Korben figure looked like after I finished painting the areas of light coloured fur, including the shading and highlighting as well as the areas that appear lighter due to other factors. Normally I would have finished painting all of the fur areas before painting his gear and weapons. In this instance I circled back to the fur later when I had time to take photos for this article.

Korben light fur before patterning

Now it was time for the stripes. How did I approach painting those, and how did I make them look more like natural fur stripes rather than painted on? I discussed some of this in the previous fur post, but it’s worth talking about again with some additional examples.

Manmade pattern examplesExamples of painting insignia and other manmade patterns.

If you think of the symbols on traffic signs, or many clothing designs, or other examples of patterns of that type, the edges of the elements are crisp and well-defined. (There are a few softer spots on the punk rocker’s t-shirt above, but I was trying to create the impression that it was stained and worn.) These symbols and designs are painted with hard edges in traditional drawing terminology. In your mind you might think of the stripes of a tiger or spots of a leopard as being pretty similar, since the patterns are well-defined, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see that is not the case.

Tiger and Leopard larger viewTiger photo by William Low. Leopard photo by Uriel Soberanes. Both courtesy of Unsplash.

In the photographs of a lion and a leopard above, you can see that their stripe and spot markings are very clearly defined. But even at this distant size/scale, the edges do not have the same kind of sharp definition as you would see on most printed or painted designs like signs and logos. Let’s take an even closer look at these animal markings.

Tiger and leopard markings close upTiger photo by William Low. Leopard photo by Uriel Soberanes. Both courtesy of Unsplash.

In a close up, it’s easy to see that the edges of the markings are not really sharply defined. There are light hairs that poke into the areas of dark fur, and dark hairs that push into the light fur sections. The overall shape of the stripe or spot is well established, but the edges of them are more diffuse. In traditional art terminology this is a firm rather than a sharp edge. That’s the end result we want in a miniature, but how do we get there?

I think sometimes we can make our lives as painters more difficult by trying to accomplish the end result immediately in as few steps as possible. A lot of effects and techniques actually benefit from breaking things up into steps, and that is what I did with the fur pattern here. 

My first step was to start laying in the darker stripes. My goal here was to focus on the placement of the stripes. I studied photos of his face very closely to determine where to place the stripes, and the same with his tail. I got a little more creative with placement on the arms since the anatomical structure of the limbs between the actual cat and the anthropomorphic cat is fairly different. When I say my focus was on placement I mean that my aim was to paint a stripe of roughly the correct width and length in the correct location. I didn’t worry if I had excessively sharp edges or even if the paint was streaky, I didn’t worry about highlights and shadows. Step one was just looking at my reference and placing stripes as accurately as I could. Mostly I used one colour of paint for this stage, but there were a few shadow areas where I used a slightly darker mix to make sure I could see where I put the stripes.

Korben stripes layin frontInitial lay-in of the stripes.

Korb back wip2 700h

You can see from the above photos that my stripes are a little rough. Some have edges that are way too defined. Some are wobbly. Some don’t have full coverage of colour. My next step was to correct any placement issues, clean up the wobbly lines, and make sure that the centres of the stripes have a solid coat of colour. I also added some shading and highlighting to the stripes, and made them a little darker in the centres. 

The next step in my process was to work on softening and diffusing the edges of the stripes so they looked more like natural fur and less like something I painted on. I mixed a colour in between the light fur colour and the darker stripe colour. Using a small brush with a very fine point, I painted tiny lines and dots along the edge transition to blur it. In essence, I’m making strokes to create the light bits of fur on the close-up photo of the tiger stripes above. There were times when I overdid it and needed to tidy a little with either the darker stripe colour or lighter background fur colour, so I kept both those paint colours to hand on my palette.

Striped tail painting process

The above photos demonstrate the three stages of the process I used to paint the stripes. The top photo is what the tail looked like after the initial stripe lay-in. In the middle of the tail on the bottom, you can see where I painted in some extra coats of paint on the stripes to build up the colour coverage. I have started the process of diffusing the harsh edges of the stripes on both ends of the tail in the bottom photo so you can see what that looks like in areas of higher and lower contrast between stripes and background colour. 

Korben face stripes work in progress

The photos above give you an idea of how the process worked on the smaller stripes on the face. The picture of the face on the left is the initial lay-in of the stripes. In the picture on the right, I have corrected the placement of the stripes on top of the head. I also realized that I had made the area of lightness above his eyes too large and dramatic, and I toned that down a bit, as well as painting the ears to better match my reference photos. The picture on the right was taken mid-way through the process – I still had a bit of work to do on softening the stripes on the cheeks and chin. 

This is just one method for painting fur patterns! If you’re not painting a larger figure or one intended for display, you might be more interested in one of the other methods I described in my original post about painting fur patterns.

Thank You Dark Sword Miniatures!

I would like to say thank you very much to Dark Sword Miniatures for adding our third furry goofball to the anthropomorphic critters line up! Now he definitely feels like he’s a part of the family. We only planned to have two cats, but when we realized that the friendly orange cat that had been hanging around the neighbourhood was a stray, how could we resist? Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into!

Archer bl front 500Our tyrannical overlord, Archer, depicted as a grumpy warlock. He’s a lot skinner now that he’s quite an old man cat. We think he’s working on becoming a lich.

Ella front 450Our second cat, sweet Elasund or Ella, depicted as a rogue. She could also have made a good cleric, she’s the only creature in the house with a high Wisdom score. (But very low Int.)

Korben family 1000The whole furry family. You can see that Dark Sword went the extra mile to capture the true scale of Korben the Warrior.

Korben v archer1Real life size comparison of Korben and Archer.

Figures Featured in this Post

Korben the Fighter is available from Dark Sword Miniatures

The test warg is available in Bones plastic, or in metal

Inspector #3 from Heresy Miniatures

Inspector #2 from Heresy Miniatures

Sid the Rock Star from Reaper Miniatures

How to Paint Hair

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

My first ever how to paint video is now available! You can watch my Reaper Toolbox segment on how to paint hair on miniature figures on YouTube. I thought it might be helpful if I posted some pictures of the figures from the video for people to reference as they practice painting hair. I’m also going to include the paints used and links to more Reaper Toolbox how to paint goodness. I’ll post the pictures roughly in the order they were presented in the video, with the colour recipe and links at the end.

At the beginning of the video I shared a couple of miniatures I’d painted from the Reaper collection. These demonstrate two very different approaches to sculpting hair, but I used the same basic approach for painting both of them. Unfortunately both of these were limited edition figures and are not currently for sale. The shirt featuring Sophie (which I am wearing in the video) is still available though!

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie hair exampleI visualized the light coming from the upper left in the front view picture. The figure has wings, so the back of the head is quite shadowed. 

Tristan hair exampleOn this figure I visualized the light as coming from the upper right in the front view.

Hair is sculpted with a strongly defined texture. Washing and drybrushing techniques work well to bring out sculpted texture, and can look pretty good used on surfaces like woodgrain, chainmail, and feathers. These techniques do not tend to look as good when painting hair, however.

Example of drybrushed hairI started with the same basecoat colour as for the rest of the demonstrations, and made a wash out of the same shadow colour. I drybrushed the strands by starting with the basecoat colour and moving up through the highlight colours. (I demonstrated this on only half the head, and have blocked out the other half.)

The fact that hair is made up of thousands of strands does not strongly affect how the surface of hair appears to us visually. Individual strands are barely visible if you’re standing even a foot or two away from someone. Do an image search on the word ‘hair’, and look at some examples. You’ll see that the way light and shadow falls on the hair is not vertical like the strands, but rather appears more in horizontal bands based on the shape of the head/body that it is draped over, and the shapes of large waves and curls.

Hair example from pexels.comThis photo from illustrates how you perceive the horizontal bands of light and shadow on curves and curls more strongly than the strand texture of hair.

Example of painting blonde hairThis is an example of painting hair focusing on the larger shapes of the waves and curls and visualizing the light as coming from above – the shadow colours appear most on the underside of the curls, and the highlight colours are strongest on the tops of the curls.

Since it can be hard to get a good look at where people have placed various levels of shadow and highlight mixes if the blending between layers is fairly smooth, I also created a black and white example to help you more easily see where to place the highlights and shadows. This is just one interpretation based on a light source coming from above. Deciding where your light source is and which areas of your figure are more strongly lit or more darkly shadowed is where miniature painting gets more artistic, personal, and fun!

Black and white example of shadow and highlight placementI think some of the highlights are a little too far down the curve of the upper curls, but hopefully it helps you see the general idea.

On the video I demonstrated an alternative to drybrushing that is still quicker for tabletop use, but which follows the principles of where to apply the lights and shadows that I described above. This alternative is something many people call ‘dampbrushing’. When dampbrushing, you remove excess paint from the brush, but still leave it moist. Apply the brush perpendicular to the hair texture pulling it down or up the texture to pull paint off the brush on the raised areas, but leave the depressions shadowed. 

In the video I mention that I normally wear a magnifier and hold the figure a lot closer to paint, and you’re about to see an example of why I have to do that!

Dampbrushing example of painting hairThis example shows the basic idea of dampbrushing, but I could definitely have done a better job with this. The principles I describe work, what I needed to do was another layer or two of the original basecoat colour, and then I think I did need to use an additional transition mixes and work up a little more slowly. This looks choppy because the jump to the top two highlight colours is very sudden. I needed to build up more midtones with the Blond Hair colour and a mix between Blond Hair and Blond Highlight. 

This is a picture of the figure I painted on camera in the video. Once again you can see why I use a visual aid when I’m painting! If you are having difficulty getting the brush where you want it when you’re painting, sometimes the issue is as much to do with your eyes as your hands. Make sure you’re painting in good lighting. Some people use two or even three lamps in addition to the ceiling lights of their painting area! You can also use magnifying lenses. I recommend dual lenses rather than a single magnifying plate. Viewing objects through both eyes helps us best visualize their location in space. With just one magnifier, you will have more trouble getting the brush in the correct place on the miniature. If you don’t wear glasses, all you need is a pair of cheap reading glasses from a drugstore. If you do wear glasses, I highly recommend the OptiVisor brand of magnifying visors.

Comparison of reference example and on camera versionHere’s a comparison of my reference example and the one I painted on camera. This quick version painted without my magnifier doesn’t look as polished as the finished example, but I think it looks a lot more interesting and more like hair than the drybrushed example!

These are the colours used to paint the hair examples in the video. You can buy all of these from Reaper Miniatures online as well as in many retail locations. But as hair comes in a lot of different colours, you should be able to find some similar paints in your collection that you can practice with if you don’t want to buy more paint. The key to a natural blond hair look is to not use a lot of strong yellow colours.

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I’m including some additional angles of both the full colour and black and white versions of the figure in case anyone wants to reference these while practicing. The figure used in all of the examples from the video is Sarah the Seeress. She is available in both Bones plastic and in metal, and she is a terrific figure to practice painting hair on.

Colour example back view

Colour example back side and front view

Colour example top views

B&W example back view

B&W examples front and back side views

B&W examples top views

Reaper now has a playlist for all the Toolbox videos so they’re easier to find.

Reaper’s paint maven is doing live stream videos on Wednesday afternoons on Twitch. These are also posted on YouTube once completed. Anne is starting off by painting a black dragon. Watch episode one, or episode two here.

And in case you missed it, Reaper has announced that Bones V is coming – September 5, 2019.