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.

IMG 8299

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.

Painting Fur Patterns

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

Inspired by painting the figures of my cat that I spoke about in my last post, I thought I would make a post discussing some tips for painting fur on animal figures. (Which is also applicable to painting animal fur patterns on fur cloaks and similar equipment for characters.)

My first tip is to study real world animals or photos of your intended fur patterns. Very often we think we know what something familiar looks like, but discover it is a little different than we thought when we really study it. Look for whether the pattern is clustered in certain areas or randomly distributed, the distance between elements of the patterning, how colouration changes on various parts of the body, all kinds of things. Because we’re painting figures that are quite a bit smaller than life, we may also need to look at areas we can simplify or exaggerate. For example, when I painted the figures of Archer, I tried to put key stripes in areas that match his tabby patterning, but there are fewer stripes on the painted figures than the real Archer because it would be difficult to see the actual number of stripes on a miniature – assuming I could even paint them!

So let’s look at some photos of real animals that I took at the local zoo.

Red panda tail

Red panda face

Tiger stripes2

Often when people paint animal patterns that don’t look very convincing, the issue is that they look like they’ve painted on rather than being part of the creature. This occurs when the edges of the painted patterns are defined with fairly sharp lines. Fur is not a solid surface. Even in short fur, each hair lies at a slightly different angle, and this creates the appearance of a softer line. You can see way the line is broken easily on the fluffy tail of the red panda in the first picture above, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the same kind of thing is happening with the stripes on the short fur of the tiger in the picture directly above.

So how can we make an animal pattern that is actually painted on look more like the way it does in reality? Here are some techniques that I’ve used, some of which can be combined. I hope you’ll give some of these a try and find something that makes painting animals a little easier for you!

This is probably the easiest method, particularly for small patterns or when painting onto smaller sculpts like familiars. Paint one colour of your pattern over the entire area. Since lighter colours are often poorer coverage, I tend to paint the light colour as the base coat. You may also find it easier to do some highlighting and shading at this stage, or other value or colour transitions like going from the darker orange to the light cream on the tiger above. Paint on the darker pattern stripes or spots without worrying about the edges. Mix a glaze (heavily thinned down paint) of your original base coat color. Apply this over the entire area of the pattern. This will soften the appearance of the edges. Unfortunately it also softens the entire pattern. So if you can, reapply a thinned layer of your darker pattern color over the central areas of your stripes or spots.

I used this technique on these two tabby cats.

Waiting cat2 cu

Waiting cat1 cu

Thinned Paint:
Another option is to thin down the paint for your pattern so it is somewhat transluscent. Then when you paint a stripe/spot onto your figure, some of the underlying base coat colour will show through and diffuse the edge a little. Then you will need to apply additional coats of the thinned paint in the centers of your stripes or spots to build up the full intensity of colour that they should have. That is the technique that I used on this harp seal. (For the reference picture of seal stripes that I used when painting this figure, see this site:

Xseal fade back full

Go Between:
A third option is to paint your main coat colour, and then paint your patterning colour with fairly opaque paint. Then mix the two together to create a colour between them. Using the tip of your brush, paint that colour along the edges of your stripes/spots. Or dot the colour along the edges to break up the smooth edge. That is the technique that I used on this cat tail. This is a larger anthropomorphic figure, not a familiar size figure.

Ella tail cu

Jagged Little Edge:
The last option (that I’ve figured out so far!) is to use a dotting motion or move the tip of the brush back and forth a little as you paint to create a line that is a little broken rather than even. This requires a decent amount of brush control, and may be most feasible on larger figures.

Figures shown on this page:

Two of the cats from Edna the Crazy Cat Lady pack:
The seal from the Christmas familiars pack. Not currently available, sometimes available in December:
Ella the Cat Rogue: