Prep & Painting

When I am thinking about a project, the first thing I do is begin to collect information.  Like everyone else who participates in this hobby, I have more Osprey publications than I’d like to admit, but to my credit, I tend to restrict my Osprey purchases to projects rather than simply collecting everything, they publish.  I also buy books, hardbound and soft that provide needed information.  My hobby shops, my local swap meet, and Edward R. Hamilton are keys sources for books. 
Central to my information collecting effort is the putting together of binders on each project.  These binders contain lists of the figures available for the project, information on the subject that I have taken from the internet, pictures taken from the internet of the work done by others (the Perrys, Touching History, Wargames Foundry would be key examples), samples of my homemade decals, and ideas for buildings, fortifications, and war machines that I am considering for scratch building.  The binder project usually begins years before a brush ever touches a figure, and through the development of the binders, I construct the initial vision of the army(ies)and scenic’s I hope to put together.  The binders also allow me to work through many potential problem areas I might confront once I enter the hands-on/workbench phase. 
The fact is that I collect and organize my figures years before I begin painting.  Advanced planning saves money and helps to ensure that I have the figures I need when I begin the actual work.  For example, I just completed my samurai armies.  They are overwhelmingly made up of Two Dragons figures and will number close to 2,700 figures when complete.  Most of those figures and about 1,100 sashimono were purchase nearly five years ago.  Good planning meant that at the end of this project I was not left with bags of extra sashimono nor did I lack sashimono to complete the project in the fashion I wanted.  Since a pack of 20 sashimono costs $5.00, planning mistakes can be costly.  By way of full disclosure, I should add that near the end of this project, Peter Pig came out with a line of samurai that added some very nice pieces to my collection, so I purchased those and consequently purchased two unexpected packs of Two Dragon sashimono for those figures to ensure a consistent sashimono look throughout.


I am generally very disciplined in my painting.  While I will stray from a project for a short time, my normal practice is to stay with a project through to completion.  Prior to my retirement, I painted every evening.  I tended to produce at a rate of about 1,000 painted figures each year.  Now that I am retired, I work at my hobby all day long.
About 30 years ago, I met a figure painter whose name is lost to me now, but whose influence on me remains.  He painted fantasy/D&D figures in 25-mm rather than military, but he was really good.  His technique was to paint with enamels from a dark background forward, and he relied heavily on drybrushing.
On the eve of starting a new painting project, I begin by organizing my figures into units that I then keep in baggies/one unit per baggy.  I work on the figures baggy by baggy. 

Click here for the completed figure.

The diagram above will illustrate the steps I take as I paint:

- Step 1/Metal: First I clean and modify (if needed) a baggy/unit of my figures with an Xacto knife.

- Step 2/Primer: I then primer my figures, letting them dry overnight

- Step 3/Brown-Black Base Color: The next day I apply a base coat of a black and dark brown mixture as my background color, my canvas. 

- Step 4/Principal Color: Key to all my painting is that I accept the fact that the color I put on a figure’s dark background will initially not be laid on perfectly, so when I apply the initial color, I do so knowing that I will return with my Winsor & Newton Series 7, #1 to cut the lines in tightly to clean up that initial color application. 

- Step 5/Clean-Up with Brown-Black: Using my Series 7 brush I repeat this process as I add color, cutting the lines in tight each time with black.  I do the same with a spill-over from drybrushing.  The combination of dark background base and color added to it makes possible both shadow and highlights.  For me, painting is a building and repairing process not a perfect-the-first-time process.

-Step 6/Add White Detail: The addition of the white detail in some ways outlines the different areas where color will be added very much like the lines in a color book.

-Step 7/Clean-Up the White Detail: This is done with the Series 7 brush to provide a neat canvas for the colors that will be added to the different areas of the figure as explained in Step 6.

-Step 8/Add Color Detail: This is the moment most people think of as painting the figure.  It is where the color is added to the skin, and clothing.  Once the color has been added, I tend to go back over those colors with a highlight made of the color mixed with while.  My experience is that the combination of the color-white highlight is what makes the color pop.

Before I begin painting a new period of figures, I select a representative sampling of those figures, and I paint prototypes that will serve as my testing ground and guide for the hundred/thousands that follow.  Once the prototypes are done, I tend to paint unit figures from the baggies in groups of about 12; an assembly line approach.
As a general rule, I do the base cover detail (grass, dirty, rock, etc usually by Woodland Scenics) after I have completed the painting of the entire army.  Base decorating makes a mess, so I like to do it all at once.  Detailing the bases for my 2,700 samurai took three weeks.