Military Miniatures - Painting Military Miniatures
( Originally Published Mid 1950's )
"Paint Covers a Multitude of Sins" is an expression you have no doubt heard many times in connection with old barns, rusty tin, and even seasoned honky-tonk queens who have gone too many seasons. Paint, however, in the case of military miniatures, should not be applied in an effort to cover up frauds or slovenly workmanship, but to bring out the fine detail and beauty of the casting and the minute additional parts the hobbyist has added to it. It is only natural for the newcomer to the hobby, when his little masterpiece reaches the painting stage, to be so eager to see the miniature in all its colorful glory that he does not exert the same care with the brush that he did with the file and knife in the preparation of the figure. Consequently, figures often look as though the paint had been applied with a putty knife and, instead of the colors complementing the miniature's detail, the heavy layers of paint have destroyed it. A fine miniature is a combination of several operation: good casting, good preparation and good painting. One is just as important as the other, and the same time and effort should be given to each; so that the finished model will be everything you expected it to be.
One of the greatest pitfalls of the amateur is false economy in the selection of his brushes. Many a novice tries to paint with cheap, unsuitable brushes that would lead even the professional to frustration. Good tools that have good care are one of the greatest helps to good work, and the type of brushes used are just as important as the paint. True, good brushes cost a little more, but they prove economical in time, because a good brush that is treated with kindness is like a good friend; it becomes suited to your ways and improves with age.
The finest brushes for miniature painting are red sables. Red sable has qualities unmatched by any other hair: strength, slim body, fine points and great resilience. Not only will it come to a needle-fine point or knife-like edge, but it will also retain its full elasticity in paint. The hair is pale red in color with darker tips and comes from the tail of the kolinsky found in Siberia and China. Since the colder the climate, the paler and more elastic the hair, the finest red sable brushes are made from the Siberian kolinsky. Not all sable brushes are red sable, and the novice should exercise caution when selecting sable brushes. The Russian Sable is a good brush, but it does not have the fine points nor the elasticity of the red sable. Russian sable comes from the tail of the Russian Fitch, found in southeastern Russia, Asia and Siberia. The most unsuitable sable brush for miniature painting is the black sable, which is made from the hair of the stone and baum marten and the Russian brown bear. This mixture of hair from the soft parts of the bear pelt and the tail of the marten is a deep blackish brown and has a velvet-like touch. Select your brushes with care, and they will more than repay you with smoother, better painting on your figures.
The part of the brush that is going to have much to do with the ease and satisfaction of your painting is the points. The points are the natural hair ends, and the brush makers take great caution in preserving these natural ends. After the hair is cut from the kolinsky tail (in the case of red sable) it is sized in length, tied in tiny bundles, carefully washed, and then baked in an oven for several days; particular care is taken to preserve the fine points and to remove all reversed and short hairs. The brushes are then hand cupped. The cup is a metal form, hollow inside with the exact shape of the desired style of brush. The hair is arranged in the cup and any excess is cut from the bottom of the hair, leaving the points untouched. After cupping, the hair is tied and inserted in the ferrule, then the handle is put on. You can readily see how much caution is taken to preserve the valuable points, which have so much to do with fine painting. So, never cut your brushes or you will not only cut away what you paid for, but you will ruin the brush for fine painting. Sable brushes can be bought in a great variety of sizes, from very small to very large, and three or four sizes will be sufficient to take care of your needs. Even the larger sizes will point down very small; so if your budget does not permit a selection of sizes, it will be best to buy a medium-size brush first and add the smaller and larger sizes later.
There are two shapes or styles that are best for painting miniatures; both shapes have their devotees, and by the same token, there are those who find that the use of both shapes in the painting of a figure is quite an advantage. The round pointed brush is the more common. No doubt this is because many miniature painters have not had the advantage of becoming familiar with the versatile show-card style brush. The show-card brush comes in a variety of sizes from small to large, and it is set in a round ferrule just like the round brush. However, instead of the points being arranged so that they form a point they are set so that the end of the brush is flat and looks very much like a round pointed brush that has had the point cut off. The big advantage of the show-card brush is that the brush will flatten out with paint, to cover wide areas; or, you may paint a straight wide stripe with one stroke, the width depending on the size brush you use; or, you may turn the brush to its side and draw a very thin straight line, because the brush will come to a knife edge and hold it. Once you have tried a show card brush, you will no doubt find it to be one of your favorite tools, for it is of particular value in painting stripes on trousers, etc.
Taking care of your brushes is just as important as buying good brushes, because good brushes improve with proper use. Never allow paint to dry in the hair of the brush. If you have been using oil paints, first squeeze the oil out of the brush with paper or old rags and then wash the brush in warm (not hot) water with mild soap. If you have been using enamels, dopes, or flopaque, wipe as much of the paint from the hair as you can, and then clean the brush with thinner or solvent before washing in warm soap and water. No matter what type paint you use make a special effort to remove all paint residue from the neck of the ferrule. After you wash the brush, rinse it in warm water, and then shape it between your lips. Before putting your brushes away, it will lengthen their life if you will apply vaseline to the hair, and if you are going to store them for any length of time, place some moth preventative with them, because moths find them very tasty.
There are several types of paint popular in the painting of miniatures; tube oil colors, enamels, model airplane dope and flo-paque paint. The various types of paint used, however, are almost unlimited, including casein, silk screen paint, and others. Silk screen paint is well adapted to miniature painting with its wide variety of colors. Its greatest drawback is the fact that it must be purchased in large quantity and, unless a group of figure painters pool their funds in purchasing the variety of colors, one collector would be pushed out of house and home with cans of paint. Selection of the type of paint is a matter of taste, since there are advocates for each type and each has a sound reason for his devotion.
In the United States, probably the most widely used paint for military miniatures is flo-paque. Flo-paque is a trade name, but like many trade names it has become more or less a part of the language of the miniature makers' fraternity, and it can be purchased in small quantities from most hobby stores and miniature dealers. As the name implies, it is an easy flowing opaque paint that dries to a natural flat finish that is very life-like. The colors are strong and all colors may be intermixed to obtain almost any desired shade. Since the finish is with-out gloss, flesh and cloth clothing of the painted miniatures have a very natural look, and when portions that should shine, such as belts and boots, are given a coat of glaze or varnish over the flo-paque, the contrast in the finished model is very striking. This paint will dry in two to five minutes and is waterproof, washable, and sunfast and will not crack, peel or chip. Even greater durability can be obtained by baking, which is a very simple process and may be done with an infra-red light (obtainable from any drug store), or in the kitchen oven. If you use the infra-red bulb, place the miniature after painting about six or eight inches from the bulb and allow it to bake for approximately twenty or thirty minutes. To bake the paint in the kitchen oven, place the figure in the oven for the same length of time at not more than two hundred and seventy-five degrees. Flopaque should be used just as it comes from the bottle; after stirring or shaking until it is of uniform consistency,
What a little paint and research will do are illustrated in these two figures which have been repainted with to changes in the toy-soldier casting. The right-hand figure in each photograph shows the toy soldier with its ieavy coat of enamel, just as it was purchased. The left-hand pieces show the same figures after the heavy paint vas removed and they were painted with Flo-Paque colors.
apply with a brush. It may be thinned with dio-sol (thinner) for use with a pen to add very fine detail. Dark colors may be used with a pen just as they come from the bottle; medium colors should be thinned with 25 drops of dio-sol to 1/2 ounce of paint, and the light colors should be thinned with 50 drops of dio-sol to the half ounce for best results.
Oil color is an old and honorable medium of painting and when it is properly applied to military miniatures, the finished figures have a matchless quality. Oils are favored by miniature artists who do portrait figures (of particular persons) and desire fine facial expressions. Oil colors may be purchased in small tubes from any art supply store and most hobby and military miniature dealers. The oil color comes from the tube in a heavy paste, which you thin with turpentine to the consistency you desire; most miniature painters squeeze a bit of oil color on a piece of glass or small dish and then add turpentine with their brush as it is needed. The only drawback with oil is that it takes quite a long time to dry; you can, however, speed up the drying process by adding a few drops of Japan Dryer, which may be obtained where you purchased the oils. The slow drying is more than compensated for by the special effects obtainable with oils, which are very hard to get with the faster drying paints. When oil colors are blended right on the figure, it is easier to obtain facial details and shading; oils may also be applied slightly heavier when painting hair and mustaches, and actual texture can be obtained with your brush which will make these parts stand out in relief. Fur hats, collars, knapsacks and many other parts of the miniature that would be improved by a furry texture can be painted with oils, and then stippled with the brush while pulling the paint out from the figure. The oil should be applied rather heavily for these fur parts, and naturally it is going to take the paint longer to dry, but the effect is well worth the wait. Oils are especially effective in the painting of horses, not only because of the ease in shading, but also because you can work texture into the horses' hair by allowing your brush strokes to show slightly in sweeping strokes that follow the contours of the animal. Oil color has the distinct advantage of smoothness or texture, whichever you desire; you may work the oil to a smooth surface that will show no brush strokes, or you may work it into rough textures that will remain when the paint has dried. Many collectors combine oil colors and flo-paque in painting their miniatures; they paint faces and hair, with oil, and clothing with flopaque. Since the flo-paque dries quickly, the models may be handled even though the oils on the face are still wet.
Model Airplane Dope can be obtained from any model shop in small inexpensive bottles. This is a very fast drying gloss paint and may be had in a great variety of colors. Most collectors do not care for this type of paint because of the high gloss or shine; however, it is good to touch up the lower priced soldiers that come painted in a shiny finish. Since plastics have spread so widely in the model field, enamels have become familiar to the miniature maker. Beside the old familiar cans of enamel, you may now obtain small inexpensive jars of enamel that have been packaged expressly for the model maker. Enamel, like dope, has a gloss, but instead of drying quickly like the dope, it is very slow drying. Its big advantage is the even flowing quality and smooth finish obtainable, and the fact that it is safe on plastics. Paints such as flo-paque and model airplane dope will disintegrate most plastics. Types and brands of paints are unlimited; only the four most popular with miniature painters have been explained. You may find any one or combination of the above to suit your needs, or you may develop another medium more to your liking; the import-ant thing is always to keep seeking and experimenting to improve your talents.
Before you start to paint, get all the things you will need together — your brushes, thinner (proper type for medium you are going to use) a flat piece of glass for mixing, and some soft rags to wipe your brushes. Be sure your figure is clean and free from oil or any foreign matter that will interfere with the paint; if you are going to use flo-paque colors wash the figure with dio-sol before painting. You will also find that by giving the figure a few minute's bath in vinegar the paint will adhere much better. The reason for this is the mild acid action of the vinegar will etch a microscopic tooth on the surface of the metal, giving the paint something extra to take hold of. Be sure to clean all the vinegar off the figure before painting. Holding a figure by the small base while painting sometimes gets tiring to the fingers; you may, however, avoid this cramping by cementing the figure on a block of wood, which will be much easier to hold, or on the end of a tongue depresser such as the doctor uses. These may be obtained at your local drug store. Be sure to give the cement time to dry between the base of the figure and the wood before painting. When your painting is finished it will be a simple matter to remove the wood holder and smooth up the base, so the figure will stand level.
After you are sure your figure is good and clean, give it a coat of white paint; this should be a good even coat but not heavy enough to cover the details in the metal figure. Allow this primer coat of white to dry before applying color. The undercoat or primer of white will not only give the colored paints something to cling to, but will also make one coat of color more brilliant. When applying the colors to your figure, proceed in the same order that the clothing would be put on. For example, first apply the flesh to face and hands; then paint the shirt and trousers before proceeding with the coat. Al-ways paint the parts that overlap another last; in this manner the latter items painted will show a nice clean line where they overlap the previously painted portion of the figure. Complete all the large masses of color before starting to paint the small details, such as the facial features, equipment, lace and other small parts.
The first details to paint are the facial features and as these are probably the biggest problem to the novice, many times he has pop-eyed, pink-faced soldiers who look as though they have just been swiped across the mouth with a sharp saber. One reason for this condition is that color has a tendency to intensify on small objects, and especially on models. Reds are much redder, dark blues become almost black, and black is really black, and this illusion is true with all shades. No one could have lips so red as those made with plain red paint unless he was bleeding. Eyes, besides looking popped, often have a strange appearance because the miniature artist hasn't bothered to find out what eyes look like. It will be to your advantage to study illustrations of faces in magazines, and also to study methods used by professional figure painters; but the very best method is to study your own face in a mirror. Note that when you look straight ahead or to the right or left the eyelids always cover or touch a portion of the iris of the eye. Now widen your eyes and, when the iris is not touched by the eyelids, you are pop-eyed, and that is exactly why your figures look pop-eyed — the eyelids don't touch the iris or color part of the eyes. Combine wide eyes with the dark intensified colors most amateurs use and your results are anything but what you are seeking — especially if the eyes are set in a pink face with blood red lips. Painting a good face like all painting is a purely mechanical operation once you have learned to observe and know what you are about. Here is a procedure that will give perfect results after a little practice.
If you have followed the previous instructions, the face and neck of the figure have already been given a coat of flesh-colored paint and all the clothing has been painted. First take a brush of white paint and fill in the section where the eye sockets will be; don't worry about trying to shape eyes, just get that particular area covered with white. Some painters like a faint tint of blue in the whites of the eye; so if you too want the bluish tint mix just a hint of blue in your white paint before applying. If the figure is to look straight ahead, paint the center of the eye directly in the middle of the white spots; naturally if the figure is to be looking to the right or left, the center of the eyes will be painted to give the direction of view. If you have problems in making the center of the eyes small and round with a brush, you may cut a piece of wood, such as a wooden match stick, to the proper size on the end and then use it like a rubber stamp to place paint representing the eye color. Keep in mind that color intensifies when used in a small place; so use light blue or light brown when you place the color in the eye. The next operation is to paint the eyelids, which must be a very fine line or your soldier will look as if he has black eyes or a terrific hangover. This is not so hard to do as you might suspect. Examine your own eyes in a mirror, and you will see that the lower lids have a slight curve and the upper ones a higher arch to the curve; in fact, the outline formed by the eyelids looks something like a plump fish that has lost his tail. You will also notice that the distance between the eyes is the same as the length of one eye, give or take a fraction. Remember, it's the slight difference in features that makes the difference in people's appearances. Note also that the upper lid overlaps the lower lid on the outside corner of the eye, and that the eyelids next to the nose join by a tiny curve. Since the lower lid is over-lapped by the upper, paint the lower lid first with an arch of brown, being sure that it touches the iris of the eye which you have already painted. Don't worry how wide or ragged the outside edge of your line is, but be sure the edge that meets the iris and white of the eye is smooth and sharp. Now proceed with the upper lid in the same manner; remember that the upper and lower lids join with a little curve next to the nose, and on the outside the upper lid overlaps the lower. Also remember that the upper lid has a little more curve to the arch, and just like the lower line you have painted, the inside of the line must be smooth and touch the iris or color of the eye; the outside and width of the line are unimportant at present.
If you don't want your soldier to be a pink-faced recruit, you will have to tone the flesh color on the face and work in some texture and lines that will show on an old campaigner. On the piece of glass or small dish you are using for mixing, put some flesh-colored paint and add with your brush a drop or so at a time) red, brown and even yellow, mixing as you go along until the flesh tone you desire is obtained. Remember colors intensify on small objects, so don't get it too dark. The first step now is to take care of the brown line you painted around the eyes. With the flesh tone you have mixed, paint over the brown lines, leaving just a tiny fraction of the brown showing around the eyes, and you will have that fine outline that you didn't think you could paint. Right above the upper eyelid should be a fold in the skin; take some of the flesh tone and add just a hint more of red to it and draw a thin line above the eyelid. If you don't think you can make it with one thin stroke of the brush, you can always make it by the same method you used to put the thin outline around the eyes. Next come the eyebrows, which must be dark enough to show well, but avoid making them too dark. Needless to say, eyes are very important in forming the final expression of your figure; therefore, besides studying your own eyes in the mirror it will help you to study the colored advertising in various magazines that show faces. The next step is to paint the mouth, and this most certainly should not be bright red. Add some more red to the flesh tone on your mixing glass and paint the mouth; remember that the lips of most men are reasonably thin, so don't paint cupid bows. If you get the mouth too big or crooked, trim it with flesh tone paint the same as you trimmed around the eyes. Now continue with the flesh tone paint over the remainder of the face and neck to give them that rugged outdoor look; bring out the color of the cheeks just a bit with the addition of a hint of red. You might emphasize the nose slightly by a touch of very light brown along the sides of the nose. The amount of character lines you want to add is up to you, and light brown mixed with flesh tone will give you about the right shade, but don't overdo the painting of lines or the effect might be different from what you expected. Avoid jet black hair; lighter shades such as browns, blonds, reds and even grays are much more effective. Where the hairline meets the sides of the face and the neck, don't make sharp smooth lines as if the hair were plastered down; a rougher hair line will give a more natural appearance.
Once you are satisfied with the face, the rest of the detail on the uniform is simply a matter of knowing what colors the various parts should be and neatly painting them in their proper places. Unfortunately, many newcomers to the hobby, after learning to paint thin straight lines, allow their new found talent to get out of hand and proceed to outline everything on their figures with dark lines. Some proper shading on clothing may add to the final effect, but masses of spidery lines can do nothing but detract from good workmanship. Besides, remember the figures usually painted are in the full round and should show details cast in the metal which will cast their own shadows. However, if you must emphasize parts such as where a vest overlaps the trousers or where the coat overlaps other clothing, use a very light bluish gray wash and come up to the edge of the coat or vest and not onto it; note that the shadow is being cast by the coat or vest. If you wish to bring out folds and wrinkles in the clothing, make the lines soft and just a tone darker than the overall paint of the particular part. Since shadows have a bluish gray cast to them the addition of a little blue to the clothing color will give a good shadow effect.
Needless to say the horse under a mounted figure or in an artillery team deserves the same care and study when painting as the human figures. In fact, there is a lot more to painting a horse than just giving him a flat coat of paint with a few splashes of white on his fetlocks and forehead. Unfortunately, many city dwellers don't get a chance to study horses, but you can always turn to that great American Institution, "magazine advertising" and find scores of horses pictured in color. Your city library too is a fertile field for horse research, and also for military history. The horse is a beautiful, colorful animal, and by faithfully making an effort to reproduce the ranges of colors and tones of the horse's coat on your miniatures you will find a great deal of enjoyment.
Don't forget that old bugaboo, color intensity on small figures, because a horse painted jet black is going to be really black and a horse painted plain white is going to look like a ghost horse. By adding just a little white to your black paint, when painting a black horse, you make him a very dark charcoal shade and he will come out much nearer to what you had in mind for a black horse. When painting a white or light gray horse, remember that he has some darker shades too. Around the light horse's chest and over his hips and knees, there is usually a shade of gray that is slightly dappled, and blending these shades into your model will work wonders in creating a life-like reproduction. If you are using oil colors to paint your light horse it will be a problem of blending until you obtain the desired effect; because of the slow drying oil, you are able to blend colors right on the horse. However, in the case of the fast-drying paints there are different methods required because the paint isn't going to wait for you to make up your mind. Here is one way to get a good dappled effect without worrying about the paint drying faster than you can work. Assuming that you have already cleaned the casting and given it a primer coat of white paint, apply another good even coat of white or light gray, whichever color horse you have in mind. Now mix a gray shade just a little darker than you have painted the horse and dry-brush this shade on the parts of the horse mentioned above, and as you found them in pictures of horses you have studied. To dry-brush doesn't mean that the brush is dry, although it is almost dry. Dry-brush is a term used for a particular type of painting, and here is how you go about it. Dip your brush, in this case a medium-sized one, in paint, and then wipe it on a piece of paper or rag until most of the paint is out of the brush, and then brush the remaining color on the item to be painted. By this system you avoid globs of paint and, because only small amounts of paint are put on the object at one time, you can feather the edges making an even blend of the darker and the lighter shade. If you must shade the uniforms on your soldiers, you will find dry-brushing a very effective method for that as well as for toning horses. After applying the dark shades to your white or gray horse in the proper places — and by the way don't overdo it with your newly found skill — you will be ready to apply the dapple spots. These can naturally be applied with a brush, but a much easier method is to twist just a bit of cotton on the end of a tooth pick or match stick which has been shaved down. Dip this tiny cotton ball into the white paint which you have spread on your mixing glass or dish, and carefully do the shaded section you have painted on the horse. Just as in the dry-brush shading, don't overdo the spots. Make them light and small and study well the pictures you have found of horses. The amount of paint on the cotton ball or tip should be about the same as a rubber stamp would pick up from a stamp pad; therefore, you may have to touch the tip on a rag to take up the excess paint before applying it to the horse.
The variety of shades and tones of browns a horse may be painted are unlimited, from light buckskins to deep reddish and golden browns, and even spotted. Obtaining the particular shade is a matter of mixing and blending until you are satisfied. Orange and brown are good colors to start with in blending colors for the medium or darker brown horse. Adding small amounts of orange to the brown will make a rich horse color, which may be toned with the addition of other colors to create a great variety of natural colors. You will note in the pictures you study that some darker horses have the spotted effect much like the white and gray horses previously mentioned; the various darker and even lighter shades may be dry-brushed on the horse. Interesting highlights or characteristics of various horses such as white legs or spots on forehead can be applied without any special instructions, and their placement will be very clear in the illustrations you have studied in various books and magazines. The mane and tail of the horse are usually darker than his overall coat, and in many cases the area around the nose and mouth is a dark grayish shade. If your horse's mouth is open, don't forget to show the teeth, and if his hoof is turned up, be sure to paint the horseshoe on the bottom; all these little details are important in adding interest to the finished figure.
Metallic colors such as gold, silver, copper, and gun-metal are all very important to the final details in miniature figures; however, their application should be made with a great deal of care so that they add rather than detract from the overall picture. Various metallic colors are supplied by firms packaging model airplane dopes, enamels and flo-paque colors. These are usually mellow paints that are well suited to miniature painting because they do not have the harshness of bronzing paints, which are better suited for painting radiators, pipes and wire fences. Nevertheless, you will find that unusual highlighted effects can be obtained by combining the various metallic enamels and paints with the harsher or more brilliant bronzing liquids. For example; in the case of gold epaulets, paint the epaulet all over with a coat of gold dope, enamel or flo-paque and then, when the gold is dry, take a fine pointed brush and add small contour lines with the more brilliant bronzing liquid. This will add just enough sparkle to the gold to give it extra life and quality, instead of having the gaudy quality of an epaulet painted with bronzing liquid. This same system of highlighting may also be used on gold hat bands, the bullion on the ends of sashes, and the many other metallic parts of a military figure's equipment. It works equally well with silver and other shades as it does with gold. A combination of the two kinds of metallic paint is also valuable in bringing out the designs on helmet plates and belt buckles in much the same manner by painting the section first with the more mellow metallic color and then painting the design on the plate or buckle with the more brilliant bronzing liquid; this process will make just enough contrast to give a pleasing effect.
Metallic colors are very important in painting figures that wear armor, both plate and chain, and your selection of the proper shade or brilliance will have a great deal to do with the effectiveness of the finished job. Plate armor was both dull and polished, so you have a choice here in selection of the brilliant or more mellow type of paint, depending on the period and on whether the figure is wearing battle or parade armor. In the case of chain armor, this is usually shown duller than the plate armor and you will find a gun-metal shade very effective. Gun-metal may be purchased already mixed or you may mix graphite with silver paint to obtain a very effective color for chain mail armor. Graphite may be purchased in powdered form or you may easily make graphite powder by rubbing an ordinary lead pencil on sand paper. Gun-metal shades are also very effective for rifle and musket barrels as well as for sabers because, although equipment may be polished to its peak for parades, it is rare for sparkling equipment to show up in the field. Just as the combination of two types of metallic paint is of value in emphasizing the gold in epaulets, hat cords, and cap plates, combining of the two types is also valuable in bringing out the links in chain mail and other items made of iron or steel.
Needless to say, all the foregoing hints, suggestions, and instructions can do no more than supply you with fundamental information, and you will have to develop your own style of miniature painting, using the mediums most suitable to your taste. You are well aware that tastes vary; you have only to witness the advocates of modern painting and sculpture to bring this fact into focus. Your greatest teacher will be the study of the work of other miniature makers and the study of paintings and colored illustrations. The portions of what you like best, transcribed to your own miniatures, will create your own personal style of painting and this, certainly, should be the most pleasing to you.