05 February 2010

The Pleasures of the Flesh. . .

Here's all I use to paint faces and other flesh areas on my figures. . . a #1 "round", in this case a synthetic brush by Cottman that I've used for four or five years, and a tube of Griffin Alkyd color. The latter offers all of the advantages of oils (brilliance, etc.), but dries to the touch overnight. It is a bit glossy, but you can either spray your figures with Testor's Dullcote later, or not worry about if you varnish your figures with something glossy like I do. Griffin Alkyd colors are available from the better art supply shops and yield a much nicer fleshtone than most hobby acrylics or enamels.

Ok, let's talk faces and fleshtones today. There are many methods for doing faces and just as many different kinds of hobby paint fleshtones on the market. Since the mid 1980s, when yours truly began painting 15mm Waterloo-era Napoleonics, I've always used either oil fleshtone or, since 2000, alkyd-based fleshtone. When the teen-aged Stokes began painting, my artist mother generously supplied an extra tube of oil-based fleshtone, telling me that while true artists mixed their own fleshtone, the tube of color would save me time, serve well for what I was doing, and look better than the all-too-often putrid colors of "too pink", "too peachy", or "too orange" hobby fleshtones on the market.

So, I've simply gone that route ever since, only making the switch to alkyd in 2000 when I was finally able to find it. An article on figure painting by David Hoyles, I think, in a very early issue of Miniature Wargames mentioned that alkyd-based paints give the brilliance and blending properties of oils, but dry in just 24 hours, unlike oils. When I finally found alkyd colors by Griffin for sale in a Dick Blick catalog while visiting Mom and Step-Dad for Christmas 2000-2001, I jumped at the chance and ordered a tube, which was waiting for me once I returned to graduate school and the future Grand Duchess (though neither of us knew it quite yet) in Minneapolis following the holidays. And it was a snowy year that year. Glorious x-country/nordic skiing!

Returning to the matter at hand, there are numerous multi-step processes out there for painting faces, but I've always preferred a simpler approach that, while not producing minutely detailed results, leaves a good impression of human faces when working with 15, 25, or 30mm miniatures in their hundreds. Obviously, if we are talking about even 40mm, much less 54 or 90mm single display figures, things become more complicated since blending of your highlights and shadows becomes necessary. But I digress!

So, here's what I do. Using a #1 "round" with a good point, I first apply a good dab of fleshtone to the nose and chin of a figure. Next, I re-dip my brush into the open tube -- Yes, I apply the color straight from the tube. Shock! Horror! Gasp! -- and apply a dab to each of the cheeks, taking care to leave tiny lines of my black undercoat showing between the chin, nose, and two cheeks. If the face of a figure is detailed enough, and my painting hand is not too caffeinated, I carefully apply lips and brows -- hat, mitre, helmet, or shako permitting. Finally, I connect the chin and jaw of the figure in question to its ears if they are showing. Often they are not, though, since most mid-18th Century miniatures have their hair or wig pulled back over the ears and fastened into a queue.

And that's it! I work assembly line fashion doing one figure's face and hands before moving onto the next. Depending on the brand of figures and my level of fatigue, this step does not take too terribly long (usually), and it's something I like to do very early in the painting process, along with the green bases, so that my units look more like actual humans sooner and begin to take on some personality. It looks fine to my eye.

Speaking of which, I prefer to give the impression of eyes rather than try to paint them in. On figures below 54mm, my own opinion is that eyes inevitably look either reptilian, or muppet-like on 15-40mm figures, to say nothing of horses! Neither is a feature we want for our stalwart tabletop forces, is it? But that's just me. In general, with faces, I prefer to strive for mass effect rather than minutely detailed, and shaded faces. And when we are talking wargame figures in their hundreds or, hopefully one day, thousands, that seems to make the most sense. So, for what it's worth, those are my thoughts on faces and fleshtones.

Here's yet another photograph of the current painting project, those Huzzah Prussian, er, Wurtemburgers, um, uh, I mean Stollenians. Have a look at this one and the many pictures in yesterday's post to get an idea of what I'm talking about with regards to faces.


Jim Wright said...

Thanks, Stokes.

I'm firmly in the acrylic paint camp. I'll try you method, which seems pretty straight forward, with my Ceramcoat acrylics.

You have also converted me to using 2 coats of Pledge Future Floor Finish rather than one, or even other varnishes. I love the deep gloss look.

Thanks for the info, and keep plugging away at the painting.


Fitz-Badger said...

Your method certainly works well. I usually don't try to paint eyes myself, for similar reasons (I do on the horses, but I think they come out fine and add a bit of life to them).

As an aside on flesh tones - Foundry has come out with a new line of flesh tones; various sets of 3 colors (light medium and shade) for various ethnic groups. I've got some on order to try out.
(not suggesting you should try them - you've got your method/paint that work quite well for you) :)

Der Alte Fritz said...

Have you considered undercoating the face with some red brown and then applying your flesh color to the nose, cheeks, chin, etc? It might soften the contrast of going from black to flesh and camouflage the lines a little bit. Try it on one sample figure and see how it looks.

Grimsby Mariner said...

I like simple and don't bother with eyes either.
Not heard of alkyd paints - have to look ou for these.

Jim Wright said...

My google-fu found that alkyd paints are a type of faster drying oil based paint.

There are many much more involved description out there, but that's the gist of it.

Isn't interesting the diverse things we learn playing with toy soldiers.


Martin said...

Hey Stokes,

Thanks for the tip! I'll try it out on the next batch of recruits.

I sure am curious though about how the boys from Huzzah stack up when compared to the other makes in your armies. (RSM, Revell, Garrison, etc.) Is there any chance of that in the next photo shoot?

tidders said...

its acrylics for me - for faces/hands I use
brown wash on black primer, followed by flesh on top. To get eyes/moustaches/eyebrows I use fine indelible marker pen

simple and looks ok

-- Allan


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