11 February 2012

A Guestpost from Mike Siggins. . .

While General de Latte rides off to invade the Grand Duchy of Stollen in the dead of winter (See yesterday's conversation about the missing Christmas chocolates), another guestpost on figure painting has arrived here at Stollen Central.  This time, it's from Mike Siggins.  Let's see how he approaches painting the little devils. . .

Like many of us, I started out painting with Humbrol Enamels exclusively. I sat in a small cupboard under the stairs and breathed the fumes, licked my turps laden brush, and followed up with lethal glues and fillers for dessert. I must have painted hundreds of figures, mainly Airfix, this way. And that was before I boosted my pocket money by making models for a local shop.  It is a wonder that I survived!

I was going to skip this section because I am bound to forget somebody. It always happens. So easier to say that Peter Gilder is the man, and everyone else that has followed – Allen, Dallimore, Dean, Dwartist, Gaskin, Imrie, Mason, Oniria, Robinson, Andrew Taylor etc – have raised the bar so high that I eventually gave up trying to emulate them. There can be no higher praise.  Wider, I love Bill Horan’s models, Michael Taylor’s flats, and the paintings of Detaille, Meissonier, Gerome and Troiani.

Generalising, I like to work with washes and a ‘loose’, low contrast style. I have received pointed criticism over this choice, from ‘That’s not proper painting’ to ‘How can you not have clearly defined edges?’. These commentators mistook me for someone who cares. I fight hard against using the art analogy, but this is my style, and works for me – I know my limits!  I work almost exclusively on 28mm/30mm figures, but also do 40mm and 20mm once in a blue moon.

I give my figures a bath in iso alcohol after cleaning up. I don’t prime, but I do undercoat. Or vice versa. I never use sprays after a bad experience. Which colour? White of course! Black undercoat is the work of the devil (seriously, I have tried and I can’t see enough detail to paint). For years I used Humbrol white enamel (brush painted, two thin coats) but the formula seems to have changed. I still have fifty or so tins somewhere. Now I use white gesso. After a night of drying, the figures are stuck with Blutac onto Diet Pepsi screw tops. It is important that you use Diet Pepsi or your results will not be as good as mine. I try to paint in batches of no more than ten, as larger tasks make me fail morale checks.

Peer Support
I have recently been taking part in Painting Challenges along with Lord Stokes. These are basically support groups for painters. You have a deadline, and it helps to turn up for encouragement, but there is no pressure to perform and no minimum commitment. Oddly, because of the lack of pressure, it works. I have been more productive than I have for some years. Otherwise I would find that painting a 36 man unit was like a long bike ride. About a third of the way in I would get fatigued, lose interest and look for a pub. But if I pressed on I would usually get a second wind and cruise home in the last third.  In detail, I try to paint for at least an hour every day, in morning light.  Usefully, my thumb starts to hurt – old Playstation injury (!) - after three hours, telling me to stop. So far I have avoided a Blade Runner style magnifier, but do need reading glasses. I paint mostly in the Spring, and rarely in the Summer. I have no idea why.

As I documented in Battlegames 21, I do most of my painting with cheaper disposable brushes (Games Workshop, Vallejos, Handovers). As long as it still has a point, I am happy. For flats and detail work, I prefer W&N Series 16 but I need to find new supplies. I also really like Raphael and Isabey sables, while Rosemary’s fit nicely in the middle ground.    

I use a number of paint brands, nearly all acrylics, but the majority of the legwork is done by Vallejo. I love them, except when too much paint splurges out. Other hard workers include Chromacolour, Lifecolour, Plaka, Coat d’Arms, Andrea and, rarely, craft paints. I don’t use Foundry except for their flesh triad. Games Workshop provide a few useful colours if they don’t dry out before I get to them, their excellent Foundation range, and the essential, brilliant, hope-they-never-disappear GW washes. I don’t do inks or dips.

I use Vallejos for all metallic work, but sometimes feel brave and do some NMM effects quite badly. I like Roberson’s acrylic metals as they offer a much wider range of yellow metal colours. Not cheap though. I also burnish metal figures when I have the time and think the effort will be worth it.

This is where it gets a little odd. Essentially, I have two painting methods. Fear not, I do not intend to duplicate everything from here on in.

Method One is my standard bulk painting style, which can produce better (command) figures if I spend more time on it. In short I block paint in opaque colours slightly lighter than final target, overlay with GW or Vallejo washes, then highlight back up.  The result is quite low key and grubby, some would say dull, but still warm in tone. I work ‘inside out’, starting with flesh and finishing on the musket and moustache.

Method Two is inspired by three talented men: Doug Crowther of Unfashionably Shiny (channelling Peter Gilder), Phil Robinson and Doug Mason. The idea here is to prepare the figure for a high gloss finish, 1970’s style, so I am looking to apply an intense, single, thin layer to allow the white undercoat to show through. This does shade, midtone and highlight all in one go. I therefore use more highly pigmented colours than I would normally. Depending on the colour and location, I sometimes use Vallejo glaze medium, or just de-ionised water, aiming for almost watercolour consistency. It is important to keep within the lines... I then do some very thin black lining to finish.

Since an encounter with Max Longhurst in 1975, I have always painted my horses in oils. Those ‘difficult, long drying time’ myths are still hanging around, but it is really easy and I don’t know anything that comes close.  Like the figures, I undercoat the horse with white gesso, sometimes tinted with brown for variety, and let it dry for a few days. I usually prep twenty or thirty horses in one go. Then I brush on Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna oil paint (student quality is fine) quite thickly, to which I have added a splodge of Liquin. If you want a more matt finish, work up the oil mix on a piece of cardboard. After an hour or so, I wipe off most of the oil on the horse’s high points. You can use kitchen towel, softish sponge or just a wide brush. Put the horse aside and wait for at least a day which is a realistic minimum. If you can wait a week, that’s better. I have waited three years before now, but that is another story. Then you can paint the furniture, socks and hairy bits.  

My phobia of matt varnish (there must be a word) is well documented so I avoid it completely unless something has gone very shiny – dark reds and blues are culprits here. Otherwise figures are not varnished (in truth, these are destined for the cabinet and very occasional gaming) or gloss varnished. Again, this is the Gilder/Crowther influence.  I use two or three coats of Pelikan Plaka gloss (‘Klarlack’), which gives a lovely glass-like sheen and excellent protection for gaming.   

I have a few basing styles, but always start with laser cut 1.5mm ply that I buy from Fenris Games. These are of excellent quality and are well worth the extra expense as I dislike cutting out bases. Usually I put unit groups on 30x30mm or 40x40mm, while individual figures go onto 25mm rounds. From there on I use tile grout, sand, cork granules and Silflor tufts. If I am doing a ‘special base’ I will use Miliput for the texturing. 

-- Mike Siggins

Many highly useful and inspiring tips to try there, Mike.  Thank you!  Your fifth point on peer support was particularly sage.  Painting lots of figures can be a lonely business that is hard to push through.  But when when done simultaneously with several friends and acquaintances, well, the gentle encouragement provided to keep at it, through those more difficult parts of the process, is invaluable.  Thank you again for a great post. . .  And I just LOVE that horse above in the third photo.


Andrew said...

I was particularly intrigued by the fact that you have to use pepsi tops - I knew there must have been something obvious that I was missing. My own painting is workmanlike rather than masterful so I fear that changing over to pepsi may not do the trick but I am willing to give it a go.

Fitz-Badger said...

The horse does look great! The figures with it look very good, too. And the other two figures in the other pictures look fine as well (although I prefer a matte finish myself).
Nice work and nice series of posts!

Mike Siggins said...

Andrew. DIET Pepsi. Do try to keep up (!)

Corporal_Trim said...


I really like your painting style, and the story behind it. Hats off to you for sticking to your system in spite of the occasional critics.



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