This week, a comment was left by a new visitor, in which he remarked about the porcelain-like appearance of my figures and asked how I get that look. Well, it is a bit inexact, and I am always tinkering with the way I do things, but basically, it's like this. For me, the once-upon-a-time look of the shiny Napoleonic figures in the collections of Peter Gilder and Doug Mason, that featured prominently in issues of Military Modelling and Miniature Wargames during the early 1980s, has always informed my painting. However, it was not until a few years back that I decided to go whole hog and at least try to do something similar in my own painting. Here's the shortened version:
I typically use a white basecoat and then apply thin washes and/or stains of the various flesh, uniform, and equipment colors over top to achieve that translucent, porcelain-like appearance. When using acrylic model paints like those by Citadel, I simply use one of the many flow-aids available for acrylic paints in art supply or craft stores. If using oils or alkyd oils, and I like both, I thin with either Winsor&Newton Liquin Original or Liquin Fine Detail. The former has a consistency not unlike soft butter and is fairly easy to control while the latter is runny, so you need very little of it. It tends to run when you use too much.
In any case, both products speed the drying time of oils considerably. Usually, everything is dry to the touch by the next morning. Small details come next, for instance facing colors, crossbelts, pouches, musket stocks, and buttons are then added with acrylic hobby paints. I sometimes use oil-based silver and gold for the latter since these have more brilliance than their hobby acrylic brethren.
Last of all, I apply two-three coats of glossy acrylic varnish. For the first eight or nine years, I used the old version of Future/Klear acrylic floor wax and finally got rid of the last little bit of my single bottle as we packed up the old house to move last June. More recently, I have relied on artists' supplies once again, using Liquitex Medium Varnish and even more recently Liquitex High Gloss Varnish. This stuff is a bit thicker than the floor polish was, so it takes longer to apply by brush, but the results are well worth it if one is after that classic, glossy toy solider look for his or her figures.
As I say, my approach to painting is inexact, and I always mess around with how I do things in that consistent attempt to paint the perfect figure(s). Sort of the military figure painter's proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or the holy grail of glossy toy soldiers. Sometimes I almost nail that 1970s-early1980s Gilder-Mason look, and other times things fall short somewhat. But I enjoy painting and modelling quite a bit, so each attempt is a learning experience and fun in its own right. Especially when you finish, look the figures over, and think to yourself, "This particular batch doesn't look half bad! Why didn't I think to do such and such like this before?" Or, alternately, "If only I had left X alone, these would be pretty close to perfect!"
The key, I think, is not to shy away from experimenting a bit, don't get too hung up about the potential for mistakes, which are usually rectified without too much trouble, and don't overwork your paints or your figures. Keep things fairly simple and understated, and resist the urge to apply a gazillion shades of the same color, or paint in every single minute detail. Learn when to stop in other words. In a nutshell, that outlines my approach to figure painting.