The following article was written during the late summer of 2007, but I'm not sure that I ever submitted it anywhere. So, iteems like a good idea to share it here now.
Paint the Erbprinz Regiment in a Month!
A 10-Step Plan for Painting Those BIG Units to Completion in No Time
By Stokes Schwartz
If you’re like me, you’ve spent many years gazing at photos of massive wargame units by masters like Peter Gilder, Charles Grant (father and son), and Peter Young. And after pouring through your copy of Charge! for the umpteenth time, you’ve no doubt thought, “I wish I had units the size of the Erbprinz Regiment in my army.” Right? Then, you come to your senses with the wistful realization that it would just take too long to paint one 60+ figure battalion, much less an army of several units like it.
However, it IS possible to paint and finish large units within a reasonable amount of time. The process described below will enable you to paint Brigadier Young’s fabled unit of grenadiers – or apply the same basic principles to any large body of troops – in just a few short weeks.
But first, a brief word about figures. Not all ranges are suitable for rapid painting to a reasonable standard. Many others are just right for this kind of project though. Miniatures without an overabundance of detail (extra straps, buckles, buttons, equipment, deep folds, etc) work best, for example MiniFigs, Spencer Smith, or RSM95. In fact, the RSM figures, which I used, are almost dead ringers for the more expensive and slightly larger Stadden/Tradition figures used by the Brigadier. But the choice is, of course, up to you as each gamer will have his (or her) particular favorites in mind. Ok, let’s talk painting!
Basecoat the Entire 60+ Figure Unit
After you have removed the mold lines from your figures, attach them to temporary bases and basecoat with white artists’ acrylic gesso. You’ll be pleased with the results. Normally, gesso is used by artists to pre-treat canvases and other surfaces before painting. But it’s also ideal for figure painters. Gesso goes on fast, dries quickly without obscuring figure detail, remains flexible, and provides great “tooth” to which the colours can adhere.
Undercoat the Whole Regiment with Black
Some among you might sneer, but let me explain. Many of us like the look of careful black lining, which highlights the details on figures and gives a very smart appearance. Unless you have rock-steady hands though, the black lining technique is frustrating and time consuming.
On the other hand, if you undercoat in black, and then carefully apply your main colours over it, you accomplish two things. First, you don’t have to worry about painting the properly black areas later, for example hats, shoes, gaiters, or cartridge pouches. Second, by carefully leaving thin black lines between each colour, you can more easily approximate the black lining technique with convincing results.
Worried that a black undercoat might dull the brilliance of those yellows, reds, and light blues? Damp brush white onto the areas of figures earmarked for those translucent colours. It is worth noting, however, that the coverage provided by Games Workshop paints makes this particular concern a non-issue.
Green bases, faces, hands, mustaches, wigs, and pompoms:
Divide your Erbprinz regiment into three company-sized batches, painting each to completion before starting the next. Begin with the areas listed above
because they are easier to do early, before painting fatigue sets in. Use a #3 brush with a good point for the bases, taking care not to obscure the black shoes of the figures. Paint the hands, faces, wigs, and mustaches next, using a #1 brush. This makes your figures look human quickly, firing your enthusiasm to continue. Paint the pompoms on the mitre caps too, providing a distinct company identity for each group of figures.
White gaiters and red areas:
You’ll find that “dressing” figures from the ground up works best. So after handling the above details complete the white gaiters with a #3 brush, colour the red areas (breeches, vests, facings, turnbacks, drum hoops, counter epaulettes, mitre caps), using a #1 brush and a 001 spotter. This part of the process will be tedious and repetitive, so it’s best to spread it over 2-3 evenings, keeping the work from becoming a drudge. Be careful applying the red paint, so you don’t spoil previous work! Remember to leave thin black lines showing between the different colours too.
Light blue coats:
By now, you’ll be seeing red! So, let’s take a break and work on something easier. Here, you’ll be able to use a slightly larger #3 brush and relax your concentration just a bit. Nevertheless, paint carefully around those red-coloured areas, ensuring that a fine black line is left between the red and blue, plus arms and torsos. This step takes a single 2-3 hour session with a quick break or two thrown in.
THE WHITES: shoulder belts, musket straps, drum cords, “whale bones”, belts, scabbard slings, edging on offers’ hats, and shirt cuffs:
Here’s where it gets a bit dull again. But once you’ve completed this step, your figures will look almost finished. Use a #1 brush, taking care to keep your white paint fairly thin with an occasional tiny bit of water, and rinse your brush tip often. This helps prevent the clumping which plagues acrylic-based whites. An easy way to avoid the problem is by applying 2-3 washes of colour rather than a single application. It’s time consuming, but the results are much better than with a single grainy, coarse coat. Use your 001 spotter for small details like drum cords. This particular step will probably take a couple of sessions.
Brown musket stocks, silver barrels, bayonets, officer gorgets, sashes, and spontoons:
You’re in the final turn now, so reward yourself with some easier work. These details are straightforward to paint because they don’t require a great deal of intense concentration. After all, you’re really just painting straight lines without any odd angles or curves. The officers’ gorgets are an exception, but these can be coloured with a quick dab or two of the brush; use a #2 here. It holds enough paint, but is small enough to avoid obscuring your earlier work.
Brass cartridge pouch badges, drum shells, scabbard tips, sword hilts, and silver mitre fronts:
Another fairly simple step. Just take care to leave fine lines of black showing between colors. This method is particularly effective with items like brass drum shells and the fronts of grenadier mitre caps. Use your #1 brush or 001 spotter to paint in a variety of silver wiggles, squiggles, dots, and dashes on the latter. This old artists’ trick fools the eye into seeing detail that’s not really there. And the front plates of your Erbprinz mitre caps will look like embossed metal. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can achieve pleasing results.
Black garters, gaiter buttons, yellow lace, final touch-ups:
Now, you’re in the home stretch. All you need to do now is carefully paint those black garters and buttons on the white gaiters, using your 001 spotter. Here’s where you’ll also want to examine each figure carefully and make any necessary touch-ups to your work. Take your time. You’re just about there.
Apply a clear, protective coat to preserve your work:
You’re approaching the finish line, so take a well-deserved break away from the painting table for an evening or two. Read, go out, spend time with your family, take a walk, etc. Remember, it’s important not to get too caught up in your hobby at the expense of real life. But if your wife is away on a two-month research trip in Berlin, like mine was recently, that’s a different story!
After a few evenings, come back and give your figures a protective coat of clear varnish. I like Future acrylic floor polish. It’s cheap, readily available, you get a whole bottle of it, and it imparts a nice, shiny “old school” finish to your figures. Plus, you’ll love the fresh, clean scent! If that’s not quite to your taste, a shot or two of Testor’s Dull Cote restores a matte finish to your figures.
Repeat this process twice more and. . . Congratulations! You have just finished painting your own version of the Erbprinz Regiment***. And all in just about one month. The Brigadier would approve!
Don’t Forget These Important Tips!
- Modify this process to suit your needs, depending on the unit of figures you are painting. What’s most important here is that you establish an organized method and routine. Regular, methodical work gets things done much faster than haphazard painting. You’ll be amazed at how much you can do when you simply get on with it.
- Turn off the TV! Paint 2-3 hours per evening, 4-5 evenings per week. If you adopt this process, you’ll find that you can still get those big units of 48-60+ figures done in about 5-6 weeks time without becoming a hermit. Wives, girlfriends, and partners will appreciate this.
- Use decent brushes. I’ve completed my work here using synthetic brushes, but watch the points! When they deteriorate, retire them and buy new ones.
- Do your best to paint well, but don’t obsess about turning each soldier into an individual work of art – you’ll lose momentum. Instead, paint what you can observe from three feet away. Block in your main colours and leave it at that. Your production will increase markedly.
- Another time-saving device? Have everything you need (paints, brushes, figures, etc) set up permanently somewhere if possible.
- Paint regimental staff (flag bearers, mounted colonels, RSMs, etc.) along with your first company-sized batch of figures. That helps break the back of the project. It’s always a little discouraging to finish a BIG unit, only to realize that you’ve still got 4-6 figures to finish before you’re done.
Materials Used for the Erbprinz Project:
- 60+ SYW Prussians by RSM95 (officers, drummers, and grenadiers)
- Games Workshop and Ral Partha acrylic paints
- Windsor Newton Griffin Alkyd flesh tone (better than any acrylic or enamel flesh I’ve used. Dries overnight.)
- Windsor Newton silver artists oil colour (the best silver out there and dries in 2-3 days)
- Cottman (Winsor&Newton) synthetic bristle #3, #2, and #1 rounds
- Loew-Cornell sable 001 spotter brush
- Future acrylic floor polish
- Copious amounts of strong Italian roast coffee with plenty of cream and sugar.
Finally, I must credit F. Patrick Burke for his articles on painting 15mm designer Napoleonic armies, which appeared in the February and July 1989 issues of Wargames Illustrated. These have inspired my work ever since. If you can, find and read these articles. They present lots of interesting ideas. Ok, let’s start seeing more of those BIG units! Painters, take your marks!
***Known in my army as the Leib (Grand Duchess Sonja’s) Grenadiers, in honor of my wife, who gave me the figures for Christmas 2006.