Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ruturn of the Mummies

Yes, they're back. And for one simple reason: to illustrate the value of drybrushing. These figures took me not more and ten minutes to paint and I think the result is spectacular. I have to give the sculptor all the credit. Well, that and the dry brush technique.

Originally, mummies were wrapped in white linen but over the centuries it becomes a very dark brown so I gave it a base coat of a fairly thin Burnt Umber. This is something like a wash coat, where the paint collects in the deep spots. Then the drybrush with--what else?--Linen.

The drybrush technique is pretty simple. It's called "dry brush" because there isn't much paint on the brush. I wipe it off on the paper towel. Dry brushing is hard on brushes for some reason, so I usually use an older brush that has lost its point an spreads a bit. If there are a series of lines (as in these bandages) or folds, then brush perpendicular to them. That catches the edges and misses the deep parts. On these, I brushed mostly from bottom to top or from the hands in toward the shoulders.

Practice a bit with the amount of paint on the brush. The paint itself should be on the thick side. That's really all there is to it. I like simple.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Next batch complete

Here's the other half of the unit. Not much different to report about them. The burnous was white, probably unbleached wool. White cotton gandoura, white burnous, white turban. Fairly simple. Notice the lighter colored bands on the musket--really highlights it well. Notice also the eye, described in a previous post. If the eye looks too big you can always trim off the excess with a bit of flesh around the edges or even cover it over and try again. Basically, though, I don't find it's worth the effort. Just give it a good try and move on.

These and the previous figures are meant to portray Moroccan Berbers who live on the western edge of the Sahara, like the Ain Atta. With the influence of the Arabs of the Sahara, their dress is more like theirs than their Berber cousins of the Atlas. You could certainly use these as Arabs from Algeria. In the winter they might dress warmer by putting on multiple gandouras or even another burnous.

That's almost one Berber unit down and two to go. I like to do all the same or related poses at once: you get into a pattern and it's faster that way. So I'll save all six command figures plus that extra leader to make a separate batch at the end.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Painting Tools

Sure, brushes are the basic painting tool. But what else is helpful? I took a pic of my painting tray just to see what I've collected over the years.

The tray itself is just a piece of plywood, an off-cut from a long-discarded project. I think it's really helpful to have a solid base like this: all the lead and paints get heavy and I do have to move it around a bit. At the back is a little wooden tray I made to hold paint jars; there's a shoebox as well that I set on the right. Doesn't matter how you organize your paints, but being able to put your hand on just the right bottle quickly is a real plus.

At the back of the paint tray is a piece of paper. I've made notes about the colors I use. "Which blue did I use on the tunic of the Chasseurs d'Afrique?" Very helpful. Although you can't see it really, I've also made "chip charts" on 3x5 cards and stuck those to the left of the tray. Useful because the dried color hue is different than the wet one. But now that I've gone to using the artist colors more I find I don't have as many paints and don't do that as much. When I do, now I'm using bigger swatches and painting them on high-quality bright white paper. I have one for the khakis and tans I use a lot.

With acrylics, water is the essential clean-up medium. I have two little plastic tubs there. Got these from drinking a whole lotta powdered tea mix and I have an almost unlimited supply. One contains clean water for adding to the paint with the eye dropper and the other one is for cleaning the brushes. You'll note the bottle of acrylic cleaner--plain water isn't enough to keep your brushes clean, but regular dish detergent works just as well. When the dirty water gets really dirty I've been known to use it as a dark wash. There: now you know my dirty little secret.

The pliers is for opening stuck lids and the X-acto is for cleaning the dried paint from around the tops. Another little tea tub holds all the toothpicks I use to stir the paint. I get a lot of "Do you paint with the toothpicks?" from non-painters so one day I tried it. Not bad to quickly "patch" a spot. When my brushes are ready for the trash I cut off the ferrule and viola'! A bigger and longer paint stirrer for the deep bottles.

A paper towel for cleaning and drying the brushes is on the right. I used to use old t-shirts in the enamel paint days but they don't absorb water well. I'll have to get rid of that one I just noticed. They tray tends to get so crowded sometimes it's hard to fit the figures on it. I also use the paper towels to take off extra paint when I'm dry brushing. If I continue to use the same spot, sometimes I go back there instead of the paint source for just a little bit.

Where to paint from? You can just dip your brush in the paint jar or sometimes the lid but as you can see to the left, the little bottles really make you squeeze out a couple of drops at a time. This helps preserve the paint from drying out so that's nice. Whenever I'm using that kind of bottle or just mixing colors, I put it all on the pickle jar lid you see in the center. They're a good size and I tend to make a color wheel of it as I go along. My wife really likes pickles so there's a never-ending supply of those, too.

Oh, one last thing. Glasses. 2.5X magnifiers from Walmart to be exact. I actually took a figure in to the store to try out the best magnification. Once upon a time I used to amaze all by telling those who asked that yes, I did paint all that detail with the naked eye. Alas, age has caught up with me and I would no longer be able to see all the detail on these little buggers much less paint it without some help.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finishing off the Berbers

Finished painting! (What did you think the title meant?)

When I last posted, just a few things to go. I painted the base brown and let that dry while working on the rifles and such. The rifles are painted overall Rifle Butt, but sometimes Burnt Umber is close enough. I've found it's important to paint the whole thing, as later the gunmetal looks and covers much better over the dark undercoat. Also, if you haven't done the dark undercoat for the hands (I did this time because of the forearms), just breeze right over them, too. Good time saver. Next, paint the gunmetal on the top part. If it's a musket with rings or has sights, I'll do those with a "steel" or other mid to light metallic color. Really makes the weapon stand out and takes almost no time. Didn't have that on this rifle.

The hands are drybrushed with a color the same or maybe a bit darker than the face. Notice on the figure on the right you can see the individual fingers. That's because 1) Tony made them (including fingernails) and 2) the fingers were drybrushed ever so lightly, leaving the dark spaces between the fingers intact. Great look, little effort. I like that.

The pouches are made of--what else?--Moroccan leather so I painted them red-brown. Burnt Sienna of course. Beginning to see a pattern here? The artist colors are very versatile. The fringes at the bottom were decorative; I painted these a mid-green. The cords holding the pouches were little more than strings and Tony has made these appropriately fine. When I drybrushed the gandoura, at least one side of the cords was left dark. No need to outline these in a dark color as people do (especially outlining Napoleonic belting!). Just barely touch the tops with the color you want and you're good to go. In fact, some of the cords had picked up a little of the tan-shaded drybrush color and I was tempted to do nothing.

Back to the base. An indeterminate brown on the feet: could be slippers, could be sun-browned and dusty feet. The base brown is drybrushed Raw Sienna and then again with Yellow Ochre. I could have stopped with the Raw Sienna but it was looking a little too Halloweeny for my taste and the Yellow Ochre really brightened up not only the base but the whole figure. After all, these Berbers are mostly gray and brown--a little color can't hurt.

There you go--first batch done! I think it's taken me as long to write these two blogs as it did to paint the figures. I definitely think finishing 9 figures in one sitting is more satisfying than doing half of 18 figures.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Painting the First Berbers

Let's start this out easy--sort of "warming up" as it were.

I usually like to paint in batches of 8-12 but with colonial units being around 20...well, the temptation is great to do them all in one go. This time, though, I'm going to do half of the Berbers in gandouras. Ought to be pretty quick.

I learned over time that it's the overall result you want, not the exact colors or whether you've "colored within the lines." For these Berbers I'm looking for a dirty, scruffy look. Their gandouras were made of unbleached cotton or wool and they wouldn't get washed very often. The turbans were just a long strip of cloth wound about a white skull cap--the hair cropped short. Prince Harry didn't refer to them as "rag heads" without cause.

You're generally going to paint them from the inside out, as if they were getting dressed. So we start with the fleshy bits.

In the pic above, I've undercoated the faces and arms with "Dark Fleshtone" (which I'd never buy again: at $2.99 a bottle it is indistinguishable from Burnt Sienna which I can get 4x as much for 97 cts, 58 on sale). The next step is to dry brush a medium flesh tone over that. The Berbers are thought to be descendants of the Carthaginians who in turn came from Asia Minor. They're quite Caucasian although dark from the sun.

When you do the drybrushing, make sure there's not too much paint on the brush. Better to go over an area twice than obliterate the color underneath. On these figures, drybrushing left the eye sockets dark, but no matter. Catching the edges of the ears makes them stand out nicely. Be sure to highlight the nose. Tony puts a lot of facial detail into these--they deserve to be painted.

Eyes are a technique I learned from doing larger figures. I don't always do eyes, but Ed's in luck 'cause this is after all a tutorial. You start near the nose and make a small oval or slightly more rectangular patch of white on each side. Practice gets it pretty quickly. Next--and this is key--a black line or blob from top to bottom for the iris. It looks right if the black is oval and covers a good bit of the white. Round and it looks like the figure has a case of the big eye; if both white and black are round it looks like a toy soldier. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes not. In the end, you'll get better at it and trust me: in the heat of the game no one will notice.

Once you've done the eyes, paint on the beard and a bit of hair at the back of the head. Tony likes to put on the facial hair. I use a fairly fine brush and am sure to leave space between mustaches and beard for the mouth. You can leave it there or mix a little red with the flesh tone to paint lips. But don't overdo! You don't want the dreaded Toy Soldier look.

We've gotten to that point above. Have left the arms alone; we'll get to those in a bit. Time to do the gandouras and turbans. Fortunately the dark gray primer is a nice shade to start with. Remember: black and white are too harsh. No "soot and chalk" for these lads. I take Charcoal and paint it in the shaded parts: under the arms, behind the rifle, inside the wide sleeves and in the folds of the cloth. I clean up the messiness on the turbans from painting the face as well. I'm also making sure I cover those hidden areas where the sprayed undercoat might not have reached well.

Then I drybrush a light gray over all, making sure not to get it into the folds of the cloth and such. Again, less is more. I start on the "brightest" parts of the cloth like the upper back and arms when I have the most paint on the brush. I very lightly highlight the turban. Frankly, the light gray looks white to the eye and that's the last we have to touch it. It would also be the last we have to touch the gandoura as well, but I'm really thinking dirt, so I mix a little tan into the gray and drybrush it in a few outer spots as well. No right or wrong here, just do what pleases you.

The camera seems to have squished this guy a bit, but here he is at that stage. We're almost done already: just arms, feet, rifle, bag, and base and he's done. I finished them all in one go but this post is getting a bit long and I want to take the final picture in daylight, so I'll finish this tomorrow.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


What are mummies doing on Ed's Army page?!

I wanted to share a new idea I had the other day. I bought a few mummies for an Egyptian-Foreign Legion game (think opening scene of "The Mummy"). I figure I can use THW's "Warrior Heroes" to play the semi-fantasy game or maybe even "All Things Zombie," treating the mummies like zombies.

The figures came with slotta-bases. A guy at the shop suggested cutting off the slot and gluing the figure on a metal base--which worked great. I wanted to use my standard 3/4" base but although the figure's feet fit, the base looked too small. So I bought 1" fender washers and just stuck the whole thing on top. The thin Gamecrafter's base doesn't add much height and actually helps by covering the hole in the fender washer. I'll cover the base with the usual pumice and maybe some stones.

Very cool.

As I worked with these lead-free figures I was reminded of why I chose a metal containing some lead for Askari Miniatures. The feet and legs gave off this crackling sound as I tried to adjust them. One of the mummies (not shown) was cast pretty much two-dimensionally and it wasn't possible to move the arms much out of that plane. It's also much harder to clean lead-free figures with knife or file.