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.


  1. Thanks Al ~ this is a Great Tutorial! I'm looking forward to the next installments. Could you please post larger pictures, so we can see them better?

    with anticipation
    ~ Tom T

  2. OK, I'll see what I can do to make the pics bigger. I'll re-post these. It's been an experimental process, so thanks for the feedback.