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Painting figures with Model Color

As we know, the use of acrylic paints is nothing new to figure painting. Yet, for the last couple of years we have seen an increase in both the amount of quality work performed with them and more people that are finding out that acrylics are an easy to use, safe and adaptable alternative for figure painters of all levels.

In modeling magazines, month after month, we gaze through photographs of exquisite figures masterfully painted with acrylics and read through articles written by top painters that give all kinds of sage advice and recipes on what to do with them. However, there still seems to be a void in the “how to do it” area, or to be more explicit, the actual paint handling procedures. The need to fill this gap is what prompted me to write this article based on what I perceive to be the most basic concepts and to explain, as plainly as possible, how to work out specific techniques of painting with acrylics.

While some of you may find the next few pages downright elementary. I do believe that great figure painting comes from having a clear understanding of its most fundamental aspects. Besides, if this is to be a truly educational article, we cannot go any faster than our slowest student. So lets gather a few things and get started.


As with any other kind of paint, acrylics have their own special requirements, but nothing more than a few tools that will allow us to make the most of them. Let’s do a quick run down of the basic tools:


Save yourself a lot of money and frustration, “buy the best”. The quality of your work will depend on the quality of your materials. Winsor and Newton Series 7, either standard or miniature (old Series 12) styles are still the top choice for round brushes.
Series 7 brushes cost a little bit more, but well taken care of, will outlast and outperform any other brand. You will also need a good quality flat sable brush for coating large areas. Most major brush manufacturers carry at least one series of this type and they all perform quite well for our purposes (See also “ Brushes ”)

> Series 7 brushes are the top choice for figure painting. At left is a #2 miniature and at right, a #2 standard.

As for brush sizes, I have found that the minimum practical size for acrylic painting is the #0, and there are good reasons for this, it holds just the right amount of pigment and the point is sharp enough to work on the smallest detail. Smaller brushes don’t hold enough paint and by the time you load your brush and get ready to use it, the paint usually dries at the tip, turning your once enjoyable experience into a quite stressful event. Unless you are working on very large surfaces a #0, #1, and #2 standard rounds and one #4 flat should be enough for working on figures from 54mm up to 120mm.

It is important to note that acrylic paints are inherently rough on brushes. You must make sure to religiously clean your brush often, during painting. At the end of your painting session wash them thoroughly with a good quality brush cleaner to get rid of all paint residue. Read the excellent article by Bob Knee regarding this matter in Historical Miniature magazine, issue #16. Set aside a set of brushes to be used exclusively with acrylics, any traces of enamel or oil thinners can effect your water-based paints. It is also a good idea to use a cheap brush to thin and mix your paints, a process that really wears down your expensive brushes, which should only be used to apply paint.
Cotton Rag: You will be using it a lot, a lightly moistened lint free cotton rag like an old T shirt, or even an old towel will do fine. A second choice is a lint free paper towel, although these are prone to break apart during long sessions.
Palette: A good size plastic or aluminum palette with several wells is a must when working with acrylics. They are inexpensive and keep everything well organized. I cover mine with thin aluminum foil for no other reason than I don’t like to wash the trays all the time, so go with whatever makes you comfortable.
Cleaning Jar: A glass or ceramic container full of clean water and steady enough for you to swish your brush around in. Remember to change the water as often as possible during your painting session, enough brush cleanings will turn your water into very thinned paint and will contaminate your palette or even worse, mess up your figure.
Water Dispenser: An eye dropper, empty bottle of any device that delivers single drops of water roughly the same size as the paint drops coming out of the bottle. (Vallejo Acrylics come in a bottle with a built-in eyedropper dispenser.)
Water: Don’t be cheap here, tap water in most cities tends to leave a chalky residue when it dries. Knowing that all kind of funny chemicals are in it, makes me very cautious, so I rather stay on the safe side and use distilled water for all my painting needs.
Plasticard: A small section of primed plasticard (sheet styrene) makes great practice surface on which to try out the simple exercises found throughout this article, designed to get you acquainted with basic procedures.
Scrap Figure: I will use a scrap figure, built from my parts box, to illustrate the different techniques described here. The objective is not to paint a specific uniform or figure, only show the basic techniques and procedures and then, once you understand them, it will be your turn to try them on a figure set aside for this same purpose. As soon as you are done, you can always strip the paint from it and be ready to start again. Good quality figures that will enable you to make all kind of mistakes and experiment at minimum expense and anguish, can be bought at bargain prices at any model show.

Vallejo Model Colors Acrylic Paint

Throughout this article 3 colors will be used for examples: 922 U.S. Uniform Green, 952 Lemon Yellow and 980 Black Green but if you prefer, in table #1, further ahead, you will find several color combinations that will also work well.

Using Vallejo Acrylics


This relatively new product owes its success to the fact that it did away with all the problems that had plagued previous lines of acrylics. They are 100% water soluble, totally flat, quick drying, highly pigmented, have an excellent covering power (great for correcting any mistake!), plus they come in these neat bottles that dispense the paint a drop at a time.

And once you are done, the remaining paint at the tip of the nozzle seals the opening so airflow is minimized and the paint won’t set inside the bottles.

With a line comprised of more than 200 different colors, varnishes, mediums, glazes, florescent and metallic you can do a lot more other than undercoat with them. Even if you are a “dyed in the wool” oil or enamel painter, give them a try. You will find that acrylics are unbeatable for some applications and bring about some very remarkable effects. While I still rely on oils and enamels for certain portions of my figures, most of my former painting methods have been replaced, with significant improvement, by acrylics.

Although I still favor oils for the skin portions of my figures, everything else on this Celt by Elite was painted with Vallejo Acrylics. The application of freehand designs like this one is simplified by the use of acrylics due to their color richness and ease.

As with any other medium, a sound basic approach will be the cornerstone of a well executed figure. This is where we start! Now that we have the basic materials and some paints, lets go through the main parts of the process one step at a time.

Plan Ahead

Before doing anything else, clearly establish your objectives for a particular painting session. Arrange the paints and tools you will be using and very carefully study your figure. Familiarize yourself with all the different details and analyze the location and form of the main shadows and highlights. Always practice the techniques you will be using on a scrap surface and most importantly: take your time, don’t rush.

Preparing your Paints

Shake Your Paint Bottles

Do what???? You would be surprised at the amount of people that skip this necessary step and later complain that the only thing coming out of the bottle is a clear liquid with some paint on it! So don’t be shy about it, shake that bottle vigorously, tap the bottom against the palm of your hand and make sure that all the paint is thoroughly mixed. Now, get your palette ready for the next step.

Vigorously shake your paints before and during your painting session to maitain uniformity on your mixtures.


The use of “very thinned paint” is the essence of painting with Vallejo acrylics. Coming straight out of the bottle, the paint is too thick for most purposes and different degrees of dilution are necessary to achieve the distinct effects that make for a realistic painting job. As mentioned before, we use only very clean water. In order to do this accurately and establish a reference point, we will add a certain amount of water drops for every drop of paint we intend to use. We will designate this as “dilution rate” and it will be noted as “parts of paint” to “parts of water”, (e.g. 1:1, 2:1, 1:3, etc.). The right amount of water is different for each particular situation, nonetheless there are three primary dilution rates with specific purposes that will give us a good starting point:

1:1 Minimum rate of dilution used primarily for basecoating. Good solid coverage.
1:2 Thin coatings, airbrushing, outlining and small details. Thin without being transparent.
1:5 Minimum for highlighting and shading. Transparent, base color will show through.

Add the necessary amount of water to your paint with an eyedropper or empty bottle to reach an adequate consistancy for your needs.

From left; Paint straight from the bottle is too thick and builds up easily. Next; 1:1, 1:2, 1:3 and 1:4 dilutions.

It is very important to note that these dilution rates are not absolute. Practice and experience will fine-tune them to your own painting style.

As you go along with your painting session, you may notice that paint will begin to dry on your palette. As soon as this happens, add the necessary amount of water and/or paint in order to maintain the same dilution and consistency, this is very important, so keep an eye on it. Adding a small amount of Vallejo #587 Slow Dry to your palette will delay the drying process and extend the workingtime of your thinned paints.

Preparing your Figure

Once your figure has been cleaned and assembled, it is time to lay down the foundation of our painting process by priming and basecoating. The application of these is straightforward and shouldn’t give you any trouble.
It is a good idea to prime all your figures, metal or resin. Although this is not necessary on resin, priming will always bring out any flaws that are not easily seen on bare materials and will leave a uniform surface over which to apply a good even basecoat. Always prime with one thin coat, preferably with an airbrush, and let dry for 24 hours. (Vallejo has its own primer, #919 Foundation White. I personally don’t use it, but if you like white primers this is a very good one).

A uniform primer application is the first step for a quality finish and will show any surface faults not easily seen.
Three layers of 922 US Green diluted to 1:1 and allowed to dry, make a good basecoat to work over on our examples.

Once the primer has dried it is time to basecoat your figure with whatever color or colors you have chosen for this purpose. For any base-color, always use a midtone value that will enable you to have enough latitude to work in your shadows and highlights, maintaining a good overall balance between them. Use the largest brush possible (use your flat brush) to lay in several thin coats with a dilution rate of 1:1 for an even coverage. Let it dry for about 3 hours before any subsequent paint application.

Categorías:  Model Color
Fecha de publicación: 29/03/2010
http://www.acrylicosvallejo.com/es_ES/painting-figures-with-model-color/blog/36 Painting figures with Model Color

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