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The World of Model Soldiers

Part 11 (cont'd.) : Painting Your Own Model Soldiers

For the top coat there are many types of paint available and for each one there are enthusiasts who will swear that such-and-such is the only paint to use and that everything else is rubbish. This is, of course, not so, and the artist should try several brands until he finds one which suits his style and technique. There are three types of paint: oil based, spirit based, and water based. For each type there is a different painting technique and it is best to try to copy someone else's style until you are past the apprentice stage and can go on to develop your own techniques and skills. By looking at photographs of model soldiers in books and magazines you will see how shading and colour should be applied, and the correct colours to be used for the uniform you have decided on.

The best system to follow when painting model soldiers is to start from the inside and work outwards; that is, the clothes should be painted on in the same order as one normally puts them on when getting dressed. Things that go on first are painted first, and those that go on last are applied last.

Following this system, the first part of the soldier to be painted is his body, starting with the eyeballs. The whole of the eye socket should be painted with white or a very light cream gloss paint. It is surprising what a difference bright eyes make to a matt-painted soldier but many people still tend to paint either all in gloss or all in matt paint and rarely does anyone give a figure shiny eyes. The next part of the eye to be painted is the iris. One rarely sees, except amongst those unfortunates who suffer from overactive thyroid glands, the type of staring eyes so often painted by novices. The iris, as you will see if you look at your own eyes in the mirror, touches both the upper and the lower lids in the majority of cases. So: paint across the eye socket a darker coloured vertical line, using brown or blue gloss. This, when trimmed in by the flesh colour of the lids, will give a very good approximation of the human eye. A black line may be added by the purist to represent the pupil, but initially this is unnecessary.

Next the skin should be painted on: the face, neck, and then the hands. In real life, no two people have the same skin tone, and there is no reason why that of all your tin soldiers should be exactly the same shade. Therefore, rather than use any of the ready-made bottles of flesh colour, you should make your own, using a mixture of white with a touch of red to make it pink, and some yellow ochre to give it a slightly more sallow appearance. Also, if you look at the veins on your wrist, you will see that they shine green through the skin, so a little touch of green in the flesh colour will give an even more lifelike appearance. Mix up new skin colours every time you paint a new soldier and you will find that the colour comes out slightly different each time, so some men may be rather pasty, others more tanned.

When you have mixed up the basic flesh colour, put one side about a quarter of the paint and mix it with some darker ochre or brown. Then to a second quarter add some white paint. The basic flesh colour should be applied to those parts of the figure that require it and, while the paint is still wet, use the same brush and paint the top of the nose, the top of the forehead, the cheek bones, the tops of the ears, the knuckles, the tops of the fingers, with the paler flesh colour, and the crevices under the chin, nose, ears, eyes and eyebrows, and the inside of the hands, with the darker shade. By doing this all at the same time you will find that the gradual merging of tones, and the flowing of flesh colours between the highlights and the shadows give the model an attractive and lifelike appearance. If you try to paint the face an overall flesh colour and the add the highlights and shadows later, on close examination you will find that what you have created is a sort of painting-by-numbers face where the shadows and the highlights are clearly defined.

After the skin has been painted, add the hair and the side whiskers and the moustache or beard, if any, still with attention to shading of hair tones. Next, apply the shirt if it is visible. Very often just the neck of the cuff of the shirt shows, so paint this in first because it is quite a small area and it is always easier to paint over in order to make an area smaller than to try to paint on a small area to start with.

After the shirt or the vest, paint the jacket and trousers, again using the technique of a basis colour mixed with a light and a dark shade to give the highlights and shading, and work the whole thing together. For stripes and very fancy parts of the costume, it can be easier to paint a wide coloured stripe to start with, and then edge in with the covering colour, rather than trying to paint a single straight line with two parallel edges and repeating the process for two or more stripes.

To the basic clothing add on the buttons, buckles, badges, belts, scabbards, boots, and so on. Coat the base with glue and sprinkle sand or sawdust in order to give it some texture rather than leaving it as plain cast surface, mount the figure on a small block or fit it into a display cabinet, and there you have it - a masterpiece!

When the figure is finished to your satisfaction, wrap it up carefully and take it back to the shop you bought it from, as the figures that are in the shop are probably the best in the neighbourhood and the retailer will usually be more than happy to let you compare your efforts with the soldiers on his shelves. He is not there to laugh at you, but to sell you more soldiers, and if he can encourage you to paint to a higher standard than you are already doing, you will in fact be increasing his business. So don't be shy to take your figure back. You don't even have to show it to the retailer - just ask him if you can quietly compare it with those he has in stock. After doing this a few times, it is amazing how quickly you will begin to see the flaws in your own figure and can correct them by comparison with some of his painted examples.

Another good plan is to look through the model-soldier magazines to find out the address of your nearest club and join it - there is nothing so good as example and inspired conversation to help you perfect your painting techniques.

With regard to the type of brushes that you should use, it is usually true to say that the better the brush, the finer the strokes and the more control you will have over your work. However, it is a fallacy to believe that the best work is done with the smallest brush. As with a fountain pen, it is the size of the point that matters. It is far better when learning to paint to use a No.2 or 3 brush rather than a treble 0. A No.2 or 3 brush will cost the same as the treble 0 and in terms of value for money, one is probably buying 10 times the number of the whiskers. If one assumes that one loses half a whisker every time a brush is cleaned, the larger brush must last 20 times longer. The body of hairs in a brush act as a reservoir to feed the point, so the larger the brush, the more paint it can hold and the less often it has to be dipped in the pot. Therefore, without constant interruption, one can get longer and more accurate strokes, better control of shading, and a continuation of flow.

When the point of the brush becomes blunt, and it will because the brush is worn away by the hard surface of the figure, fan the hairs out and cut them into a point again with razor blade or a small pair of scissors. If you keep on painting with a blunt brush your strokes will get thicker, and eventually you will only be able to use the brush for putting on undercoats or covering large areas and then have to buy another brush for detailed work. If you are careful and prepared to trim the brush to a new point, you will save yourself money.

Once the figure is finished, the problem is what to do with it. It is all very well to put it on a mantelpiece or in a small bookshelf, as sooner or later someone is going to touch it, knock it over, decide that it ought to be dusted, and perhaps damage it. One of the cheapest ways to display your figures in safety, and one of the most effective, is to buy from a secondhand or junk shop an old picture frame. It should be in good condition - the heavy gilt variety, or those of oak are the best and can usually be purchased fairly cheaply. Reglaze the frame if necessary, put side hinges on it, and use it as the front of a very simple wooden cabinet with glass shelves that one can easily make oneself and hang on the wall.