The vast majority of tabletop gaming miniatures are in the 28-35mm scale. This includes games like Warhammer 40k, Infinity the Game, Bolt Action, and many more. Of course, for a truly fun miniature painting experience, larger scales allow you to experiment more easily with other techniques. Painting techniques like airbrushing and wet-blending are easier to learn on large model surfaces. In this case, painting miniatures with oil paints is another method that is also more approachable with larger models. Judgement miniatures are a perfect example of models that are well suited for experimenting with new mediums, especially with their larger 54mm scale size.
In this article, I show you an overview of how I painted “Barnascus”, a miniature from the Judgement tabletop game. Judgement is a miniatures game inspired by MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) style games.
RELATED: PAINTING MINIATURES WITH OIL PAINT
Starting with Reference and Concept Images
For simplicity, I decided to borrow heavily (read this as “copy”) from the reference art from the Judgement Miniatures website. I didn’t even try to come up with a novel color scheme.
I wanted to work quickly and play with oil paint. Let’s see how this unique miniature painting medium works on this model.
Pros and Cons of Oil Paints
For more about how to paint miniatures with oils, you can see this overview guide here. I used a combination of different oil paints for this project. Most of the oil paint I use are student-grade Winsor & Newton oils you can find at a local art store.
For recommended oil paints for miniatures and models, check out this best 10 oil paint review for painting miniatures. Oil paints are a wonderful medium when you’re looking for a new way to blend color without a wet palette. Oil paints dry slowly and allow you to mix and blend color right on the working model surface.
I can work at a slow and steady pace. I can stop for a few hours and return to the piece and continue working with the oil color on the model. If I make a mistake, I can correct it by wiping off the oil paint with a soft clean brush.
Another advantage of oil paints is that using them for painting miniatures is cost-effective. That is, painting miniatures with oil paint is relatively cheap. A little oil paint goes a long way. Although a single tube of oil paint may appear expensive compared to a bottle of acrylic model paint, oil paints are more pigment dense. A single tube of oil paint will cover significantly more surface area than a bottle of model acrylic paint.
Of course, there are some challenges with oil paints, such as the absence of traditional acrylic layering technique. Painting with oils can also be messy. Oil paint is sticky and slippery and making it do what you want takes patience and skill. Because oil paint on a model doesn’t dry quickly, you can’t simply finish the painting and handle it like you would with normal acrylic painted miniatures.
You have to let the oil “cure” (a chemical oxidation process that changes the oil composition into a hardened material). Heat doesn’t do anything to speed up the process for oil paint curing. You have to allow time and ambient air exposure to the oil paint to do its job. This requires patience.
The results, on the other hand, speak for themselves. Oil paint colors retain their sheen and vibrancy throughout the entire painting process and doesn’t diminish when dried (in contrast, acrylic paint colors appear brighter when they are wet).
Ultimately, I find the use of oil paints refreshing and the chance for discovery new ways to work with the oil medium is thrilling. If you’re adventurous, or simply stuck in a rut looking for a way out, then maybe experimenting with oil paint on your models is a great way to change the pace.
What Primer Should I Use for Oil Painting Miniatures?
In traditional oil paintings on canvas or wood panel, artists use gesso or other brush-on primers with a porous finish. These help even out the texture of the working surface before applying oil paint, as well as provide some “tooth” that help the oils stick to the surface. The porosity of some primers and mediums also help to absorb some of the oil in the paint to facilitate curing of the first layers of the painting. In the case of painting miniatures, I recommend using the same primer you would use for painting with acrylics.
I use Vallejo Surface Primer for all my miniatures, including those I paint with oil paints. You can see my review and tips for applying Vallejo Surface Primer with an airbrush or regular brush. For an overview of the top 10 best primers for painting miniatures and models, check out this article here.
For “Barnascus”, I primed the model using an airbrush filled with grey colored Vallejo Surface Primer. I used 1-2 even coats applied across the entire surface. With the model clamped in a Citadel Painting Handle, the spraying job was easy. To contain the spray, I used an airbrush spray booth (see reviews and why you may want one).
Oil Conditioning the Model
The first step before I am also to do anything with the model is to make sure that the first layers of oil paint “stick”. To do that, I condition the model with a heavy coat of an oil paint wash. This oil paint wash is simply made with Winsor & Newton Vandyke Brown mixed liberally with clear mineral spirits. The mixing ratio isn’t important for making the wash. Just make sure that the wash is thinned enough to flow easily off your brush and on the model without the pigments separating.
The purpose of conditioning the surface in the traditional sense is to color the surface and put a thin sheen of oil over the primer. Oil likes to stick to other oils, so this first wash helps the next layers stick.
Using Vandyke brown or other earth color oil paints (brown colors) is preferred for these early conditioning steps because these oil paint colors tend to cure faster than other colors. In other words, when applied thinly as a wash (by mixing with mineral spirits), these oil paint colors will dry quickly and let you move to the next steps. Use a dry palette like this one to make your washes. It’ll be much easier than a flat surface palette.
Remove the Excess Wash
When you’re finished applying the conditioning wash, rub it off with a sponge or clean cloth. What you’re doing is cleaning off the brown oil paint pigment everywhere except in the cracks and crevices of the model. What is left behind is a light sheen or film of oil over most of the model. You can see in the photo below that on the body of the driver the brown wash still remains in the crevices.
Block in the Colors
I use a fairly large size #4 pointed round brush for most of the color application with oils. I recommend using large nylon brushes like the brushes I used for most of the work. Synthetic bristles are stiffer than natural hair brushes and work great for working with more viscous oil paints.
To speed things along, you can premix your oil paint colors with mineral spirits to keep them thin at the right consistency as we show in this miniature oil painting tutorial. But, if you prefer to simply work with a palette and paint from the tube like I do, a brush that you can use to “scoop” paint without it flopping over is convenient.
To apply oil paint evenly, you will need to thin it a little with mineral spirits on your palette. I use a dab of clear mineral spirits (also known as white spirits) on my brush that I mix with a bit of oil paint. Don’t use too much thinner! You want your oil paint to be the consistency of a gel, like hand lotion or liquid bathroom soap.
Get all your main colors on the model. Don’t worry about the mess. You may go over lines and paint things you don’t want to with certain colors. That’s okay! You can and will fix it all later. Remember, the paint isn’t going to dry for days. You have time.
Go over every surface with the oil paint colors you want. For Barnascus, I left the elements I planned to paint with metallics unpainted with the color. You’ll see, of course, that I’m a fair sloppy with where the colors will go. I’m merely getting the main paint colors where I want them.
Before moving to the next step, you may want to wait for a while to allow those first colors to cure a little. I suggest waiting at least 30-60 minutes.
Add Shadows and Highlights
It is easier to blend darker oil paints over brighter ones, at least in my limited experience. This is what I do next after my first blocks of colors are on the model, I add shadows first, then follow up with highlights.
The shadow or highlight color doesn’t matter as much as where you apply it. The value of the paint (e.g., brightness or darkness of the color) is more important than the color.
Value does all the work, but color gets all the credit.Tweet
To blend oil paint, lightly dab some of the thinned (with a little mineral spirits) darker or brighter oil paint color in the areas where you want to add the shadow or highlights. The paint should flow off your brush easily. Continue adding color where you want it before blending anything.
How to Blend Oil Paint
Wipe your brush off on a paper towel. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR BRUSH. Just wipe the bristles as thoroughly as you can to remove as much of the pigment off as possible. You want to keep the oil in your brush bristles.
It bears repeating. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR BRUSH OFF WITH MINERAL SPIRITS (or anything for that matter). Leaving a bit of older oil medium in the bristles is a key aspect of allowing that brush to blend your paint on the model. If you accidently got mineral spirits on your brush at this point, make sure to remove all of it before using that brush to try blending.
The problem with blending with a brush that has any mineral spirits on it is that it will dissolve underlying layers of oil paint on your model. A brush with mineral spirits will act like an eraser, instead of a blender!
Flatten the tip of your brush with the paper towel. Use the fine soft edges of this flattened brush to perform your oil paint blending. Lightly feather the bristles into the areas of your oil paint that you want to blend. The brushing action you use here will be similar to that of wet-blending (a technique you can see here). The benefit here is that you can take your time. Work the color into the places you want. Use a light touch.
Refine your Oil Paint Color Placement
Because oil paint takes a long time to cure (e.g., dry), you can play around with where the color sits. You’ll be “smudging” colors and blurring edges. You can make sharp edges by applying more oil paint thickly in those areas.
I like using a glass palette, which allows me to see all the colors on smooth surface. Other miniature painters that use oil paints will often suggest using cardboard or parchment paper (similar to paper used in wet palettes). The argument is that these surfaces absorb excess oil and help keep the consistency of the oil paint constant through the process of painting.
I tend to work slowly in small batches of color. So, I can refine my oil paint consistency as I work. What’s the rush? The process for me is organic, and as I paint with oils I make small discoveries that keep me motivated. It’s like little reward bells that go off when I do something with the paint that I like.
Painting with Oil-Based Metallic Paint
Did you know there are metallic “oil paints”? AK Interactive produces a metallic wax/oil-based paint that you can use with the same oil painting techniques. If you’re looking for metallic oil paints, look no further. AK Interactive has a whole line of these true metal paints that match up with your favorite acrylic metallic paints, such as Citadel Leadbelcher.
True Metal paints are great for working with oil painted miniatures because you can thin them with the same mineral spirits you use with your other oil paints. You can also push them around like oil paints. Wet-blending with metallic paint, anyone?
To paint with these metallics, start by conditioning the model’s surfaces with regular oil paints. In this case, I used Payne’s Grey and Vandyke brown oil paint for areas I wanted to cover with metallic steel or bronze/copper, respectively.
Then, as I did earlier, I used a makeup sponge to clean up the conditioning layer of oil. It may look a bit messy, but an unfinished model always looks, well “unfinished”.
After removing the excess oil paint, you can see the remaining pigment stays in the recesses. These surfaces area ready for an application of the AK Interactive metallic oil-based paint.
Make sure you have covered every surface with the oil paint conditioning layer. The metallic paint will adhere better, as well as appear more realistic if the darker recesses stay dark with the underlying pigment.
These photos show you how this step looks around the entire model.
After you’ve removed the excess oil paint, you will have a fine sheen of oil that will help the metallic oil paint stick and go where you want it. Let this layer cure/dry for 30-60 minutes before applying the metallic paint over it.
To apply and blend the metallic paint, use the same approaches and methods described earlier for the other oil paint colors. Block in your metallic paints, then refine the edges. You can shade and highlight metallic oil paints the same way with other metallics, or oil paint blend colors on top of the metallic layer. Be careful, and use the blending brush tips shown earlier.
Continue to Refine Your Edges
If I drew a flow chart of how I painted Barnascus, you’d find the first few steps as a straight arrow, going step by step. Then, at a certain point, you would see the process repeat itself in a circular flow. A circular flow chart that whirlwinds back to the beginning over and over.
Painting with oils allows you to go back to earlier parts of the model and “fix” things. You can even completely change an element by wiping it off and painting right over it. I don’t recommend this!
Finish the Base
For this piece, I worked on the base of the model last. But, there are no set rules for painting miniatures, only tips and guides for a more fluid experience. Working on the base of the model was the same as the other parts of the model.
To paraphrase a professional miniature artist, work on the inside outwards. That is, paint the hard to reach places before you go to the easy places. For the base of this model, I may have circumvented this tip.
In any case, I made it through okay. Condition the surface with oil paint (using an earthy color tone), then remove the excess paint. Followed by overlying blocks of oil paint color, shading and highlights blended carefully with my oil residue-covered brush.
Touch Up Details and Weathering
I painted every part of this model with oil paint. The next series of photos simply show you how much detail you can still get with this “thicker” and “stickier” medium.
I used a miniature pointed round size #1 W&N brush for the face and details around his cap.
As you paint the model, you’ll find that certain areas demand more attention. With oil paints, you don’t have to rush to get there. You can simply take note and fix that area when you’re ready.
Take a step back and rotate the model. View the piece from different perspectives and fix up any inconsistencies on the model when you want to.
For weathering the model, I used the same oil paint colors that I used to paint the base of the model and dabbed it over areas I imagined dirt and grime might build up.
I know the tips of the flame thrower weapons would kick up burnt carbon and heat effects on the metallic surface of the barrels. To apply this effect on the weapons, I used reference photos of real guns and flame weapons and tried to replicate the look on the model.
With oil paint, it was easy to apply these colors (e.g., black, purple, a spackle of blue) on the flamethrower muzzle. Work the oil into the surface gently with your blending brush. The texture of the paint also helped sell the realistic effect, too. I really liked how it turned out.
You can highlight metallics with other metallics. Use gold to highlight copper, and silver to highlight the gun metal metallic paints. These metallics oil paints can also be blended the same as any other oil paint.
Painting miniatures with oil paint is like writing a paper using a word processor. You create a first draft. Then, you can go back and edit to your heart’s pleasure. It’s easy because everything is malleable.
Painting with acrylic paints is like writing with pen and paper. You can create a first draft, but going back and changing anything takes much more effort. In fact, you may have to paint over huge swaths of your project to correct or edit your work.
Overall, I find the use of oil paint to be the medium you use when you’re looking for a more relaxed pace. You don’t need to plan ahead as much when you paint with oil colors. Finalize your oil painted miniature with weathering, battle damage, and other special effects.
Varnish your Model and Take Photographs
Remember to varnish your oil painted miniature with a good sealant. I waited a week before varnishing this oil painted model with Testors Dullcote. You want the oil paint to be completely cured before you varnish it, since air exposure is required for the paint to dry. When you’re ready for the varnish, I suggest applying 1-2 layers to properly seal your model.
I use a portable lightbox to photograph my miniatures. Here is a review of a several of the best light booths for photographing your finished miniatures. To pull out color detail and contrast, I lean heavily toward a black background.
You’ll notice that the overall look of oil paint takes on a more dynamic, less stiff, appearance than compared with acrylic. I love how this model feels more realistic than my other pieces that I painted with acrylic paint.
Although I like “clean” looking miniatures painted with acrylics, there’s a color vibrancy and organic feel to works finished with oil paint. I’m sure someone could replicate this appearance with acrylic paint, but my guess it would be fairly involved. At least, it would be more challenging to do with acrylic paints alone.
How would you paint this with acrylics to achieve the same look? Glazing, layering? Maybe a lot of acrylic wet-blending would be involved using glazing mediums and drying retarders.
When I first started working with oil paints on my miniatures, I was scared that I wouldn’t have the ability to paint details with precision. But, my fears turned out to be unfounded. You can definitely paint details with oils paints. In fact, I may argue it is easier to paint details with oils.
Because oil paint doesn’t dry quickly, you can take your time when you’re targeting the tip of your brush on a certain detail. You don’t need to rush to paint anything. Take your time, breath, then apply the perfect spot of paint!
I love painting miniatures with oil paint. Oil paints are a powerful way to add realism and dynamic color combinations on a model. The slower dry time allows you to blend colors in ways acrylic paints only dream of.
It’ll take practice, of course, and you’ll have to experiment with your approach to feel comfortable. Oil painting miniatures follows a different set of technical rules and you can’t just read (or watch) a tutorial to know what to do. You need to feel how the paint behaves on your brush.
I hope this article showed you what is possible when you paint with oil colors. I enjoy experimenting and playing with different methods in the hobby. Thank you for reading!
Happy (oil) painting!