Do you get bored painting miniatures? Do you want to experiment with new, exciting ways to paint miniatures and models? A great way to overcome painting block is to experiment! Try a new technique. How about painting with coffee? Yes, I do mean paint miniatures with a do-it-yourself (DIY) coffee paint mixture.
Board games, miniature wargaming figures, and role-playing games all look and feel better when they are fully painted.
In this article, I reached out to miniature artist, David Loach, about his method for painting miniatures with coffee. You can check out David’s other coffee paintings and art here.
Continue reading to learn more about how to paint with coffee.
Why paint with coffee? Or, does coffee “paint” even look good on miniatures, especially, those model that in the conventional tabletop gaming scene?
Why Paint with Coffee?
I like experimenting with different mediums all the time. The use of coffee actually began as a way to make an age-weathered map for a Dungeon and Dragon (D&D) campaign.
After seeing the effects of dissolved instant coffee on paper, I thought I’d try using it at different concentrations and with plastic stencils.
All the pics and results of the experiments are on my art website: https://imagine.coffee/
Starting Tips for Painting with Coffee?
It’s very important to use instant coffee that dissolves into the water. Normal coffee grounds won’t disappear or give you the gloss effect.
(In David Loach’s work, he aims to achieve a reflective finish in his coffee paintings. You can always adjust your final miniature painted result with a matte varnish.)
My experiments with different brands did not really yield any discernible differences across instant coffee types.
But, I learned that crushing the grounds/crystals into a fine powder made for a more versatile application.
The best fun when I painted with coffee was adding dye into the mix for the same coffee effect tinted to any color.
The brown tone of raw instant coffee can be pressed to dark red, green or blue by adding either cheap food dye or colorants.
A variety of color is also easy by mixing and matching your prime and base layers with the coffee wash.
On the pictures of either the Bone Golem or the Undead Dragon you see a mix of different layers that have been coated with the coffee-painting on top.
I was really happy with the results for this type of undead creature – it highlights everything from decaying dragon flesh or the pits in various skulls of the golem.
Coffee as a Painting Wash or Shade?
Use coffee as a wash.
In general, coffee is a great DIY way to create a dark, brown wash medium.
Organically and affordably, instant coffee creates an earthy tone mixture with water that acts and looks similar to many popular brown washes and shades.
(More about how to use washes in miniature painting)
The behavior of painting with an instant coffee mix on a miniature is very much like applying a wash.
A thinned coffee mixture will flow into recesses and darken them into that delicious, coffee color.
There are two added unique special effects with a coffee wash you should know about.
- First, coffee washing or “painting” creates a glossy shine, and second, coffee powder forms clumps when drying that leave uneven, but detailed residue on parts of the miniature.
On skeletons, zombies, shambling mounds, or even a demon’s wings, this slimy/uneven residue makes for an extra effect that I really enjoyed.
How to Paint with Coffee (6-Steps)
Here are the 6 recommended steps for painting with coffee on miniatures and models:
1. Mix Instant Coffee with Water
Mix your instant coffee with water. Try different concentrations and ratios to achieve different dark and light valued coffee-colored “wash”
2. Apply the Coffee-Water Mixture
Apply the coffee-water mixture (ratio will depend on how dilute or thick you want your coffee color) in layers like you would a normal miniature painting.
3. Blend/Feather Coffee
If you prefer, you can add water on a clean separate brush to adjust the distribution of the coffee wash on your figure/miniature.
4. Use Coffee Wash Over the Entire Surface
This is a partly optional step. You can use gravity to help the coffee cover more of the miniature’s surface area.
Coffee washes flow a bit different than model paint washes you buy. This is a unique advantage of painting with coffee.
You can pool very dark areas of coffee on the top of raised surfaces.
If you want a pool of brown residue on the top of a shambling mound (or other raised surface area), apply your coffee mix while holding the figure upside down, and let the coffee wash mixture flow and settle for around 1-2 minutes.
5. Allow Coffee Wash to Dry
The coffee wash will set very quickly depending on the concentration. For example, more water in the mixture will take longer for the coffee wash/paint to dry.
In actuality, you are creating a coffee stain over your miniature in a controlled fashion.
How you allow the wash to behave and finally dry will effect how your coffee “stain” looks on the model.
6. Varnish the Model
To protect your coffee wash (and reduce the smell of coffee), varnish your model with a matte or gloss varnish.
A spray-on varnish works best, since it will reduce the risk of disturbing the overall effect of the coffee.
Check out the video for a quick overview of how you can apply a coffee-mixture wash to your miniature.
Problems and Issues with Coffee Painting
There are two issues you need to be aware of with the coffee painting medium:
The coffee smell
- If you don’t like the smell of coffee, you will not enjoy this painting method
- You can get rid of the coffee smell by sealing the paint job with a clear gloss or other varnish layer on top of the coffee wash
- Be warned though: sealers and varnishes can erode the settlement of the coffee (dab your varnish carefully or spray your varnish to preserve the initial coffee effect)
Thick deposits of coffee
- Coffee wash is strongly affected by temperature and may remain tacky for up to 24 hours
- Use a hairdryer (light setting) to speed up drying/curing, or seal with a varnish over the top, as described above
About Coffee Painter-Artist, David Loach
I have a dedicated desk in a room that I occasionally rent in my apartment. So my hobby practice is quite seasonal: a frenzied winter and then a quiet summer.
D&D is my main foray into gaming, though I’ve been thoroughly attached to tabletop gaming for a long time.
After launching a local-style board game on Kickstarter (https://constructionandcorruption.com/), I thought to throw myself 100% into another hobby.
I admired the dedication some of my friends put into mini painting, so I decided to seriously apply myself this year to creating a collection.
I love miniature painting; though it is frightening how addictive it is.
I work in online marketing, with a long background in graphic design and video editing. The same perfectionist visual dedication I use on the screen now lets me become glued to my minis.
I continue to be shocked how much I can disappear into this hobby.
One night, returning from the bar, I thought to just finish off a couple enlarged Dwarves before bed.
Submersed in my work, I finally quit and headed up to sleep, assuming it was a bit late; perhaps around 1am.
After checking the time on my phone, my jaw dropped. Without realizing it I had been painting into the early morning. It was actually 6am.
Want to try painting with coffee? Go for it! Grab your favorite instant coffee and mix them up in your favorite palette (or dish ware).
We are always looking for unique experimental ways to paint miniatures and unique perspectives for the modeling hobby. If you have any cool ideas, or would like us check out something different, let us know with a comment below!