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Basics of Figure Painting

By Michael Johnson

 

 

The following is a very basic process to give your figures a realistic appearance.  The paint scheme uses an enamel base and artists oils to highlight and shadow. I use the same methods described below to paint all the Aces of Iron figures on this site.

 

 

Philosophy-  Whether you are painting flesh, leather canvas or metal, the basic idea of figure painting is to paint a mid tone base, wash with a dark shadow tint, then add light highlights. 

 

 

The combination of enamels and artists oils allows a simple and effective method to achieve  dramatic results with limited budget and time and requires surprisingly little artistic background. The translucence of the oils allows remarkable detail with simple layering and the long set time of the oils is very forgiving for first time painters.

 

 

 

Supplies:

 

Paints

  • Small tin of good base enamel, I prefer Humbrol Enamel Flesh (Matt# 61), but Tamiya Flat Flesh XF-15 Acrylic is also a good base.

  • Small tube of artist oil "Burnt Sienna" 

  • Small tube of artist oil "Cadmium Yellow" 

  • Small tube of artist oil "Flat or Flake White" 

  • Small tube of artist oil "Raw Umber" 

  • Small tube of artist oil "Cadmium Red" 

  • Testors "Dullcote" spray paint

 

Brushes

  • Small detail brush- Sable Hair or soft bristle

  • Medium detail brush- Sable Hair or soft bristle 

  • Medium Flat brush- Sable Hair or soft bristle

Miscellaneous

  • Small palette (if you really want to feel like a painter) or something to squeeze paint onto such as small cardstock

Part I: Skin Tones

Face Step 1 Step 1 (Base Coat) - Paint the entire surface with a base coat. I prefer Humbrol Enamel Matt Flesh #61. Allow about 24 hours for the base to completely dry.
Face Step 2 Step 2 (Shadow Base) - Paint the entire surface with "burnt sienna" artist oil. Apply the coat fairly thick and make sure you work paint into all the crevices. Clean your brush on the soft dry cloth, do not use turpentine, just keep wiping the brush on the cloth.
Face Step 3 Step 3 (Shadow Tint) - Use the soft flat brush to gently remove the excess paint from the raised areas of the face. Wipe the brush on the soft dry cloth to remove the paint you remove from the raised areas of the face. Continue the process until you achieve a soft contrast between the shadows and the raised highlights. 
Face Step 4 Step 4 (Highlight Base) - Use the medium detail brush to apply a thin layer of "Cadmium Yellow" to the raised areas. Allow the paint to set for about an hour before proceeding.
Face Step 5 Step 5 (Highlight Blend) - Use the clean soft dry detail brush to gently blend the yellow highlights. Blending is a process of removing the thick areas of the paint with the soft dry brush and blending the edges into the undercoat with a soft zig-zag motion.
Face Step 6 Step 6 (Highlight 2) - Use the medium detail brush to apply a thin layer of "Flat or Flake White" to the same raised areas from step 4. Allow the paint to set for about an hour before proceeding.
Face Step 7 Step 7 (Highlight 2 Blend) - Use the clean soft dry detail brush to gently blend the white highlights using the same blending process described in step 5.
Face Step 8 Step 8 (Beard Shadow) - Use the small detail brush to apply a thin layer of "raw umber" to the areas of the face where beard grows. notice I only apply paint to about half the area leaving the highlight areas unpainted. The thickness of the layer will determine the amount of "growth" in the final face; Thin for less growth, thick for more growth.
Face Step 9 Step 9 (Beard Blend) - Use the medium detail brush to blend the beard layer into the remaining portions of the face where beard grows, use the dry brush to remove most of the paint to leave just a subtle hint of beard.
Face Step 10 Step 10 (Red Tint) - Use the small detail brush to apply a thin layer of "Cadmium Red" to the cheekbones of the face and the lower lip (no paint on the upper lip or he'll look like he's wearing lipstick). 
Face Step 11 Step 11 (Red Blend) - Use the medium detail brush to blend the red layer, use the dry brush to remove most of the paint to leave just a subtle tint of red.
Face Step 12 Step 12 (Final White Highlight) - Use the small detail brush to add "flat or flake white" highlights to the detail areas shown. Wait one hour for the paint to "set" before proceeding to the blending step.
Face Step 13 Step 13 (Blend White Highlight) - Use the small detail brush to gently blend the white highlights of the detail areas. This time don't remove as much of the white layer as in previous steps. This will add nice contrast in the final piece.
Face Step 14 Step 14 (Final Dark Shadow) - Use the small detail brush to add "raw umber" to the detail areas shown (Edge of nose, Thin mouth line and mouth corners, just above chin and upper lip cleft). 
Face Step 15 Step 15 (Blend Dark Shadows) - Use the small detail brush to gently blend the dark shadows of the detail areas. This time don't remove as much of the dark layer as in previous steps. This will add nice contrast in the final piece.
Face Step 16 Step 16 (Allow to Dry) - Let the piece set for 24-hours. Oils lighten over time and your piece will blend naturally over time.
Face Step 17 Step 17 (Dullcote) - This is my "secret weapon". I spray the piece with dullcote to seal it and also to help to blend the layers. The dullcote is dry to the touch after about an hour and is completely dry after 24-hours.

Multiple Views of Completed Skin Tones

Face View aFace view bFace View cFace View dFace View e

 

Continue to Part 2, Eyes:

 

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