Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reader Email: How To Paint Black?

by SandWyrm

Jonathon Writes:
Hello Sandwyrm,

I was hoping you would be willing to share how you went about painting the black on this Sanguinary Guard model. Looking at some WiP pictures from this battle report and your description for this eBay bid get the impression it is a base coat of light grey* followed by a couple of washes. Similar to what Dezartfox did here.

Cheers, Jonathon

*Something like Army Painter's Uniform Grey.

SandWyrm's Reply:

My usual method of painting a mini intended for tabletop play is to first undercoat them in a mid-tone gray. For this, I currently use Tamaya neutral grey model aircraft spraypaint (expensive, but very detail-preserving with a smooth finish).

After the model dries, I then hit them with a brown or Devlin Mud wash to bring out the detail and make them presentable on the tabletop until I get around to painting them properly.

Once I'm ready to paint, I work from dark to light. The brown wash allows me to preserve some definition lines by simply not pushing paint into the crevices that I want to remain dark. If I used black for this, it would kill the color. But the brown accentuates without overpowering the color. Much as fine art painters have done for hundreds of years.

After the base colors go down, I start shading lighter with 2-3 layers of lighter colors. The lighter the color, the more layers you need. Usually, it takes around 3 hours per model to paint this way. 

Now if I feel like spending 6-7 hours per model, I'll just paint the base colors over neutral gray without the brown wash and do individual colored washes for each base color, which I then re-paint the base color over before I start shading to light. This gives much more subtle results (and great skin tones), but takes forever.

And yes, I did hand paint those mugs on the shields. :)

Which brings us to that Sanguinary Guard model...

I originally did do the grey undercoat + wash on these guys. But when I decided to do "black" armor, I simply painted over everything that was there without trying to preserve the dark lines in the cracks. What you see is more like the dwarves above. Custom washes over a base coat.

Because the thing about painting black (or white) is to never actually paint black (or white). Instead, you want to paint a NEAR black. Meaning an actual color. Because real black will suck the life out of your model.

So what I did was paint a dark cyan over most of the model, and then wash it twice. Once with a blood red wash, and then once more with a black wash. Then I painted the original dark cyan over the washed areas, leaving the darker cracks alone. Before I came back in with 2 lighter shades of that dark cyan base color.

The wings, head, and the base were painted ice blue, washed with red + black, and then I came in and layered white over the top. It looked ugly as hell until the white was on, but then it all came together.

This test model took 2-3 hours to paint, but now that I've got the process down, I expect the rest to take about 1 hour per model if I airbrush the dark cyan on. Which is pleasingly fast. :)


  1. Yea you and me Sandy are not friends.
    One hour for that? Definitively not friends any longer.

  2. I have an Art Degree, if that makes you feel any better. :)

  3. Actually, I've been meaning to see if I commission you to paint my JP chaplain for me, since he would be almost the exact same as your sang guard. It would only take an hour ;)

  4. Sandwyrm, as I told you at NOVA, I LOVE your painting articles as they definitely have helped me out, and they continue to do so.

    This definitely has given me some new ideas for when I start painting my Elysians and methods I can use to make them really "pop".


  5. That's great to hear. Frankly I don't do as many of these articles as I could because they don't tend to spawn a lot of comments, and I enjoy conversation. :)

  6. SandWyrm,

    I really appreciated this article. I am not a painter and am one of those terrible people in this hobby who plays with unpainted armies. Truth be told, painting scares the crap out of me. I haven't put paint on a model in fear of ruining it or just having it look awful.

    Your article today helped me see the beginning steps were not so daunting (I can paint them a neutral grey and apply Devlin wash). Where I go from there I haven't the faintest but thank you for the confidence to start.


    PS. A question: What do you prime your miniatures with?

  7. Black is one of those colors that is difficult to paint because you can't shade black. I actually avoid using black as a main color like this but when I do, I don't use off-black like you've done here, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good method. 'Eavy metal has done this with the studio dark eldar line. Their "black" is actually very dark green.

    I generally use chaos black over vallejo blacks because I like the semi-gloss finish. Then is add shadow grey for a mid highlight, then add white to the mix for hard edges. Sometimes I swap out shadow grey with bleached bone, or vallejo model color: stone grey. Here's an example:

  8. @Matt

    I use Tamaya model aircraft spray paint for my undercoats, which I buy at the local general interest hobby store.

    Here's a link:

    It's expensive ($7 for a half-size can), but it preserves detail wonderfully and has a smooth satin finish.

  9. I'm curious how you go about shading the bulk of the armor. Do you allow the model to naturally shade itself (in that parts on the insides of the legs are naturally darker) or are you selective with where you apply your washes to produce your own shading via wash?


  10. Base Color -> All over wash -> Repaint Base Color -> 1-2 shades lighter selectively painted

  11. Thank you for taking the time to reply, Sandwyrm! Have got me thinking about different ways to achieve a realistic black. As well as other aspects of my colour scheme.

    I'm probably going to use Grey Death's approach of German Grey shaded with black/brown wash. However, I'm going to keep your input in mind for future projects.

    Cheers, Messanger/Jonathon


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