+ inload: Oil paints and sub-assemblies +

+ Breaking gates: the spirit of experimentation +

Gatebreakers readying for deployment.

+ A change is as good as a break (so I'm told by my local Magister of Tzeentch) and a new edition of the game has got my enthusiasm up for building and painting. Trying new things helps to keep things interesting, so I decided I'd give painting in sub-assemblies a go. This is something that I've not tried before – and, as so often happens, one idea leads to another. +

+ Having built the bodies of the first five Gatebreakers, I primed them up and began slapping on the paint (Flash Gitz Yellow and Runestone Glow). Once dry, I decided that this was a good chance to try out something I've been wanting to give a go for a while – using oils. I thought I'd share my findings. +

+ Theoretical +

+ Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed using oils. I've used them a little for landscapes and figure work, but not with miniatures. Part of the wavering on using them was the fear of spoiling some models with new techniques. Having sub-assemblies (and a new force) helped with that, as there's nowhere near the concern with a quickly bashed-together model as a painstakingly converted one. +

+ Oil paint basics +

+ Using a new medium can be intimidating, but a bit of planning and research can be reassuring. All paints are pigments suspended in a carrier. Acrylics use a plastic air-drying polymer as a carrier, while oils use – unsurprisingly – oil; usually linseed oil. This accounts for their different behaviour: they feel very smooth, almost buttery, and take much, much longer to dry. +

+ Not being watersoluble, you need to use a dedicated medium to manipulate them. Typically, this is a solvent like turps (distilled tree resin) or white spirit (turpentine substitute). This solvent breaks up the oil, so you can use it to clean your brushes; just like you would use water to clean your brushes of acrylics. Similarly, just as you would thin your acrylic paints with small amounts of water, so you can thin oils with small amounts of white spirit. +

+ Oils take a very long time to dry – depending on the thickness of the application, this can vary from 12 hours for thin glazes to a week or more (even months) for thick, impasto application. In miniature painting, that's definitely going to err towards the quicker end, but it's still much slower than acrylics. Far from a problem, this is the great benefit of using them. Once the paint is on the surface, you've got hours to work with it. Even once it's dried, you can use white spirit to lift it away. +

+ A quick safety note – solvents should only be used somewhere with decent ventilation. They're also flammable and poisonous, so don't leave 'em hanging around. Finally, don't pour excess down the sink. Not only is it toxic, but if you leave your pot of thinners to settle, the sediment will separate and allow you to re-use it repeatedly. +

+ Oils don't play well with acrylics. This is because of the different carriers and time they take to dry/cure. Painting acrylics over oils will lead to cracking: the acrylics dry and shrink slightly, creating an airproof layer. Unless the oil is completely dry, it will begin to infiltrate and break down the plastic. Similarly, painting oils straight over acrylics is likely to break down the acrylic carrier. For this reason, if you're planning to combine oil and acrylic media, you'll need to seal them from each other with varnish. Varnish is unreactive, so it won't be affected by either acrylics or oils. You can use a spray varnish – which is what I have done here – or a brush-on variety. +

+ Oils are available in Artists' and Students' ranges. The former are more expensive, but use more and better pigment. This is important when doing portraits and so forth, as the Artists' ranges tend to give more vibrant, better results more easily. However, for weathering purposes, we want a more muted, earthy effect, so pretty much anything will do. If you've got some old cheap oils in the cupboard, blow off the dust and give 'em a try. +

+ What I'm trying to do +

+ I wanted to keep things fairly minimal for these experiments, so I thought I'd try some simple shading – basically to try to reproduce what I would usually do with acrylics and flow improver. In essence, I was going to use oils to paint over the painted surface, then remove it selectively, revealing the bright colour underneath and leaving the deep values in the recesses. This is effectively a wash. +

+ Oils, I think, have a bit of a reputation for being more complicated than acrylics, but they're really very similar. You don't need a lot of tools and material to experiment. I gathered some burnt sienna oil paint, some dedicated brushes (synthetic, as thinners will quickly wreak havoc on natural hair), some white spirit, a few cotton buds, and a separate palette to usual. +


+ Practical +

+ The first step was to paint the figures using acrylics. Those below are simple flat painting. I have added a wash of Seraphim Sepia here, as I hadn't really planned to use oils. For the next batch, I'll skip this step. +

+ The next stage was to spray them with varnish. From what I understand, gloss varnish is best to use, as it creates a smoother finish. I used what I had to hand, which was matt acrylic varnish. We'll see how that works! +

Before oil paint application.

+ I used a fairly large brush (size 2 or 3) to cover the whole surface with burnt sienna oil, thinned down with white spirit to a fluid consistency – that is, when I tipped the palette, you could see the pool move; not so wet that it formed a bead and dripped. +

+ I then dipped a cotton but in white spirit and dabbed off the excess. I used this to gently wipe away the paint from the surface, revealing the surface beneath. It's pleasingly rewarding, something like polishing the silver and seeing something bright and beautiful emerge from beneath the dirt. +

+ The result is lovely: the oils have a beautiful warm sheen. It's also very relaxing, as there's no time pressure. You can just enjoy removing more and more of the oil layer, depending on the finish you want. It almost feels like you're highlighting in reverse, stripping the darkness away – which, in effect, is exactly what you're doing. You can take this as far as you like: compare the backpacks of the marines in the back row. The left-most was left grubby and battered-looking, while the one on the right was taken further, and is much thus much cleaner-looking. +

+ I swapped to a size 1 brush for hard-to-reach areas, dipping it in pure white spirit, gently agitating the surface to lift away the oil paint, then wiping the brush and repeating. It's very, very quick and I found it wonderfully rearding. I enjoyed it so much that I played around a bit, adding tiny dots of burnt sienna oil here and there and drawing them down with a clean, dry brush to create subtle streaks and marks – you can see the result on the breastplate of the marine with arms and a head. +

+ These were then left to dry. Importantly, oils retain their depth of tone. They don't alter in value as they dry, so what you see is what you get – far from being slow and boring, I found it very immediate and rewarding. +

+ From here, the next stage is to varnish them once again; and then onwards to adding the highlights and finishing the details. +


+ Painting progress +

+ Regular inloaders will know I find batch-painting a slog, and so anything that adds a little innovation and enjoyment to the process is a godsend. Oil painting and working in sub-assemblies are – thus far at least – proving such a novelty. I don't think I've enjoyed painting so much in a very long time, and my mind is ticking over with ideas. +

The colours here are much truer to life than the example above, and I think it better shows what I mean by the 'warmth' of oils. The yellows remain 'punchy', whereas the same technique with acrylics would have likely left muckier stains. 

+ This pict-capture shows a squad of Primaris Intercessors with a couple of Astartes. I'm looking forward to exploring the background relationship the Gatebreakers have between the older – very damaged and degraded – marines and their new, shiny brethren. +

+ Working in sub-assemblies is giving me the chance to play around with having multiple heads for models, so my intention is to give the bulk of the marines the option of wearing a helmet or not. I'm really looking forward to painting a range of skintones to reflect the Gatebreaker's multiple-world methods of recruitment. +

+ Clean and shiny. Because the oils take so long to dry, I'm working in batches. These five are ready to be varnished prior to oil application. I'll likely do that as a priority, and prep the heads while the varnish is drying. Little and often is how I get to paint these days, so finding techniques that complement that is a blessed relief. +

+ You'll spot that the sprue of heads is a bit of a 'frankensteined' creation. To avoid duplication of sculpts, I'm using heads from across the range, past and present. +

+ A shot of the final group of five, who have just received the black basecoat for the metals. One has yellow quartering, too. +

+ To finish, a group shot to show the different stages together. +


Greg B said...

I have always been too intimidated to try oils very much...but you can't argue with results, it looks fantastic.

apologist said...

Thanks Greg. This is very much an experiment to get over my own hesitation!

Dallas said...

Interesting shading technique! When I first started painting models back in the very early 1990s my "painting mentor" used a method incorporating an oil-based "antiquing stain". Basecoat in acrylics, paint over the model with antiquing stain, then wipe off the excess stain. Sort of like the "dip" the kids use nowadays but you had to physically wipe off the stain with a paper towel or rag. I don't really recommend it as a technique to use today but it suited us back in the day.

apologist said...

I always love hearing about different techniques; thanks for sharing. That approach sounds a lot like what I usually do with acrylics and flow improver, so it's nice to hear my other approach has antecedents.