+ inload: Oils for the absolute beginner +

+ Step-by-step tutorial – using oils +

+ Theoretical +

+ This will walk you through the basics of using oil paints on your miniatures. I'm demonstrating on a space marine in a quartered scheme, so you can see how the oil wash can be used to unify a paint scheme. +

+ Before you begin, you'll need to paint your miniature. You can highlight and shade your figure as normal, if you wish, but here I've just laid on basic flat colours. It's important to note that if you have used acrylics to paint the base coats, you must varnish the miniature before you begin. Gloss varnish is best, as it's tougher. If you only have matt, that's fine – just don't scrub too hard. +

The result – what we're aiming for.


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+ Practical +

+ Oils aren't anything to be scared of – they're very similar to enamals or nail varnish, and like those media, they need a solvent (turps or white spirit) to dilute them, rather than water. Don't use your best sables or other natural hair brushes, as the oil and turps will quickly damage them. +

+ Work in a well ventilated area. +

+ You will need +

  • Oil paint: Burnt umber
  • Medium: Turpentine or white spirit 
  • Brushes: Size 2 and size 1 brushes – preferably synthetic or hog bristle. An old tatty brush is also useful for mixing and weathering.
  • Impermeable palette – plastic or ceramic
  • A glass jar
  • Cotton buds [LINGUO-TRANSLATMAT: 'Q–tips']
  • Rags or kitchen paper to clean your brushes

1_ Squeeze out a small amount of oil paint onto your palette. You can, of course, use any colour for this. I'm using burnt umber as it's a good warming dark. If your model's paint scheme is cool, you might prefer to use Payne's Gray.

2_ Pick up some medium on the large brush and transfer it to the palette. Gently work it into the edge of the blob of paint with small swirling motions; just as you would with acrylics and water. Continue adding small amount of white spirit until you have created a pool of dilute paint as shown. We work into the side of the blob as this naturally creates a variety of consistencies – this allows you to pick up more dilute or thicker paint as you need.

3_ Rinse the brush in medium and dry it on your towel. Pick up some of the more watery paint and begin applying it to the miniature, working it into the details and recesses. Don't rush – you might create bubbles. 

4_ Continue working until you have covered the figure, then rinse and dry your brush.

5_ Pick up your cotton bud (q-tip). I'm using these cosmetic tipped ones, as they have a broader and narrower end. You can use anything absorbent for the next stages, but cotton buds are ideal as they're controllable and cheap.  

6_ Dip the tip of the broad end of the cotton bud into your medium. There's no need to immerse it – it'll quickly wick up, and you only need a little. Tap any excess medium off the cotton bud on your palette, and bring it to your miniature. Note that the bud is not soaked or dripping – there's only a little white spirit on there.

7_ Gently run the cotton bud over any flat areas, working from the top of the area downwards, in smooth long strokes. The cotton bud will wipe away the thin wash of oil, leaving it in the recesses. Be gentle – it comes away easily, and there's no need to scrub. In fact, scrubbing's makes it more likely that you'll work through the varnish and damage the paint beneath. 

8_ Continue wiping away the oil from the surface using the broad end of the cotton bud. If it gets too saturated with oil, it'll start depositing paint again – use a different part of the bud, or replace the cotton bud. Note that I'm not making any distinction between the green and yellow parts here – it's all treated as one. This helps to ensure a coherent, cohesive finish.

9_ Swap to the narrow end of the cotton bud. Again, dip it lightly in your medium, and begin using it to wipe away more recessed areas. You can achieve quite fine marks with this if you're delicate.

10_ As you continue removing paint, think about where the light's coming from, and remove more oil paint from the areas pointing towards the light. If you compare the image with pict-capture 9 [visref: above], you'll see that I've established an imaginary light source at the top left, so I'm removing most of the paint from the top of the backpack, and top of the collar.

11_ Conversely, I'm leaving a little of the wash remaining in the areas in shadow – generally on the lower right. This is more obvious on areas like the kneepad and lower leg, where I've removed paint from the upper left parts and left more in the lower right in a gradient.

12_ Don't worry about removing too much, or lifting out an area that you didn't want to. Oils are very slow-drying, so there's no rush to fix things. Here I removed too much paint from the soft detail in the kneepad, and wanted to reinforce the sense of a split between the knee and leg plate. Use a size 1 brush to pick up some of the prepared oil paint and simply paint it in.

13_ Rinse the brush in your medium and dry it thoroughly. You can then use it – still dry – to gently blend in the paint, or lift off any excess. 

+ Weathering and battle damage +

Once you've completed step 13, you can leave the figure to dry. Oils should be left at least overnight, and preferably longer, to dry – two or three days is good, and a week is ideal. However, if you want to continue, oils are great for weathering and battle damage too. The following steps are optional extras.

14_ Use the size 1 brush to add some dots and short, fine lines in areas that are expose to damage.

15_ Pick up your old tatty brush. Make sure it is clean and absolutely dry. Gently and swiftly brush downwards over the spots to smear them down in a consistent direction.

16_ Depending on how marked you want the damage to be, you can reinstate the pockmarks and gouges with fresh oil. 

Tip: This 'wet' way of weathering is just one approach. You can leave the dots to dry partially or completely, too. If you allow them to dry partially (for an hour or two), you'll find a mark left by the original spot. If you let them dry completely, you'll need a little white spirit to get them moving again. 

17_ This completes the figure. Look over it and make any tweaks you want, using the size 1 brush wetted with medium to gently lift away any further areas.

+ Oils are relaxing to use, as there's no time pressure and a little goes a long way. For this reason, they're well-suited to batch-painting. The smear of oil paint I used above was used for this whole combat squad. +

+ After-action +

+ If you did your highlights beforehand, you may find the figure is completed to your satisfaction. However, if you want to work further on the figures, then it's vital that you allow the oils to dry thoroughly – ideally a week or so in a warm, well-ventilated area. +

+ If you intend subsequently to use acrylics to add your highlights, then you should varnish the dry oil before working. The reason for this is that the linseed oil in exposed oil paints continue to dry over months. If you paint quick-drying acrylics over the top, then remaining traces of linseed oil in the oil paints are trapped. They can penetrate the acrylics or cause cracking or flaking as the different paint media dry at different rates. +

+ Once varnished, the oils are safely sealed away, and you can happily paint over the top with acrylics, as shown below. +

+ I hope that this has proven handy – please share your thoughts below, and feel free to share your results on the + Death of a Rubricist + Facebook group [+noosphericexloadlinkembedded+], or on Instagram with the #deathofarubricist tag. I'd love to see 'em! +


Suber said...

Wow. Oils still look like witchcraft to me, I've never dared to take that step. I have to say that the results are really impressive, love what you did here.

8bit_Mummies said...

Thanks for the tutorial! The oils look so good.

slovak said...

One point that might be worth noting is that oil paints don't dry in the same sense as acrylic paints, watercolor, gouache, etc. as it is not a water-based medium. Acrylic paints will dry as the water evaporates out of them, leaving a tin skin of polymer to hold the pigment in place. Since there is no water in the oil paint to evaporate out, oil paints in fact must oxidize in order for the oil to form a skin to hold the pigment in place.
I only mention this as I think it might help painter who don't have much experience with oil paints get a better understanding of the fundamentals of why you have to wait so long (comparatively) for the paint surface to fix.

Greg B said...

Question - could you use a paint-on varnish as a layer between the acrylic oils? Or does it have to be a spray-on matte/gloss varnish?

Ben said...

This is a fantastic resource. I'm considering trying it with an Iron Hands squad, and wondered whether the Burnt Umber would be appropriate over a black or dark grey base? Do the oils have the strength to go over such a base, or would I be better trying more traditional methods?

apologist said...

This is the first time I've ever used them for miniatures, and I was very taken with the ease, speed and results. It very much matches the visuals I aim for, so if you like the look, I'd thoroughly encourage you to give it a try.

apologist said...

My pleasure – thanks for your comment.

apologist said...

That's a very good point – thanks for pointing it out.

apologist said...

As long as the oils have had enough time to dry (well, oxidise, as Slovak points out above), they're firm enough to paint over. No reason you can't use brush-on varnish. In fact, you'll probably get a better coat, and with smaller risk of bubbles/frosting.

apologist said...

Burnt umber's a nice warm brown. Depending on the brand you use, it's usually neither opaque nor transparent, so allows some of the underlying colour to show through. It will therefore give a subtle result over black, with richer red shadows in the recesses. This could look good – it'll look like iron-rich soil or dust has gathered in the recesses. With that said, Iron Hands usually suit a cold colour scheme, so you might want to lean into that and use Payne's Gray instead.