Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tutorial: Painting Faces

This is a tutorial I wrote about 3 years ago for my gaming group, LEG. Its really a step above a pure army painter style but its relatively quick and gives good results. And with that here we go:

How I Paint Faces
By Kris Marquardt

A quick tutorial on how I paint faces and eyes
The reality here is that there is nothing truly new in what I’m going to tell you, it is just my version of it. There are no new techniques, these are all things I have gleaned off the internet or been taught by other painters. What I’m really trying to achieve is to bring some of these techniques together in one place.

Suggested Colors
Basecoat - Leather Brown (Vallejo) or Mahogany Brown (Reaper Master)
First Skin Color - Tanned Shadow (Reaper Master)
Second Skin Color - Tanned Skin (Reaper Master)
Third Skin Color - Tanned Highlight (Reaper Master)
Wash - GW Sepia (devlan mud could work too, but I prefer something with more warmth to it)
Glaze - Red Leather (Vallejo) or Redstone Highlight (Reaper Master)
Eye 1st Color - Walnut Brown or Liner Brown (both Reaper Master)
Eye 2nd Color - Off white, light grey, anything that is close to white but not quite white
Eye Pupil - back to the 1st eye color

2012 Note: This is the original color list was what I was working with on a regular basis 3 years ago. At this point I rarely use the straight Reaper Tanned Skin Triad. I found that it is just to “cold” for the look I want. If I do use Tanned skin I will often mix it almost 50/50 with Reaper’s Rosy Skin or Golden Skin. My current preferred triad is the Reaper Bronze skin triad which again I rarely use without adding either Rosy or Golden to it. Everyone has a different idea of what they want their skin colors to look like so what’s important here is really the process more than the colors. Use what you are comfortable with. This is also not the process I use for my competition miniatures although it is derived from that. This is for gaming figures where we really need or want fairly sharp transitions so that the miniatures look good from our average 3’ distance on the table top. If I’m painting a small army with maybe 30 miniatures or so then I will step up and add more layers to soften transitions, closer to what I would do with a competition piece
 I know there are a lot of steps here and it can look a bit intimidating but once you read it and work your way through it, it quickly becomes second nature.
 Step 1 - Base coat all the flesh. At this point I thin my paint at least 1:1 with water (or gunk in my case which is water + flow improver + drying retarder). It usually takes two coats to get the basecoat on. I prefer 2-3 thin coats as opposed to one straight from the bottle thicker coat. I use dark colors for this step since it will have an impact on the colors I use later on. Use darker browns for a cooler look, the Mahogany Red (or any deep brownish red) for a warmer look to the skin. Leather Brown and Mahogany Red are just a suggestions
Step 2 - After the base coat has dried, paint over it almost completely with the Tanned Shadow. Again I thin my paint down maybe quiet as much as 1:1 (paint:water)  but you still want it thin. I'm going to stay out of the deeper recesses of the mini and leave those in the basecoat color.
Step 3 - At this stage I paint the eyes, if I screw up I know I have more painting to do and can neaten them up as I go. I paint the entire eye with a very dark brown or black (Reaper Walnut Brown is my favorite for this). Be sure you get all the way out to the edges. This is the shadow for the eye. Second step is to take an off white (linen white, very light grays etc) and paint essentially a strip across the eye. You want to cover the dark color with the off white leaving a dark line around the edges. This gives the eyes separation from the face and makes them stand out. I have thinned the white but not nearly at 1:1. Next are the pupils. Typically I use what ever I used to paint the first step in the eye, but any darker color will work, blues are good, some greens will work and deeper browns. Instead of trying to paint a dot I sort of push the tip of the brush up into to eye, so you are not seeing a full circle. Part of it is interrupted by the eyelid (which is normal, look at the people around you and you will see that you really don't see the entire circular pupil, part of it is hidden by the eyelid). It is easier to paint eyes that are looking off to one side. Getting both eyes straight looking straight ahead can be a bit frustrating. Now the eyes are done. NOTE: If the eyes are basically slits, let the wash fill it in, not every miniature has an eye that you can really paint and men in the field tend to squint anyway or the eyes are just plain hard to see if the shako, helmet or hat is pulled down low. So don't feel like you have to paint the eyes on every one of your miniatures. Just doing it for some of the guys in the front rank will make your stuff stand out.

Step 4 – Apply a wash across all the skin with Sepia Wash (GW, wash, but any brown wash will work, warmer is better and if it has a hint of red even better) this warms the skin a bit. For a cooler skin tone Devlan Mud will work. Just be careful you don't wash over the eyes. Although a quick dab with a dry brush should wick out any of the wash that gets into a bad spot. The wash must be dry before you go to the next step or you will just start to create a muddy effect.
You can stop now if you like.
Step 5 - Using the Tanned Skin paint downwards across the skin. You are really painting the areas where more light is hitting, the cheek bones, the nose, the chin, the ears, the tops of the hands. Imagine the light coming straight down from the top of the figure to pick out these areas. Again, paint should be kept thin, not quite a 1:1 ratio but it should flow off your brush and remain controllable.
 Again this is a good place to stop if you like it.
Step 6 - Using the Tanned Highlight hit the same areas but hit only the highest point. Again thin the paint 2-3:1
Again you can stop here, but usually if you have gone this far the next step will bring it all together
Step 7. - Glazing. One of the issues when you paint this many layers without a lot of intermediate steps is that it starts to look very blocky even chalky. So a glaze across the entire surface will help tie all the colors back together. A glaze has almost no paint in it so we are something on the order of 1:20 paint to water (so way thinner than a wash). If you put some on your brush and draw it across a piece of paper and if you can barely tell there is color on that line then you are about right. Apply the glaze across all the skin.

Optional Step - You can glaze the skin after every application of skin color, not just wait till the last step. This will add a lot more depth to the skin tones when you are done. Since the glaze is applied over the whole surface you really won't add a lot of time by doing it. It does need to dry before you apply the next skin color though. If you are feeling really ambitious after the final glaze you could go back with the final hightlight color one more time and touch just the highpoints again. Some people like this affect some don't. The idea is to sort of add a "reflection" to the skin.

So this is one method, it’s the one I use most of the time. I do use a variation of this on my 15s but it’s really more appropriate for 25s and larger. There are other ways to do it and there is really not right or wrong as long as you get the effect you want and are happy in the end.


  1. That's a good tutorial, an intensive tutorial my friend....

    1. I do like to challenge the guys in the group to paint to a higher level. It seems to have worked. Give it a shot and tell me what you think.

  2. Thanks Kris, been looking for this for some time.

    1. I didn't even have it. I had to get it from Scott, the version on the LEG Website is incomplete.

  3. This is the part that's killing me. I can't seem to get the eyes dark enough without ruining the rest of the face with runoff. And as you know, my paints are drying very fast. And now I know I should have started my skin out darker than I did. On the next mini, it will be better!!

    1. I know that frustration. In this don't thin the paint so much. You might even try using it straight from the bottle, the Reaper HD paints are thinner than most anyway. Fine details are a situation where paint really can be to thin. Is the paint actually drying on your brush? The first mini is always the first and they will keep getting better with each new one you paint.