The Shadow Knows! Grayscale Painting 101 WIP TEST POST

Never highlight again . . . well, at least not in the traditional sense.

Caleb here with White Metal Games, and I’m here to tell you we’ve all been pushing the cart uphill when we could have been coasting all along.

Traditionally painting works something like this:

  • Prime
  • Basecoat
  • Shade
  • Highlight

The problem is working in all those shadows and highlights takes time.  A lot of time.  And time isn’t a luxury any of us have these days.  If you’re anything like me you’ve got a dozen or more projects on your desk at any one time, each vying for your attention.  What to do, what to do?  Well, you could hire someone to paint your minis for you, never a bad idea, or like me, learn to paint faster!  And the greyscale method will help to get you there.  Here’s how it works:

See the paint stick?  Would you believe I painted it all with the same shade of blue?  No?  Well, I did.  How you ask?  Simple, the blue was laid down last.

Most paint is fairly opaque, which means not a lot of light gets through it.  It’s thick, it covers the mini well.  However, it also doesn’t allow for much contrast.  It’s flat, it’s boring.  To create a sense of depth to the miniature, most painters using a series of shades and highlights to make the model more visually appealing.

But there’s an easier way.  By using a transparent paint, such as a candy, tint or glaze, you let more of the underlying color show through.  Remember the top level of any miniature is not just the layer laid down last, it’s a cumulative effect built up from all the underlying colors.  Another way to say this is every color you lay down effects the next color to be laid down.

The problem with the above is that it requires you find the right tones and harmonies of any paint as you layer up or shade down to make sure the layers look natural.  If you want to highlight dark blue for example, you must select the right blue, or add a little white to the original.

By contrast, however, black, grey and by extension white are all natural variations of each other.  Black blends naturally to grey, and grey to white.

In many ways, this method starts the same as zenithal highlighting.  All we’re really trying to do is let the shadows falls where they may.  And to do that, we use the natural contours of the model, rather than creating our own through line highlights or other time consuming techniques.

First, lay down a little black.  If you are against black primer as so folks are, use a little dark grey.  And by a little, I may lay down an even lay over the miniature. You can avoid the highest points, since these will end up being while, but concentrates in cracks/crevaces, and the like.  Remember, these areas and where the shadows would natuarlly fall, so these are where the darkest colors will be anywhere.  And by laying down black in these areas, when you finally do apply paint on top, the final layer will naturally appear darker since the underlaying color is in fact black, thus reflecting little to no light.

Next, move on to dark grey, or light grey if you started with dark grey.  I tend to do this with an airbrush, but you could dry brush it on to the same effect.  You want to work against the grain of the model.  The best way to describe this is imagine a wooden beam, with grain running through it.    You want to go against the grain.  In the below, rather than going left to right (with the grain) you want to do up and down, against the grain.  Think of it like cross the lines, making X’s, turning it into a graph.  Whatever visual helps you.  The bottom line is you want to apply the paint in such a way that the dry brush picks up the natural higher edges of the figure.
Mountain Peak
If you use an airbrush, then as the paint is dispersed across the miniature, it will naturally settle on the higher areas, much like snow clinging to the top of a mountain peak.

Finally, apply a little white to the uppermost edges of the model, the highlights.  If you do this with an airbrush, just remember to have a light touch.  If you oversaturate these areas with white, then they will appear washed out.  You don’t want that.  You want contrast, you want variation.  In short, you need all the greys to be visible.  But these white areas are indeed crucial, and in terms of the color selected, they will be the closet to the color you selected in terms of a 1:1 ratio of color.

Now comes the fun part.  Select a glaze, tint, or candy.  If you don’t have a tint, then simply select your favorite paint, something hopefully not too opague and thin it down to the consistency of skim milk.  Basically the same consistency you want with any airbrush paint.  To test it, spread a little out across a piece of old newspaper.  If you can still see the letters through the thinned down paint, your about right.  If you can’t read the words anymore, keep thinning.

Using your now properly thinned down paint, apply the paint to the entire model.  That’s right, the whole thing.  Don’t overdo it.  You don’t want to lay down so much paint that the underlying layers don’t show through.

Now behold!  A miniature with natural looking transitions between darks and light (contrast) with minimal effort.  So what do you think?  Is it a win, or is it a cheap trick with no use in a painters arsenal?

To give credit where credit is due, I first got this idea from watching Asjarra’s St. Celestine video.  If you’ve never seen Asjarra’s work, then I can’t recommend him enough.  His channel is a huge inspiration to me.

In addition, I found this video on youtube that loosely outlines the principal I am talking about.

What SHOULD be noted is that this is by no means a perfect substitution for highlighting. The highlights will never be as bright as they would be if layered on top.  They are great for shadows, however because, in essence, shadows are a lack of color and this achieves just that.

They’re also great for cranking out decent looking miniatures in a hurry, giving the illusion of blending without as much work as you might expect.  Go speed painter, go speed painter, go speed painter, goooooo!!!

Until next time, this is Caleb with White Metal Games reminding you to . . .


Happy wargaming,

Caleb, WMG