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  • Painting with Vallejo Acrylics

    Posted on August 9th, 2003 Rob No comments

    In this excellent article from Darkmane, we look at painting a figure using Vallejo Acrylic paints.


    As we know, the use of acrylic paints is nothing new to figure painting. Yet, for the last couple of years we have seen an increase in both the amount of quality work performed with them and more people that are finding out that acrylics are an easy to use, safe and adaptable alternative for figure painters of all levels.

    In modeling magazines, month after month, we gaze through photographs of exquisite figures masterfully painted with acrylics and read through articles written by top painters that give all kinds of sage advice and recipes on what to do with them. However, there still seems to be a void in the “how to do it” area, or to be more explicit, the actual paint handling procedures. The need to fill this gap is what prompted me to write this article based on what I perceive to be the most basic concepts and to explain, as plainly as possible, how to work out specific techniques of painting with acrylics.

    While some of you may find the next few pages downright elementary. I do believe that great figure painting comes from having a clear understanding of its most fundamental aspects. Besides, if this is to be a truly educational article, we cannot go any faster than our slowest student. So lets gather a few things and get started.


    One of my first figures painted almost entirely with Vallejo Acrylics, using the same techniques described in this article


    As with any other kind of paint, acrylics have their own special requirements, but nothing more than a few tools that will allow us to make the most of them. Let’s do a quick run down of the basic tools:

    Save yourself a lot of money and frustration, “buy the best”. The quality of your work will depend on the quality of your materials. Winsor and Newton Series 7, either standard or miniature (old Series 12) styles are still the top choice for round brushes.

    Series 7 brushes cost a little bit more, but well taken care of, will outlast and outperform any other brand. You will also need a good quality flat sable brush for coating large areas. Most major brush manufacturers carry at least one series of this type and they all perform quite well for our purposes

    Series 7 brushes are the top choice for figure painting. At left is a #2 miniature and at right, a #2 standard.

    As for brush sizes, I have found that the minimum practical size for acrylic painting is the #0, and there are good reasons for this, it holds just the right amount of pigment and the point is sharp enough to work on the smallest detail. Smaller brushes don’t hold enough paint and by the time you load your brush and get ready to use it, the paint usually dries at the tip, turning your once enjoyable experience into a quite stressful event. Unless you are working on very large surfaces a #0, #1, and #2 standard rounds and one #4 flat should be enough for working on figures from 54mm up to 120mm.

    It is important to note that acrylic paints are inherently rough on brushes. You must make sure to religiously clean your brush often, during painting. At the end of your painting session wash them thoroughly with a good quality brush cleaner to get rid of all paint residue. Read the excellent article by Bob Knee regarding this matter in Historical Miniature magazine, issue #16. Set aside a set of brushes to be used exclusively with acrylics, any traces of enamel or oil thinners can effect your water-based paints. It is also a good idea to use a cheap brush to thin and mix your paints, a process that really wears down your expensive brushes, which should only be used to apply paint.

    You will be using it a lot, a lightly moistened lint free cotton
    rag like an old T shirt, or even an old towel will do fine. A second
    choice is a lint free paper towel, although these are prone to break
    apart during long sessions.

    A good size plastic or aluminum palette with several wells is a must
    when working with acrylics. They are inexpensive and keep everything
    well organized. I cover mine with thin aluminum foil for no other reason
    than I don’t like to wash the trays all the time, so go with whatever
    makes you comfortable.

    Cleaning Jar:
    A glass or ceramic container full of clean water and steady enough for
    you to swish your brush around in. Remember to change the water as often
    as possible during your painting session, enough brush cleanings will
    turn your water into very thinned paint and will contaminate your palette
    or even worse, mess up your figure.

    Water Dispenser:
    An eye dropper, empty bottle of any device that delivers single drops
    of water roughly the same size as the paint drops coming out of the
    bottle. (Vallejo Acrylics come in a bottle with a built-in eyedropper

    Don’t be cheap here, tap water in most cities tends to leave a chalky
    residue when it dries. Knowing that all kind of funny chemicals are
    in it, makes me very cautious, so I rather stay on the safe side and
    use distilled water for all my painting needs.

    A small section of primed plasticard (sheet styrene) makes great practice
    surface on which to try out the simple exercises found throughout this
    article, designed to get you acquainted with basic procedures.

    Scrap Figure:
    I will use a scrap figure, built from my parts box, to illustrate the
    different techniques described here. The objective is not to paint a
    specific uniform or figure, only show the basic techniques and procedures
    and then, once you understand them, it will be your turn to try them
    on a figure set aside for this same purpose. As soon as you are done,
    you can always strip the paint from it and be ready to start again.
    Good quality figures that will enable you to make all kind of mistakes
    and experiment at minimum expense and anguish, can be bought at bargain
    prices at any model show.

    Model Colors Acrylic Paint

    Throughout this article 3 colors will be used for examples: 922 U.S.
    Uniform Green, 952 Lemon Yellow and 980 Black Green but if you prefer,
    in table #1, further ahead, you will find several color combinations
    that will also work well.

    Using Vallejo Acrylics


    This relatively new product owes its success to the fact that it did
    away with all the problems that had plagued previous lines of acrylics.
    They are 100% water soluble, totally flat, quick drying, highly pigmented,
    have an excellent covering power (great for correcting any mistake!),
    plus they come in these neat bottles that dispense the paint a drop
    at a time.

    And once you are
    done, the remaining paint at the tip of the nozzle seals the opening
    so airflow is minimized and the paint won’t set inside the bottles.

    With a line comprised
    of more than 200 different colors, varnishes, mediums, glazes, florescent
    and metallic you can do a lot more other than undercoat with them. Even
    if you are a “dyed in the wool” oil or enamel painter, give them a try.
    You will find that acrylics are unbeatable for some applications and
    bring about some very remarkable effects. While I still rely on oils
    and enamels for certain portions of my figures, most of my former painting
    methods have been replaced, with significant improvement, by acrylics.

    I still favor oils for the skin portions of my figures, everything else
    on this Celt by Elite was painted with Vallejo Acrylics. The application
    of freehand designs like this one is simplified by the use of acrylics
    due to their color richness and ease.

    with any other medium, a sound basic approach will be the cornerstone
    of a well executed figure. This is where we start! Now that we have
    the basic materials and some paints, lets go through the main parts
    of the process one step at a time.

    Plan Ahead

    doing anything else, clearly establish your objectives for a particular
    painting session. Arrange the paints and tools you will be using and
    very carefully study your figure. Familiarize yourself with all the
    different details and analyze the location and form of the main shadows
    and highlights. Always practice the techniques you will be using on
    a scrap surface and most importantly: take your time, don’t rush.

    Preparing your Paints

    Your Paint Bottles

    Do what???? You would be surprised at the amount of people that skip
    this necessary step and later complain that the only thing coming out
    of the bottle is a clear liquid with some paint on it! So don’t be shy
    about it, shake that bottle vigorously, tap the bottom against the palm
    of your hand and make sure that all the paint is thoroughly mixed. Now,
    get your palette ready for the next step.

    shake your paints before and during your painting session to maitain
    uniformity on your mixtures.


    The use of “very thinned paint” is the essence of painting with Vallejo
    acrylics. Coming straight out of the bottle, the paint is too thick
    for most purposes and different degrees of dilution are necessary to
    achieve the distinct effects that make for a realistic painting job.
    As mentioned before, we use only very clean water. In order to do this
    accurately and establish a reference point, we will add a certain amount
    of water drops for every drop of paint we intend to use. We will designate
    this as “dilution rate” and it will be noted as “parts of paint” to
    “parts of water”, (e.g. 1:1, 2:1, 1:3, etc.). The right amount of water
    is different for each particular situation, nonetheless there are three
    primary dilution rates with specific purposes that will give us a good
    starting point:

    1:1 Minimum rate
    of dilution used primarily for basecoating. Good solid coverage.

    1:2 Thin coatings, airbrushing, outlining and small details. Thin without
    being transparent.

    1:5 Minimum for highlighting and shading. Transparent, base color will
    show through.

    the necessary amount of water to your paint with an eyedropper or empty
    bottle to reach an adequate consistancy for your needs.

    left; Paint straight from the bottle is too thick and builds up easily.
    Next; 1:1, 1:2, 1:3 and 1:4 dilutions.

    is very important to note that these dilution rates are not absolute.
    Practice and experience will fine-tune them to your own painting style.

    As you go along
    with your painting session, you may notice that paint will begin to
    dry on your palette. As soon as this happens, add the necessary amount
    of water and/or paint in order to maintain the same dilution and consistency,
    this is very important, so keep an eye on it. Adding a small amount
    of Vallejo #587 Slow Dry to your palette will delay the drying process
    and extend the working time of your thinned paints.

    Preparing your Figure

    your figure has been cleaned and assembled, it is time to lay down the
    foundation of our painting process by priming and basecoating. The application
    of these is straightforward and shouldn’t give you any trouble.

    It is a good idea
    to prime all your figures, metal or resin. Although this is not necessary
    on resin, priming will always bring out any flaws that are not easily
    seen on bare materials and will leave a uniform surface over which to
    apply a good even basecoat. Always prime with one thin coat, preferably
    with an airbrush, and let dry for 24 hours. (Vallejo has its own primer,
    #919 Foundation White. I personally don’t use it, but if you like white
    primers this is a very good one).

    uniform primer application is the first step for a quality finish and
    will show any surface faults not easily seen.

    layers of 922 US Green diluted to 1:1 and allowed to dry, make a good
    basecoat to work over on our examples.

    the primer has dried it is time to basecoat your figure with whatever
    color or colors you have chosen for this purpose. For any base-color,
    always use a midtone value that will enable you to have enough latitude
    to work in your shadows and highlights, maintaining a good overall balance
    between them. Use the largest brush possible (use your flat brush) to
    lay in several thin coats with a dilution rate of 1:1 for an even coverage.
    Let it dry for about 3 hours before any subsequent paint application.

    Applying Paint

    to attempting any technique on an already primed and basecoated figure,
    we have to learn how to apply thinned paint exactly where we want it
    without causing any damage to the surrounding areas. This is known as
    “paint control”, the single most important thing you must learn while
    working with any kind of paint, but when working with very diluted water
    based paints, maintaining it becomes crucial. Any time you load your
    brush with these very thinned paints, capillary action within the brush
    will load an excessive amount right into it. This excess is a disaster
    waiting to happen, as some of us already know. You just need to touch
    that neatly primed and basecoated figure that you have been working
    on for days, only to see the paint running wild from head to toe, ruining
    an otherwise fine job.

    Highly thinned paint will overload your brush
    and run wild all over your figure if you try to apply them directly
    from your palette.

    To work
    with very thinned paint it is necessary to unload excess paint from
    your brush by gently touching its side against a slightly moist cotton

    next time, after loading the brush on your palette, take a short trip
    to that cotton rag, mentioned before, and touch the side of your brush
    against it to unload the excess of diluted paint. Don’t worry, even
    if you see a big stain on the rag the paint is not going to be totally
    unloaded and leave you with a dry brush. This operation lets your brush
    retain the right quantity of diluted paint, allowing you to easily apply
    it and, as an added bonus, will eliminate those splayed brushes so common
    with acrylics and enamels.

    You may need to
    touch the rag with your brush more than once depending on how diluted
    your paint is or how much paint you need. If you get too excited unloading
    water and mess up the point of your brush, simply reform it by gently
    rolling it over the rag.

    Very important:
    once your brush has been unloaded, test it over a piece of paper or
    other surface to make sure that your dilution is working properly and
    if not, re-adjust the consistency of the paint on your palette and test
    again. A lot of paint jobs are messed up by skipping this step.

    paint overload will splay the point of your brush, rendering it useless.
    Unloading excess paint will eliminate this problem.

    Painting Exercise

    just take my word for it, try it! On your palette, place 1 drop of paint
    in 3 different wells adding water to prepare the 3 basic dilution rates
    mentioned before. For each one of them, start by loading your brush,
    unload it on your rag, and proceed to paint fine lines or shapes over
    your practice surface, maintaining good paint control throughout the
    process. Strive for a clean and even application of lines and shapes
    by unloading excess water as necessary. Watch how solid or transparent
    each dilution rate is and experiment by modifying them. Don’t forget
    to clean your brush each time before loading it again and test your
    brush before using it.

    Methods of Application

    that you know how to properly thin your paint and apply it where you
    want it, lets analyze some methods for using your abilities.

    Figure painting
    involves a lot of different techniques with specific applications, however,
    the most important ones have to do with the subtle color transitions
    necessary for achieving realistic effects. These color transitions comprise
    a process commonly known as blending, which has one single purpose:
    blur the border between two adjacent colors, making the transition from
    one to the other as “soft” as possible. This can be accomplished in
    oils and enamels by physically mixing one color into another, in order
    to soften the edge between them (Diagram 1a).

    On the other hand,
    for acrylic paints like Vallejo, blending is predominately a visual
    effect and not a physical process as mentioned before (Diagram 1b).
    Once applied, they dry very fast and cannot be blended as well or as
    easily as oils or enamels. This is the main difference between using
    acrylics and other paints. Although it can be done in some very limited
    situations with the addition of a drying time extender, it is easier
    to treat acrylics like acrylics and let blending be the visual result
    of correct application using the following two technique’s.


    is the application of successive paint coats over the same area. It
    can be either:

    Solid: used
    wherever full coverage by a single color is desired. Best accomplished
    by applying several thin coats with dilution rates of 1:1 or 1:2. Used
    mainly for basecoating, patterns, and details.

    used wherever gradual color build-up using a single color is necessary
    allowing the underlying coat to show through. Used for toning, shading,
    highlighting, and effects. Dilution rates start at 1:5 and up.

    *Transparent layers
    of color are also known as glazes. I will refrain from using this term
    in order to maintain a clear and simple nomenclature.


    Now it’s your turn to practice layering. Using a 1:1 dilution rate,
    paint a good basecoat with 2 or 3 solid layers over an area of your
    practice surface. Let it dry and then, using another color with a 1:5
    dilution, apply one transparent layer over your basecoat. (Remember
    to unload your brush on the rag) Allowing each layer to dry before applying
    the next, apply a second and third layer on top, trying to keep your
    basecolor showing through. Add more water to your paint if necessary
    and experiment with higher dilution rates. By this time you should be
    automatically cleaning your brush each time you use it, don’t forget


    is the application of progressively smaller transparent layers of color
    (feathers) in order to visually blend each layer into the previous one.
    This visual blending is achieved by slightly increasing or decreasing
    the brightness or darkness (value) of each successive feather. It is
    primarily used for shading and highlighting. Dilution rates of 1:5 and
    higher is necessary.

    This exercise is accomplished by using progressively narrower brushtrokes
    with each increase in value as described in the text.


    To practice feathering: On your plasticard, using 922 US Green as basecolor
    with a 1:2 dilution, paint a wide brushstroke. While it dries, prepare
    your palette by progressively adding small amounts of 952 Lemon Yellow
    to the base color. We will do this in 25% increments. This means that
    you have a first well with only your base color, a second with 3 drops
    of base color and 1 drop of yellow, a third with 2 drops of each color,
    a fourth with 1 drop of base color and 3 drops of yellow and fifth with
    only yellow. Thin each mixture to a 1:5 rate. Starting with a clean
    brush every time and using each one of your color increases, apply progressively
    smaller brushstrokes in order to feather each mixture into the previous
    one. Use “layering” to give more intensity to each increase if needed
    and strive for a subtle transition between them. As you become more
    experienced and expand your color knowledge, you will be able to mix
    your color increases or decreases as you go along on a single well.
    This exercise requires some practice a good feathering technique comes
    with a lot of it, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts fail.

    Highlighting and Shading

    particular theory on this topic is far too extensive for the scope of
    the present article and I will leave this to the excellent material
    available that covers it in depth *. This will let us stay within the
    application process, which by now, you should have a pretty good idea
    of how it is done. Highlighting and shading are made possible by combing
    both layering and feathering into a very simple process:

    * “Building and
    Painting Scale Figures” by Sheperd Paine Ð Chapter 3


    As a general rule we highlight the raised areas of our figures where
    light gathers the most. When using acrylics, remember to highlight first.
    The reason for this lies in the fact that it is easier to cover any
    mistakes made while highlighting with your darker colors than the other
    way around.

    Highlighting: Here a barely noticeable
    first increase made by mixing 25% of 952 Lemon yellow with our base-color
    922 US Green has been applied.

    By mixing 50% and 75% of 952 Lemon
    Yellow with our base-color, a second and third increase are carefully

    4: Highlighting

    Highlighting is accomplished by adding a small amount of a higher value
    color to our base color, thinning it accordingly (minimum 1:5) and starting
    with the widest feather that corresponds to the lowest point of the
    area t be highlighted, carefully apply this first increase layering
    it as required to obtained the desired intensity. Next, add another
    small amount of highlighting color to your last mixture and apply the
    next feather on a smaller area again by layering it as necessary. Repeat
    this process until all your increases have been applied. Depending on
    the position and desired effect, highlighting can range from a single
    increase in value to the use of multiple feathers going all the way
    to the highlighting color itself.

    Last increase using pure 952 Lemon Yellow, only,
    over the top highlights.

    Shading: By adding 25% of 980 Black Green to our base-color, the first
    decrease is applied on the darker areas

    Asecond decrease is applied by mixing 50% of 980 Black Green with our
    base-color and pure 980 Black Green is used for the darkest areas.


    For the most part, we shade areas where light gathers the least or requires
    a little help in defining their form and it is normally done once our
    highlights have been applies.

    Diagram 5: Shading

    The application process is similar to the one used for highlighting,
    but in this case we will add a darker color to our base tone in order
    to create progressively lower values. Shading requires a higher dilution
    rate and is usually accomplished in no more than 3 color decreases depending
    on the particular depth of each feature or the desired intensity. Remember
    that the paint must be very thin, it is better to carefully build up
    each shadow by layering each decrease application than by using a strong
    single one that may obscure any painted detail or the base color. Start
    with dilution rates of 1:8 or higher and be sure to unload your brush
    on the rag several times before using it.

    becomes significant to understand that applying highlights and shadows
    is a matter of personal style, experience and a good knowledge of color
    theory. However, successful results with acrylics will always rest on
    three factors:


    right color selection.

    Here I can only stress that good results require a careful selection
    of compatible colors and values that stem from a suitable base color.
    This means that unless you are trying to depict a particular effect,
    your basecolor must be present throughout all your increases or decreases
    in order to maintain color harmony. If you need some help getting started
    in this area. I have included a table (Table 1 – next page) that shows
    some easy single color highlight/shadow mixtures that you can use as
    a basic reference. Experiment with these mixtures to acclimate yourself
    with the technique.

    The number of increases or decreases over the color value.

    These are determined by the size and configuration of the specific area.
    On large and shallow areas where subtle transitions are necessary,a
    higher number of increases or decreases of the base color will be required
    as opposed to small and deep areas like tight folds and creases, where
    swift changes between highlights and shadows allow for more intense
    transitions in fewer steps.

    The adequate placement of highlights and shadows throughout the

    Even if only a few, when precisely applied they go a very long way.
    A good understanding of the “Stop Sign Rule” is essential here. Always
    study your figure under an overhead light so you will be able to recognize
    the features and planes that give way to the predominant shadows and
    highlights and then accentuate them accordingly.

    Toning is applied here by using a 1:12 dilution of the base-color in
    order to soften contrasts and provide a more pleasing balance.

    Outlining enhances a figure by separating and defining areas and details,
    acting as a bold shadow. Pure 980 Black Green was used here.


    922 US Uniform Green

    952 Lemon Yellow

    980 Black Green

    975 Military Green

    850 Vallejo Olive

    980 Black Green

    850 Vallejo Olive

    915 Deep Yellow

    975 Military Green

    915 Deep Yellow

    951 White

    981 Orange Brown

    981 Orange Brown

    915 Deep Yellow

    940 Saddle Brown

    940 Saddle Brown

    981 Orange Brown

    985 Hull Red

    875 Beige Brown

    917 Beige

    984 Brown

    984 Brown

    875 Beige Brown

    822 Black Brown

    908 Carmine Red

    956 Light Orange

    926 Red

    909 Vermillion Red

    851 Deep Orange

    908 Carmine Red

    851 Deep Orange

    911 Light Orange

    909 Vermillion Red

    911 Light Orange

    915 Deep Yellow

    851 Deep Orange

    844 Deep Sky Blue

    951 White

    965 Prussian Blue

    965 Prussian Blue

    901 Pastel Blue

    898 Dark Sea Blue

    901 pastel Blue

    951 White

    899 Dark Prussian Blue

    846 Mahogany Brown

    929 Light Brown

    872 Chocolate Brown

    872 Chocolate Brown

    875 Beige Brown

    822 Black Brown

    843 Cork Brown

    847 Dark Sand

    826 Medium brown

    856 Ochre Brown

    948 Golden Yellow

    983 Earth

    992 Neutral Gray

    951 White

    862 Black Grey

    830 Field Gray

    886 Green Gray

    979 Dark Green

    886 Green Gray

    971 Green Gray

    830 Field Gray

    871 Leather Brown

    977 Desert Yellow

    822 Black Brown

    921 English Uniform

    917 Beige

    871 Chocolate Brown

    988 Khaki

    976 Buff

    941 Burnt Umber

    Complementary Techniques

    Once we are done with our basic highlighting and shading
    it is time to add some important improvements and final touches that
    will adjust and enhance the contrast between the different areas and
    details of your figure. The transparency and color intensity possible
    with acrylics makes them the best choice for these procedures known
    as toning, outlining, and edging.


    When painting with acrylics there are times when you may find that your
    highlights and shades are just too stark, you need a small value adjustment,
    or maybe a slight tint for a particular effect is required. In these
    cases we use what is known as toning, which is nothing more than a very
    diluted transparent layer of color applied over an area in order to
    soften harsh contrasts, fine tune the overall valance or add that special
    effect. A dilution rate of 1:12 is a good starting point for this purpose
    and don’t forget to unload your brush several times before applying


    Outlining is the application of a solid dark thin line that separates
    areas and defines details like seams, pockets, flaps, etc. by acting
    as a bold shadow. This is done by layering a very thin line with the
    lowest color value for each area to be so defined using a dilution rate
    of around 1:2 in order to build up color slowly until the desired intensity
    is attained.


    Although not as widely known as outlining, when accurately placed, it
    is just as important and its effects can be quite stunning. Similar
    to outlining, it is the application of a solid light thin line that
    separates and defines different areas and details by acting as a bold
    highlight furthermore increasing the overall sharpness of our figure.
    A high color value with a 1:2 dilution is required for gradual color
    build up.


    that’s it, and although a whole book could be written about the use
    of acrylics for painting figures, these few pages embody the core techniques,
    and as you see, acrylics are not so difficult to use after all. Practice
    and experience will make the rest. I hope the preceding concepts and
    ideas will be helpful in getting you started in the use of Vallejo Model
    Colors acrylic paint or at least provide you with a solid reference
    point to experiment and go beyond your present technique. This doesn’t
    mean that you should become an “acrylic only” painter. Each kind of
    paint has its own merits and excels in certain areas, it is for each
    one of us to identify and integrate these characteristics into our personal
    painting style. Let acrylics become another tool in your pursuit of
    excellence, you won’t be disappointed.

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