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  • Urmuth: painting flesh and using colour

    Urmuth Painting Article

    painting flesh and using colour

    again everyone, it's been a long time since I wrote my last article,
    so I am afraid this new one is a long time overdue. First off, let
    me mention that the techniques and theories I discuss here are not
    the 'right' way to paint, only one particular way to paint. The
    object of the article is not so much to teach anyone how to paint in
    a specific manner, but more to give some insight into the processes
    and thoughts that I personally go through when I am painting my own
    figures. Hopefully this is interesting to somebody out there!

    has their own way of painting, and that is how it should be – you
    should never feel like you need to copy someone exactly. In my
    opinion, you are better off if you listen and watch a variety of
    other painters, and take on board the elements of their technique
    which appeal and work for you, yourself. Not everything works for
    everyone, and when it comes to high-level painting, personal taste
    plays an ever increasing role in the way painting is approached. I
    think one of the most important things to do when painting is to
    simply think about what you are trying to achieve when you set
    out to paint a figure, before you even begin.

    figure I have chosen to use for this article is Urmuth, Scars of War,
    from the Andrea 'Warlord Saga' 54mm range. This figure was a
    commission painting job, so many thanks to the client for allowing me
    to use it for this article.

    Preparing the figure

    a quick look at the figure before undercoating. I spend a lot of time
    cleaning and preparing my figures for painting. After the mould lines
    have been removed, I gently file rough areas, and then use very fine
    grade sandpaper to ensure a smooth surface. The sandpaper I use on
    most metal figures ranges from grade 600, up to 1200. Little
    rectangles of sandpaper stuck on the end of a small stick-like
    instrument (I used a piece of brass rod flattened at one end) can
    help to reach the smallest areas of the figure.

    this, I scrub the figure all over with a stiff-bristled brush, like a
    black synthetic dremmel brush. If your figure is of a harder metal,
    such as the GW figures, you can even use a rougher brush – I have a
    brass bristled one that I use carefully on a lot of metal figures.
    But be sure to test it first on something unimportant – you don't
    want to be overzealous and use a brush that will leave your figure
    scratched to oblivion and ruined! After
    this, I give the figure another scrub in hot water with some
    dish-washing liquid, using an old toothbrush. This makes sure that
    any oils from your hands etc. are removed from the surface before the
    undercoat is applied.

    the figure is dry, if there are still some rough or pitted areas, I
    use some very thin washes of Milliput dissolved in water to fill in
    the rough texture on the surface. In my opinion, the best Milliput to
    use for this is the standard yellow-grey variety – I only use this
    type, and it works especially well for the 'Milliput washes'. It
    works like this: I mix up a little putty, then stick it to the bottom
    of a well in my palette. Then I add some clean water, and stir things
    up with an old brush, until I have a milk-like, opaque,
    beige-coloured mixture. Then I carefully paint layers of this mixture
    onto the surface of the figure in the problem areas, similar to
    applying a wash. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 coats before the pits and
    texture on the surface are filled in. And if you feel the surface may
    still be a little rough, you can wait until the Milliput is dry and
    carefully sand the surface with very fine sandpaper (1000-1500

    this photo, you can see the evidence of the Milliput washes if you
    look carefully. I have drawn some red areas to some of the areas
    where it can be seen on the figure. Notice also that the axe has not
    been cleaned as well as the main body of the figure. This was because
    the axe was quite fragile and bendable, and I was not able to be
    quite to vicious with my scrubbing and cleaning.

    now here is a quick photo of the figure after the undercoat has been
    applied. I used GW white spray in this case, in two very thin layers.
    The most important thing to remember, is to make sure that you do not
    apply too thick a coat of paint. A very light coat is best; do not
    worry if there is still some metal showing through – that is as it
    should be. Because the layer is so thin, the surface actually appears
    light grey, rather than white.

    a thin coat of undercoat in this way aids the painting process. A
    light 'dusting' of undercoat results in a slightly textured surface,
    allowing the paint to grip the surface, and causing the layers of
    paint to spread evenly over the figure, aiding the blending process.
    If the undercoat is too thick, the paint will not adhere to the
    surface as readily, making smooth painting more difficult.

    at last we are ready to paint! The preparation process may seem
    tedious, but I think it is a very important step to obtaining a
    nicely painted miniature. The foundation needs to be solid before you
    can start to build the tower, right?

    word (or two!) on colour

    going to talk about a little theory here, but I realise it may not be
    the most interesting thing in the world for a lot of you! So if you
    are interested in the practical part, but just cannot face
    wading into the theory, then feel free to skip ahead to the next
    section where I begin painting the flesh. In recognition of you guys,
    and in the tradition of Mythbusters:

    my opinion, to create a great fantasy figure, it is crucial to
    emphasise the overall 'concept' past the point of realism, and into
    the realm of hyper-reality. This is an important part of the way I
    think about painting, so I would like to take a few moments to
    explain it a little.

    order to take the step up into real fantasy-style painting, I think
    one needs to let go of the intuition that a miniature should look
    'realistic', and instead try to think along more 'artistic' lines:
    what mood or atmosphere am I trying to evoke with the figure, and how
    can I transmit this feeling to the viewer? This is where colour
    choice and balance, contrast and lighting, and groundwork (basing)
    start to play a more important role. If you can break the boundaries
    of what is possible in the real world and try to create something
    that goes further than reality – whether it be colouring,
    lighting or whatever – then I feel you can obtain a stronger, more
    focussed result, that creates a much clearer mood in the mind of the
    viewer. There is a place for realism, of course, and many people
    enjoy painting realistic pieces; I am just saying that for me
    personally, and the way I like to paint, a conceptual portrayal of a
    figure is much more important than a realistic portrayal.

    us take a quick look at the palette of colours I have chosen for
    Urmuth. My personal taste in colour means that I usually prefer a
    very balanced scheme of warm and cool colours on a miniature. Because
    of this, most of my colour schemes could be characterised as either
    triadic (using three colours equally spaced around the colour
    wheel), or split complementary (a set of analogous colours,
    'split' from a basic key colour, counter-balanced by this key
    colour's complementary). Urmuth's scheme is an example of a split
    complementary scheme. See the picture below:

    can see that the dominant warm colour I have chosen is a sort of
    golden yellow colour – you would probably describe this hue as
    yellow-orange. I knew from the start that I wanted to use this hue
    for the flesh areas of the figure, so I used this fact to help me
    make the rest of the colour choices. The yellow-orange has been
    balanced by its complementary hue, the purple-blue, and then by two
    other hues lying on either side – the red-purple and green-blue
    hues – creating a sort of 'peace sign' spread on the colour
    wheel...peace man, peace! So this spread between green-blue and
    red-purple makes up all of the cold portion of the colour scheme, and
    the yellow-orange provides a dramatic warm counter-balance.

    also put thought into the distribution of cold and warm colours over
    a figure. I think it is nice to use the dichotomy between cold and
    warm to one's advantage, in order to break up different areas of a
    miniature by creating colour contrasts. I also think it is important
    to balance the opposing forces of warm and cold, so that the end
    result still presents a visually satisfying experience...I think this
    sort of effect is often subconscious in the viewer, but I have
    noticed that a visually balanced and well composed figure tends to be
    more successful and 'popular', even if the viewer cannot put their
    finger on the exact reasons.

    illustrate this balance between cold and warm colours, I have made up
    a little comparison photo below. On the left, I have removed all of
    the warm colours, leaving only the cold; on the right, the opposite,
    only warm colours remain. This should make the spread and placement
    of the cold and warm colours more clear.

    these photos, you can see the way in which the cold and warm colours
    are spread quite evenly, in a balanced way, over the figure. The
    lower section, from the straps around his stomach to the top of the
    boots, is predominantly cold, and this is why I have introduced
    elements such as the belt, staff of the axe, metal pendant etc. in
    warm colours, to 'break' the coldness and prevent it from becoming
    too dominant or overwhelming. Similarly, in the upper half of the
    figure, the cold elements are designed to break up the dominant warm

    is also worth mentioning the special colour attention given to the
    main 'focus area' of the figure: the upper shoulders and head. In
    addition to using the cold versus warm principle, I have also
    intentionally increased the saturation of the colours here, to create
    a more violent contrast of colours. The extra brightness of the
    green-blue on the horns and necklace charm, the red-orange hair, the
    red-purple straps on the horns, red and yellow tints on the helmet,
    the dark colour of the chest strap against the light flesh of the
    shoulders, and extra colours nuances in the face, are designed to
    ensure that this area of the figure becomes the focus of attention.
    It is natural for the eye to be drawn to areas of greater contrast,
    so by employing colour in this way, we can direct the viewer's
    attention to the places we feel are most important.

    are the sorts of issues I think about when designing a colour scheme,
    and making my colour choices when painting. Using colour contrast in
    these sorts of ways can help to make the detail of a figure more
    clear and 'readable' for the viewer, present areas of focus on the
    model in order to control the movement of the eye, and help to create
    a more pleasing result.


    the flesh

    begins the practical section! Those of you who tuned out for the
    theory, time to get the old brush into action at last

    Step 1:

    base-coat. In this case, the colour I used was a mix of P3 Rucksack
    Tan, P3 Midlund Flesh, P3 Menoth White Highlight and GW Fortress
    Grey, with a point of P3 Battledress Green. The reason I often have
    such elaborate mixes of colours is simply because I just keep adding
    a touch of this and a touch of that on the palette, until I reach my
    desired colour. But really, the colour for the base-coat is not so
    important; any flesh-type colour is fine, although I prefer my
    starting colour to be less saturated, and a little lighter, than the
    typical pre-mixed flesh colours you might find in a paint pot. And
    for this particular figure, I wanted the flesh hue to be a step or
    two away from pink (red), and more towards yellow-orange, to fit with
    the colour scheme and balance I was planning.

    to briefly mention technique: the base-coat was applied with dilute
    paint, in 3 or 4 passes over the figure, rather than 1 or 2 heavier
    layers of paint. It is applied in this way in order to preserve the
    detail and retain a good surface for future layers of paint. If your
    base-coat is too thick, it can both obscure some detail, and also
    create a slightly shiny, plastic-looking and 'slick' surface, which
    will cause paint application problems in the proceeding stages and
    make smooth painting more difficult.

    Step 2:

    next stage was to begin some rudimentary shading of the flesh, to
    start establishing the shadowed zones. For this step, I mixed up 5
    different colours on my palette, as you can see in the palette photo:
    (1) a slightly deeper, more yellow-brown version of the base colour;
    (2) a more intense, darker yellow-orange brown; (3) a dark red-brown;
    (4) an olive green, darker again; and (5) a dark teal-grey. You can
    get a feel for the consistency of the paint by looking at the paper
    towel (kitchen paper) on the right of the photo, where I have been
    wiping off the brush after mixing.

    reason I mixed five colours for the first stage of shading, rather
    than just one, is very important for my way of painting. I like to
    have the flexibility of being able to work with a variety of tones
    simultaneously when painting, as I find that it gives a more
    interesting, 'nuanced' result, and is also faster and easier for me.
    The idea is that if you have a variety of tones available on the
    palette, you can very easily make subtle (or quite obvious) changes
    of hue over the surface, in order to create a more complex and
    interesting tone. It also allows more control over the 'areas of
    special attention' or 'focal points' for the viewer; that is, by
    modifying the colours in a certain way, you can either draw more
    attention to a part of the figure you feel is important, or create an
    effect that will move the viewer's eye in a certain direction.

    example, I knew I wanted the mid-upper section of the torso, around
    the chest and upper shoulders, to be quite warm and light in feeling,
    in order to direct the focus up toward the face. In contrast, the
    mid-to-lower arms, lower torso, and especially the side torso under
    the arms (where the serratus muscles lie), were to be colder in
    colour, further emphasising the effect of pushing the eye towards the
    centre and upwards. So, I applied this logic to the way I applied
    these first shading colours, using the red-brown (3) and yellow brown
    (2) colours mainly around the upper torso and shoulders, moving the
    colour colder (4) and (5) in the lower and side areas, as you can see
    in the photo. The lighter colour on the palette (1) was used a a sort
    of 'clean-up' colour: if some roughness started to occur in the
    transitions, thin layers of (1) painted over the areas as a glaze
    helped to smooth out any problems.

    me, working in this way with several colours at once, is one of the
    greatest advantages of using the 'successive glazing' (or 'juices')
    method of painting, instead of more traditional forms of layering. It
    is useful having all the colours ready on the palette, because it
    allows you to monitor and modify the result as you go. I switch
    between the colours very rapidly, adding a layer of this colour here,
    a little of that colour there, a little more of that colour in this
    part, a bit more in that area where it is not strong enough, and so is a very rapid, fluid process. This is what I mean by the
    flexibility of this technique – the colours are gradually built-up
    on the surface with lots of overlapping layers, and you can just keep
    adding more layers until you feel it 'looks right'.


    Step 3:

    next step was to further emphasise the shadows, to create some very
    dark areas, for good contrast. First, let's look at the palette for
    this stage: a mid-light, low saturation warm yellow orange (1), a
    slightly darker, warm yellow-brown (2), a yellow-green brown (3), a
    dark, slightly colder and more green brown (4), a dark red-purple
    (5), and a very dark and cold purple-blue (6).

    the arrangement of warm versus cold colours outlined above, I used
    colours (1) and (2) to treat the chest, upper shoulder and the area
    around the clavicle (collar bone), with some gentle use of the
    red-purple (5) in the areas that needed the most definition. The
    lower areas of the upper arm were treated using colours (3) and (4),
    which were a little colder, less saturated and more 'greenish' in
    aspect; some layers of these colours, particularly (4), were also
    applied to the lower torso, going around and under the arm to the
    serratus area, further establishing the green look of those areas.
    More layers of (5) were applied around the lower-side of the
    pectorals, and just underneath the pecs at the top of the serratus
    muscles. Colour (6) was used for the very darkest parts, on the
    inside of the biceps, in and around the armpits, and the lower-side
    of the torso; these are the areas that would receive the least amount
    of light, and should be very dark to create the appropriate amount of
    contrast to create a clear sense of lighting on the figure.

    very important thing to remember this stage is to make sure you do
    not over-darken the areas that will be receiving most of the
    highlights in future stages of the painting. Most people understand
    that the highlights need to be lighter and brighter in the areas that
    would be receiving the most direct light, but in my experience,
    failing to lighten the shadow colours for these 'areas of light' in a
    corresponding way is a very common mistake. Let's look at this
    figure, Urmuth, as a specific example. In the areas that will end up
    darkest on the figure, such as the side of the body, and the
    underside of the arms, both the shadows and highlights are quite
    dark. In fact, the highlight colour here is darker than the
    shadow colour on the upper shoulder, upper chest and so on.
    Conversely, on the areas that would receive the most direct light,
    such as the top of the shoulder, upper chest etc., both the shadow
    colour and highlight colour are much lighter than any of the other
    colours on the rest of the flesh. The whole range of colour is
    lighter, just as the whole range of colour is darker in the
    most shadowed areas. So what I am arguing is that the entire 'range'
    of tone should vary from area to area on the figure.

    this picture of the finished figure below. On the right, I've given
    an example of the sort of colour range present in different parts of
    the flesh. This isn't exact of course, there is quite a bit of colour
    variation (and I just guessed the colour for those little swatches
    hehe), but I think it might help to explain what I mean.

    [pagebreak]Step 4:

    next step was to re-establish, and further emphasise, the light zones
    of the flesh. I mixed 4 colours on the palette: a very light, pale
    purple (1), a light, pale pink-orange (2), a light orange-yellow (3)
    and a mid orange brown (4) – all of these colour were quite low in

    lightest colour (1), the pale-purple, was reserved for the very
    lightest parts of the flesh: the highlights on the tops of the
    shoulders and upper parts of t he chest along the clavicle. I moved
    the colour cold again for these lightest areas, because I think the
    contrast between cold shadows, warm mid-tones, and cold highlights
    creates a nice, almost 'glowing' sense of light on the flesh.

    middle colours (2) and (3) were used around all the upper areas of
    the chest and shoulder, as well as biceps. (3) was used as a gentle
    highlight on some lower parts such as the abdominal and most
    protruding serratus muscles. Colour (4) was used mainly to aid the
    transitions between dark and light areas; wherever the transition was
    becoming a little rough, some glaze layers of (4) helped to keep the
    gradation smooth.

    Step 5:

    next stage of the painting was to introduce some stronger nuances of
    colour into the flesh. You may notice that the colour has become
    quite washed-out after step 4; this can commonly happen when applying
    strong lights and shadows.

    the palette for step 5 is much more vibrant than the previous
    palettes I have used through the process. Colour (1) is a mixture of
    GW Snakebite Leather with P3 Heartfire (a bright yellow like the old
    GW sunburst yellow). Colour (2) is pure P3 Sanguine Highlight; (3) is
    a mix of GW Dark Flesh with P3 Khador Red Base (almost a primary
    red) and a point of purple; (4) is an aqua colour made from VMC Dark
    Sea Blue mixed with P3 Arcane Blue (a bright aqua), and (5) is pure
    P3 Battledress Green. It is important to note that the dilution of
    the paint at this stage is much greater than in previous stages; the
    paint has a very thin consistency indeed. See the paper towel on the
    right of the photo: each colour has been streaked across the paper
    with a loaded brush.

    colours were applied in very thin glaze layers, and because the paint
    is so dilute, it was extra important to concentrate on technique. So
    I ensured my brush was not over-loaded with paint, by wiping
    thoroughly on a piece of paper towel before moving to the figure;
    also the movement of the brush is important, stroking the brush
    towards the area where the colour needs to be strongest.

    I continued with my 'warm/cold' logic for the distribution of colour
    over the flesh, meaning that the warmest and brightest colours, (1)
    and (2), were concentrated around the upper, lighter areas of the
    flesh, and the colder, darker colours, (3) and (4), were primarily
    used around the darker, shadowed parts around the sides. (5) was the
    'clean-up' colour used to aid the transitions if they became rough.
    And also, as a colour of yellow hue, (5) was applied on areas of the
    flesh that I felt had strayed a little too far from the overall
    'golden' feeling of the flesh, to try to re-establish the dominance
    of the golden colouring. You can see in the photo that I also
    concentrated the brighter yellow colour (1) around the central upper
    areas of the chest, and the pink-purple more to the sides; again,
    this was designed to draw the eye and push it upwards toward the

    is a very important stage in the process, because the subtle tints
    and nuances of stronger colour in the flesh really give it a lot of
    life, and generate a much more interesting surface, in my opinion.
    If you are wondering how I choose the colours to add, the reasons is
    quite simple: the colours are always somehow determined by the
    overall colour scheme. In this particular case, I mentioned earlier
    that I wanted a sort of 'golden' (warm orange-yellow) ambiance for
    the flesh, so the colours I have chosen to add as nuances lie on
    either side of this hue on the colour wheel: orange-red going towards
    red-purple, and yellow-green going to teal. All the colours on each
    of the palettes I have used for each stage in the painting have been
    decided by this logic. This isn't the only way to decide which
    colours to use, though – on my Lathiem, for example, (see here:,
    the colour nuances I introduced into the flesh were dark blue-green
    (GW Scaly Green), red-purple and a touch of orange, in order to echo
    the overall colour scheme of the figure which is balanced around
    these 3 colours.

    Step 6:

    next step was to re-establish the areas of greatest light, because
    the extreme highlights had become a little lost under the glazes of
    step 5. The colour palette was very similar to the first three
    colours used in step 4: a very light, pale blue-purple (1), a light,
    pale pink-orange (2), and a light orange-yellow (3), all of which
    were low in saturation.

    you can see in the photo below, I have worked only on the very 'top'
    of the areas catching the most light, being careful not to use too
    much of the light colours, in order to keep the more
    strongly-coloured (saturated) mid-tones intact. One of the important
    principles of painting, I think, is the gradation from dark, low
    saturation colours in the shadows, through to more saturated colour
    in the mid-tones (think of this as the 'real' colour of the surface
    you are painting) and then a decreasing saturation again for
    highlights. This means you can preserve the dominant colour of a
    surface, while still using quite extreme contrast and lighting.

    flesh is just about finished now! At this point, I went ahead with
    other parts of the figure until the painting was close to complete.

    Step 7:

    is the finished figure. All that I have done to the flesh in this
    step, is to add a touch of even lighter, extreme highlights or 'light
    points' on the most exposed parts of the shoulders and upper chest,
    and added some little finishing touches like painting the nipples,
    and adding a touch of extra colour here and there – you can see
    that some of the red nuances around the sides of the
    pectorals/armpits have been emphasised a little more, for example,
    and obviously I have painted the neck and face also.

    there you have it! Another long-winded, overly complex and confusing
    article haha To be serious, though, I do hope that this helps
    some of you to understand the process I go through, and takes away
    some of the mystery of it all by providing a little insight.


    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Wouter's Avatar
      Wouter -
      lovely article, thanks!
    1. SHIRKATTACK's Avatar
      WOW. Great tutorial!
    1. theplayground's Avatar
      theplayground -
      Well written. The images are sharp. Easy to follow. The paper towel with the streaks of paint, and the dilluted colors in the palette are an excellent reference. Bookmarked for further study. Thank you for posting.
    1. Bigfrankenberry's Avatar
      Bigfrankenberry -
      I can't see any of the pictures, they have have the photobucket water mark how can I remove this to see the pictures?
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