• Painting Free Hand Designs

    I'd like to show you an approach to painting free hand designs on your minis. This article is geared towards those without much experience painting free hand designs. This should give you a relatively simple straight forward procedure to add more detail to your models. In this example I'm going to show you how I painted lion heraldry on a shield.

    Step 1: Planning
    Always start by planning out what you want the design to look like. In this case I have chosen a 'lion rampant,' a lion standing. This is probably the most common lion seen in heraldry, but the 'lion passant' would also be a popular choice. If you were painting an English knight or king that is the one you might pick. Okay, back to the job at hand. After you have selected what you want to paint start by drawing it at a larger scale. The goal here is to show in more detail what the finished product will look like. You can work out proportions, details, and anything else about the image.

    Now, for a more complex design like this, I will go back and create a simplified version that will be easier to transfer to the figure.

    This is sort of like a stick figure, though with more attention paid to the eventual volumes that will replace the lines (hence space left between limbs and body). Details like the toes, fur tufts, tongue, etc are unnecessary at this point. They can all be added later. The idea here is to create a representation of the final image that can be easily and accurately copied. The image should retain all of the proportions of the final design and help guide you when you add in those details. One easy way of creating this is to lay a sheet of paper over your original design and then sketch the simplified version. Not exactly tracing, but using the faint under image as a guide for proportions and location. If are less confident in your drawing skills, I'd recommend making several copies of the simplified design and then use them to practice re-drawing the final design. Once you're confident, move on to the next part...

    Enough of the large images, now you need to draw this to scale. For a shield, like I'm painting here, start by tracing the outline onto a sheet of paper. I'd make a number of copies (3 or more) to practice. Then, draw your simplified version onto the shield.

    I was unhappy with the placement of my first lion (top left) so I drew a cross through the shield to find it's center and looked at the relative location of the lions body. I then made a faint cross on the second shield (top right) and moved the lions body to the center of the cross. That is one of the points of this step. Here you can work out location and relative size. It might take several practice attempts... so better to do that on paper than to do it on the actual model! Now that I was happy with the location and size I made one more attempt (bottom) and proceeded to draw in the details just to practice at this scale. Take as much time and practice here as you need. If you are confident in your drawing abilities this can be quick... if not, don't rush. Drawing the same image over and over again will give you more confidence and will make the next step that much easier.

    Step 2: Transfer the design to the figure
    Okay, I'm assuming you've already painted the background of the shield. In this case, since this is just for show, I'm using white, my primer color. If this was a real figure I'd have spent some time on the background. To transfer the design to the figure start with your simplified version. Notice I've placed a cross on the shield below to identify it's center. Once you have the simplified version in place start to fill out the volumes. Give the head, body, and limbs a little more definition. However, notice I am not drawing the finer details. The claws, tufts of hair, and facial features are missing. There are a couple reasons. First, painting over pencil can be hard and take a number of coats, so we'd like to use as little guide lines as possible. Second, I really don't want to over complicate the image. Too many lines and I might get confused as to what they're supposed to mean. And third, it's going to be a lot easier to do fine details with a brush than with a pencil. Compare you pencil tip to your 00 or 000 brush... at this scale the pencil is not your finest tool.


    Step 3: Paint the Outline
    This step is pretty straightforward. You're just going to trace your pencil design with paint. Don't worry about the center for now, just go the outline. At this stage you can make some small corrections. Maybe the body is too fat or too thin, maybe a leg is too long. You don't have to blindly follow your pencil... it's just a guide. You have a much better view of the overall shape and image at this point. Make corrections to it if you think it needs them. Notice I've added the tongue to the mouth. Since this is a key feature of the design I wanted to add it early. It would also help me determine the necessary size of the mouth. But, as a finer level detail, I did this with the brush and not with the pencil.

    If pencil lines have gone outside of the region you want to paint, take a little bit of the background color and clean them up. In the image above I've got some clean up to do around the right knee, the base of the tail, and around the mouth.

    Step 4: Fill in the Image
    Once again, this isn't too complicated a step. Use your color of choice and fill in your design. If your paint is thin or light colored (or both) it might take several coats to really cover up the pencil lines. The image below is about 3 or 4 coats worth.


    Step 5: Add Details
    While the image from the previous step isn't bad, we can do a little more to it. We need to add the claws, fur tufts, and the eye. At this small scale, I find it easier to just do it with the brush and not use any pencil guide lines. Use a fine detail brush, don't overload it with paint, and go slow. For the first pass, you can keep the paint thin (but not runny) and it will be easier to correct any mistakes. After that you can use thicker paint for your 2nd and 3rd coats.


    Step 6: Clean Up and Finishing Touches
    The hard work is done. Now just spend some time touching up the edges of the image. Use the background color and smooth out your lines if necessary. You can add shading or whatever else you think is necessary. Then sit back and admire your work!



    Here's another example for a simpler design. As before, start by planning it out on paper. Then draw a to-scale version.


    After the background is painted transfer the design in pencil and then trace with paint.


    Fill out the design, shade, and sharpen edges and corners.


    As you get more practice you start trying more complicated designs. I hope you found this article helpful. Free feel to contact me with any questions. And good luck with your painting!
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. me_in_japan's Avatar
      me_in_japan -
      Freehand is something I've always struggled with, and this is a clear, helpful article that illustrates the technique very well. Thank you!
    1. zombiesrcoolpainting's Avatar
      zombiesrcoolpainting -
      fantastic article thanks for making, great for the beginners
    1. Bailey03's Avatar
      Bailey03 -
      Thanks, I'm glad you all appreciated it.
    1. MightyChad's Avatar
      MightyChad -
      Very cool, I have often wondered how to do an article on freehand, so great job.
    1. roninjr's Avatar
      roninjr -
      Fantastic article! I will apply what you have just shown us. Thanks.
    1. Zab's Avatar
      Zab -
      Awesome! I need to do that first design on my Disciples of Caliban and Howling Griffons space marines. Had no idea where to start or if i was going to have to buy decal paper for my ink jet. Free hand will look better. Thanks.
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