Monday, February 8, 2021

Painting warhammer miniatures with oil paints (Warpgnaw Verminlord)

I love discovering new aspects of painting, building scenery and gaming. In order to stir things up I decided to try painting with oil paint instead of acrylic paint. Trying new things keeps the hobby fresh and hey, you learn new things too! Because painting with oils felt like a big step I used a damaged second hand Warpgnaw Verminlord to try it on. As usual, I'll start with the end result (and add more finished pictures at the end).

I declare my experiment with oils successful.

I first planned on painting with oils quite a while back, when I found an old White Dwarf article by John Blanche explaining why you should try it and how to start. I bought the colors he recommended there (white, black, green, yellow, red, purple, blue, brown and a metallic silver) and then never had the guts to start. Any time I was about to, I would think 'Hey do I need to prime differently? let's wait' or 'But what brushes should I use? let's wait'. Flash forward and I stumbled on the video Using Oils for Skin Tones by the always excellent Vince Venturella. After watching this I was out of excuses and decided to go for it. 

Basic layer of airbrushed Kislev Flesh with Guilliman Flesh Contrast paint added on top.

I had this Warpgnaw Verminlord standing in my Window Sill of Shame for quite some time. I picked it up way too cheap through a secondhand website. It had been assembled wrong, the halberd-thingy (edit: Gnaw-glaive) was seriously damaged and there were a lot of signs of rough treatment on the model. The damage reduced my motivation to actually paint it (but hey, it was very cheap). I've been using it mostly to test paints. First I practiced airbrushing skin tones on big surfaces, later I tried the effect of contrast paint skintones on airbrushed skin. A clunker of a model: perfect candidate. If the oil experiment failed, I could bin it. If it succeeded I would just call it 'battle damage' and go with the flow.

Starting my experiment with a Vince Venturella video to guide me. Thanks Vince!

I followed Vince Venturella's advice and made a palette out of a bit of corrugated cardboard (an old box for those of us not into fancy-speak ;) ). This helps absorb some of the oil from the paint which in turn should help reduce the drying time (short preview to later in this story: ha,ha). Then I mixed yellow, red and white to get a proper skin color. I also experimented a bit with mixing in blues to make the skin color colder. I varnished the contrast painted model with Polyurethane Matt Varnish by Vallejo to make sure oils and acrylics would not interact. Also it felt like a really professional and responsible thing to do (a bit like crossing your fingers before taking a guess).

Some basic tools to work with oils: cheap synthetic brushes, make up sponge on a stick and a small tub of no longer clean white spirit.

Other tools I used where excessively cheap disposable synthetic brushes, a small cup of odorless white spirit (I recently bought a whole bunch of the above pictured plastic cups for purposes like these), q-tips and eyeshadow applicators. These last ones are very useful as q-tips carry the risk of leaving bits of lint behind in your paint. Eyeshadow applicators have little bits of sponge on the top. On the other hand q-tips are cheaper. I use both depending on the situation. Last to be mentioned are cocktail sticks. You can mix with them and apply small pointed dabs of paint directly to the model. For instance to add a very light color to a knuckle you then blend with the hand.

How to paint: stick globs of color on the model and then blend them in with brush or sponge.

Working with oils paints is a wonderful experience. Acrylics dry fast. The basic painting technique you use with these is applying thin layers on top of each other. As they dry they complement or contrast until you get the paint job you want (or something close enough). Oil paints dry slow. It can take weeks for them to get touch dry (more on this later). You can even re-activate dried oil paint by applying a bit of white spirit. Instead of layering you paint with oils by mixing and adding. You make a bit of a pre-mix on your palette and then mix the paint further on the model. Its easy wet blending for everyone. 

And we're blending, and blending and relaxing...and listening to Drachenfels in the background.

For instance if you want a part of the face to look darker. Just apply purple, then apply dots of skin tone, then mix as required. As the video I linked to above explains, this works especially well for large areas of skin tone. Skin can have a lot of different colors in it (red, purple, yellow, blue). With acrylics its easier to just go for the pot with an appropriate 'skin' word in its name and add a wash. With oils you can go wild, especially on large surfaces. I blended in reds, yellows and purples. I made so many mixes with my basic skin, it was wild. As the paint dries slowly you can take your time. If you make a mistake (sorry, have a happy little accident) you can just pull it off with a q-tip or mix in a better combination and blend it in.

One thing I learned while trying this is that I need a few more bright oil colors. You can make paints murky by mixing them, but brightening a color up is beyond my skillset (if not downright impossible). 

I honestly can't recall having such a zen time painting, let alone having a result I was so happy with. In the end I even took some pure red and painted the basic loincloth, blending purple into the shadows. I also took some browns to paint the wooden halberd-thing and mixed some greys to paint the broken masonry. I quickly learned another important thing doing this. Its easier to apply a basic color with acrylics, varnish it and then work with oils to apply the blend. If you start with oils for your basic color you quickly and easily go to wild with the amounts of paint. And then you get hit with the drying times...

The improvised palette ended up looking like a modern art masterpiece. 

Another important thing is wearing gloves and old clothes. Painting with oils is a messy business. The shot of my palette as I finished does not convey this properly. You're constantly wiping brushes on paper towel and making a mess with white spirit and eyeshadow brushes. It adds up. But the end result is worth it. 

Waiting for the red to dry was sheer hell. But after a few weeks I could finally finish the model with acrylics.

I was so satisfied with the skin tones of the monster that I instantly decided to just go ahead and apply red to its loincloth and a mix of greys to the broken masonry. Big mistake. I applied the skin tones with drops of oil paint, thinned with white spirit and blended together on a basic skin color provided by the ratty contrast paint job. As stated before the basic colors of the loincloth and masonry where painted directly with oils. That meant applying a heavier layer of oil paint. I learned (aftewards as I got impatient) that the drying time of oils is determined by the color (zinc white and reds dry slowest), the amount of UV light and heat (not too cold, not too hot) and the thickness of the layer. An oil wash dries in an evening. A light layer of thinned blended colors takes a day or two. The red loin cloth took three weeks to get touch dry.

I'll never get tired of painting warpstone.

When the oil paint finally dried I applied a fresh coat of Polyurethane Matt Varnish and then I started painting the details with my trusty acrylics. As I did not have a properly lively green oil paint I applied Caliban Green, Warpstone Glow and Moot Green to the warpstone chunks sticking out of the model. I drybrushed the halberd with a few lighter browns to get the wood out and I painted bandages and wrappings with Zandri Dust and Agrax (adding some edge highlights by mixing Zandri with white). 

The rats where painted by applying basic colors to them (two different browns and a grey) and then drybrushing the lot with Talarn Sand.

I finished it all of by loading the airbrush with some Fluo Green and applying a thin layer around all the warpstone. It covered some wonderful skin color transitions, but this loss is compensated by my love for the glowing warpstone effect. 

Now there's someone (something?) I do not want to meet in real life :)

I quite literally applied the last Mordheim Tufts I still had on the base and added some icelandic moss to hide that I did not have enough tufts. I also added a little bit of Bloodletter Glaze to deep set scars and added thinned down Flayed One Flesh to scar tissue. All in all quite a successful experiment and no reason at all now to bin this model. I can't wait to start one of those new fangled armies of giants. As an aside, I really should either move or stop buying Skaven as my display case is overflowing. Same for the undead below them and the Greenskins occupying four shelves above... 

Skaven shelf #1 mostly Skryre and Moulder here.

Skaven shelf #2 Clanrats and Screaming Bells.

Skaven shelf #3 my reminder to paint more Pestilens Skaven.  Also an accidental look into my Casket of Failed Ambition (doing secondary duty as a holding place for my unloved contrast paints).

Who am I kidding? You can never have enough Skaven, Undead or Greenskins :D


  1. That looks fantastic. The experiment has really worked. I've always wondered how to paint large areas of flesh and this looks like the answer. Excellent work.

    1. Cheers :) I can heartily recommend this, especially for large flesh areas. It's amazing.

  2. That came out great, smooth skin transitions, I'd be chuffed with that too. If that's a damaged miniature, I wouldn't have known if you hadn't said, looks good to me. I'd forgotten how naked the FW Verminlord was, I wonder if all that warpstone has made his fur fall out.. brr.

    1. He's so naked, I'm almost worried he wouldn't make it past the safesearch filters on Google :) All that warpstone sticking out does give his menace an extra frightening edge though.

  3. That is great! The shot or the right side really shows the amazing results you got with the skin.

    I have been considering oils for weathering for a long time (decades?) and I finally bought some, but I fear that like airbushing it will be something that takes more time at first than I have, and it will never get mastered.

    1. Thanks. Its a wonderful (albeit slightly frightening) experience to just dab on a (small) blob of purple to already nice looking skin and go wild. But it pays off.

      As to oil weathering, If you already have the oils, gloss varnish and white spirit you should give it a go. You'll complete the first stage of pin washing in less than an hour, lose about an evening to drying times and then complete step two in another hour. Even first time results tend to be amazing. At the very least there'll be no clogging, cursing and wondering what on earth the 'consistency of milk' is supposed to be ;). I'll see if I got some extra pictures on the process and append those my next blog (already set to auto-publish this Friday).

    2. Thanks!

      and yes, the consistency thing drives me nuts!