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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Painting 102: Paint Thining

We will discuss a very important skill that is often overlooked, thinning of acrylic paints.  Often considered an advanced technique; in my opinion thinning is one of the first skills that should be learned.  Brush control is often learned first and must be re-mastered after learning to thin your paints.  Learning to thin first can save you countless hours of frustration trying to remaster brush control.

To Thin or Not to Thin?

There are several advantages to not thinning paints or painting straight from the bottle.  It is quicker which saves time and enables you to produce more work in a single sitting.  When the paint is shaken or stirred well its consistent in both color and application.  This is advantageous when painting large batches of miniatures using the same colors.  It is easier to master brush control and often sticks easier to your medium or canvas (your miniature).  This also makes the paint stay on your brush more easily and does not allow the paint to slip and slide all over the miniature. 

Thick paint holds brush strokes

For all the advantages of painting straight from the bottle there are countless disadvantages that are quite significant for anyone attempting to produce show or competition quality models or attempting to implement advanced techniques.  The primary disadvantage being viscosity, it's to thick to be applied skillfully to most miniatures.  The paint builds up quickly on the surface which obscures details and creates undesired textures such as brush strokes and uneven layers.  Additionally painting from the bottle makes advanced skills such as blending, layering and freehand detail very difficult.  The paint adheres to the bristles rather than flowing smoothly while an advantage for a beginner this is a significant disadvantage to someone looking to produce quality or above table top miniatures.
Thin paints apply in smooth, even coats!

Thinned paint applies more smoothly and evenly, resists brush strokes and when applied properly defines details rather than obscuring them.  Similar to ink thinned paint flows easily from the brush in smooth even coats allowing for more control.  Rather than slopping on thick coats of paint you will be able to draw on your miniatures similar to how you would on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately thinned paint is significantly more difficult to control without practice and finesse.  The paint flows more easily and requires a much steadier hand as you will quickly find out.  A trick I commonly use is keeping an "eraser brush" handy.  This is a brush I will keep clean and dry at all times, should I have a mishap of paint flow over already done sections I grab my eraser immediately and soak up that paint, this will clear all the overflow most of the time, sometimes leaving small amounts for touch up rather than an entire section.

For those willing to learn, however, the benefits are considerable. 
I'm willing to learn Koopa but how do I get started?  HOW DO I THIN???

Other popular brands of flow improvers include Winsor and Newton Acrylic Flow Improver and Golden Acrylic Flow Release, as well as, believe it or not, Future Floor Finish. Future, mixed one part to four parts water, is commonly referred to among miniature painters as "magic wash" and has become quite popular over recent years. Most serious painters however shy away from using Future and rely on products designed specifically for use with acrylics.  The decision will come down to what your comfortable with and your personal preference.

Two recipes made popular by award-winning artists, Anne Foerster and Jennifer Haley, are listed below to give aspiring artists a starting point.

Anne Foerster's Recipe
  • 80% Folk Art Extender
  • 10% Winsor and Newton Flow Improver
  • 10% water
Jen Haley's Recipe
  • 25% Liquitex Slow-Dri
  • 25% Winsor and Newton Flow Improver
  • 50% water
And my personal recipe:

Koopa's Recipe

  • 25% Vallejo Matte medium
  • 25% Liquitex Slow-Dri
  • 50% water
Again, only your personal experience will find that happy spot for you, I suggest highly that you play around and find what you prefer, there is no magic % for anyone.

Choosing your paints:
There are many good paints out there, the only recommendation I will make here is that you ensure you are getting at minimum artist grade quality paints.  These offer the most pigment in the colors, GW paints are artist grade and work fine.  I use a combination of P3, GW, Vallejo and GOLDEN.  

Precision is key, you must know what paints you used and how much of each you use to make certain colors.  There are many products that can be used to do this, I use pipette eye droppers, 100 can be purchased for about $10.

Keeping a Journal:
Well basically this is a color journal, when starting a new army I will write the date, what I painted, a sample of the color and what I used it on along with precice rations to make the base color (ie: 2 parts blood red 1 part scab red + basic thinning / slowing agents). Each part = 1 drop basic thinning is = what I commonly use for thinning.

Where do I get my supplies?
Anything I can't find at my local hobby shop I purchase from they have good prices and quality product with fast shipping.  I have never had an issue.

Now... on to some more specifics:

Basecoating1:1 parts solution to paint
Layering4:1 parts solution to paint
Washes10:1 parts solution to paint

A few common mistakes to keep in mind:

Even when thinning paints and not painting from the bottle be sure to touch some paper towel or something with the brush before the miniature, this will help limit.

Slow and steady... go slow at first, ease yourself into it.  If your not familiar with thinning it will take time but stick to it and you'll be happy you did!

I hope everyone has learned something my next article will go in depth as to how I paint a model from base coating to wash and highlight.

Basecoats should remain opaque throughout.
In terms of basecoating, the consistency of your paint should be roughly similar to that of whole milk. That is to say, the paint should be fluid, yet opaque. You don't want to see any light passing through the edges of the pool of paint on your palette. This consistency ensures that sufficient coverage is achieved and that the paint applies in a smooth, even layer. 

Some painters, however, prefer instead to forego this ratio and thin their basecoats as they would were they layering. Again, this is up to you and will change from person to person.  I personally prefer to paint my base coats with the consistency of milk.

Thinned paint for layering
Thinned paint should appear transparent at the edges.
For layering and highlighting purposes, you'll want to make your paints considerably thinner. I find a ratio of approximately 4:1 solution to paint is works for most paints (including GW), depending on the color. But remember this varies from product to product.  Darker colors generally require one or two more additional drops of solution, while lighter colors often require less. Regardless of color, your end product should result in a consistency that resembles skim milk. The paint should be fluid on the palette and relatively opaque in the center. You may have to adjust to meet this consistency and look if you accidentally thin it to much.

Washes should be entirely transparent.
Finally, for the sake of washes, you'll need to become very aggressive, thinning your  paint to a ratio of 10:1. The end consistency should result in a pool of paint that is transparent throughout, enabling you to see the palette beneath with relative ease both at the center and on the edges. Again, it may be necessary to adjust this ratio depending on the color you're using.

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