My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Comic Style Painting and Contrast Paints

This post will be a departure from my norm as I rarely talk about painting, although sometimes I show painted figures.

More than 30 years ago I discovered waterproof inks and how they could be used in miniatures painting. Largely I confined myself to using them for painting horses, but on occasion I used them to paint cloth and leathers. I was also very much into blacklining when painting Napoleonic Austrians, which are practically all white.

As time wore on and the inks dried, I switched back to painting block style with washes to increase contrast by enhancing the colors in the folds, but I was never too keen on it. I felt too many washes tinted the main color too much despite generally giving good results for the folds.

Contrast Paints

Then came contrast paints. Initial results that I had seen from YouTubers were ... ugly, to say the least. Painters I watch (or now watch) slowly started experimenting with the paints and the results started getting better. One good (but very long) video is Vince Venturella's "Ultimate Guide to Contrast Paints". He explores just about every way you can use Contrast Paints. If you only want to get an idea of some really cool effects, watch the beginning of  Juan Hildago's "'Eavy Contrast Marine - Death Guard" where he lays down the base color of the armor, then uses two other Contrast Paints as glazes to achieve the really stunning effect of Nurgle plague-affected armor. Long tory short, real artists started understanding that Citadel's initial instructions of "one thick coat" was a bad idea and that the qualities of the formula could be used for same really good paint jobs.

I tried them and almost immediately did not like them. I could not seem to come even close to replicating the success of these guys, largely not getting the smooth colors without massive pooling, coffee staining, tide marks, and too heavy of a contrast. But, just like with painting, you have to keep practicing. So I would dunk my figures in Simple Green, take a soft bristle toothbrush to them, pull out the airbrush[1] to prime them, and start all over again.

I haven't given up completely on Contrast Paints though. Here is my latest effort, Rippa's Snarlfangs warband for Warhammer Underworlds. This is what Games Workshop would call "battle ready", meaning I have used Contrast Paints to paint the miniature, but not used normal acrylic paints to come back and provide highlights.

The Leader
The Lancer
The Bowman
The wolves are actually painted with a homemade wash with ink to boost the contrast and drybrushing to accentuate the hairs with another color. That and there red eyes was the only instances where I did not simply use Contrast Paints; everything else is pure Contrast Paint. Mind you there is quite a bit of use of primer (black, grey, bone, and white) to provide additional contrast and an undertone, but basically the colors on the goblins and their equipment are Contrast Paints.

Comic Style Painting

Someone posted a picture of a gundam painted "comic book style" in a local gaming Facebook group and I really liked it. So I started looking up "comic style painting" on YouTube and FaceBook and came across Mike Cousins of Epic Duck Studios (FaceBook, YouTube, and Instagram) and the Comic Style Mini Painters FaceBook group (FaceBook).

Mike Cousins is the one to inspire me to try comic style painting. If you are still wondering what comic style is, here is one of Mike's earlier models.

Imperial Fists Space Marines
As you can see, it uses solid black as shading, especially in areas not generally visible, uses blacklining to separate details and uses small "scratches" here and there to add interest and break up large areas of a single color.

I have to say, I have not been successful at it quite yet. What I found hard is painting contrasts and then blacklining after the fact. Here is a better picture of some of Mike's work with his more common comic style (he has two).

Here you can see that the colors, say the green in the tunic and the red in the hair, are not single shades, but generally three different shades, dark, medium, and light. These shades are not blended, but painted solidly, in order to intentionally increase the contrast. After that, he adds significant detail with black ink, giving it that comic style look. (Interestingly, this three shade style of painting, sans blacklining, is very much the style Matt uses on the Wooden Warriors blog that I co-author with him.)

That said, Mike recently showed his second method of comic book style, which is to paint the figure white, add the black ink shading and lining, then color the figure, in this case with Contrast Paints. Here was his result.


That is all Contrast Paint with no highlighting. As you look at the red you can see it is a bit blotchy, but for the most part it works really well. As I have that same figure (the whole warband, in fact), I decided I was going to try my hand at painting in this style, but use a different armor color. I like how the Ork flesh turned out, but I am hoping to get a smoother color on the armor. I am pondering, but not quite sure if I want to attempt, the Death Guard armor color scheme that Juan Hildago showed.

Death Guard Space Marine in Contrast Paint
That is all Contrast Paint. (He made it look so easy.)

Step 1 – Black Shading and Lining

After priming white I took out a Faber Castell XS black waterproof ink pen, which is a 1.5mm nib. I also have some 005 pens, which are 0.2mm. You can do much finer detail with the latter, but the problem is that the nibs are extremely short, and thus it is hard to get into some little crevices.


As I get used to doing this more – it is slow, painstaking work – I have made some improvements. So it is a process of do a little with the larger pen, then with the smaller. Also, I find it easier to start with the brush in order to shade large areas first. This is what I like about this style; it forces you to focus on the areas people can see, and paint the rest black. Here are shots of the underside, with the black shading.

Notice that under the chin, belly, legs, and arms it is solid black. Same with the bottom side of the weapon. Looking dead on from the front, back, or side you can barely see these black areas; you definitely cannot when the figure is on the table and viewed from above.

This shading effect makes sure that you do not do something stupid like make sure you detail the bottom of the shoe or make sure that the underside of the weapon shaft is appropriately shaded and colored compared to the rest of the shaft. You immediately black it out and never have to worry about it again.

Note that I did not ink the chainmail or fur pieces. These recesses will be handled by Contrast Paints. Same with the details of the face. As you can see with the Goblins at the beginning of this post, Contrast Paints work very well on their own when a figure has a lot of detail. Right now the faces look stark white, but they will come out with appropriate shades once it is all done.

If the Goblins taught me anything it is that you cannot judge Contrast Paints by how they look initially. You really have to wait until it is all done and judge the effect.

Well, I know I won't have the four Orks done any time soon. Although Contrast Paints can be a time-saving method of painting, the way I do it is not. I am too finicky a painter to let paints slop over the lines and two colors mix at the edges. (Painting in one color and then a second darker Contrast Paint color is however a legitimate technique.)

But so far Contrast Paints produce the best results that my old eyes can handle. I either need to stop buying miniatures (selling a lot of my lead pile that I have accumulated), accept the battle ready style in order to get more troops on the table, or pay more people to paint my troops.


[1] Yes, I bought an airbrush, a Iwata Neo Air, which is their cheaper "starter" airbrush. Using it produces very nice, smooth coverage for primer. I have also used it for varnishing, but not much more than that. I think it is almost a must for painting with Contrast Paints, inks, or glazes because the paint is so delicate that brushing on varnish can sometimes chip the paint below.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").