Tutorial: Basics – Painting White

I get asked a lot about how I paint my whites. With every single model I post, I have to explain the method to at least one person, so here it is in it’s full glory; Painting Whites.
All of the colours I use are P3, with a few VMC bottles thrown in. Whenever I make mention of a colour assume it is always P3. I will state when I use VMC or other colours specifically throughout this tutorial.

I usually prime my models black. Warmachine models have a lot of metal on them, and painting metallic paints over white primer is a nightmare. It’s far easier to build a white base coat over black, then it is to build metallics over a white primer. If you’re using NMM techniques, then white might be preferred. Either way, I still prefer a black base. It also allows one to let some of the black show through in deep parts, and armour plate separations without having to go back and paint these in, saving you some work and a whole lot of time.

I primer with a brush on variety, since I suffered from chemical poisoning about 10 years ago, which adversely affected my health, and I have since avoided sprays. But, I also live in a very dry climate, which is cold a lot of the year, so sprays don’t work so well in my area. I tend to get a lot of fuzz due to the humidity. The brand I use is Reaper’s Master Series, and it works great. I like the brush on type because I get more consistent results, and I can apply my primer as thin as I like. Although it takes a bit more time than spray priming. Be sure to let your primer ‘cure’ for at least 12 hours for the best paint adhesion.

I use W&N series 7 brushes almost exclusively. A #2 is all I use, ever for painting Warjacks and large models. I only use my #1 for detailing, and smaller models. A #2 will allow you to paint for a while without dipping back into the palette, since the belly is large. The tip is just as fine on any size series 7 brush, and learning to work with a larger belly requires a bit of practice. But, it’s worth the pay off, since dipping into the palette breaks your ‘flow’ whilst painting. I don’t use the series 7 miniature brushes, as again, the belly is too small. The bristles are much shorter on the miniature brushes, and again, they dry up much quicker than a regular series 7. However, if you’re lacking in brush control, the miniature series are easier to use.

For metallic paints, and for base coating, I find the P3 Hobby brushes to perform fantastically. The hold a nice sharp point (and usually curl at the tip like most synthetics, but not as bad as most), last a long time, and put up with a lot of abuse. Which is what you need in a brush used for painting with metallic paints. Again, I use a Base Hobby Brush, and a Work Hobby Brush. The Fine Hobby Brush from P3 is a bit too small for my tastes. The tip curling is just something you have to learn to deal with, as all synthetic hair brushes will do this; always. No matter what.

I don’t use a wet palette, and never have. I use a re-usable tray I get at the art store. It’s white plastic, washable, durable, and cheap. I guess I should invest in a good wet palette, but I’ve never found the need for one. If I need a lot of a colour, I’ll pre-mix it in small pots I get from the same art supply store. But, my colour matching skills are pretty good and I have never had a problem matching my colours. Although, I use a lot of the paint right out of the pot. This makes painting models over a long period of time easier to match.

I use a lot of glazing, feathering and two-brush blending. If you are unfamiliar with these techniques, check my other tutorials for a visual guide to making a glaze. I will go over applying it extensively in this tutorial. As for two-brush blending, there are plenty of tutorials on how to do this, and it really can’t be explained with words. Check YouTube for videos on how this is done if you are unfamiliar with the technique.

My chosen model for this tutorial, A Cygnar Hammersmith.

It’s been primed and based.

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Some modelers prefer to base their models after they’re painted. My method is to get the thing on a base, fully assemble it, and then paint. Sometimes I’ll leave parts off to make painting easier, but not very often. If your brush can’t get to an area, chances are, it’ll never be seen anyways. In cases where it can be seen, and it’s hard to reach, a base coat with one shade is more than sufficient to give it the illusion of being fully shaded and highlighted. Plus, the models, unless painted for competition, will be seen from at least two feet away whilst playing, so these areas don’t need a lot of detailing.

I built this base, like all of my bases, out of thick burnt cork tiles. They can be found at Michaels, and break up into large chunks, giving the illusion of more realistic rock over the finely ground, thin cork tile. Now, you might be thinking that this ‘jack is going to break off that cork very easily. Not so. I remedy the weak holding power of the cork by carving large holes under the feet of the ‘jack all the way to the plastic base, and fill those holes with modeling putty.

I use .80mm pins in the feet of heavy ‘jacks, cover the pins with CA glue, and push the pins into the soft putty. This provides stability, and durability. You’ll be able to hold your ‘jack by the base, upside down without worry of it falling off. I angled the cork steeply, to get this sucker stand up straight, and as you can see from the pictures, it leans way too far forward for my tastes.

Just make sure your ‘jack is centered on the base for the best center of gravity and stability whilst playing. If need be, counter-weight the base with putty and scrap pewter on the underside, or use a metal base. For this model, it’s a plastic base, and no counter-weights. It’s quite stable, and has an excellent center of gravity.

I don’t like the Hammersmith’s pose, as it looks like it’s attacking the ground, and you can’t really see the head. But, I also didn’t want to do a lot of conversion on this model (I have enough of that to do with my Centurion), so I opted to raise the front of the base to give it the illusion of attacking over a pile of already destroyed junk.

The junk is just that; bits of brass tubing, styrene card, razorwire, and styrene H-Beam piled at the front of the base. I like scenic bases, and do my best to set the model in a specific place. I put some sand on the base to begin with, mainly to hide the putty under the feet, and to fill in the gaps between the junk at the front.

The colour scheme on this ‘jack is going to be mostly white. I’ve chosen to go with the large armour plates white, with the trim and smaller plates in my usual Cygnar Blue. The pistons, piping, and other machinery will be steel and gold.

This is the MOST important step of this tutorial!
Seriously, if you botch this step, you might as well strip and start again. Seriously.
Now that’s out of the way…
I begin by taking a good look at the model, and examine how I’m going to break up the areas to provide the most visual appeal, and to get the eye to move around the model, and create a focal point. Naturally, being humans, we always gravitate towards the head and face. The thing is, you don’t want the viewer to remain focused on the head and face alone; you want to create enough visual interest to get the eye to move around the piece by creating tonal, and colour contrasts. Since the rest of my army is painted in a ‘football team’ type of pattern, I’m going to stick with that kind of break up for this ‘jack, except that this one will be primarily white with blue accents and trim.

Sticking to my army’s scheme, the shoulder ‘pads’ are going to be a deep gray, and the Cygnus swans are going to be Cygnar blue across the entire ‘jack. The cowl around the head is going to be Rhulic Gold, again in keeping with the rest of my ‘jack’s scheme. Despite the main colour being different on this ‘jack, these small nuances will keep it tied to the rest of the army without making it look out of place.

I like to paint one colour at a time, and generally start by working from the inside out; meaning that the ‘deepest’ parts get painted first, and you work outwards. This method works fine for humanoid, and smaller models, but we can break the rules with such a large figure since we have lots of room to get our brush into tight spots without making a mess. With heavy ‘jacks I start with my most dominant colour first, then paint my secondary colour, and metallics get painted last. The reason I paint metals last is simply because with a dark, or black wash, the separations between the metal and coloured areas gets filled in with a nice dark line without having to paint it in; as long as you’re careful about applying the wash. However, some areas might need to be painted first regardless, because it’s really difficult to get your brush into some areas without ruining your previous colour. To see if you need to paint a few areas before you apply your primary colour, take a dry brush, and ‘fake it’. If you find it hard to get to some places, then paint those areas first. In this case, the only area I found to be impossible to get into without making a horrible mess of the surrounding area was the pistons and central post in the very center of the model. All of the other areas were easily accessible with a brush.

I painted this area with a single coat of Pig Iron, washed with Armour Wash and a spot of Matte Medium (Liquitex brand), and dry brushed with more Pig Iron. Since the area is so deeply recessed, it doesn’t need more than that to have a finished look.

Now, here is the reason I prime black, even when painting white:

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This was a single coat of Menoth White Highlight. The stuff has the most amazing coverage. It doesn’t really take much to get a good solid base coat over black. On the plus side, the black primer makes painting the rest of the model a hell of a lot easier. Not only that, the black primer lets you see exactly where you need to add more layers of the base coat, without having to lay it on too thick everywhere else that doesn’t need it. As you can see, some areas are darker than others, and it’s those specific areas I’ll hit again with another layer of the base coat to build the proper coverage. Priming white makes it difficult to see, and you might lay the base coat on too thick in places.

At this point, I don’t worry about being too neat. I make a bloody mess everywhere; as you can see.

It’s very important to thin your paint properly. I use about a 6:1 ratio of paint to water for base coating.

If your paint pools in the crevices, it’s too thin. If it leaves brush strokes, it’s too thick. Your paint should be about as thick as whole (whipping) cream. It’s all right to go a bit thicker, but test it on the palette, and make sure it’s not leaving any brush strokes behind.

What we’re doing in this step is painting our highlight.

That’s right, you heard me…er…read me right.

To get the smoothest white, working back from your highlight gets the best results. Better than building from a shade, or just about any other method than wet blending, which is a royal pain IMHO.

That is why this step is so important to get right. You have to get that base coat smooth as you can, because if it isn’t then your shades will show every mistake you made in this first step. So, make sure you get this step as perfect as you are able.

Take your time, be patient, and build that base coat slowly.

After about 4 layers of Menoth White Highlight:

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The white is nice and solid, with no areas of black showing through. If you’re messy like me, don’t worry about it, just make sure your white areas have good coverage. As you can see on the main carapace armour plate, I’ve painted the large screws white. That’s all right. We’ll just black those out when we get to painting the metallics. It’s very important to get complete coverage of your white areas in this first step, so be really messy if you need to. Try not to paint the areas you’ve already painted though…the areas that were too difficult to get at without ruining your other colours. Or, you’re back where you began.

I clean things up as I go, which is why I paint my major colours first. Since the areas that I’m painting get smaller as I go, it’s much easier to tighten things up as the model gets painted.

So, make sure your base coat is nice and smooth, solid, and opaque.

Now that we have a good, solid, smooth, and opaque base coat for our highlight, we can begin shading it.
To do this, you have to be familiar with a technique called glazing. For a complete visual reference on making a glaze, albeit one that’s it bit deviated from the ‘standard’ glaze, check my Faces and Eyes tutorial. Most artists use a Glazing Medium for this. I use Matte Medium and water, since the paint behaves more akin to a watercolour, and still retains a good amount of surface tension. This makes your glaze a bit thicker, allowing you to two-brush blend with it, and push it around on the area you’re glazing for a bit longer before drying. A glaze medium tends to break the surface tension a lot more than is desirable for my techniques, and in addition it’s a little more difficult to use. My personal technique for glazing, using equal amounts of Matte Medium and water makes it much easier for those with less brush control and speed to make better use of the technique as well. Inexperienced painters will find this method a little simpler to use, and it will help you gain more brush control, and assist in helping to learn two-brush blending.

The colours I use for shading my whites are Menoth White Base, Cryx Bane Highlight, and Bastion Gray. All, right from the pot, with no colour mixing needed. That is all done directly on the figure itself. This will allow for easier colour matches over your entire force, since you’re not mixing any custom colours. The combinations of these colours will create an off-white, linen like tone. Other colours can be substituted, depending on what type of material you wish to portray, or for subtle differences in tone to match a particular scheme. I use the Menoth White Base, and the grays because it creates a nice contrast with my Cygnar Blue, giving the figure a healthy amount of visual interest with colour alone.

Other colours can be used for your shades as well. Here are some I’ve found that work well with one another, right out of the paint pot:

Base Highlight: Menoth White Highlight

Shades: ‘Jack Bone, Hammerfall Khaki, Beast Hide

Base Highlight: Morrow White

Shades: Frostbite, Underbelly Blue, Trollblood Base

Base Highlight: Menoth White Base

Shades: Hammerfall Khaki, Rucksack Tan, Guns Corps Brown

There are a lot of different shades one can use, and there’s no reason why greens, reds, or even purples wouldn’t work. It all depends on your colour scheme, the effect you’re looking to create, and the contrasts you’re looking for.

For those who don’t need the visual reference for making the glaze, here’s the recipe:

50% Matte Medium

50% Water

1 brushfull of your chosen shade colour

The glaze should be runny, not watery, and it should have enough surface tension to remain on the palette at a 45 degree angle without running off.

When painting models, I always work with a classical (single) light source from above, and slightly to the left, or right. Setting the light source slightly to the left or right helps to force some shadows and highlights in certain places. This source of light makes armour plates separate, allowing you to make two plates, sitting side-by-side, differing shades; one will be darker than the other. For an example of this take a good look at the armour plate on the middle of the chest of the Hammersmith. I have placed the light source slightly to the left of the figure (my right, looking directly at the front of the model), and as you can see, the left armour plate has been shaded almost entirely, where-as the plate on the right has the highlight on the bottom, and shade on the top. This creates a tonal contrast, and helps to separate the armour plates from one another. It might be a bit difficult to see in these photos since I wasn’t low enough on the model. The same effect is use on the loin cloth plate hanging from the crotch area, with the same directional light source.

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All of the white areas, except a few on the underside of the model, and those in deep shadow, have had only the bottom 50% of their areas shaded with the glaze.

If you are inexperienced with two-brush blending, or have no idea how to use the technique, just thin the glaze with a bit more water, and apply in several layers. If you apply it thin enough, blending is not necessary to get a nice smooth colour transition. If you are familiar with two-brush blending, then the glaze can be applied right from the palette, and the top edge blended out to create a smooth transition. The two-brush technique allows you to work with less layers, which what I have done with this model. All of this shading was done with a single layer of glaze, and the top (light) edge blended out with a second, wet brush.

The second brush will also allow one to correct mistakes if you get over zealous with the glaze, and you can wick up any excess very easily. The glaze takes a few minutes to dry, and make sure that each layer is completely dry before adding another, if it needs it. If you don’t allow enough drying time between layers, then you will ruin your previous layer, which you will then have to base coat again.

The slow dry time of the glaze will allow you to get used to two-brush blending, which is what we’re going to make extensive use of once we get to the areas that are blue.

If this technique is new to you, practice it on the undersides and harder to see areas of the model first, before moving onto highly visible areas like the carapace, and shoulder plates.

The most tiring, longest, and difficult part of painting white. The final shade.
This part will take time, and lots of it. Take this part slow and easy, because the Cryx Bane Highlight is a lot darker than the Menoth White Base from our first shade. As such, you have to apply this layer much thinner, and in multiple layers. But, the glaze should dry quickly enough on such a large model, that by the time you’ve reached the section where you began glazing, it will be dry enough to add another layer.

Use the same method as the first shade of Menoth White Base, except the recipe changes just slightly in order to compensate for the difference in tone.

For your final, darker shades, the recipe is as follows:

40% Matte Medium

60% Water

1 brush full of shading colour

The added water will make the glaze a bit runnier, and a little harder to control than our first shade, so expect a little more difficulty in this area. Hopefully the first shade will have given you enough practice that this shouldn’t be much of a problem. This step requires a bit more confidence in your brush control, but it shouldn’t be much more difficult as long as you again paint the undersides and least showing sections of the model first. Once again, two-brush blends will give you the smoothest transitions, and excess glaze can always be wicked up with your extra brush in case of a mistake. If you’re not confident in your blending techniques or are new to it, simply thin the glaze a bit more with water and apply it in more layers.

We repeat the first shading steps, only this time we’re shading the bottom 50% of our first shade. If you glaze too far up, it’s going to darken the model too much, and you’ll have to base coat, and start over again from your first shade. This method is a bit merciless for making mistakes, which is why I always suggest trying it on the least visible areas first for practice.


I can’t emphasize it enough; go slowly with this step!

Take your time here, and apply this shade in multiple thin layers. It will take a lot of time. A lot. But the payoff is definitely worth the time taken.

As you can see here:

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After I had finished shading the white, I cleaned up all the areas that are going to be painted with metallic paint.

As mentioned in part 1, painting metallic paints over white is a nightmare. I simply painted Thamar Black over all the areas that I think are going to be painted with metallics. Anything I think is going to be Cygnar Blue, I don’t worry about, since that colour will cover well over any coloured primer or base.

This also helps get a better visual idea of your shading, and to make sure it is balanced properly, and has the right look for what you desire.

Once this black was painted in, I did notice some lop-sidedness in some of the shading on the carapace, including a few other minor areas. I went in and gave those areas another layer or two of my second shade to correct any obvious errors in the light sourcing.

It’s always best to err on the side of caution with your last shade; meaning it’s better to apply it too light than dark. It’s always easier to go in and add more layers of shade than it is to go back to your base, and re-shade the area again with both colours.

I will say it once more; take your time with this step. Take lots of time, and paint to the best you can achieve. If it takes time, who cares? it’s better than stripping and starting from scratch!

After I was happy with the look of the final shade, I went back in and put a dot of glaze over all the rivets on the white. Once this glaze was dry enough, I hit the rivets with my base colour, Menoth White Highlight using the side of my brush. Using the side for rivets and other small, protruding areas allows for much more control. You’ll also be able to cover the entire rivet in one shot versus trying to use the tip of your brush, and making a mess. Getting these little details done early saves some time, and allows you to feel like you’re making more progress with your paint job, since it looks and feels like this section is finished.

Once the detailing was done, I did a few edge highlights on the carapace and a few other armour plates; the head, shoulders and boiler.

This allows for more visual separation between armour plates, and gives a more three dimensional look to the paint job.

And that Hand Cannon Readers, is how I paint my Whites!

Here is the finished product:

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