Tutorial: Basics – Smooth it Over: Two-Brush Blending

This is another article in my series of miniature painting basics. In this article, I’ll be covering one of the best techniques for painting your models quickly, and to a very high standard; Two-Brush Blending! A lot of people struggle with this technique, as it’s much easier to learn by observation. Certainly the best way to understand this technique is to watch some one else well-versed in it’s use. Since I don’t have a YouTube channel, I’m going to make the attempt with photos and text. I’ll demonstrate that you can have a stellar looking paint job with as little as one mid-tone, one highlight, and one shade. At the very least, most beginners should have a basic understanding of this coveted method by the end. This should allow one to get started practicing the technique enough to experiment.
All paints used in this tutorial are Formula P3, unless otherwise specified.

The name of this technique pretty much sums up what I’ll be trying to cover here; blending with a second brush. What you need to do is make sure you have a nice, soft haired brush; a Kolinsky Sable works best, but synthetics will work just fine as well. I often grab whatever brush is available if I drop the one I’m holding in my mouth, and most often it’s a synthetic. But, for the smoothest blending, and natural hair brush will work the best.

Your blending brush should hold a fine point, but it doesn’t have to be needle sharp. All of my blending brushes are my older ones that have lost their ability to hold a super sharp point, which is perfect for making soft blends. The wider end helps cover a larger swath, and will assist in blending your still-wet paint much quicker.

The first thing I need to explain is this; you will be holding your blending brush in your mouth. Some painters will hold it in their hand, between their middle and third fingers. I find this awkward myself. But, I don’t write or paint with just my index finger; I use my middle finger whilst holding my brush, in addition to my index finger. The reason for this is two-fold; it’s just the way I started holding brushes and pens from a very early age (I’ve been enrolled in painting classes since I was 8…yikes! That’s 30 years!), and second, I have major scar tissue build-up in my index finger, and it has limited motion. It also cramps up quickly as a result.

But, enough about my sob story! The point is, if you hold your blending brush in your mouth, you will have quick and easy access to it, which is essential for getting a soft blend. I did my best to demonstrate this in the photos, but it was tough to set down the model, and snap a picture whilst blending! I did it though! So, the reader should walk away with at least a little bit of knowledge about two-brush blending. If you’re more comfortable holding it between your middle and third fingers, then by all means, do it that way.

Next, to make it easy at first, it’s best to flatten your brush. Get it wet, and flatten it like so:
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This will give you a broad surface to blend with, and will help you get used to softening the edge of the wet highlight or shade quickly, before your paint dries. Make sure your blending brush stays damp, not wet. Dip it in clean water often, and wick the excess on some clean paper towel. It’s important to keep it damp, otherwise it will just wick the paint off of the model.

In this tutorial, I’m using a single mid-tone, a single shade, and a single highlight. You’ll see at the end that you’re able to get fantastic results with a formula as simple as this, as long as you practice the method enough to acquire a basic proficiency.

First, start with your mid-tone. For this tutorial, I’ve used a Retribution Chimera Warjack that has been base coated with Gnarls Green. Make sure your base coat is smooth, solid, and opaque. This was for a forest camouflage, and a deep green was needed for the base. It’s always better to apply your base coat in at least two layers, or more. This ensures a smooth surface to blend on, which is vital for getting the most out of the two-brush blending technique. Chunky and uneven paint is no good for blending, which will make it difficult and frustrating. Take the most time on your base coat; it should be the step that takes the longest, but it is vital to the rest of the paint job looking superb.

Once the base coat has dried, mix up your shade. In this case, I used my base of Gnarls Green, and added some Sanguine Base. I can’t give you exact ratios; I made sure the shade was still green (adding red to green will make a brown), without becoming too muddy or murky. I added some flow release, water, and a healthy amount of matte medium. You want it to still be opaque, but very slick and smooth. This will make it easier to blend, and keep the paint wet for longer. If you want to use some retarder in your mix, feel free to. Anything to keep the paint wet for longer will help.

The quickest way to determine your shadows, if you’re unsure about how they should appear, is to hold your model under a bright lamp. This will give you a good idea about where the darkest areas should be. That is, unless you’re wanting object source lighting, or a forced light source like early morning, or late evening sun. The easiest way to light your models so they appear realistic, is from the top. Thus, your shadows will be on the bottom 50% of any surface, facing away from the light.

Once your shadows have been determined, apply your shade colour to the surface. In this case, I’m demonstrating the method on one of the Chimera’s shoulder plates. I have painted my shade on the bottom 25% of the right (your left) shoulder plate. It’s pretty subtle, so just look for the paint that appears wet!

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You then grab your blending brush from your mouth, and smooth the top edge of the shade. Drag the blending brush softly, and don’t apply too much pressure. If you push too hard, the blending brush will just wick your shade right up.
It’s better to apply the shades in several layers. This will allow you to correct any mistakes in blending the edge.

Thinner paint and more layers = less mistakes!

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Always take your time, and if you have to apply and blend small areas to get a good grasp on the method, then by all means; do it!

I continued with the rest of the model, applying the shades with two coats. If you want a deeper shade, add another coat or two. The trick with this technique is switching out your brush. That is, by far, the most difficult part to master. Once you have it down, it becomes second nature. At this point, I don’t even think about the brush in my mouth, and I’ll often catch it on the edge of the table, and sometimes even get up to get a drink, or stretch before realizing it’s still in my mouth!

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After all the shading was done, I removed it from the cork, and tested the model on the base (recognize that base? Check my Basing Tutorial on how to make that one).

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I apologize for the glare in this next photo!

So, you may ask, this two-brush blending works great for flat surfaces. But, what if I need to highlight the top of a rounded surface like this Chimera’s shoulder?

We’ll get to that. But, first let’s mix our highlight. The highlight was Gnarls Green, mixed with a fair amount of Menoth White Base. Like the shade, I added some water, flow release, and a healthy dose of matte medium. You want the same consistency as the shade. I went with Menoth White Base because it’s a very neutral colour, with a bit of yellow tint. It’s perfect for highlighting greens and browns, as it won’t turn the highlight too yellow, or bright.

With a rounded surface like this shoulder pad, getting a smooth blend is quite simple; paint half of the ‘hump’, blend the bottom edge of your highlight, and do the same on the opposite side. I highlighted the back half of the ‘hump’ first, and then moved to the front half, blending each lower edge of the highlight.

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First the above, and second, below. That way, the top of the ‘hump’ will be nice and bright, and you don’t have to worry about trying to blend all the way around your spot of highlight on top of the ‘hump’.

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Taking a look, we now have a pretty nice looking mid-tone, highlight, and shade on this shoulder. Three colours, and the result is certainly acceptable as a very high standard.
In this photo, the highlight wasn’t blended very well! Simply add another layer, and blend the edge again. It’s very easy to fix, and a simple method to master.
Once all of the highlighting was complete, I mixed up a slightly brighter highlight by mixing in a bit more Menoth White Base into the Gnarls Green/Menoth White Base highlight. I then went in and added an edge highlight to the armour plates to give them a bit of ‘pop’, and to separate those areas a bit more.

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I completed the highlights on the rest of the model, and snapped a picture of it on the painting cork. As you can see, with a single mid-tone, shade, and highlight, you can have professional looking models in no time with a simple two-brush blending technique, and a single edge highlight!

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If there’s any questions about this technique, feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll answer them as quickly as possible!
Until next time Hand Cannoneers!

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9 Comments

  1. Josef said:

    Interesting technique. I have one (possibly silly) question – would flat brush work the same as flattened round brush, or is the flattened round the part of the magic?

  2. GhoolGhool said:

    The reason I use a round; it’s good for blending large areas, and because it holds a nice sharp point, you can use it for blending smaller areas at the same time.
    But, sure a large flat would work on larger, flat surfaces just as well.

  3. AFBubbleChaser said:

    Brilliant! This technique seems to be so much simpler than wet blending two colours together and from the pictures produces some excellent results. I am excited that I found this website. Now on to read all the other tutorials and content. Cheers!

  4. DieselDM said:

    I have been trying to accomplish this technique from information derived both from the PP forums and now from here and am still having no luck. I’m not sure what my disconnect is, but I suspect it may be paint consistency. Any additional suggestions on how to tell if the paint is the right thickness?

    • GhoolGhool said:

      Just check This Article for a guide to thinning your paint.
      It should be ‘skim milk’ consistency, or the third consistency in the article.

  5. Matt said:

    Just to check, is your second brush dry when you use it?

    • GhoolGhool said:

      Your second brush should always be damp. Not wet, but damp.
      As mentioned in the article, if your blending brush is dry, it will just wick up the paint you’re trying to blend.

  6. Martok said:

    I’m having a problem when I try. Rather than blending the edge, the highlight color ends up being blotchy. Is my blending brush too wet, or am I doing something else wrong?

    • GhoolGhool said:

      If it’s turning out blotchy, your paint is too thin!
      Thicken it with some more paint, or medium, and apply it in more layers.
      If it ends up blotchy still, keep adding layers, and blending the edge. With some colours, this can’t be helped, so just keep layering and blending. Eventually it will get smoother as the layers build the colour definition.

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