Tutorial: Advanced – Glorious Locks: Painting Hair

This is another article in my Advanced series; Painting Hair! It is one of the most asked about methods, and one thing that a lot of painters struggle with. Now that we’ve given coverage to the face, and eyes, I can show you Hand Cannon readers some tricks on painting those Glorious Locks. In this tutorial I will covering the three most common hair colours; brown, blonde and black. I’ll give you some pointers and advice on painting red hair as well, however, in order keep this article to a reasonable length, I have kept it to only these three hair types. Two of the three heads of hair I have painted are female, and one male. Men’s hair is a bit easier to paint, since most often it’s shorter. I have chosen two females because of hair length; one is a medium hair length, and the last is long, shoulder length hair. The intent is to give readers a good basic understanding of how to paint hair in a reasonable amount of time, and to give you a basic understanding of how light hits hair, where to place highlights, and how give it a healthy sheen that all the pros seem to get on their models.
All paints used in this tutorial are Formula P3, unless otherwise specified.

The three models I have chosen to use for this tutorial are; Kommander Strakhov, Captain Kara Sloan, and Lanyssa Ryssyll. They are for short, medium, and long hair respectively, with brown, blonde, and black hair respectively as well.

I’ve gotten in really close to the models, and made the pictures huge. This should enable the reader to really see what’s going on, exactly where I have placed highlights, how big they are, and so-on. When painting hair, use a fine detail brush that holds a very sharp point. With all of these models, I’ve highlighted the hair with my usual detail brushes; W&N Series 7, sizes 0, and 00 round. Since you’ll be painting fine lines, and following the sculpted hair, you need a brush that will provide a really fine point, and hold a fair bit of paint; you shouldn’t have to dip into the palette after the first time to paint the entire head of hair. If you do, then your paint is too thick, and needs to be thinned down with water, and/or flow release and water. I use a 10% solution of flow release and RO (reverse osmosis) water for fine detailing.

It depends on whether the hair is on top of other parts of the model, or if it is ‘free standing’ on the top of the head, that will determine when it needs to be painted. In the case of both Strakhov, and Kara Sloan, the hair was painted after the face was completed, and before the rest of the model was finished. The exception was Lanyssa Ryssyl, who’s hair was draped over her hand, cloak, and face, that was painted after the entire model was complete.

The general rule is to paint the deepest parts of your models first, and work your way outwards.
This makes it easier to keep your painting ‘tight’, as you aren’t struggling to get your brush in odd, and difficult to reach spots on the model. Personally, I always like to completely finish the face and hair fully before moving onto the rest of the miniature. The face and hair are the most difficult and time consuming parts of painting models, and getting them out of the way first helps you feel that you’re making significant progress. Leaving it for last is not a good idea. In most cases, especially if it’s a top tier paint job, you’ll have spent a lot of time on the model already, and the you’ll likely want to get it over with. Rushing the face and hair will make the model look sloppy. The focal point is the face; make it look good, and getting it over with first will help the rest of the miniature painting feel like it’s going quicker, and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.

Now, let’s paint some hair!

I’m going to cover brown first, since it’s fairly easy to paint, and it has the widest range of tones and shades. This makes it easy to choose a highlight, as there’s a multitude of colours you can use for brown hair highlighting;

  • Mid-tone browns can use yellows, oranges, khaki, and whites for highlights.
  • Dark browns can use mid-browns, deep yellows, red-browns and tans for highlights.
  • Light browns can use yellows, oranges, yellow-browns, khaki, and whites for highlighting.

There’s a lot more one can use for highlighting brown hair, and it never hurts to experiment. The most valuable resource is always observation. Looking at pictures of human and animal hair is really the best way of understanding what colours can be used for the hair itself, as well as where to place the highlights.

For Strakhov, I’ve decided on a dirty blonde, or light-brown hair colour. It’s always best to start with your mid-tone, shade it, and then highlight it.
I’ve base coated the hair with two coats of thinned Gun Corps Brown.

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After that, I’ve shaded the hair by giving the entire thing a thin wash of Umbral Umber. This will tint the shade a bit red, which works well with the highlight colours I’ve chosen.

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Once that’s dried completely, I went in and painted the raised hairs with Gun Corps Brown again. For these steps, I was using my size 0 brush.

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For my first highlight, I mixed some Sulfuric Yellow with the Gun Corps Brown. Sulfuric Yellow is a fairly bright yellow, so use it sparingly, or your hair will look plastic, and more like a doll’s hair instead of a more realistic blonde. Mixing it with the Gun Corps Brown toned down the brightness. For these next few steps, I’ve switched to my size 00 round detail brush.

When highlighting the hair, don’t highlight it like every other surface; this is why hair is tricky, and why a lot of painter’s struggle with it. The highlights will not fall directly on top of the hair, where your light source should be coming from (if you’re using zenithal lighting; from the top). Hair will be the brightest next to the roots, and on the ends of the hair. Hair has sheen, and reflects a lot of light if it’s healthy. It’s also usually curved and wavy, so highlights will hit it in different places than a standard flat, or even rounded surface.
If you take a look at the enlarged photo, you can see my highlights are placed next to the forehead, with a small bit of the base coat at the root.

Don’t highlight the entire strand of hair either. Stop the highlight less than halfway on a strand of hair, and then continue it on the last 25% of the strand; leaving a darker spot in the middle. This is vital to having a natural-looking sheen.

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More Sulfuric Yellow was mixed into our Gun Corps Brown, and Sulfuric Yellow mix. This was then painted onto roughly half of the previous highlight. Again, leave a bit next to the forehead darker, and the middle of the hair strands darker as well.

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Finally, some Menoth White Highlight was added to our previous paint mix, and short lines, just slightly longer than a dot were painted in the middle 50% of the previous highlight. With all hair highlights, you’re only highlighting in the middle of the previous highlight. Don’t paint it closest to the top, or where your light source should be coming from; otherwise your hair will appear flat, and un-natural.

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To give you a clearer picture of how the ends of the hair should be highlighted:

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We can call Kommander Strakhov’s hair complete.

Blonde hair is a bit more difficult, as is painting a longer, mid-length hairstyle. The principles remain the same as for short hair; highlighting 50% of the middle of the previous highlight, and leaving the roots next to the head darker. Blonde is also more difficult, as most painter’s will naturally assume that bright yellow is the colour of blonde hair, which it is not. That is, unless you want it to look like painted doll hair, or dyed blonde. A deeper, less bright yellow, or tan will work best for blondes.

Menoth White Base, Rucksack Tan, and Moldy Ochre, are all excellent for blonde hair. If you want something a bit darker, and slightly redder, Bloodtracker Brown works great as a base as well. Blonde hair should be shaded with browns. Not deep browns, mind, but mid-tone, and light browns will work best, and give the painter a most natural look and feel to the hair.

  • Menoth White Base can be highlighted with bright yellows, deep yellows, and whites.
  • Rucksack Tan can be highlighted with deep yellows, tans, khakis and whites.
  • Moldy Ochre can be highlighted with bright yellows, khaki, and whites.

Orange/red hair will use roughly the same highlight colours as blonde, except your base will change from a yellow or tan, to an orange or red-brown. The highlighting procedure is the same as for all hair colours. Try not to use a bright orange like Khador Red Highlight, as it’s not a natural orange, and is difficult to get it to look that way with shades or highlighting. Ember Orange, and Heartfire work well as a base for orange/red hair.

For Kara Sloan, I’ve used a base coat of Moldy Ochre. It’s yellow, but it’s not un-naturally bright, nor is it too yellow. I’ll be toning down the colour with my shading and highlights, and in the end, it won’t look like plastic dolls hair. The base was applied in three thinned layers over black primer.

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The hair was shaded by painting thinned Bootstrap Leather into the crevices sculpted between the hair. I don’t like washing blondes, as it muddies up the yellow, and you lose the intensity of the colour. Like Strakhov, I used my size 0 round. Make sure to outline the hairs touching the forehead, and anywhere they contact the face or skin. This will separate the hairs from the face, and give them more definition.

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I then painted more Moldy Ochre onto the raised strands of hair to bring back the brightness.

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I switched to my size 00 round for these next steps.
Menoth White Base was added to the Moldy Ochre for the first set of highlights. Just as with Strakhov’s brown hair, the highlighting was painted next to the roots, leaving the deeper yellow closest to the head, and on the last 50% of each strand of hair. Remember to leave the middle 50% of each strand of hair without any highlight.

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I added some Menoth White Highlight to my highlight mix, and painted 50% of the center of the previous highlight. I use Menoth White Highlight for blondes, as it isn’t pure blinding white, and it has a slightly yellow tint. This works very well with blonde hair. For hair sitting on the face, or forehead, highlight the entire strand. With the brown next to this highlight, it will give the strand of hair a lot of ‘pop’, and raise it off of the skin.

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More Menoth White Highlight was added to the yellow mix; just the tips of the hair, and close to the roots was painted. Again, just small, short lines will give you the best overall effect. Blondes can generally go with a longer, and larger highlight than browns or black hair colours. In this case, I went a bit longer than Strakhov for the final highlight. This is also due to Sloan having longer strands of hair extending off of her head, allowing more light to hit the long strands of hair.

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And a shot from the back:

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Kara Sloan’s hair can be called complete.

I personally find black hair the easiest to paint. It requires the least amount of effort, and the smallest highlights of all the different hair colours. Highlighting black hair with the right colour can be the tricky part. This is where painter’s will get stumped; not knowing what colour to highlight black with, and how to highlight it without making it look gray, or blue.
The key point for highlighting black hair; keep most of the hair BLACK for it to appear that way.
This means limiting your highlights, and making them small; very nearly dots when you get to your final highlight.

Blacks are pretty versatile when it comes to highlight colours, as black hair is almost never a pure black; unless it’s been dyed. Black hairs should be started with the deepest shade first (black), and then highlighted up. Unlike the other colours of hair, black needs to be built up.

Black hairs can be highlighted with;

  • Deep and Mid-tone browns will work well if you want a brownish tint.
  • Blues, and navies work well for a pure black, or slightly blue-tinted hair.
  • Grays, both deep and mid-tone can also work well. But, they need to be used sparingly or the hair will appear like an elderly’s hair.

My preferred highlights for black hair are blues, and navies. It also depends on the colour scheme of your model, and whether or not you want contrast, complimentary, or harmonious colour schemes.
For Lanyssa, I have used Coal Black and Frostbite for my highlights, as she has a cool colour scheme, and I wanted a very harmonious look.

I base coated the hair with two thinned coats of Thamar Black. When painting the hair last, take your time, be careful, and make sure you paint every strand completely. This will make sure that it stands out, and separates from the rest of the model. Lanyssa had quite a few single strands on her arm and shoulder; these were painted with my size 00 detail brush.

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The first highlight was pure Coal Black, and I carefully painted each strand of hair almost completely with the colour. Only the deep separations between each strand of hair, and the very middle 25% of each strand were left pure black. I stuck with my size 00 for all of the hair, as each strand was long, and making mistakes is lessened when painting long strokes with a smaller brush.

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I added a spot of Frostbite to the Coal Black, and highlighted roughly 50% of the middle of my previous, pure Coal Black highlight.

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More Frostbite was added to the mix, and about 50% of the middle of the last highlight was painted.

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The final highlight is almost pure Frostbite. It was applied as tiny dots, and/or lines (as with our previous hair colours) next to the roots, and on the tips of each strand. Black needs to be extreme in it’s highlights. You need to go from pure black to an almost pure white to have it appear natural, and with the proper amount of sheen to look like healthy hair.

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And a shot from the back.

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And that my fellow painter’s, is how you paint hair!

Questions and comments are always welcome.


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  1. KHolt said:

    Great article as usual.
    But what about redhair?

  2. KHolt said:

    I should have read the article more than once before posting my question. You do cover redhair.

  3. Not Dice said:

    Hair’s one of the last things I have left to master in my set of painting skills. This should help.

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