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Zombie Resistance Family: Painting the Figs

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19 July 2006page first published

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R Strickland Fezian writes:

On a Unified Method

Painting miniatures, though always a process of exploring and discovery, is also fundamentally about knowing a list of tips and tricks. I think the best way to proceed is not to follow a holistic system, but rather to stockpile as many of these info-bites as possible, and then let loose with them on your figs. While this may seem like counter-intuitive advice, I'd bet that a good number of us proceed this way already, harvesting bits and pieces from various forums. On this note, I'm not going to say again what I think has been said often, and instead I'll focus on a few points that I learned the hard way and wish someone had told me ahead of time.

I use a variety of paints, and haven't found any to be so superior as to make them my exclusive paint of choice (though if I had to pick, I'd go with Vallejo). For this project, I used Vallejo, GW, and - if you can believe it - pre-screw-top Citadel. I also used a few Partha paints. For the tute, I'll use the designations VMC for Vallejo Model Color, GW for current Games Workshop paints, C for old Citadel Colour, and P for Partha paints.

Tools and Supplies

I consider the following to be essential. The absence of any one of these just leads to frustration for me.

Wet palette
Mine is a Masterson Sta-Wet Handy Palette.
Future No-Wax Floor Polish
If you haven't joined us already, where have you been?
If you can get professional results without this stuff, you know something I don't.
Lint-free rag
I was using paper towels for a long time, blind to the slowly mounting frustration the lint was causing me. Gone now!

And the following are really helpful:

Flow enhancer
I have a bottle of this from the art shop, but dish soap and water works as well.
Not only is it useful for seeing what you're doing (and what you're doing wrong), it's an iconic fashion accessory that no self-respecting painter should be without.
A good lamp
I use a fluorescent tube fixture 18" directly above my work surface. One of the tubes is a daylight (e.g. Gro-lux brand) bulb, and so the quality of light is amazingly good and clean. The only reason fluorescent light has such a bad rap is that institutions routinely cheap out on the tubes.
A friend of mine pointed out that most of the time miniatures are viewed under crappy iridescent light, and moreover, even painting contests are usually judged under crappy iridescents - so doesn't it follow that one should paint under crappy iridescent light?

I told him to shut up.


  • Mix retarder in everything
  • Build highlights with thin layers of mostly Future, with a little bit of pigment

Wet Palette Maintenance

The wet palette is a little temperamental, but I think it's well worth the effort. After a lot of experimentation, I've decided that it's best not to have the sponge fully saturated. The drawback is the paint won't stay wet for more than an hour or so, but I've found this is better than watery paint. For long painting sessions, I periodically get up and wash the palette off. That way I can keep the sponge relatively constant, too.

It's also not worth it to put the lid on, and expect the paint to be fresh and ready-to-use next time. Closing the lid causes the water to seep up through the palette and wash all the paint together. So, keep it a little on the dry side. You can always add a half-ounce or so of water as you go, if it's needed.

Never wipe the palette. Only blot, with a damp, lint-free rag. Do this, and the paper will last a really long time. Don't, and little fibers will get in your paint and be the bane of your existence.

My last tip for the wet palette is: Don't think just because you have it, you have to use it for everything. I also use several plastic palettes, especially if I need a large amount of a consistent color.

Image Reference

I'm a Google Image Search junkie. I'm constantly finding out what things look like. For this project, I referenced:

  • Urban camo schemes
  • "Noodle" from Gorillaz (I even found the very pic I suspect Kev used as inspiration for the fig!)
  • T-shirt sweat rings
  • The M41-A pulse rifle
  • Combat boots
  • Billy clubs
  • Trash can lids
  • Scooter helmets
  • Skateboards
  • Katanas
  • Knee socks
  • Desert terrain

Few of these things would have given me too much trouble if I didn't have any reference - but with pictures, it's possible I squeezed in that extra ounce of realism. And I always think it's helpful to go to a photo when you can, rather than rely on what you've seen on another miniature. Miniature painting is all about abstraction, and not only is it a fun exercise to do the abstracting yourself, you cut out the middle man. Some painting techniques (e.g. much NMM) can become so abstract they are copies of copies of copies, and something is lost in translation. Don't get me wrong I think it's incredibly helpful to study superbly painted miniatures. But I also think keeping things grounded in the real world is also helpful.


I primed the figs in GW White. I often go black, but I wanted a bright clean look for these figs. I wanted them to look like they were out under the sun. These figs are each so individual that I ended up painting them one-by-one.

I started with Dad.

Russ Angar

There weren't any decisions that had to be made about this figure. I knew he needed urban camo. Here's the fig after its basecoats:

Russ Angar - urban camo progress
You'll have to bear with the pics, as it took me awhile to figure out how to get good in-progress pics not all that easy.
VMC Dark Grey + Black
VMC Light Grey, washed with slightly darker grey, highlighted by adding White and Pale Sand. The pants have been highlighted up nearly to white.

Next, the camo. Using the excellent reference pics I got off Google, I started with the lightest patches in the back and the darkest on top. Each layer of color is basecoated a darker color, and then highlighted with a lighter color.

The first camo layer is VMC Dark Grey, highlighted to VMC Light Grey. The next is Black, highlighed to VMC Dark Grey. The top camo layer was Black, highlighted to black-with-a-hint-of-grey.

At this point, the pattern looked too complicated. I wasn't satisfied. I went back to my reference, and found a camo pattern that used a brick-red along with the greys. I tried this out on the top black layer, and was relieved it made the camo gel.

I did the flesh next. I wanted him to have a rich, sunny skintone, with deep contrast in the shadows. I started with VMC Leather Brown (an absolute favorite of mine). GW Flesh Wash. GW Dwarf Flesh. Another Flesh Wash. Blend up to GW Bronzed Flesh. Blend part-way to GW Elf Flesh, then switch to VMC Pale Sand (I didn't want him too pink). VMC Pale Sand + a little VMC Off-White for final highlights (I hardly ever use pure white).

Russ Angar - fleshed in

For the accessories, I wanted something realistic, neutral, and a good compliment to the palette. The color is a mix of VMC Dark Grey and VMC German Field Grey (possibly my most-used color of all). I highlighted up toward white.

I got out the OptiVisor to paint the eyes and the belt buckle. I used photo-reference to get the colors right for the tiny frame of brass around the flag. The flag was painted with dark basecoats, and built up with ultra-thin layers of color. It's really tiny, by the way!

Russ Angar - almost done

I set the figure aside to paint the highlights for the guns and boots, along with the other figures. I was also debating at this point whether to give him a sweat-ring on his t-shirt.