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Painting a 15mm Tibetan DBA Army: The Infantry

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Perris0707 writes:

Your blue really pops on those bowmen! Nice job.

Revision Log
29 March 2009page first published

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wodger Fezian writes:

The aim of this guide is to show how to paint a 15mm DBA army well, in a reasonable time frame. (I can hear Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian laughing now!) It is not meant to be a master class, and it is not a quick painting guide. You do not need to be a talented artist to achieve the results, or have many years experience. With a few hours per day, a few days a week, you can have a DBA army painted and based to a good standard within a month - and I am by no means a fast painter!

I would like to say a few words about before we start about brushes and paint.

Much will have been said about these subjects before, so in order to keep this guide concise and to the point, I will only briefly describe what you should look for.

The essential qualities of a good brush are that it has a good point, and that it will stay that way for a long time. The old adage of "you get what you pay for" is very much the case when it comes to brushes. Cheap brushes will not last. Brushes without a good point will not give good results. The size of the brush almost becomes irrelevant when it has a good point. Saying that, I tend to use a 2/0 and 3/0 brush for 15mm.

Sable brushes are the ones to go for, and the make favoured by many is Winsor & Newton Series 7. These are relatively expensive, but they really do make a difference. An honourable mention goes to Vallejo Kolinsky Sable brushes.
Quite simply, if you don't have a good light source it is difficult to see the detail, and you put strain on your eyes. What kind of light source you use is limited to where you paint, and how much you can pay. The very least you need is to work under a daylight bulb. These are readily available, and give a whiter light which shows the colours as they should look. Flourescent bulbs are, in my opinion, the best bet. Incandescent bulbs give a good ligh,t but get very hot to work under, and can dry your paints up in no time. Working directly under a light source also helps reduce shadows. I am lucky enough to have a permanent table set up to paint on, so have gone for a rather large fluorescent light, which gives a nice, bright, cool light.
So many paints to choose from, so many opinions! A good paint gives good coverage, and with 15mm you need strong colours. Foundry sets are a great way for the novice to start. However, I use Foundry, Vallejo, GW, Plaka, Coat D'arms, and a few others I can't remember the name of. It is down to personal choice as to which you want to use, availability probably being the main factor. The manufacturers I have just mentioned provide paints with a good pigment content which give good coverage - and that is what we are after.

So now we have the brushes, the paints and a light to see by, let's get the figures out! For this guide, I have been given a Tibetan army to paint. Tibetan??! I didn't even know they ever had an army! For colour scheme, I wanted something fairly colourful (after all, dull colours don't look so good at this scale) and natural. References I found showed lots of yellows, reds, greens and blues. I was also influenced by the modern-day Tibetan flag, thinking it would be a good idea to link the ancient with the modern to give a recognisable colour scheme.

Tibetan flag

Next, the figures, which are made by Essex. I have to say I like Essex. Not everybody's favourite style of figure, but they are perfect for painting; nice and clean, with plenty of open area and nicely sculpted faces. Choice of figure does have a bearing on how the army will look; some figures just do not paint well. Choose your figures carefully - lots of detail on a 15mm figure is not always a good thing; bad casting is even more of a problem.

I will break this guide into three parts, painting infantry, painting cavalry and then basing. Today, we cover infantry.

Section 1: Infantry

First of all, we prepare the figures, removing any flash, levelling the bases, and gluing any weapons into place. Next, I glue three or four figures to one ice-lolly stick, working on the principle of painting one DBA/DBM base together. I use a hot glue-gun for this; the glue sets very quickly and is removed easily.

Figures ready for painting

Once all the figures are glued, it is time to prime. I use Plasticote black spray paint for this. I find it much quicker, and this particular paint can be applied fairly heavily, as it seems to shrink back around the figure when drying (giving a good coverage).

Spray paint

Leave to dry overnight, and then we can start.

Primed figures

I paint in the three-shade style, and I feel this is a very good style for 15mm. If you can paint 28mm in this style, then you should find no problem transferring the same method to a smaller scale. How to show this in pictures had me working through a few different ways, until I settled on the photo shown below.

Three-shade style

The figure on the left shows only the base colours. The middle figure shows the base colour and the mid-tone. The figure on the right shows all three shades.

Colours used are as follows:

Foundry Spearshaft
Foundry Sky Blue
Coat D'arms Negro/Russet Red/Russet Red + Blazing Orange
Foundry Ochre
Foundry Chestnut

As you can see, Foundry are my main paints, but I am moving more into Coat D'arms as I need replacements, due to cost and also gaining more confidence in choosing and mixing shades.

So, to explain the process; the basecoat is applied and fills the whole area. It doesn't matter so much if any of the undercoat is showing, so this can be a quick slap-and-go type stage - also, not so much of a problem if you go over an area, as this can be tidied up. You may be tempted to miss out the basecoat, but never underestimate the lift a base colour gives to the next layers.

The mid-tone covers most of the basecoat, with the base only left in deep creases and along edges - I don't really leave any black showing if I can help it, the contrast between adjoining base colours is usually enough. The only areas I consider leaving black is along the edges of belts and straps etc.

I must make a special note on faces and hands. These are the areas that really make a figure. After the basecoat, the mid-tone is added across the forehead, down the nose, on the cheeks, chin and top lip. Just small dabs are enough on 15mm, the top lip being the trickiest area, where a fine-pointed brush really shows its worth. Try not to leave too much of the base showing, just in the eyes, creases down from the nose to the sides of the mouth, and also the mouth itself. Hands are one splodge on the back of the hand, and then try and line out each finger if possible. I often take the cartoonist trick, and only do three fingers if it gets too tricky.

As you can see from the middle figure, two shades give a decent result at this scale. My word of warning: If you only want to do two shades, keep the difference between the two equal to just one step. Going from base to highlight and missing out the mid-tone on large areas can give a very stark-looking figure. I would recommend either base + mid, or mid + highlight. On thinner and smaller areas two shades are enough, such as on belts and cuffs.

The third layer is really just the finishing touch, to add that extra detail and give it just that certain extra something.

On the red and yellow, I have just touched the high points of the folds and creases with the highlight shade. On the blue, it does cover most of the mid-tone, just leaving it showing near edges, close to creases, and in other areas where I wanted to add in the appearance of creases to give a more rumpled, cloth look. Faces do benefit from three shades, even smaller dabs on the forehead, tip of nose, high on the cheeks and the chin. It helps if the paint is slightly thinner here to give a smoother look (care taken it's not too thin and floods the area).

How much you thin the paint is important - thin layers give a nice smooth finish. I, however, am a bit lazy in this matter and tend to use thicker paint than I know I really should, to get better coverage. Each layer, however, is usually thinner than the previous one. Rarely do I paint straight from the pot, though - I always add a little water.


And that, as they say, is it - how I paint 15mm. I have followed the same principles for all the foot figures in this DBA army. Look carefully at the figure, and follow the sculpt with its creases and folds. Keep that brush point sharp, and work in a good light.

Tibetan infantry

The next installment is about horses. If you are put off doing horses, I hope to show that it is easier than you think!