Painting How-To

USMC Painting Tutorial
-or- "I can't paint, let me show you how..." 
About a year ago I read this wonderful thread on the Lead Adventure Forum. It really made me question the way I had been painting my 20mm, 1/72 minis up to that point. The technique was bold, simple, effective and quick! The minis looked pretty good, too. I gave it a try and found that even I could do this! Huzzah!
I'll admit, I have altered the 'Fast Paint Method Based on Inks' (ink optional) to better suit my lazy nature. So have a look at the original method as posted on the LAF, and at what follows and see if perhaps there isn't something in it for you, too.  Now go get a cup of tea, this will be picture & text heavy...

Step One: Prep. Prime and Fix your minis to their bases.
Not in that order...
Spend as much time as you can bear on this step. All minis present some degree of mould-line, flash or an uneven base and the more effort you put into smoothing these little defects out now, the less they will appear as GLARING defects later. Trust me. I regret not spending more time on this every time I do a better job of painting my minis. You will need the usual assortment of needle files, #11 hobby knives, fine sandpaper on sticks, etc.. 

Next, give your minis a nice quick wash with warm water and very little dish-soap followed by a good thorough rinse and leave them to dry completely.

Glue your minis to whatever bases you intend to use, or if you like, you can affix them temporarily four at a time to popsicle sticks & base them after painting. I prefer gluing them down now. I use either PVA (white glue) or CA (cyanoacrylate) glue to do this.

Now, you need to prime your minis with a good quality grey primer. I use grey-gesso thinned 50-50 with water and sprayed with an airbrush. You can also brush on thinned gesso and that works very well indeed. You won't need it as thin as I have it for spraying. Let that dry completely. Gesso is an excellent primer for painting miniatures. It has a fantastic texture that is designed to take paint.
Step One, done.

Step Two: A thin Black-Wash brings out the details.
I really believe this is the key to the entire method; a thin wash of black pre-shades every detail of our mini. Each layer of paint that follows will also be thinned to near transparency, allowing that black-line detail and shading to show through. Deceptively simple! 
Here are 3 Marines before their black-wash.
The same 3 Marines after the black-wash is applied.
The wash is brushed on quickly and evenly, settling in the recesses and details of the mini while flowing off of the flat, raised surfaces. Instant shading, highlighting and black-lining in one step. Let this 'ink-wash' dry thoroughly before moving on to Step Three.

What makes a good wash? The answer is one of the holy-grails of painting miniatures in any scale. Why not just thin your paint with lots of water? Water will actually 'break' your paint. Washes made with too much water will dry in rings or with the pigment separated out of the carrier. In short, water does not make a good wash. But there are options.

Quality washes are available from Citadel and while they are pricey, their washes will work very well for this method. Some people like to mix Future Floor Finish with water; an excellent idea that works very well, especially for larger scales, but the result is a bit too glossy & smooth for what we are doing here.
I like the freedom to mix my own washes, and that freedom comes easily with a few inexpensive stock items from the local art or craft supply down the road. Try this home made wash mix!

Everybody all washed-up.
Home Made Wash Mix: 50% Matte Medium and 50% Acrylic Flow Release (actually a mix of Flow-release and water; you mix this bit first). Combine these two well and then add Black (or other coloured) Acrylic Ink from Daler Rowney or Liquitex to create the intensity of wash you desire. About 20-30 drops of ink in 30ml of wash-base is a good start.
I was reminded about this mix by Les Bursley, and although he is not the first talented mini painter to suggest such an idea, he certainly has done the community an excellent service by providing this primo video tutorial! Take a moment to watch this, you won't regret it!
This mix is really versatile. It not only lets you create lovely washes using inks, you can also use it straight-up to thin paints, as you will see in just a moment! The results are fantastic. Your paint does not break, the finish is matte, not shiny, and it goes on smooth. This is a medium that is easy to work with. I use more of the basic 'Wash Mix' when painting than I do of the black wash!
Step Two, done.

Step Three: A Uniform Base Colour.
For these Marines I used Vallejo Model Colour Brown Violet thinned 1 to 8 with our Wash Mix as the base colour for uniforms, packs, webbing, helmet covers and flack-jackets -even hand grenades.
C'mon, get drab!

The important thing was that the paint was smooth, thin and went on almost clear. Thin paint like this flows very nicely and is easy to control.This is low-stress painting. You can still clearly see all the black silhouetted detail and shading from the ink-wash, only now everything has a good solid olive-drab character. Each layer of colour that follows goes on as a transparent glaze adding to the highlights and shadows already present. Believe me, this is not complicated or difficult work.

Step Four: Flesh Tones.
Next up its time to paint all the exposed skin and to do this I use a base of the Wash Mix and Citadel Chestnut Ink, at a ratio of 1 to 8 or so. However, I don't use this mix neat. I add a tiny (I mean tiny!) amount of Reaper Rosy Shadow; or Dark Skin; or Tanned Skin to this base and this gives just enough opacity and character to the paint while still preserving the detail. The Chestnut Ink from Citadel has the right warmth and hue to counter the coldness of the grey primer & black-wash we are working up from. The three colours I use from Reaper provide for an authentic variety of skin-tones for my troops.
Already looking Human..

Step Five: More Tones.
Now that the base colours are in we can begin creating areas of different colour and tone across the uniform and other equipment. First up the pants and shirt were given a wet-brushing with Reaper Muddy Olive thinned with Wash Mix. This was slightly thicker than previous mixes, about 1 to 6, but still transparent. The goal was to hit most of the high areas of the clothing; providing a change of colour and tone over the natural highlights.
Shirts & Pants only. No Webbing, Packs or Flack-Jackets yet.

Then came the packs, webbing & helmet covers; all painted carefully with Citadel Catachan Green and the flack-jackets hit with a mix of Citadel Camo Green and Reaper Olive Green. For both of these steps the paint is well thinned 1 to 8 with Wash Mix.
Sooo Much Green. Hard to tell the difference between the shades.

Step Six: Details Detail.
Almost done except the details and the dry-brushing now..
With the sun and the rain, these uniforms would quickly get faded and beat-up. So I decided at this point to go for two slightly different detail schemes adding more tonal variety to my mass of green Marines. The 'FNG' look would see packs & webbing picked out and dry-brushed with Citadel Camo Green. By contrast the 'Short-timer' look has the same areas worked over with Reaper Olive Green.
Spin, boys, spin...
Gun-stocks were painted with Citadel Snakebite Leather, 1 to 8 with Wash Mix and the barrels and boots were done with Golden Airbrush Acrylic Black, 1 to 8 w/ Wash Mix. Getting the black sufficiently thin so that it 'self-highlights' is important. If you get too opaque a coat the effect of this method is instantly lost. Go thin for the win.
Group shot: RAFM 20mm Charlie Company Vietnam era USMC + Guests
Lastly, the devil really is in the fine details, bug-juice bottles, canteen caps, cigarette packs, grenades; all the little things that bring your minis to life. Go slow & carefully on these in good light after a good night's rest.
If you are new to the hobby, I hope this has been of service! If you have been around, I hope there is something different here, or a useful link that made you think, that has added to your pallet.

Have fun with it,