Note: This article was originally written for Airbrush Action magazine. Unfortunately, the magazine stopped publishing before this piece was published. This was written for an audience that was familiar with scale modeling, but not necessarily wargaming miniatures.
In the world of competitive table top wargaming it is common to be required to bring models to a tournament that are painted to a certain standard that is defined by the tournament organizer. This tournament standard is often defined as models painted with a minimum of three colors and based appropriately. A based model is one that is glued to a supportive “base” that has been painted.
The project presented in this article is a model for the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame, a Stormraven gunship. I am to paint this model to a high tournament standard, meaning plenty of colors and some nice details to draw the eye, but not every little bit of the model is fully realized.
I’d like to show that interesting models are rarely painted with just one color. On first glance, the Stormraven presented here is red, but closer inspection reveals a rich assortment of colors that make the red quite interesting and dynamic. I will also demonstrate how pre-shading the darkest areas of a piece can really pop the highlights. My process here involves airbrushing and dry brushing. Let’s get started.
This model was delivered to me pre-built. In preparation for priming I removed a few mold lines with a hobby knife and sanded down some heavy glue dots.
I primed the model using black Stynlrez by Badger. This step was painted with an Iwata HP-CS at 30psi. I apply several thin coats of primer, as using too much primer at once can blur the details that are molded into the plastic.
Next, I painted the whole model with a mix of Vallejo Black Red and Army Painter Matte Black. This deep dark red is rich and warm, and really takes well to the next few layers of red. It also makes the bottom of the model, which I will be spending very little time on, look like shadowed red while upping the contrast between the top and bottom of the model. I thin most of my acrylic paints with a homemade blend of Liquitex Airbrush Medium, Windsor and Newton Flow Improver and distilled water. I tend to paint these big models at around 23 psi.
After the dark red undercoat, I paint on a mix of Army Painter Lava Orange and Vallejo Bright Yellow to the highest, brightest parts of the model. I do this in several passes with varying degrees of yellow and orange in the mix to give it some depth. It looks like bright clouds of color sitting on top of that dark red basecoat.
Now it’s time for several thin coats of Vallejo Flat Red. This is a pretty boring red by itself, but on top of the basecoat and highlights it really pops nicely. I do this in several thin coats so I don’t cover up too much of the highlights and shadows that I have established in the previous steps.
At this point I feel good about painting the weapons, turbines, emblems and landing gear. For this I will brush paint these parts with Army Painter Matt Black. This is a great inky black that goes on well and gives pieces a fine under-layer for gunmetal painting. This also removes any of the overspray that has found its way onto undesired places.
I then drybrush on Army Painter’s Gunmetal. This is a good, greasy grey sliver. I do this by taking a bit of the paint onto an old brush with shortened bristles. I then dab most of the paint off of the brush onto a paper towel. I then lightly pass the brush over the part to apply the paint to the highest edges. This leaves the recesses of the part black and works to build up the contrast that metal parts need to look realistic. The under-painted Black/Black Red really works to make the emblems and vents pop by pushing up the contrast. In a few spots I re-applied the XXX Red where I felt like this under-painting was too large or intense.
The cockpits for this model were already glued shut. Yes, they were sealed prior to painting, the poor pilot and his servitor cyborg were left to remain bare plastic forever. I actually prefer the look of painting glass reflections on these cockpits. I find the cockpits to be very busy when they are painted well and they take away from my ability to draw the viewers eye to the “eyes” of the model. After masking off the glass sections I painted all of them with a base coat of Scale 75’s Abyssal Blue. This is a wonderful deep blue, very much like the ocean depths it is named after. It makes for a base for blue glass painting. I then choose which corner of each pane of glass is going to reflect bright white light. I like the look of opposing corners reflecting this light. It’s not realistic but it looks cool and draws the viewers eye well. I build up several passes of lighter and lighter blue before a final hit of Vallejo Ivory as the direct reflection of the light source. Subtle edge highlighting with this Ivory helps differentiate between these interconnected surfaces.
The final step is applying several thin coats of matte varnish to the model. Here I am using Golden Polymer Varnish. This does a great job of giving all the paint on the model the same flat look which helps pull the colors together. It is very thick right out of the bottle. I thin it down with my homemade thinner mixture.
I painted the base with random patches of Vallejo Khaki and Sky Grey. I then mopped on a burnt umber oil wash to represent spilled vehicle fluids or fire damage on the ground below. I make oil wash by mixing a dab of cheap oil paint with a few ounces of white spirit. This creates a transparent wash of color that sits very low onto the surface it is applied to. The weak white spirit does not eat into the acrylic paint below.