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Painting Faces

Painting Faces

 by Phil Kessling  

 The face is the first thing that I paint on a figure. I begin by priming it with a very thin coat of Floquil Reefer White. I paint the eyeballs with an off white acrylic, generally Polly S White mixed with either a little brown, yellow or blue grey. It usually takes two thin coats to get good coverage. (My only hesitation about using pale flesh for the eyeballs on large scale figures is that it may be too close to the light highlights of the face. I always like to have a very light highlight under the lower eyelid color. This color is very light and helps to make the eyes “stand out.”)

Next, I decide on an iris color, generally either blue or brown. The iris color is also painted in acrylics, usually Polly S. For 54 mm figures, I use a sharpened toothpick to “paint” the irises. A paintbrush is used for larger scale figures. I start with a very dark brown or dark blue iris color and then add a half moon highlight in the lower half of the iris. On large scale busts, I add more detail by painting in fine lines, using close-up photographs of eyes as a guide.

Pupils are painted with a dark blue black acrylic. Again, toothpick for 54s and a brush for larger scale. I use Mars Orange oil paint to define the lower eyelid and Blue Black or Lamp Black to define the upper eyelid. I thin the paint a little with mineral spirits and try to create a nice smooth line with a single brush stroke. The corners of the eyes can then be adjusted a little to keep them from being too almond shaped. The figure is then dried in a crockpot. For large scale busts, I add just a tiny speck of Cad Red Deep into the corners of each eye, blend this outward with a small, dry brush.

The next step is to undercoat the face. I usually use Liquitex Deep Portrait Pink jar acrylic as the undercoat color. I sometimes add a drop of Liquitex Burnt Sienna or a drab yellow, for variation. The Liquitex is mixed with water so that it flows on smoothly. Again it takes 3-4 coats for good coverage. I paint around the eyes first, cutting down the eyelid colors to very thin lines.

My basic flesh mix with oils is Mars Orange or Mars Brown, Cad Yellow and Titanium White. Proportions are not precise, I just mix until it looks right. Variations can be made by adding a little Cad Red, Purple Madder, or Mars Yellow. I vary the base color slightly on every figure so that they do not all look exactly the same. A couple of drops of Liquin or Stand oil are added to the base flesh color. This gives the finished face a very slight sheen.

The entire face is painted with the base flesh color. A dry brush is then used to remove excess paint and to smooth out the base color. Be careful around the eyes when you do this.

For shadows, I usually use Mars Orange for large scale figures and a mix of Mars Orange and Mars Brown for 54s. Shadows are added to the base color and blended. Deep shadows are painted with Brown Madder Alizarin mixed with a dab of Purple Madder Alizarin and a dab of the shadow color. The deep shadows are then blended.

For highlights, I add Naples Yellow and Titanium White to the Base flesh color. Be careful when applying your highlights that the highlight color does not touch any of the shadow colors. I then blend the highlight color. The light highlight color is mixed by adding more Titanium White to the highlight color. Very tiny dots of this color are all that are needed. After blending, the figure is put into the crockpot for drying. I have a rheostat attached to mine and usually set it to a temp around 140 degrees F.

For 5 o’clock shadows, I mix a little Blue Black into the base flesh color. This “beard mix” is painted into the mustache and beard growth areas instead of the base flesh color. I add a little more Blue Black to both the shadow and deep shadow colors. I do not add any Blue Black to the highlight colors as they will pick-up an appropriate tint from the base “beard” color. (I block in the beard color. I paint the base flesh color on the entire face other than the beard growth areas. In the beard growth areas I paint the base flesh with the addition of the Blue Black. The transition areas are then blended. Normal shadows and deep shadows are painted wet on wet and the same colors with the addition of Blue Black are used in the beard area. The same highlight colors are used for the entire face; all painted wet on wet and blended.)

I have also used black pastel chalk and oil washes for 5 o’clock shadows but feel that the wet on wet technique gives me better control and looks more realistic. I have even used red browns for red haired figures.

After drying, I repaint some of the deep shadows with a mix of the deep shadow color plus a dab of Rembrandt Sepia. I confine this to around the nostrils and the deep corners of the eyes and nose. This is blended out lightly. Light highlights are repainted with the original light highlight color. Use just a dot on the bridge of the nose, and the center top of each cheekbone. This is blended out and the face is dried again. Lips are the base color with a little Purple Madder and Cad Red Deep added. I highlight with Titanium White.

Large (200mm) scale busts are a great way to practice your skills at painting faces. The larger surface areas give you a better opportunity to lay in colors and practice blending techniques.


Phil Kessling is a critically acclaimed miniature painter, author of Osprey Publications Battle Honours, and a contributing editor to Historical Miniatures magazine.