(This is a repost of an article I created for Wamp. Check out their tutorial section for the original as well as other great articles.)
This article will cover the painting of a 54mm Greek Hoplite from Romeo Models. I’ll be working with acrylic paint, primarily Reaper Master Series (RMS) although I also use some Vallejo Model Air (VMA), GW, and Andrea as well. One thing that attracts me to figures from the ancient and medieval time periods is that they can work for both historical and fantasy painters. You can do you your research and be as historically accurate as possible or let your imagination run, pair a medieval knight with a dragon or paint that Greek figure in the style of 300 or Clash of the Titans. I won’t be going that far with this project but you will see even a historically accurate model offers plenty of room for creativity.
Before we begin I want to talk briefly about some basics. Knowing where to place shadows and highlights is incredibly important. Often fantasy/sci-fi painters will speak of ‘zenithal lighting’ and historical painters will talk about the ‘stop sign rule’ (discussed by Sheperd Paine in Building and Painting Scale Figures). Either way the idea is the same. Imagine a light directly above your figure, or better yet a halo of light above it. Surfaces facing the light (upward facing horizontal surfaces) will be the brightest and those facing away (downward facing horizontal surfaces) will get the least light. All other surfaces get either more or less light depending on their angle.
When it comes to painting the figure it seems the most common approach is to start with the mid tone, paint down to the shadows, and then add the highlights. I work a little differently. I prefer to start at the shadows and work directly up to the highlights. It's not necessarily better or worse, just what I'm used to and what makes sense to me. Stick with the other style if you prefer it. You'll just have to make some adjustments if you're trying to follow me step by step.
And finally if you're not using a wet palette, I highly recommend you try one out. I use one for all of my painting. They're cheap and easy to make, just Google 'wet palette' and you'll find plenty of guides on how to construct your own. Okay, let's get to the figure...
Before painting I assembled the majority of the figure with the exception of the shield. It's a large shield and would block my access to a lot of the figure, so I left it off. It should also be a bit easier to do the freehand design work before I glue it to the figure. For the rest of the figure minor gaps were filled and I removed the tabs for the feet (I wanted to make my own base) and inserted some pins. I use a jewelers universal vise to hold the figure while I paint. They're very useful for 54mm figures or larger gaming figures like monsters and warjacks. You can find them on Amazon or Ebay.
Painting the Skin
I use the same approach for painting the face, arms, and legs. Because the face and legs are partially covered by the armor I’m going to use the arms as my example. I start by laying down a base coat of my shadow color, RMS Chestnut Brown (first image). If I need to go a little darker I can add in some Mahogany Brown to the mix. I may have added a little for the shadows between the legs, but I did not use much Mahogany Brown on this figure’s skin. I then start to gradually add in my midtone to the Chestnut Brown until I’m at 100% midtone. This takes maybe 5-10 intermediate steps. The more steps you use the smoother your blends will be. I am continually experimenting and tweaking my skin mixes. For this figure I used a mix of Rosy Shadow and Bronzed Shadow for my base. On the face I used a 2 to 1 mix of Rosy to Bronze. On the arms I used a 3 to 2 ratio and on the legs I used a 1 to 1 ratio. That way the face had the most red in it, the arms slightly less, and the legs had the least red.
As I work from shadow to midtone I don’t worry about the highlight areas. Those regions will be covered up with lighter colors so no need to do layer after layer of intermediate shadow tones there. Instead I focus on the inside of the arm, around the fingers, and a few select areas on the outside of the arm. For the outside of the arm I use light shadows (where I’m working with at least 50/50 shadow to midtone) to define the indent along the lower arm, crease made at the lower part of the bicep, shadow created under the deltoid, and some details at the wrist. When I finally do get to pure midtone, I have expanded my coverage to hit all of the skin not in shadow (middle image). This way I’m working over a lighter color as I start to layer on the highlights.
I repeat the process with my highlight, slowly blending in more and more until I am at 100% Tanned Highlight. As for the placement of the highlights I focus on the major shapes and use this to continue to build definition. For the outside of the arm I’m working on the top of the deltoid and bicep, the top of the lower arm (but just the very top, most of the lower arm is closer to mid tone), and define details on the hand. Notice on the knuckles I break away a bit from zenithal lighting and put the highlights towards the tips of the knuckles. On the inside of the arm I am using the highlight mixes very sparingly. The highlights are just used to define details around the elbow and creases at the wrist where a slight line of highlight helps round out those shapes. I also add a few touches on the fingers but not too much as not a lot of direct light is hitting here.
Painting the Armor
There is a lot of bronze on this figure and it is a major focus area, so I had to spend a lot of time getting it to look right. For this figure I’m using True Metal Metallics (TMM). In my opinion Non Metal Metallics (NMM) are very tricky to do on a historical figure. For fantasy and sci-fi figures a more stylized NMM can work fine but on historical to do a NMM you really need it to look real. However, for our TMM we still take a lot of inspiration from NMM techniques. We want to have a lot of range between highlights and shadows, use sharp contrast where appropriate, and adjust our zenithal highlight placement to account for the metallic character (for example, metal edges catch a lot of light so will be much brighter than the edges on non metallic objects). We can also mix matte paints with metallic paints to dull their shine in the shadow areas.
I begin with a base coat of black brown over the armor regions (first image). Since I’m using a black primer this isn’t necessary, but if you are using a light colored primer I highlight recommend coating the metal areas with a dark color before moving on to your metallic paints. From there I start with a mix of Pure Black and Old Bronze that is mostly pure black. It doesn’t take a whole lot of metallic paint to lighten the mix, so start small. The color should look almost black but as the light hits it you will see some of that metallic character (second image). From there I again work in multiple layers of more and more Old Bronze and less Pure Black. It doesn’t take much to overpower those shadows so be conservative on your placement of the Old Bronze. Even though it’s sort of a midtone I’m applying it more like a highlight, in very limited areas (third image). For the back of the armor you can see I have left a lot in shadow, just using old bronze on the upper shoulders and an intermediate mix of black and bronze on the lower back to define that shape. For the front of the armor I’m hitting the upper surfaces of those sculpted muscles. Now I switch to my highlight color, VMA Gold. This is a very odd shade of gold but it works quite well for a metallic highlight color. I slowly mix it into the Old Bronze and apply it only in the extreme highlight areas. For the gradual transitions I go to maybe 50/50 VMA Gold and RMS Old Bronze. Then, for some of the edge details I carefully apply pure VMA Gold. You can see this on the details along the edges of the body armor, the floral pattern at the top, and edge highlights on the helmet (final image). The last step is to carefully apply some washes to help take back down the shadows. You can work in some other colors for visual interest here as well. In addition to black, perhaps some dark green, blues, etc. Maybe you use glazes to pick up some reflected colors. If the character had a bright red cape I’d use some red glazes on armor faces near the cape.
Painting the Shield
Hoplite's shields have a large and relatively flat surface so they are great to experiment with painting freehand designs. Since I was trying to stay historically accurate I began with some research. Greek vase painting is a great source for shield motif ideas. I happened upon an image of a winged boar that caught eye. A little research and I learned about the mythological creature, Chrysaor, brother of Pegasus. Instead of using the exact image from the vase I found an ancient coin and based my design around that (images on the left). Once I knew what I wanted to do I started to sketch it on paper. At this point I don’t worry about size, I just worry about figuring out how I want it to look in the end. After that I trace the shield and practice drawing the image to scale. With the smaller version it is not critical to include all the fine scale details. You should only worry about the basic shape, size, and proportion. Once you are comfortable with the to-scale version take the shield and sketch out the design on the figure (middle image). For transferring the image I find it is helpful to draw a vertical and horizontal line to locate the center of the shield. Do the same on the paper version. This will help you place the image in the right location, otherwise it may end up too far to the left or the right. Now I switch over to my brush and trace the outline of the image. It’s here that I start to work in those finer scale details. Again, don’t worry about all of them. You can go back and forth with the background color and the design color later to get the image just right.
With the outline finished, I go in with my design color and fill in the rest of the shape. I added a slight gradient from the top of the shield to the bottom for some shading. The last step was to go back and clean up some of the interior details like the eyes, lines in the ears and mouth, and the feathers. You can also notice in the middle image I’ve removed my figure from the vise and I’m now using it to hold the shield. Just place several pins in the holes and lightly clamp down onto the shield. Because the pins are movable it works well for many different shapes, not just circular shields.
Misc Body Details
With the skin and the armor painted I turned to the few remaining sections. First I worked on the cloth. I’d often use a red or an off white, but this time I wanted to do something different and decided to paint it black. I’m using a blue-black, mixing pure black with some ritterlich blue (maybe 60/40) and the adding a medium grey to create my highlights.
Next I worked on the helmet crest. Rather than painting it a single color I went with a stripe pattern, which seems to be a common choice. This is one of the easiest places to do a stripe pattern as the sculpted hairs make natural boundaries between stripes. The first step is to sketch on the stripes. Pick a shade that’s not too light, here I used dusky skin, and lightly paint on where you think you want the stripes. The goal here is to figure out the placement of the stripes, how wide they should be, and how many you want. I start with a single thin line where I think the stripe centers should be. I then start to expand each section outward. I want each section to be roughly the same width and have roughly the same spacing between them. When I’m happy I repeat the process on the other side. It helps to do some horizontal lines across the top so the left will match the right. Note, while you want nice straight lines on the sides, across the top you want it to be a little wavy and uneven.
With the sections outlined I then started to shade the white areas. I try to make the crest lighter near the top and darker near the bottom. With the white sections finished I started on the rest of the crest. Originally I was going to do more of a brown-black color, but just didn’t like how it looked next to the blue-black clothing. So I decided to go with a brighter blue for the remaining parts of the crest.
For the sword blade I used more of the Vallejo Model Air metallics. I used VMA gungrey for the darker sections and VMA Silver for the lighter parts, using mixes of the two to smooth out the transitions. Some dark washes of black helped reinforce the shadows. Finally I added the shield and the main figure was just about finished.
Painting the Base
I wanted to create a city scene for this figure, like his army had just attached a neighboring town and now he was inside the city looking for loot. I did this in part because I was bored with the idea of an outdoor dirt and grass base. I also did this because of how the hoplite is equipped. In the field his primary weapon would be his spear. The sword would be a weapon of last resort. However, when they were sacking the city and no longer in the phalanx formation, the spear would be a poor weapon and he’d probably switch to his sword. So in my mind this sort of scene just made more sense.
The stone texture on the ground is from another base. I used some instant mold and milliput to copy the texture, then cut it to the size of my wood base. The section of the wall is plasticard covered with a layer of milliput. Once the milliput had partially set I used an old toothbrush to add some texture. The stones were painted with a variety of off white brown and grey shades. I did a lot of layering with washes to get some variation in the stone color, some lighter and some darker. I didn’t want the wall to be too bare so I decided to paint a three color pattern. For most of the wall I stuck with some ochre colors (yellow and a reddish brown) which I thought would be reasonable for the setting. After painting the top and bottom I added a blue-black stripe to separate the sections. To make this even easier I used some masking tape to help me get a cleaner line between the sections.
After the painting was finished I went over the base with weathering pigments. I’m using the set from Secret Weapon Miniatures. I picked a mix of browns and reds. For the most part I’m just dabbing them on and then with a stiff brush wiping them off. This stains the base with the color of the pigment.
The last step was to add a few Greek vases for a little extra visual interest. These were found at a toy soldier show, unfortunately I don’t remember who made them. I sanded off the original paint job and added my own. The two smaller vases are based on two I’d seen from my last trip to the art museum (snapped a few reference photos while I was there), the larger one I just made up a simple pattern.
Final Touches - Weathering
I went back over the armor and added a few scratches on his chest and helmet. To do this I took a mix of the dark armor color (Black and Old Bronze) and painted some thin lines wherever I wanted to place a scratch or knick in the armor. After that I took the armor highlight color (VMA Old Gold) and painted along the bottom of the scratch. By switching the normal light over dark to dark over light you give the impression of an indent where the top surface is in shadow and the bottom catches the light. I then went back with my midtone (Old Bronze) and used that to thin the lines even more. By painting along the outside of the scratches I could make those light and dark lines appear to be even finer.
I then used some of the same weathering pigments I used on the base to add some dirt on his legs, clothing, lower sections of his armor, and on his shield. A little bit of dirt and dust to help place him in the scene and tie him in with the base.