Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Washes and Shades 1

Some textured card used to test washes.
It's been a while since I last completed an army of 28mm figures using a wash technique so it was time to think it through again. I don't have any coloured inks or dedicated colour washes. I do have a lot of different acrylic paints so that is what I’m using.

I've previously washed figures using a simple mix of acrylic paint and water. This time I wanted to get more contrast, so decided to mix the solutions more carefully and to experiment with adding detergent (dish soap) to reduce water resistance and improve flow. Isopropyl has also been mentioned as an ingredient but as it's used to strip acrylic paint I think I'll give that a miss. Another trick I wanted to try was to wet each figure with water before applying the wash.

The figures I'm working on are my 28mm 1798 Irish Rebellion companies for Rebels and Patriots. I want the Government forces to look uniform but I want the Rebels to look '40 shades of grey-brown' so they are an ideal subject for experimentation without running the risk of ruining anything. I therefore started on the Rebels.

Most historical peasant clothing was dyed grey but faded to brown. Various browns, grey-browns and greys will therefore feature as my principal wash colours.

It's a long way down the line but I will also be altering my finishing process. The provisional plan is:
  1. Spray gloss varnish.
  2. Wash with an ink stain or shade.
  3. [Highlight if necessary but hopefully not.]
  4. Add PVA builders’ sand, talus, static grass and tufts.
  5. Spray with Dullcote.
  6. Add flags.
The gloss varnish will again help the final shade to run off the raised surfaces and congregate in the crevices.

The figures had all been primed with white gesso. The washes are intended to be a one pass application of the main clothing colour, though other washes and block painting will be added for variation.

The washes were mixed in varying proportions depending on individual paints but they were basically about 1 part paint to 5 or 6 parts water and one drop of washing-up liquid.

This is what I noticed as I went along but I will be saying more in conclusion.
  1. Basically the constituency needs to be more like a watercolour than an acrylic.
  2. The detergent did break down water resistance and help the wash to spread but it took time to convince me. Use too much, however, and the wash bubbles and the paint gathers in arbitrary patches rather than running into the crevices.
  3. I tried wetting figures first as some recommend, but the effect was too extreme. It diluted the paint too much and created an overall very bland finish.
  4. Washes need to be put on pretty liberally. If you try to be sparing you end up covering the figure too evenly.

Group 1 - Coat d'arms 208 Wood Brown

Group 2 - Vallejo 160 Neutral Grey

The grey looked too neutral, so I added the remnants from the first wash.

Group 3 - Cda 501 British Khaki

Group 4 - Cda 537 Faded Khaki

Group 5 - Cda 519 Mid Stone

Group 6 - Vallejo 983 Flat Earth

Darker colours such as this provide better contrast and make the wash approach more effective. 

Group 7 - Cda 208 Grass Green

This was the first group of figures wearing uniform coats. At this stage they looked like exotic frogs…

Group 8 - Cda 110 Royal Blue

Group 9 - Cda 110 Royal Blue + Vallejo 154 Sky Grey

The gun needed finishing in a 'leaden blue' so I added some grey to the remnant of the Royal Blue.

Group 10 - Cda 238 British Scarlet replaced by CdA 146 Ruby Red

This was the most important group, the most challenging and the least satisfactory. Cda 238 British Scarlet covers poorly when block painting and made a very uneven wash so after a few figures I decided to wash it off and start again. My paint collection is quite old. I've been told that it may not be the age of the paint so much the age of the paint forumula. I then switched to Cda 146 Ruby Red but the figures still came up a sickly pink.

I was happy with the brown, grey-brown and grey washes for civilian clothes but I wasn’t confident that the final stain would make the uniform coats look right. The green was too vibrant, the blue was too grey and the red was shockingly pink.

I tried another wash of a slightly darker red on the redcoats. This reddened the pink a little but it also flattened the shade effect. Even Mrs Phalanx made a passing comment about how awful they looked.

Somewhat discouraged I put the redcoats aside and put a dark but very dilute wash of Cda 521 Army Green on the greencoats. This worked well. It toned down the luminous green but still left a lot of contrast. The figure on the left has been rewashed.

I made a similar improvement to the bluecoats using some cheap Navy Blue hobby acrylic. The figure on the left has been rewashed.

Encouraged by these successes I made a thin wash of Cda 509 Brick Red. Here the figure on the right is the one that has been rewashed. This toned down the pink and restored a shading effect, but they still don’t look quite right. Once the facings and cross straps have been painted in a lot less red will be showing. After the final staining I may have to touch up the red with a more appropriate colour. Time will tell.

These secondary washes on the figures in uniform coats pre-empt the role of the final stain but the figures do look better. Having to do a second wash is contrary to my central principle of economy of effort but it's still quicker and easier than a dark to light approach using two or three tones solidly applied.


  1. Interesting using the gloss and then ink, it is a long time since I heard about that, but it does stop the figure getting a dirty look.

    I reading recently that a gamer gloss varnishes for protection and then mat varnishes to kill the gloss ..... and over time, if the gloss shows through, it shows the mat varnish layer is failing and he re-does it.

    1. I don't get enough time to paint things once, let alone return to them for more work later!