Friday, 2 September 2011

Painting Guide: Sorylian Fleet

This article first appeared as part of the HoP Idol Contest but I've since had a few people send me emails and ask me to put it up on my blog, with bigger picture files so they can take a closer look... so I hope this works or its pointless!!! By the way voting is now live in the contest and you can vote for me here. Thanks

Right I need to get this out of the way fairly rapidly before anyone gets a snide dig in and says I'm shit at painting and shouldn't be doing any painting guides... I know I'm no where near as good as many of the painting bloggers out there. I never will be so I'm not going to pretend I am. However I do have a few tricks up my sleeves and various people have asked if I'd consider doing some painting guides, but I'm doing this one for the HoP Idol contest. So against my better judgement here's my first full on painting guide, and to ease myself into this its an easy one, I'm just painting my Sorylians from Firestorm Armada. Given though that people have asked me to be specific about what I do to the mini's I'm putting a lot of detail into this painting guide and as such it's a damn hefty beast.

Get the painting area right

I think its fair to say the first thing most people get wrong from the get go is their panting area. There are a few essential items I think you must have:

  • Comfy chair
  • Dedicated painting table / desk
  • A place to store you paints within easy reach
  • Ceramic tile / mixing palette (also, or instead a wet palette)
  • A pot for cleaning your brushes of paint as you go (dirty water)
  • A pot for watering down and mixing your paints (clean water)
  • A roll of kitchen towel
  • A good lamp with a daylight bulb, or if you can afford it two.
  • Two jugs, one empty to pour dirty water into and one full of clean (preferably filtered) water.

I might return to a few of my tips or things I have / do when painting like airbrush and paintbrush care etc. at a later date, but for now I'll leave it at that.

The concept

Right, you have to start somewhere and my rough concept for these guys was to simply paint them predominantly red hulls with white accents. The guns engines etc were to be painted in metallic colours, but at this early stage I wasn't sure what sort of metallics, gold, brassy or a gunmetal type colours or indeed if I would use metallic paints or try None Metallic Metal (NMM) technique. However I did not want my ships to look like they were newly out of the space ship yard... no I wanted them to have a 'lived in' look so I was going to attempting a few weathering techniques, but more on those later.

Painting those red hulls

First off I primed all my ships using a can of Vallejo white primer. I tend to paint mainly over white but very occasionally I've been known to paint over black, or both at the same time!!! However as I was going for a red hull on my ships it just seemed wise to undercoat in white.

Step 1 - Right first things first for the base colour of my hulls I decided to use one of my airbrushes, the reasons were three fold 1) It would be quicker to just whack red paint on all 10 mini's with my airbrush 2) as I want to get through this painting guide as quick as I can the fine spray from an airbrush would lay down a very thin layer of paint which would dry quicker and 3) that thin layer of paint would be far less likely to 'clog' up any detail on my Sorylians, I can't emphasise enough how delicate some of the detailing on these Firestorm Armada mini's are. A good old fashioned paint brush and watered down paints will be fine, but if you have an airbrush why not use them? Any way the colour I used was Vallejo Model Color Flat Red No 70957, to make the paint flow better from the airbrush I watered the paint down using a 3 to 1 mix of paint and clean water, a few drops of P3 mixing medium were added to help the colour 'adhere' to the miniatures. I find the P3 mixing medium works best with my fine airbrush for some reason (see pic 1 for the results).

Step 2 - Looks sodding bright doesn't it? Well don't worry it won't for much longer. The next step is to add the first layer of shading to the miniature, now here's the thing I'm not a massive fan of the Games Workshop washes, mainly because they leave a slightly shiny effect on surfaces that certain Vallejo colours and other manufacturers paints don't like to go over, indeed certain Citadel colours don't either. If however you're a Citadel paints fan you might want to consider the Citadel Blood Red colour and the Devlan mud wash. I on the other hand used my trusty Vallejo paints, I gave the miniatures a very watered down wash of Vallejo Model Color Burnt Cadmium Red No 70814. For this I used one of my scuzzy brushes as the aim is to work the watery mix into nooks and crannies and to just completely cover all of the areas I was doing red, this could ruin brushes quickly so a cheapo Citadel brush will suffice. Also when I say very watered down I mean literally coloured water. After this was dry (shouldn't take too long) I applied a second coat of the watery Burnt Cadmium. The idea behind this is to 'stain' the Flat Red to give the colour a little bit more depth, tone and oomph, but to also add the first layer of shading and grime or weathering to the hull (See pic 2). After it has dried though you might get a brownish white powder in some of the deepest recesses or on leading edges don't worry in step 3 it'll help the shadows take hold better and in step 4 it'll make the over coat of red look brighter on leading edges.

Step 3 - But we aren't done with shading the red just yet, Oh no!!! While the watery mix has done a good job with tone and slight layers of shading its not really dark enough. The next layer of shading is aimed at being a little more precise than the hap hazard watery wash. For this I cracked out the good brushes, Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes if you want to know. In this instance I used a 00 brush. My aim is too pick out all the panel lines, windows or other little details giving the miniature more of a 3D effect. For this I cracked out my wet palette as I was going to be taking my time to carefully pick out the details and I didn't want to have my paint dry on me. The colour I used for the fine line shading was Vallejo Model Color Black Red (Cadmium Brown) No 70859, not to be confused with Burnt Cadmium, its a slightly darker colour. This was watered slightly as you would any paint to help it 'flow' better and carefully painted into the recesses, gaps and any places that looked like they might have a natural shadow. I found in some places the capillary action of the paint took it to where it needed to go, but more often than not it was about carefully painting the shadows, I was quite happy with the outcome (see pic 3). If you are using Citadel Colours though you might wish the opt for a mix of two thirds Scorched Brown and one third Chaos Black.

Step 4 - Right now we need to start making that hull a little less 'dull' and we need to get right back to that base colour we used right back in step 1, Vallejo Model Color Flat Red No 70957. Yep it seems silly to have spent all that time dulling down the original colour; only to dig it out again, but the aim here is to pick out the edges of panels and raised bits. Also going over the dulled and shaded hull with the Flat Red being a 'weak' colour will show through a bit of the deeper colours below and look a tad different to the original base coat, remember the aim is to pick out the panels and still leave the shading in the recesses. As the previous step this was a stage for using those nice Winsor and Newton brushes, this time a size 0. Also if you are as poor a painter as I am you might also need to 'touch up' any areas where you got a tad messy in Step 3!!! As a final part to step 4 I also added a further fine highlight on the panels of Vallejo Model Color Bright Orange No 70851 (See pic 4). If using Citadel Colours use Blood Red and Blazing Orange.

Hairspray its not just for 80's back combed hair!!!

Step 5 - Well with the red on the hull finished, it was time to add detail and the first of my weathering effects. The first thing to do is make sure that all the paint on the red hull's are dry, completely dry, not just feels dry but has been left to dry for a good few hours. That's because this next stage involves using masking tape to 'mask off' certain areas of the miniatures and while it shouldn't damage the paint underneath it, masking tape can sometimes be a little bit more 'tacky' than normal. Especially if its warm weather and this can damage any paint, or leave a sticky residue. For this I used Tamiya 6mm Masking tape. I then got some common all garden hairspray and sprayed this onto the parts of the model I wanted to add my white lines, using a piece of card to shield various areas as I went and ensure it didn't get on parts I didn't want it to (see pic 5). Top tip, do not, I repeat DO NOT use the other half's expensive hairspray, buy any old cheap crap. Allow the hairspray to dry about 30 minutes should be more than enough. Then the next stage requires whipping out my trusty old airbrush again and some Vallejo Model Air White No 71008. Spray over the area you want the white lines to appear (See pic 6). Now really you should leave the white paint to dry a little, so that it goes slightly tacky, I normally test this on any paint on the masking tape with my finger, before removing the tape. If you leave it too long and the paint dries completely you risk peeling bits of paint off you didn't want to, conversely pull the tape off too soon and you risk wet paint splodges ruining the nice neat line you're after. However given how pressed for time I was to get this done I used a heat lamp to speed drying time up and used the tried and tested 'band aid' method of tearing the tape off as quick as I could to minimise the possibility of those paint splodges because I was in a race against time to get this article done (see pic 7)!!! If using Citadel paints you should use Skull White, also if you don't have an airbrush you can still get a similar effect with a very steady hand or indeed still use masking tape and brush the paint on.

Step 6 - Next up came painting some alien looking markings on the side of the ship (yep that's right Sorylians are Xenos) I decided the perfect place for such marking would be bang smack in the middle of that nice thick, pristine white stripe I'd created. For this I used the slightly more opaque Vallejo Game Colour Black No 72051, if using Citadel paints use Chaos Black, but I'm guessing you already knew that right? I first practiced on some paper just to make sure I could do it neatly considering by now I was running on Red Bull and Jelly Babies. The next part of this stage was the shading of the white with a neutralish grey colour, I chose Vallejo Model Color Grey Green No 70866 and just like Stage 3 this was watered down to normal painting consistency and again carefully applied, but here I was able to use the capillary action to run the paint into the microscopic grooves between the panels on the ships hull, for this I used my Winsor and Newton 00 gauge brush, because this is really quite fine work (see pic 8)!!! I'm sorry but there isn't really and easily comparable Citadel Colour for the Grey Green I used, the closest would be a mix of 3 parts Codex Grey, 1 part Chaos Black with just a tip of a brush full of Dark Angels Green.

Stage 7 - For me this is where the fun really begins and the finished hull begins to take shape. For this I used an old stiff bristled brush and some clean water to help 'lift' some of the white paint off of the hull. You see the hairspray underneath the white paint is still water soluble, and by getting it wet again it will 'unseat' the white paint in certain areas and leave a terribly nice chipped and battered pattern making the ship look like its worse for ware and been through the wars. Also just to prove I have painted the other side of the hull here's a picture of the opposite side of the ship to prove I haven't been cutting corners (see pic 9). The final step of the weathering for the hull is trying to replicate or create an effect that looks like debris or asteroid strikes along the hull. For this I mixed a paste using 50% Vallejo Model Color Matte Varnish No 72520, 40% MIG Pigment Black Smoke P023 and then 10% MIG Pigment fixer, a few drops of water can sometimes help with making the mix more fluid. This was then daubed onto the hull at various strategic points along the length of the model with an old brush in little blobs. I then used a wide nozzle airbrush with no paint loaded to fan out the paste along the hull to simulate those impacts, you can actually get a similar effect with a drinks straw and lung power. If the paste proves a bit to thick to move I'd load a small amount of MIG pigment fixer into the airbrush and spay that in the same way to blow and thin the paste all at the same time. Any excess paste was removed with a cotton wool bud (see pic 10). You could use any acryllic brush on varnish and black weathering pigments you have to hand, but if you don't have any weathering pigment you could dry brush and smudge the damage on with black paint. At this point I had to drop painting the rest of the fleet and concentrate on my solitary cruiser or risk not completing the article on time.

Stage 8 - Its also at this stage where I had to make a pretty quick snap decision about which way I wanted to go with the metallic parts on the ship. Trust me I actually genuinely agonised about this decision because originally I wanted to paint the metallic parts of my hull using the none metallic metal (NMM) technique, and also show everyone some nice quick way to achieve that look. However two things stopped me 1) I wanted to paint parts of the metal a brassy gold and NMM gold uses a lot of browns and I wasn't so sure the brown tones would stand out as well as I'd like against the red hulls of my ships and 2) I was really pressed for time. So in the end I decided discretion was the better part of valour and went with using metallic paints, so I needed to quickly undercoat those areas I wanted to paint metal with a slightly watered down wash of Vallejo Game Colour Black No 72051 to ensure that those metallic paints really popped when painted onto the model (see pic 11). Of course you can use whichever brand of black paint you like the most.

Stage 9 - The first thing I did when painting the metallic parts is pick out a bigger brush!!! For this I used the Winsor and Newton 1 brush. I applied a slightly thinned layer of Vallejo Game Color Gunmetal No 72054, to every metallic component, even to those I was considering painting gold or brass. Once this was dry I applied another thin coat to certain areas to ensure a nice even coverage, I also applied a few patches in strategic places on the red hull to simulate severe damage where the paint had been worn thin (see pic 12). After this second coat was dry I pulled out what I personally deem to be one of the true miracle paints of the miniature painting world, Tamiya Color Acrylic Paint Smoke X-19, write that down or memorise it because everyone should have a pot of this stuff in their armoury. This was painted over all of the metal components as a wash would be (see pic 13). Word of warning though this stuff does take some serious time to dry properly so bring a good book to read or time its application to coincide with having to take a journey somewhere... like the moon!!! But it is worth it honest. If you don't own Tamiya's miracle paint you could try Vallejo Game Color Smokey Ink No 72068 or a 50/50 mix of Citadel Devlan Mud and Badab Black. The final stage of painting the steel or silver coloured metal was just a very simple dry brushed highlight of Vallejo Game Color Silver No 72052, mainly on the leading edges and not too much of it at all, mainly because the Tamiya Smoke leaves a lovely glistening oily quality behind that I really wanted to retain (see pic 14, below again its the other side of the ship to prove its been painted too). As a heads up to any Imperial Guard or Chaos Marine players Tamiya Smoke is great at replicating oily old engines and grime and filth, thinned properly it can also do water marks and stains on tanks too.

Sadly I had to start taking pictures while the miniature was still wet. Sorry

Stage 10 - painting the gold parts was interesting. Originally I had honestly intended to paint more of the ship gold, but looking at it I quite liked the oily steel look set against the red, so I decided to only paint the three big tubes that lead back from the hull into the engine section on either side of the ship gold. Not much is it? I started by daubing on Vallejo Game Color Polished Gold and when I say daubed I mean it because the surface by now was quite shiny and painting one metallic paint over another can be tricky as it just kind of smears (see pic 15) if using Citadel Colours I'd probably have plumped for Burnished Gold as its a richer colour than Shinnig Gold. Next I gave the gold a wash of Vallejo Game Color Charred Brown, watered down and mixed with Matte Varnish to shade it, and in the deepest recesses I painted some more Tamiya Smoke to try and tie both the steel and gold metallic colours together somewhat, again if using Citadel Colours you could use Devlan mud and Badab Black. By the end of this stage things had gotten a little bit messy on the old hull as I'd been rushing along at a fair old rate of knots... is the speed of space ships measured in knots? So I got out the Vallejo Model Color Flat Red No 70957 to touch things up a little, because I really wasn't being careful at all (see pic 16).

Stage 11 - Painting the engine glow... You see I think for most people the miniature would be done by now and you'd be able to put your feet up and admire your workmanship. However I'm ever so slightly unhinged and yes that means I want to add more to the miniature... I want to make my engines glow green and try some Object Source Lighting (OSL). Why? Well I feel a little guilty wimping out on the NMM... oh you mean why GREEN? Well green just seems the sort of colour 'alien' spaceship engines would glow. Now I've never tried OSL over metallic pants so this is a learning experience for me as well, so this should be fun. However first of all a bit of OSL theory, the idea is to apply colours to a miniature after it has been painted to simulate how light radiates out from the source. Because light doesn't replace the colour underneath, just merely affects its. As such I normally apply the light source colours in translucent washes, however that would most likely look really weird over metallic paints so for this miniature I'm going for solid colours with a gradual step change between colours. The second most important thing to remember when painting OSL is that you should think of the colours as concentric rings with the lightest colour at the center of the light source and normally painted white or near white and then the colours should gradually darken as the strength of the light fades towards the edges of the effect. Now here's the thing, normally I would paint the darkest colours first and work my way back to the lightest colour, but because I cheated on the NMM well... I created a bigger problem later on for myself. Let this be a lesson to you all, never cut corners! So what I ended up having to do was actually start with the brightest colour in the center and work my way out, now that probably doesn't sound that hard now does it? Well considering my brain is used to doing it the other way I think halfway trough my grey matter started to dribble from my ears with the strain! So the colours I used from lightest to darkest are, Vallejo Game Color's Dead White No 72001, Sun Yellow No 72006, Livery Green No 72033, Escorpena Green No 72032 and finally Vallejo Game Extra Opaque Heavy Blackgreen No 72147 (see pic 17). If using Citadel paints I'd be using Skull White, Sunburst Yellow, Snot Green and Dark Angels Green. Truth be told I'm really not all that happy about how the engines turned out and I might go back and change them at some point.

Stage 12 - Protecting your miniature. Its the last thing you do so its important to get it right and not cock it up. As this is a gaming piece I always use a good quality gloss spray can varnish, my current favourite being Vallejo at the moment, I then leave this to dry for a good 24 hour and apply a second coat of varnish, this time a matte varnish to take the horrible sheen away of the gloss varnish. The gloss varnish is best at protecting miniatures from the rough and tumble of gaming but I hate the effect. A few top tips though 1) never spray varnish in humid conditions 2) never spray varnish in cold conditions 3) warm the can of varnish up first in some warm tap water 4) always shake the can vigorously and 5) test the spray on a dummy miniature first. That's it, we're done.


Well there's the finished product, well one ship at least. I did start painting the entire fleet as I said at the same time but it was taking way too long to do, which was a real shame. However I have broken the back of most of the fleet I think. So I'm going to use the rest of the week to try and finish them all off. I'm pretty pleased in the end with how they turned out, yeah I know I'm not the worlds best painter and I'm actually pretty lame, but I do really enjoy seeing a painting job through to completion. I think it came pretty close to my painting brief of a battle scarred red cruiser. I love the look of the red hulls and the metallic paints haven't done too bad a job, its just the engine glow that could be better. Hopefully the painting guide wasn't too long and even if you don't paint your fleet to look like mine perhaps there's a technique or product I've used you might want to try for yourself or... perhaps not. Peace out!


  1. Mate I'm pretty impressed with those paint jobs, they're definitely a cut far above the "serviceable tabletop standard", and it's certainly given me a few ideas. In my magpie manner I'm all of a sudden keen for spaceships. As we say in the antipodes, bugger.

  2. lol. We say Bugger back here in the UK as well!!! Sorry I've encouraged you to spend money... just think of it as you doing your bit to help the economy!!! If you need any further tips or hints or anything with regards painting please drop any questions in here and I'll do my best to answer them.