Thursday, October 21, 2010

Test 'gaunts: using oil-based paint to get even washes in hot climates

Around here it gets hot. Cook-an-egg-on-your-forehead hot. During the summer (which feels like it lasts from February through November) the temperature regularly rises above 110 degrees and we set the thermostat to 90. For visitors and new residents, it's oppressive. But once you get used to it, it's livable. As someone who comes from the frozen US Midwest, I'll take an Arizona summer over a Minnesota winter every time.

Unfortunately, my paints aren't so happy. The acrylic ink that dries evenly on a 70-degree day turns splotchy and ragged in hot, dry weather. I tried a few strategies to find a solution: paint only during the night; turn down the air conditioner; use a humidifier; only use washes on messy armies (like Orks);  4-layer painting (abandoning washes almost entirely); and dipping my models in polyurethane stain. But I'm a day person, not a night person; air conditioning is expensive; the humidifier didn't work (even in a small room); I don't want all my armies to be messy (although I do love my Orks); 4-layer painting takes a lot of time (It's rewarding, and the results are good. But I don't want to paint an entire army that way). and polyurethane dries too quickly for me to manage drips and runs.

Last week, as part of my quest to find a washing or dipping method that works in the southwestern heat, I turned my oil paints. They've been boxed up since I left art school, but it was great to smell the linseed oil and play with the old tools again. The results, after a few misfires, were pretty good too.

All three test models have flat acrylic undercoats, with no additional shading or highlighting. I left the bases for later.

On my first try I used mineral spirits from the oil-painting set mixed with polyurethane woodstain (Minwax Polyshades). This was almost the same as "dipping", but I used a much thinner mixture: 1 part woodstain to at least 4 parts mineral spirits. I wanted the mixture to look like a dark wash of acrylic ink when it first hit the model. When the model was covered with a thin layer of wash, I immediately went to work with a cosmetic sponge, wiping paint off the high points. Once the mineral spirits evaporated (which took about 3 minutes) the stain set almost immediately. Here's how it looked:

It has potential, but the areas where the stain set before I could wipe it off look really rough. In the first minute, while the stain mixture was really thin, I also had trouble with the sponge taking away too much of the wash. In the end, I don't think this method looks any better than my usual splotchy acrylic washes.

One positive result of using really thinned-out woodstain: it doesn't ruin your brushes. After all of these trials I was able to clean them off with a quick swish in a small dish of solvent, followed by a thorough washing with warm water and brush soap. My brushes are still in perfect shape, and ready for another round of painting.

On the second try, I used the same mixture. But once the stain set, I started dipping the sponge in mineral spirits to help me lift the dark patches:

The results are much smoother than my first try. I think the darker base colors help too. But I had the same problem with thinned-out woodstain wicking away from the model entirely. After about 10 minutes, the stain had set to a level where it would only come off with a heavily-saturated sponge. But then the stain became so runny that all of the shading jumped off the model and into the sponge.

For the last model, I used oil paint (Payne's Grey) and Turpenoid (aka Grumtine). This is a mixture I used a lot in art school, and it's a great combination for "negative painting", covering a canvas with a dark layer of paint and then lifting it off with a brush, rag and rubber eraser to create the light areas. If you're a fan of the illustrator Bernie Fuchs, you may have seen how he used this technique to get the soft glowing light in the background of his illustrations. Here's how it looks on a hormagaunt:

This time, I put a dark layer of oil paint and Turpenoid (about as thick as a dark acrylic ink wash) on the model and walked away for about 45 minutes. By then the Turpenoid had evaporated, but the oil paint hadn't cured. Then I used a cosmetic sponge and a tiny amount of Turpenoid to wipe the oil paint away from everything but the deepest crevices and I set it aside to cure (which took about 36 hours). I'm happy with the results, so happy that I went to the game store and picked up a couple of Zoanthropes so I can try this out on some larger, more detailed models.

If they go well, I'll add Tyranids to my list of projects. If they don't, look for a couple of badly painted brain bugs on ebay.

Next up: Zoanthropes
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