This article will be a walk-through on my painting of a medieval knight on horseback. At the time I was looking for a good competition figure. I settled on this beautiful 54mm kit from Pegaso, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s a great dynamic sculpt and the large surfaces of the cape, shield, and banner provided plenty of opportunity for freehand embellishments. These features make the kit a great display or competition piece. Although I wanted to treat this as a historical kit, the sculpt could be just as easily used in a fantasy setting.
PLANNING THE PROJECT
Although the kit is titled Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, it could work for almost any of the crusading orders or just as a regular knight. For some of these alternative options check out my article on the crusading orders. In the past I’ve painted Templars and Hospitallers, but never a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. So I decided to stick with that as my theme.
Next I put some thought into what I wanted to with the colours of the piece. In keeping with the historical uniform, the clothing of the rider would be mostly white. This meant a lot of empty white space on his long flowing cape. The banner would be mostly white as well, with just the red cross of the order near the front. I had seen some versions which added historically inaccurate colours (like a red cape), but I did not want to go that route.
However, due to all of that white space, I thought I would add some freehand details on the cape and banner. A border design for the cape would not be part of the typical uniform, but it’s hard to say a wealthy knight would not have a cape with a little more flash to it. It’s at least plausible, so I felt justified in doing it. On the banner, I wanted to keep with the traditional design but still give it a little something more. So I decided to add a white on white pattern to the background. This would be subtle enough not to distract, but still add more visual interest than a plain white banner.
To contrast with the primarily white knight, I wanted to go with a dark colour for the horse. A black horse would make the most interesting looking figure in my opinion. There are several ways to shade black (using pure greys, browns, etc). Since there would be red details on the knight, I decided to use some blues to help shade the black to provide additional contrast between the knight and horse.
A lot of these details, such as exactly which shades of paint to use and what the border and banner designs would be were figured out along the way. However, as I started the painting, I at least had an idea of where I wanted to go with it.
This is a kit that really needs to be assembled while you paint. I chose to do this in several sections. The rider was left separate from the hose to make painting each easier. In addition, I left the cape and shield off of the rider. The cape flows off to one side, revealing much of his back. However, attaching the cape would obstruct access with the brush and make painting the back considerably more difficult.
With the cape off, the shield couldn’t be attached until later. I also left the banner (and pole) separate. This is in part to protect them. It’s easy to knock into them and bend or break those parts. It will also be easier to hold the banner and paint the design on it without having to hold the knight too. Finally it’s rather simple and straightforward to slide the banner pole down through the hand, so there’s no real downside to attaching it later.
The horse was completely assembled with the exception of the front of the saddle. On a different mounted piece I made the mistake of assembling the entire saddle and then trying to place the rider on later. I found that the fit between the rider and saddle was too tight and that they should have been attached simultaneously. I didn’t want to make the same mistake here, so the front of the saddle was left off until I was ready to attach the rider.
A pin was inserted between the rider’s legs to allow me to hold him while painting. A hole was drilled into the horse’s saddle, so the pin could slide into it when the rider was put into place. For most kits, the body of the horse comes in two halves and the middle is hollow, so this just required a small hole through the top of the saddle and not a deep hole through a solid horse.
I made one small modification to the rider. The kit comes with a nose guard for the helmet. Though realistic, it covers up a lot of the face (which is well sculpted). I considered two options. The first was filing down the nose guard so it obstructed less of the face. The other was to leave it off and simply fill in the attachment hole with putty. After filing down the nose guard, I managed to drop it and lose it in the carpet. So that made my decision for me… time to fill in the hole in the helmet with putty!
PAINTING THE RIDER
As previously discussed, the cloth sections of the rider will be painted white. This is a tough colour to work with. How can you highlight something that’s already white? And how do you shade white so that it still looks like white and not grey? Well, the answer to the first question is to work with light colours but not pure white.
You need to leave yourself somewhere to go with the highlights. White is a relative colour. Those sneakers or old t-shirt might look white, but hold them up next to a true white sheet of paper and you’ll see they’re really shades of off white.
This allows you to work with colours that aren’t quite white, but still pass them off as if they were. As for the second question, how to shade, the trick there is to limit the areas where you apply those dark shades. Apply them over too large an area and the mid-tone will look more like grey.
Another trick when dealing with white is picking the right shadow (and mid-tone) colours to use. It may seem natural to go with neutral greys, but this can produce an artificial or just plain uninteresting looking project. For a historical figure like this, they would be wearing natural fabrics. So whites that tend toward linen shades or brown shades seems fitting to me.
The colours I chose for the majority of the white on the knight were Reaper’s Weathered Stone (for the base coat), Bone Shadow (basic shadow), and Leather White (basic highlight). In a few spots I used Pure White for additional highlights, but Pure White was used very sparingly. In some spots I needed darker shadows, like inside the sleeves and underneath the cape. For that I used a dark brown (the exact shade is unimportant) and mixed it with Bone Shadow.
Pattern on the Cape and Banner:
As I mentioned earlier in this article, because the knight’s cape is a lot of empty white space I wanted to add an edge design for more visual interest. I looked through various sources (Byzantine mosaics, medieval European art, etc) to find a design I liked. I wanted to find a design that didn’t require additional colours and something that had enough detail to be interesting, but not so complicated that I couldn’t pull it off. I settled on an interweaving design with a Celtic feel.
Before starting the design, I first painted and shaded the white background for the cape. I then did several lines along the edge of the cape to create the border for the design. This can be done by eye, trying your best to keep the distance to the edge consistent as you go. However, it is easier to tear off the corner from a sheet of paper or note card and place two marks (one at the corner and another slightly in along the edge). These marks will indicate the spacing between the main line and the edge of the cape. Hold this card up to the cape and, using your other hand, place little dots all along the edge. Then all you need to do is connect them to create the border line. Unfortunately I did not take pictures of that stage, but hopefully the following sections will clear up any questions on it.
The next step was to mark out the spacing on the design. Since it’s a repeating pattern, I want to keep the spacing as uniform as possible. To do this, I used the same ruler trick as described in the previous paragraph and place dots everywhere there should be a loop in the design. You can see these dots in the first image below. Instead of doing the design all in one go, I break it up into several smaller steps. The first of which (image 2 below) is to paint an ‘s’ shaped curve starting just inside one of the dots and connecting to the outside dot. I then complete this curve and have it touch the neighboring line. I then repeat this step, adding a second line that goes through the other dot (image 3 below). From there, I connect up the curves and make adjustments as needed so the lines from one match up with the next (image 4). The basic design is completed at this point, but it’s still a little rough. You’ll notice in the 4th image, some of the lines are thicker than others and a bit too dark in spots. So I go back with my white background colour and clean up the lines. I also apply a glaze of the white mid tone to tie the design in more with the cape as a whole. The end result is shown in the 5th image below.
Although it’s not the most intricate design in the world, it’s complicated enough that painting it all in one go would be very difficult. The sizes and spacing of the loops often change as you go. But, if you mark out the spacing between loops and build up the design one piece at a time, the end result will look much cleaner and more uniform. The extra time spent will pay off in the quality of the end result.
The pattern on the banner was less complicated, but I still approached it the same way as the shield. After painting the background, I used a ruler to place evenly spaced dots along the top and bottom edges of the banner. I then connected these dots with diagonal lines using a slightly lighter shade of white than the background color. Where the banner is split in two, I eyeballed where the lines should theoretically meet up. Once that was done, I went back in and added the small hash marks between where the main lines cross.
PAINTING THE HORSE
I found the horse to be especially tough to paint. While many people would find all the white on the knight difficult, I find that painting black gives me more trouble. At times it was very tempting to scrap my original plan and just do a brown horse, but I really wanted to stick with it. I remembered seeing a beautiful version of Pegaso’s Roaming Knight in Mr Black’s Scale Model Handbook – Figure Modelling 2. So I decided to take a similar approach with my black horse.
I started with Reaper’s Pure Black and then slowly added some Marine Teal. Once I reached a decent blue-grey shade, I started adding Tanned Skin to create the highlights. The results were decent (image on the left below), but I wasn’t pushing the contrast nearly enough. After some time for reflection, I decided to try again. This time I used Reaper’s Pure Black, Scale75’s Abyssal Blue, and then Reaper’s Fair Highlight. I also forced myself to push the highlights to be brighter and brighter. The end result (image on the right below) was a bit more blue, but also much more interesting. I could have stuck with the marine teal and substituted Fair Highlight for Tanned Skin and produced similar results, perhaps with a bit less blue too.
Using the mix above, I then took on the rest of the horse. I focused just on the skin at first, but would eventually use it on the mane and tail as well.
Details on the Horse:
The main colours for the historical Knight of the Holy Sepulchre are white and red. So, when it came to details like the sash around the knight’s waist and the equipment on the horse, red seemed like the obvious choice. I experimented a little with a traditional bright red, but was unhappy with how it looked. Instead I decided to use more of a burgundy or red-purple shade. That’s not strictly historically accurate, but I don’t mind taking some artistic license here and there for a more interesting end result. To create these shades, I used a combination of red and grey. I used Reaper’s Burgundy Wine for my darkest tones. The mid-tone was a mix of Reaper’s Violet Red and Scale75’s Anthracite Grey (roughly 3 parts red to 2 parts grey). For the highlight, I used Reaper’s Pale Violet Red and Rainy Grey (roughly 1 to 1 mix).
Although currently I use Scale75’s Metal ‘n Alchemy for the majority of my metallics, I began the knight before I had those sets. So, instead I used Reaper’s Old Bronze (often mixed with Burgundy Wine to darken it in the shadows) and Vallejo Model Air’s Gold to highlight the metal details. VMA Gold is an odd shade for normal gold, but it works quite well to highlight other yellow metals. I followed that up in select areas (like the scale armour of the knight) with glazes of black, green, and purple to reinforce shadows and provide some variation in the metal.
You might associate this with vehicles, but weathering applies to figures as well. A knight riding around on horseback is going to kick up plenty of dust and dirt. And, if he’s been in battle, there should be some sign of that as well.
To weather the knight and horse I used some dry pigments (several different shades of brown and yellow) and applied them onto the legs of the horse and the ends of the knight’s clothing. I then wiped them off with a stiff brush, leaving behind a hint of their colour. I also used some Tamiya Clear Red to create some blood stains on the knights clothing and shield. There are some drops on his tunic (by the leg) and on his shield. The large streak on the shield was done by applying some clear red and then quickly smearing it across the shield with my thumb. I then went back with a small brush to add some dots and fine tune the end result.
Alternate Views of the Finished Project
David Powell is an award-winning painter. He's taught painting workshops and written numerous tutorials for publication in magazines and online. While he's best known for his work on historical miniatures, he's got a soft spot for fantasy and sci-fi subjects as well.