Painting of a 54mm Saxon Warrior – PRELUDE
I’m always excited to paint kits from Raúl García Latorre, one of my favourite sculptors. This article will focus on one of his old kits, a 54mm Saxon Warrior, 5th Century. The kit was originally released some time ago from his old company, but looks like it will be re-released through MProyec so you can still get a copy if you want!
While this step by step will focus on a specific figure, the information is applicable to a wide range of kits including many historical and fantasy barbarian figures. I’ll touch on painting skin, metal, fur, and cloth as well as weathering the figure. So, even if you don’t plan on painting this specific figure, I hope you will still find this article useful.
Before I begin, I want to give you a quick overview of my approach. I work with acrylic paints. Primarily Reaper Master Series (similar to Vallejo Model Colour) and, unless specified, the paint names will refer to that range. The main exceptions are metallics and inks. For those I used Scale75. My approach to blending is applying many thin (semi-transparent) layers and gradually changing the mixtures. For the following discussion, I will include the mixes for my base layer, shadows, and highlights. But keep in mind, I use many intermediate mixes between these to create the end result.
STARTING THE PROJECT
The figure is white metal and simple to assemble. The body is cast as a single piece and only the two hands and a sheathed dagger need to be glued on. The kit comes with a choice for the left hand, either holding a second axe or holding a shield. I opted to use the shield as it’d give me the chance to do some freehand design work. As the shield would block some of my access to the rest of the figure, I left it off for the time being.
I also left off the dagger for the moment. Prior to starting this figure, I’d received a bunch of photo-etch accessories from Etch-Masters. Because I wanted to give this Saxon a rather beat-up weathered look, I decided to switch out the blade on the axe in his right hand for a chipped one from the Etch-Master sheet. Although there wasn’t anything wrong with the kit, I thought the new axe looked a little more bad-ass!
Pins were inserted into each foot and the figure was primed with white.
PAINTING THE FACE
I tend to start with the face on most figures. If the face is bad, I’m going to redo the piece. So why waste time on the rest?
I began with a base coat of Reaper’s Rosy Shadow. I also based the surrounding parts (helmet, hair, tunic) in dark brown (first image below). I then like to rough in the shadows (second image). It doesn’t look great, but I’ll clean it all up by the end! For the shadows I like to work with reddish browns. In this case, I used Chestnut Brown and then, for the darkest spots, Mahogany Brown. It’s at this point that I like to pause and paint the eyes.
I start with an off-white like Weathered Stone (third image). Never use pure white for the whites of the eyes, it is way to bright and looks “cartoony” rather than realistic. Next I’ll go in and paint the irises and pupils (fourth image). On a 54mm these details can be tough.
Considering that most people don’t view the figure under magnification (or in blown up images online), you can often get away with just using a dark color (dark brown or dark blue) and painting a single circle to represent both the iris and pupil.
With the eyes finished, I return to the skin. I take the Chestnut Brown and gradually mix in more and more of the Rosy Shadow. Using multiple layers, I blend my roughed in shadows back up to the midtone (fifth image). I then start to mix Fair Skin into the Rosy Shadow and add the highlights (sixth image). If I feel the need to go brighter, I can take some Fair Highlight and even some Pure White or Linen White for the very topmost highlights.
At this point I take a step back and evaluate the face. Typically I’ll find little parts that need to be tweaked. In this case I wanted to adjust some of the lines around the cheeks and mouth. You’ll notice between the sixth and seventh image the line running from the nose to around the outside of the mouth has changed slightly. The lines at the corners of the mouth have also been adjusted.
It’s at this point that I’ll also go in and add the lips. For this I use a mix of Violet Red and Rosy Shadow (not too red, don’t want it to look like lipstick). I then highlight that by mixing in Fair Skin. The final step is to apply some glazes (eighth image). I used a glaze of red to add some color to the cheeks and tip of the nose. A thin blue glaze on the lower part of the face shifts the colour and creates the impression of stubble. I’ll also use a purple glaze to reinforce some of the deeper shadows in the cheeks and around the eyes.
Remember to keep the glaze layers thin (you want to build up colour slowly over 4-5 or more layers to help with the blending), give each layer enough time to dry in between, and push the colour where you want it (start the stroke in the transition region and end it where the colour should be the strongest).
CREATING A WEATHERED HELMET
I decided to take a risk and do something a little different with the helmet. Instead of a regular pristine metal helm, I decided to give him a cruddy rusted helmet that looked like he’d found it abandoned somewhere and decided to wear it anyway. The approach was adapted from one used by a talented artist, Ernesto Reyes S. He did something similar on a bust (The Rider from Nocturna Models) and I thought I could try it out on a 54mm figure.
I began with a base of dark brown. I applied thin layers of black along the bottom of the helm. I then used some orange brown, red mixed with dark brown, and a touch of yellow, all applied in thin layers towards the top of the helmet. The colours mixed on the wet palette can be seen to the below.
Notice how, when dabbed on the paper, they are actually quite thin. These were applied somewhat randomly using a frayed brush and stippling to give a dirty/rusty look to the helm (first picture in the series below). Next I switched over to the metallic paints and, using a fine detail brush, focused on the raised edges where the rest might be worn off. Again this is applied unevenly to look worn and scratched (middle image in series below). I continued going back and forth with metallic colours and the dirt/rust tones. I added a bit of purple into the mix as well for some added visual interest. This continued until I was happy with the end result (third image below).
DEALING WITH FUR
Ugh, I hate painting fur. Of course on a figure like this it can’t be avoided. When approaching fur, it’s good to look at references. Even if you’re doing a fantasy piece, grounding it in reality will help make a more believable looking figure. While some animals have a rather uniform colouring, many have variation in their fur.
Take a grey wolf, for example. The sides of the fur might be tan, but the belly is off white and the back is dark grey or black. While I could just paint the fur on the Saxon a uniform brown colour, add in this sort of variation will create a more interesting look.
To paint the fur I took the follow approach:
- I started with a colour sketch. On the bottom I used Aged Bone, in the centre I used Driftwood Brown, and on the top I used Black.
- I went over the transition regions with Bone Shadow, Olive Skin Shadow, and Olive Skin Shadow mixed with Black (first 50/50 and then 20/80) to darken the blend in the sections.
- I then used some controlled dry brushing to add highlights in several layers. In the lower region I worked with Weathered Stone and Aged Bone, in the centre I used Olive Skin and Olive Skin Highlight, and on the top I used Dusky Skin Shadow and Dusky Skin.
- I went back over this with washes of Weathered Stone, Brown Liner, and Black (in the appropriate regions) to reinforce the shadows and tie colours together.
- Finally I redid some of the highlights. This was less through dry brushing and more about going in and picking out specific hairs.
The approach is tedious (as I said, painting fur isn’t my favourite activity). But it’s the best method I’ve come up with to produce the results I want. Of course I will continue to try to improve the approach as I do fur on other pieces.
As I mentioned in the prelude, I like to work with Scale75’s metallic paints. I find them to be incredibly smooth and they have a lot of colour options. I’m using Necro Gold and Elven Gold from their Golden Metal ‘n Alchemy set and Thrash Metal from the Steel Metal ‘n Alchemy set.
The figure has a round plate on his chest and back and some sort of armour around his waist. I suppose I could have treated these as leather, but I decided to go with a beaten bronze. To begin, I gave the parts a base coat of dark brown.
Metallic paints tend to work better over a dark undercoat. I then applied a layer of Necro Gold mixed with Reaper’s Imperial Purple. Mixing the metallic colour with the matte shade helps dull the shine for the shadow regions. The choice of purple was made to contrast with the yellow of the metal. I then began to mix in the lighter metallic colours. I used Elven Gold at first and then, at maybe 50/25/25 Elven Gold, Necro Gold, and Imperial Purple, I started to mix in Thrash Metal instead. This created a more desaturated highlight and avoided too bright a yellow (it’s supposed to be bronze, not gold after all). As I applied the lighter metal colours, I used short strokes to try to emphasize the texture. Finally, I went in with glazes of black and brown to emphasise the shadows.
With metals, it’s important to highlight edges which tend to catch the light. So if you look at his back, in the image above, you’ll notice that most of the metal is in shadow (the position of his body has the armor facing slightly down). Yet a thin highlight is applied around some of the edges to show those catching the light.
PAINTING THE CLOTH SECTIONS
When it comes to a barbarian figure like this, you’ve got quite a bit of freedom to pick the colours you want to use. For his tunic I wanted to avoid a brown, since there was already plenty of that between the fur and leather sections. I considered going with green or red before finally settling on blue. A character like this probably wouldn’t be dressed in bright shades, so I aimed for a more muted colour. To add some consistency to the look of the figure, I used many of the same paints in my mixes for the tunic and pants as I did on other parts of the figure (colours that were used in the fur and leather sections).
For the tunic I began with a dark base of 50/50 Ritterlich Blue and Blackened Brown (the same brown was used on many other parts of the figure). From there I worked up by adding a roughly 40/60 mix of Soft Blue and Basic Dirt (middle image below). Finally I mixed in a 50/50 combination of Heather Blue and Bone Shadow (image on the right). By using these brown and off whites along with the blue, it creates a more subdued colour than the blues would on their own.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have gone with a red or reddish-brown for the tunic. The colour red conveys rage and anger while blue is more calm. I like the shade of blue, but perhaps choosing colours to fit the mood of the piece would create a stronger end result. Oh well, something to keep in mind next time!
For the pants I used the same colours as the tunic, but mixed them in different ratios. I started with the same 50/50 Ritterlich Blue and Blackened Brown base. On top of that I used a 10/90 mix of Soft Blue and Basic Dirt, creating a much more brown looking midtone. For the highlights I used a 20/80 mix of Heather Blue and Bone Shadow. The hints of blue tie the pants in with the tunic and make for a slightly more interesting looking brown.
FREEHAND AND DISTRESSING THE SHIELD
While I’m a big fan of Latorre’s sculpts, the shield here is a bit boring. There’s a center boss on the front and a handle on the back, but no other details. My assumption was that the shield would be wood with a leather cover on the front.
Since this would see some wear and tear, I wanted the sculpt to reflect that too. To spruce up the shield a bit, I took some milliput and added a border around the back edge. This is where the leather folds over and is tacked down. I also using a pointed tool to imply the tacks holding the leather in place. The wood (making the rest of the back) would just be painted on. For the front of the shield, I applied a thin layer of milliput in spots and then created flaps where the leather had torn and was hanging down. Be careful to make sure the flaps are roughly the size and shape of the cut out. I also put a few small dents and holes in spots.
To paint the shield, I used vertical strokes on the back to create a wood texture. I did the same for the holes in the front. For the front covering, I took a dull green (greens mixed with the same browns as the tunic and pants) and applied it in a gradient (getting dark on the bottom to imply the slight curvature of the shield). On the side of the flaps, I used a buff colour.
The main reason I chose to use the shield was so I could do some freehand design work. Instead of something geometric, I thought I’d do an animal design. Now, we don’t have examples of real Saxon shields, so who knows how they would have looked or what designs they may have used. But, I still wanted to do something that felt like it might be plausible. So I did a search for Saxon animal imagery and came up with two pieces. The first was a wolf design found on the Sutton Hoo purse-lid, an artefact found in Suffolk, England dating to around 600 AD.
The second was a wolf from the Pictish standing stones, found in Scotland and dating to 400-900 AD. I took these designs and created my own by mashing them together. I sketched in the outline of my design over the green background of the shield and then filled them in with shades of brown. The end result is something that I hope feels like a piece of Saxon imagery.
I’ve already done a bit of weathering when I painted the helmet, put on the chipped blade, and created the tear in the shield. But, overall, the figure is still pretty clean. This is a big bad barbarian! He should be muddy and bloody!
Don’t get me wrong, adding weathering on top of your nicely painted figure is terrifying. But, if you’re willing to risk doing it, the end result will look that much better. Weathering helps tell the story of the figure and gives it history.
Has the figure been in a battle? Did he just stomp through some mud? Or is he in his parade best and just finished shining his shoes? The amount and type of weathering should make sense for the subject. Think about what they may have done and look at references (movies/tv when real images aren’t available).
To do the weathering I use some paint (glazes/washes to discolor or for blood effects), but mostly I work with dried pigments. I’ve got the set from Secret Weapon Miniatures, but other companies like MiG would work just as well. I applied the weathering in several steps…
- I began with some Tamiya Clear Red for blood effects. I placed some dots and smears on his shield and axe. I also placed blood on the knuckles of his right hand. Perhaps he punched someone during his recent battle or maybe it’s just splatter from hitting someone with his axe.
- I use a mix of dry pigments and matte medium to create caked on mud. I take several different colours of pigments (to get variation) and mix them with Vallejo Matte Medium to get a paste-like consistency. Using an old frayed brush, I start to dab it on. I don’t want this to be smooth like normal paint, I want to add both texture and colour. I focus on areas that would be muddy, so mainly his feet and up the back of his calves. I put a tiny bit on the bottom of his tunic and on the shield, but keep that limited.
- Using just dry pigments (no matte medium), I apply a final layer of dirt and dust. I take several different shades to get colour variation and, using a somewhat stiff flat brush I dab on the pigment and then brush or gently blow it off. This leaves behind some of the color and creates a dusty/dirty look. This is applied over a larger area, including the legs, shield, and tunic: pay particular attention to areas that would get dirtier. So the elbows and knees get a healthy coating. Other spots are more limited.
- Any final touches that I feel are necessary. Since the shield got a layer of dirt with the pigments, I go back in with blood effects and place more of that over the dirt. It’s all part of the story. There are older blood stains under the dirt and also newer ones from the most recent confrontation.
CREATING THE SCENE
With the figure done, it was time to finish the base. My goal here was to build a base that helped tell a story (even if it is a rather simple one). What I wanted to avoid was making just another barbarian standing on dirt sort of scene. So I started to brainstorm ideas. The pose of the figure is rather static, so it wouldn’t be an action scene. Perhaps however, it’s right after the action and he is surveying the aftermath. Instead of placing him outside, what if I put him in a building? The idea is he’s on a raid and just broke into a home or mead hall. He’s killed the occupants and is now taking a moment to contemplate the chaos he has created.
The main challenge is how to tell that story in a limited amount of space (it’s a small base and I don’t want to build a whole building). I could create a section of a wall, but that would cut off one whole side of the figure from people’s view. A doorway would work, but I decided to just create on interior support and beam to imply a larger building.
For this I used balsa wood picked up from the local arts and crafts store. You can often find bags with various sizes and shapes. I picked a rather thick piece with a square cross-section for the main support. I then used two smaller pieces with rectangular cross sections to create the beam and support. A mitre box and saw can be helpful for cutting the pieces and angles. I took a hobby knife and chipped away at the edges of each piece. This created a more uneven look which feels more natural for this scale.
Take a look at the post along with the figure, I was happy with how the scene was going to look. Next I turned to the floor. Again, I used balsa wood. I cut a number of pieces to match the size of the base and laid them down to create the floor boards. As before I used a knife to cut at the edges and make them less uniform.
Finally I cut a few pieces to make a stool and glued them together. After the glue had set, I broke the stool apart. I wanted the scene to look like a struggle just happened, so some broken furniture will help tell that story. I placed a chain hanging from the beam because I liked how it looked. Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with a reason why it’d be there, so I would end up removing it before I was done.
Happy with the look, I put in some final details. I placed a plate and, using milliput, some spilled gruel. I guess the Saxon had interrupted their dinner when he burst in. I also placed a few coins scattered across the floor. These were made by cutting up the left over cylinders from a plastic/resin sprue. The wood on the base was painted with a reddish-brown. More weathering was done on the floor. Mud tracked in by the Saxon, a layer of dirt and dust, and of course some blood splatter.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and find it useful! Enjoy the finished figure in the short gallery below!
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.