Wargaming Tradecraft: Painting the Mountain King's Skin


Painting the Mountain King's Skin

Today I'm going to demonstrate the number 1 question I received during the Mountain King project - How I painted his skin.

There were a lot of steps to it, but I'll show the ones that stand out. Most of the photos are hi-res so you can click them to get a more detailed view.

Overall, it basically came down to:

- Stippling with a sponge.
- Airbrushing.
- Painting deep shadows.
- Highlighting with weathering powders.
- Shading subtle shadows.
- Varnish.

Stippling his whole body.
Stippling with a Sponge
(Adding Texture)

I've demonstrated Stippling before, so I won't go into too much detail on the technique.

I blotched all the skin on his body using a sponge, beginning with white paint and thicker spots. Then, layered over and over moving to light then darker greys.

I used some fluid retarder to increase drying times so that as I moved to other layers, the greys would blend together.

Because of his size, paint could dry too fast for blending. Instead of working 1 colour at a time, you could work by section. (Stipple every colour on his chest, then his left arm, then right, etc.) This would keep paint tacky. Avoid temptation to dab paint on too thick - you don't want 3D polka dots sticking out of his skin.
Stippling close up of his right shoulder.

Airbrushing the Skin
(Adding Depth)

Stippling only adds texture to the skin. (Look at your arm - see the pores, wrinkles, colour variation, etc.) I used my airbrush to perform the highlights. This time I started with darker greys and layered up to lighter ones.

I've focussed on areas that are raised and visible. As you get under his arm, around his lower back, undersides of muscles, etc, I left it darker. Didn't worry about overspray at this point because I'll be repainting the stones later.

Deepening the darkest shadows
Painting Heavy Shadows

At this stage I want to deepen the really strong shadows before highlighting. I used a slightly thinned black paint to help the paint flow into the areas.

Paint every deep crevice around the stones jutting from his skin, all the large wrinkles, the chains, his collar, etc, but not the little wrinkles. I did it this way because it's easier to paint deep areas now, than risk having to fix the highlight after.

You'll also notice that "softer" skin areas like around his eyes, cheeks and other places have been given a brown tint. This is like how some of our skin gets different shades in certain areas.

Highlighting with pigments.
Pigment (Powder) Highlights

For the highlights, I did soft blending over the large areas by gently rubbing pigments (Also known as weathering powder.) into his skin.

Like while airbrushing, I focused on highlighting just the raised areas with white pigment and didn't do much to highlight the darker areas. Used some grey pigment in the shadows though.

Because of the pigments, the skin ends up with some really nice highlights. Right now, it looks a little strong and hides some of the stippling - that's OK. Once he's varnished, pigment will soften and details will show through.

Shading wrinkles
Shading the Details

To recap, I had the base, painted some really dark shadows, then highlighted everything.

In this step, I'm shading all the little subtle details. Every crack, crevice and wrinkle. I've used a black wash like it was paint - just finely painting it in spots with a detail brush instead of applying it thick and broadly like you normally would with a wash.

Remember, pigments are powders and when mixed with liquids, are basically just paint. When washing shadows into wrinkles, the absorbed wash ends up blending down the pigments.

Varnished with Satin spray hardcoat, then a Matte airbrush dullcoat.

This is another thing that pigments absorb, which will change the look of all the subtle blending you've done with powder.

As pigment is liquified by varnish, it thins and blends over the entire miniature.

Layering provides great blending and merging of detail. Much of the stippling and detail done before the pigment phase shows through after varnishing - softer and more natural looking.

Left: Pigmented with bold highlights,
Right: Varnished with a softer uniform appearance
Don't spray the varnish too thick - you don't want a the powder turning into a runny wash. This will cause pigment highlights to run into shaded areas and weathering in crevices to wash away.

"Damned if you do, Damned if you don't."

If you don't varnish, every time you handle the model you'll get powder on your hands.

As a show model, you could get away with not varnishing if you're worried about the impact it'll have on the final look of your model or how it'll change all your work. If the mini is going to be handled and used to game with, you really want to varnish.

It certainly changed the look of the King, but I wouldn't say for the worse.

* Note, I varnished the king once all the painting was done, but before adding all the plantlife and liquid effects.


  1. Great walk through.

    It's always cool to see how many steps are actually involved in a process; almost always far more than you'd think. Often it seems like the next step (in general), undoes previous work but really it's those layers and process that pulls it all together into a great end result.

    1. Often it does... but yes, the sum of all the layers adds a level of realism to the whole.

  2. Stunning work! Love the step by step, and appreciate the time it took to take and organize those photos!

    1. Thanks :) It is taking quite a while to put all this together, but glad to hear the appreciation.


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