Bolt Action Starter Set; A Build Blog by Howard Nason

Post 3 – Painting the Americans

Everything is assembled, it’s about time we got some paint on them!

To begin I primed everything with GW black primer.   Painting is tough to get done sometimes in the winter months, so I try to wait for warmer days to spray outside then rush them inside to the bathroom with a heated tile floor.  You can speed up the drying by using a hairdryer, and then leaving the fan running for a while seems to do away with the worst of the stink in the house.

Once they’re dry it’s time to move on to base coating.  I did this with an airbrush for this project and whenever I can I am making colour choices based on what I can find in Vallejo Model Air colours, so I’m hopefully not trying to custom mix colours.  I should mention I’m also a fan of a rattle can for a base coat, and will use that for the half-track.  But for these colours, I’ve got some Vallejo Model Air colours I can use.   So at this stage, I’m literally painting the entire model the base uniform colour I’m going to use.  I don’t worry about keeping the face or hands clear of paint; the whole model is sprayed.

And here’s where I share my lesson learned long ago.  As a slow and easily distracted painter, I frequently start projects, see something newer and shiny and move to that for a while.  When I’m ready to come back to finish the original project (and I’m talking years later sometimes here!) I struggle to match colours.   So I started a journal where I record each gaming system and then the colour choices for each army.   This way I can come back later and finish them off, or if I want to expand a force, I have the recipe written down.

That’s how I can tell you I base coated the infantry with an all-over airbrush of Vallejo Model Air “US Olive Drab” number 71.043.   Then I block in all the base colours for major items at this stage; different uniform pieces like a different coloured jacket, the skin, helmets, webbing and equipment.  I don’t worry about weapons or anything metallic yet, they come last.


The start of base coats on the US force.  Uniform colour is sprayed on, skin is painted, helmets are painted.  Bottom right is the first test figure, painted all the way to completion.

Once base coated, my next step is to start with the faces and hands.  Base coat for skin was first done in Vallejo Dark Flesh 70.927.  Then I mix up a wash of Vallejo German Camo Black Brown and I apply the wash all over the faces and hands, making sure it’s getting into the eye sockets, mouths, facial creases and between the fingers.   There seem to be some nice GW washes out there but I haven’t used them yet, so if you’ve got a nice dark brown, that’s really all I’m looking for.

Quick tip: a wash is a watered-down paint basically, and they can be acrylic or oil (oils would be thinned with mineral spirits or appropriate paint thinner).  Generally, I’ll just mix up what I want for any situation.  For an acrylic wash, you don’t want it too much water or it all just runs off the figure, and you don’t want too much paint or it’s just going on too thick, because it’s still basically paint.  You’re looking for a mix somewhere in the middle, so it holds in the cracks and crevices while it dries, but runs off all the high spots (like noses, cheekbones etc.).   We’ll talk about using oils later in the series.

Next up I use Vallejo 70.815 Basic Skintone.   I actually have two old bottles of this with the same number and they’re decidedly different colours, which is unusual.  Presumably, it’s the result of different production runs, but such a variation isn’t common.  Depending on the project I’ll use one that’s a little more pinkish or one that’s a little more pale.  I used the paler tone for all these figures.

I’m using a Windsor Newton 00 or 000 brush (double zero or triple zero) and I’m using a little water with the paint to get a nice smooth finish as I brush it over the cheeks, forehead etc.   What I’m trying to do is leave the dark brown wash in the eye sockets, in the creases running down to the corners of the mouths, etc.  I want to paint just where the light will be hitting the high spots of the face; nose, cheeks, lips etc. Try to keep a nice point on your brush as you paint, and stop and clean it or wet it a little if it’s not holding that point.  Then you’ll be able to lightly touch things like lips and eyelids and just leave a tiny bit of paint to lighten it up.

As far as painting eyes goes, a legendary military modeller and figure painter from the 1980’s and 90’s, Shepherd Paine, had wonderful advice on this; at this scale, you’re not going to see any whites in the eyes, it just blends in with the rest of the face.   At 1/35 scale, he’d try to put a bit of a lighter touch in the corners of the eyes, but even still it’s really just about letting the wash do its work, and then sometimes using a dark black or black/brown to hint at a pupil, that’s about all.  If you’re trying to use white for your eyes, you end up giving the figures a “bug-eyed look” (Paine’s expression, which is apt), or they look very surprised.

Have a look below at the trooper with the mohawk haircut and the officer.  The sculpt is good enough that the wash has collected nicely, giving nice shadows.   I’ve just touched up the eyelids a little with some flesh tone, and used a darker black/brown to show the narrowed eyes of the officer.


Examples of fairly simple face painting techniques.  Note these figures also had the Army Painter Quickshade applied as well.

This method works for me, and if you’re nervous trying to paint faces, don’t sweat those eyes – let the wash to the work, and just focus on touching it up a little after.   There are some really talented artists out there who can paint eyes and make them look convincing at these scales, of course.  I am not one, LOL!  And I always have to remind myself I am trying to finish projects.  Like Denzel said in The Equalizer “Progress, not perfection”, a great motto for any wargamer!  Also, when I use the Army Painter Quickshade, I know I’m going to get a final layer of shadows and colour that will just add to the overall effect.

Some folks like to paint the heads separate or paint the faces last, but I like to always start with the flesh first, especially because the face and around the neck are hard to reach often without getting paint on the collar or helmet or other details, and I can’t be bothered with all the separate heads on toothpicks.  I’m trying to paint an army, I don’t have the energy to make every figure a masterpiece!  So starting with the faces works for me and then I work my way outwards, and it results in fewer touch ups for me.

With the face and hands done the natural next step is the clothing.  Logic would dictate doing a wash again, and then highlighting after that.  However, here’s where I’ve started doing things a little differently a few years back.   Because I really like the effects of the Army Painter Quickshade washes, and I know from experience that they do a lovely job of both darkening the whole figure and adding lovely tones and shadows, I’ve started doing things in reverse.  I’ll finish with the wash, and I’m going to start with a bold highlight, knowing that it’s a bit overdone, but the wash is going to tone it down for me.

I start by doing highlights on the uniform, and here I’m just mixing up a highlight of Green Grey 70.886 and Iraqi Sand 70.819.  I don’t use white much for highlighting, I like the buff colour more.  I’m just looking to mix up a colour that I can paint onto all the folds in the uniform, all the flaps, pockets, creases, epaulettes etc.  I want them to stand out boldly, knowing the wash is going to add the shadows and mute the highlight for me.  So you’re going to think you’ve overdone it, but don’t worry, stick to the bright highlight and see it through!

The next step was to start picking out all the detail in all the equipment.  As US paras, there’s not a huge amount of variety seen in the uniforms or equipment.  So this is mostly an exercise in painting webbing, packs and weapons in a uniform manner.  Looking through some old Battlefront books, I settled on the colours I wanted to use for the paras’ equipment and webbing.  I liked Khaki 70.788 as the base coat, and I highlighted it with a Khaki / Iraqi Sand mix, with lots of Sand to lighten it up.   So this takes care of webbing, packs, canteens, gaiters (those things around the tops of their boots) etc.  I also used this to dry brush the netting on the helmets.

Boots were painted German Camo Black Brown (a lovely colour for anything dark leather) 70.822.  You can highlight boots if you want, but I just don’t bother anymore.  Once some grass and bushes are on the bases, I find they get lost anyway.

I painted up the weapons, starting with the wood areas first.  I give them a base coat of Burnt Umber 70.941 and then I paint over it in strips of Mahogany 70.846.  This gives a nice cherry-wood reddish tone, and a hint of woodgrain.   Finally, the metal on the weapons is painted Gun Metal.

At this point, the models are fully painted.  You could end here and have a nice looking army.  However, they’re lacking any depth, and that’s where our lovely Quickshade comes in.  They have several tones, and I own the Strong Tone and the Dark Tone.   Dark Tone is my favourite, but I thought I’d give the Strong Tone a shot for the US figures.   Both give great effects, the Strong Tone is a little more to the brown side of tones, I think, whereas the Dark Tone is little more to the blackish side of shading.

I buy some simple brushes that are pretty much disposable, because the Quickshade (also called “dip”) is really tough on brushes.  It goes on very thick and gets very sticky and tacky.  I just try to dollop on big drops of it and spread it all around the model, and then I try to make sure it’s not making big puddles anywhere, I’ll just go pull it out and spread it around some more.

Now I never used to mix it up myself, but I believe Quickshade is based on something folks used to call “magic wash”, which was a concoction someone figured out years ago.  It was a wash mix that also included Future Floor Polish in it, and it was supposed to give incredible results.  I think Army Painter came up with something similar, and put lightning in a bottle for the rest of us non chemists!  It ain’t cheap, but the little can will last you ages.  Make sure you keep the lip around the top clean, and you’ll get a good seal when you close it up each time.  I had a can skin up on me once and turn into a gel, and it’s pretty tough to rejuvenate the liquid when that happens.  That’s pricey lesson I can save you!


 The figures fully painted, and with the Quickshade applied. 

Once you’ve brushed it on, set the figures aside for a solid 24 hours or more.  Again, I’ll often put them on the heated tile floor in the bathroom, or if it’s summer they dry much quicker in the natural sun.   But just be patient, this stuff takes forever to dry.

When dry, they’re very shiny.  But if there’s no wet areas and they’re not tacky to the touch, you should be good to dull coat them.

This is my favourite part. As the dull coat dries you finally get to see the lovely shading that the Army Painter Quickshade has left behind.  It’s a great product, and once I started using it I realized it’s just so much easier to use than trying to do my own washes.   I use it for 15mm and 28mm soldiers (not vehicles though).

From this point, the US force is done, other than finishing off the bases, which I’ll deal with when the Germans are done.



First dull coat sprayed on.  Finally, the lovely shading effect of the Quickshade really starts to show. 

Next up: Post 4 – Painting the Germans

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