Jump to content
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Figure Painting - First Steps



blog-0935076001425336308.jpgLast Saturday I visited my local model railway exhibition - AbRail 2015. I was looking for ideas on scenery and there was a good number of interesting layouts. Several featured canals and water and, of these, I particularly enjoyed the 'Aldford Brewery' (Wimbledon MRC) and the canal-side inn at 'Mulldale' (Letchworth MRC).



Aldford Brewery (Wimbledon MRC) at AbRail 2015


I also thought that there were some impressive trees alongside 'The Abingdon Branch'. Initially I thought 'Highclere' (Julia Adams) looked rather sparse but then I came to realise how superbly 'realistic' this model is. The highly-compressed layouts, of which mine is an example, might pack in some interesting 'vignettes' but, overall, they are far from realistic.


I took the opportunity for a chat with Julia and she deftly re-assembled her 'City of Truro' from its components, as I watched. The seemingly effortless way in which it all fitted together made me think how coarse my own efforts are, and the quality of the engineering that makes such precision possible at 2mm scale! I mentioned my own trepidation at starting painting the figures for my own layout and she pointed out that the important thing is to make a start and then 'practise, practise, practise'.


So, with that encouragement, I have taken the plunge and applied a paintbrush to the first of my 'Edwardian/Victorian' figures. I chose to practise on some 'Langley' figures, in the hope that I can develop enough skill to do reasonable justice to the Andrew Stadden figures that I bought last year.


I initially sprayed the figures with grey primer and then decided to use artists' acrylic paints for the actual colouring. I have a good set of sable brushes and, for this task, chose to use a Size 00 brush from the Winsor & Newton 3A series. These brushes have good 'body' to hold a reasonable amount of paint whilst maintaining an extremely fine tip.


I decided to hold the model for painting in a 'Model Craft' universal work holder. This tool has a nice wooden handle, which gives a firm grip, while allowing the model to be turned around easily during painting. I secured the base of each figure with a small lump of 'Blu Tack', pressed into the mounting ring.


I read somewhere that it is a good idea to start by painting the faces, so the first step was to mix a suitable flesh colour from mainly White, plus a little Azo Yellow and a very small 'touch' of Alizarin Crimson. I thinned the mix a little with water and a drop of iso-propyl alcohol, to improve the flow.



My Painting Set-up


The other essential tool (for my eyesight, at least) is an illuminated magnifier. The fine tip achieved by the sable brush really makes it quite easy to put the paint in the right places!



(photo by R. Flemming)


I used the flesh colour to paint the faces and hands of all the figures in my Langley set and then concentrated on completing the figure that I chose to represent Blanche Wilcote. I looked at illustrations in 'Dame Fashion- Paris-London (1786-1912)' by Julius M.Price, referred to in a previous post in my blog, and mixed what I felt were appropriate colours for the period. After applying the main colours, I then picked out some details in the dress and hat, to produce the result shown below:



Blanche Wilcote (1st attempt)


I'm really quite pleased with this first attempt, though I need to work on providing more realistic details in the face. Having 'broken the ice', I can now settle down into working up my technique on the other 'Langley' figures and then I may feel ready for the Stadden set. At least, I can keep Blanche's petulant pleas for new dresses at bay for a little while :)



  • Like 11


Recommended Comments

Figures are coming on nice that close up is much larger than the full size of the model.


I know what you mean about Julia's work outstanding stuff. Let it inspire you.


Link to comment

Thank you, Donw.  I hope it wasn't just 'beginner's luck'.  I tried using slightly different shades in the fabric of the dress and I feel that it has worked rather well. 


One of my other hobbies is photographing butterflies and I find that many British species are just too small to appreciate their subtle colouring, so I'm used to looking at highly magnified images.

Link to comment


Although figure painting is quite a distance down my list of things to do, I came across Brian Fayle's website the other day part of which demonstrates his approach to painting figures (http://www.brifayle.ca/2abaseshadows.html) - I think it's worth a read.  As a boy in the 60's, it was Brian's Harlyn Junction layout that really inspired me (I probably still have the Railway Modeller in which it appeared somewhere in the loft!), and I was delighted to see that he has documented this layout on his website too.


It's nice to see that someone else also realises the palette potential of Pringle tube tops (other bent crisps are also available!) :-)



Link to comment

Well done for taking the plunge, given the quality of your first attempt I'd imagine the rest will look great as your experience builds.


I have to admit that putting paint to model is one of my sticking points - I can picture what I want to achieve but lack the confidence to give it a go. This is despite my partner being a good artist and being able to give me plenty of advise.  She keeps trying to remind me that it's better to start and have a go, it's only paint and can always be reworked.



Link to comment

Thank you for those excellent tips, Ian.  The Brian Fayle reference is brilliant and I can see how his way of representing shadows makes a huge difference.  His link to the 'fast painting' technique has changed and should now be http://miniatures.de/speed-painting-miniatures-fastpaint.html


This is all making me want to have another go!  Fortuitously, I seem to have made the 'right' decisions re. paint, etc., though I think I should use a larger brush for the main painting.


Well spotted re. the 'Pringles' top - they clean up very easily afterwards, too, though my 'snacking' habits ensure a plentiful supply :)




(may have seen you at Abrail, I guess, but did not recognise)

Link to comment

Thank you Peter. I'm glad I dared to show my initial efforts, as it has unearthed some excellent advice for the way forward.  As you say, the most important thing was to make a start.  I hope you get going, yourself, soon.



Link to comment


I am not getting notifications so I am late to the party with this.  A really good figure especially if this is your first attempt. I think there is a whole section in RMWeb on painting figures and somewhere near the beginning of mine are some links, if I remember rightly.  Of course Arboretum Valley has lots of painting ideas, and you must have read Mikkel's blog.


I would not try and paint the details on the faces, several people use washes of a darker colour to fill in the details; I use a dark primer with a flesh wash which gives the same effect.  I also use thin brushes but probably do not get the paint flow you do.  I am worried about making lines too thick, but your technique works well.  I also try and do a darker colour/black wash in the folds to get shadows.  You have seen my thread but I have not done a 'how I did it' as it is still trial and error and a lot of sweat trying to get it right.


My only tip is that I put both elbows on the table, hold the figure in one hand, the brush in the other but then touch my free finger(s) together so there is no shake, or if there is it is in unison.  Looking at your picture you are more or less doing the same thing.


Well done Mike.  The Stadden figures are actually easier as they have so much detail.

Link to comment

Another good place to look is Aidan Campbell's site;




After not being very happy with the skin tones I was using (found them too light mostly), I have found that a light base and then a wash over with really quite dark brown gives a nice colour with good relief. You will however, note that nearly all of the figures on my layout have their backs to the audience!

Link to comment

Many thanks for your comments, Chris.  I've been reading quite a bit about emphasising the shadows, so will try that.  I expect you are right about the faces but I'd like to be able to make them look a bit more human! I think my arms were against the edge of my worktable and, with the large handle on the holder, I didn't have any trouble with shake - long may that continue.


That's a very encouraging thought re. the Stadden figures :)

Link to comment
  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, what an inspiring post!


Aldford Brewery looks very good, a refreshingly different scene. And a really nice photo, can't have been an easy shot, especially at an exhibition. To me Highclere is an exquisite historical document, if that can be said of a model railway. I think I have all the DN&SR books and have read them over and over, and when I see Julia's images it's like a colour version of the books.


Nice to see Blanche Wilcote materialize! This is going to sound weird, but I do like the lower parts of those Victorian ladies from Langley. The dress is quite good. It's just the upper parts where the mouldings are a bit so-so, although the one you've chosen for Blanche is one of the better ones I think. As Chris says, with better moulded faces the painting gets easier (am I using the word "moulding" correctly here?).


The Model Craft holder goes directly on my wish list, thanks for the tip! 


I've tried Brian Fayle's technique several times but have failed so far to get it quite right. I really like the idea of drybrushing the top colours on, but the shadow effect is a bit illusive for me. I look forward to seeing what you can do with it.


One thing I've been pondering is that the close-up photos we tend to take these days pose a challenge for the shadow technique. Well-defined shadows may look great from a distance because they help define the figure, but when viewed up close they can look too harsh/stark/high contrast. So there's a challenge to get a subtle effect that works both from a distance and close-up, I think.

Link to comment

Mikkel, you are very kind but I feel that most of the inspiration runs the other way!  Your own figures have a life-like look that is very rare.  I hesitated for a long time because I see so many model railways that are let down by their people.


You are right to distinguish close-up views from the ordinary views we get of a layout.  I guess it's a bit like stage make-up, which looks ridiculous when seen out of context. Perhaps it needs different types of painting for different purposes?


Thank you also, KH1, for your reference and suggestions.  It is a great help to be steered towards useful sites.


I've been doing so much building and painting recently that it was really nice to spend yesterday evening 'playing' at running a few trains around :)

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.