Sunday, July 3, 2011

Enamels: Seriously oldschool

The moment I opened the bottle of mineral turpentine I was transported back to 1986. My bedroom at the farm where I grew up, with it's seventies carpet and rainbow patterned walls left behind from when my sister owned the room.
That smell was the smell of early miniature painting. Sure, Citadel had released a range of acrylics at that stage, but all the back issues of White Dwarf and Heroes for Wargames all talked about enamels. John Blanche and Aly Morrison both swore by them, though both admitted to using anything that would go on a brush- including nail polish.
Mineral turps. Mmmm.

My resin base project slowed when I found resin leeching through my acrylic paint- turning it to mush. Obviously I needed to let the plastic set longer, but time is precious and I want my bases now! Plus, as I was cash short this week from eBay Kung Fu, buying black resin was off the menu. So how would I get stable, chip resistant paint on my gaming bases?
It hit me like, well, the smell of mineral turps. Enamels are bulletproof.
If you strip minis, you will be familliar with dunked enamel. Kids using newsagent quality brushes as thick as a licorice stick to apply humbrol the thickness of whipped cream to some poor unsuspecting mini. Tough stuff indeed.
Enamel seemed like the solution. So off I popped for a tin of matte black humbrol and a bottle of turps.

The smell of turps reminded me of so much- a metallic blue chaos warrior I painted- a minotaur and.. Fraser Gray. I remembered the reason I got into enamels in the first place. Fraser is, unquestionably, the father of smooth blended clean style mini painting. How did he do it? Enamels, mentioned an article (I think it was in fantasy miniatures). Back then I tried to emulate this using John Blanches instructions but failed to get Frasers amazing results. I wrecked brushes and a couple of chaos hounds. Back then I did not know of Dettol, so paint strippers where the only way to remove paint. It barely worked, so the dogs went into the failed pile.
Fraser Grey Art- enamels never looked so good.

I remembered this in the midst of the fumey daze and decided to try again now my painting skills are a little more mature. Fortunately I had some white and grey lurking in my paint box from art school and by Jove it was still fresh!


I applied a grey base coat to a paranoia troubleshooter, let it dry, then applied a thinned, fresh coat with a fine brush. This time, I know brush flow control, and tapped off the excess paint onto a paper towel. Then, using thinned white and black I worked in some shading, and washed my brush out in turps. Then tapping off the turps, danced the brush over the area to blend in the shading.

Did I say wow? I meant WOW!
I nailed it- A perfect smooth blend ala Fraser Gray. My inner child jumped for joy (though, looking back, it could have been dinner).

I actually enjoyed painting in enamels! That really surprised me.

Going to grab some more colors tomorrow if I can- try getting that brilliant Orc and Chaos Dwarf skin effect he used, and the matte blues and reds I need for the troubleshooter with laser.

Anyone else use enamels here?


  1. I remember using old Testor's enamels to paint D&D figs and model cars. I never had any turpentine. I just painted straight from the pot with some cheap brush. I hope one day to find those old figs, they have to be in a box somewhere at my mom's house.

    I couldn't go back to Enamels. Licking the brush is too much of a habit for me now. I bought some metallic, basically ruined a brush trying to use it.

  2. I used to be bad with using Testors enamel straight from the pot too. Never bothered using my paint thinner for anything other than cleaning the brush, though obviously I could have done other things in retrospect.

  3. But the good news is that underneath all that crap is a perfectly preserved mini- I love it when collectors glug over figures in enamels!

    Plenty of thinners and wiping off the brush was definitely the key to nailing enamels- if only they drummed that in to us white dwarf!

    I don't think I will be totally switching anytime soon, however for detailing and drybrushing enamel cannot be beat- it stays active on the brush for ages, and can be wiped off if you make a mistake- and blended in if the drybrush is too course. Definitely a new tool in my handbook!
    I may use it to undershade my acrylic tint techniques.

  4. Enamels may be good for some applications, I never really thought about using them now... Painting figs in the mid 80s meant Testors enamels and a little tiny bottle of filthy thinner. I knew nothing about paint back then. It was a great pleasure to recently soak my classics in thinner and watch the massive chunks of layered colors dangle off, revealing the glorious untouched detail of great minis beneath.

  5. Oh yes, that's as satisfying as getting a really good bit if peely skin after sunburn. :)

    It's amazing how much an article on correctly thinning and wiping off brushes would have made back then.