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Posted by misterfinn

There are two colors that never fail to confound aspiring painters. One is black, which I’ll address in a future article. The other is white. Black & white are problematic because they’re at the absolute ends of the dark/light spectrum. You can’t get any darker than black. You can’t get any lighter than white. A conventional “three-tone” approach (base/shade/highlight) doesn’t work. What’s a poor Menoth or Cygnar commander to do?

Looking at life

Your home and office are full of white things. You probably have white shirts, white coffee cups, white paper, maybe even a white car. Looking around at real-life objects with a critical eye will tell you a lot about painting white on your models.


These photographs of white objects against a white background illustrate a key concept in painting white. White objects are primarily defined by their shadows. When you look at these objects, they have no color of their own to separate them from their backgrounds. The only way to tell that the object is there is by interpreting the shadows it casts.

When you look at each of the objects above, you can clearly visualize the placement of the light source. For the shirt, it’s above and to the left. For the purse, it’s above and to the right. For the iPod, it’s above, to the right, and aligned to the edge. The light source dictates shadow; shadow dictates your perception of the object.

I can already hear some of you saying, “Sweet! My models are already 3-D—they cast their own shadows! Prime that sucker and I’m done!” Sadly, mini-painting doesn’t work that way. The shadows that a model casts on itself aren’t in-scale; they wash out when viewed from afar. By painting the shadows in, we reinforce the effect of natural light and ensure that the model will still look right from three feet away.


I’m using a Cygnar Journeyman Warcaster as a demo model. My Cygnar are painted in a quartered blue-and-white pattern. The blue bits are already done; this demo will fill in the white bits.

My first concern is light-sourcing. I’ve painted the blue to reinforce an overhead light source. The white needs to use the same source point. The easiest way to see how the shadows will fall is simply to hold the model under a directional light source, like so:


What you see here is just a few thin coats of white primer over my soon-to-be-white areas. The lamp in this photo is directly over the model’s head. You can see its bright reflections bouncing off the upper edges of the model. Take note of where the natural shadows fall on the white areas. There’s a fairly sharp shadow on the underside of the left arm’s armor plates. There are a few more complex shadows on the cloth area, and a gradual shadow on the leg. All we have to do now is paint these shadows in.

A note on color selection: I’m using two colors for all the shading in this example. One color is white. The other is Vallejo Model Color #907, Pale Greyblue. This is a marvelous blue-grey color that looks very natural when used to shade white. It yields a “cold” white, like the white in our examples above. For a “warm” white, use a brown-grey instead of blue-grey as your shading color. My favorite shading color for warm whites is Adikolor Battle Dust. You can see it in action on a Menoth model at the end of this article.


I start by blocking in the shadow areas.

In this picture (and the ones following), my lamp has moved. It’s now behind the camera. All the shadows you’re seeing are painted in.

Click the image to see a blown-up version. You’ll see that the greys are hard-edged and streaky right now, but they define the shadow areas we saw in the reference photograph. Most of these shadow areas are pure Pale Greyblue. The small strip in the middle of the cloth area (my camera has turned it pink in the photo) is actually 1/2 Pale Greyblue and 1/2 white.

I’ll clean up the cloth area first. Keeping my paint thin, I wet-blend the edges of the grey into the white. I don’t want to make this transition too gradual. Look back at the shirt sample from the beginning of this article. See how stark the wrinkles are? That’s the effect we’re going for. All I want to do here is blur the edges of the shadow areas so they don’t look stripey.

In the first pass, I get the blend about halfway there. First, I lay down a thin stripe of Pale Greyblue along the existing edge line of the left-hand fold. Working quickly (and without rinsing my brush), I pick up some white on my brush and lay down a stripe of white right next to it, and slightly overlapping. Because my paint is thin and my brush is wet, the edges of the two colors are already starting to blur together. I lick my brush once to restore the point, and carefully draw it down the line between the two colors to further blur the transition.

Then I stop.

No, really—this is important. The best way to ruin a blend is by overworking it while it dries. If you continue to work over the paint as it thickens, your brush will drag furrows through the paint and ruin your smooth finish. Sometimes you’ll even pull away layers of paint with the brush. This leaves glaringly obvious holes that are difficult to fill. Even though my blend at this point isn’t perfect, I leave it alone and move on to the next one.

You can see that the edges are starting to soften, but there are still streaks to deal with. I thin my paint a little more, such that it’s now translucent. It’s still thicker than a wash or a glaze, but not by much. Because my paint is so thin, I can apply it in layers to smooth out the unwanted streaks. Because we’re dealing with continuous tones here, touching up the rough areas requires varying shades of grey. Rather than mixing these in my palette, I simply “double-dip” my brush to load up varying amounts of grey and white. I dab this on my thumb a couple of times to mix the two colors together, adjust as necessary, and then apply to the model. It’s fast and loose, but remarkably effective once you get the hang of it.

Here’s the result of the layering cleanup process:

Looks OK to me, so I move on to the armor plates. The same blending technique applies here, although the transitions are going to be sharper because of the way the armor is contoured. The left photo is the first pass. The right photo is the “cleanup” pass.


After completing the first pass, the armor didn’t look dark enough in the deepest shadow. During the cleanup pass, I mixed a trace amount of black into my Pale Greyblue to get the exaggerated shadow effect you see in the right-hand photo. This exaggeration gives depth and contour to the model, especially on the elbow armor plate.

All that’s left to do now is carefully blackline the edges. This cleans up the slop and makes the model look clean & crisp.

Some additional examples

Captain Haley shows this white-shading technique to great advantage. Her cloak is quite a bit larger than Junior’s, so there’s more complexity in the shading. Notice how sharp the edges are on the deep folds in her hood.


Kreoss, while mostly reddish-brown, benefits from white accents on his armor. This is a “warm” white, using Adikolor Battle Dust and black instead of Pale Greyblue and black to shade.


Until next time—