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Posted by Terarin

Painting wood grain on a flat surface is a common form of freehand miniature painting and design. Doing so creates the illusion of texture on a surface that has little or none and is as simple as painting lines to imply highlights and shadows. It is often both useful and necessary since a lot of fantasy models from different manufacturers (and a few sci-fi ones, too) use wood in some form, such as weapons, accessories, or scenery.

The Basics

Painting a wood grain usually uses a minimum of three colors. A shade color, a mid-tone color, and a highlight color. Sometimes more colors can be used. There are variations to how this is painted and include painting the mid-tone and then shading down and highlighting up, or painting the darkest color and using the mid-tone as the initial highlight color and highlighting up from there.

A lot of surfaces on miniatures have small areas in which you would want to paint with wood grain techniques. Some of these include weapon shafts, rifle stocks, and even beer mugs. While the techniques discussed here are easily applied to these common areas it is difficult to provide good photographs that will illustrated the techniques. Fortunately a popular trend is wooden plank bases and this article will use that for examples since they provide a large enough area to show off the techniques.

The first wood color and the basic steps are shown here with a middle brown color. This wood grain pattern is painted using the mid-tone color as a base, then free handing the darker shadow lines and the highlight lines.

Start by painting the wood with a base coat of P3 Bloodstone mixed with P3 Rucksack Tan. About a 50/50 mix. This should provide solid coverage and a good, clean color. An alternative to this color, if you don’t want to mix paints, is RMS Oiled Leather which is pretty much identical to the P3 mix.

Once the base coat is applied it is time to start painting lines. Painting any free hand design requires a couple of things: a good brush, correct consistency of paint, and a steady/confident hand.

For the first part, a good brush, any one of the BrushThralls will tell you that Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes are the way to go. A good brush will keep a point through much use, provide good feedback to the pressure you use, and will carry enough paint to actually cover a surface.

Consistency of the paint is a trick. I’ve grown up [learning to paint] with the concept that a good consistency is similar to low fat milk. But what does that really mean? The trick I’ve found is that a good consistency for painting free hand is that the paint will flow but the color will not break down. Start adding water (or other medium) to a paint and my meaning becomes apparent. Basically, let the paint flow freely without sticking to the brush and be dark enough so that you can’t see the color beneath.

As for a steady hand, that’s up to the individual. Some people are not that steady. If this is you, build confidence. Teach yourself how to paint a straight line with authority. Practice is the only way this one happens.

Ok, now that this is established it’s time to paint some lines. Here you can see that I’m working in lines of my darker shade color. To contrast with the Bloodstone/Rucksack Tan mix I am using P3 Umbral Umber. Similar paints that would work as well are GW Scorched Brown and RMS Russet Brown.

Simply take your brush, get your paint to the proper consistency, and paint lines in the direction you want the grain to follow. They don’t have to all be parallel with the length of the board, but typically for miniature painting it does look better.

Terarin’s Trick: Don’t try to maneuver your arms or the brush to get the angles you want. Take your time and turn the model. If you can’t get to the underside of a part, turn it upside down. Your arms should always be in the same position and it is the model that should move.

As you can see I varied the pattern a little to make it interesting. There is a little swirl for a knot in the wood and some of the grain flows in different directions.

If the surface you are painting has a wood grain sculpted into it then painting these shade lines will not be necessary. Instead simply wash the darker color into the sculpted grooves.

The final step is to add a highlight color. This should be a complimentary color that would normally be used to highlight the mid-tone color. For this example I am using straight  P3 Rucksack Tan.

Using the same concept of free hand drawing lines, apply the highlight color to spaces between the base and darker colors. You want to make sure that you don’t obscure either of the existing colors. Some slop and coverage is fine, but you need most of the other colors to appear cleanly beside the newer lighter lines.

That’s it. Easy free hand effects to create a faux wood grain finish.

Colors Used:

  • P3 Bloodstone/Rucksack Tan mix (base color)
  • P3 Rucksack Tan (highlight color)
  • P3 Umbral Umber (shade color)
  • RMS Oiled Leather (equivalent base color)
  • RMS Russet Brown (equivalent shade color)

Application to Models

Now, at this point it would be useful to see this applied to an actual model. Bases with large flat surfaces are easy for show, but how does this work in practice? The following is a step-by-step walkthrough of this applied to a Bog Trog Ambusher from HORDES by Privateer Press. This example is also an example of how to utilize sculpted wood grain for darker areas.

Step 1: Paint the wood area with a base color, in this case RMS Oiled Leather

Step 2: Wash with VGC Sepia Ink. This is done instead of using P3 Umbral Umber since the spear staff already has a wood texture. The recesses will pick up the dark brown ink and hold the color for highlighting.

Step 3: Bring the sculpted ridges back up t the base color. This can be done by either dry brushing with RMS Oiled Leather or painting lines along the ridges.

Step 4: Paint lines with P3 Rucksack Tan along the grain to highlight the ridges. This will work the same as if painting a large flat surface. The pictures below show the finished highlights along with the finished spear.

EXAMPLE :: Dark Wood

There are a lot of different types of wood. Dark woods, light woods, red woods, yellow woods. Painting a faux wood grain is mostly the same process for any of them. Color is key. This example walks through painting a dark, weathered wood.

Step 1: Base coat with RMS Russet Brown. This is different from before since I will not be adding darker shade lines, but instead will only work up highlight lines.

Step 2: Free hand lines with a RMS Russet Brown/P3 Beasthide mix at 50/50. These can be thick or thin and are meant to give the initial definition.

Step 3: Highlights of P3 Beasthide. This are finer highlights that accent the definition.

Step 4: Small highlights of P3 Beasthide/Menoth White Highlight mix at 50/50. This are very fine highlights that bring up some of the edge detail (and maybe a little interior detail).

Colors Used:

  • RMS Russet Brown (base color)
  • RMS Russet Brown/P3 Beasthide mix (highlight color)
  • P3 Beasthide (highlight color)
  • P3 Beasthide/Menoth White Highlight mix (highlight color)
  • VMC Burnt Umber (alternate base color)
  • VMC Burnt Umber/Buff mixed in various amounts (alternate highlight colors)
  • GW Scorched Brown (alternate base color)
  • GW Scorched Brown/Bone White mixed in various amounts (alternate highlight colors)

EXAMPLE :: Light Wood

This example walks through painting a pale or white washed wood.

Step 1: Paint a base coat of P3 Beasthide. Again, this example starts at the darkest color and will highlight up without shading down.

Step 2: Free hand lines with a 50/50 mix of P3 Beasthide/Menoth White Highlight.

Step 3: Highlight with P3 Menoth White Highlight. Further smaller highlights can be made my mixing a bit of pure white with the Menoth White Highlight.

Colors Used:

  • P3 Beasthide (base color)
  • P3 Beasthide/ Menoth White Highlight (highlight color)
  • P3 Menoth White Highlight (highlight color)
  • P3 Menoth White Highlight/Morrow White (highlight color)
  • VGC Bone White (alternate highlight color)
  • VGC Skull White (alternate highlight color)


Painting wood grain can lead to some very striking results, adding a lot of flavor to painted miniatures. Remember to use good brushes, find a paint consistency that works for you, and practice steadying that hand.

Good luck.