It’s funny how traditional painting techniques keep finding their way into the miniatures painting hobby. Non-metallic metal and “in-frame” lighting effects are two examples from the last few years that immediately jump to mind. Along with rendering techniques, we’re also seeing some painting tools make their way over from the traditional art world. Vallejo Model Color now supports a full line of paint additives that have long been a staple of fine art painters. Glaze Medium, Matte Medium, Gloss Medium, Metallic Medium, Verdigris, Smoke, Thinner, Slow Dry…it’s a bewildering array of options for the aspiring painter. No worries though—read on and I’ll help you sort your way through the “glaze maze.”
There are two fundamental classes of specialty products in the Vallejo line. The first, which we’ll call “helpers,” change the character of your paint. They make it easier to blend, wash, or otherwise apply and manipulate the paint.You’ll usually add these directly to the paint in your palette. The second, which we’ll call “tricks,” are used to achieve some nifty effect on the model. You’ll usually (but not always) apply these on their own.
Go with the flow
Let’s start with the helpers. This class includes Glaze Medium, Matte Medium, Gloss Medium, Thinner, and Slow Dry. In order to pick the right additive for the right job, you need to understand a little bit about the character of paint.
Acrylic paint consists of two parts: pigment and binder. The pigment is the color itself. In its raw form, it’s a powder. This pigment is suspended in a binding fluid. Specifically, it’s an acrylic polymer emulsion—kinda like plastic Plexiglass. All of our helper additives are made to affect the properties of this binder. The pigment just hangs out…no pun intended.
As painters, we’re concerned with four fundamental properties of paint: viscosity, opacity, sheen, and drying time. Viscosity refers to the thickness of the paint. When I keep ranting about thin paint, I’m really ranting about paint with low viscosity. The higher your viscosity goes, the closer you get to a gel. Opacity refers to the transparency of the paint. “Poor coverage” is a way of saying “the paint has low opacity and I want high opacity.” Sheen refers to the glossiness of the paint. Usually I like to work with paint that has low or no sheen, because it makes the colors easier to see. Sometimes high sheen is useful for special effects. Drying time…well, that one’s self-explanatory. Painters sometimes refer to this as “open time,” because it sounds all l33t and stuff.
Helper additives change these characteristics. Flow release lowers the viscosity of paint. This helps you achieve smoother coats. It also improves capillary action—the process whereby paint is drawn into the cracks and crevices of the model. Extender lowers the opacity of paint. It’s essentially like adding more binder to the mix. More binder means less pigment by volume, and therefore more transparency. Retarder slows the drying time of paint.
Let’s revisit the list of products above in the context of all this new vocabulary.
Thinner is a flow release. Glaze Medium is primarily an extender, but has some qualities of flow release as well. Matte Medium and Gloss Medium are extenders that affect the sheen of the paint. Slow Dry is, as you might imagine, a retarder. YoungWolf7 has an in-depth examination of Glaze Medium that you should read if you haven’t already done so.
Water is often used as a flow release and/or extender. Since water’s part of the acrylic emulsion used in binder, this seems pretty logical. The downside to water is that it’s only part of the binder. As you add more water, your paint will start to separate and you’ll lose adhesion. If you’re finding that your paint continually “breaks” in the palette or that your thin coats are streaking, beading, or running off, try using one of the above mediums as part of your mix.
Liquitex and Golden, among others, also make helper additives. These are usually labelled by their proper names—flow release, extender, and retarder. That takes a lot of guesswork out of choosing the right bottle. Use whatever brand is available to you and fits your painting style.
Model Color has some other mysterious products in their catalog. Smoke is the most well-known of the lot, followed closely by Metallic Medium. Verdigris gives a more specialized effect and isn’t as well known. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Smoke is a viscous substance that looks a little like used motor oil. It’s full of gritty little flecks, so it requires a good shaking before use. When thinned and applied as a wash, it provides a worn, weathered look to the paint underneath. I use this most often on metals, but I also find it handy for leather and for areas of dirt and grime on warjacks. Take a look at my Magnus in 10 Days article for a step-by-step guide to achieving these effects.
Since Smoke is often used in similar ways to Brown Ink, many people are confused about the differences between the two. It really helps to have a side-by-side comparison of the two so you can pick the effect you want. I’ve taken two Kossite Woodsmen figures (sans arms and heads) to use as my examples. The vests have a basecoat of Vallejo Model Color Cork Brown for a light leather look. The straps and pouches have been painted in GW Bestial Brown. Good old Boltgun Metal does the trick for the axe blades.
On one figure, I applied a wash of GW Brown Ink mixed 50/50 with Glaze Medium for better translucency and capillary action. On another figure, I applied a wash of Smoke mixed in equal proportions with Glaze Medium and water. The inked figure is on the left, Smoked on the right.
You can already start to see the differences between the two substances. The ink tends to pool a bit more. It dries shinier than the smoke, but provides a true translucency that the Smoke lacks. The Smoke has a more textural feel as the result of the particles within it, although the finish on the model is smooth. It’s difficult to see in the pictures, but the Smoke also covers more evenly on the metal blade.
The second coat shows the difference even more dramatically.
You can really see the shine of the Brown Ink here. The difference in coverage on the metal blade is also more evident, as is the dramatic texture of Smoke on the light leather. Note how the Smoke has darkened the pouches and straps, where the Brown Ink has deepened the color instead.
As you can see, the two substances are not interchangeable! I use both, and sometimes mix the two. It just depends on what look I’m going for.
Metallic Medium is everything you get in metal paints except the pigment. As ArkenTyre noted in his Guide to Glorious Golds, you can think of metallic paints as akin to sparkly glue. If you mix food coloring with your sparkly glue, you get colored sparkly glue. So it is with colored metallic paint.
I’ve taken one of Gorten’s “gun bunnies” as an example here. It’s sporting this season’s latest fad in warjack paint: plum sparkle. Dressed up, dressed down, in the trenches or on the show floor, it’s the color that keeps on giving.
Whoo boy. Onward.
This color started out as Vallejo Model Color Cadmium Maroon, a lovely dark red. Unfortunately, Metallic Medium acts a lot like silver when you add it to other paint…meaning that my Cadmium Maroon turned Cadmium Pink when mixed 2:1 with the Medium. A spot of Green Ink and a spot of Brown Ink knocked the pinkness back, resulting in the color you see here. It wasn’t what I planned on, but I thought it was cool so I went with it.
Metallic Medium is also useful for highlighting traditional metals. Because it’s colorless, it lightens and brightens metallic paint but doesn’t eclipse the basic color. In the picture below, I’ve filled in some other areas on the model with traditional metals. The silver is Boltgun Metal washed with equal parts Blue and Brown Ink. The gold is Vallejo Game Color Brassy Brass washed with Brown Ink.
Instead of going to Chainmail or Burnished Gold to highlight, I just add some Metallic Medium to my original colors. This gives some gleam to the metallics without really changing their color.
Verdigris is a fun product with a specific use: simulating oxidized bronze and copper. There isn’t much to explain. You take your metal piece, you brush the Verdigris on (it’s goopy, like watered-down white glue), you wipe it off the raised parts of the model, and you let it dry. Here’s what the steps look like on a newly-commissioned Long Gunner statue:
You can make the effect less drastic by diluting the Verdigris with water or Glaze Medium.
Until next time—