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Painting a Face: Oils over Acrylic


Once you start painting your figure, you will want to minimize touching the actual piece. To prevent doing that, I put a drop of CA glue onto an old soda bottle cap and attach the figure to it. Do not worry, it will be easily removed when you are finished painting. Other alternatives are to drill a hole into the underside of the neck and/or foot and insert a metal pin or rod. The benefit to doing this is that you will have an anchoring device already built in when it comes time to attach the head to the torso, and the figure to the eventual groundwork and base. It is really just a matter of preference.

Above you see the figure parts attached to their painting bases. You will note that I am opting to leave the head separate from the torso. I find it much easier to paint the inside of shirt collars and the neck, when the pieces are kept apart. If you feel you have a steady enough hand, you could attach the head right away. Once again, this is a matter of personal preference.

Also note that the bases are sitting on a clean sheet of paper towel. I change this out in my spray booth whenever I am going to prime a new figure. It cuts down on the dust that may become airborne and stick to your figure.

For priming figures I use Plasticote Sandable Automotive Primer. Why? Simply: because a friend of mine recommended it. I gave it a shot and it works well for me. It dries quickly and does not plug up detail. You may have your own preference for primer. Stick with what you know, and with what works for you. If this is all new to you try a few brands and see what you like.

Before priming a figure, I submerse the can of primer into a container of hot tap water for about two minutes. What this will do is raise the air pressure in the can. The reason you want to do that is by increasing the air pressure the paint will come out more atomized (finer) and leave a nicer finish on your figure.

Even though you've heated up your primer can, as always, you still need to shake it vigorously to mix it well.

With this particular primer I hold the can about 5-6 inches away from the subject. Remember to start spraying away from the figure and then make quick sweeping motions across the figure, letting up on the button after you've passed the figure. Remember TAKE YOUR TIME. If you rush it and try to prime the whole thing immediately, you'll end up with runs and plug up detail. I like to make a quick pass on the front, then turn the figure and make a pass on the side, turn, do the back, turn, do the other side, etc. This allows the initial application to dry before you go back and hit any spots you may have missed. Once I get all the way around, I'll then tip the figure and shoot from the bottom up to get under the folds and underside of limbs. I finish up by shooting from the top down to get the shoulders, top of head, etc. Right after I'm done priming, I'll inspect the figure for any fibers or hairs that may have attached themselves, or any dust specks. If I find some I take a fine needle and gently pick them off. If you mar the paint, just give it a quick shot of primer in that spot. Then set your figure aside to dry.

Voila! Here you see the primed figures.

About the Author

About John Pradarelli (john17)

A modeler off and on (as time permits) for over 20 years. By day I work for a Model Railroading company in Milwaukee, WI. By night you'll find me spending time with my wife and two boys...until they go to bed. Then it's off to the basement where I will work on figure painting, armor, planes, diorama...


I came to this article via another post, don't know how I missed it when published. It's very well explained and I'll be trying it out soon. Thanks Rudi for publishing it and of course to John for writing it
MAR 15, 2008 - 07:59 AM
Hello John P. and Rudi John: thank you for writing one of the best face painting tutorials I have seen to date. I think one of the best things about this tutorial is that some of the techniques displayed here lend themselves to various mediums, and not only oil. The diagrams featuring high and low lights are worth their weight in gold. Rudi: nice job at putting the various forum posts together. Thanks for your hospitality during my visit. See you next year. John
MAR 17, 2008 - 06:47 PM
I know this is an old thread but was wondering which Winsor & Newton Oils were used, the Artist's grade or Winton student grade?
DEC 07, 2009 - 01:06 AM
Hello Glueit, To be honest with you, I have an arsenal of both artist grade and student grade Winsor & Newton paints. Not out of intention, but more a case of me just grabbing whatever I happened to pick at Michaels craft store. I'm not married to one grade over another. I haven't done any extensive testing to determine the benefits of artist grade versus student grade in terms of figure painting. Frankly, I think both are acceptable. The artist grade offers more color choices, and uses a higher level of pigmentation. Again, I don't think in what we do this wil be too much of an issue. I hope this helps you in making your buying decisions. John
DEC 07, 2009 - 04:36 AM
Thanks for the reply. I knew that the artist grade offered a higher grade of pigmentation which i guess would not fade as fast as lower concentration of pigment. also the artist grade are a lot more money, but for figure painting it would go a long way as well as the student grade. I have read your articeles pertainting to painting and have found them very useful. If you know of any other articles you can recommend i read let me know! thanks
DEC 07, 2009 - 07:02 AM
Although i have read this article in the past i have just gone through it again and enjoyed it, a very nicely done and informative article. Although i paint pradominately in acrylics i still think oils are best for flesh. nice job John (and you Rudi for putting it together ) Steve
DEC 08, 2009 - 02:34 AM
This was a great tutorial! I was never quite clear on the layering and blending process with oils, but this really cleared things up. The only change I would make is using a better sculpted head for the tutorial. Details are fairly muddy and he sort of has a "dock worker with downs syndrome" expression on his face.
DEC 28, 2009 - 01:40 AM
Taesung Harmms heads and figures are amongst the best in the business. It's also important to view the head/face in context with the rest of the figure.
DEC 28, 2009 - 07:59 AM
Oh yeah, he definitely does good work, it's just this head which I find a little lacking. Did he also sculpt the body, because the body seems to be really well done?
JAN 01, 2010 - 05:07 PM
THANK YOU... just looking at some figures to "play with" so to speak and can get the clothing not too bad (possibly by shadows are too thick and too defined) but I had yet to tackle the heads. as they are just Tamiya kits the heads are already on the torso, but can try to follow this guide (have some oil paints already so hope to be able to get to use them "in anger"....
SEP 25, 2012 - 12:34 AM