Sunday, December 2, 2012

Painting 101: Vuel's Stepladder Approach

A fellow hobbyist asked me on how I painted cloth for my elves, hence this article. For painting technique, it's the simple edge highlighting technique that most painters used. For colour selection however, that's another matter. Before we proceed, keep in mind that the amount of detail on the model that you're planning to paint will play a huge role too.

The technique for  my colour selection was a result of trial-and-error over the years I've been in this hobby. I've tried colour-blending but I felt that it took too much time. I've tried wet pallete too but I personally felt that the preparation was too messy. Therefore, I resorted to use more hues of the same colour. While this caused me to spend more on paints, I'm saving more time. Pictured below is the Stepladder for my browns. (If you noticed, greens and browns are my forte, followed by blue.)

The first tip: there's no place for black nor white in the Stepladder Approach. Take a time to ponder your surroundings; rarely will you see absolute black or absolute white in all things. Don't think so? Get yourself a blank piece of white A4 paper and observe closely. Under non-direct white light, it actually has a very subtle grey-ish hue.

Take a look again at the colours above. From left to right, notice that the colour hue changes gradually from dark to light. This is the basic concept for all techniques out there, and thus applies to mine too. The paints may not necessarily be exclusively GW (the picture above is just an example). Feel free to explore new line of colours to create your own unique sequence recipe/formula.

In case if you're wondering, from left to right:
#1 - VGC Charred Brown
#2 - GW Scorched Earth
#3 - GW Calthian Brown
#4 - GW Bestial Brown
#5 - GW Snakebite Leather
#6 - GW Bubonic Brown
#7 - GW Kommando Khaki, for cloth - Note: an alternative is GW Bleached Bone, for solid materials

The next step would be, to strictly abide to the sequence that you've created. For instance, if your base colour is #1, then your next highlights will be #2, #3 (and so forth) till you decide whether the depth and brightness is to your liking.  If you started with #5, then your highlight colours will be #6 and/or #7.

Lets go into a scenario...say, you're planning to paint a brown-coloured model in a forest floor (an environment bordering between low-light and direct sunlight), but you still want the brown to be distinguishable. Looking at the paint sequence below, I've chosen to start with #3, then gradually highlighting in sequence, stopping at #6.

Following the colour sequence mentioned above, example of the end result can be seen on the WIP Wood Elf below.

Here's an example of different hues chosen as the sequence starter on another WIP Wood Elf.

There was a question regarding the role of washes in this technique. Washes are plausible, but you may need to further experiment regarding the sequence of washing. For my Wood Elves, previously I only used one wash (Sephia) for the yellow, skin and bone colours. After GW released their new line of paints, I have now started applying Athonian Camoshade for the bone colour, as it blend the colour better with my green/brown theme.

As a summary, this is my Stepladder Approach:
  1. No Black or White, at all.
  2. General Concept of dark to light hues of the same colour.
  3. Abide strictly to the sequence.
  4. Washes, only where necessary.
That's all. Hope this helps.


  1. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned experience Vuel! Noob question but I take it that the colours are applied sequentially with the previous layers in the crevices/depths/shadowed areas left untouched, so forth and so on ... right? Thanks again for your tutorial! ^^

    1. Yup, the painting technique is pretty much the same a normal.